Monday, February 28, 2011

The Budget Debate

I've been consuming as many op/ed's and news analysis pieces about the National Budget crisis as I can get my hands on.  (Strongly recommend this set of arguments about why "their program" shouldn't be cut).  This is a really big deal.  Not only for those federal workers who may be locked out of work for a few days (or weeks), but also for the financial future of this Country.

Many on the left are imputing any number of bad motives on Republicans for forcing this stare down across the aisle.  Frank Rich encapsulates this argument with the following line: "The real goal is to reward the G.O.P.’s wealthiest patrons by crippling what remains of organized labor, by wrecking the government agencies charged with regulating and policing corporations, and, as always, by rewarding the wealthiest with more tax breaks."  Ignoring the fact that this view is insultingly simplistic and without much in the way of a factual basis, it will plug into the partisan constructs that most voters have in their heads.  Interestingly enough, the same Democrats that so relished the opportunity of painting the GOP as the "Party of No" in 2010 (which didn't quite work) have seen the tables turned.  They are the party of "No alternatives."

From my perspective, it looks like the Right is clearly over-reaching, and setting off political landmines on funding matters that really are insignificant in the face of tremendous debt.  I hate (HATE) arguments that certain matters cost so little that they shouldn't be considered for cuts; however, right now there needs to be some manner of consensus that includes buy in from the American people.  Purposefully knocking off political flagposts for the sake of partisan victories is not going to get that done.  Republicans are in danger of missing an opportunity to fulfill their mission statement of fiscal responsibility and possibly being the knight in shining armor that saves our Country from financial ruin...but they choose to take this time to pick on NPR...a program with costs in the millions.

New Blog in The HoCo

Yesterday afternoon I had a chance to meet with Duane St. Claire over coffee.  Duane and I are working together on a new volunteer Board and I have been truly impressed (and inspired) by his ability to not only think of ways to help the community, but get things done.  As noted over on WB's blog, Duane is the founder of Columbia Freecyle, although I must say that after talking with him for a little under two hours, I'm not sure Freecyle, as great as it is, would even make it into his top five greatest community accomplishments.

Duane also shares my belief that the non-profit community needs to learn how to operate independently from government resources.  Government support for community efforts is important, but to the extent such programs want long term sustainability, these funds should not be a necessity.  If a nonprofits can strategically and effectively tap into community networks and resources, government funding becomes less and less important.

Now Duane's got a new blog.  I'm not going to presume to know what HoCo's newest blogger will be posting about, but I know that I will be reading.  This is a blog that seeks to push the boundaries of what these forums can do, and I am excited to help find out. 

(I'm also excited to read the comments and see what memories you all have of a place called "Mrs. Z's").

Here You Are Monday, Right Where I Left You (Links)

Interesting weekend.  Fun weekend.  There is a very simple quote from "The Art of Racing in the Rain" that has been stuck in my head: "It's not good to have enemies."  I agree, but I don't know if I always carry myself that way.  In fact, I know I don't.  The good thing about a blog is that it allows for an abundance of self-reflection.  The bad thing is that you need to share that self-reflection with everyone else.  It is certainly not a good thing to write everything I think, but I don't really know any other way.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm not in this gig to make enemies.  If I have been overly aggressive, obtuse, sarcastic, hurtful, or shown any "agenda" other than just "getting stuff out there," I do apologize.  But despite my best efforts, it will probably happen again.  Not intentionally.  Not with malice.  But as a recognized and accepted consequence of talking honestly about things that people care deeply about.  And that is not anything I'm willing to apologize for.

LINKS

The Sun notes that Howard County's annual transportation funding from the state was approximately $16 million during boom times, but that for the past two years it has been around $500,000.  I'm not sure if this is something we should be "feeling" now, or whether, due to the nature of road repairs, we will not notice the lack of funding until we are a few years past the shortfall.  Either way, I think transportation is one of the bedrock functions of state and local government and am disappointed that our legislature has seen fit to raid transportation funds rather than make hard decisions about the budget.  Allow me to correct myself, they have made hard decision, one of them being that we don't need to fix our roads.  Now that same group seems ready to use their own budget tricks as a basis for raising the gas tax.  There are meritorious arguments for raising this tax that have very little to do with budget shortfalls.  Namely, we need to reduce dependence on oil ASAP, and raising gas taxes will force the hand of consumers to finally get that fuel efficient vehicle to replace the Momma-tank they've been driving around.  I like that excuse better than "Hey...uh...soooo...we kinda spent all your money."

