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Potomac Confidential

Slicing and Dicing of the Issues People Are Talking About

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, February 24, 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.

Today Marc discussed slots in Maryland, the District's clinic for cats and the Virginia governor's race.

Marc Fisher (The Washington Post)

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Talk: Metro Message Boards

This Week's Columns:

D.C.'s Plan To Take Back A Neighborhood (Post, Feb. 24)

Girl's Family Stumbles Along Road of Grief (Post, Feb. 22)

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, snow scaredy-cats and snow lovers alike. Here we are again in the world capital of snow fear, with schools closed and parents in a panic over what to do with their kids, all because of mass hysteria and barely enough snow to make things pretty.
Last night, I was at Strathmore, Montgomery County's lush new music hall, for the facility's first jazz concert, an exciting and adventuresome show by the Mingus Big Band, when I happened to see a couple of teachers from my kids' school. (Sadly, the hall was barely half full--classical concerts so far have packed the place, but it remains to be seen if the jazz lovers who regularly fill up the Kennedy Center will make the trip north to the burbs. Or do the suburbs have enough music fans to fill the room on their own? If so, where were they last night?) We chatted about how splendid the band was and we set the evening line on whether schools might close in the morning. The consensus: Not possible. After all, only a few inches were forecast and the stuff wouldn't even start sticking on the ground til after the morning rush.
We were totally, absolutely wrong, of course. Even the thought of snow is enough to send all school administrators into a risk-averse state of hysteria. We should all be embarrassed.
But the snow gives us plenty of time to pretend to be working while we instead peck away on the miracle of the pseudo-work machine, your worldly web. Today, we have the spectacle of the District schools showing their generosity of spirit by lending Eaton Elementary School to a group conducting hundreds of surgical operations on cats--that was a lovely move. And we have the first strains of what promises to be a very rough Virginia governor's race--more coming on that in the column next week. And we have Maryland's House finally moving forward on slots--a key committee approved a slots plan for the first time last night and the full House may vote on the issue tomorrow.
On to your many questions and comments, but first the Yay and Nay of the Day:
Yay to Maryland's board of education, which has finally taken the first baby step toward recognizing that by pumping huge loads of sugar and fat into kids through awful lunches and plentiful snack and soda machines, schools are playing a destructive role in creating a nation of fatties. Maryland is moving to cut back a bit on that river of trash, though the power of the soda and candy companies is still standing in the way of doing the right thing and getting the stuff out of school buildings.
Nay to WASA, the troubled provider of water to the District and parts of Maryland. Last year, after the Post revealed the extent of the city's lead problem, the city handed out thousands of pitcher filters to homes with high lead levels. This week, many of those homes got another free filter, this one from a different manufacturer. Why the largesse? WASA was unable to get replacement filters for the first kind of pitcher it distributed, so the utility's solution was to spend vast sums to buy and send out a whole new slew of pitchers and filters for a different system. That's why your water rates are soaring. Brilliant.
Pick Story of the Week: The glorious Henry Allen's appreciation of the wild and momentous life of Hunter S. Thompson, the gonzo journalist who fittingly shot himself out of this world this week. Take 15 minutes and read it.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A42719-2005Feb21.html
Your turn starts right now....

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Silver Spring, Md.: The sky is falling! The sky is falling!!

Marc Fisher: Man those battle stations--Grab that bread. Build bunkers out of toilet paper. Fill your bathtubs with milk.
Watch for schools to scrap tomorrow's sessions--after all, what could be more fun than another four-day weekend.

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Southern Maryland: Below is a rant from Dave Hughes of DCRTV.ORG. I couldn't have said it better!

>> So far, here at the DCRTV World HQ we've gotten about five feet -- of storm hype. Washingtonians are in a total panic. Hell, we might be getting three to five inches of, oh my God, snow. Yup, the blizzard of the century. We might even get up to nine inches "north of town" -- like maybe Rochester, N.Y. The temperature has "plunged" to 34. Ah, isn't that above freezing? All area school systems have closed. Weathercasters are screaming about the end of humanity as we know it. While their bosses at area TV and radio stations lust with joy as ratings for the key February "sweeps" get "juiced." Welcome to Nutsville on the Potomac. <<

Marc Fisher: Interesting that the schools made their decisions before any snow had fallen and when it was already clear that there would be no impediment to the morning rush hour. So the only possible issue was whether the PM rush would be a mess. And that's evidently enough to create the closings we see today. But the real issue here is that there's been so little snow this winter that school systems are sitting on a bank of unused snow days, so even the mention of snow in the forecast would have been enough to trigger this reaction.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I can't believe that someone thought it would be safe to perform a surgery on a cat in an area where human beings eat, but apparently the stupidity of the DCPS extends to the nice neighborhoods too.

