Friday, September 22, 2023

F ³: Who is an Artist? AI and the Lies We Learn

I was looking for a sign this morning. I think this was it. Please excuse the language.

"ai is making it so everyone can make art" everyone can make art dumbass it came free with your fucking humanity - -

AI - - artificial intelligence. Honestly, I have not delved much into the current conversation around it. But I do believe most wholeheartedly that everyone can make art. And I do believe that it comes free with your humanity.

Unfortunately, something else which appears to come free with humanity are people who love gatekeeping. Those are the folks that tell you that what you have created isn’t good enough, that it doesn’t qualify, or that it isn’t really art. People like that damage the essence/the inborn creativity of many, many people. 

When you do that often enough, people lose their confidence in themselves as artists. They lose their art. 

I am not just talking about visual art here. I am talking of all the arts - - including visual art but also music, dance, drama, film-making, writing, and more. Anything that is born of creativity and infused with imagination can be art. All of it can be destroyed by gatekeepers who believe that what makes art precious is its exclusivity: what makes this one piece excellent is that ten other were rejected.

Is it any wonder that we are being sold the idea that “AI is making it so everyone can make art”? By the time most of us have reached adulthood we have been guided, restricted, pruned, weeded, and downright censured by dozens of gatekeepers both big and small. What is left of that inner spark? Making art involves risk taking. Playing around with AI does not.

It can be “fun.” Why? Because we have made trusting our own artistic inclinations so decidedly un-fun

The older I get, the more I discover art in new places, and the more I appreciate the creative spark wherever I find it. What would happen if we thought of art as something natural in everyone rather than something that needed to be shaped by others like a topiary or constantly pruned like bonsai? What if what mattered most to us was the confidence and joy inherent in each creator and how that impacted their lives?

I’m sure I have much to learn about AI. But at the moment I’m inclined to be more excited by initiatives like this one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which open the gates and allow children to interact directly with materials that may very well spark their creativity.

I suppose that eventually we may have gatekeepers of AI art. It seems inevitable. As much as the desire to create is natural in the human spirit, so, it seems, is gatekeeping. Can it be unlearned, do you think?

Hope springs eternal.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Big Red Thing


In going through old posts this morning while looking for inspiration, I found one in which I had solicited people’s opinions of their local Pet Peeves.  

Pet Peeves and Pedestrians, Village Green/Town², September 3, 2013

(In case you are wondering, I have been looking at posts from ten years ago to see if there’s anything to be learned about they way we were in 2013.)

In that context, I’m giving myself permission to share a pet peeve today. I miss the Big Red Thing. You know, at the Lakefront.

Photo credit Village Green/Town² 

Here’s a better photo from Howard County Tourism.

Photo credit Karmen Osei/ Howard County Tourism Promotion

It has a name of course. It’s not simply the Big Bed Thing.

“Sail,” a 24-foot abstract steel sculpture by James Arthur Benson, was placed on the lawn in 1984 by The Rouse Company.  “The sculpture,” says the artist, “admits that it’s steel but has a playfulness, too. It relates to the environment because it is a wind-activated piece.” The front fin can move up to 45 degrees depending on the wind velocity. Benson was chairman of the sculpture department of the Maryland Institute College of Art for three decades, from 1972 to 2002. - - Columbia Association website

Sail was uprooted to make way for Millie Bailey Park, then replanted further on up Little Patuxent Parkway between two office buildings.  In a way it marks the road that leads down to the Chrysalis entrance to Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, Toby’s Dinner Theater, and the new Merriweather District. (Well, it sits on LPP across the street from the turnoff to Symphony Woods Road)

UPDATE: I went by to see if I could photograph it in its new location. Although I couldn’t figure out where to park - - legally - - I want to correct what I said about how it sits. The statue sits a bit in front of the end of one office building, not “in between” as I had recalled.

I’m not objecting to it being moved to make way for something else. My issue is that there’s not enough space around it to appreciate it fully. It looks rather like some misbegotten wedding gift that has no proper place.

“What shall we do with that thing from your Aunt Maragaret?”

“I don’t know; put it up there.”

My father once asked me what the most important part of a newspaper page was. I can’t remember what I guessed, but, I do know that I was wrong. And I was surprised at the answer: white space.

In the printing and publishing world (and later on in all sorts of design) white space is the part of a page that is intentionally left blank in order to ease the reader’s comprehension of the whole. White space can be used to highlight something you want to bring attention to. It can be integrated into an entire newspaper page to provide visual breaks that prevent the reader from being overwhelmed with too much information. White space allows the newspaper to present a variety of information without mentally/visually exhausting the reader. 

That’s what is missing now that “Sail” is wedged between two buildings. It has no “white space.” It has become as invisible as a utility pole or a lamp post. 

Yes, I know it’s a small issue in the grand scheme of things. The Howard Hughes Corporation may have had a limited number of sites to consider when the move was made. I confess it’s a pet peeve. But, for all of that, I do wish that Sail had been given a better home.

It needs space.

How about you? Any local pet peeves to share? 

Village Green/Town² Comments

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Celebrating Heritage and Making Connections


At long last, that Fall weather I’ve been dreaming of has arrived. It will go perfectly with tonight’s Latin-inspired group fitness class at Clarksville Commons, which will be held outdoors on the plaza. I must share this event description from the press release because I have never seen such scintillating prose invested in exercise. It’s impressive.

