Saturday, August 31, 2019

A Reliable Source

Where do you get your local news?

I ask this question because I’ve seen a number of people complain that they don’t want to read newspaper articles if they have to pay for them. We’ve talked about that here before. Journalists need to eat, etc. This isn’t another impassioned treatise on subscribing to local papers (but, come on, you should.) It’s about where you get your news.

Journalists are highly trained professionals and they must follow a code of ethics. There are professional standards they are bound to uphold. When you are thinking about who you trust for your local news, this should be a big deal.

Increasingly it seems that it isn’t.

Many of us hang around in online social media groups like workers around the proverbial water cooler. It’s fun to shoot the breeze, as it were. But this isn’t news. These days it’s more like unchecked sharing of misinformation with a few tidbits of truth here and there in the mix. Treating that like news isn’t just inaccurate, it’s dangerous.

People are making decisions on courses of action that they will take based on something somebody said to somebody else about something they heard that happened somewhere else.

Playing telephone is a party game. It is no way to participate in a community process like redistricting, for example.

Board of Education member Jen Mallo was startled to discover supposed online experts holding forth on her position. She pushed back:

I have heard that people are claiming to have "good sources" about what Board member Mallo's position on the proposed attendance area changes is...

Strange--I have a good source that tells me that Mallo is taking her responsibility seriously to study the proposal before forming an opinion and that she doesn't anticipate taking a public position until she does. Of the 701 polygons, 98 are proposed to move at the elementary level, 27 at the middle school level and 120 at the high school level--Mallo understands it is a lot to study and understand.

My source indicates that she is actively reviewing every single polygon recommended to transition from "walkers" to 'riders".  My source also indicates that she is looking at both the current and the proposed transportation times and costs.  

My source told me that Mallo is reviewing all the feedback she is receiving and is tracking concerns of the residents by polygon.  

My source further stated that Mallo participated in the last review of policy 6010 which instructs the Board and the Administration on how to implement changes in attendance areas.  Mallo thinks following the policy is pretty important. 

That said, my source told me that Mallo doesn't anticipate arguing individual points for or against the proposal until she feels that she has done her homework--and that is unlikely to happen until all the residents of the county have had the opportunity to express their views during the scheduled public forums.

We may not always like what we read in the newspaper. But it is important to understand the difference between journalism and social media posts. The latter are not subject to fact-checking. No one is doing the research to find out whether the poster has a vested interest in a particular outcome. When people you don’t know are saying all the things you want to hear that doesn’t automatically make them truth tellers.

It gives one a sense of validation to see lots of folks sharing our point of view. But that’s not news. That’s just how social media works.

You know what else isn’t journalism?


Yep, we bloggers have plenty to say and no doubt we care about our communities a lot. But we are not journalists. We get to choose what we write a about and what we don’t. We may share information but more often our work is in the realm of commentary. There’s a big difference.

I love, love, love having people read and engage with my blog. Under no circumstance would I want to be mistaken for “the news”. I have way too much respect for local journalists to want anyone to get that impression.

So when it comes to local news, make sure it comes from a reliable source.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Free Parking

It’s amazing how working from nine in the morning until almost nine in the evening clouds your vision. Such is the life of a teacher on Back to School Night. The next day should really be a day off, but it never, ever is.

On my mind this morning: crazy local parking. Two of my friends posted rather hilarious photos yesterday of people who clearly think that the rules of parking don’t apply to them. Now, I try to have mercy on bad parking because I have been known to be a bit off-center myself. But seeing these particular photos put me in mind of a slightly different topic.

Are there places in Columbia/HoCo that you find it difficult to park? It could be that there’s not enough parking, or it is not close enough to where you want to go. It could be that folks who shouldn’t be there hog all the available spots. Or perhaps it’s not well enough lit at night?

Have you ever thought, of a local place, “I’m just not going to bother because parking will be impossible “?

Extra credit: share your ideas on how you would go about fixing this.

Have a great Friday and don’t forget Damon Foreman and Blue Funk are at the Chrysalis tomorrow night!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Missed Connections

I decided a while ago that Howard County needs its own Dan Reed. In case you don’t know, Mr. Reed writes the blog “Just Up the Pike” about goings-on in Montgomery County. To be more precise:

New restaurants? Old restaurants? Real Estate? Bikeability? Politics? Schools and redistricting? Mr. Reed covers it all. For those in Howard County who say we should simply do things the way they do in MoCo, you might be surprised to learn that they have many of the same challenges and they are struggling just as mightily as we are.

When local podcast Elevate Maryland was asking for names of possible guests, I immediately suggested Mr.Reed. The good news: he’ll be the guest tonight. The bad news: I have Back to School Night for work.

Please go on out to La Palapa on Main Street in Old EC this evening and show Mr. Reed a proper HoCo welcome. (You know, the kind without protest signs and matching t-shirts.) This is going to be a fascinating episode. Being there in person while they tape truly adds to the experience. Get some dinner, maybe a margarita or two. It starts at seven.

But don’t miss it. And tell me all about it tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Same Old, Same Old

Today’s post hails from way back in 2016. It might as well have been written today.

The Face in the Mirror

Meanwhile, back at the Board of Ed...

The numbers are in for the Jump Start program and folks are concerned that it will not reduce overcrowding in a meaningful way. Overcrowding is a serious issue. Parents are right to have concerns.


I’ve seen quite a bit of online posturing about how the Superintendent and BOE “caved” when it came to making the tough decisions on redistricting.

