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Potomac Confidential: Swine Flu in D.C., Hockey Fever, Va. Gov Race, More

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Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, April 30, 2009; 12:00 PM

Metro columnist Marc Fisher was online Thursday, April 30, at Noon ET to look at swine flu's arrival in the D.C. area, Washington's new hockey fever and the nationalizing of Virginia's governor's race.

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Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks--so this is what the first stages of panic look like. Already this morning, we have the entire school system of Fort Worth, Texas, closing down after confirmation of one case of swine flu at one school.

How much panic is a good precaution and how much is wild overkill? And how do we know what the right move is? As ever, we tend to fight the last war, so our post 9/11 hyper-security footing has given us a huge infrastructure set up to roll into action at the slightest whiff of crisis. But look back another decade or two and we'd likely be facing this swine flu outbreak with a whole lot more skepticism. Anyone old enough to recall the 1976-77 swine flu vaccine fiasco likely rolled their eyes when new reports of the possible horrors of swine flu came around this time. Back in the 70s, the government panicked, unnecessarily as it turned out, and many millions of Americans were pushed to get a shot that turned out to create paralysis in hundreds of cases. And the pandemic never happened.

The cases of swine flu found so far in this country have been, at least according to New York's health director, quite mild--nothing more than your garden-variety flu bug.

On a happier note, how about those Caps? Is Washington really becoming a decent hockey town or is this yet another piece of evidence in favor of the longstanding argument that we are the ultimate fair-weather fan base, ignoring teams until and unless they strike gold?

Today's column looks at the Virginia governor's race and the role being played by the two parties' national governors associations--outsiders seemingly intent on distracting voters and candidates from the actual work that a governor does on local and state problems, and turning the nation's biggest political contest of the year into fodder for cable TV shout fests.

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

Yay to the Obama administration for letting Chrysler go into bankruptcy. This fate, which only weeks ago was presented to the American people as an unacceptable horror show, is actually a sign of confidence that the economy is well enough on the road to eventual recovery that not every big and failing player in the economy must be propped up and bailed out at any cost. Chrysler could go away and the world would keep spinning. Americans will still want and need cars and they will still buy them from someone, so the total contribution of cars to the economy is not going to disappear, even if some of the players in that field do.

Nay to the increasing signs of panic among those who close borders or shut down schools and other public facilities because of a whiff of flu. Shutting down schools won't stop the spread of disease. As the World Health Organization made clear last night, "Containment is no longer a feasible option." Quarantine makes sense if you are sick, but not really if you are well. There are reasonable precautions people can take to try to avoid getting infected, but wholesale isolation and cordoning off of huge swaths of society just doesn't make a lot of sense, especially when there are so few cases of actual swine flu identified.

How concerned are you about this latest scourge?

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Northern Virginia: I am looking ahead to a college graduation of a nephew, a long-awaited 25th college reunion, and so forth, all about a month from now. (No weddings.) I also have some local monthly meetings or brunches that I like to go to, since I work from home and don't see too many people otherwise.

But I'm beginning to wonder. I don't want to catch this new sickness and bring it home; my husband has a real tendency to catch any respiratory illness going around, and often develops complications.

At what point do you think any of us should start changing plans like these? As with any possible emergency, it all seems so totally unrealistic and like an overreaction until suddenly, with hindsight, you wonder why you didn't switch gears sooner. My instinct is to wait and see a while longer about the big events next month, and keep attending my monthly meetings in the meantime. Your thoughts?

Marc Fisher: I wouldn't--and I'm not--changing any of my travel plans or any of my movements around town. I must admit I'm thinking twice about shaking a whole lot of hands at big events, but so far, I've gone right ahead and done that--most recently this morning, shaking a few dozen hands at an event I was reporting on.

The fear seems to be well ahead of reality so far. As one of my colleagues put it last night, is your throat feeling a little scratchy too?

