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Potomac Confidential

Slicing and Dicing of the Issues People Are Talking About

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, March 31, 2005; 12:00 PM

Potomac Confidential fills the midday lull with discussion by Metro columnist Marc Fisher of the latest news and a rigorous slicing and dicing of the issues that define who we are and where we live.

He was online Thursday, March 31, at Noon ET to take on the final preparations for a (TV-less?) Nationals Opening Day, the volatile doings in Maryland politics, and the decline of Eastern High School's celebrated choir.

Marc Fisher (The Washington Post)

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This Week's Columns:Sometimes One Homer Is Plenty (Post, March 31)

This Might Be Eastern Choir's Swan Song (Post, March 29)

Nats' Broadcasters Blend the Cerebral With the Visceral (Post, March 27)

In his weekly show, Fisher veers wildly from serious probing to silly prattle, and is open to topics local, national, personal and more.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks. A busy morning: Terri Schiavo, brain dead for 15 years, is finally no longer a plaything for cynical politicians. Ted Koppel leaves Nightline and ABC. And it looks like the Nationals will indeed be on TV, but baseball has caved to Peter Angelos in a deal that throws into doubt whether a new Nats owner will be able to gin up enough of a revenue stream to build a contending team.
Opening Day is around the corner and the sad story of the decline of the Eastern High School choir has many of you asking what else can go wrong in the D.C. schools. On to your comments and questions, but first, the Yay and Nay of the Day:
Yay to Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who by announcing his retirement from the Senate has reminded us what democracy is supposed to look like. It seems like every adult in Maryland is now running either for Senate or the House, and the beneficiary will be Maryland voters, who will have some real choices next year. With nearly automatic reelection of deeply-entrenched incumbents, we sometimes forget what contested elections look like.
Nay to the Washington Nationals and the D.C. Sports Commission for the unbridled greed involved in deciding to sell the naming rights not only to the new stadium, but even to the three-year stint at RFK Stadium. Best news this week: Hardly anyone wants to buy the name.
Your turn starts right now.....

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Frederick, Md.: Marc, we seem to have some slot machines that we're not going to use. Do you think we can sell them on ebay or decorate the Gov's landscape with them? We can use them to build the tower of "don't tread on us"!!

Marc Fisher: I'm sure the District will be happy to take them off your hands. Discuss: Which will come to Washington first, slots or smokefree restaurants and bars? And which is the worse idea?

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Vienna, Va.: I can't stand the conservatives who lament the fact that Michael Schiavo never "left" Terri. Surely if Terri cared about her husband, she would have hoped he would move on and find happiness with someone else. One year after my neighbor's wife died, he married another woman, who was a widow. They keep pictures of their deceased spouses in their home because they still love them. Maybe Michael never divorced her because he didn't want to be or be seen as someone who left their spouse in such unfortunate circumstances. Surely, if he did, these same conservatives would decry him for it.

Marc Fisher: The whole story was one unseemly bit after another. John Danforth's excellent op-ed piece in yesterday's NY Times hit the Repos pretty hard for the hypocrisy they've shown in the Schiavo case, but that won't change a thing. Sadly, pandering to the extremes works in a system in which the middle has been largely elbowed out of political power.

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Arlington, Va.: I read the article on the front page of the Post about "oversized" houses and had to chuckle. It seems to me that existing residents are a bit jealous about newcomers with the money to build a large house. They have to realize that they will soon be priced out of their neighborhoods and have to find less expensive housing. Real estate values in and close to the city will continue to appreciate and eventually, only the wealthy will be able to afford to live so close to downtown D.C. There's nothing wrong with that - it's called capitalism, and the bleeding-heart liberals in Arlington need to understand it.

washingtonpost.com: A Large-Scale Disagreement

Marc Fisher: Oh, come on -- even if you're a hard-core conservative, there's nothing in your philosophy that favors allowing market forces to push people out of their houses in their old age. Most folks who own property and are riding the boom are happy to be on the swift-moving elevator. We might hate those huge property tax bills, but we comfort ourselves with the thought that our appreciating houses will one day pay off nicely. Then there are folks on fixed incomes who are really in danger of being put out of their houses, and whether you're a lib or a con, it makes sense to structure the tax code to give such folks a break. I see no partisan divide on that among local lawmakers.