Oh, please.

We spent a summer of protest: sign-making, t-shirting wearing anger and rabble-rousing. Post after post dripping with thinly veiled racism. NIMBY-ism at its finest. People waving their property values around. Members of the community impugning the intent of the AAC.

In short, our foray into possible redistricting showed a truly ugly side to Howard County that many of us are still trying to shake from our minds.

Throughout this entire debacle, the saner voices suggesting we should all pull together and make this transition work for our children (and everyone’s children) were drowned out by echoes of anger, discontent, and privilege. Not my kids. Not my neighborhood. That’s not what I paid for.

Well, congratulations, folks. You got what you asked for. We wanted a Superintendent and BOE that were more responsive to the community, remember? And while redistricting may have been the best solution for the problems we are facing right now, the community fought it tooth and nail. I find it to be the height of hypocrisy to look back on this and say that “they” should have made the tough choices.

It’s like a child with a belly ache from too many sweets blaming the parent for giving in to their whining and wheedling. “You gave me the candy I asked for. You should have held out and said no. You should have known better!”

If the community had come together in a positive way around redistricting, then that is what we would have. If the Superintendent and BOE are working on alternative plans to overcrowding and we don’t like them, then let’s place the blame where it belongs.

Look in the mirror, Howard County.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Coffee, Conversation, and Community

I read in the news that Howard’s of twenty-two businesses were affected by the gas explosion in Columbia on Sunday. I’ve seen several laments about the loss of Riverside Coffee. While I’ve been there several times over the years, it’s never become my “go-to” coffee hang out. But it’s clear that it was a a special place for many in our community.

Losing Riverside brings to mind other beloved coffee places that are no more: Anna’s Coffee Roastery, Bean Hollow. Are there more I’m not recalling? What happens when you lose the space that has become your “third space”?

Straight out of Wikipedia:

In community building, the third place is the social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home ("first place") and the workplace ("second place"). Examples of third places would be environments such as churches, cafes, clubs, public libraries, or parks. In his influential book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place.

Where is your third space? Do you have one? For a while Wegman’s in Columbia offered a place where folks could gather for meetings and discussions, but, alas, that is no more. Roggenart appears to be winning the hearts of many, especially those saddened by the loss of Anna’s. 

It’s interesting to note that the Wikipedia entry lists public libraries as examples of third spaces. Our own library system offers a variety of options for people who want to get together. Coming up September 21st is the return of their popular event The Longest Table. Go here for more information.

I’m interested in hearing your stories of Riverside Coffee and anything you have to share on local coffee shops and third places. Do we have enough? Do we need more? Does the success of national chains make it too difficult for mom and pop places to survive and thrive?

Let me know

Monday, August 26, 2019

Personal and Public

I received an email from a reader yesterday. I’m sharing it here because this isn’t the first time this has come up and I’d like to lay this subject to rest once and for all.

I also don’t have a child in school system any longer, but don’t you think it is a bit hypocritical to berate others? I heard from several friends that although you live in the OMHS district (which you often defend in blog and tweets) you chose to send your own child to RHHS - the most socioeconomically/racially segregated in HCPSS. You had a choice because of your husband’s position at RHHS but few others do.

My response:

I don’t berate others. I do speak strongly but there are very few people I would be moved to berate.  Only those who are outright racist or mean-spirited, I would think.

As far as my daughter is concerned, the choice we made as a family was very specific to her particular needs. Because of this, it is her own personal story to tell and I don't get to blab it around so that the general public understands why we made that choice. It would be a lot easier for me if I could. I respect her too much to violate her privacy in order to make things easier on myself.

Both OMHS and RHHS are excellent schools. The decision we made was due to my daughter’s individual situation and had nothing to do with affluence or race or ethnicity. I cannot control whether people believe me. I can only tell the truth and move on from there.

So there you have it.

Make up your own mind. I’m officially done with this particular topic.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Public and Personal

The Superintendent has released his plan for redistricting. It’s a comprehensive plan that addresses both overcrowding and issues of de facto segregation in our schools. This is the beginning. A time for public response will follow. The Board of Education will work with the Superintendent’s plan while taking into account community input and their own knowledge and judgement. 

That’s the process.

Truth in advertising: I have no children left in the schools so my opinion is, necessarily, different than that of someone whose children stand to be moved. So take it with a grain of salt, if you will. 

So far my response to the plan is hopeful. I imagine there are some bits here and there that may have to be tweaked. But I do think that we are long overdue for redistricting and that this plan attempts to meet some important goals for the system as a whole. 

Of course it is human nature to feel change in a very personal way. How will this plan affect me, my child, my immediate neighborhood? Change can be difficult and even frightening. Some responses to the plan are angry. When you make decisions that will impact people’s children, you have to expect some pushback. 

One particular online response from a Howard County parent struck me yesterday. I am sharing it here with permission. Many thanks to Ginnie Gick for allowing me to bring her words to a wider audience.

Not that anyone asked my opinion, but here are a few thoughts I have about this process.  And, by no means, am I minimizing the inconveniences or actual challenges that some may suffer from changing schools, however...

1) VERY few people want to change schools.  Most people LOVE the school they’re in and don’t want to leave it.  Which means that EVERY SCHOOL IS LOVABLE.  What makes our schools  exemplary is the commitment and involvement of the families, the students and the staff.  

