Thursday, June 21, 2007; 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, June 21, at Noon ET to look at whether downtown Silver Spring is really private property, how privacy laws are holding back the Virginia Tech investigation and the latest on the $54 million pants case.
Check out Marc's blog,
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.
Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks--lots to grapple with today, including:
--Just how public is a downtown really? Can stepping from one city block to the next mean going from public space to private property, and can the developer of a busy downtown retail center really control what you say and do? That's the question raised in today's column on the effort by the managers of Downtown Silver Spring to stop passersby from taking photographs or handing out political literature.
--Now that the family of Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Choc Cho has given permission for a state investigative panel to see Cho's records, is that the end of the debate over how privacy laws are making it hard to figure out what went wrong with the handling of Cho? Or are many other families suffering from the overreaching of privacy laws that make it nearly impossible for families to find out what happened to their loved ones, even after the relative has died?
--We're expecting a verdict today or tomorrow in the $54 million pants suit. Meanwhile, how legitimate are the complaints bubbling up from many readers about how Korean dry cleaners treat black customers?
On to your many comments and questions, but first, let's call the Yay and Nay of the Day:
Yay to the memory of Juanita Swedenburg, the wonderfully cantankerous northern Virginia winemaker who died last week after leading the fight to break down legal barriers to shipping wine across state lines. I visited her at her Middleburg winery a couple of years ago when she was in the thick of her legal battle and she was a hoot and a delight, but also a persuasive advocate. After all, as she pointed out, does it really make sense that you can buy guns, explosives, drugs and pornography online, but not a bottle of wine? Swedenburg eventually won a partial victory, but the fight to let wineries compete like a normal business is not yet won.
Nay to Montgomery County for giving away public space to a private developer, the Peterson Companies, who now control Ellsworth Drive at the heart of the new downtown Silver Spring. The new Silver Spring is a terrific place to visit and the design has attracted all kinds of people, creating a much-needed gathering spot (I've written about the magic of The Turf, the empty space at the center of the development, and it appears that the battle to keep The Turf is lost.) But the argument that the downtown development is no different from a privately-owned shopping mall in its ability to control and restrict free speech just doesn't work, given that virtually every visitor to the downtown views it as a public space.
Your turn starts right now....
Washington, D.C.: Marc,
I think you nailed the problem: a city essentially hands over a piece of formerly public land to a developer. The developer essentially gets the right to create his own fiefdom in the middle of the town, and you get ridiculous situations like Py's where entirely innocent everyday activities are forbidden. Surely there must be some way to balance everyone's interests here, as clearly the county invested a lot of public money into the development.
washingtonpost.com: Public or Private Space? Line Blurs in Silver Spring ( Post, June 21)
Marc Fisher: You'd think it would be possible to find such a balance. After all, there are lots of publicly-supported, privately-built developments that manage to survive without stripping away the public nature of open spaces. Why does the county feel it necessary to treat downtown Silver Spring as elementally different from any of Montgomery's other downtown areas? Sure, it's nice to have the managers from the Peterson Companies hiring private security guards and keeping the block clean, but county police also heavily patrol that area and other public services are also used there. This is control for control's sake, and it only serves to alienate the public.
washingtonpost.com: Silly Laws Bottle Up Fine Wine ( Post, Aug. 1, 2004)
Silver Spring & Photography: I have to say, Montgomery county really dropped the ball here on allowing the developer to consider this portion of SS as "private."
People take photos of their children all the time. I want to see a security guard tell a mother not to take a picture of her child by the fountain. I want to see this over and over again until public reaction reaches the tipping point and the developer realizes how inane and simple-minded this rule really is.
Marc Fisher: Some of the photographers who are finding their free rein restricted by overzealous security measures want to take a stand on the downtown Silver Spring issue and they're talking over at flickr.com about staging a mass shoot-in, in which dozens of photographers would descend on Ellsworth Drive to just take pictures of the scene. Sounds like a fun and potentially effective form of protest.
May be private, but why do they have to be so stupid?: What disturbs me is that the Silver Spring developer even bothers to stop people from taking photos. What can possibly be the harm to their "private interest?" Someone is going to do a nasty Photoshop? A terrorist could be measuring for bombs? Someone is going to steal their design? (Please. Plus, I'm sure they release lots of images to market their work, anyway.)
Just another illustration of how people seem to think control is its own reward.
Marc Fisher: Control is its own reward. Nice.
