Friday, December 31, 2010

J Roddy Walston And The Business

Found this Maryland-based band while surfing the interwebs this morning and thought I would share.  Puts me in a New Years Eve Mood.

The Paradox of Politi-Chats (Friday Links)

I had a great discussion about numerous political topics last night with a few friends.  On my way home, I thought about how much fun that had been and how I wish it could happen more often.  My experience has been that you can't "plan" meaningful discussions about current events (especially not with strangers).  These "politi-chats" are entirely organic.  Sure, you can have a group of friends that tend to drift into political topics, but I don't think you can get into the rolling dialogue that comes a long with a really good meaty discussion, which otherwise just "arises."  Thanks to Jodi and Dave for that.

LINKS

I've been wanting to post about this article since I went to bed last night: New School Board Still Fails to Reflect Racial Diversity of County.  Why is it that whenever you ask a politician whether they are concerned about a presumed lack of diversity, they respond as if you asked them whether they are concerned about melting ice caps?  "A LACK OF DIVERSITY!?!  Are they still holding meetings?  Stop the meetings!!  Have they passed any legislation?  REPEAL!  They're probably drafting a poll tax as we speak!"

I don't like turning our valuable, intelligent, hard-working representatives into playing cards.  Government is not "go fish."  It is estimated that between 3% to 10% (corrected estimate) of the population is gay.  Where's our gay member of the Board?  Approximately 3% of all school age children have some form of disability.  Don't we need disabled Board members to reflect those experiences?  Why aren't we concerned with economic diversity?  Let's compare bank accounts.  Why have an election at all?  We should just set a list of criteria including race, sexual orientation, religion, economic background, political beliefs, and...what?  That's illegal?  We can't hire on those bases?  Then why are we acting like the electorate just failed an Equal Opportunity exam?  Don't get me wrong, I wish Larry Walker had won and I will vote for him the next time he runs, but I think it is disrespectful and plain wrong to strip his candidacy of everything that he worked hard to promote just to note that "he was our chance for a diverse Board."  This is the second time this year that an article like this has sought to "make news" where none exists and I wish our County Council members would stop taking the bait.  Frankly, I find it all shameful.

Every once in a while, the Sun gets away with a "feel good" story that people read.  I think this story about the police rescue of a puppy that fell into the Inner Harbor will be one of them.

The supermarket unions must be some of the most powerful in the state because they seem to have a hand in every pot.  Most recently, they are being accused of manufacturing concern regarding "fly ash" contamination at an Anne Arundel Wegman's site.  Maybe I'm naive, but I am simultaneously a cynic on this one.  Wegman's knows that "union" can stir up negative thoughts and may be using the term to dismiss a very dangerous problem.


What is the late fee for a book that is 64 years overdue?  $6.  Hmm, my law and economics reflex does not like that.  Your average book on Amazon is around $22.  I guess they presume that your average library goer is not looking to pilfer a private library at the expense of future free rentals.

I really enjoyed Sarah's "response" to Doug Miller's op/ed hating on social media.  More specifically, the esteemed editor of Explore Howard expressed some slightly nasty opinions regarding those that recently submitted letters to the editor regarding Frisky's Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary, which he believes was prompted by a Facebook post.  Maybe it's just me, but you would think that in the age of dying newspaper readership, Doug may be happy to see that people still care about his pound (give or take 5 ounces) of papyrus.  Frisky's could have just asked all of their supporters to start a blog.

Frank Hecker provides a nice recap of his 2010 posts.

WB comments on his favorite Columbian's letter to the editor.

(Best Jeff Foxworthy Voice): YOU might be a blogger IF...you take pictures of your food at fancy restaurants.  Glad it went well, Trevor.  Next stop: Woodberry Kitchen.  By my money, it is the best restaurant in Baltimore, possibly the entire state.

That's all I have for today.  Yesterday I looked at my schedule and realized that I won't be taking much time off until at least June.  As such, I decided that I would enjoy the scheduled day off for New Year's Eve (which one of the partners lamented was a "made up holiday" when she heard that her support staff would not be in today).  I have a few things on my "to-do list", including a trip over to the Snowden Theatre to see The King's Speech.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Nattering Nabobs or Occasional Objectors?

Barbara Russell has an interesting letter to the editor in this week's Flier.  The premise of her complaint is a general objection to the characterization of those against the new Columbia signage legislation as being "against redevelopment from the beginning." (A quote from Council Chairman Calvin Ball, which was caustic enough to stick in Barbara's ear [and provided a fantastic villainous premise for her letter], but somehow escaped press coverage of Columbia Patch, ExploreHoward, and the Baltimore Sun.  Sleeping on the job again, fellas?).

Whether or not these words were ever spoken, the bigger question is: Isn't it true?  I'm sure that redevelopment objectors feel that they are reasonable people that have a few objections to the manner in which redevelopment is being prosecuted, but otherwise have no problem with the modernization of Columbia.  Have their actions lived out those words?  What I've seen is a group of well-intentioned folks that expect a Utopian solution that combines urban planning with commercial magic tricks.  Want a grocery store?  Poof, there it is.  Want private property owners to use their property in accordance with your personal preferences?  Why didn't you say so?  Poof, your wish is their command. 

Meanwhile, the Council has been at the negotiating table.  Don't get me wrong, I think there has been some "magical thinking" on their end as well in terms of "enforceability," but, as a citizen, I am willing to forgo the perfect for the good, because I understand that the "perfect" is not practical.  One-sided deals are not practical.  A County that refuses to work cooperatively with its largest developer will not attract new businesses, and will lose its right to negotiate the projects that those developers wish to pursue.  It also makes for short terms for County Executives.

I have yet to see the opponents of Columbia Redevelopment (or as they may prefer to be called the "Proponents of Utopian Redevelopment") support a single piece of enabling legislation without some deal-breaking caveat.  As such, even if Chairman Ball had accused the sign opponents of being part of a larger group of folks that have been "against redevelopment from the beginning," I'm not so sure he would have been wrong.

Straightened By Its Shadow (Thursday Links)

Sometimes I get "things" stuck in my head.  These can be jokes, which cause me to laugh at inopportune times.  They can be songs, which can stick like tree sap between fingers.  Today, it is a poem.  Not so long ago, I read a book that suggested reading one poem every night before you go to sleep.  I've followed this practice off and on for the past two years.  Being (three-credits-shy-of) an English Minor in college, I really "dig" this stuff.  The dance of language and the use of just the right word where no other word would do really speaks to me.  It is in complete contrast to the "hammer and anvil" words of law practice.  Don't get me wrong, we try to make our briefs sound pretty, but it is a very angry kind of pretty.

LINKS

Poor ECU had to be on the other side of Ralph Friedgen's "F U" game (51-20).  You have to wonder whether any of those ECU players will be excited to go to another bowl game for the rest of their lives.

Anne Arundel County has joined a federal program aimed at identifying illegal immigrants who are accused of other crimes.  Not to be conceited, but normally it is Howard County that sits on the cutting edge of County initiatives and I wonder whether this opportunity was available here.  It may be the case that Anne Arundel has a more significant immigrant population, but I can't help but think about Brian Matthews and Jennifer Bower from 2006.  Brian was a Marine home from Iraq and he was taking Jennifer Bower out on a date.  They were struck and killed at a red light by a drunk driver who also was an illegal immigrant with multiple DUI's on his record.  I think it is fair to assume that a program like the one started in Anne Arundel County may have prevented their unnecessary deaths.

Julius Henson says that his "relax" robo-calls were protected by the First Amendment.  This may be a case where Gansler leaped before looked.  Disturbing?  Reprehensible?  Slimy?  Sure.  Criminal?  That's a different ball game.  In a world where angry protesters scream at grieving military families, you have to think that as much as we don't like certain speech, and feel that it should be criminal, it may be protected.  The First Amendment is not for speech we enjoy.

