Potomac Confidential

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, September 15, 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, Sept. 15, at Noon ET .

Today's Poll

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


Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks. Busy, busy day, so let's get right to it. This week's columns looked at two moms who lost sons in the Iraq war, a Tysons Corner piano prodigy who's being evicted from his apartment because the neighbors can't take the noise of his practicing, and today's offering on the Virginia governor's race.

Many of you want to pick up on last week's exchange over why some of Katrina's victims stayed behind to care for pets, and we'll definitely get into that during our hour together.

I have a poll going today too, and we'll talk about the results later in the hour.

On to your comments and questions, but first, the Yay and Nay of the Day:

Yay to D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson for refusing to quit her fight against the routing of deadly chemical tanks through downtown Washington along the CSX freight rail line. This is probably the number one terrorism risk to the District, yet the feds refuse to take decisive action to have the chemical shipments rerouted.

And a beginning of the school year Nay to area school systems for continuing to insist on preposterously early starts for the school day. A simple shift of the high school and middle school day two or three hours later would ease traffic, make family life vastly more sane, and instantly eliminate the chronic social problem of crime, drug use and vandalism in the after-school hours. Kids sleeping at home between 7 and 9 in the morning cause far fewer problems than kids wandering around on their own between 3 and 6 in the afternoon.

Your turn starts right now....


My Fair Commonwealth: I try to be an informed voter, really, I do. But after reading lots of material on Kilgore and Kaine the past few weeks, about all I know for certain is that Kilgore doesn't like taxes and that Kaine worked with Mark Warner -- those are about the only specifics either one gives you.

How in the world am I supposed to feel good about voting for one of these guys? Your column today was spot-on -- neither one of them has a straight answer on anything.

Marc Fisher: I agree, but it is early. These guys will be pushed to be more forthcoming in the next few weeks. Of course, it would happen more naturally if there were any three-way debates, but there aren't, so that's that.

Here's the other view:


Annandale, Va.: Why oh why did you fall into the same old tired trap of "everybody's doing it" and completely and utterly miss the big story of Tuesday's debates? Sure all the candidates are playing the silly word games that we the voters demand of them instead of the honest truth but come on now, wasn't it plain to see that one candidate (of the three) in particular seemed spectacularly unprepared and lacking in "gravitas"? Don't your readers deserve to know that?

Marc Fisher: Well, to be honest, all three seemed lacking in important ways. But there's still plenty of time for their differences to come to the fore.


Clifton, Va.: Marc, two points. You don't seem to think our candidates for governor are up to snuff, but don't they both trump Bobby Haircut? Your position on pets in New Orleans seems a little strange to me, people love their pets, and it's not unpredictable that they won't leave them behind. I wouldn't.

Marc Fisher: No, actually, had I had more space, I would have made the argument that both Bobby Haircut and the District's Mayor in Absentia are much more substantial than either of the Virginia candidates. Gov. Ehrlich is--or at least he was during his campaign--game to talk about almost any issue, and he's happy to spell out how his libertarian streak pulls him away from the party line on a number of issues. Mayor Williams is a very thoughtful guy who is vastly better talking one on one about issues than he is in any political setting. Both of those guys can run circles around the Virginia candidates--or at least the personas that Kilgore and Kaine have adopted thus far.


McLean, Va.: Marc,

Among Washington Online Discussion participants, there was the question of whether we should move on in our discussions and leave you behind. After all, we can always find another online discussion. Fortunately for you, we decided to take you along.

I gave to the Humane Society instead of the Red Cross. FWIW, I gave to the International committees for the Red Cross for tsunami relief.

Marc Fisher: Ok, let's dive into the animal question, since so many of you want to go there. To recap for those who weren't here last week, I threw out a question about why so many people in the hurricane area were willing to defy evacuation orders to stay with their pets. I asked why those folks couldn't just head out of town and replace their animals later at the pet store. Animal lovers did not like this question.


Washington, D.C.: Marc --

I don't understand your comments about animals. Do you really not understand that human beings can form profound bonds with their animal companions such as dogs and cats? Even if you don't understand, why would you make unkind gratuitous comments about those of us who do? In what cold clockwork of stars do you live?

Marc Fisher: My question was genuine. I readily admit to having no feel for the bond that grows between people and their pets; I wanted you all to explain how that connection could push someone to stay in a very dangerous situation.