2) Please don’t make the mistake of generalizing or stereotyping people from any particular school.  Everyone from XX school does not feel the same as a vocal minority.  No school is made of all elitists or racists or whatever.  Some people actually welcome any new students who enter our doors, and hope the same will be done for our children if they go to a different school.

3) Children are resilient and take their cues from their parents.  If you don’t freak out, neither will they.  And they won’t experience nearly the level of anxiety that they could if you’re able to take it in stride and teach them that change is a normal part of life that they will have to deal with and adjust to.

Again... just my thoughts.  Go ahead and pile on and pummel me, because that’s what we do now.  I just prefer to take a positive approach to this process and try to help my son make it through as easily as possible.

Wow. There it is. “Every school is lovable.” If there were to be a rallying cry for the changes we’re facing right now, that would surely be it. I can even imagine it on t-shirts.

Who knows? It could be coming to a polygon near you.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Final Thoughts

They say your whole life passes before your eyes. In my case, it was a little different. It was my daughter’s life. I lay on the floor of a preschool classroom. I heard screams and the sounds of people running and furniture being pushed aside. Then, for a moment, I was briefly alone.

I lay there, my face against the cool linoleum floor and thought of my daughter. How she was at home, packing the last of her things for college. How I would have to drive her somewhere and leave her and our lives and relationship would never be the same.

She was the child of my old age, I used to joke. The child I had longed for all those years when I was divorced and dreaming of a stable, loving relationship and a new family. She burst onto the scene with jet black hair and star-sapphire eyes and, in so many ways, was a bundle of mysteries.

They say that childhood lasts such a brief time. When you are getting no sleep and losing your mind with the exhausting labor of it all, you wish someone would speed it up. You roll your eyes when someone waxes sentimental about those “precious moments”. You reach for another cup of coffee and wonder if you will ever sleep in again.

But I am probably dead or dying now, I think, as I lie on the floor of the school for young children where I now work. The shooter burst out of the bathroom and I was the first one hit. From the silence around me I’m guessing everyone else made it out alive. But I don’t know, and I’m afraid to look.

This is the world I’m giving my daughter. A world of mass shooters and death unprepared, where school and church, mall and workplace are all potential pits of blood and bodies. What kind of a parent am I? How can I simply pack her into a car and drop her off when I know I can do nothing to protect her?

The man with the bullhorn and the safety vest announces the simulation is over. I hear laughing and joking. Someone comes in to help me off the floor and asks if I am alright.

I’m not.

Friday, August 23, 2019


Here I am this morning, derailed by current events. Or, rather, how people respond. I’m referring to the recent report of a well known area businessman for repeatedly soliciting sex from a masseuse/massage therapist.  No, I’m not going to go through the story as reported in multiple locations. And no, I’m not going to talk about guilt or innocence. I want to talk about responses I’ve seen that made my skin crawl.

A majority of the responses I have seen so far have been from men making excuses. If you wonder why certain objectionable behavior persists in our culture look no further than the underlying attitudes of what many men think is acceptable behavior. Some examples:

1. He was just bargaining for sex, it isn’t like he did anything without her consent.

Under what circumstances do you think it’s acceptable to “bargain for sex”? At the doctor’s office? At the grocery? From the pizza delivery person?

“Bargaining for sex” is never appropriate in situations that are not explicitly in the realm of sex work. Trying to bargain for sex from a legitimate masseuse is therefore something which is “without consent.”

2. The massage therapist was not underage, so there’s no crime.

Again, does this mean that every woman, everywhere, is fair game as long as she’s over the age of 18? Is that the only qualification? Are all women just potential sex providers depending on the whim of the man involved?

Both of these responses show a complete lack of understanding of the (alleged) crime in question. I am flabbergasted by the seeming lack of comprehension. How can anyone get to be an adult and have these attitudes? Here’s yet another reason we need comprehensive k-12 sex education in our schools. Once you are an adult you should understand that an expectation of sexual favors in the workplace is toxic, harmful, and deeply devaluing to both those who are targeted and others who fear they are potential targets.

As titillated as the public seems to be about the sexual details of this story, it is important to remember that this is not a crime about sex. It’s a crime about power and control.

Oh, and here’s a giant raspberry for all the folks who think that someone who provides massages for a living is, by default, a sex worker.


The unnamed victim is an absolute hero.  Our society owes her a debt of gratitude for catching this individual.  Not only did she defend herself for the crime to the police, she worked with police make sure he was arrested.  She probably only is paid by the patient therapy/ massage session, but it's clear she took a day off work, put herself at risk, and work with police to take this man down.  Because of her bravery, police have now made an arrest and police are able to find the other victims they think are out there.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be, but I am amazed by how many people have looked at this story and jumped in to make excuses, and I am truly disheartened by the ignorance of their arguments. Now just imagine that those are the same guys you work with, who pass you on the street, who go to your church or join your PTA. They fix your car and sell you your insurance policy. You won’t know which ones they are, of course. But it stands to reason they are sprinkled around everywhere.

Ready to observe a women victimized and make excuses. Or maybe to be the one who victimizes her.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

One More Day

Well, even though I should have known better, I hadn’t anticipated how much of yesterday at my new job would involve moving heavy furniture. I’m flattened.

As a result I am putting you off one more day on that write-up of my visit to the Howard County Innovation Center. In the meantime, I refer you to the best article I have read so far on the MOU between HCEDA and Born2Global:

Howard County trying to attract companies from Korea, other countries with new innovation center, Morgan Eichensehr for the Baltimore Business Journal

There are some cool photographs as well. 