Get ready to sizzle this fall as Latin dance-inspired group fitness classes set the stage for unforgettable Wednesday evenings! Join us from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on September 20 & 27, and October 4 & 11 for an electrifying experience. Wendy Robinson, a dynamic local fitness instructor, will be your guide on the plaza, ensuring that everyone, regardless of age or experience level, can groove to the beat and get moving. This vibrant collaboration between Clarksville Commons and Anytime Fitness is unstoppable and will happen rain or shine, with indoor options available as needed.

I feel compelled to point out that you will not literally be sizzling, as the temperatures are predicted to be around 75 by that time of the day. And that’s a good thing.

Clarksville Commons has a variety of events planned for Hispanic Heritage Month and I’ll be continuing to mention them in the coming weeks. 

What is National Hispanic Heritage Month? I’m glad you asked. 

Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. - -

I did a little digging around about the terms Hispanic and Latino. (Both are included in Hispanic Heritage Month.)

Image from verywell website 

Image from Bustle video

The first image made a lot of sense to me. The second one didn’t until Imwatched the short video is is taken from. (It’s about four minutes long.)

Howard County has a lot going on for Hispanic Heritage Month. The Columbia Association kicked off their celebrations with a Latin Dance Night at the Lakefront on Saturday night, and the Howard County Library System began their month of activities with Celebración de la Herencia Hispana/Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration at the Elkridge Branch that afternoon. And there’s a lot more in store, so, If you want to know more about what the library is doing for National Hispanic Heritage Month, go here.

Before I go: get out your calendar and write in Saturday, October 14th for the first (and hopefully annual) Hispanic Heritage Festival to be held in Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods.

County Executive Calvin Ball, in partnership with the Inner Arbor Trust, are bringing a free festival of music, performance, food, and the arts to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. The event will be from 12 - 5 pm and you can learn more and get your free tickets at this link.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Mind the Gap: the Opportunity Gap


Let’s take a moment to talk about the Opportunity Gap. Have you ever heard that term before? Here’s an explanation from the Close the Gap Foundation website:

The opportunity gap is one of the widest-reaching issues in our society today. It is the way uncontrollable factors can contribute to lower rates of success in educational achievement, career prospects, and other life aspirations.

Though it’s often called the “achievement gap”…we intentionally use the term “opportunity gap” instead. This is because we feel the word “achievement” implies that the reason this disparity exists is that some individuals simply don’t work as hard as others to achieve their goals. We’d like to bring awareness to the ways in which that assumption is a myth. 

The reality is that we are not all born with the same opportunities and sadly, many don’t get the chance to even believe they can achieve something, let alone the resources necessary to reach for it. This has nothing to do with a person’s potential or abilities and everything to do with the opportunities available to them.

So now lets talk about Oakland Mills High School. Here are a few facts*:

  • mold
  • leaky ceilings
  • lack of fresh air
  • lack of natural light
  • largest gap between state calculated capacity and county calculated capacity among the 13 high schools
  • A hundred students over capacity by county calculations, and 250 students over capacity by state calculations
  • no student gathering spaces
  • substandard auditorium
  • noncompliance with current standards including COMAR
  • Major HVAC renovation project deferred since 2009.
Add to that one more thing: Oakland Mills High School has a high percentage of Black and Brown students as well as students who need food support. This is precisely the kind of school community which embodies the description of the Opportunity Gap:

The reality is that we are not all born with the same opportunities and sadly, many don’t get the chance to even believe they can achieve something, let alone the resources necessary to reach for it. This has nothing to do with a person’s potential or abilities and everything to do with the opportunities available to them.

How on earth can we ask students and families - - who are already contending with numerous factors that make their lives more difficult - - to study, strive, and rise above - - when we as a school system are actively adding to their burden? The budget recommendations - - as they are stated now - - increase the opportunity gap for these students.

Time and again the professional recommendations for repair, renovation, and replacement of major systems have been denied. Promises are made, then promises are broken. Yet again we are facing another budget proposal that says to students of Oakland Mills that they are not worthy of the recommended financial investment that would bring their school environment on to a par with what we require of other schools in our system. 

No, it’s deeper than that. We are saying that they are not the kind of people worthy of the most basic sign of respect: the obligation to keep our word to them. The aspirational vision of the fierce urgency of now  is being crushed by the sheer audacity of broken promises. 

Sign up to give testimony or write the Board of Education to ask them to keep their promises to the Oakland Mills community.

*Taken from OMCA Chair Jonathan Edelson’s testimony to the Board of Education.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Cover Story


Moms4Liberty, not to be content with strangling intellectual freedom in Montgomery County Schools, has planted itself in Howard County with hopes of continuing its process of replication and division (and so on and so on.) They have four whole posts on their Instagram account.

Image from m4lhcmd Instagram account

Here you see them promoting an upcoming event to be held this Tuesday at Bare Bones Grill and Bar. Here’s the text:

Howard County Republican Womens & HoCo GOP Clubs

“Elections Have Consequences, A Cautionary Tale” by David Shephard

Tuesday, Sept. 19 2023 7:00-8:00PM

Business Meeting & Speaker Event

David Shephard, Speaker

Conservative Virginia blogger, David Shephard* exposes the sinister, detrimental, and hypocritical tactic of diversity politics

(book may be purchased on Amazon or at meeting while supply lasts)

Bare Bones Grill & Bar

9150 Baltimore National Pike

Ellicott City, MD 21042

Food and Drinks for Purchase at Bare Bones

“Sinister, detrimental, and hypocritical.” Interesting.  The poster depicts the cover of Shephard’s book. The back of the book is, shall we say, quite educational.

