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Archive: January 2007

Let the Walls Come Tumblin' Down

Maintaining a strong wall between church and state is sacred and honorable work, but carping at the Montgomery County school board for letting Montgomery Blair High School hold its graduation ceremony at a megachurch is a smallminded approach to the church-state issue. There are real and painful breaches of the wall that protects all Americans from overbearing pressure by a religious majority. When D.C. schools pepper their commencements and other assemblies with overtly Christian prayer, as they regularly do, that's an unwarranted and unacceptable crossing of the line. When a high school in Loudoun County subjects students to a school-sponsored...

By Marc Fisher | January 31, 2007; 7:59 AM ET | Comments (0)

A Step Backward for D.C. Voting Rights

People who don't watch the sad saga of D.C. voting rights closely get all excited when the Democrats are in power because they think the Dems are the natural allies of District residents and will surely move to give Washingtonians their birthright and let them elect a member of Congress. But that's not how it works, and House Democrats showed once again last week what they really think of the District. In a move calculated to make it appear as if the Dems really do care about D.C. voting rights, the House voted to let the non-voting delegate from D.C....

By Marc Fisher | January 30, 2007; 7:31 AM ET | Comments (0)

Mary Cliff Returns

Mary Cliff, the longtime host of "Traditions," the acoustic music program that lost its slot on WETA when the public radio station went to an all-classical format last week, is back on the radio. Cliff's show will move to WAMU (88.5 FM) starting Saturday night at 11 p.m. The move cements WAMU's decision to offer two personalities to distinct audiences in the Washington area, focusing on news and talk during the week and then shifting to a lineup heavy on what they're calling "traditional American music" on weekends. Far from killing off the bluegrass, early jazz, and traditional country that...

By Marc Fisher | January 29, 2007; 5:46 PM ET | Comments (0)

More Wisdom From Del. Frank Hargrove, Biblical Scholar

When last we left Virginia Delegate Frank Hargrove, he was telling us that blacks "should get over" slavery and thinking that it might not make sense "to force the Jews to apologize for killing Christ." Now the wise man from Hanover is back with some news from the Bible: "The New Testament does say the Jewish people crucified Christ," Hargrove tells Washington Jewish Week reporter Eric Fingerhut. But fear not: Frank Hargrove is a forgiving man. "I don't fault you for it," he tells a Jewish reporter. And the delegate even admits to a bit of doubt: "I don't know...

By Marc Fisher | January 29, 2007; 8:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

More Public Radio Changes

No word yet on whether WAMU will pick up Mary Cliff's "Traditions," but the public radio station that specializes in news and talk is picking up a slew of the programs that were dumped off WETA this week when that station adopted an all-classical format. Fans of NPR's All Things Considered will be pleased by WAMU's decision to restore the newsmagazine to the 7 p.m. hour on weekdays and to add a couple of other news and talk shows--The World and WBUR-Boston's On Point-- in lieu of the longstanding evening reruns of WAMU's midday talk shows, the Diane Rehm and...

By Marc Fisher | January 26, 2007; 3:33 PM ET | Comments (0)

Naive Question of the Week: Shoelaces, Anyone?

As I was rushing out the door the other day, my shoelace snapped in two. After my first appointment of the day, I dipped into a big chain drug store figuring I could easily find a replacement. No go: Three employees searched their memories and the aisles and concluded that the store had once stocked laces, but did not anymore. They suggested trying the supermarket across the street. In the supermarket, there was a big old sign announcing "Shoe Center." Excellent, I thought. But no, the shelves under the sign stocked only tissues. I checked in with a couple...

By Marc Fisher | January 26, 2007; 7:28 AM ET | Comments (57)

Virginia Vs. "Scuzzball Reporters" (That's Me!)

Virginia state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican from Fairfax County, is one of the press corps' favorite lawmakers in Richmond. He's no great statesman, but he's got a penchant for taking the outrages of daily life and concocting some way to write new laws about them. Lately, Cuccinelli is bothered by "scuzzball reporters out there who don't have a shred of human decency to give a flying rat's tail about the condition or feelings or circumstances of families" who've suffered some tragedy. Cuccinelli is offended by the sight of press hacks descending on citizens who've lost a loved one in...

