Author Archive for Charles Cohen



08
May
11

Favorite Fells Point Street Performers are back

Jim Pettibone and his dad, Leron, are back playing the sidewalks, another indication that the street scene is alive and well despite the jolts of gentrification that’s been rocking Fells Point, the home base of The Baltimore Wire Service. Much bemoaning can be done about the sweep of upscale restaurants — that is if you’re into bohemia or  maybe a slummer or worse one of those old timers who hold the good ole days over everyone else.  But hang with these guys and the new incarnation of  Fells Point may just surrpise you. Sure there’s plenty of up-scaler, but there’s plenty of rif-raff of all walks and race. Best yet the cross-culture goes across all lines and everyone seems to be doing a Chagaul flaot on Baltimore  rare mini-season, the flash in the pan moment  when the air hangs heavy with blossuems just before Preakness, the annual drunk feast, and the blitz preview of sun burnt season. I’ve had the opportunity to bring my guitar and try to get down Leron’s timing. (His chord changes comes somewhere in the third measure between two and three, somewhere. I’m still looking for it). But most of the time I  take advantage of the catalyst they create. Women dance. Men in cowboy hats, seemed find such H’ombres on the East Coast.  Two years I noted Fells Point quiet diversity, but last Saturday and surely tonight, the momentum has kicked up a notch.

Being a resident, I say this is a mixed blessing. More nutjobs yelling at closing time, but also I appreciate the joy and see it as a bromoter of the times. It’s a gauge that was tested back after 9/11 and a few y ears ago, there was too much peace and quite. Now on these glorious early May week, Fells Point as much of the city, whether you’re dining outside Bs in Bolton Hill or Loittering in front of the Maryland Film Festival at the Charles, this is about as good as it gets in the City, before thea Heatwave comes that is a Baltimore Summer. 

07
May
11

New circulating Funny money is actually legal competition to the Mighty Buck

Witney Webre of Zeke's displays a 5 B-note now being accepted throughout Baltimore

After all this jabbering about sustainable economy — buy local, support urban farming, rediscover craft industry — a group is putting money where the big ideas are. They have created a local currency — The B-note to be more specific, legal tender that functions in same way the good ole greenback works, passing bucks from one hand to the next, except for one thing. The B-note stays in B-More Not true with the dollar, which is at the whim of the big spender who could buy a beer for the house at the corner bar or plunk some cash on an overpriced pair of sunglasses guaranteeing that the money zips out to some corporate headquarters.

“The whole purpose of this is to benefit the small independent businesses, to get people thinking about where they spend their money,” said Jeff Dicken, a member of Baltimore Green Currency Association, the group behind the currency project.

The idea was in the making for a year, as the group planned the distribution, designed the 1 and 5 B notes and raised about $8,000 to print 100,000 Bs of tender. The B-note hit the streets three weeks ago and is now being accepted by 64 business citywide all listed on Baltimoregreencurrency.com. The acceptance is far larger than the currency architects imagined.  Dicken said he had hoped that maybe they’d recruit 30 to  50 businesses in a year’s time. Now they’re looking to cap 100 business by the end of the summer.

The local currency movement basically enforces the buy local cred. That is the B-note is worthless (so far) unless spent in the community in Baltimore, forcing the consumer to think or search out where they can plunk down their B-Buck.

Damien Nichols, one of the organizers, found that explaining the mechanism is behind the currency can be difficult, but Baltimore with its tight network of indigenous business understands the power of buying local.

“You’re surround the community with a fence and all the energy and the money stays here,” said Nichols.

The idea is that people can exchange dollars for B-Notes at an exchange rate of 90 cents on a dollar or ten dollars for 11 B-notes. So the purchase incentive is built in. Secondly the Baltimore Green Currency worked to set up a lateral economy where businesses buy goods and services from each other such as  a store owner can get graphic from a designer, who have agreed to accept the notes, rather than just have a group of stores, a shoping center. Whats more no one stands to profit from the currency. There is no cut. Baltimore Green Currency as an organization raised the money as a way of responding to the Recession and the strain placed on local businesses.

“When you go and buy something from Walmart, all that money leaves town,” said Michael Tew, an organizer with Green Currency.

The money collected at exchance centers or what is formally known as Cambios ( Little  Shop of Hardware, Capital Mac in Fells Point and Murray Blum in Hampden ) is put in a bank account backing the currency, according to the organizers. The idea, according to association members, is that the B-notes stay in use much like the dollar and so far few people have been  cashing in Bs back to dollars.

Rooted in the buy local, grassroots, sustainable movement, the B-note made its debut along the independent heavy neighborhood of Hampden and has since spread throughout the city.

The Baltimore Note, artfully done with the Oriole Bird on Side A and Frederick Douglas on the other for the 1 B, and The Raven with the required portrait of Poe on the other for the Fiver follows the  lead of other communities, There’s the Ithaca Hours or BerkShares in Berkshire, Mass or The Plenty in Pittsboro or Brixton Pound in London and of course Seatle, home of the World Bank Riots, came out with Local-Bucks. And now Baltimore Green Currency stands ready about the 100,000 in cash notes, 6,000 on the streets.

You get the idea, progressives playing with money.   But the economics benefits is very tangible and cross-cuts the community.

“It gives you a real way to buy local and Baltimore as a community takes pride in that,” said Nichols.

