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December 26, 2010

Art Appreciation

Dear Appreciators:

A couple weeks ago, Dorothy and I were in the new Art of the Americas wing of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. A four-year-old boy walked into the room we were in and encountered John Singleton Copley’s “Watson and the Shark” ( for the first time. He yelled “Whoa” out loud, ran to the painting and stood in front of it, his mouth agape, staring intently and trying to take it all in at one time. That’s art appreciation. His parents tried to hush him, embarrassed by his reaction, but he was right and they were wrong. “Watson and the Shark” is an action-packed adventure movie in one still frame, as large as a movie screen (about six by seven and a half feet). It shows a nude sailor in the sea, pursued by a shark, and a row boat full of men trying to rescue him and at the same time fend off other sharks. It’s a painting meant to shock and excite, to overwhelm, to elicit strong emotions. The boy got it right.

I thought of this experience again on December 24, when Dorothy and I went to the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the National Museum of American Art, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, who collected the paintings and drawings in the exhibit, speak of Rockwell as a fellow movie director, and use the same image I had thought of for “Watson and the Shark,” of a director who worked in the genre of one-frame stories. They appreciate how Rockwell cast his paintings and his storytelling skill, but neither they nor the curators of the exhibit speak much of his painterly skill, which is evident to audiences but difficult for art critics to understand. This lack of understanding is obvious in the commentary that accompanies “The Connoisseur,” which is included in the slideshow of the exhibit ( “The Connoisseur” shows a portly gentleman from behind as he stands before a Jackson Pollock painting in an art gallery. The spectator’s attitude toward the Pollock isn’t evident from his pose — is he admiring it or is he puzzled by it, is he awed by it as a work of genius or is he wondering why it even belongs in a museum exhibit? The uncomprehending critic says, “It is tempting to speculate that this painting of a well-dressed older man contemplating a Jackson Pollock-like drip painting is a metaphorical self-portrait as Rockwell faces the future.” No, that misunderstanding doesn’t tempt me a bit. First, Rockwell, who was thin, would never have painted himself as portly. Second, the painting was done in 1962, when “sophisticated” art critics dismissed Rockwell as a “mere illustrator” and praised Pollock as a visionary, when they began to say that only art that offended or, better yet, puzzled the average viewer was “serious” art. The painting, the curator doesn’t understand, is the illustrator’s challenge, his declaration of superiority over the critics’ darling, his boast. Look at it closely. The imitation Pollock in Rockwell’s painting is as good as any that Pollock actually painted, and better than most. Rockwell is saying, not that Pollock is the future that he can only stand before and give way to, but, “I can do whatever Pollock does, just as well as he does it; does he have the skill to do what I can?”

The point? The Rockwell exhibit closes January 2. Get to it this week.

Gary Imhoff


When Will Prevention Pay?
Samuel Jordan,

For the last seven of its thirteen years, Health Care Now! (HCN) has implemented community-based, preventive health care programs. However, following a number of well-intended, but unrealized promises of collaboration from local health care providers, we are concerned that prevention doesn’t pay. Clinics, hospitals, emergency departments, and birthing centers have agreed to conduct a simple series of noninvasive chronic illness risk factor screenings for residents participating in HCN’s Preventive Care Households in a Preventive Care Community (PCH) project. The screenings are a key step in PCH, a preventive health care behavioral modification program that includes fresh produce, community exercise, health status surveys, affinity groups for chronic illness sufferers and a special ER use reduction component.

After the initial burst of enthusiasm during the introduction of the program, reality began to assert itself. When it becomes clear that our project succeeded, when residents of medically underserved communities made informed, sparing use of illness treatment facilities, barriers to collaboration begin to emerge. HCN suspects what health care providers are reluctant to admit: they are chagrined to confess that the prevailing health care provider business model cannot support a program that actually reduces the number of patients who present themselves for care. How can hospitals reward HCN for keeping health care consumers out of the emergency room?

