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Potomac Confidential
Washington's Hour of Talk Power

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, February 19, 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, Feb. 19, at Noon ET to ask whether Marion Barry should go to jail, whether D.C. United's proposed new stadium is a good deal for Prince George's taxpayers, and if Maryland should repeal the death penalty.

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.

Who wins and who loses if D.C. United moves to Prince George's County and Maryland taxpayers put up the financing for a new soccer stadium there, perhaps near the Largo Metro station? United fans are up in arms this morning, angry that I am questioning the wisdom of the stadium deal and the likelihood that new retail, hotels and residential development might spring up around a soccer stadium that's used just a couple of dozen times a year. What's your view of the balance of interests on that deal?

Should Marion Barry go to jail for his brazen defiance of the terms of his probation? Now that he has apparently filed his tax returns, does that moot the prosecutors' request for jail time in your view, or does Barry's violation of his probation still merit some time behind bars?

What does Gov. Martin O'Malley's big push to repeal Maryland's death penalty do to your estimation of him--regardless of your personal view on capital punishment, is it encouraging to see a governor pressing hard on behalf of his personal, moral belief, or should he keep his personal values to himself?

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

Yay to Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten for making it clear that there was a much wider fraud than just one lying ballplayer involved in the scandal of Smiley Gonzalez, aka Carlos Lugo, the Dominican shortstop who has been unmasked as four years older than he made himself out to be when the Nats gave him a $1.4 million signing bonus. Kasten is making noises like heads will roll--and the seamy business of recruiting kids in the Dominican Republic needs to be bared for all to see.

Nay to Metro and all the other government entities that are trotting out nightmare scenarios and wild cutbacks as possible solutions to their budget woes. Sure, times are very tough and government budgets require significant cuts. But playing the public with rolling waves of scare tactics (we're going to shut down late-night service! no, we're not doing that, we're cutting bus service! etc.) only engenders cynicism. Yes, such crying of "Wolf!" can produce enough public outcry to force politicians to make the cuts in less popular programs, but at what cost in public confidence?

Your turn starts right now....

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Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.: Hey Marc,

When did it become a requirement that team attendance match the demographics of their jurisdiction? Part of the attraction of building these stadiums is collecting tax revenue from fans coming from other jusrisdictions. At least I thought that was the argument for the Nats stadium. Has that changed?

washingtonpost.com: A Bad Deal for Md. Taxpayers (Post, Feb. 19)

Marc Fisher: Good question. Obviously, there's no such requirement or expectation--witness the fabulous success of the Capitals in their District home. But there is a big difference between attracting fans, many of whom already work in the city, to a downtown location, versus asking folks who live in, say, Fairfax or Prince William to travel clear across the metro area to a soccer stadium in Prince George's. And the largest segment of the United fan base by far is the Virginia residents (same as for baseball.) Maryland's own research on this found a strong reluctance on the part of United fans who do go to RFK to make that extra trip to Prince George's.

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Wheaton, Md.: Marc, when are you going to admit you have it out for soccer?

Where were you when the Lerners were bamboozling the city into a far more expensive boondoggle, and paying nothing (unlike D.C. United, who will be paying 25 percent, which you characterize in today's article).

Oh, now I've remembered where you were when the Lerners got that sweetheart deal -- wearing pom poms and a cheerleader outfit.

washingtonpost.com: A Bad Deal for Md. Taxpayers (Post, Feb. 19)

Marc Fisher: Oh come on, that's just silly. Go back and take a look at what I consistently wrote about the proposal for a soccer stadium in the District--if Victor MacFarlane was paying for it, I thought it would be a great addition to the city's sports facility lineup. I was never a fan of taking parkland at Poplar Point for a stadium or for anything else, but there's plenty of land outside the park where retail, residential and yes, a soccer stadium would have been great additions.

Quite right, I supported the baseball stadium and still think it's a very good, if wildly expensive, deal for the District. No tax money went toward the stadium's construction, but yes, D.C. debt that could have been deployed in other areas was committed toward the project, on the belief that the stadium would spur a whole new neighborhood and an expansion of the tax base. That indeed started to happen before the collapse of the economy froze most of those projects. There's no reason to think at least some of those won't resume whenever the economy starts to come back.

