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Potomac Confidential

Slicing and Dicing of the Issues People Are Talking About

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, April 21, 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.

Fisher was online Thursday, April 21, at Noon ET to talk about seat belts on school buses, same-sex tax filing in the District and the fan experience at RFK Stadium.

Marc Fisher (The Washington Post)

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This Week's Columns: Unofficial Guide To Baseball At the Bobby (Post, April 21)

These Walls Do Talk -- to The Right Person (Post, April 19)

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.
What a busy week: Suddenly, it's ok (until Congress stuffs the city) for a gay couple to file a joint tax return in the District. Yet somehow the mayor still refuses to say whether the city will honor gay marriage licenses granted in states around the country. Too delicate a topic to take any position on, the mayor says. What say you?
There's a new pope, of course, and what do you make of the media's reticence on the topic of his past as a member of the Hitler Youth and the armed forces of Nazi Germany? Is the coverage rather too polite, or should we cut the guy a break?
This week's columns included a profile of Paul Williams, the house history man, who showed us how to negotiate the thicket of local archives to ferret out the secrets of your abode; and today's unofficial guide to the Nationals experience at RFK Stadium.
On to your thoughts and questions, but first, the Yay and Nay of the Day:
Yay to federal judge Emmet Sullivan, who ruled this week in favor of Washington's law protecting its citizens against the shipment of dangerous chemicals through the city on rail cars that roll right past the Capitol. The federal government had refused to direct CSX railroad to divert chemical transports around the city and thereby eliminate a prime terrorist target, so the city took up the cause of protecting the people. The judge sided with the District, but an appeals court has now stayed the hazmat ban until judges have a chance to rule on the merits of the appeal.
Nay to economists and politicians who are so eager to gamble with the lives of children by arguing that school buses are safe enough without seat belts. Amazingly, the argument against seat belts is based on the infrequency of school bus accidents, not on the only measure that counts: whether kids in an accident with restraints are better off than those in accidents that send kids flying through the bus.
Your turn starts right now....

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Washington, D.C.: D.C. and same-sex tax filing -- it's just a shame that we have to continue to bow and scrape before senators from places that don't resemble D.C. at all, when determining how to live our lives. Sen. Brownback doesn't like gay marriage? Fine. He shouldn't have one. And he's within his legal rights to try to prevent them in Kansas. But what gives him the moral right to come to D.C. and tell me my long-term 16-year loving relationship is not valid because they don't like it in Topeka?

Marc Fisher: We are, despite our trappings of democracy, a colonial possession. Our overseers have granted us some limited home rule, but if we use that power in a way they don't like, they are only too happy to stomp all over us. That won't change until we shame them into giving us the right to vote.

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Arlington, Va.: First off, I will never understand how allowing or recognizing gay marriage or unions somehow threaten traditional marriage, as Sen. Brownback said it does. Seems like those who have the rights to marriage are taking care of that by getting divorced at alarming rates (an issue which many Republicans like Sen. Brownback never seem to bring up in the debate on "family values.") My question is this, if the District did allow the couples to file jointly (who were married or "unioned" in Massachusetts, for example) what effect would this have nationally, if any? I am still trying to understand how allowing this in the District is bad for the nation (other than bad for those wanting a national amendment of course). Seems like just a lame excuse for discrimination.

Marc Fisher: You're being way too rational. This has nothing to do with gay marriage in the District having some sort of impact on the rest of the nation. It's purely an opportunity for the values politics crowd to put on a show. It's no different from the Schiavo case--it has little intrinsic meaning for a broader population, but it's a useful tool for propaganda.

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St. Mary's City, Md.: In his Tuesday chat, Gene Weingarten compared same-sex tax filings and civil unions for gay couples to school segregation. I'm a straight man and I agree with him completely.

At the same time, I can appreciate the depth of feeling that many Christians have about this issue. (I'm talking about the rank-and-file believers, not the hate mongering politicians.) Wouldn't civil unions be a politically realistic way of giving gays and Christians most of what they want?