I'm sure that cat urine is an awful, awful thing, but Eaton parents, please relax. There are not bullets whizzing by your school, so just get your school cleaned up and be quiet. There really are more serious issues with D.C. schools that an ill-timed kitty clinic.

Marc Fisher: Sure, the good folks of Cleveland Park were certain to react poorly to hundreds of cat operations being performed at their neighborhood school. And by itself the decision to use an elementary school as a field hospital for kitties is just bizarre and amusing. But put that together with the strange mold at Walker-Jones Elementary in Sursum Corda and the mercury at Cardozo High and you start getting to a bigger issue of management and responsibility. The real issues in DC schools are both academic and managerial and the two failings feed upon each other.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Marc,
What's your take on the cats and the cafeteria? Is it me? It just seems like the dumbest thing and that it never dawned on the principal that this would be a problem or the organizers.

Marc Fisher: Why didn't it ring alarms when this proposal came to the principal? Or was the decision taken downtown? This comes as the superintendent is struggling with the big question of how much to allow individual schools the right to run their own shop. In fancy neighborhoods, parents are eager to pump money into the schools to pay for music, art, library and athletics teachers. In poor neighborhoods, lots of extras are paid for by special government funds for the needy. It's the middle that loses out, and superintendents often try to limit what the wealthier schools can do so as to create more of an aura of fairness for the middle. But that's the wrong approach--getting parents involved is the answer, and any time a system pushes back against that, the whole system loses.

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Rockville, Md.: How does one qualify to be a weather forecaster? Can you get some kind of license at Wal-Mart?

Marc Fisher: To be a TV weatherman, you need good hair, natural or store-bought. You need to know how to read, so you can present the National Weather Service's work as your own. And you should be funny, but not enough of them are.

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Arlington, Va.: On your Sursum Corda story coverage: do you really think that the mixed economic situation will work as far as the revitalization goes?

Also, what is the status on the case against Hansen's killer?

In final, it's great to see that the Hansen family has gotten out of a very difficult place to live, but there are thousands of decent people like that all over DC's rough neighborhoods. I know that money is tight for everyone and we all can't live on Foxhall Rd, but when you've got drugs and violence all around your kids, don't these parents have to move heaven and earth to make their kids safe? It seems like whenever a child is murdered, the victim's parents are on TV or in the paper saying that the neighborhood is unsafe. OK, Mom/Dad, what are you doing about it? Keeping the kid inside, keeping an eye on him/her, moving the family BEFORE the shooting starts? Seems like a lot of folks are praying that something bad doesn't happen instead of taking actual steps to insure that something bad doesn't happen.

Marc Fisher: Well, sure, that would be the ideal solution, but in too many cases, the reason people are living in these hot spots is that they lack the wherewithal and functionality to act in their family's best interests. In the Hansen family's case, substance abuse plays a role in limiting the family's ability to do right by their kids. That's unfortunately all too common a story.
If the city is able to pull off this rehab plan for Sursum Corda, it will do an enormous amount for the people who live there and for the whole neighborhood. The city housing authority has learned that mixed-income neighborhoods are the way to make places safer and more vital for all, protecting the homes of those who are already in the neighborhood while attracting others and providing increased tax revenue for the city.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you ever get sick of making fun of the snow hysteria? We get it. Talk about something else, please.

Marc Fisher: As you wish--onward....

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Washington, D.C.: I have some familiarity with Alley Cat Allies, and I am disgusted with the parents response to a worthwhile activity. First, feline diseases cannot be transmitted to humans -- its not an issue. Second, the cafeteria was professionally cleaned and disinfected. Third, a city overrun with feral cats (or any other animal) offers a far more severe health hazard than the spay-neuter clinic did. To me, this is just another symptom of our culture of overprotective parenting, and cosseted children.