By Marc Fisher | January 25, 2007; 7:51 AM ET | Comments (74)

Pursuit of Happyness: Movie as Object Lesson?

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty's office has invited 120 homeless people to a screening of "The Pursuit of Happyness," the Hollywood flick about a homeless man who becomes a fancy stockbroker. The homeless people will gather tomorrow morning to see the Will Smith vehicle at Union Station. I can't decide whether this is an inspired attempt at social engineering -- an effort to show the homeless a path to stability and success -- or an offensively simplistic and crude way of demeaning the substance abuse, mental illness and other reasons so many people live on the street. My initial reaction...

By Marc Fisher | January 24, 2007; 4:09 PM ET | Comments (20)

The New WETA: A Promising Start

The first days of the new classical WETA have sounded promising: The station started out with the inevitable trumpet fanfare (Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Trumpets, with Wynton Marsalis accompanying himself.) Within the first hour, the station showed that it may provide a welcome mix of music, including pieces much longer and less pops-oriented than the watered-down fare heard on the late WGMS. (Evening host Nicole Lacroix sent a strong signal from the start, daring to announce the names of the artists and orchestras playing the music--another sign that the relentless dumbing down of WGMS, which always seemed ashamed of the...

By Marc Fisher | January 24, 2007; 7:27 AM ET | Comments (102)

New Home for Prairie Home

Fans of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, angry and forlorn since WETA announced yesterday that it is dropping the public radio variety show to make way for its new all-classical format, can break out the rhubarb pie: The show will shift this Saturday to WAMU (88.5 FM), which will air it from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The move is WAMU's first in response to WETA's format switch, but not likely its last, says station spokesman Kay Summers. "Any number of things could happen," she tells me. The move shifts Hot Jazz Saturday Night one hour later and knocks NPR's...

By Marc Fisher | January 23, 2007; 1:41 PM ET | Comments (37)

Nailing Drivers Who Jabber on the Cell

The new boss in the D.C. police department has ordered all of her district commanders to come up with "customized community policing plans"--a short list of tactics and goals that can and will be implemented in a 100-day rush to reform starting in March. In the Second District covering most of Northwest Washington, Commander Andy Solberg already knows one priority he will put into action as soon as Chief Cathy Lanier launches the 100 Days blitz: Solberg's officers will get serious about enforcing the District's no-cell-conversations-while-driving law. "One of the most constant complaints I get is drivers talking on...

By Marc Fisher | January 23, 2007; 7:43 AM ET | Comments (62)

Classical Carousel: Shakeup in D.C. Radio

At 3 p.m. today, WGMS signed off forever, ending 60 years and three weeks of classical music programming on commercial radio in Washington. With announcer Chip Brienza at the helm, the last piece heard on the 103.5 FM was Johann Christian Bach's Symphony in E-Flat Major (Op. 9, #2). After a few, mournful strands of "With Tears of Grief," the final chorus from the St. Matthew's Passion, WGMS program director Jim Allison called off an honor roll of great on-air personalities, led by former morning man Dennis Owens. Allison noted that to its last day, WGMS was the top-rated classical...

By Marc Fisher | January 22, 2007; 3:24 PM ET | Comments (80)

Sitting or Standing Cashiers (Continued)

Yesterday's column about the D.C. Chevy Chase woman who was disturbed that supermarket cashiers have to stand all day -- and decided to do something about it -- drew a huge response from readers, with some arguing that the policy American supermarkets hew to is a classic example of uncaring employers, and others contending that the job really can't be done while the worker is sitting. Deana Jordan Sullivan's solution was to buy a bunch of stools at Ikea and deliver them to her neighborhood Safeway, but Safeway has declined to give the stools to the cashiers, saying that there's...