I’ll see you tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Words to Ponder

On Monday, August 12th I attended the signing of the MOU between the Howard County Economic Development Authority and Born2Global to “establish an international soft-landing space for South Korean tech companies at the Howard County Innovation Center.”(HCEDA)

Here are the dignitaries who spoke:

This is what they said:

More on that tomorrow. 

Listen, if you can wait for the Superintendent’s presentation on redistricting, you can certainly wait one more day for this. Today’s my first day at a new job and I’ll be walking through the door at seven am. Enjoy the word cloud and talk amongst yourselves until then.

A shout-out out to Howard County Deputy Chief of Staff Jennifer Jones who extended this invitation to me when I expressed an interest in the new things going on at the Innovation Center in Gateway.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Guest Post: Peace and Division

Today’s post is a bit out of the ordinary. It’s a sermon. In fact, it’s the sermon preached this last Sunday at Abiding Savior Lutheran Church by Pastor Gigie Sijera-Grant. I asked and was granted permission to share it here.

I am running it in this space not because of its religious content, but because it addresses a very current issue. What happens when citizens speak out and work against injustice? These days they are often called “divisive.” When the truth makes others uncomfortable, then it is the truth that will be accused of wrongdoing. 

If you don’t want to read a message couched in religious language, skip this one. You might want to read the paragraphs I’ve highlighted in bold, though. It’s some pretty powerful news.


I want to invite you to look at the front cover of your bulletin. There is a quote from Jesus in very large print: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?” (Luke 12:51)

Do you think that Jesus came to bring peace to the earth? Why, yes! Of course, we do. After all, didn’t Zachariah sing about how Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, would guide our feet into the way of peace? And when Jesus was born, didn’t the angels sing: “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth among those in whom God delights?” And Simeon – didn’t he sing that he could go in peace because he had seen Jesus? What about the hemorrhaging woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ robe - and when she was healed, didn’t he say, “Go in peace?” When Jesus sent the disciples two by two, didn’t he instruct them to proclaim peace? And after he was
crucified and risen, didn’t he appear through closed doors and breathe peace upon his disciples?

So, yes, of course, I, for one, expect Jesus to bring peace. Yet, we hear Jesus today say that he did not come to bring peace but rather division! What a terrifying thought! Don’t we have enough of that already? But it seems to me that Jesus is describing what happens when truth is proclaimed, rather than prescribing what should happen. It is not that Jesus wants division, but he knows that when truth is proclaimed, division can happen. When we speak up in faith, it can be met with resistance, or even violence.

Those words about family members being divided against one another are loosely quoted from the prophet Micah, but Jesus could say them quite accurately about himself. His brothers didn’t believe in him. His family once went to try to get him home because people thought that he was crazy. Jesus would eventually be abandoned by his closest disciples, betrayed by one and denied by another. His passion and death on a cross were the conclusion of his fiery baptism.

The early Christian communities experienced division. As they grew in faith and spread God’s word, it brought about much divisiveness, not just in their own families but also in their communities. And as they grew in number, those who were in power and wished to keep the status quo, opposed them with a passion and sought to destroy them. But even within their own communities, people did not always agree about their theology, and so they would break off and form their own community or denomination.

It is sad to say that in any human family or group, there will be stories of conflict,  disappointment and relational cut-offs. There is a reason why the old saying tells us to never talk religion or politics at the dinner table where family and friends gather. There will always be one or more people who will disrupt the peace with divisive political talk or dehumanizing stereotypes. Have you ever experienced that? And what happens? People sometimes end up cutting off relationships. Some of them don’t talk for years. Sometimes, never. Sometimes, they make up and heal. Sometimes, they don’t, and they go on with life broken, hurt, and cynical. And then, there are many who choose not to engage at all to avoid conflict, so that there can be “peace.”  This is not the same peace or “shalom” that Jesus wants to give us. But so great is the desire to belong and fit in with family that we avoid confrontation, fail to speak up for others, or stay silent about our beliefs for fear of fracturing relationships.

However, the presence of God in Jesus Christ will bring holy disruption to the status quo of our lives, our families and our communities. The truth is that our broken and sinful world desperately hungers and thirsts for disruption, especially where systems of injustice work against the reconciliation, mercy, and abundant provision of God. While some of us cling to the privilege of remaining silent in the face of the suffering of God’s people, speaking up with the grace of God’s holy disruption will bring conflict and division even into our most intimate relationships. The question is will we be ready to stand firm in the gospel that overturns our own comfort?

I have to say that I am proud to be a pastor and member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). You see, two weeks ago, the ELCA Assembly (the highest legislative authority of our national church) met in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and approved several memorials that I believe will push us out of our comfort zone. I will mention two. The most important one is that the ELCA has declared itself as a sanctuary church. We are the first North American denomination to declare ourselves a sanctuary church body!

What does that mean? It means that we are committed to serving and supporting migrant children and families in communities across the country. It doesn’t mean that we will be breaking US laws to do that, as Fox News erroneously reported. It means that, through our partnership with the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, we will provide legal assistance to immigrants pursuing their legally-protected right to seek asylum, and ensuring that undocumented immigrants are aware of their rights under US law. It means that the ELCA will continue to advocate for just and humane treatment of detained immigrants and will speak against xenophobia, racism, and fear-mongering against all people. These are actually long-standing practices of the ELCA, but this time, we are making an unequivocal stand for a group of people in the margins, following our fearless leader, Jesus Christ. After all, the Lutheran faith is an immigrant faith – transplanted from Europe into the US and the Caribbean by wandering Germans, Swedes, Norwegians and Danes.

