Tag Archives: Johns Hopkins

The One About Feeling Helpless, Far From Home

It was April 29, 1992.  I was renting a room in someone’s townhouse in Rockville, Maryland.  I had finished my undergraduate studies at Johns Hopkins a few months earlier, and had moved to the DC suburbs to pursue my Master’s degree.

April 29, 1992.  I was a week away from my 21st birthday, and I had spent a very intense 10 days volunteering on a successful primary campaign in Philadelphia.

April 29, 1992, was a Wednesday.  After sleeping in following the victory party, I hopped into my car to return to Rockville.  I got home at about 6 pm and flipped on the news.  I was horrified to see Los Angeles, my hometown, going up in flames, as a riot moved through following the verdicts in the Rodney King police beating case.  I was 3,000 miles away from home.  I felt helpless.

It’s April 29, 2015.  For the past two days, I’ve watched the tensions in Baltimore manifest themselves in rioting and burning.  I lived in Baltimore – granted, not primarily the parts that are filled with strife right now.  But I’ve walked down North Avenue, past that check-cashing place, past that hair extension place.  I’ve seen the desperation, the boarded-up homes in East Baltimore, just blocks away from Johns Hopkins Hospital.  I’ve been to Mondawmin Mall.

I’m 3,000 miles away from the city that is the only other city that I’ve considered “home” in my life.  Baltimore – that gritty, segregated, flawed city you probably first saw on “Homicide” or “The Wire.”  Baltimore seems to be precariously balancing on the thin line that separates most of America today.  And again, I’m 3,000 miles away from “home,” and I feel helpless.

Interestingly, I’ll be in Baltimore for a long-scheduled conference next week – happy to say it’s a conference that (so far) has not changed its plans to meet there.  I’ll find a way to show my love and support for Baltimore, my home away from home, next week.


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The One About Wines – JHU Alumni Trip to the Hudson Valley – Part II

20130519-142827.jpgJonathan Palevsky followed yesterday’s lecture on Old World wines with another today about wines of the New World, including the US, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. [Palevsky hosts WBJC’s “Word on Wine” radio commentary weekly on Thursday – click here for more info!]

He told us about the Hungarian man, Harasty, who brought vine clippings over from Europe in the 1940s and planting them on land that was later purchased by Robert Mondavi Sr. Mondavi was the first to bring the German way of labeling wine by the varietal, not by the region, as French wines are labeled.

Palevsky discussed the 1976 world blind wine tasting event in which the French snickered about the American wines that eventually beat them – both reds and whites from Napa. This was a revolution in the industry and put the US on the winemaking map.

We learned about how white Zinfandel – of which six times more than red Zinfandel is sold – is made, and why it was made to begin with. In the mid 1970s, American producers began making white wine with red grapes as white wine’s popularity grew and Americans had a taste a bit more on the sweeter side. White Zinfandel is made from the same Zinfandel grapes that can create a big, fruity, sometimes spicy flavor. Winemakers drain a bit of the juice out if the barrels and let it ferment less time than the juice still sitting with the skins, so the juice stays sweeter and does not absorb the skins’ color. Almost 10% of the wine sold in the US is white Zinfandel, and not surprisingly, Gallo is the major producer of it.

20130519-142626.jpgPalevsky spent a little bit of time on my favorite wine producing region, Australia. “Love it or hate it,” he said, “you have to recognize the sheer audacity of Shiraz.” Shiraz is Australia’s signature wine. It’s “huge bodied, enormous jammy upfront fruit, maybe a little bit of eucalyptus,” he said. Most Shiraz is flavored with and aged in American oak.

I spent a little bit of time in the McLaren Vale in Australia a few years ago and have definitely developed an affinity for wines from that region. I particularly like Sauvignon Blanc from Australia or New Zealand.

It’s a drizzly spring day so we toured the inside of the winery and looked out over the rows and rows of grape vines, and then enjoyed a tasting-sized flight of six wines and a box lunch before leaving Millbrook, the Hudson Valley’s flagship winery.

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The One About The JHU Culinary Institute Visit – Wine Talk


“Everything that needs to be said about wine has been said already,” said Jonathan Palevsky, program director at WJBC, Maryland’s classical music radio station and host of its show, “Word on Wine,” to a group of JHU friends and alumni gathered at the Culinary Institute of America in Poughkeepsie, NY. But assuming that his audience had not read all of the thousands of books that have been published about wine, he pressed on, taking us on a whirlwind tour of France, Italy, Germany, Spain and their respective wines.

Palevsky compared the difference in taste between French Burgundy and Bordeaux to the difference between New York and Los Angeles, and let us in on the secret that Dom Perignon was actually the person who tried to figure out how to remove the bubbly from wine!

He talked about many different types of wines, and the grapes from which they are pressed, as well as some pairings. “My favorite pairing, by the way,” he said, “is wine with nothing.”

Palevsky expressed admiration for Chardonnay – not my favorite wine by the way – telling us that Chardonnay is blended into many different kinds of wine, including champagne. Good vintage Chardonnay can be kept for years, he said. “In a lousy vintage, just drink them now.” He referred to pinot noir as “the problem child of the wine world.”