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Arlington, Va.: I loved the front page article on downsizing McMansions in Arlington, although there are much better examples than the picture they showed. I believe people have the right to do what they want to their property, but there does become a point where what they do can negatively influence their neighbors properties and neighborhood in general. The county needs to draw a line where community rights are being trumped by individual property ownership rights. Unfortunately many of Arlington's newer residents (i.e., the wealthy immigrant types and the like, as described in the article) lack any sense of community in the first place because they still consider their community to be some other place, or country. Regarding any proposed zoning changes, do you think they would be able to stand up against Virginia law, which favors property owners and developers above any sort of local control.

Marc Fisher: OK, so now that I've stood up for old folks who fear being forced out of their houses, I need to pivot around and take the side of the jerks and creeps who build huge houses on tiny urban lots. I don't like the way the houses look, but excuse me, if the idea is to revive urban communities and make it more attractive for people to live in close-in neighborhoods, then I think you have to let people have some leeway with what they do with their property. Good zoning laws can limit how much of the lot is covered by a house, so there are protections. But people have a right to be ugly and crass.

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McLean, Va.: Dear Mr. Fisher,

Today's column was great. How many columns have you written?

Marc Fisher: Thanks very much -- jeesh, I hesitate to count. Let's see, I've been writing this column for just about five years, and there are about 125 columns a year, so that's 625 columns, plus I used to write the column in the Sunday magazine, so it's probably in the 700s somewhere. Yikes.

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Berryville, Va.: Great column this morning. With apologies to Bos, this really is "how life imitates the World Series." Wonderful stuff!

I am a throwback who actually prefers to listen to baseball's cadences over the radio. I read with interest -- and alarm -- your piece about the two puny radio stations chosen to air the Nats.

I grew up about 50 miles from Boston and used to listen to games on the "Red Sox Baseball Network." Surely -- surely? -- there's a regional network available to Natsters like me who live 50 to 60 miles out from the District. Maybe radio stations in Winchester, Hagerstown, or somewhere, that would be accessible to these old ears?
Do you know of any other stations carrying the Nats?
Thanks.

Marc Fisher: Thanks -- yes, indeed, the Nats are working on building their regional radio network, and already there are stations signed up in Leesburg (WAGE --1200 AM) and Brunswick, Md (WTRI--1520 AM) and I'm sure others are coming.

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Polo Grounds, N.Y. 1951: How could you? Every once in a while, you sheath your weapon, forego the thrust and parry, and write a positively beautiful story! It must be spring. Thank you.

Marc Fisher: Gosh -- I was worried that this one would be a bit too Hallmarkish, but I guess with Opening Day just around the corner, the usual limits on sentimentality are temporarily lifted. Thanks.

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Stevensville, Md.: Marc, nice column today, but the fact Bobby Thompson has admitted that he knew what pitch was coming (because Giants were stealing signs from the scoreboard, a definite no no) has taken a lot of the sheen off it for me. I'm glad my father, a die-hard Giants fan who died many years ago, never knew of this sad development. You can't trust no one no ways where sports, and maybe life, is concerned. It's sad.

Marc Fisher: Don't you just hate it when enterprising sports reporters decide to look all too closely at the great legends of the past? I mean, we're all for truth and justice and that stuff, but there should be a 30-year rule -- any sweet story that has gone 30 years without being wrecked by an investigation into its details should be allowed to stand as is.

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Stadium naming rights: Isn't Peter Angelos going to demand it be called "Oriole Park at RFK?"

Marc Fisher: And I just can't wait to watch the Nationals on O's TV! With Angelos in control, imagine who the announcers will be--Baron von Pete is probably already searching the nation for the dullest voices around. We need Jon Miller to come save us.

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Springfield, Va.: How about The Washington Post stadium? Better than the Army putting their name on it. Your tax dollars at work ...

