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Archive: June 2007

Photos on the 4th: Showdown in Downtown Silver Spring

Chip Py's run-in with the picture police of downtown Silver Spring has morphed into a good old American fight for the right to express oneself. Py, a Silver Spring resident, discovered earlier this month that what looks and feels like any old public downtown is in reality a private, if roofless, shopping mall where private security guards can and will stop you from taking pictures just because the developer who controls the place feels like exercising its control jones. Now, amateur photographers from all around the region have decided that they too can flex their muscles, and they plan...

By Marc Fisher | June 30, 2007; 11:18 AM ET | Comments (0)

Random Friday Question: Sleepy Days of Summer

One of the abiding myths of adult life is the notion that somehow things will slow down in summer. We're so conditioned by the idyllic, lazy summers of our youth that we retain the belief that the months when school is not in session will provide relief from the tensions and long hours of the rest of the year's rat race. Would that it were so. Other than the fact that most Americans choose to take their vacations during the summer, there's not much evidence that summers really provide much of a change in our daily schedules. In these...

By Marc Fisher | June 29, 2007; 8:02 AM ET | Comments (0)

Media Bias: When Reporters Don't Get Neutrality

In the great mythology about journalists, we're all secretly liberal operatives sneaking biased reporting into our stories. In the high ideals of the craft, we're independent observers who don't give a hoot about ideology. And in reality, we're the same bunch of flawed people as populate most any line of work. Now comes a terrific little investigation by MSNBC's Bill Dedman, who sifted through federal elections records to find that all too many journalists don't understand their own craft: They couldn't stop themselves from undermining their own credibility by aligning themselves with candidates for public office. If there's any...

By Marc Fisher | June 28, 2007; 7:21 AM ET | Comments (38)

Virginia's Exorbitant New Abuser Fees: Happy Motoring!

Starting on Sunday, if a jerk from Maryland or the District drives recklessly in Virginia, he'll be liable for a $100 fine. But if the jerky driver is a Virginian, he'll get slapped with an extra $1,050 fine on top of the $100. Similarly, if an out of state drunk gets caught on a Virginia road, he'll face a $250 fine if this is his first DUI. But a Virginian caught in the same act will have to pay the $250 plus a bonus fee of $2,250. Needless to say, this innovation in soaking roadway miscreants is not going...

By Marc Fisher | June 27, 2007; 7:52 AM ET | Comments (0)

Day of Silence: Internet Radio Goes Dark

If you listen to music, news or other programming via the Internet, you're likely to find a soundstream of silence today. The Day of Silence is a one-day protest being staged by big corporate web radio outlets, innovative smaller companies that are trying to invent a new kind of showcase for recorded music, and individuals who've been flexing their creative muscles by starting up their own web radio stations. The idea is to focus attention on a startlingly sharp increase--in many cases, more than double the current rates-- in the royalty payments that the Librarian of Congress and the...

By Marc Fisher | June 26, 2007; 7:05 AM ET | Comments (169)

Pants Verdict: Judge Stuffs The Pants Man

In an extremely cautious and detailed ruling, D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff this morning said that Administrative Law Judge Roy Pearson deserves not a penny of the $67 million that he once demanded in compensation for a mixup at his neighborhood dry cleaners. But astonishingly, Bartnoff said not a word in her decision about Pearson's handling of the case, or about the size of his demand, or about the bizarre scale of his legal assault on the immigrant family who own Custom Cleaners on Bladensburg Road NE. Perhaps the judge didn't need to: She spoke with her actions...

By Marc Fisher | June 25, 2007; 10:13 AM ET | Comments (0)

Education Monday: $3.3 Million for Fancy Consultants

One of the highest-paying jobs a newly-minted college graduate can find is to join one of the big consultancies and churn out research reports for the many American corporations, foundations and public agencies that believe deeply in the cult of expertise. Somehow over the past generation or so, the big consultants have managed to persuade managers in the private and public sectors alike that the best advice and ideas about changing and improving an operation come not from within, but from high-priced consultants who roam the nation, dropping in to enterprises about which they know little or nothing, making...

