July 2006 Issue

Page 1

july 2006


issue no. 25

The New Urban Economy Baltimore’s Biotech Revolution

Say Bye-Bye to BGE Your home’s energy alternative

Will Your Vote Count? The Diebold debate

The Golden Days of Little League Fifty years in South Baltimore


urbanite july 06

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12:56 PM

Page 1



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urbanite july 06


Soul Italy of

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When it comes to surgery, less is more. For information about this and other minimally invasive procedures, call 1-800-492-5538 or visit www.umm.edu/mitc. Laparoscopic oophorectomy is the minimally invasive, surgical removal of the ovaries for women experiencing ovarian cancer or severe endometriosis.


urbanite july 06


19 what you’re writing 23 corkboard 25 have you heard … edited by marianne amoss


29 food: speed dinners steve blair

33 baltimore observed: election fraud for dummies bill mesler

37 encounter: a coke and a smile jason tinney

42 space: the art of space marcus charleston


48 banking on biotech fern shen

52 the ethics of fact: q & a with r. alta charo nicky penttila

54 from big monsters to big brother susan mccallum-smith

61 sustainable city: power surge trena johnson


65 out there: a healthy skepticism injection tom lombardi

69 in review 73 what i’m reading susan mccallum-smith

81 resources 86 eye to eye


cover note: Nicole Shiflet created this month’s cover with Adobe InDesign. The shapes and formations are inspired by microscopic organisms and electronic components.

w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m j u l y 0 6


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8:48 AM

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Advertising/Editorial/Business Offices P.O. Box 50158, Baltimore, MD 21211 Phone: 410-243-2050; Fax: 410-243-2115 www.urbanitebaltimore.com Editorial Inquiries: Send queries to the editor-in-chief (no phone calls, please) including SASE. The magazine is not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts or artwork. Urbanite does not necessarily support the opinions of its authors. To subscribe or obtain assistance with a current subscription, call 410-243-2050. Subscription price: $18 per year. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission by Urbanite is prohibited. Copyright 2006, by Urbanite LLC. All Rights Reserved.

www.mandtmortgage.com The example above is based on a fixed interest rate of 5.875% with an APR of 6.38% and 360 monthly principal and interest payments of $860.69. Example assumes a 97% loan-to-value ratio and a $145,500 mortgage amount. Remaining downpayment amount, closing costs and pre-paid items (excluding any interim interest if applicable) may be funded by a gift, grant, subsidy or an M&T unsecured loan. Example for illustrative purposes only. Posted rate effective 4/12/06 for low/moderate income areas only. Rates in other areas may be higher. Please call for current rates. Certain restrictions apply. Maximum income by household size, 80% of area median income unless property is located in a low/moderate income census tract, then no income limit applies. Available in select counties. ©2006 M&T Mortgage Corporation.



urbanite july 06

Urbanite (ISSN 1556-8105) is a free publication distributed widely in the Baltimore metropolitan area. If you know of a location that urbanites frequent and would recommend placing the magazine there, please contact us at 410-243-2050.

editor’s note


Science, like religion, is a doubleedged sword—neither inherently good nor inherently evil, but rather a tool in the hands of its users. photo by Sam Holden

The greatest discoveries of science have always been those that forced us to rethink our beliefs about the universe and our place in it. —Robert L. Park, physicist and University of Maryland professor

There are moments in time when the world takes a giant leap forward. A perfect storm of circumstances creates the environment for discovery, and what we once believed is irrevocably altered: The Earth is round, and not the center of the universe. Gravity made the apple fall. Man evolved. An atom can be split. Author Thomas S. Kuhn coined the (now oft-overused) term “paradigm shift” in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962 precisely to describe such transforming cultural moments driven by scientific discovery. In the 2004 book Soul Made Flesh: The Discovery of the Brain—and How It Changed the World, author Carl Zimmer writes about one of these remarkable moments, when, in the summer of 1662, a group of Oxford scientists led by Thomas Willis revealed the function of the brain. Memory, dreams, and experience were not just a mysterious magic of the spirit, Willis said, but rather a result of the brain’s complex branching of nerves. Neuroscience was born and “it created a new way of thinking about thinking and a new way of conceiving the soul,” Zimmer writes. It also created a firestorm of controversy led by those who believed man’s soul to be an immortal and immaterial essence. Science frequently fuels controversy. It scrambles settled beliefs far beyond science itself. It forces us to reflect on our humanity and question that which we believe to be true. Just as Willis’ analysis of the brain ushered in a new era, science today is primed to forever alter our future. Biotechnology, nanotechnology, stem-cell research, cloning … science is propelling us to places that we never imagined possible. Each new advance, each new discovery, brings questions about the nature of life and about our moral and ethical responsibilities within that life. Baltimore and Maryland are at the epicenter of this new science. In March, after emotional debate in the legislature, we became one of only four states to approve funding for stem-cell research. Much of that grant money is expected to feed scientists at the new biotech centers being developed in the city by Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Have we in Maryland created the “perfect storm” for scientific discovery? Are the economics, the ethics, the services, and the scientists in place to create a seismic shift in our understanding of life? Can we handle this? If the planners and prognosticators are right, biotechnology will absolutely alter our practical, economic future. Could our modern-day Bethlehem Steel, or our generation’s GM plant, be rising in the biotech parks bracketing the city’s core? However the economic realities flesh out over time, the real possibility exists that we are giving birth to a cosmic change in the way we think about ourselves, our world, and the universe itself. —Elizabeth A. Evitts

—Margaret Wertheim, American science writer

Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas. —Marie Curie, Polish chemist, pioneer in the field of radiology, and two-time Nobel Prize winner

Nothing shocks me. I’m a scientist. —Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

It has yet to be proven that intelligence has any survival value. —Arthur C. Clarke, British author and inventor

Political ideology can corrupt the mind, and science. —Edward O. Wilson, American biologist, researcher, theorist, and naturalist

Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.

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urbanite july 06


behind this issue

courtesy of Nicole Shifl et

courtesy of Michael Paulson

photo by Lisa Macfarlane

photo by Adam Schoonover

with guest editor arthur caplan

Marcus Charleston “If you believe in destiny, seeing a ship bearing your last name on your first visit to the Inner Harbor might seem like an omen,” says Marcus Charleston, who wrote this month’s Space department article, “The Art of Space.” Charleston earned a bachelor of arts degree in communications with a specialization in liberal arts/journalism from Rowan University in New Jersey. He has worked as a freelance writer and radio producer. Charleston’s articles have been published in magazines and newspapers like Philadelphia magazine’s Elegant Weddings, Philly Health & Fitness, and Main Line Today. His work in public radio, for which he has been awarded Best Radio Interview Program by the Philadelphia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, has been heard nationally; he currently lives in Baltimore and is the producer of The Marc Steiner Show at WYPR.

Trena Johnson “As we approached the year 2000, many anticipated that technology would solve all of the world’s problems, but really the solution to the enormous global population is to revert to natural resources,” says Trena Johnson, who wrote about solar energy in the Sustainable City department. “I think a lot of Marylanders are going to make use of solar power.” Johnson works as a sighted employee for the National Federation of the Blind. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park. She began writing as an intern for the Towson Times and later served as assistant book editor for The Baltimore Sun. Johnson is fluent in Spanish.

Michael Paulson Michael Paulson currently teaches English at the Friends School. He earned a master of fine arts degree in fiction writing from Penn State, where he began writing book reviews while finishing his thesis, a collection of short stories titled Love in the Time of Salmonella. Paulson has lived in Baltimore off and on for the last ten years and still comes across crazy, wonderful nooks and crannies, which, he says, is part of the charm of Charm City. He reviewed former Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Fesperman’s new novel, Prisoner of Guantánamo.

Nicole Shifl et “Much of my own work as an artist is influenced by microscopic and organic formations,” says Nicole Shiflet, who created this month’s cover. “I created the basic layout and composition and from there collaborated with [Urbanite art director] Alex Castro to reach the final design.” Shiflet, who earned a master of fine arts degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County this year and a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Georgia in 1998, is currently focusing on experimenting with and comparing the use of line in many different forms, from electronic circuitry to animation. She has participated in such sound-based performances as Kunstradio’s presentation of The Long Night of Radio Art.

Arthur Caplan, Ph.D. is considered one of the country’s leading authorities on bioethics, a field studying the ethical questions that arise at the nexus of science, medicine, research, technology, and public policy. In addition to his regular column on bioethics for MSNBC.com, Caplan has written a wealth of books and papers on a range of topics including medicine, science, philosophy, and health policy. He is frequently asked to comment on these issues for National Public Radio, CNN, The New York Times, and others. USA Today named him the Person of the Year in 2001. Caplan is currently the Emmanuel and Robert Hart Professor of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.


did not know much about Urbanite before they called to ask if I would help with a special issue on biotechnology. But with that call I instantly knew something about the editors of the magazine—they are savvy about where the cutting edge of science and technology is these days. And I knew that they were either very courageous or very optimistic about their readers. If anything is hard for nonscientists to grapple with, it is developments on the frontier of biotechnology. Should you be concerned about biotechnology? Well, if you live in Baltimore or in Maryland or, for that matter, in the United States, then you had better be concerned. Biotechnology represents the key hope that America has for a vibrant economy in the decades to come. The biotechnology industry is where we will see science’s understanding of the human genome, the function of the human brain, and the mysteries of cellular and tissue regeneration put to use. Our aging pharmaceutical industry will be rejuvenated as biotechnology start-up companies revolutionize the field. Biotech companies are making the early diagnosis of disease possible; they are targeting medicines designed for particular patients that are safer and more effective, and are beginning to design plants and animals that are healthier to eat and that can produce substances that will stave off disease and help us live longer, better lives. The United States has been willing—through a mix of high-quality academic institutions, solid government funding, and aggressive private enterprise including banks, venture funds, and investors—to take risks, and has created an unparalleled environment for the biological and biomedical sciences to flourish. Most of our future new jobs are going to be generated by biotechnology and the spin-out companies and service industries it generates. But there is plenty of competition to attract the biotechnology genie. Maryland’s efforts to attract biotech investment abut efforts in nearby Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey to do the same. Florida, California, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Missouri, and many other states are each touting their workforce, existing infrastructure, universities, regulatory climate, and even weather as ways to win the hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars that hang in the balance. Even so, not everyone is thrilled at the prospect of having biotechnology in their backyard. Some worry that we don’t understand enough about how genes work to try to change those in plants, animals, or people. Others fret that once we get going down the biotechnology path it won’t be long before there will be two classes of Americans—those who can live a long, active life using the products of biotechnology and those who cannot. Still others worry that biotechnology will run roughshod over core values regarding human dignity, including that of embryos and research subjects, in the race for profit. What is going to happen is hard to predict. That a revolution is in progress, however, is a fact. Were the editors courageous or optimistic that you would care? Probably a bit of both. But they are right—you should.

w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m j u l y 0 6


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urbanite july 06


what you’re saying

In January, we wrote in our Have You may 2006


issue no. 23

orary baltimore: contemp exploring t he ar t

the city’s master plan: what you need to know

Your Space What You’re Saying is the place for letters from you. We want to hear what you’re saying—and it does not have to be all about us. E-mail us at mail@urbanitebaltimore. com or send your letter to Mail, Urbanite, P.O. Box 50158, Baltimore, MD 21211. Submissions should include your name, address, and daytime phone number; they may be edited for length and clarity.

sce ne

affordable art: how to start a collection

the new backyard: green your alley Urb23_Master.indd 1

4/12/06 4:04:22 PM

Raising the Barr

Thoughts on the Master Plan

I would like to comment on Elizabeth Evitts’ May Editor’s Note on her comparison of Baltimore’s art scene with other cities. Baltimore’s art scene may not compare well with other cities, but no doubt its influence on the art world is second to none. One example can be found with Alfred H. Barr Jr. Barr was a 1918 graduate of Baltimore’s Boys’ Latin School and later studied at Princeton. It was the Baltimorean Barr who became the founding director of The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. Barr was a giant in the modern art movement. He knew and corresponded with all of the modern artists and helped many now-famous artists early in their careers find a wider American audience. It was during Barr’s time as director (1929 to 1943) that the museum held the first major Matisse exhibition in the United States and the first American Picasso retrospective. In 1944 MoMA was the first museum to purchase a Jackson Pollack painting. A Baltimore-bred man’s insight into the modern art world was the catalyst in building the wonderful collection at The Museum of Modern Art and just another example of Baltimore’s influence on the art world!

Does life really end south of Federal Hill? Does a three-hundred-year-old port influence the future of Baltimore? Do we really want development that primarily focuses on condos with a coffee shop on every block? Is this the real plan for the city? If one were to consider the Master Plan as envisioned, the answers are scary indeed … A few things come to mind that complement your writer’s analysis (“The Best Laid Plans,” May 2006): A major hole in the Master Plan is lack of thoughtful recognition of the economic potential and strategic impact of the Port of Baltimore. While the port itself is evolving with the global economy and security issues of today, it has been a vibrant part of Baltimore for nearly three hundred years—a fact that the planners should seriously address if the Master Plan is to be a true strategic document. As noted by Ms. Gratz, something must be done immediately to effect significant change in the Baltimore school system. (If it were a business, it would have been shut down long ago and either revamped or “outsourced,” but would never have been allowed to have so much money chasing failure after failure for a generation.) This is the No. 1 long-term challenge for the City—hands down. Is the City really writing off the heavy industrial base for a “condo class” of citizenry? If so, given the school system, we are condemning entire generations to either the service industry or public assistance.

—Mac Kennedy is director of alumni relations at Boys’ Latin School. Artist Ignored I find your magazine informative and very well done. Your articles are insightful and relevant and appear to be well researched. That is why I can’t believe you failed to feature Robert McClintock in the “State of the Art” article (May 2006). How did you manage to disregard one of the most popular local artists in Baltimore? I have been to his studio in Fells Point a number of times, just because I so much enjoy seeing his colorful and optimistic views of our city. He’s a breath of fresh air and a much-needed boost to our city’s image.

—M. Eamonn McGeady III is chairman of the South Baltimore Business Alliance. Correction We misspelled the name of Susan Zator, who supplied us with the image of Tony Shore’s “10:30 p.m.,” which ran in June’s Eye to Eye department.

Heard department about the first annual Baltimore Screenwriters Competition. As a result of that contest, the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts, in partnership with the Morgan State University Film and Television Writing Program and the Johns Hopkins Film and Media Studies Program, received seventy-five original feature-length screenplays that could be filmed in Baltimore. The winners were announced in May at the Maryland Film Festival. David Simon, creator and producer of The Wire, and Hannah Lee Byron, director of the Baltimore City Film Office, presented the first-place award to Stephen Ashman for his screenplay The Voice, which tells the story of a female rabbi who tries to save a Baltimore synagogue that has fallen into disrepair. Ashman, an investor who lives in Chevy Chase, says he was “surprised and delighted” to learn that his screenplay had won. “Writing is a solitary undertaking,” he says, “and, despite spending many hours writing and rewriting this script, it’s extremely helpful to have others judge how successfully I’ve developed the characters and told the story.” Ashman, whose parents were originally from Charm City, says that the “screenplay was based on a very vivid dream that took place in Baltimore.” The second-place prize went to Michael Cookson of Playa Del Rey, California, for his drama Crimedogs, the story of teenagers caught between the corruption of an oppressive police system and the potential violence of warring drug gangs. Third place went to cowriters Andrew Naprawa of Manhattan and Douglas Sandhaus of Baltimore for their comedy Barbequed!—the story of a man who tries to find escape from his mundane suburban life by purchasing a barbeque. The finalists’ scripts were judged by a trio of esteemed film industry professionals— David Simon; Richard Walter, head of UCLA’s department of film and television; and Marie Rowe, a story developer who works with Academy Award-winner (and Baltimore native) Barry Levinson. “We were really impressed by the quality and diversity of the scripts we received,” Byron says. Along with a one-year membership to the American Film Institute and the Screenwriters Federation of America, Ashman’s script will be read at this fall’s Baltimore Book Festival. —Jason Tinney

—Nick Marulli is an analyst for the federal government. He lives in Fells Point. w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m j u l y 0 6


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Visit The Halstead at Guilford Sales Office at 3900 North Charles Street For your appointment, call 410-662-1006 www.HalsteadatGuilford.com 18

urbanite july 06

Sales by:

what you’re writing

“What You’re Writing” is the place for creative non-

Only one submission per topic, please. Send your

fiction from our readers. Each month, we pick a topic.

essay to Urbanite, P.O. Box 50158, Baltimore, Mary-

Use the topic as a springboard into your own life and

land 21211 or to WhatYoureWriting@urbanite

send us a true story inspired by that month’s theme.

baltimore.com. Please keep submissions under four

Only nonfiction submissions that include contact

hundred words; longer submissions may not be read

information can be considered. We have the right to

due to time constraints. The themes printed below

edit for space and clarity, but we will give you the

are for the “What You’re Writing” department only

opportunity to review the edits. You may submit un-

and are not the themes for future issues of the maga-

der “name withheld” to keep your essay anonymous,

zine itself.

but you do need to let us know how to contact you.


