My local library, Ralph Nader, and the government shutdown

I live less than 3/4 of a mile from the West End branch of the D.C. Public Library. This week’s cover story in the Washington City Paper is about Ralph Nader’s quest to stop the redevelopment of the land on which that branch is located. The redevelopment would (will) result in a mixed-use property with the library on the ground floor and residences above.

You have to read the article. There are some key points in it. Like the fact that every group that is actually composed of residents of the area support the redevelopment. And that these are groups that never agree on anything. The article does not say that I want to buy a condo above the library. (Can you imagine how awesome that would be?? I’d never be able to afford it, though.)

Land in the West End neighborhood is at a premium. The neighborhood is relatively close to two different Metro lines. There is a Trader Joes a block from the library and a Whole Foods only a few blocks further. It’s close to Georgetown. There are nice restaurants nearby. And so forth. Yet the library is a single story (there might be a second floor with meeting rooms? I’ve never been off the first floor) in this neighborhood that is so thirsty for density.

Nader, however, seems to be stuck in the age of the Carnegie library. Consider this quote of his from the WCP article: “It should have an architectural dignity, free-standing with good landscaping around it.”

Libraries are not built on the Carnegie model anymore. Nor should they be. Libraries are about access to information, not about the building. They should be welcoming, certainly. But welcoming does not equate to “free-standing with good landscaping.” Welcoming means helpful librarians and other library staff. Welcoming means books that people want to read and space where people can sit to work. Welcoming means working computers with useful software. Welcoming means hours that are convenient for people to use the library. And in DC, especially in West End where land is so valuable, a public-private partnership helps the library financially in a way to meet all of those welcoming criteria.

And while I’d rather not alienate any readers who might not share my politics, I cannot help but mention the government shutdown in the context of Nader’s crusade.

Jack Evans, who is the councilmember for my ward/the West End library’s ward), is quoted as having said this:

“Where I’d take issue with … the Library Renaissance Project is, at the end of the debate, you take a vote, and if you lose, you lose. And in this case the vote was overwhelming. Everyone came to an agreement that this was a good project. They were on the losing end of it and refused to stop. That’s where I would say wait, you gotta play by the rules.”

What does this remind you of? The Tea Party faction of the House of Representatives who were on the losing end of the Affordable Care Act and who have managed to wrangle an outsize amount of influence to shut down the government?

Ralph Nader probably wouldn’t appreciate being compared to the Tea Party, but that’s just too bad. Let us have our library and I’ll roll back the criticism.


Constitution Day!

It’s the most wonderful day of the year!

Did you know that my first serious career aspiration was to be a Supreme Court justice? (Serious, not realistic.) My passion in high school, aside from being passionate about being adored by my teachers, was the First Amendment. Specifically the religion clauses, most likely a consequence of my social justice ethical humanist culturally Jewish upbringing. A class assignment senior year led to the epiphany that I would enjoy being a lawyer, and it was not a far leap from that realization to the unrealistic goal of becoming a Justice.

I backed off from that goal years before it became an impossibility with a grade of B- in Constitutional Law, and have certainly found my place in the legal profession, so I have no regrets. But the Constitution remains–as it should–a document near and dear to my heart. More than once (I think three times, if asked to count) I have sworn to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.*

Today is the Constitution’s 226th birthday. That is amazing longevity. And while we disagree about what various provisions mean, the fact that the Constitution itself supports the existence and persistence of the debate blows my mind.

As I write this, I am thinking about a discussion that was had today about the meaning of Council rules that were adopted just nine months ago. Yet the Constitution has lasted 226 years. Awe.


*It is entirely possible that I swore to preserve, defend, and protect the Constititon during my Maryland Bar swearing-in. The judge reading the oath broke it into very long phrases and that one got jumbled between my ears and my mouth.


Did you know that it isn’t immediately obvious that a hyphenated last name is alphabetized by its first letter? I’m going to start alphabetizing my last name by one of the letters in the middle. Because that makes perfect sense. (Dear Mom and Dad, I had no idea that people are so stupid when it comes to hyphenated names. Thank you for not giving me one.)

