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Archive: October 2007

Twix vs. Jolly Rancher: Halloween's Best & Worst

The worst, by far, are the Mary Janes--that miniature brick of paving material that tastes like it's from the original batch made during World War I. The Necco company insists that Mary Janes are made from peanut butter and molasses, but I would happily agree to these rock-hard nasties being used to shore up the leak in my basement wall. The inevitable flood of feature stories about trick or treating inform us that 93 percent of American children will be out on the streets tonight, scamming grown-ups for free candy. But the range of products that end up in...

By Marc Fisher | October 31, 2007; 6:46 AM ET | Comments (50)

Dormant Democracy: What, No Candidates? Even in Takoma Park?

In the annals of our long, depressing slide into dormant democracy, this is a story I would not have predicted. Even in hyper-political Takoma Park--the lefty enclave in suburban Maryland that dives merrily into almost every divisive issue to come down the pike--they're holding an election this fall and hardly anybody bothered to run against the incumbents. When the deadline for filing to run for mayor or city council passed, only one person in the entire town of 17,000 souls stepped forward to mount a challenge. The mayor and five of the six ward council members will be elected...

By Marc Fisher | October 30, 2007; 6:54 AM ET | Comments (17)

Education Monday: Seeing the City Anew

The D.C. schools' dynamic duo of Adrian Fenty and Michele Rhee are focused on fixing buildings and defatting the central office, all of which is good and fine, but the ultimate test of their labors will come in the classrooms, and there, sad to say, the job will prove much harder. But it's far from impossible, and the first step must be to change the expectations and standards, to demand rigor and to embrace classic literature and hard math and science. But an insistence on high standards does not imply rote learning or dull teaching. To the contrary, the...

By Marc Fisher | October 29, 2007; 7:30 AM ET | Comments (4)

A Horseman's Truthtelling About Slots

Frank Trigeiro loves to play the slots. Like his mother, who used to save nickels in a jar to take on her annual jaunts to Las Vegas, "I get totally captivated by the machines," he says. "I kind of lose it on slots." Trigeiro loves the horses, too. In his first job as an accountant, he was assigned to audit the betting at a California track. "I just fell in love with everything about racing," he says. He spent the rest of his career in the horse game, including an eight-year stint as chief financial officer of the Maryland Jockey...

By Marc Fisher | October 28, 2007; 6:55 AM ET | Comments (0)

Michel Martin Tells You More on NPR

This week's Listener column Michel Martin has a keen ear, a taste for good stories and a knack for asking tough questions. On this day, she also has a raspy voice, a common cold's way of injecting jitters into a studio full of radio producers. But as much as the staffers at National Public Radio worry over a little huskiness in the host's instrument, that bit of showbiz fretting is nothing compared with how entertainment values have shunted aside serious journalism in broadcast news. Martin, who rose to the top in both print and TV news over the past two...

By Marc Fisher | October 27, 2007; 7:24 AM ET | Comments (18)

Random Friday Question: How Rich Is Rich?

Certain magazines exist mainly to make their readers feel just insecure enough about their own status that they keep coming back for more stories about how we aren't quite there yet. The New York Times Magazine, for instance, is forever offering readers glimpses into the fabulous (and not so hot) lives of the ultrarich, rocking back and forth between enticements to dream of reaching that altitude someday and warnings about how we mere mortals just don't want to get there, ever. The other week, the Times Magazine riffed once more about the purportedly amazing lives of the city's superrich,...

By Marc Fisher | October 26, 2007; 7:11 AM ET | Comments (81)

Pretend Primary '08--Because Our Votes Don't Count

By the time Virginia, Maryland and the District get around to picking their convention delegates in a regional primary on Feb. 12, 33 states will have already chosen whom they'd like to be president. We will be such a ridiculous afterthought that no candidate in his right mind would bother to spend a penny here, let alone doing any campaigning or giving us a look at their TV messages. In presidential politics this year, this entire region is as irrelevant as a D.C. voter is every year. (Today's column gets into this in greater detail.) That's why we're having...

By Marc Fisher | October 25, 2007; 7:16 AM ET | Comments (13)

It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Go-Go Swing--Duke & Chuck To Get Their Own Streets?

Two of D.C.'s greatest contributions to the history of American music may soon become an intersection near the heart of the old Black Broadway. D.C. Council member Jim Graham is proposing to rename two streets in Shaw for Duke Ellington and Chuck Brown, creating the possibility that you could one day, as a prelude to a kiss, or if you just need some money, head over to the corner of Ellington Avenue and Chuck Brown Way. That would be at the current intersection of Seventh and T streets NW. With some optimism that there might be an end to...

