Potomac Confidential

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, August 11, 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, Aug. 11, at Noon ET to examine Hispanic gangs in Montgomery County, the day labor pool in Herndon and the endgame in the sale of the Washington Nationals. Also, Vote in Marc's Reader Survey .

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

Archives: Discussion Transcripts

A transcript follows.


Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks. We're the real hard core here, the folks who do not spend August lazing away on some secluded beach, waiting for the next hurricane. The column has started its summer break, but we're still yakking here.

Your early questions really do run the gamut, so this will be a wide-ranging hour. Please do take a minute to complete this week's survey--the link is above, and maybe Rocci can pop it in a couple more times during the hour for your convenience. We'll talk about the results later in the show.

On to your thoughts and questions, right after the Yay and Nay of the Day....

Yay to Jerry Kilgore, the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, for wading into the dispute over illegal immigrants and the day labor pool in Herndon. In a campaign in which both the Repo and the Dem have been painfully cautious and shady about revealing their true beliefs and views to the voters, Kilgore has come out against using public money to help illegal immigrants in Herndon. I don't particularly buy his stance, but I'm glad he took it. Now, maybe he can pressure Tim Kaine into telling us what he really thinks. (Kilgore shows no such spine on the question of debates; he's still refusing to have more than one televised debate and still resisting having independent Russ Potts take part.)

Nay to Metro for playing games with the plans and price tag for the rail-to-Dulles project. As today's story by Peter Whoriskey details, Metro has suddenly found a way to cut the cost of the project by 25 percent, a reaction to the public outcry over the recent $2.4 billion cost estimate. Such a huge cut is obviously as phony as the original estimate. What would the rail really cost? Probably more than any numbers we've heard so far, but when it's this fungible, who knows?

Your turn....


Beyond the Beltway: How about a simultaneous Yay and Nay to Jerry Kilgore for his illegal immigration comments? Yay for being blunt about an issue that many want to sweep under the rug, Nay for doing it at the wrong time and place and with a big helping of grandstanding.

Marc Fisher: Well, I'll take grandstanding over being too clever anytime. At least Kilgore has now taken a position that he will have to defend and that can be debated and discussed. What does Tim Kaine have to say on illegal immigration and the contradictions between the law and reality?

_______________________ Cost of Tysons Rail Plan Trimmed 25% (Post, Aug. 11)


Rockville, Md.: I am sickened by the immigrant-baiting at the root of the Herndon day labor controversy. This is Willie Horton all over again. I have spent time in Herndon with a friend who lives there. I know there is some sadness about the way the community is changing, but persecuting day laborers is not the answer.

Marc Fisher: True, but anyone who lives in Herndon or drives by there or any other such day labor pool knows that this is not a setting in which anyone would want to live. There has to be a solution to have hundreds of guys hanging out on people's front lawns all day, every day. Building a place for the workers to congregate makes some sense, but it's really only a band-aid on a festering wound, and the underlying fact is that even those who complain about illegal immigration act in ways that encourage it--in our decisions about where we shop and how we hire.


Del Ray, Va.: I was interested by the census piece today on the whitening" of the District and the inner suburbs, particularly since my neighborhood was mentioned by name. We have certainly noticed the same thing in the 15 years we have lived here. The other thing I have noticed is that the new residents start by telling you how much they like the area, the diversity, the quality of life. With the next breath they complain about taxes and inquire in muted tones if the public schools are safe. Quality of life comes at a price just like everything else. You want services, you want amenities, you pay taxes. You want Johnny to go to a school where everyone looks like he does, move to Utah. Census Finds More Whites In D.C., Close Va. Suburbs (Post, Aug. 11)

Marc Fisher: That was a fascinating piece on today's front page. The gist is that the non-Hispanic white population of the District, Arlington and Alexandria is rising, while the non-white population in the other suburbs is heading up.

