Potomac Confidential

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, January 8, 2009; 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.

Fisher was online Thursday, Jan. 8, at Noon ET to look at inauguration madness, the launch of the Virginia governor's race, and the physics of six-year-old car drivers.

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 back, folks. After a two-week holiday break, the big show is back and man, do we have a load of stuff to toss around today...

Start with the Inauguration madness, which hit a new and disturbing peak yesterday, as the Secret Service announced its intent to turn Washington into Inauguration Island, cutting the District off from as much of the outside world as possible on Jan. 20.

Virginians will bear the brunt of the over-the-top restrictions, as every single Potomac River crossing inside the Beltway is shut down to vehicular traffic for the entire day. You can walk across the Memorial Bridge, but that's it. They're not just closing the bridges, they're blockading the highways--vast stretches of the GW Parkway and I-395 will be closed, along with a preposterously long list of other closings.

If Inauguration Day were some kind of holiday, the road closings would be awful enough--another sign of a reckless security apparatus extending its elbows simply because it can. But in fact, that day is one on which many thousands of commuters must go to work, in addition to the hundreds of thousands and perhaps more who will be coming into the city to attend the inaugural festivities and ceremonies. And the only message from the authorities is, hey, take Metro, even as the very same authorities issue warnings that the transit system is almost certain to be wildly overrun.

Why cut off Virginians' access to Washington, but not Maryland's? What is so frightening about the bridges over the Potomac that is not true of the major bridges, avenues and highways that bring Maryland drivers in over the Anacostia River and along land routes from Montgomery and Prince George's counties? The issue cannot be proximity to the Mall and the federal enclave, because they're not just shutting down the Memorial, 14th Street and Teddy Roosevelt bridges, but also the Key and Chain bridges, which are farther away from the District's core than some of the bridges from Maryland are.

Virginians may be excused for wondering just what it is that they did to deserve this. After all, they just voted for a Democrat for president for the first time in 44 years, and what do they get for it--a virtual blockade against northern Virginians who might want to celebrate Barack Obama's election, or, heaven forbid, get to work that day. And, another special gift, the removal of their governor as a full-time leader. Just as Virginia's legislature comes into session to try to cope with the worst financial crisis the state has had in decades, Gov. Tim Kaine gets appointed to head the Democratic National Committee, a job that he claims he can handle out of his back pocket for his last year in office in Richmond. Whatever your partisan leanings, surely nobody buys that one.

These are obviously not intentional slights of Virginia, but they sure add up to extra headaches for a state that pivoted rather sharply on behalf of the incoming administration.

But wait--it's just possible that northern Virginians won't win the prize for most disrupted populace on Inauguration Day. Because the feds have yet another whopper that they dumped yesterday: Vast stretches of the District, including many residential neighborhoods outside of the federal core, have been declared bus-only parking zones on Inauguration Day. In huge swaths of the city, in places such as Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Capitol Hill, and virtually all of Southwest Washington, residents will be banned from parking their cars on the streets where they live, so that charter buses may park along those hundreds of blocks. What exactly those residents are supposed to do with their cars is utterly unknown. The city government and the Secret Service apparently live under the delusion that the entire population of Washington is rich enough to afford off-street parking and just happen to use curbside parking because they enjoy getting the occasional ticket from the District. The government has announced no plan of any kind for D.C. residents to put their cars somewhere to make way for all these buses.

The keyword in all this is arrogance--only a government obsessed with security and blind to the realities of city life could issue a plan like this, one that requires workers to perform miracles to get to offices and shops that will be open for business as usual--and for especially long hours to serve the huge crowds of people who will need food, shelter and whatnot that day. In a real city, one that is permitted to govern itself, the government would feel the pressure from the people who need to be able to use their city, and this level of arrogance from a federal bureaucracy that considers Washington to be its plaything, rather than a place where people work and live, would be impossible.

And so today's Yay and Nay of the Day starts with a big fat Nay to the law enforcement officials and agencies that concocted this hysterical and unworkable plan.

But have no fear, there's a Yay too, and it goes, paradoxically, to the very same Bush administration, for finally giving the last stamp of approval to the Dulles rail project that will transform the face of northern Virginia. The outgoing administration didn't need to do this in its final days in office, but they did, and generations of Virginia residents, workers and commuters will be the beneficiary. Decades from now, people will wonder why the government didn't spend the extra money to tunnel through the Tysons Corner area, but the reality of Metro coming through that oddly disconnected mega-burb should create a real and potentially attractive city that will rival the District in many ways. And Dulles itself will go from one of the developed world's most annoying and difficult airports--and one of the last airports serving a major national capital with no transit connection to the city--to an airport that actually works for far more people in a far broader geographic area.

There's so much more on the plate today, so don't feel constrained to limit your comments and questions to things inaugural. Today's column is the first of two parts looking at how to make learning happen in schools where the children come from poor, mostly non-English speaking families. Today's piece is a visit to a Montgomery County school that accomplished a remarkable turnaround by recruiting teachers committed to working extra hours and changing their attitudes and approaches to demand far more from students who previously had been allowed to drift through school. Coming Sunday: A look inside a D.C. school with a nearly identical student population. Can D.C. chancellor Michelle Rhee's confrontational style produce the same kind of turnaround that Montgomery's cooperative approach has achieved?