Builders "ran across" a time capsule from 1976 when renovating the George Howard Building.  I thought the whole point of time capsules was to know exactly where they are and when they are to be opened.  Maybe Frank Hecker should investigate the planning committee for the 1976 time capsule and make sure they aren't in charge of anything important in 2010.  Speaking of 2010, our modern day politicos placed their own items in a new time capsule.  See if you can read this without chuckling:

Inside the 2010 time capsule are more than 30 items, including the Howard County flag, County Executive Kenneth Ulman's business card, the Nov. 25 issue of the Howard County Times, the Dec. 2 issue of the Columbia Flier and a gold Howard County key chain.

I hope he signed it!!!


WB browses browsers (ugh, I didn't even like typing that...but it is early).

Sarah notes that our sidewalk situation is better in HoCo than it is in Pennsyl-tucky.  So, we got that going for us...

That's all for this morning.  I have "off" tomorrow, but have not decided whether I am going to take it.  Either way, I will probably work from home.  Tough life.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Room for Negotiation

When I had earlier commented on Ken Ulman's suggestion that "should there be a pension shift" (of approximately $43.8 million by 2014) the bill should be passed on to the Board of Education, I was accused of taking a cheap shot.  The Baltimore Sun has made a more developed "cheap shot" along the same lines as those noted in my earlier post, painting Ken Ulman as a political schemer caught in the act of scheming.  The piece can be summed up in these two paragraphs:

Ultimately, though, Mr. Ulman is playing a game of semantics. Howard County's school system, like those in the rest of Maryland, doesn't have the ability to levy taxes. It submits a budget request to the executive, and he decides how much the county can afford. Whether the bill for teacher pensions is sent directly to him or first to the school system, he's ultimately the one who would have to pay it.

What he's asking for is political cover, but that doesn't change the fact that he is the one who would decide whether it is more important to maintain existing programs in the school system, avoid further cuts to public safety and other general government functions or keep the county's property tax rate stable. It's understandable that Mr. Ulman would want to pass that buck, but no matter how the legislature couches a shift in teacher pension costs, it stops with him.

After online discussions with an individual whose understanding of such matters is much more developed than my own, I think The Sun (and this blogger) is slightly off base.  The issue is not "passing the buck" as much as it has to do with gamesmanship.  The "maintenance of effort" law requires our Counties to shield their education budgets from the "pound of flesh" algorithms necessary with an austerity budget.  Almost counter-intuitively, while our public safety budget is on the chopping block, our educators are talking about new textbooks, computers, and school buildings.  That's not to say that the Board does not have to make "tough choices," but let's all remember that Superintendent Cousins refunded the county approximately $4 million last year for allocated monies that were not used.

What Ken is trying to do here is reset the budgetary relationship between the Board of Ed and the County.  The Counties are on a financial treadmill, established by Thornton, that will keep them paying even when belt-tightening is required.  This is his way of turning the treadmill off.  If his argument holds, and pensions are either dumped wholly or partially in the laps of those who set the education budget, he has room to negotiate along the lines of the cuts that have already been made to the County budget.  Right now, there is no room for negotiation.  If the pensions shift entirely to the County, the Board keeps their annual bump, and the County has to stretch dollars even more.  Taxes will be raised under either circumstance, but I think the tax hike will be much less significant if Ken has the opportunity to negotiate a budget for the Board of Education that includes teacher pensions, as opposed to a continued jog on the "maintenance of effort" treadmill of pain.

What's Next?

As 2010 comes to a close, most people are tempted to make lists.  Lots of lists.  Best books, best food, most viewed, etc.  I thought about doing that, but frankly, it is a bit self-reverential (especially in a blog context) and I can't imagine it being all that interesting to all of you.

Instead, I chose Option 2 -- the Prospective Post.  What is in store for 2011?  Just as reverential, but directed towards a future self that I have not yet become.  Much more comfortable for me, less link clicks for you.

My number one objective for the next year is to "create valuable content."  When I say this, I am not referring to money.  This blog has always been gratis and to the extent it ever could bring in any income, it would barely be enough to cover my bar bill (whether that means my bar bill is high or the money would be low is up for interpretation).  I post a lot.  In doing so, I want to make sure that what I post is valuable to the reader.  Admittedly, up until about July of this year, I was posting mostly for the sake of posting.  That's not to say that I didn't care about "value", but it certainly was not the guiding force.  Going into 2011, I want to focus more on the "why" of a given post.  I am less interested in "breaking news."  This is not a newspaper and I do not have the training (or the time) to be a journalist.  A blog has the opportunity to give "news" additional life, context, and usefulness.  I think a great deal of value can be found there and I hope to find it.

My next objective will be to get our HoCoMoJo podcast off the ground.  This wouldn't be a "HoCo Rising" product per se, but would be another opportunity to "create valuable content" and hit the topics discussed herein from a different angle.  We have a planning meeting tomorrow night and I think we are getting close to figuring out exactly what this "thing" will be...or maybe I am just telling myself that.

The final objective is a bit more personal.  I don't want to be a "blogger."  With all due respect to my blogger brethren, there is a clear stereotype of bloggers as hunched typists in dark basements.  Regardless of the fact that I spend most of my blogging time hunched over my computer at 6 am in a dark basement, that image isn't really one that I embrace.  I want to be someone that "also blogs."  By that, I mean that I want to be involved.  Criticism without action is empty.  I think this is why many of us have a hard time embracing the "Anonymi."  When you know who the person is, you can judge them (positively or negatively) for how they've acted to change what they are concerned about.  I am resigned to the fact that many will find constant refuge in accusing me of being "all talk", but I think that most people who know me would disagree.  That is something I intend to augment in 2011 and hopefully find new and interesting ways to get involved and "create positive change."  That's really why I started the blog in the first place.

I really hate talking this much about myself and only include this because I think people who have stuck with the blog for the (almost) two years it has been around may be curious to know where it is headed.

The Dig Out (Wednesday Links)

Meeting with Dennis over a few beers last night, I told him how "lonely" it was to experience a blizzard that none of your friends were experiencing.  I don't know if this was the right word, but it describes the feeling.  I guess what I was trying to say is that blizzards are no fun unless you also get the secondary effect of "community building."  Remember how much time you spent with your neighbors during the Big Kahuna?  I miss that.  Digging out of 30 inches of snow with "someone else's neighbors" is kind of a drag.  They have the same needs as your "real" neighbors, except you almost certainly will never see them again.  Last February I found out how my neighbors broke down between the Ravens and the Redskins, what kinds of beer everyone liked, and which neighbors I would not enlist into our Neighborhood Protection Division should zombies ever descend on old HoCo.  (Granted, there were some mighty fine prospects for the NPD in New Jersey, but the logistics of getting them down here during a zombie attack would be impractical.)  Overall, I enjoyed the snow, but I missed my people.

LINKS

You have to presume that new State's Attorney Bernstein will be looking to shake up the sex crimes division and find out why they have such a low conviction rate (especially in light of the BCPD's tendency to unilaterally toss out flimsy allegations).  This article is certainly eye-opening and makes you wonder whether Baltimore lacks for a real victim advocacy group.  As of right now, it's the Sun.

There were two separate fires in Columbia yesterday, sending two people to the hospital, including a Howard County firefighter.  Huge props and appreciation to the fire department for their great work: "Firefighters were called to the first blaze in 11600 block of Little Patuxent Parkway around 10 a.m. where flames had spread to the second and floor balconies of an apartment building, officials said. The fire was contained in about 10 minutes and damage to the apartments was minor."  One individual was displaced by the fire and Red Cross will attempt to find shelter.  (Another use for "Drop-In Housing."  If you live in Howard County, have a place to live today, but don't have one tomorrow, there is no place for you to go.)

