washingtonpost.com
Potomac Confidential: Child Protection, Speed Cameras, Bethesda, Much More
Washington's Hour of Talk Power

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, April 23, 2009 12:00 PM

Metro columnist Marc Fisher was online Thursday, April 23, at Noon ET to look at overzealous child protection agencies, Maryland's green light for speed cameras and Bethesda's "most livable" tag.

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Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks.

Lots of reaction already to this morning's column on another case of rigid, overzealous response by health care providers and child protective service agencies to an unfounded suspicion of child abuse or neglect. Critics reasonably argue that the public is insatiable on these matters: If the government fails to intervene and children die, the authorities get savaged. If the government steps in in an abundance of caution, they also get whacked. That's a compelling argument, but it's also a bit too precious. There is such a a thing as a happy medium, an approach that relies more on reason and human judgment than on overly rigid, automatic mechanisms imposed by law. Especially in matters such as child welfare, the right answers rarely lie in the law, but rather in professional judgment on the part of health care providers, teachers and others in a position to take a more nuanced look at a given situation.

Lots of response as well to my piece earlier this week on the blog about Maryland's move to extend speed cameras beyond Montgomery County to the entire state. Lots of you just don't like those cameras and come up with all manner of reasons they shouldn't exist. But isn't the opposition really just based on the desire many of us have to drive faster than the speed limits allow?

We had a raging debate this week on the blog about whether Forbes magazine was justified in declaring Bethesda to be the nation's second most livable city (after Portland, Maine [I could maybe see Portland, Oregon, but Maine??]) So, two points: First, Bethesda is not a city by any definition that I'm aware of. Second, does livable just mean affluent, or is there more going on here? And what places would you deem most livable?

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

Yay to the D.C. government for its quick flip-flop on its pennywise and pound-foolish decision to cut off funding for late-night Metro train service on nights when Washington Nationals games go beyond midnight. The reversal came hours after The Post's Lena Sun reported that the District would no longer be paying to subsidize the extra-late service on those few nights when extra-innings or rain delays lead to a very long night at the ballpark. Like it or not, the city is in bed with the Nationals financially. By agreeing to finance the stadium, the city decided to bet on the ballpark's power to generate economic development and boost tax revenues. That decision obliges the city to work toward the success of the franchise, and making it possible for fans to use transit rather than clogging up the central city with more cars is part of that job.

Nay to the stream of carpetbagging national political has-beens who are starting to pour into Virginia to try to lend some--what? pizzazz, star power?--to the governor's race. Bill Clinton is coming in for his former fundraiser-in-chief, Terry McAuliffe, and Republican Bob McDonnell is welcoming in a long roster of cable TV stars that may include Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. Maybe these folks will bring more voters out to the polls for the Democratic primary and then the general election, but I wouldn't bet on it. What they will do is steer the content of the campaign away from state issues and toward national issues about which a governor can do little or nothing.

Your turn starts right now....

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Arlington, Va.: Marc, I think you have managed to find the absolute worst case of overzealous "child protection" ever! I really hope that there was more to it than what you were able to report (maybe she told hospital staff she was going to sell the child to the circus?) because otherwise all those idiot staff members deserve to be fired.

washingtonpost.com: After Mom's Wistful Remark, A Maternity Ward Inquisition (Post, April 23)

Marc Fisher: Thanks--there's always a lurking fear in reading such stories that we're not getting the complete story because hospitals and child welfare agencies hide behind privacy rules. But you should know as a reader that those same institutions are almost always willing to dish to reporters in great detail as long as their names are not attached to the information. Both government agencies and private institutions that are given cover by privacy rules and laws happily grab hold of those rules to give themselves more power to manipulate the flow of information. In public, they protest that their hands are tied and they'd love to tell the full story--but don't believe that for a second. In almost all cases, those same institutions are privately spinning a version of the story that puts them in the best possible light. The only victim of privacy laws is the public.

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CPS: Your story today highlights just how abusive Child Protective Services can be. I'm involved in maternity care issues, and I've seen many cases where CPS got involved because of the way the mother chose to give birth. Often, these are women who refuse to consent to an unnecessary cesarean (which is rampant in standard OB care). CPS needs to wake up and figure out how to be an ally in improving the lot of children, not Big Brother dictating medical choices every mother should have a right to.

Marc Fisher: Interestingly, in cases like this, the government agencies usually point their fingers at the hospital, saying that the child welfare agency must respond when a health professional calls them into action, and the health care folks blame the government, saying that its rules are rigid and require them to report anything that's even vaguely or theoretically suspicious.

