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Ben Affleck writes a love letter to pulp filmmaking in this epic drama

Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck: Suicide Squad) is an outlaw. A veteran of The Great War, Coughlin returns home to Boston swearing to never follow orders again. He turns to armed robbery, vexes his police chief father and gets the interest of the city’s warring Italian and Irish mobs.
    Coughlin isn’t interested in joining a gang, but he is interested in the head Irish mobster’s girl, Emma (Sienna Miller: The Lost City of Z). Joe gets out with a smashed face and a few years in jail. Emma doesn’t fair so well.
    Bent on revenge, Coughlin signs up with the Italian mob.
    He sets up a comfortable life on the outskirts of Tampa, building a small empire as he outsmarts the law and rival criminal concerns.
    Just as he assembles the life he wants, it’s challenged. The Italians fret over an Irishman running such a large chunk of their business. The Ku Klux Klan chapter despises Joe for his Cuban girlfriend and association with minority groups. The holy rollers of Tampa want to cleanse the city.
    Based on an epic Prohibition novel by Dennis Lehane, Live by Night isn’t as beautifully detailed or steeped in history as the novel, but it’s a decent CliffsNotes. Affleck also directed and wrote the screenplay, paring down a story that spans decades and two very different cities and focusing almost solely on Coughlin.
    Though it keeps the running time down, this choice also knocks some of the nuance out of Joe, turning him from a morally ambiguous gangster into a tough-guy hero.
    Coughlin is interesting, and Affleck’s performance fine, but he gains primacy at the expense of other performers. Chris Messina (The Mindy Project), as Coughlin’s right-hand man, for one.
    Lavish sets, attractive people and enough action to keep your blood pumping, Live by Night is a tribute to the pulpy crime dramas of the 1930s and ’40s. If you like a plot-heavy tale with quippy dialogue, sexy dames and steel-jawed toughs, you’ll enjoy this film.

Good Drama • R • 128 mins.

We hope (with compliments to Yogi Berra) it’s better than déjà vu

The Maryland General Assembly isn’t the only big thing beginning anew this month.
    (Does beginning anew agree with you? Strictly speaking, anew is a tautology in the phrase as beginning is beginning. Still, in the spiral of life, renewal is a great force, giving us second, third and more chances, if we’re lucky. There! I’ve reasoned myself into beginning anew. How about you?)
    I’ve tried not to bore you in writing about the General Assembly. Important as it is to your life and mine, it’s a subject that quickly runs into technicalities. So I’m telling you only the least you need to know, with leads on where to go for more if you find an area interesting.
    If you’re a wonk, you’ll know most of this. But I bet not all, as some surprises are tucked in. The best is your introduction to the man to whom everyone in the House of Delegates listens, Reading Clerk C. Rhoades Whitehill.
    Second, third and more chances are regular business in the General Assembly, where a tussle over a Renewable Energy law passed — and vetoed — last year is likely to get the session rolling. Also back this year are lots more ideas that didn’t quite make it last year. On Gov. Larry Hogan’s side, a big one is his second try to get lawmakers to approve giving manufacturers a tax-free decade for setting up shop in areas of high unemployment. Sick leave for employees will be back, too. A bill passed the Senate last year but failed in the House. This year, Hogan has his own proposal, so there’ll be wrangling over that, too.
    Wrangling is not such a bad thing. In my book, it’s a very good thing. In the General Assembly, as opposed to on the ranch, it means that people championing different ideas are talking to each other, maybe even listening, maybe even working toward consensus. In the General Assembly, a consensus bill is negotiated between both chambers, the House and the Senate, until most everybody sort of agrees on it. Because it depends on give and take, nobody is ever 100 percent happy. But it’s the best that can be done at the moment; thus, it will do.
    Making a law is like getting a very big family to agree on what to watch on television. It’s the best compromise that can be reached among people who, as people do, think differently.
    That’s one reason they say lawmaking, like sausage making, doesn’t bear close scrutiny.
    I promise you not too much sausage making in this story, and just a little as the Assembly continues its 90-day session.
    Here at Bay Weekly, as in the General Assembly, we’re tooling up for a new year. At this moment in time, making only the second of 52 editions of Volume XXV, the year ahead looks like a mountain to climb. But as we’re doing so for our 24th time, we know the ropes. Already many stories, some far into the future, are taking shape. As are some big new ideas I’ll soon be telling you about.
    Our own calendars are filling out, too, as we feel that surge of new year’s energy. We’ll celebrate three birthdays this month, on top of the one birth we’re already celebrating. Henry Mika Gardner couldn’t wait until the new year, surprising Chesapeake Curiosities columnist Christine Gardner three weeks early. So she begins this year on maternity leave.
    I hope you, too, are swept up in the spiral of beginning anew.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com; www.sandraolivettimartin.com