Baltimore City has set a record for animal adoptions this year.  That has to be an economic indicator of something.  My brother was recently looking to adopt a dog and came out to Howard County to visit the shelters we have here.  It is amazing to see the breeds of dogs that end up in HoCo rescues.  At the end of the day, he was deciding between two pure-bred dogs that would go for at least $1,000 from a breeder.  If I didn't have two muts at home, I would have been bringing one in myself.

If you were not already aware, the Ravens' 2010 second round pick (first pick in the draft) Sergio Kindle was arrested on DUI charges in Savage early Sunday morning.  The suspicions of "epilepsy" that caused him to fall down a flight of stairs, fracturing his skull, appear to be a bit less likely. 

Columbia Patch reports that a would-be robber was shot and killed in Laurel (Anne Arundel side) after attempting to rob a Dunkin' Donuts early Tuesday morning.  For some reason, these stories give people a gut level satisfaction, but we should also keep in mind that this man had some level of desperation that you and I have never experienced that led him to robbery.  That doesn't mean he was a "good person" or that his actions were justified, but I'm not so sure he deserved to die.

WB does a run down of some of the top read stories over at ExploreHoward.  Hint: You all love cops and robbers.

Sarah offers up another great community engagement tool for consideration.  This one relates to fostering discussion about pin-pointed subjects intended to benefit the community at large.  (Great find, Sarah)

HowChow (has a makeover?) posts some random musings from a number of blogs and commenters about new and exciting epicurean adventures outside your doorstep.

Trevor has a bad experience at Red Pearl...but phrases his critique in the form of an "advice column."  Unfortunately, I had a bad experience there as well.  The service was fine.  The food was not.

That's all for today.  I hope everyone is enjoying a relaxing holiday season and has something fun planned for New Years.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Back to Reality

Hey Folks,
I'm back in the HoCo after a well earned respite in the NJ.  I was even able to use skills forged under the Big Kahuna of last February to help my in-laws (and myself) dig out from the 30 inches of snow that hit the New Jersey region.

Three Days after Christmas, I can tell you that I don't plan to have another without at least one adopted family.  It was a tremendous experience, which was all the more heightened by the red hat, pillow suit, and ichy wig that I put on to deliver the gifts.  Kids will always love Christmas.  Whether they get a box of playing cards or a Nerf Gun (top of the 11 year old boy's list), they will love Christmas.  The real joy was the look on the parents' faces.  I can't imagine the horrible stress they must have been under, thinking that they would not be able to provide this holiday (in it's presumed appearance) to their children.  What I will always remember about last Saturday was the look on the father's face as his kids went nuts...and wrapping paper filled the room.  As I told my mother-in-law, next year let's adopt two.

There's been some consternation about the comment system on this site (over at WB's place).  For some reason, just about all of my posts from five months back or older have lost their comments.  I have no idea why this happened and will be looking to find out.  I will say that up until our friendly racist posted three or four comments on the flash mob post, I had only deleted two comments in the history of the blog (since then, it is about five -- our friendly racist apparently has a lot of time on his hands...probably for a lack of fellow racist friends).  I would tell you that I'm sorry for the lost comments, but your injury is a great as mine.  If I can recover them, I will.  If I can't, I can't.  But I'm keeping Disqus. 

I have missed posting and will be back into the swing of things tomorrow.  My father-in-law has still not recovered his wireless password, which will forever make their home a "dead zone."  I will say that there was a bit of peace in not being "connected."  That peace is not for me.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Flash Mob = Tremendous Success (Thursday Links)

Here is the official HoCo MoJo Video (Thanks Dave):


What a great event.  Something "bigger" than itself, in a way.  You can't watch that video without smiling.  It was also great to see our local elected officials getting in there and shaking what their mommas gave them.

Unfortunately, the popularity of that post (735 views!) ended up bringing out a "bad seed."  This commenter posted some racist and inappropriate comments sometime after I had closed up the computer for the night and I apologize for that.  The good news is that the Comment Moderation policy worked like a charm.  It wasn't long before both their comments hit three flags and were sent directly to the principal's office.  This may be something other bloggers may want to consider when deciding whether a comment moderation policy is necessary.  I have a fear that if I hadn't set up the flag system to wipe out the comments, most of the attention would have been the nasty comments instead of the wonderful performance put on by our friends and neighbors.

Additional Note: I was trying to fight crime with burrito love last night, but there was too much love and no where to park.  Frisco Grill was hopping and as I sadly looked through the window at the spicy burrito that was not to be, it appeared that the bar was standing room only.  

LINKS

From the article: Yakov Y. Shapiro, a musician and teacher, filed suit against the city after he was jailed for 40 hours on child abuse allegations because of a police clerical error.  Evidently this is one of the other dangers of living in Baltimore City.  About two or three years ago, I was almost put in the weekend holding tank for violating open container laws...when I did not have an open container.  In trying to explain to the police officer that there was no open container, he told me that if I didn't shut up, he was going to call the paddy wagon.  Kafka anyone?  (It all worked out for the best when I decided that I was going to use my cell phone to take a picture of the closed container, which was duly observed by the police officer, and he let me go).

I have a feeling that the car-crash-marijuana-stash story is going to find its way on Leno or Letterman.

O'Malley saves Maryland horse racing.  That's the good news.  The bad news is that my generation doesn't really care too much for horse racing (which is a reason why it is dying).  We don't like it that horses break their legs "in sport" and are shot on the track so that some poor schlub has somewhere to burn his kid's college fund.  Your nostalgia is misplaced.

Wind Towers are bad for endangered bats.  Maybe there's a reason why they are endangered.

CA President Philip Nelson received a new three year contract with a number of financial incentives built in.  Mr. Nelson has served since May 2009, so I don't think it is fair to hang too much of the CA missteps on his back.  In fact, I think most would agree that the problems with CA relate to the micro-managing of the Board.  If you read further in this article, it appears that the CA is rather flush with cash, which is surprising considering the failed contracts that have gone over-budget.

The Howard County State's Attorney's Office is not bringing a criminal prosecution against Linda Stapf, the parent that hosted an underage booze fest, which led to the death of 17-year-old Steven Dankos.  I can't say I disagree with this decision.  Ms. Stapf was stupid, reckless, inconsiderate, and dangerous with her actions, but I'm not sure if that equals criminal culpability.  Civil liability?  Yes sir.  I hope you are current on your home insurance payments.

WB was late to the flash mob party and missed the show.  This is even more of a tragedy when you think of the parking situation he had to overcome to get there in the first place.

HowChow posts about more interesting finds at the Caspian Market.

Sarah wants you to try "Hot Bourbon Milk Punch."  You had me at "hot bourbon."

Trevor strongly endorses the Nook and suggests that you get on the waiting list at your local library to try it out.  I've had a Kindle for almost two years and I love it.  The technology has almost been around long enough that people no longer find the need to interrupt me at my local Starbucks to ask me how I like the Kindle.  Almost long enough.

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Columbia Mall Flash Mob

In case you were wondering why everyone was talking about going to the Mall on Wednesday:


Nice job Ilana!!!

You Think You've Had A Bad Day?

From the "really-frickin'-bad-day" department comes this story by Brandie Jefferson at Ellicott City Patch.  You may recall the sad story of a Howard County youth dying in a car accident after his BMW crashed into a house and caught fire.  Well it turns out that this house had drugs in it.  A lot of drugs:

Police say fire investigators found marijuana plants while inspecting the house for structural damage. After obtaining a search warrant, police say they found an extensive marijuana growing operation including hydroponics, lighting, ventilation, a cultivation area and nearly 20 marijuana plants.

This guy is definitely going to jail.

Fight Crime With Love -- Beer, Burrito, and Pastry Love

Many of you may be aware of the recent "smash-and-grabs" at Frisco Grille and Bon Appettit Cafe.  We don't know what was lost or how much was covered by insurance, but it is clear that these small business owners were hurt.  OUR small business were hurt.

