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Potomac Confidential
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Potomac Confidential: D.C. School Vouchers, D.C. Voting Rights and Gun Control, Kids or Dogs, Weingarten

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Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, March 12, 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.

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Today's Column: Hard Line on Guns Could Set Back D.C. Voting Rights

Prime-Time Location: In a New Political Season, the Capital's Character Is Getting a Lot More Credit (Post, March 8)

Fisher was online Thursday, March 12, at Noon ET to look at loosening D.C. gun laws in exchange for a vote in Congress, protecting anonymous comments on the Internet, and redefining the death penalty in Maryland..

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.

Lots of commentary on today's column, which argues that it's time for the District to do what it takes to win voting rights, including demonstrating some flexibility on gun regulation, especially since in the end, Congress is going to do as it pleases on the gun front anyway.

We'll get into that, as well as the Maryland high court ruling that anonymous comments on web sites such as this one have and deserve powerful legal protection against claims of libel--a decision that upholds free speech guarantees, even as it rubs against our good impulse to give more credence to accusations that people stand behind with their names than to anonymous rants.

And we can get into my piece last Sunday about the legislator from Montgomery County who hadn't told anyone about his family tragedy until he felt compelled to come forward by Gov. Martin O'Malley's push to repeal the state's death penalty. Is Delegate Craig Rice's support of capital punishment--he's the only black member of the legislature in favor of the death penalty, and one of only two Montgomery County legislators on that side of the issue--purely an expression of the trauma he and his family went through after a hit man murdered his aunt and cousin, or should his views be given more serious consideration?

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

Yay to the emerging alliance between Democrats in Congress and the District's council members and mayor on the move to get rid of the school vouchers system that was imposed on the city by a Republican-led Congress in the last administration. With all sides united on maintaining support for those students who are already receiving vouchers, the question is properly narrowed to the right one: Should public dollars be spent to prop up religious schools?

Nay to the Fairfax school board for putting the kibosh on a thoughtful and important initiative to push school opening times later for teenagers, some of whom now must be at bus stops by 5:45 in the morning--a cruel schedule that has documented ill effects on the ability of students to operate well. The school board caved to the cries of parents and some students who are more concerned with managing after-school activities and sports than with the real business of education.

Your turn starts right now....

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Dad, D.C.: What if my daughter (a D.C. child) wants nothing more than a dog park for her dog? Or is that not plausible to Binary Man?

Marc Fisher: Quite plausible, and I've heard this week from quite a few parents who are also dog owners, arguing that dog parks are every bit as essential as playgrounds. Well, they're not. This debate is perhaps not as binary as Binary Man would have it, but it is a question of setting priorities, and while government will always spend lots of money on non-essential programs (and should do so), in tough times like these, it makes even more sense than usual to test expenditures by looking at how important they are. And with soaring unemployment and the resulting increase in child welfare cases, it makes more sense than ever to steer resources into efforts to ease the burden on children. Places that have gotten along without dog parks until now can certainly wait until a time when the society is flush enough that private sources might want to pay for dog facilities.

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Bowie, Md.: What do you think the chances are that the D.C. vote will be heard with the gun law amendment? This session of Congress or next session?

Marc Fisher: There are lots of negotiations going on this week, but so far, no movement toward any sort of compromise. The District's politicians are divided on whether to give in on guns in order to win the vote in the House, and without any consensus on the city's side, it's hard to imagine that Congress can be moved to care enough to work out a deal.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc,

The Council has modified the gun laws three times since the Heller decision. The second round actually seemed somewhat reasonable (although there were some process issues that would probably be challenged) and it seemed to me that most people had "moved on" as far as the gun issue is concerned.

What was their motivation for not leaving good enough (or possibly "bad enough") alone and passing the ludicrous additional regs in December? Myself, and many others warned them at the time that it would only invite more lawsuits and congressional intervention.