Olney, Md.: (2nd post) By the way, I'm a security consultant, and the terrorist threat information one can glean from exterior photos is virtually useless when I can go to the County permits and licenses office and obtain blueprints of the sewer system, the complete building structure, the power grid, the communications network, the air conditioning ductwork, and most likely the security system. If the cameras are on an IP-based network, we could probably watch from home the bozo that made that decision.
Marc Fisher: Quite right--the crackdown on people taking photos of the exteriors of buildings is almost as silly and pointless as the nutsy practice of asking visitors to office buildings to flash their ID. Oh, you have a piece of plastic with your name on it! You must be OK! Please enter!
Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Peterson's policy is bad business; it is Peterson's investors who should be upset.
Union Station was renovated and is run under the same kind of public/private partnership, and folks take pictures there all the time to Union Station's publicity and benefit.
I looked at Mr. Py's photos. He is quite good.
In stories such as these, I think it would be good to pursue the investors rather than the management. Sometimes investors do not know the foolish uses for which their money is used.
Marc Fisher: Well, Peterson's investors would be upset if this were having a negative impact on revenue or reputation. But while I'm seeing almost universal condemnation of the developer here on the big show, I'd be willing to bet that receipts in downtown Silver Spring are no different today or tomorrow from yesterday or the day before. So if they're not seeing any economic impact, why would the investors care? Just asking.
Anonymous: I agree that the downtown Silver Spring shopping mall (or whatever you call it) stopping someone from taking a photograph outside is ridiculous (though just you wait when Osama Bin Laden is caught this way!), it is also ridiculous for the photographer to claim it is a First Amendment issue. The First Amendment prohibits the government from passing laws infringing on the freedom of speech. It does not necessarily guarantee that a private firm will allow private expression, and that is if one successfully argues that taking a photograph (vs., say, publishing it) is freedom of speech.
Marc Fisher: Why isn't it a free speech issue? The constitution very much forms the basis for our expectations of personal freedoms, and while the courts have spent decades debating whether those rights can be exercised on someone else's private property, the situation in Silver Spring lies at the heart of that debate: When is a public place not public? When is a privately managed property subject to being treated like a public place, just because it appears to be public to all concerned?
Arlington, Va.: I visit downtown Silver Spring frequently and one thing that concerns me is that the increased modernization and probable increases in rents will result in the loss of most of the mom and pop restaurants of all ethnic cuisines and result in more Red Lobsters and other chains that can afford the rents. Whether the area you walk in is under public or private oversight is secondary to whether the uniqueness of the area can be preserved.
Marc Fisher: That uniqueness lent downtown Silver Spring a sort of shoddy charm for many years, but the area remained depressed and needed some work to make it feel welcoming, interesting and safe, which has now been accomplished. Urban neighborhoods go through cycles of development and you're right to worry about the future of the mom and pops a few blocks from the Peterson project, but so far they seem to be more helped than hurt by having so many more people coming to the area. And some new mom and pops have come along even since the Peterson project opened, so there's hope for a reasonable balance, at least for a while.
Anonymous: Marc: We often disagree, so you may or may not like this information, but technology has put the petty dictators of Silver Spring in the dust bin of history. (Forgive me, but I have never had a real reason to write that before.)
Go to Microsoft Virtual Earth (My Live Search Maps collection
Microsoft Virtual Earth and you can take all the pictures of Ellsworth Drive that you want. Perhaps not the same angle of up to see the sky, but it is as if you are there.
But your point is well taken. These petty rule makers must be put in their place. And that is not at the head of the table.
retired science librarian
Marc Fisher: Thanks, I guess--sure, satellites and web sites allow us to look where we want to look, but that's not the freedom that's being restricted in Silver Spring. Rather, what the developers and the county are doing is preventing people from behaving as they would--and as they have a constitutional right to--in any other downtown. That is, taking pictures, speaking out, handing out political or religious literature. Just because a developer built those buildings ought not change the public nature of a downtown.
McLean, Va.: Marc,
Downtown Silver Spring is not the only place where guards accost photographers. I once tried to take photos in the main hall of the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. I was accosted by a guard who told me that photography of any kind was prohibited. I've shot in enough museums to know that flash photography is prohibited because repeated flashes can cause deterioration in old treasures. But all photography? Even without flash? What gives? No question I was in a public place.
Marc Fisher: I could see getting upset about being stopped from taking pix of the museum's exterior. But inside is another matter. There are all kinds of restrictions that artists and owners of great art works put on their lending decisions to museums, and prohibiting photography is often part of those restrictions, so it makes sense that a museum would be touchy about that. That's why they sell post cards and other reproductions.
