Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Join the Parade


Though you might be inclined to take any announcements for tomorrow with a grain of salt, this event is really happening. No fooling.


At three pm DoodleHATCH at Long Reach will unveil their newly completed Parade mural for the first time. Designed by artist Justin Nepomuceno and completed in sections by local artists and community members, the mural, supported by funding from the Maryland State Arts Council, will at last be visible in its entirety.

You can be there. From the Visit Howard County website:

Join Doodlehatch for a One Time Only REVEAL for the first time EVER of the 140 foot long, 8 foot tall 'DoodleHATCH Parade Mural' created by over 100 community members guided by artist Justin Nepomuceno. Dance along the mural to the music and take photographs with all the Mythological creatures. Masks required for close-up interaction, or view this huge mural by driving past it. 

You can get a good look at the evolution of the mural by viewing the series of photos accompanying this article in the Baltimore Sun by Katie V. Jones:

At DoodleHATCH in Columbia, wild creatures take over 140-foot parade mural

Jones describes DoodleHATCH and creator Lee Andersen as follows:

Lee Andersen has an imagination like no other.

In an abandoned storefront in Long Reach Shopping Center, she has created an interactive art museum where giants can buy beds, unicorns can have their horns polished and aliens can land to visit. A nonprofit, DoodleHATCH is an interactive fantasy world, where youth — and adults — can visit over 30 different fantasy stops.

You may know Andersen from her earlier creative ventures, ManneqART and the FantasyWood Festival (in collaboration with the Inner Arbor Trust.) She also designs and sells her own line of clothing. This description on the DoodleHATCH website gives an idea of the experience you’ll have when you go there.

With a goal to inspire creativity in artists, educators and the community in a playful fantasy environment, DoodleHATCH is Howard County's newest attraction!

 Step through the doors and discover a place where aliens dock for repairs, unicorns come to be groomed, zombies replace missing body parts and creatures of all kinds can assemble. DoodleHATCH is a one-of-a kind, fun and affordable destination for humans seeking something new and different to do. This pretend department store was built inside a huge unused supermarket by 41 artists. It serves mythical creatures of fairy tales, ghost stories, and other worlds (and curious humans.)

 Enjoy an interactive walk through fantasy realms. Visit the Stargate, Fairy Village, the Hobbit House, the Space Station, the Dead and Breakfast, and 30 other installations. 

I imagine it has been exceedingly difficult to launch a venue like this during a pandemic. DoodleHATCH has been taking numerous health precautions and scheduling only individual groups in order to keep visitors safe. Even if you’re not quite ready yet to venture inside, you’ll definitely want to stop by to see the mural. Maybe take a few Instagram-worthy pics of yourself with dragons and other fantasy creatures. There’s even a marching band.

                                                           Parade Mural, DoodleHATCH 

So, if you have time tomorrow at 3 pm, stop by the Long Reach Village Center for the grand unveiling. If not, you’re invited to come by anytime after the event to view the newest Howard County art installation.


 




Tuesday, March 30, 2021

A New Twist


 

April 1st is coming and that means April Fool’s Day. I’ve never been a fan of the usual pranking associated with the day. I did manage to pull off one satisfactory blog post in 2012. And one year I went all out with an array of too-good-to-be-true local television shows. But, through the years, I think folks have tired of the annual onslaught of online shenanigans that turn up on the first of April. Especially in a time of national crisis, trickery is less than appreciated.

On the other hand, things that cause us to stop for a moment and laugh can be therapeutic. I don’t mean laughing at someone else’s expense, but delighting at the unexpected absurdity of something. 

How about a delightful assortment of completely absurd news stories for this year’s April Fool’s Day? No tricks, nothing mean-spirited. Just downright, unadulterated silliness with a local flavor. 

If you have an idea, send it to me at the email associated with the blog, or message me through the blog’s Facebook page. Send me your best HoCo-local news-that-wasn’t. I don’t need a whole story just give me a headline or a lede. I know you have it in you!

Monday, March 29, 2021

Get Out of the Way


 

A few months ago I expressed my concern that it might be difficult to field candidates for the Student Member of the Board position due to interference from adults which ranged from criticism to persistent bullying to the filing of a lawsuit. “Who would want that job?” I thought.

Kids Won’t Be Fooled

Well here we are in March, the lawsuit failed and we have two qualified SMOB candidates ready to campaign for next year’s Board. At first glance, that looks promising.

And yet...

When one candidate publicized an Instagram event which was to be held with a former Board of Education member as a guest, those same adults who’ve been so angry all along got...angry. They don’t like that former Board Member or anything she stands for. So of course it was just a hop, skip, and a jump for them to condemn the student candidate and declare fervent support for his opponent.

At the risk of sounding rude: it really doesn’t matter what they think. This election is for students.  Telling your kids how to vote in the SMOB election is a violation of the process. Our young people are given the opportunity to make up their own minds on who is most qualified to serve. The adult’s job is to get out of the way. Considering how adolescents respond to parental pressure, this surge of interference could very well backfire. 

How many kids want to cast a vote for student governance because mom or dad told them to?

Speaking of adults, I do want to touch of the issue of including an adult in a campaign event. I don’t think there’s anything remotely nefarious about it. But I think it’s completely unnecessary. I can see why the student would want to emulate similar techniques used in other sorts of campaigns. I can also see the adult wanting to support the student on their campaign journey. 

But I think the focus should be student-to-student. Adults aren’t needed here. And, despite what I believe were perfectly good intentions, the inclusion of an adult has served to generate negative energy rather than support the process. That’s unfortunate. 

This should not be a huge controversy. If anything, it’s a hiccup in the campaign which can easily be handled by the people in the school system who work alongside students in the election process. What made it a controversy? Adults. 

Let the kids do their thing, Howard County. Right now the adults are making a mess of it.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Time to Reset


 

Yesterday morning found me waiting in line at the CVS on Reisterstown Road for my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Same store, two weeks later. There was still Easter candy but the displays were less plentiful, more picked-over than before. It didn’t seem so shiny and miraculous as the last time I was there. It was just a store. I’ve seen stores before.

