Saturday, April 1, 2023

Battle of the Turf Gods


Reality show? Video game? Science fiction superhero movie with a dystopian twist?

I can’t decide.

This week’s announcement of the County’s intent to build the new Central Branch of the library at the Lakefront has brought out two of our most familiar local complaints. (Gosh, I wish that were a better sentence. I may come back and fix it.)

Let me set the scene for you. As soon as the celebratory press event had finished and the artist’s/architect’s images of the potential library were released, two age-old objections were heard throughout the (Columbia/HoCo) land.

Library? This should be green space.

Library! This should be parking.

Green space! Parking!



Well, it’s the first of April. Let’s have some fun with this.

Imagine a reality show where two teams of locals are given the challenge of remaking Downtown Columbia. One is Team Parking. One is Team Green Space. If your opponents manage to turn your home into parking or green space, you are automatically voted out.

I don’t really watch reality shows so I clearly need some help fleshing out this idea. Feel free to chime in. I’d rather that participants not have to go naked or eat bugs, if that’s all right with you. 

Or how about a video game where the goal is to turn as much of Downtown Columbia into parking or green space without destroying the delicate balance of how people actually live and work here. I can imagine an equivalent to Orgeon Trail’s “you have died of dysentery” if the player goes overboard in racking up points and, without meaning to, makes Columbia uninhabitable.

Imagine how much fun it would be to zero in on a location you’ve never particularly liked and turn it into a park. Feeling vengeful? That annoying coworker or politician could easily be neutralized by turning their home - - heck, their whole neighborhood- - into a parking lot. 

Maybe you’d rather settle into a comfy reclinable seat at the multiplex and watch “Columbia: Battle of the Turf Gods.” Don’t forget the popcorn. Live action? Animated? You choose. See whole chunks of town transform in an instant as the Turf Gods’ extraordinary powers change local topography with a wave of the arm. 

Perhaps the lesson they’ll learn along the way is that green space and parking alone are not enough. Somewhere ordinary people are yearning to live, eat, sleep, love, learn, and grow.

And go to the library. 


A disclaimer: it’s fine to have a cause you really believe in. This post is poking fun at the application of such causes to extremes. I’m well aware there are plenty of other lines of discussion going on about the library proposal. I chose these two to focus on today because the battle has been ongoing since I moved here in the late ‘90’s. It made me wonder what would happen to the New American City if the only powers we enabled were for green space and parking lots. 

What would that look like? Would we survive? Perhaps you think we’d be better off. Tell me about it.

Village Green/Town² Comments

Friday, March 31, 2023

F ³: Look at Me!


Question of the day: before social media, what did people do to get attention?

This question has been floating around Twitter this week. I caught a response from a Baltimore journalist who wrote:

Bright colors. A ritualistic dance. Vibrating their wings. Mating calls.

My own response was nowhere near as visually arresting.

Question: Before social media, what did people do to get attention?

Me: Cranky letters to the editor.

I liked this question and the subsequent replies because they made me think. It may seem naive to you but I tend to think people are on social media to communicate. To make contact. Sometimes to learn. I honestly hadn’t given much thought to the concept that people are on social media to get attention.

I know, I know. How could I be so…clueless?

Well, I don’t hang around in the places where a lot of that is going on and I don’t travel in the same circles as those who are desperate for social media attention. Instagram and TikTok are full of that if you are looking for it. 

I’m not. I would go out of my way to avoid posts from people who dress up their pets to increase their own personal social media clout or turn their young children into a brand.

On the other hand, am I ignoring the ways that I - - and the people I interact with most - - use social media in ways that could very well be “looking for attention”?

  • Here are my adorable grandchildren! 
  • We’re so proud of our new kitchen!
  • Look how those idiots damaged our front lawn!
  • Where can I find a perfect dress for the exclusive event I’ve been invited to?
  • I’ve been promoted!
We’re all out here looking for attention, I guess. Some of us more than others. 

I went back to Twitter to look at some of the other responses and I think you might be surprised what answer came up the most frequently:

One poster added this comment to the photo:

If you know, you know. 

Wait. People got up to sharpen their pencils to get attention? Not just because their pencil needed sharpening? Or because they couldn’t sit in the same spot for one more minute? Or because that cute boy was at the sharpener? 