Marc Fisher: The motivations are all bad: The gun lobby and its supporters in both political parties are eager to make an example of the District, and there's a fair amount of payback sentiment involved--trying to punish the city for its original gun ban and for its move to thumb its nose at the Supreme Court after last year's ruling that the gun ban was unconstitutional. And we should be honest enough to recognize that whether D.C. gets a vote in Congress or not, Congress and the NRA were going to find a way to impose much broader gun freedoms on the city through whatever mechanism they could find.

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Falls Church, Va.: Great, you are going after vouchers again. A chance for poor children to get the class education that wealthy white people pay for. May I then remind your readers that you elect to send your kids to private school in the District and argue against poor children having the same ability?

Marc Fisher: I hope you are just falling for the voucher advocates' PR campaign and aren't willfully spinning the issue to make it look like a class warfare question. The advocates for public support of religious schools would have you believe that D.C. voucher recipients are using those public dollars to attend the expensive private schools that, for example, the president sends his kids to. But in fact, almost all of the voucher recipients are in Catholic schools--only a handful are in places such as Sidwell or Georgetown Day (which--the reader is correct--is where my kids go to school.) Those high-priced independent schools have extensive financial aid programs which they employ to bring in as many low-income kids as they can afford to take--and in the case of the voucher recipients, the schools are shelling out about $23,000 a year per student in aid because the city voucher covers only $7,500 a year.

Virtually all of the voucher recipients attend Catholic schools, where tuition is far lower and where the vouchers can make the difference between survival and closing of some very good schools. But the church itself has found an elegant solution: This year, it converted seven of its D.C. schools to charter schools, which also receive public dollars, but which are no longer religious institutions. That's your solution right there: A way for parents who want that education for their kids to get it without paying a penny beyond their taxes.

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washingtonpost.com: Binary Man: Kids or Dogs? (Raw Fisher, March 11)

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Arlington, Va.: Marc -- What did you think of Weingarten's "Fatal Distraction" article, and his comments about you?

washingtonpost.com: Fatal Distraction (Post Magazine, March 8)

Marc Fisher: I loved Gene's piece, about the strange and scary phenomenon of parents leaving their babies in the car and forgetting about them until after they're dead. I totally disagree with his conclusions, and he therefore bashed me for lacking empathy and having a "primitive brain." I loved that--it's classic Gene: If you hold a position that seems less empathic, open-minded, or non-judgmental than his, then you are of necessity a lesser being, a neanderthal.

Gene, as ever, reported the heck out of the topic and nailed it with beautiful writing. My only disagreement is on his central conclusion: That this could happen to anyone. To the contrary, I think the parenting instinct, especially in those first months of a baby's life, is so powerful, so deeply hard-wired that most people simply could not make such a horrifying mistake. The proof is in the reality that this kind of tragedy occurs so very infrequently. Nearly all parents somehow get through the physically trying reality of the first year of a kid's life, even though the parents are sleepless and nearly deranged with exhaustion. The instinct kicks in, again and again, allowing ordinary people to do extraordinary things to care for and save their kids from harm. So when this strange phenomenon does occur, there are other explanations--and Gene's story demonstrates just how some folks were perhaps less well equipped to be parents, and something went haywire. That doesn't make them murderers or anything close to that. But it also doesn't mean that this could happen to just anyone.

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State of Confusion: Fisher - how could you leave out what is quite likely the highest rated current TV show based (at least fictionally) in the District...NCIS? Too 'old' for your likes?

Marc Fisher: The piece I had in Sunday's Arts section focused on how Washington is becoming a more popular place for producers of TV shows to base their stories--a reaction in part to Obamamania--and therefore I chose to look primarily at new shows that reflect some of the new ways of portraying the District on prime time TV. But you're right--there are some older shows that have Washington as a setting as well.

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Washington, DC: In Sunday's article about filming in D.C., you mentioned that shooting is town is difficult. As the ED of a film non-profit, we are working very diligently with the new head of the city's Office of TV and Motion Picture to resolve much of that. Our group, the D.C. Film Alliance has many resources to make permitting easier, and a database of thousands of resources for local and visiting productions. Comments?

