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Potomac Confidential

Slicing and Dicing of the Issues People Are Talking About

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, March 3, 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.

The Nationals' debut, the prospect of slots in Maryland and the freeflowing contributions in the D.C. mayoral campaign highlight this edition of Potomac Confidential.

Marc Fisher (The Washington Post)

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Talk: Metro Message Boards

Colmuns:

D.C. Family Detoured by Mixed Signals (Post, March 3)

The House Deals Ehrlich at Least One Slots Win (Post, Feb. 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. This promises to be a season of firsts, so that makes this the First Potomac Confidential After the First Nationals Game. Heady stuff, huh?
This week's columns looked at the depressing politics of slots in Maryland, where we're supposed to believe that the state has no means to build schools unless more people who can't afford it dump their life savings into slot machines; at the Virginia governor's race, which may turn on, of all pressing issues, the death penalty; and today's story about parents who took their baby home from the hospital because she was doing fine--only to find social services investigators at their doorstep. Who's right and who's wrong in this case--the hospital, the city, the family? I'm eager to hear your thoughts.
But first, the Yay and Nay of the Day:
Yay to Channel 9 weatherman Topper Shutt for the most honest and forthright admission of the TV news snow hysteria game I've ever seen. Shutt told the Post's Mike Ruane and Cameron Barr that "We often can't control what the newsroom does with our information. If we covered the story, we would probably cover it differently as weather people, but they [the reporters] are looking for a different effect. They say, 'Let's go and jump on something.' " Result: Schools shut down and make fools of themselves because superintendents would rather accept the TV hysteria than look out the window.
Nay to the D.C. Council for refusing to open up the campaign process and let the public see who is tossing big bucks into the exploratory committees of the folks who are running for mayor. Only Adrian Fenty has voluntarily revealed the names of his contributors. The other candidates hide behind this gaping loophole, and their enablers on the council this week defeated councilman Phil Mendelson's attempt to close the loophole.
And hey, did you see that a 14-year-old boy in Annapolis was arrested for throwing a snowball? The story is at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A2781-2005Mar2.html
Your turn starts right now....

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Marc, I was prepared for 10 inches of snow, but we only got three. What do I do with the three dozen rolls of t-paper, five gallons of milk, eight loaves of bread that I have left over?

Marc Fisher: I would use them to erect a fortress around your TV set the next time there's a hint of snow in the forecast. That way, you can protect yourself against the terrible affliction that has come over all the schools superintendents in the region, who seem so buffeted about by the TV weather hysteria that they take temporary leave of their senses.

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Vienna, Va.: If the Supreme Court says the Ten Commandments are alright, do you foresee many Virginia localities setting up their own displays ASAP?

Marc Fisher: Within seconds. And if they don't have room on the courthouse lawn, they can use the vacant lots where the immigrant worker labor pool gathered before Virginia authorities started cracking down on them.

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Springfield, Va.: I understand how small amounts of mercury can cause a health risk. How much mercury have they found and where are the kids getting it? Has there been a run on thermometers at the local CVS?

Marc Fisher: In the first couple of these incidents, it appeared that the mercury came from science labs, where presumably it was contained in thermometers. But now it's not at all clear where this is coming from--whether we're seeing a new way for rebellious kids to shut down their schools, or a failure by the District schools to do a thorough cleanup of the previous spill.

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Bowie, Md.: I was only 15 but I was there and I believe the score of the final Senators' game ... before the fans crawled over the walls and started ripping the place apart, causing a 9-0 forfeit ... was 5-3, after Hondo blasted a grooved ball into the stands! Coincidence or the Baseball Gods?

Marc Fisher: The Gods, to be sure. Also worth noting: It was the Mets that opened the Nats spring season, the Mets that ended the Expos season, the Mets that started off the Expos all those years ago, and it will be the Mets who play in the first Nats game at RFK, the exhibition on April 3. Who dares not to see the hand of the Lords of Baseball?

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washingtonpost.com: Md. Teen Charged After Snowball Hits Girl (Post, March 3)

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First Street, NE, Washington, D.C.: Even if child protective services and the Georgetown doctors acted properly on the night of the incident -- how did CPS justify the repeated follow-ups? Could CPS have called the police or was that just an idle threat? And how did the family get CPS to call off the dogs?