Wheaton, Md.: Bravo, Mark, for having the guts, in last weeks chat, to ask "why all these folks who stayed behind to take care of their pets would risk their lives for an animal that they could easily replace at any pet store." I'll be you caught a lot of heat for that, but now maybe we can say what needs to be said. For I'm sure I'm not the only one who's getting tired of hearing about the human aspects of this tragedy and welcomes your unafraid reasoning.

Were children lost in the Katrina disaster? That's a shame, but they're not irreplaceable. That's why God created sex. And there's millions of kids around the world living in dismal conditions who can be adopted. The expectation that all children are entitled to survive to adulthood is relatively new in human history. And while elderly people may have died in disproportionate numbers in the flooding, their grieving children and grandchild would be well advised to head down to a local nursing home, and "adopt" one of the many abandoned and lonely senior citizens who need companionship. Hello! That's what old people do, they die! Especially ones on respirators and medications who weren't long for this world to begin with. People perish in horrible circumstances everyday with no one noticing or caring.

Hard truths are often unwelcome, but now, thanks to you, the climate may finally be right for people to be able state the obvious without fear of being shouted down by the forces of politically correct sentimentality.

Marc Fisher: Oh, now I have to go out and haul out the old Irony Alert and brush the rust off the thing and start winding it up.


Washington, DC: For what it's worth, I agree with you 100% on your comments re: New Orleans pets.

I mean maybe I'm just not a pet person, but the idea that people are putting their own lives at the lives of their families at risk for something they need to keep locked up so it doesn't run away at night is somewhat baffling to me.

Marc Fisher: Me, too, and what I don't get is the vehemence and anger of so many of those who responded to that question.


Animals, continued: I feel there should be provision for rescue of animals in a natural disaster, though in the case of Katrina, even the people rescues were not adequate. We know some people won't leave a dangerous situation without their critters. If said critters can be evacuated at little or no added cost or risk, human lives can be saved. The rescuee will leave before circumstances deteriorate further, and the rescuers will be saved from having to come back and attempt a rescue when circumstances have gotten worse. And I don't buy the public health argument against evacuating animals. With all that we hear went on in the Superdome, no critter could have worsened that environment in any measurable way.

Marc Fisher: Ok, but given the extreme stress placed on rescue workers and the obviously insufficient scope of the response, shouldn't those resources be directed solely at saving the people who live in the affected area? What you propose sounds good, but a certain amount of triage seems inevitable in such dire situations.


Silver Spring, Md.: Marc, Gene has challenged you to a debate to explore your heartless attitude toward non-human animals, pets in particular.

You game?

Marc Fisher: I have been a fan of and participant in Weingarten stunts for a quarter of a century and I am always happy to join in.


Washington, D.C. : Marc,

Because Gene was so kind as to reignite the fire you started last week, I would like to come to your defense. You do not see the meaningfulness of having a pet, and you implied you do not have one yourself. And, unless you go around filling other people's pets with BBs, or running them over with your vehicle, you are Doing No Harm (Latin term escaping me). Therefore, you are no threat to animals. The people that deserve this outcry aren't people like you -- the non-hurters -- but the people that take on pets and mistreat/abuse/neglect them, or seek out stray animals in which to do the same. Those people deserve all the ill will and wrath this group can manage.

In summary:

- People that don't like animals and don't have them/abuse other animals = good

- People that love animals and take good care of pets and other animals = good

- People that don't like animals/are cruel and have pets/abuse other animals = very bad.

I would have defended you in Gene's chat but he would not have posted this, so I am glad I could do it here. And yes, I am an animal lover and life-long dog and cat owner.

Marc Fisher: Thank you very much. But I'd be shocked if Gene would not post your submission--he loves nothing more than to be argued with.


Re: Pets: Whether you understand it or not, many pet owners think of their pets as their children. Would you expect a parent to leave his or her child behind? Really, you don't have to agree with this sentiment or even like it, but that mentality IS what drives people to stay behind for the sake of their pets.

Marc Fisher: Now you're getting at the core of the matter--yes, I do read in many of the most impassioned notes I've received an emotional attachment to animals that sounds awfully like the bond between parents and children. And that's what I find so odd and alienating--I can accept that there is a strong emotional connection or dependency, but to put it in the same universe as a parent-child bond seems way over the top.