Illness treatment pays the bills. People who don’t use the emergency room will not pay the higher costs for special or urgent care — an important revenue generator for many hospitals. The illness treatment establishment doesn’t encourage competing health maintenance strategies. A review of preventive health programs indicates that there is quite a bit more preventive care rhetoric than effective action. In one of our communities targeted for PCH, residents set 150 of 250 households as their PCH goal. After all members of those households received the screenings, the community would become a Preventive Care Community. However, our collaborating health care provider could only schedule three households per week while maintaining the numbing illness treatment work load. HCN was again advised to find another partner.

Perhaps prevention can only be pursued through a publicly funded program. The entrepreneurial model in general use by corporate and private sector health care providers permits admirable gestures toward prevention, but cannot underwrite a shift of significant investments into prevention activities. The undisputed value of prevention to the community is not easily captured by the health care provider mindful of the bottom line. Prevention doesn’t pay?


Child Poverty, Homelessness, Sexual Exploitation, and a 2011 Prediction
Mai Abdul Rahman,

DC’s poverty and homeless rates are highest in the country. In 2008 our city’s poverty rates were third in the country, and so in 2009, not surprisingly, more than sixteen thousand residents were homeless. Of those sixteen thousand, more that 37 percent are homeless families with children, in addition to three thousand stand-alone homeless children who reside in our city’s streets and abandoned buildings. Since 2006, the United States Conference of City Mayors warned and predicted a continued rise in the numbers of homeless families and children: “Homeless families will increase. . . . Families may have to break up in order to be sheltered,”, Our city has done little to address the projected increase in the number of homeless families and children in DC. Predictably this year DCPS administrators have noted a substantial increase in the number of school aged homeless and/or abandoned children attending their schools.

Most alarming, researchers suggest that 30 percent of homeless children living in shelters are victims of sexual exploitation and that more than 70 percent of homeless children forced into the streets are engaging in “survival sex” to secure food, housing, and transportation. During the past four years, the number of child prostitutes in DC has seen a huge spike and the city was cited by child advocacy groups as a hub for sexual exploitation of children, Poverty and lack of affordable housing are contributing factors to the sexual exploitation of poor and homeless children in DC. An increasing number of DC children are confronted with factors outside and beyond their control, unable to seek work, secure food or find shelter they are left with few options other then to sell their bodies. A simple search of the Washington Examiner web site with the words “child prostitute” generates tens of stories of children between the ages of nine and seventeen engaging in prostitution:

Homelessness impacts children mentally, socially, and emotionally and exposes them to great risks. In addition, psychologists and researchers warn about the impact of homelessness on children’s overall cognitive and developmental growth, as well as the severe future social impacts on the homeless children and our society at large. “Many children and youth experience physical (e.g., blindness, speech problems) and learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia) that may make it difficult for them to reach their full potential” (National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty, 2009). The implications of poverty on the high rates of homelessness and child prostitution in DC continue to be overlooked by DC legislators. Meanwhile DC legislatures are advancing cuts in affordable housing programs, low income benefits, and the latest wage and TANF proposal cuts that will make it more difficult for DC low income families to stay afloat. Forewarned by federal and city leaders that a lack of serious planning and attention to this issue will have devastating impact on the most susceptible children, exposing them “to exploitation and involvement in illicit activities, such as selling drugs and prostitution” Despite the growth in the number of homeless children and the many well-documented complex issues that have publicly surfaced, including the rise of young children engaging in survival sex to make ends meet, DC legislators have yet to consider a constructive long term strategy to meaningfully address the factors that have exposed the most vulnerable residents of our city to sexual exploitation — children as young as nine years old. With little evidence that the high rates of child prostitution in DC and the factors that contribute to it are of a concern to most of our legislator, I predict that in 2011 the number of sexually exploited children in DC will more than likely increase and surpass the rates found in faraway cities of the poorest nations in the world.