I realized as I stood there that perhaps I am not so excited about going back to the real world as I thought I was. This article by Howard County writer Amanda Loudin kept me company as I moved from one bright yellow tape line to the next, physically distanced from my fellow vaccine-waiters.

Post-Vaccine, Your Body Is Safer, but Your Mind Can’t Catch Up

Vaccination offers protection against the viral threat, but your brain needs time to reset after a year living with the fear

It’s clearly going to take me a while to feel comfortable being around people, although, to be honest, I’ve never been all that great at it. But now the sight of crowds packed together at sporting events gives me a visceral sense of danger. When I see people crowing jubilantly about “returning to normal” I’m not sure my brain recognizes what we used to live like as “normal” anymore. From Loudin’s article:

...Gersten’s foundation in science tells her on an intellectual level that she’s largely protected from the coronavirus; emotionally, however, her brain can’t catch up.

“If you fall off a horse, you get back on,” she says. “I understand that, but in this case it’s tough to make the mental switch after a year of living in fear.”

It’s not simply about fear of illness, either. The responses of some in our community in mocking the severity of the pandemic, demeaning teachers, criticizing public servants - - knowing that those people are out there doesn't make returning to the real world very appealing to me. We’ve seen such a blatant display of selfishness and mean-spiritedness in Howard County over the last year. 

I guess it was always there. I was happier when I didn’t know.

As I began to write this morning I asked myself if there was anything in the real world that I’m genuinely excited to return to. The first thing that entered my head was this.

   
                                                        Photo credit: Inner Arbor Trust 

There’s a concert coming up on April 10th:  Kuzuku Fest, Black Women in Family Music. 



This one is an online event, but there are in-person concerts coming up this season. If there’s anything that could convince me to come out of my pandemic shell, it’s a chance to return to my happy place.

Oh, and I think I’d like to go to Clark’s Elioak Farm and see some baby goats. 

How about you? Are there some special places in Columbia/HoCo that you have on your post-pandemic list? Are you feeling any trepidation at “getting back out there”? As always, you can share your thoughts  here.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Unanswered Questions

 



You may recall that last week  I had some questions for the folks at The Rouse Project:

How much money has been donated in total and who are the donors? 

It turns out that this is the question that The Rouse Project wanted to answer instead:

Who hates The Rouse Project?

Their answer to this question, sent out via email, provided little to educate voters except to reveal that the RP is easily provoked and a possibly a bit vengeful. That’s unfortunate and truly an unforced error.

What struck me is the overriding theme that either one is a supporter of the The Rouse Project or a hater. But it’s not possible for me (or many others, I suspect) to be a supporter or a hater because they have not provided me with sufficient information to make an educated decision. 

Those associated with The Rouse Project are intelligent, able, and experienced. They didn’t get where they are today without the ability to use higher order critical thinking skills. But they are assuming that Columbia voters can’t do the same, or don’t care. I find this to be rather insulting.

I saw this quote yesterday and it felt relevant.



Wanting sufficient information to make an educated decision does not make one a hater. It means you are using your “senses, reason, and intellect” to make important choices about your community. What could  it possibly mean if someone doesn’t want you to do that?

The Rouse Project has made it clear that their goal is to influence voters in the upcoming election, and they are willing to spend money to do that. The issue of how much money and where it is coming from is of great interest to voters. I think it could be a win-win situation for RP to show leadership by taking a stand for transparency and releasing their financial information. It would be a great opportunity to bolster their credibility. 

I hope they’ll take it. 



Friday, March 26, 2021

Little Voices


 

Thought for the day:


Now think about your day-to-day life in Columbia/HoCo. Could you function without a car?

I don’t think I could. I’m fortunate to live within walking distance of a grocery and pharmacy, but, every place else I need to go requires a car and/or isn’t served by public transportation. I don’t mean to suggest that this is true for everyone, but it almost seems as though our slogan could be, “Howard County: You Can’t Get Over There From Over Here.”

And it’s not just the way our county is laid out, the availability of public transportation, or infrastructure to support pedestrians and bikers. It’s attitudes.

There’s a pretty deeply held assumption that owning a car is a prerequisite. If you don’t have the wherewithal to own one you are deemed to be a lesser member of society. 

I thought that I was above such attitudes until recently. I belong to a local Buy Nothing group on Facebook where members can ask for items they need or post items they are ready to part with. If an item is “gifted” to you then you go to that person’s house and pick it up. (It’s rather like Freecycle. But more fun.) I began to notice that some requests for items came with the caveat:  I will need a delivery. Something about that made me uncomfortable.

I realized that somewhere inside I had a resentful response. A little voice in my head was saying, “Why should you get a delivery when the rest of us have to go pick up? Isn’t that cheating somehow?” 

Wow, that’s an ugly little voice.

Over time I have seen the admin of the page make it clear that all members are valuable and to be respected, whether they have cars or not. If it works for you to deliver to someone, that’s all a part of the Buy Nothing Process. If you aren’t able to deliver you can post a request for the Gift of Time to see if someone else can deliver it.

There’s absolutely no judgement. I had learned something about giving and about community I hadn’t even known I needed to know. And something inside me relaxed. 

Until this experience I would have sworn I harbored no prejudice towards those who don’t have cars, but that wouldn’t have been exactly true. It’s funny how some things are ingrained in you and influence your judgement while you don’t even know they are there.

Back to the tweet from Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. Could that statement ever be true in Columbia/HoCo? How would we make it true? What would need to change the most: our physical layout/infrastructure,  or, our attitudes?

Thursday, March 25, 2021

A Blast from the Past, HoCo Style


When I went to bed last night I was absolutely certain what I’d be writing about today. When I woke up this morning I was not so sure. I hate days like that. 

In my regular search through local tweets, this photograph caught my eye:

                         

Photo credit: Howard Community College  


Howard Communty College is celebrating its 50th anniversary year with a variety of events. You can see this photo and many others here in a collection called “ HCC at 50: A Blast from the Past - Daily Life from the First Two Decades.” The wonderfully contrived posing of the photo above felt so much like old high school yearbooks that I was immediately drawn in. 


On Tuesday March 30th they will be having a Fiftieth Anniversary Talk and Panel Discussion about the college’s fifty year history. You can RSVP here and the link for the event will be sent to you.

