Despite Inordinate Coverage, Dixon Not Actually Running for Mayor


In the background of Baltimore’s mayoral campaign looms resigned former mayor Sheila Dixon, well, at least in the coverage of the race, if not so much in actuality. She has donated moderate sums to at least two of Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s challengers, and, according to local news outlets, she has also offered certain candidates “advice.” What her involvement in the race really amounts to is anyone’s guess.

The number of headlines given to Dixon during the Democratic primary strikes me as so ordinate, that I wouldn’t be surprised if a minority of voters believes she is actually running. Her picture seems to appear on local news sites more often than any of the candidates’. Will she run in 2015? Who is she backing? What did she say about Rawlings-Blake? Have Baltimoreans forgiven her?

I could see why it’s appealing to spend one’s political coverage on Dixon. She has that scandal, and scandals are useful when you are looking to form an opinion on a politician. Depending upon your point-of-view, her gift-card theft was either an inexcusable abuse of power, or an overpunished ethical gaffe. Either way, you think something. The top candidates on the other hand, Rawlings-Blake, Pugh, Rolley, Landers: to form opinions on them you’d really have to bone up on where they stand on the issues. Sounds like homework.

Or maybe it’s that Rawlings-Blake leads by a boringly huge margin in the polls. Or maybe the prospect of choosing the next leader of a city that has been struggling for so long to turn things around with limited success is just too stressful and we’d rather not think about it.

Or maybe I just have amnesia, and it’s really 2015, and it’s Dixon versus Rawlings-Blake.

Gender Roles on Campus: Are Today’s Students Regressing?


In this weekend’s New York Times, Lisa Belkin writes about her discomfort with the gender roles she sees on campus (she’s a professor at Princeton):  women who are intelligent and confident in the classroom, and subservient/skimpily dressed outside of it:

“Why has the pendulum swung back to a feeling that sexualization of women is fun and funny rather than insulting and uncomfortable? Why are so many women O.K. with that? Odds are that the women dancing at [a Halloween/slut-themed] Duke party had mothers who attended more than one Take Back the Night march in their college day. What has changed?”

Some commenters have called Belkin out for assuming that girls in short skirts are being oppressed — perhaps they’re just asserting their sexuality the way they want to. (See the debate over the anti-rape SlutWalk protests for more discussion of the same issue.) But something about Belkin’s subtly troubling account rings true, to me at least. I always get kind of creeped out by the wintertime phenomenon of college girls trotting across Charles Street in sleeveless dresses, dodging snowdrifts while wearing high heels. Aren’t they freezing? (Consider also the series of frat-centric scandals that have erupted over the past year or so.)

Belkin asked some of her journalism students to help with the reporting, and the quotes they contribute give me an icky feeling inside, too: “‘A guy is more or less dependent on the women receiving his advances so if she is not interested, then tough luck for him,’ [one male student] said. ‘I think that in a way the girls relish that power. They can pick and say, “I’m not interested in that guy.” ‘ ” Hopefully these young women are feeling empowered by more than just their ability to reject guys. But an upsetting number of students — both male and female — seem to see it in exactly those terms.

If you’re a college student (or a parent of a college student):  does Belkin’s account ring true? Are today’s students moving in the wrong direction, in terms of gender roles? Or are here expectations outdated?

New College Rankings: Who’s Cheapest, Rowdiest, Easiest


U.S. News and World Report releases its annual “Best Colleges” report in a couple weeks, but Newsweek/The Daily Beast is trying to trump them (and perhaps capture a slice of the apparently insatiable appetite for college rankings) by issuing its own set of lists this week.

But don’t check them out expecting to get an idea of which schools have the top academic reputation. Instead, the site claims to know whose students are the horniest (Wesleyan), what school is the cheapest (Berea College), who gets the best food (St. Olaf College), and where future CEOs and activists matriculate (Harvard and Swarthmore, respectively).

One nice thing about these lists is that less-well known schools feature prominently. Schools making the top-20 list for free-spirited students include College of the Atlantic, New Saint Andrews College, and Soka University of America, all of which were unfamiliar to me. One less-nice thing is that the rankings themselves seem at times, well, dumb. Does Johns Hopkins really belong on the list of “least rigorous” institutions? Have you ever visited the school’s library during finals week?! Kids literally camp out at their library carrels. I wish I were kidding.  Also on the list:  Berkeley, UNC-Chapel Hill, and other universities that I highly doubt are walks in the park.

