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Potomac Confidential
Washington's Hour of Talk Power

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, January 29, 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. 29, at Noon ET to look at President Obama's incredulous reaction to Washington weather wimps, the Fairfax chairman's race and the prospect of losing Saturday mail delivery.

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

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Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks.

Yes, there's a bit of re-icing out there, and yes, a whole bunch of school systems--inevitably including Montgomery County's--delayed the opening of school today, even if the temperature is well above freezing and the sun is shining and the president of the United States is mocking all those school administrators, and all of us who live in his new home town.

We've battled over the Weather Wuss issue here for some years, but now we have a zesty presidential zinger to add to the rhetorical mix. Do the observations of this Chicago interloper make a difference, adding any credibility to the case that Washingtonians are weather wimps? Or are we going to retreat once more behind the defense that we get more ice than snow in these parts, or that too many of us come from points south and cannot learn to handle snow, or that we're just very cautious and prudent people and we know better than the rest of the world?

Your arguments are of course welcome....

Hey, there's an election in Fairfax County Tuesday, though you'd hardly know it. The race to succeed Gerry Connolly as chairman of the board of supervisors pits Democrat Sharon Bulova against Republican Pat Herrity, and in my drives around the county, Herrity seems to be winning the battle of the cardboard signs on median strips, but two of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates tell me that they have deployed some of their street forces to try to beef up Bulova's campaign. Turnout, as you'd expect, will be miserably low.

And what's your take on the prospect of losing home mail delivery one day a week? Is this a sign of the apocalypse or a meaningless concession to the decline of printed matter and the triumph of email? (Over at Raw Fisher, I've got a poll going on the relative meaning of the possible cut in deliveries by the Postal Service, the latest round of cutbacks by Starbucks, and the decision by The Washington Post to shut down its weekly Book World section. Please register your votes there....)

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

Yay to the Maryland legislators who are scheming to find a way to have a serious debate about Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to repeal the death penalty. Rather than let the governor's bill get killed automatically in the same Senate committee that knocks down such efforts year after year, the idea is to let the full Senate discuss the issue--now that would be refreshing.

Nay to Marion Barry, who cannot seem to see the wisdom of accepting the incredibly sweet deal he got from the federal judge who let him off with just probation after he failed to file federal or D.C. tax returns from 1999 to 2004. Even as he's still on probation, the former mayor now turns out to have done it again: He failed to file federal or city tax returns for 2007. What exactly will it take to force the council member to follow the same laws that govern the rest of us?

Your turn starts right now....

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Anonymous: I know you loved Obama's comment in regards to school closure.

Do you know if any local jurisdiction has studied a northern school district to see how they do it. For instance, I know western Mont. Co is pretty rural but I lived in Pittsburgh (Pa.) where there are hills and turns that literally seem cut out of mountainsides. In Pittsburgh, they survive snow on school buses. Is it the number of liability lawyers in this area?

(As a parent I won't lie, I enjoy a few extra hours due to school delays on occasion. It's this sporadic teacher planning/training days a week after two-days off that get to me.)

Marc Fisher: Yes, it's the havoc that such decisions create for parents whose work schedules depend on their kids being in school that makes these closings so cavalier and irresponsible.

The local schools officials argue that the example set by northern cities and suburbs is not relevant because those places tend to get snow rather than the ice, sleet and other wintry mix forms of weather that we get here on the fault line between north and south.

There is of course some merit to that argument, except that there are plenty of other areas of the country that get our special blend of icy bits, and they manage to cope without the same kind of snow hysteria. I think it's the combination of the surfeit of lawyers in the area, the overall caution and fear of being bashed by the media and by the constituents that tends to govern public officials in this region, and the snow leniency that is reinforced locally by the poor example that the federal government has set over the years (though to the feds' credit, in recent years, they've been tougher on this issue than our local school systems.)

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Capitol Hill, D.C.: Marc,

I totally agree with President Obama, but I must say that I love D.C. snowsteria. I'm considering leaving D.C. because of the attitude of many in the city -- that it is the center of the universe, and they are the most powerful people in the universe. So many type-A personalities, so little land.