Another bold thing that the ELCA Churchwide Assembly did was to present an apology, a Declaration to People of African Descent, with the intention “to develop a document that expresses a confession of this church’s bondage to the sins of slavery, racism, discrimination, white supremacy, and quietism, and begins the work of repentance, which this church confesses to be “the chief topic of Christian teaching.”

That is huge! What will the work of repentance to our African siblings look like? Will it cause division and disruption? Most likely. Presiding Bishop Eaton described it as a “recommitment to the process of right and equitable relations within this church, and the flourishing of Christ’s church universal.” What I found really touching was the response from Rev. Lamont Wells, president of the African Descent Lutheran Association. He received this apology on behalf of the people of African descent of the ELCA as a divine mark of repentance that serves as a catalyst for change.  

This is especially meaningful for me as president of the Association for Asians and Pacific Islanders – ELCA because it is a manifestation of the four years of work that the leaders of all six ethnic associations of the ELCA have done together. It started with the idea that individually, the voices of the Latinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders, American Indian and Alaskan Natives, those of African Descent, and of Arab Americans and Middle Eastern Heritage, were not loud enough for the church to hear. We have all been working separately, just working on behalf of own individual communities, for years. But we didn’t get too far. However, working together and speaking with one voice, with the help of those of European descent who advocate for racial justice, we discovered that we have a better chance of being heard by the church. So far, we have accomplished much together, since we started supporting and speaking for each other. Yet, there is so much more to do. The interesting thing is that the more we worked together, the more we found ourselves speaking for and supporting others who are also in the margins – such as the LGBTQ, women, those with disabilities, and we have even expanded to include our ecumenical partners.The author of Hebrews reminds us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses – those who were mocked, flogged, stoned, imprisoned, tormented, and persecuted and yet, they continued and persevered to walk in faith.

And now, it is our turn to walk in faith. God’s work continues through us. When we follow God faithfully, there will be times when we may become countercultural, unpopular, even divisive, as Martin Luther experienced. Being part of a great cloud of witnesses is a marathon, not a sprint. We run that long race with perseverance. And we realize that we are in this together. As beloved children of God, we are created in God’s own image and likeness. That’s why Jesus modeled for us the practice of radical hospitality. He taught us that we are all worthy in God’s eyes. Children of Light, rooted in Christ. And so, we all need to make room for everyone at the table so that the party can begin!

Will we ever experience that peace on earth that only Jesus can give? What would that look like? Perhaps, it might look like what an anthropologist saw when he visited an African tribe. The anthropologist proposed a game for the kids to play. He put a basket full of fruits near a tree, and he told them that whoever got there first, will win basket of fruits. When he gave them the signal to run, guess what the kids did? They all took each other’s hands and ran together. That’s not a running race as we know it. And then, when they reached the basket, they all sat together in a circle, and shared their treats. The anthropologist asked, “Why did you choose to run as a group when you could have more fruit individually?” One child spoke up and said, “UBUNTU! How can one of us be happy if the other ones are sad?” UBUNTU in the Xhosa (Kosa) culture means, “I am because we are.”

Jesus came to proclaim the peaceful reign of God and to make it possible for all people to share fully in shalom, the peace of God. As the body of Christ in the world, may God’s grace and mercy pour upon us that together, we may experience the kingdom of God breaking in, strengthening our faith, relieving our fears, inspiring our work for justice, and reconciling broken relationships. Amen.


I believe that we are living in times where we are called  to speak out and work against injustice. It doesn’t require any particular religion or any religion at all. What it does require is the willingness and courage to care for others when it would be easier to look away. 

And that's my sermon.

Monday, August 19, 2019

It’s On Us

Needs and wants. You know the drill, right? You either got the lecture from your parents when you asked for an astoundingly expensive pair of shoes or you figured it out once you were on your own trying to make your paycheck “play nice” with your budget. There are things we need, like food and shelter, and things we want, like trips to the beach, dinner in fancy restaurants, designer clothing.

Much has been made in certain circles of the fact that County Executive Calvin Ball has a security  detail and driver when former County Executive Allan Kittleman did not. It floors me that none of this trash-talking addresses the concept of why. The assumption is being made that if Kittleman didn’t need it, neither does Ball. So it’s clearly a “want” and not a “need”. That’s the argument.

And it’s wrong.

Security protection isn't offered as a perk like a steam towel with your shave. Do we think so little of our local law enforcement that we think they wouldn’t do an assessment specific to each individual? Do we think they would recommend a course of action without having documented evidence one way or another?

The police recommended this course of action to County Executive Ball and he accepted. Why?

Based on hateful comments that people feel free to make on Dr. Ball’s social media pages, the concept that he and his family have been subjected to more worrying threats is not a surprise to me. There appears to be a chunk of Howard County residents that believe that no insult or smear is out of line. They encourage one another, egg each other on. An environment like that creates a fertile ground for those who want to take anger and hatred a step further.

You know what we should be up in arms about? Not that Calvin Ball has a security detail, but that Howard County is the kind of place where he needs one.

That’s on us, not him. We should feel shame. He should not.

If  you don’t like the fact that Howard County is spending funds to protect the County Executive, maybe you should do the work to find out why it is necessary. Why it is a need, and not a want. Then maybe we can all work together to make our community a place where that isn’t necessary.

