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Archive: May 2006

Collective Sleuthing, Neighborhood Style

Community listservs are a fabulous window onto neighborhood disputes, a nifty way to publicize a yard sale or strike back at a lousy contractor--and they let people band together to find facts in an effective and quick manner. Check out what the readers of the Tenleytown community bulletin board in Northwest D.C. managed to do in just a few hours the other day after one of their number discovered that a classic Internet bank scam was operating via a website named for the neighborhood of American University Park: someone is sending scam e-mails that indicate that there is a bank...

By Marc Fisher | May 31, 2006; 7:33 AM ET | Comments (4)

Supersized, Now With Free Loogie

Man drives up to a Taco Bell and orders an iced tea. Sorry, we're all out of tea, comes the reply. Ok, then, give me a Mountain Dew, says the man. Pretty ordinary transaction so far, right? But before he got his Dew, the man complained to the manager of the joint on Garrisonville Road in northern Stafford County, Virginia, that this Taco Bell, which the man visited three or four times a week, had been running out of tea all too often of late. Apparently, this complaint did not go over well inside the fast food place. When the...

By Marc Fisher | May 30, 2006; 7:29 AM ET | Comments (0)

Hey, On-Demand Media Consumer! (Yeah, You)

By virtue of the fact that you're here and reading this, you are probably a "heavy on-demand media consumer," which means that you are part of the 21 percent of Americans whose attention every media company in the country is now scheming to grab. One of the most expansive studies to date of U.S. media habits is just out, a product of Edison Media Research and Arbitron, the radio ratings company, and the survey portrays an even faster and more thoroughgoing change in how we use our time than previous reports showed. Check out these highlights: --A third of U.S....

By Marc Fisher | May 26, 2006; 7:26 AM ET | Comments (17)

Preserve History, Not Random Old Stuff

The District of Columbia is hardly short on history. From the federal core to colonial neighborhoods, from unique landmarks such as St. Elizabeths Hospital and Georgetown's Old Stone House to funky treasures such as the Old Naval Hospital and Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, we have an abundance of architectural riches for preservationists to protect. But Washington is also home to a radical fringe of preservationists who seem to believe that any old building--and even some not-at-all-old buildings--are worth a battle. And that attitude has liberated neighborhood groups that oppose the residential density and retailing necessary to expand the city's...

By Marc Fisher | May 25, 2006; 7:46 AM ET | Comments (0)

Slow-Cooked or Instant: Planting Nats' Traditions

We won't ever have a Subway Series in these parts. Not because the Nats and the O's are destined to live lives of permanent mediocrity, but because we're never going to have a subway connection between Washington and Baltimore. At best, we'll get a Mag-Lev Match-Up, and that only if the newfangled train technology somehow wins megabillions in federal aid, which isn't happening in my lifetime. We aren't likely to have the deeply divided emotions of Chicago families split by their devotions to the Cubbies or the White Sox, divisions shaped by generations of living patterns and class identities. Despite...

By Marc Fisher | May 24, 2006; 7:25 AM ET | Comments (38)

How to Make D.C. Life Better

A great thing about this country is that there's a contest and a grant program for every possible cause and talent. For example, who would have thought you could win five large just by suggesting ways to make the District better? DC Appleseed, a do-gooder group in town, and the Hechinger Family Trusts (now you know where all that money you spent on hardware really went) are sponsoring a contest to see who can come up with the best ideas for making D.C. a better city. They got about 900 responses and a panel of judges has picked 20 finalists....

By Marc Fisher | May 23, 2006; 8:13 AM ET | Comments (0)

A New Day for D.C. Libraries?

Every time it appears there's a prospect of massive reform in the District's sad public library system, you can pretty much bet those hopes will be dashed. The system finally got the money to renovate its most decrepit branches, and it promptly closed those branches and let those neighborhoods go without libraries--for years. The system at last won major attention from the mayor and the council, along with a willingness to spend big money, and the library administration came up with plans for new branches that would be smaller and less useful than the existing places. Now, with an ambitious...

By Marc Fisher | May 22, 2006; 7:45 AM ET | Comments (182)

Hi Guy, Please Come This Way

All hail Guy Goma, the video hero of the day, the everyman who had his deer-in-the-headlights moment and passed with glorious ease. Hey, anybody can do it, it's TV news! Goma, in case you haven't seen the delicious vid, is the British accountant who, despite knowing English for just four years and being an utter neophyte at broadcasting, held his own when he was mistakenly ushered onto a BBC-TV set to be interviewed live about a topic on which he knew absolutely nothing. Seems he was mistaken for another Guy, some expert on things Internet. While the real guest cooled...

By Marc Fisher | May 20, 2006; 8:49 AM ET | Comments (4)

I Did Bad, But How Bad? And Would You Do the Same?

So here I was, a purportedly grown man, hiding in my room, lights out, blinds drawn. This wasn't how the day was supposed to be going, and I knew what I was doing wasn't right. I had some work to get done at home and then I was heading into the office. Before she left the house, the wife casually remarked that the repair guy might show up, but probably wouldn't because we'd never confirmed the date and time, so I didn' t need to worry about it, and anyway we didn't need him anymore because the problem had fixed...