But I think Arlington proves that the old equation you're talking about no longer necessarily holds true: Strong public school systems can be quite mixed ethnically, and searching for the whitest system by no means guarantees you the better schools.


"Freedom Walk": Marc, can you explain to us why the Post is sponsoring this thinly veiled pro-admin rally ( Freedom Walk )? Exactly how "objective" can that institution be, when it is ponying up cash and credibility to pump up a Pentagon run rah-rah rally?

I wonder how the Post will cover this event they are sponsoring, eh? I wonder how they will cover any protests of this event they are sponsoring?

Too bad though ... if only Leni Reifenstahl hadn't died. Truly, she was the only person who could do film justice to something like this.

Marc Fisher: Well, first of all, it's the Washington Post as a corporate entity in this community that's sponsoring the march, not the news operation. Second, I don't see where this is a pro-administration rally. From the web site, it looks like a non-partisan expression of support for the troops and for the memory of those who died on 9/11.

I grant you that anytime our company sponsors events that are remotely controversial, it causes grief in the newsroom because it does indeed raise questions among readers about our neutrality and fairness. So if I were running things, I'd steer clear of any sponsorship of potentially divisive events. But in fairness, this seems to be more along the lines of a Veterans Day commemoration than a pro-war rally.


Greenbelt, Md.: I know the Post is a sponsor of this event, but can you comment on the homecoming game party set to celebrate 9/11? I thought it was a joke at first, but apparently not so much.

I mean, how inappropriate is it to hold a parade and country hoedown on the Mall to celebrate 9/11? Wow. And celebrate 'is' the proper word here, commemorations have a solemn dignity to them.

I'm too young to have been there, but I can't remember that anyone staged Lindy Hop or Charleston parties to celebrate Pearl Harbor Day in the 1940s. Well, maybe in Tokyo, but still ...

Marc Fisher: The tone of the promotions for the event is, to use the technical term, yucky. If it's really supposed to honor the 9/11 dead, I don't see why you'd have a country concert on the Mall, and given the population and preferences of people who live in this region, the choice of country music is polarizing and bizarre.


Arlington (Ballston, Va.): Marc,

The Metro-to-Dulles extension ... why are the powers that be so insistent on it? Do they know what kind of havoc it will wreak on those of us between Ballston and Rosslyn who already have to wait for two or three Orange Line trains to go by before we can jam into one of the rush-hour sardine cans on wheels?

What we need in the D.C. area are more commuter rail lines to help cut down the traffic. Two VREs and three MARCS just doesn't cut it, not when Boston, New York City and Philadelphia have spider webs of commuter rail routes. WMATA officials should seriously consider making the Dulles extension a VRE line and then they can build it out well beyond the 25 miles to Dulles and much better suited to handle the steep grades near Tysons.

Marc Fisher: Well, the new rail would come with lots of shiny new cars to handle the extra riders. But you're right, the real chokepoint in the system is the river crossing and it's the northern Virginia commuters who bear the brunt of the pain from Metro's continuing success in drawing people out of their cars.

In the end, the decades-long battle over whether we need another Potomac crossing will be resolved not by the constant whining of the AAA and the real estate interests, but by the needs of transit commuters. That's why the next bridge over the Potomac will not be out in Loudoun County, but between the District and Arlington, because that's the only long-term way to relieve the Metro chokepoint.


Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: Help me with this math. The District will pay $600 million on a new baseball stadium. The new local owner of the team will pay around $450 million to purchase the Nats. Ironic that both want baseball to return to D.C.

Yet Peter Angelos, who didn't want baseball to return to the District (even threatening to sue us over it) gets to steal $750 million or more from the Nationals TV rights. If that amount of money was siphoned away from any other locally based business in D.C., wouldn't city leaders be outraged?

Until the sale no potential owner would dare criticize Angelos/MASN out of fear that MLB would blackball. But after the sale do you think forces will unite to end the TV deal so that the Nats aren't the only team in baseball without TV rights?

