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Potomac Confidential

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, May 27, 2004; 12:00 PM

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

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

Marc Fisher (The Washington Post)

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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, cicada crunchers (and munchers.) There's so much on the plate today, but I cannot start with anything other than the most remarkable D.C. public schools story of the past decade, the tale of the principal who treated himself to a couple of school buses and apparently hawked at least one of them to somebody in Panama. The guy ripped off A BUS! At least the system knew enough to consider this wrong, and Enrique Watson has been fired. But a principal who has a phony doctorate, Wilma Durham of Walker-Jones Elementary, remains in her school; a fake degree is apparently not a concern for the school system.
This week's columns: On Sunday, I offered an ode to cicada noise; on Monday, the saga of a District lawyer who was nabbed by the city's solid waste inspectors for dropping a FedEx bill--yes, a single sheet of paper--in a public litter box; on Tuesday, the continuing battle over the Montrose Parkway proposal in Montgomery County and what it tells us about the prospects for building new roads and bridges around the region; and today's column looks at our latest little sex scandal on the Hill and the generation gap in explicit sex talk.
Your turn starts after the Yay and Nay of the Day:
Yay to the D.C. council members and others who are pushing for the next U.S. Attorney to be an bona fide resident of the District. It's about time that the chief prosecutor in this city be elected by its residents, but if we can't go that far, let's at least have someone appointed who lives here and cares about the people who must live with constant crime.
Nay to the Fairfax and D.C. school systems for mishandling their searches for a new superintendent. I don't know if the chief of the Frederick system is the best in the nation, but since Fairfax conducted its search so secretively, we'll never know. And who in his right mind would accept the District schools chief position given the mess that's been made of its governance?
Let's go....

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Washington, D.C.: The report in today's paper about the missing school bus Principal Fired Over Missing School Bus (Post, May 27) cited numerous incidents of administrators stealing funds, using them fraudulently, forging signatures. Do the D.C. schools ever prosecute these crimes, as well as terminate the crooks? And who is hiring these bozos, anyway, with their fraudulent degrees, etc.?

Marc Fisher: It is hard to believe, and sadly, all too many of the worst offenders manage to stay inside the system. But there is hope--a program called New Leaders for New Schools is busy training a new batch of principals and offering them to the city, complete with ongoing supervision and mentoring from experienced and excellent school leaders.

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Fairfax County, Va.: So Fairfax County is going to try John Allen Muhammed. WHY? For all practical purposes, he's dead already.

My real beef regarding a second Muhammed trial is, how much will it cost? Somewhere in the neighborhood of, oh, let's say $166 million -- the exact amount that we are not going to get for road improvements?

I thought that Virginia had finally come to its senses when they agreed on a budget. Boy, was I wrong!

Marc Fisher: You got it. The expense is enormous, the purpose unfathomable and the legal hurdles higher than you might think. As Ian Shapira points out in his story today, Muhammad's lawyers are gearing up to use Fairfax's own chief prosecutor as a defense witness because Robert Horan already told the jury in the Lee Malvo case that Muhammad was not the triggerman in the Linda Franklin killing. Why not just leave things be?

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Alexandria, Va.: What do you think of James P. Moran, Jr. calling his primary opponent Andy Rosenberg a "little 'scatological reference delete']" on a local story on WAMU Wednesday morning?

WAMU had to bleep my congressman. Do you think that Moran's behavior is continuing to deteriorate?

Marc Fisher: That wasn't the only off-color moment in Moran's interview on WAMU. The congressman seemed to be dishing with the reporter in pretty frank terms, and of course that's part of Moran's appeal--he's the anti-politician, the guy who messes up but "will fight for you." Will people buy it? They have for many years.

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Crofton, Md.: Hi MArc
What's worse ... a phony degree or buying a bus and selling it in Panama? It is not a mystery why the school system is in such trouble!

Marc Fisher: Hard to say which is worse. Both involve fraud, breathtaking cynicism, disdain for the children and a sense of invulnerability. In my mind, the phony degree is worse because it is a slap in the face of anyone who believes in the sanctity of education and learning. The other guy is just a plain old crook. Disagree?