Still adopting a new currency was a bit much for some businesses owners to handle. One owner laughed at the idea that someone came into her store with the idea of  printing their own money.

“I’m still coming around to it,” she said.

Others like Mickey Fried, owner of Belle Hardware in Bolton  Hill, locked on to the political ramifications of creating local money. When asked to accept the currency he considered what would happen if he was inundated with the B-note. Would he be able to use it and of course there’s overall concern: What if the B-note fails.?

“It’s a risk because if it fall flat on its face, then frankly we’ve basically given the stuff away,” he said.

But Fried also had faith in Baltimore’s tight network of small business and likes striking back at the ever  expanding move to bring in corporate stores where the profits leave the city for corporate headquarters.

“There are lot of people who  have put a lot of emphasis into what a slip of paper (dollar) is worth, but I don’t think they thought much about the circulation. If you don’t think about w here you spend your money, that money isn’t staying in your community.”

Jokingly called hippie money, the B-note has captured  the attention of the usual suspects, small businesses people already rooted in social consciousness that these days has been translated in that over-used word – “Sustainability.”.

But the real challenge is for the B-note to translate into the regular  sector, where money exchange hands in crumpled bills in quick pace, basically a place like a famous deli on Lombard Street or a popular movie house on Charles Street or how about a baseball stadium off  395. The day the B-note gets in the hands of the apathetic spenders, the greater the change. The organizers know this and are pushing on with goals like having the city accept the B-note. Last week Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake happily posed with a B-note. A sign of the future or bandwagon move by a politician.

This ain't funny money, it's the latest in the Buy Local Movement

30
Apr
11

Minas might have a subversive fishbone

Minas

Most boutiques, shops, eateries, cafes and joints in between are passive establishments, set up to receive you like a park bench or a public bathroom, the listening station at a music store. You go in, you wander, consume and walk out. But few with the mighty shingle out front are set up to instigate, and fewer of those actually get away with it.

Minas, 815 W. 36th Street,  in Hampden is one of those storefronts. Part boutique, part gallery, part toy store, part book store, Minas pulls off the modern-day emporium provocateur quite well. That’s mainly because of the laid back proprietor Minas Konsolas. The  Greecian-ex-pat, Baltimore bounded since 1976, keeps a steady eye on his customers. Good with faces, he is, especially when he learns of their artistic habits. Writers and artists have gathered in his space for years.  A reading every third Thursday 5 p.m. has become a Baltimore mainstay. His upstairs gallery exhibits usually have pluck, a much appreciative counter to the amazing assembly line of  schlock that papers cafes and eateries around this town. Exhibit A is the current exhibit of James DuSel’s black and white photographs.

 Phainomena is the name, but the photos are black and white sprung from Leica, Rolleflex and a Linhof cameras of the 1930s. The old school look is well-earned and his subjects mundane, industrial, utilitarian work horses — the steel foot rest from a malt shop stool, a granite foundation, a chrome stack of nested chairs that I swear I saw somewhere (The Maryland Club or was it the Boy’s Choir in East Baltimore) and thought it would make a nice photograph. Light is stalked and captured, flared along a banister or snared in stainless gleam. And yeah, we get the point and DuSel’s mission statement, “I fully engage myself in the process, it uses my eye to measure the light , not a photocell. Thus I become part of my equipment, and my equipment becomes part of me.” Nice motto, but the proof is the artist’s vision sticks with you or at least with me as I found myself staring at a usurped train tracked installed to hold shopping carts at the Whole Foods down Mount Washington Way.

Next up  is Minas himself.

“It seems like I have been practicing for this the whole time,” said Minas, who took a frustrated portrait classes at MICA in the 1980s. This exhibited entitled, Interaction, is a big leap from his Masks that made a popular splash when exhibited in his shop two years ago.

“Interaction,” he said. “I’m trying to bring the word back to its original meaning when meeting someone was to smell touch and be with them.  We’ve got so many gadgets in-between us. Now that when we meet people in reality we don’t have anything to say.”

Of course he saying all this as he scrowls his art on his lap top. Minas realizes the irony, shuts down the computer and takes me to see the art live in his studio. I puruse his future offerings, but I’m struck most with the photograph pinned to his easel. His next subject.  Wild hair and wild eyes. One of the Catonsville Nine. (Those Vietnam Protestors that grabbed national attention way back when). He comes in here, ” he says, pauses. Nods.  

“I always like my paintings to have a part of me in it, because we all have a different vision of things”

I glance at the gent with the madcap hair and Minos with his subtle street wise concierge coiffe. This I got to see. 


28
Apr
11

William Donald Schaefer’s Funeral serves as quiet street fair

The soul of William Donald Schaefer wasn’t necessarily in the speeches by the state’s dignataries from Senator Barbara Mikulski to U.S. Rep. (and always rumored mayoral candidate) Kweisi Mfume . Try standing in the street outside St. Paul Episcopal Church on Charles and Saratoga streets. That’s where Schaefer prefered to linger anyway. While he pushed for big changes in the marbled halls of government, he never missed a crab cake dinner or failed to loiter with “the druggies” as one woman observer put it, in front of Lexington Market playing the part of civic barker. Schaefer was all about impressing his impact one handshake at a time. This is where he seemed most comfortable in the oddity that is street life. Except the day of  his funeral, the street of Baltimore failed to deliver its normally reliable panache. Honestly apart from the usual dignitaries and wanna-be dignitaries, there was a tumbleweed vibe, the hanger’s on in a ghost town as if they pack themselves in a Saloon in hopes of reviving the days long gone only to find the taps all dry. (See Scene in The Outlaw Josey Wales for further elaboration). And that spoke volumes in the same way when I went down and watched Martin O’Malley launch is Governor Campaign (last year) and saw a cluster of what seemed be paid employees and few bored government workers. Even then I tried to compare this wilted extravaganza to what Schaefer’s statewide spectacle must have looked like. But under bullying clouds going wild in blue skies, Schaefer got a light dusting of true outcome from The People that the Old Timey Pol used so well as a backdrop.