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NW, D.C.: Oh Marc, I would hate to think of more than one case of swine flu appearing in this area. The federal government would shut down and congressmen would actually go home to their home districts to avoid the outbreak. our admin person has already been out a week thinking she had flu-like symptoms. Let swine flu hit D.C. and America will shut down.

Marc Fisher: Well, close--if swine flu hits Washington in a big way, the city will likely crawl into its various caves, but I don't think that would shut down the nation. We are by nature a more jittery place than most, but basic and essential institutions would have to keep on going. We'd finally get a real test of all the high-flying rhetoric about telecommuting and living through our various gadgets. My bet is that like after 9/11, those gadgets would prove largely useless because of the overload when everyone tries to work from home all at once.

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Reston, Va.: What are parents supposed to do if they close the region's schools for the Swine Flu? What do sick workers do who don't have sick leave available? Can the localities force employers to accommodate people with these problems?

Marc Fisher: That's exactly the right question--unless a school is actually a center of infection, the decision to shut down just because of a single case or just as a precaution is actually counterproductive. What do they think all those kids are going to do? Many of them would be dragged along to their parents' workplaces, or to grandma's house, or to community centers or day cares--all of which would likely have an even greater infection-spreading impact than leaving the schools open in the first place.

So far, what we're hearing about sick leave has been pleas for employers to be flexible, which implies that legally, there's little the authorities can do on that front. Though there are always emergency powers, and we've seen recently enough how dramatically and quickly those can be expanded.

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Springfield, Ill.: I was at a movies last night and there was a person coughing about four rows in front of me. Can you catch swine flu at the movies in a closed in room?

Marc Fisher: That sounds possible but not hugely likely. Here's how the CDC describes how swine flu spreads from human to human:

"...in the same way as seasonal flu occurs in people, which is mainly person-to-person transmission through coughing or sneezing of people infected with the influenza virus. People may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose."

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Centreville, Va.: 1. Is the Tamiflu a prescription drug? 2. Has Mexico started to bury the swines at the affected area to prevent the further human infections as other people did for the bird flu or even the mad cow disease? I don't think Mexico or U.S. bury them. I'd like to know the reasons why.

Marc Fisher: Yes, Tamiflu is a prescription drug.

And as I understand it, there is no particular swine flu emergency among pigs--according to the CDC, about a quarter of all pigs carry the swine flu virus, but that's not unique to this moment. Usually, the disease stays among pigs--what's different now is that the virus has evolved in such a way as to jump to the human population.

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Falls Church, Va.: So is it time? Should I run out and buy a ton of milk, bread, toilet paper, and surgical masks? Will I be housebound for the next however long as the plague runs its course?

Marc Fisher: I pulled out my Washington Post-issued helmet and gas mask last night and I stand ready to dive into the supermarket to grab my fair share of TP, milk and bread. But for now, I'd rather go to the ballgame and out to dinner, so unless I become wildly feverish, that's my plan.

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Rockville, Md.: Please help me. Can you tell me how this swine flu is any different from the many versions of regular flu we see in the winter? Why is this one considered a pandemic with less than 100 cases in the U.S.?

Marc Fisher: Because it's a different strain of flu, and because some of the first folks to get it became very ill indeed. What remains unclear is whether the strain in the form that has reached our country is really so severe--the early evidence from New York is that it's a relatively mild flu, in which case the panic would be entirely for naught. But even a garden-variety flu poses a threat to old folks, babies and people with underperforming immune systems.

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D.C.: I am concerned, but only because I am pregnant. This flu, although mild, seems to be very contagious. Flu during pregnancy is correlated with several development or even mental health problems in children. I am concerned about being infected no matter how mild it is.

Marc Fisher: Certainly pregnant women have reason to be extra cautious. The problem is, what can you really do? Are you going to quit work, stay home and isolate yourself for weeks, even months?