Marc Fisher: I don't see the analogy to school segregation in the least. Public education is a core mission of government; marriage is a private act that through most of history has been more important as a religious rite than as a governmental function. Government should get out of the marriage business entirely and leave it to each religious denomination to come to its own conclusions about the morality and value of same-sex marriage. That way, everyone can follow his own passions and morals in an organized and socially acceptable fashion.

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Washington, D.C.: Not on school buses but an important question on schools: Re today's article by your colleague Nick Anderson on P.G. Cty. School Chief Hornsby, a federal criminal investigation is looking into P.G. County's $1 million purchase of educational software and other equipment from LeapFrog SchoolHouse, a division of LeapFrog Enterprises Inc., of Emeryville, Calif., at the same time that Hornsby was living with a company saleswoman. I find it interesting that Hornsby returned to work yesterday in Upper Marlboro a day after he had attended to "school business in San Diego." What possible school business could he have been tending to in California? Is the press looking into whether there is any connection between this Calif. trip and the current criminal investigation?

Marc Fisher: Good question. I'll pass it along to our excellent Prince George's education reporter. The Hornsby saga is a sad one--what the county schools need is consistency and a rigorously honest and respected leader. Sadly, the board knew going in that there were all sorts of disturbing questions about Hornsby and they hired him anyway.

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Reston, Va. -- Some Nationals comments: First of all, I just wanted to say I've really enjoyed your series of baseball articles. Keep up the great work.

I have now been to two Nationals games and think that all the whining and complaining about RFK is vastly overdone. The Metro is crowded, but they do a good job of moving people along. The lines were not long after Opening Night, and even then I left myself plenty of time.

As for the food and the price of food, I wonder if half the people complaining about the price of food have ever been to a major sporting event. Five dollars for a beer is no more expensive than at any NFL game I've been to or the 10 or so MLB parks I've been lucky enough to visit. I didn't think the dogs were terrible, and the beer stand behind right field on the 200 level had Heineken, Amstel and lots of other choices. Having a couple lukewarm dogs, a decent beer or two and a pretzel is what's great about going to the games -- if you want 5-star cuisine, join Tom Sietsema on Wednesday's chat.

It's a really old park that was never meant to handle baseball, it has bad scoreboards and overpriced bad food, get over it. But you know what? Baseball is back in D.C. and hopefully, here to stay.

Marc Fisher: I agree entirely--for a stadium that old and rickety, RFK will do just fine as an interim home. And the Metro situation is working out quite nicely. The key piece of advice here is Don't be a lemming: Don't stand with everyone else at the station entrance closest to the ballpark; walk one extra block toward D.C. General Hospital to the other entrance to the station and you'll move right on in.

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Rockville, Md.: "When the new stadium is built, we will all pine for the Bobby's generous legroom."

Obviously, you haven't sat in the first row of the 500 section, where the railing is uncomfortably close to (read: banging against) the knees on any person of average or larger stature. People with season tickets there will need arthroscopic surgery by September. It makes Fenway Park's grandstand seem spacious.

Marc Fisher: To be sure, there are exceptions in some spots around the stadium, but for the most part, this is a very generously spaced ballpark with legroom you won't find in any contemporary stadium.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc,
Still no Nats TV coverage of non-weekend games! How about organizing a citywide campaign where we demand from the Nats, baseball and UPN-20 that more games be televised? It worked last week, but now we're in the dark again.

Marc Fisher: I'm with you. I'm trying to keep this issue in the forefront--it's not a simple matter of wanting to see the games, though of course, that's a piece of it. But if this franchise is going to develop a dependable fan base--and it's in all of our interests that it does--then people have to see the games, and that means they have to be on TV. Also, if the public is investing this much money in the project, there is a public obligation to have the games be available to those who can't make it out to the park. No progress yet.

