Potomac Confidential

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, December 11, 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: Hard to Pick a Winner for D.C. Lottery

Fisher was online Thursday, Dec. 11, at Noon ET to look at the move to keep D.C. bars open all night during Inauguration week, the puzzle over where to park 10,000 buses and last-minute lobbying over the D.C. lottery contract.

A transcript follows.

Check out Marc's blog, Raw Fisher.

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

Archives: Discussion Transcripts


Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks.

What a week--corruption, mini-scandals, predictions of mind-boggling crowds for the Inauguration, another battle over D.C. home rule, this time over whether Inauguration partyers will be able to get a drink at 4 a.m.

Do the Illinois governor's jaw-dropping antics illustrate a sort of open corruption that is common in politics, or is he the outlier? Certainly the far more common variety of arrogance of power is evident in the foolish decision by District officials to order the 32 recruits and their instructors at the D.C. Fire Academy to serve as waiters and hosts at council member Jim Graham's holiday party.

Where do you put 10,000 buses, by the way? Hey, for a price, I'll save one of them the space in front of my house. (Do you really believe Mayor Fenty's estimate of three million-plus visitors for the Obamafest? My instinct is to cut any official estimates in half.)

And are the Lerners finally really ready (or frightened enough about drooping attendance) to show Major League Baseball the money? Yep, those are our Nationals out there today offering Mark Teixeira $160 million for his splendid services. Do you think there's really a chance the Washington franchise could land such a star? Would having Tex on the team change your plans for spending money for baseball tickets?

Meanwhile, in the news biz, the only time big money comes up these days is in announcements of staff and programming cuts. The latest, right in our backyard, is the decision yesterday by National Public Radio to lay off 64 people, including some prominent reporters and program hosts, as well as shutting down two daily programs. How much of the country's newsgathering infrastructure can be dismantled before the public shows any frustration about the fact that many important stories are no longer covered?

On to your many comments and questions, but first, let's call the Yay and Nay of the Day:

Yay to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission in Chevy Chase D.C. for standing up to cranky neighbors and approving a proposal to put up lights at the baseball field at 41st and Livingston streets in Northwest. It's rare to find local officials who are willing to put the interests of the broader community ahead of the immediate neighbors who tend to whine about something like lights that would let kids play in the early evenings after we're forced to set our clocks back each fall.

Nay to the Montgomery County schools officials who decided that it's just fine to force-feed children all manner of pop culture nonsense via a commercial operation called, a service that kicks back some bucks to the school system in exchange for being allowed exclusive control over the music and advertising that kids listen to in the school bus each morning and afternoon.

Your turn starts right now....


NW, D.C.: So what's the minority set aside for the lottery when they apparently must be the prime firm? is it 51 percent or 50.1 percent?

The problem I have with D.C., and much of our political leadership, is there are common sense answers out there but they fail to address them. Hard to Pick a Winner for D.C. Lottery (Post, Dec. 10)

Marc Fisher: After a court ruling tossed out the District's old minority setaside system, the city created the current method, which doesn't quite reserve a set amount of business for minority-controlled companies, but rather gives them extra points in the scoring system used by procurement officials. So it behooves any bidder who really wants to win to get themselves hooked up with a minority-run company.


Re: Projected Inauguration Crowd Estimates: Logistically, how is it even possible for 4 million people to make it into the city? I don't see how the city infrastructure can handle that many people, do you?

Marc Fisher: It's not possible. It's not even conceivable. But think about it--four million people would be well more than one of every 100 Americans. That's just not going to happen. Cut through the hype, and it's likely that we'll have very big crowds, probably more than Metro or the roads can handle, but hardly anything close to those scary numbers.

It could be simply that the authorities have decided that it might help moderate the crowds if they put out lots of scary numbers.


NW, D.C.: Can we please acknowledge the simplicity and effectiveness of the Montgomery County School superintendent in getting positive things done in his county. I'm all for reforming DCPS, but quite honestly DCPS reform should not be a weekly headline. I was never a Rhee fan but I was to the reform effort, but for all the noise I don't see solid actions or a strong framework. Without that I can see how the WTU rides her out, and effectively wins. Nevertheless, to read that man's simple words on strong training programs and treating people decently, it was so refreshing because it seems common sense is a lost art.