Off Track Betting is dying.  No tears shed here.

A 20 year old cyclist was hit by an 83 year old woman while driving in a designated bike lane near the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus.  A damn shame.

It is scary to me that Governor O'Malley is running a panel on "cyber-security" while other governors across the nation are holding around the clock sessions to balance their budget.  Speaking of Governors, I saw NJ Gov Chris Christie's interview on Face the Nation, where he said that he supports collective bargaining and depends on an "adversarial process" to get the best result.  This is why I think Christie is smarter than some of these other governors.  He's not looking to cripple his opposition.  He is just fighting hard for his side.

Sarah questions the reasoning of Virginia legislators who will be imposing hospital regulations on abortion clinics.

WB tapes another episode of And Then There's That, which has reached 10,000 downloads per episode.

Mo is raising money for the Wounded Warrior project in conjunction with her entry in the Tough Mudder (which is a very hard race).  I know that I will be contributing.  Blogs don't pay diddly squat, but if you read Mo's stuff (and it is quite good), you are getting something of value for free.  This is a nice chance to show Mo that you appreciate what she's doing, and support a great cause.

HowChow has a funny moment at Bon Appetit Bakery that makes his cold February day a little colder.

That's all for now.  Have a great Monday.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Homeless at the Mall: A Rebuttal

In the past week, the Mall has been allowed two opportunities to give "its side of the story" regarding the Washington Post article that came out two weeks ago.  This is not, in itself, a bad thing, but I have to admit that there seems to be an tinge of "Oh-those-crazy-homeless" to the interviews, along with a titter of laughter as to how this is all just one big misunderstanding...worthy of two separate interviews.

I, for one, would love the opportunity to talk with Henri Cauvin who wrote the WaPo story.  I've sent an e-mail regarding availability for a potential podcast.  The thing about any story involving the homeless is that their advocates are not all that interested in having the spotlight on them.  They just want to help their clients.  As such, there is unlikely to be a counterpoint from Grassroots.

But I have a few:

1) The suggestion that this "became a story" once Mr. Cauvin was asked to leave the Mall doesn't make sense.  There is no "chicken or the egg" problem here.  In reverse order: He was in the Mall because of the story.  He heard of the story because someone contacted him.  Someone contacted him/the newspaper because they were concerned about the Mall's actions towards the Homeless beginning in January of 2011 alleged to be a continuation of contacts made with Grassroots. 

2) There are two specific individuals, both men, that were interviewed by Mr. Cauvin in the article.  Both said they had been asked to leave Mall property based on vague rules of "trespassing."  There was no suggestion of mental instability in either case, nor did the alleged admonition from security guards include such a basis.

3) Athar Khan.  Columbia Bike Guy.  Looks different.  Dresses different.  Banned from the Mall for a year...starting in January...around the same time that the alleged targeting of people "presumed to be homeless" began.  (EDIT: For using profanity).  Still allowed at all Howard County libraries.

I acknowledge that this is private property and that individuals that are disturbing other shoppers should be asked to leave.  I don't believe that "disturbing other shoppers" should be so broad as to allow the expulsion of homeless men and women based on vague rules of "trespass."  I don't think the Mall has an obligation to respond, but I also am not sold on the explanations we've heard thus far.  There is a specific set of facts that merit response and all we've heard are vague generalities relating to "codes of conduct."

And I'll tell you something else, if Skylar, Blake, or Jeffrey was the one barking at a shopper while holding on to Mommy's diamond clad hand, no one would be warned or asked to leave.

UPDATED COMMENT:
It is not my intention for this post to be read as a criticism of the interviewers. This post is meant to address the Mall's response to the Washington Post story and reasoning provided by both the Mall and, in some cases, the interviewers.  Due to the conversational nature of these interviews, it is difficult to parse out exactly what is being communicated by the Mall representative, and what is being put up for agreement by the interviewer.  The fact that these interviews exist at all is a good thing.  I just don't buy what the Mall is selling.  (Pun intended)

Athar Khan

Strobist has a moving piece over at HoCo 360 about the "Columbia Bike Guy" Athar Khan that I really hope you will take a second to check out.  Also, please watch this video:


Athar Khan has been banned from the Columbia Mall.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dear GOP Delegates,

Thank you for your continued efforts to trim our State budget and focus on initiatives that will help small businesses and encourage job growth.  It has come to my attention that you all may be debating a small matter referred to as "same sex marriage" within the next few weeks.  In considering how you may vote on this issue, I wanted to share a few items of note:

First, a recent article in the New York Times noted that opposition to gay marriage is losing steam as an issue for the National GOP.  Conservative stalwarts like Dick Cheney have even opened their arms to the LGTB community.  This is similar to the shift that began to occur in the Democratic party when segregation was no longer palatable to the national electorate.  Remember when Robert Byrd cried on the Senate floor when talking about his opposition to desegregation?  Don't be a Robert Byrd. 