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Hill: Marc,

Loved your column today on The Bobby. One addendum/plea, if I may. Now that the powers that be at RFK have declared that fans can bring in food to Nats games we are in desperate need of some more quality vendors out on E. Cap beside the Armory. God bless the folks toiling at those glorified ice cream stands that have been transported from outside the Air & Space Museum, but we need some real options a la the area around Camden Yards or Fenway in Boston. I'm thinking along the lines of sausage/burger grills and guys hawking $1 or $2 brown bags of peanuts. Perhaps this will come in time, but it may come sooner if you hop on the bandwagon, Marc!

One other note -- where were the fans last night? 20k fans on a gorgeous night against a quality time w/ a decent fan base is the best we can do? I hope the novelty has not worn off just a week in ...

Marc Fisher: Excellent idea--there are lots of vendors around the stadium selling good hats for $5, about a quarter of what you'd pay inside the park. But we need grills on the corners, water and peanut vendors, and so on. Maybe once school lets out, they'll appear, but there's a grand opportunity waiting for entrepreneurial kids right now.
Attendance last night was a very respectable 27,000, which is very good for a midweek April game, and about 10,000 more than the Baltimore team has been drawing (unless the Yanks or Sox are in town.)

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U Street NW, Washington, D.C.: On the cover of today's Metro section, we find Tony Williams once again vacillating as he contemplates a 3rd term. If the mayor can't make up his mind, that in itself is a good enough reason for not seeking reelection.

Williams's airing of his inner deliberations is getting old and is pitiable. Marc, can you line up a six-figure job for Tony and spare him (and us) another six months of this tired melodrama?

Marc Fisher: I find his frankness quite charming, and my gut tells me he is going to run for a third term. I'll take his openness about the travails and joys of public service over the phony rhetoric and posing of many of his opponents. That said, it'd be awfully nice to see a qualified challenger with strong political skills come along.

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Frederick, Md.: I heard bits and pieces of a ban on trains running through D.C. carrying toxic materials. Um, what's the difference between that and all of the human-generated gas build-up in the capitol building?

Marc Fisher: Those buildings could blow any second!
But if we evacuate, then we exacerbate the region's air pollution crisis. And then we'd have to go Code Orange or Code Red or one of those colors, and just think of the gridlock that would create. It's all one fantabulous crisis without borders.

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Dayton, Ohio: Marc -- a lot of the punditry by non-Catholics, about the choice of a new pope, reminds me of the foreign punditry about U.S. presidential elections. I.e., he's not mine, but his organization is so big that it affects me. Yes, I realize everyone's entitled to have an opinion about everything, but why won't people realize It's Not About Them?!? The cardinals didn't pick a pope to appease the non-Catholics, and the U.S. electorate didn't choose a president to make citizens of other countries feel good, either. Why do people have such blinders on about this -- or is it just ego?

Marc Fisher: Don't take it as an intrusion, but as an honor--the fact that the selection of the Pope has such an impact even on non-Catholics is evidence of the church's continuing power as a moral, political and social leader in the world, and the debate within the church about Ratzinger is even more heated than among non-Catholics.

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Southern Maryland: Marc, did you ever meet or even interview Cardinal Ratzinger during your time in Germany?

I don't envy the new Benedict XVI in terms of winning over the worldwide Catholic flock. John Paul II was just as doctrinally conservative, but he had an enormous amount of personal charisma. He spent much of his papacy traveling the world to reach Catholics directly.

Marc Fisher: I never did meet him. Religion plays so much less of a role in Germany than it does in our society. Oddly enough, I spent far more time in the churches of communist East Germany than I ever did in West Germany, because so much of the uprising against the Soviet regime was incubated in the church, which was a sanctuary for dissidents.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Marc -- It just so happens that I'm going to be in Rome next week. If I happen to meet the new pope, should I kiss his ring or salute "Seig Heil!"?