Marc Fisher: We are indeed starting to see some backlash against Rhee's reform rhetoric and her incessant hunger for publicity in national media (though she's turned a cold shoulder to local reporters of late). The contrast between Montgomery's success in boosting achievement among low-income kids and the District's failure to push scores up in any significant way is a good story--does that mean that MoCo Superintendent Jerry Weast's more cooperative attitude toward the teacher unions is more effective than Rhee's confrontational approach? Or is it simply too early to draw any conclusions about what Rhee's tactics will achieve?


Seabrook, Md.: How will the Metro governments cope if there is a blizzard on Inauguration/MLK Birthday weekend? We are due for a winter with a big snowfall.

Marc Fisher: Actually, I would think a good snow would make the whole thing a lot easier in some ways. Sure, Metro would have big problems, but the snow would likely severely depress turnout, easing the situation in almost every way. The nightmare scenario is extreme cold that forces the swearing-in to be moved indoors; I would think the Obama organizers would resist that move to the max.


Bethesda, Md.: Stores are going bankrupt, unemployment is rising, the economy is clearly down the tubes. So how come it took twenty-five minutes to find a parking space at Montgomery Mall last Sunday?

Marc Fisher: That's good to hear. Of course, Montgomery Mall is not exactly the place to look for a random sample of consumer behavior--that's pretty high-end territory. But I share your curiosity--I've noticed no shortage of crowds at restaurants. Last weekend, I found the crowds in thick collections of eateries and drinking holes in downtown D.C., Shirlington and downtown Bethesda to be every bit as big as in most years, so people do seem to be going out. But are we spending less than usual? What's been your experience?


Bristow, Va.: Before the year comes to a close, I just wanted to make note of the exciting events from the first week of November -- the opening of the new Wegmans in Gainesville. Awesome place. For the record, the current tally of the gourmet grocer's stores in the DC area stands at:

Prince William 2 Fairfax 1 Loudon 1 Montgomery 0 Prince George's 0 DC 0

Just sayin'.

Marc Fisher: And why might that be? Is Virginia offering incentives for Wegman's to come here? Is the chain attracted by the lower taxes? Is Whole Paycheck already so deeply embedded in Maryland and the District that Wegman's doesn't see a big enough opening for its offerings? Your thoughts?


Arlington, Va.: The recession is taking its toll on NPR: lots of layoffs, and the loss of "Day to Day," a midday show that will be missed by no one, and "News and Notes," the network's only (?) show aimed at an African American audience.

Comment? NPR to Cut 64 Jobs and Two Shows (Post, Dec. 10)

Marc Fisher: The cuts at NPR were indeed a surprise to many there and among the listening audience. NPR has been hiring while most news organizations have been cutting rather severely. But the stock shock has had a devastating impact on all institutions that depend heavily on draws from their endowments, and the McDonalds money that enabled much of the NPR expansion in recent years cannot provide a draw now because the value of the endowment dropped so much. Add the fact that corporations are cutting way back on charitable donations and you have a real crisis at public radio.

But News and Notes wasn't the only NPR show aimed at a minority audience; Michel Martin's "Tell Me Now" is still on, and it's a better show that News and Notes was.


Marc Fisher: THIS JUST IN:

The Post gets action. Within hours of publication of Post reporter Daniel DeVise's story this morning on the BusRadio programming being forced upon Montgomery County schoolchildren, the county has issued a letter cancelling the program.

Here's a link to that letter: Montgomery County Public Schools


Deadly Force: This has been bugging me for awhile. WAYYY too often, the perp in a crime (see bank robbery, McLean) is killed by the police. Why is the approach not just to maim or disable the person rather than take him out? Shoot him in the LEG for God's sake and pounce on him -- he should be in too much pain to react in the short run. And if the perp is unarmed, it's just criminal of the cops to use deadly force.

Marc Fisher: The answer we usually get from cops on this is, easier said than done. They often do indeed try to shoot to stop rather than kill a bad guy, but this is not target-shooting, this is real life, in which the target is moving and the conditions are often less than ideal. But I don't know that I buy your premise--there are not a lot of perps who are shot and killed. In fact, most police officers go their entire career without discharging their weapons in the course of their daily work.

