Rachel Monroe


The Nation’s Feelings About Maryland: Meh.


Americans’ favorite state is Hawaii, according to a recent poll. This might lead you to conclude that we have a penchant for palm trees and beaches — but then it turns out that our least-favored state is California. And then there’s Maryland, which Americans feel kind of “meh” about.

Public Policy Polling is one of those outfits that’s always calling up at dinnertime, trying to find out Americans’ opinions on everything from Republican presidential candidates to the most-hated NFL teams (the Cowboys, apparently) to God’s approval rating. Last year, PPP asked American voters about their impressions of each state. The five states that came out on top were Hawaii, Colorado, Tennessee, South Dakota (!?), and Virginia. But most states — Maryland included — make an overall favorable impression. The only five states that Americans feel negative about are California (Hollywood?), Illinois (the Mob?), New Jersey (the Garden State Parkway?), Mississippi (self-explanatory?), and Utah (Mormons?). 

Maryland ranks 30th, liked slightly more than South Carolina and slightly less than Maine. We’re liked more by liberals, less by moderates and conservatives. Men dislike us way more than women. Young people like us more than middle-aged or old people. Hispanic voters aren’t really sure what to make of us.

What do we do with this information? I guess we could try to win over some of those Virginia fans, or gain a little ground by putting out bad PR about South Carolina. Or we could just ignore it, and go back to our lives.

Huguely Trial Goes to Jury. What Are the Options?


Only the jurors know the full details from the trial of George Huguely, the UVA lacrosse player on trial for the murder of his former girlfriend, fellow UVA lacrosse player (and graduate of Baltimore’s Notre Dame Prep) Yeardley Love. Starting today, those seven men and seven women (two will be dismissed as alternates) will deliberate until they reach a verdict. Will they find him guilty of murder, which may find him facing a maximum sentence of life in prison? Will he get off scot-free? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle; our speculation below.


  • Not guilty. No one — not even Huguely — is arguing that his actions didn’t result in Love’s death, so the odds that he’ll be found not guilty of all charges seems very slim.
  • Involuntary Manslaughter.  In the videotaped statement that Huguely gave police in 2010, right after the night in question, he seems genuinely shocked and remorseful when he hears of Love’s death. This suggests that he hadn’t meant to kill her, and didn’t have a sense of how badly he had hurt her. If the jury can be convinced Love’s injuries are a result of Huguely being “a stupid drunk” who went to her apartment just to talk to her, not to hurt her, this is a possibility. If the jury finds that this was indeed an unintentional, reckless killing, the maximum sentence Huguely will face is 10 years.
  • Second Degree Murder. But remember that Huguely kicked Love’s door down to get into her room, which sets a violent tone to the incident right from the start. (On the videotape, Huguely initially lies about this, but admits it when pressed by police.) Huguely admits that he wrestled with Love, that her nose bled, and says that he shook her. If the jury finds that Huguely intentionally beat Love (which seems to me the most likely case), second degree murder is a likely charge; the sentencing guidelines call for 5 to 40 years.
  • First Degree Murder. The difference between second- and first-degree murder hinges on premeditation. Did Huguely go to Love’s apartment with the intent to hurt her? Consider the kicked-in door, but also remember that Huguely was very drunk at this point, which (lawyers argue) compromised his ability to make any sort of premeditated action. The prosecution is arguing that an earlier email from Huguely to Love in which he says he “should have killed her” (he’d just found out that she’d cheated on him) implies premeditation; defense lawyers say it was just a bit of youthful hyperbole. The sentencing guidelines for first degree murder call for 20 years to life.
  • The Robbery/Larceny Factor. When Huguely stormed out of Love’s apartment, he took her laptop with him. If the jury finds that this was a premeditated action — that Huguely broke into Love’s room to hurt her, and knew that he needed to take the laptop to hide evidence — then this counts as a felony murder, which calls for 20 years to life. If, on the other hand, the jury decides that the taking was an impulse or a drunken afterthought, the charge of grand or petty larceny (depending on the computer’s value) applies… adding zero to 20 years, depending.