Marc Fisher: Ouch. It's just sad that this is even an issue that the cardinals couldn't see their way toward picking someone who does not have such a difficult and troubling past. Somehow, it's being reported that membership in the Hitler Youth was mandatory, which is the story that Ratzinger tells in his memoir. But that's far from the case, and I've met too many Germans who refused to be in Hitler Youth to buy that tale.

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Seat Belts: The school bus accident this week was horrific, and my deepest sympathies go to the children involved and their families. As a separate matter, the idea of seat belts on school buses does seem to worth consideration -- in fact, I had assumed such a law was already in place. But, I'm curious, has there actually been any assertion that lack of seat belts contributed to the deaths or injuries in this case? From the photos of the bus, which was smashed in on one side, I'm skeptical that seat belts would have saved lives here.

Marc Fisher: You may well be right--it's too early to tell. That's one of the key items the investigators will look at, but you're correct in noting that the location of the badly injured and killed victims indicates that there was nothing that any restraint could have done for them. But other children might have been spared their injuries, and this sort of incident is always a good moment to look anew at the broader issue of safety.

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Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: re; same-sex tax filings.

Just from a practical point, how does this work? As you know, the information on the D.C. tax form must come from your Federal form. Since same-sex couples cannot file joint Federal returns, they would not have the proper information to put on a joint D.C. form.

Marc Fisher: Good question--I assume they would combine the info on their separate federal returns and create new totals for the DC return, but I really don't know. The whole thing is more symbolic than it is an actual tax issue.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Re: marriage
Unfortunately, marriage is far from a private act. Ownership of property, tax rates, inheritance and medical decisions are just a couple of the very public, very important matters affected by marriage. Marc Fisher: Yes, but if you create either civil unions or laws that give partners the same property and inheritance rights as married people, then that's no longer an issue and you can grant all rights to determine who is married to the people and therefore to their faiths.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc --

How is it that the U.S. is rightfully calling for democracy around the world, but we can't seem to allow it for citizens of our own capital city? I'm waiting for despots around the world to point this hypocrisy out to us on our next big push for new democracy overseas. I'm sorry, I just don't buy the 'founding fathers never saw fit to grant D.C. voting rights' argument. The founding fathers didn't see fit to allow blacks or women to vote (and they darn near limited voting to property owners), and they probably never foresaw a city of half a million people either. The U.S. Constitution does not bar D.C. from having senators or congressmen. It just doesn't expressly provide for it.

We could point out that voting rights are denied worldwide in a variety of legal documents. That may make it 'legal', but it doesn't make it right.

In any event, it's a continuing embarrassment for our country.

Marc Fisher: Oh, it's even less of a problem than that. In fact, the founding fathers never intended to create a class of Americans who were to be deprived of the basic rights of citizenship. It just didn't cross their minds that the capital they were creating would become a vast and populous metropolis. They thought they were creating a little federal district that would be peopled by folks who just popped in for the congressional session and then went home. The obvious solution is to redraw the District lines so that the federal core remains under U.S. jurisdiction while the actual city, where people live, takes on the characteristics of a state, either on its own or as part of Maryland.

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Washington, D.C. : Marc,

Here's my rant about David Catania and the other anti-big box store advocates.

Obviously they've never lived in the inner city or rural America. I grew up in Kent County, Md., where a famous battle kept Wal-Mart out a decade ago. Growing up we had high prices and limited choices at a few local retailers. A decade later, still the same. Our quaint Main St. in Chestertown (supposedly the future victim of Wal-Mart) is still the same strip of quaint knickknack stores catering to tourists, but there STILL is no place to by a DVD player or clothes for my kids.

It's the same in the inner city. They've got crappy, over- priced corner stores and a few low-end retailers. Wal-Mart would be a godsend to low income residents of D.C.

Sure the city should take measures to ensure that they fit into the urban landscape, but to dismiss them out of hand is reactionary and elitist.

