Thursday, July 17, 2008; 12:00 PM
Potomac Confidential fills the midday lull with discussion by Metro columnist Marc Fisher who looks at the latest news with a rigorous slicing and dicing of the issues that define who we are and where we live.
Today's Column: D.C. Tries to Finesse Gun Ruling
Fisher was online Thursday, July 17 at 11:30 a.m. ET to look at the latest on the Prince George's County jail murder, great ways to view the fireworks on the Fourth, and the impact of $4 gas on car sales.
Check out Marc's blog, Raw Fisher.
Archives: Discussion Transcripts
Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks--as we hurtle toward the halfway point in school summer vacations, we're just now hitting the true heat of the season. My A/C bill thanks the gods for the relatively mild summer.
But mild is entirely the wrong adjective for this summer's news menu, which has been quite spicy, this week including the fallout from the Supreme Court's D.C. gun ban ruling, as the District now seeks to cling to as much of its ban as possible despite the court's clear rejection of the local law. Can you spell lawsuit? Today's column takes a look.
Montgomery County council members seem eager to maintain their reputation for regulating many aspects of life that somehow manage to go unfettered in the rest of the country. Now, in addition to unusual restrictions on smoking, trans fats and the sale of liquor, the county is adding a nanny law, a measure that will require county residents to enter into written contracts with nannies and other domestic workers. Is this necessary, good, intrusive?
The District's dispute with the Washington Nationals gets uglier and uglier, with the D.C. Council now threatening to jack up sales taxes on items sold at the ballpark in retaliation for the Nats refusing to pay their rent on the stadium.
On to your many comments and questions, but first, let's call the Yay and Nay of the Day:
Yay to D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty for finally delivering on the quiet promise he had made to many children's advocates in the city to get rid of the chief of the city's Child and Family Services agency, Sharlynn Bobo. Fenty yesterday announced that Bobo had "resigned," but given the mayor's fairly open pledge to sack Bobo, it's clear that she was forced out. And about time, as the agency continues to demonstrate its inability to cope with accusations of child abuse in a fair and reasonable manner. The wild swings of the pendulum from not doing enough, to acting in an unthinking, undiscerning manner as the office was flooded with reports of potential abuse following the Banita Jacks tragedy, were strong evidence of a lack of competent leadership.
Nay to Food and Friends, the charity that provides meals and other services to AIDS and cancer patients around the Washington area. Fighting a financial shortfall by cutting services, the charity nonetheless is paying its chief, Craig Shniderman, a stunning $357,000 in salary and benefits, as The Post's Philip Rucker reports today. The inability of a top-shelf charity like Food & Friends to see how deeply wrong that is demonstrates once again the disconnect between those who run some charities and the people they serve. Devoting your life to serving those in need should not necessarily mean committing yourself to a life of poverty, but neither should it be an opportunity to get massively rich.
Your turn starts right now....
Arlington, Va.: Dear Marc -- great column today. I have to question, though, your implicit (if not explicit) suggestion that Congress should not exercise its constitutional authority over the District under these remarkable circumstances, whatever its motives might be. This issue is far different than the taxicab flap. The District is thumbing its nose at the highest court in the land instead of heeding its clear mandate on an issue of constitutional law. I find that highly offensive, and the District deserves to be slapped down. Plus, I would much rather see Congress put the kebosh on this quickly than to see years of litigation that will likely result in the federal courts further restricting the ability of states to regulate guns.
washingtonpost.com: D.C. Tries to Finesse Gun Ruling (Post, July 17)
Marc Fisher: Thanks--ok, let's assume for the moment that the District government is outrageously thumbing its nose at the Supreme Court and is seeking to circumvent or undermine what the court majority decreed to be the law of the land. In every state in the nation, the remedy would be simple: Either the state legislature would revise the law in such a way as to satisfy the court, or lawsuits would be filed and the courts would eventually force the state to comply with the law.
Why should the District's response to the gun ruling be handled any differently? Just because Congress retains control over the city's budget should not be an invitation to the lords of the Hill to toss aside the city's duly elected mayor and council members and impose their own solutions. I don't see how this is any different from the taxi fare case--in both instances, members of Congress who otherwise declare themselves to be protectors of democracy decide instead to impose their whim on half a million Americans. What's fair and right about that?
Kensington, Md.: Good points re: D.C. asking for a suit on gun policy. As a gun owner -- hand and long arms -- I fully agree with the efforts the District is making to control things and acknowledge the futility thereof. Having said that, they are clearly going to get sued and they will likely lose again.
But the real point is the hypocritical idiot on the SC who wrote that opinion in the first place. This is the guy who claims the Constitution is inviolate but then interprets it with clear political, not constitutional, intent. He claims that holding individuals accused of terrorism absent habeas corpus is okay because without doing so Americans might die, and then tells us that its okay that more Americans die if it is because we have a right to firearms in our homes. This guy may come from Brooklyn but he's a mental wuss even so. Whoops, I forgot to ask a question here...
Marc Fisher: Nice rant, but the bottom line is that Scalia wrote the majority opinion and the majority of the court made it clear that the District's gun ban violates the Second Amendment. For the city now to try to come up with clever ways to keep its ban in force is hardly within the spirit of the ruling, and likely won't turn out to meet the letter of the law either. Fenty is surely right that a majority of D.C. residents liked our gun ban, but do those voters want him to spend lots and lots of their tax dollars fighting a quixotic battle to keep as much of the ban intact as possible?