If you’ve already changed the names of the people involved, please let us know. Due to libel and inva-




the piece under your initials. Submissions should be


Aug 28, 2006

Nov 2006

typed (and if you cannot type, please print clearly).


Sept 25, 2006

Dec 2006

photo by Bill Denison

sion of privacy issues, we reserve the right to print

M y w i f e ’s f u n e ra l f e l l o n a rainy day. It was a steady rain that subsided to a drizzle as we drove from the church to the cemetery. Afterwards, the family, most from out of town, gathered at my house. While we reminisced, the telephone rang. It was Karen Rogers, a longtime neighbor and friend, calling to ask if we had seen the large rainbow in the eastern sky. We hadn’t, but took her advice and went outside to see for ourselves. There being no traffic, we stood in the street and looked east, as Karen had instructed, and found a magnificent rainbow arching high into the sky. I had seen beautiful double rainbows at Pearl

Harbor, where they are frequent, but no sight has ever impressed me as much as this huge, colorful display above Baltimore. I am scientifically inclined, not conventionally religious, and surely not superstitious. I knew enough about optics to understand the basis for such a natural phenomenon. Nevertheless, a feeling of awe overwhelmed me. A tingling sensation arose in my chest; tears blurred my vision, just as they do now as I write this, ten years later. Without proof, without persuasion from anyone else, I accepted that rainbow as a message straight from God, a message that announced, “She has arrived safely.” —Ben Kenny is a retired systems engineer whose chief hobby is writing light verse. Although he grew up in Pennsylvania, he has lived in the Baltimore area since 1956 and believes that qualifies him as a naturalized citizen of Maryland.

When I was

8 years old, I woke up one morning and discovered that an invisible hand had turned off all worldly noise and left behind a silence—a silence

where birds in the winged elm by my window had ceased humming and the voices in my house had died. I managed to get out of bed; I even managed to get dressed. I wondered why my dutiful alarm clock had refused to do its work. Still perplexed, I went down the stairs, slowly descending, like the harbinger of solemn news. Feeling baffled, I sat at the breakfast table with my family, watching them engage in noiseless chatter. I stared hard at them; nothing made sense. Noticing my indifference, my mother approached me with a concerned look on her face. She uttered something. If this was a question or a statement, I had no inkling; I gave no response. Her muted mouth made motions of sorts, reminding me of silent movies, except I was the only spectator. Receiving no answer, my mother wondered if perhaps I had gone mad. I was certain of this by reading the contortion of her face. Was this my idea of a childish joke? This moment seemed like an eternity. Then, my mother, my father, and my siblings, instantly and in unison, figured out what had transpired. My family sat there in awe, their mouths wide open. After all, it is human nature to remain astounded when some-

w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m j u l y 0 6


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thing inexplicable happens. This was neither a joke nor a silent movie. I had gone deaf overnight. —Abiola Haroun, who is deaf, is an aspiring artist and poet living in Baltimore with her son, Matthew.

M y he a d f e l t stuffed with packing peanuts. My stomach still bubbled from large amounts of German “liquid bread” and the foreign water I’d drank at breakfast. I was a pathetic version of a person. After dragging my body from the youth hostel, I sat on a cold seat in a train on the U-Bahn, Munich’s subway system, blankly gazing over the adverts and transport maps covering its walls. Marienplatz station had the most colored circles around it—for line changes—so I figured that would be the best place to start some (very slow) exploring. I plodded up the stairs leading to the street, and just as my foot hit the Bavarian cobblestone, the big and little hands hit twelve noon, stirring a wave of bells into motion. Perhaps because I was in a new place, or perhaps because I was only somewhat coherent, or perhaps because of the odd foreign-art-house feel of it, but the sound of the bells struck me and I started hurriedly walking, then outright tearing, through the maze of buildings, chasing the frantic clanging that bounced indeterminately off the cool, hard surfaces of the walls. I turned pirouettes, disorienting myself further, trying to figure out where, exactly, the bells were. After what seemed like hours of searching, I turned a corner and looked up—up to the top of a monumental Gothic church, where a glockenspiel spun in the center spire. The church profile cut a stark outline against a cloudless, impossibly blue sky; stone dragons frozen in mid-crawl wrapped around the lower half of its facade. The plaza beneath teemed with Germans and tourists, sitting at wooden tables, drinking from steins and dipping oversized pretzels into spicy mustards, or standing in groups, gawking at the wooden figures dancing above us. The crowd’s murmur faded into nothing, their bodies dissolved, until all that remained was this vast granite monolith and minuscule me. It wasn’t Gatorade and aspirin, but it was the best cure for a hangover I’ve found. —Nik Korpon sometimes bartends in Hampden and in the fall is moving to the UK to write.

“ T h o s e a re a w e s ome shoes!” remarked a teenager as I strolled along the street in Fenwick Island, Delaware. The remark took me aback; compliments over men’s shoes are rare occurrences. There was a long pause before a gracious “thank you” emerged from my lips.

I’d thought of footwear more in terms of “comfortable,” “sturdy,” and “sensible,” rather than awe-inspiring. I reserved “awe” for the vastness and power of the oceans or the grandeur of the mountains. I couldn’t imagine footwear rising to this level. I learned later that my shoes were the hot Italian brand of the summer season. The teenager’s usage was correct according to the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary. The dictionary’s fourth definition describes its trivial usage as follows: An enthusiastic term of commendation: marvelous, great, stunning, mind-boggling (slang). So, despite being both “trivial” and “slang,” the term is popular enough to be included in the dictionary, and at least it wasn’t labeled an “Americanism.” I rather enjoyed wearing my comfortable, awesome shoes over the rest of that summer. But by summer’s end, the uppers had started to fray and the soles’ treads had smoothed. The following season the shoes were relegated to painting duty. The year after that, they were tossed into the trash, and I realized that “awesome” experiences are always transitory. Enjoy them—these moments will not last. —Ted Kruse is a librarian at the University of Baltimore. He lives in Rodgers Forge with his wife, Joyce, and their two dogs.

On ce, when my frien d

was in a bar in Iowa City, the bartender turned on all the lights, and then nervously wiped down the counter with a rag. The bar patrons did a double take: the glaring silence of the lights is the universal symbol of “last call.” Yet, it was early evening, so what in the name of good Guinness was the bartender doing? The bartender turned up the volume of the television: a tornado warning was in effect. He volunteered the bar’s basement to the customers, in case sitting down there would make them feel safer. Everyone declined. A handful of people walked out to the sidewalk and peered intently at the sky. My friend remained in the bar, but watched the people on the sidewalk through the window. Suddenly they ran back in, buzzing with news. Had they seen a tornado? No. But they had seen streaks of glitter on the horizon, violent circles of air ascending. Everyone ran down into the basement. It was dark, but there were cases of bottled beer, and the bartender invited anyone who was so inclined to have a drink on the house. They drank and sat on the floor like children, their knees pulled to their chests. Conversational echoes bounced back and forth in the dark, disembodied opinions as to where the tornado would touch down. The patrons huddled together until the tornado sirens stopped. Then they went upstairs, looked out the window, and traipsed through the front door and

onto the sidewalk. Nothing had changed. Then their cell phones began to sing, vibrate, holler, and ring. The tornado had whirled down on the other side of town, ripping off roofs and rearranging front yards. There was property damage, a few injuries, and, maybe, a woman was dead. A tornado, my friend said, is different than a hurricane or a bullet. A tornado is like a rubber bouncy ball, moving erratically, uncontrollably, toward an unknown destination. A child chases the ball, trying to grab it, while the adult watches, amused. The adult watches, like they watch the evening news, nervously laughing about where and how the world will bounce next. —Dan Kennedy teaches high school English at the Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts.

On a F r iday in mid-October, I escape my daily life. I’m wearing a bikini underneath my softest hoodie and the perfect pair of worn-in jeans. I am accompanied by my best buddy, Andy, who refused to let me run away by myself, and I reluctantly enjoy his quiet company. We leave early, drive through the sunrise, and eat pancakes on the boardwalk. We spend a warmish day on the beach. He sleeps; I write. It isn’t enough to simply take flight; I must feel liberated as well. The writing helps. So does the sun. I buy a yellow disposable camera. A little boy running into and out of the waves is caught forever on film; a couple holding hands, squinting at seashells, talking towards the breeze; a name scribbled in the sand that I just swatted away. Just Andy and I now on the beach. Simple sunlight. I’m not ready to leave; I want to see the sun set over the water. Andy laughs. “You won’t get that today.” “Sure I will.” Stubborn as always, “We’ll just wait for it.” “Wait all you like. The sun doesn’t set over the Atlantic here.” And it dawns on me. I cry then. The world is so unfair as to ruin the day I took off from reality. Shenanigans, the boardwalk dive bar, soothes with fish and chips and vinegar. The salt helps. So does a beer; it tastes a bit briny by the ocean, as if everything changes at the beach in the off-season. Windows down, we start for home, back to Baltimore, over the bay. And there goes the sun, just as we drive over the bridge, setting over the water. Andy takes a picture while I drive, light glinting off the clouds, sun winking through my windshield, gulls calling goodbye. —Kristen Kearby survives almost exclusively on coffee, calls the beach home, and creates families among friends.

w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m j u l y 0 6



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3400 North Charles Street Upper Quad (rain location: Mudd Hall) July 7, 14, 21, and 28 Live music starts at 7:30 p.m.; movies start around 8:30 p.m. Free 410-516-4548 www.jhu.edu/summer/films

Creative Alliance 3134 Eastern Avenue July 29 11 a.m.–4 p.m. 410-276-1651 www.creativealliance.org

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Enjoy live music and films on Friday nights on the campus of Johns Hopkins University. Films to be shown in July are Young Frankenstein, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Chronicles of Narnia, and The Wizard of Oz.

The free “Salsapolkapalooza” features live salsa and polka music, dance lessons, a puppet show, performances of ethnic dances, crafts, and other family fun.

Shele photo by Olga


Day Trip Two museums reopened in Washington, D.C., on July 1— the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, collectively known as the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art & Portraiture. Special exhibits and events to celebrate these reopenings will take place throughout D.C. all summer; see www.washington.org for more information about this “American Originals” celebration.

Artscape ty-fifth year, this Celebrating its twen an al features more th popular arts festiv ts ar l tspeople, visua 120 artists and craf s, ow sh ts, fashion exhibits, live concer ges. ra ve be and food and ue Mount Royal Aven 3 –2 July 21 0 p.m., Fri and Sat noon–1 Sun noon–8 Free www.artscape.org

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Boutique … When 27-year-old law student Gwendy Long opened her Federal Hill boutique in April, she took as her muse the ultimate icon of chic, Holly Golightly. “My inspiration came from a line from the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Holly says, ‘If I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffany’s, then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name.’ I’m trying to get that feeling with the shop.” Long travels to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles a few times each season to stock her shop with modern handbags, hip

edited by marianne amoss

jeans, and slinky halters, from hard-to-find designers like MarieMarie, A.Cheng, Frankie B., and Denim for Immortality. And Holly G Boutique’s sundresses and jackets might have even convinced Miss Golightly to leave that little black dress in the closet for an evening or two. Open Mon to Fri 12–7, and Sat and Sun 10–7. 1018 South Charles Street; 410-962-1506. —Shannon Dunn

courtesy of Craig Martin

Barbershop … The staff of Quinntessential Gentleman, a barbershop that opened in October 2005, provides its maleonly clientele with haircuts and straight-razor shaves in an unapologetically masculine environment. Dissatisfied with what he calls “turn and burn,” nofrills hair-cutting shops, owner Craig Martin brought an updated version of the traditional nineteenth century European-style barbershop to Baltimore. To honor his late mother (whose maiden name was Quinn), Martin inserted an extra “n” in the shop’s name. Though marked with a barber’s pole, the barbershop is sometimes mistaken for a bar; the classy reception desk looks more like a place to order a martini than a shave (beer is complimentary, and patrons can bring their own liquor). Both The Community Read … “Birmingham was like an oven. That first night I couldn’t sleep at all, me and By had to share a bed and we both were sweating like two pigs.” So begins the twelfth chapter of Christopher Paul Curtis’ young adult novel The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, chosen by the Enoch Pratt Free Library as Baltimore’s Book 2006. The library has organized this program every summer since 2002 to encourage families and children to continue reading while school is out. It’s like a book club for the whole city. From July to September there will be discussion groups at library branches and recreation centers, along with films about the 1960s. The author will

photo by Bill Rush

have you heard . . .

Traditional Shave ($25) and The Quinntessential Shave ($40) come complete with soothing, hot lather and a facial massage. Additional services include shoeshines ($5) and body massages by appointment ($40 for half an hour; $75 for a full hour). Waiting customers can read Playboy and Sports Illustrated or go upstairs for a cigar (for sale near the entrance) and a game of billiards. Martin describes the interior of Quinntessential Gentleman with its many leather chairs and TVs as “what any guy would want in his basement.” Open Mon to Fri 9–6:30, Sat 9–2. 31 South Calvert Street; (410) 685-7428; www.qg barber.com. —Alissa Faden

be at be at the Baltimore Book Festival October 1 and at the Central Branch of the library October 2. The book, which received the prestigious Newberry Honor and Corretta Scott King Honor, is about a family (the Weird Watsons of Flint) who travel to Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. The library will give away 7,500 copies of the novel to students in fourth grade and up who sign up for the Pratt Library’s summer reading program. For more information and a schedule of events, go to www.epfl.net. —Marianne Amoss

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urbanite july 06

Page 1

through available properties and thereby make owners more likely to donate use of their vacant spaces for future Rental Gallery exhibits. The opening night of the inaugural exhibition, Catalogues, Collections, and Memories, attracted about two hundred visitors and featured the work of ten artists who currently reside or grew up in Baltimore. Their next show, RE: Action, explores “the idea of cause and effect, whether in subject matter, material use, or viewer interaction,” according to Sellman. Visit www.rentalgallery. judysellman.com for more information about the group and their upcoming shows. —A. F.

courtesy of Red Square Restaurant & Lounge

Restaurant … If you lamented the demise of the Belvedere Hotel’s subterranean restaurant, Kobe, and its after-hours parties and menu, you’ll be happy to know that another late-night eatery has taken its place. Red Square Restaurant & Lounge, open until 4 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, aims to serve both Baltimore’s Russian community and those unfamiliar with the country’s cuisine and customs. Along with traditional Russian food, Red Square also serves Asian, Italian, American, French, and Mediterranean dishes. The restaurant offers a special lunch menu

Soap and Body Products … About ten years ago, Theresa Carrington’s mother, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, moved in with her. The two spent time together by doing small projects, including making soap. In 1999, Carrington officially launched You and Me Soaps, a name she took from her mother’s frequent saying, “It’s just you and me, kiddo.” Since then, Carrington has taken the fledgling business to shows and festivals around town, including the Waverly Farmers’ Market, where she sets up shop about once every two months. Her soaps and other body products are made to soothe what ails you: soaps with lemon and avocado for oily

skin, essential peppermint oils and loofah for rough feet, and lavender and chamomile and vitamin E to calm the spirit. Carrington uses all-natural ingredients, and her line has now expanded to include liquid soap, sugar scrubs, and a massage and body oil that’s so natural, she says, “you can almost dress a salad with it!” For more information and product lists, contact Carrington at 410-235-2166 or theresacarrington@msn.com.

and delivers to the surrounding area, and there is live music several nights a week, including jazz on Wednesdays. The space is clearly in transition from its former Kobe identity (with Asian décor still in the lobby), making it a slightly surreal but worthwhile adventure. Open Tues, Wed, and Sun 11 a.m.–midnight, Thurs to Sat 11 a.m.–4 a.m.; closed Mondays. 1023 North Charles Street; 410837-7733; www.redsquaremd.com. —M. A.

photo by La Kaye Mbah

Gallery … The newly formed Rental Gallery is a roving arts initiative that provides artists with greater visibility and the community with easily accessible cultural experiences. Founded by husband-and-wife curators Laurent Hrybyk and Judy Sellman, the Rental Gallery, which is awaiting its nonprofit status, stages art shows in non-gallery spaces that are temporarily empty. The couple had long been toying with the idea of a “transient gallery” where they could provide emerging and mid-career artists an opportunity to share work. When the owner of a building in Mount Washington offered them the use of an unoccupied commercial space, Hrybyk and Sellman realized that their shows could allow potential buyers to walk

courtesy of Judy Sellman

have you heard . . .