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Capitol Hill: Lemme see if I've got this right: Enrique Watson mismanages two school buses and gets fired. Wilma Durham commits fraud and gets praised. Is there some bizarre logic at work in how DCPS metes out "justice" that I'm just missing, or is somebody over there just flipping a coin whenever they have to deal with a principal's egregious behavior?

Marc Fisher: I have a letter here that Acting Superintendent Robert Rice wrote to D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose defending the principal with the fake degree. It goes on for two pages about how she's instilled a sense of order and discipline at her school, and then there's a cryptic little bit at the end of the letter about how a "private" discussion is necessary to get into the question of how to solve this problem. But nowhere else in the letter does Rice acknowledge that there is a problem, and he appears to believe that the main problem here is that the news of the fake degree appeared in the newspaper, not that Durham has the phony diploma in the first place.

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Capitol Hill: Perhaps the city's trash inspectors should be put on the hunt for the missing school bus.

Marc Fisher: Yes!
But they'd only find its tailpipe and they'd issue a notice of violation for failing to meet city pollution standards.

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Takoma Park, Md: Mr. Fisher: Perhaps part of the problem lies in the patriarchal, crypto-plutocratic term "superintendent." This term implies has such Nietzian overtones that it should frighten all parents. Why not just "Public intendent," or "school administrative overseer," or "educational engineer magistrate"? Any thoughts?

Marc Fisher: I was thinking more along the lines of "Lord" or "Your Highness."

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Washington, D.C.: I enjoyed your column today. I was recently at my alma mater and witnessed an unbridled level of sexuality that shocked me. Now, I'm a single Washingtonian who does online dating and IMs, etc., so my head isn't in the sand. But this was an environment without consequences -- open partner swapping (kissing on the dance floor then trading partners ...) and such.

How do we roll this back?

Marc Fisher: I wonder--are there good examples in history of societies that have successfully rolled back the clock toward tighter sexual and social mores? There are certainly bouts of repressive policy, but I don't know if they really put the genie back in the bottle. I expect this period of sexual boasting will eventually run its course; certainly we've seen a conservative reaction by the generation that followed those who sowed their oats in the 70s. The pendulum is ever swinging.

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Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: You wrote an interesting article about how open high school and college-aged kids are about sex. In one respect it is a bit alarming, but maybe they're on the right track. For those comfortable talking about their own experiences in the right forum, they're finally removing the final taboo about sex in this country. We do it, we film it, we photograph it, we use it to advertise, but we hardly ever seriously talk about it.

Marc Fisher: But is what high school and college kids do now really serious talk about sex, or is it simply a socially mandated expression of their urges and actions--a play by play accounting that rarely gets into questions of what's right. Openness is a good thing, but only if it allows individuals to maintain some level of pride and free will.

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washingtonpost.com: When It Comes To Waste, D.C. Is Priceless (Post, May 24)

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Beautiful Silver Spring, Md.: Let me establish myself among my peers as Lamey McLameston from the planet Lamepsilon by saying that I completely agree with your column today. I'm 25 and find it difficult to be comfortable with the casualness that people of my generation display towards sex, even as I often find it (ahem) titillating. Nevertheless, I think the cow has been let out of the barn for a long time on this one, so I'm just going to have to suck it up and deal with it somehow.

When you write laments like that about suboptimal situations that aren't going to go away, what's the motivation? Do you think yours could be one voice that starts a chorus? Or do you feel a duty as a person with a podium to register your displeasure even if no one's behavior will be changed thereby?

Marc Fisher: Good question--I mainly wanted to share with readers my observations after having a more intense exposure to the lives and thoughts of college-age kids than I'd had in some years. The students I got to know seemed to have a very different approach to matters of sexuality than those who came before them even a decade ago, and I thought that was worth exploring. I heard from quite a few students who shared your discomfort with the whole exhibitionism of daily conversation, but also felt like they had to play along because that's how relationships start these days.

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washingtonpost.com: It's Called Intimacy For a Reason (Post, May 27)

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Arlington, Va: Marc, it's been a good week for fiscal sanity. First, those of us who were derided as lunatics for opposing the Northern Va. transportation tax-hike referendum found some vindication in your column affirming that new roads just bring new traffic. Then, those of us who were denounced as dangerous troglodytes for opposing Gov. Warner's tax hikes had a big I-told-you-so moment when we learned that the governor was lying about his fiscal projections all along.