But then snow comes, and those same people seem to freak out as if the world was coming to an end.

There is something very zen about it, and I love that it grinds D.C. to a halt.

There is something about it that seems to re-affirm, that hey, we're no better than anyone else, and when it comes to snow, definitely not at the top of the pack.

It puts us in our place. Just go with it. It's one of the things I love most about Washington, D.C.

Soon the APA will add snowsteria to the DSM....

Marc Fisher: So is our collective freak-out a sign of our inability to cope with forces beyond our control, that is, a sign of our Type A personalities, or is it a sign of hope, an indication that beneath our controlling facades, we are really just kids who love to play in the snow?

I fear your answer will be the former, and I think you may be right. Anyone else want to weigh in on this point?

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Bethesda, Md.: After driving back and forth to work in the inclement weather the last few days, I'm convinced that if passing a basic intelligence test was required for a driver's license, it would reduce traffic in this area by two thirds.

Marc Fisher: I've been trying to teach the concept of black ice to the new driver in our family, and she gets it intellectually, of course, but that doesn't help much with dealing with the reality of a skid that first time. Experience does matter, but if that's the case, the drivers in this region should be experts on this--after all, our whole excuse for our weather wussiness is that we get so much ice....

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That's what he gets for going private: In the article about Obama's epiphany that the DC area doesn't handle snow well (wasn't really tuned in while he was here as senator, was he?), it says Chicago schools closed in 1999, after an ice storm made it impossible to walk safely on the sidewalks.

That would pretty well describe the condition of my NE D.C. sidewalk at 8:30 a.m. yesterday -- a sheet of ice, except where people had hacked it away. So it sounds like D.C. schools met the "Chicago" test for their merely late opening.

washingtonpost.com: As to Ice, Chicago Still Obama's Kind of Townl (Post, Jan. 29)

Marc Fisher: Interestingly, though, it was the D.C. schools that stayed open yesterday, despite the fact that most of their students walk to school and therefore had to deal with those icy sidewalks, while the suburban schools and the D.C. private schools shut down, even though most of their students arrive by car.

You're right--even as most streets were clear, most sidewalks were treacherous, so you could make the case that the school systems did the opposite of what they should have done.

As to your ID line, about this being what Obama gets for choosing a private school, I heard from quite a few readers yesterday who made that same point--that the DC public schools stayed open while Sidwell and all of the other major private schools shut their doors. Those schools might use the excuse that lots of their teachers and students come in from the suburbs, but to my mind, that's a pretty weak rationale.

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Marc Fisher: News of the declining news business just in: The Baltimore Examiner, the free daily paper that is a sister of the Washington paper of the same name, is dead. The Washington Examiner survives, though its home delivery has been cut back to just two days a week.

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washingtonpost.com: Barry Again Fails to File Tax Forms (Post, Jan. 29)

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washingtonpost.com: Move May Aid Death Penalty Repeal Bill (Post, Jan. 29)

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washingtonpost.com: Move May Aid Death Penalty Repeal Bill (Post, Jan. 29)

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washingtonpost.com: Mail, Books, Starbucks: Signs Of The Apocalypse? (Raw Fisher, Jan. 28)

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Alexandria, Va.: Gary Williams, basketball coach for Maryland, is fighting for his job and notes that he has been here 20 years building a program. Which made me wonder what other D.C. area sports figures have also been around during that time. I'm thinking Abe Pollin, John Thompson (once a coach, now on radio), Sunnay and Sam, Riggins... Anyone else? Pretty small list for a big city

Marc Fisher: Well, let's see--Jim Larranaga has been the coach of George Mason hoops since 1997. Wes Unseld would have been on your list until not that long ago--he now runs a school in Baltimore.

On the sports journalism side, there are several folks with great longevity--The Post's Michael Wilbon, of course, and although they are not quite as active as they were previously, NBC-4's George Michael, The Post's George Solomon and WTOP's Frank Herzog.