Marc Fisher: I'm glad to hear that an effort is being made to ease the path for folks who want to film here. But I have to tell you: Every single TV producer I spoke to for that piece said that much as they would love to film here more often, it's just too much of a pain and ends up being too expensive because the security regulations are ridiculously onerous and the lines of authority are never clear. They end up having to deal with four or five police departments and several government agencies, just to film in front of a single building.

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washingtonpost.com: Prime-Time Location (Post, March 8)

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Washington, DC: Regarding gun control, I think the D.C. gun ban is unconstitutional and should be withdrawn. I never understood the need for the ban in the first place, what is the motivation? And FWIW, I myself am not a big advocate of guns, just following the Constitution.

Marc Fisher: The ban was indeed thrown out last year, and the city replaced it with a set of rules that make it unusually difficult to own or buy guns--including not only gun registration, but also a requirement that owners first undergo gun training. I happen to agree that all of the city's regulations make sense and are a good way to help insure that guns are in the hands of people who know how to use them and are qualified to have them, but I also recognize that we are still a colony of Congress, and there's just no way those guys are going to allow such regulations to stay on the books. They will find a way to use the District as a whipping boy and to set an example, and so pragmatically, the city ought to find a way to gain some political advantage even as it once again gets rolled.

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Washington, D.C.: Sorry Marc, but I may have stated my earlier question poorly. I should have said, what was the motivation of the COUNCIL to pass the 3rd round of gun regulations that, in my view, sealed the deal as far as additional lawsuits and Congressional intervention are concerned.

Marc Fisher: Ah--the council's motivation, sadly, is maintaining ideological purity and making a statement to hard-core activists that the local government is on their side. Unfortunately the ultimate state of play seems to have little to do with the council's thinking.

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Washington, D.C.: Well you got your wish. The D.C. voucher program was killed yesterday. Happy?

Marc Fisher: Not quite yet. The Senate indeed voted to kill vouchers, but in this case, it's up to the District to make the final move, and how they do that will determine what happens to those kids who are already in the program--and I think all sides in this dispute would agree that those kids ought to be protected and allowed to complete their educations wherever they are now attending school.

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Alexandria, Va.: I was surprised to read in Bos's chat last week that there are still plenty of tickets available for the Nationals' home opener. For some reason I assumed it was a sellout. To my surprise, I was able to go down on my lunch hour and get the precise two seats I wanted! (I need accessible seating and like to sit on the 300 level.) While I'm personally happy with this development, it does not bode well for the team. If they do not get off to a good start, I'm afraid their attendance figures will be dismal. Too bad they can't play the Red Sox every week!

Marc Fisher: Baseball teams overall are looking at possible declines in attendance of around 20 percent this year, according to our crack baseball reporters. Will Washington have farther to fall because the team continues to be awful, or did last year's softness already weed out the most casual of fans? Or will Adam Dunn's big bat and some fairly decent starting pitching bring fans back to the stadium? I don't see much reason to hope for huge crowds this year, but it's also hard to imagine that the Nationals will be quite as stinky as they were last year. Still, all sports are bracing for big declines in ticket sales this year--baseball may actually be better off than some other sports because ticket prices are much more moderate than in other sports.

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Waldorf, Md.: Any word if the Nats are going to continue their shuttle service from RFK this year? Don't tell them, but I'd even be willing to pay a bit for the service. Metro does not work for me, nor does parking near the stadium unless prices have come down and logistics have improved since last season. Thanks!

Marc Fisher: Last I heard, the shuttle was still in the plans. It got lots of use last year.

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Downtown: Are Metro bus drivers given the green light to run red lights? And, if not, why aren't they ticketed? Does Metro push their drivers to run red lights? If they don't, why don't they discipline drivers who do run reds?