(Yes, I understand the concept of a rainy-day fund -- I just wish the governor would stop raiding mine).

Marc Fisher: You never heard yourself called a lunatic in this quarter--I argued from the start against the transportation tax because it was far too oriented toward roads that would do little if anything to alleviate traffic. But I don't think Warner was lying about his fiscal projections. I've yet to meet any responsible member of the state legislature, from either party, who does not agree that Virginia faces a daunting financial situation that needed to be addressed. They differed on how to make the fix, but not on the need to do something.

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Rockville, Md.: Marc: I enjoyed your column on the Montrose Parkway the other day. I live in the heart of the dispute area, not too far from where the proposed parkway is scheduled to be built. I don't see it alleviating traffic at all. In fact, I see that once the idea of the parkway was once again floated, builders bought up every scrap of land on Montrose and proceeded to build townhouses wherever they could. Unfortunately, the reluctance of elected officials to listen to their constituents is not uncommon. So many people are again the parkway, you would think people in positions of power would listen. But they don't. What do you think will ultimately happen?

Marc Fisher: Well, this project is very far along and it will be hard to stop it, but as you probably know, the anti-road forces are gearing up for a legal assault on the county, and the odds are that they'll be able to gum up the building project for some years to come. Will the county then find better things to do with that money? Most likely, they'll fritter the millions away on legal fees and then try to build the road anyway. These fights can last decades.

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Rockville, Md.: You reported that Nancy Floreen just about slapped her constituents in the face by saying, "It will be built. period." Some future she must have in that district, I would think. By the way, anyone driving Montrose Road knows how busy it is, but a reversible middle lane during rush hour, thus adding a new lane, would help tremendously.

Marc Fisher: She's an at-large member of the county council, so she doesn't depend on the Montrose Rd. area for her seat, but she lives nearby, so it is an important constituency for her. I give her a lot of credit for standing her ground and for showing up at a hostile meeting like that. But those anti folks are not going to be satisfied until that parkway is dead, dead, dead.

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Alexandria, Va.: Marc, I noticed that all of the stations, save Fox, cut away to weather radar during the serious storms the other night. If my memory serves me, their reaction is based on the criticism they took after the tornado in La Plata when apparently none of them cut away. How do you feel about the local Fox affiliate deeming A.I. more important than the safety of its viewers?

Marc Fisher: My sense is that all of the local network affiliates are way too quick and eager to declare weather emergencies. The tornado in La Plata was the sort of rare moment when it behooves all news organizations to drop everything and provide whatever information they can. But the now almost routine interruption of programming for a line of T-storms has a Boy Who Cried Wolf effect.

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NW Washington, D.C.: Dear Marc,
Since I moved to Columbia Heights I have wondered about the use by (I assume) the D.C. police of helicopters for policing. Who are they after? They circle very low over Roosevelt Highschool at least a few times a week.
Is the heavy use of these vehicles safe and cost-effective? Any light you can shed on this subject would be helpful. Thanks!

Marc Fisher: The neighbors of the girl who was shot a few days ago in Petworth tell me that on the few occasions when the police have called in the helicopter, the drug crews have scattered and the immediate problem has been resolved. But the neighbors are much more concerned about the ongoing situation, which they say the police do not address, and that is that everyone in the neighborhood knows which houses are the headquarters for these gangs, yet the police seem to do nothing about it. Choppers serve an immediate purpose, but they don't get at the roots of any of these problems.

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Washington, DC: My husband and I are suburbanites who decided to move into the city. Our boys are both toddlers but we're dedicated to public education and thinking ahead to kindergarten. I know other folks in our situation, parents of young children who are ready and willing to do the work to make the public schools better for our kids, but none of us knows where to start. What can motivated parents do right now to try and help the system improve? We're not foolish enough to think we can turn everything around in a couple of years but there's got to be somewhere we can pitch in to make a difference.

Marc Fisher: I wish I could be encouraging, but the best example of parents who've sought to do what you're talking about is the Moms on the Hill group, a bunch of young mothers who banded together when their children were toddlers and went to the D.C. schools to say, let's plan now for a good quality school for when our kids reach school age.
Assistant Superintendent William Wilhoyte told me a couple of years ago that the D.C. schools should be judged by how well the system could satisfy the Moms on the Hill. This fall, the moms will open the Two Rivers Public Charter School because they couldn't get anywhere with the public system. So that is both a failure and a success: DCPS failed utterly to persuade these parents that their children could be safe and learn well in the public schools, but the city's rapidly growing charter system gave these parents the opportunity to create their own public school, keeping them in the city.