Plus, the battle over the Purple Line is coming to a head, Virginia's already into its governor's race in a big way, and the Nats haven't landed a single big free agent. Headaches, joys and disappointments--the usual menu, coming up right now. Have at it.


Arlington, Va.: So basically, they don't want any of the people who voted for Obama in Virginia to actually attend the inauguration? But everyone from Maryland, gets to come on in? Is this an overreaction or are that many people actually going to come to town?

Marc Fisher: Again, that's surely not the intent, but it's likely to be the effect. Whether the wild estimates of the crowd turn out to be remotely accurate or not, the road closings announced yesterday are more likely to extend the congestion fairly deeply into Virginia than to provide any real relief on the streets of Washington.


Arlington, Va.: I voted for Tim Kaine for Virginia Governor. I thought it was a full-time job but he plans to do it only part-time. Should I feel cheated? (I do)

Marc Fisher: Yes, I think you should feel cheated. The governor says he can handle his DNC duties part time for the last year of his term in Richmond, but that doesn't seem terribly likely, given that the first year of the Obama administration is likely to be chock full of action and political fallout therefrom.


Washington, D.C.: Please help Marc...I can't find answer to this.

When will the restrictions on 66 be lifted on Inauguration Day? I will be driving back from Ohio to my home in Ballston and want to make sure I can get back that evening...should arrive home around 7 p.m. in my car.

Marc Fisher: Not clear--there's no time attached in the press release, leading me to conclude that they're going to call an audible. But for your guidance, the street closings in the District are scheduled to be lifted at 7 p.m. that day.


Wheaton, Md.: The notion that millions of out-of-towners will be able to quickly grasp the intricacies of the farecard system, is highly suspect. Unlike the more efficient subway systems in which riders pay a flat fare, the Metro fares are based on distance and time of day, which will no doubt lead to all kinds of merriment among the visitors. If they have to pay for parking, having to purchase a "SmartCard" (or as they're known colloquially, "IdiotCard") and then pay an additional fee for the parking itself will further add to the sense of fun.

Marc Fisher: The backup at the farecard machines is indeed often the biggest problem inside the system. I hope Metro will decide to station staffers at the fare gates to take cash money when the lines at the machines become intolerably long. I've seen them do that from time to time, and it may well be the only way to prevent dangerous situations in those station lobbies.


Arlington, Va.: Just a question, do you know if Metro is planning on staying open late on Monday, Jan. 19? There are a number of events and balls going on around the city that evening. Inauguration Watch

Marc Fisher: The 19th is a national holiday, but Metro has said it will run full-length trains at rush hour service levels throughout that period, so that should help. Whether they'll go beyond the regular hours is not something I've seen anything on--but the balls don't tend to go very late.


Dunn Loring, Va.: Since you refuse to respond to questions on your blog posts, I hope you'll answer them here: Could you tell your readers if the grade scale at your children's elite D.C. private school is the same one used by Fairfax County? Also, can you inform us who claimed that the changing Fairfax's grading scale is a "panacea" to college admissions issues, or are you just exaggerating the statements by FAIRGRADE that improving the grading scale will remove ONE competitive disadvantage faced by Fairfax students?

Marc Fisher: First of all, I often respond to questions on the blog comment boards. Second, I'm happy to do so here as well.

I don't think there is any consistent policy governing what numerical scores translate into what letter grades at my kids' school in Washington. To the contrary, my son was just telling me the other night about two teachers he has who have wildly different scales for turning numbers into letters--and to my mind, that's as it should be. Each teacher should have the leeway to grade as he or she sees fit. I don't speak for my kids' school or for any school, but as an ex-student, teacher and parent, I like the idea that grades hold different meanings in each class, representing that teacher's concept of what counts as performance and what matters in that class.


Washington, D.C.: Will Roy Pearson ever give up?

Marc Fisher: No. He has all the time in the world, free legal advice (his own), no job, and a vendetta to pursue. Pants Man is, however, running out of legal options. Don't worry--there's about as much chance of the appeals court reconsidering this case as there is of Barack Obama and George Bush coming to your house tonight to seek your advice on the way forward.


Washington, D.C.: I am getting out of Dodge for the inaguration but can't decide if I am better off coming back on 1/20 or 1/21. Any opinion on which day will be better (evening travel on Metro)

Marc Fisher: In general, if you aren't attending the inauguration events, and you have the option of avoiding any travel at any time on the 20th, you should grab that option. Go for the 21st.


Woodbridge, Va.: There is one thing the president-elect can do to win my vote next time, and that is to insist that the timing of his events NOT coincide with rush hours, as much as possible.

I realize a lot of this is out of his control, but still. My packed commuter bus spent at least 20 minutes last night WAITING at Freedom Plaza for his entourage to leave wherever they were.