_______________________ School Bus Radio Service No Music to Some Parents' Ears (Post, Dec. 11)


Washington, DC: Hi Marc, I just want to use your chat to acknowledge the passing of a great local actor, Robert Prosky. Not only was he a superb character actor on the stage, screen and movies, but I always admired that he lived in Washington and kept it as his home for so many years when offers from NYC and L.A. had to have been made. It is a sad day for D.C. Theater, I just saw him in "The Price" a few months ago at Theater J and, along with his sons, he was excellent. Robert Prosky; D.C. Actor Appeared on 'Hill Street Blues' (Post, Dec. 10)

Marc Fisher: I'm glad you did. Prosky was, as you say, extremely loyal to local theaters and he played an important role in putting D.C. theaters on the national map. It wasn't that long ago that Washington theater was just one more place in the regional theater network; today, Washington is generally seen even by New York theater chauvinists as one of the three most creative and active spots for theater in the country, and while many great New York-based actors now routinely come to work here (see Christopher Innvar and Veanne Cox in the Shakespeare Theater's Twelfth Night, or many of the original Broadway stars of Les Miserables in Signature Theater's current reimagining of that show), that didn't used to be the case, and it was Prosky who kept the light burning in those tougher times.


re: THIS JUST IN: Now if you could only get that D.C. principal with the phony Ph.D. fired I'd begin to think you have some superpowers!

Marc Fisher: Yeah, well, sadly, I can only report continued failure on that front. She's alive and kicking in a fancy new job in the D.C. school system. Some things do not change.


Hyattsville, Md.: Not sure what the point of the Bristow commenter about Wegmans was, but they are currently building a store in Prince George's County (near FedEx Field).

Marc Fisher: Good to hear. Thanks.


Do the Illinois governor's jaw-dropping antics illustrate a sort of open corruption that is common in politics, or is he the outlier? : I'm not shocked at the corruption. I am shocked at how blatant it was and that he would continue to do this stuff after he KNEW he was being investigated. I think that makes him an outlier. And an idiot. Amazing.

Marc Fisher: I love it when politicians are caught on tape saying that they really shouldn't say this stuff because the G-men are listening. And then they go right ahead and say it. They can't stop themselves. That's the wonderful thing about most official corruption--they're so hamfisted about it that even really dim investigators can nab them.

One lesson here is that when you see prosecutors who don't land any public corruption cases while they're in office, you know something is deeply wrong.


Silver Spring, Md.: About the article on the radio show on MCPS buses -- which caused its cancellation -- At my agency, when we talk to people about doing something stupid or foolish -- but perhaps not illegal -- we say, "Is it something you would want to see in The Washington Post?"

Marc Fisher: Selfishly, we wish you'd stop saying that.

But thanks for the compliment.


Happy Holidays: Can you stand one more take on the "Happy Holidays" issue? When I was a child, I figured that the "holidays" encompassed everything from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. A store could put up a "Happy Holidays" banner in mid-November and it would stay relevant until mid-January.

Now I can see (somewhat) what the controversy is, but I still think my childlike theory might have some merit.

Marc Fisher: I far prefer your interpretation, because it would make us think more highly of our fellow human beings.

But sadly, the phrase is used more often as a mealy-mouthed way to avoid saying what people really mean, which is Merry Christmas. I think you'll find that Jews and other non-Christians don't mind overt Christmas references in the least; the folks who come up with Happy Holidays nonsense tend to be Christians who are bending over way too far backwards to try to be "sensitive." Ugh.


Arlington, Va.: Other than the obvious crush of people in D.C. on the 20th, what else can we expect the day of, and the days leading up to the Inaguration, especially in the outlying areas (Arlingon)? The article yesterday by Courtland Milloy has me a little nervous....

thanks! Wanted: A Miracle of Compression (Post, Dec. 10)

Marc Fisher: I'd be surprised if you noticed much of anything until the day before the Inauguration. That weekend is Martin King Day, so with schools closed on Monday, some folks will head out of town for a long weekend, which I think will help to balance out whatever influx there might be of people arriving early for the swearing-in celebrations.


Metro on Black Friday: Marc, Metro made a decision to open VERY early on the Black Friday after Thanksgiving (either 4 or 5 a.m.) at the urging of whichever D.C. councilman sits on the Metro board (Graham, I think). The ostensible reason was to accomodate early-morning shopping. I was skeptical at the time that the cost to Metro (which means riders like me) would be covered by the additional fares, especially given that there are few, if any, stores in D.C. that open that early on Black Friday. Can you find out what the ridership was for that extra hour on Black Friday, so we can have some accountability for this? Thanks.

Marc Fisher: Good question-- I don't know that I can get an answer within this hour, but I'll see if we can do some reporting on that and get something in the paper or here on the site.


Give Me A Billion: Now that the auto industry will get their 14 billion, I wonder how much the airline industry will hold its hand out for. Where's mine?!

Marc Fisher: Hey, I'm in a declining industry! Can I have some money too?