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State of Control: Marc,

I'm having a hard time which is the scariest story:

The new mother who was denied her child because a nurse thought she hadn't bonded with her baby; or, the teacher charged with child pornography for trying to stop "sexting" at a school; or, the teenager who was stripped searched to find some ibuprofen that wasn't there.

Are we doomed as a society that seems to have become so fearful that we will tolerate anything in the name of "safety" ?

Marc Fisher: That piece in Sunday's Outlook by the assistant principal whose life was shattered by a false accusation of having child porn simply because he had confiscated improper material from a student was a jaw-dropper. You're right to focus on the virtually untouchable concept of "safety," a mantra that you now hear being trotted out by governments, businesses, parents and schools in defense of all manner of infringements on people's rights to express themselves or behave in ways that big institutions don't like.

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Washington, D.C.: The story about Karen Piper is chilling. That could have been me -- I was also too medicated to participate in my baby's care, and declined to attempt breastfeeding for the first 12 hours or so. I also let my baby stay in the nursery until the shakes subsided.

Except... my husband was with me. And I'm white. You don't mention Ms Piper's race, but I wonder if new black moms are denied the benefit of the doubt in these cases.

Marc Fisher: Very interesting--I have a whole bunch of emails from readers who assumed from today's column that Karen Piper is white. Their argument is that she would not have gotten the level of attention she got from hospital officials had she been black.

I hate to break up a good conspiracy theory--well, no, that's not right: I love to break up a good conspiracy theory: The woman in this case is black, and there's no indication that her race played any role in this sequence of events.

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Vienna, Va.: Why hasn't every single employee of Child Protective Services been fired at this point? Every single article I have read about them has done nothing but prove their utter and complete incompetence. I still haven't gotten over the women who killed all her daughters last year, despite multiple reports to CPS about the danger her children faced. Maybe I am spoiled by living in Northern Virginia and I don't see things as a D.C. resident does, but I have yet to hear about a D.C. government agency that isn't full of fraud and incompetent people.

Marc Fisher: Again, sorry to break a stereotype, but I don't think your residence in northern Virginia grants you any additional protection on issues like this. The laws governing child protection are quite similar in all of our local jurisdictions, and indeed in this case, the lead agency conducting the investigation was not the D.C. Child and Family Services folks, but rather the Prince George's County version of the same office.

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Washington, D.C.: Mark, the story of the mother who said she had really wanted a girl reminds me of the story of the 13-year-old girl who was strip-searched in school because another kid said she had ibuprofen.

Both of these stories show how completely lacking in judgment people in authority have become.

washingtonpost.com: Justices' Takes on Strip Search Vary (Post, April 22)

Marc Fisher: Zero tolerance rules are written not for the protection of students or parents, but for the convenience and comfort of the lawyers and bureaucrats who have to deal with outraged parents or litigious citizens. They are simply a way to remove human judgment from the interaction between government and people.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you suppose the odds are that the overzealous hospital staff in your story are drinking the same Kool-Aid as the school administrators who thought it was worthwhile to strip search a preteen girl over Advil?

What's sad in both cases is that terrific, intelligent people are probably being turned off of those professions over things like these. If I were on staff in either situation at the time, my intelligence would rather disobey orders than actually carry out such total stupidity.

Marc Fisher: And while they wouldn't call their actions disobedience, in fact the best professionals in these fields do not allow poorly conceived laws to prevent them from exercising the discretion and judgment that they view as central to their work. These outrages tend to occur when folks who aren't really confident of their skills or positions get very literal on poor, unsuspecting people.

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NoVa: Your recent story about the woman having her newborn nearly taken from her made me think about telling you my newborn story. Not the same kind of thing, rather an insurance company frustration.

I have a 3.5-year-old and a 5-month-old. When the 3.5-year-old was born they conducted a newborn hearing test. Required by state of Virginia and also required to be paid by the insurance company. They didn't. I wrote letters, filed an appeal, and copied the hospital as well as my state representative. It finally got paid as it should. Fast forward to this year...and the same thing is happening again. I still have all the letters and will pull them out, write a new one to cover and start the whole thing all over again. But it really is making me angry -- and makes me think of all those other babies and mothers who have gotten this bill in those three years, and just paid it because they didn't know that the insurance company is REQUIRED to pay it themselves!

Is there any way to make these people do the right thing without all the run-around? I thought maybe a little publicity of this practice might make them start doing the right thing for everyone, not just those who put up a fight.

Marc Fisher: Sadly, publicity is often an effective way to get companies to do what they were supposed to have done in the first place. I say sadly because only a tiny number of justified cases can get the publicity that brings about proper behavior.