—M. A.

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urbanite july 06


by steve blair

illustration by deanna staffo

Speed Dinners A foodie reviews the latest culinary trend and considers what it says about our relationship with cooking … and each other

I grew up in a food family. For twenty-some years, my parents owned Morgan Millard Restaurant Gallery and The Museum Cafe at the BMA, and my four siblings and I lived and breathed the restaurant life. Later, I turned my passion for cooking into a TV show for the “cookbook illiterate” called Pulp Kitchen. I’ve always been a guinea pig when it comes to testing new foods and processes in the kitchen— especially when they make cooking easy and accessible—so when I started reading about the retail mealpreparation stores popping up around the country, I knew I wanted to check one out. A meal-preparation business is one that offers its customers a communal environment in which they assemble dinners that can later be cooked at home. In a world where life is too harried to prepare a home-cooked meal, these businesses provide a place where the staff does all the heavy lifting, from picking menus to prepping food to cleaning up the mess. All you have to do is show up and bag the ingredients. The business model is taking off: in Houston, there’s A Freezable Feast; in Beverly, Massachusetts, there’s Buying Thyme. Albany, New York, has Dinner Me Quickly, while Tampa, Florida, and Vancouver, Washington, are screaming Dinner Done! and Dinnerz On! The Easy Meal Prep Association, a professional organization that tracks this trend, says that as of May 2006 there were 284 companies with 775 outlets in the United States.

The front-runners in this easy-meal-prep revolution are Dream Dinners and Let’s Dish! Dream Dinners is credited with launching the fix-and-freeze business model and now has more than 155 locations in twenty states, including four stores in Maryland. In three years, the Let’s Dish! chain grew to nearly thirty franchised units across the country, with one of its units in Timonium. Let’s Dish! and its ilk promise two things: efficiency and community. “We are hungry for activity,” explains cofounder Darcy Olson. “And here’s a way for us to get away from the house, be together with friends, and have fun and be practical. We’re so busy with our lives, and this is a guilt-free way to connect with friends.” Getting started is easy. I go to the Let’s Dish! website and choose my dinners from that week’s fifteen meal options ranging from Tandoori-Style Grilled Chicken with Spiced Cous Cous to Citrus Mojito Chicken. It is here on the site that you decide on your meals, reserve time at the store, and prepay for the session (eight dishes for $155 or twelve dishes for $195—each meal serves six). My girlfriend and I arrive at Deereco Road in Timonium and find the Let’s Dish! store nestled in a strip mall along with a chocolatier and a wholesale granite outlet. Inside, the store is a very clean, small space made warm and inviting with blue and rustcolored painted walls. About a dozen other people are here, which seems to be the store’s maximum w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m j u l y 0 6



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urbanite july 06

capacity for any two-hour session, allowing customers to flow through the workstations. We are handed clean aprons and bandanas (everyone is required to wear a head covering) and after a brief orientation by a chipper staff member, the two of us rotate between eight refrigerated workstations where we find all of the ingredients necessary to assemble the meals that we had purchased online. At the table for Coconut Curry Shrimp, for example, the recipe instructions tell us to “add to one large freezer bag 3 cups frozen shrimp, 1 cup of rice, 2 cups of peas” and so on. Measurements for seasonings like red pepper flakes and curry are suggested, but customers are encouraged to suit-totaste. Staff is there to help, answering questions and, best of all, cleaning up the mess after we leave. I tried striking up conversations with other dishers. I spoke with a mother of four as we shared a workstation and bagged our ingredients. I could tell she had been there before; her swiftness gave her away. She had other things to do that day and she found Let’s Dish! to be a huge shortcut. She also said that she spends just as much money at the supermarket buying groceries for an entire week, but here the recipes and prep are already done. At home, all the meals are meant to be frozen for later use and include labels with cooking instruc-

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are frozen, thawed, and reheated. Like the experience at the store, there is something missing. Cooking, at its best, is about more than eating. It’s about connecting. It’s about shopping locally, picking the best ingredients, preparing them properly, cooking them accordingly, being creative and resourceful in the kitchen, and being able to enjoy the fruits of your labor with family and friends. It’s about sharing the experience and enriching our daily lives. In truth, this is how the trend started. One of the cofounders of Dream Dinners began the company after hosting friends at her home for shared meal preparation. Think of it as a book club for food prep. But can you commodify community? Can you take that intimate experience and turn it into a retail business? Truth is, something gets lost along the way. It’s not far from the experience at a paint-yourown-pottery place, a comparable fad that reached its height several years ago. There is no molding of any clay, no throwing, nor kiln drying; you choose from a pre-made selection of wares. They sell individualism in a very limited scope, to a limited demographic. Similarly, Let’s Dish! is not for everyone. For that busy mom of four, it is quick and convenient. But if you are looking to create community over cooking and food, this may not be your cup of tea. ■

tions and serving suggestions. Some instructions call for thawing the meal in the refrigerator, but most are just thrown frozen into a pan, an oven, or a microwave. Is it efficient? Yes. Productive? Sure. For $155, we now have eight meals in our freezer—each of which will serve four to six people. That’s potentially forty-eight dishes of food. For this alone, Let’s Dish! is definitely onto something. In two hours, we had dinner for the week.

Cooking, at its best, is about more than eating. It’s about sharing the experience and enriching our daily lives. But as far as contributing to the communal aspect of cooking, it lags. Easy food prep does for cooking what speed dating does for love: it strips it of its process and leaves only end results. It sells the semblance of communal cooking, when it is actually an exercise in expedience and frugality: “Dishing” is less about cooking than assembling ingredients. The meals themselves, once heated, are, frankly, just what you would expect from bagged ingredients that

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urbanite july 06

by bill mesler

photo by La Kaye Mbah

baltimore observed

Election Fraud for Dummies

photo by La Kaye Mbah

Exploring the brave new world of electronic voting

the Year of the Hanging Chad, it has become a kind Walking into the downtown office of the Baltimore of Da Vinci Code, evidence that malicious forces City Board of Elections is a little like walking into an hold sway over American elections. Apple computer store. It is soothingly monochroTo really commit massive election fraud, one matic; the employees pretend not to notice you, hopwould have to be a rogue programmer or somebody ing you’ll just go away; and there is little clutter, none with inside access, like an election official. But the in fact, except for two computer-looking machines, study also leaves plenty of room for small-scale sitting prominently on display like the newest iPods. tampering by ordinary voters, poll workers, or even They are the first of the AccuVote-TS electronic janitors. It is for these voting machines that city lesser infractions I imagine residents will cast their I might be qualified. Were I ballots on this November. I ask the voter outreach more daring, and far wealthThe previous day, an adminier, I might have even puristrative officer for the Board worker guiding me chased a $200 memory card, had somewhat reluctantly through the procedure which would allow me to invited me over to test-drive alter a machine’s vote count. the system, candidly explainabout the possibility of a It would almost be worth it, ing that she wasn’t yet up to just for the thrill. speed. “I don’t really know recount. “Oh,” he says. “It Electronic voting, or anything about them yet,” takes a scan of your vote “e-voting,” where votes are she had explained. “We’re all recorded on a machine ingoing to take classes.” and the computer does stead of on a paper ballot, She turns out to be has attracted a legion of affable yet somewhat bewilthe recount.” A bell goes serious critics in the field dered. She greets my queries off in my head. of computer security. They as if they were technical say the programs that run questions about the Star these machines should be Wars Missile Defense Syswhat they call “open source code,” freely available tem, and sets off on a frantic search for a younger to the public so that anybody, at least anybody with poll worker to walk me through the machine. computer skills, can take a look at the system and Folded in the pages of my notebook is a detailed ferret out the inadequacies. Ohio-based Diebold, the study of the security flaws in the AccuVote-TS mamaker of the AccuVote-TS and the nation’s purveyor chine written by a team of specialists in computer of touchscreen voting machines, has shrouded its security at Johns Hopkins University in mid-2003. It own code in a cloud of Vatican-like secrecy. Diebold is practically a how-to guide for beating the system. is in the business of making money, and one doesn’t To the masses of election conspiracy theorists that make money by posting trade secrets on the Interhave propagated like rabbits on Internet blogs since

Left: The AccuVote-TS Ballot Station Above: A close-up of the card reader attached to the voting system

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ing glitches in the 2000 election that gave Al Gore minus 16,022 votes in one county (an error that was subsequently corrected). The company responded by threatening to sue Harris and the Swarthmore students for copyright violations. The suit was withdrawn after a flood of even more bad publicity. Things got even worse when then-Diebold CEO Walden O’Dell sent out a fundraising letter on behalf of the Bush-Cheney ticket saying he was “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.” To be fair, he only promised Ohio, and how likely was it that Ohio would be a factor in a presidential election? Meanwhile election officials in many states became concerned about the security of the machines. Last December, election officials in Leon County, Florida, held a test in which a pair of computer scientists was able to relatively easily change the vote on Diebold machines without being caught by the company’s safeguards. And e-voting began to draw denunciations from a slew of public figures, from Hillary Clinton and Martin Luther King III to Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich. Amid all the bad press, the House of Delegates, the lower house of the Maryland State Assembly, voted unanimously in March to return to a paper system run by optical scan machines in time for the November elections. The bill was never even voted on in the Senate. Critics and supporters both say the opposition of the Board of Elections, which called the proposed measure expensive and ineffective, convinced key senators to disallow the bill to come to a vote. If you are smart enough to change electronic votes, says Lamone, you should be smart enough to change paper votes. One of her critics, Stanford computer science professor David L. Dill, says the real reason for the Board’s resistance is money. “I don’t understand Lamone’s near-religious commitment to these machines,” he says. “But I do understand why someone who spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars doesn’t want to admit she is wrong.” Naysayers say the state should at least add a “paper trail,” a printed record of the vote that can be examined for accuracy. Considering that Maryland is thinking about adding sip/puff technology, which would allow someone without the use of hands to register votes through a pen-like device that blows puffs of air onto a computer screen, adding a printer doesn’t seem like an undue burden. If there are questions about the vote tally, these paper receipts could then be hand-counted. Diebold and other evote companies have such machines on the market already. But even this measure has been opposed by the Board of Elections and, curiously, the National Federation of the Blind. The Federation’s position is that paper voting takes away the right of the blind to

a secret ballot because someone else would have to check the paper record. (Again, a spokesperson was unavailable to clarify this point.) As I stand at the Baltimore City Board of Elections, preparing to cast my sample ballot, I ask the voter outreach worker guiding me through the procedure about the possibility of a recount. “Oh,” he says. “It takes a scan of your vote and the computer does the recount.” A bell goes off in my head. I think I have found the real reason there will be no paper trail. Imagine the giddiness, the election workers’ glee that the days of the hand-recount are over forever. The fact that the computer will simply regurgitate the same error must seem a small price to pay. I cast my vote for the fictional ticket of John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, two men whose mutual political and personal contempt made them as unlikely a political pair as Chris Matthews and Zell Miller. It brought back memories of the first presidential ticket I ever voted for, Michael Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen, the absurdity of which I was then too young to properly appreciate. But I couldn’t help but wonder if some malicious or screwball poll worker was throwing the vote to George Washington and Abe Lincoln. Or, as Wired magazine has ominously warned, my vote was being subverted by some dark power like “the People’s Republic of China.” This last thought rings ominously in my mind. I recall that Diebold’s lead programmer for its electronic voting machines, the man who single-handedly holds more power over the American body politic than any other individual, is not even an American. He is a citizen of a foreign country that, in recent years, has turned increasingly anti-American, battling with the United States over trade and opposing U.S. foreign policy. He is Canadian. ■

courtesy of Diebold, Inc.

net. Presumably Diebold, a maker of bank vaults before the Civil War and, more recently, of ATMs for banks, knows something about keeping secrets. Which makes it all the more surprising that Diebold’s Fort Knox-grip on its code was penetrated by a fiftyish Washington State-based book publicist named Bev Harris, who was working on a book about electronic voting. She simply found the company’s internal file-sharing site on Google and downloaded the highly guarded code off the Internet. It was this code that the team at Johns Hopkins analyzed for their report. Computer science professor Avi Rubin, one of the nation’s most respected experts in computer security and front man for the Johns Hopkins study, says the team was shocked at the security flaws in the code. It was so bad, he says, “If one of my students had handed it in as an assignment, I would have given him an F.” Those findings couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time for the State of Maryland. Near the completion of the study, Rubin had contacted The New York Times, which arranged for a highly critical story on electronic voting in general and Diebold’s machines in particular to coincide with the release of the study. The day before both the report and story went public, Rubin went onto the Diebold website to download a picture of the machine to include in his study. He instead found a press release announcing that the State of Maryland had just agreed to a $55 million purchase. “When I saw that,” says Rubin, “I knew the bottom was going to drop.” Maryland made the decision to have a single voting system for all counties not long after the 2000 presidential election debacle. Eventually it chose Diebold. It was the largest purchase of touchscreen machines in the country. A big factor in the decision, says Maryland Board of Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone, was support for Diebold from the Baltimore-based National Federation for the Blind, which has become one of the company’s biggest supporters. Electronic voting has undoubtedly been a big advance for the sight impaired, and the new machines will have headsets that will allow blind people to vote relatively easily. But the foundation’s active stumping on behalf of Diebold may have more to do with the $1 million the company chipped in to build the foundation a new training facility. (A spokesperson for the National Federation for the Blind did not respond to our request for a comment.) The Johns Hopkins report was like a dam bursting for the Diebold PR department. Soon after, some students at Swarthmore College acquired and released some 15,000 internal e-mail messages and memos that show, among other things, that the company had given false explanations of vot-

The touchscreen of the AccuVote-TS

w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m j u l y 0 6


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A Coke and a Smile Little League’s opening day in South Baltimore

Above: The Cardinals chant in support of their batter during opening day at Coke Field, the longtime home of South Baltimore Little League.