Anne Arundel County offers just the right raw ingredients

Anne Arundel County has more horses than any other county in the nation. It follows that we also have more horse manure. Some of that horse manure occupies precious landfill space or is dumped near streams, thus contributing to Bay pollution.
    Anne Arundel County landfills also have too much of another organic waste, nitrogen-rich food waste produced by an abundance of restaurants. Like yard debris, neither of these organic wastes should be occupying landfill space. Landfills are costly to construct and maintain. Both food waste and horse manure can easily be converted into compost.
    In the early 1980s, the Bay Gardener was involved in writing the state law that prohibited the dumping of yard debris into landfills and established yard debris composting facilities. One such facility is located near Upper Marlboro, just a mile from the Anne Arundel County line, near the intersection of Route 4 and Route 301. Operated by Maryland Environmental Services, it is one of the locations that manufactures LeafGro.
    Last month, the Anne Arundel County Council and the County Executive approved the composting of horse manure and restaurant waste on South County farms in facilities between five and 10 acres. The legislation has established strict standards that limit the area for compost to 25 percent of total acreage. Prohibited from composting are dead animals or waste from processing facilities. The new legislation also limits proximity of composting pads to adjacent properties, occupied dwellings and streams. The composting must be done on a non-porous pad, and the facility must be managed by an operator certified in the science of composting. The location of any such facility must be pre-approved. Also considered in the legislation is road access to the facility.
    The Maryland Department of Agriculture is responsible for certifying managers of composting facilities. Certification requires a training program and rigorous written exam. As Maryland was the first in the nation to establish a commercial composting training program, I prepared many of the questions that are included in the certification exam. Managers must be knowledgeable in the biological processes, monitoring equipment, standards and management procedures.
    The Maryland Department of the Environment is responsible for inspecting and assuring that the facilities are properly managed and that sanitary conditions are maintained. Maryland’s composting facilities have been operating for the past 30 years without creating problems while producing such compost products as LeafGro, Orgro and Veterans Compost. Many municipalities compost their own yard debris, making it available to residents at a minimal charge, following standards established within their jurisdictions without creating odors. Near Exit 1 on the Baltimore Beltway, a composting facility processes 180 to 200 tons of Baltimore sewage sludge each day without creating an odor problem, producing compost called Orgro.
    Composting is an exact science. It requires blending the proper amount of feedstocks; in this case horse manure with restaurant waste. The amount of carbon and nitrogen in each are determined by established laboratory testing methods. After these two materials are blended properly in the correct amounts and placed in windrows, moisture levels are maintained between 50 and 60 percent and oxygen levels are maintained above five percent. Temperatures within the piles will average between 140 and 160 degrees within 24 to 36 hours. When oxygen levels drop below five percent, the windrows are turned with specialized equipment to introduce more oxygen into the mixture. Some composting facilities draw air, using fans, through the composting piles to maintain oxygen at the proper level. Only when the temperatures within the piles achieve those near ambient air is the compost ready. The process will generally require 80 to 100 days, depending on the time of year and the volume being composted. The resulting compost has a rich earthy smell.
    The microorganisms that digest the carbon in the horse manure, while using the nitrogen from the restaurant waste, are the same microbes found in garden soils. The same process occurs on the forest floor. Science has discovered that under ideal conditions, these microorganisms will gladly work overtime.
    The only by-products of composting are water vapor, heat and carbon dioxide. There are no toxic gasses released during composting.
    Gardening has become the most popular hobby in the nation. Ornamental horticulture is the second largest income-producing agricultural industry in Maryland, second to poultry. Potted plants are all grown in soil-less blends containing one-third to one-half by volume compost. With more people demanding organically grown food, the need for compost far exceeds the supply. Compost is a great soil amendment and a good source of slow-release nutrients.
    I have spent more than 30 years conducting research on using compost made from sewage sludge, animal manures, yard debris, crab waste, garbage, paper-mill sludge and more. Composting is the ultimate in recycling, and it can be done safely and efficiently. Although composting is an old agricultural practice, today’s composting technology is as different as the Model A Ford is to today’s hybrid cars.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Black squirrels once were common in America before European migration