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Judiciary Square, Washington, D.C.: Marc... was absolutely outraged by your column today. I am so sick of the smug, self-righteous people who have far too much power in our society (by they way, I'm a "bleeding heart" liberal, not a libertarian or conservative. But like most other liberals I know, I also believe in common sense). I'm also a (former newspaper)journalist who covered child abuse and child murders in foster care in a far smaller city, while otherwise fine parents got harassed for little or no good reason.

I had to vent before asking a question that you may or may be able to answer: I and my childless women friends in our mid to late 40s would really like to know if Piper was able to get pregnant naturally or if she used donor eggs. Can you say?

washingtonpost.com: A Life Lost in the Shadow Of Freddie Mac's Turmoil (Post, April 23)

Marc Fisher: Thanks--actually, I don't know how this baby was conceived. Ms Piper argued that the method of conception was irrelevant to the issue at hand, an argument she also had with the doctors and investigators who put the hold on her baby. I think she's right and therefore I agreed not to ask her to divulge that information.

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Alexandria, Va.: Re: "After Mom's Wistful Remark, A Maternity Ward Inquisition" One of the lessons from a story such as this is how much power the nurses on site have over the patients. An ignorant misinterpretation by a nurse began the Kafkaesque chain of events you described. My own experience was on a much milder scale, luckily. A day after I gave birth to my 2nd child at INOVA Alexandria hospital, I found myself confronted by a neonatal intensive care doctor, sternly reprimanding me for not being able to breastfeed or bottle-feed my baby adequately. The night nurse had told her I was starving my son. My low-weight baby son had a poor suck reflex, which I had never dealt with before. I could not get him to latch on or suck a bottle nipple strongly. He was supplemented with a bottle in the nursery. When I told the doctor I was having trouble, she yelled at me to "ask the nurses to show you!" The night nurse who started it all had said nothing to me nor had she offered help. The two other nurses I asked told me bluntly they were too busy. I staked out the nursery for two hours until a nurse hurriedly took me through steps to stimulate my baby to suck. The simple technique of tapping him under the chin alleviated the problem. To her credit, the doctor realized the nurse had been wrong. But had I been woozy from medication, like the mother in your column, the encounter could have gone very differently.

Marc Fisher: That's a good cautionary tale. I've seen some truly splendid nurses at work in neonatal wards, but then there are always the exceptions, and certainly in the case I wrote about today, it was indeed the nurses that got the ball rolling on the investigation--and in Piper's telling, it all started with some inappropriate questioning and assumptions on the part of the nurses.

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Sasha in Petworth: Of course this is a troublesome story. But being an unwed mother shouldn't have been the problem. It's so incredibly common. Could this woman have ranted and complained about having a son and not a daughter, making much more than an off-handed remark that she had wanted a girl, to have caused social workers to have been notified?

Marc Fisher: I wasn't there and the doctors and nurses aren't talking, so for that piece of the story, we have to rely on Piper and her lawyer, both of whom say that the mother did indeed become very upset when nurses accused her of not bonding properly with her baby. They also frankly concede that Piper did express disappointment that she hadn't had a girl. But she says that that in no way diminished her immediate love for her son, whom she says she had by her side as often as she was physically able to given that she was coming off heavy sedation.

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Rockville, Md.: Just based on past performances, I would bet you do not like speed cameras. If so, is it a privacy issue? Is the road a private place?

The Beetles thought so. "Why Don't We Do It in the Road."

If you do like them -- then congratulations. I have misjudged you and am sorry.

Marc Fisher: I can see from past performance, as you put it, why you might think I'd oppose speed cams. My libertarian streak could lead me there. But that's overwhelmed by my desire to get cops out fighting crime rather than doing simple gotcha work that a machine can handle. So I actually love speed cams, especially as I see more and more studies showing that average driving speeds on roads equipped with the cams really do come down quite impressively.

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Washington, D.C.: I was surprised to learn that Chevy Chase, Maryland was making so much money off their speed cameras on Connecticut Ave. First that strip was always a speed trap. Now that most people know of the cameras, the speed on that portion of Connecticut has dropped to about 5 mph below the speed limit. The District has a car with a camera on Military Rd. just west of the park that has worked in slowing traffic down in the mornings as well.

Marc Fisher: I am amazed on a regular basis by the number of drivers I see speeding through that trap at 20 or more mph over the limit even though they see the bulk of their fellow motorists slowing to an unnatural crawl all the way through the village. Many of these fools actually weave through the various lanes of relatively law-abiding folks to get their moment in the flash of the speed cam.

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Falls Church, Va.: Does anyone know what happens if a Virginia driver gets tagged by Montgomery County photo radar and simply ignores the "ticket"?

