This Week in Research: Healing Smokers’ Lungs, Mixed Race Segregation

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Okay, so you should still quit smoking… but if you absolutely refuse, here’s some good news for you:  Johns Hopkins researchers have found a drug that may work to shield the lungs from damage caused by smoking. The drug, Iosartan (brand name Cozaar), which is commonly used to treat hypertension, “improved or prevented lung tissue breakdown, airway wall thickening, inflammation, and lung overexpansion associated with two months of exposure to cigarette smoke” — in mice. That’s not to say that it’ll necessarily prevent the most serious consequences of smoking in humans, but it’s a decent bet.  The medicine’s reparative effects could help with symptoms like shortness of breath, coughing, and mucus production. It’s also already been approved by the FDA; expect more tests of its possible human effectiveness shortly.

The U.S. Census provides sociologists with lots of juicy data to parse, which is exactly what Hopkins prof Pamela Bennett has done. Drawing conclusions from where people call home (a decent approximation for social status), Bennett concludes that in terms of social hierarchy, mixed-race Americans rank below whites but above blacks.  She also found that segregation is lower among people with both black and white heritage, compared to those with fully black ancestry; in contrast, people of Asian-white or American Indian-white heritage show higher markers of segregation. “While some scholars and activists view official recognition of multiracial identities as a movement toward the deconstruction of race, I caution against such an optimistic narrative for now,” Bennett says.

Fear the JoS. A. Bank Sweater Vests of Rick Santorum

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Courtesy of Citybizlist – Give an assist to JoS. A. Bank Clothiers (Nasdaq:JOSB).

Without its sweater vests, Rick Santorum would be lost in the abyss of GOP presidential ne’er-do-wells. Instead, he has been basking in a recent surge that’s catapulted him ahead of Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul and just behind Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucus.

Earlier this week, he appeared on the Laura Ingraham radio show and proclaimed that it was when he started wearing his sweater vest at a speech two weeks ago that things started to change.

“If there was one event that really began the moment, it was that speech…So all the sudden the sweater vest was like, ‘Fear the vest,'” he said.

As the New York Times observes, “The vests have inspired their own Twitter feed – @FearRicksVest – and a Web site, FearRicksVest.com, which redirects to a pro-Santorum Facebook page. There is also a music video, ‘Sleeves Slow Me Down,’ on YouTube. The clip is loaded with catchy slogans like ‘Rick is getting ready to inVEST in you.'”

Where does Santorum procure these quickly-becoming-mythical creations?

According to the Times, Santorum buys most of his sweater vests from Baltimore-based JoS. A. Bank … even if he indulges in an occasional Brooks Brothers purchase.

If Santorum goes on to win the GOP nomination, perhaps JoS. A. Bank can begin to target a new, if highly exclusive – and presidential – demographic.

Give Up the Ghost (Sightings), Get on TV

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Ever seen a ghost at the University of Maryland? Or had a paranormal experience? Maybe you know of a horrifying tale of supernatural mischief? If so, the librarians want to know.

It’s not just for their own amusement. The University of Maryland is working with the SyFy channel on a new show called “School Spirits,” And no, it’s not about cheerleaders and pep rallies. The University’s archivist, Anne Turkos, has already shared all the spooky stories she could dig up; now she’s reaching out to the community to hear all about their eerie experiences. If something spooky happened to you — and it was on the University of Maryland campus — contact Turkos here. She’ll put you in touch with the producers. Who knows, you (and your ghost) might end up on TV!

Inexpensive Pampering at Seoul Spa

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Last year, everyone I know became obsessed with Spa World, the Korean Spa in Centreville, Virginia where you can sauna and steam and slough off your dead skin and bask in healing amethyst crystals, all for $35. But Centreville is a good hour-plus drive away, and nothing ruins a good spa high like getting stuck in DC traffic on the way home.

Which is why I was thrilled when a friend reported seeing signs for a Korean Spa in Baltimore, just off Route 40.  Seoul Spa might not be as epic as Spa World (which is 50,000 square feet and kind of overwhelming at times), but it offers plenty of pampering and only costs $20 to get in. Once inside, women go to the women’s area and men’s to the men’s, where you strip down (nakedness is non-negotiable) and soak in various hot tubs — one’s infused with tea-like herbs, one’s freezing cold, etc. There’s also a wet sauna and a dry sauna. Once you get tired of this, you put on your spa-issued orange PJs and go out to the co-ed poultice rooms, which are heated from 122 to 196 (!) degrees. (There’s also an ice room that’s -15 degrees.) There’s a Himalayan salt room (which will “disinfect and treat any women reproduction problems”), a wood charcoal room (which will “expedite blood circulation and metabolism”), and a jewel room (which looks very pretty), among others.

Seoul Spa also features an excellent Korean restaurant, a workout room, an internet cafe, and the most intense massage chairs I’ve ever encountered. You can also sign up for a scrub + massage ($70, admission included), during which all your dead skin will be scrubbed off you by an intensely focused Korean lady. You’ll leave feeling re-born.

Can Maryland Save Baltimore’s "Dying" Public Records?