Results this misguided may have come about because the methodology includes data from, not the most reputable source in the world. Also the idea that freshman retention is a measure of relative ease or difficulty seems suspect.

I imagine Newsweek’ll be hearing from some wound-up Blue Jays in the coming days. After all, the school year is just beginning, so students still have a teensy bit of free time with which to correct mistaken assumptions about their school of choice.

100 Grand to Skip College?!


Attention, young entrepreneurs: In San Francisco, Peter Thiel, who is a co-founder of online home run PayPal, has started what could be a revolution in the higher education community. He is offering $100,000 to students–high school graduates and college students under age 20–not to go to college.  So, what do you have to do for the money?  Have a good idea, and try to turn it into business.

As recipients of the “20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship,” fellows embrace the life of young entrepreneurs for two years–they develop new scientific and technical projects, learn about business models, and begin to build the technology companies of tomorrow.  In addition to the cash, these kids receive another huge payday–they spend their time working with real life entrepreneurs and scientists, as mentors for their projects.  Project areas this year include biotech, career development, economics and finance, education, energy, information technology, mobility, robotics, and space.

Being selected may be less likely than being struck by lightning, but for those young people out there who are smart and creative, and have a great idea, why not try?  As Thiel promotes his scholarship, he reminds students (and their parents) that college will still be there waiting after the two years are over; and with $100,000 stipend in the bank, these Thiel Fellows can actually pay for it.

Applicants are asked to “design a project to change the world.”  Okay…that’s not intimidating, right?  But when you are 18, maybe it’s not!  Kids are so full of promise and creativity, perhaps it’s the perfect time for them to take a swing.  Thiel is all about innovation–his plan is to shake things up, challenge the traditional ways of doing tech business, and disrupt the status quo.  Although he finished college, and grad school, before making his own business millions, he thinks that the current college debt load is such a risk to future entrepreneurs that he encourages young entrepreneurs to skip that step, if they can.

This year, the inaugural year of the program, Thiel chose 24 students from more than 400 applicants, who came from many different countries, high schools, junior colleges, community colleges, four-year colleges, and grad schools.  For these kids, the next two years will be life changing, whether they launch their fortune-making businesses or not.

Hurricane Hauls Monster to Long Island Shores


This strange looking, bloated, furry creature, whose picture was snapped by a blogger, washed up on the shores of Long Beach, NY, during the hurricane.  Gawker, discoverer of the infamous Montauk Monster, found this one too. The beast has yet to be identified. Can anyone tell us what it is?


Baltimore’s Archbishop to Lead Order of the Holy Sepulchre (Not a Band)


Archbishop Edwin O’Brien has received a Vatican appointment to lead the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. The Catholic knightly order, of which Archbishop O’Brien was previously a Grand Prior, was founded during the First Crusade to maintain control of Christian holy places around Jerusalem.

Today, the Order is no longer military. Rather its knights and dames (who number more than 23,000 across five continents, according to The Sun), support Christian interests in the holy land through philanthropy.

O’Brien has a long career in the clergy—he was an Army chaplain during Vietnam—but has only presided over the archdiocese of Baltimore since 2007, during which time he has overseen over a controversial restructuring of Catholic schools, campaigned for global nuclear disarmament, and urged our Catholic governor not to support same-sex marriage.

The promotion involves a move to Rome and implies that O’Brien will soon be made a cardinal. He will remain Archbishop of Baltimore until a successor is named.

What’s Green, Nutritious, and More Competitive Than Harvard?


First there was the Peace Corps, whose members travel to developing countries for two-year stints to teach English, set up small businesses, and help with irrigation systems. Then there was AmeriCorps, whose members performed service in communities much closer to home. And now, in keeping with our food-obsessed times, there is FoodCorps, a national service program that centers on, you guessed it:  food. More specifically, the 50 new corps members will be helping improve nutrition education for kids, developing school gardening projects, and revamping cafeteria lunches. (And, just to keep things straight, it’s actually a subset of AmeriCorps.)