Washington, D.C.: Gene Weingarten put the pet devotion issue brilliantly in his chat:

"When you accept the responsibility for a pet, you are accepting his love and innocence for an implied understand that you will protect him. This is not an insignificant thing."

Marc Fisher: Fair enough.


Falls Church, Va.: Marc,

I don't feel vehement anger about your pet statement. What I feel is sadness that someone can't seem to form a true bond built on selfless love, devotion and responsibility with such an innocent living thing.

No, not anger. I'd call it pity.

Marc Fisher: The level of anger and hostility in the notes I've received powerfully contradicts your notion that we are talking about selfless devotion.


Washington, D.C.: I'm sure you've taken a lot of grief for last week's comments about people refusing to evacuate in order to stay with their pets. Let me say that I think you're absolutely correct. Yes, you have a duty to care for your pets once you take them in, but in a disaster situation (such as a hurricane and extensive flooding) you must look to the needs of your real (human) family first. Those who would endanger their own lives or those of their family members in order to stay with Fido need to seriously reconsider their moral calculus. Is it really defensible to remain in a place where your kids could be drowned, die of dehydration, or any number of other horrible thing happen to them, simply because you want to stay with your pets?

I'm surprised this isn't self-evident, but some people really are irrational when it comes to their animals.

Marc Fisher: Yes, and to be fair, there are also folks who are irrational in their dislike for pets. But your position sounds like a reasonable middle ground.

More on this later, but on to some other topics.


College Park, Md.: I don't understand the idiots in the apartment complex. The kid was not pounding on the piano, by all accounts he's actually very good. If they know his mom is struggling to get by, why didn't they collect from all the neighbors and buy one of those electronic pianos that he can use when the building is supposed to be quiet? I'd much rather have some good classical piano music in my building than the constant bass thudding that goes for music now.

Marc Fisher: Many, many readers suggested a silent piano (keyboard with headset) for the 12-year-old prodigy, and I had run this by his teachers, who said sorry, that technology is nowhere near sensitive enough for the subtleties of technique that someone at that level must work on.

But far more readers didn't want to solve John Chen's problem--they said that whatever his artistic talents, he is essentially a noise problem and therefore indistinguishable from a hydraulic drill. Very little sympathy for my position from the readership on this one.


Fairfax, Va.: Marc, hasn't anyone thought of the obvious solution for John Chen and his mother? Soundproofing. A few hundred dollars of passive soundproofing materials (donated styrofoam, anyone?) or an electronic active-cancellation system would do wonders.

Marc Fisher: The apartment complex just wanted him out--they weren't interested in other solutions. The manager told me that there are no other musical instruments in a several hundred unit building. Which is hard to believe, but very sad if true.


Barnesville, Md.: Concerning the Chinese pianist's mother. How in the heck did she learn English by listening to the radio for hours? I sometimes look at the Spanish-language TV station to see if that would be a way for someone (not me) to learn to speak Spanish. It does not seem easy. She sounds like a very determined person!

Marc Fisher: Pretty amazing, huh? She did some studying of English on her own while living in New York right after she got to this country, but basically it was eight years of being alone in a house listening to radio that taught her the language, and she speaks with only a slight accent.


Crofton, Md.: Usually I'm on board with your story radar, you almost come up with some intriguing local angles. This might have been the most uninteresting thing I've seen under your byline. "The least we can do is listen"??? No one should be obligated to hear this noise at what sounds like literally all hours just because a mother is fanatical enough to impose it on her son. Maybe the only thing worth noting from this story is that the son doesn't seem thrilled with his lot... so maybe he'd be happy if you didn't champion his cause quite so much.

Marc Fisher: Quite a few readers thought the mom was an overbearing stage mother and argued for the liberation of the boy from her clutches. And there's always some merit to that view in the case of these young musicians. But those who know music tell me that he really is something special. Doesn't she have an obligation as a mother to help him fulfill his talent, and then he can decide later that he'd rather play ice hockey?


Pia,NO: The question is, how many people would, if told to evactuate, refuse to leave if their pianos could not come along.

Marc Fisher: We're not even halfway done, but you already win the Threadweaver of the Day Award.