Second, you are known for your attention to the bottom line.  Empassioned pleas for this or that have no place in the business of deciding how the government is going to pay its bills.  The UCLA School of Law has released a study noting a net benefit of $3.2 million for the state if same sex marriage were to pass.  Maryland license fees alone are estimated to bring in $273,000.  Let's see those budget hawks in action.  Pass same sex marriage.  Get more money. 

Finally, let's talk brass tacks -- the politics of it -- making sure you are re-elected and get to go back to Annapolis to rage against the machine.  I know you are concerned that your electorate does not support this bill.  I want you to consider the fact that the vast majority of people that are "against" same sex marriage in polls really don't give a crap.  Sure, there are some very loud voices purporting to voice the will of our Creator, but that is mostly because they are afraid of change.  When same sex marriage passes (and I'm pretty sure it will), things won't change one bit for them.  There will be no daily reminder that same sex marriage passed and you were a vote that helped that happen.  But I will tell you one thing, if you vote against the bill, and it doesn't pass (which I don't think will happen), there are voters that will have a daily reminder of what you did (or failed to do).  They are our neighbors, our brothers, our sisters, and our friends.  People don't know much about politics, but they know about the things that affect their friends.  These people will have a much greater motivation for getting out the vote than any of those who oppose this bill.  Just look at the division of advocates at the most recent delegation hearing in Howard County.

In the grand scheme of things, people will forget how you vote on the 2011 budget.  They will remember how you vote on Same Sex marriage...especially the ones that are affected.

Sincerely,
HCR

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ken on Midday: A Few Home Runs and a Punt

I just finished listening to Ken Ulman on Midday with Dan Rodricks and...well...I was really impressed.  My criticisms of Executive Ulman thus far have related mostly to the continued reference to vague accomplishments and goals (and being "really excited" about just about everything).  This interview, which will later be available as a podcast, had a lot of the nitty gritty stuff that any hyper-local wonk can sink their teeth into.

A few notes:
  • Ken made specific reference about how helpful it is to have a Governor that came "out of local government" nudge nudge, wink wink, nowhatamean nowhatamean.
  • He rebuffed Dan's suggestion that Howard County was the "fastest growing" County in the State, noting that the Southern Counties have seen a faster rate of growth over the past ten years.  In fact, Ken was downright insistent that Howard County has had "slow and steady" growth, which I don't think many people would disagree with.
  • Ken wore both hats in discussing the new septic ban put forth by Governor O'Malley.  He said that the counties were surprised at the lack of dialogue leading up to this announcement and said that the counties are concerned about how this policy may affect their ability to grow.  Ken described Howard County as being a "mature county" in that most of the rural areas that would be "off-the-grid" are already spoken for and will not be the subject of new development.  Howard development is focused more on the redevelopment of properties that are already connected to the County's water and sewer systems.  (He also noted that shared septic systems have not turned out so well in the HoCo).
  • Healthy Howard was a big feature of the interview, as expected.  One of the less heralded efforts of HHAP has been creating the "Door to Health", which is a single online application that can be used to apply for multiple state and federal health access programs, including Healthy Howard.  I like this program on multiple levels: 1) It leverages the greatest success of HHAP, which is referring applicants to other programs; 2) This software could potentially be sold to other jurisdictions to make money back for the program (I don't know the intellectual property dynamics of this effort, but hopefully this is something that is being considered).
  • Ken talked about the four new electric buses, which sound pretty cool.  They charge via a magnetic pad under the bus for five minutes, which will be enough to power them for four hours. 
  • Ken even answered a question I submitted online: "What are Ken’s intentions regarding the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness that was recently submitted to his administration?"  He said it is on his desk...which I imagine is a very large desk.  Nonetheless, he could easily have said that it is something he "will have to look into" as he said in response to other questions (most notably about creating a brewery in Howard County, which, according to the caller, is not permitted by our zoning laws).
My only gripe, and it is small, is that Ken pretended not to have heard of the Homeless at the Mall story put out by the Washington Post last week.  Ken is a good executive.  Good executives know when the Washington Post is investigating your largest retail outlet for booting Homeless people affiliated with Grassroots, an organization for which you formerly were on the Board.  I completely acknowledge that Ken is not interested in getting into a chat about the homeless with Dan Rodricks.  BUT if you know the physics of how our four electric buses are going to work, I expect at least a comment on the Mall story, even if that comment is "We recognize that the Mall, as a private land-owner, has an interest in following and applying its own policies and are hoping that they come to an outcome that is fair for all concerned."

