Robert OBrien


Maryland’s Zoo TV: Support Your Local Penguin Cam!


Now, I usually like to a run at least one penguin-related post a week. So I was pleased that after my post last Monday about Sea World San Diego’s live 24-hour penguin cam (Did you check it out? I was watching it this morning and humans suddenly came into view!), Jane Ballentine of the Maryland Zoo informed me of their own “Zoo TV” — no relation to the 1992 U2 world tour — replete with their own 24-hour penguin cam.

So maybe you’ve seen Sea World San Diego’s waddlers shiver in frigid temperatures, but how about some African black-footed penguins kicking it in a temperate clime with the occasional sea gull? Now that’s a penguin I could relate to. As opposed to the Sea World cam, the angle of the Maryland Zoo’s camera gives a little bit of a security-footage vibe — I half-expect one of the penguins to suddenly rob a liquor store — but on the whole these birds seem a lot more relaxed.

Remember that you heard it here first: 2012 is the year of the penguin. I know you think it’s all vampires and zombies, but trust me. We’re on the precipice of a grass-roots, internet zoo 24-hour webcam revolution. By 2013 we’ll see Pandora-style penguin playlist generators; you input your favorite penguin and the web application uses a sophisticated algorithm to match you with penguins you may never have heard of but are likely to enjoy.

Maryland’s Unemployment Rate Sees Halfway Decent Drop in January, Ranks Kind of Okay Nationally


When I’m driving in heavy traffic and feeling cranky about it, sometimes it feels good to cut someone off and think, “At least I’m doing better than that guy!” Well, in the heavy traffic that is the national unemployment rate of 8.3 percent, Maryland is doing better than 35 states and the District of Columbia with a rate of 6.5 percent — the lowest we’ve seen in three years — according to January figures just released.

Let’s not even worry about North Dakota, whose unemployment rate is 3.2 percent — they’re doing better than the national average pre-recession! Instead, let’s think about Rhode Island, tied for 49th place with a rate of 10.9 percent. Come on, Rhode Island! How many people ya got there ya can’t get everybody a job?! And can you believe Nevada? They came in dead last at 12.7 percent! By all rights, there ought to be more career options there than anywhere, with everything they’ve legalized!

Actually, maybe the kind of schadenfreude you get from picking on those doing the absolute worst is a little heavy on the schaden, a little light on the freude. In terms of our traffic analogy, it would be like having a laugh at the guy with a smoking engine in the breakdown lane. And we all know works best is feeling superior to the person directly in your rear-view. For us that’s Louisiana, with a rate of 6.9 percent. Ha! Louisiana, you poor sucker!

Senators Have Their Own Kind of Fun with Smoking Bill Amendments


Maybe because they knew they had to bite the bullet and play it pretty straight to combat a 23 percent increase to judges’ salaries, the Maryland Senate engaged in some screwball maneuvering regarding a bill that would ban smoking in a car with a child 8 years old or younger.

Sen. John Astle, who considers the bill a slippery slope, proposed an amendment intended to make the bill even less attractive, lowering its chance of passing. Oddly enough, his amendment — to raise the age from 8 to sixteen — passed 24-19 on Friday. Then, just before recess and without further debate, Sen. Bill Ferguson, who voted yea on the amendment the first time around, motioned to reconsider it. On the second vote it was defeated 19-25.

Is this how legislators unwind? With joke-voting? Were multiple senators in on it? I’ll probably never know. Thankfully, it’s not really all that important.

By the way, the Senate approved the bill last night, with no goofy amendments.

Lawmakers Weigh Their Options with Judges’ Salaries


How much easier it would be to get my way if at the start of every negotiation I set a short timer on a doomsday device. That’s (sort of) how it’s working for Maryland judges. If the state legislature can’t come to an alternate agreement among themselves by tomorrow, then a 23 percent raise over three years will automatically take effect. And, man, is that making the House and Senate move, move, move!

The Senate passed a resolution to raise salaries by 11 percent, and it looks like the House will approve it, without any amendments at all, even as it seems plenty of them would rather see a pay freeze. As Del. John Bohanan explained to Maryland Reporter, “As a practical matter, we’re not going to have enough time for the Senate to join with us in agreement if we adopt any amendments.” And so, largely, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are agreeing to quickly pass the Senate resolution.

I know even an 11 percent increase seems out of proportion with an austerity budget, but it’s worth it just to see politicians be forced to choose the lesser of two evils. You know, like we often do.

JPS Versus SRB Continued


In true political form, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake chose not to answer Jada Pinkett Smith’s letter — which asked the mayor to prevent the jabbing of circus elephants with bullhooks at Ringling Bros.’ upcoming Baltimore performance — head on. Instead, she changed the subject and went on the offensive, chiding Pinkett Smith for not helping the mayor solve homelessness or repair our public schools after being “reached out” to.

Now, when you’re the mayor, it’s unbecoming at best to whine about a private citizen not doing enough for Baltimore; fixing the problems of the city is literally your job. But asking us to blame homelessness and underperforming schools on Jada Pinkett Smith — JADA PINKETT SMITH?! — is patently absurd. That’s the kind of thing you blame on the previous mayor or an uncooperative city council.

But the actress doesn’t need me defending her; she’s got an aunt who’s spitting fire. Karen Evans, who runs Pinkett Smith’s Baltimore-based charity, wrote a letter to the mayor touting her niece’s extensive local charity work and closing with the perfect burn: “I hope that at the end of your administration you will be able to say that you have made as positive an impact as she has.”

If only the elephants themselves could write letters — we’d have an angry-missive battle royale.

Maryland Counties Consider Making English Official Language


Last month, Frederick County declared English its official language — by the way, I can’t tell you how relieved I am that they ended up settling on English; there were some very persuasive last-minute arguments for Esperanto — and Republicans in Anne Arundel and Queen Anne’s have proposed ending the suspense and declaring English the language of the land in those counties too.

In Anne Arundel County, Councilman Jerry Walker recently withdrew his English-only legislation after a fellow member of the currently all white council publicly used a racial slur. As Walker recently told The Sun, he doesn’t want the bill to be seen as racially motivated. Rather, “[i]t’s about sending a message to