Silver Spring Inc.: SS isn't the only municipality to privatize public space:
- Chicago requires photogs to get a permit to take pictures in Millennium Park, which was built with $250M of the taxpayer's funds
- A man in London was arrested on terrorism charges for taking a picture of the Tower Bridge
There are hundreds of other examples out there. Photographers are routinely harassed by private security guards for taking pictures on city streets. Welcome to 1984.
Marc Fisher: It's an expression of our collective sense of powerlessness in the defense against terrorism, I suppose. We can't find Osama or figure out who's plotting against us, so we lard on ludicrous restrictions on our own freedom, as if limiting our own behavior will somehow communicate that it's harder to hit us. All we accomplish is the denigration of our own freedoms.
Rockville, Md. : By the by, I have had people stop me in a Metro Station (Grosvenor) and tell me that I should not take photos there. So far as I know it is allowed. But not in the public perception.
Marc Fisher: That's the most appalling and shocking part of this whole phenomenon--that a great many of us become willing accomplices in the crackdown on ordinary and reasonable behavior.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Marc,
Why didn't the story about Kilmer Middle School's "no touching" policy seem to make more of a splash? Of all the news stories this week, I think this one bothered me the most. Given all the problems we as a society face, it would seem that the power of human contact would be one of those things we'd really want to hold on to, and show our kids the value of.
Will there be much follow up of this issue? I find the policy maddening, silly and absurd, but most of all sad.
washingtonpost.com: Va. School's No-Contact Rule Is a Touchy Subject ( Post, June 18, 2004)
Marc Fisher: That was one heck of a story and I've been hearing lots of folks marveling at the extent to which adults are willing to go to criminalize childhood and so preposterously restrict kids' behavior. This is of a piece with the felony arrest of 19 high school kids in Westchester County, NY, for staging a wonderful senior prank involving planting alarm clocks all over the school and setting them to go off at the same time. Not only is that prank not felonious, it's downright creative and ought to be rewarded, not punished. The impact on kids of treating their every act of adolescent as a horrific crime is to build up cynicism to such an extent that kids lose any sense of perspective. Why would kids take seriously admonitions about the real problems--binge drinking, drunk driving--when adults hit them for engaging harmless fun?
Monkey business: The woman in Montgomery County needs to gracefully withdraw her lawsuit -- having Capuchin monkeys as pets is inappropriate (as far as the animal's welfare, not to mention, the law!). I wish the media would give her less coverage, it's as if her claims are validated. (I'd rather hear about the "pants' case ad nauseum, instead).
Capuchins were never meant to be pets!
A veterinarian in NW Washington
washingtonpost.com: MONTGOMERY COUNTY Owner Loses First Ruling Over Fate of Pet Monkey ( Post, June 21)
Marc Fisher: But I get the same complaint about the pants suit--by covering him, you're encouraging others to do the same sort of thing, they say.
The monkey story is a great yarn, and a revealing window onto the extent of animal mania these days. The poor woman was virtually weeping in the radio interview I heard this morning.
Bethesda, Md.: A small item in a Post story earlier this week:
O'Malley is on vacation this week, spending time fishing in upstate New York with his 9-year-old son, William, according to aides.
The Chesapeake's not good enough?
Marc Fisher: Give the guy a break--why should politicians be required to take vacations in their own state? Wouldn't that sentence them to working nearly full-time on their vacation, with everybody and his brother stopping the guy in the street to ask some favor or state some case? Whether they're bozos or brilliant, the overwhelming majority of elected officials work like dogs and I don't care where they take their vacation as long as they're not using tax dollars to get there or taking unduly lengthy vacations.
Pentagon City, Va., via London, UK: For more on the never-ending "Walk to the left, stand to the right" escalator debate, I've noticed that the London Underground posts signs all around the escalators that simply say "Stand to the right." Just that half is enough to get the point across that those not wishing to walk need to move over to the right.
Could Metro adopt a similar formal policy with this sort of compromise--i.e., post signs that just say "Stand to the right" rather than the full "Walk to the left ..."?
Marc Fisher: I don't get the advantage of just one direction--why not use the full slogan, as Metro used to do in its signs: Walk Left, Stand Right. That seems clear and direct, no?
Silver Spring, Md.: Can we ban tourists from the Metro? They don't know how to use the fare machines, the turnstiles confuse them, they stand in front of the door (except when their sitting and taking up two spaces with their suitcases). There's nothing more frustrating than working all day and having to maneuver around some yokel.