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Arlington, Va.: Solution to D.C.'s school problems hire the general who was in charge of the prison In Iraq and put a military working dog in every classroom!

Marc Fisher: I think we already tried the general move in the District schools. He ran away as fast as he could.

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Litterville, D.C.: Let me get this straight.

A private citizen gets a ticket for putting a Fed Ex slip in a trash can? And Metro employees get off scot-free for tossing newspapers in a place other than the recycling bin? And contractors can dump building refuse (sawdust, rags) into Metro trash cans?

And, even better -- the District of Columbia has people like Mary Myers who justifies this kind of behavior? What is this, Singapore?

People like her are the reason D.C. is not going to be a state. Give her power, and she will abuse it.

Marc Fisher: Well, she's just a PR person trying desperately to spin a dumb move into something with apparent purpose. But the fact is that the city's inspectors do this ALL THE TIME. I have here more than a dozen accounts from readers of similar cases in which they got fined for tossing a single envelope, a piece of junk mail, a business card into a public litter box. This is government in the model of the recording industry suing its own customers: Soaking the most diligent taxpayers is no way to win favor or to solve municipal problems.

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Bowie, Md.: Marc I'm inferring you and I are about the same age (you're mid-late 40s aren't you) so we went to college about the same time. Sex wasn't exactly rare on our campuses and discussions of it were pretty common, too -- in small groups of our same-sex friends.

What you might call "being discreet" others might call "being a hypocrite." We all tell our friends and neighbors lies about aspects of our home lives because it's none of their business, and we don't even think of it as lying. When we were in college, sex talk was the same way -- we'd just as soon rather not have known who else our partners have slept with.

But now that most sexually active individuals subscribe to the "you're sleeping with everyone else your partner's ever slept with" philosophy, it's considered socially responsible to discuss such things openly.

Marc Fisher: Ok, I'll buy the idea that the campaign for safe sex played an important role in creating this climate of openness, and that's a good thing. But my sense of the content of sex talk among young folks is that it is not driven primarily by the desire to vet potential partners, but rather is a complex web of oneupsmanship, boasting, covering up insecurities, angling for sympathy--that is, all the usual stuff that goes on in any talk about relationships, no matter what generation you're part of. What's different now is that the conversation is extremely explicit about sexual behavior, and many young folks feel obliged to engage in all that disclosure, even if they'd really rather keep the details between themselves and their partner.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Gotta ask ... I remember in a chat last year you refused to let your family turn on the AC prior to June 1. Is this still the case or are you getting to be an old softie and allowing it this year with the recent heat we've had?

Marc Fisher: I am dismayed to have to report that I have been outvoted, even though a family ought not be a democracy. But la luta continua.

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Bethesda, Md.: Since, as you everyone-should-live-in-a-high-rise-apartment-on-top-of-a-Metro-station people believe, new roads only "create new traffic", maybe we should just start closing existing roads and plant trees over them? Wouldn't that solve the traffic problem?

Marc Fisher: You can take that too far of course, but yes, there is merit to that idea, as ludicrous as it sounds. The years-long closing of the West Side Highway in Manhattan is the most-closely studied example of that phenomenon--congestion actually eased after an initial period of adjustment. People find other ways to get where they're going. That's why the National Park Service plan to shut down chunks of the roads in Rock Creek Park on weekdays is an excellent idea--the largely unused neighborhood streets can easily handle the extra traffic and the park could be given over to walkers and bikers.

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Re: School Bus: I just loved the title of the article: Principal Fired Over Missing School Bus

Marc Fisher: My favorite part is the quote from the school system's director of employee relations to the sacked principal: "You improperly disposed of a DCPS asset in the form of a school bus." Fabulous.

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Bowie, Md.: Marc, about the AC ... May of last year was cold and rainy.

This year it's been 85 more than half the days, hasn't it?

Marc Fisher: Yes, but it's the calendar that should count, not the weather conditions. A certain amount of arbitrariness improves any system.

