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Archive: July 2008

Barry Shows Off The New Ward 8

Three mayors sought to remake Ward 8, home to Washington's poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods. One, Marion Barry, got nowhere but is widely beloved, hailed on the street as a champion of the needy. The next, Anthony Williams, utterly transformed the landscape, yet was treated as an arrogant outsider from Day One right up to his departure from office. The third, Adrian Fenty, eschews grand visions and emotional bonds, promising only to make things work. When he shows up on a Ward 8 street corner, he speaks mainly to the TV cameras and the scribblers; when Barry, now the...

By Marc Fisher | July 31, 2008; 9:11 AM ET | Comments (2)

"Breeding Ground For Arrogance Doesn't Deserve Me"

Matthew Nuti, the 16-year-old Fairfax student who was thrown out of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology because he fell short of the newly required B average, has read your many comments about his plight, and he's here with a response: Hi, this is Matthew Nuti. Many of you are bringing up how "reality called" and I should accept the consequences of my actions. When has reality consisted of kids--kids--getting expelled from his school for passing all his courses? When has reality consisted of kids being treated like criminal offenders for not meeting an arbitrary academic standard?...

By Marc Fisher | July 30, 2008; 5:32 PM ET | Comments (318)

I've Got The Scrabulous Withdrawal Shakes

That surge of productivity employers are registering all across the nation this morning is the result of the sudden death of Scrabulous, the addictive Scrabble rip-off that was one of the most popular features on Facebook. Scrabulous, which had a remarkable 2.3 million users, vanished from Facebook today, the result of a longstanding dispute between the game's Indian creators and the big boys at Hasbro, the toy and game giant that owns the original board game, Scrabble. Hasbro has long accused Scrabulous creators Rajat Agarwalla and Jayant Agarwalla of stealing their game and not paying for it, and there...

By Marc Fisher | July 29, 2008; 11:12 AM ET | Comments (0)

The $2 Million D.C.'s Libraries Couldn't Spend

For years, the rap on the District's decrepit library system was that they'd been systematically starved into a state of disrepair and dysfunction. With insufficient money and lousy management, the buildings and services declined to such a degree that city residents simply went elsewhere--to good, clean suburban libraries--or did without. But now, even as a new libraries director finally spiffs up the buildings and ratchets up the programming, and even as that same director announces that the system may have to shut all its branches on Fridays to make ends meet, the D.C. library continues to sit on a...

By Marc Fisher | July 29, 2008; 8:49 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Shame And Horror Of The B-Minus Student

Pity poor Matthew Nuti, who dared to be only good. Weep for all those students at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology who, like Matthew, managed to maintain only a B-minus average and who therefore have been summarily given the heave-ho from the Fairfax school. To be admitted to TJ--by some measures the highest achieving public school in the nation--you must score exceedingly well on the entrance exam. And now, to stay at TJ, you must maintain at least a B average. Apparently, TJ students, by virtue of their extraordinary skills and unmatched work ethic, are...

By Marc Fisher | July 28, 2008; 8:50 AM ET | Comments (222)

Is The Fix In On D.C. Lottery Choice?

Just for fun, I asked a bunch of D.C. Council members why it has been so hard to decide between the company that has run the D.C. Lottery for the past 25 years and an upstart challenger that, according to independent consultants, is offering to do a better job at a lower cost. Could it be that the incumbent contractor, Lottery Technology Enterprises (LTE), is a generous donor to council members' campaigns and backed the wrong horse in the last mayoral race, providing big bucks to loser Linda Cropp and only a perfunctory gift to Adrian Fenty? Oh, no, says...

By Marc Fisher | July 27, 2008; 9:36 AM ET | Comments (0)

D.C.: Church May Not Decide Its Own Fate

The D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board last night voted unanimously to deny a downtown Christian Science church the right to tear down its home and build a new place of worship better suited to their spiritual needs. The vote--the latest government rejection of the congregation's desire to rid itself of a building it considers an expensive, cumbersome eyesore--appears to leave the Third Church of Christ, Scientist, no choice but to take its fight to the courts. Washington's preservation board chairman, Tersh Boasberg, encouraged church leaders to do just that, repeatedly cutting off church leaders and supporters who sought to...

By Marc Fisher | July 25, 2008; 8:25 AM ET | Comments (0)

A Tough Ride Uphill, Cut Off

Keith Hines's bicycle is out on the porch, ready to roll. Hines owned a car, but lately he'd been biking because of $4 gas and because he'd been thinking about being green. Where Hines grew up, you didn't use a bicycle if you had a car. It wasn't manly. But Hines went his own way. Sometimes that got him into trouble; he got into drugs as a teenager and ended up in prison for a year. But over the past seven years, he had redefined going his own way. He finished high school and three years of college. He scouted...