And, all this carping about wages and benefits. Well, this city had got plenty of minimum wage jobs with lousy benefits. Why should Wal-Mart be singled out. And, if they do treat their employees so badly, they'll have to figure out how to succeed in a competitive job market. I thought that's what David and his (former) friends on the right were all about.

Marc Fisher: There are two problems with big boxes. One is a design and community problem: They pull people away from old downtowns and deepen our dependence on the car for every little errand, and they look awful. The other problem is much bigger: Big boxes warp our economy by deepening the illusion that you hardly have to pay at all for a fairly luxurious way of life. That's the belief system that is depleting the country of jobs, manufacturing and the balance we need to maintain a healthy society.

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Arlington, Va.: I thought it was peculiar that you complained about baseball's "greed" concerning smaller and more closely spaced seats in today's article about RFK stadium. You complain about this, but you and millions of others continue to pay obscene amounts of money to buy their product. How does that make sense?

Marc Fisher: Fans make a deal with the devil. We loathe the owners and yet we rely on their profligate spending on the teams we love. We whine about the economics of pro sports, yet we let ourselves become emotionally involved in a way that rivals our love for our families. There's something elemental about the attraction of these games--part of it is raw competition (we want our team, our city to be the best), and part is a craving for community. It's just deeply rewarding to have a rooting interest to share with those around us. Seeing those red caps all around town makes this a warmer and more human place.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc, enjoyed your article today on the Bobby, but I must add one thing: I found the music and general announcements volume at RFK REALLY LOUD. Saturday night, I'm yelling at the person seated next to me during the time between innings. I know I'm getting old and that blasted rock and roll ain't what it use to be, but can't they turn down the volume just a notch or two?

Marc Fisher: The sound system is just out of whack. In places it's too loud and in even more places, it's totally inaudible. If you're under the overhang, in many places you can't hear a thing. It seems like that should be fixable.

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Alexandria, Va.: As someone who sits in lower bowl seats for Nationals games, I was really disappointed to see you encourage people to move into seats that they don't have tickets for during the midst of the game.

So far, one of my biggest annoyances has been people moving around constantly between seats during the game -- especially during the later innings as you have encouraged people to do. If a seat next to me or in front of me is empty, why are you are telling someone who does 'not' have a ticket for that seat to come on down and help themselves? It's not yours to give away and is often disturbing to people who are 'supposed' to be there.

It's simple: sit in the seat you paid for.

Marc Fisher: Oh please. One of baseball's grandest traditions is the chance to move down and fill in unused seats in better sections. As long as people wait a decent interval before moving and act politely, there's no problem. Indeed, the movement of the crowd into the lower, better seats improve everyone's experience, condensing the crowd and creating more spirit and a louder, more fun atmosphere.

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Fairfax, Va.: At Nationals games, instead of shouting "Oh" during the National Anthem, shout "N" at "N the rockets' red glare". Thank heavens people boo at the oh-sayers.

Marc Fisher: You'd think by now the "Oh" crowd would have been shamed into holding their little display for their visits to Angelos-land. Maybe it will take a few more weeks, but I'm confident that local pride and some good old peer pressure will rid us of that pestilence.

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Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Reston, VA wrote, re RFK (NOT "The Bobby"!):

"It's a really old park that was never meant to handle baseball. . . ."

Actually, it was built specifically for baseball, albeit 45 years ago, and hasn't been used for that purpose for 34 years.

Marc Fisher: Quite true, but RFK is one of the last of the "multipurpose" stadiums, and they were all terribly inadequate as baseball parks because they were round and closed off from the surrounding city. Still, we'd be wrong to complain too much about it because it has allowed us to have a team of our own.

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NW D.C. -- RFK Stadium: Well you have impeccable timing in telling people not to call building inspectors about the safety at the stadium. Wouldn't you know it, some guy lot his balance and the guard railing was not high enough to prevent him fall falling off the 3rd tier. I'm not saying that the guy who fell didn't contribute to the accident, but there's a reason that building codes say that guard rails must be installed correctly and be high enough to prevent accidental falls.