Arlington, Va.: What would happen if Heller basically said to D.C., I have a gun in my home, do something about it and I'll sue you for enough to make you cry. Why is D.C. wasting its limited budgets on such a worthless fight?
Obviously they aren't hurt too much by the Nats lack of payments if they can afford to waste money like this.
Marc Fisher: I have no direct knowledge, but I'd bet you a nice lunch that Heller is gearing up to do exactly that even as we type.
washingtonpost.com: Turnout Low on First Day of Handgun Registration (Post, July 1)
Not again!: Why on earth is your paper running a 12-part series about the disappearance of Chandra Levey? Sure, I feel sorry for her family, but come on. If The Post wants to do something, why don't they select a number of unsolved cases of people whose families were not rich and could get lots of publicity?
Marc Fisher: I have no inside knowledge of why the Levy story was chosen as the topic for a year-long investigation, but obviously such stories are selected because the reporters and editors do some preliminary reporting and decide that a long look is likely to produce some revealing truths about systemic problems that the community should be aware of. In this case, the emphasis of the investigation is on how the police botched the probe into the Levy killing. I have no problem with going back to a prominent and highly public case and using that as a way to examine larger problems in a police department that has been plagued for many years by unusually low clearance rates on homicides.
Sure, they could have chosen some far less prominent case to examine, but that would reduce readership and would likely be less revealing of the systemic issues: After all, if a department can't get the big, highly public cases right, that doesn't bode well for the handling of run of the mill cases, does it?
But here's another reader's view on the series:
washingtonpost.com: Who Killed Chandra Levy?
Arlington, Va.: I'm getting that feeling like I did during the Olympics in past years. You're only through the fifth day, but already you can see the end. You grow nostalgic and saddened because you are witnessing greatness day-after-day, and it just cannot last. When the Chandra Levy series ends after seven more installments, I'll be so saddened as silliness like McCain's misstatements about the world and Obama's steps to help move away from the Bush administration's mistakes will force their way back into my newspaper. Until then, alas...
Marc Fisher: I love the serial form. When I was working as an editor of Page One features for The Post in the 90s, I commissioned several serials--they're fun to read and certainly much easier to digest if you're leading the busy lives that so many of us do these days. I prefer much shorter installments than this series is offering, but that's just my taste.
Charity Pay: I have no problem with non-profit execs getting paid market rate. But that needs to be based on the size of the budget and staff managed.
If a CEO is making over $350k he better be doing fundraising that brings in over $100 million and over seeing a staff of at least 100.
Marc Fisher: Well, the charity boss in this case doesn't come close to that level that you propose, so I guess that doesn't make his pay market rate--the independent charity watchdog quoted in the news story also concludes that this level of pay is way out of line.
Bethesda, Md.: This isn't the first time that a 'charitable' organization somehow didn't understand that a huge salary for its chief executive is just bizarrely inappropriate. Isn't it obvious? Am I missing something?
Marc Fisher: Seems obvious to me, but I've heard board members of all sorts of non-profits make the argument that they "have to" pay huge salaries because the other guys in their field are doing the same and otherwise they wouldn't be able to draw top-shelf talent. It's a bogus argument, especially in the non-profit world, where many enormously talented people choose to work at far more modest pay levels than their talents would attract in the for-profit sector.
Washington: Sorry, I can't participate today in your silly on-line event today. In fact, I could not even bother to look at your column today for any substance after your naive and insulting piece last week. The whole libraries question is about management effectiveness, corruption, and transparency in DC Government. Yet you criticize voters and taxpayers and elected ANC commissioners who actually live in those neighborhood where libraries have been closed for years "neighborhood agitators."
I get it now. You are truly speaking as a self-appointed an elite who is in favor of West End-like instant surplussing deals of vital fire stations and libraries where the "decision" is conducted on short (<24 hours) notice, ordered up as "emergency" by a likely corrupt Deputy Mayor who did not disclose he owns an investment condo across the street, and with no community input, under cloak of darkness the day before a national Holiday at Wilson where no video record even exists, and for a pre-selected developer-friend of the Ward Council member, also with not one stitch of financial or policy analysis conducted as required by law provided by the executive on the record.
Mr. Fisher, you do know what is good for DC better than me, surely. You take it from here and run things, sir. I have already cancelled my Post subscription.
Marc Fisher: Thanks for the kind words. I actually wrote at the time opposing the District's attempt to declare a phony emergency and make a quick deal with a developer on that West End library project. I liked the developer's plan and love the idea of a public-private partnership at that location, but there was no emergency and the D.C. government knew it.
In the case of the Tenley dispute you mention, there cannot be any credible claim of lack of community input. The city has given residents all manner of forums for discussing the plans for that library, and in that very active community, people have taken great advantage of all those forums. The mayor ended up deciding to buck opposition from a small and vocal group of anti-development neighbors--which is entirely in keeping with his campaign promise to do exactly that in exactly that neighborhood.
D.C. Library Patron: I was delighted with everything I read about proposed changes to the D.C. Public Library System until I came to the recommendation that patrons be allowed to consume food and beverages in libraries. No no no, a thousand times no! Whoever heard of such a thing? It would not only badly affect the ambiance, but increase costs of the cleaning crew and, most importantly, reduce the life span of books when people, especially children but adults as well, spilled food and drinks on them.
