Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Fair Weather Friends?

The Confederate monument has been removed and will be placed in a museum where it can take its place in an accurate historical context. Very likely this means among items illustrating the Jim Crow era.

Coincidentally, this may be the only time I ever wrote to the County Executive and got action within 24 hours.. (Of course, I had put off writing my letter...)

For the first time ever, I feel rather sad for the County Executive. It seems that a bunch of the folks who voted for him are truly mean-spirited people. And they don't look to be too loyal, either.

I'm serious about this. Don't take this as snark. It can't feel good to see people who elected you spew ignorance and hatred. I don't usually recommend reading the comments but this time it's mighty educational.

I'm not a political blogger. I certainly have political opinions. It was quite an eye-opener to see supporters of the County Executive say that this one act destroys his chances for reelection. Their narrative went like this:

1. Real conservatives will never vote for you again.
2. If the Democrats run someone popular, those Dems that broke from the pack and voted for you last time will return to the fold.
3. You're sunk.

In short: you're not conservative enough for the Conservatives, and you're not progressive enough for the Progressives.

Somehow I feel that this argument should be followed by a "nyaah-nyaah" or a rude noise. Formed in the heat of anger, it's meant to wound, or perhaps it's a bit of a threat. Get back in line, Mr. Kittleman.

Surely the County Executive knew all this when he made his decision. He's had enough political experience to know how this would play out. He moved forward anyway.

I want to make sure to point out that Mr. Kittleman didn't make this decision in a vacuum. Many good people mobilized to bring the existence of the monument to light and to work for its removal. The County Executive didn't just wake up one morning and decide to take action. His decision comes as a response to listening to the community. Without community activism I'm not sure this would have happened. At least, not now.

When it comes to politics, I firmly believe that this is not a Republican vs. Democrat issue. All Americans should know enough about our history to understand a) why that monument was placed by a courthouse in the year that it was, and b) why it needed to be removed.

I wonder how many Howard County citizens will visit the Howard County Historical Society to find out?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Knowing Better

Let's talk about tomatoes. There was a time when they were generally considered to be poisonous.  Deadly. They were were classified with Bella Donna and Nightshade and people were warned away from what would surely be disastrous consequences were they to be consumed. Probably no one was harmed by shunning tomatoes. They just didn't know any better. Now we do.

Remember learning about legends in elementary school? Primitive cultures made up stories to explain what nowadays we are able to discern as scientific phenomenon. They just didn't know any better. I'm sure in elementary school we didn't go into the possible consequences of those primitive world views. (Human sacrifice, for instance.)

We just shook our heads and said, "that was a long time ago and they didn't know any better."

Now let's talk about the Nazis. And the Holocaust. We look at the pictures, or look away because we can't bear to look. We know someone who lived through it. Or fought. The thought of the institutional reach of such inconceivable cruelty hits us viscerally. We don't say, "oh, there was a time when some people thought that Jewish people (and others) were inferior and even malevolent so they thought they'd make the world a better place by killing them all. They just didn't know any better. Now we do." Shrug.

We don't do that. We say, "Never again."

Why? Because it is closer in time, and therefore more vivid? Because the victims look like us?

You know why I want to talk about this today, don't you?


Many, many Americans give slavery a pass because they do that disconnect and tell themselves a story that goes like this--

"Once upon a time people believed that slavery was okay. We know better now because we are more advanced. But that was a long time ago and they didn't know any better. We shouldn't judge them. That's just the way people were back then."

Why do we do that?

Is it because it is farther from us in time? Is it because we want to believe that the story of humankind is always a progression of primitive people becoming more advanced and feeling better about themselves?

Is it because the victims don't look like us?

Please, please, please.

It has never, ever, from the beginning of time, been "okay" for one human being to own another, to buy and sell another. Period. It was just as wrong then as it is now. And always will be. 