By Marc Fisher | May 19, 2006; 7:40 AM ET | Comments (60)

Knock Me Over with a Feather: The Politics of Indian Team Names

The first phase of the Language Police assault on Indian names was the easy part. A relative handful of activists pressured schools and colleges to scrap sports team names that seemed offensive on their face: Savages, for example. But neither the activists nor their ally in this cleansing campaign, the NCAA, had any intention of stopping there. No, the NCAA won't be finished until every reference to American Indians is swept off college campuses. The latest move: This week, the collegiate athletic organization has ruled on the College of William and Mary's request that it be allowed to keep the...

By Marc Fisher | May 18, 2006; 7:38 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Mayor and Mrs. Cropp

Long before much of Washington has focused on this fall's mayoral election, departing Mayor Tony Williams has now endorsed D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp to be his successor. What? How could Bowtie embrace the woman who worked so hard to sabotage his most cherished showpiece achievement, the return of baseball to the nation's capital? It's revisionist history time in the mayoral sweepstakes. Here's Cropp on what she was really up to during all those months of studied rug-pulling and last-minute shock tantrums: "I was trying to save baseball. Otherwise, it would have gone down," she said. "Folks said I was...

By Marc Fisher | May 17, 2006; 7:49 AM ET | Comments (0)

Stretching It: Schools and Strudel

Sometimes, as when you're making strudel, stretching makes a good thing much better. But too often these days, we experience the other kind of stretching, the kind that distorts the truth and makes it hard for people to trust one another. I tasted both kinds of stretching yesterday, and I like the edible sort much better. The afternoon took me to D.C. schools headquarters, where Superintendent Clifford Janey was announcing the closing of six schools. The event seemed straightforward enough: The city's system has vastly more space than it has students to fill that space. By shutting down schools, the...

By Marc Fisher | May 16, 2006; 7:52 AM ET | Comments (0)

Where Academic Freedom is the Freedom to Quit

It's fair to say that academia, like much of American society, has self-selected itself into fairly narrow ranges of political expression. Mainstream colleges may not be quite the nests of leftist thought that their critics make them out to be, but the preponderance of professors tend to be somewhere on the liberal to radical left spectrum. And on Christian and overtly conservative campuses, it's even harder to find profs whose politics lean left. All of which is sad enough, given that the whole idea of education is to learn how to question your beliefs and enhance your ability to discover....

By Marc Fisher | May 15, 2006; 7:30 AM ET | Comments (0)

Sign Wars: The District in Full Retreat

In the continuing saga of the American University Park Sign Wars, the District government now claims, incredibly, that it never sought to stop the residents of Ellicott Street from putting up protest signs on their own front lawns. Of course, we know that's not true. I have copies of the citations that the city slapped on the neighbors who dared to express their views (opposing development of a McMansion on their block) in the form of lawn signs. But in response to the lawsuit that the neighbors have filed in federal court, the District now says that "plaintiffs have not...

By Marc Fisher | May 12, 2006; 7:29 AM ET | Comments (0)

Blog Blowback, Virginia Style

One of the abiding mysteries of this here blogosphere is the relative invulnerability of blog postings to the forces that have kept the old media in check for the past half-century or so. With very rare exceptions, bloggers have thus far been blessedly free of the libel suits, legal threats, public shaming and other tools that have been used against the excesses of the print and broadcast media. Now one of Virginia's most prominent and thoughtful bloggers is in hot water at work, and the state government, his employer, is trying to figure out to what extent it can and...

By Marc Fisher | May 11, 2006; 8:30 AM ET | Comments (17)

A Jury of 18 Percent of Your Peers

In theory, the juries that sit in judgment of those who are accused of wrongdoing are representative of the community at large. Not in Washington. Leaving aside the myriad tricks lawyers use to alter the color, gender and occupational composition of juries, the plain, depressing fact is that only 18 percent of Washingtonians summoned for jury duty ever show up. The situation got so bad that the courts finally decided to see if they could do something about this. The D.C. courts streamlined the lists from which they cull names of potential jurors, and that has helped a bit to...

By Marc Fisher | May 10, 2006; 7:40 AM ET | Comments (21)

Best Prank of the Year So Far

Eighty identically-dressed folks in bright blue polo shirts and khaki pants walk into a Best Buy and station themselves along the aisles. When people ask them for help, they help. When employees ask why they're dressed just like Best Buy's workers, the visitors check out their own clothes and act as if they hadn't noticed. Eighty folks dressed as Best Buy clerks walk into a Best Buy. Comedy ensues. So do all sorts of confrontations with security guards, managers and even the cops. And so does a slew of questions about who's who and what's ok in a society in...

By Marc Fisher | May 9, 2006; 1:31 PM ET | Comments (23)

Sign Wars: The People Sue the City

The D.C. government picked the wrong neighborhood in which to attack free speech and property rights. The residents of Ellicott Street NW in American University Park who put up lawn signs to protest the possibility of a house on their block being torn down and replaced with a McMansion were stunned in March to be cited by the city for violating a building code that supposedly bans signs expressing personal opinions. With about 4,600 lawyers living within a stone's throw of that block, it was only a matter of time before the lawsuit was filed, and now it has been....