Marc Fisher: The folks who want to buy the Nats hate, loath and despise Angelos, the TV deal and Selig's willingness to appease Angelos. The potential owners know that the TV deal will always be a major hindrance to fielding a competitive team. But they have virtually given up hope of overturning the Angelos deal, at least until Angelos sells his team. The latest court ruling against Comcast and in favor of Angelos stole away the Nats ownership groups' hopes for getting a better TV deal.


Centreville, Va.: Hi Marc -- just a note to thank you for the "What You Don't Know About Radio" columns -- I always look forward to them. I spent several years in radio back in the 1980's. If I were King of the World, we'd go back to the old 7 AM's, 7 FM's, 7 newspaper ownership limits and get some real diversity in media ownership. Radio in particular and media in general are just a couple more examples of how a free market can sometimes stifle competition.

Marc Fisher: Thanks--it's not the free market that stifled competition, it's the government's decision to concentrate power in the hands of a handful of companies. Ownership of radio stations was much more widely dispersed until the FCC and Congress went along with the desires of a handful of big media companies to lift the rules that required lots of different owners.


Derwood, Md.: Marc,

You gave your 'Nay' to the wrong group!

Design and the (possible) construction of the Rail to Dulles project is being done by the "Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation", not by WMATA (Metro).

Marc Fisher: Good point, though Metro is obviously a partner to those discussions. But thanks for the correction--fully accepted.


Bizzare?: You can't hit "seek" on your car radio twice down here without hitting a country music station.

There are no country radio stations in NYC. It might be a "bizarre" choice there. But it's obviously popular in this area, so I can't see how it'd be "bizarre". (Personally I could take it or leave it, but obviously lots of people love it.)

Now if you just meant it was bizarre to use it at a 9/11 commemoration thing, I might agree, although I'd say most any kind of concert would be a bit bizarre, not country specifically.

Marc Fisher: Not sure where you live, but in the Washington DC market, there is but one country station and it draws about five percent of the total audience. Yes, as you move out toward more rural parts of Virginia, country plays a much larger role, but not in the Washington-Baltimore region.


Silver Spring, Md.: So the Park Service will roll over for Danny Boy Snyder, but not MoCo. Maybe he should hire the owner of Barwood taxi to intercede for him?

Marc Fisher: Sounds like he doesn't need that help--he's done plenty fine on his own. Gentlemen, start your bulldozers.


Seat Pleasant, Md.: This question may be way off target, but I'd be curious about what you and your readers think about parents who allow their children to play in other people's yards without permission. Is this an OK thing to do, or inappropriate?

Thank you.

Marc Fisher: Sounds like there's more to your request than a simple question, right? Give us the backstory!


Olney, Md.: Let's have MoCo's Hispanic gangs battle NoVa's Asian gangs and we'll just lock up the survivors. Or maybe we should use tax dollars to build them clubhouses.

Marc Fisher: Ouch.

Isn't it annoying that whenever gang violence erupts, the main thing we hear from politicians is something along the lines of let's build clubhouses? This from the same folks who are unwilling to give voters an honest accounting of the costs of cutting taxes and of creating ever deeper inequalities in this society. If we're not willing to look at what pushes kids into gangs in the first place, then we might as well just close our eyes to the whole phenomenon and concentrate on mopping up the blood.


Riverdale Park, Md.: Hello Marc,

What do you think of the flap (reported in today's Metro section) about the use of "Hyattsville" to refer to every jurisdiction that shares the Hyattsville zip code?

The Hyattsville zip includes the posh enclave of University Park and working-class Chillum.

I can see why the P.G. county police doesn't make the distinction when identifying where crimes take place (laziness). But why does the Post have to follow suit? It takes seconds to look up an address on a map.

