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Archive: January 2009

Binary Man: Buy Nats Tix Or Hold Back?

Binary Man has come to our planet to settle disputes, solve problems and make life a whole lot better. Each week, he will confront an issue, weigh the arguments and present a verdict. Got an issue for him? Post it below or e-mail him. From the moment major league baseball returned to Washington, buying Nationals tickets was presented as an investment in the future, an act of faith and trust that the team would in reasonably short order become a top-tier franchise, a genuine contender that would rebuild the sport's fan base in the nation's capital. Now, with the Nationals...

By Marc Fisher | January 30, 2009; 7:53 AM ET | Comments (29)

Mail, Books, Starbucks: Signs Of The Apocalypse?

In this business, bad news comes in threes. Today, amid the mounting roll call of layoffs and closings across the economy, we have a trio of moves that together say something about both the hard times we find ourselves in and the changing nature of daily life. --The Postmaster General asks Congress for permission to cut mail delivery from six days a week to five. This is immediately assumed to mean that Saturday home delivery of the mail is most likely to die. But it's not clear that that's how this would play out; the Postal Service might prefer...

By Marc Fisher | January 29, 2009; 10:44 AM ET | Comments (22)

Finally, D.C. Gets Some Respect

For once, a roomful of members of Congress managed to debate the shame of this democracy with only one cavalierly telling half a million people that if they really want voting rights, all they need do is move. For the record, that brilliant character is Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), whose considered view on whether D.C. residents should be represented in Congress is that they "only have to move five miles to register their vote." Not long ago, that kind of snide quip was about as serious as the discussion over granting Washingtonians the vote ever got. Times, like tenancy at...

By Marc Fisher | January 29, 2009; 8:43 AM ET | Comments (2)

Obama Stands Tall Vs. Weather Wimps

The guy could let the economy spin entirely out of control. He could lose a war or two. He could fail to deliver on every single campaign promise, and still, Barack Obama would go down in history as a hero to Washingtonians who have never comprehended the severe case of RSA (Regional Snow Allergy) that afflicts this area. The president went out of his way today to offer his astonishment at the closing of Sidwell Friends School on this day of, um, light mist. "Can I make a comment that is unrelated to the economy?" Obama said at a...

By Marc Fisher | January 28, 2009; 5:05 PM ET | Comments (31)

Virginia GOP: No Incentives To Save A Life

How much of an incentive do teenagers--or any of us, for that matter--need to do the right thing for an obviously suffering or even dying friend? Last June, two Loudoun County teenagers panicked when their friend drank too much rum, passed out and died. The teens took Peter Cathcart Vold's body to a nearby elementary school parking lot and dumped it there. Those teenagers are now facing serious charges of concealing a body. But would they have acted differently if they knew that Virginia law would cut them a break, in effect allowing the state to ignore any underage...

By Marc Fisher | January 28, 2009; 10:30 AM ET | Comments (4)

Virginia Follies (I): Death And Voting

Your party has lost the public's trust. You've lost, in quick succession, two governor's races, both Senate seats, one house of the legislature, and the fastest-growing region in the state. Most frightening of all, voters seem to think your party is narrow-minded, cynical, and stuck in an outdated vision of the electorate. So if you are Virginia's Republican party, what do you do? Well, for starters this session in Richmond, the GOP in just a few days has already moved to expand the death penalty and reject reforms that would have created a strictly bipartisan redistricting plan and an...

By Marc Fisher | January 28, 2009; 8:25 AM ET | Comments (0)

Paper Or Plastic Redux: Safeway's View

Here's a response to Binary Man's blog item last week about the proposals in Virginia to ban or limit the use of plastic shopping bags at grocers and other major retailers. The author is Gregory Ten Eyck, Safeway's spokesman and lobbyist: Hi, Binary Man: I enjoyed your column on the issue of paper or plastic in today's Post. I think you covered the subject very well, and in a fair, even-handed manner. Obviously, we folks at Safeway are directly in the middle of these debates. Being the customer-focused company we are, we have always placed a high priority on our...

By Marc Fisher | January 27, 2009; 3:43 PM ET | Comments (0)

Maryland & Virginia Go Separate Ways On Death Penalty

In both Annapolis and Richmond this winter, the coldest winds are those swirling around the devastating budget cuts that both Maryland and Virginia must make as a result of plummeting tax receipts. Previously sacrosanct areas of government spending are now on the chopping block, including K-12 schooling, public safety and even mental health--an area Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and the legislature just started rebuilding after the Virginia Tech massacre. But despite the politically and personally difficult work of eliminating jobs and services, legislators can't stop themselves from delving into the social issues that they like to use to capture...