Washington, D.C.: I'd much rather hear classical piano coming out of an apartment that the usual blasting TV's and stereos, and, um, love noises you usually get. Surely though this kid could be practicing at a church or school or some other institution.

Marc Fisher: That's what I thought initially, but I guess when you're practicing up to eight hours a day, that becomes practically difficult.


Glover Park, Washington, D.C.: Marc, this might be great column fodder:

Because of my work schedule, I have to take the bus (usually the D2 or the 30-series from Glover Park to downtown) when schools along the route are letting out. The majority of schoolkids who get on my bus are some of the most ill-mannered, foul-mouthed children I've ever seen. Many of them usually are eating or drinking, and it's not like they're trying to hide it--some of them are eating or drinking as they're paying their fare! Yet the driver usually does nothing.

Is WMATA or the DC public school system doing anything to combat this? It's a major problem for those of us who simply wish to ride to work in peace.

Marc Fisher: I hear a lot about this--good idea for a column, thanks.


Fairfax, Va.: I have to agree with your column today about the shortcomings of the gubernatorial race when it comes to real issues. Thank goodness, though, that we had time to spare to discuss the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned and the nation staying in one piece while the Virginia General Assembly passed a law outlawing abortion.

Of course, what do we expect when we get Tim Russert to moderate? He's a great host of "Meet the Press," but the ins-and-outs of Virginia transportation policy and Commonwealth spending are not exactly on the tip of his tongue.

Let's look at the Tim Kaine live chat today and see if Washington Post readers had better, more relevant questions and if we get better, more relevant answers. Dismal Candidates Leave Virginians Wanting More , ( Post, Sept. 15 )

Timothy M. Kaine , ( Live Online, Sept. 15 )

Marc Fisher: I thought Russert did a very good job of trying to break through the Total Message Control that the candidates were intent on maintaining. He certainly rattled Kilgore in a very revealing way, but was less successful at pushing Kaine on the conflict between his personal opposition to the death penalty and his assertion that he would nonetheless fry criminals as governor.

A cursory glance at Kaine's chat here today doesn't back up the notion that random questions, filtered by the candidate himself, did any better than Russert did.


Arlington, Va.: Marc, I have to wonder about candidates (and not just the Virginia K's, they're just the latest in a long line) that simply refuse to come out and say what everyone knows about them. do they honestly think that if they play things right they could get 100 percent of the vote? Why can't candidates just assume they're going to displease a certain part of the electorate that probably wouldn't vote for them anyway?

The best version of this nonsense is Kilgore's refusal to say what he would do about abortion, if given the chance by the Supremes. Of COURSE he would work to outlaw it -- he certainly doesn't try to hide the fact that he's been in favor of every allowable restriction on the practice. Who does he think he's fooling?

Marc Fisher: That's the question, really. What possible good did Kilgore think would come from refusing to say the obvious, that a pro-life candidate would of course sign a bill banning abortion? Does he think that pro-choice voters will say, oh, he's anti-abortion but he won't act on that? Wait--that's exactly what Tim Kaine wants us to believe about his stance on the death penalty.


Arlington, Va.: One thing I've been wondering about with the governor's race: Is Kilgore running for head of the INS or something? Because otherwise, I don't know what he can actually do about illegal immigration in Richmond, seeing as how the state is some 1,500 miles from all those folks swimming across the Rio Grande and marching across the desert into the U.S. of A.

Marc Fisher: Right, he couldn't do a thing about it, except make it more difficult for illegal immigrants who are already here to blend into this society, by banning them from having driver's licenses or getting access to state colleges.


Across the Potomac: Marc,

I'm a Marylander and this question is for you and for all Virginians -- what are the benefits of Virginia's one-term-and-you're-out governorship? And what are that system's liabilities? Does the system really work better than allowing consecutive terms?

Marc Fisher: It's hard to find anyone outside the state legislature who likes the one-term system. When you get a good governor, you lose him just as he's learning to be effective. But the legislators love this system because it maintains their upper hand in the balance of power in state government. So it will never change for exactly that reason.


Maryland: Britney Spears has given birth and all we can talk about is the hurricane and disasters? Shame! 'Ecstatic' Britney Has Baby Boy , ( AP, Sept. 15 )

Marc Fisher: Even here on the Big Important Web Site, the Britney story was riding right up near the top of the Most Viewed Stories list for most of yesterday. We'll have a meeting of Washington Wonks Who Really Love Britney Anonymous after the show.