Marc Fisher: Yes, but the PG police department's solution--they're simply going to stop releasing information about the localities in which crimes occur--is equally wacky. Cities have borders and it's easy to look up where stuff happens and to report it. But many, if not most, of the places in our region are not cities or towns, but rather neighborhoods that don't have clear boundaries but are just local, informal names. And in those cases, it's not always clear where one place ends and another starts.


Seat Pleasant Kids in the Yard: Thanks for asking.

We're new to the suburbs and are seeing neighbors' kids (who have their own yards) playing in our backyard even while we're at home. We're wondering if this is customary around here, or should parents ask before their children are allowed to do this?

We don't want to be orgres but we don't want a lawsuit if something should happen to a child playing in our yard.

Marc Fisher: It wouldn't bother me in the least if kids from the neighborhood played in our yard, but if it bothers you, politely let folks know. I've lived in places where the neighborhood tradition is that the kids wander freely among all yards, and I think that adds immensely to a sense of community and to a common responsibilty shared by all adults to keep an eye on the kids. Anyone have thoughts on this one?


Helping Danny's view: I think Mr. Synder's view would improve if D.C. would tear down that tall, pointy monument on the Mall and those Rosslyn high rises.

Marc Fisher: Actually, it's the Beltway that mars the view from Package Delivery Field, so Danny Boy will begin demolishing the Beltway in time for this season's opener.

_______________________ Vote in Marc's Reader Survey

_______________________ Vote in Marc's Reader Survey


Frederick, Md.: Marc, by 8:30 p.m. last night, three people (myself included) had already taken your poll! I now have something to look forward to every Wednesday evening. Bobby Haircut said you wouldn't dare do a poll about him. Cluck, Cluck!

Marc Fisher: All voters welcome. Vote early. (But not often.) I'll report on the votes in a few minutes.


Silver Spring, Md.: I hope the last option isn't selected, cause some years I haven't known who the Super Bowl winner is (luckily I do this year) and honestly, I so rarely watch late night TV that I cannot name the bandleader on Letterman. I mean, didn't that show stop being funny 15 years ago? Being in my mid-twenties, it's not been funny since I ever watched it.

I definitely hope the Nats are watching, though, cause I would love to play SS for the Nats and I think I could do a better job than Guzman. Seeing Frank at SS might be funny too, though. Then again, a life size bobblehead doll would be better than what's there now.

Marc Fisher: Jamey Carroll is more than decent at short, and man, he's always trying out there. Unlike Guzman, who seems to take his responsibilities very lightly.


Alexandria, Va.: Since when is the Department of Defense "non-partisan"?

I love how nonpartisans Sean Hannity, Rick Santorum, and Oliver North are pictured on the organizer's home page, "an official U.S. Department of Defense website": America Supports You

Marc Fisher: Man, you've persuaded me. Have a look at that link, and check out the line at the bottom of the page about how this is an official Department of Defense activity. There is no excuse for the Post company or any other media organization (and there are several listed) being involved in what indeed does appear to be shaping up as a partisan event.


Kids in the yard: When I was growing up (admittedly 40 years ago) everybody's yard was fair game. No one complained. But in today's litigious society I wouldn't want someone else's kid playing in my yard unsupervised.

Marc Fisher: Why shouldn't today's kids get the same benefits of neighborliness and friendship that you got? The lawyers only win if you choose to let them win. If you let the kids play in your yard, and everyone else on your block does the same, you create the relationships that lead people to resolve problems with each other, not by turning to vicious lawyers.


Montgomery County: You're being flippant about clubhouses, but lack of positive recreational opportunities for middle and high school aged kids is a real problem.

If you look at the Montgomery County budget, recreation is pretty far down there, schools don't do much afterschool enrichment and there are tons of kids wandering the streets with nothing to do but get in trouble, drive recklessly and endanger themselves and others.

Citizen groups all over the county have argued in favor of more recreation centers and for the funds to staff and supply those centers for many years. It's sad that it takes these kind of situations for people to join in.