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Swine Flu: I think what's scaring people is that we're hearing the people who died in Mexico were young and healthy. When we normally hear that it's the very young, and the very old who have problems with flu. But how many people die every year from regular old flu? Thousands?

I'm not panicking myself, but my daycare keeps sending letters home that they may close if it comes here. So I'll have to take 10 days off work. Not happy about that.

Marc Fisher: I am hearing a whole lot more panic than rational decision-making. Closing your business, day care, or school when there's no sign of rampaging virus in your workplace is not a responsible precaution, but rather a selfishly defensive and ultimately destructive act.

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D.C.: Two questions.

1. Did the World Bank employee take Metro?

2. Any information on the apparent suicide at Kilpatrick Stockton? As an attorney, these Biglaw layoffs are killing the profession. Newly graduating students have no hope, laid off associates have nowhere to turn, and record number of applicants to law schools just make things worse.

Can we shut down law schools for a couple of years?

Marc Fisher: The World Bank case--a Maryland resident who recently traveled to Mexico and has a probable case of swine flu--is scary if you work with or near the guy, and of course it's conceivable that he's been wandering around town during the incubation period, spreading yucko germs (that's the scientific term.) But this is still mostly speculative.

There were indeed 24 layoffs at that law firm, but the suicide of a single lawyer doesn't necessarily mean that there's any connection to the downturn and the woes of a particular firm. Suicides are almost always more complex statements that may appear at first blush.

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Logan Circle, D.C.: Any comment on the anti-same sex marriage rally this week and Councilmmember Barry holding himself out as a "moral leader."

Marc Fisher: The latest switcheroo from the man who famously called himself "The Situationist" is an impressive one. Marion Barry for decades held himself out as a key ally of Washington's gay voters--an early supporter of their fight against discrimination and a longtime advocate for the notion that the battle for equality for homosexuals is of a piece with the civil rights campaign that Barry devoted himself to on the racial front.

So for him now to embrace the conservative pastors who are at the forefront of the anti-gay marriage movement in the city is a bit bewildering. And of course anytime Marion Barry starts lecturing folks on what's moral, an epidemic of eye rolling may well sweep across the city.

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Falls Church, Va. : Marc,

I really enjoyed your column about Dante and Nhiahni, and I was inspired that their church members would reach out to help them celebrate their special day. I did note that she had children, but then assumed that she did not have any contact with her family. Then, the comments that appeared to be from her family indicated that they were close to her, because surely, estranged family members would not feel entitled to attend her wedding.

So, do you know whether she and her family members are close, and if so, why aren't they helping her to plan her wedding and find a home?

washingtonpost.com: Couple's Nuptials a Hiatus From Life on the Streets (Post, April 26)

Marc Fisher: Since the column ran, I have heard from and spoken with members of both of the homeless people's families, and they are very much mixed in their attitudes toward the wedding. Some are thrilled and plan to attend. Some are appalled that they didn't know about the wedding and weren't invited. Some wanted me to know why they felt it necessary to cut off relations with their family members who were in the throes of drug and other problems. Dante and Nhiahni have reached out to some people in their families, and look forward to having some of them at their wedding on Saturday.

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Frederick, Md.: Hi Marc,

Not sure if this question is for you or not, but I'm wondering with all the layoffs at the Baltimore Sun and the inevitable decline (demise?) of the paper, whether the news seekers in Maryland will be without a strong statewide newspaper? Does the Washington Post have any plans to pick up the slack that the decimated Sun is leaving behind?

Marc Fisher: All newspapers are in financial trouble, but the cuts at the Baltimore Sun are among the most severe in the country. The paper is already dramatically diminished in size and coverage from what it was just a couple of years ago. The Sun has the misfortune to be owned by Tribune Company, which is cutting the heart out of its papers and which has a new owner who now says he regrets having gotten into newspapers. Great.