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Things had gotten pretty bleak for Baltimore’s historic archives. They were kept in a leaky-roofed building filled with mold, raccoons, rats, and snakes. Yeah, snakes. Not only that, public access to these files was minimal as only a small number were available online. But the state of Maryland intervened and took control of the city’s public records in June 2010.

And not a moment too soon! According to the current Baltimore City Archives website, “on opening one archival box of the early papers of the mayors of Baltimore, the fumes from the fungal/mold decay were so powerful as to cause an excessive bout of sneezing and coughing.”

Since that time Baltimore’s court documents, ordinances, real estate deeds, zoning maps, etc. have moved into a cushy, climate-controlled building in East Baltimore. Perhaps more importantly, they are now available for use by researchers. The Archives’ website welcomes individuals to make appointments to view the documents and also encourages interested parties to help fight for the preservation of Baltimore’s public history. It doesn’t mince words regarding the direness of the situation, proclaiming, “The public records of the City are dying.”

Taxicab Confessional: A Baltimore Cabbie Publishes His Own True Story

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A couple of months ago, my friend Thomas gave me a book he’d picked up for free at The Book Thing — Hey Cabbie!, a memoir by Baltimore cab driver and former police officer Thaddeus Logan. A pioneer of self-publishing (Hey Cabbie! was first printed in 1983 by “Logan Enterprises”), the author worked as a vice cop from 1969 until 1976, when he turned in his badge and gun in exchange for a taxi driver’s medallion — one of 1,100 or so permits offered in Baltimore City for cab drivers to operate within its boundaries. There were three printings of Hey Cabbie!, two hardback and one paperback, in which Logan invested around $5000 from his own pocket.

As long as you don’t mind a bit of circuitousness and repetition — and as long as you’re not a stickler for perfect grammar and punctuation — Hey Cabbie! is an engrossing read. Honest, up-front and opinionated, Logan makes it clear that driving a cab in Baltimore can be a sordid business, especially during the late 70s and early 80s. He picks up drunks, junkies, hookers and johns; he’s regularly cheated out of his fare, and when he’s not watching the road, he glimpses all kinds of unsavory business through his rear-view mirror. He gets hit on, robbed, beaten up and abused; in one anecdote, a homeless woman with her wig on backwards urinates in the back of his cab, and in another, gangsters hold him up at gunpoint. On the plus side, he gets invited to swanky parties, hears some fascinating tales, and accepts plenty of favors from attractive ladies in lieu of cab fare. 

In one passage, Logan explains the different ways in which cab drivers are addressed by men and women of various races and age groups (the author’s original eccentric punctuation and spelling have been retained): “Young black males will call the cabbie and their friends either ‘Yoe or Moe.’ The meaning of those names are unknown, but they are of ethnic origin and considered uncomplementary. The older blacks and whites, (let’s say of the middle class) will refer to you as ‘Mack.’ The elderly poor whites may sometimes refer to you as ‘boy.’ Women and the sophisticated will refer to you as ‘driver or cabbie.'”

During one ride, Logan recalls, “I turned to say something to the fare regarding his destination and to my surprise, I was confronted by this five- foot-long Boa Constrictor Snake which was wrapped around the man’s body.” On another occasion, he picks up a woman and her three children and notices she’s hiding something under her coat. “I asked her what she had under her coat and she showed me a butcher’s knife that was about 12 inches long. I said, “What are you doing with that knife, Miss?” She stated that she was going to kill the children’s father and the b**ch that he is laying with. Then she stated that she wanted his children to witness the incident.”

Logan has a penchant for italics, bold font and capital letters, his paragraph structure is seemingly random, and some of the vignettes seem to peter out without reaching a point, but the anecdotes are so engaging, you quickly forget the book’s formal anomalies. There’s a lot of light philosophizing among the stories, too. “The scroungiest dressed person could be one of the most highly intelligent and nicest people, and vice versa,” Logan informs us. “The same applies to tipping habits. There is just no formula to determine who is going to give you that extra money.”

Reading Hey Cabbie! is a bit like taking a taxi ride through the streets of Baltimore. It’s a wandering, fragmentary and sometimes halting journey, but there are some intriguing sights along the way. The book is long out of print, so keep an eye out for used copies at your local thrift store.

 

“Hidden Baltimore” is a new column by Mikita Brottman, investigating the stranger side of our city. Brottman teaches literature and film studies at MICA.

 

 

 

 

 

Martin Luther King III to Speak at Hopkins This Week

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This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of Johns Hopkins’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration, and the school is taking the celebration to the next level — by inviting King’s son, Martin Luther King III, to speak.

MLK3 is himself a civil rights and community leader, and he was on hand for the school’s first commemoration of the holiday in 1982. Since then, speakers have included many different inspirational figures, including Maya Angelou, Harry Belafonte, James Earl Jones, and Coretta Scott King. For this year’s celebration (which has the theme “Peace, Love and Dignity:  King’s Ultimate Challenge”), King’s son will be the keynote speaker once again.  Other speakers will include Hopkins president Ronald Daniels, Hopkins Medicine CEO Edward Miller, and Ronald Peterson, president of the Johns Hopkins Health System. Along with speeches, expect music — the Unified Voices choir will be performing as well.