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Alexandria, Va.: The best place for a soccer stadium in PG County would be next to National Harbor, where Cirque de Soleil set up their tents. Easy 495 access for us Virginians, plus a place to grab a beer. Too bad it's a no-go because they want Metro access.

Marc Fisher: National Harbor could certainly use a region-wide attraction such as a sports team, but as you say, the lack of Metro makes that idea a non-starter. United's owners have been very clear and exactly right about this from the beginning of their search: A new stadium must be Metro-genic.

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washingtonpost.com: Nationals Learn 'Teen' Prospect Is Not Who He Said He Was (Post, Feb. 19)

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washingtonpost.com: Officials Split on Death Penalty Repeal

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washingtonpost.com: First Look at Possible Metro Service Cuts (Get There, Feb. 19)

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Manassas, Va.: Okay, I've been willing to ignore most of the attacks against you from other soccer fans, as I generally think we are often too sensitive about what others think. But, given today's column, I have to wonder if you really do just have some personal animus toward the sport. Didn't you argue that Nats stadium, and the Nats, would generate economic development in the District? And add all kinds of community pride and psychic value to the city? Apart from the reality of the Nats (a joke of a team and ownership and a continuing sore spot for the city), why aren't the same arguments relevant for D.C. United? Or were those arguments just, as I think, a smokescreen to get baseball here? If that's the case, just come out and say that you love baseball and would do anything for it. Soccer, not so much. Then at least some of us would simply accept that and move on.

washingtonpost.com: A Bad Deal for Md. Taxpayers (Post, Feb. 19)

Marc Fisher: Those same arguments that justified the public support for the Nats stadium don't make sense for United's proposal for two reasons:

1) Prince George's is not the District. It's one thing to extend a city's busy core by adding on an adjacent retail/entertainment district--that's been done successfully in cities such as San Francisco and Denver, as well as in downtown Washington. But it's something else entirely to try to start up such an attraction de novo in a suburb that fans otherwise would never go to.

2) Yes, the city had to cough up more than other cities would have to lure Major League Baseball to do something they expressly did not want to do--move to Washington. So deep was MLB's bias against Washington that only a wildly overgenerous deal would get the franchise here. Now, will it be worth it in the long run? The track record of urban stadiums elsewhere says yes. Could United pull off the same success? In the city, quite possibly, but in the suburbs, much harder. And that's not even considering the vastly smaller number of dates that a soccer stadium is used each year.

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Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: The same Peter Franchot who opposed slots is supporting the state paying for D.C. United's stadium? What's the real deal here? Is he trying to put PG County in his pocket for a challenge to O'Malley?

Marc Fisher: I have to admit I was quite surprised to hear the vehemence with which Franchot expressed his support of the United stadium in Prince George's. When I called him, I pretty much expected Franchot to be as strongly opposed to this deal and its impact on Maryland's finances as he was in his opposition to slots. But he was totally with the program on the stadium and wouldn't really address the debt issue at all. I think you're absolutely right about the politics involved here: the comptroller, who can usually be depended on to accuse the governor of being profligate in one way or another, seems to be putting his desire to win votes in Prince George's ahead of his usual caution on fiscal matters.

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Antone David: Dear Mr. Fisher, the state of Maryland spent about $70,000 on feasibility studies to come to the conclusion that the stadium could generate about $65 to $80 million in revenues. Why don't you address this? Also, why don't you fully address the similar stadiums around the country? You are cherry picking with Colorado and Toronto. Besides LA, which you mentioned, there's also Dallas, Columbus and Chicago. The model works. D.C. United isn't inventing anything new here.

Marc Fisher: I don't give even the slightest credence to studies that use "multiplier effects" to gin up huge dollar figures for the potential impact of sports stadiums, business ventures, or government projects. Those studies strike me as almost completely bogus and I didn't rely on them in the baseball debate and I won't in the soccer debate. I've yet to find anyone--politician, developer, neighborhood group--who really truly believed in those numbers.

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Chambersburg, Pa.: Lived in metro area for many years. Tired of Marion Barry being above the law. He should go to jail as any other citizen would for tax evasion.

Marc Fisher: Ah, but would the average citizen really go to jail for this offense? In a civil case, that tax scofflaw would have to pay severe penalties, and in fact, Barry in the last go-round was required to pay upwards of $200,000, which I believe has been garnished from his pay over time. In a criminal proceeding, there is the possibility of jail, but the reporting I've seen indicates that most such cases are resolved without imprisonment. Still, some repeat offenders do get some special time to think about their misdeeds, and Barry is nothing if not a serial offender on these matters.