Little League baseball diamonds and South Baltimore—both are fertile ground for pleasant nostalgia: Fort McHenry, the smell of a new ball glove, the National Anthem, a pop fly to center, an immigrant’s first steps in America, and the taste of mustard on a 25-cent hot dog. Generations of families have made rowhouses and corner bars their homes on streets with names like Fort and Light and sent their children to play Little League baseball at Coke Field. South Baltimore has seen many changes, the most recent round brought on by gentrification. But despite these changes, Little League baseball has stayed the course, anchoring a neighborhood and a community. South Baltimore Little League (SBLL) turns fifty this year, and for the majority of those five decades it has called Coke Field and its three baseball diamonds home. During the early 1960s, the Coca-Cola plant (Phillips Seafood today) leased the land on Fort Avenue to SBLL for $1 a year. When the plant closed its doors in the late 1990s, the company donated the field to the SBLL, with the stipulation that it could be used only for youth activities. On the Saturday scheduled to open South Baltimore Little League’s golden anniversary year, cold rains soak the field in the morning, and by 11

a.m.—game time—it is clear that no baseball is going to be played. Inside the chaotic league office, coaches and managers consult one another, reschedule games for the following week, notify parents of the washout, and deal with their players, some of whom, undaunted by the rain, argue that the weather is just fine for baseball. The concession stand, known as The Mothers’ Dugout, remains open despite the cancellation of the games, and eventually all the children—players and fans—step up to the counter for consolation hot dogs, pizza, and, of course, Coca-Cola. Mark Mielke, 36, manager of the Orioles (one of South Baltimore’s four American League teams), and Tom Fortman, 33, one of the team’s coaches, make quite a pair on this rainy Saturday morning. Mielke, a UPS driver, and Fortman, a self-described telephone man, were born and bred in South Baltimore and played at Coke Field as children. As I stand on the fringes of the office, taking notes and trying to stay out of everyone’s way, Mielke sees my pen, zeroes in on it, and asks, “Can I borrow that?” “Sure,” and I hand it over. He jots down telephone numbers as he dials others to reschedule games. Eventually, the noise in the office is too much for him and he disappears into w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m j u l y 0 6


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the bathroom along with my pen. When he emerges, he asks anyone who is listening, “Can I use this as my office? It’s the only place I can get any privacy.” And with no visible disagreement, he closes the door again. I decide that the pen is in good hands and pick up a pencil that is lying on a desk. Fortman, on the other hand, stands in the center of the office, smiling a good-natured smile. When I ask how he’s doing, he just goes on smiling and says, “I’m enjoying opening day South Baltimore Little League weather.” By Monday morning the fields have dried. The first pitch of this unofficial opening day will be thrown at 6:00 p.m. As afternoon slips into early evening, the temperature is in the seventies with a slight breeze, lots of sun, and wispy clouds that speckle the otherwise blue sky. Bill Shea, 72, a coach for the league’s Red Sox, and his wife, Carol, 68, arrive hours before game time. Bill mows the fields, and Carol gets The Mothers’ Dugout ready. The Sheas moved to Baltimore from just outside Redding, Pennsylvania, in 2001 and have been involved with SBLL for the last four years. Bill, a retired Marine officer active in the Locust Point Marine Corp League, says the main reason he keeps coming back is to work with the youth. Sounding youthful himself, he adds with a smile, “It’s fun.”

A Rockies outfielder makes a nearly impossible catch.

A Cardinals player runs determinedly for the base.

Bill also recognizes Coke Field and the league as an integral part of the neighborhood. “There are a lot of communities that don’t have anything like this,” he says. “It’s a great asset for the kids to be able to come out here and play baseball.” By 4:30, players begin to arrive, as well as other managers and coaches, including 39-year-old Quinn Hren—the league’s current president and the manager of the Red Sox. Hren, who grew up and still lives in South Baltimore, has been involved in SBLL since her daughter started playing at the age of 5. In addition to preparing for her game tonight, she must organize the other games that will be played on the two other diamonds. As Hren gets the rosters together, players come into the office with any number of problems for her to solve. The season hasn’t even started, and one player for the Orioles has already lost his ball cap. As with most youth organizations, the commitment to the league goes well beyond the sport. It is a commitment to the community and to the children. Not just the children who live in this Locust Point area of South Baltimore, but also those of Curtis Bay, Brooklyn, Butcher’s Hill, and downtown, who all come to play at Coke Field. “We try to make everybody, no matter where they’re from, feel welcome,” says Hren. Pointing to

Locust Point itself, she adds, “It’s really the only thing left in the community for the children. It’s a place where all the kids can come. We have a ton of kids out here every night.” By 5:15, most of the players have arrived and taken to the field to warm up. Parents arrive with coolers and lawn chairs. They cluster together and laugh and talk about the stuff of life: the ups and downs of work, who’s sick, who’s having a baby. The small children gravitate to the playground with a jungle gym, a slide, and swings. The Mothers’ Dugout opens, and a line forms. I stand behind home plate, watching the Orioles and Red Sox warm up. Across the street, the doors of L.P. Steamers are open, and the smell of steamed crabs makes its way over to Coke Field. The three ball diamonds, laid out in a row, create an interesting foreground for a horizon stacked with three tiers of transportation—a CSX freight train moving north, rush hour in full swing on I-95, and the tall tops of cargo ships docked in the Port of Baltimore. By 6:00, the first pitches are thrown. The sound of baseballs clanking against aluminum echoes throughout the three diamonds. At the T-ball field, the sport itself is in direct conflict with the attention spans of 5 and 6 year olds. The outfield doesn’t look so much like a line of defense as a dance party with w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m j u l y 0 6


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both boys and girls swinging their hips and placing ball gloves on top of their heads. Some simply sit down and pick at the grass. There are distractions in every dugout. At the National field, it’s a toad that Jimmy Stewart, 9, has found. (“Spelled like the movie star,” his mother Deneen says.) Jimmy, one of the Rockies’ top players, shows off his new pet to his teammates before handing it over to his mother, who places it in her coat pocket. Jimmy Stewart’s father, Jim, cheers his son on. I ask Jimmy’s dad if he has ever lost his head and exhibited youth-sports rage. “No sir,” he responds, but after reflection says, “I’ve wanted to, but I’ve held restraint.” As the sun starts to set over the rubble of what is left of the former Chesapeake Paperboard Company building, the games continue on with parents shouting to their kids: “Little quicker;” “Get down on that ball;” “Good eye, Tommy, good eye.” Andy Gray, a lawyer originally from Connecticut, has been involved with SBLL for the last three years and this year is coaching the Phillies. His son Oly, 8, is pitching for the Marlins, taking on Jimmy Stewart’s Rockies. “Everyone just wants to see these kids have a good time,” Gray says. “It’s just one of

those great intersections of life where all sorts of people come together because they are interested in baseball. Other distinctions don’t matter.”

It’s just one of those great intersections of life where all sorts of people come together because they are interested in baseball. Other distinctions don’t matter. With all the enthusiasm and cheering for their children and their neighbors’ children, no one’s really sure what the score is—for any of the games. After all, these are social gatherings as well as sporting events.

Back over at the Orioles/Red Sox match-up, players call out cadences to spur on their batters at the plate. Extra, extra, read all about it, John’s gonna hit it And we’re gonna shout it: Hit it hard! Hit it hard! Hit, hit, hit— Hit it hard! The final out of the game is made, and the Orioles win it 13-5, or something like that. It’s going on 8:00 p.m. Parents stand up and stretch and collect their coolers and begin to say their good-byes, telling each other that they will see them tomorrow. Coach Fortman stands by the dugout as the players come in and take a seat on the bench. Fortman lives with his family on Fort Avenue across the street from the house where he grew up. “When we came up,” he says, “this was a blue-collar neighborhood. That’s all it was. [Coke Field] was a community center in the summer. You’d have folks that had no kids involved coming over to watch games.” He adds, “Between Little League and church, I think I touch every segment of society in this neighborhood.” ■

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by marcus charleston

photography by paul burke

The Art of Space

A local couple builds an art collection in their Copy Cat Building apartment

A modern-day American Gothic: Collectors Rachel and Joseph Rabinowitz pose in front of The Joker, an oil on canvas painting by Sherah Rosen, Rachel’s sister.


urbanite july 06

It seems appropriate for visual and literary works of art to come to mind as you cross the Guilford Avenue Bridge toward the Copy Cat Building. The burnt orange glow of the setting sun on the red brick building is reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s painting Sunlight on Brownstones. Atop the building’s southwest corner is a sign promoting the Station North Arts and Entertainment District. Anyone venturing through this part of town will recognize the familiar logo with its stylized locomotive engine against a backdrop of a nighttime cityscape—it’s the same sign adorning banners and shop windows throughout the area designated as the city’s first arts district in 2001. The past meets the present as you walk through the one-time Crown Cork and Seal Company Building. Architectural details including steel staircases, steel-framed windows with wired glass, loading docks, and a freight elevator stand out. Adorning

the hallways and brick walls with peeling paint are paintings and other artwork by the building’s artist residents. The Copy Cat Building is home to Rachel and Joseph Rabinowitz, whose warehouse-style apartment celebrates local and national artists. For Rachel, an art business professional, and Joseph, an architectural graduate student at Morgan State University, the decision to live in this building is a testament to their belief in Station North’s past, present, and future. “I find this building energizing, with its combination of rawness and people who are making things and defying the odds, declaring themselves professional artists,” says Rachel. Upon entering their apartment, the eye is immediately drawn to the large canvases and the bold colors of the paintings and mosaics hanging on the walls. Their warehouse apartment is 2,000 square feet of open living space with high ceilings

Left: “Because of the amount of open space available, it’s very multifunctional,” Joseph says of the loft. “The fewer walls, the easier it is to change rooms, move spaces, and change your lifestyle as you change your living space.”

and three large white columns. The blend of open space and artwork provides visitors with the sense of being in an art gallery. It’s an idea that’s reinforced by Joseph, who says, “If you emptied all the furniture and appliances you could be in a gallery, but we like the contrast of modern art and furniture in an old building. It’s an entire way of life for us and it permeates our living space through and through.” Although there are no interior walls, every area of the apartment has a distinct feel. The art and furniture, including a pool table and large-screen television, which would overwhelm a smaller living space, seem like a natural fit in this apartment. “I really love Baltimore’s rowhouses, but as an art collector I feel my stuff wouldn’t fit,” Rachel says. “There’s a freight elevator and loading dock, so there’s sort of an ease about living here if you have the type of things an artist or art collector might have.”

Below: The living room area is furnished with mid-century modern classics, including a couch by Knoll, two Mies van der Rohe chairs, and the iconic Eames lounge chair and ottoman.

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If you emptied all the furniture and appliances you could be in a gallery, but we like the contrast of modern art and furniture in an old building. It’s an entire way of life for us and it permeates our living space through and through.

Above: Stained glass mosaics by Baltimore artist John Ellsberry line the walls. In the foreground, a 1960s steel wire chair made by Baltimore-born designer Warren Platner. Left: The hallway outside the Rabinowitz loft is lined with art, including paintings by artist and Copy Cat neighbor Dan Bradford.

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“I find this building energizing, with its combination of rawness and people who are making things and defying the odds,” says Rachel Rabinowitz of the Copy Cat Building, pictured above.

The open space does have its drawbacks, though, says Rachel. “It’s a tricky thing, because if you notice there’s no storage, so you’ve got to be creative with what you do with your stuff.” The couch, chairs, and credenza reflect the Rabinowitz’s love of mid-century modern furniture with its clean lines and spartan styling. “This is overwhelmingly Joseph’s collection of furniture. I like furniture, but he loves furniture,” Rachel says. “We sort of have an agreement. He can get any piece of

furniture he wants, and I can really push the edge on artwork.” Finding the hidden treasures in a city and giving new life to vacant and rundown areas has long been the province of artists, who are often at the frontlines of urban gentrification. Low rents and large spaces in which they can live and work on their art attract creative types to areas like Station North, which may suffer from some of the ills of urban decay. As Joseph says, “There are people who came

before us and set the precedent in the area; Station North is moving in a positive direction.” Rachel echoes the sentiment, melding her vision and passion for the area with her belief that she and Joseph are useful participants in Station North’s future. “It just seems like they need people like us here to say, I believe in the area and what the city’s trying to do in this neighborhood.” ■


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banking on biotech is this burgeoning industry the future of baltimore’s urban economy?

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jen n ifer

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T h e b r a n d - n e w t h e r m o c y c l e r i s r e a d y t o r e p l i c a t e DNA like an office copy machine. And even the lowly test-tube brushes are standing by to support the ambitious work scheduled to commence here in a couple of weeks, when the full crew of scientists clocks in at the new home of Baltimore’s Alba Therapeutics Corporation. Standing amid the gleaming equipment, research associate and lab manager John Vere is bubbling with start-up enthusiasm. “The approach we’re taking is really very different, and it could have big implications for a lot of diseases,” says Vere, referring to the work of Alba’s lead scientist, Dr. Alessio Fasano. Fasano, who is a professor of medicine, physiology, and pediatrics at the University of Maryland, cofounded Alba in 2004 to develop and market medicine that specifically targets autoimmune diseases. Fasano has discovered a protein, zonulin, which could lead to a cure for celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that results in an inability to digest gluten. This research, based on a new understanding of autoimmunity, could also lead to cures for type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and other illnesses. Buoyed by $30 million in venture capital, Alba is one of the first tenants in the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s new $350 million BioPark, which opened in October 2005. The six-story building housing Alba’s twenty employees is the first of ten to be built in this complex in West Baltimore, which sits just across Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from the UMB campus. This BioPark—and an even more ambitious biotech project affiliated with Johns Hopkins Medicine on the other side of town—are the current centerpieces of the state’s campaign to make Maryland a world center for biotechnology. The idea is that the parks—equipped with lab-friendly ventilation, plumbing, and other design features, and located beside the city’s two premier research hospitals—will fill up with biotechnology companies, some founded by local researchers, others attracted from elsewhere. And the companies, boosters say, will fuel badly needed economic growth in Baltimore. At the groundbreaking ceremonies in January 2004 for UMB’s BioPark, Mayor Martin O’Malley led the crowd in a chant of “Here we go! Here we go!” Speaker after speaker said that the park would mean more jobs and a better life for the predominantly African-American neighborhood, where residents struggle with crime and poverty. UMB officials say the west-side biotech park will create 2,500 new jobs. (For a while they were saying 3,000.) Across town at the massive Hopkins project situated on eighty acres north of the hospital, rowhouses are being razed and hundreds of longtime residents are being relocated. In their place, an $800 million redevelopment is planned, including research space and also more than 1,200 new or renovated homes for “mixed income” buyers and renters, parks and parking spaces, retail and office space. There are plans for job training programs and a pre-K–8 public school. The Science and Technology Park at Johns Hopkins will, over ten years, create “up to six thousand” new jobs according to East Baltimore Development, Inc. (EBDI), the nonprofit organization formed to oversee the project.

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This multitiered bio-Balto strategy is part of the state’s larger efforts to court biotechnology, which has so far focused largely on the suburban I-270 corridor, extending from Frederick south to Bethesda. Vowing to make Maryland America’s top bioscience center, Governor Robert Ehrlich touts the state’s total expenditure of about a billion dollars to support biotech. “Oh, it’s probably more if you look back over the last fifteen years,” says Aris Melissaratos, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. But can Alba, and biotech companies like it, cure what’s ailing the city of Baltimore? Will biotech spur an economic boon that will affect not just the scientists, but also the citizens looking for employment?