Marc Fisher: Hey, I'm all for rec programs, but they should be made available to kids because they're the right thing to do, not because we think they're somehow going to make up for all the social ills that lead to gang membership. The fact is that the most extensive rec programs are in the same neighborhoods where crews and gangs are the biggest problem, so rec programs by themselves don't solve much. There are no simple, cheap solutions.


For Seat Pleasant ...: Did you ever meet the people whose house you bought? They might have been the folks who, for whatever reason, were the center of the social life for that chunk of kids. My mother filled that role for my brother's friends -- his buddies would drop by freely. Look at this as a great way to get to know the neighbors!

Marc Fisher: And having your yard open to the kids is contagious--it's one of the fastest ways to bring a block together.


Papers and partisan events: Um, didn't papers sponsor War Bond drives, etc., during WWI and WWII? It all comes down to whether you consider these times to be a War with a capital W, or just another brush-fire foreign adventure.

Marc Fisher: I have no problem with the paper sponsoring non-partisan community events--I think that's an important function for this or any media company. But if the government is using this event to push its political agenda, and by any accounting, the use of Hannity, Ollie North and Rick Santorum as poster boys is very one-sided politically, then I don't see any role for the newspaper except to cover the event.


Washington, D.C.: Parents should teach their children to STAY OUT of other peoples' yards, driveways, etc. It is not public land. Had a neighbor who would follow his little girl around neighbor yards and up onto decks ect. Imagine eating dinner in your kitchen and all of sudden there is someone standing there because he does not want to tell his kid no!

Marc Fisher: Well, obviously there are limits, and a parent who doesn't teach his kids what those limits are is doing the kid and the whole neighborhood a disservice.


Weirton, W.Va.: RE: Kids playing in your yard. When my kids were living at home, it was fine. They are now grown and have families and homes of their own. I overlooked the kids in the yard while I worked for a long time, until I found beer bottles and other stuff back there when I mowed. I put a stop to it by installing a four foot wooden fence and the gate has a padlock. I am not Ms. Scrooge, but I don't want them doing things they are not supposed to be doing in my back yard. I don't go into their yards, they don't need to invade mine.

Marc Fisher: Beer bottles doesn't sound like kids, but rather teens, and that's a different story. There's no call for them to be wandering through other people's yards unless they're tossing around a ball or something like that.


Why Country is the Wrong Choice for D.C.: It's not just because country is stereotyped as a white genre. It's also because in recent decades, the genre has developed attitudes that are anti-city and culturally reactionary. Think Hank Williams Jr. and Toby Keith. The genre advocates going back to the way things were in the '50s. That's a hard message to sell to D.C. residents, especially veterans of the civil rights movement.

Marc Fisher: There are urban country fans, enough to support one country station in most major cities. But it's definitely a tiny minority, not only in the cities themselves but also in the suburbs.


D.C., D.C., state : Oh Erstwhile Radio Guru (we know there 's nothing on TV) ... why did WBUR really cancel the excellent program: The Connection? ... streaming this show was a critical part of surviving office life. And what's the prognosis on local AM radio bigot Michael Graham? Do you think he'll be restored to WMAL's total right wing lineup? And what really happened to Charlie Warren? Was his firing just about his desire to bring diverse opinion to WMAL? Where is he now? What do you think of John Batchelor? I'm addicted to his "narrative" style, his erudition, humor and unpredictable approach and his reports from all over the world. I argue back at the radio while I do the dishes. And what's happening with Air America? I've listened for a few days since 1260 AM took them on and I think they are boring. Liberals don't like to hear other liberals. Most people are not ditto heads. Most people embrace debate. That's why I think John Batchelor is so wonderful and Randy Rhodes is so awful. Conservatives don't want to listen to dissenting opinions and liberals are bored by preaching to the choir pundits. Then there's always Art Bell ...