By Marc Fisher | October 24, 2007; 1:27 PM ET | Comments (10)

Things You Wouldn't Do--Hospital and Stadium Division

Big governments and big businesses don't always act as you would with your money. Somehow, when the numbers get insanely large, and when situations get very complicated, the basic rules that govern how you watch your dollars go out the window. Two examples from the past 24 hours: The D.C. government, despite a clear and scary warning from its own chief financial officer that the company the city is helping to buy an ailing hospital is in very shaky condition and is unlikely to improve its situation, decides to pump $79 million into a doomed effort to revive the...

By Marc Fisher | October 24, 2007; 7:31 AM ET | Comments (25)

Trauma to Drama: The Sniper Saga

Anniversaries are candy to the media's insatiable appetite for content. Five years, 10 years, whatever--if it was a big story once before, it can be one again, or so we're constantly told. So, five years after the D.C. snipers terrorized everyone who lives within a couple of hours drive of Washington, they're back, Muhammad and Malvo, just the guys you never wanted to see again. Now comes a new documentary on BET, airing Wednesday night at 10 on the cable network's "American Gangster" series, and while the program is effective at recreating the fear and the panic, the cluelessness...

By Marc Fisher | October 23, 2007; 7:14 AM ET | Comments (5)

Education Monday: Incentivizing Teachers

Even if D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee win the right to clean house in the school system's feather bed of a downtown headquarters, the biggest battle of all will still lie ahead: Merit pay. No two other words strike such fear and loathing in the hearts of teachers' unions and, to a lesser extent, teachers themselves. Yet no other concept has such strong support among the new generation of administrators, school board members and reformers who seek to reshape the nation's public schools following the fashionable model of corporate governance. But now the New York...

By Marc Fisher | October 22, 2007; 7:10 AM ET | Comments (15)

Let's Play Know Your Political Parties

Let's play Know Your Political Parties. Identify the party of this real-life candidate for state Senate in Fairfax County: This candidate stresses her support for tough gun controls. She's endorsed by the state's gay-rights lobby. Unlike her opponent, she favors a moratorium on executions. She's the choice of the teachers association. She wants to put more restrictions on development, while her opponent favors more density around Metro stations. On illegal immigration, she says politicians hot for a crackdown are "demagoguing this to death and creating an atmosphere of hate." Too easy, right? What an obvious Democrat, what a predictable lib....

By Marc Fisher | October 21, 2007; 8:48 AM ET | Comments (7)

Blogger of the Month: Prince of Petworth

Dan Silverman is a food explorer, a neighborhood busy body, a one-man Crime Watch brigade, a curious guy with a camera and a blog. Silverman, a 32-year-old homeland security consultant who has lived in the fast-changing Northwest Washington neighborhood of Petworth since 2003, is the Prince of Petworth. And now he's our Blogger of the Month (first in a series). Silverman's chronicle of life in a once-Jewish, then-black, and now very mixed area that still features outdoor drug markets even as it vies to become the cutting-edge pizza capital of the city is a witty, adventuresome and reporting-rich voice...

By Marc Fisher | October 19, 2007; 7:25 AM ET | Comments (39)

Kicked to the Curb: Soccer Stadium Blues

Victor MacFarlane makes no secret of his dismay. The wealthy developer who bought the D.C. United soccer team and devoted a couple of years of his life to building a soccer stadium and residential-retail development in Southeast Washington feels double-crossed. After all, it was the D.C. government that came to him a few years ago and asked him to plan and build a soccer stadium at Poplar Point, the picturesque spot where the Anacostia River and Washington Channel come together. But that was a different administration, a mayor--Tony Williams--who loved the big deal, the dramatic gesture, who fancied himself...

By Marc Fisher | October 17, 2007; 7:40 AM ET | Comments (107)

Taxi Tea Leaves: Will Fenty Save Zones?

WEDNESDAY UPDATE: No, he won't. Seems yesterday's stunt was just that. The mayor caved to the big boys of the taxi industry, and to the riders who simply cannot stand the zone system. Fenty is portraying the move to meters as the people's choice, but his own administration's poll of riders found exactly the opposite--while a majority of riders aren't terribly happy with D.C. cab service, fully 61 percent of passengers polled said they wanted either to keep the current system or try the GPS-driven zone meters that were proposed as a compromise. Instead, we'll get mileage meters, a...

