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Archive: December 2007

The 2007 Column Game: The Year In A Quiz

As 2007 draws to a close, Pants Man is out of a job, Virginia lawmakers are about to start codifying some lessons from the Virginia Tech shootings, the D.C. schools are in a state of rapid change, and Maryland is moving ever closer to imposing slots on its people. This year's columns have covered the big stories that dominate the news and some of the little ones that no one else considers worthy of coverage. Here's a quiz on some of the people I've written about this year. Answers are on the jump and in the links. Have fun,...

By Marc Fisher | December 31, 2007; 7:34 AM ET | Comments (66)

Record Industry to Consumers: Even If You Bought The CD, You're Still A Crook

Despite more than 20,000 lawsuits filed against music fans in the years since they started finding free tunes online rather than buying CDs from record companies, the recording industry has utterly failed to halt the decline of the record album or the rise of digital music sharing. Still, hardly a month goes by without a news release from the industry's lobby, the Recording Industry Association of America, touting a new wave of letters to college students and others demanding a settlement payment and threatening a legal battle. Now, in an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA...

By Marc Fisher | December 29, 2007; 10:00 AM ET | Comments (77)

Random Friday Question: How Much To Kill A Puppy?

How much would you pay to prevent the next 9/11? How much would it worth to you to put a major dent in the flow of illegal immigrants to this country? How much would you pay to cut the murder rate by half? Or to be assured that every kid in town would finish high school? These are fun parlor games but also serious policy questions. Not every social ill has a solution to which a price tag can be attached--surely, if money could fix the nation's schools problem, it would have been solved many times over by this...

By Marc Fisher | December 28, 2007; 7:23 AM ET | Comments (0)

Singing The Bye-Bye Blues: End Of A D.C. Legend

The legendary Archie Edwards Blues Barbershop, home of a weekly jam session in Northeast Washington that draws amateurs and pros from all over the planet, is about to die. The shop has been sold and will be gutted and converted into a dentist's office. (See video here.) "It now looks like we'll have to be out sometime in January," says Donna Fletcher, a longtime player in the pickup group that gathers on Saturday afternoons in the shop on Bunker Hill Road that once housed Edwards' Alpha Tonsorial Barbershop. The good news, such as it is, is that the jam...

By Marc Fisher | December 27, 2007; 7:12 AM ET | Comments (10)

Which Xmas Songs Are Most Loved/Hated?

By now, you are perhaps sick of Christmas music. It's everywhere, of course--on the radio, in the shops, at the office, in the background on most TV shows, piped straight into your teeth. But today's Christmas music has changed from the standards and pop hits of the past. A generation has now come of age without the benefit (or curse) of a common pop soundtrack. Growing up without Top 40 radio as the main delivery method for a common base of pop tunes, we now have a nation of listeners whose Christmas music is sliced and diced into demographic...

By Marc Fisher | December 26, 2007; 7:15 AM ET | Comments (60)

Columbia's Poinsettia Tree: The Inside Story

The controversy over the Mall in Columbia's decision to end the decades-long tradition of staging a Poinsettia Tree each Christmas season has ended reasonably happily. Now, there's a neat postscript in the form of a letter from the daughter of the man who created the tree that became a symbol of a young, planned community in Howard County. Thanks to Ellen Brown Nathan for passing along her story: I am the daughter of the man who created the poinsettia tree for Columbia Mall and for as many as 20 other Rouse Company malls in any one holiday season. The...

By Marc Fisher | December 24, 2007; 7:25 AM ET | Comments (0)

DC Quarter: Design The Coin, Win A Prize

On this plantation, every once in a great while the overseers toss us a morsel of freedom. We don't get a vote in Congress, but we're permitted to protest our status on our license plates. We're subjected to every whim of any lunatic congressman who has a social experiment in mind that he'd never inflict on his own constituents, but we are allowed to raise our own taxes, and we do so with a vengeance. Now, in the same year in which Congress rejected once again the idea of the District having representation in the House, we're getting a...

By Marc Fisher | December 21, 2007; 7:49 AM ET | Comments (0)

'Great Debaters' Leaves Out D.C. Debaters

The Hollywood publicity machine behind the Denzel Washington Christmas flick "The Great Debaters" is portraying the movie as an inspiration to black students who might shine academically but for the low expectations and narrow opportunities they face in too many inner-city schools. To promote the movie--which opens Christmas Day and tells the story of the first black college debate team to win a national championship (at Wiley College in Texas in 1935)--the producers have hired PR firms to invite high school debaters to come see advance screenings. That's how Colin Touhey, executive director of the D.C. Urban Debate League,...