Marc Fisher: I hear conflicting rumors out of WMAL. The programming people definitely want Michael Graham to come back, but there's worry that the corporate folks--the station is owned by ABC, which is in the process of considering bids to sell off all of its radio stations--don't want Graham's wild ways on their station. Also, MAL's ratings are sinking fast, so it's not clear that the big move to the right has done much for the station.


Anonynous: Marc,

You are veering left. I am sure they would have put a picture of Teddy K, Barney Frank, and Robert Byrd if they had ever actually been to visit the troops.

Marc Fisher: Oh please. You don't think every Democrat in Congress would come running in a second if they were given the chance to stand up on stage and present themselves as supportive of the troops? The Dems are dying to find ways to show that they are both patriotic and opposed to the way this administration has handled Iraq. This sort of event would play right into their needs and desires--but the Republicans don't seem to want to do that. They'd rather play to their base and trumpet their own patriotism. And that's what makes this an inappropriate event--its partisan nature.


Baltimore, Md.: What the hell is it with WMAL. No sooner do they have to suspend one host for claiming that Islam is a terrorist religion than they get a substitute who encourages listeners to "melt" the phone lines in the Herndon town office to express themselves on the proposed center for day laborers. Which said listeners did, often using very vile language. WBAL in Baltimore has also mutated into right wing talk for the most part (they are the Limbaugh station up there and have their own right wing hosts), but nothing like what WMAL does. To show my age, I remember when this was the station of Harden and Weaver and the late, elegant and very much lamented Felix Grant.

Marc Fisher: MAL has intentionally alienated its listeners from those gentler times. The idea is to appeal to a new, younger audience with sharp and partisan talk, and there's nothing wrong with that--it's the most successful formula for talk radio. But they've misjudged this market, which is jampacked with moderates and libs. There's obviously a good market here for conservative talk--Limbaugh has always done well here--but the station went too hard right, even pulling longtime moderate Chris Core to the right. And listeners see right through that.


For Seat Pleasant: Simple solution: build a fence

Marc Fisher: Better solution: Don't.


Ward 4: There are plenty of reasons not to want all the kids in your yard unsupervised. Kids like to come in my yard and mess with my motorcycle.

They've damaged it, and I worry about it falling on one of them.

I really wish that I could trust their parents to be sensible, but it's not the kids of the sensible parents coming in the yard. It's the brats with parents who let them run free in the alley, harassing neighbors, neighbor's dogs (oh yeah, THAT'S safe), stray cats and pigeons and damaging other people's property.

The kids I know can come into or run through my yard any time. They're not a danger to themselves or others, except in a kids horsing around way. The brats will get yelled at every time, and marched back to their parents every time I catch them causing trouble. And when they become teens, if they are still causing trouble, I switch to calling the cops instead of the parents.

It's sad, but I am sick of the brats ruining it for the good kids, and I'm sick of the property damage, and I'm sick of the animal abuse.

Marc Fisher: That's more like it: Your job is to discern between kids who can act responsibly and those who were raised by wolves.


Reston, Va.: Marc, None of the choices for the first question suited me. I think we should give the elderly a break on the screening. At the airport they look at your ID anyway, so how about letting people who are over, say, 75 not have to submit to the shoes off, arms outstretched routine?

Marc Fisher: So will terrorists then begin recruiting among the elderly, on the theory that hey, you're going to die soon anyway, so why not blow something up for us?


Shocked, Va.: I am shocked at the results of the poll! Only stop and search people that look like terrorists! Please -- do people think these terrorists are stupid? All they have to do is change their appearance (or use women, "Caucasians", etc). You have to do RANDOM searches, anything less will prove to be useless.

Marc Fisher: I don't see how random searches help anyone. We know who the terrorists are and what they look like. Yes, it's true that they can and will recruit others to trick us (quick, name the movie in which Diane Keaton is used as a weapon of terror), but if you look at the surveillance camera pix of terrorists, you see that for the most part, they make no such effort to disguise themselves.