By Marc Fisher | October 16, 2007; 11:37 AM ET | Comments (83)

Candidates Behaving Badly, Virginia Division

When the top official in the county sends out a mailing to every resident less than a month before that official is standing for reelection, and when that mailing costs $31,000 in tax dollars, and when the mailing does nothing but remind voters that that same official's pet proposal is coming up for a vote today, something's fishy. That's the story in Prince William County, where Corey Stewart, chairman of the board of supervisors, last week used his discretionary fund to mail 128,000 fliers--a scanned copy of the piece is here-- just to remind voters that Stewart's tough stance...

By Marc Fisher | October 16, 2007; 6:01 AM ET | Comments (11)

Education Monday: D.C. High School Dropouts

Just as we have cleaved into a society with a separate warrior class and a much larger group of people who don't know anyone who's in the military, the high school dropout is becoming a phenomenon that is increasingly restricted to certain places--inner cities, declining suburbs, struggling rural outposts. The dramatic increase in the number of students who graduate from high school and at least take a stab at college has helped to transform the American economy, and it has become easy to assume that high school dropouts are a fading factor in this country. But the fact is...

By Marc Fisher | October 15, 2007; 7:43 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Long, Corrosive Impact of "Virginia Values"

Virginia was unstoppable, the biggest, brightest, richest state in the new nation. Through the first decades of the American experiment, the Old Dominion dominated the revolution, the Constitutional Convention and the presidency. The state produced a cavalcade of daring, innovative leaders, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Marshall and George Mason. And then, says Susan Dunn, a historian at Williams College and author of "Dominion of Memories: Jefferson, Madison & the Decline of Virginia," it all faded. By the time Jefferson and Madison were old men, they witnessed the collapse of Virginia: crop failures, the...

By Marc Fisher | October 14, 2007; 6:36 AM ET | Comments (43)

24 Hours of Presidential Politics: Please, Make It Stop

Be careful what you wish for. In this era of media superficiality, newsroom budget cuts and celebrity worship, there's also a growing call for depth and tough reporting on the crucial issues of our time, such as the election of a president. Enter the next phase of niche media: XM Satellite Radio has launched a 24/7 channel devoted exclusively to presidential politics. So I subject myself to 24 hours of Channel 130, POTUS '08 (the name is the acronym for president of the United States). There, I learn that "the question of the day," "the one question I have to...

By Marc Fisher | October 13, 2007; 9:15 AM ET | Comments (10)

Fathers, War and a Walk in the City

There is virtually no stench of war in this capital city, only talk and more talk. We are a nation at war, and on the streets of Washington, only those whose job it is to wage that war know its sounds, smells and terrors. Bill Clinton was the great compartmentalizer, but it is George Bush who has succeeded in separating much of American society from the war in Iraq. That achievement rings particularly false in Washington, a city that was designed to be a collection of reminders, stone temples built to provoke reflection and to summon pride, pain and...

By Marc Fisher | October 12, 2007; 7:32 AM ET | Comments (11)

The Va. Vote: The Cuccinelli-Oleszek Showdown

Night after night, Ken Cuccinelli and Janet Oleszek knock on doors in Fairfax County, and night after night, hardly a soul asks either candidate for state Senate about abortion, same-sex marriage, guns or global warming. "Tell me about that tax, the abuser fees," says Jeanne Loeffler when Cuccinelli, her Republican state senator, comes calling. "It's fine to go after dangerous drivers, but it's got to be the same for everybody." "Are you going to extend the Metro?" Joel Hutchison asks the Democratic challenger, Oleszek, when she hits him up for a vote in next month's election. "I'm a big proponent...

By Marc Fisher | October 11, 2007; 7:14 AM ET | Comments (12)

If I Had A Hammer, I'd Hammer The Cable Company

"Have I got your attention now?" Mona Shaw kept saying as she hammered a computer keyboard and a telephone at the Manassas office of Comcast one day last week. Mona Shaw is 75 years old. She has no particular history of vandalism or assault. She has a heart condition. She is no revolutionary, no firebrand. She's just a cable customer who lived through one Comcast outrage too many, and then she went off. As the Potomac News reported, all Shaw had wanted to do was switch her phone service from Verizon to Comcast. Yes, she saw all the ads...

By Marc Fisher | October 10, 2007; 7:51 AM ET | Comments (122)

Broken Hydrants? How About No Hydrants?

Last week's apartment building fire in Adams Morgan scared the District into a frenzy of promises to do something about the city's archaic water mains, which proved to be inadequate to deliver the water pressure needed to fight a big blaze. Fire fighters had to stretch hose clear into the next neighborhood to reach fire hydrants with decent water pressure. But despite the focus on problems with broken hydrants in the city, the scariest hydrant story out there is the lack of fire plugs in many of the region's fastest-growing areas, especially in newly developing counties such as Loudoun,...