By Marc Fisher | July 24, 2008; 9:24 AM ET | Comments (7)

Pressure Mounts Toward New Housing In Silver Spring

In the many face-offs between historic preservationists and smart growth advocates that have been popping up around the region, the preservationists tend to have the upper hand--politicians and planners live in fear of being accused of bulldozing the gems of the past. But in the controversial debate over whether to replace a 1930s garden-apartment complex next door to the Metro tracks and one block from downtown Silver Spring with 1,000 units of new housing, including nearly 300 moderately priced apartments, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett is taking a stand for the density that could complete Silver Spring's transformation into...

By Marc Fisher | July 23, 2008; 8:25 AM ET | Comments (0)

Dan Snyder's Total Sports Talk Takeover

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder's campaign to assert control over the coverage of his team in local media took a giant leap forward yesterday when his Redskins Radio took over its chief competitor, the region's longest running sports talk radio station, Sports Talk 980 (WTEM), now known as ESPN 980. The takeover means a significant reduction in the amount and quality of sports talk on the radio in Washington. The new combined stations offer only seven hours a day of local sports talk, from noon to 7 p.m., strikingly less than what's available in every other top 10 market...

By Marc Fisher | July 22, 2008; 8:04 AM ET | Comments (44)

How Walkable Is Your Neighborhood?

Is Dupont Circle really the most walkable neighborhood in the Washington area? Is Logan Circle more walkable than downtown D.C., U Street, or Adams Morgan? And by what methodology does Friendship Heights rank as more walkable than Georgetown? You can drive yourself batty with such questions--and get a measure of how walkable your neighborhood is--at walkscore.com, a site that blends Google Maps with an algorithm measuring how many basic amenities are within a quarter-mile of a given address. The result is a ranking of more than 2,500 neighborhoods across the country. Basically, you plug in an address and the...

By Marc Fisher | July 21, 2008; 8:35 AM ET | Comments (44)

Oh Deer, They're On The Horns Of A Dilemma

You spend time, energy and money on landscaping and flowers, on making your home a respite, a retreat. Then the deer come along and eat it all up. This happens again and again, and finally you go to the state and get yourself a wildlife damage-control permit, which means you can call up the man with the bow and arrow and have him come sit in a tree and take out the offending pests. This is, according to your view of the world, either a simple matter of maintaining a reasonable balance between man and nature or a grievous abuse...

By Marc Fisher | July 20, 2008; 9:47 AM ET | Comments (0)

You Be The Editor

Time for another edition of You Be The Editor, the fast and furious game in which readers choose which of several possible stories your columnist will pursue. Here are three stories that are bubbling up toward the top of the Precarious Pile of Potential Pieces. Vote below to select the one you believe has the most potential to be revealing, meaningful and enticing and I will abide by your choice, get to work on reporting the story, and come back with some sort of result either here on the big blog or in the column as soon as the...

By Marc Fisher | July 18, 2008; 8:37 AM ET | Comments (0)

D.C. Tries To Finesse Gun Ruling

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and his feisty attorney general, Peter Nickles, stood on the steps of the Wilson Building this week ostensibly to announce how the city will comply with the U.S. Supreme Court's rejection of Washington's ban on handguns. But really, they were delivering very much the opposite message: With only the narrowest of exceptions, we're sticking with our gun ban. Don't like it? Sue us. "I am pretty confident that the people of the District of Columbia want us to err in the direction of trying to restrict guns," Fenty told me, smiling broadly at the suggestion...

By Marc Fisher | July 17, 2008; 9:03 AM ET | Comments (11)

Nannying Nannies in Montgomery

Montgomery County, which takes pride in being on the cutting edge of government regulation, yesterday became probably the first jurisdiction in the land to require residents who hire nannies to do so via a written contract. The move by the government that brought you bans on trans-fats, smoking and any sales of liquor except by the county's own stores has the usual do-gooder genesis, a reflection of the fact that many domestic workers are taken advantage of by employers. After all, since many nannies are illegal immigrants, it's easy for employers to set onerous working conditions and get away...

By Marc Fisher | July 16, 2008; 6:38 AM ET | Comments (71)

Can You Top A Rural Indian School Kid?

How bad have American high schools become? A new documentary film tries to drive home just how dumbed down the average U.S. high school is these days by comparing the experiences of American teens with their counterparts in rural India and China. The movie, Two Million Minutes, makes the case that we have moved so far away from delivering a common foundation of basic and essential teaching of history, geography, math, science and grammar that our kids leave high school with a bogus belief that they have been educated, while students in economically impoverished Third World places are still...

By Marc Fisher | July 15, 2008; 10:01 AM ET | Comments (0)

Virginia's Seinfeld Legislature: Now, Nothing

Gov. Tim Kaine had his soundbite ready when the Virginia legislature, for the ninth straight time in less than a decade, failed to do anything of substance about the state's transportation woes: "I don't think I've ever seen a group work so hard to do nothing. It was doing nothing taken to an art," Kaine said, predictably blasting the House Republicans who killed his and other Democratic proposals to raise money for roads and transit. "They had since February to come up with something and they came up with nothing. It was like a 'Seinfeld' episode, the show about...