By Marc Fisher | January 22, 2007; 7:28 AM ET | Comments (32)

Arts Groups Put on Their Own Shows

This week's Listener column: Tuning in to the director of an opera company acting as radio deejay does not automatically summon expectations of a rock-'em, sock-'em show. But here's Kim Witman, who runs the Wolf Trap Opera Company, on one of her new podcasts, introducing a short clip from Telemann's "Orpheus." "A crazed woman screaming at the top of her lungs in Italian. She really is pretty nuts." Over on a podcast produced by the Music Center at Strathmore, deejay Mac Campbell segues from a Chuck Brown go-go classic (introduced with the story of how the Godfather of Go-Go created...

By Marc Fisher | January 21, 2007; 12:07 AM ET | Comments (1)

Something in the Air

"Something in the Air: Radio, Rock and the Revolution that Shaped a Generation," my new book on the history of radio since the advent of TV, was published this week and I'll be reading from and signing books at several Washington-area bookstores and libraries over the next couple of weeks. I'd be honored to see any of the folks who gather here on the big blog at any of these events: Sunday Jan. 21: Politics and Prose, 1 p.m. 5015 Connecticut Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20008 202-364-1919 Thursday Jan. 25: Prince George's County Public Library-Hyattsville, MD, 7 p.m. 6530 Adelphi...

By Marc Fisher | January 19, 2007; 7:33 AM ET | Comments (0)

Exposing Fake Bands: The Truth in Music Bill

If you travel to Vegas, you'll see that the Sahara casino offers nightly shows by The Platters, The Drifters and The Coasters, three of the legendary doo-wop groups of the 50s. But advocates for Truth in Music laws say those groups have no right to bill themselves under those names, that they are not the original musicians known by those names but rather are merely imposter groups. Virginia's legislature is considering an effort to make it illegal to mislead consumers by selling tickets to a concert unless the band either includes original members of the group or holds the copyright...

By Marc Fisher | January 18, 2007; 7:36 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Angelos Channel: All-Baltimore, All the Time

The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), the regional cable channel that Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos created to carry the telecasts of the O's and the Washington Nationals, would have D.C.-area viewers believe that the Nats and the Washington sports scene will get at least equal billing now that games featuring both cities' teams will air on the channel. A MASN spokesman acknowledges that the cable channel is based in downtown Baltimore, but tells the Baltimore Sun that "it's not about where we're located, it's what's on the air." MASN lets out word that it is seeking the services of Washington...

By Marc Fisher | January 17, 2007; 7:24 AM ET | Comments (0)

Fighting the Textbook Cartel

Anyone who's ever taken a moment to contemplate how textbooks can be so wildly expensive and so abominably written comes to three easy conclusions: 1) Someone is making a bundle, 2) that someone is not the grad students who do the real work of putting together a textbook, and 3) there must be a better way. For many years, education experts, politicians and students have railed against the stratospheric price of textbooks, but still, the price tag soars--$80, $150, even $200 for a book that's boring, out of date and obviously written by committee. Now, Virginia state delegate Christopher Peace,...

By Marc Fisher | January 16, 2007; 8:03 AM ET | Comments (0)

Beating the Bean-Counters: Eloquence Against the Machine

The restaurant you ate at was just a tad too expensive and the expense report got kicked back. The bean counters send you a searing message because you dared to change flights. The number of ways in which the accountants can get under your skin is infinite, and the ordinary worker has so few weapons with which to fight back. But the late, great reporter Michael Browning, a former colleague of mine at the Miami Herald who died earlier this month, was a master not only at writing newspaper stories, but at striking back at the Guardians of the Corporate...

By Marc Fisher | January 15, 2007; 7:56 AM ET | Comments (0)

"Something in the Air" On the Air

Fyi, I'll be discussing my new book, "Something in the Air: Radio, Rock and the Revolution that Shaped a Generation," on two shows today, both of whose producers have rummaged around in the radio archives to dig up some really cool sounds from throughout the history of the medium: At 4 p.m. Sunday, "From the Nation's Capital" with Sam Litzinger airs on Washington Post Radio, 1500 AM and 107.7 FM; it's a full hour of highlights from the book. Outside the Washington area, this show can be heard on XM Satellite Radio on Channel 133 (XM Public Radio) or online...

