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Archive: May 2007

D.C. Libraries: Ready for Their Makeover, Yet Stuck in Neutral

Ginnie Cooper, the energetic and optimistic new chief of the District's sadly neglected public library system, says she knew exactly what she was getting into. "I could work 80 hours a week for 100 years and still have things left to be done," she says of the sorry state of a library system that suffers from startlingly low book circulation, dilapidated buildings, a thin collection, insufficient support from the District government, and a lack of popular consensus over how to fix the system or where to put new resources. Depending on whether you share Cooper's optimism or prefer to...

By Marc Fisher | May 31, 2007; 7:43 AM ET | Comments (0)

Seafood Dives: America's (and DC's) Best

We fall for this nearly every time: The trumped-up but irresistibly fun magazine list of Best Somethings. In this case, something called Coastal Living magazine purports to name the Top 25 Seafood Dives in the nation, and their list includes two establishments in the mid-Atlantic--Fenwick Crab House in Fenwick Island, Delaware (not far from Ocean City, Md.) and The Wharf Rat in Baltimore's Fells Point. I'm not buying the magazine's Top 25, and I suspect you won't either. But if you take a look at the mag's Top 100, there's a better list, and this one includes nearly a...

By Marc Fisher | May 30, 2007; 7:33 AM ET | Comments (0)

Avoiding the Fall: America, Rome and Finding Unity in Service

My Memorial Day column on Patrick Campbell, a young Washington resident who managed to find a path from student body president at Berkeley to combat medic in Iraq, struck a chord among many in the military who lament the deep divide that has developed between those who serve and protect this country and the rest of us, who have the luxury of barely noting that there's a war on. I heard from wives of men who are serving in Iraq, from soldiers who have returned home confused and concerned about finding meaning in the sacrifices they made, from officers...

By Marc Fisher | May 29, 2007; 7:24 AM ET | Comments (0)

Drawn by Duty, Changed by Sacrifice

On the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, Patrick Campbell walked over to the Pentagon and asked if he could help search for bodies. Only if you're a medic or a firefighter, he was told. That day, Campbell decided to become a medic. So you know Campbell has, as he puts it, "a bad habit of running towards problems." This country has been at war for four years, and during that time, less than 1 percent of Americans have served in the conflict. Maybe 5 percent have family or close friends fighting in Iraq. For the rest of us, the war...

By Marc Fisher | May 27, 2007; 11:38 AM ET | Comments (0)

The News from Loudoun Goes Silent

A month-old news report from Ashburn was still sitting this week on the Web site of Loudoun County's only radio station -- one of the last local stories on WAGE (1200 AM). This month, WAGE fired its news director, afternoon host and general manager, and eliminated nearly all of its local programming. The station filled airtime instead with nationally syndicated talk shows featuring business news from the Wall Street Journal, conservative talk with Dennis Miller and relationships advice from Joy Browne. Like hundreds of other AM stations across the country, WAGE pulled back on local content because it's vastly cheaper...

By Marc Fisher | May 26, 2007; 8:47 AM ET | Comments (0)

Random Friday Question: How Do You Discover Great New Books?

Today's Random Friday Question: How do you learn about a great new book? Are the book reviews that have been a mainstay of great American newspapers a dying breed? Is it even possible to talk about them as a breed when so few remain? When my book on radio and how old media adapt in an era of new technologies was published earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to receive about 25 reviews in newspapers and magazines across the country. But the book review landscape has changed dramatically, and not for the better, over the past decade. A...

By Marc Fisher | May 25, 2007; 7:20 AM ET | Comments (0)

Virginians and Gays: Beyond the '06 Vote

Last fall's decisive victory for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Virginia would seem to have settled the issue, at least for a while. But a new poll indicates that Virginians are more tolerant of gay relationships than last fall's election may have indicated. A survey conducted earlier this year by Fabrizio McLaughlin and The Schapiro Group for Equality Virginia, the state's gay rights lobby, shows 55 percent of Virginians favor legal recognition of civil unions between homosexual partners. Of those who said they voted for the ban on gay marriage, 31 percent said gays nonetheless have a...

By Marc Fisher | May 24, 2007; 7:25 AM ET | Comments (29)

Too Old to Drive? D.C. Prefers Not to Know

Department of Backwards Motion: The District government, in all its wisdom, has decided to roll back its rule requiring drivers who are 75 or older to submit to a road test to make certain that their reflexes and other faculties still allow them to operate a vehicle safely. The decision, driven by complaints from old folks that the driving test was somehow discriminatory, reverses the District's imposition of a driving test just a year ago. This latest move by D.C. flies in the face of both the national trend toward tighter restrictions on very old drivers, and safety statistics...