That’s on us.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Choose Your Spot

Just in time for back to school, the meme of the moment takes us back to the school lunchroom. You’ve seen it, haven’t you? 

One is presented with an array of choices, perhaps personality types, musical preferences, literary genres, and so on, and asked:

Where are you sitting?

It uses a familiar scenario to  ask you to place yourself according to some set of likes and dislikes. It’s  a fun little intellectual construct. No deep thought here.

Yesterday I allowed myself to get drawn in to an online discussion about redistricting in the Howard County Public Schools and suddenly this meme came to mind. The lunchroom is Howard County. Lunch equals getting an education. And each table represents a point of view about redistricting. We have a choice where we decide to sit.

Where would you be? Some suggestions:

1. Do what you want, just don’t change my situation.
2. Wait until the next High School is opened.
3. “Those Kids” will bring test scores down.
4. I bought my school with my house.
5. Redistrict with an eye to equity/inclusion.
6. My school is overcrowded but I want to stay.
7. My school is under-enrolled and I’m fine with that.
8. Elkridge must have a high school.
9. Longer bus rides are the work of the Devil.
10. Any redistricting should improve feeds.

Oh. I’m out of tables. 

So, where will you sit? Do you fit in anywhere? Do you have loyalties to more than one table? Would you rather avoid it all and just eat lunch in the choir room?

It is to be expected that members of our community will have differences of opinion. Nonetheless, redistricting must occur and the experience has been made far more difficult by previous school boards and superintendents who looked at the potential controversies and decided to punt. We are so far beyond our ability to kick the can any further down the road, in my opinion. 

Two things that would help in getting us through this difficult process:

1. Refrain from ascribing evil intent to those who disagree with you.
2. Commit to support the process and its results. 

By acknowledging that the big picture should include a sense of serving the greater good, and not just the people at our own little lunch table, we show ourselves to be acting in good faith as citizens of our county. It is fine to participate and advocate. It is normal to express dissent. But a desire to “burn it all down” if one does not get one’s way is not a responsible approach to something which will affect everyone’s children.

We are adults, after all. These lunch table memes are an entertaining diversion but maybe we need to take a step backwards and remember that our job is to make sure that everyone has a seat, everyone is included, and everyone gets lunch.  

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Burning Question

You may know that one of my guilty pleasures is following what are known as “inanimate” accounts on Twitter. There’s the Bear Statue at MSU, Karl the Fog in San Francisco, even the famed Bull statue of Wall Street. In Baltimore there’s Mr. Trash Wheel and his compatriots, ManWoman Statue, the Ghost of McKeldin Fountain, and the i83 Pepsi Sign.

Of course, right here in Howard County we’ve had a few of our own: Gingerbread Girl, ColGateway (not exactly inanimate) and Ms. Frizz, who looks to be the sassy personality of a certain multifaceted statue at the Columbia Lakefront. Naturally when a new landmark came to town, I was on the lookout for a budding new local Twitter Personality. So far, no dice.

By new landmark I mean Azlon, the kinesthetic sculpture by Anthony Howe which was recently installed by Howard Hughes in the Merriweather District. One wonders what kind of an online presence it may eventually have. No, I haven’t been to see it up close yet. I’m looking forward to it.

One odd piece of local trivial. When I saw the announcement about Azlon, it reminded me of something I had seen some years back. I went digging and found this, from March of 2016.

The YouTube link takes you here, a statue by Anthony Howe named Lucea, which looks alarmingly similar to...Azlon? But Azlon wasn’t completed until August 8, 2017, and didn’t arrive in Columbia until July, 2019. Yet this tweet from 2016 seems to indicate some hint of prior knowledge.

Yes, readers, I’ve hit upon the burning question of the day:

What did Ms. Frizz know and when did she know it?

Seriously, folks, I can’t write about challenging topics all the time.

Another one of my questions about Azlon did get an answer this week, with help from Jean Moon and artist William Cochran.

Would you happen to know why the name of the new sculpture in town, supposedly named for the CS Lewis lion character, is spelled incorrectly? It should, of course, be Aslan.

This has been bothering me but I’m not quite sure who to contact.  Any help would be appreciated.

Mrs. Moon put me in touch with Mr. Cochran, who responded:

Artist Anthony Howe named several of his sculptures after characters from Narnia. He said he and his wife Lynne once read the series to their son when he was younger. Azlon’s immediate predecessor was the very ambitious Lucia, which was featured on the Academy Awards telecast a few years ago. Lucia towers overhead at 24’, but it is only 2/3 the height of Azlon. The first designation for Azlon on early shop drawings was “Large Lucia.” 

When the time came to name his greatest and tallest piece to date, the work he still considers to be the purest expression of his artistic vision, he chose the name Aslan from the C.S. Lewis books about Narnia. The character Aslan is “the king above all high kings” and a powerful touchstone of wisdom and goodness in those books. 

The artist misspelled the name “Azlon” on an early document. Looking at it, he decided he preferred that version, and decided to keep “Azlon” as the permanent name of the piece. 

So, there you have it. Sometimes a mistake becomes a bit of artistic license. 

If Azlon does, at some point in the future, decide to start holding forth on Twitter, you’ll probably see it here first. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

Coming Up

Columbia/HoCo seems to have been divided on the coming of Woodstock, the 50th Anniversary music festival, but everyone can feel pretty jazzed up by tonight’s showing of Woodstock the film at Merriweather Post Pavilion. It’s a ten dollar “sit on the lawn” experience and it probably won’t be so loud that it disturbs the neighbors. Even if you’re disappointed that we’re not hosting a live show, it’s still going to be a fun and nostalgic community event.