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Helicopters: "Everyone in the neighborhood knows which houses are the headquarters for these gangs, yet the police seem to do nothing about it." Yeah, but do they tell the police which houses?

Marc Fisher: They sure do, over and over and over. I went out to have a look--it's plain as day where the problem is.

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Fairfax, Va.: As I rarely go into D.C., I don't understand a ticket for throwing trash (FedEx slip, envelope, etc.) into a trash can ... I thought trash cans were for trash?

Marc Fisher: Ha ha ha ha! Trash cans for trash?! How silly of you (and of us all). No, trash cans, as the city's public works folks explained, are for trash that you collect as you walk about the city, not for trash that you happen to have on your person. Or something like that. There's a distinction the city makes between a receipt (that's public trash) and a bill (that's household trash.)
What a load.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Marc, the other day on the way to work I saw picketers at Bruce-Monroe Elementary up on Ga.Ave. The only sign I could see said something like "No more broken promises."

Any idea what was going on?

Marc Fisher: The city school system promised to renovate the school so children would no longer have to suffer through the massively idiotic 1960s "open classroom" structure, in which the school has NO WALLS dividing classes. A whole bunch of DC schools still operate this way and they are bedlam. But the system failed to keep its promise, so parents took to the streets to protest.

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College Park, Md.: Thank you for your column about sex chatter and the coarsening of our national conversations on men/women, sex/intimacy, and responsible, adult relationships.

I teach a regular, small-section course at a "local major university," making for a retail experience in the large warehouse of our campus.

At least once a semester, a student approaches me in what can only be understood as anguish and pain about the quality -- indeed QUANTITY! -- of "hook ups."

To say nothing of risks re disease, pregnancy, near-rape (alcohol interferes with authentic consent), I am struck again and again by the damage done to souls.

"Soul" bothers some; Then, read: self, self-esteem, psyche, personhood, interior ... perhaps "heart" is most truthful.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Now, how does this national conversation get louder?

Marc Fisher: Thanks--I had several students explain to me the hierarchy of relationships, all too many of which begin with the hook-up, then progress to instant messaging, and only later, if at all, move on to something akin to dating. If that strikes you as even remotely backwards, then you are welcome to join me in the valley of the socially clueless.

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Bethesda, Md.: Another comment about today's column. I am single and out there in the dating world. I'm a little older than most of the singles I run into in the bars (I have GOT to find a new venue to meet women, I know) and am shocked at what goes on once the ladies have had a few drinks. By midnight on the weekends (and the D.C. bars don't close 'til 2:4 5a.m.), the women are hammered. These, like the Princeton students, are educated with good jobs and think their behavior of provocative dancing with guys (read grinding themselves against them), grabbing guys bodies (read genitals and buttocks) and then going home with them is normal behavior. When I ask a woman I've met for her phone # or if she'd like to go to dinner, it's like I'm an alien. Women these days want to "hook-up" that night or run into you again the next weekend and try again but a nice dinner with conversation is something too bizarre for them to contemplate.

Marc Fisher: There is of course a tendency for us fogeys to say, man, why didn't they do that when I was that age. But I've heard all too many people talk about how they've tired of that false intimacy and yearn for exactly what you're pining for. My sense is that if you stick to your style, it will pay off--what people do and what they really want often have little in common.

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Wants to Love D.C. in Va.: Marc:
The people who should scream the absolute loudest about things like the wacky trash can rule AND the principal-as-used-bus-salesman stories are the statehood advocates. I know it's unfair to link the two, but it's a fact of life. Until you folks demand your government change, there will be little will among policymakers to make moves.

Marc Fisher: Absolutely right. Thanks.

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Buzzard Point, D.C.: Marc,

I gotta back you up and respond to "Bethesda." For anyone who wants a good history of how new roads do cause more traffic, check out Robert Caro's "The Power Broker" and learn from the mistakes of Robert Moses. He vehemently opposed a blend of mass transit and new roads and now fixing those messes is now costing millions/billions.

For example, b/c of Moses, it's not until now that there's a rail link to JFK.

Marc Fisher: Right. Roads are popular among developers because roads create new fields for sprawl, and sprawl is much cheaper and more easily profitable than in-fill development.