We at the Post are hardly immune to the economic forces that are sweeping the media business, and we've had big cuts in staff and face more in the coming months. But we're trying to maintain and even improve coverage in key areas as we pull back on some features that may not be core to our mission. We're not about to start covering Baltimore in any comprehensive way--it's not in our circulation area--but we have maintained full staffing at our Annapolis capital bureau and will continue to beef up our coverage of state news especially as it affects residents of Washington's Maryland suburbs.

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Alexandria, Va.: Good god, I hope most of the posters who have written in about the bacon flu are being sarcastic (but I suspect they are not). More than 50 percent of the front page of this morning's Post was covered in flu stories! The media and government are feeding the beast, and I suspect that the majority of the population is too weak willed to look at some statistics and realize how overblown this whole thing is. The mainstream media continuing to hype this "pandemic" brings the quality of this reporting to Weekly World News standards!

Marc Fisher: Hey, I'm trying to lower the hype quotient here--I'm with you on this. But then there are very different views....

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Dunn Loring, Va.: How can you justify your casual dismissal of the threat from swine flu when the vice president (a huge supporter of trains) is advising the nation to avoid subways and others confined spaces? If the second most powerful man in America recommends action, who are you to contradict him?

washingtonpost.com: Feeding the Swine-Flu Frenzy (44, April 30)

Marc Fisher: First, Joe Biden, America's second-most-powerful man? I don't think so.

Second, the White House statement retreating from Biden's comments on TV this morning very carefully said that only folks who are actually sick should avoid trains and other transit.

Third, practically speaking, if the thing is going to spread, it's going to spread and pretending that we can just stay home and it will go away does no one any service.

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Rockville, Md.: Dear Mark, Though this has been pointed out by more circumspect minds across the media, it is the case that in a "normal" flu season, it is not uncommon for 30,000 or more to die of the illness. Alas, few us take the time to get a flu shot and most people don't worry too much about contracting the flu. While there are worrisome aspects to the swine flu outbreak (not least of which is its expected arrival in a city with a very high rate of HIV/AIDS -- that is, folks with suppressed immune systems that render them highly vulnerable), there hardly appears to be reason to go in to panic mode. Is it the media driving the panic or is there some other factor besides the illness itself? Thanks!

Marc Fisher: I haven't been watching TV, so I can't comment on how TV-driven the panic may be, but from the reporting I've seen in newspapers and on major news web sites, I'm mainly getting the opposite message: Here are some actual facts, which indicate that this strain may be fairly mild in its effects on most victims in the U.S. so far, and here are the precautions that make sense, as well as the ones that seem over the top. That strikes me as a pretty responsible message, but you're right that the simple fact of the huge volume of coverage often serves to hype a story that would otherwise have moderate impact.

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the suicide of a single lawyer doesn't necessarily mean that there's any connection to the downturn and the woes of a particular firm: Yes. My firm, unfortunately, had two lawyer suicides this year. Soon after the 2nd one, we had layoffs. The blogs were ripe with speculation that the suicides were a result of the impending layoffs. Totally wrong. They were the result of years of depression and in one case, addiction. Very sad indeed, but not due to layoffs.

Marc Fisher: Thanks--that's an important message for folks to hear.

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Demise of the newspaper: Dear Marc, Our Post distributor, who used to ensure delivery of our paper by 5:30 weekdays and 7 a.. weekends, retired recently and we now have a distributor who apparently couldn't care less about it. Calls and emails go unreturned. Papers don't show before 7 a.m. weekends or at all. Will I be contributing to the death of the print edition if I cancel my subscription now?

Marc Fisher: Yes, you will. There's a much easier solution (and one less likely to result in the layoffs of my good colleagues): Call the Post's circulation director--call the main number, 202 334 6000, and ask for the circulation vice president. In my experience, that will get you the action you need.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: "Is Washington really becoming a decent hockey town?"

We'll see...

Marc Fisher: So says the skeptic from Pittsburgh...