Images from book description page on Amazon 

Fiction / Political

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

- George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905

Many who are politically conservative sincerely believe the political left intentionally stokes racism. They do so by constantly pounding the table about "White Supremacy," which nowadays is virtually non-existent, and by promoting Critical Race Theory in schools so that non-whites will grow up believing that they are helpless victims. The Left does so, they believe, in order to keep minorities perpetually in a separate, under class, and struggling for survival. The logic is simple.

Stunting the growth and development of non-whites will keep them voting for Democrats. In 2021, however, Virginians by and large saw through this ruse. For lieutenant governor, they elected a black female Republican, Winsome Earle-Sears. For governor, they elected a while male Republican, Glenn Youngkin. To the office of Attorney General, they elected a Hispanic Republican, Jason Miyares. Never before had a political party in Virginia offered up such an ethnically diverse ticket, nor had the citizens ever elected one.

This novel by a conservative Virginia blogger exposes the sinister, detrimental, and hypocritical tactic of diversity politics. The characters and events portrayed, while fiction, bear an eerie resemblance to the players and the events that took place in the administration prior to the election of Earle-Sears, Youngkin, and Miyares. Some might even describe this novel as a roman à clef. Perhaps it is, or maybe it is not. One thing, however, is not in doubt. It is meant as a warning to Virginia's voters, and to freedom lovers of all persuasions in whatever state they may live, to keep the events of the early twenty-first century in mind whenever they go to the polls.

Don't miss this political thriller, and whatever you do, think about it the next time you cast a ballot.

So the Howard County Republican Women are bringing the author of a political thriller to town for a book talk and M4Lhcmd is promoting it. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Sounds more like an opportunity for afternoon tea in a lovely garden setting until it really hits you what the heart of this fiction is. Shephard is promoting these fictional concepts as fact:

Many who are politically conservative sincerely believe the political left intentionally stokes racism. They do so by constantly pounding the table about "White Supremacy," which nowadays is virtually non-existent, and by promoting Critical Race Theory in schools so that non-whites will grow up believing that they are helpless victims. The Left does so, they believe, in order to keep minorities perpetually in a separate, under class, and struggling for survival. The logic is simple.

If any of the above were true, why does Shephard put an ominous-looking photograph of the removal of (what I assume is) a Confederate War statue on the cover of his book? How can one suggest with a straight face that “white supremacy is virtually nonexistent” while deliberately using the fear of white replacement and the loss of white power systems to sell the dang book?

They’re taking away our statues, our heroes, our symbols…who knows what’s next?

Yet these folks will be adamant that they aren’t against diversity. Oh no, they’re against “Diversity Politics” a term they have made up** to hide behind when forwarding their bankrupt arguments about whose history gets taught and who receives justice under the law. 

“Sinister, detrimental, and hypocritical.” What is that thing where you accuse your opponent of what you, yourself, are doing? 

Interesting, isn’t it, that local Republicans, whose County Executive is a Democrat, Calvin Ball, and who Governor is also a Democrat, Wes Moore, are going whole hog on the “diversity politics” bandwagon. Do they think that this is the magic potion that will drive their voters to the polls? 

If so, that says a lot more about them than it does about Democrats. This is more than saying the quiet part out loud. It’s putting it front and center - - on the cover your book.

*I can’t find any trace of the blog Mr. Shephard refers to. I did find a listing of “David Shephard, Public Policy Consultant and Contractor” in Falls Church, Virginia, but no associated content of any kind. UPDATE: found it her: . “Virginia Gentleman”?

**See also: “gender ideology.”

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Other People’s Tweets Returns!

In the latest episode of Other People’s Tweets…

Kelly:  How does Columbia Maryland have a 100k population and the worst cell service I've ever seen?

Sydney:  My phone fully goes on SOS mode at my parents' house and I wish I was joking. 

Raimundo:  But the libraries are dope. 

Topic 1 - - cell service. Does your experience match those of our tweeter? We used to have terrible cell service inside our house, which is why I have held onto our land line for so long. It was not uncommon to see neighbors sitting outside or walking around the neighborhood while talking on the phone. In recent years, though, it has improved greatly. Is cell service a concern where you are?

Topic 2 - - libraries. You have to know that I got a big charge out of seeing our random tweeter endorse our libraries. At least I hope that’s what he was doing. I guess it’s possible that he’s rolling his eyes at great libraries when what he really wants is good cell service. 

Nah. Our libraries are dope. 

Dope - - 

A word used to describe just about anything good in life, good news, a sick skateboard trick, a nice sports car, etc. Also one of the most casual yet satisfying words in modern slang. It can be used to varying levels of intensity anywhere from a casual "dope" to a mega hype "that's freaking dope man!". (Urban Dictionary)

I’ve been holding onto this image from a tweet about an article in the Detroit Free Press about Detroit Libraries.