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Vienna, Va.: I don't care one way or another whether Barry goes to jail for the tax offences, but there should be some mechanism for removing him from the D.C. Council -- that's the real embarrassment. The fact that a habitual tax cheat is allowed to have a say in how the city government is run and spends its money is ridiculous.

Marc Fisher: There is no impeachment mechanism for D.C. Council members, but there is a recall provision, and Ward 8 voters could launch a recall effort. This is about as likely an occurrence as my election as United Fan of the Year.

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Baltimore, Md.: So you think a soccer stadium is a great idea.

Just not at Poplar Point.

And not in PG County.

And only if the team pays for all of it.

Marc, you're a columnist. It's OK to admit you have a bias and you don't like the sport. Until you can admit that, you're just a fraud.

Marc Fisher: Back when Mayor Fenty was still pretending to want to keep United in the District, he claimed there were five other possible sites in the city where a soccer stadium would fit nicely. I can think of a few and I'd be totally in favor of a soccer stadium at the Howard Road site just outside the Poplar Point parkland, or at the Old Soldiers Home site or at the southern end of L'Enfant Plaza or on the campuses of Howard, Catholic or American universities.

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McLean, Va.: If Fed Ex Field, albeit only eight Skins game/season, can't revive that area, then what makes anyone think a soccer stadium can?

I'm not surprised by the turn of events and decisions made by PG officials though. That's why I moved out of the county over one year ago.

Marc Fisher: Right--no one pretends that football stadiums will engender retail or residential development because there are only eight home games a year, so why would a soccer stadium that's used maybe 20-30 times a year be any different?

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Portland by way of Dupont: Marc, thank you as always for your excellent column. On the folly of publicly financed soccer stadiums, I thought you might be amused to know of the D.C. connection to another such misadventure. (If you don't already, of course.) The son of then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's son last fall asked Portland, Ore., residents to pony up $85 million in return for his efforts to bring a Major League Soccer team to town. While dad was dealing with bailouts, he was looking for a handout.

Marc Fisher: One of the saddest aspects of pro sports today is the paucity of owners like Abe Pollin or Jack Kent Cooke or even the Steinbrenner clan who admit to what every fan knows--the profits for a large-market team are so enormous that the franchise owner ought to pay for much, if not most, of the cost of a sports facility.

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D.C. UNITED: Lets make a trade with PG County: give us back the Redskins, and you can have D.C. United!

Marc Fisher: If, as some reports have it, Dan Snyder is truly interested in building a new stadium in the District, at the RFK site, he knows he will have to foot the bill. At least as long as Fenty is mayor, there's no way the city is going to get into anything like the level of public financing that went into luring baseball here.

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Arlington, Va.: Marc,

I know that John Catoe has ruled out Metro closing early (at 10:00 p.m.!), but for argument's sake, let's say that this actually did come to fruition. Wouldn't a 10:00 p.m. Metro closure greatly impact D.C.'s night culture adversely? I mean, say a Nats or a Wizards game ran late, and you have umpteen thousand fans (who've been told till the cows come home to take Metro!) stranded and looking for cabs.

Isn't a 10:00 p.m. closure totally counter-productive for D.C.?

Marc Fisher: Yes, totally counterproductive and wildly unpopular, and it will not happen. Sure, there are likely to be service cuts, but as you point out, in a city where the hospitality industry is at the core of the economy, shutting down mobility for customers at night is nothing short of insane. Far more likely would be shorter trains, especially on weekends, and more bus cuts.

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Marc Fisher: JUST IN: Council Member Marion Barry is scheduled to undergo a kidney transplant Friday at Howard University Hospital, according to a hospital official.

More on our DC Wire....

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washingtonpost.com: Report: Barry to Get Kidney Transplant (D.C. Wire, Feb. 19)

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Fisher, you mentioned a "legislative policy analysis" that concluded that the proposed PG stadium would be a financial drain on the county. Can you point me toward that source? Thanks!

Marc Fisher: I don't have the link handy, but if you search under Maryland legislative services and the bill that set up the feasibility study by the Maryland Stadium Authority, you'll find the budget analysis that came to that conclusion.