End of a Less Than Glorious Year
Jenefer Ellingston, (retired) Statehood Green Party,

A note of thanks from one of your dedicated readers. You have been a trustworthy and timely source of information about the shady doings of our second-rate local government (maybe third-rate). Thank you for keeping us up to date and guiding us toward actions or even solutions to the misguided performance of those elected to serve DC citizens, not developers.

I live in Ward 6, but I’m horrified by the questionable practice of developers, through their crony city council members, to dislodge the City Paper and WPFW, and replace them with condos (nothing new about that)! What could be worse? What could be less useful, less appropriate, less feasible than condominiums on tiny Champlain Street? (Answer: build them on tiny Kalorama Street.) Living on Capitol Hill, I often drive on Massachusetts Avenue from Union Station to Mt. Vernon Place — an endless row of condo buildings, on both sides of the Avenue, noticeably ugly and cheap — and almost empty (for how many years). And now, Wal-Mart is on the way. No doubt they have “persuaded” the city council and mayor to pave the way for them. There was a time when this city was graceful and beautiful. No more. (I was born here, moved away and returned.)

Back to the main subject: again, thank you for keeping us informed and guiding us through the maze of city agencies and departments, to uncover pathways toward solutions (redemption). Special credit to Peter Tucker, who follows in your footsteps.


Height Limitation
Nicole McLean,

I’m no longer a resident of the city, but I am absolutely against lifting the ban against skyscrapers [themail, December 19]. I hear all the arguments about the need for more space, blah, blah, blah, but I believe that preserving the landscape and the look of the city is simply more important. Skyscrapers darken a city at an inexplicable cost to the look of the city. Since DC is such an important city from a historical perspective, maintaining a certain aesthetic and preserving the beauty and importance of the historical buildings should remain important. Nothing needs to be higher than the Monument. Want tall buildings? Go to Arlington. DC is just fine the way that it is. Once you turn that corner, you can never go back.


Lack of Registrations
Amy McVey,

If DC would be flexible in who can register a vehicle in the city, you would likely see greater compliance. Up until a few years ago, co-owners of DC vehicles did not all have to live in the city; only one owner needed to be a resident. Parents who lived outside of DC could co-own a car with their adult child who was living in town. (The adult child could be a student or a young person just starting out who needed a cosigner on the loan.) The cars were then registered in DC. The same was true for married couples who live and work in different states. I had a neighbor a few blocks away who was living and working in DC while his wife had been offered a position near Cumberland, MD. After a year of living in hotel apartments, she purchased a home and lives there most of the year; he is here most of the time. When they traded in the car they had jointly owned in DC for many years, the city refused to allow her name on the title of the new car because she no longer had a DC driver’s license — not a resident, no license. Since they own all their property together and since Maryland does not care where you live, they registered the car in Maryland. That makes sense to me. The state with the least hassles gets the business.

So, instead of allowing out-of-state co-owners on the cars and earning at least the money from registration fees, DC chases the business to a neighboring state. Go back to the way it used to be when DC allowed co-owners from other states and you will get more compliance. Makes sense to me.

In fact, I would go one step further and allow the owners of any residence in this city to register a car here. I have a friend who owns a rather large estate in NY. It is only a part-time summer home. but it does have a full-time caretaker. They own and have registered two Jeeps at their summer home, one for use by the caretaker and an extra vehicle for when they are in NY. NY is getting the registration fees even though the owners are MD residents. I really believe that if DC stopped trying to control and limit people as much as it does, good things would happen.


Re: Lack of DC Registrations
Richard Stone Rothblum,

The topic of visitors being ticketed for not registering their out-of-state vehicles [themail, December 21] was a subject of many recent comments on the Palisades listserv. The problem was not that residents were cheating or taking undue advantage of their residential visitors’ parking permits, as suggested by Denise Wiktor, but that guests were being ticketed despite displaying the RPP permit. At one point, William O. Howland, Jr., Director of the Department of Public Works, published a response to clarify the situation: “[A] Visitors Pass from MPD . . . only applies to the Residential Parking Program (RPP). The ticket [in question] was issued for a Registration of Out of State Automobile (ROSA) which requires a resident to register their vehicle thirty days after moving into the District of Columbia. The Visitors Pass does not apply to ROSA enforcement.”