Marc Fisher: They gonna come and get you. All these jurisdictions have reciprocal arrangements. You will get a reminder and then a dunning notice from a collection agency and the bill will keep mounting, to astonishingly high levels. It's maddening, but unless you have many hundreds in extra cash to spare, pay the sucker.

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But isn't the opposition really just based on the desire many of us have to drive faster than the speed limits allow? : In a word, yes.

washingtonpost.com: Today's Recession-Proof Biz: Speed Cameras (Post, April 22)

Marc Fisher: Thank you.

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Washington, D.C.: An interesting twist on speed cameras. An Arizona lawsuit claims the Redflex photo radar units have not been properly approved by the FCC. Using an unapproved radar unit is a violation of federal law, they say.

Which firms make the speed cameras used in this area?

Lawsuit targets photo radar's FCC status (East Valley Tribune, April 21)

Marc Fisher: In MoCo, it's the same company that handles the D.C. speed cams: ACS. But several other companies in that field were among those that made hefty campaign contributions to Maryland legislators, so it's reasonable to assume that other companies will be vying for the business in other Maryland counties now that the program will be expanded.

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Washington, D.C.: Re: Bethesda, Md., as a #2 on livable cities, I understand that Bethesda doesn't qualify to be a city because it's not incorporated as such, correct? The only incorporated city in MontCo is Gaithersburg, correct?

washingtonpost.com: Most Livable City: Bethesda? (Post, April 20)

Marc Fisher: Right, Bethesda is not a city in the legal sense. I'd argue that it's not really one in the more informal sense, either, but that's neither here nor there. For Forbes' purposes, they seem to conflate city and suburb into one amorphous concept. Which is pretty strange.

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after Portland, Maine (I could maybe see Portland, Oregon, but Maine): Have you ever been? I had the same reaction on my first trip, I was practically dragged. But Portland, Maine is one of the nicest cities I've ever been to.

Marc Fisher: Yes, I've been and it's a lovely place. I know folks who moved there just to live there--without a job or family tie pulling them there. That's impressive testimony to a place's quality of life. But it's a very small city and my sense of the Forbes ranking concept is that they originally wanted to measure livability of cities, sort of the way Richard Florida has in his various studies, and that would lead me more to places like Portland, OR, which has the size and density to support a raft of amenities that suburbs and very small cities cannot provide.

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Bethesda, Md.: I love in Bethesda -- obviously -- and don't think the quality of life here has anything to do with affluence. If so, then I can't explain why I like it. We are anything but affluent.

Bethesda has a lot of small-town qualities and charm (sadly, many of them are getting squeezed out by growth, but for the moment and for the most part, they remain) that makes it livable. Things like the Community Store, Pines of Rome, Tastee Diner and the B-CC Rescue Squad are all the stuff of a close community -- regardless of income.

Marc Fisher: "Anything but affluent?" I hope you're just talking about yourself and not Bethesda itself, because the numbers don't lie--look at average household income, property sales, any measure you like, and Bethesda is among the most affluent zip codes in the nation.

I agree with you on some of those great old institutions that add a lot of character to the place, but as you say, they are being squeezed out by a homogenizing force that renders the bulk of the area's central core fairly bland and indistinguishable from other suburban settings.

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Arlington, Va.: Bethesda? Ha. Bethesda is not in my top 5 of areas to live in D.C. If you want to live in urban suburb, the Clarendon area is far superior. It has far superior nightlife, better restaurants and it's easier to get to the parts of the city that people care about most (Gtown and Federal areas). Who wants to schelp through all of NW just to get down to Gtown or the Mall.

Marc Fisher: Depends where you're coming from, of course. But Clarendon does seem to offer more diverse retail, has retained more of its funky roots, and has used planning in a smarter way to extend its walkable center over a broader area than has downtown Bethesda. Still, both are certainly on the successful side of the ledger among suburbs that have retooled using smart growth and new urbanist ideas.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Aren't letters to the editor screened for accuracy before they're run? I know the postings to the chats aren't. Let's set the record straight. Elijah Dukes was paid $500 to appear at that Little League game and was outside the scope of the Nationals community relations effort. His $500 personal appearance fee didn't count the $501 the community raised to pay his fine. Dukes's $500 personal appearance fee was clearly stated in the April 21 article by Dave Sheninin and Dan Steinberg. Yet the letter to the editor in today's paper and several comments in these chats imply that Dukes was some kind of Babe Ruth telling the sick kids in the hospital to stay in school and he'd hit a home run for them. So let's see Dukes was late to a game that all of his teammates were on time for and depending on him to be there -- all for $500. All it took was $500 to get Dukes to appear? Will Dukes appear at my birthday party for $500? If he does, I do hope he's able to manage his time to get to work on time. WP continues to flame this fake outrage as an example of the Nationals failed community relations when it is really the story of a guy who thought $500 was more important than his team.