Please tell me you mistyped on this. While we're at it, why not also encourage kids to run around screaming like banshees?
Marc Fisher: I was initially entirely with you on the food and drink issue, but then D.C. libraries director Ginnie Cooper made a terrific point, explaining to me that she has been encouraging the city's librarians to accept the idea of food and drink in the libraries because, after all, when customers take books home from the library, they are most certainly reading those books while munching on all sorts of crumb-producing foodstuffs, so what's the difference where that potentially damaging behavior is occurring?
Moreover, the libraries must now compete with the mega-bookstores, all of which contain coffee shops and eateries. So while I still agree with you that libraries need to be quiet places, I don't see much harm in letting people sip tea while reading.
Arlington, Va.: Marc, I was in shock when I read the Murky Coffee story on the front of the Post's Web page. Not because of the story, but because The Post actually chose to write about and publish it in a high traffic area. It is basically a story about a retail dispute and I fail to see how the event, even if someone blogs about it later is newsworthy.
washingtonpost.com: Espresso, Extra Bitter (Post, July 17)
Marc Fisher: Why would a retail dispute not be a fascinating and important news story? Why is a retail dispute any less interesting or important than a dispute among neighbors, or between branches of government? This particular tale is a delightful insight into cultural norms--who gets to decide what is proper to eat or drink, the consumer or the shopkeeper who fancies himself an expert on his wares? This story gets right at one of the biggest and most important shifts in our society today, as we struggle over the meaning and role of authority in media, education, government and, yes, retailing. Who gets to be in charge? Who decides? Great questions, and a great story to get people thinking about the answers.
Baltimore, Md.: Re the salary for the Food and Friends exec: I am not sure if his compensation is still the same, but a year or so ago the Newshour had an interview with the CEO of Costco who said that he was paid $350,000. He had made it a rule that he would earn only X per cent more per year than the lowest salaried employee. Given the size and complexity of warehouse retailing, it was the equivalent of working for peanuts. It made me a Costco fan over Sam's Club, that's for sure.
washingtonpost.com: Chief's Pay Criticized As Charity Cuts Back (Post, July 17)
Marc Fisher: There are a number of companies that subscribe to that formula for determining executive pay, and it seems both fair and equitable. Sadly, it's a tiny minority of businesses that take such a transparent and reasonable path.
Washington, D.C.: Marc,
Let me make sure I understand today's Post. The Lerner's are refusing to pay rent, and the city's solution to this is to suggest looking into raising the sales tax at the stadium so the fans are the ones making up the difference. Are they purposefully trying to alienate the team's fan base? This just seems like a horrible strategy that will cause revenue to decrease because it will discourage people from going to a game.
washingtonpost.com: With Rent Unpaid, D.C. May Raise Ballpark Sales Tax (Post, July 17)
Marc Fisher: Sure, it's an outrageous solution to an outrageous problem, but I wouldn't get all hot and bothered about it because it's most likely merely a stunt, an attempt to use the possibility of a jacked-up sales tax to foment exactly the kind of public reaction that you are providing, in order to push the Lerners back to a more reasonable position on the rental payments for the stadium. The team owners play hardball, and it's nice for once to see the city returning the favor.
Nats Park: Up the sales tax? Doesn't that hurt the fans? So let me get this straight. We paid for the stadium and now we have to suffer because all these idiots can't get together? The Lerners are cheap people and I'm starting to believe this team will always be horrible.
Marc Fisher: I'm not sure the root of the problem is that the Lerners are cheap so much as it is that they have long used tactics in their shopping center and residential businesses that work just fine in the more private world of development, but that look overbearing and ugly in the very public world of owning a sports franchise.
I don't see much evidence to support the notion that the Nats will always stink. To the contrary, the Lerners have invested big time in the minor league and scouting systems of the team, with a big payoff as the ranking of the team's prospects has shot up from the absolute bottom to the top ranks of baseball. The legitimate question is how long can and should the owners let the major league product be this horribly bad before they end up alienating the potential fan base? And that's where I and a lot of others think the team is being a little too cavalier. Bringing in a couple of Soriano level stars would make a big difference without undermining the more important effort to build from the bottom up.
Washington, D.C.: Marc,
The Nats permanantly lost me as a ticket buyer with their draconian rule on outside drinks. My wife was ordered to empty her pockets becuase she had my daughter's sippy cup in it and they assumed she was trying to smuggle in some illicit soda, then they literally patted me down because I wouldn't take off my jacket so they could search for more illegal drinks. They wouldn't even let me carry in my son's water bottle because I already had mine in hand, and as they made quite clear to me, only 1 per person. IF this is their idea of a family friendly event, I think I'll stick with the O's.
Marc Fisher: You must have come upon an overzealous security officer. You are very much allowed to bring in outside food and drink, and indeed, there are now some very good carts selling stuff outside the park for you to bring on inside. We do this every time we go and we've never had a problem bringing in that food or the bottles of water that we carry in.
You take it from here and run things, sir. I have already canceled my Post subscription. : This guy is always threatening to stop reading and cancel his subscription. Why doesn't he do it already?
Marc Fisher: Because he has to come back and see if we're using his posts here on the big show, and he can't write those posts unless he's read the paper to know what to rant about. I feel for the guy because he's caught in that catch-22.
