If it happens there, it's happening here


March 25, 2001|By NORRIS WEST

THOUGH some folks around here are in another galaxy, Arundel County isn't the least bit isolated. The county's a microcosm of the world.

Don't believe me? Let's explore some current events and see if we can draw connections from here to there.

1) The census. There: The Hispanic population nationwide has increased faster than expected, just about equaling the number of African Americans.

Here: The Hispanic population in Anne Arundel County (12,900) has nearly doubled in the last 10 years. The county has the fourth largest Hispanic population among Maryland jurisdictions. Next step for Hispanics here and elsewhere is political respect.

2) Telephone towers. Here: The Poplar Point community is fighting Sprint over a six-antenna mobile telephone tower that Sprint has legally (but sneakily) installed on a spot of commercial land surrounded by residences.

There: More twinkling emanates from the nation's telephone towers than from the stars. About 100,000 of them exist. They're in the can't-live-with-em, can't-live-without-em category. Protest tower expansion if you must, but leave your cell phones home. Or cut them off.

2a) Everywhere: I understand President Bush's impatience with cell phones that ring in the middle of meetings. I witnessed the nonsense again on Wednesday, when a guy's phone chimed to the tune of the "William Tell Overture" during a county meeting. The offender answered the phone and started his conversation before finally leaving the room.

Cell phone towers have expanded a lot faster than cell phone etiquette.

3) Economic woes. Here: Anne Arundel County is having a heck of a time launching the David Taylor Research Center as a high-tech business park, which would boost economic development activity. The county executive has brought in a retired admiral, Charles Larson, to help steer the project through rough waters.

There: The nation is having a tough time bringing the once-robust economy down to earth. Federal Reserveboss Alan Greenspan has been trying to steer us to a soft economic landing, but lots of people have lumps on the head -- and divots in their portfolios. Mr. Greenspan did superbly when the economy coasted at 40,000 feet, but he must have flunked smooth-landing training.

4) Education. There: George W. once said, "You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test." He's still stumping for education reform even as he rams an unaffordable tax cut down our throats and shepherds the economy with Mr. Greenspan.

Here: An interesting debate is taking place over the school system's approved plan to boost reading instruction in middle schools. Some opponents don't believe that more reading will make better readers, calling it a failed policy. A concern, a legitimate one, is that reading instruction takes time away from arts education. The school system promises to do both. It deserves a chance to try. Middle school reading performance is in such poor shape that too many kids would fail literacy tests our eloquent president favors.

5) Mayors. There: Baltimore has Mayor Martin O'Malley, the crime-fighter suffering a sophomore slump. City crime fell last year, with homicides below the 300 mark for the first time in a decade. This year, the murder numbers are edging up. Honeymoon's over.

Here: The honeymoon's still going after 20 years for Willie C. Johnson, the un-elected, unofficial but indisputable mayor of unincorporated Freetown. Mr. Johnson has led the small, historically black community association for those 20 years and was honored last week. He has fought to bring roads, sewer and trash collection to Freetown. He's popular and loved.

If Freetown had elections, his victories wouldn't require recounts.

6) Shaky voting practices. There: Enough said about what happened in Florida in November.

Here: The Annapolis city council voted to retain its voter identification law. There's no evidence that anyone voted fraudulently, but the bill's passage came in reaction to Alderwoman Cynthia Carter's upset victory four years ago. Ms. Carter became the first black woman to win a council seat, largely on the strength of write-in votes.

Some howled. Others passed a voter ID law, which purports to stop illegal voting. My guess is that someone's trying to keep Ms. Carter's supporters from voting for her this year, just hoping they won't bring proper ID.

7) Russian spies and skies. There: The United States is booting out 50 Russian diplomats, accusing them of spying and blowing some Cold War chill. And the Russian space station Mir has fallen -- harmlessly, to Japan's delight.

Here: The Navy has agreed to dismiss spying charges against a former NSA cryptologist suspected of mailing a computer disk to the Russians -- probably more top-secret than an unreleased Prince song.

Also, the National Security Agency, the largest employer in Anne Arundel County, uses satellites, although none threatened to flatten a large, industrial nation.

Conclusion: Nothing happens in the world without having a parallel in Anne Arundel County. This might as well be the world's center.

Norris P. West writes editorials for The Sun from Anne Arundel County.

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