Unfortunately, the way in which DPW enforces the ROSA regulations virtually guarantees that innocent visitors who regularly park overnight using their host’s RPP permits will be ticketed under the ROSA program. If the ticket issuers find a car not registered in DC parked overnight within the District on more than three nights in a given thirty day period, a warning will be issued stating that the recipient must register his car in the District. After that, any time the vehicle is observed to be parked in DC overnight more than twice in the same thirty-day period will be subject to a $100 fine.

The ROSA enforcement protocol should satisfy the objections concerning abuse of the RPP raised by Denise, although in my view enforcement goes way too far. Evidently, lots of innocent out-of-town visitors who spend several nights a week visiting friends in DC have been ticketed, and, amazingly, have failed to have the tickets overturned on appeal. Here are two links provided by Mr. Howland that state the official DMV (but not DPW) position on the ROSA and the RPP:,


DC Registrations
Denise Wiktor,

I realize from Mr. Rothblum’s note that I was not entirely clear. I live in Mt. Pleasant, which has had one of the “pilot” visitors parking permit programs. the passes are mailed to each residence (including each apartment) and are good for a year. We are in year two of the pilot. On the pass it says such things as, “can not use for more than thirty days,” etc. However, since the program is administered by DDOT, parking enforcement has taken the position they have no authority to ticket under it. These permits have been sold, some to local business who park in the area, and many residents who have moved in since the program have opted not to register their cars since they can use this permit.

The second issue was about MPD visitors’ permits. A local business person who lives in the ward gets permits for all of her employees. After dealing with the substation commander it was clear these permits were not being issued properly — some were as long as six weeks, none had signatures, and the tracking numbers were missing from all of them. I believe I know what officer(s) are assisting this person in obtaining them, but the internal controls are lax o n them.



Challenges Facing DC, January 4
Vic Miller,

Vincent Gray takes the helm in the District of Columbia January 2 as its sixth mayor. The District’s unique role as a state and a city means he will have to contend with both the challenges facing many big-city mayors — such as citizen concerns about crime and public safety, and a tumultuous housing market in which many hard-pressed families face foreclosure — and the big fiscal and policy issues of health care and budget balancing that confront new governors. And unlike any other city, county, or state leader, the District’s chief executive must deal with the additional layer of congressional oversight and veto. Join us just two days after the Gray administration’s debut for a fact-filled discussion about what recent research has to say about the District, its residents, local programs and services, and ways to make life better for the 600,000 people who call the District of Columbia home.

You are cordially invited to attend, “Mr. Mayor! Here’s What Research Says About the Challenges Facing the District of Columbia, on Tuesday, January 4, at noon-1:30 p.m., at the Urban Institute, 2100 M Street, NW, 5th Floor. Lunch will be provided at 11:45 a.m. The forum begins promptly at noon. To attend in person, RSVP online at or E-mail To watch the video web cast, go to Discussions panelists will be Jocelyn Fontaine, deputy director, District of Columbia Crime Policy Institute, Urban Institute; Olivia Golden, Institute fellow, former director of the Child and Family Services Agency, District of Columbia, and author of Reforming Child Welfare (moderator); Barbara Ormond, senior research associate, Health Policy Center, Urban Institute; Alice Rivlin, senior fellow, Brookings Institution, director, Brookings Greater Washington Research, and former chair, District of Columbia Financial Management Assistance Authority; Peter Tatian, senior research associate, Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center, Urban Institute and director, NeighborhoodInfo DC.


National Building Museum Events, January 6
Tara Miller,

January 6, 12:30-1:30 p.m. Smart Growth: What Makes Great Public Squares? Robert F. Gatje, FAIA, author of Great Public Squares, explains the essential elements of successful public squares and how they contribute to the livability of cities. A book-signing follows the program. Free, registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at


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