What is your experience with HCC? Did you take classes here back in the early days? Have your children attended? Have you taught courses here? My only connections with HCC at this point include taking a yoga course that was held on campus and the summer camp my daughter attended. So, in other words, very little. (I don’t think that getting lost every time I try to attend an evening event here counts.)

I’d love to collect reader feedback for a future post.  Take a moment and help me out if you can.  


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Let There Be Light


 

I realized yesterday that I’ve seen this image so many times recently that I somehow thought I had already written about it.


This event to show solidarity with AAPI communities is today at the Lakefront, beginning at 5:30 pm. I can’t be there because, yes, I’m still self-isolating, but my heart is every bit as much in this as it was in June’s HoCo for Justice event in June. Because health concerns continue to be on my mind, I’d like to stress that mask-wearing and physical distancing are still very much a thing we should be observing. Turn out in solidarity but, for heaven’s sake, stay healthy and help others do the same.

Governor Hogan visited Howard County the other day to express concern and show support for AAPI communities. He encouraged residents not to be afraid to speak out if they experienced acts of hateful speech or aggression. His visit was covered by Ana Faguy in the Baltimore Sun:

Under string lights, numerous people — largely Asian American — stood up in front of the diverse crowd and shared deeply personal stories. Many said in recent days they struggled with their identity and felt uncomfortable in their own skin but felt a sense of comfort by seeing a crowd of supporters lifting them up.

“I hope everyone here can feel that we are light and that no one can extinguish our light no matter how they try,” one woman said who declined to give her name.

Just this week an Asian-American resident was attacked on a Columbia pathway and reported it to the police. Details of the attack were shared on social media by concerned residents. There was a sense that this had been motivated by anti-Asian sentiment. Why wouldn’t there be? Crimes against people in AAPI communities are on the rise. It’s not a rumor; it’s a trend.

As more information about the incident on the pathway emerged, it seemed as though it might be possible that it had not been a crime motivated by anti-Asian sentiment. (I don’t think this is fully resolved even as of this moment.) What appalled me was the backlash (from whites) that followed, shaming the victim and anyone who had linked the assault to ethnicity. 

There seems to be this intense aversion to allowing the open discussion of prejudice and oppression. If you don’t have absolute, one hundred per cent evidence that would convince the most cynical of doubters, well, then: keep your mouth shut. If you even suggest it you will be mocked and accused of making something out of nothing.

How on earth are people going to feel comfortable “coming forward” if an army of the privileged is waiting to smack them down? It is not our job to delegitimize other people’s lived experiences. In a national atmosphere where anti-Asian incidents are on the rise, it is completely reasonable to expect that Asian-Americans will be living in a state of fear/unease and that it will color their perceptions and experiences.

White people don’t get to control that conversation. In fact, listening would be a really good idea. If you find yourself passing judgement on someone whose day-to-day existence has become significantly less safe, I suggest that you are actively contributing to their suffering. This is true no matter what ethnic or racial group they belong to. 

Gaslighting is ugly:

“People who talk about ethnicity or race just want to divide us.”

No. People who shut down conversations about ethnicity and/or race want to erase the uncomfortable truths coming from people who are not like themselves.

Last week, in response to the horrific shootings in Georgia, I asked:

Is there a way for us to be a light in such a terrible darkness? Or do we simply sit in the darkness with our neighbors and hope the simple act of companionship will do some good? 

It seems as though the very least we can do is to cease trying to extinguish the light of our neighbors who need us. If you see someone doing this, call it out. Let them know it’s okay to talk about it and that you are willing to listen.

“I hope everyone here can feel that we are light and that no one can extinguish our light no matter how they try,” one woman said who declined to give her name.





Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Multiple Thanks


 

As promised, here’s my birthday thank-you note:


Dear Readers,

You know I couldn’t do this without you. Every time you return to this page you take part in a relationship where I give my best and you receive it and participate in that process of thought, creation and response. None of this would make sense in a vacuum. Readers bring it to life.

I was reminded of some of the important things you do when I got this response to yesterday’s post from HoCoMoJo’s Ilana Bittner:

Sooooo.... in the new series, the driver is Ms Frizzle’s little sister Fiona. I think she looks more like Kate McKinnon, who does her voice. 

PROFESSOR Frizzle is still played by Lily Tomlin, and generally resembles the original. 



Oh my word. There it is: I saw something on Twitter and it seemed plausible enough to me that I didn’t even double-check it. My apologies. I still don’t like the way she’s drawn but she isn’t who I thought she is. That matters. And having readers who will take the time to fill you in without making you feel like an idiot in the process is a gift indeed.

Then there are the readers who will privately message me about typos. You are always so kind and I’m grateful every single time. There’s a certain thoughtfulness there which reminds me of the friend who will pull you aside to whisper that your bra strap is showing. I do proofread the blog but clearly things get through and make it “to print”. Your watchful eyes find things that slip right by me.

I’m even thankful for the readers who disagree with my posts: in particular, those who can engage in a discussion of the ideas without resorting to personal attack. I certainly don’t write a blog in order to prevent other people from having opinions. And I can’t possibly always be right about everything, although, at the time of a post, I’m usually pretty convinced. But exchanges with thoughtful readers have helped me think and grow over time.

That’s a special gift you have there. Don’t think it goes unnoticed.

Every once in a while I see you share a post if it has meant a lot to you. That means a lot to me, too. It’s like getting an unexpected bunch of flowers. It probably would carry much less meaning if it happened all the time. But, when a reader deems something worthy of passing on to their own circle, that’s a sign of trust. As a community blogger, I work to be worthy of that. 

One more thing: if you’ve ever written a letter because I asked you to, or made a donation, or attended a local function because I wrote about it: thanks. You are what gives the blog “legs”. Heck, you are the legs. And that’s an important role to play in the life of a blog.

So thanks for all that you do. Thanks for returning to this space just to see what’s going on. Thanks for adding your two cents. Know that when I sit down to write every morning, I have you in mind.