Marc Fisher: Hey, they helped pay for the system and they provide a good number of the fares that keep the system going. They do block the escalators, but they're educable. If only Metro would cooperate and put up some signs on escalator etiquette, things would run a bit more smoothly.
Mt. Pleasant, Washington, D.C.: I saw an editorial today in the NYT discussing the D.C. House vote. The author mentioned an amendment to the bill that would deny D.C. any future Senate representation. I am all for D.C. home rule; however, I've been skeptical about seeking only 1 House vote and not attempting to get full representation but finally caved in under the premise that "something is better than nothing." This amendment has confirmed my fears. It's akin to a, "give them what they want so they will shut up" type of attitude. Your thoughts on this?
washingtonpost.com: Democratizing the Nation's Capital ( The New York Times, June 21)
Marc Fisher: Let's be real--the District in its current form will never get two Senate seats. Is it possible that the District could change its form--retrocede into Maryland, or split into a federal core that remains a separate District and have the rest return to Maryland? That seems like a far more likely eventual solution than statehood or the granting of full congressional representation. So what's the best we can do right now to address the injustice of depriving half a million Americans of voting rights? The Tom Davis bill is the best and most plausible approach to come along in decades, and it's closer to winning approval than any other measure has come at least since the 1970's. One House seat isn't everything that D.C. taxpayers deserve, but it's an important step, and it would almost surely create the court challenge that might define the District's standing more clearly and perhaps pave the way for a political solution such as retrocession.
The Cosmic Avenger: So Marc, want to come down to the kingdom of Peterson and watch me take pictures on my lunch hour? I'll bring the camera if you bring the press credentials.
Marc Fisher: If you've got a whole bunch of folks joining you, I'll be there. If you're on your own, drop me a line and let me know how it went.
Alexandria, Va.: I was going to say that Silver Spring selling off the heart of its downtown is just one step down the slope of the mass privatization of public space, but frankly, it's already tumbled to the bottom of the slope. My quibble is not with the developer, it's with Silver Spring for farming out to private companies what should be a public function. Will other cities start, say, selling off their sidewalks to companies that can "better" maintain them -- and at what cost? No one will ever be able to hand out flyers, pass petitions, or sell knock-off sunglasses in busy areas once they're sold to the highest bidder. Isn't that hustle bustle what makes a good downtown?
Marc Fisher: Sounds right to me. Notice that the liveliest public gathering spot in the new downtown is not the fountain on Peterson's side of the property line, but The Turf, the wide-open space on county property that is to be the site of an ice skating rink and a county building.
Gaithersburg, Md.: Marc, how do you hear about stories like the one today with the guy taking pictures in Silver Spring or the family that was not allowed to build a handicapped access ramp to their house? Do individuals contact you and you do the research from that point?
Marc Fisher: All kinds of ways--I hear about stuff from readers, from fellow reporters, and from my friends and neighbors, but yes, in this case, as in many others, I learned of the story from someone who was involved in it who contacted me directly, and I reported it out from there.
Lorton, Va.: The public/private issue is something my wife (a landscape architect) and I have argued about repeatedly. Thanks for shedding light on it. We continue to privatize all aspects of our public life without thinking much about the consequences.
Marc Fisher: And there are obvious benefits to that privatization, but also costs. Here, the benefits are terrific, and this happens to be a cost that is both unnecessary and improper.
Olney, Md.: Marc, I'm glad you brought up liquor sales in MoCo again. While many of the "nanny" laws and regulations in MoCo are understandable from a public health perspective, their meddling in alcohol sales is pure profit- and power-grabbing. At least I have family in NoVa, so I can send them a "gift" of whatever single-malt scotch MoCo doesn't carry, or whatever wine I want for which they charge twice the online price.
The county's liquor monopoly and the tolerance of drunken driving by our state legislature AND judiciary are the biggest governmental embarrassments on my otherwise progressive home turf.
Marc Fisher: Maryland's relatively lax approach to drunk driving seems like it's starting to change. But the MoCo liquor sales situation is one of those historic anomalies that is likely to stick around for a long time---bureaucratic infrastructures are hard to dismantle.
Washington, D.C.: I thought your blog from yesterday was very interesting, and very sad. I am African American but in no way would I condone nor apologize for Roy Pearson's behavior. His is a petulant, boorish position that mocks the justice system he supposedly stood for.
But it's the comments by other African Americans in the blog that steam me up. To ascribe specific behaviors to an ethnic group, in this case Koreans, is racist, pure and simple. I don't like it when people make generalizations about African Americans and believe me I've heard them all. So how can it be acceptable for people of any color to bandy about hurtful stereotypes like the ones on display in the blog and elsewhere?