Image from Detroit Free Press social media post

The important thing is that people use the library. More usage helps the library. But I also would turn that statement around and say that more usage strengthens the people of Detroit.

“Changing lives while changing with the times is the Detroit Public Library's calling card”, Detroit Free Press (Article is behind a paywall. Working on getting it.)

So more usage strengthens the library while also benefiting the community. During the recent kerfuffle about a new Downtown Library it seemed that a lot of folks didn’t truly understand that.

During the most restrictive part of the COVID shutdown I started reading mysteries. And more mysteries. I’d put in my requests online and the library would notify me when my books were ready. I’d bring a tote bag to carry them home. Then I’d bring them back to get more.

I read so many different series all the way through that recently I have felt a bit bereft. What if there aren’t any books left for me? What if I’m at the end of the line?

Seeing the quote from the Detroit Library article gave me an idea. I am - - shocker! - - going to ask a librarian. I have typed up a complete list of the series I have read and I’m going to go in my beloved East Columbia branch and say, “Help! I need books!”

For a shy person this is going to take some courage. But I keep telling myself it will be worth it. After all, our libraries are dope. 

Village Green/Town² Comments

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Today: A Lively Beginning for Hispanic Heritage Month


This is Little Amal. 

Little Amal, a 12-foot puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee girl, is greeted by a crowd, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) (Steven Senne / Associated Press)

Little Amal,’ a 12-foot-tall puppet symbolizing human rights, will step foot in Baltimore as part of US walk, Abigail Gruskin, Baltimore Sun

On Friday, a 12-foot-tall, 10-year-old Syrian refugee will arrive in Baltimore. She’ll spend two days in Charm City, meeting with the mayor, grooving at festivals and experiencing what life here is like.

“Little Amal” — “Amal” meaning “hope” in Arabic — isn’t a real girl, but a larger-than-life puppet that has become a symbol for human rights and refugees around the globe.

Amal is on a journey around the world to raise awareness about refugee children. You can meet her in Baltimore today in the Patterson Park Annex and participate in the kickoff activities of Hispanic Heritage Month with the Creative Alliance. 

Welcome Little Amal!

11-2pm | Make Art for Amal | Creativity Center, 3137 Eastern Avenue

2-3pm | Welcome Amal in the Patterson Park Annex

3-7pm | Tianquiztli Street Festival | Outside The Patterson Theater, 3134 Eastern Avenue 

You can learn more about the Tianquiztli Festival here.

Here in Columbia/HoCo, the Columbia Association is celebrating the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month with a Latin Dance Night at the Lakefront.


Get ready for a special FREE night of music and dancing

When: Saturday, September 16 @ 6-9pm

Where: Downtown Columbia Lakefront

Join Columbia Association beneath the People Tree for a special event: Latin Dance Night!

This FREE event will feature Latin-themed dancing, music and singing to honor and celebrate the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month.

You don't want to miss out on these special performers and instructors, including DJ Elvira, Live music from Samual Munguia and Friends, Dance lessons by Steve Jackson and Performances by Santana Dance School.

Plus, dine on delicious Hispanic food and drink throughout the evening.

There’s a lot going on locally during Hispanic Heritage Month. This should get you started. I’ll be back with more information on other events soon. I promise.

Friday, September 15, 2023

F ³: The Most Precious


Did you know that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month? Until very recently, I didn’t. 

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month began in 2012. President Barack Obama made the first proclamation establishing September as a month to increase awareness of the particular challenges of childhood cancer, the necessity of increased reasearch, and to…”pay tribute to the families, friends, professionals, and communities who lend their strength to children fighting pediatric cancer. May their courage and commitment continue to move us toward new cures, healthier outcomes, and a brighter future for America’s youth.”

The symbol of Childhood Cancer Awareness is a gold ribbon. The theme for this year’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is “Go Gold.”

Although many colors were considered, gold was agreed upon as the ideal choice for childhood cancer awareness because gold is a precious metal, and is therefore the perfect color to reflect the most precious thing in our lives—our children. - - American Childhood Cancer Organization 

Image from American Childhood Cancer Organization 

Cancer is one of those things that most people fear and probably don’t want to think about. Childhood cancer is even more frightening. We see fundraisers for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation or St. Jude’s Research Hospital and we give if we can. Sometimes it’s easier to look away or change the channel and pray a thousand silent prayers that our children will never be affected.

My first deep dive into childhood cancer awareness came in 2020 when CNN Reporter Andrew Kaczynski chronicled the diagnosis and subsequent illness of his daughter Francesca on Twitter. They called her “Beans”. Beans was born in March of 2020 and succumbed to brain cancer in December of that same year.  Since that time her parents have become ongoing fundraisers through Team Beans to fund reasearch into infant brain cancer. 

Often it takes a personal connection to truly light up your brain about something. Francesca Kaczynski became mine. I followed her treatment one tweet at a time. I saw photos of her sweet little face and how it was changed by medications and treatment. I ‘listened’ to her father’s hopes and dreams and hoped right along with him. I mourned her passing. I made time to read his grief-filled words and to follow his determination to make the world better for infants diagnosed with neuroblastoma.

Team Beans raises funds for Dana Farber Cancer Institute

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, a time to recognize the children and families affected by childhood cancers and to emphasize the importance of supporting research on these devastating conditions. Since 1947, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children's Hospital have worked together to care for children with cancer and to improve outcomes through cutting-edge research.

