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September 18, 2013

Quoth the Raven

Dear Washingtonians:

From the archives of themail, here are answers to two unresolved questions about famous sayings. In 2009, I challenged the quotation attributed to H.G. Wells that, "Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the human race." I wrote that I couldn’t find it anywhere in Wells’ published works, and that the first instance of it that I could find dated from the 1970’s, in books promoting bicycling. Now I’ve found support on from a commentator, 77univega, who wrote in 2005 that, "That is a great quotation but there is no proof that HG Wells said it. I have searched out every source I can find and even exchanged a series of E-mails with the HG Wells Society in England ( but NO one can cite an original source document for that quotation."

Then there is the pithier quote, "No good deed goes unpunished," which we discussed in 1998. I wrote that New Yorker writer Brendan Gill credited it to his aunt. Others credited it to poetess and short story writer Dorothy Parker, novelist and playwright Gore Vidal, playwright and ambassador Claire Boothe Luce, and Oscar Wilde. I do think that I’ve found the original, from newspaper columnist and poet Franklin P. Adams, who wrote a poem that didn’t contain the quote, but was titled, "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished (So Shines a Good Deed in a Naughty World)," FPA, along with Parker, was a member of the Algonquin Round Circle group of writers, and he launched Parker’s career in his column.

Gary Imhoff


Edward Cowan,

Was that sarcasm when you wrote with respect to the moniker of the Washington NFL team, "as has been true so often in American history, it falls to more enlightened whites to act as their caretakers, to be offended on their behalf and teach them what is in their best interest?"

What the team calls itself is not a hot issue with me. But your seemingly arrogant assumption that you know the self-interest of some Americans better than they do — and your presumption about how they should feel about the term "Redskins" — are beyond imagining. Did you lift that from the diary of a 19th century British imperialist?

[Ed seems to be channeling Sheldon Cooper in "The Big Bang Theory," who can’t recognize sarcasm when he hears it, and is always asking, "Was that sarcasm?" Yes, Ed, that was sarcasm, but you misread it completely. On February 10, in an introduction to themail, I wrote that, "The best opinion survey that I am aware of that actually asked a broad cross-section of American Indians what they thought about the name of the Washington Redskins was taken by the National Annenberg Election Survey in 2004. Its finding is summarized by the headline of its press release: ‘Most Indians Say Name of Washington "Redskins" Is Acceptable, While 9 Percent Call It Offensive, Annenberg Data Show,’ (Ninety percent of American Indians found Redskins’ acceptable; one percent was undecided.) Eugene Volokh did a good discussion of this poll’s findings and its limitations in the Volokh Conspiracy, This doesn’t settle the matter, but it does mean that we should throw a flag on the play when an activist Indian claims that he speaks for all Indians, and even more so when a white or black activist says that Indians should be offended, whether or not they actually are, and that they probably just aren’t educated enough on the issue to be properly offended."

[It is people who want to ban "Redskins" who are the people who think they "know the self-interests of some Americans better than they do." The numbers have probably changed somewhat since 2004, considering the heavy campaigning since then to convince Indians and the general public that they should be offended by "Redskins," but nevertheless I wasn’t being sarcastic about American Indians, who except for a radical minority aren’t offended by the name, but about the non-Indian members of the SOPO (the Society of the Perpetually Offended), who think they know best what Indians should believe, and who in previous generations set up Indian schools to alienate children from their tribal cultures. — Gary Imhoff]


September InTowner Now Online
P.L. Wolff,

The September issue content is now posted at, including the issue PDF in which will be found the primary news stories, museum exhibition reviews, and community news — plus all photos and other images. Not included in the PDF but linked directly from the home page is the What Once Was feature (this month all about the grand Leither mansion and its architect and occupants who once graced Dupont Circle), as well as Recent Real Estate Sales, Reservations Recommended, and Food in the Hood.

This month’s lead stories include the following: 1) "New Anthony Bowen YMCA Opens to Great Acclaim; Enthusiastically Welcomed to the U Street Area With Appreciation for its Beauty and Offerings"; 2) "!7th Street Liquor Moratorium 3-Year Renewal Endorsed by Dupont Circle ANC’s Close Vote"; 3) "DC Branch Libraries Acclaimed ‘Reinvention’ Revealed in Architectural Photography Show." Our editorial this month calls upon the city council to reject any move that will lead to a softening of the District’s building height limitations. Your thoughts are welcome and can be sent by clicking the comment link at the bottom of the web page or by E-mail to

The next issue PDF will publish early in the morning of October 11 (the second Friday of the month as usual). For more information, either send an E-mail to or call 234-1717.


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