loitering, some people’s connections that drove them to take the day off to go to the funeral was dubious like one Patterson Park resident who remembers offering Schaefer a pair of vice grips when he his car broke down in a parade. “He told me to run along.” And the repeating version of  people down on their luck getting a job or public housing from Schaefer came off as if we were burying what James Smith declared, “The Last Don” not a public figure. But what really was telling was the great absence of people in the street. Factor in the clumps of media there were probably 50 people milling about and some of them were eating lunch. Sometimes it takes a death to realize that the change has been more sweeping than we had thought.

Robert Finn remembers running into Schaefer “and I’d tell him about a pothole and he told he already knew about it.” That was enough for him to stand outside the church, “and say goodbye to the man.”

Desha Dodopia. Owner of Desha’s Den, a former bar on Glover Street. She said she once spotted Schaefer on the street and invited him to her bar. “He came right on it. Just like that. We’ve been friends ever since.”

Antoinette Olanrewanjo, she met Schaefer when she was five years homeless, sleeping behind My Sister’s Place then on Saratoga Street, sometimes on the very steps that lead into Schaefer’s memorial service. She was there now, a woman who has left homelessness behind.“He saw me out on the steps and he said get up be free,” she said. “He told me let the people see the homeless.”

Brian McMillion called him the Don of Baltimore. He remembers when he worked in a community garden off of Greenmount Avenue and they wrote to the city asking for funding “he came out and gave us the check. He loved marigolds”

Forcythe

Thomas Forsythe Sr.  still a city worker, recalled when he started out as a mail room clerk fetching Schaefer’s breakfast.I would go to give him his change and he’d say keep it. Keep it. Put it in your pocket Do it now. Everything with him was do it now.”Schaefer tried to transfer the do it now attitude to the state government  with mixed resulted. His gumshoe technique didn’t get a thorough translation in the bureaucratic mish-mosh of state government. But his point man Luther Starnes, officially titled was a community liaison, but Schaefer thought of him as Secretary of Hard Luck. All those letters,the desperate ones written by people who believe that head of state could actually do something — he would get those to sort out. Schaefer would send him ones with the Get It Done emphasis.

“We never said this is  a state problem or a federal problem, it was our problem,” Sterner said. He recalled one time a Marylander-ex-pat and veteran living in Western Virginia and was getting nothing but hassles getting an official Maryland Flag from the Veterans Affairs. Starnes drove one out special for him.

“No one ever heard about that, but these are the kinds of things he did,” he said.

Starnes, (Right) Just after giving a eulogy.

27
Apr
11

Schaefer’s Funeral Will Be A Once in a Lifetime Event For Baltimore

Schaefer enroute to City Hall for a public viewingThe funeral for William Donald Schaefer will be probably be the last of its kind, a city-wide, deep reaching communal ceremony. Think about it. Who else will touch the city like the iconic four-term Mayor, two-term governor. Anthropologists and historians study funerals as a reflection of the cultures? The fact that there isn’t another leader or even personality to take Schaefer’s place says a lot about our time and the city, which has undergone sweeping changes in the past two decades. This is a sad and overwhelming comment on the city and whether it really is community at all. The city has attracted scores of young, the old stalwarts, The Baltimoreons, have gone. fled up I-95. In some sectors, being a Baltimore native is unusual.

Not only is there no emerging true leader to galvanize the city, but people maybe too divided and self involved into their own lives to even care, thanks to technology and the hyper, hysterical self afflicted pressures  of family life. Much can be gleaned about a person’s life, sometimes too much, during a funeral. The speeches, stories told over heaping spreads back at the house miraculously weave together a story of the departed.  Much will be said about Baltimore from this event, in the the crowd people will hold their own stories. But is even talking about Schaefer an indicator of a lost generation of Baltimoreans sort of like the people who still talk about the Baltimore Colts. Schaefer’s passing may not only be an end of an era. That era may  have long gone.

B'Nai Israel of Lloyd Street offers a message to Schaefer's passing motorcade

26
Apr
11

Baltimore Mayor First. William Donald Schaefer may have been a two-term Governor, but his heart belonged to Baltimore.

The late Governor and Baltimore William Donald Schaefer heads to City Hall one last time.

There’s a reason, that the pugnacious funeral procession started Monday morning in Annapolis where William Donald Schaefer officially hit his career crest as governor from 1987 to 1995, but ended roaming through his hometown of Baltimore before landing for a day of viewing at City Hall .

Baltimore is  still  morphing into the vision that he created 40 years ago. As Baltimore’s histrionic Mayor, he  grabbed national attention for having the gall to envision a dirty rotting wharf-front as a gilded tourist attraction.  Here is where he made his mark as four-term  Mayor Willie Don.