By Marc Fisher | May 23, 2007; 7:23 AM ET | Comments (61)

Finally--The Long, Sad Tale of the Drunken Superintendent

Alexandria's new school board, arguably elected for the purpose of doing the right thing and finally getting rid of the superintendent who was caught driving drunk, did the deed last night. By voting 5-4 against renewing Rebecca Perry's contract, the school board finally cleared away the controversy and moral debate over whether the school system was engaged in a massive display of hypocrisy in which children, and especially high school students, were being told to do as we say and not as we do. In this age of zero tolerance for adolescent acting out, the spectacle of the old...

By Marc Fisher | May 22, 2007; 7:33 AM ET | Comments (0)

You Be The Editor: One Day's Tips

In this installment of You Be The Editor, I'll give you a taste of the best of one day's story suggestions from readers, and I welcome your votes and views on which, if any, of these story tips a columnist would be best advised to follow up. Here we go: --Anonymous missive accusing the head of a mid-sized county government agency in Virginia of various misdeeds, including steering contracts to friends. Allegations are specific, but no hard evidence is included and the package arrives with no return address or other contact. --Neighborhood activists email word of impending approval by...

By Marc Fisher | May 21, 2007; 6:20 AM ET | Comments (27)

We're From the Government, We're Here to Help

Phyllis and Zabrina Johnson, mother and daughter, had run out of options. Their house in Lyttonsville near downtown Silver Spring was falling apart around them. The mother, disabled by two strokes, diabetes and heart problems, and the daughter, laid off from her job and responsible for her mother's care, reached out. In 2005, they called Montgomery County: Could they get any help getting their house fixed? Could they ever. The county, which occasionally replaces decrepit houses for low-income families, extended its legendary generosity. It tore down the Johnsons' house on Michigan Avenue, and, last fall, the county executive himself...

By Marc Fisher | May 20, 2007; 12:46 AM ET | Comments (7)

Random Friday Question: If Kids Don't Date Anymore, Why Are There Still Proms?

Even though a simple look at the couples heading out to the movies or dinner tonight will tell you that dating is alive and well, the folks who study this sort of thing tell us that dating is passe, that teens prefer to travel in packs rather than pair off in any way recognizable to their elders, and that the culture of hooking up has pushed aside more formal dating among many college kids. Ok, if you buy that premise, then here's this week's Random Friday Question: If dating is frowned upon or seen as eminently uncool, then why...

By Marc Fisher | May 18, 2007; 7:30 AM ET | Comments (63)

Marion Barry's Wedge Issues: Class and Race

Whatever the issue, whatever the year, Marion Barry makes certain he is in the center ring of the circus. The former mayor-for-life has pet issues, seeks petty advantages and promotes grand ideals. He fights consistently to get summer jobs for the city's idle youth. He uses whatever muscle he has to steer city contracts toward black-owned businesses. But however he is remembered--as the mayor who built K Street, or as the crack-puffing laughingstock of the nation, or as a political survivor who remained a hero to generations of black Washingtonians--Marion Barry has dominated this city's politics in good part...

By Marc Fisher | May 17, 2007; 7:23 AM ET | Comments (0)

What Will MoCo Ban Next? Skeeters? Wind Chimes?

Montgomery County, where only county-run stores can be trusted to sell liquor and where the county has tossed smokers out of bars and restaurants, is now the first county in the nation to ban trans fats. The county council voted yesterday to prohibit restaurants, bakeries and delis from using the unhealthful fats in their cooking and food preparation. Apparently oblivious to the fact that a trans fat ban in New York City is forcing some chefs there to abandon butter because it contains small amounts of natural trans fat, the nannies who run Montgomery County unanimously--yes, every single member...

By Marc Fisher | May 16, 2007; 7:10 AM ET | Comments (0)

Virginia Vs. NYC: Gun Wars

When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg learned that a whole bunch of the guns used in violent crimes in his town had been illegally purchased from shops in Virginia, he authorized his police officers to conduct undercover operations designed to nail those Virginia retailers. Did Virginia thank New York for investigations that could help make the streets safer in both places? Did Virginia sheepishly admit that its own enforcement efforts were lacking and use the embarrassing moment to redouble its efforts? You know the answers: Virginia did nothing of the sort. Rather, Virginia Attorney General Robert McDonnell turned...

By Marc Fisher | May 15, 2007; 7:25 AM ET | Comments (0)

Do Credentials Make a Good Teacher?

Throughout the past few decades, waves of education reformers have pushed the idea that poorly performing schools would get a big boost if only they jettisoned teachers who hold only a bachelor's degree and instead hired lots of folks with graduate degrees and certification in the field in which they teach. At first glance, that seems reasonable enough: In most areas of work, getting training in the specifics of your field is a useful step. But consider that in teaching, many of the most highly admired schools--and especially the best religious and private schools--often have hiring approaches that pay...