Washington, D.C.: Re: busradio

A good rule of thumb is that if a program has to be canceled after there's a story in the paper about it, it was probably a mistake.

Marc Fisher: On that, I think we can all agree.


Metro D.C. resident: DCPS and MoCo School district comparisons? Really, you think that they are comparable? DCPS has been a totally broken system for many years and I believe Rhee needs to do some pretty heavy lifting to turn things around. MoCo on the other had seems like the achievement gap is a localized problem, not a systemic one like that in D.C. And by the way I am not talking about just having quality teachers and admins, but also parent involvement, criminal activity in schools, etc.

I am not sure how these are comparable. I could compare MoCo and PG (I'm a PG resident) better thatn MoCo and DCPS.

Marc Fisher: You're of course right that comparing MoCo to DC directly would be very much apples and oranges. But if you look solely at the lower third or so of the MoCo student population, separating out the students whose families qualify for free lunches, you come up with a number of low-income students very similar to the population in the D.C. public schools. And then you can fairly compare, especially since money is not a dividing factor (D.C. spends more on its schools per student than any of the suburban jurisdictions.)

And the comparison along those lines ends up very much in MoCo's favor.


Re: Wegmans: Some of that has to do with available (and cheap) land for such a large space.

There has been political backlash against such big-box stores, even in development-friendly places like Fairfax.

Marc Fisher: Quite right--certainly that explains the lack of such stores in the District or close-in parts of Montgomery. And MoCo has been especially resistant to big box development in recent years.


Vienna, Va.: Hey, guess what! My niece was accepted into the Peace Corps! That's not related to anything else you're discussing, but I'm really proud of her. She's just always been wonderful!

A Proud Aunt

Marc Fisher: Good for her--I have a friend who decided to do Peace Corps at age 47 and went off to North Africa, an experience that has dramatically added to her life. It's not just for 21-year-olds.


Springfield, Va.: I think that the Nats ownership knows that $160 million won't be enough to land Teixeira. It's a calculated effort to try and convince fans that they are willing to spend money. After all is said and done the Nats will end up with Adam Dunn and a bunch of no-names at a much cheaper price.

Marc Fisher: Interesting--I think you're right that the Lerners want to send the message that they are indeed serious about improving the team and producing a winner. But I don't think that's their sole purpose in making Teixeira an offer--I do think that if they are really serious, they have to be prepared to boost their offer, because if they and the Red Sox or Angels are making offers in the same general ballpark, then Tex is going to go to the real contender before he signs with a last-place team.


But sadly, the phrase is used more often as a mealy-mouthed way to avoid saying what people really mean, which is Merry Christmas.: But I don't mean Merry Christmas, if I did, I'd say it. I mean happy holidays: to all holidays for all folks. I will not apoligize for respecting all people and wanting to include all. It isn't weak to respect different people, it's kind and Christlike, Buddhalike, Ghandilike, etc.

Marc Fisher: I don't doubt your sincerity and I admire your purpose, but I think the phrase is so lacking in specificity as to be bland and therefore incapable of expressing the goodwill you intend.

To me, if I care enough about someone to wish them well, then I would know enough about them to know what greeting was appropriate for them.


Really, no Happy Holidays?: I am doing cards for the first time this year and I picked Happy Holidays. I thought it was cute. It's better than "Season's Greetings" though, isn't it?

Marc Fisher: Really? How is it different? They strike me as equally generic.


"I think you'll find that Jews and other non-Christians don't mind overt Christmas references in the least": Hunh? You get decide what Jews think? Since when?

Marc Fisher: I'm going on what I've read and heard from Jews chiming in on this question.


Blago: One delicious moment in the news Tuesday: Blago is onscreen following his election, promising that (following Ryan's imprisonment), his tenure as governor would not be just "business as usual." It's TRUE -- he kicked it up a notch!

Marc Fisher: Of course the most delicious, daring and dire step would be for Blago to turn around now and appoint himself to the Senate. That would give the Senate and the Dems something to wring their hands about.


Bethesda, Md.: For all the hype, recessions and depressions tend to hit the workers most vulnerable toward the bottom of the income scale and some executives who can well afford the time off at the very top. The middle tends to be recession proof...

Marc Fisher: Really? I'm sure you're exactly right about the bottom of the income scale--they're always hit the hardest. But looking at the pattern of layoffs we've seen so far--half a million new unemployment claims in a month--a large number of them seem to be falling on that middle group, the professionals and factory workers and information workers and so on who are losing their jobs now.