Marc Fisher: Thanks--I share your discomfort over the idea of paying a zillionaire ballplayer $500 to go sign some autographs and talk to Little League kids. If the team is sponsoring the event, of course they don't charge for it. But when an individual player goes out on his own as Dukes did in this case, you'd think someone from the team would advise him not to charge a fee. That almost undermines the goodwill of his showing up in the first place (though it's worth noting that it didn't seem to hurt in this instance--the Little League folks there seemed totally fine with paying Dukes his fee, and loved having him at their event.)

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Reston, Va.: Charities pay to have Metro run extended hours, as do events at Verizon Center events and the Redskins. Angelos paid for Camden Yards.

Washington paid for the Nats Stadium, now the City is cutting much needed services while paying for transportation for baseball fans.

Meanwhile, the average attendance over the last several games, excluding the Home Opener and the two rainy nights, but including the sunny Saturday afternoon, hovers around 15,000 paid, with perhaps a little over ten thousand actually in the seats.

And you see the City paying for extended hours as a GOOD thing?

Marc Fisher: Yes, because the appallingly low attendance so far this year--admittedly the weather has been awful--is an indication that the lack of attention paid to putting a decent quality team on the field over the past couple of years is really hurting baseball's return to this region, and the city has a huge vested interest in building up fan support. Even if you disagreed with the decision to finance the stadium as a way to lure baseball back to Washington, the fact is that public money is involved in this venture, and it therefore behooves the city to do its part to make this work. On top of that, it's just good transportation policy to encourage folks going to all major public events to use transit.

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Washington, D.C. : On Monday night the Nationals delayed the start of the game by about 90 minutes to allow their new pitcher the chance to throw several uninterrupted innings. The Nationals could have started the game on time as the rain didn't come until about 8 p.m., and even then it didn't rain very much. This would have kept the game from ending after midnight. In these situations, where the team controls when the game will start, don't you think that the Lerners bear some financial responsibility in seeing that Metro stays open late.

Marc Fisher: The storms were coming pretty fast and furious that night, so I wouldn't pin the decision entirely on saving the pitcher's arm. But I do think there was at least one game this week and perhaps two that shouldn't have been played at all. It's just not fair to people who've shelled out big bucks for tickets to go ahead with a game in a driving rainstorm, knowing that those fans are not going to come to the game and are just out all that money. The team needs to put winning the hearts of fans over the crass desire to get the game in and prevent scheduling difficulties later in the season.

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Re. Metro refuses to pay for late Nats games: I must be in the vast majority when I say it is beyond ridiculous that D.C. or Metro is expected to pay for extra Metro fees when it stays open late to get Nats fans home. Isn't it completely obvious that the Nationals should be paying these fees, just like any other organization that asks Metro to open or close late? I don't think the city should be responsible, and Metro is an innocent here but is in a tough spot -- Metro certainly can't let the 100 or 200 fans that actually attend these games to remain stranded at the ballpark. (OK, my #s there are said in jest, as a frustrated Nats fan.) But seriously, it is outrageous that the Nats are refusing to pay the fee. Do they want their attendance to decline even further or to guarantee that ALL fans will leave by the 7th inning to ensure they make their train back home? Ridiculous.

Marc Fisher: Sure, it makes sense that the city would seek to at least share the cost with the team. But then you get into all the nonsense between the District and the Lerner family. The bottom line is that someone has to take responsibility for making certain that trains are running to get folks home from major events. The city and the Lerners need to work it out; if they can't, the city has to be the adult in the situation and pay Metro its fee. We're not talking about huge sums here.

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Section 128 Row L: After what happened last night, I think that Nationals Park needs to have a new announcement that is broadcast whenever the NATINALS commit a particularly bad blunder that costs them the game. The announcement should be from Metrorail:

"Doors opening. Step back to allow customers to exit."

Either that or have a AAA tow truck standing by to give a Nats pitcher the hook back to Syracuse.

Marc Fisher: Metro could solve its budget woes by providing shuttle service between Washington and Syracuse as inept relief pitchers zip back and forth....