Marc Fisher: I haven't heard anyone saying this was not a worthy activity. The question is whether an elementary school cafeteria is the proper place in which to do this. There are community centers and unused city buildings and unused school buildings galore in this city.

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Silver Spring, Md. RE: Kitty Clinic at Eaton: DCPS has egg on its face over the kitty cat club they set up next to the tater tots, but the outrage on the news was laughable.

It's funny how the howls of the Audi station wagon set got that school back in line in a heart beat and kids unlucky enough to go to school at Anacostia have to pray that they don't end up on the TV news as a shooting victim or an innocent bystander. Let's look at degree. Eaton parents = cat allergies. Anacostia parents = bullet wounds.

Marc Fisher: True enough. But on the very same day they were cleaning up Eaton from all the kitty dander, crews were at Walker-Jones, at the other end of the economic spectrum, attacking a more serious health hazard at that school. I didn't see much difference in the government's response between the two schools, though you are certainly right that the media coverage focused much more heavily on the cat situation. Benign reasons for that: The TV stations are closer to Eaton and the kitty story is much more unusual and sexy. Malignant reason: You're right--stuff that happens to the wealthy can sometimes get more play than stuff that happens to the poor.

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Cat fight: I am a cat owner -- have had at least one cat for the past 30 years --and a parent. I would never consider a surgery in a cafeteria because surgery releases body fluids -- at least six that I can think of and I am not even trying.

That said, your column on the cat cafe was a bit incoherent. Yes, I take the cat to the vet, but that makes me prudent, not profligate. A neighbor was bitten by her own cat, which was suffering with such a bad bladder infection that it had gone into the cat's whole system. The cat was put down and the neighbor was so sick she went on short-term disability. And I make sure our daughter has her shots in case she bites the cat.

Marc Fisher: I haven't written any column on the cat situation. You're likely thinking of my colleague, Courtland Milloy, who wrote on the issue in his Wednesday column.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Overheard at Eaton ES yesterday
Hey Kid,
You want some dander fleas with those tater tots?

Marc Fisher: And one more along those lines....

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Washington, D.C.: From a recent meeting of the D.C. Department of Public Health:

"Hey, boss. Where is the best place in town to perform surgery on 500 stray cats?"

"Let's see. I know!; On the cafeteria tables where our elementary school children will eat their lunch the next day."

"Sounds good to me!;"

Marc Fisher: Ok, so it's fun indeed to jump on the DC schools, but of course they do offer so many opportunities for this sort of behavior.

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Etlan, Va.: Angered that Armstrong Williams was paid $240,000 by the Dept. of Education to promote the No Child Left Behind Act, I wrote a letter to my congressman, Eric Cantor. He responded that an internal investigation of the DOE "marketing strategy" revealed that "all funds had been used within their realm of scope and nothing more." Is there not going to be any independent investigation of this and other cases of paying journalists to promote the administration agenda?

Marc Fisher: That is an odd response--but it is typical of the marketing/PR mindset in which the idea of an independent news media is considered just a silly convention that can be worked around to produce the desired political result. Unfortunately, this administration is very much born of that post-Deaver notion that traditional roles in the media-political relationship can be blurred to the point that the public doesn't know how to reach for credible information.

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Metro Center, D.C.: Trying to board Metro yesterday after work -- fun per usual. Since we don't know if it's a 6- or 4-car train, we all try and spread out like we should. However, when the Blue Line pulled up at Metro Center -- 4-car train, so, those who had moved down the platform had to rush to jam into the front of the train. This caused two women in wheelchairs to not be able to board the train. Now, if Metro had said -- it's a 4-car train coming, those trying to get on the Blue Line train would have adjusted accordingly. But, no, Metro has to make it difficult on its passengers and encourage over-crowded cars. And another thing, 'snow' makes the escalators slippery. I'm surprised I haven't heard about anyone slipping and falling down those bloody things yet today.

Marc Fisher: I don't think Metro is intentionally trying to cause overcrowding. Rather, the system suffers from a rail car shortage and as we've reported, although new cars are in the pipeline, it will be some time before there's visible relief.