By Marc Fisher | December 20, 2007; 6:52 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Orioles, Lost On The Field--And Now Off, Too

That Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos has presided over the decline and fall of a great sports franchise has been crystal clear for years now. The passionate but stubborn owner has prevented his baseball people from making deals that might have improved his ballclub. He tried to sabotage the birth and success of Washington's baseball franchise. And he has managed to alienate what used to be one of sports' most loyal and devoted fan bases. But now Angelos has topped himself, breaking with the rest of the sport by seeking to undermine the authority and impact of former Sen....

By Marc Fisher | December 19, 2007; 7:33 AM ET | Comments (23)

From Soccer Mogul to Downtown Developer

When D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty last week announced his choice to develop the sprawling, $700 million, mixed-income new community that is supposed to replace some of Washington's most troubled and dangerous housing projects, the named developers were all smiles up at the podium with the mayor. But hanging back in the rear corner of the church basement where Fenty made his pick public was a tall, elegant fellow who is increasingly a powerful presence in the city's big development schemes. You'll search in vain for the name Victor MacFarlane in the official record of what's going to become Northwest...

By Marc Fisher | December 18, 2007; 7:06 AM ET | Comments (12)

Education Monday: An Ex- College President's Cry For Help

William Frawley, the ousted president of the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, is arguing that when he was charged with driving while intoxicated twice in one month, what he needed was not to be fired from his job, but the love and caring help that each human owes another. In a piece in the Post's Outlook section, Frawley portrays himself as a victim of a blind, unthinking zero tolerance attitude. Like Alexandria schools superintendent Rebecca Perry, Frawley seems to believe that one set of rules should apply to students and a completely different set to administrators, who, after...

By Marc Fisher | December 17, 2007; 7:31 AM ET | Comments (10)

Blogger of the Month: Critical Voice

It takes a special kind of critic to note that the audience at a Jethro Tull concert is about as aged as that at a performance by the National Symphony Orchestra. Charles Downey is that critic. Downey, proprietor of one of the most addictive and alluring blogs in the region, is the primary voice on a group blog called Ionarts, an elegantly-designed and rock-solid reliable daily diary of the classical music, art and film scenes in the Washington area. Downey surprised his audience of a couple of thousand regular readers--and even surprised himself--by devoting a review to a concert...

By Marc Fisher | December 14, 2007; 7:26 AM ET | Comments (7)

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

We've discussed and debated for two months and now it's time to vote. Residents of Virginia, Maryland and the District won't go to the real polls till Feb. 12, by which time the great majority of states will have already voted and both parties will likely have already pretty much determined who their presidential nominees will be. So now that we've had a chance to talk about what issues the candidates might have had to confront if they had campaigned in this region of the country, today you get to vote on which Republicans and Democrats would best handle...

By Marc Fisher | December 13, 2007; 6:00 AM ET | Comments (11)

Xmas Windows: Something To See

My Sunday column on the disappearing and diminished Christmas windows that once made downtown department stores such a destination for family trips drew an unusually large and vehement response--and a very much divided one. Those who grew up with annual journeys to see the animated characters in the windows sent me hundreds of accounts, many of them quite moving, about their childhood memories and the connections they retain between the stories in those windows and the warmth and love their parents showed around holiday time. And some younger readers who have a completely different set of December associations were...

By Marc Fisher | December 12, 2007; 7:21 AM ET | Comments (3)

"Metro Kills:" Ghastly Sight, No Solution

Pedestrian death, like drug addiction and teenage pregnancy, is one of those issues that everyone agrees is a blight upon the land, a serious yet seemingly eternal problem that eludes practical solutions and frustrates the governed and the elected alike. We happen to be in one of those occasional spates of high-profile pedestrian deaths-by-motorist, and so last week's sentencing of Metrobus driver Victor Kolako to a year behind bars after he killed two women at a downtown D.C. intersection was a nice gesture on the part of the justice system, a signal that at least someone takes these cases...

By Marc Fisher | December 11, 2007; 6:58 AM ET | Comments (103)

Schools Monday: A Teacher, Giving It Everything

In all the endless jabbering about how to make the District's schools better, the voices least heard tend to be those of the teachers. Parents, kids, administrators, outside experts, politicians all have their say, but teachers--in part because they often fear speaking out, in part because they feel crushed by the demands of their bosses, parents and kids--often don't get their experiences and messages out to the wider public. All of which is too bad, because I've always found in reporting about schools that teachers know more than anyone else about what works and what doesn't, what is best...

By Marc Fisher | December 10, 2007; 7:03 AM ET | Comments (1)

Where Have All The Christmas Windows Gone?