One immediate example is having the annual Christmas tree lighting on a Saturday night, as opposed to a Thursday night. I don't think this request is unreasonable, and I think he would agree.

The next four years will be intolerable if the Secret Service (or whoever) insists on paralyzing the downtown area with security every time Obama puts his foot outside the door, no matter what time of day.

Sometimes it just doesn't pay to live in this area.

Marc Fisher: Ideally, the new president will have a less dramatic and grandiose concept of security than the current prez. If that happens, then perhaps the new administration will be able to tamp down at least a bit on the ridiculous security hysteria that has infected the federal government under the Bush administration. But given that there are special security concerns about Obama, it is entirely possible that there will be no such rollback. It's human nature to want to cling to security measures, even when they are meaningless, because they are an effective way of trumpeting your importance.


Potomac, Md.: I am not one to give a whole lot of praise to Metro (mainly because they don't deserve it), but you will NOT need a SmartTrip card for parking on Inauguration day. Pay $4 cash upon entering. That saves the visitors from having to buy a SmartTrip card.

Marc Fisher: Good news--thanks.


Arlington, Va.: As an Arlington resident who will be shut out of the inauguration, I'm very upset. In order for me to get to a Metro, I need to drive or take a bus...but those Metro stations will have no parking, or have 17 million mile back ups to get to them because of the roadblocks on 395 and other major roads. I guess the only solution is to drive to Maryland or sleep in my D.C. office on Monday. Thanks Secret Service and your extreme fear of Virginians.

Marc Fisher: I'd go with the sleeping at the office option.

I hear so many people planning to do this that I think there ought to be some sort of midnight gathering of the office dwellers. Surely someone is up for organizing this?


Fairfax, Va.: Word on the street is there is a very real threat for coronation of Obama. Not from foreign terrorists groups or even individuals here in U.S. acting for them but from domestic U.S.-based terrorist groups who have a problem with a black man being president.

Talk to your sources and go out on the Internet. The hatred is very palpable and real.

Marc Fisher: Indeed, there are netballs of every stripe out there, and if you spend your time haunting the backwaters of the web, you will come to believe that there's a legitimate threat behind every corner mailbox. (Oops--outdated imagery; the mailboxes have all been taken away by the homeland security forces, at least in downtown Washington.)

To be sure, Obama faces threats that other presidents have not had to worry about, but every prez is a target, and the Secret Service does a remarkable job of protecting the presidents. Even a credible threat, however, would not be a good excuse for the road and bridge closings that have been announced--such closings do nothing to minimize that kind of threat.


Herndon, Va.: Mr. F: Yes, what are the "physics" of a 6-year-old driving a car? Unless he's huge for his age, how could he keep a foot on the accelerator and drive (albeit horribly) at the same time? A car pool member of mine had his car bashed because he parked by another member's house the day a 5-year-old got in the car, released the brake and the car went down the drive until the collision at the bottom -- but that was nothing compared to this story.

Marc Fisher: A standing six-year-old can certainly reach the gas pedal and steering wheel at the same time. This does not bode well for the likelihood that said child would then be able to switch the foot over to the brake pedal, but at least in this case, there's no evidence that he ever bothered with that particular mechanism.

The part that impresses me is that he got the car into gear in the first place. That takes some fairly good observation skills for a six year old.


Rosslyn, Va.: Your blog item on Tuesday regarding Del. Athey's bill suffered from a severe but hopefully temporary mental lapse. The bill would require UVA to aim for a student body that is 70 percent Virginian. You and the university duly produced statistics showing that the UVA undergraduate population is already at 70 percent. "Ha ha, stupid Republicans in Richmond, at it again."

Athey's bill said nothing about the undergraduate student body. Less than half of UVA's student body is Virginian due to the overwhelming presence of out-of-staters in the law, medical, and other graduate programs. Would you consider re-addressing the proposal on its merits, as opposed to just falling for the university administration's propaganda? I think you'll do better the second time around. Should U-Va. Save More Spots For Virginians? (Raw Fisher, Jan. 7)

Marc Fisher: Nice try, but sorry, no lapse. The only fair way to measure the in-state/out-state divide is by looking at undergraduate population. To include graduate students is essentially dishonest because with rare exceptions (law students are somewhat more likely to stay close to home because of the state-based nature of bar exams), graduate education is a totally nationwide phenomenon. In most areas of study, there are so few students seeking advanced degrees that it would be silly to limit the pool to a single state's candidates. The Athey bill is not about graduate education, anyway. It is meant to send the message that Virginia's colleges are somehow forsaking Virginians--but they're not.


Alexandria, Va.: Re: grades in Fairfax -- I was appalled to see that some schools use 60 instead of 70 as a failing grade. Shouldn't kids at least get two-thirds of the material right to pass?

And -- You're the MAN re: Virginia road closures. What a disaster in the making.

Marc Fisher: A lot of schools split the difference and make 65 the failing grade, but in these days of grade inflation, you'd be surprised how many schools don't flunk kids at all. They've either changed the name of an F or eliminated the concept entirely.


