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January 25, 2009

Honest and Humble

Dear Honest Washingtonians:

I’ll finish a discussion that was started in the last issue of themail. For the last several issues, Dorothy and I have been writing about mistakes that local and federal officials were making in planning for inaugural day. The major mistake was obvious: officials were making security the predominant consideration, relying completely on security officials, and ignoring the needs of the people who would attend inaugural events. (For more on that, see Ron Linton’s message below.) We predicted there would be serious crowd problems, and there were. Some readers of themail said that raising these problems was being negative, and that we should just enjoy the inauguration events and ignore the problems. Some of this distaste for criticism comes from an understandable reluctance to rain on a parade, from not wanting to becloud a celebratory event. But some of it comes from a viewpoint that I can’t share, that government officials should not be criticized or doubted, that after we elect them we should support them, be satisfied with their decisions and actions, and silence our doubts.

“The arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled. . . ,” wrote Cicero. Officialdom won’t temper and control its own arrogance; others have to do it for them. That’s why people must criticize government and its officials when they make mistakes — and sometimes even when they don’t, just to keep them honest and humble. Government officials like to pretend that they know best, and they know what to do — that they’re better teachers than teachers are, better businessmen than businessmen are, better developers than developers are. Government officials think they know better than you and I do what we should eat, drink, smoke, drive, and buy, which pets we should have and how we should celebrate our holidays, and that they have a duty to legislate on all these matters to make our decisions for us. The truth is that they’re bad at making all of these decisions, and they’re wrong to try to impose their preferences on us, but they will never acknowledge it unless we call them on their mistakes, their overreaching, and most of all on their arrogance. Local and federal officials didn’t consult with residents of DC when making their plans, and after they made their plans without citizen participation they didn’t even communicate those plans to citizens very well.

Critics of officialdom can almost never make good things happen, but sometimes if we criticize early, as soon as governmental mistakes and overreaching become obvious, some rare times we can temper and control them, and stop a bad thing from happening. In the case of inaugural security, it was obvious that the citizens of DC could not stop the city and federal governments from making the mistakes they were determined to make. But at the least we have stopped them from claiming that nobody could have foreseen the problems they caused.

For those still interested in following the problems caused by planners who don’t take people into account when they make their plans, don’t miss these articles: “Inaugural Woes Have Members Ticked,” in Politico,, and “Inaugural Missteps and Miscalculations,” in today’s Post,

Gary Imhoff


Eastern Market Branch Post Office
Bryce Suderow,

[An open letter to Patricia Moore, Postmaster, US Post Office] Customers of the Eastern Market Branch post office breathed a sigh of relief after Christmas came and went; they anticipated that the holiday's long lines would get shorter. They were disappointed. Day after day the lines stretch to the door and a wait of fifteen, twenty, or even thirty minutes is not uncommon. Frequently the clerks are so busy they don’t have time to put the mail in the boxes that people rent.

Why is this? Customers know why. The clerks know why. The problem is that Eastern Market branch doesn't have enough workers. Typically there are at most only one or two clerks on duty at the counter. I rent a post office box. And since I live from paycheck to paycheck like many other people a check from a client must get into my box on time, or else I pay my bills late.

The branch needs more personnel. I hope you'll visit the branch, examine the long lines and assign more clerks to Eastern Market Branch post office.


DC Statehood — Another Perspective
Ralph J. Chittams, Sr.,

The District of Columbia does not require statehood for its citizens to become fully enfranchised. You want citizens of the District of Columbia to be treated fairly vis-a-vis all other similarly situated citizens of the United States? Exempt us from Federal taxation. No citizen of any other US territory or possession (Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, or the United States Virgin Islands) pays federal income taxes. Why should citizens of the District of Columbia? You want to spur development in the District of Columbia? Exempt DC residents from federal taxation. Without representation there should be no taxation!

In addition, if the District of Columbia obtains statehood it will place an undue financial hardship on the citizens of the District of Columbia. Can you say increased local taxation? Also, who among you doesn’t think there would be an outcry from local activists for a state government if DC is granted statehood? I can hear them now. “We need to be represented at the National Governors Association.” If DC obtains statehood, the citizens of the District of Columbia will have to pay the salaries, benefits, and perks of not just two senators and a member of the United States congress, but also those of a governor and members of our new state legislature (senate and house), and that of their staffs as well. We all know the governor will have to be paid more than the mayor. And the members of the state legislature will have to earn more than members of the city council, with the state senators earning more than the state house members. How much do you think that will cost? Twenty-five million dollars, thirty million dollars? What would the configuration of a DC state legislature look like: one senator from each ward, with house members apportioned based upon the number of citizens residing in each ward?