Peering out the front window with my first cup of coffee this morning, I was rewarded with the sight of at least a half dozen squirrels cavorting on my snow-covered lawn, running up and down the trees, chasing each other and creating a maelstrom of snow powder and furry activity.
    One of the frisking rascals, I noticed with surprise, was melanistic, a black phase of our common gray squirrel. Though fairly rare (one in 10,000) these days, the jet-black variety is a handsome mutation and jogged some interesting facts loose in my memory.
    Winter storm warnings of about two inches of snow had been choking the airwaves. Despite having been born and raised around the snow-bound Great Lakes and immunized to such hysterics, I did begin to feel concern for the neighborhood critters. Which is why I had piled an ample supply of corn and seeds under the sheltering hull of my trailered skiff for the squirrels and birds.
    This, of course, made my yard quite a gathering place for local wildlife, including the black squirrel (which, I later found, regularly lives about a block away). Black squirrels, I also discovered, were much more common in America and perhaps even dominant in many large areas before Europeans began migrating to North America.
    Heavily forested with mature hardwoods, the dense canopy of the pre-settlement forests was not readily penetrated by sunlight. Dim light provided an advantage to the darker coloration of the melanistic squirrel variety. They were not as visible as the grays were to the many owls and hawks that were their principle predators.
    Agricultural, however, soon changed that. Clearing the forests to provide for shelter, fuel, farming and livestock likely left the darker-colored squirrels more visible in the now semi-forested areas. Since black offspring are common only when both parent squirrels are black (the black gene being recessive), the black variant began to give way to the gray as the dominant squirrel variety.
    Today the gray is far more common throughout their ranges. But exceptions remain. When I arrived in this area to work for the Department of Agriculture, I lived in Washington, D.C., where I was surprised to note a large number of black squirrels in the parks surrounding DuPont Circle and the Executive Office Building grounds. I distinctly recall one female, quite friendly, that lived near my apartment and sported a tiny rhinestone collar.
    It turned out that the National Zoo had imported 18 black squirrels from Canada (where they remained relatively common) during Teddy Roosevelt’s administration (1901-1909). They were released on zoo grounds, quickly became acclimated, then spread throughout the city, which had previously lacked any appreciable squirrel population.
    Today, Maryland (at College Park and Joppatowne), Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, among other states, are noted as having populations or concentrations of black squirrels. Their exact source is undetermined or at least undocumented. More I don’t know, just as I don’t know how this one came to my yard.


Seen any black squirrels? Tell us where and when: editor@bayweekly.com.
 