(I can't help but wonder whether racial tensions played a factor ...)

Marc Fisher: Interestingly, I've heard from several doctors this morning who said they would never have called protective services under this scenario.
The city kept coming at the Basses because the case was an open file and because the Basses were not exactly welcoming of this intrusion into their lives. So there wasn't a lot of cooperation. Most recently--that is, after I started making calls about the case--the city has been calling the Basses saying they want to wrap up their investigation and close out the case.
And yes, Child Services could and would have called the cops.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc,

In your chat a couple of weeks ago about your jury experience, one of the chatters rather darkly referred to their grand jury service. As someone who is on tap for this later this month, is it really all day every day for five weeks? That seems rather onerous, don't you think? Are other local jurisdictions set up like this?

Marc Fisher: I've never been called for grand jury, but I've spoken to a whole lot of folks who have, and they describe a very long, very difficult process. Some people find it fascinating, but it requires a huge commitment of time and therefore the jurors end up being primarily the elderly and unemployed. Then there's a whole 'nother set of issues about how independent grand juries really are and how prosecutors essentially use them as a rubber stamp. But this varies, and I have heard of some quite independent grand juries.

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Manassas Park, Va.: Enjoyed your column on Kaine and Kilgore. Any chance you will meet with George Fitch, Kilgore's challenger, and/or Russ Potts, the independent?

Marc Fisher: I never pass on a chance to hear the wit and wisdom of Russ Potts. You may know him as a Virginia state senator, but he was also an executive in the Chicago White Sox organization and has one of the most interesting life stories of any politician in the region.
I don't know Fitch, but I'll be out on the campaign trail and will see how he's doing.

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Fairfax, Va.: Russ Potts wants to restore the car tax. Do you think that's the ticket to the Virginia governor's mansion?

Marc Fisher: Well, he's not about to put that on a bumper sticker. But his central point--that Virginia needs to pay the price for its massive growth, and that budget gimmickry is not the answer--is one that many voters do take seriously. On the other hand, Walter Mondale could give us a nice talk about the electoral effectiveness of lecturing us on the need for higher taxes.

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Washington, D.C.: What with all the new housing units and what not it's getting harder and harder to find on-street residential parking in D.C. I've lived on the Hill for 10 years, and I've seen a sharp increase in the difficulty in finding a street space. On any given day up to half of my street is taken over by commuter vehicles, which, contrary to popular opinion, don't get tickets very often even if they park all day. Any chance D.C. officials could be convinced to go to what other major cities have done -- more restrictive parking rules. An excellent compromise may be to have one side of each residential street marked for residents only, with no two-hour nonresident parking. The other side would remain as is. That way visitors can still visit, but residents would have a little better chance at finding a spot.

Marc Fisher: Sounds to me like what you need is not a new system of divvying up the parking spaces, but rather, real enforcement of the District's existing residential parking permits. They enforce like crazy in my neighborhood--make friends with the guys at your police district front desk and they'll be happy to write a bunch of tickets.

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G'burg (home)/SW, D.C. (work): I actually applaud Annapolis for arresting the snowball-throwing kid. Perhaps he and his buddies will take note that when a girl says "no," it means "NO." If he learns this lesson now, it may prevent him from further abusing women in the future. I don't think he needs jail or any such punishment, but to apologize to the girl and do community service wouldn't be a bad thing.

Marc Fisher: Well, I certainly agree that no one should hurt or maim others. But criminalizing the throwing of snowballs is rather absurd. Then again, we've criminalized kids who bring Ibuprofen or nail clippers to school, so we're pretty nutso generally.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hey Marc, you won't mind if I come over to your house during the next snow storm and throw a snowball as hard as I can in your kid's/wife's/mother's face as hard as I can? No!? Why the hell not? Oh, OK ... how about YOUR face?

Marc Fisher: The more snowball fights, the better. But of course there's an art and a tradition to snowball fights, and it's only sporting to aim below the neck. We don't know if this kid was just a bad aim or was some sort of violent nutjob.