Slave owners, and those whose livelihoods and well-being depended on the racist systems  codified by slavery, do not get a free pass. That means us, too. If we look at a Confederate monument outside a courthouse and do not feel the visceral wounding of lynchings, and suffering from the lash, or families broken up and distributed like so much grain--there is something wrong with us. Something which ought to be innate in our being has been removed by years of careful upbringing.

This is the inculcation of white privilege whose survival depends on our not feeling that pain.

The sight of Nazis marching with torches has stunned many Americans who haven't been really paying attention up until now. But they aren't really any scarier than anyone who can look at slavery and institutionalized racism and say, "It's not my problem."

If we do that, we lie to ourselves and to others. And the consequences--in our communities, schools, and government--are poisonous and deadly.

Monday, August 21, 2017

As Sands Through the Hourglass

The last day of summer vacation has arrived for me. For those of you who work all through the year, I understand you may take a dim view of my taking the summer off. For many years I couldn't afford to. My gratitude at getting this time to spend with my family is immense. The luxury of having as much time as I want to write is both thrilling and daunting.

A few local stories that are on my mind today as I watch the sands of summer fall through the hourglass:

Rouse and swimming pools. I took two teens to the Hopewell Pool yesterday and remembered what was said when I went to the Undesign the Redline event hosted by Enterprise Community Partners. Rouse made sure every neighborhood had its own swimming pool because he was making a radical statement about integration: we all swim together here. I worry that we really need to do much more of that kind of 'swimming together' in our daily lives.

Calling the police. I saw an online discussion in a community group about unfamiliar young people suspiciously looking at someone's truck. The person wasn't sure what to do, but they felt that it wasn't a good sign. Others assured them that they were right to be worried and they should call the police next time it happened.

"But they weren't committing any crime." Call anyway, people said.

When would you call the police? When would you go outside and talk to the unfamiliar young people? Would you feel safe enough in your neighborhood to do that? How well do you know your neighbors that you'd be sure that a group of young people didn't belong there?

I don't know the particulars of this situation, and I do think it's great when neighbors work together to promote communication and share concerns. But sometimes calling the police escalates situations needlessly. What's your opionion?

There's a much-promoted Blog Party tonight at Bare Bones Grill for bloggers and their readers. I'll be there with HoCoHouseHon. As the numbers of possible attendees have increased, my desire to be there has decreased. So, if there is anyone out there who for some odd reason had hoped to touch base with me, I'm probably going early and leaving early.

In closing, I think it's pretty cool that someone wrapped and covered that Confederate monument at the Howard County Courthouse. However, it never should have been there in the first place. Let's work together to get that thing removed.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Gift of Song

He's not from Columbia or Howard County. But he is from Maryland. Kyle James Riley, actor, musician, graduate of UMBC and former student of my father-in-lawSam McCready, now lives in Ireland with his wife and children.

And he makes music. My kind of music.

Watch this video of one of his original songs, filmed in Ireland. It captures the essence of why I love doing what I do. There's so much joy.

These days there are so many difficult conversations we need to have and crucial actions that we must take. But, right now, in this moment: a song.

Feel free to use your social capital on this one: "Like" the video on YouTube, subscribe to his YouTube channel, share the video with someone who would enjoy it. Give the gift of a song today.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Chrysalis Triptych

Last Sunday I launched a new venture in Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods.

It was a free-form dance party with lots of hands-on materials. A varied playlist with everything from Laurie Berkner to Abba to Elvis to Raffi. The Imagination Playground materials for those who'd rather build than boogie. In short, it was fabulous. Huge thanks to everyone who shared the event page, and to all of the folks who took a chance and came out to something that's never happened before.

We're doing it again on Saturday, September 16. Come on along.

This week brought the news that the Chrysalis is on the cover of Architect magazine, featured in an article by Amanda Kolson Hurley. While the opening of the Chrysalis has certainly been a top story locally in recent months, this piece in the journal of the Institute of American Architects shows a  much broader reach. Pretty cool.