Anonymous: I'm in favor or dispensing with the mass daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools, though not because of the inclusion of "God." Forced, rote memorization such as this for young children, when its meaning is not truly comprehended, leads to robotic recitation in later years. The meaning is diminished by mass recitation every day. It does not instill patriotism. Reciting it on special occasions, and varying it with other significant texts (e.g., Bill of Rights), would make it more meaningful. How many adults find the Pledge important enough that they recite it every day, whether at home with their children, at work or elsewhere, either in groups or privately?

Marc Fisher: I'm all for memorization as one of the great skills that schools used to teach, but don't anymore. Kids should memorize great poems and songs just to have that skill in life. So I don't mind kids being taught the national anthem or patriotic songs. The pledge, however, has a creepy totalitarian feel to it, with or without the obviously unconstitutional, McCarthy-era addition of the God bit.


Fairfax, Va.: Not on your laundry list of topics, but I'm hoping you or another reader can answer a question for me. The previous Pledge of Allegiance case was thrown out because dad didn't have standing. When was the issue first raised? Had a previous judge ruled that he had standing, and the Supremes over-ruled that judge? Or did the Supremes just pick it out on their own to dodge the case?

Marc Fisher: This was just one federal judge in California ruling yesterday and his ruling has no effect on schools anywhere else, and obviously this is going to be appealed in a matter of minutes, and ultimately the Supremes will have to weigh in.


Washington, D.C.: Marcito,

I can never find your columns online! I click into the chat page thinking the most recent ones would be listed there, but I can't find them. Help! Make your columns easier to find.

Second -- what do you know about the upcoming city council hearing on September 29th during which the council is planning on selling five school properties currently belonging to the District (Old Congress Heights School, Bruce School, Keene, Crummell and one other)? To whom will these properties be sold, do you know?

Thanks! The most recent columns will be posted on the chat pages from now on. -- Liz

Marc Fisher: That's excellent news, Liz--thanks.

That hearing is news to me, but I'll look into it. The superintendent is said to be preparing a big list of schools that should be closed and possibly sold off, to be revealed, we're told, by the end of this year. I'll believe it when I see it.


Brandermill, Va.: Marc, you must be crushed that Russ Potts, exposed for all to see, wasn't the great savior of Virginia politics. Kudos to Tim Kaine for debating Potts and showing the Senator to be a sideshow.

Marc Fisher: I still like Potts--he's refreshingly frank and open and he's willing to say what the other candidates aren't. That said, he's not the Ventura/Schwarzenegger/Weicker outsider he hoped to package himself as. He's a longtime state legislator who is very much wrapped up in process and inside baseball.


Washington, D.C.: Hey Fisher,

the second question to your poll was incomplete:

2. If disaster strikes, which of the following factors might make you decide to disobey evacuation orders?

a. Can't take pet with you

b. Can't leave shoe collection behind

c. Elderly neighbors can't be moved

d. Favorite show on TV tonight

e. Want to be featured on Weather Channel

f. Got to watch Netflix movies to get to next one in my queue

you forgot

g. No money, no car

h. Live in nursing home; family doesn't care

i. Marc Fisher, you're a jerk, and really oughn't be making light of a situation that cost so many lives all of a week ago.

Marc Fisher: No slight intended of those who couldn't leave because they had no transportation or were so out of it that they didn't know what was going on. I'm talking about those who had the wherewithal to get out, but chose not to for less dire reasons.


Silver Spring, Md.: I feel very sorry for the kid and his mom who can't find a place to practice, but I totally sympathize with the neighbors. I'm a classical music lover. I go to concerts. I sing in choirs. I took years of piano and voice lessons. And you know what? Listening to someone practice sucks. He might stop and play the same phrase 50 times in a row. Or spend hours on finger exercises. For the neighbors, it's totally a legitimate noise complaint.

Marc Fisher: Yes, I think it's clear that being a neighbor of such a player would be annoying. My question is whether we have a social obligation to suck up that annoyance and contribute to the fulfillment of this kid's artistic potential, and I think that as long as he abides by whatever quiet hours the neighbors have agreed upon, that we do owe him the chance to let his talent flourish.