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Clifton, Va.: I voote for the first idiot for gov in Virginia who will send more of my tax dollars back to NOVA. I am sick and tired of getting 22 cents back on each tax dollar I send to Richmond. Time to secede

Marc Fisher: I'm afraid you won't find any candidate making that pledge in this year's governor's race. There's not a huge incentive for either Kilgore or Kaine to make many promises in this part of the state. Kilgore will try to pick off Prince William and the more conservative parts of Loudoun and Fairfax with an anti-tax, pro-death penalty, anti-gay appeal that also makes big bland promises about road-building. Kaine is too eager to paint himself as a moderate conservative to worry about appealing to northern Virginia's sense of being neglected.

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Bethesda, Md.: I recently served on the Bethesda Volunteer Fire Board. I resigned after finding out that the Fire Board had absolutely nothing to do with fire fighting or fire prevention in our community and ... more seriously in my opinion that this board raised money by pretending to be something that they were not ... what do you know about this silly vestage of days gone by?

Marc Fisher: News to me, but if you could send me more details at marcfisher@washpost.com, I'd be happy to look into it.

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Washington, D.C.: I've been working on getting automatic defibrillators put into the DCPS for almost a year and things are rolling. Are you interested in this Good News story about our schools?

Marc Fisher: Why, was there a problem with kids dropping in the halls?

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Annapolis, Md.: So a 14-year-old boy throws a snowball into the face of a girl who asked him not to do so, and gets charged with assault.

Maybe I'm getting old, but I don't see the big deal with this.

I'd rather he learn to respect a girl's right to say no in a snowball fight rather than an intimate moment later on.

Marc Fisher: The kid is 14. You'd think a parent or some other adult would just tell him to quit it. Calling the cops is evidence of a far deeper social ill than aggressive throwing of snowballs would indicate.

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Maybe: ... the teachers were dropping in the halls.

Marc Fisher: Given some of the terrified and frustrated notes I got from teachers stuck in the mercury-poisoned rooms of Cardozo High School last night, I'd believe that.

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Rockville, Md.: I walked out of Shady Grove Hospital last month after waiting in their emergency department for three hours with my toddler.
They didn't have enough doctors, I was told. They told me to go to an all-night urgent care center instead if I didn't want to stay.

Georgetown Hospital overreacted and a good family paid for it.
If it is your kid, you have to pay for the consequences of your actions. I knew that when I turned heels and left SHady Grove and called my pediatrician.
I am sick of doctors and nurses who think parents are to stupid to do the right thing. But they are allowed to treat patients however they want, unchallenged.
It's just plain wrong.

Marc Fisher: The ER situation in Montgomery sounds like it is spiraling out of control. Here's the amazing part: Shady Grove has a new ER all set to open in the northern part of the county, but it's sitting unused because of opposition by the existing hospitals, which don't want the competition.

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No Fun, No Fireworks ...: I couldn't believe it when I read the article today by David Nakamura that the neighborhood commissioner whose jurisdiction (?) is next to RFK got all up in arms about proposed fireworks after Friday-night Nats games. She called them "... something that lower the standard of living."

Hello? Get real! It's what -- 10 minutes of noise for something that people are excited about? I should note that I'm not particularly a proponent of having baseball here, but it seems to me that she's gone overboard and is maybe only looking after her own sensitive ears as opposed to what the community thinks of it.

In parallel, it makes me wonder if I can get my Alexandria City rep to force Amtrak and CSX to stop blowing the train whistles when they roll through my Old Town neighborhood at all hours of the night ...

Marc Fisher: That fireworks story was terribly depressing, but the saddest part is that the District and the Nationals sound like they're just going to roll over to the neighbors' opposition. What they should do is ignore the neighbors entirely. That stadium has been there for 44 years. There's hardly a person left in the neighborhood who has lived there since long before the ballpark was built.
A few nights of fireworks a year doesn't hurt anybody. If the city and the team are going to fold every time some prunish neighbor whines, the fan experience--and the city's economic benefits--will droop awfully fast.

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Snowball, D.C.: A snowball fight is a beautiful thing and involves throwing on both sides. A snowball attack is an unwarranted assault with a hard-packed 2-pound ball of ice. there's a huge difference between the two and one is fun (where injuries may still occur), the other is assault. It's not like this kid wasn't given AMPLE warning.