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Washington, D.C.: So people are up in arms in D.C. about the red-light and speed cameras and whether they're a money grab. I don't like the setup the city has with ACS on these cameras, or the potential that they could be rigged in such a way as to favor boosting the city coffers.

Assuming they're not going away, why couldn't the council at least raise the citywide speed limit to cut revenues from speeding cameras? I mean, is it reasonable to have a 25 mph speed limit on some of the four-lane streets and major thoroughfares where these cameras are found? Why not 30 or 35 mph, if they must be there at all?

Just my two cents...

Marc Fisher: The 25 mph speed limit does seem overly restrictive on the big avenues, but that's solely from the commuter's perspective. As a pedestrian, even 25 seems a bit much for city streets. On the side streets, 25 is dangerously fast. On major commuter routes, 30 might make sense but you can't really go that fast during rush hour anyway, so it's an academic discussion.
Why the city doesn't admit that getting more revenue is part of the motivation for the cameras is beyond me. There's nothing wrong with saying hey, we want to make the streets safer and suck some money out of the suburban commuters too. That's both the truth and a very popular political position for politicians facing city voters.

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On a lighter note: Regarding the Nats hats: Marc,

I dislike the W caps. I know the tradition, la de da, I simply don't like them. But, the DC hats they're using for spring training? I want one. Why, oh why, are they not selling them? Every democrat in town would buy one, simply to not be caught dead wearing a W hat...

Marc Fisher: Hadn't thought of that angle. I find the interlocking DC on the training caps a bit confusing, but I like the concept. Still, call me a traditionalist, but I think the W cap is the best part of the Nats uniform--and it's really the only piece of it that links to the grand Senators history.

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Washington, D.C.: To follow up on Strathmore, the concert was fantastic. The signage leaves something to be desired. When one exits the Metro station there are no signs to direct one to the walkway, and it's not exactly intuitive, through the parking garage, up to the fourth floor, and across. If they are expecting a significant number of visitors to arrive by Metro they shouldn't work so hard to keep the walkway a secret.

Marc Fisher: There were paper signs taped to the stairwell doors in the garage, but no signs of any kind letting concert goers know where they can enter or exit the parking facility. Still, the huge advantage that Strathmore has over the Kennedy Center is the free parking. That's a major draw when parking costs $15.

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Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: To the person "disgusted" by the parents' reaction to the alley cat surgeries:

Perhaps you should do some research before you write.

You wrote: "First, feline diseases cannot be transmitted to humans -- its not an issue."
Wrong. Ever heard of toxoplasmosis? It's a disease that can infect cats AND humans with suppressed immune systems.

You wrote: "Second, the cafeteria was professionally cleaned and disinfected."
Perhaps, but only AFTER the public outcry.

You wrote: "To me, this is just another symptom of our culture of overprotective parenting, and cosseted children."
To me, your posting is just another symptom of some people's annoying tendency to treat animals better than their fellow human beings.

Get over yourself. Everyone involved admits that it wasn't a hot idea to begin with.

Marc Fisher: I have to side with Dupont on this one. The depth of attention and emotional energy dedicated to animals in cases like this so enormously dwarfs that paid to the kids struggling in the city's schools that I sometimes think I'm reading The Onion on these stories.

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Re: The cats: Stupid decision... of course, but lets be realistic. Do you think that if this same thing had happened at another elementary school, say one east of the river, where the children of political gadfly Terry Lynch and other DC higher ups (Denise Wiktor) are not students, that it would have gotten half the notice that it did? Doubtful.

Marc Fisher: I dunno--my 25 years of newsmongering tells me that anytime you have hundreds of cat operations happening in an elementary school cafeteria, you're going to have huge news coverage, even if the school is in Hell Estates.

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Re: Kitty Cafe: Clearly, shootings in schools are a bigger issue than the kitty cafe. That said -- cats in the school endangered the lives of some students. As a person with severe cat allergies, I have been hospitalized on several occassions due to cat exposure. This is really about accountability. What was everyone involved thinking? (For what it is worth, I think the Alley Cat Allies does a great service, just not in our schools, please!)

Marc Fisher: The tragedy is that the system will overreact in the opposite direction and it will become harder for legitimate and harmless public services to be staged in city school buildings.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Feral cats in DC? I know that Cleveland Park is not overrun with kitties. Been around that area all my life and never saw a stray cat chilling at Conn Ave and Porter. Where are these cats hanging around? Is the problem in Cleveland Park?