Just like the Iron Bridge Fire Brigade, it is time to share some love on our neighbors and have some good food along the way.  I plan to go to Frisco for a burrito ("grilled spicy") and a beer after work tonight.  Prior to heading out to New Jersey tomorrow, I will stop in to Bon Appetit to buy some of the exotic sweets they have to offer.

Merry Christmas.

Wine On Demand (Wednesday Links)

The Comptroller's Report on Direct Shipping was issued yesterday.  Overall, good news.  The report recommends that the State legislature allow for direct shipping from wineries.  Maryland wineries are the big winners, with a number of provisions suggested to help them ship to more customers, both in Maryland and outside.  Nonetheless, the consumer options have only been marginally expanded.  No wine.woot.  No Wine Library.  No online wine retailers.  I understand that I may sound like a insatiable pug (and those are big words for 6 am), but this Report is "ok."  I'm not overjoyed.  I'm slightly disappointed.  While I understand the practical issues of Maryland liquor retailers having costs and regulations that are not applicable to online retailers (and the whole "tax loss" issue), as a "wine guy", I am jealous of our direct shipping neighbors...and am tired of having my wine.woot purchases shipped to my in-laws in New Jersey.  Let's see what the legislature does with this, but I don't expect any changes to what the Comptroller recommends.  I would view this as a baby step if I didn't have the uncomfortable conviction that this is the only step Maryland will be making for quite some time.

One more pun-free note on the bee bill:  Limiting hives is also not the solution.  Bee keepers do not have control over the  "requeening" of their colonies, which can result in additional hives.  (Really interesting blog post about the queening process here).  Some on the Council seem to favor this "split the baby" approach, but I think it is just plain wrong and ignores the practical issues of bee-keeping.  Where are the surplus hives supposed to go?  Will the County expect bee-keepers to kill their bees?  This is not a tomato plant.  This is not a weed.  This is not a non-conforming structure.  These are living things.  (I think you have the votes.  It does not have to be unanimous.)

LINKS

Maryland is growing.

First the Chinese Stink Bugs.  Now the British Weevels.  Keep ya bugs to yaself.

Ken Ulman has read the writing on the wall for teacher pension costs:  Although he opposes any shift in pension costs, Ulman told Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman State Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer and six of Howard's eight state delegates on Monday that if local governments are saddled with a portion of that bill, he'd hope to see the county's general treasury preserved by placing the added cost directly on the schools. 

Ken's reasoning is explained later in the article: If pension costs are borne directly by school boards, those officials would have to wrestle with how to pay the bills, removing that burden from elected county executives and Baltimore's mayor.  You know what would be good for our schools?  Having them "wrestle with" how to keep the lights on.  Brilliant. How many times did we hear Ken Ulman talk about "great schools" during his campaign?  He did not seem to have a problem sharing the credit,  but it now appears that he has difficulty sharing this burden. 

This dance seems to be about keeping up appearances...one of the things that people hate the most about politics.


Ulman also asked that the State not adopt a tax-the-rich approach to pension costs: "one formula including a wealth factor would cost Howard $23 million more instead of $17 million more without the formula, while less-prosperous Baltimore City's costs would drop from $22 million to $5 million under the same formula."

HowChow wonders if El Hidalgo is on the market.  This place has become our go-to spot for Mexican food in HoCo.  Sorry El Azteca-lupa.

Sarah posts about direct shipping.

WB posts about his dog Mars.

Ran late after burning so much steam on the teacher pension piece.  Have a great Wednesday.  Tomorrow I head off to New Jersey (with the questionable posting arrangement of my father-in-law setting a wireless password that he still does not remember).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hypocrisy of the Anonymi

I enjoyed this piece in The Atlantic about the hypocrisy of claiming that "exposure" of the powerful is a good thing, while hiding behind an anonymous curtain.  When tearing down the powerful, shouldn't we know the ones that are doing the tearing?

A Pun Free Bee Post

(Let's see if I can do this...)

Both Patch and the Flier have two great pieces covering last night's Council session, which included testimony relating to the bee legislation.  I'm glad to see that so many people (~25) came out in support of our bees and their keepers.  However, today I'm hearing that additional amendments are almost a certainty, one of which would limit the number of hives that would be permitted, and another that would further "tweak" the set-backs required for different lot sizes. 

As one observer suggested to me in an e-mail, this is really legislating neighbor relations.  No matter how many restrictions are in place, bees are going to fly.  They do not respect zoning regulations.  I understand that the Council wants to create a perfect solution, but they will never be able to predict all circumstances of bee-keeping, just as they can not predict all circumstances of dog ownership or any other pursuit that may infringe on our neighbors (however slight).  They can merely create a framework.

In pursuit of that framework, I hope they are careful not to wipe out any of our bee-keeping neighbors.  I think any solution that results in one less apiary in our County is a bad solution.  That may seem extreme, but "Show me the stings" before you close down an apiary or make it harder for these men and women to engage in a hobby that has so many communal benefits.  There has been a burden shift in this discussion that I am very uncomfortable with.  Apiaries have existed (under vague zoning definitions) for decades.  One man's concern about bees near his air conditioner has thrown all of this in jeopardy, yet the burden has been placed on the bee-keepers to prove that they can manage their hives safely.  They already have.  Where are the bee stings that everyone is worried about?  Show me the stings!

Yes, it was surely frightening to see a group of bees hovering around your backyard, but rather than call your DPZ, maybe you could call your neighbor.  From what I hear, the neighbor at issue has already relocated the apiary within the existing regulations, but this isn't enough.  It will never be enough.  The Council should not attempt to find out what "enough" may be.

The Merriest (Tuesday Links)

You ever realize how many Christmas songs "tell" you to be happy or somehow imply that you should be happy?  In fact, we're told it's the "most wonderful time of the year."  Bull.  The most wonderful time of the year is when I can read a book outside in my hammock with a beer.  That is wonderful.  What we have right now are cold short days in which we need to do more "stuff" (i.e., shop) with various folks poised for offense at either the mention of Christmas or the failure to do so. 

In fact, I thought this fake happiness may contribute to the high suicide rate this time of year...until I found out that this was a stubborn urban legend.

So have a Merry Christmas...or don't.  If you don't, that's ok.  The sun will rise on December 26th, and you will be a little closer to the most wonderful time of the year.

LINKS

I never much cared for programs that help people avoid foreclosure.  Call me callous or cold-hearted, but I really think state funds are better directed at easing the financial damage that a foreclosure may cause, and helping the individual transition into housing they can afford.  Home ownership is a privilege, not a right.  It appears bureaucratic bumbling has made this a policy if the O'Malley administration as well.

Ocean City is rebuilding its Boardwalk and is considering the abandonment of "boards" altogether.

If we think we have silly zoning appeals in HoCo, check out this story about a "group" of citizens fighting against a roadside farmer's stand in Baltimore County.  Some people really need a hobby...a hobby that does not involve ruining someone else's day.

Instead of just passing the buck, the Public Employees' & Retirees' Benefit Sustainability Commission recommended that the State pass the buck AND make it harder for a state employee to get a pension.  The previous requirement was five years of service, with the new recommendation being 15.  I think we are almost to the point where people can speak reasonably about these pensions without treating them like a sacred calf.  Unfortunately, our Governor has not come out in front of this issue and is standing behind his Commission. 

Two of our newest food spots were hit by smash-and-grab burglars yesterday.  Bon Appettit Cafe and Frisco Grille were both hit.  If that's another excuse to get back to Frisco Grille, so be it.

HowChow posts about the "choose your own adventure" eating available at Lotte Market.  I'm still wading into Korean BBQ, so i don't know if my taste buds have advanced to this stage just yet.

WB posts about mall parking and plans to go back on Wednesday.  As interested as I would be to see the Mall on Wednesday, I am sticking to my promise to myself -- No Mall Between Thanksgiving and New Years.