By Marc Fisher | January 27, 2009; 12:17 PM ET | Comments (2)

Nuff Said: Look Who's Closed Because Of Snow

There's upwards of an inch of snow on the ground already, and--hold on to your hats!--there could well be two whole inches by the end of the day. So what's a school system to do? Every single large system in the inner ring of suburbs decided to charge ahead with school today--except one. And which one might that be? One guess. Yes, Montgomery County, closed again, alone again. (Some outer suburban counties have also closed, but there's more snow in Loudoun, Fauquier, Frederick and Howard than closer-in. Of course MoCo's administrators will argue that they must close because the...

By Marc Fisher | January 27, 2009; 8:28 AM ET | Comments (47)

A Reboot That Pays Off Big Time

When I visited Project Reboot three years ago, I hoped to shine a bit of light on a wonderfully efficient little effort to lift people from poverty and ignorance. I thought readers might team up to keep Gerry Rosenkrantz and his band of volunteers going in the little white house in downtown Rockville where they collected, refurbished and gave away about 50 computers a month. The gambit worked: A little publicity got Montgomery County to give Project Reboot two extra years in its publicly-owned building. Rosenkrantz and his fellow retirees, mostly learned gents who come together as much to...

By Marc Fisher | January 26, 2009; 8:45 AM ET | Comments (0)

Recession Tour: Obama Shops, Empty Shops, & A Cup Of Hope

The economy is tanking, companies are laying off workers by the thousands, and in downtown Washington's East End, there were enough empty storefronts for four Obama Inauguration souvenir shops to open for short stays this month. So it's understandable that some merchants along Seventh Street NW wince as they talk about Aaron Gordon, who just opened a shop at Seventh and E. Gordon is selling frozen yogurt. In January. In a storefront where the previous tenant lasted only eight months. "Yeah, everyone thinks this is a cursed location," Gordon says. But he's confident enough to laugh as he says it,...

By Marc Fisher | January 25, 2009; 10:24 AM ET | Comments (8)

Binary Man: Paper Or Plastic?

Binary Man has come to our planet to settle disputes, solve problems and make life a whole lot better. Each week, he will confront an issue, weigh the arguments and present a verdict. Got an issue for him? Post it below or e-mail him. Binary Man has an especially soft spot for this topic because it is mother's milk, one of the original binary choice questions to break into the popular culture. Breathes there a soul who has not wrestled with this dilemma? Binary Man can't stand the question at the checkout counter, either, yet he has never really forced...

By Marc Fisher | January 23, 2009; 8:00 AM ET | Comments (36)

Inauguration Island: Did Bridges Need To Be Closed?

The National Guard assigned two buddies from North Carolina to man the sidewalk at 16th and L streets NW while their country got itself a new president, and so, for 10 hours, the guys stood there with not a thing to do. By midday, the guardsmen had made a friend, a bushy-tailed squirrel they trained to eat nuts from their hands. Even if a few thousand guardsmen did little more than decorate the street corners, the inauguration of Barack Obama came off beautifully Tuesday. A happy crowd overlooks inconveniences that might grate against Washington's angry visitors, the protesters who more...

By Marc Fisher | January 22, 2009; 8:40 AM ET | Comments (6)

On The Mall: Out Of Many, One

Please join me at 3:30 p.m. today for a special edition of "Potomac Confidential," as we talk about today's events, the Inaugural Address, the scene on the Mall and around the city, and your experiences of the day. Out of many, one: "My grandma never thought she'd see this day. (Rachel Beistel, Pittsburgh) My father never thought he'd see this day. (Ave Talbott, Alexandria) My mother-in-law never thought she'd see this day. (Gary Doring, Oakland) My father passed in '93 and in his last years, he said that one day there would be a -- his words -- 'Negro...

By Marc Fisher | January 20, 2009; 2:13 PM ET | Comments (0)

Party Like It's 1865 (& Eat Before You Go)

Coming up this afternoon at 3:30: Please join me for a special Inauguration edition of Potomac Confidential--we'll check in live with Post reporters and readers on how the day has gone and how the exodus from the Mall is shaping up. Your impressions from the scene and from home, here on the big web site. I knew where I'd surely find the great inauguration party: in that glorious Victorian cupcake of a ballroom where partygoers celebrated Abraham Lincoln's second swearing-in, up on the third floor of what is now the Smithsonian's American Art Museum. This year it was called the...

By Marc Fisher | January 20, 2009; 7:20 AM ET | Comments (0)

Binary Man: Stay Home Or Brave The Crowds?

Here's the first in a weekly series starring Binary Man, who has come to our struggling planet to settle disputes, solve problems and make life a whole lot better. Each week, generally on Fridays, Binary Man will confront some issue, large or small, that bedevils us; he will weigh the arguments for either side and present his verdict, thereby bringing us that much closer to utopia. No need to send Binary Man your riches or your offspring, but he's happy to entertain your questions and ideas. Post them here on the comment boards, or email him at BinaryMan@washpost.com In...