Snowbirds

Their winter nutrition is worth your money

Set up a feeder, and you’ll have the energetic company of snowbirds that, like you, aren’t driven south by January’s black-and-white chilly minimalism.
    Holly-berry red male and Dior-cloaked russet females add color and conflict, as each pecks off others of its own sex. The cold first weekend of January, scattered black oil sunflower seed brought a battery of six Cardinals into view.
    Yellow-throated sparrows came out in abundance, too. This time of year their plumage suits another ball team of my extreme youth: the St. Louis Browns. Would that I’d also get the Browns’ current incarnation, as Baltimore’s Orioles. No such luck. What the sparrows lack in color they make up in energy, both in their little foraging dance and in their flurry against any other sparrow that dared to peck beside them.
    Though neither of those species likes to hang on a feeder, others do.
    Each fill-up makes me a betting woman, booking either the chickadee or tufted titmouse as first arrival. These saucy little birds could dot your eye if you don’t get out of their way quick enough. Sooner or later, a few gold and house finches show up, neither wearing much of their distinctive yellow or red-tint colors this time of year.
    Now and again I’ll also get some acrobats: the strutting wrens, climbing brown creepers and downward-walking white-breasted nuthatches.
    Other woodpeckers come, too. Ms Hairy Woodpecker — her sex is my assumption as she has no red patch — scouts the nearby tree, a blue atlas cedar, for insects and sap before making a hop to the feeder. A bigger treat still is the red-bellied woodpecker whose name seems to me so unsuitable that I call him the red-necked woodpecker. Outsized for the cylindrical feeder, the big bird makes a comically ungainly attachment.
    As winter continues, other birds will visit, in more species, colors and antics.
    Birds, of course, aren’t my only feeder company.
    Omnipresent are Mr. and Mrs. Squirrel and often their cousins. Their voracious appetites and indomitable cleverness control my choice of feeder. They’ve destroyed three niger seed feeders of two sorts, plastic and mesh, and no suet feeder is safe among them. My squirrels are gray. I have to travel to Deale to see a black squirrel, the subject of this week’s Sporting Life.
    Their winter nutrition is worth my money. I help them survive; they give me a great show. As a bonus, early summer sunflowers will sprout from seed they missed.

P.S. The Bay Gardener remind us to provide water for the birds and dehydration is a great factor in overwinter deaths.

A triumph of hope over experience

The 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson got it as right about New Year’s resolutions as about his original subject, marriage. That thought struck me as I attempted to set personal goals for the New Year, hoping these meet with more success than usual.
    I’m going to have to exercise to increase my energy and endurance throughout the winter if I am to mount the kind of fishing campaign I intend to begin in just four short months.
    Resolution Two is to simplify my tackle. Over the years I have accumulated an excess, to the point of hindering my activities. An angler does not need to choose from 100 lures when on the water. A dozen will do. I know many an angler who excels with less than half a dozen.
    Divesting myself of all of these lures is not without pain. I’ll have to find someone who wants them, for I can’t throw them away, and there is no practical market for used fishing lures. And I must do it well before the next season begins so there is no temptation to hold on to them.
    Resolution Three is to cull my outdoor clothes. My wife pointed that out just last week as she gathered used items for a Purple Heart collection. A lucky fishing shirt is difficult to resign to the rag bin, even if its elbows are holed. A significant portion of my many ball caps suggest they may also be well past their due date. I must send them all off without pity.
    Last comes the most painful resolution of all. I had some great angling successes last season but also some disappointments. I told myself that the brutal August heat dampened the bite for the following months as well. I was wrong.
    I have come to acknowledge my reluctance to rise early in the morning as the reason my later season fell off.
    Six o’clock may be early in the spring when the water temperatures are in the 50s and the bite will only get better as the sun brings more warmth to the depths. But from mid-August on, the fish will be on the move at the first blush of light when the water is at its coolest and most comfortable for them.
    That means rising at no later than 4am — and not just one or two mornings, when I feel conditions may be perfect, but every morning to give all of my sorties a better chance of success. The thought of that early hour brings tears to my eyes. But again, it must be done in 2017 or my freezer will be empty again next winter.