By Marc Fisher | June 25, 2007; 8:07 AM ET | Comments (0)

Listener: Classical Radio's Resurgence

(This week's Listener column.) Classical music radio, virtually gone from commercial stations and increasingly shoved aside even on public radio, is refusing to die in Washington. WETA's return to classical this January after a two-year experiment with news and talk is looking like a ratings winner: The station (90.9 FM) saw its audience more than double in the first Arbitron report since the format change. And, equally important for perennially cash-strapped public radio, the size and number of listener donations to the station soared with the switch back to classical. But as elated as WETA executives are over the success...

By Marc Fisher | June 24, 2007; 3:30 PM ET | Comments (8)

Guess Who They Hired to Build the New Metro?

Extending Metro to Dulles Airport is like adding a room to your house: The price and timetable you get going into the project bear only a tangential relationship to reality. Along the way, you'll have to give up on those gold-standard materials. No matter how hard and fast the deal you thought you had with the contractor, somehow you'll end up with a different price -- and different means higher. But when you pick your contractor, you will certainly shy away from the guy you know was involved in massive cost overruns on your friend's basement. That's where Virginia and...

By Marc Fisher | June 24, 2007; 9:25 AM ET | Comments (0)

Random Friday Question: Do We Need Libraries Anymore?

With more than 25,000 librarians pouring into town for the convention of the American Library Association, now is the time to ask a not-so-random Random Friday Question: In a world in which every home computer provides access to more information than used to exist in your friendly neighborhood library, exactly what is the function of a library now? Librarians are asking themselves this question in all kinds of ways. During their six days in Washington, librarians will hold sessions to discuss "Can Blogs Be Trusted?" "Lifting the Gag: Patron Privacy and the Patriot Act," "Library Outreach and Programming on...

By Marc Fisher | June 22, 2007; 7:32 AM ET | Comments (178)

Shuttered Shutterbugs: When Downtown Is Private Property

In just seven years, the new downtown Silver Spring has become a bustling restaurant scene, a business center and a public gathering spot popular with all ages. Except maybe we should reconsider the "public" part. Chip Py, a longtime resident of Silver Spring, recently returned to an old interest in photography. While wandering through downtown after eating lunch there last week, he took out his camera and started to take shots of the contrast between the tops of the office buildings and the sparkling blue sky. Within seconds, a private security guard was at Py's side, informing him that...

By Marc Fisher | June 21, 2007; 7:18 AM ET | Comments (36)

D.C.'s Black-Korean Dynamic: A Simmering Tension

What do the $54 million pants man, Roy Pearson, and the new D.C. schools superintendent, Michelle Rhee, have in common? Their moments in the news in recent days have lifted the lid off a cauldron of black-Korean tensions. This relationship has a volatile history in Washington, running back to 1986, when Rev. Willie Wilson of Union Temple Baptist Church famously led a boycott of an Asian-American grocer in Southeast who had supposedly disrespected a black customer. The episode culminated in Wilson saying, after being asked if his demands were inflaming racial tensions, that if he and his followers hadn't...

By Marc Fisher | June 20, 2007; 7:11 AM ET | Comments (339)

Pants Update: Whither Judge Pearson?

With the verdict in the $54 million pants suit expected later this week, the calls are growing for the District government to explain why Roy Pearson is worthy of holding a position as administrative law judge. Judge Pearson's judicial temperment is the issue that the Commission on Selection and Tenure of Administrative Law Judges must consider. Pearson's initial two-year term as a judge expired on April 30. But the commission considering whether to reappoint him to a full, 10-year term has punted on making that decision, so Pearson continued to draw his $100,512 salary while supposedly acting as an...

By Marc Fisher | June 19, 2007; 7:35 AM ET | Comments (0)

Education Monday: The New Schools Chief

Mayor Adrian Fenty's appointment of Michelle Rhee to run the D.C. school system is classic Fenty: The move is brash, energizing, exciting, creative, naive, impulsive, insufficiently vetted, and brimming with potential--for both success and failure. Fenty has been upfront about the fact that he wants to blow up the school system and start over. Throughout his campaign and into his mayoralty, he has made it clear that he has little respect for the people who run the schools and next to no respect for what the city's schools produce. "The problems just persist year after year and nobody loses...

