This Saturday: Writing You Can Dance to

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A great live reading can be as stimulating as good live music. Saturday afternoon at the Windup Space catch the New Mercury nonfiction reading series featuring Fishbowl’s very own “Bohemian Rhapsody” columnist Marion Winik. This gig always welcomes a diverse group of talented readers — and often performs terrifically. Other readers include Jay Imbrenda, quick-witted chair of the lit arts department at Carver, poet/author/musician Bruce A. Jacobs, whose latest book, Race Manners for the 21st Century, was published by Arcade/Skyhorse, and fiction writer Caryn Coyle, whose latest short story, “Ballerina,” appears in the current issue of Little Patuxent Review.

Winik is the author of eight books of creative nonfiction and poetry, most recently The Glenrock Book of the Dead (Counterpoint, 2008). She gave us a hint about her Saturday performance.

“There is nothing funner to me than doing a reading–and I especially enjoy the risk of reading from new work, as I plan to do at New Mercury on Saturday,” Winik says. “I’m going to read something similar to the ‘Desperate Housewives of Roland Park’ that ran in Fishbowl, another funny/sad chapter from the memoir I’m working on — but one that has never seen the light of day. Of course, it’s scary to reveal these stories, scariest when it’s the first time, but this kind of fear is useful to me as a performer. I have everything at stake in bringing the audience into my emotional space. At its best it’s like stand-up comedy and stand-up tragedy combined!”

Saturday, 5:30-7:30
The Windup Space
12 W. North Avenue

Let’s Meet the Hopkins Class of 2015

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Remember just a few months ago when the Johns Hopkins admissions office was nervously trying to maximize their yield? Well, looks like they did their math right this year:  37 percent of admitted students have enrolled at the university, which adds up to the school’s highest yield to-date.

While that’s still a far cry from Harvard’s 79 percent yield, it’s still respectable — and means that after decades of being thought of as a place that privileged its grad students and research fellows, Hopkins’ recent attempt to appeal to undergrads is finally paying off.

So what will the class of 2015 look like?

  • 10 percent of enrolled students are Hispanic/Latino
  • 7 percent are African American
  • 11 percent are from foreign countries — 61 students from Asia, 40 from Europe, and 16 from Canada
  • 48 percent are women

To put these numbers in perspective, the Hopkins admissions office notes that ten years ago, only 6.8 percent of the enrolled class came from underrepresented minority groups. That’s pretty pathetic, and the admissions office must’ve taken note; 18 percent of next year’s class comes from underrepresented minority groups. And as for those who say that increased diversity leads to lower standards, well, that doesn’t seem to hold true for Hopkins. Back in 2001, the admit rate was 34 percent, while only 18 percent of applicants got in last year. So the school is becoming more diverse and more selective — what other trends do you see emerging among future freshmen?

How the Senator Can Save Itself

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Former Senator Theatre owner Tom Kiefaber made a scene at a city council meeting last night. He walked to the front of the room, cut off speakers, sat in front of them, and generally misbehaved. All this because he is basically still upset that the city bought the theatre out from under him two years ago.

This is the latest event in the long story of the theater’s battle to stay afloat. The historic landmark (as it was officially dubbed in last night’s meeting) is beloved by people all over the city, including myself. But poor management decisions have kept the place from being the success it should be. To put it bluntly, Keifaber never deserved to run the Senator; he never did anything interesting with it. If the the theater’s new management wants to finally stop talking about this place and help it achieve its ambitious destiny, then they need to incorporate a few changes into the program. Here are my top three recommendations:

1. Play the trailers, like every other theater – I realize men may disagree with me on this one, but the main thing that always bothered me about the Senator is that they never played previews. The movie just begins at exactly the scheduled time. So if you arrive a little late, as many moviegoers do, you’ve missed a chunk of the film. Previews are fun, I enjoy watching and always regret missing them whenever I catch a movie at the Senator.