Wines labeled ‘Gran croux’ come from a single vineyard. Wines labeled “village,” (best to say that with a French accent, like ‘vee-lajh’) come from different vineyards in a region.

When he moved on to talk about Italian wine, Palevsky told us that moscato is only 5.5% alcohol. “Perfect for breakfast,” he said.

Pinot Grigio is the top-selling wine by the glass in the U.S. – it’s medium body, medium fruit, medium flavor, medium color. “It’s the high fructose corn syrup of wine.”

Super Tuscan is a mixture of indigenous grapes and non-indigenous grapes. In the early 1900s, Tuscan vintners who wanted to blend sangiovese, cabernet and merlot grapes could only get the designation of ‘table wine’ for these blends. So in an early display of marketing genius, they came up with the name Super Tuscan so they could sell their expensive product with a more impressive name.

It’s hard to give a lecture on wine when your audience is not actually tasting, but Palevsky’s clear expertise and love for his topic made this an entertaining opportunity. Tomorrow we’ll be tasting wine at a local winery, so I’m looking forward to putting my new knowledge to work!

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The One About The ‘Frenzy’ College Applications Have Become.

When I was a senior in high school, I scoured the handful of books that were available about my college opportunities, handwrote a number of essays, and sent in applications to six colleges.  Three were “reach” schools and the other three were schools to which I thought I would be admitted.

Today, the college application process has been completely transformed.  A quick search on Amazon for “college application” tools results in more than 5,000 books and resources, and the Common Application, or “Common App” as it’s fondly known, has become the go-to college application process for over a half million high school students every year.

The Common App basically takes the drudgery out of the application process:  instead of writing or typing (or word-processing) applications separately, the online system allows students to create one college application and then sends it to as many different colleges the student wants to receive their application, as long as the colleges are members of the Common App.  There are a handful of schools who do not accept the Common App, but a great many do.  Notable holdouts include USC, which is apparently considering a change because of applicant (and possibly donor-parent?) feedback.

Today’s students apply to many more than the six colleges to which I applied, but with significantly less effort.  In fact,  students can’t even imagine having to fill out different applications for different colleges – witness a senior’s reaction to the thought in an article in today’s LA Times – “That would be so terrible.”

I visit about a half dozen or so high schools each year to talk to students about my alma mater, Johns Hopkins, and I interview about a dozen students each year.  The process has definitely changed since the days of multiple hand-written applications strewn across the room.  Of course, in those days, we also waited by the mailbox to see which colleges would send the ‘skinny’ envelope (denial) and which would send the ‘fat’ one (acceptance!).  Today’s kids just pull their PDAs out of their pocket and check their e-mail.

Gilman Hall, Johns Hopkins University. Erected 1915, recently renovated to LEED Silver standards.


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The One About Why People Hate Politicians

Really, can there only be ONE blog post about this topic?  I’m sure the possibilities are endless.  But let me offer you the story of one Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson.  Have you heard this one yet?

Rep. Johnson has been a member of Congress for eighteen years.  She is a Senior Democratic Deputy Whip, Chair of the Texas Democratic Delegation and a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Which is the subject of her current problem.

Each member of the Congressional Black Caucus is given $10,000 each year to award to college students seeking scholarship funds.  Applicants must sign an application form promising that they are not related to or connected to any member of the Caucus, and the scholarships (according to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation website) are to be given to students who either reside in or attend school in the district of a member of the Caucus.

The Wall Street Journal reported a few weeks ago that Rep. Johnson awarded about $20,000 worth of scholarship funds over a five-year period to two of her grandsons, two grand-nephews and two children of one of her staff members.

And despite the fact that the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s practice is to send scholarship money directly to the colleges and universities of the scholarship winners, to be credited to their school accounts, Rep. Johnson on several occasions sent letters to the Caucus asking the funds to be disbursed directly to her grandsons, grand-nephews and staff member’s children.

Rep. Johnson has issued a statement saying she had no idea that there was anything wrong with awarding these scholarships to her relatives, said she had no formal process for reviewing scholarship applications, and that the rules for the scholarships were ambiguous.

But they were not.

Rep. Johnson has acknowledged that she made a mistake, and has said she would return the funds that she awarded to her relatives and to her staff member’s kids to the Foundation. But for someone who represents a district filled with poor, minority students for whom even a small scholarship would make a huge difference in their ability to attend college, Johnson seems not to understand the damage she has done, both to the students in her district and to the trust that voters have placed in her for her decades as an elected official.

As someone who interviews college applicants every fall for my own alma mater, Johns Hopkins, I know how pressing the issue of financial aid has always been, and it’s more important now than ever. I believe Rep. Johnson owes an apology to every single student who applied for the CBCF scholarship over the last five years – a personal letter to each one who did not receive the scholarship funds she gave to her own grandchildren. And she owes an apology to each student in the Dallas area who didn’t even realize that the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation scholarship existed, because she did not do anything to publicize this opportunity. If you read the WSJ’s account, you will see that the Director of Counseling Services for the Dallas Independent School District had no idea that the CBCF offered such a scholarship.

Trust in politicians is at an all-time low, and it’s not hard to understand why. They don’t seem to be doing themselves any favors!

For some unknown reason, Rep. Johnson agreed to a live on-air telephone interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. She should fire her communications director for scheduling this interview. Take a listen:

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