Marc Fisher: Whoa! How'd we get to a two-pound pack of ice?
We don't know much about this, do we? If it was a snowball fight, then I think you and I are on the same page--everything but a head shot is fair in a two-way crossfire of snowballs. But if it was an attack by one crazed maniac, then it's a bad thing.

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Washington, D..C.: Regarding the snowball incident -- he hit the girl in the face after she asked him to stop. He was completely in the wrong, and should be punished. One the other hand, I think assault charges are a tad ridiculous.

Marc Fisher: Right--that's my only point here. The response is way out of proportion with the crime. Adults need to take some responsibility here. Whoever called the cops could likely have handled this on their own.

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First snowballs, then ...: It's a little know fact, but most serial killers started out by throwing snowballs at little girls.

Marc Fisher: Damn. I completely forgot. I read that too. Hunter Thompson, I think it was.

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Arlington, Va.: There is a fully functional emergency room waiting to open and other hospitals are afraid of the competition? Did you see the op-ed by the Johns Hopkins emergency room doctor? Something tells me there is plenty of business for all emergency rooms. Of course the other hospitals may be afraid all the paying customers will go to the new emergency room, leaving them with all the indigent patients.

Marc Fisher: Well, this gets all too complicated all too quickly. Yes, there's plenty of business for more ER beds. But how much of that is paying business and how much is people using the ER for ordinary stuff that could be handled by a doctor in his office or by a small-scale urgent care center? And if you develop a way to divert that non-paying traffic from the ER, is there really a shortage of ER space? All of this stems from the government's refusal to address the core issues in health costs and insurance.

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Long Beach. Caif.: Perhaps it was a yellow snowball?

Marc Fisher: That's a chemical attack and only Homeland Security can provide you with answers on that. Please call Michael Chertoff at 202 282 2000.

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Springfield, Va.: Isn't the fact that a kid getting arrested for throwing a snowball making the news going overboard as well?

Marc Fisher: Oops--that number is 202 282 8000. Not that anyone would actually call.
Wait a minute--you're saying it's not news if a 14-year-old is arrested for throwing a snowball? If so, I would really like to hear your definition of news.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Haven't heard anything about unopened Shady Grove you mentioned. Where can I read more?

Marc Fisher: Here's Shady Grove hospital's take on the issue:
http://www.adventisthealthcare.com/SGAH/about/news/press_view.asp?id_number=149

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Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Marc --

Today, the Washington Post printed the first screwed-up Washington Nationals box score! (Pitchers are listed under the wrong team heading.) What a day, indeed!

Marc Fisher: Yeah, I saw that in the box score. What can I tell you--it's a day of firsts, we might as well get the first Nats editorial error out of the way while it's still spring training.

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Time to secede: Hear, hear! NOVA seceeds, and we merge up NOVA and the non-monumental part of the District as a new state. That combines 2/3 of the region's economic power into a single state entity, with real power ... and the rest of Virginia can be left to the mouth breating extra-chromosome right.

Since D.C. and NOVA are both huge revenue producers, with efficient population density ratios, taxes could drop with good services. Virginia would have to massively raise taxes.

I like this plan.

Marc Fisher: Nice plan. You could throw in Montgomery and Prince George's and have yourself quite an economic engine of a state. It would have by far the most educated, affluent population of any state in the union. Of course, you'd have to nuke Richmond and Annapolis to make it happen.

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Herndon, Va.: What do you think the chances are of Fairfax County following through on the proposed 10 cent property tax reduction (or more, if Gerald Connolly follows through on his statement)? Indeed, what is the process for determing this? Can you please explain this to a new homeowner in Ffx Cty? Thanks so much.

Marc Fisher: If I understand it correctly, the board of supervisors could do this by vote. There'll be a hearing and vote, and you're of course invited to both.

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Falls Church, Va.: I grew up in Anaheim, a block away from Disneyland. We had fireworks every night at 9:30 p.m. in the summer, great 4th of July shows and on New Year's. It was great!