Once, we made special trips downtown this time of year, lining up to gape at mechanical bears eating porridge, Victorian cats celebrating in the snow and toy soldiers guarding over our happy holidays. Now, those same jumbo-size windows in re-purposed downtown department store buildings offer views of advertising signs, old photos and waiters grinding $12 guacamole. This is progress? The grand old animated Christmas window displays of the sort that once had Woodies, Hecht's, Garfinckel's and Lansburgh's competing to demonstrate their creative extravagance are now relegated to nostalgic memories, scenes in old movies and on New York's Fifth Avenue (and...

By Marc Fisher | December 9, 2007; 7:11 AM ET | Comments (9)

Is Washington A Country Music Town?

On the map of country music in America, Washington and its suburbs form an island of indifference surrounded by strong country-loving territory. In rural Virginia, the exurbs of the Washington area and even in the Baltimore metro area, country stations are among the most popular, and in many areas dominate the FM dial. The Washington area proper has but one country station, WMZQ (98.7 FM), which attracts about 3 to 4 percent of the radio audience. That's a far cry from the 21 percent of the audience that turns to the market's top four hip-hop and R&B stations. Still, as...

By Marc Fisher | December 8, 2007; 7:44 AM ET | Comments (10)

State vs. Church: March of the Preservation Police

Church members described the chill, the darkness and the gloom that bad design has brought to their spiritual lives. Advocates for the Christian Science Church on 16th Street NW, just two blocks from the White House, told of the extraordinary cost involved in maintaining a building that is too big, too dank and a long way from the religious ideals of their denomination. Lawyers warned the city that it was risking court action if it trampled the rights of a religious community. One member of the church broke down in tears as she told of how the concrete bunker...

By Marc Fisher | December 7, 2007; 6:07 AM ET | Comments (60)

Pretend Primary: What The Candidates Won't Address

In the run-up to next week's Pretend Primary here on the big blog, we've looked at some of the issues that the presidential candidates might have been pushed into talking about if they had ever had to campaign in the Washington region: We jumped into tough issues such as illegal immigration, income inequality, sprawl, development and the time crunch that so many families face, and the generational divide that has contributed so mightily to political polarization. Readers suggested several other issues that the candidates who are spending most of their time in Iowa and New Hampshire might have had...

By Marc Fisher | December 6, 2007; 7:23 AM ET | Comments (0)

Losing The Right to Fight A Ticket

Come next year, anyone who lives, works in or visits the District by car will lose a basic right--the right to protest a parking ticket in front of a hearing officer. The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles' plan for 2008 includes this sentence: "DMV will complete the phase-out of in-person adjudication of parking tickets in favor of mail-in and e-mail adjudication by December 2008." There's a bunch of nonsense in the "performance plan" about how this change is meant to reduce waiting times for those who are appealing more serious cases--moving violations and the like. But recipients of tickets...

By Marc Fisher | December 5, 2007; 7:10 AM ET | Comments (0)

Va. Loyalty Oath: GOP In A Sad Corner

There are plenty of states (20 and the District, to be precise) where you must register as a member of a political party to vote in its primary elections. But Virginia, like 19 other states, has no such requirement: Anyone may vote in any primary, but only in one party's primary. (The remaining nine states generally make you declare yourself a member of a party to vote in its primary, but let you change your enrollment at the polls, effectively allowing anyone to vote in any primary in any given year.) The Virginia system eases the way for independents...

By Marc Fisher | December 4, 2007; 7:28 AM ET | Comments (0)

Imus Returns (Quack-Quack)

The I-Man returned to the airwaves this morning, in New York and a few other cities (though not yet in Washington). Don Imus's radio re-entry, live from the stage of Town Hall in Manhattan, is so far a little rough around the edges, but otherwise shows few signs of damage after his eight-month banishment for calling members of the Rutgers University women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos." "I was a good person who had said a bad thing," Imus told his audience in the opening minutes of his return show. But being a bad person "doesn't give you a license...

By Marc Fisher | December 3, 2007; 7:20 AM ET | Comments (0)

Al and Dawn, Homeless at Starbucks

A l Szekely and Dawn Henderson, an unlikely pair, are regulars at the tables in front of the Tenleytown Starbucks. Dawn gets the coffee. Al provides the stories. Together, they haven't yet solved the world's problems, but they're working on it. Or at least they were, until the Starbucks managers told Al he was no longer welcome at their establishment. Al's a homeless man with wild, matted white hair, a long, scraggly beard, and a hand-lettered sign alerting us to the fact that some creep stole his electric wheelchair, which is why Al is stuck in a manual chair, trundling...

By Marc Fisher | December 2, 2007; 8:59 AM ET | Comments (0)

 

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