Trevor posts about recent Howard County happenings.  He even quotes himself. 

Sarah has a nice post about the Long Reach Village Center and why it may be worth a visit.  Certainly piqued my interest.

That's all folks.  I'm glad the "Reddish Ball" moon was not the last thing we saw before the world exploded.  Either way, I was not getting up or staying up to see it. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

From Each According to His Ability...

Howard County's "progressive" philosophy may be put to the test under O'Malley's recommendation for the handling of teacher pension costs.  His plan would have 40% of teacher pension costs covered by the counties, with 60% coming out of state coffers.  In addition, he may seek to have the "wealthier counties" (i.e., us) pay more:

"The first option is to have all counties pick up 40 percent of their costs, which the state currently pays. The second option is for wealthy counties to pay more -- a plan that is drawing strenuous opposition from Montgomery County in particular. 

Under the first scenario, Montgomery would pick up $69 million in teacher retirement costs now paid by the state. Under the "wealth-adjusted" formula, that figure rises to about $96 million."

I can only wonder if class warfare rhetoric works in the context of municipalities.  Taxing the "rich" is not a new idea in Democratic circles.  Now we'll find out how they like it when the "rich" is them.

We Dat (Monday Links)

What a game!!!  Even better, the HoCo was represented during the half-time show by Atholton QB Brian McMahon, who won the Quarterback Challenge!  Double Rainbow!

Nothing much to say on that other than "football makes me happy again."  I had a great weekend with great folks, including a fantastic holiday party.

LINKS

Amtrak apologizes (and hopes you brought a good book) for the 11 hour D.C.-to-NYC train ride.

I'm sorry, but people who will take an hour out of their day to protest the trademark of a word are not people I want to be friends with.  This is getting ridiculous.  Get upset when she sues someone.  Not now.

We have a nursing shortage and Maryland schools are trying to address it.  This is another profession that more and more is being filled by immigrant workers.  Bad hours, low pay (relative to those hours), and rough working conditions do not get the average "American" out to work.

Shelter is a basic necessity.  Many of us take this for granted.  Those who pan-handle or go to day centers are often blamed for their position with the curt dagger of "Get a job," but often this is downright impossible without a place to sleep, shower, and store one's belongings.  Baltimore is offering a new shelter for young adults to try to hedge off homelessness in young lives before it becomes their career.  It amazes and frustrates me that with all of the "innovative social programs" we try in Howard County, we still have men and women living in the woods.

WB notes the visible arrival of the Howard Hughes Corporation.  (If I were a novelist, I don't think I would be able to think up a much better name for a villainous corporate overlord than "Howard Hughes Corporation.")  He also kicks the hornets nest (notice, I did not say bees...because bees are not dangerous) by not only dismissing the concerns of CB-58 & 59 opponents, but calling their standard bearer "chicken little."  I won't be convinced that GGP/Hughes is "locked in" until the plan is challenged and here's why:  A contract is enforceable.  Contracts are often taken to court.  Normally, despite the explicit terms of the agreement, some sort of compromise (via settlement) is achieved whereby the explicit terms of the agreement are not enforced, but some other outcome is reached.  This County will not benefit from long term litigation while its crown jewel is mid-construction.  Nah-ganna-happen.  However "enforceable" this agreement may be, we should plan for, and expect, compromise.  That doesn't mean it's a bad thing, but I'm not willing to give opponents of the new Columbia "false wins."

HowChow posts about Lighthouse Tofu...which I was craving all day yesterday.

Sarah tricked us.  She was on vacation, yet somehow set her blog to post throughout the week while she was gone.  Blog-Surfing-Burglars 0; Sarah 1.

That's all for today.  I'm feeling a little bit whiped out.  That game really took it out of me.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Having Your Cake, Hon (Sunday Links)

I read an interesting Op/Ed in The Sun this morning by the woman that obtained several trademarks on the use of the term "Hon."  By reading it, you get the feeling that Ms. Whitting under-estimated the ire she would cause by claiming an ownership interest in a piece of Baltimore culture.  It also seems like this proprietor wanted to have her cake and eat it too.  She wants to be liked and make money.  This was a bold business oriented decision premised on the idea that Ms. Whitting would sue anyone who infringed on her trademark.  You average Joe is not interested in the intricacies of intellectual property.  Now he's afraid that his Mom may be sued for offering him another cup of coffee...Hon.

I'm having some fun with the Census data.  In little old Howard County, our population is growing at almost twice the pace (13.7%) of Maryland (7.6%).  Our median household income is $101,867...with 4.3% of our citizens living below the poverty level.  It is interesting that in all the talk of diversity and "diverse persons" serving in leadership positions, there has not been much talk about representatives from the Asian population.  At 12.4%, Asian men and women are a significant minority population in our County.  This can be compared against 17.8% Black and 5.4% Hispanic.  Most of the other numbers are still being updated from 2000 (including our coveted "level of education" demographic).

Trevor gets a little more press in this piece about Village Walkabouts in Patch.

Stephanie Gleason does a bang up job comparing the distribution of stimulus funding in Maryland amongst the various Congressional districts.

If you are a burglar, you should probably take snow days off.

I'm heading off to the Ravens game today.  I have a bad feeling about this one, but also have some irrational optimism poking through.  This is a team that gets up for big games.  Correction: Three Quarters of big games.  If they can pull a complete one together, there aren't many teams they can't beat.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Oh The Horror (Saturday Links)

I took Jane to the David Sedaris show at Rep Stage last night.  That was...a mistake.  Don't get me wrong, Michael Stebbins was great.  Any future talk about the "cultural scene" in Columbia needs to have him involved.  He is really good at what he does.

However, the material is not for everyone.  You see, I enjoy black humor.  Jane.  Does.  Not.  Not to ruin anything (SPOILER ALERT), but the very first essay involves infanticide (not as bad as you think...yes, I just said "not as bad as you think" in reference to infanticide).  I thought I may have heard Jane's jaw hit the floor, but that would be impossible since her jaw was firmly affixed in a scowl directed at my right ear.  The second essay fell flat (sorry Michael), but the third, relating to a theater critic's review of grade school Christmas pageants, was great.    Thankfully, this essay earned a "The last one was funny" from Jane that ended up saving me from a very uncomfortable discussion about why anyone would find infanticide to be funny (you had to be there, I swear).

I also fit in a little shopping for our Adopted Family.  I have been assigned to buy for an 11 year old boy, which may be the best possible assignment for someone like me.  I've gone a little over the top.  For some reason, the stores were empty yesterday.  Not "middle-of-March" empty, but surprisingly sparse for seven days before Christmas.

LINKS

The Howard Section's Political Notebook talks about our delegation's review of State funds.  "Cuts" appear to be the name of the game, although anyone who has paid attention knows that there is a formula for when money gets tight.  Talk about cuts for a few months, then eventually come up with a "compromise" bill of "tax raises and spending cuts."  What a farce.

The next episode of And Then There's That is out.  The main guest is Kate Essig, General Manager of the Mall, but Courtney Watson came on at the end to discuss the unceremonious departure of Greg Hamm.  In that portion, Dennis, Paul, and Courtney seem to agree that "all of this" proves that the redevelopment plan passed by the Council is enforceable.  Maybe I missed something, but I thought that Greg Hamm was fired partly because things weren't moving fast enough.  In fact, most of the quotes that came out from the Council immediately after the firing sounded similar to quotes you may hear from people in a broken down elevator, assuring themselves that it will not fall down the shaft.  I don't think anything has been "proven" or even "reassured" by this firing.  If anything, it has thrown a measure of uncertainty into the mix, which is exactly what opponents had feared.  But then again...maybe I missed something.

Maryland ranks last in the "Quick Commute" rankings.  I guess I should be happy that it only takes me about 20-30 minutes to get to work.  Most Marylanders are driving much further.