This month, and throughout the year, we honor the children currently battling cancer, the families who love them, the clinicians and other caregivers treating them, the survivors of childhood cancer, the children who lost their lives to childhood cancer, and the researchers working to conquer childhood cancer.

It just so happens that two very important people in my life are survivors of childhood cancer. I won’t say more than that because it’s their story to tell, not mine. I will go out on a limb and say that I am so deeply grateful that they are here today as adults and that the treatment they received enabled them to have a future, go to college, have careers, friends, love, hobbies, dreams…I can’t imagine a world that didn’t have them in it.

If you know of any local observances of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in Columbia/HoCo, let me know and I will share here.

Village Green/Town² Comments

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Two Words


Clip from A Thousand Clowns, United Artists, 1965

Let’s watch Jason Robards do the big build up with Barbara Harris in this scene from A Thousand Clowns. (It runs one minute and twenty-seven seconds. You have time.) What is he building up to? This:

Sandy I uh

I'm sorry

I'm very sorry

Well dammit lady that was a beautiful apology

I mean you gotta love a guy who can apologize so nice

I rehearsed it for over an hour

Aw Sandy

That's the most you should expect from life

A really good apology

for all the things you won't get - - A Thousand Clowns, film, 1965

This morning I’m still trying to process last night’s very last-minute announcement from HCPSS Superintendent Michael Martirano. School times are changing - - in the third week of the school year - -  in an attempt to address problems with school bus service. I will have more time to process than most folks as I am not directly impacted. Still,  I have felt increasingly frustrated that there is nothing I can do to help make this situation better.

Thanks to the example of Murray Burns (played by Jason Robards) in A Thousand Clowns, I just may have an answer:

I’m sorry

I’m sorry for the kids who waited for buses that never came. I’m sorry for parents who worried about what to do and how to get their kids to and from school.

I’m sorry for school office staff who have been inundated with phone calls from frightened and angry parents. 

I’m sorry for teachers and school staff who had to change their schedules at the beginning of the year and now, three weeks into the year, have to do it again. I’m sorry that finding transportation and childcare for their own children has been an added burden for them. 

I’m sorry for the students and families that used to have transportation and now have to walk.

I’m sorry for everyone who worked for years to get later start times and watched the execution sell them short.

I’m sorry for special needs students for whom transportation so far this year has been, in some cases, far less than adequate. I’m sorry for their families who feel they have nowhere to turn.

I’m sorry for the families in our community who have been less likely to receive school communication all along, whether because of lack of internet or differences in primary language. Everything that is happening is at least several degrees more challenging for them.

I’m sorry.

That's the most you should expect from life: a really good apology for all the things you won't get.

Is it?

Village Green/Town² Comments

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Plastic: the Last Straw


It appears to have rained last night. Even if I hadn’t heard it myself, I’d know from all the local hubbub on social media. I’ve been saving this tidbit for just such an occasion.

On August 10th, the Twitter account for Howard County Recycles shared the request shown above:

Heavy rain is expected in #HoCo today. Wet paper & cardboard is more difficult to process & bale at the recycling facility than dry material, so please try to keep your paper & cardboard as dry as possible by covering open top bins or bringing them indoors.

Yes, we want your cardboard. No, we don’t want your wet cardboard. I hadn’t known that, so that’s useful information. 

But it was the next tweet that really set me off. On August 16, addressing medical supplies, they wrote:

In addition, empty prescription pill bottles must go in the trash.

Oh my word. That’s the last straw. I can’t take it any more. 

Pill bottles. Prescription pill bottles. Say it ain’t so. So all the years I’ve been dutifully soaking them to get the labels off…all a waste. Well, more than a waste, actually. Not only are they not recyclable, they are probably gumming up the works. 


I earnestly want to recycle. I check in with HoCo Recycles pretty regularly to make sure I understand what is recyclable and what is not. I really, really want to do the right thing.

It’s not helping. I get all the rules straight and then some new kind of packaging waltzes in my door that doesn’t seem to fall in any of the categories. 

I made a pitch a couple of years ago for a recycling app that would take all the guesswork out of these decisions.

I have an app on my phone that lets me identify plants. You take a photograph and the app compares it to its own photographic database of plants. I’m pretty sure it uses your location to rule out, for instance, plants that aren’t native to your particular area. 

So here’s my pitch: make an app like that but for recycling. I hold my phone’s camera over the item, take a picture, the app knows my location and can tell me if that thing is recyclable where I live. Bingo.

“Congratulations! You have spotted a Number 1 plastic clamshell container. These containers are often used for fresh fruit and deli items. Unfortunately they are not recycled in Howard County, Maryland.” - - Recycling Fail, Village Green/Town², July 6, 2021

Today I’m beginning to think that’s not enough. I need access to a live person, maybe not 24/7, but at least often enough that I can hold up items and ask, “This?” “How about this?” “And what about this one?” On a daily basis. Maybe call it “TeleTrash.” 

I’ll bet there are plenty of folks out there like me who would use it. Yes, it would cost money but it would cut down on well-meaning wish-cycling. You’d have an expert who could make the call authoritatively and that would be that. No more worrying. No more second-guessing. 

“Teletrash: peace of mind for your all recycling worries and woes.”