By Marc Fisher | June 18, 2007; 7:31 AM ET | Comments (15)

Cho's Secrets: Privacy Gone Wild

(The Sunday column.) We can all breathe easy now: When Seung Hui Cho passed all too fleetingly through Virginia's mental health system, "everyone did everything that was required by Virginia code." So concludes Kent McDaniel, consulting psychiatrist to the state inspector general's investigation into what authorities did about Cho before he shot 56 people, killing 32, at Virginia Tech. As the probes into the horrific events of April 16 start to come in, we're learning that Cho's rapidly escalating bizarre behavior was known to even more people than was first reported and that lots of those people tried to get...

By Marc Fisher | June 17, 2007; 12:04 AM ET | Comments (19)

Random Friday Question: How Much Noise Is Too Much?

Like many people, I like noise, except when I don't. I love the buzz of a loud restaurant. I will buy from stores that feature particularly interesting or adventuresome soundtracks. But whenever I've had to move, I've gone to ludicrous lengths to make certain that my new location was reasonably quiet in the early morning, even staking out the streetscape in the pre-dawn hours to make sure no early buses or trucks rumble along my prospective home street. I've infuriated some readers by defending bars and restaurants that pump loud music late at night, yet when I lived above...

By Marc Fisher | June 15, 2007; 7:27 AM ET | Comments (0)

Pants Plus: More DropTrou Moments from the $54 Million Pants Trial

More scenes from the trial of Roy Pearson v. Custom Cleaners, the $54 million pants suit, which concluded in D.C. Superior Court yesterday.... Pants, Pants, Pants I think I've mentioned this fact before, but I just can't get over it: Roy Pearson testified that he owns 60 pairs of pants. Sixty! I checked my closet and found that I own 14 pairs of pants, and I'm no fashion plate, but 60 does strike me as quite a few. Am I wrong about this? Soo Chung's Story The Chung family, owners of Custom Cleaners, moved from South Korea to the...

By Marc Fisher | June 14, 2007; 11:46 AM ET | Comments (0)

Pants Extra: Inside the Courtroom

Today's column reports on the doings on Day Two of the $54 million pants trial, but as it was such an action-packed day on the trousers front, here are some scenes that didn't make the column: Divorce Case Redux Roy Pearson and Judge Judith Bartnoff squabbled throughout the trial over to what extent the pants case would be an opportunity for Pearson to "relitigate" his divorce trial, which took place in Fairfax County a few years ago. A Virginia appeals court decided in that case that Pearson has abused the legal system with excessive filings; for example, he peppered...

By Marc Fisher | June 14, 2007; 9:28 AM ET | Comments (0)

Pants Update: Trial Over, Verdict Next Week

The pants trial is over, and Judge Judith Bartnoff isn't ruling until next week--with a guy like Roy Pearson doing the suing, you don't want to rule verbally, but rather want to make certain that every I is dotted. But Bartnoff made her sense of the case quite clear in her final words from the bench tonight: "It was a long two days," she said. Speaking of the D.C. consumer protection law that Pearson is relying on to argue that he deserves $54 million because Custom Cleaners allegedly lost a pair of his pants, Bartnoff said: "This is a...

By Marc Fisher | June 13, 2007; 5:48 PM ET | Comments (0)

Pants Trial Day Two: We See The Pants

At noon precisely on Day Two of the $54 million pants case, we saw The Pants. Defense attorney Christopher Manning unveiled the suit trousers that Roy Pearson says are not his and that the owners of Custom Cleaners say are indeed the ones that Pearson submitted for a $10.50 alteration back in 2005. The dramatic moment in Courtroom 415 at D.C. Superior Court revealed that yes, the pants look like they are part of a suit, and yes, the dry cleaners attached to these pants a tag with the same numbers that appeared on the receipt Pearson got for...

By Marc Fisher | June 13, 2007; 1:36 PM ET | Comments (0)

Virginia Voters: Low Turnout, High Dudgeon

Not a whole lot of Virginians came out to the polls Tuesday, but those who did made some things pretty clear: Democrats remain more than a bit miffed about George Allen and the whole macaca business, Republicans would like to remind their party's leaders that theirs is supposed to be the party of low taxes and skepticism about state spending, and the electorate is poised to make some serious changes this fall. The smattering of primary elections held in this year when more voters are likely looking ahead to the '08 presidential sweepstakes than are concentrated on state politics...