Your pot must runneth over

By now your houseplants are adjusting to winter life inside. Or not. Many potted houseplants fail to grow properly because they are never watered properly. Here’s the right way.
    Every watering should be so ample that an excess of water drips from the bottom of the pot. Of course the pot should have drainage holes in its bottom and sit in a saucer to protect the furniture or windowsill. 
    If a plant’s soil is all the way to the top of the pot, you’ll have a watering problem. When repotting, always leave three-quarters to one inch of free space between the surface of the potting medium and the top edge of pot.
    If your plants were repotted with a half-inch or less of space between the surface of the potting medium and the top edge of the pot, your solution is to water by slow release using ice cubes. For plants in pots three to five inches in diameter, place two to three ice cubes on the surface of the soil. As the ice melts, the water will enter the soil without overflowing. Judge the number of ice cubes by inspecting the saucer beneath the pot in about an hour. If water is not visible, add another cube or two, and base the number of ice cubes needed in the future on the test results.
    If you are watering your plants by placing water in the saucer and allowing the water to be absorbed through the bottom of the pot, you’ll have noticed salts accumulating on the top edge of the pot. Continuing sub-irrigation of potted plants generally always results in this accumulation of fertilizer salts because the excess fertilizer salts in the soil migrate upward with the movement of the water. The salts appear as yellow-white to gray powder along the edges of the soil surface or on the pot, depending on the type of pot being used. 
    To prevent this accumulation, water the plants from the surface at least monthly or in two to three consecutive irrigations before resuming sub-irrigation.
    It’s that easy, and your plants will thank you by prospering.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

The amazing story of three unknown stars of the space program

Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson: Empire) is a mathematical genius. But she is a woman, and she is black. In 1960s Virginia, Goble can’t even sit at the front of a bus, let alone gain independence as a mathematician.
    She works at NASA as a computer, a mathematician who performs calculations and checks the numbers generated by engineers.
    While fighting racial stereotyping, sexism and paranoia about Soviet spies, Goble is also helping to invent the math that will eventually guarantee safe orbits for America’s first astronauts. Her work is, of course, unacknowledged.
    Goble was not the only overlooked woman genius at NASA. Two more unrecognized black women on the job make a mark in history. Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe: Moonlight) contributes to the Mercury 7 project, helping perfect its cabin design. But as a black woman, she isn’t considered qualified to be an engineer, and her race is banned from the school offering classes that could help her advance. Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer: Bad Santa 2) is a mechanical prodigy who recognizes and surmounts the threat IBM computers pose to the computing women at NASA.
    Hidden Figures is their long-awaited recognition, and it’s a crowd-pleaser. Performances are great, the soundtrack is snappy and the script will make you want to learn more about these remarkable women. Director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) parallels the race to get an American into space alongside these women’s struggle for significant work and respect in a time when the outcome of neither effort was guaranteed.
    Dialogue can feel stilted as conversations become lessons in facts you need to know to get the point. Performance, however, is a rich counterbalance. As Goble, the star and heart of the film, Henson gives a powerful performance bearing rudeness and cruelty with kindness and dignity.
    Spencer and Monáe are lighter, even comic, though each has moments of drama. They make the three women’s bond of friendship a joy to watch.

Good Historical Drama • PG • 127 mins.