Schaefer will be eulogized as the guy who flipped the switch for mayors stuck with dying waterfronts not just nationwide, but worldwide, to view their harbors , not as derelict land but potential vacation spots for tourist looking some of that beach vibrations in between their jaunts to the ocean. Why couldn’t people get that good ol boardwalk stroll in the city. Crazy. Preposterous. Nuts as the guy who jumped into the seal tank at the National aquarium. Oh wait that was Schaefer.

But to Baltimore he was so much more. He was an old school character, tough and goofy, a little hard-boiled, part Comic Costello. He exuded a kind of fairy tale aura that drew you in the schtick and still did even from the hearse.  Even on Monday’s procession, you were in his world.

I saw this one last time today. When I was standing in Fells Point, one of about 14 stops on his tour de Baltimore before he was laid out at City Hall. I was standing in this still yet to fully blossom Colonial seaport, home of the Baltimore clipper, 1812 privateers and  tugs vacated to make way for a waterfront hotel that has yet to appear. This was also the place that Schaefer wanted demolished in the late 60s and 70s for I-95, 695 interchange.  This was the place where Schaefer realized the strength of the neighborhood, after fierce fighting, enduring protestors dressed like American Revolutionaries,  and he realized that rather  than bull them over like Robert Moses did up in New York, he embraced Fells Point and neighbors in the city.

Senator Barbara Mikulski displays a sign for the cause that launched her career and shaped Baltimore

So there stood his chief foe, Barbara Mikulski, now a U.S. Senator flanked by neighborhood activists of days long gone. She told me how during the long battle, a low point came after she, then councilwoman, lost a bill to save the neighborhood and other waterfront stalwarts like Federal Hill across the Harbor, which now stands as  Baltimore’s more humble version of Boston’s Beacon Hill.. But rather than bask in his victory, Schaefer noticed something big was brewing in the neighborhoods.  He called Mikulski and others in for a sit down and fate did a slow change.   And when the motorcade finally ambled up the Fells Point cobblestones and came to rest in front of Jimmy’s Diner, a one time politico hotspot, the cluster of a crowd cheered. About 50 strong went ecstatic — a strange reaction at a funeral procession. But it was as if  the mayor was gonna step from the black shine of the limo , his  eggplant head  never  find balance on his neck, always in motion, looking for an angle, contorting his face, rolling his eyes,  yes even clown-like. His act was infectious when at his prowess and at times sadly ill-timed when he got older.  Still he was pure Baltimore, a tugboat of a man, tenacity done different. So when Old Schaefer failed to step out the limo, they cheered for his aid, as if  it was a homecoming. The strangeness stretched on as a classic Schaefer event, which of course it was, hitting spots like Faidley’s at Lexington Market and was it an accident that limo paused in front of Attman’s Deli on Lombard Street as if he was going shoot the you know what in the KibitzRoom.

Schaefer's entourage heads down what was once the heart of Jewish Baltimore.

Working the crowd, today’s pols should be as masterful.

I remember when I had a similar  private audience with the king. It was behind old Memorial Stadium, three-quarters demolished. I was doing my first documentary, about Baltimore’s emotional hold  on the stadium, which he argued unsuccessfully to save. (Why I’m not exactly sure) On his  suggestion, he pulled up  and jumped out of the Limo and laid down the reasoning, how the demolition of the stadium was a failure of imagination. He did this right in the middle of the street and just nailed it with no press hands, no guards. Just him in his suit and the limo. Then he jumped back in and jetted.Whether you agreed with his politics. (He didn’t make too many friends when he bailed on Jimmy Carter for Reagan back in 1980), you had to admire his mastery of the craft.  Of course the major flaw with Schaefer’s plan was you can’t replace an economy w th tourist glitz even if you crown it with jewel of a baseball stadium.  A major salvo against Schaefer was his avoidance or glossing over some the major urban issues, the crushing repercussion urban renewal, like of jobs in the city . Baltimore’s African American community lost the very historic assets  that now would help turn around neighborhoods like Pennsylvania Avenue’s one time famous jazz district.

Schaefer’s passing isn’t an end of an era. That era was long gone. You could see it  in the ragtag crowds around  town. There were clusters of people, A few hundred here, 90 there. But the thousands were absent.

That may because many of  the Baltimore contingent are dead or have left the city a while back, although I’m betting his funeral on Wednesday will be a major draw.    Of course the major flaw with Schaefer’s plan was you can’t replace an economy with tourist glitz even if you crown it with a jewel of a baseball stadium.  A major salvo against Schaefer was his avoidance or glossing over some the major urban issues, the crushing repercussion of  urban renewal, the loss of good paying  jobs in the city . Baltimore’s African American  community lost the very historic assets  that now would help turn around neighborhoods like Pennsylvania Avenue’s one time famous jazz district.

Despite the shortcomings, Schaefer had heart, an unabashed radiance woefully  missing in these wound-too tight times. Too much risk to let your personality shine, too many people with video on their phones. Schaefer himself as an 80-year-old Comptroller was taken down by gaffes that came off sexist, out mode and crass. Still we could use a guy who would bother to work the crowd. A lot is being made about Schaefer’s jump in the pool at the National Aquarium. But that was one of hundreds of so-called stunts. During some research at the News American archives now stored at University of Maryland, I came upon boxes upon boxes of Schaefer immersing himself in  tiny neighborhood shing-dings.  . There’s the Mayor with a lemon stick. There he is in leprechaun hat.  If Baltimore was the city of neighborhoods, he was the ring master
Where is that kind of politicking today? Don’t tell me,  time is better spent on strategic placement like Obama visiting Facebook’s headquarters.Compare the luke warm to snarky coverage he got  to the New York Times front page  photo of Obama running up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to surprise tourists, after he managed to strike a deal to avoid a government shutdown.