Marc Fisher: Metro would tell you that no, no way are their bus drivers allowed to run red lights. But you and I and any passengers know that they run reds all the time, so whatever safeguards Metro might claim to have in place just aren't having much of an impact. Logistically, it's hard to prove that this is happening, though I suppose buses could be equipped with cameras much as police cars now are in many jurisdictions. But then you'd need a staff of people to run through those tapes--and I can't imagine there'd be much support for that allocation of tax dollars in a time like this.

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Richmond, Va.: I agree with you about forgetting one's kids -- it CAN'T happen to anyone. I've seen that instinctual response kick in where the protective response comes out without the parent even thinking. I HAVE observed that real jail time is given out biased based on income/socioeconomic status/education/race. I've seen a professional minister go free ("he's suffered enough -- and an unskilled black father get a long sentence.

Marc Fisher: One conclusion I drew from the Weingarten story is that the very limited research and thinking that's been done about why this does happen to some people has not identified any particular weakness or stressor that would make some folks more susceptible to having this happen. Even Weingarten would not argue that this is purely random--his reporting indicates that extreme stress plays some role in these bouts of forgetfulness, but it's not really just forgetfulness; rather, it's a very specific forgetting. Those same people didn't forget to go to work that day or to slam their foot on the brakes at a red light. They only forgot that their kid existed.

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McLean, Va.: I'm always bad at recognizing proper irony as compared to Alanis Morisette "irony," so I turn to you, a professional wordsmith. So it looks like the Congress wants to simultaneously give the District more say (a vote in Congress) and less say (stomping on self rule). Is that irony?

Marc Fisher: It would indeed be ironic if Congress gave with one hand and took away with the other, as you posit. But having a vote isn't quite the same as having control over the city's laws and finances. The more perfect contradiction would be if Congress gave the District autonomy over its own laws or budget, and then in the same piece of legislation imposed gun rules of Congress's own choosing.

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D.C.: I'm with the council holding fast on this one -- unless Congress wants to force a bunch of gun laws on Utah (restrictions, that is), in this context it's completely unfair to push them on the District. Do it in separate legislation. They'll do it to us anyway, as you said. But to do it this way is the definition of undemocratic. For the NRA, which loves to wave the flag as much as possible, this approach is the lowest of the low.

Marc Fisher: Sure it's unfair. But if you concede that Congress is going to do its thing on guns anyway, why let that stand in the way of the voting rights? Let them extract their pound of flesh, get the vote and then come back another day to push toward more restrictive gun regulations.

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Maryland Death Penalty: I personally support the death penalty but only if states do a better job of ensuring that the person is actually guilty. I think Delegate Rice had a duty to tell his story. Legislatures at all levels are always looking for experts on an issue. Delegate Rice is an expert on one horribly tragic aspect of the issue so he should definitely tell his story.

Marc Fisher: But are our individual personal experiences really the kind of evidence that we should use in formulating laws and rules for society? Shouldn't a legislator be obliged to look beyond his own life experience to gauge what's best for the majority he represents?

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Death penalty:: I think Delegate Rice's views on the death penalty should be given a lot of weight because they are shaped by his life experience. So many of us (thankfully) have to qualify our position on the death penalty with the fact that no one close to us has been murdered.

I'm against it, but I don't know how I'd feel if I knew someone who was killed.

Marc Fisher: Yes, there is that. Unquestionably, the Rice family's suffering extended for many years beyond the murders, and it has shaped the survivors' lives in ways that seem neither fair nor right. But Rice told me that one reason he spoke out is that he saw so many other families of murder victims coming forth to argue in favor of repealing the death penalty, so clearly there is nothing close to consensus even among those who share that horrible experience.

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Dogs in the City: This seems like such a case of demanding "it all." One wants to live in the city with all of its conveniences but still wants to have a pet that would be far more appropriate for a rural or suburban area. The solution is not to make a choice. Have land for pet or do not have pet but to demand that the government subsidize your wants by building a park for your pet. What percentage of the dog's day is spent at the park versus being kept inside an apartment with no way out all day.