By Marc Fisher | July 14, 2008; 8:40 AM ET | Comments (24)

The Next Libraries: D.C.'s Big Plan

No sooner does Thursday's column check up on the troubled D.C. library system four years after four branches were shuttered than along comes Mayor Adrian Fenty to announce that he's going in a different direction than his libraries chief. Here on the blog today, a more detailed look at what's happening to replace those libraries--and what's holding up the works. In meetings across the city, D.C. libraries director Ginnie Cooper and her staff have been showing mock-ups of branch buildings planned for four neighborhoods that have lived without libraries for four years. The buildings for the most part look...

By Marc Fisher | July 11, 2008; 8:15 AM ET | Comments (14)

Dithering Over D.C. Libraries

What's happened in the four years since the District shuttered four of its neighborhood libraries, lost another one to a fire and launched an endless debate over whether to renovate or get rid of its main branch downtown? Fairfax City conceived, built and opened a spectacular, state-of-the-art library as the cornerstone of its downtown redevelopment; Arlington County worked out an innovative deal with Signature Theatre and built a striking new Shirlington library that's also home to one of the region's top arts groups; and Montgomery County planned, built and opened its largest library, the centerpiece of Rockville Town Square, a...

By Marc Fisher | July 10, 2008; 9:48 AM ET | Comments (6)

Nats TV: MASN's Defense

Yesterday's item offering some theories on why the TV ratings for Washington Nationals ballgames are so weak won generally supportive comments here on the big blog, but raised the hackles of MASN insiders, who argue that Nationals broadcasts are every bit as good and every bit as heavily promoted as those of the network's real home team, the Baltimore Orioles. MASN spokesman Todd Webster takes strong issue with my characterization of the Nats as MASN's "ugly stepchild." "It's just not true," he says, and he argues that "everything has been done equitably." To my view--and that of many Washington...

By Marc Fisher | July 9, 2008; 10:46 AM ET | Comments (50)

Why Nats TV Is A Dud

The other night at Nationals Park, the guy behind us was trying to explain the basics of baseball to his date. His main problem: He had only the foggiest notion of how the game works. So when he saw my son scoring the game in his Official Bob Carpenter Scorebook, the guy leaned forward and addressed my son as "Stats." "Hey, Stats," he said, all cool and insider-y, "remind me, why does the catcher tag the batter if it's Strike Three?" This went on all game long: "Hey, Stats, is this guy Dukes supposed to be any good?" "Hey,...

By Marc Fisher | July 8, 2008; 12:13 PM ET | Comments (0)

Will D.C. Kill The Bargain Buses?

The lines curl around the corner of 14th and G streets, or up at 15th and K, or over in Chinatown. On curbsides dotted all around downtown Washington, bargain-hunting travelers queue up for the best deal on the East Coast, the burgeoning intercity bus companies that are deep into a wild, price-chopping war for passengers. The price revolution launched by the Chinatown buses three years ago has accelerated in the last few months, as big companies such as Greyhound (operating as Bolt Bus) and Megabus developed their own cheap D.C. to New York bus services to compete with the...

By Marc Fisher | July 7, 2008; 8:37 AM ET | Comments (52)

Prince George's Jail Murder: One Man's Snitch Is Another's Whistleblower

On the street, nobody knows anything, nobody's seen anything. Cops and prosecutors complain about it all the time: Somehow, right and wrong tumbled over each other and the no-snitching imperative took on the aura of morality. But no one expects street thugs to have a finely tuned sense of ethical values. Law enforcement officers are another story. Those who are sworn and empowered to uphold the law have a special responsibility to set an example. In Prince George's County, a police officer is dead because a thug demonstrated a sickening and total disregard for life. The 19-year-old who was accused...

By Marc Fisher | July 3, 2008; 9:21 AM ET | Comments (8)

$4 Gas, The Fourth And Virginia's Long Vacation

While the rest of us are out on the roads over this holiday weekend, stuffing our paychecks into our gas tanks, Virginia's legislators are easing into a two-week vacation from the hard work of defeating every possible solution to the state's transportation mess. Oh, the lawmakers certainly had their fun last week, as they assembled in Richmond for a special session--at a cost of $20,000 a day, thank you very much--to do something about the state's awful traffic, crumbling infrastructure and endangered construction plans. So, what did they do? Senate Democrats proposed the first increase in the gas tax...

By Marc Fisher | July 2, 2008; 8:19 AM ET | Comments (0)

When Slatkin Was Going To Lift Washington Above The Clouds

When Leonard Slatkin hustled onto the stage at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall for one of his final appearances as conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, the audience reacted with measured enthusiasm. Even after a dazzling performance by a young cello soloist making her Washington debut, the sort of player Slatkin regularly brought to this city, even after the orchestra's chairman of the board, Ann Jordan, presented the departing music director with a portrait signed by all of the musicians, the audience could not manage a standing ovation. What a contrast from Slatkin's arrival in Washington in 1994. When...

By Marc Fisher | July 1, 2008; 7:33 AM ET | Comments (4)

 

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