While it's too soon to say whether we'll be witnessing a pilgrimage of architects to the site, we do know that Columbia now has more to crow about than a few early Frank Gehrys. And that's good news for the New American City.

The third piece of the picture today is an event to put on your calendar: Under the Harvest Moon.


The inaugural fundraising event for Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods is September 9th. Tickets are $60.00 and you can learn more here There will be food, local beer and wine, music, fun, and a chair auction!  I hope I'll see you there. If you can't make it, check out the other upcoming events--all free.

One last thing: Michael McCall, wherever you are: you done good.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Maybe It's Time to Talk

There was an article by Tim Schwartz in the paper yesterday about the Centennial High School Varsity Football Program. Turnout this year for participation on the team was low. Numbers are not where they should be in order to run a viable program.

Football, especially high school football, is a tradition. It's not just the physical challenge of the sport. It's Friday night lights, cheerleaders, marching band, boosters selling snacks, families turning out to cheer on the teams. It's young kids dreaming of when they'll be in high school. It's parents remembering when they were.

And yet.

It becomes clearer all the time that football has been and continues to be the cause of traumatic brain injury in players. Not just the pros. High school players. The NFL keeps trying to beat back the data and reshape the conversation but the fact remains that youth participants are getting damaged in ways that cannot be remediated.

Does it happen to everyone? No. Would you risk it for your child? I wouldn't.

Maybe, with what is going on right now at Centennial,  it's a good time for us to have a community discussion about high school football. There was a bit of discussion earlier in the summer when requirements changed for getting a baseline concussion test as a requirement for sports participation. But I think we could stand to look at it more thoroughly.

If we say we put our kids first, how do we reconcile that with how much football is hurting them? Why do we accept that, as a sort of collateral damage?

I think I know why.

High school football has deep emotional roots in our culture. We give it a pride of place in our community that is unrivaled. Nothing else comes close. Can you imagine an article in the paper detailing concerns that a high school might not be able to field a Chamber Choir? Robotics team? Debate?

School athletics programs are a place where many kids have the opportunity to shine. I may not be even remotely athletic, but I understand that. But football presents a danger to our young people. There's no doubt about it now. The numbers are there. Can we please take a look at them without the emotional filter of Friday Night Lights?

I wish everyone in the Centennial Football community well. I hope this works out the best way possible for them. I just wish we could stop for a moment and talk about this.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Unpopular Opnion

Recently I've seen discussions online focused around this question:

"What's the most unpopular benign opinion you hold? (i.e. not politically dodgy, just socially derided)"- Stephanie Boland, Prospect Mag

Local blogger/podcaster/community activist Candace Dodson Reed ended up with a thread of 532 comments on Facebook. It was lightheatrted fun. It was only about two weeks ago but it feels like eons. People enjoyed being able to say, "I know everyone else likes this, but..."

I don't like chocolate and peanut butter together. Ever. Just so you know.

Something else I'm not all that exciting by is the upcoming eclipse. I lived through one in the 1970's and it didn't live up to the hype. Of course, my location in Cleveland probably had something to do with that. It didn't feel like a total eclipse. More like a cloudy afternoon. I do remember that there was live national news coverage throughout and that they closed with the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun". No disrespect to Bonnie Tyler, but nothing can touch George Harrison.

And about those eclipse glasses. I'm glad if you can get them without paying an arm and a leg. But you won't be a bad parent if you can't. For heaven's sake make sure they're safe. Of course we had it drilled in our little brains that you must never, never, ever look directly at the sun. But you could make a nifty viewer with a cardboard box.

"In my day we didn't have eclipse glasses..."

Yeah, I know. Perilously close to, "get off my lawn."

For those of you who are looking forward to the eclipse because you have a genuine curiousity about the natural world and take joy in its workings, please forgive my bad attitude. It's not the science I object to, it's the hype.

What's your unpopular (but benign) opinion? Or, tell me why you're excited about the eclipse.