Washington, D.C.: A little outside your field -- BUT -- there was an article today about the Digital TV conversion and a consumer group asking to postpone the deadline from Feb 17. I'm sorry, but why should we delay it? The same people that ignored all the TV commercials should suffer not being able to watch TV. And it's not like they didn't know -- they WATCH TV -- that must have seen the commercials! Congress Urged To Postpone Nation's Switch To Digital TV (Post, Jan. 8)

Marc Fisher: The whole analog/digital TV deadline story reminds me of the Y2K computer collapse hysteria. This is likely to be every bit as much a non-story. You're right--anyone who hasn't gotten the message by now wouldn't get it no matter how long you delayed the switch or how hard you pumped the PSAs. And for those who do indeed live in caves and find out about the switchover the hard way, they can go out and get a converter box and the horrible, unspeakable tragedy might be that they miss one episode of their fave program.


The State of WPFW?: Marc, thanks for taking the occasional question about the radio industry, and about jazz music. Have you been tracking the ratings at WPFW? With the introduction of Arbitron's Personal People Meters, public radio-station ratings are now being supplied alongside ratings for commercial stations, and the results are eye-opening: WAMU is huge and WETA does pretty well, although little Christian station WGTS has just as many listeners as that more widely publicized classical outlet. Still, my favorite public station is Pacifica's 89.3, WPFW. It's way down the list, in low 20s. Is that a surprise, or reason for concern, or have these numbers always been widely known in the public-radio sphere?

Also, I think it was you, or maybe your colleague Paul Farhi, who reported not too long ago on WPFW's new programming manager, and his decision to use the 10 p.m. hour to air avant garde and new jazz. The 10 p.m. hour is little listened to, relative to other day parts, but I'm wondering if that change has borne fruit for the station, at least relative to the programming that long preceded the new jazz in that slot, "The Latin Flava." Do you have any insight?

Marc Fisher: Good question--the people meters, the first remotely scientific effort to figure out what people actually listen to on the radio, is controversial because the results are so different from the ratings we've seen over the past several decades. Those were based on the absurd methodology of asking people to keep written diaries of what they listen to on the radio; this technology is passive--it actually records your listening choices as they happen.

The result is that people really listen to more varied programming than the industry had previously believed--or wanted us to believe. So stations that had dominated the ratings--in Washington, that would be the black or "urban" stations--are crying foul because their numbers are no longer nearly as dominant. News stations do much better in the new system, and so do religious stations. Classical music fares much better too. Maybe those listeners were the least likely to want to bother to fill out diaries.

In WPFW's case, jazz is not exactly in a strong position in the pop culture these days, and WPFW (89.3 FM) is a mish-mash of a station, mixing the excellent jazz shows with often-intolerably closed-minded and mind-numbing political harangues guaranteed to drive audiences away. I'm not a fan of the decision to move the Latin music shows to a weekend ghetto, but I doubt it would make a big difference in the ratings for the station, which have never been high.


Washington, D.C.: I enjoyed today's article on the successful school in Maryland. It's seems like high expectations of teachers and students are the key to a good school environment. Just curious, the school you chose in D.C. has comparable demographics, including a largely first generation immigrant population? I was under the impression that most of the struggling schools in D.C. were battling against years and even generations of poor performance.

Marc Fisher: Thanks. Yes, most D.C. public schools have populations consisting almost entirely of black students, the large majority of whom are from poor families. But there are a few D.C. schools that have large populations of immigrants, and to compare a D.C. school with Broad Acres, the Montgomery County school in today's column, I chose to focus on one of those schools. That column will be in the paper and here on the big site on Sunday. (Online readers get a headstart Saturday night.)

_______________________ A School That Works By Working Together (Post, Jan. 8)


Washington, D.C.: Hi Marc,

Your article on Broad Acres and its successes was wonderful. In it you mentioned the role that the health clinic has had in keeping the kids healthy and in school.

In D.C., there are three clinics similar to this one, and then a mobile van that parks outside two high schools 1/2 day every week to provide comprehensive health care services. With so many of the health care indicators for D.C. children and adolescents ranking as the worst, or among the worst, in the nation, would you consider raising the value of having more of these health care clinics in D.C. schools in your article on Sunday? Thanks!

Marc Fisher: Thanks for making that point. The D.C. system is at least trying to add some health resources for the schools, but the magical aspect of the Broad Acres model is that the health clinic is there, inside the school, including counseling services, at all times--available not only to the students but to their families as well. The presence of the docs and nurses creates not only health care, but relationships that the teachers and school staffers can take advantage of, creating a team of adults who can learn a family's problems and address a student's needs. In many cases, that helps push the kid into a position where real learning can take place and the school becomes more than a holding pen for the first time in that family's experience.


Silver Spring, Md.: Someone in my house teaches at a school near Broad Acres with a similar population. The principal is overwhelmed. The results aren't nearly as good.