Sincerely,

jam

Village Green/Town² 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Field Trips

 



I am sad to say that the new version of The Magic Schoolbus appears to have replaced Ms. Frizzle with a Stepford Wife. Or perhaps, what a Stepford wife might have looked like while contemplating her first day of high school. Take a look for yourself.




This is both infuriating and depressing. The obvious infantilising of someone who is meant to be an adult authority figure and a valued mentor is yet another example of how our culture delegitimizes women. The illustration on the left shows someone who is savvy, capable, quirky, with a sense of humor. On the right? A blank slate.

To add a bit of local color to this story, I found the following exchange on Twitter:

I'm not sure if we know the location of the school in Magic School Bus, but I know for a fact it's not Montgomery County, MD because they'd have been sued to death by about ten thousand helicopter parents for all those field trips

It’s definitely Howard County and Ms. Frizzle 100% is from Ellicott City.

Ha!

This seems to suggest that Montgomery County is far less permissive in the realm of field trips than Howard County. It’s been my experience that the rules around field trips in HoCo have become far more restrictive in recent years, so, I don’t know about that. Now that school systems have whole departments dedicated to Risk Management, everything is a potential risk. In one school a team-building event for teachers to play mini golf was rejected as too dangerous. For adults.

None of this seems remotely relevant after a year of no field trips whatsoever. Leaving the house feels like a field trip to some of us. As more and more people are vaccinated and the health of our communities begins to stabilize, there will be more opportunities for parents to do what they can to give their children those Field Trip experiences as places like museums, farms, and other such educational venues reopen. (I see that the Howard County Library is beginning the process of reopening. Now that’s a free field trip where you get to bring home something with you!)

If you are able to provide these experiences for your children it is a blessing. It means you have the assorted financial privilege and personal freedoms in your life to make it happen. If you are not, then your kids are the ones who will get the most out of school field trips. They can open up the world for children whose personal worlds are limited by poverty and/or family circumstance. And may I just say,

Long live school field trips!

But don’t let your child get on the bus if the person on the right (in the illustration above) is driving. I’m not at all certain she’s even old enough to get her driver’s license.


Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Big Day


Dear Blog Readers,

Since my birthday is coming up - - it’s Tuesday - - I thought it appropriate to do the usual birthday thing we've grown accustomed to on social media.

With a twist.

This year for my birthday I am not fundraising for anything. I don’t have any extra funds right now so I am guessing you may not have any, either. That’s okay.

Last year I asked for your help in boosting my Facebook “likes” and you got me up to 446, which was very much appreciated. The big 500 remains elusive. On the other hand, I remain convinced that the readers that I do have are “choice”, as they say. High numbers may be a boost to the ego but wise and loyal readers make writing a blog worthwhile.

For some reason the big numbers in Columbia/HoCo are reserved for white men, but that’s another story altogether.

Oh. My birthday. Yes. I got off track.

In honor of my birthday I’m encouraging you to send someone a thank-you note. Yes, it’s a dying art. Let’s breathe some life into it.

I was inspired to make this request by reading this week's Howard County Library HiLights. In it they take  a moment to thank the community.

Thank you for your support and flexibility during this unprecedented time. Your comments are appreciated by our staff.

Even better, when you click on the word “comments” you can read all the positive feedback the library has been receiving. This is a rare example of when reading the comments is a good idea. Each one, no matter how brief, is a thank-you note of sorts.

In today’s issue of the Baltimore Sun reader Kara Panowitz writes a different kind of thank-you note.

Thanks to those feeding Maryland’s hungry kids

Her letter to the editor outlines the many creative ways that local institutions have been getting meals to children during the pandemic. You don’t often see happy letters in that space. It’s refreshing.

What kind of a thank-you note will you write? It could be a card, a letter, or an email. It could be as simple as an added thank-you comment on your Instacart shopper evaluation. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it should be in writing. If you’re not big on words, I fully endorse drawing a picture. But then, I am an early childhood educator, after all.

Speaking of education, I know for a fact that teachers treasure the rare thank-you notes from students and parents. Just a thought.

So, no obligatory charitable donation request from me this year. Not that I discount their validity, I just don’t feel comfortable asking for something that I myself could not give right now.

I promise that I will be writing a thank-you note right along with you. Who knows, it might even turn up in this space on Tuesday.

Sincerely,


jam

Village Green/Town² 




Saturday, March 20, 2021

What It’s Worth


 

This is the house of my earliest memories. I played under the trees. I chalked on the driveway. I roller-skated on the sidewalks.  I still miss it.


Located in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, it had both front yard, back yard and a separate play yard, a detached garage, basement and three floors. (I loved the rooms in the attic!) Sun room, screened-in side porch, enormous claw foot bathtubs...In 1966 when we moved my mother sold it for $32,500, which was the most any house had sold for on our street. Ever.

Yesterday I came across a Columbia real estate advert for a house of this design (not this particular house) on Facebook. 


  Photo credit: STEVEN LEWIS, Keller Williams Bob Lucido Team


The house that I saw in the advert was listed for $500,000. Something in my brain objected. 

I do not wish to insult this particular house, nor all the houses of this design, nor all the owners of houses that look like this, but something inside me said, “This is not a $500,000 house.” Of course, that response is purely subjective. It’s clearly a $500,000 house if someone is willing to pay that price for it.

Now I know that it does no good to compare the house of my childhood memories to one in the present day. There are far too many variables: the passage of time, location, demand, updates, quality of interior finishes, and so on. Despite all this, I can’t help but feel that housing in Columbia/HoCo has become so wildly expensive as to defy all reason.

From what I read, it seems that our area has a shortage of housing. And, during the pandemic, the real estate market has been pretty hot. That’s going to drive prices up. So here we are. Prices were already pretty steep and now many border on ridiculous. Depending on what neighborhood you want to live in, I guess. 

But let’s say you were in the market for the house above but priced in the $350,000 range. Now it’s out of your league and you’ll be forced to look at the houses that are now in that lower range:

                                          
                                                   Photo credit: STEVEN LEWIS, Keller Williams Bob Lucido Team


Then where do the folks go for whom this level of housing would have been affordable? Everyone gets bumped down the line and some will be squeezed out of the market.