Marc Fisher: I was wondering that too--I think folks from all over town were free to bring cats in. I'd like to see them attack the rat problem before dealing with cats.

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Arlington, Va.: I don't think it is cosseting a child to not want him or her to eat a school lunch in the precise spot where a cat was just neutered, regardless of whether it is worthwile and regardless of disinfectant.

By that logic, if I pee on my kitchen table then give it a good disinfecting, it will be ready for Thanksgiving.

I have nothing against cat lovers, but the number of people in this region who will move heaven and earth to help an animal but won't lift a finger to support a hungry person is appalling.

Off of soapbox.

Marc Fisher: Yeah, try writing about dogs sometime--the response is guaranteed to be about 60 times as large as if you write the most compelling story possible about kids.

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Nats Hats: According to a friendly employee at an undisclosed CitySports (like I'm gonna tell you!;)they will be getting a shipment of the interlocking DC hats next week.

Marc Fisher: Hooray.
Try the CitySports at the new Gallery Place on 7th Street downtown--very good selection of Nats stuff.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I know this is a Dr. Gridlock question, but is it OK to bring a bike onto a Metro train? If the train is packed to the gills, shouldn't a bike rider, well, ride his bike to where he's going. I mean, DUDE, you've got a bike. Is there a time restriction when you can't bring a bike onboard?

Marc Fisher: If I recall correctly, bikes are permitted on Metro on weekends and during a few non-rush hour times during the week, though I'm not sure about the latter. Anyone? Metro's relatively open attitude toward bicycles has always been one of its better points.

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Rockville, Md.: What's with the mercury hysteria. When I was in school, little balls of mercury were often played with and even passed around as an example of the characteristics of a liquid. Is that why we are all getting cancer? It's good to be careful about it, but closing a school for a speck on the wall -- give me a break.

Marc Fisher: It does seem an overreaction. We played with mercury even under the watchful eyes of our science teachers when I was child, and aside from a few bizarre twitches and an occasional tendency to LASH OUT MADLY AT RANDOM READERS, I never suffered from any mercury problems.

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Frederick, Md.: Dear Gov. Haircut,

Keep your slots our of our county! We do not need a campus of crime which breeds gambling and alcohol addiction and creates a haven for pick-pockets and thieves. Maybe you could set up your slots in the governor's house. But I bet you wouldn't want that element next to your family, would you? Stick the slots where the sun don't shine Haircut!

Marc Fisher: Interesting that the House's compromise on slots is to put them in Frederick County, which never expressed the slightest desire for slots.
Notice that the guv's longstanding reason for needing slots was to save the horse tracks, but now there would be no slots at tracks, except maybe at Laurel. And yet the guv still sees slots as essential. Any problem there? Not for Gov. Bob.

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Arlington, Va.: Ms. Munlyn goes to our church (St. Aloysius), and is truly admirable in living out Fr. Horace McKenna's legacy. For so long the District has undermined the work of people like McKenna and Munlyn. If it's true that Andy Viola and Bush Construction are involved with Sursum Corda, then Ms. Munlyn better read each document very closely. Viola was one of the most vocal ringleaders of the effort to derail Arlington County's affordable housing guidelines.

Marc Fisher: Alverta Munlyn is one of those terrific neighborhood activists who sees right through all the smoke and demands what's right. She's smart enough to make the right deal for her neighbors and the city can't steamroll her. That said, that area is going to be redeveloped one way or the other. It can be done the right way if the neighbors and the city work together, and so far, that's happening.

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Re: bike stuff: Bike-'N-Ride on Metrorail

Marc Fisher: Many thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Marc -- The poster commenting on the 4 car Metro train was referring to Metro's decision to stop providing info on the number of cars on incoming trains. Now folks have to bunch up in the middle because they don't know how long the incoming train is. If they stand at the ends of the station, and the train has only 4 cars, they miss the train! Do Metro decision makers ever actually ride the trains?

Marc Fisher: Nope--as Lyndsey Layton reported in the Post a few months ago, too many of Metro's honchos wouldn't know a farecard from a business card.

