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Volume 15, Issue 43 ~ October 25 - October 31, 2007

Way Downstream

In Annapolis, Park Place on Westgate Circle is throwing its weight around as the anchor of newly high-end outer West Street.

Morton’s The Steakhouse opened its bar and laid out a spread ranging from oysters on the half-shell to sliced fillet mignon to chocolate velvet cake to introduce itself to 300-plus “business and community leaders” as the 76th in the nationwide chain. (Oddly, you won’t find any in beef country; the five-state tier from Oklahoma to North Dakota does without.) Now that the party’s over, you’ll pay up to $15.95 for a glass of wine and $80 for a three-pound porterhouse steak at Annapolis’ Morton’s at the Westin Hotel.

At the ribbon cutting introducing a long weekend of opening events, Sen. President Mike Miller vowed to use his power as a supporter of the arts to fund the Jerome Parks Performing Arts Center, namesake of the developer of the hotel-apartment-condo-restaurant-shopping center. Lest Annapolitans confuse Miller with a Calvert country boy, he reminded them he was the financing force behind the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore and the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda.

“In the short term, you should make Maryland Hall the best it could be, because this is going to take time and a lot of money,” said Linnell Bowen, executive director of the city’s existing — some say neglected — arts center, Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.

In Carroll County, a gargantuan 464-point sycamore rises to the head of the class as Maryland’s biggest tree as well as State Champion Sycamore. Big Tree Program volunteers came on the giant near Little Pipe Creek on the Smith family dairy farm in New Windsor. It stands 121 feet tall with a trunk circumference of 27 feet. The sycamore shares its biggest-tree honor with a 464-point silver maple in Cecil County …

University of Maryland students’ bright idea powered them to second place in the 2007 Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. Twenty college teams from around the world competed to design, build and operate the most livable, energy-efficient, completely solar-powered house. Among the innovative features of the Maryland house: an indoor waterfall to control humidity; solar water heating tubes to provide hot water and heat the radiant floor; and a smart-house system that monitors humidity, temperature, light and weather forecasts to control indoor temperatures …

In Washington, D.C., Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski resuscitated the expired H2B Guest Worker Visa program.

Mikulski dropped a provision into the just-passed FY 2008 spending bill to guarantee another year’s survival for the program that allows businesses to legally hire temporary foreign workers to supplement their workforce. Crab-picking houses and landscapers are Maryland businesses most dependent on guest workers.

“I told small businesses they could count on me to keep fighting, and I meant it,” said Mikulski. She has pledged to continue to work with Senate leaders to make the provision permanent …

Our Creature Feature is a scientific tale from Australia, where researchers have found that the light of the moon is the aphrodisiac needed by coral. We’re not surprised; it has worked that way for a lot of creatures, humans among them.

A new study conducted along the Great Barrier Reef sheds light, so to speak, on how that happens: Ancient light-sensitive genes appear to trigger annual mass spawning by corals shortly after the moon is full, according to a paper published last week in the journal Science.

“We have always wondered how corals without eyes can detect moonlight and get the precise hour of the right couple of days each year to spawn,” Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, of the University of Queensland, said in a statement. Now, maybe, they know.

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