The State Prosecutor's office sent investigators to raid Julius Henson's home yesterday.  There is going to be a day in the very near future where Bob Ehrlich will be asked "Tell us everything you knew and when you knew it."  The most probable response will be "I would like to invoke my 5th Amendment right..."

That's all for now.  Not much to discuss.  Have a great Saturday.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Definition of Federal Power

I don't write much about national issues.  I often find them to be distracting and irrelevant to the day to day life of your average citizen (which I think is much more directly affected by local government).  However, the Health Care Affordability Act is a different story.  It is huge in scope.  In fact, as this editorial suggests, it may very well be the Waterloo of federal power...or the last "wall" before the government is able to control everything about your daily life...down to what you eat for breakfast.

As so eloquently described in the op/ed, this is the first time the federal government has sought to govern inaction in relation to economic activity.  Can the government force you to participate?  This is the linchpin of the Health law, but also a great question in terms of how far we want our government to be able to go in meeting "social good."  Bottom line: regardless of whether you support this law, everyone should acknowledge that it is a game-changer.  If the government can force you to buy one thing, there isn't much left.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Elite or Egalitarian (Thursday Links)

Something about Thursday always surprises me.  Maybe it is because my Wednesdays are so hectic.  Anyhow...

Very interesting discussion under this post regarding Leadership Howard County and whether it is "elitist" (not "squatting" at all Jessie -- great conversation).  An interesting side note is just how many leadership graduates that seem to be readers of the blogs.  If there were statistics available, I would bet good money that there is an identifiable correlation.

Jessie makes some interesting points, but I think these are more questions of "accessibility" rather than "elitism."  Are books elitist?  Those that have more time and are from wealthier families may have more time to read and a better education to read more advanced books.  But I don't think the existence of Ulysses would be considered an elitist construct (I've tried to read that book four times and have concluded that people have faked enjoying it -- I can not be persuaded otherwise).  This is surely an oversimplification (as I am wont to do), but I think Leadership can be seen the same way.  For those that want to participate, it requires sacrifices in other parts of your life.  If you can't make those sacrifices, that doesn't mean that the program is bad, it just means that it is not for you.  The real trouble is if/when further opportunities are foreclosed based on the fact that you did not participate.

Before I close on this subject, I think a opposite view of Leadership is available, such that it is incredibly egalitarian.  Rather than having a set Upper Crust that may only be entered via marriage or extreme feats of wealth, the higher echelons of Columbia's business community can be accessed via an application and a tax deductible investment in yourself.  That isn't to say that our business community isn't already made of "boot-strappers" that never spent a day in a Leadership classroom, but I think you can argue that Leadership allows those lacking boot-straps to establish some bona fides in this community and equal the playing field for "new entrants."

(Alright Tom, put the soap back in the box already.)

LINKS

Interesting story about MTA Drivers trying to fool the system, which in turn is causing the system to lose money.

The fire on The Block was set by "human hands" and is suspicious for arson.  More specifically: "The five-alarm fire is believed to have started in a video peepshow enclosure — Yellow Booth No. 8 — at the Gayety Show World Book Store."  If I had any musical talent whatsoever, I would start a band and name it "Yellow Booth No. 8."

Well folks, it's finally time to face the music.  "The state's legislative analysts are projecting a $1.6 billion difference next year between the state's expected revenues and its spending commitments."  You'll note at the bottom of that article that state revenues actually went up.  Nonetheless, as noted last year, our State has been spending on the margin with heavy reliance of federal stimulus dollars that are no longer.

The Columbia Foundation has dolled out $205,700 in grants to local non-profits.  We are incredibly fortunate to have an organization like this in Howard County.  Don't forget about the Ball in the Mall! $50 from each ticket will go towards the Foundation.

When I went over to Sarah's post, I couldn't stop looking at the picture.  I wish I was a comic book shop too.

Frank continues his series about the Howard County Council.  Names will begin to look more familiar for us youngin's.

Trevor likes seeing his name (and mug) in print.  As one of the first users of the HoCo Library's nook, he was interviewed in the Flier (article here). 

HowChow notes the arrival of a new Hibachi place (right by my house).  I don't spend much time in the "Triangle", but maybe I should.

WB looks into the recent statistics about Maryland and Howard County.  Reminded me of the book Proofiness, which is on my Kindle for holiday consumption.

Off to Montgomery County for some depositions.  Have a great Thursday.  Jane and I may be trying to make it over to the Rep Stage for the Sedaris show tomorrow.  Maybe we'll see some of you there.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Healthy Wealthy Countries

I thought you all may find this clip interesting.  I know I did.

The Elected Commenter (Wednesday Links)

DY posted yesterday that elected officials should "never" post comments on a blog.  Ever since reading it, David's comment has been like a bad song that I can't get out of my head.  One the one hand, I completely agree with him.  Comment discussions often turn into quicksand.  Once you step in it, they are very are to get out of, mostly due to some left-field insult you weren't expecting, or someone demanding an answer to a question you weren't planning on addressing.  On the other hand, blogs are becoming forums for open discussion where marginal opinions are expressed on important social issues that may not otherwise be heard if not for the blog venue.  I don't think elected officials have an obligation to engage these folks, but I do think they may benefit from the occasional dabble in comment discussions.

At the end of the day, DY is right, mostly due to the select few commenters who would misuse the opportunity to address their representatives in a public manner (i.e., sling one-liner insults under an Anonymous handle without any factual support for their attack).  That's unfortunate.  I do think that an elected official with the right temperament, and ability to "walk away," could and should let us know that they are "observing the conversation" and/or have something to add, but this is different than full on engagement.  That type of talk is for us lowly citizens.

LINKS

Census data indicates that Maryland is still the wealthiest state, making Howard County the wealthiest county in the wealthiest state.  We are also the smartest (at least on paper): "In Howard County...94.3 percent of residents 25 or older completed high school, making the county one of the best-educated nationwide...57.2 percent of residents having completed a bachelor's degree.

This article came out the other day, suggesting that Marylanders are more politically active than the average American, but "average" at helping our neighbors.  That is a very interesting commentary on the politics of this state.  To grossly simplify this issue: "I don't want to help my neighbor, but I would like the government to."  Also noted in that piece is that we are downright awful at having dinner with one another: 47th in the Country.

You may want to improve that stat, because according to the NIH, more teens are using drugs now than ever before.  In the study, 21.4% of high school students reporting smoking marijuana in the past 30 days, which was more than those who reporting smoking a cigarette.  Regardless of how you feel about the war on drugs, I doubt you want Jimmy toking up before his history final.

It's interesting to me that now that The Sun (or The Sun's owners) own Patuxent Publishing, there are more and more duplicate stories about Howard County news between the two papers.  For instance, if you want to hear about the Howard County budget being "less worse" you can check Camera 1 (The Flier) or Camera 2 (The Sun).  I can only imagine this has something to do with a certain reporter that refuses to be a "team-player," but that would just be my guess.

This story on Columbia Patch about Oakland Mills being under-water really freaked me out for some reason.  Spooky...although it does make me want to dust off my scuba license.

Columbia 2.0 has an interesting video of Phil Engelke, an architect and urban planner, describing the plans for Columbia's downtown.  I look forward to seeing future clips in this series.

WB notes the Foot's Forecast, which became a forecast staple for me last year, is suggesting the possibility of a mini-Kahuna on the anniversary of the first Big Kahuna.

Sarah joined the South Mountain Creamery delivery route.  It looks awesome.  Jane and I may have to follow her lead.

HowChow has an interview with Spike from Top Chef.  I don't have time this morning to read the whole thing, BUT it is a great pull and I can't wait to sit down and hear what they discussed.