_______________________ Vote in Marc's Reader Survey


Washington: Hiya Marc, I looked all over the Readers Survey but did not find a choice for having Christian Guzman stop and randomly frisk people on the Intercounty Connector? Is my computer broken?

Marc Fisher: Bingo--that's the answer.

So, what are the answers?

Thanks to all who've taken part in today's survey so far. A large majority of you seem not to like the idea of random searches and are searching for some alternative. The alternatives are all problematic, of course, and profiling makes everyone uncomfortable, but the fact is that what human beings do is judge situations and make hypotheses, and that's what we should empower the authorities to do in the search for terrorists.

It's the Lexus lanes and the ICC that you hate the most among public works projects, and I thought the stadium and the rail to Dulles would have drawn more antagonism. We'll have to explore the antipathy toward Lexus lanes in greater detail in a future gathering.

And almost nobody wants to see Cristian Guzman out there on the field again, ever. Good.


Little Drummer Girl: Marc, you're sounding dangerously like a racist.

Marc Fisher: That's the right movie but the wrong conclusion. There's nothing racist about saying, hey, the people who are blowing up buildings fit the following description. It would therefore be foolish to search among all people on the planet for the culprits. And it would be unfair to single out everyone who looks vaguely like the bad guys. So we need to find some policy in between, and that's where the rest of the profile, beyond basic ethnicity, comes into play. So it would be stupid to stop Muslim grandmothers or children (though of course, again, the terrorists could start branching out beyond their past patterns). But if we know that the bad guys wear bulky jackets and too many sweaters and certain kinds of shoes or whatever details we can glean, then adding an ethnicity to the list of factors is helpful information, not an act of racism.


Elderly security: I'll never forget having my 80-year-old grandmother patted down (emphatically!) at Dulles airport because she was unable to get out of her wheelchair.

Oh yeah, this was 1992.

Can't imagine what they'd do now, probably a strip search.

Marc Fisher: I'm willing to wait until after the first bombing by an 85-year-old before including them in the random searches.


Arlington, Va.: Marc, this is meant as a serious question, not a flippant one. I know you have a problem with people who care "excessively" (by your definition) about pets versus human suffering, mainly based on the reader reaction to a story you wrote in Miami about homeless people. But my problem has always been that once you set up a hierarchy of suffering, there is always someone worse off, so you would have to discard any empathy until you reach the top of the chain. I was reminded of this because of the end of Gene Weingarten's chat yesterday, it made me cry (and I am sure made many others cry). He clearly loved his dog and has always communicated that, reading his account of the dog's last day hit me. Would you say that because I don't personally know Gene, and the suffering of Gene and/or his pet is insignificant compared to the large problems of the world, that I should not have this level of feeling? Thanks for your columns and chats, they are always interesting.

Marc Fisher: I too was taken aback and saddened when I got to the end of Gino's chat and read about the death of his dog. But my sympathy was driven by my knowledge that the dog was very important to Gene, not by any feeling for the animal. I think your reaction as you describe it was similarly driven and is entirely appropriate. Had Gene been reporting on the death of a random dog that he passed by in the street, I think both you and I would have been far less affected emotionally.


Terrorists: What about 'not' searching people at all without cause? Improve technology and intelligence and have dogs sniff people as they come in.

But what's the chance that screening a fraction of 1 percent of people will happen to include the terrorist? A terrorist who may be more than happy to detonate the bomb strapped to his body during the search instead of in a rail car. Same effect and no problem with being caught.

Marc Fisher: Yes, obviously having cause is the ideal route. But there are levels of cause. Someone with wires sticking out of his shoes is easy. But what about a guy wearing three coats on a 90 degree day? He could be a nutjob or he could be wearing a bomb. I'd search him, wouldn't you?


Washington, D.C. : Who the hell is Cristian Guzman?

Marc Fisher: I would pay dearly not to know.