I am just not convinced that many city neighborhoods, condo or apartment buildings are the best place for a dog to live. I am also not convinced that these choices should be government subsidized.

Marc Fisher: I don't know whether apartment life is good for a dog or not (nor can I imagine how we would begin to know such a thing), but I do agree that such choices ought not be subsidized. Clearly, pets are valuable and important to some people, but most people get along just fine without them, so it's hard to argue that there's any public good in dedicating tax dollars to support the practice.

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Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: It is also interesting that within a short walk from a proposed dog park there is already a private dog park (Rosedale Consrvancy) with rather affordable two-digit yearly fee. Yes, it is not completely fenced as dog park proponents yell, but if your dog does not obey you, may be you should not off-leash it at all?

Marc Fisher: That--a private dog park--seems a much more reasonable solution. It would also go a long way toward easing the conflicts over leash laws--there are just too many public parks where relations between dog owners and parents are frayed nearly to the point of violence because kids are being scared by dogs.

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Dog Parks: If people want to own a dog that is big enough that it needs a large area to run around in they should live where the area is available.

I see no need for a dog park in a city. I own a big dog.

Marc Fisher: I wonder if there is a provable correlation between dog size and location of owner. In New York City, there seems to be a preponderance of small dogs, perhaps because apartment living can be very tight. In the District, however, apartments are by no means much larger, yet the mix of dog sizes here seems much greater.

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D.C.: Sorry Marc, you're just flat out wrong in your disagreement with Gene's central conclusion that it could happen to anyone. The science was pretty clear behind it, even you should be able to see that. Lightning strikes are fairly uncommon but they could happen to anyone.

Marc Fisher: The science is so sketchy that even Gene concedes that it's a legitimate view that this cannot just happen to anyone (even if he does consider those who hold that view to be, um, cavemen.)

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Unfair, D.C.: You are misattributing concepts to Gene's piece. The parents did not forget that the kids existed. The parents thought the child was at the daycare, they forgot that the child was in the car. There was extensive coverage of how the mind would result in this thinking.

Marc Fisher: Yes, of course--I was using "forget the kid existed" as shorthand for forgetting that the kid was in the backseat. But it's more or less the same thing. If you were to stop any 10 parents of very small children right now wherever you work or live and ask them where their kid is and what that kid is doing, I think you'd find that nearly all of them know precisely the answer, in good measure because they will have checked in with remarkable frequency.

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New York, N.Y.: "But it also doesn't mean that this could happen to just anyone."

Then, respectfully, you haven't been reading all the follow-up comments. MANY, many, many parents have written in to say -- yes, it could've been me, and sheer luck prevented it from happening. Not a parenting instinct -- luck. Someone saw the child in the car, or the phone rang, or the babysitter called. Did you read the article, about the primitive nature of our brain's memory mechanism?

I love your writings, but like most columnists, you simply will. Not. Admit when you're wrong. Stop hammering these wretched people any more and admit this could've happened to you. But most parents don't want to face that.

Marc Fisher: Quite right--and some of those are legitimately analogous cases, but most of them aren't. Probably any parent can recall with horror a moment or three or ten when they came veryveryclose to killing or maiming their own child. But the point is, they didn't. Something kicked in. Something so powerful that it overcame their exhaustion, stress, illness or whatever other weakness put them in that spot in the first place. The parental instinct, like our survival instinct, is at the core of our being--any anthropologist can document that across all cultures.

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Washington, D.C.: Not sarcastic at all but I am wondering if your views on rape are similar to those of the parents who have forgotten their children. Your thesis is that this could not happen to anyone, that these people are less equipped in some way to be parents and that others should not worry about this happening because it could not happen to them. Is very similar to what many have said about rape victims. This crime could not happen to anyone. The victims must have done something to allow this to happen, dressed proactively, been alone at night, not been vigilant enough etc.