I don't think the stain on Roy Pearson's pants is the issue here. It's the chip he can't seem to get off his shoulder.
washingtonpost.com: D.C.'s Black-Korean Dynamic: A Simmering Tension ( Raw Fisher, June 20)
Marc Fisher: Nicely said, and I hope your position on this is more representative than some of the uglier bits in yesterday's discussion on the big blog. But actually, that discussion was by and large a good one, and it brought me a little bit closer to figuring out the antipathy in that ethnic relationship (rivalry?) The persistent stories about poor service or unfriendly relations between Korean merchants and black customers were balanced to some extent by tales of very good relations along those same lines, but something is going on here, and part of it is the traditional and inevitable tension between low-income communities and the entrepreneurs who do business in their neighborhoods. But is there more to it than that?
Re: Blacks versus Koreans: Marc, I suspect you're right about the conflict being rooted in behavioral mores. How difficult is it for people in any culture to step outside of the framework of their culture and give people from a different culture the benefit of the doubt, instead of automatically confusing different behavioral mores with hostility or rudeness?
Marc Fisher: That is hard indeed, and the confrontation is exacerbated by stark contrasts in class. It's fascinating to see how the cast of ethnic groups changes in cities over time, yet the same kinds of conflicts persist.
Washington, D.C.: Very large chain-link fence cages are going up around the courthouse, with slats through the links to block the view of whoever is being held. Any idea what's going on?
Marc Fisher: Which courthouse?
Gaithersburg, Md.: So, now that Snyder owns Clark Productions, what will he do next? Plaster the Redskins' logo on the New Year's Eve ball? Or maybe replace the ball with Gibbs ... ?
Marc Fisher: There's a fun list of likely next events on the front of today's Style section--replacing the American Bandstand dancers with Hogettes, for example. Check it out.
Clifton, Va.: Just FYI the Baltimore City PD has run out of navy uniform pants in sizes 36 and 38. Coincidence I don't think so. I bet some of Baltimore's finest have been patronizing dry cleaners in the hopes their pants will be lost and then can sue for millions just like the admin judge!
Marc Fisher: You'd be amazed how many emails I got from people who wanted to hire Roy Pearson to represent them in their gripes with their dry cleaners. I kid you not.
G'bug home/SW D.C. work: Marc,
I took pictures of Thomas Moran's "Stages of Life" (4 paintings) at Nat'l Gallery of Art last summer with a guard present and did not get in any trouble. I have seen security guards at the (former) DOT entrance to L'Enfant Plaza Metro stop tourists from taking pictures of the actual metro sign, but not of the fountain. I've seen guards inside metro stop tourists from video recording and taking pictures several times. Many of these people have never seen such deep escalators and love to take pix from top and bottom, but are told not to.
Marc Fisher: That's what's so maddening about this whole thing--there's no consistency to any of this stuff. So even if there were any merit to these restrictions on photography, people would naturally come to believe that the security guards are just deep into a power play and that the rules are meant primarily to harass the ordinary citizen.
washingtonpost.com: American Grandstand, A Dan Snyder Production ( Post, June 21)
Washington, D.C.: The Silver Spring issue reminded me of a book I read a few years ago called City of Quartz. It talked about the reorganization of Los Angeles public space such as city blocks into private space such as enclosed shopping areas, which had the consequence of allowing the private owners of the latter spaces to pick and choose who "ought" not be there (i.e., not the homeless, low-income, shady-looking). I find this lesson applies perfectly here. Police are accountable to everyone, particularly taxpayers. Security guards are accountable to their bosses/boards/shareholders. I think such private-public enterprises need to be entered into with careful consideration for the public interest and who might be harmed by them.
Marc Fisher: That's a great book, really captures the odd, centerless and balkanized nature of LA and its sprawling suburbs. I wish I shared your conviction that these various players are all accountable. They certainly ought to be, but too many public-private partnerships are structured expressly to insulate themselves from public criticism, accountability or view.
Some other place: Why not put up signs, "Please do not take pictures." Americans like signs.
Why not hire photogs to take pictures for folks instead of "security" harassing people for doing innocent things?
Marc Fisher: You mean have the managers of a mall or shopping center put photographers out on the street to offer to take photos for folks who want to take pics themselves? Odd. Well, I suppose there might be a market for it, but my impression is that most people who take pictures in public places are doing it for the fun and art of taking the picture as much for the having of the image later on.