The program runs from noon to 1:30 PM, and will be streamed live for those who can’t make it in person. More info here.

Maryland’s $1 Million Donors in 2011

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Courtesy of Citybizlist – Of Americans who gave gifts of $1 million or more in 2011, six were Maryland residents, topped by George L. Bunting and Anne Bunting

Another five donors (who gave gifts of $1 million or more) to Maryland-based institutions resided out of state. John Malone, from Colorado, led that group with a $30 million gift to Johns Hopkins University, Whiting School of Engineering.

In December, citybizlist reported that Maryland was the second most charitable state in the country.

Below are two charts with data provided by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The first represents gifts where the donor resided in Maryland, the second where the donor was out of state. When both the donor and recipient were located in Maryland, the gifts are included in the first chart. Footnotes are provided under each.

Maryland as Donor State

Maryland Institute College of Art, in Baltimore, has received a pledge of $10-million from George L. Bunting Jr. and Anne Bunting to expand graduate studies and for research. Mr. Bunting is the president of Bunting Management Group, an investment firm, and former chairman and chief executive officer of Noxell Corporation, the maker of Noxzema skin cream. He is a former longtime member of the school’s Board of Trustees.

The University of Maryland at College Park has received $10-million from Edward St. John, founder and chairman of St. John Properties, a commercial real-estate development company in Baltimore, to create and name the Teaching and Learning Center. Mr. St. John graduated from the university in 1961 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

George Washington U. (Washington): $8-million pledge from A. James Clark, chief executive of Clark Enterprises, a construction company in Bethesda, Md., to establish a scholarship fund for prospective students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Mr. Clark is a trustee emeritus, and his company is building a science and engineering complex for the university.

Dominican U. of California (San Rafael): $2-million bequest from H.B. Yin and Lillian L.Y. Wang Yin for an endowed professorship in chemistry and for a scholarship fund for students majoring in chemistry or majoring in a science while minoring in chemistry. Ms. Wang Yin coordinated efforts on human subject protection and clinical investigators at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Regulatory Affairs. She died in 2000. Mr. Yin died in 2010.

Loyola U. Maryland (Baltimore): $1-million bequest from the estate of Alexander M. Haig Jr., a former U.S. Army general who served as Secretary of State during the Reagan administration. The money will establish the Alexander M. Haig Jr. Endowment Fund for Science, Faith, and Culture. Mr. Haig died in 2010.

Baltimore School for the Arts: $1-million gift from Patricia and Mark Joseph for its endowment. Mr. Joseph is chairman of Municipal Mortgage and Equity, in Baltimore, and a co-founder of the school.

Read the rest of the story at Citybizlist

Three City Schools Extend the School Day… By Three Hours!

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As part of the larger ExpandED Schools initiative, three Baltimore elementary schools (Hilton, George Washington, and Harlem Park) have added three hours to their school day. The three-year program promises schools thirty-five percent more instructional time at only ten percent greater cost.

The hope, of course, is that a dramatic extension of the school day will translate into better test scores and more well-rounded students. And there’s reason to be optimistic. Several New York City schools piloted the program in 2008, and in 2011 the students who participated showed significant test score gains against the rest of the city’s students. The New York ExpandED schools also saw greater attendance, in itself equal to seven additional school days.

New Year, New You

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Let’s just face the truth:  most people’s New Year’s resolutions — quitting smoking, losing weight — don’t end up working out. But that’s not to say that a brand new year isn’t a chance to overhaul some habits and make your life both healthier and happier, according to experts at Johns Hopkins and other area institutions.  Below, some suggestions for changes to make 2012 your best year ever.

  • Cut down on multi-tasking. According to Susan Lehmann, a psychiatrist working at Hopkins, “Our brains are not as good at juggling various duties at the same time as we may think, and interruptions in attention can negatively affect memory and degrade our efficiency.” This is true for everyone, and especially people over age 60. Resolve to minimize mind-clutter and keep your focus on the task at hand as much as possible.
  • Have oatmeal for breakfast.  Because it’s delicious, but also because it’s a great source of fiber — you could swap it out for other high-fiber fruits, vegetables, beans, or unprocessed whole grains.  According to Georgetown gastroenterologist, most Americans get around 12 to 15 grams a day, ““But recent studies have shown that increasing fiber intake to 25 to 30 grams per day is linked to a lower risk of death from all causes, especially cardiovascular, respiratory and infectious ailments.” I recommend steel cut oats with cinnamon and almond milk. Yum.
  • Break out the chocolate bars. The dark chocolate bars, that is — with at least 50 to 70 percent cocoa. Two squares a day (okay, so not the whole bar) is a source of antioxidants, and has been linked to a host of positive health benefits:  “the antioxidants in dark chocolate can help decrease blood pressure (in some studies the effect is equivalent to exercising for 30 minutes a day); lower insulin resistance and the risk of Type 2 diabetes; and help protect the lining of the blood vessels, reducing the possibility of stroke and heart attack.” A resolution that’s easy to keep!