Marc Fisher: Post Park. Has a nice ring to it.
But no -- any investor with half a brain will want to wait and bid for naming rights to the new ballpark. Why would a company want to be associated with a decrepit old cookie cutter stadium like RFK?

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Arlington, Va.: I have been in plenty of smoke-free bars including a few in Montgomery County and they seem to be staying in business. People go to bars to meet people and get drunk. Smoking can be done elsewhere.

Marc Fisher: The numbers in the various studies out so far seem to indicate that the smoke-free laws don't severely depress revenues, as the restaurateurs had feared. But the other side in the debate argues that at places that depend heavily on liquor income, the no-smoke rule does hit hard. To me, that's all pretty much beside the point: As long as smoking is legal, it seems that this should be left to the business people and their customers. Plenty of places decide of their own accord to go smoke-free and I applaud that. But it should be their decision, not the government's.

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Laurel, Md.: "decrepit old cookie cutter stadium like RFK"

Much better: OREO Park at RFK.

Marc Fisher: Nah, needs to be an even older-fashioned kind of cookie. Lorna Doone Field. Pecan Sandies Park.

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re: RFK: They should have daily auctions for the naming rights. If nothing else, the variety could be amusing.

Marc Fisher: Name of the Day -- what a wonderfully Washington idea, like flying different flags over the Capitol every day. Then we could take wagers on which names would draw the bigger crowds. Which day will draw more fans -- George Michael Stadium or Frank Howard Park? Can you imagine who shows up on Dan Snyder Field day?

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Tysons Corner, Va.: Marc,

Hypothetical question: When someone eventually purchases the Nats from MLB, would it not be possible for the new owner to cut his own broadcast deals, and tell Angelos, "Shove it. See you in court."?

Marc Fisher: We haven't yet heard how long this contract binds the Nationals, but obviously the new owner will be counting the days til he can get out of this deal. A lot will depend on how much longer Angelos wants to stick around -- he's obviously failed miserably as O's owner, but he's a very proud guy and not likely to run. That said, he's clearly gearing up for a megabucks exit at some point.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc, earlier this week the Post profiled Sgt. Brett Parson, the head of the DCPD Gay and Lesbian Liasion Unit. As quoted below, the article briefly noted the startling fact that Parsons has been the subject of several cautions and citizen complaints for excessive force. That's it, though; the article didn't follow up on those complaints at all. It basically took Parsons at his word that a little healthy brutality is just part of the job. Coming from the Post, this really surprised me. Why would the Post give such soft treatment to police conduct that should provoke a certain amount of outrage?

"Parson's file also shows he has been cautioned for being domineering and using excessive force. He freely admits to swatting a mouthy suspect on the back of the head or ratcheting the handcuffs a notch too tight. Parson is in the Early Warning Tracking System, a program that monitors officers with an excessive number of citizen complaints. 'Guilty as charged,' says Parsons, who says aggressive policing brings complaints."

The Stewards of Gay Washington (Post, March 28)

Marc Fisher: I don't know the history of that story or that piece of the tale. The piece was more of a profile of the gay unit of the department than an investigation into Parsons. Do check out the video accompaniment to that story that's on our Web site -- there's some lovely camerawork and a terrific scene in which Parsons teaches a class at the police academy and takes on stereotypes of gays in a very forward and disarming manner.

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Burke, Va.: Marc,

You're usually pretty much wrong about everything. And you have a Bill O'Reilly-esqe talent for sticking to a ridiculous position no matter how increasingly untenable it becomes (your theory that an assault involving a snowball can never really be an assault, because "snowball" sounds cute and fluffy, comes to mind, among many others).

However, today's column about the one home run was pretty good. Nice job. Try not to backslide too much.

Marc Fisher: Gee, thanks, I guess. I am aiming to be wrong about literally everything. There's a purity in that that I think could help me transcend all the travails of daily life. Please let me know when I've strayed from perfection on that count.