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Washington, D.C.: At this point, shouldn't the purple ticket holders just let it go and be happy with the apology and trinkets they're getting? The ones who want some sort of private Obama event are delusional, and what sort of "answers" do the rest of them think they're going to get? It doesn't seem likely that there's one specific thing that went wrong that the Inaugural Committee can point to and go, "Ah, ha! That's where we screwed up!" that will satisfy people.

Marc Fisher: It is odd--certainly those folks have reason to be perturbed, but the level of vitriol on their Facebook group page is disturbing. It's as if they believe the inauguration was staged for their benefit. What's done is done--it's good that there's an inquiry into what happened, because any analysis will have to raise important questions about the security overkill that's become standard for such events. But enough already with the whining.

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Washington, D.C.: What happens when Sidwell Friends decides to stay open next snowfall because of Obama's scolding, and someone gets hurt on the way to school? That'll make for an uncomfortable Parent's Night for the president.

Marc Fisher: Why? If that same kid stayed home on the snow day and got hurt by sledding into a tree, would that be the school's fault too? Just because a school or workplace stays open does not mean that that institution then becomes responsible for the behavior of parents who should know to take care and to do what's right for them. The reason I keep banging on this issue is that the argument for closings is based on the absurd notion that a school's decision trumps a parent's responsibility--the parent must still decide how and whether to get their kid to school in a safe and timely manner.

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Arlington, Va.: Only advice one should ever take from lawyer is on legal matters. One should never take advice from or listen to lawyer talk about the weather and driving because studies have proven lawyers as a group are the worst drivers in the U.S.

Marc Fisher: I love the assertion, though I suspect it's not exactly grounded in what we in the biz like to call "fact."

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Vienna, Va.: Marc, lifelong Virginia resident here, however I sympathize greatly with District Voting rights. I don't doubt however that it is easily more unconstitutional than it is constitutional to grant the city voting rights however immoral that is, if that sounds right. Obviously legal challenges will arise immediately following any congressional action, so I have to say I almost like the idea of cutting federal taxes even better. I would gladly give up paying taxes to lose a voice in Congress.

Marc Fisher: Yes, you're right, legal challenges would arise immediately, and Prof. Turley from GW told the committee that he thinks the Supreme Court would stomp all over any such attempt to legislate a seat in the House for the District in a heartbeat. But the law profs on the other side said, Not so fast--they think the court would grant some leeway to Congress to decide for itself how to handle D.C. representation, especially since there are so many areas of the law in which the District is already treated as if it were a state.

The only way to find out for certain is to try. Yes, that philosophy led to the District's slam-dunk defeat on gun rights, but with voting rights, there would still be another way out: If the congressional attempt to add a seat for the District were found to be unconstitutional, a move toward a constitutional amendment would gain new traction.

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Too Much Fisher?: As soon as I saw Obama's comments yesterday I thought of you. "Fisher is going to LOVE this." Is this odd? I do not know you, have never spoken to you and yet my first thought when Power speaks Truth to the weather wimps. Sorry if I have become a creep fan.

Marc Fisher: At this stage in the arc of the news business, we are welcoming even creep fans with open arms. But know this: You are not alone--as soon as the prez made his school closings comments, my email box filled with notes from readers who made the same connection you did--and I am truly grateful for that.

Now, on with the debate....

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Wusses!: My husband grew up on a farm in downstate Illinois. The schools he attended always stayed open during winter storms, kids and teachers who lived in town were expected to show up -- but school buses didn't run on the rural roads if conditions were too bad, so farm kids living on farms were expected to make up the work they missed. This system didn't harm farm kids' academic progress.

Marc Fisher: Hmmm, so the president's home state isn't exactly as hardy as he makes it out to be, or is it only his home city that stands up to the elements?

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Arlington, Va.: Here's my question re: snow. Whenever there's a flake in the forecast, people rush out to buy snow shovels. Why? What did you do with the shovel you bought last year? I don't get it.

Marc Fisher: The shovel fairy collects them all after each winter and turns them into leaf blowers to annoy us in the following autumn.