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Baltimore, Md.: Technically (and if this doesn't help you pick up the ladies at a bar, nothing will) there are 23 incorporated communities in Montgomery County:

Barnesville Brookeville, Chevy Chase #3, Town of Chevy Chase, Chevy Chase #5, Chevy Chase View, Chevy Chase Village, Drummond, Friendship Heights, Gaithersburg, Garrett Park, Glen Echo, Kensington, Laytonsville, Martins Additions, North Chevy Chase, Oakmont, Poolesville, Rockville, Somerset, Takoma Park, Washington Grove.

I'm an Md. SHA cartographer and we are legally required to produce maps of each of this "jurisdictions" every year, even though some may only have one or two streets. Each one may have different powers, i.e. Somerset isn't going to have its own police force, but they are legally separate jurisdictions for one reason or another.

Marc Fisher: Thanks for the list...

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Reciprocity: Marc, As an FYI you are just wrong about Virginia giving a darn about Maryland. Unless something has changed in the last year, Virginia does not have reciprocity with ANY state for violations that don't give out points. They are basically parking tickets and will not affect your ability to renew your driver's license or your registration. Maryland would like to think they can enforce the action, but they have no way to actually do it unless they tow your car or arrest you. Please let the fellow chatter know.

Marc Fisher: Regardless of the details of the reciprocity agreement, the bottom line is that state lines don't protect you against the obligation to pay a debt, and a collection agency can and will come after you in Virginia for a speed cam fine incurred in Maryland.

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Clarendon, Va.: You said "But Clarendon does seem to offer more diverse retail, has retained more of its funky roots"

A Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, Whole Foods, and a Cheesecake Factory are not FUNKY.

The only roots that Clarendon has now, are blond, and those are dyed....

Marc Fisher: Walk a couple of blocks away from the big boxes and you'll find surviving strips of small locally-owned businesses with wares quite distant from the chains.

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Not Bethesda: As it says in the small print on the Forbes story, they ranked those 'cities" using the government's metropolitan areas. And, indeed, by that measure, there is a Bethesda metropolitan division (Montgomery and Frederick counties) that is separate from the Washington metropolitan division (DC, NoVa, PG and Jefferson County WV).

Marc Fisher: Right, and that's the central fallacy in their methodology--by what possible stretch of the imagination are, say, Dickinson or Poolesville cities or part of cities?

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Metro and the Nats: Not sure I have an opinion on the Nats-running-late-no- Metro-service possibility, I can see it is a tough problem either way. But one only partly facetious answer would be to go all Cubby-style and play a full schedule of day games, thus obviating the need for any late night train service.

More seriously, it is disappointing yet again this year that there is not a single weekday day game on the Nats schedule. I would love to play hooky from work once in a while and go to the ballpark. Seems like any midweek series should culminate in a day game "getaway day" as it does in most other cities. Why not here? Seems like yet another way the owners are tripping over their own feet.

Marc Fisher: Alas, the traffic-panicked folks who run local governments have essentially put the kibosh on weekday day games for fear of major jams when games end smack in the middle of evening rush hour. This is very strange thinking given that games that start at 7 pm cause just as much interference with the rush hour, but most politicians live under the bizarre illusion that rush hour is over at 6:30. Their refusal to recognize that reality has changed in the past half-century is the reason many of our area's worst traffic jams happen in the 6:30 to 7:30 hour--after the one-way and extra-lane rush hour provisions have expired.

But the good news is that there are three weekday day games this season--not many, but an improvement.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc, I would hesitate to call Dukes a "Zillionaire." He's only making $415,000 this season. And in the offseason had to go to court because he couldn't pay his child support.

So, honestly, the $500 may actually mean something to him.

Marc Fisher: Ok, let's say a budding zillionaire. With his talent, he'll get quite a hefty contract next time. And I'm sorry, but someone making $400k ought not be making unseemly demands for $500. Four hundred thousand dollars is a stunning and unimaginable amount of money to most of us.

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Frequent D.C. Visitor...: You mentioned D.C. wanting to cut late-night service.

Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago all have 24-hour service on their subway systems. Why is D.C. so behind the times?

Marc Fisher: It was an economizing move when Metro was first built. Cities with 24-hour systems usually have a third track so maintenance work can be done without shutting down two-way traffic in the tunnels. Our system was built with but two tracks--that saved a ton of money up front, but was indeed short sighted, as we see now, when there is probably enough overnight traffic to justify 24-hour service. Check out the traffic numbers for Metro's first hour of business each day--clearly lots of those folks are just waiting for the trains to begin service...

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Do You Cover the FilmFest?: FilmFest DC is going on right now. It's a great event, and it does get coverage in the Post. But I wonder if it's ever garnered Metro coverage. A column like yours is the perfect place. You write about communal events in the city all the time. When was the last time you wrote about the film festival? I'm not sure you haven't; I just don't remember reading anything from you.