But wait. Check out this excerpt from an alphabetized list of chemicals from the EPA (40 CFR 372.65):

Chemical name CAS No. Effective date
Abamectin [Avermectin B1] 71751-41-2 1/1/95
Acephate (Acetylphosphoramidothioic acid O,S-dimethyl ester) 30560-19-1 1/1/95
Acetaldehyde 75-07-0 1/1/87
Acetamide 60-35-5 1/1/87
Acetonitrile 75-05-8 1/1/87
Acetophenone 98-86-2 1/1/94
2-Acetylaminofluorene 53-96-3 1/1/87
Acifluorfen, sodium salt [5-(2-Chloro-4-(trifluoromethyl)phenoxy)-2-nitrobenzoic acid, sodium salt] 62476-59-9 1/1/95
Acrolein 107-02-8 1/1/87
Acrylamide 79-06-1 1/1/87
Acrylic acid 79-10-7 1/1/87
Acrylonitrile 107-13-1 1/1/87
Alachlor 15972-60-8 1/1/95
Aldicarb 116-06-3 1/1/95
Aldrin[1,4:5,8-Dimethanonaphthalene,1,2,3,4,10,10-hexachloro-1,4,4a,5,8,8a-hexahydro-(1.alpha.,4.alpha.,4a.beta.,5.alpha.,8.alpha., 8a.beta.)-] 309-00-2 1/1/87
d-trans-Allethrin [d-trans-Chrysanthemic acid of d-allethrone] 28057-48-9 1/1/95
Allyl alcohol 107-18-6 1/1/90
Allylamine 107-11-9 1/1/95
Allyl chloride

See those two that I bolded? I’ll be back when I’m done crying over the end of the world as I know it.

Today in statutory interpretation

I was looking today to see if I could delete a paragraph defining “District” as “the District of Columbia.” Somewhere, though I can never find it when I want to, there is a section of the D.C. Code that defines a bunch of terms and says they are supposed to apply throughout the Code. I wanted to see if “District” was among those terms. Since 1. my research skills are unbelievably inefficient for someone going to library school, and 2. I can never find that section of the Code that I was looking for, I decided to do a search for “District means.” 164 results (though some of these are phrases that end with the word “district,” like “historic district”). Of course.

It turns out, though, that District doesn’t always mean “the District of Columbia.” So the rhetorical question is this: is there a difference between all the different things it means? Those are:

  • the District of Columbia
  • the District of Columbia government
  • the government of the District of Columbia
  • the District of Columbia government, its agents, or its designees
  • within the geographical boundaries of the District of Columbia

For the record, the section of the Code that I was looking for was 1-301.47.

May vs. Shall

In our laws that establish agencies, we generally have at least two of the following sections: authority (of the director or of the agency), functions, powers, and duties. Apparently there is a legitimate argument that a law that says “the Director shall do X-thing-that-follows-up-on-Y” is pretty meaningless unless there is another section somewhere else says that “the Director may do Y.”

Now imagine that agency B was merged into agency A without corresponding amendments to agency B’s establishing law. And then imagine that you are trying to “clean up” agency A’s establishment law without making any substantive changes. And then finally imagine you come across this:

Powers, duties, and functions.

The Office is authorized to:

Require … that [entities] file reports as the Office may require.

Okay. So… we’re just being redundant here with the two “require”s, yes?


The news today (if by “news” one means “things posted the Internet”) is that society pages don’t like to feature ugly people.

It was quite by coincidence that in doing some legitimate research today I happened across a society column from 1882. All of it is quite fantastic (it is Miss Grundy’s Notes from the Washington Post on November 5, 1882, if you want to see for yourself), but a few notable items are these:

“Rotten Apple is the latest fling in color.”

“Senator Mahone did not have ‘room’ enough at the Portland and has gone to the Arlington. He wants the whole of Virginia.”

“Commodore English’s rose-bud daughter Miss Frankie, is a debutante this winter.”

“The Chinese minister’s wife, who is with him here, is his second wife. She is only seventeen years old, and is quite pretty.”

Laws and Copyright

Some time ago, long enough that I don’t remember even a general time frame, I saw a link posted on Twitter about copyright and the D.C. Code. Yesterday I came across this post from Prism Legal on the same subject (note that I don’t know who or what Prism Legal is; this either came over Twitter or, more likely given my day yesterday, I happened upon it while working on a paper for school). And then today my friend G asked what my thoughts were on the D.C. Code being under copyright.

When I saw the first of these references to this issue, which I could have sworn I had saved in my to-follow-up-on list but apparently didn’t because I can’t find the link anywhere, I knew that I wanted to follow up on it. It seems like it should be an easy issue: it’s the law, it’s public information, so it shouldn’t be copyrighted.


That doesn’t make sense. A book that has been published is public but it’s still copyrighted. Does it make a difference that the “author” in the case of the D.C. Code (or any other state’s law) is the government?

So let me say this. I know next to nothing about copyright. But I have a strong interest in public government information and online publication and the (unintentional?) complexities involved, so I want to learn more about this.

And thus I conclude with the immortal words of my former therapist: “to be continued…”