Which courthouse:: D.C. Courthouse -- cages are on C Street and another just went up on D
Marc Fisher: Renovation? Anybody know?
Alexandria, Va.: Hi Marc!
Not sure if this is your area but here goes:
Are there any rules for how late the mail can be delivered? I live in a single family home in Seminary Valley in Alexandria and our mail keeps coming later and later, arriving now around 6:00 p.m. I work from home so I keep missing a 'business day' since the mail arrives so late. I realize the post office is strapped and still think the price of a stamp is a bargain but a 6:00 p.m. delivery time is unreasonable.
Marc Fisher: Six p.m. doesn't strike me as particularly late, but maybe that's because where I used to live, the mail generally came between 6 and 8 p.m. and where I live now, it usually arrives in the late afternoon. What time are you expecting it to arrive? I've never lived anywhere where the mail came before 2 p.m. Is there some target delivery time? I just assumed it was supposed to get there by dark.
Berryville, Va.: It's wrong for that lady to dress her monkey in diapers. At five months old, he's an adolescent now.
Maybe the Chungs could give her that pair of pants ...
Marc Fisher: Nah, they're not the monkey's. The monkey doesn't wear cuffs, ever.
Re: Monkey Business: What about capuchins that are used as 'helpers' for disabled individuals? Is this lawsuit opening the door to MoCo penalizing them?
Marc Fisher: I heard that defense on Chris Core's show this morning. I don't know--aren't there other animals that are more traditionally used as helpers? I would imagine that just as there are exceptions allowing seeing-eye dogs to enter buildings from which other pets are barred, similar exceptions could be made for animals being used as helpers.
Washington, D.C.: Please give a Yay to the ruling that the Maryland woman does not get to keep her monkey. I know neither the woman nor the monkey involved, but I do know that monkey are social creatures and it is mean to keep one as a pet. I wish the monkey a good life and that the woman would get a life.
Marc Fisher: I'm with you, but from what I've been hearing, an awful lot of folks side with the woman and The Man in the Yellow Hat.
Chicago, Ill.: Just FYI on Chicago's Millennium Park, since another poster mentioned it, I've taken tons of photos there and never had a problem. Yes the park has private security goons, but no they won't stop you from taking pictures.
Marc Fisher: Another voice from the Windy City.
Arlington, Va.: Folks have cellphones with cameras still and video. How do you know they aren't taking pixs or video? This will become a big issue one day soon in DOD when John Doe either a DOD employee or military member is convicted of espionage and he sent everything to the enemy via photos from his phone. It is happening right now in Fed got with classified info we just haven't found out about yet!
Marc Fisher: The ubiquity of cellphone cameras is probably the public's best defense against silly rules like the one in downtown Silver Spring. When everyone has a camera and is using them, enforcement becomes an impossibility.
Silver Spring to Chicago: I live in downtown Silver Spring and just came back from Chicago. Never thought to take pictures in downtown SS but DID take pictures in Millennium Park in Chicago. No photographer was being prevented from doing so. From the earlier poster's link:
"The city (Chicago) has a license agreement with the artists to be the sole authorized seller of merchandise with Millennium Park images, and that's why they've been targeting professional photographers in the park and stores trying to sell note cards with Bean images on them."
That's different than stopping tourists from taking pictures.
Marc Fisher: Ah, good distinction--thanks.
Herndon, Va.: Re. O'Malley's New York vacation ... all I can say is good for him for taking his son on a fishing trip. He should be applauded for making his relationship with his son a priority. There are a lot of "absent" moms and dads in the world these days (even when the parents are still married) -- they should take a lesson.
Marc Fisher: Good point.
Arlington, Va.: Marc, after your blog posting about the horror of wind chimes (WIND CHIMES!), I wanted to revisit your opposition to public smoking bans. According to the American Cancer Society second-hand smoke causes an estimated 35,000 deaths annually (heart attacks brought on by the effects of the smoke), 3,400 annual lung cancer deaths (non-smokers remember), and countless other lung diseases. Public bans are not nannyism, I actually do not care about the people who choose to put that crap in their system, I just don't want my right to marginally healthful air to be ignored.
Marc Fisher: Here's the difference: I don't like wind chimes. While I would personally love it if they were banned, a legal ban on wind chimes would be silly. They are relatively harmless, if annoying as all get out. So it is with smoking in bars and restaurants: It's clearly annoying, and some of us would love to see it banned, but there are plenty of places that don't allow it and it makes no sense to ban the practice from those places that enjoy having smoke-filled rooms. In both cases, the market handles the situation reasonably well. You and I can agitate against smoking in bars or putting wind chimes on houses, and maybe if we make our case well, those practices will go into a steep decline.