Lexington Park, Md.: My family has had a subscription to the Washington Post for 40 years. Ben Bradlee lives in St. Mary's City. But according to Marc Fisher, we're not in the Washington/Baltimore region?

Marc Fisher: You're clearly in the DC region by any measure. So are folks in Fauquier, where country is king. But in a region of more than five million people, country lovers remain a tiny minority. Choosing country as the music for that rally is making a cultural and political statement and it is not an inclusive statement, is it? Having country artists along with others from other genres would be.


Backyard rules: If it's an open suburb, without a tree line or fences, and they aren't looking in your windows or damaging your property, leave them be -- 7-year-olds don't exactly understand surveyor's marks. In general, the bigger your property, the less you should care about 'trespassers'. For Ward 4 -- you've got a small piece of land, and lots of stuff on it, so others should respect that.

Marc Fisher: Don't you just hate it when people are reasonable?


To Ward 4: I hear you, but how can you tell the difference between kids' parents who are sensible and those who are vicious lawyers?

Marc Fisher: You'd have to get to know them, which is sort of the whole point.


RE: Security: I was dumbfounded to see a quadriplegic in a wheelchair (no limb mobility) getting the secondary pat-down this weekend. I mentioned this to my relatives who, to my surprise, were HAPPY to see this. They feel comforted by this false sense of security. It's not that it is really effective, but IT MAKES THEM FEEL BETTER. Isn't this the problem with most security policy?

Marc Fisher: Yes, alas, searches, like those idiotic ID checks in office building lobbies, are all about the appearance of doing something rather than the actual doing of anything that has a prayer of being effective.


Kids in the yard: I don't live in D.C., I live in the Philadelphia suburbs. But I do think it's a little odd for neighborhood kids to be playing in the yard of people they don't know. If the questioner has kids who are friends with the neighborhood children, it's different than if they've just sort of wandered over.

I grew up in a neighborhood where we had little regard for backyard boundaries, and so I agree with you on the communal watching-over aspect, but that was because everyone had lived there forever.

The poster sounds more like the children are strangers and s/he doesn't know them well. And even in neighborhoods where "shared yards" are a tradition, I still would think there's an assumption that you don't go into a specific yard unless you have blanket permission from the family and your mom knows it's one of the places you might be.

Marc Fisher: Right, and kids generally know exactly which houses are ok and which aren't. Just like they know which houses not even to knock on the doors of on Halloween.


Profiling, D.C.: Marc, You obviously haven't been the victim of profiling. Yes, many, if not all of the terrorists look alike. But, if the U.S. is still the U.S., publicly sanctioning this behavior is not the answer. I am a Black female who makes more money than most families of 4. But I have been followed in stores because I am Black. And I can't tell you the number of my male friends, all educated (most with graduate degrees), contributing citizens to society who have been stopped driving cars that they own. Profiling is NOT the answer.

Marc Fisher: It depends on how you define profiling, to be Clintonian about it. If you're followed because you are black, then you have been poorly treated. If you're followed because you are wearing an oversized coat with lots of pockets on a hot day and that's the description of shoplifters who've been plaguing that store, and those shoplifters were also 22 years old and black and had a particular hairstyle and shoes, and you fit all of those details, and you are followed, then that's a reasonable action by the authorities.


Weingarten's Dog: Disagree with you about not just ANY dog would affect us emotionally. It was Weingarten's descriptive writing that got to me, and my tear ducts.

And I am a 52-year-old man.

Marc Fisher: Yes, and the writing worked because we know and love Weingarten and his attachment to his dog and his way of expressing that are part of the reason we like his writing, so it's all of a piece.


Marc Fisher: We're way over the time today, so that has to wrap it up. Apologies to the many posts I couldn't get to.

The big chat will fall silent for a couple of weeks, sad to say, but I'll be back here with you at the end of the month. Have a great rest of the summer and thanks for coming along.


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