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Hill East, Washington, D.C.: The article about the Eastern High School choir mentions that it was a source/target of resentment from the rest of the faculty. I assume there's more to that part of the story. Do you know?

washingtonpost.com: This Might Be Eastern Choir's Swan Song

Marc Fisher: I have no firsthand knowledge, but what I've heard from folks who've spent a lot of time at the school is that there has been persistent faculty resentment of the choir's success and acclaim, and that some teachers have expressed that resentment by refusing to cooperate with the chorus' need to recruit kids and to rehearse and make arrangements for kids to stay after school. But the far bigger issues at Eastern are the chaos involved in having had seven principals in seven years, a rotting physical plant, a lackadaisical faculty and a rapidly shrinking student population.

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McLean, Va.: Writes Arlington:

"... only the wealthy will be able to afford to live so close to downtown D.C. There's nothing wrong with that -- it's called capitalism, and the bleeding-heart liberals in Arlington need to understand it."

There is a difference between capitalism and Social Darwinism. Heartless conservatives need to understand it.

Marc Fisher: Right, but don't take his post as the view of conservatives in general. Remember, the real conservatives are the ones who fight to preserve communities that work.

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Alexandria, Va.: Great column today (let me know when you get tired of hearing that ...).

Regarding Arlington McMansions: Some years ago, my wife and I were looking for a house, and we saw two almost-completed new ones. They were big and beautiful with enough bedrooms for each of us to have two, and easily in our price range.

Then we looked around and saw they were both easily worth twice as much as the next best house on the street. And we asked ourselves, "When the bad guys come looking for a house to break in, which one are they going to choose ...?"

We bought a house in another lovely neighborhood, where everyone's made improvements over the years, but where nothing stands out as the place to burglarize.

Marc Fisher: Yikes--you let your calculations about theoretical crime change where you decided to live? I could see that if you were talking about buying in a high-crime zone, but in Arlington? Sounds to me like there was more going on there than just that calculation.
But still--thanks for the kind comments on the column.

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Tenleytown, Washington, D.C.: Marc: You said "Which will come to Washington first, slots or smokefree restaurants and bars?" Are you saying Vincent Orange has the inside track on becoming our next mayor? It appears that he has the support of the gaming industry already.

Marc Fisher: I don't put a whole lot of stock in Orange becoming mayor. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if as we got closer to the election, he switched gears and decided to run for council chairman to replace Linda Cropp, who does seem more likely to be in the final list of mayoral candidates. But Orange is Mr. Slots on the DC council; I don't know where he is on smoke-free restaurants.

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Billy Taylor: I read the story you did a few years ago on Billy Taylor and his major efforts in jazz education. I look forward to seeing him tonight but am sad to think it's his last gig. I guess 70 years of performing is enough. Too sad also is having to have satellite radio to listen to jazz over the air in the birthplace of Duke Ellington.

Marc Fisher: Thanks--Billy Taylor, one of the greatest evangelists for jazz ever to have hit the scene, suffered a stroke a few years ago and while he has regained much of his mobility, he has decided to hang it up. Our Matt Schudel did a very strong profile of Taylor in the Sunday Arts section last week. Katie the Producing Wizard is searching for a link to my Taylor story.

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Takoma Park, Md.: Marc, I have just returned from my local PO. There was only one clerk working, and the woman ahead of me in line had 22 pieces of mail for which she required a zip code. She sent some insured, with or without a return receipt. In all she was at the window at least 30 minutes. When I left the line was halfway down the block, and many people had left rather than wait that long. I stayed because I was next in line, couldn't tell how long it was going to be, and kept hoping they might open another window. When I got to the window, the clerk said the other two clerks were out sick, she would have lunch relief, but nothing more. Also, she has to take customers in order, regardless of how long or short their errands. I know there is nothing you can do about this, but I feel the need to vent. Thank you for listening.

Marc Fisher: I spent 50 minutes waiting in line at the Northwest branch on Connecticut Avenue on Monday. They too had just one clerk working. The post office really has no reason to care how long we wait. We do have a choice when it comes to sending out packages, but for everything else, we're captives. I was just trying to pick up a package, so I had no alternative. You'd think you could handle that sort of thing online, but nooooooo.
Latest news: They're going to raise the postage rate yet again.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Speaking of naming rights, what do you think of the effort in Maryland to rename BWI for Justice Marshall?