Will it happen? No. Can we find a better way? I sure hope so. In the meantime, who needs some leftover prescription bottles?

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

From Odesa to Columbia: One Night Only

Appearing one night only in Columbia, Maryland: Kommuna Lux, originators of the “Odesa gangsta folk” style of Klezmer* music. The young, high-energy musical group is visiting Columbia as a part of their US tour to raise money for war-torn Ukraine. 

If you’re wondering what “Odesa gangsta folk” might be, these words from their website may help:

“In Odesa, people find togetherness. In Odesa, all will laugh and sing." Ukraine’s Kommuna Lux validates these words from an old poem, performing their own style called "Odesa Gangsta Folk:" thrilling klezmer music and common gangster folk songs from their hometown, all with a dose of rocket fuel.

Kommuna Lux plays joyful songs and melodies from Odessa and all Eastern Europe in spiced up arrangements.

The following promotional video gives an energizing summation of what they do along how they have used moneys raised to support the war effort in Ukraine. (It’s about two and a half minutes long, so not a big time commitment.) The video juxtaposes music and footage from Kommuna Lux concerts in Europe with documentation of purchases made using their donated funds: clean drinking water, communications equipment, and automobiles, for example. 

Kommuna Lux 

The concert is on Monday, September 18th at 7 pm at Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, 10689 Owen Brown Road, Columbia, Maryland. Tickets (limited to eighty seats)  are 20.00 and can be purchased here:

Kommuna Lux concert 

If you are unable to attend but would like to make a donation to their cause, you may also do that through the link above.

You may recall that Abiding Savior has hosted out of town visitors in the past, presenting Stary Olsa from Belarus in 2016. Come on out and show Kommuna Lux, so far from home, a warm Columbia/HoCo welcome and soak up some musical “rocket fuel” to energize your week. Just for fun, here’s a little vignette promoting their American tour that I found on TikTok:

Kommuna Lux American Tour

*Klezmer is an instrumental music for celebrations which was once performed in the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe at weddings or joyous religious celebrations, such as Purim, Simhat Torah, or for the inauguration of a new synagogue. Like most of musical Jewish traditions, klezmer is a music of exile. - - Oxford Languages on Google

Monday, September 11, 2023

More Than One Way


Some people need to tell the stories - - to tell them, and retell them - - year after year. Some people seek out the commemorative programs on television that show the horrific film footage again and again. Everyone responds differently to grief and horror.

Probably the biggest thing that divides us in this day is whether or not we have a personal connection to the events of 9/11/2001. If we don’t I suspect the day is one that passes with sadness and the continued disbelief that this kind of thing could happen. If we do it is a searing fire of trauma experienced and relived.

I can never never truly know what that kind of pain is like. I am grateful for that. But I also feel guilty when this day comes around because others suffered so much and I was spared. Why them? Why not me? (Thank God not me!) And over and over again as the years roll by. 

You are likely to see heartwarming pieces today about how the whole nation came together after 9-11. This is not the truth. We don’t talk as much about those in this country for whom this day was the beginning of a time of fear. In grief and rage many turned against anyone who even vaguely looked like the perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks. Or what they thought a person like that looked like. If 9-11 gave many Americans the sick dread of realization that we are not as safe as we think we are, it also gave whole swaths of our population the knowledge that they might never be safe here again.

Are all the commemorations of this day reminders for them of those early days when it felt as though an entire nation turned against them? There are no special ceremonies for that. No comforting words. I imagine it is a lonely kind of grief.

And so each of us does the best that we can, remembering, grieving, or even trying to forget. There is no one perfect, appropriate way to grieve. If we cannot agree on anything else perhaps we could agree on that.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Women, Webcams, and: Free!


This years ARTSites are going up around the County and the Howard County School System got one.

Photos from HCPSS social media 

Entitled “The Evening Blooms”, it is the work of Cathrin Hoskinson. Her work was also selected for ARTsites in 2014, when her piece “Sunbeam” was on display on the campus of Howard Community College near the Horowitz Center for the Performing Arts.

You may recall that I made a startling discovery when learning about last year’s sculptors. I’m looking forward to learning more about this year's selections and writing about them soon. 

Another interesting discovery. Columbia’s Lakefront has a live cam.

Welcome to Columbia, MD! EarthCam and @columbiaass have partnered to bring you live views from the banks of Lake Kittamaqundi. The lakefront is one of the most beautiful and beloved spaces in the Columbia community. Watch live: 3R14DLj

There’s some good news at River Hill High School. The RHHS Boosters Birthday Hawk is back, following a mysterious disappearance earlier this year.

Missing Hawk: February, 2023

According to the RHHS PTSA and Boosters organization, the Hawk is back and ready to return to birthday-wishing duty at the entrance to school grounds.

Image from RHHS Boosters and PTSA Facebook page

Did they need to commission an entirely new bird? Apparently not:

Thankfully, the bird bandits only left some graffiti on the back. We are happy the painting and work that our students put into the front of it was not damaged. A little paint on the back and it is ready to fly at RHHS! We are also hoping that the video surveillance it now has will keep this from happening again. 

Video surveillance - - wow. Now Columbia has a Lakefront cam and a Hawk cam.

One last interesting piece of information: the Maryland Transit Authority is offering free transit for a weekend in September. 