By Marc Fisher | January 14, 2007; 9:23 AM ET | Comments (0)

MLK Day: New Voyages

What does Star Trek: New Voyages have to do with Martin Luther King Day? Turns out it was King himself who persuaded Nichelle Nichols--Lt. Uhura--not to drop out of the original series when she grew frustrated with her limited role on the 1960s TV show. Nichols derided her role as that of "a glorified telephone operator in space," but when she met King at a civil rights protest and learned that King was a big fan of Star Trek, she was also startled to hear him encourage her to stick with the job: "Don't you know you have the first...

By Marc Fisher | January 13, 2007; 7:56 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Tower Blocking Massanutten Gap

Cell phone tower wars wage all across the land. Phone companies try to disguise the ugly towers as trees, tuck them away in industrial zones or put them alongside big highways. But inevitably, as coverage needs increase, some of the towers end up marring gorgeous views. A new battle is waging in the Shenandoah, in an especially beautiful spot that I've written about in the past. The view from the college league baseball park in New Market, Va., is breathtaking, but now a cell tower rises up over the outfield fence to block the previously virgin view of New Market...

By Marc Fisher | January 12, 2007; 12:43 PM ET | Comments (0)

DC Police: When Video of the Bad Guy Isn't Enough

D.C. police gadly John Aravosis has heard of all too many cases like this: A house in the District is burglarized, the police know who the bad guy is, yet somehow the system concludes that nothing can be done. But as common as this scenario may be, the experience a Kalorama woman is nonetheless startling, and if Mayor Adrian Fenty and new Police Chief Cathy Lanier are serious about changing the way policing is done in Washington, this is the perfect case on which to base some new ways of doing business: Not only do the police reportedly have the...

By Marc Fisher | January 12, 2007; 7:36 AM ET | Comments (32)

DC Bloggers Summit: What, No Shrimp?

To be fair, I actually heard no complaints whatsoever from the assembled 100 or so Washington area bloggers who attended the region's first bloggers' summit at The Washington Post this week. No, it's only folks in the old dead tree journalism community who judge a get-together according to the availability of free crustaceans. The bloggers who came to talk about their relationship with the Post and to hear a lawyer's cautions about life out there on the info interstate were really quite pleased with the spread, which included chicken satay, crudites and some nice strawberries dipped in chocolate. "We...

By Marc Fisher | January 11, 2007; 7:55 AM ET | Comments (12)

Coming in from the Bullpen: Hey, Isn't That Mayor Bloomberg?

First, Mayor Adrian Fenty made the pilgrimage to New York to see how Michael Bloomberg organizes his newsroom-style, no-walls "bullpen" office for top city officials. Then Fenty visited Bloomberg's reshaped school system. Yesterday, Bloomberg paid a return visit, stopping by Fenty's new bullpen to deliver words of encouragement and a gift of four wall clocks, so the D.C. mayor can check the time in all four quadrants of the District. Is somebody thinking about running for president? Bloomberg is positioning himself as the pied piper of energetic, business-oriented big city mayors; he's adopted Fenty and San Francisco's Gavin Newsom...

By Marc Fisher | January 10, 2007; 3:19 PM ET | Comments (2)

A Web Window Onto Sausage-Making, Virginia Style

When Virginia's legislature convenes today with a big shindig in Jamestown, the descent into pessimism will have already begun. It's an election year, and while fear of losing their majority is driving Republicans to search for ways to persuade voters that they really do take traffic woes seriously, some Democrats are calculating that continued stalemate might be their best ticket, their best shot at winning a lot more seats in November. But it ain't over till it's over, and for the next couple of months, we'll see a whole lot of wrangling about transportation, land use and a bunch...

By Marc Fisher | January 10, 2007; 7:45 AM ET | Comments (1)

Thinning Crowds: Are Fans Revolting?

Don't look now, but attendance is softening for most local sports teams. As the Post reported last week, the Capitals are scraping the bottom of the attendance ranking in the National Hockey League. No-shows have long been a problem for the Wizards, who are still drawing mediocre crowds even though Gilbert Arenas is playing electrifying ball and the team is sitting atop their division. The Nationals suffered a sophomore slump last summer and there's no reason to believe they will do any better with a much worse team this coming campaign. Pro sports franchises are not alone in this...