Marc Fisher: That was some very odd timing, wasn't it? Probably you know far more about guardrails than I do, but my observation of even the newest stadiums tells me that there's not much you can do to prevent someone from leaping or falling off the upper deck if they are hugely careless, nor should any stadium have to protect against that fluky kind of behavior.

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Alexandria, Va.: And so Tom Davis, of the party of big business, of the party of untrammeled capitalism, of the party of local control, and of the party of "getting the federal gummint off your back" is going to block a High-density development in his own neighborhood. Color him NIMBY.

Marc Fisher: It's even worse than NIMBY--see Lisa Rein's fine story in today's Metro section for the gory details of Rep. Davis' attempt to use his power to stop a smart growth development at a Metro station in Fairfax, in the very neighborhood where the congressman happens to live.

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washingtonpost.com: Lawmaker Steps In on Va. Growth (The Post, April 21)

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Arlington, Va.: Marc, keep in mind that what you call Ratzinger's "difficult and troubling past" was sixty years in the past. I don't think I've seen a single suggestion anywhere that his clerical career, however conservative, has been tainted by any hint of sympathy toward Nazism.

Marc Fisher: Quite right, but what does it tell us about a man's character that he went along with the crowd and joined the Hitler Youth as a young man? Doesn't the fact that many young Germans refused to do so tell us something about those who did?

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Hitler Youth: Yes, many Germans stayed out of the Hitler Youth. However, in 1922 when the Hitler Youth was first devised, all boys of the proper age in Bavaria were conscripted into it. So yes, many in Germany could stay out, but those in Bavaria, the new Pope included, were drafted in. This is a non-issue.

Marc Fisher: Certainly there was more pressure on young Bavarians because of the powerful sympathy for the Nazi movement in that part of the country, but again, there were Bavarians who either said No on their own or whose parents refused to let them join.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Mr. Fisher,
I see that Maryland has passed a bill in the session that just ended permitting illegal aliens to receive financial aid from the state. I assume they are talking about college scholarships based on need. This enrages me. The only thing illegal aliens are entitled to is a trip back to their home country. Their countrymen are trying to go through the proper channels to gain admission to the U.S. Why would we reward and encourage illegals? The children of taxpaying citizens of Maryland are going to compete for a limited pool of scholarship money against illegals that have never paid a cent of tax to this state. Where is the equity in that system? I am as compassionate as anyone, and I wish everyone could be a legal resident of this great country, but if you don't play by the rules, keep your hands out of my pocket.

Marc Fisher: Interestingly, Virginia and Maryland are heading in opposite directions on this, with the Old Dominion searching for ways to limit the rights of illegal immigrants, while Maryland seeks to expand their ability to act as lawful occupants of this country. I think it's essential that all children who live here be given a free public education--after all, it's their parents who brought them here and the kids had little or no say in the matter. But I agree with you that higher education is a different story--the state needs to create disincentives for college-age kids to come here in search of a free college education.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc,

Judging from these chats, it seems as if many DC residents live in some sort of blissful ignorance thinking that they're just another city with some monuments and government buildings. It DOES mean something if the nations capital recognizes gay marriage. Wake up people - whether you agree with the people who oppose it or not. To me, that’s why the idea you reiterated earlier about the capital becoming a limited federal district makes a lot of sense.

Marc Fisher: Sure, there is symbolic importance if D.C. accepts gay marriage, but does that mean that the District should be deprived of the same right that states have to determine their own laws? If Congress wants to strip all states of the right to sanction same-sex marriage, that's their right, but to pick out the District for punishment solely because it's easy for them to bash D.C. is cowardly.

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Del Ray, Va.: Marc,
Tuesday's column sounded very familiar.
Since we began working on our 99-year -old house in 1990, we have found lots of clues to former owners and others. We found old repair bills and newspapers in the walls, debris from a Civil War encampment buried in the yard, and when we stripped the wallpaper in the foyer we found the signature and date of the paperhanger alongside his plumb line for aligning the first strip of paper in 1921. We signed our names with the date and used his line (which was still plumb!) to begin again.