If one-hundredth of the folks who say they're cancelling their subscription ever did so, this and all other newspapers would have gone out of business decades ago.
Washington, D.C.: Re the library ranter: How odd that he or she said "I can't participate" online and then, uh, did exactly that. I hope your new publisher and editor don't realize you have this amazing power to get people to cancel subscriptions simply by writing a column! Better rethink that buyout decision, Marc.
Marc Fisher: The same people who say they will never again join us here on the show are usually the ones who write in a couple of days later to question why their latest comment was not used in the latest chat.
Arlington, Va.: Marc, I work at the Pentagon. When the abyssmal 9,000 households watching Nats' broadcasts came out, I took it upon myself to poll family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers as to their viewing habits. I also approached people in the Pentagon cafeterias and parking lots. After 10 days, I now have a list of over 1150 households, with names and prtial addresses, who claim to listen regularly to the games. That's more than 10 percent of the purported total! Of course we don't listen to all of them; we take vacations, have to work late, or perhaps go to the games in person. But we do see most of them.
Do you think Bud Selig would be interested in my research?
Marc Fisher: He might--but are you using "listen" to mean "watch" the TV casts, or are some of your survey participants listening on the radio, because one theory I have about those wildly low TV viewing numbers is that more fans are listening to the radio 'casts of the games because the Nats' radio team is so much better than the TV team.
In any event, even if the ratings numbers are not quite accurate, the bottom line is that the TV audience for the Nats games is low, and the team acknowledges that that is a problem and they are very much interested in exploring new ways to teach non-fans about the game and expand the pool of people who follow the Nats. Of course, a successful team is the best way to accomplish that, but a more aggressive education campaign could help too, especially considering the 33-year gap in Washington's baseball history.
Section 128, Row H: I'm well aware of the general incompetence of the D.C. government in matters large and small. That said, I have no sympathy for the Lerners. I've spent close to $1000 on ball games at Nationals Park this year on a team that has the worst record in MLB. I can just as easily cut that expense to $0 next year. Another fan posing as an empty seat. Time to change the curly W into a curly L. Lerners or Losers, what's the difference?
Marc Fisher: I'd love to see the team do better; that said, the team's record has little or no impact on how much I enjoy going to the games. Of course, I grew up in the Bronx as a Yankee fan during the CBS era, when the team was dependably awful and the stadium was nearly always empty, so allegiance to a truly bad team is deeply engrained in my soul.
Food and Friends : I am in the wrong business. Who knew charity work paid so well? I'm going to quit my law firm job.
Marc Fisher: Take a spin through guidestar.org sometime and look at the stratospheric salaries many charities pay their bosses. It will make you think twice about your donations. Luckily, there are also many charities that are much less arrogant about their use of your money.
Rockville, Md.: In D.C., does 357,000 (salary plus benefits) really equal massively rich? Okay, Schneiderman makes more than directors of charities, but how does his salary match up to presidents or CEOs of similar-sized for-profits?
I used to work in non-profits, but eventually I wanted to have a family and feed them. It's always p'd me off that nobody blinks if a basketball player makes $11 million a year, but somebody making his living in a charity gets slammed for making as-good a living as he could in the for-profit world.
Marc Fisher: Why should the head of any non-profit make the obscene incomes that chiefs of for-profit companies make? Since non-profits generally depend on the kindness and devotion of people who are voluntarily giving their money to help others, shouldn't all of those dollars be treated as precious and shouldn't as many of them as possible be directed toward the service work of that non-profit? There is no god-given right to get rich off your work.
Arlington, Va.: Re: Food for Friends -- that's just, wow... I work for an international non-profit with about 100 employees, and none of our very hard working senior staff makes anywhere close to that figure. FFF certainly won't be on my short list of organizations to donate to.
Marc Fisher: There's really a full range of pay structures in the non-profit world, with some execs earning next to nothing and others making very nice but not at all obscene salaries. And then there are the outrages.
If one-hundredth of the folks who say they're canceling their subscriptions ever did so, this and all other newspapers would have gone out of business decades ago.: Some of us have. I have to say that I canceled the newspaper about 6-7 years ago and read on-line mainly because I spend a lot of time rooting through trash for recyclables, drive a hybrid, it seems a horrible waste to spend money daily on a consumable paper product that is going to be thrown away within a day or two.
WaPo.com is much more green.
Marc Fisher: You can certainly pat yourself on the back for saving trees by reading us here on the big web site, and we thank you for reading our work, but online readers are also freeloading to some extent, leaving it to our print subscribers to pay for the newsgathering operation. That's unfortunately the way the two business models play out in this very fast-changing media world. It doesn't make it wrong to read news sites online--they're obviously the way of the future--but it does raise an interesting question about how and whether readers ought to participate in paying for the gathering of the news they depend on.
Left non-profits: I left the non-profit world when I figured out that the executive director I worked for -- who, in my not so humble opinion, did very little actual work -- made more than the six staff members combined. And yet the board of directors scratched their collective head over the astronomical stuff turnover rate!
Marc Fisher: Alas, too often, what happens is that the boards confront problems by going out and paying megabucks to a search firm that in turn presses the board to pay even more for a gypsy CEO who has managed to pump up his salary expectations by moving from one high paying non-profit to another. It's an inexorable and disturbing process.