The participants are clustered in communities with high rates of childhood obesity and/or poor access to healthy food. And while Maryland isn’t represented, Baltimore plays a part in its own tangential way:  one of the sites where FoodCorps will be working is the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health… which is in Arizona, not Maryland.

Still, if all goes well for this first batch of Corpsmembers, maybe we’ll be getting our own next year. Each participant gets only $15,000 a year, but still the program is undeniably popular:  1,230 people applied for the 50 spots, making it more competitive than Harvard. Not bad for the program’s first year.

Baltimore After the Storm


As we were living through Irene, she didn’t seem any worse than a really bad rain storm, but the morning told a different story: over 100,000 without power, hundreds of trees down, lines down and detritus strewn hither and yon.

One of the most dramatic surprises came to Peter Kaizer whose 2005 Mazda 3 narrowly escaped annihilation from an enormous oak tree that fell in the 200 block of Murdock Road in Rodgers Forge. The tree missed the car by six inches, landing just between it and another car parked immediately in front of it. 

Another felled oak took down lines across Stevenson Lane (resulting in a ball of fire the size of the house, according to one neighbor), and more trees crashed lines on York Road, Osler Drive and Bellona Avenue among other streets. All over lush Baltimore County, same occurred, helping to explain why so many county residents are without power.  

As of Sunday night, the death toll from storm-related incidents was 21, but only one of those was from Maryland. Though the damage was less than government officials warned, most Marylanders were glad for the extra caution.  

Please post your pictures on our community page and share your stories in the comments.


A Shroom of One’s Own: The Hurricane Brings Hallucinogens


One productive effect of swampy hurricane weather, according to a story at The Huffington Post, is the abundant outcropping of mushrooms, especially the psilocybin-packed kind–also known as shrooms. (Because mushrooms multiply in moisture and are spread by wind, stormy weather spawns great gooey growth.)

Can’t say I’ve ever been psyched to ingest psilocybin, you?

The kids I knew in college who were into “shrooming” didn’t shower more than once a week, they wore long, smelly hair, jingle-bell-topped court jester hats and thick sandals built to hike in–though they were usually mild-mannered and intelligent, their aesthetic didn’t appeal to me, so I never considered trying psychedelic mushrooms. Besides, I like my mushrooms slathered in spaghetti sauce; the thought of a dinky dried-up mushroom dropped on the tongue never tempted.

To each his own spore, however. Whether you want to embrace the hallucinogenic effects of mushrooms or opt for the hold-the-visions, spaghetti-standard variety, take note: psychedelic mushrooms typically have bluish-gray stems, Dr. Suneil Jane, a naturopathic physician, told Huffington Post. Jane stressed that hallucinogenic mushrooms are actually pretty safe, but mushrooms in general can be toxic, therefore, it’s essential to have a mushroom expert on hand when you’re hand-picking. (Gray mold is one thing that indicates toxicity.) Fresh mushrooms are the very safest. “The optimal time to pick is right after the storm before the other elements can affect them,” Jane explained.

Last early fall, a friend and I searched local woods for mushrooms to cook with. We plucked some sad, old flaky ones which we bagged for the sport of it, only to discard them later. Maybe now is the time to hunt once again, one moist morning soon, before the mushrooms have a chance to spoil. I’ll seek the blue-stem-free variety, but it won’t bother me a bit if you pull the trippy, dream-weaving kind. Now that I understand they’re safe, I’d consider combining our finds in a chunky/surreal tomato paste. Please don’t wear your clunky, Velcro-strapping sandals to our dinner party, though–those things are a total buzz-kill.

There Is Hope for the Poe House!


The Poe House woes have come to an end!

The city Board of Estimates has chosen Maryland firm Cultural Resources Management Group (CRMG) to draft a plan to make the historic house self-sufficient by July 2012.  CRMG was chosen among four similar firms, each of which specializes in managing historic properties. 

The winning firm will be given $45,000 to draft their plan, the aim of which will be to keep the museum solvent permanently.  Until this year, the city had spent $85,000 annually on the house since it gained ownership of the property in 1979.  

A spokesperson for CRMG said the firm expects to have their plan finalized by late 2011 or early 2012.  Good luck to them in finding a solution!