Ken Ulman on Rodricks

I also wanted to let everyone know that Ken Ulman will be on Midday with Dan Rodricks from 12 to 1 this afternoon.  Don't expect too much local stuff.  He will be on in his capacity as President of the Maryland Association of Counties.

Social Media Day (Thursday Links)

Yesterday was one of those days that could not have existed in the 1990's.  I registered online for the Marine Corps Marathon, posted it on Twitter, and found three other HoCo's that are also running in October.  Then I posted my registration on Facebook and found three more friends that are running the marathon.  In thirty minutes I had found enough friends to fill a minivan, who were registering for an event that approximately 1% of Americans will do in their lifetime, and were also running the same race as I was.  Admittedly, there are some conditions that make it more likely for me to have people in my "network" that run marathons and will sign up for events in the Washington, DC area, but I still found it to be an eye-opening experience (and a lot of fun -- the HoCo crew is already chatting about a local carb fest prior to the big race).

I also had part of my Social Media day at Victoria Gastro Pub.  As I noted yesterday, Voices for Children was having a fundraiser at Victoria, whereby they would give us 15% of every check that included a voucher stating they had come to support Voices.  While sitting down for dinner with my two favorite ladies (Momma & Jane [whose name is not really Jane by the way]), I saw another one of my favorite people: Jessie Newburn.  She was having dinner with Phil Nelson, the president of the Columbia Association.  While I have rolled my eyes at some of the CA foibles over the past two years, I really do respect Phil and think he has done a good job addressing his Herculean task of leading a ship with so many first mates.  Phil also seemed interested in the whole "new media/social media" environment in HoCo, which is always nice to hear.

Anyway, that was my day in social media.  Besides "work", there wasn't too much that happened to me yesterday that would have happened but for these wacky little web applications that let me talk to hundreds of people at once.  Pretty freakin' cool.

LINKS

Ellicott City residents are concerned about having their quiet hamlet turned into "Columbia North" by way of the new Hilltop development, which will include a mixed income apartment complex and a new rec center.  This seems like a tough crowd.  They even had criticisms over where the meeting was held.  The "Columbia North" thing cracks me up because I remember Redev proponents pointing to the evaporated business in Old Ellicott City as a concern for up-and-coming Columbia.

Speaking of Historic Ellicott City, pretty soon residents and tourists will be able to have it "their way" after Subway moves in to the old Leidig's Bakery spot along Main Street.  The bakery has not been open since 2005, so I'm not sure exactly where this is, but I'm excited (gasp!).  That's right, excited.  My mom's side of the family is from Greenwich, Connecticut and I've seen a lot of historic areas from up there that have been updated with more modern storefronts to mix in with historic antique shops.  I can only hope that Subway is a first, and maybe down the road we'll see a GAP or Restoration Hardware move in.  I'm no development maven, but I think that some of those newer stores will need to see a right fit for their shops, and Subway may just be a hint that Ellicott City is about more than antiques and coffee.

Big police scandal broke yesterday when 17 Baltimore police officers were arrested in relation to an alleged kick-back scheme with towing companies.  I'm surprised that such a kick-back scheme would ever be necessary or profitable.  Drive five minutes around Canton or Federal Hill and I can find you $1,000 worth of towing opportunities.  (The story seems bad, but not "so bad" until you read stories like this, where other tow truck vendors are being locked up for protesting against the corruption).

Maryland's Same Sex Marriage bill is expected to pass the Senate today.

Here is a Teacher's Union I can get behind.

WB posts about Columbia Freecyle and Howard County's apparent unwillingness to help people "dump" less at the Dump.  Come on, Greenies!  This is so not "green."  Government doesn't always have to be the answer.  There are some regular old citizens that have some pretty good ideas too.