Columbia, Md.: We have family coming to town this weekend. Tried to rent a 15-seat van to see the new visitor center and other sights. Were told that D.C. doesn't allow 15-seaters as private rentals and considers them buses. Is this true or is Enterprise just trying to avoid letting people into D.C. because of assumed risk?

Marc Fisher: I have no idea what the rule is, but I can't say I've ever seen those vans in the District as private rentals. You should check with the D.C. insurance office or DCRA.


Washington, D.C.: I've been wondering how many people have booked hotel rooms in the belief that they're going to get tickets, and when they find out they won't they'll cancel. It probably won't be a huge number, but I'm thinking that there will be hotel rooms opening up in the week prior. Plus if they use the security setup utilized on the 4th of July, there may be quite a few people, particularly locals, who will look at the list of things they can't bring and then decide to stay home. Of course, there are lots of people who will want to be there for the experience, even if it's standing at the Washington Monument looking at a Jumbotron. Certainly many more than if McCain had been elected! But if I had to guess, they'll get a million to a million and a half, tops, not the numbers that the D.C. government predicts.

Marc Fisher: My sense from talking to a whole lot of folks who've been calling and writing about their plans to come to town for the festivities is that most of them know they won't get tickets. But what they don't know is that their odds of seeing anything firsthand are pretty slim--the sidewalks along the parade route only accommodate so many people, and if you don't get there early enough, your experience will be limited to being on the Mall watching everything unfold on a giant screen that's just like your TV at home, only it will be colder. But most of those I've spoken to say that doesn't matter--they want to be here to soak in the crowd and the experience of being here, and that's fine. That's no different from the many thousands who came out to celebrate on Election Night--there was no program, no speakers, nothing to see except each other.


Laurel, Md.: "Deadly Force" has been watching way too much TV where all of the actors and stuntmen shoot accurately at twice the registered distance for their weapons and can wing a man at 600 ft with a 0.22 while dodging live bullets.

Police officers are professionals and take their job seriously. However, they are also human and if you carefully read the article, there was a chase and a criminal that was both armed and desperate and resisting arrest. In the circumstances, they use whatever force is necessary to ensure the criminal's capture and protect the public. I, for one, would rather a criminal that was armed and dangerous and refusing commands from the authorities be dead rather than some innocent bystander or an officer because the police chose to try to wing him and he fired randomly and hit someone.

Marc Fisher: Sounds reasonable...

Here's one more on that topic....

_______________________ Bank Robbery Suspect Shot, Killed by Police (Post, Dec. 11)


Shoot to Maim?: I could be wrong, but it seems to me it used to be that cops would get in big trouble if they intentionally shot someone in the leg.

I think a good standard is that if a cop feels the need to use his weapon then he should be shooting to kill. If that's overdoing it then he shouldn't be firing at all.

Marc Fisher: I've heard police chiefs sing the praises of shooting to stop rather than shooting to kill, but more often, chiefs tend to say something along the lines of our previous poster, that there's little advantage in second-guessing how a shooting turns out because of the highly stressed circumstances in which most police shootings occur. Go ahead and question the decision to use deadly force--that's an important part of the process--but to question where the bullet landed on a particular body doesn't seem quite fair.


Happy Holidays: There's no good phrase but we could try the following...

Happy Seasonal Affected Disorder time-of-year. Happy isn't-this-like-your-peoples-Christmas time of year. Happy end of the Fiscal Year.

Any others?

Marc Fisher: You could slur the "happy" part so that it sounds more like "every," so the recipient of your greeting isn't quite sure if you said Happy holidays or Every holidays, which would cover you for all occasions.


Really? How is it different? They strike me as equally generic. : Maybe it's the same. But to me Happy Holidays sounds more, well, happy. And Season's Greetings sounds like a description of a category of things you say, not something you actually say. Like, "salutations." It sounds strange to me to say Salutations instead of Hello, even though it's not incorrect.

If I send you a Happy Holidays card are you going to be insulted?

Marc Fisher: I won't be insulted even if you send me a card addressed to Scrooge, Grinch or worse. Believe me, I get much worse.

But I like the Salutations idea. I never did understand why the common phrase includes both Greetings AND Salutations. Why isn't one enough?


Happy Holidays: I like it because I hear the song in my head. It has a cheerful connotation. la la la la la. Don't spoil it Grinch.

Marc Fisher: I do kind of like that song. It's not The Christmas Song or Sleigh Ride, but it's in the upper echelon.


Chesterfield: People like Happy Holidays because of the poetic alliteration. It's a nice wish for nice freinds, What's the big deal SCROOGE?