The idea is that by being good enough women/girl you could avoid being raped just like being a good enough parent you will never make these tragic mistakes.

Not equating rape victims to these parents just the mind set that there is a built-in instinct to save yourself and your baby that only flawed people are missing. I think it is a lot of false comfort that leads to a lot of harsh judgment but I am a bleeding heart, Christian, forgiveness loving, feminist so my views are fairly skewed towards believing no rape is the victim's fault and these parents could have been any of us.

Marc Fisher: Sorry, but that's just a silly analogy. You're equating the victim in one case with the perpetrator in the other. If you compare victims to victims, then of course--just as anyone can be a rape victim, so can any baby be the victim of a forgetful caretaker. But that doesn't lead us anywhere. Now, compare perp to perp: I doubt you would argue that anyone can be a rapist. We can probably agree that you have to have something severely wrong going on inside you to be a rapist. I don't know that those folks who forgot their kids in the car have anything severely wrong with them, but in all likelihood, there is some explanation, some set of factors that distinguishes those very, very few parents who have had this happen from the 99-plus percent of parents to whom nothing like this ever occurs.

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Virginia: According to the proposed school change in Fairfax, my second-grader would have gone to school from 7:30 to 2:30. Both parents work. After-school care at school was barely available this year, after being on a waiting list. Nanny for 3-4 hours daily gets to $1,000 a month if not more. Plus, teenagers get to sleep but my son would have to give up one hour of sleep in the morning. Buy more buses for high-schools, let the teenagers sleep but don't disrupt all schools and all other kids.

Marc Fisher: Yes, buying more buses is part of the solution, but the school system, perhaps unfairly, insisted that any policy change be done without new costs attached. So within those constraints, is it possible to switch schedules around so that kids who naturally need to sleep later and more get to do so, and younger kids, who tend to rise earlier, can do that? The task force that spent literally years looking at this found a way to do it, but the school board isn't willing to go there for purely political reasons--they don't want to deal with the wrath from parents who are attached to certain after-school programs, or who have the legitimate worries you have about after-school care. But those too are easily solved problems, and all it would take is exactly the longer school day that so many educators and politicians are clamoring for these days.

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Alexandria, Va.: "I don't know whether apartment life is good for a dog or not (nor can I imagine how we would begin to know such a thing), but I do agree that such choices ought not be subsidized. Clearly, pets are valuable and important to some people, but most people get along just fine without them, so it's hard to argue that there's any public good in dedicating tax dollars to support the practice.

See, this is how I feel about kids.

Marc Fisher: Fine, you're entitled to feel that way about kids and therefore I hope you don't have any. But even you have to admit that a primary purpose of government is to care for those who cannot care for themselves, and small children kind of fit that category quite neatly. More important, not to be trite, but children are the only future we've got, so it behooves us, even from a purely strict economic perspective, to put resources into them now rather than deal with them as crooks, thugs and mean people later on.

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Alexandria, Va.: The problem is that most people, like you just pointed out think that small dogs go in small apartments no matter what the breed. Most small breeds need more exercise, so some larger breeds are actually much better for apartments. They are content with just some walks for exercise and then they lie on a couch all day.

Marc Fisher: Ah--I had no idea. Thanks.

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Alexandria, Va.: A 'horse' is an unsuitable pet for the city. A dog? Come on. My beagle slept on the couch the entire four years we lived in the city with her; when we walked her for exercise she acted like we were the Japanese Army and it was the Bataan Death March. Now that we live in the suburbs, I literally have to push her out the back door in the morning. This dog does not believe in outside.

Some dogs are better off in the countryside, but by no means does that hold true for all of them.

Marc Fisher: More dog info.

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The solution is not to make a choice. Have land for pet or do not have pet but to demand that the government subsidize your wants by building a park for your pet.: Or... have a kid in a house with a yard and a swing set, or live in a condo the city and don't have a kid. You are kidding me, right?