Anonymous: I just read a gripping book left on our share-a-book shelves at work, "The Street Lawyer," by Grisham, which was all about homelessness in D.C. and a small group of lawyers for the homeless working for $30,000 a year. Brilliant, motivated people willing to leave huge salaries and big offices behind to follow their conscience. So, yes, I'm sickened by this Food and Friends story and I will not be giving them another dime.
Like you, I'm not suggesting that advocates for the poor work for so little as $30,000, but his salary is obscene.
Marc Fisher: There is a middle path.
Nanny NIMBY: Care to explain what you meant in your blog post that you do not "believe in" domestic help?
Marc Fisher: Thanks for asking. The writer of washingtonpost.com's parenting blog posed the same question to me this morning, and she'll be discussing this in On Parenting soon. Here's how I replied to Stacey Palosky:
I assumed that comment would strike some as cavalier and others as logical. I have two kids, ages 17 and 12, so we've been dealing with the difficulties of juggling work and child care for many years now, and it doesn't get any easier with teenagers than it was with kindergarteners. But
we've preferred to adjust our work schedules rather than plant the kids with hired staff. Money was also a factor: Even if we had wanted to go the nanny route, it was never something we were able to afford. We've managed through a combination of tactics: We enroll the kids in various
after-school activities, my wife works part-time some days, I work at home some days so that I can do school pick-up, and in the earliest years, we occasionally had a college student handle some of the kid transportation. I
know well that many parents cannot rearrange their work schedules to accommodate schools' odd and inconsistent hours, but we felt it was important not to have our kids grow up with an employee as their main after-school guardian, so to the extent that we could, we tried to
accomplish that--not always successfully, and often with considerable difficulty and sacrifice.
Greenbelt, Md.: I have no objections to the idea of the Chandra Levy series, but the length of the series frustrates me. Some pieces seem too short and choppy. Others are too long and seem unfocused.
I suppose I was just spoiled by the Walter Reed series.
Marc Fisher: Very different animals, and a newspaper should have room for lots of different forms of stories. I think serials work best when the pieces are quite short and written in a very non-traditional manner. But this series is kind of a hybrid, not exactly a serial in the original Dickens-era newspaper tradition, but neither is it an investigative report of the much longer sort that the Post usually publishes.
Washington, D.C.: You say the series was run to examine the deficiencies of the DCPD, but reading the comments, the readers seem to think WaPo has sold out, Dateline style.
Marc Fisher: That happens every time we write about crime. Some people like to believe that a newspaper should restrict itself to writing about government policy, whereas most of us who work here want the paper to reflect the entirety of human behavior, though obviously that's less and less possible in an era of declining resources.
NE Washington, D.C.: I've been vaguely keeping up with the comments around the new gun ban and a common thread is displeasure with the registration process. As there is now a path to legal gun ownership, I'm not sure what's got the posters so riled. Sure, it's a process that smacks of typical bureaucracy, but just like I'd prefer to simply buy a car and start driving, there's a series of tasks that I must complete in order to do so. What have I overlooked?
Marc Fisher: I don't object to the various steps that the District is requiring gun owners to go through to register their weapons. Vision tests and ballistics tests seem reasonable enough, and while there do seem to be a whole lot of visits to gun dealers and the police department in the new registration scheme, we are after all talking about deadly weapons, so some safeguards are called for. But the decision to allow guns to be kept loaded only when a person is in imminent danger seems to be designed solely to render the Supreme Court's decision virtually meaningless. I don't agree with the court's decision, but neither do I think the city ought to refight exactly the same battle--an expensive and cynical proposition.
Arlington, Va.: Hi Marc-thanks for taking my earlier question (the first one you posted). I just wanted to point out in reply that the difference between the District and the states isn't just that Congress retains budgetary authority. Like it or not (and many do not), the Constitution gives Congress plenary power over the District, to be exercised as Congress sees fit. While Congress has given DC some form of home rule, Congress retains the power to review the District's legislation. Ignoring a constitutional command from the nation's highest court sure seems like a good reason to use that power, as opposed to the petty demands of a few congresspeople about taxis.
Marc Fisher: Well, I can't get past the idea that the District's citizens ought to be treated just as people who live in states are treated, and that therefore the normal wheels of democracy ought to be permitted to spin toward a resolution of this matter, without Congress stomping all over the city.
Springfield, Va.: The question is how far D.C. is going to push this? If they keep on this path, they're going to end up like those jurisdictions that tried one cute trick too many to preserve school segregation and white-only voting -- with courts supervising every jot and tittle of their firearms regulations for the next half-century.
Marc Fisher: Could be.
Tenley Resident, D.C.: I say bravo for the mayor going forward with a very creative plan for the library. I am sick and tired of our 4 ANC commissioners and their handful of overbearing sidekicks running around saying they speak for the community. They do not. They speak for themselves and their merry little band of NIMBYs. That ANC has a "study" to look into the development plans. Yet everyone knew from the start what the results would be since the "study" was to be conducted by the loudmouth NIMBYs who think Tenleytown is somewhere out in the countryside. I fully expect the NIMBYs to do all they can to stop the development. It's what they do best - raise a ruckus in order to stop anything from happening.
Marc Fisher: Sounds right to me. Here's another view....