By Marc Fisher | January 19, 2009; 7:39 AM ET | Comments (0)

Along The Beltway, An Instant Obamaville

The phone started ringing at Cherry Hill RV Park the morning after the election, but Mike and Linda Gurevich didn't really believe it until the recreational vehicles started lumbering in by the hundreds. Winter's a quiet time at the Gureviches' campgrounds in College Park, but yesterday, their 60 acres hard by the Beltway turned into an instant Obamaville. It was a community of people from all across the land who felt compelled to be here this weekend, not because they're political types, not because they worked for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, but because they believe to their core that there's...

By Marc Fisher | January 18, 2009; 9:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Welcome To Inauguration Island, A Prostitution-Free Zone

You invite a couple of million of your closest friends to the biggest bash your town has ever thrown. You extend bar hours nearly till dawn. You import thousands of cops to keep the streets safe. You commandeer every bit of paved surface you can think of to accommodate innumerable buses packed with visitors. And then you plaster the street lamp poles in a central part of the city with big red signs "WARNING" all that "This area has been declared a PROSTITUTION FREE ZONE." What's wrong with this picture? Now, maybe I'm not reading this the way your...

By Marc Fisher | January 17, 2009; 8:28 AM ET | Comments (3)

Inaugural 1969: Headlights, Please!

The city was still smoldering, the war continuing with no end in sight. King and Kennedy were dead. Richard Nixon's inauguration in January, 1969, was anything but the celebration Washington is about to launch. Still, the peaceful transfer of power held a certain innate majesty and excitement, and among the swearing-in, the parade and the six inaugural balls, the District was abuzz that week. The city expected a whopping 50,000 visitors. On NBC, the Inauguration night coverage was anchored by Hugh Downs, Joe Garagiola and Nancy Dickerson (is that fabulous, or what?) And a Washington Post story by the...

By Marc Fisher | January 16, 2009; 8:13 AM ET | Comments (2)

Welcome To D.C., Mr. Obama--Here's Where To Visit

Welcome to the neighborhood, President-elect and Mrs. Obama. The last tenant, frankly, didn't much like it here, but don't let that sway you. The house is old and drafty, but it has beaucoup curb appeal, a crackerjack staff that conveys, and the words "24-hour security" -- well, they don't even come close. First off, Washington is not Chicago. Prettier but equally weather-impaired, the District lacks the ethnic variety of your home town. But there's a hidden complexity here. Don't believe the stereotype about this being a federal enclave surrounded by a largely black and poor population, which in turn is...

By Marc Fisher | January 15, 2009; 9:24 AM ET | Comments (3)

That 4 A.M. Inauguration Nightcap? Not So Fast

Maybe you're thinking it might be kind of fun to be trapped on Inauguration Island one night next week. Maybe you figure that if you're stuck in town because of the Blockade of Virginia or the paralyzed Metro system or your boss's demand that you sleep on the office floor, everything will be just fine because hey, those wonderful folks at the D.C. Council decided to keep the liquor flowing till 4 a.m. Think again. Despite the weeks of back and forth and the not-so-quiet grumbling from the police about how the politicians were going to mess everything up...

By Marc Fisher | January 14, 2009; 8:10 AM ET | Comments (1)

Inauguration: The Million Things We Don't Know March

Ten thousand buses. Or maybe 3,000. Four million people. Or maybe 1 million. Closed bridges. But maybe we'll reopen a couple of them if the traffic backup's not too bad. Check our web sites. But be careful: Our maps are wrong. Watch the street signs. But wait: We put up signs in the wrong places and our people are out there now checking. I love the ritual of the big political news conference. This morning's session with Mayor Adrian Fenty, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and the head of the U.S. Secret Service included the classic bunch...

By Marc Fisher | January 13, 2009; 2:25 PM ET | Comments (12)

Apple Too Shiny For Georgetown

The exterior of 1229 Wisconsin Ave. (Bloomberg) An Apple store is a most desirable shiny bauble for any retail neighborhood, a symbol of high-end appeal and cutting-edge variety. Apple stores are relatively limited in number--just 240 or so around the world--and remarkably successful; not one has ever had to close for lack of profits. So the news that the computer cult would be coming to the heart of Georgetown was a welcome bulletin for boosters of the D.C. neighborhood's retail sector. But for all its success around the globe, Apple has not had to deal with historic preservationists in the...