I started ten minutes earlier than normal today and still ended up finishing right around 7.  More and more HoCo stuff keeps piling up.  Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Less Worse" Budget Woes

The Columbia Flier has an article about Howard County's financial situation for this year and, according to Budget Administrator Wacks, things are "less worse" than last year.  There was even a $4 million surplus from last year's budget, $3 million of which will be put towards "future retiree benefits" (i.e., OPEB).

I was also interested to see that as a County, our income is going up: "this year’s November income tax distribution increased by 14 percent over last year’s November distribution."  I don't know if I am misinterpreting this or not, but that would seem to support the idea that Howard County lives in a bubble of prosperity, which is why I really get tired of the "better-than-other-counties" talk.  You know what, Howard County should be better off than the other Counties.  Our median household income is nearly $10,000 more than the next closest in Maryland.  If we really want fair comparisons, maybe we should see how we are in relation to Fairfax County, Virginia or Somerset County, New Jersey.

Don't get me wrong, I think the Ulman Administration should be applauded for steering this ship through the recent economic times and necessary cuts that have allowed for a $4 million surplus.  I just don't like the "if you think this is bad, look over there" talk.

Where Is Our Music Scene?

After reading this great piece about Damon Foreman on Patch, I started thinking about Howard County's music scene.  For me, it is mostly unknown.  I know Damon (and actually won guitar lessons with him in a silent auction), but I can't name many other local musicians that I would go out of my way to see.  Is there a good local resource for finding out more about the musicians of Howard County?  Isn't this the real hole in the blogosphere?

This (Blank)ing Team (Tuesday Late Links)

I was up late.  Watching the game.  Cursing into a pillow.  This team just kills me.  As great as I think John Harbaugh is, it appears more and more that their failures relate to coaching and not the players themselves.  Third and 2.  Put the game away with a first down.  They pass.  Incomplete.  Two Texan touchdowns later I'm telling myself how stupid it would be if a football game made me cry.  Enough about that.

I met up with friend of the blog Dave Bittner last night.  Dave and his wife Ilana run HoCoMoJo, which I think is full of really neat possibilities with regard to the "democratization" of media and new ways to help the community at large.  I didn't realize this, but while I thought "And Then There's That" was the HCMJ crown jewel, the focus is the "Community Calendar," which is intended to help non-profits and other community organizations coordinate their fundraisers and volunteer events.  I plan to find a way to link that Calendar on these pages sometime soon.

Dave and I have been discussing ideas about how to put out another HoCoMoJo podcast.  And Then There's That has been tremendously successful and Dave wants to make sure that whatever we do, it is "different."  We've chatted over a number of themes, arrangements, and guests, but nothing seems to be sticking.  While I know I would appear to be a glutton for punishment by putting this out there, but I would love to hear ideas from some of you of what you think would "work" for the Howard County audience.  What types of podcasts do you listen to?  Why do you listen to those podcasts?  Can it be replicated here? 

LINKS

Nothing Michael Steele has done in his term as GOP Chairman suggested to me that he would back down from a fight for a second term.  Regardless of how much people may support him locally, I heard on the radio yesterday that as Chairman, he has spent 50 cents for every dollar raised.  That's not acceptable.  Many local Republicans have complained that Maryland did not get much funding from the national party.  That may very well be because Chairman Steele did not raise enough for our deep blue state to get the table scraps.

While other businesses are shrinking, Constellation in expanding (into Jersey!).

When people talk about the problems of "big government," they may mention social programs that deal with large sums of money and have high "per participant" expenditures.  By the nature of these programs, and the absence of "bottom-line" profit motivation, millions of dollars may go unchecked with the opportunity for graft by low level personnel.  Exhibit A.

The "Extreme Village Center Makeover" going on in Long Reach will be interesting to watch.  It may provide a model for some of the other Centers that could also use some "TLC."

Dennis has a really nice post about his hometown of "Old Catonsville."

Both HowChow and Sarah come out in support of our bees.  It's nice to see that the NY Times article has caught on and hopefully will be on people's mind during the hearing on December 20th.  Most of this is about changing the paradigm.  If you compared injuries from dog attacks to bee stings, weighed the severity and frequency of these attacks, and put the domestication of canines under the same scrutiny that our bee folks have experienced, I think we may be talking about zoning regulations relating to pets.  As someone with two dogs, I can only imagine the type of testimony that could be given about the nuisance of dog barks and complaints about irresponsible owners that don't clean up after their dog.  Similarly, these bee keepers are having worst practices imputed on to them with this legislation, despite the fact that they have operated quietly in their backyards (and in some cases, TOWNHOUSE backyards) for years.  This is all about some guy who saw some bees by his air conditioner.  He was never even stung.

HowChow also posts about ANOTHER cool bakery off of Route 40 on Frederick Road.

And now I am really late.  Have a great day.

Monday, December 13, 2010

David Nitkin to Howard County Government

The Washington Post is reporting that Sun Reporter David Nitkin is joining Ken Ulman's staff as "Director of policy and legislative affairs" (and here I thought that's what the County Executive did).  An interesting note from the piece:

Among many memorable moments in his tenure, Nitkin was one of two Sun journalists who were banned in 2004 from speaking to state executive employees by the administration of then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) -- an action that led to an unsuccessful lawsuit by the Sun.

While I welcome Mr. Nitkin to County politics, I think it is also worth noting that County employees are about to go on their Christmas-to-New-Years unpaid furlough.  I can only presume that this was a pre-existing position and is merely being refilled by Ulman, but if its not...why now?  The WP piece seems to hint that this may be related to a Gubernatorial campaign.  I hope that's not the case.

UPDATE: Larry Carson...ahem...a local reporter weighs in with a run-down of salaries and personnel shifts in the Ulman administration.  Helps explain things a great deal.

Welcoming Wendi!

There has been much ado about the lack of female bloggers on the local HoCo scene.  I don't really buy into this chatter.  Blogs are what they are.  I always want more voices, but I don't want "brands" of voices.  I feel the same way about a supposed lack of a "lefty blog."  When you allow these type of constructs to impose themselves on the conversation, you will inevitably get to the point where certain bloggers become synthetic authorities about larger social issues.  I would hate to see that happen...although I really would like a local art scene blog (just kidding).

All that put aside, I was delighted to see that we may have a new blogger!  It appears that Wendi started up "Life's Little Comedies" last Wednesday.  Welcome to the party!

And We're Back (Monday Links)

I had a nice relaxing weekend around the house.  It has been a while since we've had one of those (and by the looks of it, I won't be having another one this calendar year).  Fortunately, this meant I could spent an hour or so down at the Route One Day Center and catch up on some reading (my real hobby -- other than typing to Anonymous readers, of course).

Other than that, I was quite boring.  As such, there's nothing to do but get into the...

LINKS

Do yourself a favor and check out this "HoCo Beer Map" prepared by MDBeerSpotter.  Seems funny that four of the locations are all within a straight line of one another.  The Hops Canal.  But as MBS says, don't try this without a designated driver.  (Also note that The Phoenix is still on the outside looking in.)

Nazi memorabilia auctions are creepy, especially when you consider that the people going after this stuff can afford to spend $731,000 on a baton.  Makes you think "The Most Dangerous Game" may not be so far-fetched.

It cracks me up that Michael Dresser, the traffic columnist, is one of the Baltimore Sun's most controversial writers.  This time around, he questions the safety and training of police drivers. (Cheap shot deleted prior to posting)

Very scary story about carbon monoxide poisoning.

Top Ten Endangered Historic Sites in Maryland.  This list includes the Ellicott City Historic District, which is sure to bring the Chicken Little's out of the roost.  Also included is Doughoregan Manor, for which "Preservationists fear that a pending appeal of the rezoning could endanger the arrangement, which allows development of part of the property to finance preservation of the mansion, outbuildings and the bulk of the estate."