Washington, D.C.: I one thousand percent agree with Washington regarding Tenley. The Post and you have been bulldozing your way through, calling people "anti development" and NIMBY. It's totally insulting, and as always I will fight against that kind of nasty behavior and fight unwanted boondoggles in this great city.
Marc Fisher: But don't public officials have an obligation to take advantage of the enormous investment the taxpayers made in building the Metro system? Isn't there a moral obligation to maximize tax revenues from the properties near a Metro station?
So while I still agree with you that libraries need to be quiet places: Well, maybe not totally quiet. I work in a library and would welcome a little noise. Not screaming banshees, but I'd love to see some interactive stuff going on. A friend of mine works for N.Y. public, doing stuff with teens. If they had to be really quiet I doubt they'd come in.
Marc Fisher: Right--and that's why many new libraries include somewhat separate teen and children's sections where a much higher level of buzz is permitted and even encouraged.
Arlington, Va.: Sorry, Marc, I meant WATCH on TV. I'm still recovering from staying up so late to watch the end of the All Star Game!
Marc Fisher: You made it all the way to the end? 1:37 a.m.? Wow, good for you. I faded after the 13th inning, at 1:07.
Re: Murky Coffee: I have to say in this instance, the one I really feel sorry for is the barista. He is doing his job, and what he has been told to do. If the customer has a problem with that, he should take it up with the manager (and the manager should have stepped in to help the customer find something appropriate while still supporting his staff member).
If the manager treated him to the face the way he talked about him on the Web site, then well, the company deserves what it gets. But the guy behind the counter was trying to carry out his job and serve the customer.
Lots of head-slapping on this one, but the barista seems to have been served poorly and caught between two equally arrogant and obnoxious people -- one whom he works for.
Marc Fisher: Tough spot for the coffee guy. I like the idea of a chef who considers his work to be a performance piece and who therefore wants things his way. I have no stomach for chefs who tell customers that they can have their food however they want it--if you want to dictate how your meal is cooked, that's why your home comes equipped with a kitchen. But I'm not sure that a coffee place rises to the level of a chef preparing a well-planned meal.
Murky Coffee: I'm reminded of the chef at the no longer operating Duke Ziebert's who would come out to tell a customer that he would not cook their steak well-done because he didn't see any point in ruining a perfectly good peice of meat.
Marc Fisher: Good for that chef.
Arlington, Va.: The Murky dispute is actually very interesting and I'm glad post.com put it in such a prominent position.
"He also said some customers have the audacity to order an espresso over ice, then fill the glass with milk at the dairy bar -- creating their own iced latte, at a significant saving."
Likewise, I know many people in this area who go to a restaurant, demand lemon for their ice water, take several wedges, squeeze them out, add in a bit of sugar or sweetener, and voila, the perfect lemonade. Best of all, they didn't have to pay the $3 the stupid restaurant wanted to charge them for one.
Marc Fisher: Again, they have a faucet at home and they can make their own lemonade at their leisure. If you're in someone else's business and their concept of lemonade doesn't comport with yours, seems to me the proper path is to order a Coke and move along.
Confused about new gun law: Are all semiautomatic pistols banned? The "machine gun" law bans guns that can fire more than 12 rounds without reloading, but any pistol can fire more than 12 rounds with a extra long magazine.
Marc Fisher: Yes, the District intends to maintain its ban on semiautomatics, to the great unhappiness of the gun rights advocates who brought the lawsuit in the first place.
Re: allow guns to be kept loaded only when a person is in imminent danger : If you have a feeling you're going to be in imminent danger later that day, can you load your gun in the morning?
Marc Fisher: Apparently not unless you have a note from the bad guy alerting you that he will be invading later that day.
You do not "believe in" domestic help: What about day care? I'd love to have a flexible schedule so I could spend more time with my soon to be born daughter. But, my work refuses to let me even shift my schedule by half an hour so I can pick her up on time. And I have a low profile job basically sitting in isolation working on a computer. I don't know what I'm going to do. Sure, I'm going to look around but that will take lots of time in my field to find something else with a decent salary, especially now with the economy in the tank.
Marc Fisher: It's a hard spot, but soaring gas prices may actually help create more flexible workplace attitudes toward working at home, which of course would give parents the ability to structure their hours around the odd schedules that schools insist on maintaining. The real social problem here is not so much the employers as the schools that cling to 19th century calendars and daily schedules. There's no earthly reason why school schedules shouldn't be rejiggered to come much closer to most people's work schedules.
Let Me Pay for Online: I feel guilty either way. It is bad for the environment to get an actual paper and throw it away everyday. It is bad for The Washington Post for me not to pay for my news. I compromise and get the Sunday-only subscription. If there was anyway to pay for the paper online I would be happy to do so. Put up a box for donations and I would donate. I want to pay but I do not want a pile of papers to drive to the recycle center every week.
Marc Fisher: Indeed, some new media news sites do ask readers for donations, even to for-profit sites. I don't think it's a business model that can sustain a large news operation like The Post, but we may soon see some more experiments in non-profit newsgathering.
Silver Spring, Md.: I'll ask again -- Can we take away Tenleytown's Metro stop? I have Tysons Corner and Fairfax City on the line.
Marc Fisher: On the theory that if they're not using it, someone else might like to? That would be one big moving job.