On another note, has Metro ever considered putting information on the next arriving train on the display monitors outside the fare gates? So many times I leave my friends and go through the fare gates only to find out the next train is approaching in 15 minutes. I'd rather have known that before I went through the fare gates and spent the time with my friends instead of waiting around. What do you think?

Marc Fisher: That's how I'd see it too--if I lived near a stadium, I'd want fireworks every night. My grandmother lived close enough to the beach in Brooklyn to hear the fireworks and the sound alone brought families together and thrilled young and old alike. Once you get into the business of kowtowing to NIMBYs, you've lost the game.
Good idea on Metro information outside the fare gates. There was a good deal of talk about this when they first started putting up the info signs, and I think the explanation was that people waiting on the platform have a more direct need for the info, and there's only enough money for a certain number of signs.

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Re: hospitals and child protective services: People are always up in arms about something. When children who are supposedly under the care of child protective services are injured or die, there is a huge cry about how nobody intervened aggressively enough. When they do intervene, then its parents' rights that are horribly undermined.

I'll bet DCPS sees children in all sorts of terrible circumstances and knows better than to judge parents by where they live or how sincere they appear. We should be glad that they didn't drop the ball.

Marc Fisher: Right--so wouldn't it make more sense for the city to devote its child protective services staff to the serious, urgent cases than to chasing down some Georgetown couple who've decided to give their baby a decent night's sleep rather than hanging out at the hospital?

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Lexington Park, Md.: Wait! Isn't Virginia just practicing true liberalism? Taking money from the more affluent parts of the state and sending it off to those less fortunate? Will the N. Virginian's fight for Bill Gate's right to receive more services since he pays more in taxes next?

Marc Fisher: I don't see any discord among libs and conservatives over how Virginia's tax dollars are allocated geographically. Those from NoVa want more tax money coming back this way, while the rest of the state has become addicted to the free money pouring in from the Dulles corridor. This breaks purely by geography, not ideology.

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Re: CVS:
CVS hasn't sold mercury thermometor's in years.

Marc Fisher: Quite true--we guard our old mercury thermometers with our lives. Those newfangled beeping plastic ones aren't nearly as much fun. So does this mean that DC schools just have really old equipment in their labs? That wouldn't exactly be the shock of the century.

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Arlington, Va.: Emergency rooms are like new roads (think ICC). You just go an open another one, it just means more people get shot, break hips, etc.

Marc Fisher: Imputed injuries? There's a doctoral dissertation waiting to be written. More to the point, there are federal grants just waiting to be cashed in.

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Annapolis, Md.: What is the latest on Bill Cosby's decision to run for governor of Maryland?

Marc Fisher: You'd have to ask the Mrs. about that.

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Arlington, Va.: Other than an editorial expressing outrage that the Virginia legislature might even consider returning some of the commonwealth's $1.2 billion surplus to the taxpayers, I haven't seen much about car tax relief. I assume we're stuck with it for the coming year?

By the way, does there ever come a point when a government surplus becomes so huge that the Post might consider not opposing some form of tax cut?

Marc Fisher: Probably when the state is no longer ignoring its transportation, school and other major needs. I don't speak for or know anything about the paper's editorials, but speaking for meself, I'd have to say Virginia is in no position to be handing money back.

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Silver Spring, Md.: The girl who got hit by a snowball refused medical attention and the police said her eye was a little swollen. Her momma just wants to collect money from a lawsuit, I bet. If the police weren't called, there could be no lawsuit. Police overreacted and the momma still gonna get money from a lawsuit -- which the insurance company will settle on instead of going to court. GET HIT BY A SNOWBALL AND COLLECT YOUR MONEY!

Marc Fisher: Only too true.

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Arlington, Va.: Have you attended the trial of Lee Malvo or others seen him in person? I'm just wondering if you think that he was to immature to understand that his actions were wrong, and could even lead to the death penalty.

Marc Fisher: I never made it to the courtroom, no, but having read more of his writings than anyone should have to, I long ago concluded that he is--I think the legal term is bonkers. So should we be in the business of killing nuts? The Supremes have already said we should not execute the retarded. The next battle will be over whether we should execute the mentally ill. And soon enough we're at the point where we're trying to figure out just which crazed killers are mentally ill and which are the picture of mental health. And I think at some level we will all agree that there's something deeply wrong with anyone who kills. Which leads us nowhere in particular, except maybe to say that there are better things to do with criminals than kill them.