We need to get back to the human level. That’s why Schaefer even though after beating back Mikulski’s bill was able to see the human potential that she represented and he eventually came around to seeing Fells Point and Federal Hill as Baltimore assets. That insight shaped what Baltimore is today. We could have easily been in Newark’s position even if we live with in a two tier society that David Simon’s Wire so deftly depicts.  Schaefer’s  was a vision of classic slow cooking. It took two developer’s renaissance after Fells Point and Federal Hill was saved in 1970s for other neighborhoods to emerge nearly 30 years later as go-to waterfront spots like Canton, Locus Point. That’s why on a Monday afternoon, people in Fells Point cheered when the hearse slowed to a standstill.

The Mayor's hearse stops by Fells Point, Baltimore

They wanted so badly for someone to pop out once again with that kind of audacious, infectious belief in  Baltimore.

25
Apr
11

Rhino Spotted on the Jones Falls, Baltimore, Maryland

Look carefully and you’ll spot an animal way out of its normal habitat.

On Saturday, just after a rain storm a rhino was spotted by yours truly. The rhino was seen in an obscured wooded area in what was Baltimore’s eariest industrial mill center now a struggling stream under I-83, a major expressway. The area lies not a mile away from The Maryland Zoo, which borders the stream. The zoo does have a rhino. All these thoughts came to mind when I was out on my bicycle and saw firemen looking down from a bridge. I figured it was probably a jumper until I saw them drive away, leaving me alone on this graffiti trail.

A graffiti Bridge along the Jones Falls in Baltimore

Then I turned to my left and saw this. My flee instinct kicked. Large Animal. I’m alone in woods. RUN. But I also was amazed. Am I seeing things. Was this a boulder with odd lighting. No. I scamped down and yes it was a rhino. How they got it down there is a mystery. The terraine ain’t easy by yourself never mind carting this thing down there. I talked to a passerby, a local Hamden guy and he said he goes by there ever day and hasn’t seen anything like this. I got closer and the detail was impressive. Notice the silica, the little hairs, the ribs.

Artist prank taken to its highest form.

This is why I prefer bike riding. I would never had seen this bit of wildlife. The placement of the art was impecable. not in the middle of a meridian strip but placed in urban wildnerness primed for discovery.

The closer I got the more impressive it became.

Indeed this was a Rhino, an excellent speciman.

11
Nov
10

Maryland Oyster-culture and the Good fight

Growing the oysters isn’t the first hurdle facing those who want to take up a new vocation being offered by the State of Maryland  along with  $2.2 million in loans. The applications process is also harrying prospective speculators into an aquaculture gambit that’s also fraught with disease that has bacially wiped out the private fishery, nevermind the specter of poaching. Currently, the application process has to run through three state agencies and then the Army Corps of Engineers. According to a source the Baltimore district of the Army Corps of Engineers is more tedious than its Norfolk counter-part which oversees a 30 million oyster-culture industry in Virginia. Maryland has none and that has Maryland officials scrambling to set up  new regulations to bring in new entreprenuers to try their hand at oyster-culture.

So far 17 people have applied for grounds covering more than 2000 acroes of bay bottom. Before the new regulations were inacted in September 485 people had leases, almost all of which sat fallow thanks to two deseases MSX and Dermo that kill the oysters before they grow to market size.

“There are new methods of oyster-culture and new strains of oyster that are resistant to disease that you can basically grow faster than the dissease can kill them,” said Mike Naylor, Assistant Director of Maryland Fisheries Service.

He said the trick is to get the oysters planted as soon as possible since investors will have to wait at least a year and half until their oysters are market ready. He said that officials are working to streamline the process and foresees an easier time for people in the future, “It doesn’t help anyone in the middle of it right now.”

After listening to the application details put forth by several state officials at a conference last week, Donald Merrit, a research biologist for the University of Maryland’s Horn Point Center for Environmental Studies, took his turn at the podium with a shake of his head: “Why in the hell would anybody would want to wade through this mess,” he said.  One Virginia oyster grow visiting the Maryland confernce said the idea of going through the application process “makes me sick.”