By Marc Fisher | January 13, 2009; 8:17 AM ET | Comments (61)

The Folly of Inauguration Island

Inauguration madness has hit a new and disturbing peak with the Secret Service's effort to turn Washington into Inauguration Island, cutting the District off from as much of the outside world as possible on Jan. 20. Virginians will bear the brunt of the over-the-top restrictions, as every single Potomac River crossing inside the Beltway is shut down to vehicular traffic for the entire day. Originally, the feds wanted to restrict even pedestrians to the Memorial Bridge, but under pressure from outraged Virginia residents and Reps. Jim Moran and Gerry Connolly, the authorities backed off on that part of the...

By Marc Fisher | January 12, 2009; 8:01 AM ET | Comments (59)

Beyond The Broom: Inside Rhee's D.C. Schools

There's a knock on the door, and a parent whose child is causing trouble at Truesdell Educational Center warily opens up. Six Truesdell employees, loaded with pizza for dinner and plans to change the child's direction, trundle into the apartment -- the boy's teacher, two social workers, a psychologist, a behavior specialist, and the principal, Brearn Wright. Unannounced home visits are part of the recipe for change at Truesdell, a D.C. public school where test scores were so miserable for so long the school was declared "failing" under No Child Left Behind rules and the faculty was replaced almost entirely...

By Marc Fisher | January 11, 2009; 10:10 AM ET | Comments (0)

Nobody Invited Obamas To Stay At Their House?

Eight years ago this month, two generations of George Bush families moved into Blair House, the presidential guest quarters across the street from the White House. As this page from the Blair House guest book shows, the two couples--president past and president-to-be--spent the four days prior to the swearing-in at the guest house. That short stay immediately before the White House move-in is what the Bushes have in store for their successors as well, which is the reason the Obamas are at the Hay-Adams Hotel, which in turn is why traffic in downtown Washington is such a nightmare this...

By Marc Fisher | January 9, 2009; 1:01 PM ET | Comments (14)

Feds Spin Dancing Ranger Out Of The Park

When Glen Echo Park fell into such grave disrepair that portions of the old grounds and buildings were cordoned off as a public hazard, Stan Fowler realized that the only way the former amusement park along the Potomac River would ever be saved was to find people who loved the place. And if those people didn't exist, Fowler would make it his calling in life to instill that love in those who never knew much about a quirky little park that ended its life as a commercial entertainment back in 1968. Fowler, known to thousands of Washington area residents...

By Marc Fisher | January 9, 2009; 8:51 AM ET | Comments (6)

Can MoCo School Success Be Repeated in DC?

The school was failing, but the kids had done extraordinary things. This was the paradox at Broad Acres Elementary School in Silver Spring. If test scores are awful but the children have walked through deserts, waded across rivers and learned new languages, the question becomes not so much "Why are the children failing?" as "What's wrong with this school?" At Broad Acres eight years ago, test scores were so low that the state threatened to take the place over. Montgomery County Superintendent Jerry Weast and Principal Jody Leleck decided to remake the school. They negotiated with the teachers union to...

By Marc Fisher | January 8, 2009; 9:10 AM ET | Comments (5)

Is One Touch Too Much For Adams Morgan Bar?

Madam's Organ, the iconic bar that has survived decades of shifting nightlife trends in Adams Morgan, is nobody's idea of a demure spot for an intimate evening. Heck, it's a blues bar, the kind of place that gets written up in Playboy and highlighted on lists of the "20 Best Dives in America." The saloon's owner, Bill Duggan, is no shrinking violet. He's what every great urban neighborhood needs, a fiery fighter for what he thinks is right, even if it's a battle over whether it's ok to keep a signature outdoor mural that features bulging,13-foot breasts. But when...

By Marc Fisher | January 7, 2009; 7:58 AM ET | Comments (19)

Should U-Va. Save More Spots For Virginians?

For as long as many students and alumni can recall, the University of Virginia and other top-flight state colleges have struggled to find the right mix of in-state and out-of-state students. Public colleges exist primarily to educate residents of the state that's paying for the school's existence, but out-of-state students add spice to the mix and, perhaps most important, provide a much-needed cushion to the bottom line (at UVa, for example, out of state students pay 150 percent of the cost of their education, a powerful subsidy for in-state students.) Now comes a state delegate who wants to require...

By Marc Fisher | January 6, 2009; 8:15 AM ET | Comments (31)

Fair Grading In Fairfax: What Does An "A" Really Mean?

Why are some parents in Fairfax and Loudoun counties up in arms about whether an A in a high school course means the student averaged a 90 or a 94? The controversy coming to the Fairfax school board this month is about one thing: Anxiety over college admission. That emotionally fraught issue has blurred the vision of many parents, who have come to believe that if only their kids' schools would artificially pump up their little sweeties' grades, perhaps their just-slightly-less-than-perfect children might get into colleges that otherwise would give them the big diss. The Fairfax system uses a...

By Marc Fisher | January 5, 2009; 9:31 AM ET | Comments (43)

 

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