By Marc Fisher | October 9, 2007; 7:44 AM ET | Comments (0)

Schools Monday: Cardozo's Lost Kids

For decades, the D.C. school system has sought to wall itself off against criticism by claiming that it simply doesn't keep the records that are a commonplace in almost any other system in the land. So if you want to know what really happens to kids who enter the District's high schools, well, sorry, buddy, but we don't keep those records. If you want to figure out what the real graduation rate is, or determine what happens to a particular class's reading and math scores over a period of years, or see if it really is true that the...

By Marc Fisher | October 8, 2007; 7:36 AM ET | Comments (0)

Red Shipley, Stained Glass Bluegrass Host, Dies

Red Shipley, for half a century the voice of gospel bluegrass in the music's home region, died last night of cancer in Charlottesville. Shipley's legendary Stained Glass Bluegrass program on WAMU in Washington ran from 1982 until last month, when the station removed all of its bluegrass programming. For half a century, Shipley was a staple on the radio dial and in the hearts of bluegrass fans throughout the Mid-Atlantic states. After graduating from Orange County High School in 1956, Shipley began emceeing at WJMA (named for President James Madison, born in Orange), and from 1966 to 1972, he...

By Marc Fisher | October 7, 2007; 9:19 AM ET | Comments (17)

iCrime: Technoterror or Headline Grab?

It makes for terrific tabloid fodder: iPods Spark Crime Wave. That's the conclusion drawn by two researchers at The Urban Institute after they examined the recent spike in crime incidents across the country--a two-year upward trend that followed a solid 12 years of steadily declining crime. The researchers found no persuasive explanation for the abrupt shift in violent crime statistics except for the concurrent change in how people carry themselves in public--that is, the wearing of iPods and other expensive electronic gear. The technological innovation has resulted, they say, in "a marked increase in both the supply of potential...

By Marc Fisher | October 5, 2007; 7:13 AM ET | Comments (97)

Do Montgomery's Millions Buy Big-Time Status?

When Montgomery County built a concert hall to compete with the Kennedy Center, the $100 million Music Center at Strathmore struck some residents as a symbol of an affluent suburb establishing itself as something more than an appendage to a big city. Others, appalled to see their tax dollars subsidizing symphony concerts, questioned whether the county should take on the role of music impresario. To jump-start the reinvention of downtown Silver Spring, the county also went into the movie business, subsidizing the American Film Institute's Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. And now Montgomery is getting into rock and pop concerts,...

By Marc Fisher | October 4, 2007; 7:47 AM ET | Comments (91)

Soccer Wars: Somebody Still Loves RFK

The fans of Washington's soccer franchise are reaching out to sad, old, otherwise-abandoned RFK Stadium: Somebody still loves you, the fans of DC United are shouting to anyone who believes the show is over at the District's municipal ballpark. When I wrote last week about the final Nationals baseball game at RFK, soccer fans howled, arguing that several Post writers--Tom Boswell, William Gildea, yours truly--were treating their team and sport as an afterthought, an appendage barely worthy of mention in the (unwarranted) RFK obits. The United fans' plaint goes like this: The soccer team's attendance at RFK this year...

By Marc Fisher | October 3, 2007; 7:44 AM ET | Comments (244)

Marion Barry, Soccer Maven

Marion Barry was against a new soccer stadium in Southeast before he was for it. But now that he's for a new stadium for D.C. United on national park land at Poplar Point, the former Mayor for Life is really, really for it. "Can you imagine the national soccer championship game in Anacostia and 20,000 people coming over here and seeing it's not hell over here?" Barry asks. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity." When Marion Barry is supporting an idea that he not long ago derided as a silly notion that had nothing to offer to...

By Marc Fisher | October 2, 2007; 7:12 AM ET | Comments (136)

Slots vs. Gas Tax; ICC vs. Purple Line

Gov. Martin O'Malley's plan to fix Maryland's budget woes includes a higher sales tax, higher income taxes for rich folks, and thousands of slot machines to soak the poor. But despite the governor's acknowledgment that Maryland needs billions of dollars of new transportation infrastructure to deal with the ever-more clogged roads, O'Malley couldn't quite bring himself to jack up the gas tax--the single tax increase that business and environmental groups agree would make a difference in attacking the state's transportation problem. O'Malley came into office with lots of talk about pushing forward on both roads and transit--his would be...

By Marc Fisher | October 1, 2007; 7:21 AM ET | Comments (47)

 

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