Rockville, Md.: I find myself wondering if the lack of tolerance for instrument practicing is due to the declining numbers of people who have ever learned to play an instrument themselves.

Marc Fisher: Could well be, but in fairness, I've heard from quite a few serious musicians who take the side of the neighbors.


Washington, D.C.: I live in a high rise building where there's an opera/classical singer living (anybody in my building in upper NW DC reading this knows exactly who I am talking about). It's nice and cool the first couple of times, but yes it can get very annoying. Opera Man, if you're reading this, please tone it down.

Marc Fisher: There you go.

Ok, ok, back to the pet issue:


Washington, D.C.: Just have to say that I think the second question of today's poll is truly in poor taste.

Marc Fisher: Noted.


Silver Spring, Md.: I love my cat. I love my dog. I couldn't precisely replace either at any pet store.

But if there were a human being on the next rooftop over who wouldn't fit in the rescue boat, I'd unhesitatingly pick that person over my pet.

Marc Fisher: Sounds right.


Alexandria, Va.: No, pets are not children. However, they are innocent and totally dependant on their owners for care and protection. People whose hearts are rending for the pets are not more sad that animals died than that people died. It's the betrayal of being abandoned by the person they trusted to care for them that gets us. If I saw a child, too young to understand what was happening, being left behind by his parent, I would be infinitely more saddened than when I see pets being left behind by their owners, because, yes, it is different. But, yes, it is also heartbreaking to watch it happen to pets. And, no, I think I would not leave my dog behind (although of course it's really impossible to say, never having been forced to decide).

And, by the way, I don't keep her locked up at night to keep her from running away. I keep her locked up at night to keep her from being run over in the street. And I certainly hope that any parent of a toddler keeps his child locked up at night for the same reason.

Marc Fisher: Good point--on many deeply emotional topics such as this, we may think we know what we would do, but we really don't until it comes to that moment of harsh reality.


Washington, D.:. The pet issue is probably the most visible reason why a disaster plan will never work as planned. The one thing that planners do is plan according to what they think rational people would do. They forget that people are not all the same and have different views of what is rational. Just as you think it crazy not to evacuate because of a pet. Others may think the government will steal their houses if the evacuate or looters will take their TVs. Or some other circumstance that would never enter your or planners minds. The United States is a very diverse country (not just racially but also in how folks view their neighbors or government). Maybe if they went to other parts of the country and ask real people how they would go about evacuating or what would prevent them from evacuating they might get a better idea of what to do or not do.

Marc Fisher: Excellent point--and that's why we should all be skeptical of any evacuation plan, or of the bulk of the work of homeland security, for that matter.


Maryland: Marc:

The front page story in your paper today (on the conditions in the New Orleans Convention Center) was incredible reporting. Even after three weeks of non-stop Katrina stories... I'm stunned, saddened, and dismayed by the story. I still can't believe it. 'It Was as if All of Us Were Already Pronounced Dead' , ( Post, Sept. 15 )

Marc Fisher: Thanks for bringing that up--I thought it was a starkly compelling piece of work.


Arlington, Va.: I know I am stereo-typing, but my impression of a lot of these pet obsessives is that they seem to be high-income with no children. Pets obviously fill a void in their life. But they seem to be missing the fact of why their is that void in the first place, i.e., they missed out on the ongoing biological urge to reproduce. Thus, they feel there is something wrong with those of us who do not equate pets with "family members."

Marc Fisher: That's a very important point, and you are courageous to bring it out, because all too often pets do seem to serve as child substitutes, and perhaps that's why the defensiveness on this issue is so prevalent.


Arlington, Va.: I am very saddened to hear that you have received so many mean spirited responses to your "pet" comment. I was very taken aback when I read it, because I could not conceive of feeling that way. I was truly angry, then I sat back and realized it was just that you did not have/feel the bond that I have with my pets. That allowed me to refrain from firing off a mean spirited response.

That being said, I still cannot conceive of feeling like you feel. Animals have distinct personalities and one can bond with them. I would never try to rank it against the child bond, I think any attempt to set up that kind of hierarchy is really futile. To me each is its own thing, existing independently. I hope I never have to choose between them.


Marc Fisher: Thanks--that's a very reasonable position, seems to me. I obviously can't feel that bond because I've never had the slightest experience with anything like it.