Marc Fisher: I love that tradition of paperhangers signing the wall before beginning their work. At the renovation now underway at Montpelier, James Madison's house in Orange, VA, you can see the signatures of paperhangers from each century of American history. Quite moving in a certain way.

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Linden, Va.: Marc,
Earlier in the week your colleagues Lindsay Layton and Steve Ginsberg did a bit of complaining in their discussion about the noise level on the Metro being "much higher and there's lots of casual conversations with strangers that you don't get on a normal ride".

Well, what's wrong with having a conversation with a friend or even a stranger? I agree that I do not want to hear people screaming and yelling or being boisterous but what is this world coming to if people cannot converse with one another!

The Metro does not have 'quiet cars' like the VRE or MARC trains do so if that's what you want then ride those transportation systems instead.

Please tell me when talking became WRONG!

Marc Fisher: Interesting: I don't mind talking, even loud conversation, on Metro, whereas it bothers the heck out of me on Amtrak. I think the difference is that when I settle into a seat on Amtrak, I know I will be there for a few hours and I dread the idea of being yelled at by some cell phone maniac for the whole trip. Whereas on Metro, the ride is short enough that the chance to eavesdrop and observe people is a lovely distraction.

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Washington, D.C.: Always loved your columns but wondered. Remember how in the old days, there were hookers all over the 14th street area and at one point, they were walked over the 14th Street Bridge into Virginia. Well, I think I found out where those hookers are now, they're inside the apartment houses, as they work the benches in front of the elevators. Talk about secured facilities.

Marc Fisher: Where is this that you're talking about? Email me--it might be something our police reporters will want to look into. Thanks.

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Waynesboro, Va.: Marc, I got one of the free Express "Homestand" scorecards opening night, and while it was adequate, it was obvious the people creating it were Boston Red Sox fans. The story about what had happened in baseball since 1971 was ridiculously Bosox-centered (as a former Phillies fan, I can't believe their classic 1980 NLCS or amazing '93 season weren't mentioned, but just about everything Red Sox-related was). Okay, you won your World Series -- will you now kindly shut up and quit rubbing our noses in it, or just go back to Harvard or MIT?

Marc Fisher: I'll have to take a look at that. Rooting out Bosox bias is a pet hobby of mine. Worst example in American journalism: The New York Times, which is bizarrely biased in favor of the Boston team and against its own hometown champions.

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Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. : I like the ballpark. The location is great for fans in D.C., Maryland, Virginia arriving by car public transportation.

For 1/3 of the cost of a new stadium, most, if not all of the deficiencies of RFK could be solved (and including some accessibility improvements to the Metro station).

It can't cost $100s of millions to install a few new jumbo-trons, upgrade concessions, replace broken or splintered seats, put in a few luxury boxes, etc. Other stadiums have done such improvements.

What is the position of the residents of the East Capitol Hill community?

Marc Fisher: Well, obviously the people who live near RFK want it to go away as soon as possible, especially since the plan for the area involves a new neighborhood of residential and retail development that would help people who live there enormously.
But the stadium issue should not be resolved on the basis of the preferences of those who live nearby. Rather, if this is to be a publicly funded project, it has to do the maximum good for the city as a whole, and that excludes RFK immediately. A stadium makes sense only if it expands the tax base, which the Southeast site would do by creating a whole new area of entertainment, restaurants and other tax-generating businesses. RFK is in a residential area with no ancillary development of any kind.

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Arlington, Va.: Some time ago I offered my solution to the area's traffic problems in Warren Brown's column, which he rejected out of hand. I'm hoping that you are more receptive to idiosyncratic speculation.