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Alexandria, Va.: We are weather wimps here. I know we don't have the equipment or infrastructure here in the D.C. Metro area to handle any sort of winter weather, whether it's ice or snow, but in St. Louis (where I grew up), we also never got off school for several inches of snow on the ground, nor for ice. Will this area never learn how to handle what Mother Nature throws its way?

Marc Fisher: Sorry, I can't buy that one. In fact, the District and some of the larger suburban counties have bought startling amounts of snow-clearing equipment in recent years and are now pretty darn good at clearing the roads. That is just no longer a valid excuse given the millions that have gone into stocking up on plows and other such toys.

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Parents vs. Schools: So am I to understand that you think it should be up to the parents to decide if their child can go to school given weather conditions? Should we all just live life to what we think is best without any rules? What about the "unexcused" absences the students will get when they don't show up to school?

Marc Fisher: Those unexcused absences will go on (drum roll, please) those kids' PERMANENT RECORDS. Which, of course, no one on the planet will ever see again once the kids graduate from high school, and which mean absolutely nothing (but don't tell the kids.)

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What did you do with the shovel you bought last year? I don't get it.: Broke it trying to chip an inch of ice off my front steps.

Marc Fisher: This is why God invented those ice-busting chemicals. I like the red stuff.

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Re. Sidwell Friends "sleeping and sledding": I have a kid from Sidwell Friends coming in next week for an interview to intern at my firm. I'm going to have a LOT of fun discussing one Ellis Turner's response on how to explain to students they won't get to be "sleeping and sledding", and why I should bring in someone who comes from that kind of "academic culture".

Marc Fisher: You're a sadistic person. But I'd love to get a transcript of the conversation. Please do share with the class.

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Arlington, Va.: You don't think that Obama's very public complaint about the school being closed might encourage them to not err on the side of caution next time? Not everyone's kids have the benefit of being taken to school in a motorcade. Part of having the world's biggest bully pulpit is knowing how to use it responsibly.

Marc Fisher: Well, Obama's comments didn't seem to have much of an impact today--MoCo went right ahead and delayed opening again, even though everything's melting under a lovely sun.

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Washington, D.C.: Can we move on about the weather wimps comment? Get over it already. As a native Washingtonian, I can say that we do tend to overeact about weather, even rain!

There are more important things to discuss.

Marc Fisher: Ok, let's try some other bits for a while, like, say,....Marion Barry...

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Nay to Marion Barry...What exactly will it take to force the council member to follow the same laws that govern the rest of us?: I think he should be treated the same as any other citizen and as any other politician (say a governor of a mid-west state?). He should be thrown in jail for violating his probation and he should be removed from office. Perhaps while he is in jail with no income, something will sink in.

Marc Fisher: I wouldn't bet either on that happening or on it having the desired impact if it did. That said, I agree that it would be outrageous for the prosecutors and judge to ignore this flagrant violation of the terms of Barry's probation. You'd think that at least his colleagues on the Council would talk about censure or some other such expression of the idea that elected officials should follow the law.

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Washington, D.C.: Has Marion Barry basically become the city's crazy uncle, where we just laugh away everything he does, no matter how inappropriate or illegal? If I were the prosecutor who went after him last time for tax evasion, I'm not sure I'd even bother trying again.

Marc Fisher: Alas, there's too much truth to what you say.

At the very least, you'd think the IRS and the city's finance office would want to make an example of Barry; otherwise, they really do run the risk of lots of other people following his example.

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Bowie, Md.: To be fair, it is true that living in the District is a choice? If there is a real loss by not having representation, isn't that reflected in the market price of housing there?

Marc Fisher: Well, since the same house in the District tends to be a good deal pricier than it would be in the suburbs, that would mean that the market is putting a premium on inability to vote. Which I don't think is the case. I have indeed met people who eventually chose to move out of the District and who say that the lack of a vote was a real impetus for their move. But for most folks, I think it just doesn't rise to the level of determining where they live. I know it's a huge frustration in my house, and my kids consider it the single most unfair aspect of living here.

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Thurber?: Is American University politics professor James Thurber any relation to the great humor writer and cartoonist of "New Yorker" fame?