Sunday evening brings another one of Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods free Community Concerts at the Chrysalis. This time it’s award-winning Cultura Plenera, who specialize in the music of Puerto Rico. You can learn more here. The concert begins at five pm and I believe there are a few tickets still available. They’re free but you need to register so they can make sure they have adequate parking available for everyone. Bring a picnic or buy food and drinks onsite from the friendly Chrysalis team and/or the folks from Corner Bakery.

Last night I had dinner at a place that I often hear locals rave about: LeeLynn’s. It may be the third time I’ve been there in twenty years. It’s just not in my neck of the woods, as they say. I’d love to know more about the history of the building and the location. It’s an quaint little structure on an awkward piece of land. Despite this, LeeLynn’s clearly has devoted fans who keep coming back.

Three things about last night:

1. Service was excellent. Friendly, knowledgeable, not too fussy. Spot on.
2. Gin and Tonic was flawless.
3. I enjoyed a creative and delicious Mediterranean Salmon dish that combined some out-of-the-ordinary flavors quite successfully.

Also last night:

I managed to get sriracha on my eyeball.

I didn’t get some on my finger and accidentally rub my eye. I accidentally lost my grip on my fork, dropped it into the spicy red sauce, which splattered upward. Into my eye. And that is how I ended up entertaining my dining companion by bathing my eyeball in club soda with lime, because that’s what I had available. For those of you who are familiar with the writing of Mickey Gomez, you will know what I mean when I say it was truly a Mickey moment.

On the blog this weekend: my write up of that MOU signing at the Innovation Center that I’ve been promising. Also, a strange revelation about that new statue in town. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Calling it Out

It wasn’t hard to find the racist social media post. Hurt and angry students pointed the way. And their words show that they are more than outraged. There’s a sense of weariness, that these acts of blatant racism will never cease. I get the feeling that they wonder how this can continue if it isn’t somehow condoned. They feel let down by the system.

The poster is your typical “nice” white kid with good grades and admirable extracurriculars. Her apology (once caught) is an exercise in what happens when the bright light of truth shines on white privilege.

It was just a joke.
My dad does it.
I thought it was okay if I didn’t really mean it.
Now everyone will think I’m racist.

So we all know by now that teens apply dark colored facial masks, and feel inexplicably drawn to sharing this “look” on social media. But when one takes the extra step of adding a joke about the Jim Crow South it is not an accident. It is deliberate. Let’s face it, you think the experience of blacks during Jim Crow is joke-worthy.

If you don’t understand how loathsome this is, please stop right now and do some research.

Now imagine you are a student of color in Howard County. You go to school every day knowing there are people around you who may act “nice” to your face, but their pleasant facade may mask a person who is not to be trusted. Imagine trying to get an education under those circumstances. Sure, there are always those overt acts of racism that you feel deeply and others don’t even see. But then there are the days when you wonder about your friends. What do they really think about you? Would they stick up for you? What do they say behind your back?

That is a huge weight for young people to carry and it actively interferes with the educational process. It makes it harder to pay attention, to participate in class, to take academic risks. Something precious is taken away. White students swim in the waters of white privilege. Students of color navigate far more treacherous waters.

All of this is to say these occurrences aren’t jokes or pranks. They aren’t harmless. They wound. And the damage is cumulative. It adds up.

I haven’t shared the evidence I have about this incident because the students are minors. Yes, it’s all out there on social media. It’s fair game. But I have a natural reticence to expose it just “for the clicks.” I want to leave you with this thought, though. The victims of such racist acts are also minors.

Yes, these incidents have victims and they are the ones we should be thinking of first. Every single time. Not whether it was a “nice” kid. With a bright future. Who didn’t really mean it.

Our responsibility, whether we are parents, or teachers, or administrators, is to work actively to make our community as safe for those who have traditionally been on the receiving end of such mockery as it is for the ones who find it so easy to perpetrate it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019


Sometimes a parent or a teacher pauses in the midst of confrontation or difficulty and says,

I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.

Well, folks, today I’m just mad.

I’m mad at people who don’t care about how others are treated because it doesn’t impact them personally.

I’m mad at people who hold forth online with only a tiny shred of information and a whole bunch of opinion. And call it fact.

I’m mad at ignorance, willful ignorance which is fueled by selfishness. Or mean spiritedness. Or racism. Or all three.

I’m mad that all of this is right here where I live in Columbia/Howard County.

Tomorrow I will get back to the work of this blog. Today, I am just...mad.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Day at the Races

I offer you my most sincere apologies. I overslept and my brain doesn’t appear to be on straight yet. I’m working on a piece about my visit to the Howard County Innovation Center yesterday, but that will need a bit more time to firm up.

In the meantime, I offer you my favorite tweet from this year’s Howard County Fair:

During my early writing days, the newspaper I worked for in Howard County sponsored the fair. We had to volunteer, so I did the announcements. I announced the pig races in the most dead panned way possible.

I was curious.

Did you work for Patuxent Publishing? That’s a great story!

 He responded:

I did. Sports writer for the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier from 01-06!

The writer in question, Matt Palmer, is now a media relations director. I have no knowledge of why he isn’t working as a journalist anymore but it’s not hard to guess. Today Patuxent Publishing is but a memory, having been devoured by a series of bigger fishes. Our local paper has a staff so tiny that one can’t even imagine them being able to volunteer at the Howard County Fair.