From Jerome Alexander Horne of the MTA: In celebration of "World Car Free Day," the Maryland Transit Administration is offering free rides on public transportation September 22-24! Local Bus, Light Rail, Metro, MARC, Commuter Bus and Mobility services will all be free.

Here’s more or World Car Free Day if you (like me) didn’t know it existed.

That’s all for now. Have a great Sunday with no visitation by the Sunday Scaries to trouble you.

Village Green/Town² Comments

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Hands-On History in Ellicott City


Are you fascinated by local history? Are you the kind of person who craves hands-on experiences? I saw this event announcement when it was shared by the Howard County Historical Society.

Photo credits:  

(1) ©2018 Patricia Bixler Reber Forgotten history of Ellicott City & Howard County MD

(2) ©2018 Patricia Bixler Reber Forgotten history of Ellicott City & Howard County MD

(3)Creator: Photo by Scott Kramer  Credit: Photo by Scott Kramer Copyright: Photo by Scott Kramer


Howard County Recreation and Parks Department - FREE PUBLIC DIG DAY

Saturday, September 9th, 10 am-12 pm

Patapsco Female Institite (PFI), HO-60

Have you ever wondered what is buried below ground at the Patapsco Female Institute? Have you wanted to get your hands dirty doing real archaeology?

Come visit the Patapsco Female Institute at 3655 Church Rd., Ellicott City, MD 21043, this Saturday, September 9th, from 10am-2pm for a FREE Public Dig Day!

Get a tour of the PFl's 19th-century ruins, help uncover the early 19th-century school-era outbuildings, help unearth and clean artifacts recovered from the late 19th-century Burg Alnwick Hotel-era trash pit!

This Public Dig Day is FREE for all ages!


Okay, this sounded fun. But it occurs to me that the ground might be awfully muddy after last night’s rains. So I started digging around (sorry) to find some confirmation - - one way or the other - - as to the status of the event.

I can’t find any. I can’t find an official “Event” page on Facebook. I can’t find a current reference on the Rec and Parks Facebook page. I can’t find it on the official Howard County website, either. Patapsco Female Institute has a separate listing on the hocogov website, and they have some cool upcoming events listed. Today’s event is not one of them.

So I broke down and sent an email to the County archeologist. Did you know we have an archeologist? I didn’t. Her name is Kelly Palich and, bless her heart, she responded to me immediately. At 7:30 in the morning.

Hi Julia! Yes we will still be up there! Looking forward to having you visit!


If there is any lesson to be learned here, I suppose it’s along the lines of how one must be patient and thorough in the pursuit of knowledge. And: when in doubt, ask an archeologist.

If you decide to go, I’d love to know what it was like.

Village Green/Town² Comments

Friday, September 8, 2023

F ³: What Are They Learning in School These Days?


What Norman Knows, by Julia A McCready

(This story is dedicated to the real Norman and his family. I hope someday it will be a published picture book.)

On Monday Dad picked up Norman from school.

“What did you learn in school today?” asked Dad.

“Nothing,” said Norman.

On Tuesday Mom was driving Norman and Leah to the library.

What did you learn in school today?” asked Mom.

“Nothing,” said Norman.

On Wednesday Grandma was sitting at the kitchen table helping Leah with her homework.

Norman was doing a puzzle.

“What did you learn in school today?” asked Grandma.

“Nothing,” said Norman.

On Thursday Dad was tucking Norman into bed.

“What did you learn in school today?” asked Dad.

“Nothing,” said Norman.

“Now wait a minute,” said Dad. You go to school every day, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. You stay all day. And you mean to tell me you don’t do anything?”

Norman looked at Dad. 

“What did I learn? Or what did I do?” asked Norman.

Dad thought for a minute.

“Okay. What did you do?” he asked.

“Well, Mrs. Evans read a book about an ant going for a walk. The ant had red sneakers! Then we had center time and there was a cool play mat with all of the places the ant went in the story and I got to play with the bugs on it. It was like a map.”

“Next I went in the blocks and me and John built an apartment house for all the bugs but we had to figure out how many rooms we needed and how big they were. The grasshopper was biggest.”

“Oh, this was the best—we had a snack center and we made Ants on a Log and I got to eat them!”

“After we cleaned up we sang the Ants go Marching but I wouldn’t suck my thumb. That’s baby stuff, right? But Ms. Jackson sucked her thumb. We laughed.”

Dad’s face looked surprised. He was quiet for a long time. Then, he said,

“Thank you, Norman. That was great.”

And he kissed him goodnight.

On Friday Norman had the day off from school. When Dad came home, Norman asked,

“What did you learn at work today, Dad?”

“Nothing,” said Dad.

“Come on, Dad! You were gone all day. You must have done something!”

Dad grinned. 

“What did I learn or what did I do?” 

(Illustrations show them laughing, maybe tickling, wrestling or some positive physical interaction.)

- - The end

Thursday, September 7, 2023


My older daughter, the one who writes, works nights in Baltimore. She has collected quite a few sunsets.

Photos by Alice K.E. Chwazik

Not long after she shared these photos to social media, she posted this poem. I am sharing it here with her permission. 