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Mass. Native in D.C.: Would you admit (as I do) to a little Schnadenfreude upon hearing that the Yankees had to slash the price of their pricey seats behind home plate because too many of them were empty in full view of the TV audience?

Marc Fisher: Absolutely--but keep in mind that the price cut applies only to a tiny number of those close-up seats that were ludicrously priced at $2,600 a game. Those ultra-premium seats seem to go empty at many ballparks--who in their right mind would pay that kind of money to watch a sports event? At Nats Park, though the sky-high prices are much lower than in New York, those prime seats behind home plate are almost always empty, yet these franchises are unwilling to adjust to the market--was my 11th grade econ teacher wrong about supply and demand?

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Falls Church, Va.: Why do you write about Virginia politics? You don't live here, clearly don't understand the state or its electorate and appear to have nothing but contempt for Virginians who do not share your political sensitivities. Wouldn't it make more sense for you to confine your columns to D.C. and Maryland?

Marc Fisher: True, I don't live there. I just report and write about it for my day job, and I've been writing about Virginia politics on and off for about 20 years. Like most reporters, I think I do my best work reporting and writing about places, people and situations far afield from my own life; distance is a great asset to have in this work. It allows you to divorce emotion and individual experience from the real work of listening to others, researching the facts and figuring out how and why people looking at the same situation come to such different and opposing views.

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Pittsburgh, Va.: Where do Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity et al. stand re Swine Flu?

Marc Fisher: I doubt they're in favor of it.

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Washington D.C.: Hi Marc - no question, just a comment...

LETS GO CAPS!

Marc Fisher: Noted, and endorsed.

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Alexandria, Va.: Will all the plastic and duct tape I have left over from the imminent Bio attacks in the 03-04 timeframe, help me survive this Swine/Mexican/R2D2 Flu pandemic?

Marc Fisher: Probably about as much as my post-9/11 survival kit that the company spent absurd sums on back when there was money for that sort of extravagance.

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anti-same sex marriage : I believe the correct term is now "not-opposite marriage."

Marc Fisher: Or "not-opposing marriage," to add to the confusion.

Then there are people who oppose "no-sex marriage."

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Washington, D.C.: OK people, it is also the worst allergy season in years. My own personal allergies this week have been the worst I've ever experienced as pollen counts have been up in the thousands. MOST of the people around you with cold or flu-like systoms are very likely sufferring from allergies. Even those who don't usually feel it are sometimes doing so this year becuase it's been a bad season.

Please quit panicking! We're not all gonna die of swine flu!

Marc Fisher: Yes, the thick yellow coat of pollen on the car was my first clue that my itchy eyes and sudden sneezing attacks might not be swine flu, even if I did shake way too many hands of sweaty strangers.

What do you think would happen if I took a walk at lunchtime today wearing my full mask and helmet protection gear setup?

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If a pandemic is declared . .: then what? Restrictions on travel and commerce? Or is it just a technical designation to say how bad the outbreak is? I hope people aren't burned out on the news by the time it gets really bad (if it does).

Marc Fisher: Given the precarious state of the economy, it's hard to imagine that the government would move too quickly or eagerly into any sort of restrictions that would dampen commerce and, most likely, do very little to diminish the spread of disease.

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Newspapers driving the panic: From the A1 story in the Post today: The World Health Organization took the unprecedented step yesterday of warning that the world is probably on the verge of a pandemic, as new cases of swine flu mounted, the first death was reported in the United States and the dangerous virus appeared to arrive just outside the nation's capital.

So, who decided it was a "dangerous" virus? I frankly don't think it is, but this is in the lead of a front-page story in the newspaper of record for the U.S. capital. Sounds pretty sensationalist to me.

Marc Fisher: I see your point, but I think the word "dangerous" is justified--the bug has killed some folks, after all, and it is a real threat to those who are particularly vulnerable.