In light of recent conversations about teen behavior, I think it’s interesting that a significant chunk of responses involved shopping malls. They seem to figure prominently in many of the respondents’ recollections.

I highly recommend this thread. There’s a kind of childlike sweetness about it. Want to read the responses for yourself? It begins here

I’ve been pondering one of the comments since I read it several days ago:

It’s so different because on social media you’re trying to get attention from strangers compared to then you wanted attention from people you know.

Do you think that’s true? Do you see that happening? If so, I’m wondering if there are long-term consequences to that kind of shift. Does it change how we treat the people we know? Does it change how we feel about ourselves?

Here’s one more before I go:

Before social media, what did people do to get attention?

I had a surrey with isinglass windows that rolled right down.

If you know, you know.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

200,000 Flowers and a Garden of People


This starts out rather strangely but it will eventually make sense. I promise. Bear with me.

Have you ever seen this mall?

No? That’s probably because it’s a photo from a mall in Colombia, South America, not the Mall in Columbia. Someone posted it with the comment that our mall would never do this.

While our mall is taking away the fountain, this is what other malls do with ‘dead’ space. We are never in the forefront of innovation.

While the fountain actually went away quite some time ago, for this person that loss still rankles. They look at this photo and see innovation. Fair enough. I see allergies and asthma. It’s all in one’s own perspective. 

I was rather surprised to see the word “innovation” pop up here. I see many, many complaints that Columbia/HoCo tries to be too much in the forefront of innovation. We even have our own innovation center, for goodness’ sake. But the original poster is probably talking about the Mall specifically. 

Is the Mall in Columbia at the forefront of innovation? Probably not. Does it even want to be? I don’t know. Don’t malls just want to stay a bit ahead of the trends and keep losses to a minimum? They’re executors, not innovators.

When I think of Malls being at the forefront of innovation I have a different vision. Frankly, I think of creative reuse. What about libraries? Schools? Affordable housing? 

That would be innovative.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this announcement last night:

From the County Executive’s Office:

 Columbia was envisioned by Jim Rouse as a “garden for the growing of people.” As we continue to advance this vision and move our community forward, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball invites you to attend an exciting announcement regarding the future of affordable housing and the new Downtown Columbia Library.

Join us at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, March 30 at the Columbia Lakefront fountain for this transformative announcement!

Okay, it has nothing to do with “The Mall”. But it has everything to do with two of the things that were top of mind for me yesterday when I looked at the Mall post: affordable housing and libraries. And, now that I think about it, our library system is continually at the forefront of innovation. I’m not at all surprised they’re a part of this. 

If you want to know more about the flower petal art, check out this article:

200,000-flower display adorns Medellín with a multisensory experience, La Prensa Latina

If you want to know what the County Executive is going to announce, you could turn up at the Lakefront at eleven. Since not everyone will be available, it will probably be shared via social media as well.

For me, a decision that will build on Rouse’s vision of “a garden for the growing of people” is every bit as breathtaking as 200,000 flowers at the Mall. I look forward to learning more.

Village Green/Town² Comments


Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Springing into Spring


Trumpet fanfare!

I saw my first robin of Spring yesterday. 

I am having a hard time shaking the feeling that we ought to have had a more significant winter with some decent snow to play in. But there’s only so long I can sit around in denial. There are flowers in that photo. The grass is greener. Forsythia is in bloom around the neighborhood.

As if to cement the turnover of seasons, Clarksville Commons is back this Saturday with their annual Farmers Market Spring Preview Event. 

It’s from 10 am - 2 pm. Go to the event page to see what vendors will be on hand. The weather predictions are for a high of 71 but a 60 per cent chance of showers. With any luck, any showers will not fall between 10-2.

Elsewhere on April 1st is a workshop on Ukrainian Egg Dyeing.

The Community Ecology Institute is hosting this hands-on session from 11 - 12:30. The instructor is a friend of mine and I actually learned the pysanki egg decorating technique from her some years back. It’s fun! You don’t have to be a professional artist to get the hang of it. Visit the event page for more infornation and to register for a ticket. 