It has reached the point where even the Right wants answers from Bob Ehrlich about the robocalls.  Maybe Mr. Ehrlich sees his resignation from public life as an excuse to say "the past is the past," but I don't see it that way.  Thousands of people donated their time and money to his campaign, and whether it was by action or inaction (i.e., "outside my purview"), he embarrassed them.  That's not right.  He owes them an explanation, even if that means it exposes him to criminal liability.

Long-time readers know that I've been "skeptical" of the Howard County Citizens Police Academy.  Not because I think they will brainwash me or that it will be 11 weeks of propaganda, but more because I found 11 weeks, 2 hours a week to be a heavy commitment for an informational session (unless we get a merit badge, then it is a different story).  However, as more police-targeted stories have shown up in our papers, I feel like this is something important that our County offers that we should take advantage of.  Sarah's husband C (sounds like a suburban rap name) participated in the class and gives a great run down of what "it's all about."  Anybody want to sign up with me?

WB spends some time in the Nixon tapes and finds a segment directed as his hyphenated background: Irish-Americans.  Supposedly, Nixon thought all Irish "get mean" when they're drunk.  Poor Nixon must have hated St. Patty's Day.

HowChow's post about the Bon Appetite Bakery in Ellicott City makes you realize how great it is to have a blog like this in our County.  Sometimes it is like exploring the nooks of your environment without leaving your front door.

In reading 53 Beers post about diversity in Howard County schools, I began to wonder whether any other country cares as much about "diversity" as much as the United States (or even more specifically, the East Coast of the United States).  Is it our "melting pot" legacy?  These discussions always seem very superficial to me.  No knock on Mr. Beers, of course.  I just feel like these discussions "miss something," although I can't say what that something is...

Check out this "Chill Map."  Yikes. 

Have a great Monday!  Start knocking those gifts out, because Internet shipping is going to take longer and longer as we get closer to the Big Day(s)!  (Was that secular enough?)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Follow Up: Dead Tree Version

Commenting on my post about WB's big scoop, Sarah wondered what would appear in the "dead-tree" version of the paper.  Well:

"The news was first reported in a local blog after company officials told local business-oriented supporters about the move."

Saturday Reporting on Sun Reporting

Looks like I retired "Saturday Reporting on Sun Reporting" too early.  The Howard Section had a number of bits that were not disclosed earlier in the week.  Again, I must note how happy this makes me...and how pathetic that happiness is.

First, if your commute takes you east across 95, you are in for a bad 2011.  The first of our new BRAC neighbors will be starting at Fort Meade in January.  Larry Carson reports that 175 and 32 (by which 93% of all Fort Meade commuters use to get to work) have not been expanded to address the additional workforce.  I found this quote to sum up the piece quite well: "There will be a time during the third quarter [of 2011] when there's going to be maximum employees and maximum construction and it will be messy.  Is it a scary ride? Yeah.  We're trying to do something no one's done before." -- Jean Friedberg, regional growth coordinator of the Fort Meade Regional Growth Management Committee.  Basically, when the person in charge of ensuring that "growth" is "managed" tells you that growth will be "messy," you are in trouble. 

This piece comes back to what has become a common theme recently, which is "getting people to use mass transportation."  I would be interested in hearing from our resident expert on the subject as to what methods have been most effective in making people use mass transit.  Seems to me to be along the lines of getting people to floss.  You know you should do it.  You are only helping yourself.  But it is a true pain in the ass.  I feel that in Howard County, we have a bit too much sprawl (is that a buzz term I shouldn't be using?) to make mass transportation convenient.  You are going to have to drive to get on the bus.  By its very nature, that adds a few steps to getting from A to B.  In fact, it makes your overall trip A to B to C.  For some folks, that is a deal breaker.  There is also the prisoner's dilemma of "Yes, if everyone took mass transportation, the traffic would be lessened, but if only a few people take the bus, the only difference is that some people are in traffic on a bus."

It is a little disappointing that this was not addressed earlier.  There is a suggestion in the article that there has been no money for highway expansion, but I thought the whole idea of the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act" was to dump a lot of money into road construction so that we could employ a bunch of people.  Why wasn't BRAC prioritized for these funds?  I don't know enough to place blame, but I do know enough to ask questions, and that is a big one.

There is also a great piece about Rep Stage's "Holiday Readings (with Some Suprise Packages)" which opens next weekend.  Essayist David Sedaris has become the "Irony Generation's" Santa Claus and has become more and more associated with Christmas (despite his deep disdain for the holiday).  This performance will include a reading of three of his "adult humor" essays.  Said otherwise, leave the kiddies at home.  I am going to do everything I can to get to this performance.  David Sedaris is one of my favorite writers and Michael Stebbins, who will be performing this one-man show, seems to be a great entertainer.

Joe Burris has a piece about HCC's Center for Entrepreneurial and Business Excellence, "which provides one-on-one guidance, courses, business space and other resources to help entrepreneurs get their projects off the ground."  Interesting enough, this article focuses on mentally challenged individuals that have been enrolled in the program.  While I have no doubt that some may paint this as "liberal feel-good propaganda," the story was certainly eye-opening in terms of maximizing capacity for those with mental handicaps.  One thousand kudos for Jean Weller who thought to enroll her son in this program and help him develop his art of fused glass (think "stained glass++").  It really is great to see people approach these challenges head on and overcome presumed outcomes.

Some additional LINKS:

If you can't handle the snow, move South.  Here's are some tips:
1) Riding your brakes in the midst of a dusting is incredibly dangerous.  Don't do it.
2) Snow on your windshield?  Dust it off before driving, jerk.
3) No does not change the laws of velocity.  As such, do not slam on your brakes at red lights.  You will end up with the driver of the car behind you in your back seat.
4) Finally, you are not a good enough driver to be that close to my car's back bumper.  However, I am willing to test you.

Most of the strip clubs on the Block are open for bis-nass (I can't call it "business").  Check out the background for that presser.

For graduates of Calvert Hall and Loyola, there was an SOS sent out yesterday suggesting that the Turkey Bowl was in danger.  False alarm.

The Maryland State Republican Party will be electing officers this weekend.  The front-runner for Party Chair appears to be the same woman that said we would not see a Republican Governor in Maryland for the next 40 years.  People may just be interested to hear what other motivational quips she has up her sleeve.  (Note: The word "tea" does not appear anywhere in The Sun's article.)


Sheila Dixon slams Mayor SRB, claiming that she doesn't see "a clear vision."  That's chutzpah right there.

WB suggests that Disqus and Internet Explorer may be incompatible.  My experience with Disqus is that they occasionally "go buggy" but it is resolved within a week.  This little issue is going a little longer than a week.  I will probably send them an e-mail over the weekend to see what's going on.  I would hate for any of you to miss the opportunity to tell me how wrong I am.

That's all for today.  Have a great one and stay safe.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Local Blogger Makes It Big (Sort of)

When I met with David from Patch the other day, he told me that among journalists there is an unwritten rule that when you get a lead from another paper, you cite the writer for breaking the story.  Although I was slightly oblivious to it, Dennis Lane over at Tales of Two Cities broke some big news yesterday by announcing that Greg Hamm would be leaving the Howard Hughes Corporation.  It is undisputed that he broke the story and was the "first to report." 
This afternoon, Larry Carson reported on the firing in both the Flier and the Sun.  Interesting enough, there was one small difference.

The Flier:
The news was first reported by local blog Tale of Two Cities after company officials told local business-oriented supporters about the move.


The Sun:
The news was first reported in a local blog after company officials told local business oriented supporters about the move.
 
I don't know how this discrepancy came to be, but I do know that Larry Carson has told people that he "doesn't read the blogs" and has indicated a general disdain for the medium.  I also know that The Sun would be none too pleased if the New York Times reported on one of their stories with a reference to "a local newspaper." 
 
I don't mean to suggest a persecution complex, and doubt Dennis cares too much, but I found this interesting, and thought I would share.