But most of those in the audience were still running on the fumes of their entrepreneurial hopes, some griping, others ratcheting up  the tint on their rose-colored glasses. There were fringe watermen, part-timers who see potential as well as marine business folk who construction of say piers have gone cold during this endless recession. There were speculators and a representative from the Accohannock Tribe in Somerset County, Md. “I think there is going to be opportunities, if you don’t jump in, you’re a fool,” said Will Gabeler who attended with his boss Apple Marine Construction, which right now focuses on bulkheads and development mitigation. One would be oyster-businessman who request anonymity because he may apply said it seemed that they were making it up as they are going on. And yet, these new regulations is being closely watched with checked hopes by industry insiders and environmentalists who all note that Maryland’s stab at oysterculture  took a hundred years of facing down a political culture who put up obstacles for  private growers. Even Merrit soften his acrimony for those hammering together the regulations, saying that state officials already worked on streamlining  the process, but urged — more like barked like a coach, “but there’s more work to be done.” Oyster-culture, the endeavor to grow oysters in rafts or in cages in the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay, is very much a marginalized industry in the very state that made the mollusk a national item almost 150 years ago. In the 1800s, the oyster was to the Chesapeake that gold was to California, spawning a massive canning industry in Baltimore shipped out across the country on the B&O. But while oyster fishery was decimated thanks to disease and overfishing,  Maryland has stubbornly kept to the public fisheries basically allowing a hunter and gather,first come first serve method, while the oyster population has plunged to less than 1 percent of its original population. In the 1880s the oyster fishery was producing about 10 million bushels annually. This year if the watermen pull more than 130,000 bushels than it will be seen as a good year. Oysters aren’t just good in a po-boy sandwich or on the half shell, they are seen by scientist as a keystone species, major filters that eat up the nasty algae responsible for large dead zones in the once bountiful bay. While officials don’t believe that creating a viable oysterculture fishery will be enough to mitigate  the decades pollution ranging from broken sewage treatment plants to lawn runoff to poultry pollution, it’s a start. At the very least it should offer some economic stability to a way of life that at times seems on the border of extinction.

The deadline to apply for a lease passed on Monday Nov. 15. The deadline for a loan is Nov. 30th.

29
Jun
10

Rolling Stone Freelancer upsets the Journalistic status quo

 

Gen. Stanley McChrystal on the job or posing for a photo-op?

 

The fallout from the Rolling Stone article that cost General Stanley McChrystal his job has since calcified into a debate over what’s inferred when a journalist creates trust with his/her subject. 

And that’s a good thing.

There’s no doubt that Gen. McChrystal is one of the few people whose arrogance actually cost him his job. More times than not  arrogance bullies over objection and consequence. To be such a frat boy, giving the finger etc. trashing the Prez, McChrystal, a four star  general like any CEO should have known better. But then again, whose really surprised by such boorish behavior by a general. His biggest sin was his poor gamesmanship letting the pen be mightier than the sword.  So McChrystal’s behavior isn’t what stirring the pot. Instead we find ourselves deciphering the reporter Michael Hastings’ true motives and thanks to him running his mouth we’re got some clues.

He needs to learn the powerful lesson illustrated from his own Rolling Stone article and mind his words.

He starts up spewing safe journalism 101 patter that, ” I went out to try to tell the best story that I could and write what I saw, I heard and thought. And I had really no control over, you know, the aftereffects,” he told  CNN’s Howard Kurtz (transcript provided).  Um actually he did. He had control in choosing those volatile snippets and vignettes out of days worth notes and reams of paper. He chose to lead the article with a built up story that ends with Gen. McChrystal giving the finger, which basically set the tone for the entire article, an article that pretends to be a discussion on the counter insurgency, which apparently was why Hastings was there in the first place. For example, Hastings could have embedded himself further on the front lines of counter insurgency, capturing antidotes of the obstacles of winning “hearts and minds” as a way of converting the Afghans to US thinking.

Hastings is being disingenuous when he says, he didn’t think it was a matter of McChrystal and company letting their guard down. It’s time like these when people reduce life to a  one deminsional transcript of what was said, what wasnt’; Hastings offfered this:  “I mean, it’s not much of a mystery. If someone tells you something is off the record, I don’t print it.” …. but back to real 3-D life, actions speaks louder than words and if you are with a bunch of people and the conversation turns into  bull session and some volatile stuff starts flying you as a reporter know right then that the quotes are verbal plastic explosives. Right there, I believe is the true test of character. Should you stash it away like a sneak and go back and try to illicit more goods from aids to brace the  juicy quotes you now know will make some hot type? You know right there that your subject’s guard is down.  Is this all kind of chess game, or contest where you take advantages of loop holes? Or do you inject a little bit of honor and remind the General that the record is rolling here.  If the general really didn’t care than he’d just shrug him off.  But  Hastings didn’t say anything …. why … because he wanted to keep the good quotes flowing.

Again much is revealed in Rolling Stones actions or their non actions to include any of the damning material in their 30  fact checking questions sent to the brass, obtained by the Washington Post.  In addition, Hastings reveal his philosophy in his interview with CNN when an article he penned for GQ Magazine displays his  demeanor and perhaps his objectives.  “You pretend to be friendly and non-threatening. And over time you build trust, which everyone knows is an illusion. If the time comes, if your editors calls for it, you’re supposed to (EXPLETIVE DELETED) them over.”

Wow. Editors have power but I didn’t know they called in hits  on people. Actually reporters and editors are usually engaged in what is suppose to be a constructive power-play over stories. The reporter supplies the goods, which basically means ferreting through notes building a case with one quote followed by antedate  making the outcome obvious even to an editor. 

Definitely not all reporters don’t see building up trust as an illusion. I mean you can be friends with a cop, hang out, drink, but you might think about reminiscing about crimes gone by or buying drugs in the bathroom while he’s sitting there. The same with befriending a reporter.  So in my book, the relationship isn’t an illusion, but it is dubious. A cop shouldn’t be making friends in hopes of catching someone and reporters shouldn’t be building trust so they can hang them by their own words. 