2. Play more than one movie at a time – I know the theater has one screen, but that doesn’t have to prevent it from playing two movies at different times throughout the day. Typically, the theater will choose to play a major film and run it and it alone for two weeks. It’s not surprising the Senator has had financial trouble when two films equal a full month’s menu. This one is really a no-brainer–if they play more movies and switch the lineup more often than twice a month, more people will come. What they really should do is add more screens which may be in the cards. But until then, they should run more than one film per half month.

3. Choose different movies – The Senator model is not suited to compete with multiplexes like those in Hunt Valley and White Marsh. Because of their size and location in major shopping centers, those theaters will always attract a younger crowd pulled see the latest blockbusters. The Senator can embrace its image as a historic place by regularly showing historic, classic movies. The theater already has a great tradition of playing It’s a Wonderful Life around the holiday season, but I think they should also play great movies of the 70s, 80s, and 90s on a weekly basis. The modern movies they choose should rely less on large-budget events–they should aim to play more movies that are attractive to older patrons. People who go to the Senator are generally older anyway, they would rather see The Bucket List than Twilight. The Senator people should know their audience and play to them.

What do you think? What might the Senator do to finally become an independent success story?

Your Comments

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Despite the distractions of summer, our loyal audience keeps reading and commenting. Some of the best…

One of our regular commenters, RolandJim, weighed in on “The Drama of the SAT II” by Getting In columnist Elizabeth Frederick about

What’s the Budget for College Touring Travel?

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Is there a budget for college touring travel? 

I often wonder how the rest of the world seems to cruise through these expensive times, seemingly without a care.  How is it everyone else appears to have so much more money?  We work hard at professional jobs, and are pretty conservative with saving and planning.  But, I’ll say it, there is still a budget!  So, when I listen to the really sweet, intelligent father whom I’m speaking with at a cocktail party, and he is describing the next three summer weekends with his rising senior daughter — one to Miami, one to Colorado, and one to New Orleans — I think, “Jeez, I wish I were your daughter!”

It begs the question, is there a budget for college touring travel, or should there be?  Is the college investment just so huge that a few grand on the front end for sightseeing trips is just insignificant?  Nothing more than a rounding error?  Will we take our children wherever they want to go, no matter how far or how many schools are on the list?  Truth is, I just don’t know.  So far, we have taken two road trips to New England.  And stayed with family at most of our stops.  Cheap.  But this is our first child, and she is making it easy.  No interest in the West Coast, or the deep South.  Her first filter for the college search is geography – “New England, please.”

So, even though we know we’ll travel a relatively easy road with this child in terms of college touring, we can still find something to worry about.  She has siblings!  What makes sense?  What is reasonable?  Should we refuse to fly or drive to the really unlikely “reach” schools?  Or does that telegraph that we don’t have any confidence in our child’s ability to get in there?  Should we tell him/her it doesn’t make sense to spend time and money (both finite resources in our lives) going to the schools that are utter “safeties”, where they are unlikely to attend?  Or does that telegraph the message that that school isn’t good enough?

I’m working myself into a pitch!  Perhaps I should just take a deep breath, and remember it will all be okay.  Perhaps I should accept that there need not be a formula for everything in life, and maybe we’ll wing it, child by child.  Perhaps the answer will be driven by the disposable income at any given time.  If you have an answer, please, comment.    

Give Rats a Chance?

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“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress,” wrote Gandhi, “can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” What, I wonder, would Gandhi make of Baltimore’s “Rat Rub Out Program,” with its so-called “rat abatement stations” and its logo of an evil-looking rat with a red line through it? We are constantly being informed that Baltimore has a serious “rat problem,” and that rats are a major health risk, a source of disease, contamination, and so forth. “Rat Rub Out Trucks” cruise the streets of Baltimore, boasting of their murderous crusade. Dismissed as vermin, rats are being systematically massacred by city officials in the name of “public hygiene.” Does anyone care?