Stadium Taxes: Marc -- my take on this whole dispute with the Lerners and "substantial completion" is that the city can't admit it's wrong because it would be admitting what a lousy deal it got. Not only did it put $600M of DC taxpayers' money into the project, now it's on the hook for another $3M and growing because it couldn't get the project done on time.
As for an increased ticket tax, isn't that better than having D.C. taxpayers bear yet another burden? The people who go to the stadium are the ones who should pay, not the folks who don't. And if that hurts ticket sales, well that's the Lerners' problem in the end.
Marc Fisher: I don't see how it's a lousy deal for the city--the tax receipts from the stadium are running well ahead of projections and the city is already talking about using that money for new projects, such as a soccer stadium. I don't think they ought to do that, but it's at least an indication that the original theory behind the city-supported stadium is indeed paying off.
Alexandria, Va.: If Nationals Park is not 100 percent finished then why am I paying 100 percent of ticket price? Should I submit my claim for a refund to the Lerners?
Marc Fisher: Sure, and please share any response you might get.
Nationals Park: Sometimes the security at the gate are overzealous (and sometimes underzealous) but I really hate that you can't bring in a personal water bottle, only a one-time use bottle. I'm trying to reduce the number of bottles of water I buy for environmental reasons and prefer to drink water out of my stainless steel bottle. But the Nats wouldn't let me bring in my bottle, even if I poured out the water that was in it (which you could do at RFK). Also, they had no place for me to store my bottle and directed me to leave it by the gate. I was hopping mad, as this was a 100 degree day, and ended up taking Metro back to my office to leave my bottle there and then returned to the game in the 3rd inning to meet friends. I am a partial season ticket holder so I can't vow never to return, but I do vow never to spend another penny in that ballpark.
Marc Fisher: The rules on these things are really quite silly. But we reuse those single-use bottles for water every time we go to the park. All it has to do is look like you've bought the bottle new, so your stainless steel bottle won't do the trick, but an old commercial water bottle will.
Silver Spring, Md.: The Nats at the bottom There is a list of problems facing the Nationals is long and ranges from the depleted farm system inherited from the league to the lousy (and confusing) MASN situation. Let me point out one more obvious one: the economy stinks and a lot of potential fans aren't going for something which is clearly a discretionary expense.
I don't fear for the team and look forward to 2011 when the Nats are competitive, the fans show up and tune in, and Maryland finds that it has the money to break ground on the Purple Line.
Marc Fisher: Wow, a Purple Line optimist. You must eat sunshine for breakfast.
Washington, D.C.: All the Nats need to do to make people keep coming and forget about their miserable team is to have deals like "If the Nats win by 2 runs tonight, everybody gets coupons for a free McDonald's sundae (or insert other goody) with their ticket stub" Could it be expensive? Sure. Will it happen that often? Not likely this year.
Marc Fisher: Good idea.
Marc: The notes about people not being allowed to bring food and drink into Nats' Stadium are a classic example of ignorance overcoming reality. As you stated (and others have, also), food can be brought in and 1 bottle of water (unopened)can also.
I don't know, first hand, but I would bet that this rule does not come from the Lerners, but rather from MLB. It has much more to do with alcohol consumption than with selling water.
Marc Fisher: I believe it's more a matter of the stadium being a publicly-financed structure. At least that's the reason outside food and drink have always been allowed at Camden Yards; not sure if that's the rationale for letting folks bring in outside food at Nats Park.
Oh, D.C.!: Tying the threads together ... If Chandra Levy only had a handgun ...
Marc Fisher: We must be at the end of the show if the threadweavers are coming out of the woodwork....
Freeloading: I'm the "green" writer. I don't necessarily consider myself a freeloader since I make sure that I click on several of the advertisers and visit their sites. I don't buy things, but I know that the advertisers pay The Post more when they get more "hits" from on-line viewers. By visiting their sites, I make it more likely they'll pay advertising cash to the WaPo which is how the paper supports the on-line Web site. As a one-time Web developer, I know how the industry works and as long as we give them the hits, they'll continue to pay the advertising dollars and I get to keep my "green" conscience and still support the product that I want.
Marc Fisher: That's nice of you and certainly a step in the right direction, but the economics of the web are still such that online advertising generates only a very small fraction of the revenue that print advertising brings in. That's not readers' fault, of course, but it is a big part of why all American newspapers are in steep decline.
McLean, Va.: No espresso for you, Marc!
Marc Fisher: Dang.
Reatil Rights: Marc, The lemondae thing is a little different, since people don't usually pay for tap water. However once you purchase something, it's yours to do with from a legal point of view. That's not really up for debate, the best the coffee place can do is ask him to leave.
Marc Fisher: And they're also free to make their preferences and policies known--as long as they don't rip the coffee out of his hands, it's fine for the coffee boss to proselytize on behalf of his views on proper coffee drinking.
Bagels: I went to a bagel place once and asked them to toast it. They refused, saying their bagels are so good they don't need to be toasted. It was $2 bagel with cream cheese! I was craving a toasted bagel so badly, and they had a toaster for toast but wouldn't do my bagel! I can understand a fine dining place not wanting to change how they cook something, but it can get ridiculous.
Marc Fisher: Yes, while I love the image of the bagel counter guy taking a stand on behalf of his product, such tactics seem far more apt in a place where some serious cooking is happening than at your neighborhood bagel bakery.