Biotech’s Promise Biotechnology as a business is being used in a number of fields, including agriculture and food processing. It is best known, however, as the main source of innovation in American medicine today, generating novel treatments for cancer, heart disease, AIDS, and other serious ailments. Biotechnology companies like Alba use cutting-edge research in cell biology and genetics to come up with new drugs and treatments, unlike their older counterparts, the pharmaceutical companies, that have traditionally used chemistry to develop new drugs. Biotechs started popping up around universities in the San Francisco Bay area during the 1970s. Since then, they have been producing some blockbuster drugs, resulting in sometimes-spectacular financial returns. When San Franciscobased Genentech went public in 1980, its stock price jumped within hours from $35 to $89. Amgen’s erythropoietin (EPO), used to treat the side effects of chemotherapy and kidney dialysis, can cost as much as $10,000 per year for some patients. Worldwide revenues from sales of EPO were more than $10 billion in 2004. Demographics also play a part in explaining the growth of the biotech industry. Investors count on the coming wave of aging boomers to drive demand for new drugs and treatments for years to come. In Baltimore, the Hopkins project has received about $75 million in city, state, and federal funding. UMB, which purchased the land for its BioPark from the city for $1, has received about $5 million in capital funds from the state. Just outside the city, the Technology Research Center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has received about $10 million in state funds. Not everyone agrees that this is a wise investment. To economists like Joseph Cortright of the Portland, Oregon, firm Impresa, Inc., courting biotech as an economic development strategy “makes about as much sense as sinking your life savings into lottery tickets.” Cortright, co-author of a 2002 Brookings Institution report on biotech, says states are glomming onto biotech the way they went gaga for dotcoms a decade ago. “This says more about the herd instinct of economic development officials than anything else,” he says. Periodically, even giddy industry leaders feel the need to remind themselves of one sobering factoid: as a whole, biotech has never been profitable. “One of the biggest money-losing industries in the history of mankind” is how Arthur Levinson, chief executive officer of Genentech, described it in a March speech, thanking investors for their patience. (He spoke at the company’s annual meeting with the financial community in New York.) The fact that the nation’s publicly traded biotech firms had a combined net loss of only $2.1 billion in 2005 (down from $4.9 billion the previous year) was considered a reason to celebrate. But investors have stuck with biotech despite the losses and through several boom-and-bust cycles. Biotech revenue, which has been growing at twice the rate of the pharmaceutical industry, hit an all-time high of $50 billion last year. Why? Occasionally, companies hit big. Cities are also looking to turn their fortunes on biotech and Baltimore isn’t the only one. Nearly every state in the United States and many foreign countries are now investing in biotech, arguing that it will boost their economies. Switzerland’s got the BioAlps, Saudi Arabia is working on Jeddah BioCity, and Singapore wants to be the planet’s Biopolis. You thought that midwestern state is called Iowa? Please, it’s Biowa.


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Their efforts can sometimes resemble the NFL draft. Singapore—offering lucrative pay, fancy labs, and government support—recently snagged four top American researchers (a husband and wife from the University of California, San Diego, and another husband and wife from the National Institutes of Health), along with Alan Colman, the British researcher who cloned Dolly the sheep. So far, California and Massachusetts have been America’s acknowledged biotech leaders, and Maryland, with more than 350 biotech companies, has been solidly in the second tier (along with Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Washington State). Most of the prominent Maryland companies (Celera Genomics Corp., Human Genome Sciences, Inc., MedImmune, Inc.) have sprung up close to the federal facilities in the Maryland suburbs (NIH, FDA, Walter Reed, Fort Detrick). Some think it’s too late for any state to join the upper tier now. What economist Cortright found in his 2002 study, he says, is still true today. Most of the venture capital investment in biotech has been concentrated in the few regions that got an early start: San Francisco with Genentech, San Diego with Amgen, and Cambridge with Genzyme. Biotechs are more likely to proliferate in those areas because they offer top-notch scientists and the whole ecosystem needed to commercialize discoveries: angel investors, venture capitalists, executives experienced in drug development, equipment suppliers, laboratories, and hospitals with patients to serve as test subjects. Can such an ecosystem spring up in Baltimore now, with these parks as the petri dish? The notion that Maryland could overtake these other cities at this stage of the game on the strength of a pumped-up Baltimore biotech scene is “unlikely to the point of being ludicrous,” Cortright says, adding, after a pause, “They do have Hopkins …”

Culture Shift Proximity to a prestigious university doesn’t guarantee success. Science Park at Yale has been plagued by a history of financial troubles and has lately been leasing to non-biotech tenants. University Park at MIT, meanwhile, in an old industrial area in Cambridge, has been flourishing. Baltimore’s biotech success hinges on a number of factors, not the least of which is a culture shift at its biggest potential asset. Since the Bayh-Dole act of 1984 loosened the rules to permit universities to patent their work, many have embraced “technology transfer,” bringing in millions in revenue. The University of California system nets $91 million in annual licensing income. Johns Hopkins University, however, has been slow to join them, largely because of an institutional culture that dates back more than a century. Professor Ira Remsen, who became Hopkins’ second president, discovered saccharin in 1879, then watched as a collaborator went on to patent it and prosper. Remsen said he would never “sully” himself with corporate money, fearing the pursuit of wealth would interfere with the pursuit of knowledge. The school’s experience in the 1970s with the Dalkon Shield (though it held no liability whatsoever) only reinforced its determination not to mix medicine with mammon. One of the inventors of the contraceptive device, a Hopkins doctor, offered to let the school patent it, but a dean turned him down. It was later discovered to cause serious, sometimes lethal, infections. The list of drugs discovered at Hopkins, but patented by others, is long: heparin (the anticoagulant), epinephrine (adrenaline), Mercurochrome (an antiseptic). A Hopkins neuroscientist discovered the effect of nitric oxide on penile blood flow, but it was left to others to turn that research into the Pfizer Inc. cash cow, Viagra. Why change now? Because collaborating with industry has become the best way to ensure that patients get the benefit of Hopkins research, says Vice Dean for Research Dr. Chi V. Dang. Medical research and drug develop-

ment have become so costly and complex, he says, that early involvement with private capital and industry experts is the only way to make sure cutting-edge lab discoveries see the light of day. “A lot of discoveries are lost in the literature,” says Dang. “Figuring out how to make them available to patients could underpin all three of our missions: education, research, and patient care.” Being vigilant against conflict of interest, Dang says, will mean “some things we’ll just say no to.” Among the changes he has instituted is hiring a new director of the office of licensing and technology development. Dang’s challenge is spelled out in a 2004 consultant’s report commissioned by EBDI to analyze the viability of the biopark. “JHU is viewed as having little experience in spinning out companies, its faculty as being isolated from biomedical community and not possessing a strong entrepreneurial bent and technology transfer hindered by fiefdoms and Byzantine processes and lacking a true one-stop shop and clearinghouse,” said the report by Battelle Memorial Institute. “We may have a problem still with the process, but not with the philosophy” of being more open to commercialization, Dang says. He noted that the administration has given its blessing to a group called the Johns Hopkins Medicine Alliance for Science and Technology Development. It’s a panel of industry types (including venture capitalists and drug company executives) who advise researchers seeking to bring their discoveries to market. They listen to candidates’ ten-minute practice pitches and critique them—sort of a cross between a thesis defense and American Idol. Dang even mentions the possibility of giving biotech business experts adjunct professorships. “When I first came here a few years ago, there was this up-and-coming professor who told me her department kind of frowned on the idea of being entrepreneurial,” says Dr. Chris Shen, a principal in the Baltimore office of the venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates, and a member of the Alliance. “I don’t hear those things now. There’s definitely been a change.” Places like Baltimore and Philadelphia haven’t been entrepreneurial, says Jack Shannon, president and CEO of EBDI, because they “were dominated by smokestack industries that provided well-paying jobs and were based on a corporate culture.”

T h e N e x t In d u s t r i a l R e v o l u t i o n According to the Greater Baltimore Committee, the approximately eighty biotech companies in the city and surrounding counties now employ about 5,100 people. Could the new parks incubate the eight thousand additional jobs that they promise? Biotech has been known for generating high-paying jobs, but not as many of them as manufacturing and relatively few for those without a college degree. In Massachusetts, a region solidly in the top tier of the industry, there are about thirty thousand people working directly in biotech, according to the Massachusetts Technology Council. But even that is just a fraction of the state’s 3.2 million-person workforce. An industry titan like Amgen employs about 7,500 people, and most of them have Ph.D.s or other special qualifications. By comparison, Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point plant in Baltimore had a crew of 26,500 in 1969. Melissaratos says that comparison is unfair. “We are no longer in an environment of volume production. The production of the future is going to be driven by intellectual property,” he says. So who in this new knowledge-powered economy would get biopark jobs? The answer given by its supporters is: one-third would go to people with advanced degrees, one-third to college graduates, and one-third to high school graduates. For the less-educated in Maryland who haven’t benefited from jobtraining programs and efforts to improve K–12 education, this equation means service industry jobs. continued on page 75 w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m j u l y 0 6






photo courtesy of The Roslyn Institue


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Ethicist R. Alta Charo teaches law with a focus on bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She also writes, consults, and serves on many boards and panels, including the National Academy of Science’s committees that are developing national voluntary guidelines for stem-cell research, advising on research and how to prevent destructive applications of biotechnology, and reviewing the FDA and the U.S. national system of ensuring that prescription drugs are safe. This year she is a visiting professor at Boalt Hall Law School at Berkeley and is a member of the ethics standards advisory group of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Q. What is the role of ethicists when they work with scientists, with companies, and with universities?

A. It is to help people think through their duties to individual people and to society, and how to responsibly fulfill those duties in a way that is consistent with our philosophy about individual liberty, social justice, and the distributive costs of technology—to think these things through in a rigorous fashion as opposed to responding purely out of instinct or out of political partisanship.

Q. In Baltimore, we are charging into the biotech

Q. Misportrayed how?

arena, and some might be concerned about the potential uses of genetics research.

A. Such as the threat of creating marching

A. There’s a lively focus now on biotechnology

armies of soulless drones. They latch onto that in order to begin to drum up a generalized anxiety about biotechnology.

and bioweaponry. Should there be restrictions on the very research you do, lest you discover something that could possibly be turned to bad uses? That question raises First Amendment issues about censoring basic-science research and also, at a practical level, whether or not you might be losing out on all sorts of good applications that you can’t imagine right now. Another possibility would be that you can do the research but you can’t publish certain research, and it has to be restricted. The government gets to review what it is that you can say. Very clear First Amendment issues here, and also, as a practical matter, we understand why it is that you don’t want to necessarily publish a cookbook for making a biological weapon and publish it on the Internet, but if you have discovered it, how confident are we that nobody else has? And, usually, publication is the first step to other people figuring out how to develop defenses. So are you actually defeating yourself by restricting publication of new information because you’re making it impossible for people to start building on that—not to build a weapon but a defense against a weapon?

Q. What things are we debating in the public

Q. What are the ethicists debating right now?

realm right now that are “straw men” or decoys— artificial arguments that people focus on rather than debating the real issue?

A. We have the perennial topic of unequal access to health care in the United States and across the world. And within that topic is the longstanding discussion about whether and to what extent health care is a human right, and good health a precondition to a good life, and do these claims underlie an obligation on the part of governments to actually make this a reality. Another topic that is returning to the ethics world is the interplay between the medical community and what you might call the law of war. We’re now seeing questions about the role of doctors in facilities that hold prisoners, for example, in facilitating the torture of prisoners. We’re questioning the role of doctors and of biologic researchers in the development of both defensive and offensive biological weaponry, and debating the interaction between the medical and research communities and the government. This was an area of discussion right around World War II, and it kind of fell off the map a little bit.

A. A lot of issues that are debated in the public arena are actually stalking-horses for a different agenda. The debate around embryonic stem-cell research is a stalking-horse for the abortion debate. The debates around pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which is the use of genetics to help you select which embryos to use and which to not, is a stalking-horse for one side for the abortion debate, and for the other side for disability rights. And in my mind the debate around cloning research has been a stalking-horse for the debate around biotechnology and the global trade in biotechnology. There are people who have been unsuccessful at trying to slow down the growth of the biotechnology sector and who view the alteration of natural products as fundamentally wrong and dangerous, and they’ve been unsuccessful in the areas of, for example, food products, to the extent that they would like to be. So they have latched onto cloning research because of its high profile, because of the ability to have it misportrayed.

Q. Do you think that’s fair? How reasonable is it to fear biotechnology?

A. I think it’s as reasonable to fear biotechnology as it is to fear any other area of human endeavor. That is, it has risks and it has benefits. And when we ask whether or not this is a technology that needs to be managed differently, we should be asking that question with regard to the actual benefits we imagine accruing against our best estimate of the risks and the risks’ uncertainties. That’s true for everything. That’s true for the combustion engine.

Q. I grew up around farms, where we were modifying the genes of plant structures and breeding certain animals and not others all the time, and I’m not really sure what the difference today is with regard to biotech.

A. Well, interestingly, the difference is that we can do it more precisely with biotechnology, safer and better. But we can also do it far more efficiently, and that’s where the issue lies. You know there are things that we tolerate when they’re inefficient but when they become efficient and they threaten to spread throughout society and become a major part of our lives, suddenly we want to re-examine their risks and benefits in a different way. That’s true, too, for example, with contraception. In many ways, I think, the debates around contraception are about the ethics of efficiency. Where contraception was inefficient, and women had to continue to live under the threat of unwanted pregnancy, we tolerated contraception with fairly little public discussion because we knew every woman who was going to have sex, even with contraception, was doing it with the knowledge that unintended pregnancy was a fairly reasonable outcome, and she would decide with that outcome in mind. Now you have the birthcontrol pill, where you can achieve 97% to 98% efficiency at preventing conception, and suddenly the decision to have sex is profoundly different, because the outcome of unintended pregnancy is really quite remote, which really will change the number of people who decide to have sex, and continued on page 77 w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m j u l y 0 6


m o fr


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s r e t s n o m g bi WHY


to big brother HAS GONE MAINSTR EA B y

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M C C A L L U M - S M i T h


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n the evening of October 30, 1938, many citizens of New Jersey hastily stuffed their kids into their station wagons and took to the highways, or barricaded themselves in basements with shotguns, gas masks, and tinned soup, in response to a media alarm about a sudden conflict with an invasion force from Mars. Despite announcements about its fictional content, the presentation of the radio play based on H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds caused widespread panic, exacerbated by clumsy mishandling in the genuine media. It’s easy to mock the gullibility of the audience, but their response is not so surprising. Hitler’s army hovered impatiently on the German border, awaiting the order to march on continental Europe; Japan’s attack on China confirmed its territorial ambitions in the Pacific. The good people of New Jersey were psychologically primed for invasion on the night of Orson Welles’ infamous broadcast, just as we are primed now, consciously or not, for another terrorist atrocity or an avian flu pandemic. The power of science fiction is not that it considers the impossible, but that it dramatizes and explores what we believe to be probable. Until the twentieth century, varieties of fictional prose had been loosely defined as tragedy, comedy, or romance. Categorizing books by genre is a modern phenomenon, developed as a marketing tool and an aid to literary criticism. Therefore, novels such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), George Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking (1871), and the canons of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells were simply considered romances (using the original definition of a romance as a tale with imaginative elements, bodice-ripping optional). The term “science fiction” entered our vocabulary during the 1930s following publication of an American pulp magazine series entitled Science Wonder Stories. Because sci-fi, as it is now known, shares a very singular characteristic—namely, that part of its narrative is dependent upon science, or depicts events that have not yet (or had not in the past) occurred in reality—it is easier to separate from other forms. Since the 1930s, science fiction literature has suffered the burden of genre marginalization, as though books require any differentiation other than “good” or “bad.” The label may consolidate a specific fan base and guide us in a bookstore (though, I hope to prove, it rarely has, and will do so even less in the future), but it limits its wider audience. It hinders the casual reader from exploring sci-fi, due to its image as fodder for nerds with fetishes for gizmos and bimbettes in go-go boots. The unfortunate consequence of this banishment to weirdo-dom was the cursory dismissal of an innovative literary form from serious critical consideration, a form that has played the most prevalent role in illuminating society’s most contentious topics. Nevertheless, many of its seminal works transcended the genre, as great books tend to do, and adopted a new label: “classic.” Consequently, we’ve all read more sci-fi than we think we have. And the times they are a-changing; as the content of science fiction approaches science fact, its dorky reputation for conical bras and Trekkie conventions recedes. While science progresses unabated and at warp speed, the ethical and moral dilemmas surrounding its consequences have torn through the genre straightjacket to permeate mainstream literary fiction. Expanding on my earlier definition, what, exactly, is sci-fi? Ray Bradbury once termed it “the sociological studies of the future,” and Aldous Huxley affirmed, in his revised foreword to Brave New World (1932), that sci-fi “can interest us only if its prophecies look as though they might conceivably come true.” Both believed it to be the literature of change. Huxley’s definition also serves to separate sci-fi from fantasy, excluding books such as Harry Potter or The Lord w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m j u l y 0 6