Marc Fisher: Yes, I believe I have read that he is.

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Baltimore, Md.: Re the Baltimore Examiner: I am frankly surprised. I pick it up every morning at the train station on my way to Washington and today's issue had a robust amount of ad lineage. It's too bad, because while I didn't agree with the paper's politics, it did some digging that the Baltimore Sun didn't -- it exposed how an employee of the city's towing yard had been colluding to create phony automobile titles so that impounded cars could be claimed by other than their owners.

In other newspaper news, a question: I learned from the N.Y. Times Web site that the Post is discontinuing Book World as a stand-alone section. Has the Post carried anything about that? (I missed yesterday's edition.)

washingtonpost.com: Post to End Stand-Alone Book Section (Post, Jan. 29)

Marc Fisher: Yes, and here's a link to our story on the demise of Book World.

It's a sad day for this newspaper, all papers, and the book industry. You could argue that the publishing industry brought this on itself by failing to support book reviews in major American newspapers with their advertising. But even though that's true, it's also the case that the biggest and best U.S. papers maintained book review sections for many years despite those sections losing a lot of money--a book review was a statement about the importance of letters in our culture, and about the aspirations of those newspapers.

Obviously, the culture is rapidly changing and book reading is way, way down. We'll still have book reviews in Style and Sunday Outlook, but a stand-alone book section is both a habit and a statement.

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Alexandria, Va.: Home Mail Delivery -- I'd be fine getting mail 3 days a week -- say every other day.

I get most of my bills online and communicate electronically. Besides catalogs and junk mail, I don't get a lot of "real" mail.

Marc Fisher: It's true that the mail contains ever fewer bits of real mail--that is, anything other than ads and bills. But as I tried to spell out in the blog today, there is both a romance and a statement that daily mail delivery makes--there's an intimacy and a personal connection inherent in the delivery of the mail that the electronic forms cannot replace.

That said, the business model for the Postal Service is as badly damaged as those for all print-related industries.

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Anonymous: I voted for Book World. I think it's more telling that the capital of the free world apparently can no longer support that level of discourse. A mail delivery change has been inevitable for awhile -- the real indicator there will be when the Postal Service eventually is privatized or changes its form and mission in some other way.

I think the coffee thing is cyclical. Back in the early '80s, there were ads imploring people to drink coffee, because they weren't then. I don't know if it will be like that again, but I think Starbuck's has taken it too far the other way for awhile.

Marc Fisher: I voted for the mail delivery, but the loss of Book World was a fairly close second. I don't think it's a matter of the amount or intensity of book buying or reading in this region; by those standards, we're at the top of the heap and there would be no justification for closing Book World. Rather, it's more a question of how to maintain and enhance quality in The Post's news report, and that, in my view, has to involve making painful choices about what we're going to be in the new world--I would think that most readers would prefer to have really strong local news, arts and sports coverage rather than the excellent service and feature journalism that were the hallmark of this paper in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. But that might be wrong--we shall see.

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On another matter...: Two park question about parking enforcement in this city.

First, I got a ticket the other day, but my plate number is wrong on the ticket. I've asked around my office as to whether I should pay or not, and opinion is divided. What say you?

On another note, I think enforcement around here is awful. Parking in the same semi-legal spot I ahve gotten a ticket for $100 (rush hour and all) and a ticket for $20. I raised this issue with my council person (Cheh) who was very responsive but got essentially blown off by the acting head of enforcement. I also raised the issue with Jim Graham, who has oversight over the issue. But since I don;t live in his ward he blew me off too. I'm happy to provide the whole story if you're interested.

Marc Fisher: I got a ticket a couple of years ago in Philly and the ticket-writer put my license down on the ticket as being from WA rather than DC; that is, from the state of Washington rather than the District. So I pleaded not guilty on the grounds that I am not from the state of Washington. And I won.

Your mileage may vary, but it's worth the shot.

On your question about different fines in the same spot, didn't you learn your lesson after the first violation? Also, it's possible that different rules applied because of time of day or day of week. But I'd be happy to take a look at it if you'd like to pass it along.