By Marc Fisher | January 9, 2007; 7:26 AM ET | Comments (40)

Lax Attitude: Will Pro Lacrosse Sell in DC?

The Washington-Baltimore region and Long Island have traditionally been the heart of Lacrosse America, where the nation's oldest sport has thrived as a game for youth, high schools and colleges. Since pro lacrosse launched in 2001, teams have struggled to attract large crowds, and the Baltimore Bayhawks drifted from venue to venue, finally collapsing after the 2006 season. In 2007, the team will transfer to Washington, a move that has not gone over well with Baltimore fans. The assumption in all of the news coverage of the team's move has been that the Bayhawks will play at a Georgetown...

By Marc Fisher | January 8, 2007; 8:15 AM ET | Comments (53)

360 Degrees of Black Experience, the Ebony Lifestyle System, and Washington's Moment in Black Radio History

Thirty-five years after Howard University's radio station came on the air as a voice of the ferment and protest then stirring in black Washington, WHUR has reached into its past to create a new, digital version of its original vision. Using the throwback slogan "360 Degrees of Total Blackness," WHUR World, Howard's digital station -- available only on the new HD radios or online -- is playing a mix of jazz, R&B, hip-hop, blues and world music, along with black-history vignettes, all wrapped in promotional rhetoric harking back to 1971. That's when Howard University accepted a donation of a radio...

By Marc Fisher | January 6, 2007; 6:27 PM ET | Comments (6)

Bright Idea, Dim Bulb

Wal-Mart, the company that lefties, urbanites and greens love to hate, is repositioning itself as a friend of the environment: The retail behemoth has announced its intention to sell 100 million of those compact fluorescent light bulbs that cost an arm and a leg to buy, but save lots of energy (and therefore cut your electric bill.) This will not work, for one simple reason: The bulbs provide only the illusion of light. We shelled out the big bucks--the things cost upwards of ten times the price of cheap but energy-hogging incandescent bulbs--for a bunch of different so-called swirl...

By Marc Fisher | January 5, 2007; 8:01 AM ET | Comments (65)

Turning Point for the Moon Empire?

The ex-employees and fallen followers who provide insider perspectives on mysterious and powerful groups such as the Church of Scientology or Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church always have to be considered with a dose of skepticism, but they often offer real insights into what's happening within the walls of secretive organizations. If the insiders are right, Moon's empire is at a turning point. The battle for succession has begun and the 86-year-old leader of the cult--and owner of The Washington Times--is apparently allowing his youngest son, Preston Moon, to start making some moves that could change the leadership and direction...

By Marc Fisher | January 4, 2007; 8:06 AM ET | Comments (25)

Another Approach to D.C. Voting Rights

Paul Goldman, one of Virginia's leading political gurus and a longtime adviser to former Gov. Doug Wilder, has an idea about a new approach to gaining D.C. voting rights. I'm not sure I buy it, but Goldman, former chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party, often knows what political strategies might work. Here, on the morning when a new mayor launches his administration, is Goldman's take on the injustice that never seems to go away: " Taxation without representation" is the slogan on District of Columbia license plates. For the Democrats in control of DC, the issue is seen as...

By Marc Fisher | January 3, 2007; 7:58 AM ET | Comments (0)

Michael Browning, The Best of Us All

Michael Browning, the most elegant writer in American journalism, died this weekend. He was 58 and he was the best of us all. If you've read the Post in recent years and enjoyed the writing of David Von Drehle, Joel Achenbach, or Gene Weingarten--or any of a hundred or so other Washington Post writers who came here from the Miami Herald--or if you're a fan of the novels, columns or reporting of Dave Barry, Carl Hiaasen, Madeline Blais, Barry Bearak or Michael Winerip, you've nonetheless missed out on the work of the guy who was by general acclamation the best...

By Marc Fisher | January 2, 2007; 7:21 AM ET | Comments (12)

 

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