I do remember Desson Thomson's profile of Tony Gittens from last year or the year before, but that was a Style feature, I believe. Sure, movies are a natural fit for Style, but isn't there some Metro angle to explore? How about the annual plight of finding enough venues for the different screenings? That's obvious. Maybe there's something else to explore.

In short, as much as I appreciate the ink dedicated to the festival before it takes place, I'd love to read something about the festival -- as it's unfolding. The event falls off the radar completely as soon as it gets under way. There's never any follow up about who won the various awards, or what the organizers learned from the latest festival.

Are you with me?

Marc Fisher: Let's see, the last time I wrote about the FilmFest was, um, last week. I reviewed all of the locally-based or -themed movies in the festival in last week's Style and Arts section.

But you're right--we should do more coverage of local arts events and groups, and we should do more of it both in our arts section and in Metro, and I hope and expect you'll see some more of that coming soon.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Mark, I had a C section at 37 and I can tell you it was a bit rough afterwards. On a few nights I left my son in the nursery so I could get some rest. I had days ahead of sleep deprivation. Plus they give you Percocet for pain. So you are a bit high. Also, I suspect at 50, which I am now, the woman felt that she did not have to explain her actions which were reasonable. And being upset, she is probably pre or fully menopausal. What is the world coming too?

Marc Fisher: Thanks for the good perspective on that situation. That's very helpful.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Marc -- I have become obsessed with the story of the Freddie Mac CFO who apparently committed suicide yesterday. Is there any buzz around the newsroom about this today?

washingtonpost.com: A Life Lost in the Shadow Of Freddie Mac's Turmoil (Post, April 23)

Marc Fisher: The story Rocci has linked to here is the first result of our reporting on this awful story and there will be more coming along as we learn it.

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Re: Speed Cameras: You hit the nail on the head with the speed cameras. People don't like them because they get caught. All those other arguments are red herrings. I like that a simple machine saves time, money and hassle of a patrol car/officer plus they are ALWAYS on. You speed, you get caught. That's why they work so well, and also why so many people hate them.

Marc Fisher: Exactly.

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Follow-up on sexting: What happened to the kid and his parents that started the whole thing? Darn helicopter parents!

Marc Fisher: Don't know--anyone?

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Arlington, Va.: " On Monday night the Nationals delayed the start of the game by about 90 minutes to allow their new pitcher the chance to throw several uninterrupted innings."

You might want to mention that the Nationals have no say in delaying a game. That decision is completely up to the umpires.

Marc Fisher: Yes, it's the umps' decision, but as I understand it from my (limited) time in the press box over the years, the home team's administration is very much involved in those discussions, both in interpreting the weather forecasts and in discussing issues such as traffic, transit, and other local factors.

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Washington, D.C.: But Dukes isn't really making money, if you can believe Jim Bowden

From an article on ESPN:

"The Nationals have been kept abreast of Elijah Dukes's financial situation through his advisors, agents and attorneys. When we acquired the player, we were aware that his obligations exceeded his income," Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said in a statement issued by a team spokesman.

Lawyer: Dukes to meet court deadline (AP)

Marc Fisher: If he chooses to spend his riches on "advisors, agents and attorneys," we can certainly feel sorry that he's being scammed, but that doesn't mean he needs to hit up a Little League for $500. Please.

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Walk a couple of blocks away from the big boxes and you'll find surviving strips of small locally-owned businesses with wares quite distant from the chains. : Same with downtown Silver Spring, yet you love to rip on it. Just sayin...

Marc Fisher: Totally right about Silver Spring, but hey, I plead not guilty on this one--I've been a huge fan of downtown SS, both the old and even the Disney-esque new--and have written about that for many years.

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Sec 124 Row J: Hey, they ALMOST won last night, except for the pitiful relief pitcher. I was pleasantly surprised.

Marc Fisher: ...except in horseshoes, hand grenades and ballet dancing.

But that said, I agree--they've been really close in almost every game and except for the flammable bullpen and the awful defense up the middle, they're an exciting and interesting team to watch.

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Washington, D.C.: How pathetic can a sports franchise get?

Our WONDERFUL baseball team lost 102 games last year and has started out this season 3-11.

They refused to pay rent on a stadium that was built for them with taxpayer money.

They had a general manager that is tangled up in an embezzlement scheme.

They were middle-of-the-road in terms of attendance in a brand new ballpark, and only have ONE discount deal for tickets this season (Sunday family day) in the current economic climate (The Yankees have a whole page of special deals and offers).

They're on their THIRD concessionaire in three years.

They can't spell their own team name correctly on their jerseys.