The teachers feel pressured to teach to the damn test. What can I do to make that school more like Broad Acres? What can the teachers and the principal do?

This is a serious, not a rhetorical, question.

Marc Fisher: Great question. The principal may be the core of the problem. Broad Acres in a sense benefited from its former misery--things got so bad that when a federal takeover was threatened, the MoCo system jumped into action and remade the school. That sort of wholesale decomposition of the school is one of the rare benefits of the No Child Left Behind regimen; the other, more common side of the NCLB coin is the one you are witnessing: A mindless, grim teaching to the test that sucks the life and purpose out of schools and teachers.

But the teachers certainly have it within their power to do much of what is done at Broad Acres. Other schools, in the county and outside it, have taken pieces of that model and adapted it to their building, with success.


Washington, D.C.: As a DCPS parent, I'd like to comment on your article in today's Post.

Rhee talks a terrific story, but on the ground, she's made things much worse. She does respond to every e-mail and then it goes off onto some endless loop of underlings who don't respond.

Yes, she's blowing the system up and I'll be the first to admit, a lot of it needs to go. However she hasn't bothered to see what systems actually work. I don't think she has a plan for what to put into place either, assuming there are any children left in the system in a few years.

I'm afraid to speak out or comment in most forums, because if the trail gets back to my Title I school it could be very bad.

I found a school that works for my kids. It has a great principal and a terrific staff. Rhee can't notice that, since some of the terrific people are over 40 and/or not TFA.

Scorched earth is not a good policy when there are children involved and Rhee's actions are hurting children.

Marc Fisher: Well, maybe, but from what I've seen, the picture is a lot more mixed and confused than that. Yes, Rhee is confrontational and that approach may be nearing the end of its effectiveness. But as you concede, the system needed some dynamite. And on the positive side, a remarkable transformation has taken place in the quality of physical plants and the seriousness of purpose at the central office. There's been wholesale change in the principal ranks, with both good and bad effect. And the teaching corps is dramatically different, generally for the better. But the real question remains whether this whirlwind of change and confrontation is making a big difference in the classroom. I will get into that in Sunday's column and in other pieces I have planned for the coming months.


Minneapolis, Minn.: Oh a former D.C. resident I would love to be there for the inauguration but after what I hear, am glad I now live a thousand miles away. It would be exciting to be there, but the audacity of what the Secret Service and police will put residents through that day will be maddening. Enjoy the event if you partake, truly is history in the making.

I really miss D.C. and my dead tree version of the Post. Thank God these chats keep me plugged in - at least a little.

Marc Fisher: Thanks for the love for the print paper.

My sense is that even the security apparatus and their constant efforts to create enough bad news that people stay home cannot stop people from coming to watch this historic moment for themselves. And I guarantee you that those who come, even if they never get anywhere near the Capitol, will have a grand time and an adventure they'll be talking about for years to come.


Montgomery Village, Md.: The 6 year old driver -- another reason to return to manual transmissions. He wouldn't have been able to even start the car much less get it moving in gear.

Marc Fisher: I have always owned stick shifts in part because I like them but also in part because they are the ultimate protection against the kids who do most of the stealing of cars--they haven't the foggiest notion how to drive a manual shift car (of course neither do most valet parkers, which is why I avoid them like the plague.)


Seat Pleasant, Md.: When is Obama going to give towns like Seat Pleasant a bailout like Wall Street?

Marc Fisher: Haven't you heard? There's a whole new federal agency the new administration has established--the Seat Pleasant Revitalization Agency.

No, I'm afraid you'll only get direct aid if you have "shovel-ready" projects at hand. You could offer up your yard.


Ex-pat, Canada: Re: Grades.

We have the opposite problem here where we live in Canada (where no one's feelings can be hurt!)-

91 - 100 = A+

81 -90 = A

71 - 80 = B

61 - 70 = C

55 - 60 = D

So, when my son announces he got an "A" on a test, I always ask "US or Canadian?"

Marc Fisher: So if you score somewhere between 61 and 69, you get cast into the Grading Twilight Zone?


Gov. Kaine and DNC: When I was an employee of the Commonwealth, I was a Probation Officer. If I got a second job -- any job, I had to get permission from my agency head. This wasn't because I was in law enforcement, it applied to every person working for the Commonwealth. This was apparently to avoid any conflicts-of-interest.

Too bad Kaine doesn't have to ask his superiors (the citizens) for their approval to take this job. It reeks of conflict of interest.

Marc Fisher: Great idea--he should put it to a statewide plebiscite! I'd contribute $20 to a fund to pay for that vote.


6-year-old driver: Years ago David Letterman interviewed a 6-year-old kid who decided one day he wanted to take his sister to the beach. He got her in the car, and drove for awhile before getting pulled over by the police. And last year a 6-year-old in Denver was driving a car to the supermarket and crashed. Maybe 6 is some magic age where kids get the urge to drive.

Marc Fisher: It hit with my son at about 3. Luckily, the legs aren't remotely long enough for them to do much damage at that age. But contrary to what I said earlier, he already knew what to do with the gearshift at that age.