Marc Fisher: I don't see where having a yard and swing set makes the slightest difference. Kids who grow up in big cities and kids who have lots of land in the burbs or beyond still fall into two categories--those who love and crave the outdoors, and kids who lie on the couch and choose reading over running. I don't see any evidence that those personality differences are much influenced by the setting in which they grew up.

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Washington, D.C.: I don't mean to dilute your point about parks "not going to the dogs," and I tend to think that people (especially newly arrived men) in D.C. have dogs that are far too big for their homes, but really -- apartments in NYC are much smaller as a rule than apartments here in D.C.

Marc Fisher: You may be right that the average room size is larger here--that seems accurate--but the stats I've seen on apartment inventory show a far greater proportion of larger apartments--that is, three bedrooms and up--in New York than in Washington, where many buildings are made up entirely of one- and two-bedroom units.

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Arlington, Va.: In Arlington we're able to walk our dogs off-leash without a care in the world. Yes, for PR purposes we have "dog parks" and "leash laws", but you can walk your dog off-leash in any County park, or nature trail without a care in the world. Yes, parents get huffy sometimes, but the authorities understand that people aren't going to get over their fears of dogs unless they encounter them in their natural state on a regular basis.

Marc Fisher: "Encounter them in their natural state on a regular basis"--my god, that's a scary prospect. That hasn't been my experience in Arlington, and I'd hate to imagine that any such place exists. It's bad enough having to walk along many streets and have dogs lunge at you from their yards even when they are connected to a (long) leash.

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Alternate Reality: "children are the only future we've got"

All the more reason not to coddle them. Their goal is to take over the world!

Marc Fisher: I think they've got us on that one. They will do exactly that. Until they too are shoved aside. Funny how that works.

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Apples and oranges day: First one poster compares perpetrators to rape victims, and now saying having a dog is the same as having a kid.

Marc Fisher: We'll have an optional after-session on elementary logic.

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Sorry, but that's just a silly analogy. You're equating the victim in one case with the perpetrator in the other. : Thank you, I was just about to post that!

Marc Fisher: And thank you...

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McLean, Va.: Is there a connection between your alleged "Neanderthal brain" and your being a Yankees fan?

Marc Fisher: Indeed--allegiance to a sports team of millionaires owned by craven zillionaries is prima facie evidence of primitive thinking. I'll cop to that.

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McLeanm, Va.: Kids still read? Books?

Marc Fisher: The ones I know read more than we did as kids. But books are about all they read--magazines, comics, newspapers etc., seem to be outside their reality.

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Washington, D.C.: There is a lack of information from WaPo and others about D.C.'s gun laws -- with most just defaulting to catch phrases like D.C.'s laws being "common sense." I can give you a check list of a half-dozen points that defy any sort of logic (unless your goal is to ban all guns). Would you consider a column on this to educate D.C. residents about what the gun regs really say?

Marc Fisher: I've run through the D.C. regs in a couple of columns, spelling out just how onerous they make it for anyone who wants to get a gun. I happen to agree with any effort to restrict access to guns, but in this case, it's simply not ultimately in the hands of the District government.

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Dogs: I once had a cat who thought he was a dog. He would bark at people at the door, beg for food and treats. Thankfully he used the litter box, but otherwise was all dog. It was rather entertaining. And alarming.

Marc Fisher: Maybe he needed a cat park. Or better gun laws.

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Washington, D.C.: Re: Weingarten story. Gene himself was one of those forgetful parents, as he disclosed at the beginning of the chat on Monday. He was saved from disaster by his daughter saying something as he was getting out of the car (he said she was about 3). You know Gene personally -- do you think he fits the image of the forgetful/stressed/distracted parents you describe? He noted that this was over 20 years ago, way before cell phones or the other modern conveniences that distract us in the car every day.