But that same front page features a story in which Gov. Martin O'Malley says "this is not a time for alarm, but rather heightened awareness." And the coverage this morning has highlighted the White House's statement reminding us that it's those who are sick who need to be quarantined, not the rest of us.

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Arlington, Va.: In addition to closing its schools, is Fort Worth going to lock the kids in their homes? I suspect they'll be getting together -- perhaps even in groups -- even with the schools closed.

Marc Fisher: Exactly--that's why closings are counter-productive for the most part. It's simply a matter of shifting responsibility to parents and other individuals, which hardly seems like an efficient way to try to curb the spread of the bug.

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Reply to "Are you going to quit work, stay home and isolate yourself for weeks, even months?": Same person here. No, I'm not going to do these things. I'm just bummed that there is this contagious thing going around right when I thought I had safely made it out of flu season. Probably it will be OK, I know.

Marc Fisher: I like your attitude.

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Alexandria, Va.: I like to rate my presidents on the basis of their first 101 days. They let their guard down on that last day.

Marc Fisher: The randomness of the 100-day fixation is what makes it hard for me to read or listen to any of these early judgments. The consensus on George W. Bush seems to be that he wasn't among our better presidents, but you'd never have known that from reading the coverage of his first 100 days.

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D.C.: Re your "full mask and helmet protection gear setup" - yes please, take that walk. I work at 15th and K and would be happy to go take your pic and post it to some of the panicky websites! What a hoot.

Marc Fisher: I'll try to do that shortly....

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Newspapers: If newspapers go under and just shell Web sites remain, what will all the bloggers do? They don't report, they mainly aggregate and comment.

Marc Fisher: The better ones will look for ways to add value by doing some of their own reporting--a few already have started to do this, though they quickly realize that this is a very expensive undertaking. But most bloggers don't do it full-time and so cannot afford to go out and do the legwork required to put together real journalism. So as we dismantle the news infrastructure of our society, we will have to ask basic questions about what kinds of coverage are really necessary to our democracy and our economy, and what's just fluff and frill? Sadly, I doubt we will have any good answers on all that before the heart of the newsgathering machine has been cut out and sold for scrap.

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Pentagon: Full MOP gear prevents outbreaks of swine flu and cuts down on the severity of swine flu.

Or you can use your DOD-issued survival hood/mask.

Marc Fisher: Sounds like an expert speaking--my problem is I can't see a thing through my gas mask.

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Washington, D.C.: No goodbye words of wisdom for Happy the Hippo?

washingtonpost.com: The 5,500-Pound Question (Post, April 30)

Marc Fisher: When a hippo gets traded to another zoo, does the hometown zoo get a rhino to be named later, or just a top-round draft pick for a sleek southpaw of a camel?

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Ft Washington, Md.: Speaking of Barry, why was the story of Barry buying an $800 for his lady friend worthy of a story in the Metro section? It was really a waste of newsprint. It wasn't relevant to his tax troubles at all.

Marc Fisher: Not relevant? The guy is ripping off his fellow taxpayers year after year by not paying his fair share of taxes and then he has the gall to bid big bucks on an opera coat (what the heck is an opera coat, anyway? I guess you have to be as wealthy as the Mayor for Life to know) and that's not relevant? Please.

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My post-9/11 survival pack at work: I've got a smoke hood (so you can breath s you escape from a burning building), a granola bar, a light stick, and a bottle of water. I'm totally safe!

Marc Fisher: I bet that granola bar from fall, 2001, is really tasty by now.

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Public Service Announcement: As President Obama mentioned last night, people should cover their mouth when they cough -- and NOT with their hand but with their inner elbow or sleeve. You cough into your hand, then shake hands with someone else, or touch a surface which someone else then touches, and it just defeats the purpose of covering your mouth.

So please, cough into your inner elbow or sleeve to reduce spreading of germs!

Marc Fisher: I like that. See, you get your news, your views and even your handy-dandy coughing advice all right here. Even if we did use the word "dangerous" on the front page today.