Washington, D.C.: A bit surprised you haven't been asked to chime in on the sippy cup incident at National. Are TSA/MPDC officers in the right to ask the mother to 'cleaning up your own mess'? And even made video from the security camera available to the public?
Marc Fisher: I'm not sure anyone's hands are entirely clean in that mess. Judging from the video, the woman wasn't exactly Miss Sunshine and Politeness and the guards weren't being terribly customer-friendly. It's a tense situation at the security counters these days, and the guards seem to be trained to jack up the tensions rather than make any effort to move people through courteously.
Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: So, Mayor Fenty tried to kill me this morning. That may be a little over dramatic, but we certainly had a close call with hizzoner's motorcade this morning that was totally unnecessary.
We were heading west on Constitution, stopped at the light at 15th Street. As we waited for the light, a motorcade passed us going west on Constitution using the east bound lanes to go around stopped traffic -- a lead police car, four or five large busses and a trailing police car. By the time the chase police car cleared the intersection, the light for us had been green for a while, so traffic in our lanes started through the intersection. Enter the Mayor heading east on Constitution, blowing through a red light, cutting in front of moving traffic. There was no way to see or hear him around the other motorcade, we had a green light, he had a red one, and we missed him by an eyelash.
Why? What on earth is so important that he needs to risk my life? It was just an outrageously stupid maneuver. Perhaps in the interest of safety Fenty could push the City Council to create motorcade lanes like they had in Moscow, so he can freely move about town without hindrance from the proletariat.
In sum, I'd rather have my Mayor safely ensconced in a hotel room with a pipe, or traipsing around the globe, than out on my streets actively trying to harm me.
Marc Fisher: I love the fact that Fenty is a go-anywhere, anytime kind of mayor--everywhere I go in the city, I hear people talking with admiration about how this mayor shows up to their community meetings and listens to what people have to say.
That said, the guy needs to stop acting like he's some foreign potentate getting his kicks riding around town in a fancy motorcade. Unless somebody's been shot and the mayor is carrying the EMT to the scene, he should obey the same traffic laws and sit in the same traffic that the rest of us have to deal with. Gov. Jon Corzine might actually believe that now.
Marc Fisher: Just in: We are now NOT expecting a verdict in the $54 million pants case today. Not clear why the judge is taking this long to issue her ruling, but there you have it.
Rockville, Md.: Re: D.C. Senators
Not a constitutional scholar, but I believe you can argue that the original intent was that the House represents the peoples' interests while the Senate represents the States' interests, so it's more important to have the House vote. (Of course, the direct election of Senators amendment made this distinction moot.)
Marc Fisher: Nice point.
Olney, Md.: I am absolutely appalled at the Silver Spring photo situation and Gary Stith's concession to private ownership. If it is private, then my taxes for police/fire, trash, road maintenance, and other county support can be ceased ... let the "private" owners bear the burden of protecting their own interests. I grew up in SS -- it was public then, and remains so. Peterson wants our money? Let them earn it, and not insult us.
Marc Fisher: That is indeed the part of this that is most galling. If you've ever been out there on a Friday or Saturday night, you see a large and expensive--and effective--county police presence. I don't care what the inside arrangement is between the county and the developer--that extensive use of county resources renders downtown Silver Spring a public space, and it ought therefore to operate by the same rules that govern any other downtown.
What about photography: of a private place from a public location? Why don't Enquirer type photogs get arrested?
I was yelled at once by a security guard for taking a photo while standing on the public sidewalk, of a cemetery in Georgetown. He said he'd call the cops if I didn't leave. I was on the sidewalk.
Marc Fisher: He's just harassing you. You have every right to do what you were doing.
Washington, D.C.: I was with a bird watching group that was stopped by park police in Anacostia Park, presumably because we had binoculars within sight of the Navy Yard. We were in a park!
Marc Fisher: It's outta control!
Silver Spring, Md.: If "the man" is supposedly taking away fliers and not allowing other "public" activities in Silver Spring, "the man" is doing a poor job of it. I don't think I've ever walked down there without a flyer being shoved into my hand or asked to take part in a survey. I'm sure you will see that photos will be allowed downtown after your article. What next?
Marc Fisher: I wish I shared your confidence that one article in the paper would force a change of policy. I don't.
Okay Everyone: Photography class field trip to downtown Silver Spring this weekend. Be there.
Marc Fisher: That kind of action, on the other hand, might.