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Silver Spring, Md.: So I go to a doctor's office downtown, and get a receipt for services, which happens to have my name and address on it. If I'm fool enough to throw my personal health information in a public trash can (HIPPA be dammed) can I be fined, as it is something I got in town, and it does not belong to the business (they have their own copy) ... ???

Marc Fisher: As I understand it, you would quickly get a notice of violation and be fined $35, but you'd be able to go to a hearing, where you might well get the case dropped. But even as the city goes after folks for single sheets of paper, citizens continue to hope in vain that the District will attack the real problems--businesses that flout dumping laws and attract swarms of rats to residential areas, including the very block in Woodley Park where the subject of Monday's column was nabbed for his FedEx bill.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: I guess Bill Cosby struck a nerve. He's getting responses, and they're mostly lame and beside the point (e.g., from today's paper).

Marc Fisher: Cosby spoke the truth, but of course he did so in the way that a comedian would--with some exaggeration and without the nuancing that politicians are accustomed to. It'd be great to hear educators and politicians speak that plainly, because only direct language gets people to the core of issues, and only then can we move to real solutions.

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Peters Twp, Pa.: Two examples of cultures that rolled back sexual license for more conservative values (both true!):
Afghanistan, which went from Italian influenced mini-skirted freedom to the Taliban;
Imperial Rome: All sorts of wild stuff during under the Caesars (so to speak) to medieval and Renaisssance Catholicism.

Marc Fisher: And where will Afghanistan end up, like modern secular Turkey, or like fundamentalist Iran? Italy of course has rocked back and forth between those poles over the centuries, and both sets of mores thrive there today.

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Anonymous: Societies swing between permissiveness and repression all the time. Look at the difference between the reigns of Charles II and Victoria, in England.
And yes, removing repressive restrictions on basic sexuality (like forced closeting for gay folk, or the idea that women are all passive recipients with no sexual urges) is a good thing. But that doesn't mean that you have to have sex with anything that moves, out in the street, without any more care or respect for your partner than for an inflatable doll or a piece of tissues.
Part of basic human sexuality is love, emotional connection, and yes, intimacy. These things are best cultivated in long-term, loving, supportive relationships, and in the intimacy of privacy. Keeping sex private is a function of respect, not of repression.

Marc Fisher: Nicely said.

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NoVa: It's more sexually repressive, in terms of the full potential of human sexuality, to have random, loveless, publicly displayed encounters with people who might as well be inflatable dolls for all you care about them, than to have a sensual, caring, tender experience with a long-term partner whom you love and trust, in the intimacy of privacy.
Hook-ups aren't sex - they're assisted masturbation.

Marc Fisher: All right, we're on a roll here.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc, your column got me thinking about a sex ed program tested in England (which has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Western Europe) called "A Pause", that teaches high school students about oral sex as an alternative to full intercourse. Researchers found that it actually delayed intercourse for teenagers who take the class, and now they plan to offer A Pause in public schools throughout England and Wales. Seems to me that when done correctly, frank talk about sexual matters in the classroom can be very healthy.

Marc Fisher: How Clintonian. I'm not sure there's a big advantage to postponing intercourse if the tradeoff is a generation of kids engaging in rampant oral sex years before they are emotionally capable of handling an intimate relationship.

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Washington, D.C.: Say something about this Judith Miller NYT thing. Did she, too, go to Princeton?

Marc Fisher: I don't get the connection, but yesterday's NY Times mea culpa about the paper's reporting on the weapons of mass destruction issue was, I thought, rigorously honest and admirable. I do wish that it had named names, which is a key part of what newspapers do when we're not the subject and therefore should be essential when we cover our own misdeeds. Miller clearly wrote some stories that turned out to be wrong, and the Times editors' note yesterday said that, without naming her.

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Washington, D.C.: What can we do to get an incompetent principal that falsified her credentials, one Wilma Durham, out of the school system? I am infuriated by your recent "Principal Watch" where the Interim Superintendent Robert Rice defended Durham. As a previous employer under the dictatorship of Durham I found the school to be constant mayhem. Has Rice ever entered Walker-Jones Elementary School? I would suggest he make an unannounced visit! Has Rice ever tried to have a conversation with Durham about educational issues or theories? I doubt it because her ignorance about the subject matter comes out within five minutes of the conversation; especially if she's not allowed to rant and rave without allowing anyone to speak. The only order, direction, and discipline at Walker-Jones resembles a penal institution -- not an educational institution.