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of the Rings from consideration, while accommodating Arthur C. Clarke’s third law of prediction that states “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” (Books chosen for this article fulfill Bradbury’s and Huxley’s principles—within the wobbly framework of my own subjective whimsy.) Under the disguise of imaginative storytelling, science fiction satirizes the contradictions and consequences of human behavior. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) skewered the government and scientific elite of Georgian Great Britain, exposing sleazy politicians and the whacky experiments authorized by the Royal Society while drawing attention to Irish poverty and cruelty to animals. Setting his novel We (1920) in a distant future failed to protect Yevgeny Zamyatin from the attentions of Communist leaders who recognized parallels between its fictional state and Russia’s new socialist agenda. Brave New World ridiculed the notion of an enforced utopia, while 1984 (George Orwell, 1949) exposed the dark underbelly of Communism and Fascism, the two ideologies primarily responsible for the twentieth century’s considerable body count. Despite the liberal revolution of the late 1950s, some postmodern fiction with a sci-fi twist, often termed “speculative fiction,” cut too close to the bone for the cultural establishment and suffered the tangible backlash of censorship. William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (1959), with its predictions of sexual promiscuity, an AIDS-like epidemic, and society’s increasing dependence on legal and illegal drugs, was tried for obscenity and banned in several U.S. states for many years. Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (1963) depicts a gang of predatory youths who stalk a failed state of the near future, committing random acts of violence. One is arrested and rehabilitated using methods both comic and perverse. Prescient in his vision of the anarchic punk movement, radical in his invention of the gang’s language, Burgess nevertheless attracted accusations that he condoned violence. “A human being is endowed with free will,” he counters in his introduction to the first unabridged American edition. “He can use this to choose between good and evil. If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange … wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State. It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil.” Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), also included in the postmodern sci-fi canon due to its re-imagining of the Second World War and its exploration of the use of psychological reconditioning, suffered a similarly critical reception. These postmodern works merit our attention as they exemplify a long-established link between science fiction and censorship. Throughout history, the literature of change has nettled governments, educational institutions, and cultural conservatives, more often than any other fictional form. Yet, lewdness or bad language alone rarely triggers such reactionary backlash—something else within sci-fi novels unleashes acute and longsuppressed fears: a fear of anarchy or the undermining of law and order; an overturning of “normal” gender relations or the rise of sexual “deviation;” the humiliation of the nation state or the uncovering of uncomfortable truths. The story is a conduit through which a specific fear is expressed. Science fiction allows us to face within a safe environment that which scares us the most. It is the literary equivalent of a roller coaster ride or a horror movie; an exorcism through reading, a performance undertaken in the name of that bizarre human notion that what does not kill us (or scare us to death) makes us stronger. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) positively quivers with fear—the fear of an invasion of dissipated, amoral European continentals and the even more terrifying prospect (to the British Victorian male) of unfettered female sexual desire. Today, many modern Luddites harbor an irrational aversion to technology way beyond an inability to set the TiVo. Not someone, but something, as forewarned in Erewhon (Samuel Butler, 1872), could smother

our individuality, automate our workspace, render the notion of human community obsolete. Some fears are bigger than others. Environmental disaster is extensively covered in the literature and has, since Hurricane Katrina, moved to the foremost of our consciousness. Yet, losing our individuality under the yoke of an all-seeing state remains the ultimate nightmare. Despite their popularity within the literature, utopias are too ditsy a concept to take seriously; it’s the dystopias that make our flesh creep. (Who’s reading my mail? Who’s tapping my phone? Who’s monitoring my library withdrawals? Have you seen my son? He left with the police and never came back.) States sometimes restrict individual rights using the argument that it ensures the greatest comfort to the greatest number of people. “But I don’t want comfort,” says the defiant Savage of Huxley’s Brave New World. “I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” To which Mustapha Mond responds, “In fact, you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.” The right to read and the right to be unhappy are inseparable. Books question our assumptions. Books open wounds of doubt, leaving us vulnerable to despair, an unfortunate and occasionally unpatriotic emotion. Books ask questions, and questions are bee stings in the butt of propaganda. In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953), a book is “a loaded gun in the house next door.” He dramatizes a state’s systematic destruction of literature and its attempts to anesthetize its population using omnipresent media riddled with banality and mood-suppressing drugs. Books are dangerous because they are the repositories of knowledge, and sci-fi frequently addresses the theme of the quest, the search for ultimate knowledge, to find and define the very nature of the universe. As such, it cannot avoid meddling in the spiritual: humankind has desired since Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound (fourth century BC) through Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) to “touch the face of God.” Science fiction is our modern mythology; we often use it, as the ancients did, to allegorize human nature, to explain the inexplicable. While religion dictates that man must trust in faith alone, science seeks proof. Therefore, for centuries, compounded in 1859 by Darwin’s The Origin of Species, and more recently by the splitting of the atom and the increasing entanglement of politics with religious belief, two philosophical battles over fundamentally ethical dilemmas have raged across the globe: the war between science and religion, and the war between science and the manipulation of human procreation. Many scientists, like many writers, believe their primary responsibility is to do the work, not to judge the work; to push the frontiers of space technology, nanotechnology, biotechnology, nuclear technology, and reproductive technology to the limits of human capacity, without hindrance or control. The role of the “mad scientist” has been reprised many times, from Shakespeare’s Prospero ((The Tempest, 1611) through Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein to H. G. Wells’ Dr. Moreau, all enacted within a kind of morality tale that warns us of the risks of curiosity run amok. Scientists care primarily about the science. Yet we cannot assume that every scientist is amoral; many simply believe that the consequences of research are outside their domain, their domain being the quest itself. However, in literature, the opening of Pandora-like boxes has rarely proven beneficial, because sci-fi, as previously discussed, often acts as a form of allegory, an early warning system of possible (or probable) future mistakes. As medical advances are the most controversial, this subject matter infiltrates modern literature to a great extent. Euthanasia and the manipulation of reproduction, while relieving suffering, have raised ethical concerns and the hackles of some religious communities. Today, stem-cell research provides tremendous opportunities for battling our most virulent diseases while opening the door to financial, cultural, or gender exploitation or discrimination. Illegal organ trafficking is an established trade. Criminal elements have always found ways of securing supply for the rich and desperate. continued on page 79 w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m j u l y 0 6



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sustainable city

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Power Surge Afraid to open your BGE bill? Here’s an idea.

Above: Peter Lowenthal, executive director of the local chapter of the Solar Energy Industries Association, with a solar panel. Lowenthal’s Bethesda home uses solar systems to heat water and air and generate electricity.

Several hundred years ago, the Anasazi Indians of southwest North America paid attention to the world around them and lived according to its rhythms. They built their homes into south-facing cliffs because they noticed the sun stays near the southern horizon during winter, and because the cliffs offered shade and coolness when the sun was more directly overhead in the summer. Well, it may be time to start applying that kind of wisdom to our modern homes. Thanks to natural and man-made disasters, gas and electricity rates are going up. Way up. Alternative energy sources are no longer just for super-environmentalist types. They’re for anyone who lives on a budget and still wants to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer. In Harford County, construction is underway on one of the first ultra-energy-efficient production homes in the Mid-Atlantic. The two-story colonial will look similar to any other except it will have multiple photovoltaic panels and two solar thermal panels on the roof. Bob Ward Companies is constructing it to use half the energy of a standard code-compliant home of the same size. (By comparison, a home with Energy Star appliances will use 15% to 20% less energy than a standard home.) Among other things, the home will feature an energy-efficient refrigerator, dishwasher, and washing machine. The National Association of Home Builders Research Center will monitor it for one year, including any time that its eventual owner occupies it during that year. The Maryland Energy Administration and the National

Association of Home Builders are cooperating on the project. The Solar Energy Industries Association is a national trade organization that works to further the harnessing and use of the sun’s energy. Peter Lowenthal, executive director of the Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia chapter of SEIA, is a poster child for the benefits of solar technology. At his private residence in Bethesda, he uses solar thermal collectors, which use solar energy to heat water and to indirectly heat the air. “The solar thermal collectors require backup due to extended times of cloudy weather and short day length. In the winter months we may get only four hours of useful sunlight. But on an annual basis we get about 75% to 80% of our hot water heated from the sun’s energy.” He also uses photovoltaic modules, which convert sunlight into electricity as direct current. Initially, Lowenthal mounted three fortysquare-foot collectors on his south-facing, sloped roof. These collectors heat the home’s water, the radiant floor in the basement, and the two additions he made to the house. He added solar electric modules, which have the ability to generate electricity, after receiving a Maryland Energy Administration grant in 1998. The solar renovations would have cost $8,000, but they cost him $6,000 with the grant, which is available to the public. (Information about grants is available at www.energy.state.md.us/ programs/renewable/solargrant.) Lowenthal anticipates that the cost of solar panels will come down w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m j u l y 0 6



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At Lowenthal’s Bethesda home, solar panels cover the roof.

as demand for the technology increases. The solar panels on Lowenthal’s roof also require little maintenance. “A good hard rain cleans them off,” he says. In addition to these energy-collection devices, Lowenthal also conserves energy with simple insulation products available at most hardware stores. Shades made of Window Quilt seal the windows on

all four sides of his home. Foil-Ray covers his basement door, trapping heat like the Window Quilt. A major advantage of alternative energy is that homeowners often have some power during an outage. This generally requires a battery storage system for backup and a disconnect switch to the traditional electricity grid. “We had an outage here for six days

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when Hurricane Isabel came through, and we were able to run on six batteries for those six days,” says Lowenthal. “Of course we unplugged as much as we could. We pared down our energy use. But we did have lights, television, computers, refrigeration, and everything we needed.” Lowenthal is still partially dependent on traditional energy sources, but only partially. “When the sun shines, my generator combines its power with grid power from PEPCO. When the sun is gone I get power like any other house, my meter records it, and I am billed for it. But I am not billed for the energy I produce and consume in my home.” Ultimately, Lowenthal sees using renewable energy sources as a more stable way of life than relying on fossil fuels. “The solar industry has a daunting task of re-educating the public about what our technologies can do. … Ideally people will remember that we had an energy crisis in the 1970s, and we solved it by both conserving energy and creating new energy. If we can do that again, we will once again be able to reduce and control our energy costs.” The indisputable logic of Lowenthal’s position is that relatively infinite sources of energy, like the sun, are more reliable and are becoming less expensive than finite sources of energy, like oil. “When I buy a solar system,” he says, “I pay once for that solar system and forevermore that energy is fixed. As energy gets more expensive, especially coal and gas, this energy will be the same price. So essentially by buying a solar system, you’re buying an insurance policy.” ■

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out there

by tom lombardi

A Healthy Skepticism Injection A New York State-based collective uses art to comment on science and public policy. The Department of Homeland Security isn’t amused.

If Van Gogh and Einstein had teamed up on a project, what would it have looked like? Perhaps they’re sipping Pernod as we speak, in a cafe beyond our frame of comprehension, and Van Gogh is painting his interpretation of Einstein’s theory of relativity. What happens when you combine art and science? And politics. And activism. And a fearful nation. Introducing the Critical Art Ensemble, which, according to its website, “is a collective of five artists of various specializations dedicated to exploring the intersections between art, technology, radical politics, and critical theory.” Translation: they’re a group of politically minded artists who use science and art to raise public awareness and, hopefully, generate discussion. Steve Kurtz and Steve Barnes cofounded CAE in 1987, and its installations and performances have appeared in museums throughout Europe and North America. A recent installment (part of this year’s Whitney Biennial in New York) demonstrates the thrust of CAE’s work: part scientific exploration, part performance art. It is a short film entitled Marching

Plague, in which CAE recreates Operation Cauldron, a biological warfare experiment conducted by the British government in 1952 off the coast of the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. Using the same method as the Brits, CAE attempts to transport a plague substitute (Bacillus subtilis, a harmless bacteria) via wind onto a flotation platform loaded with caged guinea pigs a mile away (no guinea pigs were harmed in the performance). Like the original procedure, they want to see if the guinea pigs contract the airborne bacteria (hair samples are taken to test for the bacteria); a positive result would ostensibly mean that deadly bacteria, like plague, could be released as a means of germ warfare. Like the original Operation Cauldron, CAE’s tests fail. According to footage CAE has obtained, the Japanese attempted germ warfare development from the 1930s until 1945, and the United States and the Brits attempted it from the 1940s until the early 1960s, all yielding inconclusive results. In another performance, CAE created a hoax cult called The Cult of the New Eve. Its purpose? To disrupt outrageous claims some were making

During the Critical Art Ensemble’s October 2005 filming of Marching Plague, Steve Kurtz used the orange smoke from a flare to determine the trajectory of the wind. CAE members then released harmless bacteria in the direction of a floating platform of guinea pigs a mile away.