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Clifton, Va.: Marc,

How soon before the Virginia legislature bans the sale of sex toys after the recent non-decision by the Supremes? Next thing you know they will be banning the sale of certain veggies in Alabama, Texas and Georgia.

Marc Fisher: The great thing about living in a free society is that it provides an endless supply of things that the Virginia legislature can try to ban.

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Washington, D.C. -rats!: March you just hit the nail on the head with the mention of the rat problem. If you neuter the feral cats, you rid yourself of a new generation of natural enemies to the more dangerous rats.

My neighborhood -- Mt. Vernon Square -- has not has a rodent issue in years. Why? Feral cats. Now we're worried about racoons because they eat kittens. The circle of life. Hakuna Matata to you all.

Marc Fisher: I was with you til you got to the raccoons. The only good raccoon is a hat.

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Davidsonville, Md.: I'm a veterinarian and a pet owner, so naturally my opinion on the spay/neuter clinic is biased.

Surgery is a clean and sterile procedure. I suspect that cafeteria was left in a more sterile condition than during any regular school week.

One parent complained about the smell of ether. No one uses ether in surgery. Most likely those cats were given injectable anesthetics, which are odorless. If the parent detected any chemical odor, it was from cleaning chemicals, which are non-toxic when used properly.

FWIW, I've participated in such clinics in fire halls and school gyms. The communities were very appreciative of the volunteer efforts. The difference was that those communities weren't in D.C.

Marc Fisher: Ok, I accept that the cafeteria could be left in better condition than it was found. But apparently that wasn't done, because when I stopped by the school on Monday, there were eight cleaning company trucks there and workers were toiling into the night to get the place usable by kids.
And I don't think it being in DC had anything to do with it--I guarantee you that the same incident in Fairfax or MoCo would produce even louder howls of outrage.

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Tysons Corner, Va.: Let it be known that 40 minutes of one of your chats has passed without you or one of your readers taking a cheap shot at the Virginia legislator.

Must be because the Senate put the kibosh on the House's decision to abolish the car tax -- something Marylanders and D.C.-ers strongly support.

Marc Fisher: This is a shocking development, though I did try to address it just a moment ago with the shot about Va legislators trying to ban anything and everything. I am trying here.

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Washington, D.C.: Not to inject race and culture into the cat surgery story, but did anyone seem to notice that it was primarily the African American parents (some wealthy, some not so and out of boundary) at Eaton who led the outcry and not very many of the neighborhood wealthy folk. Do you read anything into this, at the very least about different expectation of parents who go through the hassle of bringing their kids out of boundary for a "better" school?

Marc Fisher: I didn't read much into it, but I did notice that about the audience. I think the audience at the parent meeting pretty much reflected the population of the school. Some upper NW public schools draw half or more of their students from out of boundary.

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Washington, D.C.: I'd like to hear from students and teachers how prevalent the soda and candy is in schools. I graduated from a Howard County high school in 1996, and our soda and snack machines were only turned on after school got out, so only the athletes or kids involved in activities could use them. Also, around 11th grade they wouldn't let us buy french fries a la carte, they only came as part of the lunch meal.
I thought this was normal--but are most other schools getting soda, candy, and french fries during the day?

Marc Fisher: Check out a school cafeteria these days--it's pretty galling to see how the soft drink companies have bought off the systems, "giving away" scoreboards and other nice stuff in exchange for the right to sell their sugary products in the halls of the schools.

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Cameras: As a District resident who's been caught by a speed camera (on Porter)yes it's annoying, yes the city is profiting from this, but hello, if you (and I) weren't breaking the law by speeding/running the red light in the first place, then why should we care if there are cameras at every intersection.

I'm more of a pedestrian than driver and believe me, I think 25 is too fast for most District streets, which, by the way, are mostly residential streets and not the Fairfax County Parkway.

Marc Fisher: Right--that's the bottom line here. If you don't want the ticket, don't speed through city streets. And I say this as someone who enjoys a wild ride down Dalecarlia Parkway or along the open stretches of upper N. Capitol Street.

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Washington, D.C.: What are your views on inclusionary zoning and affordable housing in the District? Developers say, "Let me build more density and I will build more affordable housing." Advocates seem to be saying, "More inclusionary zoning and if not there needs to be a moratorium on new residential building permits." Although everyone agrees it is an issue, I have yet to hear any of the fearsome 14 (city council and mayor) come forward with a real plan to address affordable housing. What are your thoughts?

