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Sherwood's Notebook: A Guide to Cursing

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Despite admonitions from our parents and teachers, nearly all of us have cursed.

    Your Notebook doesn’t really know any adult who hasn’t, although we’re sure someone out there is profanity-free.

    Apart from the issues of morality or manners, there’s also the argument that cursing just reveals a poor vocabulary.

    But we don’t know any carpenter who, having hit a thumb with a hammer, reaches for a thesaurus to find the right words to express that feeling.

    And a string of profanities can even be quite poetic when the taboo words are laced together lyrically.

    But it wasn’t poetic at all last week. D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown was embarrassed when his annual retreat for council members was disrupted by a volley of cursing between at-large member David Catania and Ward 8’s Marion Barry.

    There have also been outbursts by other council members at legislative breakfasts. And in some council sessions, there are cold displays of disdain between members. During a recent discussion on gasoline prices, at-large member Phil Mendelson flatly told at-large colleague Vincent Orange that Orange was embarrassing the council.

    So Chairman Brown this week introduced a measure to amend the council’s official Code of Conduct. The resolution in part says that “ … a Council member shall treat other Council members with dignity and respect, and refrain from using profane, indecent or abusive language … .”

    The new rule would allow the chairman to remove an offending council member, except during legislative sessions. But Brown said the rule overall should encourage better public decorum.

    Catania said after the council approval that he doesn’t apologize for condemning a council member when he or she is undermining the public good. “This is not Miss Manners or Emily Post,” he said.

    The proposed power to toss someone for cursing prompted some private cursing from incredulous members. “It’s ridiculous,” said one member. “That’s not going to happen.” The council member also cursed, but we’ve left out that part.

    Several members told The Notebook that neither cursing nor a lack of decorum is the council’s real problem. They say it’s all a symptom of a larger issue: Chairman Brown’s inability to control the council with its competing personalities, disparate politics and legislative demands.

    “The short of it is that no one really respects the chairman,” one council member said. The legislator said Brown is weakened by his sometimes-prickly personal style, his shaky grasp of issues and, most importantly, the federal criminal probe into his campaign activities.

    “Cursing is the least of his problems,” the council member said.

    • It’s over. After 37 years of court and federal oversight, the city is once again in charge of its mental health system. Last week, U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan signed an order saying the city has substantially met 15 of 19 improvements sought by the long-running lawsuit.

    Popularly known as the “Dixon Decree,” the case launched in 1974 lasted so long that all six of the city’s elected mayors have had a hand in it one way or another.

    The city has improved dramatically and expanded its community-based facilities for thousands of people needing short-term or long-term mental health services. Advocates praised all the progress but said the city still needs to do more for the chronically homeless and incarcerated, many of whom suffer from mental illnesses.

    • Traffic snarls. Did you ever wonder why traffic snarls so badly during snow and thunderstorms? Well, actually there are several reasons. But we were surprised to learn last week that only 20 percent of the thousands of traffic signals in the Washington region have backup power for use in emergencies. And about one-fourth of those depend on generators.

    “We’ve looked at all these signals and, on average, 20 percent of them have backup power now,” said Ron Kirby, director of transportation for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. “Five percent have generators that have to be taken out and [activated], so they can’t be used right away.”

    So Kirby says if motorists are looking for traffic signal consistency, they won’t find it. “If you’re looking [at] critical intersections … for a major weather event or evacuation … we can’t say that we have all of the main intersections taken care of.”

    Transportation officials say they’re working to identify the most important traffic signals and helping to find money to get those traffic lights ready to do what we all want them to do: work in emergencies.

    Along with signals that work in snowstorms, we’d like to see police or traffic-control aides deployed at major intersections. We all know that people here can drive crazily when snow falls -- or even just when it rains. Someone needs to impose a little order.

    And it seems a real traffic-control plan for the region would coordinate signals on major roadways and bridges. It also seems that the local governments -- with their emergency teams, transportation officials, public works crews and press officers -- ought to work together when a natural emergency occurs. It would be good practice should there ever be a public safety incident of more sinister intentions.