The last thing we need in the District of Columbia is another layer of government sucking money out of the pockets of District citizens. The argument for DC statehood (citizen enfranchisement) is nothing more than a red herring. Proponents of DC statehood should at least be honest about their motivation. The real aim is to guarantee more Democrats on the Hill, which is not necessarily a bad thing. One question does remain, however. Why in the world are DC Republicans (the lower taxes and smaller government crowd) backing DC statehood?


Your Technology Columnist — Bloglines Overview
Phil Shapiro,

My day job is at a public library and I'm always amused when members of the public ask me, "How do you know so much?" I answer them with a slight smile, "Well, it's my job to know a lot." Truth is, one of the ways I stay informed is by using a free blog reader aggregator,

Here is a screencast, a narrated explanation, that gives an overview of how I use Bloglines, (eight minutes in duration, 30 MB in file size, QuickTime format) Your usage of Bloglines would naturally be different from mine, but the efficiencies in time you achieve by using Bloglines would be the same as the efficiencies I've encountered. I created this screencast using a Macintosh program named Screenflow. If you'd like to try your hand at screencasting, check out CamStudio, the free screencasting program for Windows. Forward thinking public libraries ought to be teaching screencasting. Some probably already do.


Verizon Center: Where Did the Money Go?
Dave Mallof,

The reaction was very good to my piece last week in themail [January 21] questioning why the DC government refuses to release the use of $50 million in public tax money gifted to the Verizon Center in December 2007.

If you would like to help join in and file a simple Freedom of Information Act request for the release of information regarding how the public's tax money is being spent improving the privately owned Verizon Center, please E-mail Dave Mallof at He can send you a simple draft FOIA request letter for you to send as a concerned individual to the DC government by E-mail or US Mail. Your letter simply would request full release of the Verizon Center "Approved Development Plan" required by DC Law 17-12, which by law also was to be specifically approved by Mayor Fenty in 2007 before the closing of the tax-and-rebate scheme. In addition, at the new year it would be good to request an update of how much of the $50 million was spent during calendar 2008, and for what capital improvement(s) to the private property.


Historic Buildings for the People
Katrina Lee,

All this talk about wood versus vinyl replacement windows warrants a suggestion that people simply repair their old wooden windows, and put any money saved into removable storms. That's right, I said "any money saved." With our tax dollars subsidizing the transport of new stuff made by almost-slave labor on the other side of the world, paying local labor to repair old stuff often doesn't save money (only resources). It's not easy for people to decide what to do, and nowhere is this more true than in building repair/renovation. Throughout the history of the free market, poor people have survived because they were beneficiaries of their own skilled or semiskilled labor. Now, young people grow up with only general corporate skills, and end up as wage slaves with no choice but to pay the same retail price as the wealthy.

Schools that focus on the building trades partner with corporations to train young folks in the use of modern materials and construction methods. In other words, they learn how to assemble houses, not build, let alone repair, them — in this case, not a general, but a specific corporate skill. I don't know of any public school that teaches traditional building skills. As a result, historic home ownership is rapidly becoming a pastime of the rich. Drive through rural America and you'll see mobile homes sprinkled across the landscape like toys dropped by a careless giant. Even before the papers are signed, these aluminum-and-paper boxes are worth just a fraction of their price tags. To meet the mortgage-equivalent payments on these un-appreciable dwellings, some of their inhabitants make long daily treks to construction jobs, where they spend their days inside a factory attaching sections of pre-wired, pre-finished walls to each other.

Unless we are prepared to be living in and surrounded by "Toyota" houses that are as unrepairable and unrenewable as modern cars, we need to find a way to teach the next generation what international corporations (and aren't they all?) tell us are dying trades. Poor people can come close to living a middle-class lifestyle only when they know how to do for themselves and each other. Otherwise, a large chunk of their labor's value gets diverted to corporate profits and taxes. Ironically, some of those taxes help erect "affordable" housing (considered worthwhile because it has profit potential). The fact that we gauge the state of our economy by tallying up the number of new homes started each month says everything. Me, I'd rather be living in a modest but well-built shack. Now, am I going to have to win Powerball, so DC can have a Peoples' School of the Building Trades?