Later in the day you can participate in a poetry picnic at the Miller Branch Library in Ellicott City, hosted by HoCoPoLitSo.

The Poetry Picnic will take place in the Enchanted Garden at the Miller Branch of the Howard County Library System, 3:30-5:30 p.m., April 1st. While poetry is the picnic, light refreshments will be served. 

"Community members of all ages will be able to write their own poetry, read the works of famous poets, and participate in an open mic!"

Not inclined to read your own work, or grab a favorite poem from one of the greats, well then, just come have a listen. All are welcome. Let's let poetry do what poetry does, lift all our hearts as we steep in being human. 

Lastly, Manor Hill Farm is hosting a visit from Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue from 12-7.

To learn more about the event: Gentle Giants at Manor Hill

Clearly we’ve got some great ways to spring into Spring this weekend. Have any others to add? Tell me:

Village Green/Town² Comments

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The Insatiable Maw


The regularity with which school children are slaughtered in our country brings to mind an episode of the original Star Trek  called “A Taste of Armegeddon.” On planet Eminiar VII a war is being conducted with planet Vendikar through a computer simulation program. But the designated casualties are required to turn up for their own very real executions. 

We send young people to school with hope, with love, with dreams for their future. But we can give them no reassurance that they are not reporting for execution.

In the NGC 321 star cluster, where this episode is set, the leaders of two warring planets have decided that war is an inevitable product of human nature. They view the computerized system they have devised as a way to limit the impact, minimize the destruction. To the viewer the meaning of the allegory is clear: instead of looking at war and doing everything in their power to prevent it, these people have built an entire culture around incorporating and tolerating it. The leaders have convinced themselves that there is no other way. 

Once they make this decision, then all deaths are acceptable deaths. All loss is an expected side effect of the day-to-day functioning of the state. 

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.” Matthew 6:24

In the Book of Matthew the verse ends: you cannot serve God and mammon. (money/material wealth)

Last night, in my horror and rage at the killing of three children and three adults at the Covenant School in Nashville, I emended the Gospel text to read: you cannot serve God and guns. If you aren’t religious, I think it’s equally true to say you cannot serve Good and guns.

Whether God or Good, both encourage self-reflection, care for others, personal growth, acting in thoughtfulness and love. 

Guns are not that kind of god. They are idols that evoke fear and wield terrible power. They require an army of sycophants to stir up fear and keep their supremacy alive. They must be pacified with sacrifices. 

Research into long-dead cultures has shown that for many their demise is linked with the worship of exactly this kind of god: the god who requires blood sacrifice. When the culture comes to believe that its continued existence depends on feeding the insatiable maw of the awful deity…

…that’s the end.

What was the god the leaders on Eminiar VII worshiped? Order. It was what they used to fuel ongoing and meaningless death. Order must not be sacrificed, so, people must.

Today I look at anyone who would protect AR-15s instead of children - - or any human being - -  and see that they have chosen their god. 

Will it take visitors from another planet to break their stranglehold on our nation?

Monday, March 27, 2023

Doing the Math

Do you remember word problems? You know, like this:

Oh, how I loathed them.  The more difficult the math got, the more I hated them. I was definitely one of those kids who saw no possible use for math in my future. My mother used to say, “Some day you may need to buy a rug and you will need to figure out the dimensions.” 

I allowed as how that might be true but I was certainly never going to need to determine the behavior of trains.

Train A heads north at an average speed of 95 miles per hour, leaving its station at the precise moment as another train, Train B, departs a different station, heading south at an average speed of 110 miles per hour. If these trains are inadvertently placed on the same track and start exactly 1,300 miles apart, how long until they collide?

I am here today to announce, before God and these witnesses, that I have found a word problem that I am interested in. Finally. As shocking as this is, you won’t be surprised that I found it on Twitter.

I figured out earlier it's actually cheaper to go to Tyson's in Virginia to go shopping than it would be to go to Columbia Mall (because there's no convenient transit from Baltimore to Columbia).

I looked at Uber and from my house to Columbia it was $36.00.


MARC round trip for two people to DC would be $36.00. Plus maybe $20 for the Metro, so $56.00 vs $72.00. Ridiculous.

Even spending $56 is ridiculous but at least you can make a day of it and do other stuff that isn't at the mall.