Even if we all agree that rats are a problem, do they really need to suffer an agonizing death from slow acting poisons? And does the city really need to brag about this inhumane violence? While it may be true that rats are connected to the spread of disease (though not the plague, which was carried by fleas nestling in the rats’ fur), they are actually much cleaner than most human beings. Rats groom themselves constantly and wash their faces with water whenever they get the opportunity. They are gentle, intelligent creatures that will not attack unless provoked, and generally prefer to steer clear of human beings and go on living their lives in private, and at night. As this article from PETA explains, it is possible to live in harmony
with rats, and to solve rat “problems” without undue cruelty.

In China, the Rat is respected and considered a courageous and enterprising creature. Those born in the Year of the Rat are honored, and noted for their charm and attraction. Like rats, such people work hard to achieve their goals and acquire possessions. If we all counted ourselves blessed every time we came across a rat, the rat problem would be solved overnight, and Baltimore—at least, according to Gandhi’s criteria—would become a leading center of moral progress.

Summer Learning: Not As Bad As it Sounds

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We tend to think of summer as a time when kids relax, play around, laze in hammocks, and generally try to stay as far as possible from anything remotely educational. But a decades-long Johns Hopkins study shows that kids learn a lot over the summers, even when they don’t necessarily notice that it’s happening. And those summers can make all the difference, especially for disadvantaged students.

For the Beginning School Study, Hopkins researchers followed Baltimore City Public School kids for more than a quarter-century — from first grade through adulthood — looking at how summer experiences affected academic performance. Those lazy summers turned out to be hugely important.

All students in the study — whether they were economically disadvantaged or not — made comparable strides during the school year. Surprisingly enough, it was the summer months that made the difference. While school wasn’t in session, better-off students were going to the library, taking lessons, visiting museums, playing soccer, and just generally taking advantage of resources that helped them learn and develop. Disadvantaged kids didn’t have the same access to these programs — and so fell behind.

During those months, disadvantaged students started to lag significantly in reading, so much so that they were nearly three years behind their peers by the end of fifth grade. And, according to the study, nearly all those losses were due to the difference in how they spent their summers.

Baltimore has started to address the issue with programs like YouthWorks, which offer jobs and financial literacy training to high school students. Over at the Audacious Ideas blog, Brenda McLaughlin suggests that private camps and programs reserve a quarter of their spots for disadvantaged students: 

“While the economics of this proposal may seem improbable, consider the economics of our current school year. We spend nine months and tremendous amounts of energy and resources to promote learning and achievement for all students while school is in session; and then we step back for three months only to let 1/3 of that investment fizzle away. We have created an incredibly inefficient system in terms of how we invest our resources.  What many people don’t realize is that we will pay for this inefficiency regardless, whether it’s proactively through summer scholarships, or retroactively through social services and lost tax revenues.”

How else could schools, students, and parents help make up for the summer learning gap?

What Dads Really Want for Father’s Day…

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When I was in grade school, I always gave my father a necktie, or a picture of a man wearing a necktie, or some construction paper cut into the shape of a necktie, for Father’s Day. It didn’t matter that I only occasionally saw my father wear one. Father’s Day wasn’t about my actual relationship with my actual dad (if it were, I would have given him a bag of Funyuns or drawn a picture of a racecar); it was about paying homage to a cultural myth of paternal masculinity.

Sunday was my first time being on the receiving end of Father’s Day wishes, and as my son is only 10 weeks old, it will be a few more years before the experience includes some totemic representation of a necktie. Instead, on my inaugural Father’s Day, my wife stopped by work unexpectedly with a gift: “deluxe fries” from a neighborhood pizza place. The dish is essentially a fully dressed Philly cheesesteak (sans bread) on top of gravy fries. It’s the kind of thing one shouldn’t eat without a lifeguard present and probably no more than once a year.