This conundrum has certain been the gauntlet that divides the new bread of freelancers from  Afghanistan beat reporters who look like Army Lackeys by failing to include McChrystal’s sored behavior in their dispatches. Witness the outrage spewing from CBS Chief Foreign Corespondent  Lara Logan when challenged by Kurtz who says,” He’s suggesting that he did a job that the regular beat journalists have not done.” Logan responds with, ” I think that’s insulting and arrogant, myself. I really do, because there are very good beat reporters who have been covering these wars for years, year after year. ”

In fact Hastings article’s crass depiction contrasts the  puff being so blatant offered in past profiles. When do you included, the negative, the awkward that seems to break from the paint by number profiles that we find even in the supposedly more critically thinking journals.  The answer comes down to the central theme of the article. The Rolling Stone article at times seemed trapped between two places as illustrated by the cover. No not Lady Ga Ga. But the headline on the front: Obama’s General, Why he’s losing The War, which  convays some analysis as the  controversy that is blaring from  the article’s title, “The Runaway General”

Yahoo’s Media writer, Michael Calderone made good hay with New York Times David Brooks’ criticism saying that “by putting [McChrystal’s] kvetching in the magazine, the reporter essentially took run-of-the-mill complaining and turned it into a direct challenge to presidential authority. He took a successful general and made it impossible for President Obama to retain him.” 

The second part is beside the point and shouldn’t be of Hastings’s  concern as he tweets, “David Brooks to young reporters: don’t report what you see or hear, or you might upset the powerful.”

But then Hastings couldn’t resist taking a self-righteous swipe, ” Question 2 to Mr. Brooks: how much time has he spent listening to the troops kvetch in a war zone, just askin.”

So the  merits is defined by time spent on the lines? Then  should Hastings be ranked against  senior war correspondents, the same ones who would treat such Kvetching as off the record. Then how does Hasting’s real war experience, who gets to fly home and enjoy yapping about his time in the media, compare to the soldier?

This same privileged attitude, which let’s face it is one of the few vitriol thrills that journalist can lord over people, was put to Hastings by Logan. “I mean, the question is, really, is what General McChrystal and his aides are doing so egregious, that they deserved to end a career like McChrystal’s? I mean, Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has. ” 

Being too close to the action doesn’t give you the entire story and you got to wonder how good is Hastings all access pass to the front is worth these days. Who knows he might find himself sitting back here with the rest of us grunts.

28
Jun
10

Gen. McChrystal Ambushed by Rolling Stone or Gonzo General undone by Gonzo Magazine

Preamble:

Yup the Baltimore boy is going national with this. For a long time I’ve been chomping on some national issues but believed it was beyond  this  blog’s scope and if this was in a typical print publication then that thinking would stand. But hey I’m in blogland where anyone with a keyboard can make an impact.  The individual can now be a media giant and this medium is all about the little guy weighing in on big issues, so rather than creating another blog with a big reaching title, I opted to  reveal my vantage point from chair in Baltimore and thereby comment that really you don’t have to be an insider or  politico geek to throw down an opinion. Therefore, on occasion I’m gonna comment when I see a void in the public discussion. Here’s my first foray:

When I saw the Smack  Quotes coming out about Gen. Stanley McChrystal in the Rolling Stone article that had yet to be published —  questions marks started to fly in my head. First, what was the Four Star General thinking or snorting?  He had to know such low brow  childish chest pumping is gonna force a beatdown that even he can’t win. The insanity behind the news never fails to amaze. But then as a reporter, I started questioning Michael Hastings methods. Based on Web info, Hastings at the meek age of 30 (ck) has already paid some dues reporting from battle lines in Iraq, like the in the trenches story where he follows the Louisanna National Guard. See www.http://www.businessinsider.com/10-great-pieces-michael-hastings-wrote-before-he-brought-down-gen-stanley-mcchrystal-2010-6

For Rolling Stone, He was basically allowed to shadow McChrystal, on his day to day. I don’t know. I may just be a bloke from Baltimore but I would bet that many a discolored quotes would be popping around a General in the field of battle. I’ve seen my share of War movies. I know. Actually, I’ve done my share of stories with cops, with politicians, drug addicts, hustlers with regular folk to know you’re gonna hear some rancid shit under certain conditions. I mean I’m doing a story about Baltimore Barbershop culture and a few times when the discussion turns to women or race …. let’s just say I have to put the tape recorder on pause. Seriously, a reporter, I believe, needs to set the tone  with his/her subject. On any given story even ones that seem about as dull and boring as it can get, say about a talent show at a mall, there will times when off the wall comments is dispensed and as a reporter you could easily just glam on to that and in fact come up with some must read copy for once for the local weekly throw away. But you don’t whether you’re in the locker room with the Ravens or doing a story on an ex-drug slinger trying to go mainstream. Not at first. Not if you aren’t a snitch or an ambitious asshole cut throat. You let the first miss-step  roll by, but if it gets to be a pattern, if it starts dominating the moment then, of course you as a reporter have to judge whether the attitudes being expressed define the story unfolding before your eyes. For example, when the General’s getting ready to chow with the French Dignataries and he’s blowing off steam and says something, “I’d rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people  than go out to this dinner.” as a reporter, knowing right there how this would play, you might wanna show that he’s on the record. Sometimes I show the subject that yes I’m taking notes or even say, Hey General are we still on the record here?” And what do you think his answer would be? “You print that and I’ll shove that notebook up your ass.”