Is the world more beautiful
Because it's ending? Long hours I watch 
The sun set over my small broken city, 
My small home in this broken world, 
And I think no, it could not be more beautiful.
I watch the sun when I should be working, 
Earning what they call a living, breaking 
All my bones one step at a time. The world 
Is dying and we are killing it, and I am killing 
Myself each day just so I might live. And I think - 
Was the sky like this when the world was whole?
Orange and pink and ochre and cerulean?
The colors of mangos and papayas and chilis 
And smoked salt? When we weren't burning it, 
Not yet, but watching stars in their unrestrained 
Profusion, nestled in tall grasses, holding hands 
And wondering in awe. And was there a world, 
Then, where I might rest, where every day 
Weren't fashioned in fear, where I didn't hurt?
Could the sky have felt like this, in that other 
Quiet place, without the fire and the pain?
Or is beauty made of these things, these sharp 
And fractured things, which are lives toiling
To live under the sky they burn?

- - Alice Kathryn Elisabeth Chwazik


I know this isn’t local, and it doesn’t fit at all within the boundaries of my blog. But I’m having the kind of day where words elude me and pictures of sunsets say more to me than a thousand news articles and press releases. 

What do you think of when you see the sunset? When was the last time you were able to make the time to just stop and experience one?

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

The Department of What’s Happening Now


Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Interim Report, Village Green/Town², September 10, 2015

A friend of mine once described innovation in the Howard County Schools as follows:

“Somewhere in Central Office there is a mysterious department called The Next Big Thing Coming Down the Pike. They are always working on the things that are going to happen five, ten years in the future. As soon as they complete one project, they move to the next big thing coming down the pike.”

"But what happens if there's a problem with what they created? What happens if people need help?" I asked.

“That's not their job. They're already working on the Next Big Thing. And there is no department of Implementing What We've Got Now.”

Of course this is purely anecdotal, and framed in a rather allegorical way. But today it seems rather apropos. I submit to you two articles:

HoCo Times, August 29th: Howard School system gives high marks to new software

WBALTV, September 9th: New computer system causing trouble in Howard County classrooms

So, what do you think? If you are a parent, have you found the implementation of new systems and support of current systems satisfactory? If you are a teacher or a staff member, have you found training and subsequent support to be adequate?

Investing tax payer money on the Next Big Thing is only justified if training and support are just as important a priority. It's the Customer Service piece that's just so, so crucial. Who is the end user? Can he or she actually use it?

Right now I'm not sure there's enough data to make that judgement.


“And there is no department of Implementing What We’ve Got Now.”


I fully admit that this is a simplistic way of looking at a complex institution. But somehow this post came to mind when thinking of the implementation of new bus service this year. Communication, training, and ongoing support appear to be lacking.

It's the Customer Service piece that's just so, so crucial. Who is the end user? Can he or she actually use it?

In the case of buses, I wonder how much preparation there was to have a backup plan (or plans) ready if any part of the new system failed. 

If this, then this. If that, then that.

I don’t know. I do know that parents feel frustration and alarm as they try to navigate one failure after another. And the front office staff of schools that have been using the new provider have been thrust into the front lines of responding to the crisis. Was that a part of a well thought-out plan or did it just happen because there was no plan? 

A thoughtful parent on Facebook suggested sending coffee and treats to the front office staff of your school to show thanks and support. Coffee and treats are always nice. What about doing some shifting around at higher levels to create a department of Implementing What We’ve Got Now?

I can almost guarantee we’ll be needing it every time we implement the Next Big Thing Coming Down the Pike. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Technical Difficulties in the Weather

We tend to think of September as the time of year when we begin to lean towards Fall and all those deliciously seasonal outdoor activities like leaf-peeping, farm visits/walking though pumpkin patches, apple picking, and so on. Fall festivals are right around the corner. 

But it is too darned hot. Temperatures near one hundred degrees do not inspire outdoor activities. We may be thinking Fall but the changing of the seasons is experiencing technical difficulties. Please stand by.

Never fear, local gamers have other ideas. The Old Ellicott Cup is returning for a second year, seeking to be “the premier bubble hockey tournament in the world.” This year’s tournament will be on September 23rd from 12-8 pm but it will not be in Old Ellicott City. Instead, you can join the fun at Oversea Distillery in Columbia. For more on the Old Ellicott Cup, take a look at my post from last year and/or you can check out their Facebook page.

If you don’t play bubble hockey, how about Scrabble? CoCo Scabble (that’s short for Collins Coalition) is hosting an all-day Scrabble Tournament in Columbia on September 9th. 

Image from Collins Coalition website

Yes, it’s the Scrabble Soirée at Sammy’s, from nine am to six pm this Saturday. What’s the Collins Coalition? From their website:

We are the Collins Coalition (CoCo), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that empowers people to improve their cognitive word and math skills and form lifelong friendships through fun and competitive word game play.  

To learn more, and to sign up to enter, check out their website.

Comics to Astonish, with locations in Columbia and Eldersburg, routinely has in-person game-playing events but I’d be the first to admit that I really have no idea what they are playing. At any rate, they are clearly more than a comic book store. The Columbia location is on Snowden. 

I realize that if you have children of school age that you may not have time for such shenanigans. Now that the pools are closed it will be a challenge to keep the littles entertained without getting heatstroke. 

Keep cool. Stay hydrated. Let us know how you plan to get through this heatwave. Perhaps this would be a good time to create a live action role playing game based on bus scheduling. 

Village Green/Town² Comments