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Washington, D.C. : Marc,

I hate to call you on this again, but your chat is getting out of hand. First, a statement was made about parents knowing and then doing what is best for their children. Next, a suggestion came for Metro to provide information to their passengers when they need it (i.e., before paying). You have way too many rational people this week, can we get some crazies in here?

Marc Fisher: I do apologize. I have only limited control over the entrance requirements for these gatherings. I do plan to begin requiring a simple admissions form for each of you--mostly multiple choice, but one short essay. Just a little bit about your hopes and dreams, your annual income, maybe some of those fun phrases and numbers you use for internet passwords. I collect those--just a hobby, you know.

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Arlington, Va.: You think the print edition was screwed up? Yesterday's online box score was for the Mets/Expos game.

Marc Fisher: You mean you missed that game? It was fabulous--Rusty Staub hit a three-run shot and a solo job, one for each team.

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Leesburg, Va.: Mercury used to be a staple of high school chem labs. We used to roll little balls of mercury around just for the fun of it.

The mercury came in bottles, not thermometers, and it wasn't red, either. Sorry to hear that it's no longer on the list of approved toys.

Marc Fisher: So did we! I loved playing with mercury. We used to put little blobs of it on Mr. Zak's desk--the eighth grade science teacher--and we loved to watch him get upset by it. Neither he nor we died, so something's wrong. Maybe they've bred more powerful mercury in the intervening years.

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Re: Snowball: Maybe the family can also sue Maryland for not having the hospital open as she could not get treatment there!

Marc Fisher: ThreadWeaver of the Week Award Winner!

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Calvert County, Md.: All Frank Zappa sang was something to the effect of "Watch where the huskies go, don't eat the yellow snow". Nothing to discourage one from setting it aloft ...

Marc Fisher: Mercury-laced snowballs, anyone?

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Metro info outside fare gates: I always thought it was because they don't want passengers to learn a train is one minute away from arriving, so they race through the gates and escalators at breakneck speed, thus being a potential risk to themselves and others.

That's just my opinion, however.

Marc Fisher: But one of the very best Metro sports is hearing the arriving train from midway down the escalator and running like a madman down to the platform--makes you feel like you're in the French Connection.

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Sad fact about the nats fireworks: The same citizens that don't want it to happen will be the some ones standing on street corners selling counterfeit shirts, hats and sunglasses, and renting out their parking spots for 40 bucks a game. But then again, thats OK.

Marc Fisher: As long as they also sell those big bags of peanuts for $1, I forgive them the rest.

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Washington, D.C.: But there already are info signs outside the fare gates at many stations -- they just repeat the elevator outage info over and over ...

Marc Fisher: And isn't that useful. I also enjoy the endlessly repeating announcements of shuttered elevators. They could at least set that to music.

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Silver Spring, Md.: The red stuff in thermometers isn't mercury, it's alcohol I think.

Mercury is silver (hence "quicksilver").

Marc Fisher: The really cool thermometers have the real silver stuff in them. The red ones are tacky.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: That 'red' mercury in non-mercury thermometers is alcohol. Of course, with zero-tolerance policies nowadays, I'm surprised that isn't banned, too.

Marc Fisher: Next Oprah: Kids drinking thermometer fluids.

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Marc Fisher: That kicks things in the head for today, folks. Thanks for coming along. I'm off to spring training for a couple of days--the rigors of reporting, you know. Hope to see some of you there. Back in the paper on Tuesday and with you here again next week, same Nats time, same Nats station.

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Wheaton, Md.: I, too, played with mercury at times at school -- in the late 1950's. Our science teacher showed us how to coat a silver dime with mercury and it became very shiny and slippery. He passed it around the room for all of us to feel. Now, Mr. Bemis would be put in prison for child endangerment. Of course, we had shop teachers who had no problem with giving whacks on the butt with a wooden paddle (with holes drilled in it to reduce air resistance) to loud kids.

Marc Fisher: Just thought I'd add that one last one on the way out the door. Ciao.

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