Buses and Government, Both Idling
Diane Schulz,

Concerning the citywide anti-idling law [themail, January 21], I was told it was rescinded for the week of the inauguration. When I complained to the mayor, I received this reply by E-mail from the Executive Office of the Mayor: “Thank you for writing in regards to your concern with tour buses idling. This E-mail is in response to your E-mail sent to Carrie Kohns and Dan Tangherlini. I apologize for any frustration caused by the decision made regarding bus idling during the Inauguration. I appreciate your thoughts with this matter. Thank you for writing and sharing your concern.”

The correspondence was unsigned. I think that shows what kind of regard the mayor and his administration have for the citizens of the city when their needs are compared to the wants of the federal government and out-of-towners.

I live at the Waterfront at 6th and N Streets, SW. We also had buses idling all day Wednesday during the March for Life. Any life in our neighborhood would have been gassed to death.


Learning from the Mouse
Dorothy Brizill,

Several years ago, when the US Postal Service was losing both mail and money at record rates, post office officials swallowed their pride and brought in consultants from United Parcel Service and Federal Express to advise them on their mail handling, strategic planning, customer service, and business practices. That was a rare occasion, but it should happen more often. Government, which by definition is inefficient and not oriented to customer service, can always learn from companies that know how to handle people efficiently and keep them happy, and in a cost-efficient manner. The next time we have a major event, like an inauguration, that will attract a large crowd, the government shouldn’t try to handle it itself, led by agencies like the Secret Service. It should go to a company that knows how to manage large crowds of people, how to distribute tickets efficiently, how to keep people happy and entertained in long lines and move those lines quickly, and how to provide effective security unobtrusively, without inconveniencing people.

Next time, subcontract the inauguration to Disney.


Crowd Control
Ron Linton,

During my involvement with the Metropolitan Police Department in planning for crowd control and security management, the mind set of security planners, including mine, was to view the requirements on the basis of the needs of the controllers, not the crowd. The inaugural day check point management suggests that hasn't changed. I think we were lucky to have avoided serious injury at the check points, where the funnel effect appeared not to have been considered. The natural tendency of a crowd is to bunch up. The check points had fixed iron fencing and the funnel pushed people against those fences, endangering them. The entrance point was a swinging gate that allowed only one or two individuals to edge through at a time. And even though there were several metal detectors inside the gate, the flow because of the funnel was uneven and the movement of people once inside the gate much slower than it could have been. Had security planners considered the needs and safety of the people, they could have arranged single-file entry lanes separated by jersey barriers ranging back two to three hundred feet from the entry point and turnstiles at the entry point. That would have kept people from jamming each other and moved people at a steady flow through the check points.

The point here is not to dwell on technical matters, but to reinforce the need to include on the committees planning security and crowd control individuals who will consider the safety and needs of the people coming to events. That goes beyond having an ambulance or medical tent. And rather than wait until a few months before an event to begin the planning, there should be a standing committee of federal and local police and security personnel with nongovernment citizen participants included to review and plan future events.


A Job Well Done
Kathy Henderson,

I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate Chief Cathy Lanier and all of the men and women under her command for a superb job protecting our public safety during the inaugural celebration. It certainly is not easy to coordinate the safe passage of approximately two million persons in and around our city during this historic event. Chief Lanier assembled a first-rate team, including law enforcement personnel from other jurisdictions, and we were safer because of this tremendous undertaking.

I was very concerned about the effect of so many people converging on our city at once, extended bar hours, and the impact of officers being diverted from our neighborhoods. As I watched the day-long inaugural festivities unfold without major incident I was pleased; public safety was clearly the top priority for all of us, residents and visitors alike.

Thank you, Chief Lanier, and all of the men and women under your command for job well done!


The Purple Tunnel of Doom
Jack McKay,

The crying shame on an otherwise fabulous day was the denial of entry to the Mall to hundreds of people with tickets to the inauguration viewing area. This is an irreparable loss, because this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, something that utterly beyond correction or compensation. It's said that people without tickets got into the area, leaving no space for those with tickets. Well, why wasn't there an effort to remove people without tickets, to let people with tickets in? Who decided that it was appropriate to deny access to people with perfectly valid tickets? Who decided that there was no space for them? A silver-ticketed person who was there reports that "once on the mall, there was tons of room! Could have easily accommodated all the people in the line."