Marc Fisher: Pretty much the same as I thought of the renaming of National for Reagan. There's nothing wrong with the airport's existing name -- why change it? Marshall is a less divisive figure than Reagan, and I'm sure the opposition will be less fervent than it was when the Reagan name was forced on us, but still--what's wrong with naming the airport for the place that the planes fly to?
Dulles, on the other hand, shows us the dangers of naming a major facility for someone who may have seemed wonderful at the time, but whose legacy fades within a few decades. Maybe we should just do a Name of the Day routine there and then everyone will get a chance to have an airport of their own.

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Washington, D.C.: You wrote: "Name of the Day -- what a wonderfully Washington idea, like flying different flags over the Capitol every day."

Except it isn't a Washington idea. They've been doing it in Boston with the formerly-the-Fleet Center, ever since the banking corporation that bought Fleet Bank withdrew from the naming rights agreement. Naming rights have been up for bid on eBay, with the seller holding an option to prevent the use of any obscene name (which was the clause that was invoked when one high bidder wanted to name the venue after Derek Jeter).

Marc Fisher: Who knew! Very cool. I will check it out. Maybe I can put in a bid for Bill Buckner Field.

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Alexandria, Va.: Terri Schiavo was dead a long time ago. It is only today that I read that her husband tried a lot of rehab for her for four years after her heart attack. It seems like he had the integrity in this case.

Marc Fisher: Seems that way to me. But wouldn't you think that responsible politicians would run the other way before they'd get involved in such an ugly intrafamily dispute? The spectacle of the U.S. Congress digging into what is essentially a domestic dispute must mean that the post-9/11 effect is over--we're back to the silly season that brought us Midnight Basketball, the OJ Trial, and other such pre-9/11 bread and circuses.

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Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C.: Marc,

Don't you think that one reason for the political landscape where center has been squeezed out of power is that columnists are eager to present everything in black and white and offer easy populistic answers to every problem?

Marc Fisher: No. Folks who take the time to read columnists are generally people who enjoy thinking about the more intriguing grey stuff that fills the space between extreme black and white views. It's the disengaged people who only dip into politics when Election Day rolls around who are much more susceptible to easy B&W versions of reality.

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The Culture of Life: So we now seem to be living in a time of this "culture of life". But what I want to know is, where are all these people who fight against abortion and were fighting for Shiavo's right to live, in between birth and death?

I'm sure the thousands of children who struggle to get an education and who rely on school lunches as their only hot meal of the day would appreciate if these people would put half as much of their efforts into helping them.

Marc Fisher: Right -- doesn't quality of life play a role in a culture of life? And what's the conservative Christian view on the costs of maintaining someone like Schiavo in a hospice for 15 years? Is the government supposed to pick up the bill?

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Alexandria, Va.: Okay, if it was legally and ethically proper to starve her to death, why was it not legally and ethically proper to give her a lethal injection? At least with a lethal injection, she'd have been dead in a few moments, instead of after two weeks with a morphine drip to control the pain.

For that matter, why was it not legally and ethically proper to shoot her in the head? She was being killed at the request of her husband, and with the approval of the state. If that was the right thing to do, why was it not right to do it quickly?

I'm not trying to be facetious here; if it was right to kill her, then it was right to do it in a manner that would cause her as little suffering as possible.

Do any of the people who agree she should have been killed agree she should have gotten a lethal injection? Or the electric chair? Or a bullet?

Marc Fisher: Very good question, and even if her cerebral cortex was liquefied, I can't see the argument that says starving her is the more humane way to end life. That said, the ethical problems with lethal injection are a very high hurdle. Medical professionals should not be put in the position of deliberately ending lives--it's just asking for trouble. So maybe that role should be played by loved ones, in accordance with a living will. The best answer in many of these situations is the solution that has the least contact with the legal system, so maybe it's best that we all just look the other way.

