Who holds the chair of Baltimore Studies at the...


May 20, 1991

TONY HISS, who holds the chair of Baltimore Studies at the New Yorker magazine, comes by this honor consanguineously. There have been Hisses in Baltimore since 1816, when the directories first mention Jesse L. Hiss of 37 South Gay Street, where he operated a chair factory.

If the foregoing needs explanation, please turn to pages 40 through 73 of the New Yorker for April 29, and "Annals of Place: Reinventing Baltimore." The writer, Tony Hiss, lives in lower Manhattan but much about Baltimore, ancestral and present-day, lifts his spirits. In the course of several long looks around, he found here "the first signs of some locally generated changes that, if they succeed, could help give us a new standard for measuring successful cities."

It is pleasant, in return, to read a magazine that still prints a dieresis over the second e in reelected. As for its staff member, young Hiss stayed here so long he picked up at least one local mannerism. Praising Pratt Library's children's reading room, he locates it in Central Branch instead of Central Library, a slip often found in the nearest and best of morning dailies.

A feather in four bonnets and 22 caps (living Baltimore women and men), to have been mentioned by name in the piece. And perhaps it would behoove Baltimoreans to look a bit more understandingly, and sanguinely, at New York.

* * *

SCIENTISTS at AT&T Bell Laboratories, dismayed that two IBM researchers won the Nobel Prize for discoveries of superconductive ceramics, have finally struck back with superconductors of their own -- Buckminsterfullerenes.

Lab insiders call the newly discovered carbon structures "buckyballs" for short, and have worked to "dope" some forms of the carbon with boron -- you guessed it, "dopeyballs" -- to broaden uses in ion-propelled spacecraft, long-running batteries and tennis rackets.

The carbon structures were named after R. Buckminster Fuller because the molecular shape resembles his famed geodesic domes.

Let's hope the buckyballs don't find their way into computer chips or artificial intelligence research. We can just imagine a computer waxing eloquent about the "cortico-tropic hyper-realities unleashed by the mega-movement of currents this new techno-neurological expansion creates." Or making incomprehensible speeches to wake society up to the need to "respond with alacrity to the silico-carbotropic necessities brought into focus by hyperprogrammed geodesic conductivity and the connectedness of the answering-machine/facsimile nexus in world politico-economic transitions."

Bucky Fuller sometimes talked like that, and if there's any form of his spirit animating those carbon reincarnations of his most famous invention, such dense language could be lurking in the microstructures, a ghost of mega-lectures past.

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