As you can see, the sentencing guidelines mean that Huguely could face anything from nothing to life in prison. And we probably won’t know the details of his sentence for another few months. Under Virginia law, jurors return a verdict, and then hear more arguments from defense and prosecution before deliberating over a sentencing recommendation. The recommendation gets turned over to a judge, who can approve or lower the sentence, but not raise it.

Personally, I think the most likely outcome is a charge of involuntary manslaughter (if the jury is moved by Huguely’s videotaped shock at the news of Love’s death) or second-degree murder (the kicked-in door; the lies to police). What’s your best guess? Let us know in the comments.

Update: At about 6:45 p.m.today, February 22, the jury returned a guilty verdict of second-degree murder in the case.  

Social Media for Medical Students


Often when we hear about students tweeting, it’s for the wrong reasons — the football player breaking NCAA rules by using racial slurs against an opponent; the high schooler who got in trouble with the Kansas governor for an inappropriate hashtag (#heblowsalot). But with social media an increasingly pervasive part of daily life, it would be nice if there was some way to make it work for students, instead of just against them.

Cue Meg Chisolm, a psychiatrist and professor at Johns Hopkins. She’s a fan of tweeting, both personally and professionally, and she’s hoping to use her experience to help Johns Hopkins medical students figure out where social media might fit into their medical careers.

Chisolm herself has two professional Twitter accounts; @whole_patients demystifies psychiatry for doctors and patients alike (sample tweet:  Curiosity is one of core features I look for in #meded interviews. Surprisingly rare among med school & residency applicants) and @psychpearls, where she offers clinical tidbits for psychiatrists -in-training (sample tweet:  Lack of reliability in dx of specific DSM personality d/os raises the question:  is this diagnosis or “sophisticated” name-calling? #meded). She sees them as ways to connect with her colleagues, patients, and the wider public.

But social media plus medicine can be a volatile combination, too — especially for students who’ve grown up in a low-privacy world. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found an alarming number of blogs and Facebook posts by docs-in-training that contained all sorts of identifying information. Even when patients aren’t involved, a young doctor’s social media presence might not exactly connote professionalism, depending on how many look-at-me-wasted-at-Mardi-Gras pictures s/he has up.

Which is exactly why Chisolm and her colleague Tabor Flickinger are designing a pilot study to train third-year medical students on the potential benefits and pitfalls of social media use. Other medical schools, including Brown, the University of Chicago, and George Washington, already have social media curricula; this is Hopkins’s chance to catch up.

Students in the study will post on a private blog, which will help them mull over the challenging situations posed by their medical training. “They can reflect on encounters and situations that might have bothered them, or talk about successes,” Dr. Flickinger said. “This experience will teach them skills of reflective writing, and to think critically about issues of professionalism. It’s also a proactive way to get them to use social media in a professional way before they are released into the wild, so to speak. And do so in a protected way.”

Gay Marriage in Maryland’s Unlikely Supporter: Dick Cheney


As the gay marriage bill moves to the Maryland Senate this week, it’s gaining some supporters you might not expect. Like, oh, say former vice president Dick Cheney.

The marriage equality bill squeaked by the state House of Delegates last week with a 72-67 tally — just one vote above the minimum needed for passage. Baltimore County delegate Wade Kach, a last-minute supporter, was one of two Republicans who helped push the bill forward. (The other was Robert Costa of Anne Arundel County.) He said he made up his mind after seeing happy, supportive same-sex couples… and after getting a phone call from Cheney, whose daughter is a lesbian and who has come to be a prominent supporter of gay marriage.

Kach issued a statement saying that “While no one event or conversation prompted me to come to this decision, I was significantly moved by the testimony of families — who are raising children in a loving environment and deserve every right to enjoy the same protections and responsibilities that our laws provide for others.”

As we noted yesterday, now Maryland is one step closer to being the eighth state to approve same-sex marriage. The next hurdle:  the Senate vote, which is expected to take place this week. Last year, the chamber passed a similar measure, so there’s a cautious — but exuberant — hopefulness in many homes this week.