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washingtonpost.com: Washington Post writer Marc Fisher wrote about Billy Taylor in March 1999

Marc Fisher: Katie to the rescue--here's that Billy Taylor story from a few years back.

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Former Arlington resident: I had to sell my mom's 1950s brick rambler in North Arlington when she entered a nursing home and we had to have LOTS of money for her monthly $6,000 bill. That was two years ago.
A developer bought the house -- the only people who made offers were developers, probably because the house had a way out-of-date kitchen and only 1.5 baths.
It was more than doubled in size -- I think they did a pretty nice job. I understand it sold for $1,200,000 - more than double what Mom received for the old house.

Marc Fisher: Ok, so the moral of the story is what? You should have held on to the house? No, you couldn't afford to--you had to do what's right for your mother. Should you have developed the site yourself? Or insisted that the old place remain? You had to do what was right for your family, and if a developer came along and made a bundle, you might want to kick yourself over it, but still, you made the money you needed to make.

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Laurel, Md.: Your remark about columnist's readers seeing the complexities of issue may be correct (I'll assume you know enough to provide an informed if self-serving answer.)

But Michael Kinsely remarked on the demise of Crossfire that it's premised on the (false) idea that every issue has "exactly 2.0 sides," which leaves us with policial debates that often boil down to the Dem and Reps arguing about who's worse.

Marc Fisher: But we all know that often both sides are right and often both sides are wrong. So when we engage in the black and white game, we're just playing, and that's fine til it starts resulting in diminished quality of life.

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G'burg (home)/SW Washington, D.C. (work): Okay. I admit I despise baseball. To me it's about as exciting as watching paint dry, but when the Nats were awarded to D.C., I shed a couple tears. I was so excited for the city. And normally, when you write about baseball, I scan the column or plain ignore it. After all the accolades today I had to check it out. Great work!

Marc Fisher: Gee, thanks--what's cool about Dr. Pags' story is that you don't have to love baseball to appreciate how it pushed him to get where he wanted to go in life.

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conservative Christian: Please don't group us all together. My Bible study group is women ages 21-34 and we all were praying that Terri could just die. We also believe her soul hasn't been in her body for many years ... she was simply an empty shell and her soul was wherever it was going to be for eternity.

Marc Fisher: Sounds right to me. The saddest part of this is watching the anger and anguish of the parents--I wonder how they got to thinking that this route would bring them closer to their lost daughter than just letting her go.

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Arlington, Va.: Re: McMansions ... I live in Arlington, am an Architect, and don't like the McMansions because they are generally ugly in and of themselves, and do not fit in the "rhythm" of the surrounding streetscape. Class and good taste cannot be bought.

Marc Fisher: Right, but it also can't be legislated, and that's what makes this a tough issue.

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The Truth is In the Numbers: Marc,

I read the Eastern High Choir article. Your article also has many parallels to the Wash Times article on the lack of high quality athletes no longer coming out of the District's high school basketball programs. The truth in this subject is all in the numbers. My comment: look at the numbers, school enrollment, number of quality teachers, administrators and number of strong families and there is your explanation.

Eastern and many other schools are only as good as the communities and the families from the surrounding neighborhoods.

What do you think?

Marc Fisher: Well, sure, schools that serve places with lots of troubled families perform more poorly than schools that serve striving families with lots of resources. But even within that universe, there are all levels of quality of schools in all kinds of communities. The problem at Eastern and in the District generally is that the system has refused to acknowledge that it has lost 40 percent of its student population without closing down buildings, so huge amounts of money are going into keeping facilities going that should have been shut down long ago. Sell off some of those buildings and refurbish the ones you keep and you've taken a huge step toward solving the physical end of the problem.

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Anonymous: Loved today's piece, even brought a tear to my eye over my Eggos this morning. However, to respond to an earlier post, the story that came out a few years back was that the Giants generally were stealing signs against the Dodgers during the epic 1951 series, but that there was no evidence/admission that Thomson himself had been tipped off on That Particular Pitch. A bit weasally, I know, but it helps to maintain the magic just a bit.

Marc Fisher: Thank you--that helps.