In 1966, when my mother put our old house on the market in Cleveland Heights, plans for Columbia were already well underway. Were the price ranges available to original buyers appealing? Affordable? What were real estate prices like in the rest of the county at the time? 

How on earth did we get into the mess we are in now?

You may not feel it’s a mess, of course. You may be gratified that your house has solid and even increasing value. You may also think that it’s perfectly reasonable to expect that people wanting to buy in Columbia/HoCo can afford to live here. I’m well aware that not everyone feels the same way about this. But, to me, something about this feels skewed and unreasonable.  If things continue as they are, will we reach a point where we become the model of a wildly exclusionary community based on real estate prices alone?

Is that what we want? Are we already there?


 

Friday, March 19, 2021

Mean Speech


 

Sitting on my to-do list for quite awhile is an item called “defamation blogpost”. Yes, sometimes I end up writing about things long after the general hubbub has subsided. Usually that’s because I’m trying to get a handle on how I want to approach them.

In this case I have been mulling over the much talked about defamation of character lawsuit filed by Republican former County Council candidate Lisa Kim against three local Democrats. What has struck me is a particular kind of response to this which speaks not to the validity of the legal case, but to feelings about what I’m calling “mean speech.” Essentially, their argument goes something like this:

“It’s about time someone did something about those people. Now maybe they’ll think twice about talking like that.”

This sounds like “let this be a lesson, or a warning” to people who use “mean speech”.  I don’t like it.

I’m not a fan of the so-called “mean speech” myself, whether used by people of either political persuasion. This is not to say that I have never been critical in my own blog posts or on my social media accounts. But, especially in my blogging, I try very hard to identify the behavior of the person I’m writing about, describe its possible consequences, and reserve my judgement for that. There’s a difference between,

You disgust me. Or,

Your vote on x will harm y. That disgusts me.

Still, it seems to me that a lawsuit on defamation of character is not meant to be a big stick to wave at lots of people whose speech you find objectionable. 

There’s also a difference between published speech, as in a blog, and personal comments on personal social media accounts. For example:

Blog: It is my intention to go and spit on each one of these ugly new buildings if they are built.

Social media: These new buildings will be so ugly it makes me want to spit on them.

You may not like either one, to be sure, but it wouldn’t be accurate to judge them as identical. But I see that many people are doing just that, when it suits them, to discredit the speaker. This makes me uneasy. 

There’s one more thing. The people who rail against “mean speech” are ignoring the fact that perfectly acceptable polite speech can hide all kinds of harm. One can be pleasant in conversation yet advocate for policies that are exclusionary or repressive. Does that make it okay because they are “civil” in the way they go about it? 

It’s not as simple as labeling something as “mean speech” and then moving on. It’s far more complicated than that. It’s not just words that define intent. Behavior matters.

The recent arrest of former Laurel police chief David Crawford for multiple cases of arson over a period of ten years revealed a shocking personal history of perfectly pleasant social media interactions. Here we see someone whose public interactions would earn an A-plus from our local defamation suit fans. I think that’s something to think about. 

We may not like “mean speech” and it’s perfectly fine to say so. But to act as though it is the be-all and end-all for judging someone’s character is facile at best. Now if you are on the receiving end of such speech I’m not suggesting that you have a responsibility to do a deep dive into whether or not the speaker is a decent human being or the embodiment of evil. You’re perfectly justified in registering your objections, or cutting them out of your social media, if that’s an option. Engage. Ignore. It’s your choice.

But maybe the answer isn’t throwing lawsuits around, even if it makes you feel good. 


 




Thursday, March 18, 2021

Returning the Favor


 

The internet is full of unexpected moments that can provoke you, amuse you, or make you think. Yesterday I had one that hit all three when I saw this tweet:



Why, look at that! The Rouse Project’s social media team is recommending one of my blog posts as a part of their Columbia Association election campaign. That’s odd. I’m not a member of the Rouse Project nor have I endorsed them. I haven’t endorsed anyone or anything having to do with the upcoming election. I don’t even know the names of all the candidates yet, nor which ones are affiliated with the Rouse Project. But could this tweet make people think something that isn’t actually true?

In general, bloggers love to see their work shared but this one gave me a bit of a twinge. It’s important not to mislead people, especially where elections are concerned.

On the other hand, now I know that The Rouse Project is recommending me/my blog as a valuable source of information. I’m going to run with that. 

When I ran for CA Board I got some questions from friends of my opponent about how much money I was spending on my campaign. I told them. My immediate campaign team members each chipped in a certain amount*, and I got two donations from Columbians who didn’t live in Oakland Mills. This covered one-page photocopied fliers, signs, t-shirts, and stamps. Oh, and on Election Day a friend brought donuts, bagels and coffee. 

I could tell from their expressions that my answer was scandalous to them. But it was the truth and I had no difficulty sharing it. 

Since my blog has now been publicly recommended by The Rouse Project, I’d like to ask them the same question. How much money has been donated in total and who are the donors? It’s a simple question.

And it’s one they aren’t required to answer.

Unlike government elections, the CA elections are corporate elections and there aren’t any rules that I know of concerning monetary donations and the disclosure of same. Frankly, I think that’s a bad plan, but I guess once upon a time Columbia ran on the honor system. 

Ah...we were all innocent once.

All that being said, the fact remains that Columbia voters are curious about how much money is being invested in this year’s CA elections, and who is giving it. Being able to weigh such information is an expected part of other local elections. The fact that there are no rules and no accountability in CA elections makes some folks justifiably uneasy.

Is money the only issue in Columbia Association elections? Absolutely not. But it is a powerful force that should not be ignored.

I think it would be a bold act of transparency to make this information available to the public. It would show a willingness to do more than what is required in order to be deserving of the public trust. And it would allow Columbia voters to be able to make more informed decisions. 

That’s something we all want, right?

So I thank The Rouse Project for graciously sharing my blog with their followers, and I respectfully ask them to share their financial information just as publicly. I guarantee it will give us all something to think about.


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Solidarity


 

Two years ago today I was attending a vigil at Dar Al Taqwa in memory of Muslims killed in mass shootings in their mosques in New Zealand.


