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On the Columbus Day flap, fake news and Lexington Market

Plan calls for razing, rebuilding Lexington Market (Baltimore Sun video)

Nobody asked me, but the Baltimore City Council's preliminary vote to drop Columbus Day and rename it "Indigenous Peoples' and Italian-Americans' Day" supports the argument that Democrats spend too much time on identity politics and political correctness while more serious issues go begging. And I'm sure some will object to what I've just said, because you don't even get to balk at this idea — dropping Christopher Columbus to honor the memory of the Native Americans his discovery of the New World ultimately doomed — without running the risk of being called callous and insensitive.

Warning: If the City Council really wants to make this change, fine. Just remember: When you take up issues such as this, while the number of homicides in Baltimore continues to climb and citizens freak out at their water bills, you run the risk of looking irrelevant. And let that be a warning to the new council members taking their oaths this week. Pick your battles wisely. It's time for big changes in City Hall, starting with an activist City Council whose primary mission is improving the quality of life for all Baltimoreans. You have some big challenges ahead of you, but one of those big challenges is not the official name we give to a Monday in October.

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Stipulation: The argument against continuing to honor Columbus has merit. Just because something has been a certain way for 70-plus years does not mean it should last forever, against the progress of human understanding and changing social norms. We should have a debate about it and invite students from across the city to take part. But we do not need another distracting controversy at City Hall.

Advice: If the City Council finalizes this proposal but my fellow Italian-Americans in Baltimore want to continue to observe Columbus Day, do it. There's nothing stopping you. If the city won't give you a parade permit for a Columbus Day parade, sue 'em.

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But let me add this: I've never understood why my fellow Italian-Americans invest so much in Columbus. (We have three monuments to him in Baltimore.) He was born in Italy, but no one in Italy put up the money for his explorations across the Atlantic. He sought funding in Genoa and Venice and didn't get it. The English crown turned him down, too. Columbus ended up in Spain, at the Court of Isabella and Ferdinand, and they came up with the cabbage for the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, the three Spanish ships Columbus sailed to the West Indies. So he was Italian by birth, but the Spaniards are the ones who gave him his shot at the big time. I think the Italian-American claim on the guy is kind of a slippery noodle.

If my fellow Italian-Americans want to celebrate an Italian who did great things, with little in the way of consequences that anyone could call harmful, there are plenty to choose from: Michelangelo, da Vinci, Verdi, Puccini, Vivaldi, Gaetano Donizetti, Ennio Morricone, Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Guglielmo Marconi, Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida.

But, even better, my fellow Italian-Americans should celebrate Italian-Americans, and there are many to choose from. Some traditions are like old cannolis — they get stale, they crack. Try something fresh. Consider letting go of Columbus and picking a new day for an Italian-American Festival. Invite a famous Italian-American to town — John Travolta, Isabella Rossellini, Jon Bon Jovi, Lady Gaga (Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) — to be the grand marshal of the Italian-American Parade. Can you see Steve Buscemi in an open limo on Pratt Street?

Nobody asked me, but perhaps the most troubling aspect of the "fake news" that popped up on computer screens during the presidential campaign — and there's a lot that's troubling about it — is the number of Americans snookered by it. Millions of people were apparently unable to discern real news from fake news, even when the fake stuff seemed clearly implausible or at least worth a quick Google verification. Of course, this assumes that voters actually desired truth. It might be they preferred whatever made them most comfortable with their prejudices.

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Nobody asked me, but the plan for a completely new Lexington Market looks bold and exciting, something that gives a lift to Baltimoreans who've waited years to see a Renaissance on the west side of town. I'm not a big fan of demolition, but back when a major renovation was first discussed, it seemed problematic, given the size of the market, the slope of its old floor and the number of vendors who might be displaced by extensive reconstruction. Building a new market on the parking lot just south of the current hall, keeping Lexington Market alive while someone builds its replacement, seems to make the most sense. Here's hoping it happens. Here's hoping the vendors in the new place are all local — no national chains, please — and that at least one carries shad roe and muskrat in season, if only for display purposes.

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