Richmond, Va.: Remember, the inauguration is like the wedding day. Let's not obsess over the ritual day, making it too important, imagining insults --when the important thing is the (marriage) term it represents.

Marc Fisher: If you're not sick of Inauguration hoopla by now, you will be a week from now. You're right--we do make too much of it, but this is a particularly historic handoff, and in fact, the American inauguration is a far more meaningful event than a coronation because it is not something that happens in a palace to a head of state, but rather it takes place on the street, before all, and it represents the people's decision about both their head of government and their head of state.

_______________________ 6-year-old takes family car after missing b (AP, Jan. 7)


Arlington, Va.: I know everyone finds the 6-year-old driver fascinating and some seem to find it amusing, but it is such a tragic story. The poor little guy's neglectful mother was asleep. He wanted to go to school for his breakfast. I got the impression from the article that the parents had already had some problems, since it implied the father was not supposed to leave the kids with the mother. But what is the background on that?

Marc Fisher: I don't know more than was in our story, but you've drawn the right inferences. So yes, we ought to feel for the kid, who sounds like he was just...hungry. And we ought to be outraged at the parents, who appear to have failed this boy in a great many ways. But it's also a feelgood story because the kid should not have survived that insane drive--we're just lucky that he drove off the road, that he hit a pole that stopped him, and that little kids, bless them, bounce.


Washington, D.C.: Hey Marc, maybe you can help answer this one since it seems somewhat related to the pre-inaugural bottlenecks. I've seen absolutely no mention or explanation anywhere for yesterdays's total lockdown or "yellow tape-down" of the Penn Quarter area in the middle of lunch hour. Essentially every available option for lunch was closed from about 12 noon to 1:00 p.s. yesterday in the whole neighborhood. Talk about economic impact! No story anywhere. What's up with this?

Marc Fisher: First I've heard of it--anyone have any info on this?


DC vs. Montgomery Schools: There's a big difference between the challenge described in your article, and the problem Rhee faces turning around schools in D.C. Failing schools in Montgomery are the exception; in the District, they're something like the rule. Montgomery has a larger pool of successful teachers to draw from in turning around an individual school. Rhee has to change the mentality of the whole teaching corps.

Marc Fisher: Fair point. But nearly all of the methods Broad Acres used are available to any D.C. school. You're right that the county has a much larger pool of high-quality experienced teachers to pull from, but it took some careful culling even in Montgomery to find teachers who had the guts, energy and interest in taking on that very challenging population. In the District, a similar search for that kind of teacher has been going on, and you're right, that net has had to be cast somewhat wider, and so you have lots of very young teachers coming into the District from all over the country, but that's a good thing--it has injected a level of energy in many of those schools that hasn't been seen in decades. Still, for that strategy to work, you must complement those newbies with strong, smart and dedicated mid-career teachers, and while there are some of those in the District, there aren't nearly enough.


Silver Spring, Md.: With regard to your post about Bill Duggan and Madame's Organ.

I think if you don't want creepy people around maybe you shouldn't hang in bars!

Bill has stood tall for friends of ours in a major way and that's enough for me to know that he's on the up and up with what he says. D.C. should have more businessmen like him. Is One Touch Too Much For Adams Morgan Bar? (Raw Fisher, Jan. 7)

Marc Fisher: The debate on this has unfortunately tended to divide into those who are appalled that a bar would be held responsible for an ugly tiff between two patrons that stemmed from an improper touching, and those who think it is somehow offensive to do anything but burn to the ground a place where an unwanted touch occurred. Isn't there a reasonable middle ground here? Sure, bars should take care to maintain a decent atmosphere and some basic safety on their premises. But bartenders and bouncers cannot be expected to monitor and govern the behavior of every lecherous hound in the building. At some point, the boors at the bar have to be held responsible for their own behavior, which is exactly what happened in this case--the guy who touched the woman was arrested.


Virginia: I can't be the only one who's disturbed by the fact that the 6-year- old kid "learned" how to drive by playing Grand Auto Theft. Isn't that a very adult, violent, and sexual game??

Marc Fisher: You're arguing for age-appropriate entertainment for kids? Pal, I am with you, but I'm afraid that bus left this station a couple of decades ago.


Eye Street: Marc,

I am dumbfounded by your worhip of arbitrary and capricious grading standards! That you think it is humorous, intriguing or perhaps just plain fun that each teacher should be permitted to indulge their own grading eccentricities at the expense of students is fairly shocking. What if each DMV employee indulged his or her own quirks in administering driver's license exams? Or each county social worker was permitted to evaluate foster parent fitness on the basis of whim? Teachers at public schools are government employees and must be held to consistent standards when grading their pupils.

Marc Fisher: Not humorous in the least. But neither is such an approach remotely "at the expense of students." Rather, it is wholly and beautifully to their benefit--students learn, just as they will have to in the real world, that everyone has different standards, that expectations vary from person to person, that learning is done for its own merit and value and not to get a grade or achieve some next step, that different ways of measuring success and performance may work equally well, and that they must adapt in life. Whereas under your system, they emerge from school with a narrow and inaccurate view of how life works, and a false set of expectations about how standardized workplaces and other levels of education may be.


