- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2003

Gentler, yet more effective, rat control

Why do some people seem comfortable mocking humane solutions to problems involving animals they don't like ("Trash-pickup 'backlog' breeds rats, contempt," Life, Thursday)? I may be president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) now, but in the 1970s, I was chief of Animal Disease Control for the District of Columbia. Back then, I worked with the chief of rodent control, a kindly man trying to do an impossible job. He was upset that the District used Red Squill, a gut-wrenching poison, because he knew poisoning wastes funds and doesn't work over the long haul. He also understood rats and knew that they keep themselves clean, are good mothers and clever foragers and eat our garbage only because they have nothing else to eat.
Together, we explored anti-coagulants and other killing methods that would not cause as much prolonged misery in these small mammals. Yet, we knew then and know now, as any "rat control agency" will tell you, that the solution to "rat problems" has always been simple: The money needs to go to pick up the trash, cover the bins and clean the alleys.
Sadly, we seem incapable of cleaning up properly after ourselves, so we invite starving animals to pick over the leftovers that we place in front of their whiskered noses. When they take us up on that invitation, what sort of people are we if we then wrinkle our own noses at the prospect of sparing them needless pain?

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

A fine-crazy town

Increased District parking fines highlight a big problem in this fine-crazy town ("Higher parking fines go into effect," Metro, March 3). Indeed, for people living and working in the District, the new reality is tickets, tickets everywhere. The numbers don't lie: The number of speeding tickets issued in 2002 was 372,000, as opposed to just 11,000 issued in 2001, more than 33 times as many. This is a mixed blessing.
There are real positives to the increased enforcement, for lives have been saved. The number of vehicle-related deaths fell from 71 in 2001 to 50 in 2002, a 30 percent drop. The police believe there were at least 11 fewer speed-related deaths. The police department also has increased its alcohol-related enforcement, having at least weekly sobriety checkpoints. The rub against these positives, however, are legitimate issues of fairness in issuing parking tickets: the whos, hows and wheres.
For example, in the 2500 to 2700 blocks of Porter Street NW, the residents recently stepped outside to find their cars ticketed for not having car wheels turned toward the curb on hills. This code had never before been enforced. If the police were going to start enforcing it, why not put out a public-education campaign, including notices on cars on that stretch of road, that enforcement would be occurring in 30 days?
Most every morning, you can find an unmarked photo-radar-equipped police vehicle parked in the 2500 block of Porter Street in a clearly marked "No parking or standing anytime" zone and blocking a fire hydrant, to boot. The fire-hydrant violation is a $100 ticket alone, though I am sure that car and its driver have never been issued one. The police department says it is on police business, so, ironically, it is exempt from enforcement. Yet, you often also see police cars parked in no-parking zones or bus zones when the officers are just on personal time say, getting a cup of coffee or running an errand. They are never ticketed for that infraction.
The selective enforcement does not stop there. D.C. Council members using their cars with council tags have exempted themselves from most parking regulations; e.g., they can park at meters without paying and in bus zones, etc. District parking-enforcement employees don't issue tickets on city government vehicles in general, often used by agency heads and other employees. Of course, members of Congress also are exempt from parking regulations. The public officials say they are on "official public business," but can't the argument be made that people who bake our city's bread, wait tables, run stores and other businesses and are going about most commerce are doing the public's business as well? City and federal officials work for us, the public, and we pay their salaries. It seems only fair, barring emergency situations, that they should be treated the same as everyone else.
So yes, there are a whole lot more tickets. I am sure the city's tax man is happy, for revenues from ticketing have jumped more than 25 percent, to more than $57 million last year. What has to happen now, along with increasing the number of enforcement personnel and the proposed increase in fines by the city, is an equally strong campaign of fairness in enforcement. Police on personal errands, elected officials and city personnel all should be treated the same as other citizens. Also, officials should redouble public education campaigns regarding speeding and alcohol regulations and be certain signage is clearly posted and marked. "Gotcha tactics" should become a thing of the past, as should streets being used as speedways.


A flawed design

Julie Beckman, co-designer of the Pentagon's proposed September 11 memorial, said that "the memorial had to be like no other memorial" (" 'Light benches' to honor Pentagon loss," Metropolitan, Tuesday), but it is not quite the case with her and her partner's design. It has a degree of similarity to the recent Oklahoma City memorial, whose central area is a composition of 168 empty chairs that is comparable to the Pentagon memorial's proposed 184 benches. That similarity, even for those who hold uniqueness as a requirement of memorial art, may not be too significant or detrimental. However, there are other questionable aspects of the design, including what it does not contain.
The proposed benches are to have narrow pools of water and lights beneath them. Maintaining 184 of them will be a maintenance headache. Water pools, especially small ones, are debris collectors, and their bottoms are best kept from view. Such pools usually are empty in winter and often stained with residue.
The narrow pools will not be large enough to do much reflecting of rippling light, either. The needed underground utilities water supply, drainage, electric conduit all routing through a system of tree roots and all requiring access hatches, will pose challenging engineering issues. Also, 184 individual benches on soft-filled soil are, in time, likely to settle differentially, further distracting from the memorial's overall effect. Unless modified or assigned a rigorous maintenance and upkeep regimen, these features will distract from the memorial's needed sense of reverence.
Missing from the site plan is provision for a place for large commemorative gatherings. These will have to be held alongside the memorial, probably in the parking lot, a less than ideal arrangement.
Still another troubling condition is that there will be no indication on the west facade of the Pentagon showing where the jetliner's impact occurred. True, the memorial is to honor the victims, not commemorate the event, but the two are inseparable. Future visitors will wonder just where the crash happened and how extensive the damage was to the facade. Without some indication on the impact area, which is barely visible now, the memorial will remain somewhat unconvincing, with understandable curiosity unsatisfied. In Manhattan, two huge craters will serve this purpose, adding to, rather than distracting from, the experience of remembering. Similarly, in Oklahoma City, significant remnants of the bombed building were integrated into the site design to great advantage.
In short, before rushing to construction, reconsideration is warranted.

Adviser for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial competition
Initial adviser for the Pentagon design competition

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