Washington, D.C.: Marc,

Just some encouragement (since I am sure you're being lambasted) that you're not the only one who doesn't "get it" regarding the love of pets-over-fellow humans. I've never understood it; never will!

I thought Paul McCartney's wife's anti-fur tirade in the offices of Jennifer Lopez yesterday were especially offensive given the great human suffering occuring along the Gulf Coast.

Marc Fisher: Thanks--a couple more on this and then we'll have to wrap it up.


Washington, D.C.: Re: you and pets.

I feel sorry for you, too. I think you're afraid to let yourself love animals.

Marc Fisher: Now this I don't get in the least. "Let" myself love animals? Ok, some of them are cute, and others are tasty. And I grant that there are lots of folks who love pets, and that's fine too. But why should everyone have to share that feeling?

By the way, animal lover Liz, today's splendid producer, notes that there's a live dog rescue going on on MSNBC even as we speak. So if you're sick to death of my position on this, go watch it.


Gambrills, Md.: Your challenge to us pet lovers today is to tell you why we love our pets and will go to great lengths to care for them as if they were members of our own family.

Basically, you're asking us to define "love."

I'm not even going to attempt to explain that profound emotion, especially considering that countless poets, writers, and musicians have been trying desperately to do so over thousands of years.

Further, what you love is entirely different than what I love.

However, I think for many pet lovers, it's not a matter of simple ownership (which you seemed to believe in last week's chat), it's a matter of family. To many of us, pets are extensions of our families. We care for them, we feed them, and, in turn, we receive devotion, friendship, loyalty and love.

Now, who wouldn't want that type of relationship, animal or human alike?

Marc Fisher: Nicely said--thanks.


Alexandria, Va.: In a Simpson's episode, the family had taken a dog home who had certain behavioral problems. Homer was contemplating sending it to the pound and Bart protested that the dog was a member of the family and Homer never disciplined him for all his pranks. Homer's response was " I never had a member of the family I could give away before."

Marc Fisher: Wisdom appears in the oddest of places.


Rote Memorization: Firends, romans countrymen, lend me your ears, I have come to praise Mark not bury him, oops, sorry I guess memorization doen't last forever.

What did they recite in schools after the revolutionary war, or for that matter during the civil war? Does that make the Americans from previous centuries any less patriotic, or was it because they were so patriotic they didn't need any pledge?

Marc Fisher: As societies age and wither, their rituals become more fixed and more obligatory.


Alexandria, Va.: Wow. If you feel a "social obligation" to "let his talent flourish," why don't you let Piano Boy move into your basement? Eight hours a day of listening to that, and you'll be begging for forgiveness within two weeks.

Marc Fisher: I posited from the start that the practicing must be annoying as heck to listen to. I already have two budding piano players in my house and listening to all that practice is quite enough, thanks.


Re: the Red Cross: I was disturbed by your comments re "just giving money" to the Red Cross or other relief organizations.

I think it's great for people to do other more hands-on things, but it doesn't seem right to disparage cash gifts.

First, it may be hard for some people to do other things, but, more importantly, the cash is needed. The Red Cross, sometimes working through church-related organizations, is paying for thousands of meals every day, and that's just the start of how they are using their money.

Does it seem realistic that every person or family would be taken in by someone who could provide them with everything they need?

Marc Fisher: I have no problem with cash gifts--they are often the best, most direct form of aid possible. My intent was to warn folks to check out the charities they are contributing is an excellent way to see just how much of your gift is getting to the people in need and how much is being snarfed up by huge salaries for fatcat executives.


Springfield, Va. -- What if it was the drums: "My question is whether we have a social obligation to suck up that annoyance and contribute to the fulfillment of this kid's artistic potential, and I think that as long as he abides by whatever quiet hours the neighbors have agreed upon, that we do owe him the chance to let his talent flourish."

What if the kid was the next Ringo Starr, and had a knack for bashing drums together in the right order? Or the next BB King, who had a knack for wailing out loud guitar riffs all day and night? Would that be OK, or is it just because its a nice piano that it should be. Sorry but I've lived next to rude neighbors in more than one building and I side with the building occupants in this case.

Marc Fisher: I don't see where genre makes a difference. Talent is talent.