Washington, D.C.: Oh come on Marc. The SS made accommodation for the good folks from Virginia by recognizing limos as authorized vehicles.

Marc Fisher: And you can walk across the Memorial Bridge, so just shut up already.


Dupont Circle-- not from what I see?: You said cars won't be able to park in some areas of Dupont Circle... but looking at the map, I don't see ANY of Dupont Circle affected, unless you include the Farragut North area in that. Unless I'm not looking in the right place? Can you provide a link? Thanks. Inauguration Transportation Map

Marc Fisher: The no-park zone goes all the way up to P Street and all the way west to 21st Street--that includes a large portion of the Dupont area.


I wonder what pregnant women: who are due on Jan 20th are planning to do if they go into labor?

Marc Fisher: I was wondering this morning what someone who lives in close-in northern Virginia and depends on the D.C. hospitals that are just over the bridge (GW, Georgetown) is supposed to do?


High Expectations: Isn't it amazing what can be accomplished when you let people know you have high expectations of them, combined with an attitude that shows you believe in them? You know that guy who wrote Pursuit of Happyness says his mom told him early on he could do anything he wanted in life, and he credits that for his success. He grew up in poverty and lived in homeless shelters as an adult, but is now a billionaire.

Marc Fisher: It certainly sounds simplistic and too easy to suggest that high expectations can turn around a school, a class or even a single child, but creating and sticking to high standards is neither simply nor easy. It is more than just making a statement; it is coming up with teaching strategies, a behavioral climate, and training for staff, and then translating all of that into clear messages for students and parents. It's hard work, and what's encouraging about Broad Acres is that they got this going in a matter of months and got it right in a couple of years.


Don't blame the teachers: I see that Rhee's idea that if she says that it's the teachers fault often enough, idiots out there will believe it.

It's always the parent's fault. They have the responsibility for the child, not the teacher, school or government.

Marc Fisher: You may be right on the facts, but you're wrong on the message, because even if it is entirely the parents' fault, so what? That's no excuse for failing to teach kids. The challenge then becomes, ok, they come to school damaged and dysfunctional--what are we going to do about that?


Re: Penn Quarter lockdown: A security dog smelled something suspicious near transition headquarters, so a chunk of the area was locked down until it could be resolved that there was no threat.

Surely the Post should be on top of this sort of event?

Marc Fisher: Thanks for the info.


Arlington, Va.: Have they given any explanation why 'walking' has been banned on the 14th Street Bridge, the TR Bridge and the Key Bridge, all of which have sidewalks? This is the most bizarre decision, in my view.

Marc Fisher: Haven't heard any explanation on that.


Digital Conversion: It's not that easy. I got my converter box, but the reception was so weak (Galludet area), broadcasts were unwatchable. $30 for a powered antenna improved things a little, but most stations still weren't watchable. Another couple dollars for a coupler to extend the coaxial cable 10 feet resulted in some improvement, some days. Next I need to spend $15-$20 for a longer cable and another coupler.

Reception seems to be better in the evening. But every time a helicopter flies over, the signal breaks down.

Thanks, FCC. Improved picture quality doesn't make up for "weak signal" 75 percent of the time.

Marc Fisher: Yikes.


Inauguration Island: Fed Ex has decided not to deliver to D.C. on Inauguration Day because of all the bridge closings. I guess not a big deal if most businesses are closed that day. But, they are delivering everywhere else.

Marc Fisher: Oh man--if FedEx declares us a no-go zone, we're really in trouble. Next thing you know, the pizza guys will refuse to deliver.


Washington, D.C.: Marc, this is the same DCPS parent who has grown weary of Rhee.

Some the buildings still go without heat and today a child split his head open at a middle school after slipping on wet stairs. The stairs were wet because the roof is still leaking.

The difference is now, principals are scared for their jobs and truly have to worry if too much noise to 825 will get them fired. As a parent, I know if I gripe too much, I could make things very bad for my principal, who is wonderful. So I say nothing.

Ruling by fear hurts children and I hope Rhee, broom in hand, understands this.

Marc Fisher: A measure of fear is not bad if it is accompanied by the freedom for principals to be creative. We shall see.


"I wonder what pregnant women: who are due on Jan 20th are planning to do if they go into labor?": Call police to your home or wherever you start your labor and you'll get an escort across a bridge if you need it.

Marc Fisher: I'm glad you're confident that that will happen. I'll wait to see a real plan from the guys who are shutting down the bridges.


Falls Church, Va.: They've also closed 395 and 66 inside the Beltway for the inauguration, just to cause gratuitous gridlock in Virginia.

