Robert M. O'Brien


Annapolis Legislates Lead Poisoning


Statewide, more than 500 children were found to have “harmful levels” of lead in their blood as recently as 2010. The effects of lead poisoning are wide-ranging and long-lasting. And right now there is a whole bunch of lead poisoning legislation up for debate in Annapolis right now. Eight different bills seek variously to expand state regulations (expanding regulations to cover later-built homes, requiring windows be replaced as opposed to painted over, etc.), and to protect landlords from lawsuits.

After a recent Court of Appeals ruling overturned the $17,000 limit on damages in cases of lead poisoning, landlords have threatened to board up their units rather than to rent and take the chance of have to shell out upwards of a million dollars per victim. This argument – “If we can’t poison our tenants, how will we survive financially” – is a variation on the but-if-we-don’t-feed-our-chickens-poison-how-will-we-remain-competitive? argument used by the state poultry industry back in February, and it’s a little hard to sympathize with. On the other hand, if a landlord was in good faith following state lead regulations to a T, then how culpable is he? One of the bills says, basically, “not at all.”

While hashing out who owes how much for an instance of lead poisoning is certainly an important issue. Let’s not forget that what everyone wants is fewer cases of lead poisoning. It’s ultimately in the interests of both landlords and tenants – all Marylanders, really – to demand effective, definitive lead regulations that reduce the risk of poisoning to near zero.

The Circus Fires Back at Jada Pinkett Smith


In response to a letter the actress sent to Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, asking her to ensure that Ringling Bros. refrain from the use of bullhooks to prod their circus elephants at their upcoming Baltimore performance, a spokesperson for the circus fired back at Jada Pinkett Smith, saying, “She doesn’t know the first thing about elephants or about how to take care of them.” In his opinion Pinkett Smith is being “misled” by PETA, the organization that distributed the letter. He invited the star to visit the elephants to see first-hand that the elephants are treated humanely, and not harmed by their handlers as her letter alleges.

But it’s really probably a more fundamental ethical rift. Which is to say, though the focus is on the billhooks, PETA (and, apparently Jada Pinkett Smith) views the involuntary servitude of these elephants as inherently unethical. So Pinkett Smith could show up to the circus to find the elephants in La-Z-Boys watching a Desperate Housewives marathon while their handlers fed them peeled grapes, and it probably wouldn’t change her attitude toward the use of wild animals in circus performances. It’s this basic difference of opinion regarding man’s rights over animals that keeps people on either side of the issue feeling like the opposition is out of its mind. On the other hand, it’s also what keeps us knee-deep in hot, nude PETA ads.

Video Americain Closes Charles Village Location, Not Because of Me


After some bold promotional efforts (including giving away free rentals to customers who canceled their Netflix accounts and to those who “checked in” at the store on Facebook) Video Americain has had to partially surrender to the economy and the new Internet movie paradigm by closing its Charles Village location.

I just want to let everyone know that this wasn’t my fault; it was your fault. I didn’t get a Netflix account; you did. When my wife and I set out to watch all of Battlestar Galactica, we didn’t sign up for Hulu Plus; we rented the DVDs, disc by disc, from Video Americain. And you know what, they probably would have had to close a month earlier without all that money I’ve paid them in late fees.

So when you head into VA next Friday looking for a good deal at the liquidation sale, feeling like a graverobber, thinking what a shame it is to lose a local cultural hub, to resign one more formerly social activity to the inhuman digital garbage-pile of the Internet, I want you to think, “This wasn’t Bob’s fault; this was all my fault.”

Jada Pinkett Smith Writes a Letter to Stephanie Rawlings-Blake


On Tuesday, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake received a letter from Jada Pinkett Smith. How exciting that would have been for her, had it not been an open letter all about elephants. The Baltimore native and actress called on the mayor to ensure that the city’s law forbidding the use of any “mechanical, electrical, or manual device that is likely to cause physical injury or suffering” on a performing animal be upheld during the Ringling Bros. Circus’s performance at 1st Mariner Arena. Specifically, Pinkett Smith is seeking to ensure that bullhooks not be used to prod circus elephants.

How funny. I was in the middle of writing my own open letter to the mayor demanding that she make sure Ringling Bros. not charge too much for oversalted popcorn and soda that is mostly ice. But Jada’s right — this is more important.

Pinkett Smith’s letter, distributed by PETA, claimed that not only are these elephants poked with painful bullhooks, but that several of them suffer from arthritis and yet are scheduled to perform in Baltimore.

It’s unclear how Rawlings-Blake will respond to the letter. According to The Sun, she is a big fan of the circus and even played “a ceremonial role” when Ringling Bros. came to the city in 2010.

Chris Hedges to Speak on the "Death of the Liberal Class"


Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and activist Chris Hedges — who was arrested in November for denouncing Goldman Sachs in front of their New York office — will come to MICA on March 26 to give a free talk related to his new book, Death of the Liberal Class, which — if you couldn’t get it from the title — “examines the failure of the liberal class to confront the rise of the corporate state and the consequences of a liberalism that has become profoundly bankrupted.”

The only truly passionate arguments I tend to hear against the corporate state are usually delivered by a friend who has had one too many. So, if you’re like me, getting an assessment of corporatism and the liberal class by someone with decades of journalistic experience traveling the globe to cover stories for NPR, the Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Times, among others, would be a real treat.

Chris Hedges will speak at the Brown Center: Falvey Hall, 1301 W. Mount Royal Ave on Monday, March 26 at 7 p.m.

Smoking in a Car: Child Abuse or an Inalienable Right?


Maryland Senator Jennie Forehand has authored a bill to ban smoking in cars carrying children under eight years old. This is the kind of bill that sorts voters into neat, partisan categories. If you support it, you’re a big government liberal who thinks people shouldn’t be allowed to make their own decisions; if you’re against it, you’re a conservative ideologue who’s so obsessed with personal freedoms you can’t recognize that smoking in a car with a kid is child abuse, pure and simple.

That said, I’m a little nervous to say what I think about the bill. Okay. Promise you won’t be mad at me. I think that regulating behavior in a car strikes me as a little… opportunistic. Are you still there?

Also, I think a public health campaign aimed at changing people’s minds and making refraining from smoking in a car with children the societal norm would be preferable to unenforceable legislation that will only make car-smoking parents resentful and non-smokers even more self-righteous and judgmental. Wow, that was scary! but we got through it. And you’re still friends with me, right? Right?

Anyway, what’s your position? Are you an elitist, know-it-all liberal? an uncaring conservative? something inbetween?

March (and April) of the Penguins


To promote the upcoming nature show Frozen Planet, Discovery Channel’s website is hosting a live 24-hour penguin cam throughout March and April where you can watch emperors, kings, Adelies, gentoos, and macaronis just sort of hang out in captivity.

It’s not what I would call “exciting,” but somehow I can’t stop watching this thing. Mostly, the adults just stand there. The young ones run around looking as if they haven’t given up on flying, waiting for a lift-off that will never come. Pretty tragicomic, really. Sometimes, a penguin waddles right up to the camera — what a thrill! The only thing missing from the broadcast is a Big Brother-style voice-over (“3:11 pm. Tuxedo has waddled away. Flippy confides in Oreo…”)

The Penguin Cam broadcasts from Sea World San Diego, but if watching it inspires you to get your penguin on locally, you could check out the Maryland zoo’s African penguins (a species not featured in the Cam), and for a price, you can even have breakfast with them.