But we reuse those single-use bottles for water every time we go to the park.: But Marc, you're not supposed to reuse them. The chemicals in the plastic start leaching into the water when they are reused.
Marc Fisher: They taste perfectly fine to me. That strikes me as one of those scares that businesses come up with to boost their sales.
Columbia, Md.: Between what's happening with the D.C. social services and the HBO special on Douglas High School in Baltimore, I wonder who would accept a job with either city's government?
It striked me that if you do a good job, people will sniff and say that's to be expected. If you fail, you'll be pilloried.
So if you're even vaugely competent, you'll end up leaving, like the young English teacher who left after a year and a half. I'm betting that spending more than two years in a position as an inner-city teacher or social worker actually looks bad on the resume, since the only ones who stay are borderline or totally incompetent. Which tends to perpetuate the vicious cycle of incompetence aand the image of such.
How can we end this cycle?
Marc Fisher: Not true--lots of good people do stay, even as many good people get frustrated and bail. The answer is to improve conditions so that the cohort of strong workers becomes a dominant force in each of those workplaces.
Greed and Friends: What bothers me so much about F and F is that I have volunteered there and I know how hard the staff (both volunteer and paid) work for so little. The paid staff are underpaid for what they do especially against their for-profit peers and even against other non-profit peers. And then the people at the top skim more than their fair share and cut programs? In the begging campaigns they always talk about how much difference small amounts $25? $35? can make. How much would $50K off his salary make? $300K is still a hefty amount in this town and $50K could make a huge difference to those clients who had their food deliveries cut because they had to cut back on services. Sickening that a CEO would let people starve rather than take a pay cut to help out. Why do CEOs always demand of their low level employees that which they won't give themselves?
Marc Fisher: just a couple more on this and we're outta here...
D.C.: I appreciate your "nay of the day." As someone who donates frequently to F and F, I am highly disturbed and far less likely to donate in the near future. Part of that "job description" should require modesty of salary. I do not think he or anyone should go poor, or be "underpaid" but his salary is absurd. More than the president of the U.S.? Please...
Marc Fisher: and a couple on the nanny bill issue....
You don't believe in day care, so what: I know some people will question this, but why? Who cares! You're allowed to believe in stuff and not believe in stuff. I don't think you meant "I don't believe OTHERS should use day care." At least I didn't get that impression. (If I did I would have canceled my subscription!) But I think people will be taking your statement to mean something it doesn't... watch out... you're in imminent danger. Load it.
Marc Fisher: ThreadWeaver of the Day Award winner
Re: domestic help: I understand your discussion of your family's approach to raising your children, however the statement that you don't believe in domestic help tends to imply that you don't believe it it for others as well as yourself.
Like it or not, there are many families dealing with a lot of different situations. There are many years before children are in school and not all parents can arrange to work from home during those years (and I can say from experience that's not always practical with a toddler around). For some families live-in child care is an important way to maintain balance and provide what they feel is the best care for their children.
My children have enjoyed the socialization of going to a wonderful day care center, but I know that for every family there is a different solution to this sticky problem. With our third child on the way (and only one in school), the economics are about to change again and we're going to have to balance our older daughter's love of her "school" (day care) and friends with our finances and caring for an infant. That may mean a stay at home parent.
It's never as easy a choice as it may seem, and I fully understand your position, however it does sound like you are dismissive and disapproving of others who have chosen different ways to balance their lives.
Marc Fisher: As I said initially, these are hard decisions and there ain't no easy answers. Obviously, what I believe in for myself is what I believe in ideally for anyone, but that doesn't mean that I reject other people's solutions. It's an imperfect world.
Washington, D.C.: Marc,
Stop blaming Baltimore for nobody watching the Nats. I agree that it's maddening to find the game on TV, the channel keeps changing, etc. But it also does that for the Orioles, so that's that.
The reason for nobody watching is actually for two reasons. 1. Despite what you like to say, this is a very transient area with people coming and going, but more importantly many, many, many people from elsewhere living in D.C. (read: not born here). Why is that a reason? Because most are like myself, who love baseball and will go to the Nats games because we love watching it live. However I am not a fan and I rarely will watch on TV, because I really don't care about them.
Secondly, and simply, they stink. Bad baseball live can be overcome by A. seeing baseball live and B. seeing the other teams stars and C. experiencing the new stadium. Bad baseball on TV is well, bad. That explains the 30k showing up each game but the pathetic 9k watching at home.
Marc Fisher: Well, you're wrong about the transient nature of this area's population. It's simply not greater than many other metro areas. But yes, many people's roots here are not very deep--and that doesn't seem to hurt attendance at sports events in cities with far more transient populations than ours.
But you're right about the team's failures on the field playing a big role in the TV viewing.
Bowie, Md.: Regarding the Nationals, I'm sorry, I just can't get upset over an increase in the sales tax on hot dogs and soda. Instead, I'm upset about this:
The Nationals have the worst, repeat, the WORST standing in ALL of baseball. With a record of 36-60 and a winning percentage of .375, there's a lot more to be upset about with the owners than the price of hot dogs.
Marc Fisher: Now you've got me depressed. I have to go get a hot dog.
That kicks things in the head for today. Come on back next week. And the blog is refreshed every day; the column is back Sunday with a tale of backyard intrigue. Thanks for coming along.
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