Rockville, Md.: Marc, you know those annoying Comcast high-speed Internet commercials where people get some sort of liquid out of the modem cable and then proceed to do things really fast? I noticed the commercials don't seem to have those "Do not attempt, this is not reality" disclaimers. Therefore, under Judge Pearson's world-view, I should be able to sue Comcast that their product does not allow me to clean my dishes in seconds as implied, right?
Marc Fisher: Yes, you are morally required to sue. Please let me know how the case goes.
Glover Park, Washington, D.C.: The D.C. government is pondering a number of public-private partnerships. In our neighborhood, the city apparently partnered with Georgetown University to upgrade the baseball field at Guy Mason Rec Center. It's a big improvement: huge lights for outdoor games, new dugouts with benches, new bleachers, and a repaired fence to keep the baseballs for hitting toddlers on the adjacent playground. Only problem: the field appears to be locked anytime that Georgetown's teams or the various Little League teams aren't using it. This prevents everyone else from using a public resource. My two little kids love to play wiffleball and run around those bases, but the field is inaccessible unless someone forgets to padlock the dugouts. What kind of public-private partnership locks the public out?
Marc Fisher: Oh, that's bad news indeed! I have no problem with private entities agreeing to maintain or improve public facilities, or even with those private entities being granted some favorable use of the facility in exchange--there are sports leagues and camps around the area that maintain parks in exchange for access to fields at certain times--but such arrangements must not be permitted to become private takeovers of public places. Public access must remain the absolute requirement for parks, fields and the like.
Washington, D.C.: I've been having a heck of a time getting my passport renewed. Though it looks like my story will have a happy ending (it is in the overnight mail), I think I have suffered a lot of emotional distress from having to wait so long, and anxiety about missing my trip. Think I can sue the State Department? And if so, should I get the Pants Judge to represent me? After all, when I applied their website said it would take 8-10 weeks and this turned out to be untrue ... maybe I should wait for the verdict before deciding whether to hire the PJ!
Marc Fisher: I'm afraid you have no choice but to sue. I suggest $75 million. And please devote the next four years of your life to fighting the case.
Baltimore, Md.: Re capuchins as helper animals: They are widely used for that task, being small, smart and, unlike dogs, able to carry things in their hands, not their mouths. A very funny episode of The Simpsons had Homer turning a capuchin helper monkey into a slothful replica of his overfed, drunken self.
A helper animal is, of course not the same as a pet, but monkeys are capable of forming very strong bonds with people -- shared DNA and all that.
Marc Fisher: Widely used? I'm sure you're right, but I've never seen it.
Monkeys as "aides": Best Helping Hands ( Reader's Digest, May)
Marc Fisher: Thanks.
Arlington, Va.: One reason why Metro works in D.C. is because (1) companies are within a reasonable walking distance of the Metro stop (Farragut West/North, Metro Center, etc.), (2) parking is EXPENSIVE in the downtown central business district, and (3) lunch options as well as places like CVS are in a reasonable walking distance.
I think Tysons corner(Va) and Reston fail on all three accounts. I think few people will take the Metro to work except for those reverse commuters (generally with lower paying jobs) who cannot afford a car. I bet if you asked them they would be happy enough with a rapid bus transit. And between you and me if parking were free at my D.C. company I would probably be driving to work despite #1 and #3.
Marc Fisher: But that's an easy fix--jack up parking fees and put some of the receipts toward paying for transit and transit-related amenities, narrow the streets in the central Tysons area, and create tax incentives for non-chain businesses to locate there.
Franconia, Va.: Marc -- wind chimes and trans fats don't slowly kill people who don't use them. If I am in a bar with smokers around, then some of what they are smoking will be ingested by me. My alternative is not to breathe.
This sounds like an infringement when the actions of others directly infringe upon my health and well-being.
Marc Fisher: You have a better alternative: Go to one of the many bars and eateries that choose to be non-smoking to cater to the great many customers who prefer that setting.
McLean, Va.: So, if a capuchin monkey wearing a $64 million pair of pants tried to take a picture of a Korean dry cleaner in the Ellsworth Drive area of Silver Spring, would it be a news story even if the Korean dry cleaner was able to buy Virginia wine via the Internet?
Marc Fisher: ThreadWeaver of the Day Award Winner!
Marc Fisher: That kicks things in the head for today. Stay tuned for pants suit verdict, perhaps still to come this week, though maybe the judge's guidance wasn't quite right.
More coming in the Post and here on the big site on Sunday, and there's always more on the big blog. Thanks for coming along.
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