Marc Fisher: Developers have a new and open attitude toward urban in-fill that the city should and to some extent is embracing. This is a very important moment in the shaping of this city and the District needs to move with alacrity to take advantage of the fact that lots of folks want to move here. Mixed income projects do work, and the city needs to push developers to do more of this--the Sursum Corda project, like the Arthur Capper project near the new baseball stadium site, promises to keep existing residents in their neighborhoods while bringing in new taxpayers. The only limitation is the quality of the schools.

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Washington, D.C.: That's because the neighborhood wealthy folk stirred up the initial to-do about it on their email list. 24 hours after one of the rich, white, uptight, might-as-well-be-suburbanites posted an email about it, all the tv news crews were covering cat-gate.

Marc Fisher: Quite true--Terry Lynch's email got the coverage rolling, but look at the coverage that these mercury incidents at Ballou and Cardozo have received. It's every bit as strong coverage, and no rich person initiated it.

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Oh please: We all know where you stand on the animals v. people debate. Fine. But, this whole cat thing is TOTALLY blown out of proportion. You think those kids are not exposed to cat dander, and worse, on a daily basis (i've got 2 cats and anyone near me gets that exposure). Plus, the dreaded toxiplasmosis . . . uh, you need to get over it poster. This is RARE, rare, rare and the probability is low.

I don't see a problem here unless the medical waste wasn't dispensed with properly. And it was.

I'm so sick of parents getting up in arms about every little thing like this. The kids are fine and were NEVER in any harm.

Marc Fisher: Probably right, but I haven't heard from many folks who weren't disgusted by the idea. People get finicky about their food. I know folks who won't go to an excellent Japanese restaurant in town just because it was formerly a pet shop. Totally irrational, but that's how people are about food.

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Snowy 15th and U St NW, Washington, D.C.: You said: "I'd like to see them attack the rat problem before dealing with cats."

Cats. Kill. Rats.

Marc Fisher: Thank. You. For. That.
If we keep going like this, we're going to have to enroll in the Pat Collins School of Remedial Speech.

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Alley Cats: I've lived in Ledroit Park for over a year. When moving into the city I was concerned about rats and other rodents in the alley behind my house. My concerns were alleviated when I found 3-4 stray cats living in the alley. The neighborhoods loves them because they keep rats away and generally don't bother anyone. People even leave open cans of cat food in their driveways to keep the cats around.

Marc Fisher: I sense a new advocacy group forming right here--Cats Over Rats.

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Arlington, Va.: Come on everyone chill. You can help animals and people too. It is not an either/or. Perhaps we could also buy cheaper cars, forgo eating in restaurants, don't go gambling in Atlantic City, spend less money on clothes, audio equipment or computers, or other choices we make in our own lives and donate all the money saved to helping people instead.

Marc Fisher: Yes, and then we'll go to school on snowy days and build Metrorail to Dulles and synchronize traffic lights and get rid of the lead water lines and stop dumping sewage into the Anacostia River.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Q. How much training do you need to criticize a meteorologist?

A. None. Just open your mouth.

Marc Fisher: It's easy, fun and educational. Free, too.

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Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: I was at Strathmore too! You no doubt saw me and the two other ladies sitting alone in the chorister section. I loved that the musicians absolutely raved about the acoustics in the hall -- so bright and clear. We estimated the hall to be about 2/3 full from our crow's nest vantage point.

I really think its sad to compare concern over cats to kids. I have cats and no kids and I never complain about paying taxes to the public schools. etc. It is really an apples and oranges thing. I am a strong supporter of Stand for Children, as well as Alley Cat Allies and DC CAT. The sad thing is that I think if there had been good communication with the parents ahead of time, with discussion about concerns over health, cleaning, etc that we would instead be raving about 500 cats neutered. Wow. If of those 250 are female, who would have two litters a year of 4, who would then have a litter a year, how many thousands of abandoned kittens were prevented?

Marc Fisher: Thanks--
The acoustics at Strathmore, a work in progress, are generally quite impressive. The band couldn't stop complimenting the hall on its warm, rich sound. But there are problems with the sound up in those boxes over the stage. We moved from a side box into the orchestra at the interval and the improvement was powerful.