Marc Fisher: That's why we like to say Chappy Chanukah.


Rockville, Md.: Sure Mark T. would choose to play in Washington because he's from this area. So what if the Angels have a real shot at a WS during this Century and Washington will be looking to relocate the franchise in seven years...

Marc Fisher: The various tea-leaf readers who've been reporting from the winter meetings contend that Tex really doesn't care for the West Coast. Now, if he suddenly has 180 million reasons to love L.A., then fine, I'm sure he can find ways to accommodate to life in the sunshine. But if money is the primary motivator here, then the Lerners should have a shot.


Inauguration: So, any prediction as to just how early one WILL need to get there for a parade viewing spot on the sidewalk?

Marc Fisher: The tricky part is that the D.C. police say they are going to keep the area clear through much of the night, so camping out there isn't an option. I think it will come down to who watches the police action closely and figures out where the entry points will be, and is there by 5 a.m., or whatever time they plan to open the avenue. Street smarts will win out over being there super-early, I think.


Washington, D.C.: What do you think about Marion Barry and D.C. Council getting involved in the suspensions at Hart middle school?

On one hand, it seems the parents should clearly be notified of suspensions and that administrators dropped the ball at Hart in not telling parents when/why their kids were being suspended.

On the other hand, it makes me queasy to have the D.C. council second-guessing decisions by folks who are the front line of dealing with disruptive students who make it hard for all kids to learn. I rather have kids be put in in-house classroom suspensions than at large in the city, but clearly there is a crisis over at Hart Middle School. Principal recently fired, etc., and this seems like a good test case for Ms. Rhee.

Your thoughts?

Marc Fisher: Sadly, Barry (and some other council members) have a long history of meddling in school affairs. One of the chief goals of the mayoral takeover was to remove power from the school board and the council, both of which have histories of politicians poking their way into decisions about who becomes principal or assistant principal at a given school.

I'm not much of a fan of suspensions--most kids who are suspended think of it as anything but a punishment. It's a free vacation from someplace they don't want to be. I'd much rather see problematic kids removed to alternative school settings, as much for the benefit of the other kids whose learning is being disturbed as for the good of the misbehaving kids themselves.


Riddle me this: Yesterday's WP article "I Was Tempted By Demons" states that Maria Alvardo bought a $450,000 house on a salary of $11 per hour. How can this be? I couldn't get a loan for a second-hand car with that income. And we wonder why the housing bubble burst? 'I Was Tempted by Demons,' Suspect Says (Post, Dec. 10)

Marc Fisher: Yeah, that jumped out at me too. No wonder she's taking in a whole raft of boarders.


NPR-Land: Said to hear about the cuts - especially Kim Masters and Libby Lewis. Any sense of where these folks end up?

Marc Fisher: Too soon to say. The difficult thing about all these cuts in the news business is that there are ever fewer places at which people can land. The trade publications and web sites are chockablock with lists of people who've lost their jobs, but there's nary an announcement of any hires.


Chairs for sale: Does "Blagojevich" have a high enough consonant-to-vowel ratio to qualify as a name for Ikea furniture?

Marc Fisher: I get great enjoyment from my Blago standing lamp.

And I heartily recommend their Gojev chairs.

But they don't do much with "vich-es" in Sweden.


Anonymous: It is not fair to hold Michelle Rhee to the standards of success in Montgomery County. I went to K-12 in Montgomery County and have tutored in DCPS schools. The comparison is not apt in the slightest. 20 years of consistent progress and achievement by students and teachers would be necessary for DCPS to even approach the level of professionalism and respect for knowledge present in MCPS.

Marc Fisher: Point taken--if part of the problem is systems and curriculum and other central-office functions, then the comparison is indeed not quite right.


I think it will come down to who watches the police action closely and figures out where the entry points will be: ...and will promptly be scooped up by Secret Service as a potential terrorist. If not, then they are not doing their job!

Marc Fisher: Nah, they'll be too busy sweeping office buildings and the like.


Happy Holidays: This phrase is an appropriate acknowledgement that not everyone around you celebrates Christmas. If you know someone celebrates Christmas, go ahead and wish them a Merry Christmas. If not, Happy Holidays is more polite and respectful. You have anecdotal evidence that some Jews don't mind it when people wish them a Merry Christmas. I have anecdotal evidence that some non-Christans find this mildly annoying and prefer Happy Holidays. All of this "War on Christmas" stuff is nonsense.