That’s our hope for you in 2017

Self-Care 101 was not in my college curriculum. I graduated knowing more about forms of poetry — I especially liked terza rima — than how to live healthy, let alone wealthy or wise. (Though the latter was supposed to be the road to which my liberal arts education led.)
    Not in high school or elementary school either did I learn when a cold was contagious, how to survive nausea or how to enjoy exercise and make it part of my life. Even motherhood left me clueless, so it’s a good thing my children played hard outdoors and had pets to desensitize them to life’s everyday germs.
    The knowledge I’ve acquired of basic survival skills I pretty much picked up on the go. Among those tidbits were folk remedies easily dismissed. A world away from my immigrant grandmother, my mother’s description of her prescriptions seemed pretty silly. Now I see that garlic does have healing properties and that a rub of olive oil and a warm cloth can soothe a stiff neck.
    Those are not among the wellness tips you’ll read in Bay Weekly’s first paper of our 24th year, Vol. XXV, No. 1. (Unless you take my word for it.)
    What you will find is a nice Whitman’s Sampler of ways to consider as you set out on the self-improvement campaign that’s comes with each new year’s jolt, whether or not we make formal resolutions.
    Our tips pop up all along the spectrum of well-being. They range from fitness to finance, wellness to wealth, bodywork to body care — and touch on food for our and our pets’ health.
    Do you want to find medical care that helps you stay well as well as get well? Owensville Primary Care makes you that promise in these pages.
    Do you want to stop smoking in 2017? You’ll read here how to take a first step with Anne Arundel County’s Learn to Live program.
    Is your resolution America’s third most popular: losing weight? Doctor James M. Wagner offers insight into that annual challenge.
    Are you ignoring what the sun may have done to your skin because you can’t find a dermatologist who has time for you? Maybe Calvert Dermatology is the one. I’m going to see for myself.
    Do you need to know where to go when you feel too bad to wait for your doctor? Maybe AFC Urgent Care is right for you.
    Is it finally time to learn CPR or upgrade your First Aid knowledge? Much of our community made that decision when a walker was stricken on our roads. Carrie Duvall of Duvall CPR & First Aid offers group and individual classes when and where you want.
    Just how sick is your kid — and when should you seek help? Dr. Azam Baig of South River Pediatrics gives you tips I wish I’d known way back when.
    Is fitness your goal? Get the help you need to succeed from Chesapeake Health & Fitness, Pilates Plus or Poston’s Fitness for Life.
    In assembling these tips, we partnered with local businesses that have a stake in your well-being. We’ve not sought to be comprehensive or conclusive. Our purpose has been introducing you to people, places and programs in our own community that guide you in making wise wellness choices. Each of our well-being partners promises you not only a service but also information and expert help in making your 2017 healthier, wealthier and wiser.
    I send you my best wishes in achieving those goals.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com
Plus a life in stories: www.sandraolivettimartin.com

Based on August Wilson’s play of the same name, Fences is a stirring drama about the effects of systemic racism on the black family

From the outside, Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington: The Magnificent Seven) has a pretty good life. He has a steady job as a garbage collector, an adoring wife named Rose (Viola Davis: Suicide Squad) and a nice house in a Pittsburgh neighborhood. A born storyteller with a gift for hyperbole, Troy enjoys spinning colorful yarns as he drinks his weekly bottle of gin with his coworkers. In the late 1950s, it’s as close to living the American Dream as any black man could hope to get.
    Troy, however, is not content. A once-great baseball player, he resents the racist system that kept him from playing pro ball. He keenly feels the injustices that have kept him from greater success in work and at home.
    Some of his complaints are solidly founded. Black men must empty the garbage cans, not drive the trucks. The army refuses full compensation to Troy’s brother and veteran Gabe (Mykelti Williamson: Designated Survivor), who runs the streets disturbing the peace.
    Some complaints are less valid. Troy sees his son’s football skills as a curse and will hear no talk of football scholarships or college. He doesn’t trust sports, even after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. He wants his son to learn a trade and work after school.
    As the years wear on, Troy obsesses over the idea that his life has been wasted.
    Based on August Wilson’s play of the same name, Fences is a stirring drama about the effects of systemic racism on the black family. Washington, who also directs, brought this adaptation from stage to screen, retaining most of the 2010 revival cast for the film. This was a brilliant choice.
    As the leads, both Washington and Davis are remarkable. Washington makes Troy a deeply flawed but fascinating character, full of contradictions. He’s a charming rogue, a born storyteller and selfishly obsessed with what he’s owed. He revels in pointing out his son’s flaws, building himself up as the only true man in the family, even as he’s riddled with insecurity.
    As his wife Rose, Davis plays Troy’s polar opposite. Quiet and kind, Rose is more than a devoted partner. She is in many ways the heart of the play, sacrificing her own strength and emotional wellbeing for her family. Davis makes Rose’s inner turmoil both poignant and relatable.
    The film’s weakness is cinematic production. Washington borrowed not only the play’s cast but also its staging conventions. You feel like you’re watching a play. In those confines, action seems stilted. There is also a play’s long running time, well over two hours. Viewers whose theatrical tastes were formed at the movies may grow bored.


Great Drama • PG-13 • 138 mins.