Elegant Victorian on Large, Secluded Lot in Mt. Washington

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HOT HOUSE: 5603 Roxbury Place, Mt. Washington, 21209

1880 Victorian with eight bedrooms on 2.83 secluded acres in Mt. Washington, with unusually fine period interiors: $749,000

What: A fixer-upper, for sure. But the location is unique, and the house has both character and elegance. A three story, shingle-style Victorian in wood and stone, with a covered, full-length open porch along the back of the house. Porch overlooks a large private backyard that slopes down to the woods, and is supported underneath by grand stone arches and stone walkway. Inside, a huge entrance hall with hardwood floors and fireplace sets the stage (there are seven fireplaces in the house). A wide sweeping staircase rises to the second floor. Ten foot ceilings, carved moldings and amazing woodwork in the large first floor rooms — living room, library and dining room, which is papered in chinoiserie wallpaper. Kitchen has been updated with wood cabinetry and modern appliances. Central air and gas, radiator heat. Upstairs, a double-wide landing and six further bedrooms are airy and full of light. Third floor has two additional bedrooms, house has three and a half bathrooms. Definitely, a lot of house for the price.      

Where: Roxbury Place is a magical-feeling street tucked away in a wooded glen, but an easy walk to Mt. Washington village shops, restaurants, schools, etc.  The village light rail station means easy access to downtown, stadiums, trains, airports. Mt. Washington is a mile or so north of Northern Parkway on Falls Road. Turn left to go over the Kelly Avenue Bridge, bear left onto South Avenue. Roxbury Place is on the left.

Why: Because you love old houses, and you both lost your heart to the place when you walked in the door. Life here will be like living in a 19th century English rectory. 

Why Not: Roxbury Place is a peaceful, wooded lane that badly needs repaving – looks like it might not be a priority for Baltimore City snow removal either.

Would suit: Decorator manqué, someone with an eye for furniture. House can accommodate an almost infinite number of gilt chairs, linen presses, velvet sofas…with great interior vistas and architectural details too.

Robocalls: The Sequel

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Friday, I posted about the recent indictment of two of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s political aides for ordering unlawful robocalls aimed at voter suppression last election day. When dealing with the indictment of persons who have not yet been tried, let alone convicted of anything, extra care is required not to misrepresent the situation. I forewent analysis in favor of facts. But this robocall scandal begs the discussion of a larger problem with our political process.

While state Republicans were fairly quiet about the charges, Maryland Democratic party chair Yvette Lewis went on record to condemn the robocalls, calling them “reprehensible” and stating further that she is “outraged by any action intended to disenfranchise voters and subvert our democratic process.” However sincere Lewis’ outrage may be, her statement mischaracterizes the nature of political campaigning by implying that the subversion of the democratic process is the aim only of a particular candidate or a particular party. She might acknowledge that a campaign is, at its core, a matter of political gamesmanship. When political campaigns routinely attempt to manipulate voter opinion with emotionally charged buzz words, or run unflattering black-and-white pictures of the opponents with out-of-context sound bites, or draw attention to embarrassing but irrelevant scandals, the goal is no less than the subversion of the democratic process.

In an election, there are many people actively involved who are deeply invested in one outcome or the other, and relatively few people who are deeply invested the integrity of the process. Politicians do not pay six-figure fees to political consultants to ensure that the will of the people is obeyed. Neither do individuals and corporations donate large sums to political campaigns to guarantee the integrity of the democracy.

What we get is a political reality in which candidates, speechwriters, and consultants concern themselves not with honesty and fairness, but results. Every so often a politician perpetrates an immoral and dishonest tactic that also happens to be criminal, and he’s startled awake from his dreamy status quo to find he is facing actual charges attached to actual jail time.

I am not suggesting if the two aides are found guilty that they should be excused because they somehow didn’t know better. The point is that restoring legitimacy to the democratic process involves more than the occasional ferreting out of particularly outrageous examples of foul-play (and certainly some are more outrageous than others); it requires fundamental changes to the way that political campaigns are run in this country.