By Marc Fisher | May 14, 2007; 8:03 AM ET | Comments (46)

T.R.: Keeping The Nats Out of Last Place

When your team has the worst record in baseball, and you're just home from a 1-9 road trip, and attendance is down, and people are complaining that the hot dogs are half-cooked, it can seem as if the spirit of the old Senators is alive and thriving at RFK Stadium. The Washington Nationals are a bad baseball team, perhaps not historically awful, but close enough. True believers will always find cause to hope, and management says it has a plan to create a contender in a couple of years. But people want something to root for now, some plausible chance...

By Marc Fisher | May 13, 2007; 9:02 AM ET | Comments (0)

Cerphe's Up--Washington's Rock Survivor

(This week's Listener column visits with Cerphe, for 35 years the voice of rock radio in Washington.) Four years after he fell in love with rock-and-roll while watching the Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show," Don Cerphe Colwell packed up his guitar and followed a girlfriend from suburban Boston down to American University. "The girl lasted a semester," says Colwell, but within weeks, the freshman met another AU student who invited him to work part time at a radio station that was experimenting with a new kind of music programming. By day, WHFS was a middle-of-the-road FM station, the kind...

By Marc Fisher | May 12, 2007; 9:42 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Random Friday Question: Where to Die?

Time for another Random Friday Question: When Jack Valenti died last month, we were told that the hospital had done all they could for him and he had chosen to go home to die. It's a comforting, assuring image, and it hearkens back to a time when almost everyone died at home, rather than in a hospital or hospice. The Question: Where do most people die? These days, Valenti's end represents a rare privilege. Federal stats say that 56 percent of Americans die in hospitals, and 19 percent in nursing homes. That leaves only a quarter of us to...

By Marc Fisher | May 11, 2007; 7:30 AM ET | Comments (0)

"Some Youth Kill People Just to Get Cool Points"

Aaron Teeter was 19 when he wrote this: "When I was growing up, my mother and my sister were on drugs. It wasn't good for me, because I was exposed to things I wasn't supposed to be exposed to--like walking in the room and seeing my mother and her friends abusing needles, and my sister using a crack pipe. But that encouraged me to do better in my lifestyle. As a result of my mother's friends using drugs, they are all dead, but my mother is still alive and has been clean for over 15 years." And Aaron Teeter...

By Marc Fisher | May 10, 2007; 7:49 AM ET | Comments (44)

New Mayor, New Chance: Will Fenty Build on DC's Investment in Metro?

Anthony Williams transformed the face of much of the District. For creating new pockets of upscale development downtown, he won credit for bolstering the tax base, but sparked criticism that all he cared about was the rich. In a far less widely known story, Williams also reshaped several of the District's poorest sections, supporting new mixed-income communities--the single best recipe for improving everything from security to education. Now comes Mayor Adrian Fenty, who won election by managing to persuade both sides in the development wars that he understands and sympathizes with their passionate concerns. Fenty's track record is one...

By Marc Fisher | May 9, 2007; 7:36 AM ET | Comments (0)

Lighten Up About The Queen, Or Don't Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out

The email queue has been overflowing ever since I wrote Sunday about the unseemly and downright unAmerican spectacle of seeing Queen Elizabeth greeted by fawning Americans who went so far as to bow and curtsy to the monarch. Herewith a sample of your vehement disagreement and unusually enthusiastic support: It's called humility. Although you might find the British Monarchy an anachronism, courtesy costs very little. In his day, Thomas Paine of this parish, was considered a traitor, but that does not stop our local brewery in Lewes, where Paine lived and gave many speeches, from producing a Thomas Paine...

By Marc Fisher | May 8, 2007; 2:15 PM ET | Comments (14)

Eastern Market: All Fired Up

The queue to peek inside the burned-out shell of Eastern Market stretched nearly a block long at times on Sunday, but this was no idle gawking. This was a sign of a neighborhood geared up to make things happen. It's often hard to predict what will get a community to coalesce; I've seen great historic buildings bite the dust with hardly a peep out of the locals, and then I've seen people who ordinarily don't get involved in their hometowns turn their lives upside down because some place they valued was threatened. The outpouring of support for the merchants...

By Marc Fisher | May 8, 2007; 7:37 AM ET | Comments (20)

Georgetown Library Fire Aftermath

The news out of the Georgetown library fire is that the damage is not quite as awful as was first feared. A fair portion of the historical documents have been shipped off for freezing and preservation. Here, via Jerry McCoy, one of the great resources this region has for preserving and promoting the record of our past, are some photos showing the Peabody Room before and after the fire. And here's the branch librarian's take on the fire. And just in case anyone is thinking of suing the District for failing to maintain its fire hydrants properly, here's a West...