This morning I awoke to continuing coverage of a mass shooting in Georgia which appears to have focused on Asian Americans. It’s yet another example of violence towards people of Asian descent which was spurred on by hateful and derogatory speech from the former president of the United States. Even though he is no longer in power, the dynamic remains: mock, belittle, threaten, blame.

When our worldview is reduced to blaming “other” people who are “different from us” the results are dangerous. The process of “othering” takes away humanity. Continued blaming evolves into a belief that “those people” must be punished. Taking actions on these feelings thus becomes justifiable.

We see it happen again, and again, and again.

This is a toxic cycle and too many Americans have chosen it. Whether their participation is active or passive, the end result is the same. Today that means a mass shooting in Georgia. Another day businesses are vandalized, or people harrassed and attacked on the street. 

My heart is breaking for those whose lives have been shattered by this violence. I don’t know how to find adequate words of consolation for Asian Americans in Howard County whose worlds now feel even less safe. Maybe all we can say is “you are not alone” and then live our lives in a way that truly bears that out. 

Is there a way for us to be a light in such a terrible darkness? Or do we simply sit in the darkness with our neighbors and hope the simple act of companionship will do some good? The vigil I attended two years ago was called a Solidarity Vigil. It was an occasion of mutual support. Those of us who were not Muslim had an opportunity come sit with our neighbors in their grief.

In times of great loss perhaps that is all we can do.

One thing we must not do is turn away and hope that things will get better on their own. It can’t be just another day. Refusing to face things that make us uncomfortable provides cover for this hatred and violence to take root and grow. It’s pretty clear that it doesn’t take a day off.

We can’t either. 


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Erased By Whiteness

 



It disappeared.

I went to the Facebook page to find the photograph of the racist vandalism at Glenwood Middle School and, as I was looking at it, a message popped up:

This photo is no longer available.

And, just like that, the photo disappeared.

Boom. 

That was weird.

Howard County police investigating racist vandalism at Glenwood Middle School, Jacob  Calvin Meyer, Baltimore Sun

If you went to Glenwood Middle School today, you wouldn’t see that same scene either, as the white spray paint has been washed away and everything returned to normal.  Normal here isn’t the absence of racism.  It’s the normal that produces people who are so uncomfortable seeing a public statement that Black Lives Matter at school that they won’t rest until they “white it out.” 

The continuing examples in Howard County make it clear that at any moment racism is either lurking under the surface, rearing its ugly head, or just plain out there in the open. It makes itself known in a variety of ways. Some look like puzzled politeness, others like righteous indignation. Only a few show the crudeness of hate crimes and graffiti. But they are all related; all are a part of the same family. 

In an online parent group one person sought to justify the action. Of course vandalism is wrong, they allowed, but weren’t they making the sign more inclusive? (Implied: wasn’t that a good thing?)

When you feel it necessary to make the word “Black” disappear on a school sign, and, especially, if you feel it necessary to obliterate it with white paint, no, you are not making it more inclusive. You are spraying your whiteness all over a public place. You are actively hurting all the Black students who go to the school, Black teachers and members of staff, and all who drive by and witness the defaced sign who are Black. You are making that space less safe for all of them.

Let’s face it. Whoever did this in secret wanted an audience. For as long as it lasted, that vandalized sign asserted the supremacy of their whiteness over anyone who might wish to challenge it. Like animals mark territory, this was a public signal: if you are not like me, you can be erased.

Facebook can make the ugly photo disappear. School employees can make the ugly vandalism disappear. Who will make the ugliness of deeply entrenched racism disappear? 

 




Monday, March 15, 2021

Options


 

Saint Patrick’s Day is upon us. Each year as it approaches I feel some ambivalence as I think of the painfully un-Irish way that America expresses itself on this holiday. I’m referring, of course, to green beer, Shamrock Shakes, and cupcakes decorated with Lucky Charms cereal. I’m what is called Scots-Irish, and my husband and his family are from Belfast, Northern Ireland. Saint Patrick’s Day is a very different thing to them.

Every year I shudder a bit and steel myself against the onslaught of leprechauns and the “Luck of the Irish.” I wish that people knew more about Ireland and its history and culture. And more than anything else I wish that Saint Patrick’s Day had not been reduced to an opportunity to consume inordinate amounts of alcohol.

In America we seem to have three whole holidays reserved for the reckless consumption of alcohol: New Year’s Eve, Saint Patrick’s Day, and Cinco de Mayo. Interestingly enough, the latter two are awash in cultural appropriation and misinformation. But who cares when they’re such great commercial moneymakers, right? One wonders what was on Governor Hogan’s mind when he relaxed restrictions for public places right before Saint Patrick’s Day.

Open for business, indeed.

I’m not here to tell you how to celebrate, but I do want to let you know that this year you have options.


Sobar is having a Zoom Happy Hour with live music on Saint Patrick’s Day, from 6-8 pm. Registration is free. (Link to register) In addition, they’re also having a Silent Auction to raise funds for the Sobar mission. (Visit Silent Auction) There’s quite the variety of items on offer. Please don’t tell my husband that there’s a vintage banjo available...

From the auction page:

Our auction and mixology contest will raise funds to provide free tickets to people in early recovery to our alcohol-free events and to further our mission - reducing the stigma and shame of alcoholism and addiction and access for non-drinkers to healthy, sophisticated options at events.

Oh, yes. The mixology contest.

Enter our mixology contest and you could win a fabulous prize at our Sobar St. Patrick's Day event - Tshirts, St. Patty's Day swag, gift cards and more!

We'll award Contest Points for:

Posting your recipe and drink photo on our Facebook page and sharing it to yours;

Originality - perhaps a unique ingredient or glass

Healthy Ingredients - low sugar, fresh, natural, organic

Taste!

Sounds like fun.

However you choose to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day this year, it’s good to know that, at least in Columbia/HoCo, you have some options. 



Sunday, March 14, 2021

Heart and Soul

 



Some years Columbia Association elections and the accompanying Village elections pass by with the silence of the proverbial tree in the forest whose falling goes observed. Other years there may be a spark of enthusiasm here or there, or a bit of a kerfuffle due to generational turf wars. But, to be honest, Columbia election season is usually nothing to write home about.