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Utopian fantasyland?: So it's the fault of book publishers that book review sections are being eliminated? That makes no sense!

As one person in yesterday's story so aptly pointed out, publishers really only advertise in one book review and we all know which one that is.

The problem is that books and newspapers aren't relevant to the age we live in. This, sadly, is a world of blogs, YouTube, etc. The Post has been living off the glory of Woodward and Bernstein for far too long. For years the best Metro coverage has been in the Washington Times. The Post's investigative coverage is lame and its political coverage now comes in the form of Dana Milbank's snarky observations on irrelevancy.

No, Marc, the Post did this to itself.

Marc Fisher: I was willing to engage seriously on this one until you argued that the Rev. Moon's paper has better Metro coverage than The Post. In case you hadn't noticed, the Times killed its Metro section some time ago and now has only the most cursory of bits about local news tucked into its A section. There most certainly was a time, about 10-15 years ago, when the Times had an aggressive and interesting local report, and they smartly picked areas of coverage that the Post was not sufficiently sharp on. But those days are long gone. The sad truth is that whether you think our local coverage is terrific, decent or lousy, the cutbacks in all local newsrooms, in all media, have been so sharp that we are the only ones left with any appreciable number of reporters. You can complain about stories we don't cover or how we report the news, but you can no longer argue that there's anyone else doing it, because they aren't.

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Book World?: For those of us with no clue, what exactly is/was Book World?

Marc Fisher: It was a weekly section of the newspaper filled with reviews of new books, reporting on the world of arts and letters, pieces by authors about writing, best seller lists, poetry, and the essays of Michael Dirda and Jonathan Yardley. (Both of them will continue, Dirda in Sunday Style and Yardley in Outlook.)

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NOOOOOOO!: Book World is ending?! I love Book World, and I always save it for last on Sunday because its my favorite section. And Book World is a joy my father and I share every Monday over lunch, when we share which books caught our interest or which reviews we thought were well done. Since neither my husband or mother are newspaper readers, Book World has, remarkably, brought my father and I closer together as adult because its something that is shared between "just us."

Marc Fisher: There will still be daily reviews in Style and some number of reviews in Outlook, plus a Book World presence here on the big web site. But I feel your pain about the loss of the section itself.

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Alexandria, Va.: In the U.K., you get mail delivery twice daily. Also, if you mail a letter today, it will be delivered tomorrow.

Marc Fisher: Hey, that last bit happens here too. Sometimes.

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Book Reviews: I usually read the reviews by other readers on Amazon, which is where I'm going to be buying the book.

Marc Fisher: And here we come to the nub of the issue, at least as far as the future of criticism goes. Will readers of the future be happy with the critiques of random strangers who don't even give their names, or is there some greater merit in the critiques of those who have made their careers out of crafting analyses of books, movies, music, theater and so on?

Despite the success of comment boards, chats, TripAdvisor, Amazon comments and so on, I think there remains a deep craving for useful, thoughtful and entertaining criticism in all the arts, in sports, and in the practical areas of travel, health and so on. We are living in a golden age of punditry, both professional and amateur, and I think criticism that's well done and attractively presented will continue to be greatly valued by most consumers.

Disagree?

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Alexandria, Va.: Mail three days a week. Wait! I take it back -- how will I get my NetFlix!

Marc Fisher: Excellent point. Netflix will eventually want you to take everything directly through your broadband connection, but that's not yet a really satisfying experience.

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if you mail a letter today, it will be delivered tomorrow: that happens a lot. When I was in college in Blacksburg, I'd get letters from my mom postmarked the day before. It all depends on where you mail it: at or near the main regional post office chances are good.

Marc Fisher: True--within the District, for example, next day delivery is almost a certainty.

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Missing Book World: I will definitely miss Book World. I have a whole envelope of clipped book titles reviewed there -- books that intrigued me and I'd like to read. Haven't bought them all yet, but will. Currently reading "When a Crocodile Eats the Sun" a memoir by Peter Godwin. Probably reviewed over a year ago.