Marc Fisher: That's what I keep hearing from parents, teachers, police, community activists and even some administrators in the D.C. schools. But it's not clear why the system protects her, or others who are similarly ineffective at other schools.

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Alexandria, Va.: Marc, I can't believe I'm about to do this, but I'm gonna defend the law, if not the enforcement of it. I think that the D.C. law on trash is a good idea; without it, anyone could dump anything in a public trash can, without consequences. That said, good GOD, is their a SINGLE employee of the PRDC (think about it) with a WHIT of COMMON SENSE?!?!

Marc Fisher: You're right, the law itself is fine--public litter boxes should be reserved for incidental trash, not for household or commercial trash. But it's all a matter of how to use your enforcement manpower, and it's pretty plain that the city hasn't a clue how to do that.

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Silver Spring, Md.: For what it's worth, Fox handled coverage of the storms as well as I could expect. During the 9 o'clock hour (I don't know about during A.I., as mentioned from the previous poster) they broke in twice for about 30 sec. each to mention specific threats, then had the "Weather Alert" brackets up for most of the rest of the hour. A good balance, I thought.

Marc Fisher: Sounds right to me--there are a bunch of other posts on this topic, but I can't get to them since we're already over our allotted hour. Let's pursue this next week if you all remember to post on that. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: Dilemma: I'm strolling down the street carrying my phony diploma. I stop in front of the school board office. I can either toss the fake degree in the trash, but incur a $35 fine, or use it to apply for a principal job, and get paid $100,000. What to do?

Marc Fisher: Easy--get in your school bus, drive to Panama, sell the thing, and come on back. Your job will be waiting for you.

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Lake Ridge, Va.: Mark -- Can you let the D.C. school system know, that if my credit card goes through, I should my Ph.D. in Education Managment earned/bought by this afternoon, and I'll be submitting my application to be superintendent? After all, I can't do any worse ...

Maybe you switch to writing articles about the few D.C. kids that actually get a chance to learn something -- might be easier on your wrist.

Marc Fisher: Ah, but that's where you're wrong--Nothing is harder than writing the good stories about successes in the D.C. schools. The system is utterly resistant to reporters trying to tell those stories. No one outside the newsroom ever believes this, but generations of schools reporters can lay out dozens of stories of being rebuffed when seeking to tell success stories. And that gets us into a sociopathology way too deep to spell out here and now.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm sure that when we get to the bottom of this whole supposed missing bus "scandal" we'll find out that the principal was just trying to give his school's chapter of the Future Entrepreneurs a lesson in global commerce.

Marc Fisher: He was, of course, conducting his own investigation.

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Oakton, Va.: The obvious solution to the trash issue is to throw your trash on the street. That way someone else can legally put it in a trash can since it is then just trash they found while walking around.

Marc Fisher: We need to find out how many violations are written for putting the wrong trash in the public can versus just littering on the street.

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Alexandria, Va.: I recently recieved a flyer on my door from a West Virginia group alleging a Jewish "shadow government" controlling U.S. politics and media. They were promoting Jim Moran. Do you see any validity to this theory, and do you think Congressman Moran's comments regarding the Jewish community could have actually gained him support? It seems that people were more united against him two years ago when he had the issues with all the loans ...

Marc Fisher: I haven't seen that, but if you could send me a copy, I'd appreciate it.

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Washington, D.C.: Let me state a few things about Sursum Corda;
1. Most residents who are there want to live somewhere else.
2. The place is controlled by drug dealers.
3. Most buyers come from the suburbs bringing crime into D.C.
4. The situation above is caused by structural building problems.

Seems the best solution is to move people out of there and raze the place.

Marc Fisher: Well, there's likely a middle course, not that it would ever be chosen. Raze the place, require the developer to include a healthy percentage of affordable and subsidized units and move back in those current residents who are not harboring crew members.

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Marc Fisher: We're way over our time, so I'm outta here. Thanks for coming along and apologies to those I couldn't get to. Back here next week, same time, and in the paper again on Tuesday, when you can turn the A/C on with my blessings.

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