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Washington, D.C.: As I work away despite the SNOW EMERGENCY I decided I needed to write you and ask where the zero sum game line is drawn in regards to caring about animals or humans. You seem to regard any outpouring of emotion for animal care to be a blow to caring about humans. Does this mean if people are spending time reading your chat or the paper it is bad because they could be helping a child? It seems like you end up with everyone being bad because they don't spend every minute they have helping someone. I don't think it's a zero sum game, I think that people who care about animals tend to be people who care about people (cue Barbra Streisand). I think you do see the level of mercy in the way we treat the most vulnerable around us, be they human or animal. That's just my two cents, thanks for all the great columns and chats!;

Marc Fisher: Thanks--you're right, it's not a zero sum game. But I and others do get upset when we see the ease and eagerness with which people jump on animal issues vs. the struggle to get people involved on issues around poor kids.

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Wheaton, Md.: Marc,

Could you and your readers join me in sincerely wishing that the snow thickens, and that the temperature stays below freezing? My wife and I bought cross-country skis last month, and we live near the Northwest Branch trail.

Marc Fisher: That would be nice. As it is, the stuff is still melting on contact with the streets. Once again, we close schools for zero accumulation on the major thoroughfares.

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Washington, D.C.: RE: Snow Coverage...don't worry, it won't last for long as soon as the Pope Death Watch Squad starts up, which I predict will be right around dinnertime this evening.

Marc Fisher: It's already started. Tickets to Rome are going to be as tough to get as plane seats to go see the Nats in spring training (they are going fast, folks.)

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Arlington, Va.: In re snow. I went to my local Giant last night (unrelated to snow, I go every couple o'days) and it was . . . normal. No frenzied crowds, plenty of milk, bread and toilet paper and those there leisurely shopping. Have we turned a corner here? Are we so jaded now that even an impending snow storm cannot rile us?

Marc Fisher: That would be sad indeed--part of the conspiracy to deprive us of entertainment.

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Silver Spring RE: rat problem solved!;: Since we have a feral cat problem in DC to go along with potholes and Linda Cropp. Let's inject all feral kitties with steroids and sic them on the rats. Then we round up all the kitties and use them to pull our sickly Metrorail trains.

Being unofficial Mayor is easy. All I need is bowtie and a Brooks Brothers suit. (Rim shot, please!;) Thank you, I'm here til Friday. Try the veal!;

Marc Fisher: No, please, not the veal--the animal rights folks will be all over you.
The way the snow is coming down, we'll be here right through Friday and into the weekend. Thanks for coming. Write if you get work. We're out of here. I think--lemme just check for some last minute specials in the queue....

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Bethesda, Md.: Oo. One last post! I've been doing a Pat Collins imitation for fifteen years and that article finally validated my existence. My favorite Pat Collins line: "And this. Is where the body lay." Guaranteed every week.

washingtonpost.com: Just -- the Facts (Post, Feb. 21)

Marc Fisher: We should have a Pat Collins imitation contest. Along with an Arch Campbell one.

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Rats vs. Cats: Really, I'm just hoping that the coyotes finally make it to the east side of rock creek park and deal with the rat population in Adams Morgan...and heck, if we're lucky, they'll eat a drunken suburbanite or two while their at it!;

Marc Fisher: Can I own a pet coyote in the District?

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Frederick, Md.: Marc, please tell me how a cell phone call can be more important to a school bus driver than the safety of the students onboard the bus. Why don't we just put the bus on auto-pilot so we can have a conference call with all of our buddies!

Marc Fisher: Nothing is more important to some folks than showing how important they are by using the cell in all the most inappropriate settings.

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Bethesda, Md.: Re: Mercury. It's rather bad stuff, although it shouldn't be hysteria-provoking. The liquid evaporates, and inhaling the vapor is not good for you. Also, the liquid is absorbed through the skin, also not good for you. (Did you ever wonder why the little globules that you rolled around in your hand kept getting smaller and smaller..?)

Marc Fisher: But they are fun to play with, you have to grant them that.
And on that inappropriate note, it's time to shove off. Back in the paper on Sunday and with you again next week, same snow time, same snow emergency. Thanks for coming along.

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