Marc Fisher: Gene's story about forgetting Molly is of course frightening and compelling. But if you'll run through any pile of Gene's greatest stories, you'll see that he has a stunning ability to put himself in the position of those about whom he writes and reports. This is his amazing strength as a reporter--he has this vast bank of empathy that allows him to see any story from the perspective of those he's writing about. That helps him write emotionally stirring and complicated stories. But it also tells me that when he tries to connect these phenomena that he's writing about to events in his own life, he may reach a bit too deeply sometimes. His "almost" may feel like what really did happen to the unfortunate people in his story--but his was only an "almost." And almost doesn't count except in horseshoes, ballet and hand grenades.

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Shouldn't a legislator be obliged to look beyond his own life experience to gauge what's best for the majority he represents? : Ummm no. That would be direct democracy, which the United States is not. We have representative democracy. You elect someone and he/she sees fit as to what issues to push or where to come down on them. Their life experiences will obviously be a major part of this.

Marc Fisher: Good point--nicely said.

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Arlington, Va.: "Apples and oranges day: First one poster compares perpetrators to rape victims, and now saying having a dog is the same as having a kid.

Marc Fisher: We'll have an optional after-session on elementary logic."

Yes, but you're comparing a rapist (who has every intention of doing harm) to the parents mentioned in Gene's article (who had no intention of doing harm).

I wouldn't call that a reasonable analogy either...

Marc Fisher: Which is why I came to a different conclusion about them.

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What the cat needed: Vouchers.

Marc Fisher: Sorry, but not a ThreadWeaver award winner.

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But books are about all they read -- magazines, comics, newspapers etc., seem to be outside their reality. : I'm not a kid, but I'm young, 25 and I subscribe to the Washington Post and NY Times weekender. Out of my friends and coworkers my age I am the only person I know to subscribe. Not a good sign, though as long as papers exist, I will always read them.

Marc Fisher: And we worship the ground you walk on...seriously, we do.

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Arlington, Va. : Actually, in Arlington if your dog is off leash, you can be ticketed.

Marc Fisher: I figured as much.

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Leash Laws: I despise people who disdain existing leash laws in Arlington. Regardless of their assurances, their dogs are NOT well trained. To answer your statement "No worries, my dog is friendly," let me tell you my Jack Russell Terrier is NOT friendly (to other dogs), which is why she is on a leash. And when your "friendly" dog rushes up to her, she goes for its jugular -- the bigger the dog, the fiercer she is -- and then YOU yell at ME?!

I don't take her to the dog park either (at least not when there are lots of big dogs there).

Marc Fisher: Thank you--a much-appreciated antidote to that earlier post.

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Encounter them in their natural state on a regular basis: Then we have to confiscate your cockadoodle and euthanize him because he isn't a 'natural' breed, LOL! I never read something so ridiculous as claiming county officials want dogs running free 'in their natural state'.

Marc Fisher: Lots more of these in the queue...

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Re: D.C. Bleeding Heart: I think that is part of the problem. People are so desperate to identify with the perpetrator that they are forgetting the victim. A child died. Horribly.

These people all knowingly signed on to be parents and seemed to forget that meant putting the child first. Before the cell calls and the job and traffic and the other little things that get in the way of removing a child from a roasting car.

I'm sure they grieve, I'm sure they have guilt, I'm sure they feel bad but the child is still dead, horribly, because they forgot their existence.

Marc Fisher: Agreed.

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New York, N.Y.: "If you were to stop any 10 parents of very small children right now wherever you work or live and ask them where their kid is and what that kid is doing, I think you'd find that nearly all of them know precisely the answer, in good measure because they will have checked in with remarkable frequency."

But the article didn't address any number of random parents. It was about parents who were experiencing the "perfect storm" of factors that all lined up to create a specific set of circumstances. If you'd asked any of the parents in the article on a normal day--not a day when the factors had lined up--they would all know exactly where their child was.

You really need to learn some compassion. If there's no pattern of neglect, it seems obvious this was a horrible accident.

Marc Fisher: You get the last word.

Gotta run...thanks for coming along, folks. More next week, and every day over on the blog.

Thanks for coming along.

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