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Houston, Tex.: Delivery by 7 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday? I throw the Houston Chronicle down here, and it must be in the driveway by 630 AM or the wrath of all the newsprint subscribers is visited upon me -- good advice, though.

Marc Fisher: My daughter and wife came home from the high school musical's cast party at 4:45 a.m. the other morning and The Post had already been delivered--and the Other Papers, not.

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So for him now to embrace the conservative pastors who are at the forefront of the anti-gay marriage movement in the city is a bit bewildering.: At first I thought, it's not that strange considering Barry doesn't really stand for anything except Barry. But then I thought, he's got the same opportunity to promote himself by taking either side, so why not the side he's been on forever? Did he take the side he thinks is going to win, so he can claim credit?

Marc Fisher: No, he knows he's now on the side that will lose, at least at the D.C. level--once Congress gets hold of the marriage issue, all bets are off. But Barry's not about being on the winning side--he's about marketing himself as the lone protector of the interests of the people he views as the downtrodden, the loyal voters who have kept him around all these years, people who tend to be opposed to gay marriage, by the way.

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Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C.: I need to complain about one more stupid thing Councilmember Graham has championed. He was at the grand opening of the Cavalier/Hubbard House on 14th in north Columbia Heights. He paved the way for YET ANOTHER mass of low income housing. This building is 230 units, ALL low income on a block that is already all low income. Columbia Heights is a dumping ground for concentrations of the poorest people. I don't understand why every other city is moving towards deconcentration and CM Graham is quoted as saying his priority is to keep building "more low income housing"--

Marc Fisher: Well, actually, Graham is a big supporter of the mixed-income communities that former Mayor Tony Williams advocated for so powerfully in the District.

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Arlington, Va.: I have friends in Wheaton and have been studiously avoiding the Wheaton Metro because, like this morning, all of the escalators are out. Metro always seems to shrug at this as if it is the only way to operate. I thought it might be useful for Mr. Catoe and the other Metro big shots would actually stand in the station and accept the personal disapprobation of the loyal customers who feel much aggrieved by the current situation. I mean that they are so far removed from the situation that it is just another issue that might get resolved. Being on-site would help them feel our real pain.

Marc Fisher: Consider yourself vented.

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What's good for the goose...: Why the hardball tactics with the auto companies that provides tangible jobs across a multitude of industries throughout half the country, yet banks that are "too big to fail" are coddled and allowed to get bigger, so we are even MORE obligated to bail them out next time?

Marc Fisher: I couldn't agree more.

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Arlington, Va.: Marc,

Specter's switcheroo kind of reminds me of John Warner's statement about "letting a young person have a turn." If Warner were really serious about that statement, he would have retired two terms earlier. And 79-year-old Specter suddenly has an epiphany that he is now a Democrat?

It's all about their personal need for power, not service. Politicians like these are the reason we need term limits.

Marc Fisher: Yup. But at least we got to watch the spectacle of all those Dems rushing to welcome their longtime friend, as if he hadn't been opposed to them on countless measures over all those years.

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Washington, D.C.: I am having trouble understanding why same-sex marriage is a threat to heterosexual marriage. Historically, marriage was about property (transfer of women, cattle, land, etc.) and there were rites to give notice of the property transfer. With the rise of the monotheistic religions, the religions took over the rite function, but marriage was still about transfer of property rights. It makes sense to me that same-sex marriage would be a stabilizing factor because it would clearly convey property rights to same-sex couples.

Marc Fisher: Marriage does tend to stabilize, so you'd think your basic pro-family folks would favor it. But the animus against homosexuality trumps that idea. This appears to be a deep generational split, however, and the polling data on young evangelicals, for example, shows very different attitudes toward homosexuality than in the parent generation.

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Marc Fisher: That has to kick things in the head for today. I'm heading out to pick up some strange germs from folks at the lunch counter. See you at the supermarket for a fine evening of panic buying!

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