Marc Fisher: Shouldn't it be Happy Holiday--singular? I mean, how many people celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah? Or is the phrase meant to cover New Year's as well?


Greetings and Salutations: Cease and desist from the complaining, Marc.

Marc Fisher: Yes, sir!


Washington, D.C.: Marc, happy imaginary birth of a magic baby to a virgin mother celebrated during a pagan holiday.

Marc Fisher: One view heard from.


Happy Holidays: Perhaps we should just stop greeting each other at all.

Marc Fisher: But then what would we have to debate each holiday, um, Christmas, um, winter season?


It's not The Christmas Song or Sleigh Ride, but it's in the upper echelon. : I think it's hard to top Little Drummer Boy.

Marc Fisher: I'm afraid I have to part ways with you on that one. That's an automatic station switcher for me.


Holidays means Holidays!!: I am Jewish and I say Happy Holidays to people because I want to say something nice acknowledging the season, but I don't know what all the religious and cultural practices are of all the people I know. What about "Happy Holidays" is sooo broad and generic that people can't get that? If people tell me "Merry Christmas" that is fine and I am not going to have a fit. But seriously, Marc you are totally off base here.

Marc Fisher: I'm with you--Though I'm Jewish, I would never protest when people wish me a merry Christmas. I take them for what they intended, a gesture of friendship. Those who choose to get all huffy and offended have a real problem, methinks.


Jewishness: I am not Jewish, but my partner is and I know he genuinely feels like cringing when someone wishes him "Merry Christmas" but he is gracious enough not to say anything.

I agree with the previous poster who uses "Happy Holidays" or "Season Greetings" to be inclusive, not to demean anyone. If someone believes they need to have their specific holiday acknowledged in a greeting (e.g., "Merry Christmas"), then I believe they are not very secure in their religion.

Marc Fisher: Why should he feel like cringing? If he's not accustomed to life in a largely Christian society by now, isn't it time he recognizes that he's part of a tiny minority whose customs are virtually unknown to most people? It is what it is; those who are so deeply offended by such things should choose to live in a country that is comprised of people like themselves.


Viches in Sweden?: Oh yeah they do. Don't forget the smurrebrod, which you call smorgasboard here. Lots of sandwiches.

Marc Fisher: Nice.


Alexandria, Va.: The local restaurants I haunt are still full on the weekends, but are ghost towns during the week. They've been laying off staff.

Marc Fisher: Excellent point--I gather from restaurant owners I've heard from that Monday and Tuesday nights have become quite grim.


Rockville, Md.: Drag racing on the Rockville Pike at 8:00 p.m. during the Holiday Season? And the local residents claim this is not unusual and the offenders meet at a local parking lot? Where are Montgomery County's finest? Where is the Chief with a statement? It seems nobody's accountable anymore.

Marc Fisher: The big surprise for me is that the traffic had subsided enough to allow anyone to get a decent head of steam going. That's sure not been my experience.


Anonymous: This might be a Dr. Gridlock question: I've been commuting via Metro for the past 2.5 years. When I started back riding Metro, the capital plan was repairing all the escalators at my station. It took well over a year. It was entry/exit escalators and the platform escalators. Now, basically a year later, the same platform escalators are down for apparent major repairs. Here's my gripe, what do the people do when the escalators are down -- we walk! I don't know how much Metro spends annually for escalator upkeep but it must be a Haliburton-type contract. I strongly suggest that Metro at least replace its platform level escalators with low-rise stairs.

Marc Fisher: I'm with you--if it's so darn hard to keep the escalators in decent repair, and we've all read the stories about how there are so few decent escalator repairmen these days (and you thought you had problems getting good help), then just go with stairs.


Re: Wegmans: Wegmans is a very no-nonsense company. It needs a ton of space and places who are pro-businesses. While often making national best places to work lists, it is very anti-union. It probably doesn't want to put up with the problem of dealing with a city council who is notoriously hard to deal with. Walmart isn't in D.C. either, right?

Marc Fisher: The non-union bit may be an important piece of the explanation.


15 passenger van in D.C.: Enterprise is just trying to justify their stupid corporate decision to treat these vehicles as buses (and not just in D.C., the same applies for their Virginia locations). We tried the same thing this fall and were told we needed to carry a special liability rider with an amount in the millions, something only a corporate entity would ever do. Go with Avis out of National, they'll rent you the same vehicle for less than an SUV.

Marc Fisher: Good advice...thanks.


Or is the phrase meant to cover New Year's as well? : Yes. Two birds, one stone.