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A petri dish of the harmless bacteria used in Marching Plague

next to the

Mayor against the Human Genome Project. The hoax cult concocted beer using recombinant yeast containing the random genome library of the first volunteer donor, Eve. “Unlike the Christian church with its Communion,” says Kurtz, “when we said you were getting the body of Eve, you were getting the body of Eve—the entire genome.” Whacky? Perhaps. But their intentions are quite serious. “We want to inject people with a healthy dose of skepticism … to spread knowledge further into the public,” says Kurtz. “Biotechnology and life science can be boring and rather alienating. It’s not a part of people’s lives like computers are.” Not too long ago, only geeks toyed with technological monstrosities known as “computers.” In a relatively short period of time, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, among others, have imparted a basic, functional understanding of computers to several generations at once. “We want to change the frame of fear that dominates biotechnology,” says Kurtz, “and everything discussed within that fear. Let’s look at the historical records. Let’s get away from the emotions and the mythology and back to the actual history. If we can do that, it would certainly lower the fear level. Less fear. More rational decision making.” Like actors on stage, CAE uses its performances and installations to give viewers artistic interpretations of an otherwise complex world. And while the group works with scientific experts, CAE considers its members amateur scientists—on purpose. “Amateurs can fully exercise their rights to free speech,” says Kurtz. “They can function as watchdogs to a certain degree. They can keep an eye on what is in the public’s interest in these new technologies and knowledge systems.” On the other hand, experts, in Kurtz’s eyes, “are incredibly beholden to whoever’s doing the investing.” CAE sounds kooky and harmless to most, but some have misconstrued its efforts to place biotechnology under a magnifying glass. The Department of Homeland Security, for one. On May 11, 2004, Kurtz awoke to find his wife of twenty years, Hope, lying dead beside him. He called 911. Once inside the home, police and paramedics grew suspicious of Kurtz’s biology equipment and a card with a photograph and Arabic writing on it. The police questioned Kurtz while his wife lay dead in the other room. He assured them he was a pro-

fessor at the State University of New York at Buffalo and an artist of international acclaim; more importantly, the equipment—nothing you wouldn’t find in a standard high school biology lab—was used for his art. He even stuck his finger in a petri dish and tasted the bacteria to prove it wasn’t harmful. The following day, when Kurtz was leaving his home to go make funeral arrangements, he was met by the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force and immediately detained on his front steps and in a hotel room for the next twenty-two hours; they considered him a “bioterrorism” suspect. Upon release from detention, he could not return home while it was tested and torn apart by the FBI, JTTF, ATF, Homeland Security, and local police and fire departments. The judge who issued the warrant was never told of Kurtz’s explanation of the equipment, nor of his credentials as a professor and artist whose collective’s pieces are exhibited in museums throughout the world, nor that the card with Arabic writing was an invitation to an art exhibition—in Massachusetts. Authorities confiscated his wife’s body (for a second time), his biology equipment, computers, manuscripts, and cat. Two autopsies showed that Hope had died of heart failure, yet parts of her body have still not been returned to Kurtz. Kurtz would come to refer to this day as “5/11.” One week later, after the commissioner of public health for New York State deemed his house safe, he returned home. The charges of bioterrorism were dropped. However, Kurtz and a codefendant, Robert Ferrell, are currently facing up to twenty years imprisonment for mail fraud and wire fraud. According to www.caedefensefund.org, which is run by Lucia Sommer, a member of CAE, “the charges concern technicalities of how Ferrell”—former head of the department of genetics at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Public Health—“allegedly helped Kurtz obtain $256 worth of harmless bacteria for one of Kurtz’s art projects.” On January 12, 2006, motions for dismissal were denied; the case will extend to a full trial. As for CAE, this summer the group will be promoting its latest book, Marching Plague (published by Autonomedia), which is based on the film. And they will continue to explore the intersection of science and art, more convinced than ever that someone needs to dismantle the fear and misunderstanding that frames our national discussion of biotechnology. ■

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in review

FICTION 54 Wu Ming (translated from the Italian by Shaun Whiteside) Harcourt, 2006

FOOD WRITING Gastronaut Stefan Gates Harcourt, 2006

If 54 were an animal, not a book, it would be a giraffe, because it is often said that a giraffe looks as if it were designed by committee. The five Italian writers who publish together under the moniker of Wu Ming (Mandarin for “noname”) believe a work of art should be judged on its merits, without reference to its creators. Multipleauthor fiction is so unusual, however, that press interest has scuppered their half-hearted plea for anonymity, and details about them are easily found on the Internet. 54 is their second project (after Q, published in English in 2004) and, despite plots of different lengths and styles, a dappled consistency, and more false starts than the Kentucky Derby, it still manages to look adorable while covering a lot of ground at decent speed. The novel wriggles with plots that do, sort of, knot together, like a child’s first attempt with shoelaces. A hotbed of partisans gather in a Bologna cafe; a lovelorn bartender sneaks into Yugoslavia to find his Communist father; Lucky Luciano transforms Naples, an Allied base, into the epicenter of the heroin trade; and everywhere political ideologies, the former driving forces of societal change, are being supplanted by drugs, money, and the cult of celebrity. Cinema has become “the dream factory of the free world … its conscience and its imagination.” Then, onto the pages of 54, steps Cary Grant. In fiction, as on film, his arrival warms the cockles of your heart. Here, at last, is a man who can sort out all this falderal; a man’s man, woman’s man, man about town, with no need of garters as his socks “wouldn’t dare slip down his calves.” He is “the perfect prototype of Homo atlanticus: civil without being boring; moderate but progressive; rich, certainly, even extremely rich, but not dry, and not flabby either.”

Grant’s lackluster film career was about to be revitalized through Hitchcock’s divine intervention, but only after, in Wu Ming’s fictitious tall tale, he agrees to a request by the British and American governments to visit Yugoslavia incognito, and use his renowned proletarian sympathies to woo Marshal Tito away from the “Reds” by evoking their shared respect for self-reinvention and French cuffs. While planning this escapade, Grant takes umbrage with the doppelganger chosen by Her Majesty’s Secret Service to deflect the press’s attention, not due to the second-hand-car salesman’s Quebecois vowels or tubby physique, but to his terrible taste in ties. Classier than James Bond, Grant represents the apolitical individual, above laws and beyond borders, who would become a role model for both people and policy for the rest of the century—globalization personified in perfectly pressed pants. Wu Ming embody that peculiarly European brand of intellectual, who argue eloquently about radicalism while (probably) wearing handmade designer shoes—socially conscious and hip. Let’s give thanks for their risky experimentations, for their willingness to talk politics and pepper their work with allusions, for giving us an excuse (as though one were needed) to watch To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest all over again, for satirical fiction as sprawling, complicated, and contradictory as Europe itself. You’ll never meet another giraffe quite like it.

Those who have wondered (and surely someone has) how many people eat fingernails, hair, and other corporeal detritus now have a published reference book: Gastronaut by Stefan Gates. The British food writer and BBC producer surveyed five hundred people about their auto-cannibalistic habits, and then went the extra mile to evaluate the health effects of each one. Earwax, for example, is “safe to eat … but extremely dangerous to harvest as the eardrum is extremely delicate.” That’s good news for the fifty people who admitted in the survey that they had sampled the stuff. Thus is the tone of the book, which alternates from revolting to laugh-out-loud funny. This strange collection of essays, recipes, and lists seems to exist mainly so Gates can write about taboos both social and culinary. His best work covers culinary history, which he researched well and recounts in an easy, smart, conversational manner. He gathered recipes from Mesopotamia, Rome, and Lapland. He got them from royalty—King Richard II of England’s blancmange and Elvis’ beloved fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. At the end of each section are his eclectic choices of music to cook or eat by. These little jewels are worth the price of the book. Toffee fondue tastes better while listening to “mullet rock,” he writes, “such

as Manfred Mann’s ‘Blinded by the Light,’ Starship’s ‘We Built This City,’ Foreigner’s ‘I Want to Know What Love Is,’ Van Halen’s ‘Jump,’ and Peter Frampton’s ‘Show Me the Way.’” For monkey gland steak, dust off your vinyl albums of Captain Beefheart’s Safe as Milk or Trout Mask Replica. The monkey gland steak recipe represents Gastronaut’s major flaw: Gates’ reliance on grotesque schoolboy humor. The opening photo for the headcheese section of a man holding a severed pig’s head made me skip the section entirely. A section on flatulence followed by a journal of the author’s “Personal Journey into Extreme Flatulence” was just overkill. If you’re willing to wade through the gratuitous perversions, you might enjoy Gates’ unusual foray into the culinary world. When he’s funny, his humor is the dry, British kind that made Monty Python such a hit. And he does know his way around a kitchen; the monkey gland steak (“gland” is really a slab of steak sirloin) was easy to prepare, attractive on the plate, and delicious. Gates is someone to watch in the hope that he will turn his talents toward illuminating food history and away from breaking wind.

—Susan McCallum-Smith

—Robin Reid w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m j u l y 0 6


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Page 1

Do you have chronic shooting pain into your foot or ankle? You may have a condition known as radiculopathy; a chronic condition characterized by pain shooting down the leg into the foot and/or ankle.


YOU MAY BE ELIGIBLE IF YOU: • are 18 years of age • have at least a 6 month history of symptoms • have been on stable doses of medication for at least 4 weeks • have completed settlement, or final decision in any litigation, compensation or disability related to radiculopathy

Volunteers are being recruited for a clinical trial underway at The Johns Hopkins Hospital by Dr. Paul Christo. Sponsored by Celgene Corporation, the study will compare the safety and efficacy of an experimental drug (CC-5013) to placebo.

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in review

FICTION The Prisoner of Guantánamo Dan Fesperman Knopf, 2006

Espionage novels rely on ever-changing geopolitics to keep them from becoming staid. The end of the Cold War marked the end of Cold War spy-novel clichés played out in Berlin or Prague. Instead, a new background for global conflict has materialized, complete with a cast of rogues waiting to be thwarted. The most memorable authors of the genre practice a kind of mimicry that reflects the anxieties

SHORT FICTION Reverse Negative Nathan Leslie Ravenna Press, 2006

Let me first declare myself an unrepentant cheerleader for the short-short fiction format. Like thirdparty candidates and novellas, I think that what flash fiction has to offer—directness, ingenuity, freshness—is sadly underappreciated by the general public. Plus, it’s delightful to indulge in a story that can be read in the time it takes to microwave a meal.

of their era. John le Carre’s elegant early novels laid out the stark nature of the spy game with literary aplomb, a high-stakes chess match involving flawed men and grim pawns well-suited to the post-war world. The works of Robert Ludlum, even as they clung doggedly to a rigid formula, exuded a certain breathless paranoia that mirrored America’s postVietnam unease as the Soviets acquired proxy states in Africa and Asia; damaged heroes ran around European capitals and Third World outposts chased by faceless adversaries, desperate and trusting no one. Now there’s a new face to the enemy, a new ideology, and a new way of waging war. Against this backdrop, Fesperman, a former reporter for The Baltimore Sun, sets a rather ordinary thriller that regrettably makes scant use of the fresh setting. The novel opens with ex-Marine Revere Falk, an Arabic-speaking FBI agent assigned to interrogations at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, finding himself embroiled in a murder investigation that throws his professional and personal life into limbo. As suspicion of treason falls on him just a few pages in, he quickly learns to trust no one. The paranoia trope is common in the espionage genre, yet here the mistrust and deceit seem vague, lacking weight. Further muddling the story are Falk’s relationship with a female Army interrogator and the arrival of his former platoon leader. Pam, his romantic interest, emerges as barely more than a cipher who offers a few breathless respites for Falk. Ted Bokamper, the ex-commanding officer, further confuses the plot; he speaks frequently of his powerful patron deep in the bowels of Foggy Bottom, while manipulatively working to further his own agenda. Ted flashes a certain dangerous charm on occasion, but unfortunately his

character’s lack of depth prevents any real tension from forming. Soon enough, the story devolves into a morass of Cuban spies, homicidal Army officers, hazy government officials, and know-nothing CIA agents chasing after Falk. Sadly, it can’t escape the confines of the genre. Which is a shame, because the best thrillers find a way to break free from the espionage novel’s limitations without sacrificing the crucial element of suspense. Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File nourish a steadily growing momentum culminating in well-deserved climaxes. In the World War II-set The Eagle Has Landed, Jack Higgins builds sympathy for the hero by layering ethical ambiguities onto an already taut story. Fesperman’s story does attempt to put a human face on the new enemy (or victims, depending on your politics), but the Arab prisoners serve as misleading figures, MacGuffins of a sort. While the story explores their living conditions, motivations, and indefinite status as enemy noncombatants, it does so almost perfunctorily. Another writer might have used them as examples of the war on terror’s sordid nature; here, they make brief appearances as exotic backdrops and then fade into the wings of the plot. Fesperman should be applauded for writing a novel about timely events and concerns. Even as the hooded Abu Ghraib figure has assumed iconic status, the questions surrounding America’s conduct in the war on terror still remain vital. One wishes, though, that Fesperman might have created a more compelling lens through which to examine these issues.

Nathan Leslie’s Reverse Negative shows both the strengths and weaknesses of the form: inventiveness, intense focus, and the occasional story that is compressed into an artificially small space. Though there are no official rules for flash fiction, most enthusiasts of the form cite a one- or two-thousand word limit and the author’s intention for the story to be read in one quick sitting. Reverse Negative doesn’t self-identify as flash fiction, but this collection is undeniably swift, and many of the stories included would fit even the strictest flash definitions. Its 179 pages sprint through fifty-eight stories, most clocking just three or four pages. Quite a few show an impressive, mature precision. “The Girl with Silver Hands” offers a disorienting and unpredictable anti-fairy tale. A babysitter seeks a deeper sort of fair play with “A Small Gesture.” In “The Nomad,” a son tries to explain the manifestation of his father’s grief. For their brevity, though, sometimes the meaning is too tightly packed. A second reading of the collection untucked some of the character nuances that escaped me the first time through. The best of these stories—the ambivalent parenting of “Magazines,” a poison-cultivating wife in “The Greenhouse”—limit themselves to a moment or two, and give more insight into these characters’ lives than many longer pieces would. Condensing the writing heats and pressurizes the elements that remain, like the explosion behind

a bullet. A story can actually have greater emotional force for being confined, so the few stories here that creep into six and seven pages feel not more complete, but less. Pressed between other deeply affective moments, these extended passages read like sketches for longer stories that were kept short merely for appearance’s sake. Some of Reverse Negative’s most satisfying moments come when the bounds of content and form are pushed simultaneously. In “Brauner’s Muse,” a flipbook narrates its own progression from line drawing to full-color character, with confusion about life’s purpose and designer that should be familiar to everyone. In “General,” a couple’s life is described through “he says something, then she responds” generalities that rise to express an archetype of real love, longing, and regret. There is a fascinating imagination at work in this collection. But there are moments when the work tires, like a runner in a long race. “Tree Climbers,” “First Date,” “The Distant Land,” and a scattering of others are surprisingly predictable explorations of familiar motifs. With Reverse Negative, Leslie has added several excellent stories to the short-short fiction genre. But for newcomers, also exploring one of the numerous multiple-author collections may be a more inviting introduction to the form.

—Michael Paulson

—Dan Gudgel w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m j u l y 0 6


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what i’m reading

1970s fashion must share some of the

responsibility for the interpersonal train wrecks described in Rick Moody’s The Ice Storm; it’s bad enough to discover your mistress finds you boring, your wife knows you’re a heel, your children have morphed into aliens (into adolescents, actually, but it amounts to the same thing), without the additional hardship of living in a house furnished with brown shag rugs and orange modular seating, driving a simulated-wood-paneled station wagon, and sporting a David Cassidy haircut. I guess this is what Tolstoy meant when he opened Anna Karenina, another portrait of marital dysfunction, with “All happy families are alike but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Of course, Moody’s dark farce about the disintegration of two suburban families during one foul-weather day in 1973 deals with weightier issues than corduroy and polyester—namely, that a casual indifference to our nearest and dearest can lead to consequences infinitely more dire than bickering about turkey leftovers or telephone calls from the school principal. Yet, doesn’t our love for those closest to us depend, to some extent, on a web of necessary lies? (I think your mother is a remarkable woman. Your goldfish got lonesome, sweetheart, and swam back to the sea via the toilet. I’ve yearned for an electric egg poacher as an anniversary present …) Is honesty always the best policy? Geraldine Brooks considers this conundrum in her excellent Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, March. She re-imagines the March family of Louisa May

by susan mccallum-smith

Alcott’s much-beloved, if sentimentally sticky, Little Women, and fleshes out their humanity by realigning their virtues as flaws. While Jo, Beth, Meg, and Amy show admirable Yankee backbone (spending their days in stoic domesticity—quilting bloomers, knitting bandages, pickling rhubarb or some such), their father sends home letters from the Civil War, ebullient with affection but economical with the truth. A former idealist, Mr. March is no more able to share his hellish experiences with his family than (I’m sure) many of those currently fighting in Iraq. Marriage depends on such reticence. Combat depends on such reticence. Taciturnity is not a characteristic of Elane Ferrante’s bone-rattling The Days of Abandonment, detailing a wife’s descent into madness following her husband’s desertion for a woman half his age. Ferrante’s characterization of Olga scorned is so convincing that I, too, plotted hellish revenge against that philandering jerk (I think I’ll break into his apartment and stuff his curtain rods with raw shrimp) and his childlike floozy (I’m going to de-pert her nose with a flatiron, then remove each cutesy scarlet toenail using rusty pliers). Olga had forfeited her own desires to ensure that her husband’s wants were met. When he leaves, she loses not only him, but also herself. Her home crumbles into chaos; the dog accidentally gets poisoned and dies, falling “through a hole in the net of events. We leave so many of them, lacerations of negligence, when we put together cause and effect.” Remarkably, she climbs back into daily life, pays attention, pays the bills, manages to do the laundry,

to “separate the darks from the lights,” and I rejoiced at her survival. Separating the dark from the light is, surely, one of the fundamental responsibilities of the writer. Edward Hirsch says in the introduction to Poet’s Choice, his newly released collection of essays, that poetry “sacramentalizes experience.” Poetry pays attention. I’m giddy about this new hardback; it’s oddly heavy to lift, as though the weight of Hirsch’s clarity and empathy has saturated its pages. His straightforward approach demystifies poetry for those, like me, who are often intimidated by its supposed complexities, and he quotes the following humorous summary of its typical subject matter by poet William Matthews to emphasize its relevance to our daily lives: 1. I went out into the woods today and it made me feel, you know, sort of religious. 2. We’re not getting any younger. 3. It sure is cold and lonely (a) without you, honey, or (b) with you, honey. 4. Sadness seems but the other side of the coin of happiness, and vice versa, and in any case the coin is too soon spent and on what we know not. Poet’s Choice should be required reading for every school and writing program, and required reading for all of us who believe words keep us company in the face of isolation—helping us build a family of sorts. ■ —Susan McCallum-Smith is Urbanite’s literary editor.