This post by someone I know (and used with permission) grabbed my attention. It appealed to me because I spent a good while living in Baltimore without a car. I remember what that was like. I also have vivid memories of bringing a piece of flat-pack furniture home from the Quakerbridge Mall in New Jersey on the bus when I lived in Princeton.

So, what does the math tell us? If you live in Baltimore and don’t own a car, it would cost you 72 dollars by Uber to go the the Columbia Mall. On the other hand, you can get to DC and back via MARC train for 36 dollars. Add 20 dollars for the Metro and you are up to 56 dollars, tops.

Which trip is more expensive? Columbia. Which trip is less expensive and offers more choices? D.C./Tyson’s Corner. 

Why? Transportation.

Our culture is so car-centric that we are likely to forget about people who don’t have cars once we ourselves become drivers. We tend not to see how being car-less in a car-dominated world can add many layers of logistics and inconvenience. It stops being visible to us.

There are a variety of reasons that someone might not own a car:

  • Cost
  • Lack of parking near home 
  • Environmental concerns
  • Disability
  • Desire to live a car-free life
This does not eliminate their need to:
  • Buy food
  • Go to the doctor
  • Visit the library
  • Access restaurants and entertainment
  • Shop
  • Go to school
  • Visit family and friends

The distance from Baltimore to Columbia is 19.7 miles. The distance from Baltimore to Tyson’s Corner is 48.7 miles. What makes the trip to Columbia prohibitively expensive? It’s not the distance. It’s a lack of convenient public transportation. When I lived in Connecticut it was easy to hop a train and make the trip to New Haven or NYC. (And many smaller stops in between.) 

It’s not such a crazy thought - - wanting local train service. Yes, it takes public investment but its benefits are many. The existing bus service between Baltimore and Columbia is aimed at commuters and, as such, its hours are quite limited. 

Discussions on improving Baltimore-Columbia transit options often get bogged down by objections rooted in racism. “We don’t want those people here.” This isn’t just a local phenomenon. It pops up all too frequently in areas where transit would connect a relatively affluent suburban area with a less affluent urban area.

Perhaps we should just check IDs outside the Mall. If you’re from Baltimore you can enter only with a responsible local chaperone.

The absence of convenient, reliable Baltimore/Columbia transit service limits people in Columbia/HoCo, as well. This is not just a one-way street. Such a connection would be valuable for work, shopping, entertainment, and more. You wouldn’t have to worry about parking, or driving after drinks with dinner. 

At the end of the day, my friend is probably going to choose a trip that is less expensive and allows her to use more of her discretionary dollars on shopping, dining, and entertainment, rather than see them siphoned away on travel expenses. Wouldn’t you?

This is one math problem that ought to have a better answer,

Sunday, March 26, 2023

A Tasty Task


That’s today’s message from the Howard County Times.

Time is running out to nominate your favorite Howard County dishes, chefs and restaurants. The nomination period for Howard Magazine’s Best Restaurants contest closes at 5 p.m. 

Here’s the link to make your nominations: Favorite Howard County Restaurants.

The categories are: 

Bar food
Bartender (include full name and restaurant)
Beer list
Best overall
Black-owned restaurant
Chef (full name and restaurant)
Crab cake
Fine dining
Food truck
Frozen treats
Healthful menu
Happy hour
Late-night dining
Live entertainment
Lunch menu
New restaurant (open 1 year or less)
Outdoor dining
Place to take the kids
Place to take out-of-towners
Server (include full name and restaurant)
Sports bar
Vegetarian options
Wine list

You don’t have to vote in every category - -  just the ones you want to nominate.

Do I wish they had a category for best soup? Yes, and probably best sandwich, too. But I realize that long lists deter people from voting in things like this. I guess you have to draw the line somewhere.

I’d like to give my own personal award to the young woman in this photo paired with the restaurant article.

Photo from Baltimore Sun Media Group/Howard County Times

My award? “Most attractive photo of someone smiling while eating.” That can’t be easy to do.

You have until five pm today to submit nominations. Voting begins in earnest at 9 am on April 13th and runs through April 27th. 

No cash prizes will be awarded but the attendant buzz and word of mouth can really give a boost to a local business.