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New Soccer stadium: Will there be concerts there? Will it be easier to get in and out of that Nissan Pavilion?

Marc Fisher: Nearly every pro soccer stadium built in this country in recent years has touted the possibility of revenue from big-name concerts. And in almost every case, those concerts end up not happening. Why? Coupla reasons: 1) There is, in an increasing number of cities, a glut of venues of that size. Soccer stadiums are similar in capacity to indoor sports arenas and many acts prefer the indoor venues. 2) The large-venue concert scene isn't what it used to be. Fewer events overall, so less call for the new venues. But if the new stadium is indeed located near Metro, it would be a huge improvement over Nissan Pavilion for ease of access.

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Washington, D.C.: Sorry, I'm skipping to the bottom to post my question because I'm ... Working!!

There have been an inordinate amount of pedestrian and cycling deaths lately. When will we finally start assigning blame to drivers, and secondarily to road designers? Thank you.

Marc Fisher: There's a bit of a hullaballoo in Northwest Washington over an online post by a local police commander essentially blaming pedestrians for some recent bad accidents, saying that if the dang walkers weren't so distracted by their i-Pods and Blackberrys and the like, they'd see the cars coming and they'd be alive.

But in fact, the victims in that area were elderly folks who were not wired up in any way. So I'm with you--the problem here is motorists far more than it is pedestrians, and the distraction issue is more pertinent to the folks behind the steering wheel than to those moseying along the avenue.

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washingtonpost.com: Dept. of Legislative Services

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Alexandria, Va.: Two days ago while driving to work, I saw a yellow lab mix running on the median of the Wilson Bridge express lanes (outer loop). The dog almost ran into the left lane on the bridge, forcing cars to brake and swerve. One car stopped in the median in an attempt to get the dog out of harm's way. The dog was running too quickly for the driver to catch him. I called #77 which got me through to Virginia State Police. By this time, the dog was almost off the bridge on the Virginia side, near Jones Point. The woman who answered the phone asked me for details. As I told her where the dog was headed, I mentioned Jones Point, and she said "Ma'am, I don't know where Jones Point is. Is the dog still on the bridge?" Where was this woman, in Richmond? How can a Virginia State Police employee not know where a big local park like this is? Doesn't exactly give me confidence if I have to call #77 again.

Marc Fisher: Trying to describe geographic locations to clueless operators is one of modern life's great frustrations, especially when those operators are supposed to know the map decently well--think 911 operators, delivery folks, etc. I credit my 2nd grade teacher and the SRA Map and Globe Skills program with turning me into a lover of maps; sadly, I go to a great many schools where geography is hardly mentioned at all. Yet another wonderful gift from the No Child Left Behind act and the hysteria around math and reading to the exclusion of other essential areas of study.

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Arlngton, Va.: "I don't give even the slightest credence to studies that use "multiplier effects" to gin up huge dollar figures for the potential impact of sports stadiums, business ventures, or government projects."

Excuse me, but weren't you Mr. Multiplier Effects when the issue was a baseball stadium?

Marc Fisher: Absolutely not--those numbers were totally bogus then, as they are now, as they always are.

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Prince George's County, Md.: As a PG County resident, I, for one, am sick and tired of PG county courting sports teams for the sake of image or theoretical revenue enhancement. Did the feasibility study take into account the impact that such a stadium would have on actual residents? Perhaps not. As it is, as a total non sports fan, I am severely impacted on every home game day at FedEx field by traffic signals that are timed to allow expeditious entry/exit for game fans, but allow residents to languish at lights for up to 10-12 minutes...not to mention the heavy influx of non-residents into the county on roads that are simply ill-equipped to handle the large numbers of fans. The infrastructure certainly doesn't exist to accommodate both fans and residents in communities near FedEx field, and I sincerely doubt it will accommodate both at the proposed soccer stadium. Once again, PG Country residents and taxpayers lose.....

Marc Fisher: At the very least, if Prince George's or any other suburb manages to snare a sports franchise, they should insist that the team lose the city name, either adopting the suburb's name (Anaheim Angels) or going with a regional name (New England Patriots, Texas Rangers).