It seems to me that, if the problem was a failure of the security personnel to keep non-ticketholders out, then they should have accepted responsibility for the situation, instead of punishing the poor souls who came to see the inauguration, and saw only the interior of the Third Street Tunnel.


Proving a Negative
Eric Gaull,

As the old aphorism goes, “You can’t prove a negative.” That there were no incidents at the inauguration is not a reason to say that the security wasn’t needed.


Inauguration Experience
Carolyn Long, Tenleytown,

In the weeks leading up to the inauguration I didn't hear of one local person who intended to go downtown for the inauguration. I was frankly horrified by this. Presumably most of us are Obama supporters, and here we are living in DC, while so many others from out of town were making long and arduous trips to be here. In the end, I caved in and had a perfectly fine time watching it on TV with neighbors.

But my husband and our friend from New York did go downtown. After our leisurely breakfast they walked to the Tenelytown Metro at about 10:00. The first red line train that went by was packed, but they got on the one that came right after, and it was no more crowded than an ordinary rush hour. They got off at Farragut North and walked to the Lincoln Memorial and never encountered a security check point. They stood in an enthusiastic and friendly, but not huge, crowd to watch the swearing-in on a jumbo screen. There were plenty of portable toilets and no lines. After watching the swearing-in they walked back to Dupont Circle, had lunch at Kramer Books, then got on the Metro and actually got seats. They were back in time to watch the parade with us on TV. Personally, at my age I'm not up for even that much walking and standing in the cold, and I'm not sorry to have been with my neighbors watching it on TV, but all the dire predictions we heard turned out to be false in the case of my husband and our friend. I'd be very interested to hear about the experiences, good or bad, of anybody who did go downtown.



Shades of Black Book Club, January 27
George Williams,

Tuesday, January 27, 3:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, New Popular Library, Room 110. Shades of Black Book Club. Adults. Discuss Standing at the Scratch Line by Guy Johnson. For more information, contact 727-1295.


A Room with a View, January 28
Jazmine Zick,

January 28, 6:30-9:00 p.m. A Room with a View, directed by James Ivory (1985, R, 117 minutes, color), starring Helena Bonham Carter and Daniel Day Lewis. Shown as part of the series Detour: The Landscape of Travel on Film. In this three-week series inspired by the exhibition Detour, Ann Hornaday, Washington Post film critic, and Deborah Sorensen, curatorial associate at the Museum, introduce films featuring unexpected and powerful encounters with the natural world. The series continues on February 4 and 11. $5 Member; $5 Student; $10 Nonmember. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. Members Special: $10 for all three films! At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Register for events at


DC Public Library Martin Luther King, Jr., Events, January 27-28
George Williams,

Tuesday, January 27, 11:00 a.m., Washington Highlands Neighborhood Library, 115 Atlantic Street, NW. Congressman Robert Smalls: The Greatest Story Never Told. View a documentary about Robert Smalls, a former slave who became a congressman. Meet and discuss the documentary with filmmaker Adrena Ifill. All ages. Contact 645-5881.

Tuesday, January 27, 4:00 p.m., Washington Highlands Neighborhood Library, 115 Atlantic Street, NW. 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 27, 6:00 p.m., Washington Highlands Neighborhood Library, 115 Atlantic Street, NW. Black History Movie Night: Remembering the Titans. See how a town torn apart by resentment, friction and mistrust comes together in triumphant harmony. In 1971, football coach Bill Yoast is demoted and replaced by Herman Boone. Find out how these men overcame their differences and turned a group of hostile young men into champions. 2 hours. (PG-13) Contact 645-5881.

Tuesday, January 27, 7:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Auditorium A-5. C.R. Gibbs winter lecture series on African history and culture. Local historian Carter Ward presents a lecture on the African presence in early Asia. Adults. Contact 727-1211.

Wednesday, January 28, 11:00 a.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Washingtoniana Division, Room 307. The Washington Urban League: Past, Present and Future. A discussion of the role of the Washington Urban League in the civil rights movement, education and social and economic empowerment of African Americans. Contact 727-1213.