My solution: ban automatic transmission. I realize that there is a certain percentage of people out there who can probably never master the art of manual shifting, whom I am ready to relegate to mass transportation. Well, enjoy the bus -- it is already too easy to get a driver's license. Maybe these newly grounded drivers can bond together and force area politicians to build the kind of public transportation infrastructure that the greater D.C. area so sorely needs.

Not only will there be fewer drivers on the road, but given the need to keep a hand free to shift, the drivers on the road are going to be much less likely to try to make a phone call or eat a meal while behind the wheel.

Marc Fisher: I like the spirit behind the idea, but I'm not sure it would have the desire impact. After all, automatic transmissions hardly exist in other countries, and they seem to have more than enough drivers on their roads. But your plan would have one great effect--it would reduce dramatically the number of stolen cars because so many kids who steal cars have no clue how to use a shift.

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Washington, D.C.: You say the argument against seat belts is based on the infrequency of school bus accidents. I heard a spokeswoman from the NTSB interviewed on TV state that current school buses cannot be effectively retrofitted with seatbelts (would be more dangerous to wear) and that manufacturing new school buses factory-fitted with the seatbelts is the only way to guarantee safe restraints. If that is true, what jurisdiction has the money for all new school buses?

Marc Fisher: Any number of options--you could phase in the restraints in new buses, or you could add shoulder belts without huge retrofitting.

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Washington, D.C.: " Big boxes warp our economy by deepening the illusion that you hardly have to pay at all for a fairly luxurious way of life. That's the belief system that is depleting the country of jobs, manufacturing and the balance we need to maintain a healthy society. "

The gross economic stupidity of that statement is stunning.

Just as to one of your insanely ignorant points - The net/net of job importation/exportation in this country is WAY positive. We export low-skilled, low paying jobs and import better ones.

Marc Fisher: Sure, and that's peachy keen for those who have the skills to handle those better jobs. But it doesn't do much for those left behind, and in a country that puts so little effort into its declining education system, we are going to have ever more such folks.

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Maryland: Hey Mark, I'm a long-time fan and sometime participant in your forum.

I never thought I'd do this, but I wonder if you'd be interested in a story tip from my neck of the woods? It involves housing disputes, University negligence, and underpaid immigrant workers.

Basically, the Upon M. owns a couple of apartment properties adjacent to its campus, which it has set aside for graduate students. Most of the students who live there are international, restricted from working off campus (for visa reasons), often have families, make very little money on their University stipends, and have few other affordable housing options. They're very much dependent on the University for their well being once they get to the U.S. They basically provide low-cost labor in the primary functions of the University, namely teaching and research.

The University has, for many years, farmed to the day-to-day administration and maintenance of these properties out to a local real estate management company, Southern Management. You've probably heard of them from various local disputes. A couple of their properties were recently condemned as breeding grounds for crime by P.G. Exec Jack Johnson. Perhaps not coincidentally, crime has recently spiked at the graduate apartments, and many of the residents are terrified. SMC makes a huge profit off the grad properties due to the steady stream of new, mostly immigrant renters with few better options.

Last week, SMC proposed a huge rent increase (around $100 per apartment) that would apply to current leases as well as new. According to their contract with the University, any such increase must be based on current market value of nearby "benchmark" properties, and it must be approved by the University. In justification of the rent increase, SMC chose a few of local gated communities with full amenities, pools, and gyms as its benchmark properties. The grad apartments have none of these amenities. They don't even have dishwashers.

Residents are very upset, most of them aren't sure how they're going to get by when the rent goes up in June. They've asked the University to intervene, but nothing has happened yet.

Did I mention that the University takes a cut of the profits from the apartment rentals?

Marc Fisher: Sounds like it could well be worth looking into. I will share this with my colleagues and see if someone is able to check it out. Thanks.

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Marc Fisher: That kicks it in the head for today. Thanks so much for coming along. Back in the paper on Sunday and here with you again next week at the usual time. Take time to smell the flowers and write if you get work.

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