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Washington, D.C.: Come on, Marc. If Snyder wants a partially financed public stadium, he'll get one. If D.C. doesn't want to play ball, I'm sure Arlington or Alexandria would. And of course, there's always the nuclear option of threatening to move the team to Los Angeles. And before anyone claims he wouldn't do that, I defy them to come up with one instance where Snyder has indicated he cares about the fans.

Marc Fisher: Don't be so sure. Virginia drives very tough bargains when it comes to sports teams, which may well be why it is the largest state in the nation without a professional team in any major sport. Baseball got nowhere with Virginia governments, nor did the Redskins the last time they were shopping around, nor has United in its current search.

And the District just isn't going to go there again, at least not in the foreseeable future. But the city would do the infrastructure support for a Skins stadium, just as it did for Polin downtown arena, an investment that has paid off hugely for the city.

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Van Ness, D.C.: What is your position on what D.C. should do with the RFK land once DCU is out in Largo for the start of the 2012 season? Will the likely new stadium for Dan Snyder's 'Skins get the baseball or the soccer treatment from you?

Marc Fisher: The plan for the RFK site is to extend the city's grid into that vast stretch of largely undeveloped land, creating a new neighborhood with residences, retail, and some office. But this is a long way from reality, and one piece of that reality is that the land under RFK and the surrounding parking fields is still federally controlled, and the feds have a way of taking a decade or four to think about such matters.

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Geography: Don't blame No Child Left Behind. There wasn't much geography taught when I was in school during the 1970s, especially not local geography.

Marc Fisher: Right--some schools did it and some didn't, but overall, there was a greater openness to subjects such as science, geography, history and P.E.

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SRA Map and Globe Skills : Ahh, those were the best! My favorite part of the day. I still use the skills I learned in those classes.

Marc Fisher: Ok, can you recall the hierarchy of colors that you had to climb to demonstrate your mastery of the material?

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Vienna, Va.: "A new stadium must be Metro-genic."

Why? I'm not concerned about venturing into PG County but the thought of a 1.5 hour Metro ride back to Vienna after a game will certainly be enough to keep me away.

Marc Fisher: Some reasons:

1) The horror of the traffic and the access to Jack Kent Cooke Stadium is enough of an object lesson that that mistake won't be repeated.

2) Building around Metro boosts the chances that the stadium could contribute to sparking ancillary development. That's been the key to suburban development for a long time now.

3) The downtown arena and the baseball stadium prove that many people in this region prefer to take Metro rather than deal with the trouble and expense of stadium parking. You might never use transit, but you should be thrilled that more than half of your fellow fans do, because otherwise, you'd have no prayer of reaching the stadium by car in anything close to a timely fashion.

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Alexandria, Va.: Why do you keep insisting the soccer stadium will only be used 20-30 times a year when United alone will do that?

Marc Fisher: The state's feasibility study says the tally of events at a soccer stadium would be 15 United games, a handful of international matches, and perhaps another dozen or so women's pro games and pro lacrosse games. There might be some high school and college games as well, but there wouldn't be any significant revenue attached to those events.

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Washington, D.C.: Memo to Dan Snyder please take your sorry no account team to L.A. with the worst ownership and front office in professional sports on the planet. We don't need a team who mission it is to maximize profits by taking the fans for their last dollar. Go please.

Marc Fisher: Dream on--you're talking about a franchise that is consistently in the top two or three in profitability in all of pro sports. He's not going anywhere.

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Old Line Resident: As a fellow Roman Catholic, I wish Martin O'Malley would expand his compassion for criminals to the unborn. Would you care to explain why Governor O'Malley is lachrymose over killers but almost sanguine over the abortion of the unborn?

Marc Fisher: This is, depending on your views and values, potentially one of the stickiest contradictions in our public debates over morality--those who tend to oppose abortion are often in favor of capital punishment, and those who oppose the death penalty are often in favor of legal abortion. The only way to square these apparent contradictions is to reach deeply into the debate over when life begins and what life is worth at any given stage of fetal development. And we're not going there in the 15 minutes left in an online chat.

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RE: SRA hierarchy: I can't remember every step, but wasn't gold the highest? That brings back the memories from 5th grade.

Marc Fisher: Give that reader a gold star.

But was the penultimate level silver or brown?

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Geography: You hit the nail on the head -- too many schools are ignoring geography (and the art of reading a map). Spatial reasoning is a crucial skill which is being overlooked in favor of skills that can be "tested" -- such as math, reading, and history.