By Marc Fisher | June 12, 2007; 10:56 PM ET | Comments (0)

Deconstructing Angelos: You Be The Reporter

Ok, gang, you be the reporter: Check out this press release from MASN, the TV sports network that Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos created to broadcast the games of the O's and the Washington Nationals. First reader to tell me what's missing from this release wins a prize from the Vast Vault of Values. Hint: MASN has been widely criticized for slanting its marketing and coverage toward Angelos' Orioles. Some fans were miffed early on over the fact that MASN used Orioles orange and black over Nats' red and blue in its marketing logos and other PR materials. Then, when...

By Marc Fisher | June 12, 2007; 7:24 AM ET | Comments (52)

Mayor Blackberry's Back to School Adventure

(First in a series of Monday items following the takeover of the D.C. school system by Mayor Adrian Fenty. In addition to today's installment and yesterday's column, please check out the investigative series on the D.C. schools that began in Sunday's Post and continues through Tuesday.) Time was that the model of a big-city mayor was the chunky ward-heeler who buddied up to the unions and contractors alike, regularly walked a well-trod path from one ethnic eatery to the next, and made sure to keep uniformed employees and teachers firmly on his side. Great--Fiorello LaGuardia, Richard Daley--and bad--Frank Hague...

By Marc Fisher | June 11, 2007; 7:17 AM ET | Comments (0)

Gay Radio: The Next Big Format?

A caller rings up the "Derek and Romaine" show for some frank advice. The man says he'd had a random sexual encounter with a stranger and they got to talking and it turned out that the partners were cousins. The question: "Can I marry him?" "Honestly, I think you can," says Derek Hartley, co-host of the frisky, freewheeling talk show that airs on Sirius Satellite Radio's OutQ, the first among several new radio outlets dedicated to programming for a gay audience. Hartley -- a former movie reviewer from Fredericksburg who came to radio from a gay Web site -- and...

By Marc Fisher | June 9, 2007; 12:23 PM ET | Comments (0)

A Director Responds: "So Unbalanced, Unfair and So Incorrect"

Here is film director Richard Trank's response to my review of "I Have Never Forgotten: The Life & Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal," which appears in today's Post and immediately below here on the big blog. The director's letter is posted here with his permission. Dear Mr. Fisher, I never make it a point to write to the critics who review my films. But your review is so unbalanced, unfair, and so incorrect that I cannot simply ignore it. Did you actually watch our film? If you did, then how can you say that an emphasis on Hollywood and the Simon...

By Marc Fisher | June 8, 2007; 6:10 PM ET | Comments (0)

"I Have Never Forgotten You"--Simon Wiesenthal Documentary

Here's my review in today's Post of a new documentary on Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi hunter and Holocaust survivor. A response from the film's director, Richard Trank, follows in the next item here on the big blog. "Please," Simon Wiesenthal begged as he neared the end of his life, "do not turn me into a hero." His face fallen, the eyes of a supposedly hard man now overflowing with tears, the legendary Nazi hunter asked to be remembered only as a survivor. "I do not feel like a hero." Wiesenthal was feared, loathed, resented. Who was this little man to...

By Marc Fisher | June 8, 2007; 6:01 PM ET | Comments (0)

Random Friday Question: What Will Be 2007's Summer Song?

Ideally, a great summer song is frothy, bright and silly, an uptempo number that you hear pouring out of every radio on the beach. The classics through the pop era--the Go-Gos' "Vacation," the B-52's "Love Shack" (originally a fall hit, but it became a summer standby), Sly and the Family Stone's "Hot Fun in the Summertime," Will Smith's "Summertime," and on and on. But does every summer still get a summer song, even in the iPod era, when the songs you hear on the beach may be only the ones you program into your own ears, not the ones...

By Marc Fisher | June 8, 2007; 7:25 AM ET | Comments (45)

The Suit Suit: A Suitable Solution?