This year, thanks to a newly-minted  LLC called The Rouse Project, we appear to have been thrust into a battle over the heart and soul of the Columbia Association, if not Columbia itself. Comprised of a Steering Committee of area notables, The Rouse Project looks to have been formed for the specific purpose of shaping the conversation around this year's elections. 

If you haven’t already, you can take a look at their reasoning here. There’s a combination of old-school Columbia idealism combined with some serious consternation and condemnation of present day CA. The Rouse Project lines up its arguments in a way that both diminishes the credibility of the Columbia Association while also denigrating the work of the current Board.

Now, I’m as curious (if not moreso) as the next person when it comes to all things Columbia, but I can’t hold a candle to former County Council candidate Hiruy Hadgu when it comes to the arrival of the Rouse Project on the local scene. Armed with what appears to be a heavy sense of skepticism, Hadgu combined a fairly deep dive into publicly-available documents with amateur sleuthing skills and produced a three-part blog exposé.  It’s safe to say that the conclusions he arrived at were, at turns, alarming, puzzling, infuriating, and hilarious.

If the Rouse Project materials feel like a hostile takeover, Hadgu’s just feel hostile. Period.

The Columbia Association released a response this week to the Rouse Project mailer. In the post they cover, point by point, the issues raised by the Rouse Project. You can see that here.  In comparison to the other two, the CA piece uses an informational, even, and positive tone. It encourages residents to ask questions, do their own research, get involved.

So here we are.

What’s a Columbian to think?

I’m going to share with you a snippet of a conversation that took place in a local Facebook group which I think may shed some light on this situation. In response to the posting of Mr. Hadgu’s Rouse Project critique, one comment read something like this. (I’ve edited/condensed it to make it more general.)

  • Did you ask anyone involved with these projects/organizations to provide answers to those questions?
  • Show me the documented evidence of your inquiries about these questions to the people you accused.
  • Show me your correspondence with anyone directly involved.
  • Show me the documented evidence of your correspondence.

It struck me that these are the very questions I’d want to ask the leaders of the Rouse Project. This is exactly what both are missing. It hardly seems like they’d have anything in common but, they do. 

  • Did the Rouse Project ask anyone from CA/Village elections to provide answers about the issues they fault them for?
  • Show me the documented evidence of your inquiries about these issues to the people you accused.
  • Show me your correspondence with anyone directly involved.
  • Show me the documented evidence of your correspondence.

It’s quite easy to go off by yourself (Hadgu) or with a small group of like-minded friends (The Rouse Project) and come up theories, talking points, and a list of grievances. It’s quite another thing to have to take the initiative to reach out to those one disagrees with and experience the awkwardness of real human interaction. Engage in back and forth. Face people one doesn’t particularly like.

Skipping that step is a red flag for me.

Whether it’s a three-part exposé or a well-funded public relations campaign, my own response is the same. I am uneasy to take the advice of those who aren’t willing to take the risks involved in engaging with “the other side”. And let’s be honest. Both the Rouse Project and Hadgu have clearly painted pictures of a choice between their own vision and “the other side.”

But when it comes to Columbia (as in much of life) no one is all right or all wrong. We learn more and we make more progress when we engage. 

Are there issues in Columbia that we should be addressing? Absolutely. Can the CA Board and the Columbia Association do better? Always. Do I wish that more people cared and were involved in the process? Do your opinions matter?

Oh, yes.

But I find myself this year pulling back from all the noise and wanting to remind people that they can make up their own minds. Do your own research. Formulate your own opinions. Just as no one group or generation owns the Rouse name or legacy, no one group or person should tell you what to think or how to vote. 

Buck the trend. Be yourself. I think that there’s something truly Columbian in that, after all. 



Saturday, March 13, 2021

Brainstorming


 

Did you see the announcement?

The County is seeking to rezone the historic Ellicott City Courthouse Complex and is issuing a Request for Information for creative reuse concepts for the four associated properties: (1) the Circuit Courthouse located at 8360 Court Avenue, (2) the former Detention Center or Old Jail House, (3) the office building located at 3716 Court Place and (4) the 269-space parking lot used for the Courthouse. The Ellicott City Watershed Master Plan, which was adopted by the Howard County Council in December 2020, calls for a mixed-use development at the courthouse site with an emphasis on pedestrian and open space connections. 

The current Circuit Courthouse will be vacated this summer and relocated to a newly developed state-of-the-art Circuit Courthouse, creating a unique reuse opportunity of the County-owned Courthouse and adjacent properties.



Photo credit: Howard County Government


Here are some suggestions made by readers on social media:


Temporary STEM academy for some of our severely overcrowded high schools.

Keep as much of the original buildings as possible. They are quite historical. And I cannot even imagine tearing all that down and building new stuff, what a mess and I don’t see how that would even be feasible in that location due to environmental impact etc.

A theater space for the Shakespeare company and community groups.

An outdoor entertainment area and small shops to go along with old EC would be great! 

Please keep these beautiful buildings. How about a maker space in one of them?

Artists studios and cafes like Torpedo Factory in Alexandria

Native plant pollinator (moth and butterfly) garden space with educational signage.

A B&B? Doesn't seem to be any in the area. Lots of stuff in walking distance. 

A place like Classic Remise Berlin 


What do you think?

I don’t know the state of the buildings themselves and whether it is feasible to keep and renovate them as opposed to tearing them down and starting over. If you have any inside info on this, please pass it along. I do think it would be great if that space became a destination which draws people to the area. Once there, they would be inclined to noodle around all the great shops and patronize the nearby restaurants. 

I’d like to point out my gratitude that not a single response to the County’s announcement on Facebook came from any of the usual trolls who take it upon themselves to pollute the general discourse. I don’t know how long that will last, but, it’s refreshing.

Friday, March 12, 2021

On the Road


 

It’s back! “John Lewis Lives”, the First Place winner in the Columbia Festival of the Arts Songs of Strength competition, has been released as a music video thanks to a collaboration with composer Alan Scott and American Idol winner Grammy nominee Ruben Studdard. Yes, I know I’ve written about Scott and this song before, but it’s a great local story and it keeps getting better. 