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Clifton, Va.: New owner of the Nats files Chapter 11 to get out of TV contract with Angelos as soon as he has the team locked up. Court declares contract void and new owner is free to negotiate a new TV deal. Angelos is out of luck.

Marc Fisher: We can dream, can't we?

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Washington, D.C.: About the little boy who was shot last week, has no one asked this question -- what was a 9-year-old child doing outside at 10 p.m.? Even if it wasn't a school night, that's still late for a child to be outside "playing." Will the parents be held accountable for that at all?

Marc Fisher: Are they ever?
Of course blame is not what's needed at this moment, but you make a good point. Still, the public responsibility is to attack the problem from its core by getting at parenting skills, but also to provide security on the street, and that's been a continuing problem in that area for all too long.

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More on ICC --: I know everyone's already got a firm position for or against. I live in Howard Co. and commute via backroads to Glenmont Metro. Traffic seems heavier everyday.

I keep seeing new houses in new developments, singly behind existing homes -- anyone who thinks that heavy traffic will deter new home building in Montgomery or Howard Co (or Carroll or PG) are simply wrong. There's so much demand that the housing will be built on every last lot and the traffic will get worse. I'm not convinced that the ICC is the right answer, but some solution needs to be found that eases the congestion.

Rather than name calling on this issue (and just about every issue facing us all), why can't the pols sit down and find a compromise that most folks would find reasonable? I'm tired of the inability of this country to recognize that most issues need a gray solution.

Thanks for the vent.

Marc Fisher: Go Greys!
We're out of time here, so I will finish off with a couple of posts without comment....

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Friendship Heights, Md.: Marc:

With regards to the 9-year-old kid shot last week in Columbia Heights I have some questions the Washington Post does not seem to be asking and since you are a columnist maybe you can tackle them.

From Sunday's Washington Post:

"Just before 10 p.m. Thursday, a gunman opened fire in front of the building, where more than a dozen children were playing. Donte was the only one hit."

What in the world is a 9 year old doing out at 10 p.m. on a school night, or any other night for that matter? Or the rest of this group of kids?

Having lived just a couple of blocks from this shooting for a couple of years I can tell you that that stretch has long been an unsafe area particularly after dark.

And instead of repeating Chief Ramseys usual pass the buck blame the citizens quotes - "D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said yesterday, 'Enough's enough. Somebody knows who did this shooting,' Ramsey said - how about asking him some tough questions such as:

Have your officers made any attempt to enforce the youth curfew in this neighborhood or any others recently?

What is the staffing in this particular PSA? Is the PSA fully staffed? Was the PSA fully staffed on the shift during which this child was shot? If not where are the missing officers and why?

What are the closures rates on violent crimes in that particular neighborhood or PSA? If they are low as they are in most of the city why?

Have any officers in that neighborhood actually been getting out of the car and walking around on foot for an hour a day as you repeatedly promise to the Media and citizens? I don't know anyone in any part of the city who has actually witnessed police officers out walking around neighborhoods in any corner of the city.

Are you aware that only 1200 officers out of 3800 in D.C. are assigned to actually patrol? What in the world are the other 2600 officers doing?

Why does MPD have a Gay/Lesbian/Transgender unit and no Traffic Enforcement Unit?

I could go on and on but my point is this department is not doing its job and is partly able to get away with it because the local media is not properly scrutinizing it or challenging Chief Ramsey when he refuses to take responsibility for his own incompetence and indifference.

washingtonpost.com: An Official Expression Of Outrage (Post, March 27)

Marc Fisher: And a couple more....