A funny anecdote -- in college I was a nanny to two elementary children living in Prince William. We took a daytrip into D.C. to go to the Zoo, and the oldest (4rd grade) asked me where Oregon was. I told him it was far away, and he insisted that it was right next to Washington.

He had a placemat of the United States, and always put his milk on Washington (State)!

Marc Fisher: Yikes. Even when geography and local history are taught, alas, our provincialism smashes our common sense. Just for yuks, read the curricula of Virginia's state history courses and of the District's D.C. history course--in both cases, required material--and you'll see local history being taught in a vacuum, with hardly a mention of the wider picture of this region's past.

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Maps!: It amazes me how many people don't know, and apparently don't care, about geography and rely on those silly GPS things if they even bother at all to figure out where they're going. I work in the heart of downtown with a number of people who don't even seem to understand the street grid system. Maps are one of the best and simplest tools we have (not unlike newspapers vs. Internet, by the way).

Marc Fisher: Right--in both cases, it's a question of our ability to see the wider picture. GPS pulls all geography entirely out of context. You may be able to see where you are going, but you don't know where you are. In the eternal debate over print vs. online news reading, the same question dominates: Is there any really effective way to recreate in the online experience the serendipity of stumbling upon stories and subjects that you had no idea you were interested in? Many companies have tried all sorts of creative ways to extend the scope of online newsreading to add the unexpected, but the whole culture of the web pushes us in the opposite direction, toward more and more detail and depth and like-minded people in the areas that we already know we're interested in.

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Geography Skills: Sounds like a topic for an article. How local schools have abandoned useful topics like geography, cursive writing, spelling, social science, world history. I heard one teacher say that there was no point in teaching spelling because kids could use spell checkers.

Marc Fisher: Yes, quite maddening that. Especially since in most of life, there is no spell checker. The loss of cursive writing is a very interesting one--I rarely find any kids in school now who ever use cursive. It is barely taught in many places. Yet people still have to write by hand a fair amount, and they're stuck with a slower and more cumbersome method. Strange--but no stranger than our common acceptance of lousy fidelity through ear buds when the technology exists to recreate music in spectacularly good fidelity.

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SRA penultimate: I think the color before gold was brown..

Marc Fisher: Methinks you're right. But this is unconfirmed.

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Vienna, Va.: "The horror of the traffic and the access to Jack Kent Cooke Stadium is enough of an object lesson that that mistake won't be repeated."

Correct, but JKC stadium also seats 90,000 people. The soccer stadium would at most seat a 1/3 of that amount.

Marc Fisher: Right, but look at the traffic nightmare that surrounds concerts at Nissan Pavilion, which is smaller than a soccer stadium would be.

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Geography: On the other hand, if you have functional reading skills, you have the ability to spend the next 70 years learning about geography and history (and to a lesser extent, science). If you spend twelve years in school and graduate functionally illiterate, knowing history and geography is going to be of limited usefulness.

Marc Fisher: Even Binary Man knows that no such either/or choice is necessary. You can teach reading and math skills through instruction in all sorts of other fields of study. A well-blended curriculum also runs a far better chance of teaching kids to love learning, and to inspire them to become readers and explorers of all of those fields.

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Alexandria, Va.: I grew up mostly in St. Louis, Mo., and was in elementary school there from 69 through 76. I remember having to memorize all 50 states, doing reports on foreign countries, learning astronomy in 4th grade, and having PE every day. My son's in 2nd grade at a Fairfax County public school and only has PE 2 days a week. The kids aren't allowed to run at recess unless they're up on the field or playing basketball (I suppose some kid might fall, skin his knee, and his parents will sue the County for $$$). My 5-yr-old has PE 3 days a week. And we wonder why kids in general are getting so fat...

Marc Fisher: Interesting debate going on in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood surrounding yet another attempt by neighbors to stop lights from being installed so kids can play on park fields after dark. One of the arguments wielded by opponents of the lights is that child obesity is only a problem in poor neighborhoods and that affluent kids don't need as much access to fields. Hard to believe, but they're really making that argument.

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Anonymous: Not to be heartless, but what does a kidney transplant have to do with him not filing his taxes? He works a part-time job that pays over $90K a year. He can pay someone to do his taxes.