More on the animal question: My problem with your comment is that sentient beings are NOT interchangeable, replaceable or disposable. They are individuals, with feelings and personalities. Surely it is not irrational to care for them or to seek to prevent them from suffering?

Yes, if I was forced to choose between risking my kid or my cats, I'd choose to risk my cats -- Darwin's laws ensure that I am wired to save my kids at almost any cost, and to put closer kin (humans) before farther kin (cats). But if I was asked to risk my OWN life for my cats, I'd do it. I have, by accepting ownership of my cats, accepted the responsibilities inherent in taking care of them -- and I love them. It is my job, my duty, and frankly my emotional instinct to protect them when they cannot protect themselves.

Terry Pratchett's Granny Aching phrased it beautifully in "Wee Free Men," though she was talking about sheep as livestock rather than cats/dogs as pets:"We are as gods to the beasts of the field. We ordain the time of their birth and the time of their death. In between times, we ha' a duty."

Marc Fisher: Wow--you'd take your cats over yourself? I have to think about that one. Thanks for the lovely quote.


Washington, D.C.: Hiya Mike: I play classical piano and live in a small apartment, and I was wondering if there were any easy way to soundproof the unit so as not to disturb the neighbors. Oh wait, you're not Mike McClintock -- sorry, wrong chat.

Marc Fisher: I should sub for the Home Chat someday--you'd learn that I barely know the difference between a screwdriver and a hammer.


A Secret Location: I was just speaking with my brother, who works for Homeland Security, and he reports that we don't need to worry about a New Orleans-style mass evacuation with panic and looting. In D.C. our evacuation will be much smoother because if you try to drive out of town, the roads will grind to a halt immediately and you might as well turn off the car and relax at home. Their studies show that we are toast. I'm buying a nice aged bottle of single malt so that I go happily.

Marc Fisher: That's why I like the Sheltering in Place concept.


Washington, D.C.: I agree with Marc. I'm a pet lover and grew up in a house with all sorts of critters who were loved and treated like part of the family. But in an emergency like this, if the family and our essentials were packed in the car ready to go and we realize the dog and two guinea pigs just aren't going to fit, we don't unpack the car and stay home.

I'd be heartbroken and sad, set them up in an upstairs room with as much food and water as I can manage and pray that when we came back they'd be there as happy to see us as we are to see them.

On another note, I'm saddened by the plight of the mom/son/piano situation. Was their anyone in that complex at all who stood up for them?

Marc Fisher: No, no one in the building stood up for them.


Washington, D.C.: My husband and I have two dogs. We have no children and are prepared to accept that the love we have for our dogs in no way begins to approach the love we would have for any putative child. Still, however, if we lived in New Orleans, we would have refused to leave our dogs behind. We accept considerable affection and attention from our dogs, and they are entitled to our protection in return.

I am fully prepared to admit that children would complicate this equation considerably, almost certainly resulting in leaving the dogs behind.

Marc Fisher: This and two more on pets, so each side has its last word...


City of Fairfax, Va.: I'm with you on the animal position. First, if you can afford an animal, you could have afforded to leave New Orleans with said pet and not risk the lives of the brave men and women who are there to save YOU. Second, if you couldn't afford to leave New Orleans when the word came out that Katrina was on the way, then you can't afford a pet and shouldn't have one. Simple. People want children, pets, houses, etc., that they can't afford to have, and then cry when it all comes to pieces. Grow up and get responsible. My grandmother refused to marry my grandfather until he became a Cpt. in the Army. She said that as a Lt. he couldn't afford a family. Contrary to the media, we CAN'T have everything.

Marc Fisher: And the last one....


Re: Parent/Child bond: Well, maybe some pet owners can't or won't have children. Maybe their dog or cat is all they've got. Maybe they rescued the dog from a shelter or the streets. Maybe the cat just gives them the unconditional love and/or acceptance they don't get from the humans around them. There can be many reasons for the kind of bond that would make people stay behind.

Marc Fisher: Thanks, all, for a really good discussion on this. Back again next week, and thanks--oh wait, the poll results: You want Mark Warner again, overwhelmingly, as I figured you might. And Bob Ryan comes in second--hey, after the last big 'cane, the weather guy in Miami, Bryan Norcross, could have been elected governor, easily.

And you aren't remotely ready for joking about the hurricane in any way, shape or form. Quite reasonable, of course.

Thanks for coming along.


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