This Week in Research: Your Cell Phone is Making You Selfish


One upside of the technology boom is that it enables us to stay in touch, connect with others, and otherwise be more social animals… right? Maybe, but not necessarily in a good way, according to a study by University of Maryland marketing professors. After talking on a cell phone for a short time, research subjects were less likely to volunteer for a community service activity than those who hadn’t been chatting on a phone. The researchers posit that a cell phone conversation gives the user a feeling of connectivity and belonging. Once that itch is scratched, there’s less of a need to engage in empathic or prosocial behavior. Even more scary, this decreased focus on others held true when participants were asked to draw a picture of their cell phones and think about using them, without even making a phone call.

And — sorry for more bad news! — patients who recover from potentially deadly diseases are hardly brimming with joy and gratitude, according to research by Johns Hopkins psychiatrists and doctors. Instead, these patients often suffer from depression… which can lead to new physical problems. (Yes, that’s right — the depression comes before the new physical impairments.) The study looked at survivors of acute lung injuries in Baltimore hospitals, and found that 40 percent suffered depressive symptoms in the two years following their discharge. Two-thirds had new physical problems that made it difficult to perform the tasks of daily life, such as using the phone and shopping for food. This is despite the fact that the average age of the patients was 49. “Patients are burdened for a very long time after their hospital stays,” says Dale Needham, a Hopkins doc who was the study’s principal investigator. “We need to figure out what we can do to help these previously productive people get back their lives.” The study posits that it’s not just the illnesses that make patients have a hard time recovering, but also the standard ICU procedures of deep sedation and bed rest.

iPhones Meet Museum. Magic Results.


Not all museums are monuments to the past. In the internet age, even collections as venerable as those at the Walters Art Museum are getting an upgrade thanks to innovative use of technology, allowing museumgoers to have a whole new relationship with the art on the wall.

For the next month, visitors to the Walters can play around with Peer One, a video project organized by wi-fi artist Kari Altmann. Altmann turned to her online collective of video artists, designers, bloggers, and other digitally-minded creative types, asking them to create video responses to objects in the museum’s permanent collection. “Altmann… encouraged them to place the museum’s objects into a contemporary informational, commercial and cultural context,” the museum notes.

What this means for you is that you can download a 16-video tour of the collection on your favorite portable device. Then visit the corresponding 16 works of art, and watch the corresponding video. A pdf provides additional context about each work. Old media and new media getting friendly — this is definitely the museum of the future!

JHU Summer Camp for Engineering Geeks


If you happen to know any teenagers who would rather spend the summer building robots and spaghetti-bridges than lifeguarding or sleeping in, be sure to point them toward Johns Hopkins’ Engineering Innovation. Over the past decade, the program has hosted enthusiastic high school math/science buffs who spend a month “develop[ing] the skills to think and problem solve  like engineers.”

Clearly, this program isn’t for everyone. For one, participants have to have completed Algebra II and Trigonometry, as well as be comfortable using a spreadsheet program like Excel. For another, they have to be stoked at the idea of spending the summer with like-minded — and we mean this in the most celebratory, positive sense possible — nerds. Those who are so inclined will spend their time crafting elaborate mousetraps, elegantly complex spaghetti bridges, an listening to lectures on dimensional reasoning, digital systems, and something called “truss analysis.” And presumably making friends, developing crushes, talking nerd talk, etc. Check out these photos for evidence of how much fun these kids must have.

Financial aid — including full scholarships — is available for those who need it, and kids who leave the summer class with an A or B grade can get three college credits from Hopkins. Perhaps unsurprisingly, ninety percent of program grads go on to study engineering (or science) in college. The deadline is March 15. Alert your favorite nerds.

Baltimore’s Baby Lemur Grows Up; Still Cute (Video Proof)


Kids — they grow up so fast! Why, it was just the other day that Baby Nero, the Maryland Zoo’s ridiculously cute baby lemur, was clinging to his mother’s stomach, unable to get around on his own. Now that he’s three months old, though, Nero spends more time riding around on his mom’s back — when he’s not jumping, bouncing, and climbing.