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Fall 2006 Sampler

THE MURPHY FINE ARTS CENTER Tyler Perry presents What You Do in the Dark Must Come to Light The new stage play by the prolific, popular playwright, Tyler Perry.

Tue., Sept 5 thru Sun., Sept. 10 Sneakin’ Out...At the Royal Directed by Cherri Cunningham Cragway

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A musical play that’s a nostalgic look at the famed Royal Theater. If you were there, you’ll relive every minute of it. If you’ve only heard about it ...you’ll see what you missed. Dr. Nathan Carter Scholarship Benefit Concert Concert in tribute to the late, Sat., Sept. 23 great Dr. Nathan Carter—Director 6:00 PM of the Morgan State University Choir from 1970 to 2004 and chair of the MSU Fine Arts Department This concert features The Heritage Signature Chorale, Stanley Thurston, Conductor. Proceeds to benefit the Nathan Carter Scholarship Fund

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Baltimore Choral Art Society presents “Let My People Go!”

Sun., Oct. 29 4:00 PM

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An Evening with Bill Cosby A special night of wit, wisdom & comedic charm with one of America’s most beloved performers.

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Fri., Nov. 17 & Sat., Nov. 18 at 7:30 PM “The Magnificent Marching Machine” The Morgan State Univ. Marching Band Show Melvin N. Miles, Jr. Director

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The Morgan State University Choir Annual Christmas Concert Dr. Eric Conway, Conductor

Sun., Dec. 10 at 4:00 PM

Tickets available at all Ticketmaster outlets, t i c k e t m a s t e r. c o m , T i c k e t m a s t e r c h a r g e - b y p h o n e ( 4 1 0 - 5 4 7 - S E AT ) , a n d t h e M u r p h y F i n e Arts Center ticket office (443-885-4440).

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Michael S. Steele Lt. Governor

Victor L. Hoskins Secretary

Shawn S. Karimian Deputy Secretary

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Banking on Biotech continued from page 51

“Any company needs a full range of workers: janitors, receptionists, warehouse people,” Melissaratos says. Recognizing that city residents want more involvement in science than sweeping up after it, some of Baltimore’s charitable foundations have been funding training programs to help high school graduates get into career-oriented life-science positions. They are preparing them to become lab technicians, environmental technicians, quality control supervisors, and animal lab managers, and to get other entry-level jobs. “These are positions for which you don’t need as much book learning as the college level provides, but you do need specific skills: the ability to maintain a sterile environment, lab math, how to follow standard operating procedures,” says Kathleen Weiss, executive director of the Baltimore-based BioTechnical Institute of Maryland. BTI’s tuition-free Laboratory Associates Program, founded by a Hopkins researcher, has graduated 157 students since it began in 1998, placing them in jobs with an average annual salary of $25,000. “That’s a big improvement on minimum wage or no wage,” says Weiss. Some praise such efforts, but question whether they will endure and be expanded to the point where they make a significant difference, especially for the displaced residents who were told biotech would change their lot. “I just hope they keep their promises,” says Raymond Winbush, director of Morgan State University’s Institute for Urban Research. “For that to happen presupposes so much, such as the economy remaining stable and that people of good conscience are in charge five years from now.” Without follow-up, says Winbush, a consultant to the group representing neighborhoods affected by the east side development (called Save Middle East Action Committee), the hype will die down and the neighborhoods surrounding both bio parks will be forgotten. “Forming a good-faith partnership with the community is really important to us,” says EBDI’s Shannon. “We know we need to work to help people develop new skill sets.” That, of course, is another unanswered question: Will young Baltimore residents be academically prepared for whatever biotech jobs do become available? Of city adults, about one-third do not have high school diplomas. Although city schools have shown some improvement lately, many are still in abysmal shape. Consider test scores at the eleven underperforming schools targeted this year for state takeover: Of the seven middle schools, the best score on the eighth-grade math test was William H. Lemmel Middle School, where 25% of students tested proficient. Still, Hopkins and the University of Maryland both talk about partnering with local schools or

forming new ones within the parks eventually. “We haven’t heard anything specific from them yet, but we have been granted $10,000 from the Forrest City-New East Baltimore Partnership,” says Mamie M. Green, who heads the science department at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, where their five science fair winners were invited to the east side-park groundbreaking. Since 1993, Dunbar has offered students a special emphasis in biotech that includes electrophoresis, DNA analysis, bioinformatics, PCR (polymerase chain reaction), and other related coursework. And in the fall, a new public charter school dedicated to biotechnology and health sciences, the Maryland Academy of Technology and Health Sciences, will open in West Baltimore. Teachers know the biotech parks are coming and they are eager to get their students involved, according to Jennie Queen-Baker, curriculum development specialist for the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute. She sends biotech laboratory kits to classrooms as part of the Maryland Loaner Lab program she developed and manages. She reports surging interest across the state: “People are realizing this is going to be really big.”

A Jo u r n ey o f a Th o u san d Miles As Vere looks out Alba’s fourth-floor windows, he can see another kind of park, M&T Bank Stadium. Closer to his building are the small rowhouses of the Poppleton neighborhood. “It’s a big deal, I’ve heard, that we’ve located here on this side of MLK Boulevard,” says Vere, a Silver Spring resident still getting to know the city. He’s heard the talk about programs with schools and about maybe a pedestrian bridge being built over the boulevard to the hospital. Meanwhile, inside the lab are more familiar challenges. On this day in May, he notes that an FDA advisory panel has just approved Merck & Co.’s new vaccine against Human Papilloma Virus, the world’s most common sexually transmitted disease and a major cause of cervical cancer. Vere grouses that the big pharma companies don’t need more blockbusters. Then he adds, with a smile, “Our day is coming!” There’s no guarantee, though, that it will. Like any biotech company, Alba could get zapped by regulators, see its drug fail the next stage of trials for efficacy, lose funding if investors panic, or succumb to any of the myriad other threats to start-ups in this high-stakes, low-odds industry. For every touchdown like Merck’s HPV vaccine, Vere knows, there are many more fumbles. “To call it risky,” he says, “is an accurate assessment.” Whether the parks can truly bring these disparate worlds together and whether Alba can succeed in its scientific quest are two questions Vere faces with the same attitude: “I’m choosing to be optimistic about it.” ■


The End of Summer Jazz Jam S a t u r d a y, A u g u s t 2 6 8:00 PM

Bob James Larry Carlton Nathan East Harvey Mason



The Original Superstars of Jazz Fusion featuring Roy Ayers Jean Carne Wayne Henderson

Bobbi Humphrey Ronnie Laws Jon Lucien

Lonnie Liston Smith

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You Can’t Arrive Unless You Know the Destination The Murphy Fine Arts Center 2201 Argonne Dr. 443-885-4440 www.murphyfineartscenter.org w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m j u l y 0 6




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The Ethics of Fact continued from page 53

under what circumstances, and with which partners. It spreads throughout society and now people who before were perfectly comfortable tolerating “some number” of women having sex outside marriage get very concerned because they see it as a phenomenon in which lots of women are having sex outside marriage. What they really ought to be debating is sex outside marriage; instead they focus their wrath on contraception.

Q. Are there parallel examples of efficiency changing things?

A. Frozen dinners. Q. Frozen dinners? A. Frozen dinners. The Pill came into existence in the fifties and sixties, and that was when we also had the invention of frozen dinners. So of course we used to tolerate a society in which some number of people didn’t actually have a sit-down at a long family dinner, but, you know, that’s just the way it was. Then frozen dinners come in and now it’s easy not to take the time to cook with your daughter in the kitchen with you and the meal doesn’t take as long to consume and people consume it in a solo fashion while watching TV,

and suddenly Newsweek and Time are filled with articles about the decline of the fabric of American society because of the frozen dinner.

Q. New technology strikes again. A. Technology can alter the rhythms of life; it illustrates a very big divide in bioethics these days. The progressive movement, among other things, tends to accept change not only as inevitable but as desirable. That the serendipity associated with change is to be embraced, that frozen dinners and contraception will change the rhythms of American life and we may like some of those changes and not like others, but that change, in and of itself, is good, and that next year it will be a different change. Whereas within the conservative movement, there is a strong tendency to decry the loss of what is a kind of romantic vision of the past, to see many different technological interventions that inevitably change the fabric of society as somehow dehumanizing us, and to see change as fundamentally threatening—something that should be controlled and squelched as opposed to embraced. Both sides can agree often on acute risks: If a technology raises an acute risk of causing physical injury or of rendering somebody parentless, we can all agree that it needs some regulatory attention. But where the two areas of bioethics tend to divide is in the more inchoate, more diffuse effects of technological change.

Q. When we read about biotechnology and change, is there a framework by which we can judge new things, or do we just go by what the experts say? When my state senator, for example, says we are or are not going to pay for stem-cell research, how do I know she is doing the right thing?

A. You want to get good, non-politically influenced factual information about the state of the research, its risks, and its prospects. And that’s getting harder and harder to get, especially because in the last six years we have seen a pattern in which the government, which used to be a fairly respected, authoritative, dispassionate source of information, has become more and more often a source of ideologically tinged versions of information. So government sources are no longer as credible as they used to be. And this is a loss of gigantic proportions. Q. What happens when a bunch of ethicists get together?

A. We tend to yell at each other a lot. No, seriously, we try to engage at a more intellectual level at which we identify the source of disagreement. But all too often, because we are human, we fail to see the source of disagreement, which often is this more fundamental philosophical divide about the notion of change and the acceptance of change. And so we get all caught up in the details. ■

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From Big Monsters to Big Brother cont. from page 57

As illustrated in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005), science could one day ensure a stockpile of organs—we must decide if we wish to exploit it. Modern sci-fi also demands that we reconsider the definition of an individual. The word robot derives from the Czech term for “forced labor.” Transforming artificial intelligence into artificial consciousness is the next great frontier in robotics—to make the inanimate, animate; to give the artificial a soul. By doing so, mankind will cross the line, from having “built” something to having “created” something. After centuries of battles to eradicate slavery and promote democratic equality, how will we treat a new subculture of techno-folk? Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) examines precisely this issue, as does Brian Aldiss’ short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” (1969). Will androids be protected by the full force of the law from abuse and eradication? Granted freedoms of speech, movement, and the right to vote? In Michael Cunningham’s much–acclaimed Specimen Days (2005), an android flees from the authorities. Accompanying him in his bid for freedom is a creature from another planet, who had immigrated to earth along with many of her kind, only to find herself a part of a servile underclass, employed as gardeners, garbage collectors, housecleaners, and nannies.

While H. G. Wells dramatized a hostile invasion (to address the rapid militarization of Europe) a century before, Cunningham’s current concern is immigration. Environmental instability, fuel shortages, and terrorism may turn human nature toward the comfort of the familiar, toward the supposed security of the tribe. Economic powerhouses China and India menace from Asia. Globalization stalks us in the night. Theocracy is the new political model of choice. After all, the United States defines a foreign national as an “alien.” Therefore, don’t be surprised if any of these subject matters arrive on a bookshelf near you (a lot of them are already there). As Ray Bradbury once said, “People ask me to predict the future when all I want to do is prevent it.” If additional proof is needed that sci-fi elements, albeit under the guise of postmodernism, have entered our mainstream literature, look no further than the recently published shortlist of the best American fiction of the last twenty-five years according to the New York Times, which included the speculative work by Phillip Roth, The Plot Against America (2004); Don DeLillo’s White Noise (1985), which explores the consequences of a toxic spill in a nation deafened by an all-pervasive media; and DeLillo’s Underworld (1997), whose protagonist works in waste management in a world ever more dependent on, and fearful of, nuclear technology.

The sci-fi offerings of Nobel Laureate José Saramago and Booker Prize-winner Margaret Atwood often appear on literary best seller lists, as did the work of Kurt Vonnegut before his retirement from writing fiction. Many readers don’t realize that book club favorite The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (2003) is essentially sci-fi, and Kevin Brockmeier’s 2006 release, A Brief History of the Dead, will most likely also enjoy a cross-genre readership. Both Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Marquez and postmodernists Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace often stick their toes in speculative waters. Indeed, as I’d hoped to prove, the majority of the works mentioned in this essay will not be found within the science fiction genre section of your local bookstore and library. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Bollocks. We’ve still got plenty to get skittish over. Of course, humanity’s finer qualities are spun through this tapestry of doom and gloom, and they glint now and again within the literature of change: hope, love, compassion, the desire for freedom and individuality, the desire to share joy and music and art, the desire to do good. We may cure innumerable diseases, relieve unimaginable suffering, eradicate poverty, and improve the quality of life of millions of people across the globe. Nevertheless, it’s healthy to be paranoid. ■

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73 What I’m Reading Our literary editor included the following books in this month’s column: The Ice Storm by Rick Moody (Little, Brown and Company, 1994); Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (reprint by Penguin, 2004; originally published in 1878); March by Geraldine Brooks (Viking, 2005); Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (reprint by Signet Classics, 2004; originally published in 1868); The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante (translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, Europa Editions, 2005); and Poet’s Choice by Edward Hirsch (Harcourt, 2006). ■

photo by Paul Burke

61 Power Surge For general information about installing photovoltaic systems in your home, go to www.energy.state. md.us/programs/renewable/solargrant/technical/ PVSolarEnergyQuickRef.pdf. Maryland residents are eligible for grants to cover part of the cost of installing solar energy systems; see www.energy.state. md.us/programs/renewable/solargrant for more information. The Zero Energy Homes Project aims to build houses that are ultra energy efficient; see www. toolbase.org. Read about solar hot water and space heating at the U. S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website, www.eere. energy.gov/RE/solar_hotwater.html. At the Oikos website (oikos.com/library/index.html), click on “Green Power” to see a list of materials for installing your own solar energy system. For solar and sustainable energy products, visit www.realgoods.com. The sixteenth annual Metro Washington, D.C., Tour of Solar Homes and Buildings takes place this fall; visit www.solartour.org for more information. The Clean Energy Partnership (www.cleanenergypartnership. org) aims to work with businesses to create a better, cleaner future, and fight global warming and air pollution.

65 A Healthy Skepticism Injection To learn more about Critical Art Ensemble, go to www.critical-art.net. There, you can download PDF files of the group’s books and photographs of performances. For more information on CAE’s current book, Marching Plague, visit the website of publisher Autonomedia (www.autonomedia.org).

To read about one couple’s loft in the Copy Cat Building, see page 42.

The Meaning of Place: From the traditional Amish countryside to the cyberworld of MySpace, a look at the significance of place in American culture

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Where are the bricks? Where are the punched windows that are associated with Charm City? Maryland Institute College of Art continues to push for buildings that inspire both students and Baltimore itself. Here, on a corner of North Avenue and Mount Royal Avenue, the college will construct a new, challenging form, perhaps signaling a growing change of attitude as to what Baltimore can be. —Alex Castro


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