Marc Fisher: There was an excellent letter to the editor in the paper within the last few days making exactly that point, coming from someone who has suffered similar kidney problems and who nonetheless has managed to file his tax returns.

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Should Marion Barry go to jail for his brazen defiance of the terms of his probation? Now that he has apparently filed his tax returns, does that moot the prosecutors' request for jail time in your view: In my opinion, no jail time should be given once the taxes are paid. As much as I'd like to see him get some sort of punishment, society doesn't benefit from sending someone to jail over this. Let's not spend any more taxpayer money trying to punish someone for not paying taxes.

Marc Fisher: But his payment of taxes was never nearly as much the problem as his brazen refusal to file his returns. For some of the years in which he didn't file, he was actually due a refund!

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Geography 101: Just a plug for the local schools: My daughter graduated from Montgomery Co. schools in 2004; from the U. of Md's excellent Geography Dept. last year, and now she's a professional cartographer.

Marc Fisher: Fabulous--that's always been one of the fields I would have chosen for a second or third life.

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Mclean, Va.: Cursive writing? It's one thing to know where other states and countries are on a map, but cursive writing is pointless. What's next, a course on how to fix a record player or a typewriter? LOL

Marc Fisher: Why? It's not as if people are going to stop needing to write by hand. Even in the sliver of society where Blackberrys and all manner of mobile devices are ubiquitous, people still write notes. Why then would a system of writing that's faster and more elegant not have value?

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Vienna, Va.: A few points on the soccer stadium:

1. The Washington Freedom are still around and ready to play in WPS this year. They'll add some dates to the venue.

2. Other soccer venues in the U.S. are also used for high school events. Soccer is ideal; football less so but not so bad for playoff games after the MLS season.

3. You're talking about "public money" here as if Maryland would be spending money for intangible benefits. Not so. The state would be investing. The plan calls for every penny to be paid back. Even if you're skeptical that the stadium will generate enough revenue to pay back 100 percent, it'll pay back quite a bit. And if it's generating less revenue than anticipated, there are ways of making sure the burden on Maryland is minimal. This is nowhere close to the Nats deal.

Marc Fisher: Right--and so there is a question about whether the Freedom and the Bayhawks lacrosse team would automatically move to a new stadium. I would think the women's team would very much want to be where the men's team is playing.

The cost of the soccer stadium would likely be about one-third that of the baseball facility. Then again, given the state of the economy, the popular resistance to that kind of financing is likely to be greater. And all parties have said that stimulus money would not be available or used for this purpose.

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Washington, D.C.: The downtown arena and the baseball stadium prove that many people in this region prefer to take Metro rather than deal with the trouble and expense of stadium parking.

I don't think so Marc. I think most people took Metro to the baseball game because they were either terrified of driving into a part of the city with S.E. on the street signs or they were driven to an irrational amount of fear over a lack of parking (thanks to the Nats PR department).

Marc Fisher: Without a doubt, the Nats overdid it on the scare tactics about the lack of parking. But the impact of the scare campaign was good for all--those who drive have an even easier time than they would otherwise have had, and Metro has been able to serve the crowds quite well. Now, if the team ever got good and started drawing full houses, you might see problems on the highways, but so far, Metro has done well even with sellout crowds.

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Annapolis, MD: Marc, can you please explain to me how front page stories are chosen? Today there is a sizable column on the front page of an old FBI investigation into the late Jack Valenti's sexuality. Yesterday, deep in the A section, there was an article on a wheat disease that is decimating vital crops in Africa and spreading to Asia. According to the article, if this fungus isn't controlled, we will have worldwide, catastrophic shortages of wheat. Real possibilities of widespread starvation on two continents. Given the international recession, this problem with the wheat seems like an important complication. So why was this story buried, while an old investigation of a dead man's sexuality was front page?

washingtonpost.com: Valenti's Sexuality Was Topic For FBI (Post, Feb. 19) and In the Wheat Fields of Kenya, a Budding Epidemic (Post, Feb. 18)

Marc Fisher: Front page decisions are made by the paper's top editors at a meeting that takes place each evening. A dozen or so of the editors of each section of the paper read all the contenders for the front and then discuss them at that meeting. The final choices are made by the top editor who is running that particular day's paper--usually the executive editor or managing editor.