Pay is so appallingly low and the work environment so generally demoralizing that local news writers  have unionized in order to use collective bargaining to improve their lot. Right now Baltimore Sun writer Cody Boteler is in Chicago as a representative of the Baltimore Sun Guild. The opening offer by Tribune Publishing is both insulting and unlivable. Among other things, they propose to charge union members for parking at their own workplace, while non union employees won’t have to pay.

Local reporter Erin Logan shares:

$29k. Starting salary at our company is $29k. A few months ago, Tribune paid $56 million special cash dividends to shareholders. 

It’s not just salary issues at stake here. It’s also working conditions, how employees with greater years of service will be treated, how many days and hours you can be required to work. All those extra hours add up if you’re also balancing a second job just to get by and need to get to a local food bank so your family can eat.

If you want to learn more, follow Baltimore Sun Guild on Twitter. (And don’t forget Chesapeake News Guild.) If you want to help, well:


1. Follow & share the @BaltSunGuild Facebook page and Twitter handle, and help spread our message.
2. Tell other media entities to cover our bargaining journey.
3. Send letters of support for us to:
c/o Trif Alatzas
300 E Cromwell St. 
Baltimore, MD 21230

What big corporations are doing to local journalism ought to be against the law. The experience for journalists is not unlike running in one of those Howard Fair pig races. Even the winners will probably end up as somebody else’s bacon.

We rely on local journalists to tell our stories. They need our help to be able to do that. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Drawing the Line

If you own a smartphone, you have a camera with you whoever you go. If you are on social media, you participate in an ongoing stream of shared photographs, whether purely as a consumer or perhaps by posting yourself. Probably both.

When I was young...blah blah blah Instamatic blah blah blah...developing film at the Revco...blah blah album.

There, we’ve dispensed with the historical context. I think we can agree that the current situation is wildly different. The “see it, snap it, share it” mantra seems to course through our veins. But is there a right and a wrong way to navigate this new world? I’ve been wondering.

This kind of photography has always been wrong and is still wrong, whether it gets shared on the internet or not. Upskirt photos are a violation of the subject’s personal privacy and they are taken without consent. That’s pretty easy, right? But not everything is quite that simple.

Knowing where to draw the line can be complicated.

I found myself embroiled in a photographic dispute not that long ago when a local amateur photographer wanted to take pictures at a local dance party I was hosting for preschoolers and their families. I am fiercely protective of young children. My gut tells me that if anyone is taking photographs at these events, it should be parents and family members. I don’t care if an event is free and open to the public. Children are not content. They deserve protection. To me, such photographs - -  taken by strangers, without their consent - - are a violation of their privacy.

Recently I viewed a selection of photographs taken at a highly successful local charitable event. Social media gives us many similar opportunities to view local happenings. But this struck me as different. I understood the desire to raise awareness about the event. But something inside me squirmed at photographs depicting the recipients of that charity. I would think it takes some bravery on the part of folks to come forward and say “I need help.” Would they necessarily want their photographs shared on social media?

Did they consent? Does sharing the photos violate their privacy?

There are no hard and fast rules for this new world we’re in when it comes to snapping and sharing. Probably the best rule of thumb is:

Do I have consent?
Am I violating someone’s privacy?

Just for fun, I’m closing with this satirical piece about summer camp photography. Even though it’s clearly meant to be humorous, it does make you wonder. Do photo sharing sites consciously or unconsciously favor physically attractive subjects more often than providing a comprehensive look at students/campers? Might there be a slant in favor of a particular gender or racial/ethnic group? Sure, the parent depicted here is a ridiculous caricature. But there are some underlying questions to ponder.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

With or Without?

Somewhere out there, in the wilds of HoCo, is a blogger who writes solely about how he would completely redo sections of Columbia and the County if he were in charge. At the moment I can’t remember the name of the blog. He posts rather sporadically.

His blog is on my mind this morning because I recalled a post in which he went to work “fixing” my Village, Oakland Mills. In particular, he stated that the group of quadroplexes where I live would need to be torn down and replaced because “people want garages.”

Is that true? Do you have a garage? Do you think that having a garage is an essential? And, if you have a garage, do you actually park your car in it? Do we think there are more garages in Columbia or Howard County?

A garage takes up space. Space is land. Land is money. HoCo Blogger AnnieRie once explained to me that the houses that annoy me, the ones with the garages out front, are made in that way to make the most economical use of the lot size. That hadn’t occurred to me. I would imagine that having a garage is a luxury item in the grand scheme of things these days. A “want” rather than a “need.” Of course I don’t own a boat, or multiple bicycles, or lots of sports or yard maintenance equipment.

Every house I lived in growing up had a garage. And yes, we parked our cars in them.

Absolutely none of the places I have lived in my adult life had garages. At one time that vaguely bothered me, as though I hadn’t “made it” to the required economic or social status that accorded one the right to a garage. And then I just got used to it. A couple of times a year I wish we had one: digging out from a big snow, perhaps, or when cleaning out my car at the end of the school year. But it’s not a deal breaker.

I’ll tell you what drives me batty about our house, though. It’s not the lack of a garage. We don’t have a basement. After 20 years that still bugs me. But I wouldn’t tear down the entire neighborhood for the lack of them.

But I do wish they’d figure out a way to add one after the house is built.