Take the time to watch the video. The use of historical photos of John Lewis throughout enhances the message of the song. It’s a beautiful tribute to a great man and a joyful celebration not only of his life, but of the journey we all need to be continuing together:

Where there is hope

 where there is freedom

 where we fight for justice

 John Lewis lives.

Where you build a bridge 

Made of faith, made of courage

He will walk beside you.

John Lewis lives.

- - John Lewis Lives (Good Trouble)

     Alan Scott

Watch the video. If you enjoy it, click “like”. Share it with your friends and in social media groups where you think it would be appreciated. That’s how the message of music spreads these days, and your participation in that process is essential. 

John Lewis Lives (featuring Ruben Studdard)

Speaking of participation, I see that this Sunday, from 4-5 pm, Black Lives Activists of Columbia will be continuing their monthly vigil at Governor Warfield Parkway at Windstream Drive. From the event page:

On the second Sunday of each month we gather from 4-5 pm to give public witness to the problem of anti-black racism in our neighborhood, our nation, and our world. Beginning in July 2029 until further notice please plan to wear masks observe physical distancing, and bring your own signs. Join us to show that all lives WILL matter when Black Lives Matter.

They’ve added this reminder:

We're glad the tide of the pandemic seems to be turning, and we're still going to be physically distancing and masking while we remind Columbia that Black Lives Matter!

I have been to a few of these events, pre-pandemic, though I could hardly count myself among the faithful who have persisted in showing up, month after month, to lift up this issue in our community. I have great admiration for their witness and commitment. My own limited experience at such vigils has taught me the importance of community gathering together to speak out against the violence and hatred inherent in systemic racism.

Whether in large crowds, or even where two or three are gathered, we must not stop using our voices and our lives to fight for justice.

You are not alone

On this road to freedom.

Where there is good trouble

John Lewis lives.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Good Sense and the Lack of It


 

One thing that the pandemic has taught us is that there are plenty of of people who are not teachers who think they know everything about education and people who are not epidemiologists who think they know everything about the spread of disease. It is a great tragedy for the state of Maryland that Governor Larry Hogan is both.

His strong-arm tactics forced school systems to send teachers and staff back to face-to-face learning without being fully vaccinated and without adequate safety preparation. In Howard County we are already seeing new cases attributable to this premature decision. 

In addition, the persistent inequity of vaccine distribution basically amounts to Hogan giving white folks a head start and saying the heck with everyone else. 

And now, the icing on the cake: Hogan is relaxing limitations on public gatherings which will surely kick off increased spread of the coronavirus throughout the state. His decision may feel “good for business” but it is not compatible with the science and not good for citizens of the state of Maryland. In short, if you wanted to reduce Hogan’s record to a tweet (and I did) it looks like this:

Schools: where re-opened, COVID case levels increasing. Vaccinations: administered primarily to white and affluent. Governor: Great! Let’s relax restrictions!

Word came out last night that Howard County has decided to align itself with the Governor’s newest pronouncements. I imagine that there is intense top-down pressure from the state to conform to Hogan’s  wishes. I still think it is wrong. If we say we really care about returning children to face-to-face learning a relaxing of restrictions in other areas makes them, teachers, and staff less safe. 

Here in Howard County Executive Calvin Ball is undoubtedly between a rock and a hard place what with the Governor on one hand and the Reopen crowd on the other. Still, I wish he had made the tough choice to maintain these restrictions for the time being as residents continue to get vaccinated. The time we have right now to make headway against this disease is precious. Relaxing restrictions dilutes and hampers our progress.

I am, of course, not the County Executive and there is a lot I don’t know about what went into his decision. And I’m not an epidemiologist, though I note that their advice is that now is not the time to relax our vigilance. My personal experience as a lifelong teacher tells me that this is not an education-prioritizing decision.

Perhaps Maryland’s slogan should be “Business First, Good Sense Need Not Apply.” Or perhaps: Business First, Disease to Follow.”

Up next: yet another press event from the Governor blaming the latest spike on everyone but himself.



Wednesday, March 10, 2021

An Honorable Man


Something that’s been going through my head since I saw the rundown of donations to the group trying to repeal Howard County’s sanctuary status: $5000.00 is a lot of money. Former Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman made a donation of $5000.00 to Citizens For A Strong And Safe Howard County (In Opposition of CB 63-2020). As my mother would have said, that’s not carfare. Or pin money. It’s more than money. It’s a statement. A leadership gift.

Now I’m quite clear that Mr. Kittleman and I don’t have the same politcal views. I have disagreed with him on many issues. But I have always felt that it matters a good deal to him to be an honorable man. He has worked quite hard to be the Republican that Democrats could engage in conversation. You know, “I don’t always agree with him, but he’s a nice guy.” 

But here we have a substantial donation to a group which is using methods that are far from honorable. Remember:

These  folks have been planting themselves around town and downright misleading people. 

“Are you for Sanctuary in Howard County? You should sign this to get it on the ballot!”

They’re not keen to let signers read the actual wording of the petition. That’s because they aren’t telling people that CB63 is law already and that the goal of their petition is actually to overturn it. A signature on the petition actually jeopardizes its status.

That’s lying, friends. Signatures on a petition which have been obtained through the use of falsehood are automatically invalid. The people and the party who have masterminded this scheme should be ashamed. They probably aren’t.

As much as I disagree with Mr. Kittleman’s politics, I have a hard time believing that he would approve of this kind of dishonest and manipulative behavior. It goes against everything he has said he stands for. It wasn’t that long ago that he wrote the following in a letter to the Baltimore Sun:

I know it may seem hard to believe after these last four years, but there are still plenty of Republicans who strongly believe in honesty, integrity and both personal and economic freedom.

The folks at Citizens For A Strong And Safe Howard County (In Opposition of CB 63-2020) have put Kittleman in a terrible position. They were willing to take a large sum of money from someone who prides himself on being an honorable man, and the way they have been spending it has been patently dishonorable. Frankly, I think he should ask for his money back. 

Who knows? Maybe he already has. At the very least it would be good to know that he doesn’t sanction this kind of unethical behavior. 










https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/howard/bs-md-kittleman-ball-hug-20181107-story.html


repealsanctuarycounty.com