News item: The D.C. Office of Business and Economic Development holds a one-night "retreat" for its staff at the Shoreham Hotel. The retreat costs D.C. taxpayers $6,000.
On the face of it, this seemed to be another case of D.C. officials whooping it up at the expense of hard-working D.C. citizens. But when you think about it, neither the retreat nor the expense is out of line.
We like to pretend we go to work every weekday morning. Yet we bring with us distractions and hassles from home, and from commuting. Then, once we arrive at "work," we have to contend with incessant phones, chattering neighbors, distracted bosses, busted copying machines and much more. I'd say that getting three hours of actual work done each "work" day is above average.
So it's definitely worthwhile to "retreat" from such inefficiency, whether you work in the public or private sector. Not only will you be able to chew the fat in an atmosphere free of noise and pressure, but you'll get to know each other better. Seeing the boss in blue jeans can humanize that ogre more than you ever thought possible.
As for the six grand, it would be a lot of money if it were buying nothing. But it bought a lot for DCOBED: deeper understanding, increased closeness, improved morale. Besides, the tab was about one-third of what it might have been if the retreat had been held at an out-of-town resort, and had lasted for more than one day.
The D.C. government makes enough foolish decisions without having to take grief for one that's sensible. Cheap shotters, lay off.
News item: Fistfights break out among teen-aged fans after Sept. 25 football game between George Washington and Hammond junior high schools in Alexandria.
How many teachers were at the game? About a dozen, according to news accounts.
How many police officers were at the game? Fewer than a dozen.
How many kids were there? Close to 2,000.
How traditional and passion-inspiring is the Hammond-GW rivalry? Right up there with Annandale-Woodson and DeMatha-St John's.
How unforgivable is it for Alexandria officials to have underestimated the possibility of trouble? Completely.
News item: In 10 D.C. neighborhoods, home sales prices averaged $250,000 during the second quarter of the year.
If you're a comedian, or you're new to town, you're sitting there wondering which 10 neighborhoods. If you're a realist, and/or a D.C. veteran, you know darn well that the answer is Georgetown, Cleveland Park, Wesley Heights, Kalorama and six other Neat-o Northwest Neighborhoods where you could putt on just about any lawn you passed.
Now, a quarter of a million sounds like tremendous bucks. But the truth is that it's not a crushing burden to the people who live in these neighborhoods -- or to many people who would like to.
Twenty percent down on a $250,000 house leaves a mere 200 grand to pay off. Mere? Well, the mortgage payments on $200,000 will run about $2,100 a month at current rates. If you're a two-income family pulling in $100,000 a year -- and that's not all that rare any more -- $2,100 a month is affordable.
What it boils down to is that price is not the key to D.C. real estate anymore. Percentage of monthly income is.
The rule of thumb used to be that you'd spend 25 percent of your gross income on housing. But for the last decade, lenders have been making loans to people who spend 45 percent on housing. And 45 percent isn't a killer for many people, whether their house costs $250,000 or far, far less.
News item: A newspaper editor in Crewe, Va., refuses to publish any more photographs of statewide political candidates unless they buy advertisements in his paper. "We're a business," says Jim Eanes, "not the Salvation Army."
Fair enough, Brother Eanes. If you want to run your newspaper that way, that's your privilege. But let's put that "we're a business" shoe all the way on for a second and see how it fits.
Any enterprise had better listen to its customers if it wants to survive. For hundreds of years, Americans have looked to their newspapers for information about their political leaders. A lot of readers probably have looked to Eanes' paper for pictures of candidates. A lot of them probably buy that paper expecting to see precisely the kind of pictures Eanes now says he's going to withhold.
You think you'll be teaching the wicked, cheapskate pols a lesson by keeping their pix out of your paper, Mr. Editor. But the candidates aren't going to care. Only your readers will.
They may well dump your newspaper like a rock and start buying one that gives them what they want. If that happens, the only person who will learn a lesson will be Jim Eanes. And that lesson will be: shortsightedness and greed ultimately harm, not help.