By Marc Fisher | May 7, 2007; 2:49 PM ET | Comments (13)

Invulnerable: Pols and Seat Belts

When New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine's frightening car crash turned out to have been exacerbated by his failure to wear a seat belt, I was reminded of a campaign trip on which I accompanied Tim Kaine, then running for governor of Virginia. After a visit to a diner in Richmond, we piled into Kaine's campaign SUV and the candidate...buckled his seat belt. It was a remarkable enough move that I wrote it down in my notebook. What was so extraordinary? Big deal politicians, more than any other adults I know, tend to eschew seat belts. Maybe they're concerned about...

By Marc Fisher | May 7, 2007; 7:21 AM ET | Comments (0)

Stand Up Straight--She's Not Your Queen!

In Richmond's Capitol Square and along the streets of Colonial Williamsburg, Americans wearing Burger King crowns greeted the visiting British monarch. Women who had lined up hours in advance sported tiaras. Gracious hospitality, all in good fun. But look closer: Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine gave state workers a day off to celebrate Queen Elizabeth's visit. Cost to the taxpayers: about $11 million, in a state where legislators this year rejected raising the minimum wage, which has not changed in a decade. When the queen met with four Virginia Tech students who were injured in last month's horrific shootings, one of...

By Marc Fisher | May 6, 2007; 9:57 AM ET | Comments (78)

DC Voting Rights: Is This The Year?

(I'll be online for an hour-long chat about this Outlook section essay on Monday at 1 p.m. Please join me at washingtonpost.com/liveonline) For decades now, eyes have rolled and members of Congress have fled for the exits when the perennial nags from the D.C. voting rights movement have come around with their incessant whining about the terrible injustice visited upon the people of Washington. Elected officials well-schooled in the art of saying "No" without ever actually using the word made a special exception: No, no, no, they told D.C. residents, you may not have a seat in Congress. And if...

By Marc Fisher | May 5, 2007; 12:08 PM ET | Comments (9)

The Random Friday Question: The Costs of A/C & Heat

Ok, gang, time to introduce a new feature here on the big blog, the Random Friday Question, in which you and I together attack some question that's been nagging at us. I'll take a first stab at an answer, then open it up to your collective efforts. Please come ahead with your own thoughts, research, reporting, whatever... We'll start off with a question that's apt for this transitional season, as the temps jump up and down and we all try to skate by without heat or air-conditioning, but occasionally succumb and flip on one or the other. The question:...

By Marc Fisher | May 4, 2007; 7:16 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Bobby Haircut and Kendel Ehrlich Show

He's back! Live and local, it's Bobby Haircut, the former governor of the great state of Maryland, now starring with his lovely wife on a weekly radio gabfest that is turning into a must-listen for political junkies and fans of personality entertainment alike. Well, ok, maybe that's stretching it, but the Kendel and Bob Ehrlich Show, Saturday mornings at 9 on WBAL in Baltimore (available to Washington area listeners online at wbal.com), is a little bit of Regis and Kelly, a little bit of wonkorama, and a little Payback Time, all packed into a two-hour time slot when most...

By Marc Fisher | May 3, 2007; 7:12 AM ET | Comments (0)

Live from Miami, D.C.'s New Schools Chief?

Rudy Crew, the schools superintendent in South Florida's Miami-Dade County, isn't being terribly discreet about D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty's interest in putting him into the top job in the Washington school system. Never mind that the job is already taken, by Superintendent Clifford Janey. Never mind that Fenty says no decision has been made about what happens to Janey once the mayor completes his takeover of authority for the public schools. Crew, who is caught up in a power struggle of his own in Miami, is using Fenty's offer, or at least Fenty's courting, as a weapon in his...

By Marc Fisher | May 2, 2007; 7:37 AM ET | Comments (0)

Curtain Drops on The Milt Grant Show

Milt Grant, Washington's Dick Clark, is dead. Beginning in 1956, Grant served as host of a TV dance show that introduced both local and national pop and rock acts to viewers in the Washington area. The show, originally weekly and later broadcast six days a week on Channel 5, was produced live in front of a studio audience at the Raleigh Hotel at 11th and E streets NW. Throughout the late 50s, the Grant show was a pop phenomenon especially among high school kids in the area. Make that white high school kids. The Grant program was a segregated...

By Marc Fisher | May 1, 2007; 1:23 PM ET | Comments (15)

Memo to Alexandria Schools: A College Shows How to Deal with Drunken Leaders

Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg was embarrassed by its president last month, when William Frawley was arrested on drunken driving charges--twice in three days, in Fairfax and in Fredericksburg. Yesterday, the college's board sacked Frawley. Just like that, with cause, without a golden parachute, without any compensation. Frawley, a former top administrator at George Washington University, was told to just get out. The decision, the board announced, was in the best interests of the college. This is called "doing the right thing." It is a concept that never quite got through to the Alexandria school board, which in 2004...

By Marc Fisher | May 1, 2007; 7:45 AM ET | Comments (0)

 

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