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Loudoun County, Va.: Mr. Fisher: You're right that the Catoctin County secession movement will be interesting, but it will be even uglier than the east/west Loudoun divide. Why? Because the primary "open space" advocates live on parcels well-under the recently voided 20 and 50 acre limits, and seek regulatory control of the land they like to look at, but neither own nor pay taxes on. The large lot limits were put in place because the land "should be" agricultural. The fact is, if large landowners could afford to maintain the land through farming, there would be no incentive for them to sell. There is no "rural economy" here. Those who can afford to do so have large lots and large pets, but do not receive their primary income from farming, even if they have an agricultural exemption because someone comes in and grows orchard grass on part of their property. Under the slow growth Comprehensive Plan, we would subsidize a rural economy, and had begun to do so before the 2003 election removed the slow growth supervisors from every developed district. The "west" is two thirds of the land mass, but only about one seventh of the population. Even if the county voted by the acre, it still wouldn't necessarily represent the wishes of the disaffected, because the bulk of the lawsuits that were filed and recently succeeded at the Supreme Court level were filed in the rural areas. If Catoctin were created and immediately tried to reenact exclusionary zoning, it would head right back to court for the same reasons. Two things I'd love to see in your coverage of Loudoun: First, talk to someone who owns seventy, ninety, or three hundred acres of the "viewshed" that the 5 or 10-acre niche "farmers" like to pretend they own. And before you interview another expatriate yuppie couple with ten acres and 20 pet sheep, ask them how they pay their bills -- I bet it isn't with hand carded and naturally died free range organic wool. Second, start tracking the participation of those who claim to be for "managed" or "controlled" growth. The same ones who scream bloody murder about the needs of "existing citizens," demanding that no more houses be built until those needs are met, are in fact the very same people who show up at every proposed road improvement, school placement, utility issue, you name it, to say why it would be a very bad idea to improve any and every one of these things. They may be for good growth in lip service, but they are against everything in practice. Last, there is no rural tax base in western Loudoun: there are a lot of agricultural exemptions whether someone is "farming" or not, and a lot of tax-cut conservation easements. There are very few businesses. The only tax base is residential. Before the war even starts over with the viewshed crowd trying to protect the land from its owners, the tax rate will be 6 percent or better to fund all the services, let alone the amenities. Come on out here and do some research on the other side of the issue. It might prove eye-opening.

Marc Fisher: Wish I had time to get into this--please write again....

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Marc,
The latest news that Blockbuster has been ordered to pay over $600,000 to compensate for "deceptive" practices concerning its "No More Late Fees" policy causes me to worry about the future of our country, and makes me ashamed to admit I am an attorney. Who really thought the new policy meant you could keep a movie as long as you wanted without penalty? That would mean that Blockbuster was "selling" movies for a few bucks, because you could keep that movie forever and never face a penalty. What sentient being could really think that?
I am not an employee of Blockbuster, but I saw the "fine print" in the deal. Logic dictated that there had to be an end point to the "no late fee" policy. They are a business, after all. Yes, they could have made the fine print a little larger, but $630,000!!!

Marc Fisher: Why couldn't you keep it long-term without penalty? Blockbuster's own version of Netflix lets you do that--if you pay a monthly fee, you can keep the flicks as long as you like, no penalty of any kind. Makes sense to me.

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Burtonsville, Md.: I am not Peter Angelos. I HATE Peter Angelos. But I'm thinking he might have a point.

I have two tickets to all Sunday orioles games. For the first time, this entitled me to buy unlimited Opening Day tickets. So I bought 6 of them. Big Mistake! I haven't found anyone to buy any of them, so I am out $120.

Do you know of any organization where you can donate tickets to see that they get to kids, the needy, etc.? I don't care about the tax deduction, just hate to see these tickets go to waste. Thanks.

It really will be news if the Orioles fail to sell out Opening Day!

Marc Fisher: I don't know of an organization, but there are plenty that would love to have those tickets. Check with your local Little League, or look at Little League's site and find a league in a less fortunate part of town.

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Marc,

you are on the wrong side of the smoke-free d.c. initiative. the train has left the station: there are no adverse effects to businesses who go smoke free ... people are sick and tired of inhaling 2nd hand smoke just because they want to enjoy a pizza/drink/meal out. The smokers' days are numbered ...

Marc Fisher: If that's the case, then there's no reason to legislate against smoking in eateries. If smoking dies of its own stupidity as a human activity, great, then there's no more issue.

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Marc Fisher: Gotta go. Apologies to the many I couldn't get to today. Back here next week--thanks for coming along.

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