Marc Fisher: Yes, and the justification for that is....???


workers who can't take off: While feds will get the day off, and private sector employees (the 9 to 5 office ones) can weigh whether to burn up vacation time or talk their bosses into letting them work from home, those in the hospitality industry absolutely have to show up for work on the 20th, and ON TIME, and a whole lotta those folks live in Virginia. I'm thinking, selfishly, about two family members who are chefs in D.C. restaurants who live in Virginia. With the metros packed full of tourists and inauguration attendees from the area, and every hotel room full, this is going to be a nightmare. This is ridiculous.

Marc Fisher: Sleep in the kitchen. Join our midnight office dwellers celebration.


Arlington, Va.: Marc,

I think the word you meant to use is "paranoia," not arrogance.

After 9/11, we went way beyond security precautions that made sense and into the realm of trying to prevent everything, which is impossible.

What have the British done besides closing off Downing Street (which is a dead-end street) after the IRA? Or after their 7/7 a few years ago? They didn't go overboard like we did.

When security crosses the line from logical and reasonable to totally hindering a free society, the terrorists have won.

You'd think that these so-called security precautions were for Bush and Cheney. After all, they'd love these Inauguration plans.

Marc Fisher: No, I agree with your reasoning, but I'll stick with arrogance. It's not paranoia, because there is a real threat and it ought to be taken seriously. But to try to mollify the public with phony security measures that have no impact smacks more of arrogance than of paranoia.


Anonymous: "Folks have got to make alternate plans, and we need to start making them now," Flaherty said. "As you know, Northern Virginia has a great deal of traffic on a good day. So when we add the numbers of traffic that we may have on Inauguration Day . . . we could have unprecedented traffic congestion unless we all plan, and we all plan together, right now."

This is my biggest beef with the authorities. Telling me what I can't do is not a plan. When I'm planning I need to what I can do and in this case how the authorities expect people to get from their homes inside the Virginia Beltway to the Mall.

Marc Fisher: Well said.


Washington, D.C.: "--if FedEx declares us a no-go zone, we're really in trouble."

Actually, given the expected crowds and the limited number of porta potties, it's going to be a no go zone in a number of ways.

Oh, wait, this isn't Weingarten's chat. Sorry.

Marc Fisher: Har har


Virginia: I was planning on heading to the city -- walking actually, but the more and more stupid questions I get from out-of-towners coming to D.C. for the Apoc-uration, the more likely I am to stay home. Some gems have been assuming they can drive from the Capitol to the White House on that 10 minutes. Assuming they can make it home on the Metro by One. Assuming that they can bring chairs, coolers, and fire pit (no really). I've been slack-jawed with the question I'm getting from friends and family and as I consider them to be relatively intelligent people, I just know that the Apoc-uration is going to be worse then we imagined. Which really, really sucks.

Marc Fisher: All logistical nightmares aside, I bet it will be a fabulous day. Inaugurations are always cool; this one has the potential to be even better.


Washington, D.C.: I am landing at Dulles at 5pm on Inauguration can I get back to my house in the U Street area? Thanks!

Marc Fisher: Dinner, drinks, and another dinner at Dulles.


Washington, D.C.: No access to P Street! Heavens, they'll shut down Whole Foods! Not acceptable. Mark my words: The Logan Circle people are not going to stand for this. Obama will rue the day his inauguration sparked the 2009 Arugula Riots!

Marc Fisher: Just let me know what time they're starting so I can eat and cover it at the same time.


Washington, D.C.: In your article today you discuss Broad Acres School and cite an example of the school buying a child a bed. This concept differs dramatically from Rhee who believes that it does not matter if the child sleeps outside, a good teacher will be able to teach him or her so no need to get a bed.

She has given lip service to wrap around service but it is not happening. Oh, and the after school programs existed last year. I think it is good to have a staff position focused on after school time but the program is not working well.

One example is that disruptive students get kicked out of the programs. We all know that the disruptive and/or aggressive ones are usually the ones who have the most dysfunctional home lives and who need a positive structured environment the most after school. But it looks good on paper to say that every school has a full-time after school coordinator right? A School That Works By Working Together (Post, Jan. 8)

Marc Fisher: No, actually, they are the same idea--yes, you try to get that kid a bed, but no, you don't use his sleeplessness as an excuse for letting him slide through school without being held accountable for learning.


Washington, D.C.: I wish I could sleep in the office downtown, but they've shut down all federal office buildings -- if you try to step foot inside "you will be escorted from the building." Can't sleep overnight, can't park there, can't get in from the cold and use the bathrooms, even if you have I.D.

Marc Fisher: That's a problem. You should pick your fave restaurant, eat there late, and then ask if you can sleep over.


Annapolis, Md.: I don't believe the traffic plan is workable. The Post seems to writing about what the plan "would" do, not what it "will" do. How much change in the plan should we expect in the next couple of weeks?

Marc Fisher: Ooh, I hope you're right. A good public outcry that could force a change in plans? Seems too much to hope for, but hey, it's worth a try.

That has to kick things in the head for today. Come on back next week, some bat channel, etc., and we'll see how things are shaping up... Meanwhile, man the bridges! Write if you get work! Hang by your thumbs!


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