They fine and bench a guy for being late because of doing scheduled charity event.

And now, they're whining to radio stations and pulling advertisements because radio hosts are being critical and "negative" towards the team.

Could we just wind the clock back three years when MLB finally sold the team and try again? This organization (and not just the product on the field) is just flat out PATHETIC, and I will not send another penny in their direction!

Marc Fisher: They do seem star-crossed in some ways--the run of injuries is just hard to believe. But hey, that's the grand tradition of Washington baseball. Go see Damn Yankees, or better yet, read the novel it's based on.

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D.C.: In December 2007, my husband rushed me to Sibley Hospital while I was miscarrying. I needed an emergency operation. Imagine my chagrin when a speeding ticket arrived in the mail a few weeks later.

Is there any way to appeal these tickets? I ponied up and paid, but felt pretty angry about having insult added to injury, particularly when I have every reason to believe that had we been stopped by an actual cop, he would have let us go with a warning -- or maybe even escorted us to the hospital.

Marc Fisher: Good point--and appealing it would likely do you no good. There is indeed a price to be paid anytime we automate a human function.

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Maternity Ward: You said "poorly conceived laws"

Marc Fisher: I did indeed.

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Washington, D.C.: GREAT article on the "wistful remark". It was so Kafkaesque and diabolical. It would make a good book or made-for-TV movie. It takes a innocent remark and turns it into a nightmare... It was not judgmental but makes you think how easily your life can be turned upside down. thanks for the story.

Marc Fisher: And thank you.

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Are you leaving?: The sometimes reliable City Paper is reporting that you are going to give up your column. Is there anything to that? Please say no. You are the best thing about the Post's local coverage.

washingtonpost.com: Is Fisher Bagging His Column? (Washington City Paper, April 16)

Marc Fisher: As you probably know, the Post, like other news organizations, is restructuring itself to try to create new ways to do ambitious and aggressive journalism in a difficult business environment. I am indeed talking with folks here about a different role that might have me doing a different kind of writing and editing. More on that as it develops.

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Dunn Loring, Va.: Are you eligible for the this round of the Post's buyouts? Certainly someone of your talents could take the Grahams' money and easily find another high-paying job writing insipid columns about local "flavor."

Marc Fisher: Hey, maybe that's what I should do next!

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D.C.: Hi Marc --

I think I posted this too late last week. Completely off-topic -- but I'm curious if you've heard of any of the D.C. Council thinking of a serious challenge to Fenty when he runs for re-election.

I voted for Fenty the first time, and was an enthusiastic supporter. But as the reports continue to leak out about his cronyism (the latest -- the Public Employee Relations Board) debacle and his toddler-esque tantrums and games he plays with the council -- I am not impressed.

Other than the school shake-up, which has looked great, but not proved any results yet -- I see no accomplishments he can claim.

In addition, as a gay man, his seeming disregard for the fact that there seems to be an uptick in anti-gay violence in the city -- resulting in some horrific murders in Logan/Dupont, shown by his dragging his feet to even meet with GLOV (Gay and Lesbians Against Violence) is extremely disturbing.

What are you hearing, if anything?

Marc Fisher: There's not even a whisper of any serious challenge to Fenty. He's raised a ton of money and remains immensely popular, though certainly his actions in the past few months have caused quite a few folks to wonder whether he is somehow off his game.

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NW D.C.: "I don't know anything about tickets. Ask me about public safety and schools, things I do know about." Mayor Fenty

Who is advising Fenty? I voted for him, but would not now. Really, can somebody please tell him just how disappointing he has become. The ticket situation is just a simple story everyone can understand. I see the same tactics and approach in other D.C. issues. Barry was arrogant, but I never thought there would be one to surpass him. Fenty is arrogant, and tries to be intimidating and mean spirited to boot. I'm thoroughly disappointed in him.

Marc Fisher: Case in point--this is typical of quite a number of notes I am getting from readers who are seeing a mayor they don't any longer recognize.

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Arlington, Va.: I feel bad about Ms. Piper, but at the same time I have a sneaking sympathy for the hospital staff.

I remember how I felt when I was sent home with my first baby three days after a C-section -- my first reaction was why the heck did the hospital trust me to take care of him?

If the staff had any reason to suspect something like post-partum depression and an inadequate home support system, I could understand why they erred on the side of caution.

To me the answer would have been a longer hospital staff for both mom and baby, to make sure everything was going smoothly, but that's probably not economically practical.

Marc Fisher: Thanks for the perspective.

That has to kick things in the head for today. Thanks for coming along, all. Back in the paper on Sunday and over on the blog every day...

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