Wednesday, January 28, 10:30 a.m., Washington Highlands Neighborhood Library, 115 Atlantic Street, NW. 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.

Wednesday, January 28, 4:00 p.m., Washington Highlands Neighborhood Library, 115 Atlantic Street, NW. Martin Luther King, Jr., film fest. View films and share your experiences in following in the footsteps of Dr. King. Ages 13-19. Contact 645-5881.

Wednesday, January 28, 7:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Great Hall. Concert in Tribute to Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Orchestral musicians from around the Washington, DC, Metropolitan area come together under the baton of Maestro A. Scott Wood to perform inspiring American musical works in honor of these two great men. All ages. Contact 727-1291.


Introduction to Government Grant Research, January 30
Patricia Pasqual,

The Foundation Center will host a free interactive training session on The session will be held on January 30, 2:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m., 1627 K Street, NW, Third Floor. The presenter will be Michael Pellegrino, Outreach Director of, Department of Health and Human Services. He will discuss and demonstrate the basics of how to search and apply for federal government grants. For further information and registration, go to:


Historical Society of Washington, DC, February 4
Ed Bruske,

Wednesday, February 4, 7:00 p.m., 801 K Street, NW, at Mt. Vernon Square. Woodson Talks Series, Forging Pathways to Multiculturalism and Interracial Understanding in the Twenty-First Century. The Woodson Talks promise to engage the public in a series of “courageous conversations” addressing the problem of “race” and methods of “racial reconciliation” pursued historically in the United States and around the world. The thoughts and ideas of Dr. Carter G. Woodson found in his 1933 seminal work The Mis-Education of the Negro and in Carter G. Woodson’s Appeal, written in 1921, but published in 2008, will serve as the foundation for this series of panels. The object of the Woodson Talks is to reach out to all Americans and emphasize the importance of blending various points of views to address the problem of race in the United States. The series will commemorate several significant historical anniversaries that will serve as a springboard for making connections between historic events and the contemporary racial environment in the US. Dr. Woodson’s perspectives on “culturally responsive teaching” and “multicultural education” are the basis for beginning dialogue on these significant anniversaries. The goal of the “Woodson Talks” is to a attempt to answer some critical questions: What must we do to achieve Dr. Woodson’s vision and Dr. King’s Beloved Community?

To kick off the series, the panelists for Forging Pathways to Multiculturalism and Interracial Understanding in the Twenty-First Century are: John Whittington Franklin, Daryl Michael Scott, James Loewen, Cynthia Vidaurri, Angela Rola, Gabrielle Tayac, and Eileen Kugler. The public will have an opportunity to meet the panelists and participate in an author’s book signing. (Cosponsors, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc. (ASALH), the Historical Society of Washington, DC, and the Kiamsha Youth Empowerment Organization (a member of the Pen or Pencil: To Serve this Present Age Mentoring Network).) Ages fourteen to adults. or 383-1828. Free admission.


DC Statehood — Now Is The Time!, February 5
David Bosserman,

DC Statehood, an open discussion hosted by the DC Statehood Green Party. Confirmed panelists include Senator Michael Brown; Senator Paul Strauss; Councilmember Michael Brown; Ann Loikow, DC Statehood Yes We Can Coalition; Sam Smith, Progressive Review; Anise Jenkins, Stand up for Democracy; radio host Mark Plotkin. Thursday, February 5, 7:00 -9:00 p.m., UDC School of Law, 4200 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Building 39, Room 201, Van Ness Metro Station (Red Line).

Friends, family, and local businesses welcome; musical entertainment; food and refreshments provided. For more information, go to


Public Art Master Plan Open House, February 10
Deirdre Ehlen,

The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities is conducting a citywide Public Art Master Plan. We invite you to an open house to participate and share your thoughts on public art in your neighborhood, which will be included in the overall DC Creates Public Art Program Vision in the District of Columbia.

The open house will be held on Tuesday, February 10, 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., at Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library 901 G Street, NW (Metro: Gallery Place-Chinatown (Red/Green/Yellow lines) and Metro Center (Red/Blue/Orange lines). To RSVP and for more information, call 724-5613 or E-mail

The DC Creates Public Art Program will preserve the cultural health, reflect the diverse fabric, and promote creative innovation in Washington, DC, by reinforcing urban places that become the heart of every community.


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