Marc Fisher: Neat.


Washington, D.C.: I am Jewish and say Marry Christmas. Christmas is a federal holiday which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, whose, let's face it, philosophy was the base our founding fathers used to start the first modern-democracy on earth.

Marc Fisher: Well, we could get into a whole thing about Deists and Old Testament roots and so on, but luckily, we're just about out of time.


If you know someone celebrates Christmas, go ahead and wish them a Merry Christmas.: Okay, but it's still easier to say "Happy Holidays" than "Merry Christmsa AND Happy New Year!"

Marc Fisher: And another, very simple defense....


Happy Holidays: My goal is to wish folks well, not presume their personal beliefs.

Marc Fisher: And you get the last word on that one.


Baltimore, Md.: The Blago scandal: This thing is like a bad parody of political corruption. The day before his arrest, Blago went before the cameras in a black leather jacket, surrounded by a bunch on guys who looked like Sopranos extras, and declared that he wasn't "under a cloud," that there was only sunshine overhead. And he's saying all this, even though he's been under investigation for months by the prosecutor who put Judith Miller in jail for failing to reveal sources. If it were in a TV comedy script, it would be judged too broad!

Marc Fisher: The thing is, he'd never be cast in his own movie, because he looks too much like the stereotypical corrupt pol.


Lake Ridge, Va.: I just read the story about the D.C. Firefighters acting as waiters. a) How humiliating -- nothing against waiters, but they weren't hired to do this. b) Graham's quote: "I don't want controversy." How about D.C. residents should demand your resignation?

YOU ARE A CIVIL SERVANT. You are not king. Employees and citizens are not your subjects. If you can't afford a big party out of your own pocket, no one should be asked to pay for it!

This is how the corruption (like in Illinois) starts. With an erosion of boundaries and the employment of flimsy rationalizing.

Marc Fisher: Spot on.


Shooting to maim: This question came up a lot when I had grand jury duty in PG County a few years ago -- basically we were told that if the police are shooting, they shoot for the largest area of mass -- the chest area -- and that shooting in the legs and such only happens on TV and does nothing to stop someone who's high and isn't feeling pain.

Marc Fisher: Reasonable enough.


Washington, D.C.: The lack of a Wegmans in D.C. isn't because Wegmans is anti-D.C. -- it's just that D.C. lacks the kind of space needed to house a Wegmans. You're talking about a major chunk of space (usually 80K-100K SF) PLUS parking for the customers. If the space exists, it's usually hard to find the space with parking convenient.

The suburbs still have undeveloped land that is easier (and cheaper) to fit to the needs of a big grocery store.

Marc Fisher: So we've concluded it's space, competition, labor preferences, and perhaps political climate too.


Rockville, Md.: What did you think of the high-speed truck chase last Tuesday? I was caught in the middle of it in 270, near the Montrose exit. It was surrealistic; we had just moved to the HOV lane (dumb move, I know) when this truck squezed on the left shoulder past us at full speed, it probably scraped the barrier in order to avoid us, because I saw dust coming up in the air. This guy should get some credit for being careful not to cause an accident. The whole thing looked like an extremely dangerous hunt on wheels.

Marc Fisher: Chases are bad.


Falls Church, Va.: ENORMOUS credit to the Planning Commissioners who stood up to the Mayor and City Council, and said NO to the City Center South affordable housing project. They rejected the site plan, usually a formality, and said there weren't enough parking spaces. There's not much time now to save the project before tax credits expire at the end of the year. And here, at least one courageous group of VOLUNTEERS saves its community from dangerous people polluting their neighborhoods. Well done, Planning Commission! Thank you for all of us in the Silent Majority!

Marc Fisher: This is not one I've followed, so you get the floor entirely to yourself.


Woodbridge, Va.: I found the article earlier this week on Franklin Raines interesting, to say the least. While he came across as defensive, I do have a little sympathy -- I'm sure the accounting rules are so screwed up and contradictory, no one can figure them out.

If government is that inept, then it should not be in the car business, the housing business, or any other kind of business. Raines Says Company's Woes Not of His Making (Post, Dec. 8)

Marc Fisher: Sorry, I read the same piece and saw not even a window for sympathy. The folks who ran those places knew exactly what was going on and chose to charge ahead rather than raise alarms or refuse to take part.


Frederick, Md.: Merry Christmas, Marc!

Marc Fisher: Thanks, and to you all, merry everything. And hold onto that job. You're gonna need it. Or as a friend of mine said the other day, eat a lot now, you may not have enough later.


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