A prominent suitmaker in South Korea has proposed a solution to the suit suit, the infamous case in which D.C. Administrative Law Judge Roy Pearson has sued his neighborhood dry cleaner for $65 million over the cleaners' failure to return his suit pants in a timely fashion. David Cho, chief executive of Cornerstone, an apparel company in Seoul that distributes Kiton suits (an Italian designer), has offered to fly Pearson to Korea for a fitting, put him up at a hotel, and give him a free, $10,000 tailor made suit, if only Pearson will drop his case against the...

By Marc Fisher | June 7, 2007; 11:50 AM ET | Comments (25)

The New Nats Stadium: $300 Seats! (Or $5 Seats for the Same View)

I'm just back from a tour of the new Washington Nationals ballpark, which is further along than you might expect (hey, for $611 million, you too can have your construction project finish on time and on budget.) It's going to be a beautiful place to watch a ballgame, with extraordinary sightlines, a much more intimate feeling than RFK ever had, and prices that will take your breath away. We're talking about $300 seats right behind home plate and $150 seats right behind those. This is the way things have gone in all of the new ballparks, with the prime...

By Marc Fisher | June 6, 2007; 4:15 PM ET | Comments (34)

Preservation Overkill: Fighting for What's Already Lost

Yesterday here on the big blog, I had nothing but praise for the D.C. Preservation League's efforts to hold on to Washington's spectacular views. Today, looking at the same list of Most Endangered Places in the city, I see some ruined and wrecked properties that may have once had architectural or historic value, but which are long, long gone. This is where hard-core preservationists lose the public they seek to protect: This year's list of places in need of protection includes elegant rowhouses in Columbia Heights, Eckington, and Capitol Hill East--all lovely spots that help give the city its...

By Marc Fisher | June 6, 2007; 7:29 AM ET | Comments (21)

Whose View Is It Anyway: Preserving The Point

Quick: Where can you find the best view of Washington? If you're on the left side of an airplane weaving its way down the Potomac, you're in for a lovely, if fleeting, look at the capital. And the old Robert E. Lee mansion in Arlington National Cemetery certainly offers a majestic view of the monuments across the river. The roof of the Hay-Adams Hotel has its fans, and of course there's nothing quite like the scene from atop the Washington Monument. But for my money -- hey, I'm turning into Larry King here -- the best view of the...

By Marc Fisher | June 5, 2007; 7:31 AM ET | Comments (22)

The Shooter Prevails: Protecting Seung-Hui Cho's Privacy

Just about the only good thing that might ever come out of the horror of the Virginia Tech shootings is the chance that our mental health system might be made more open and responsive. A new level of transparency would force colleges, courts and other arms of the mental health system to take responsibility for people who are clearly and desperately in need of help. But the Virginia state panel investigating the shootings has already done enough poking around to show that any effort at reform will run straight into a solid wall built out of federal privacy regulations....

By Marc Fisher | June 4, 2007; 7:33 AM ET | Comments (44)

Mixed Greens: How the New Nuclear Splits Environmentalists

There's an empty pit about a hundred miles southwest of Washington where two nuclear power plants were planned but never built. The pit became a symbol of the success of the antinuclear movement, the activists who a quarter-century ago forced utilities to scrap plans for dozens of reactors across the country. But today, the hill above that pit at Dominion Virginia Power's North Anna station offers a great view of Virginia's nuclear future. Here, you can see the two (out of four originally planned) reactors that were built in the 1970s, and you can see the spot where Dominion wants...

By Marc Fisher | June 3, 2007; 9:02 AM ET | Comments (0)

Random Friday Question: Why Doesn't D.C. Have a Bottle Bill?

The Washington area boasts the highest combination of affluence and education in the nation, and that same demographic profile aligns almost perfectly with the list of places in the country where you have to pay a deposit on every bottle of soda or beer--a 1970s era bit of green politics that proved to be very popular for a short while and then stalled out. But despite this region's economic profile, neither the District nor the surrounding states jumped on board the bottle bill bandwagon back then, nor has the mid-Atlantic region seemed particularly interested in the new wave of...

By Marc Fisher | June 1, 2007; 7:53 AM ET | Comments (67)

 

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