“Nero is becoming more and more independent,” zoo officials say — and do we detect a note of nostalgia in their voice? If you need video proof that Nero has lost none of his adorable-ness, watch a video of him scampering around here:

Nero is the youngest member of the zoo’s family of Coquerel’s sifaka, an endangered species of lemur native to Madagascar. His mom, Anastasia; father, Gratian; and brother, Otto can be found in the zoo’s chimpanzee forest exhibit.

JHU Admissions Staff: What Makes Applications Stand Out?


We’ve mentioned before — a few times, actually — how much we like the Johns Hopkins admissions team’s website, Hopkins Insider. They give lots of detailed information, but with a lighthearted spirit; they’re clearly trying to demystify the college admissions process for students, and help everyone — students and parents alike — chill out a little bit. Which is why we like their candid, helpful responses about what makes an application essay stand out:

Admissions Counselor Bryan Nance:  “When I get a chance to understand who an applicant really is and how they will fit into the Hopkins community.”

Admissions Counselor Shannon Miller:  “When someone takes an everyday topic and makes it their own – don’t start your essay with something like ‘The most inspirational person in my life is my mom,’ or ‘Interact has been my most meaningful activity.’ I know you can be more creative than that!”

Admissions Counselor Dana Messinger:  “A good college essay is personal.  No matter how well written it is if I don’t feel like I know the student any better at the end, it doesn’t really stay with me.  The best essays are the ones that let me picture what the applicant is like in some facet of his or her life.”

Admissions Counselor Rachel Cowan Jacobs:  “An essay that goes beyond the surface stands out for me.  It can be challenging to write a deep essay without going into too much story-telling. I find those to be effective essays because they tell me more about the applicant and showcase his or her writing ability.”

Admissions Counselor Sarah Godwin:  “When it is something only you could have written about. For example, being on a soccer team is a fairly common experience that many people can write about,  but growing your own organic garden or telling me about your elaborate take-out menu collection and how it defines who you are, well that is an “only you could write that” kind of essay.”

Admissions Counselor Sherryl Fletcher:  “When a student is writing in an authentic voice, their own experiences stand out as unique views of who he/she is and the potential to contribute within the classroom and within the Johns Hopkins community.”

Admissions Counselor Daniel Creasy:  “It absolutely needs to be personal. I need to have a better sense of who the applicant is after reading the essay. In fact, I want applicants to think of it less as an essay and more as a personal statement. Being personal makes an essay effective, being original and creative makes an essay stand out.”

Admissions Counselor John Birney:  “The topic needs to be unusual and interesting.  I love to find out those characteristics of students which are rarely known.’

Goucher Student Dominates on Jeopardy!; Final Tonight


The annual Jeopardy! College Championship comes to a close tonight, February 14. Let’s hope it’s a sweet one for Goucher student Sarah Bart, who showed those other competitors who’s boss during last week’s semi-final round, and clinched a spot in tonight’s final.

After a slow-ish start — Bart trailed George Washington sophomore Jaime Alayon by $4,000 at the first commercial break — Bart quickly made up the difference. By the end of the Double Jeopardy round, Bart had $25,800; Greer Mackabee, a senior at Duke, had $14,400, and poor Alayon had a mere $3,200. Both of Bart’s competitors botched the final answer (Category:  Characters in Poetry.  Answer:  “The name of this title heroine of a 1847 poem is from the Greek for ‘good news.'” Bart ended up with a whopping $29,300; she’d gotten 28 answers correct (including two Daily Doubles), and three questions wrong.

If you’re so inclined, you can test yourself against all the questions from Bart’s game here. The correct response for the Final Jeopardy! Round? Evangeline. I was an English major, and I had no idea. Which is why I’m not on Jeopardy.

The (surprisingly numerous!) Jeopardy discussion boards and recap sites had plenty to say about Bart’s victory. “We thought this was one where you didn’t necessarily need to know Longfellow and his epic poem ‘Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie’ to get it. Knowing the etymology of the word evangelist would have done it, but then Evangline isn’t the only feminine form of that word as a name, so maybe you would have to know Longfellow after all,” one sniffed. More power to Bart that she did. If you don’t have a hot date (or even if you do), we suggest tuning in tonight to watch Bart try for the $100,000 grand prize.