By Marc Fisher | May 9, 2006; 7:19 AM ET | Comments (25)

The Quietest Spot in Downtown Washington

A reader writes: If Watergate were happening today, Mark Felt and Bob Woodward wouldn't meet in a Rosslyn parking lot in the middle of the night. They'd meet in the Orioles store in Farragut Square at lunchtime. I just started a new job in Dupont Circle and thought I'd wander down to the O's store on my lunch break. It was completely empty for the whole 5 minutes I was there, and the cashier never looked up from reading her book. How much longer do you think they'll keep it open? The reader, Miles Grant of Ballston, got me...

By Marc Fisher | May 8, 2006; 7:33 AM ET | Comments (33)

The Mad Blogger's DoItYourself Patrick Kennedy Kit

As a public service, Raw Fisher provides this handy Do It Yourself Patrick Kennedy Kit, complete with links and all the key phrases you'll need to express yourself on the congressman's auto adventure on Capitol Hill. Just cut and paste and you're on your way to racking up those Technorati numbers! Patrick Kennedy preferential treatment Rhode Island vortex of family tragedy Ambien I don't even know what happened Capitol Police scions of the powerful clan Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci Ethel Kennedy alcoholism bouts of depression as a young man conducting my own investigation Chappaquiddick pain medication Rush Limbaugh disciplinary action...

By Marc Fisher | May 6, 2006; 9:00 AM ET | Comments (10)

The Soda in Schools Swindle

With much fanfare and not a little cynicism, the soda industry, Bill Clinton, and more lawyers than you would ever want to count are congratulating themselves and patting themselves on the bellies about how they have won a battle in the war against obesity by banning soda from schools across the nation. Except that, as in most of these so-called voluntary agreements by industries that make socially objectionable products, the real deal is far less than the hype that surrounds its announcement. Don't expect those soda machines that paid for your local school's scoreboard or athletic field to be hauled...

By Marc Fisher | May 5, 2006; 7:29 AM ET | Comments (34)

Ted Lerner's To Do List

Welcome to RFK Stadium and welcome back to Washington, Mr. Lerner. Thanks for the $450 million; here's hoping you're ready to pump lots more into the Nationals and the District. We're thrilled you're not Danny Boy and we're eager to watch as you hire strong leaders to start digging the Washington franchise out of the hole it has fallen into under the long-distance guidance of Major League Baseball. Today, you get to take part in the ceremonial groundbreaking for the new stadium in Southeast. But it will take enormous skill and luck to get that stadium open by 2008; more...

By Marc Fisher | May 4, 2006; 7:13 AM ET | Comments (109)

Two Words on the Nats' Owner: Abe Pollin

Many thousands of words out there today on the hooha over the selection of the Lerner family as the owner of the Washington Nationals. There's one of the best Boz columns in memory, in which Mr. Washington Baseball Himself takes us deep inside Bud Selig's mind and shows that there was never really any doubt that it would be the Lerners. There's Steve Pearlstein's excellent column blasting the race men of District politics for attempting to twist every last issue into a referendum on racial power and position. And there's a fine profile by Adam Bernstein and Dana Hedgpeth of...

By Marc Fisher | May 3, 2006; 11:43 AM ET | Comments (59)

In the Privacy of the Booth, No to Illegal Immigrants

The good people of Herndon have spoken, and in the privacy of the voting booth, they appeared to send a clear message: They do not want their town to cater to illegal immigrants. They do not want to make life easier for those who have come here to work. They do not want their tax dollars being spent to condone the illegal hiring of illegal workers. Tuesday's town council election was decisive: Mayor Michael O'Reilly and the council members who supported the establishment of a day laborer center where immigrant workers could gather and be hired for house and...

By Marc Fisher | May 2, 2006; 10:50 PM ET | Comments (263)

Kilroy Is Here--Can You Find Him?

Nicely hidden in the dour, pretentious, bombastic architecture that is the National World War II Memorial on the Mall is a delightful bit of whimsy that visitors are just beginning to discover. Visitors to the memorial have slowly been finding their way to the back, where the famous Kilroy graffiti has been etched into the stone as a clever gem for those in the know to discover. To read about the origins of the legend of James J. Kilroy, the WW2 shipyard inspector whose graffiti became a bonding symbol for a generation of Americans, click here. And if you want...

By Marc Fisher | May 2, 2006; 7:39 AM ET | Comments (25)

One Little School, One Huge Battle

As the D.C. public school system considers shutting down a slew of its smallest schools, it may be instructive to look north to Montgomery County, where a roaring battle over one small school has now dragged on for three years, and it's still going strong. Seven Locks Elementary School in west Bethesda is one of the last small schools in the county; it sits on a sprawling campus of 10 acres, land that also serves as the surrounding community's sports center and open green space. But because the school is so small and because Montgomery County is hungry to find...

By Marc Fisher | May 1, 2006; 7:42 AM ET | Comments (11)

 

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