At some point the reporter has to set the tone. Early on during those interviews when the loose talk starts flying, the reporter needs to ask are we on the record? This way the subject knows what he’s dealing with, what kind of environment he’s has to tread. It’s only fair. The subject will then see oh we’re dealing with a starchy by the numbers reporter than all candor and down to earth talk will cease and everything would turn in a professional dull exchange. Not what we want. We want some semblance of reality. And based on Hastings previous impressive work with Newsweek where he seemed to thrive on being in the action, see his article, “The Battle for Haifa Street” www.newsweek.com/2007/01/11/the-battle-for-haifa-street.html
  — the General made the fateful mistake that Hastings had earned his stripes, he was one of them and he could talk freely. Did Hastings infer this when he was establishing his relationship? Did he encourage this, by laughing  and playing the part of one of the guys, signaling that he’s in on the joke? 

From Hastings Newsweek Article

 

Reporters are always complaining about being smothered by handlers, PR flacks practically forcing the story to come out as a sorry piece of boredom. Real reporters fight for reality, get off The Campaign Bus, hang with the grunts — why  — to get some semblance of truth. McChrystal story now stands as total validation for the overpriced Public Relations Industry. Now any firm can hold up the Rolling Stone cover  featuring Lady Ga Ga wielding guns, bare assed BTW –and say Don’t let this happen to you.

Of course, Rolling Stone and Hastings could counter by saying this is about the bigger good. Sometime the journalist has to sacrifice himself and his hard earned status with sources for the greater good. This is a true and tough situation, where you as a reporter might find you become basically a scumbag  and sell out your source for the well-being of US  readers. And it seems, based on the Rolling Stone’s headline, The Runaway General,” they seemed to be making this insinuation, that we have an out-of- control cowboy  in Afghanistan. And if this is Rolling Stone’s case, there’s still a major problem with the magazine article perhaps even graver mis-step  than the suspected violation of trust between reporter and subject for glory of juicy quotes —  and that is the fact checking:

Gen. Stanley McChrystal at Airbase

 

According to the Washington Post, Rolling Stone fact checkers offered 30 questions, but never went over  the controversial quotes.www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/25/AR2010062504194_3.html?sub=AR&sid=ST2010062504101.Why?

Even here in the “deviled details”  of reporting there are questions with the fact checking  process. For example, according to the Washington Post article, McChrystal’s Military Flack had issues with Rolling Stone’s depiction of McChrystal expanding the morning briefings to include thousands of officers. The Military PR suggested over 400. And the military had a problem with the magazine’s depiction of McChrystal  “Situation Awareness Room”  being modeled on New York’s Mayor Bloomberg’s offices. McChrystal’s people said the room wasn’t modeled but was similar. Rolling Stone took none of the responses to heart.  

These are nit-picking crumbs, perhaps, but they also speak to the larger issues about the decision NOT to float the incendiary quotes by the General or the flack , according to what is offered in the Washington Post. And what is the rationale? Perhaps the RS editors just felt that McChrystal would obviously deny them. That he would realized he’d violate the old military adage, “Loose Lips sink ships” and claim his rants were taken out of context. But there were those second source quotes, the most controversial in the articles that you’d think the editors would want to check. Second hand info can be dubious and if it’s gonna be damaging to the subject than just out of self-preservation, you might wanna float those. For Example the quote about Special Representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, “The Boss says he’s like a wounded animal.” And Rolling Stone isn’t going to check that? Think about how the reporter got that quote, he talks to a bunch of Ballsy Soldiers and sooner or later someone’s gonna say something non too wise. 

Again why not run these quotes by someone? I know as a reporter when I get something that’s obviously going to detonate a commotion, I prefer running the quote myself even before the fact checker so I can say to the editor I did so. This is out of self-preservation rather than courtesy. Because editors are removed from the story, they may be quick to delete such inflamatory diatrab, some don’t have the stomach for taking on such flack. Plus the fact checker is normally unknown to the writer, many are interns and have power to change something. Publications are notorious for break downs in communications and a major contributor to  good chunk of misakes that find their way in print. But most editors I would figure would want a sampling of fire-storm that’s sure to follow and test one of these hot comments out there to see if  the story. Hastings isn’t even a Rolling Stone staffer.

Rolling Stone's Cover

 

Based on the layout, you got to figure that maybe Rolling Stone see the noise it would get from this article, which turns out probably the magazine’s biggest in decade(s). 

Hence; The cover is Lady Gaga, then headline, Dennis Hopper final days and then down below in small print “Obama’s General why he’s losing the war.” This cover seemed to be in place before the media went nuts with the story. Colbert showed it before it hit the newsstands. 

Still from my prospect as a consumer who picked up his copy at the Port Authority, you got to wonder if Michael Hastings, a freelancer was throwing down his card, going snitch for the cause. Was it to protect America from a renegade General? Please. Who wouldn’t figure a General who emerged out off the ranks Special Forces wouldn’t think that he alone knows all — that he’s surrounded by Asses. This just in: Four Star General anoints himself King. Instead of an important article debating the merits the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, which by the well  is pretty well done in the article, we have “gotcha ya” scandalism dictating public policy.

Disclaimer:

I’m no basher of the media as some left wing junta pulling strings. Hell, I cut my teeth on Rolling Stone and watched it go glossy, shrink in power and size not just on its politic impact but even on the music front which they (and everyone else it seems) can’t get a handle on anymore. That’s why I was surprised when I first heard of  The General Rukas was brought to you by  Rolling Stone and was bemused  when the New York Times, didn’t mention them by name higher up in their articles. What a comeback for the Gonzo mag. but at what cost? Check out Eyesoreproductions.com