BW introduced me to new voices. Sad day.

Marc Fisher: Agreed--the serendipity argument, the one we older types make for the superiority of print over the electronic experience, is a powerful one for a book review section as opposed to a selection of reviews on the web, where you are less likely to stumble across books, topics or writers with whom you are not already familiar.

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U.K. mail delivery: They even have maps on the side of post offices showing you how late in the day you can post a letter for it to arrive the next day! The Royal Mail is very good.

In all fairness - the U.K. is rather smaller than the US.

Marc Fisher: And postage costs a lot more.

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Washington, D.C.: I found out I had a ticket once, right plate number however it was not my car. Eventually I had the ticket removed from my record. My coworkers and I have found that if there is any error in a ticket, even if you did park illegally, you will win the case. One example was that the ticket writer wrote down the wrong block, and my coworker contested and won. This has actually happened to her several times and she always contests and always wins. Each time she was illegally parked.

Marc Fisher: Always count on the fact that lawyers and judges and hearing officers are trained to be preposterously literal.

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Obama paradox: Just saw this as the lede of a NYT story about the relaxed White House dress code:

The capital flew into a bit of a tizzy when, on his first full day in the White House, President Obama was photographed in the Oval Office without his suit jacket. There was, however, a logical explanation: Mr. Obama, who hates the cold, had cranked up the thermostat.

"He's from Hawaii, O.K.?" said Mr. Obama's senior adviser, David Axelrod, who occupies the small but strategically located office next door to his boss. "He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there."

washingtonpost.com: White House Unbuttons Formal Dress Code (The New York Times, Jan. 28)

Marc Fisher: Wait--so you think just because he believes snow is an acceptable and reasonable form of weather, he should like to be cold while indoors? Isn't one of the great joys of winter the stark contrasts you have between outdoors and indoors--the coming in from the cold feeling is one of life's greatest moments, no?

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re: Book World: I like Book World but can understand that in the current economic situation it may no longer be feasible to print a stand-alone section. If cutting it out, but moving the content, means that the rest of the Post survives, I'm all for it. I would object more strongly if something else in the Post had to go in order to keep BW.

Marc Fisher: I'm not privy to the reasoning behind those decisions, but it certainly makes sense to me if that is indeed the primary motive for this move.

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Book World-related: With the Sunday editorial pages moving to the A section, it seems like Outlook might get a little more freewheeling and interesting. On the other hand, while I never quite "got" the Sunday Source, the newly combined Sunday Style/Arts section doesn't work for me either. Maybe leave Arts separate and combine Style and Travel instead?

Marc Fisher: I share your sense that Style and Arts can be an odd mix on Sundays, but the blend is still developing, and it is a natural evolution, in that the weekday Style section has always been a mix of arts criticism, arts features and news features and profiles. So the Sunday mix is a bit different, but those forms should coexist nicely in the long run.

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We are living in a golden age of punditry, both professional and amateur, and I think criticism that's well done and attractively presented will continue to be greatly valued by most consumers. : Yes, but those critics will be on sites like Amazon, along with the random strangers. Also on Amazon, they usually have two book reviews for each book, from Library Journal and a newspaper, so some of those Post books reviews are showing up on Amazon and I'm reading them there.

Marc Fisher: Yes, but be careful--Most of the real reviews on Amazon are text taken directly from newspapers and magazines such as Book World, the NY Times, Library Journal and so on. So Amazon, like GoogleNews and Yahoo News, is almost entirely dependent on content from the very same old media publications that readers of those sites sometimes like to pretend we can do without.

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I usually read the reviews by other readers on Amazon,: I glance at them, but my purchases are influenced by those of professional reviewers. This is a VERY sad day for us Post subscribers.

Marc Fisher: Well, let's see how the book pages in Outlook develop--for now, at least, the staff of Book World will continue their work and the reviews will appear in Outlook. Fewer of them, but not that many fewer.

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Marc Fisher: That has to wrap things up for today--the queue is bulging with your thoughts on Book World, weather wusses and what should be done to Marion Barry. More on all that next time. Thanks for coming along....

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