In this case, I wasn't privy to the reasoning, but it makes sense to me--the FBI story is an original piece of reporting by a Post investigative reporter that lends insight to how our society's values have changed and how a notorious piece of our government operated back in the 1960s, whereas the science story is an interesting but ultimately speculative piece that's really more of a warning about distant, if disturbing, news than anything that will have an immediate impact on our readers. It's definitely worth reporting, and it was given a prominent space on our World News page, but doesn't rise to the level of a Page One story.

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Annapolis, Md.: Here's the link to the Stadium Authority Feasibility Study

Market & Economic Study for aProposed New Soccer Stadium inPrince George's County, Maryland (pdf)

Marc Fisher: Thanks...

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Bristow, Va.: "Right, but look at the traffic nightmare that surrounds concerts at Nissan Pavilion, which is smaller than a soccer stadium would be."

Funny how the place keeps selling out over and over deep in the heart of Virginny despite the supposed "nightmare"!

Marc Fisher: Yes, but have you heard the whining from those folks who get caught in that perennial congestion?

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And now for something completely different...: In this Recession where people either have less income or are fearful of same, will the Post be publishing a list of community gardens where folks who don't have any land (or not enough) can raise vegetables starting this spring? Can new plots be freed up on currently unused land that's not polluted for people to raise some of their own fresh food? Could you please advocate for this program?

Marc Fisher: Interesting idea--we've highlighted a number of community gardens, but it may well be time for another look.

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Richmond, Va.: Marc,

I've attended about 50 D.C. United games over the years and have a shirts and other team stuff. They are my MLS team. I can't tell you how disappointed I am that they couldn't work out a deal in D.C. RFK was easy to get too so I made the trip fairly often. I have attended a handful of Redskins games, but I could attend more but find it a huge hassle. I suspect a D.C. stadium in Maryland will present the same problem for me, so I'm afraid I'm not the fan D.C wants anymore. It's a shame too; I spend money.

Marc Fisher: That's a problem with suburban locations--they're great for the folks who live on that side of the city, but problematic for those who live all the way on the other side. But that hasn't stopped the Redskins from selling out week after week. Fans will go to great lengths to see their teams.

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Elkins, W.Va.: The problem with the soccer stadium is that it is used for 25-30 games a year for MLS, but it may be able to be used for local high schools as well. I don't think D.C. United would be for that since they will give up some use of the pitch, but if the state funds it, they should let other soccer leagues have access to it.

Saying that, you can assume that it won't bring any retail, and the money spent could be better spent in this economy on something else, but perhaps either out on Penn Ave and 495 or up near Cheverly?

Also, you would think the United owners would want to tap into the growing Latino population is PG county which is very soccer centric.

Marc Fisher: Yes, the Latino population is attractive, but the worry is that the location will turn off Virginia fans. That was also the worry about the Nats' stadium, and that has turned out not to be a problem.

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Alexandria, Va.: Has no one learned from the Redskins' mistake of moving to PG County? Yeah, the Skins have 90,000 fans, vs. maybe 20,000 for D.C. United. But who doesn't think the Skins belong downtown in a new stadium at the RFK site? The soccer stadium would've done much better at Poplar Point, right across the Douglas Bridge form the Nats' stadium.

Marc Fisher: I liked the idea of putting the stadium on a platform over the highway where Howard Road and 295/395 meet.

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Falls Church, Va.: Marc, I am the one who wrote in last week and said that I only owned jeans. FWIW I'm a young, hot female and all my jeans are on the fancy side. I get seated in restaurant windows all the time. My two jobs just don't require me to buy slacks, so with my husband out of work, I don't waste the money. I do wear skirts and dresses for some work functions, and a lot in the summer.

Marc Fisher: Thanks for the followup.

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D.C. : One more comment from last week...theater is supposed to be a mirror to society and reflects both good and bad. If dining is a theatrical experience, than the stage is on your plate and your table, not at the table next to you. If you're that concerned with the appearance of others, don't leave the house and cook for yourself.

Marc Fisher: But eating at home isn't the social venture that eating out is--people dine out for all kinds of reasons, and one strong set of reasons has to do with seeing others and being seen, so dress and decorum really do matter.

That has to kick things in the head for today, folks. Thanks for coming along. This Sunday in the column, the last in my series on Virginia's candidates for governor. And there's always more over on the blog, Raw Fisher. Have a great weekend.

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