Sarah has a great post (with a graph!) tracking Maryland millionaires.

A HowChow reader suggests "hand torn noodle soup."  Yes, please.

That's all for now.  Have a great Thursday and enjoy a healthy dose of Friday-anticipation.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Diamondback on Living Social

Get $30 worth of Diamondback food for $15!  I already know exactly what my money is going towards: Bangers and Mash.  Incredibly good comfort stick-to-your-bones goodness that goes well with the multitude of beers available at this Ellicott City pub.

Jane and I were chatting the other day about Diamondback.  We really don't know how to classify it.  Our first visit was after our less-than-satisfying trip to Pure Wine Cafe (still promise to go back sometime soon).  Having never been there before, it looked like a semi-fine dining restaurant, along the lines of Aida.  Multiple trips later (including one visit to the "upstairs") and I feel like it is more of "a bar that cleans up well."  I would probably put it in the same category with Lee Lynns, River Hill Grille, and maybe Victoria (although my love for Victoria's is unmatched).

Any way you cut it, they have one dish that I crave.  As Jane will tell you, this singular motivation is often non-negotiable.  Diamondback, whatever-you-is, I'll be there soon.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Delayed (Tuesday Links)

My "get up and go" has not yet arrived this week.  Hence, another set of "late" links.

Kudos to the weather folks for hitting this weather storm spot on.  By my estimation there are 5-6 inches of snow outside my door.  I'm not so sure my car can handle the unplowed parking lot, so I will probably be spending the morning (or possibly the day) in the HoCo.  It's times like these when I wonder whether I am using the snow as a reason or an excuse.  Either way, as long as my hours get billed, it is a work day.

LINKS

This piece about Memory Games is fascinating, and very well written.  It is also very long.

Baltimore wants to create its own currency to support local businesses.  I'll give you one guess on where this idea came from -- Hampden.  (Insert drug reference here).

The first stage of the Baltimore City teachers' contract has been implemented, which places teachers in career tracks according to their education and experience level.  As you are aware, this system abolishes the automatic "step" increases in favor of merit based pay bumps.  Very exciting stuff.

Congratulations parents!  You now have the opportunity to passive-aggressively suggest to your children that you believe they are promiscuous disease-carrying Quarterbacks and Prom Queens.

Horizon Foundation CEO Richard Krieg is retiring at the end of 2012.  This may be sacrilege in this County, but his retirement may be a great time to reevaluate how much our non-profit CEOs are being paid.  (Sure would be nice if one of our journalism outlets would get a salary number in one of their interviews).

HowChow posts Kyle's review of the Kimko Korean and Sushi buffet.  Any place that puts "sushi" and "buffet" near one another on a menu has my attention.  I may have to head over there for lunch.

Staying with the food theme, Sarah went to Jessie Wong's Champagne Brunch.  Not many people know this, but the Jessie Wong restaurant is all the rage in Baltimore County.  I won't get into the comparable culinary offerings of BaltCo, but it is important to note that this may be an undiscovered treasure for those of you who make a weekly trip to Pei Wei or PF Chang's (although Wong's is admittedly much more expensive).  Sarah left "full and happy" but not necessarily "wow'ed."  From the few times I've been there, my reaction has normally been just about the same, although on one occasion the service almost had me walking out the door (It was a "Do you think they know we're here?" moment).

TJ takes a very honest look at the local media market, with a special eye on Patch, in response to the Business Insider piece that I linked to yesterday (and he had previously planned on posting himself).  My limited knowledge of (but constant interest in) economics has me looking at local markets in terms of whether there is room for new entrants.  I certainly believe our local media market has room.  The question is whether the new entrants will ever connect with those consumers in a financially sustainable way.  In the 21st century, people think news should be free.  That is very hard to "compete" with.

Before I leave the media topic altogether, I have a confession to make: Starting this Sunday I will be receiving the Washington Post.  I am now a two newspaper guy.  For the past six years, I have been a loyal Sun subscriber.  I've been a daily reader since about age 14.  However, the Sunday edition has continued to get smaller and smaller, until I no longer have to sit down to read the entire front page.  More and more of "our" paper is being written by journalists from Chicago or the AP.  I feel like it's "Sundays with Bernie" and I'm reading an imitation of a newspaper, as opposed to the real deal.  So I had to supplement.  I will still get the Sun and still plan to read it first, but I feel like this is the point that I stop caring as much about the death throes.  That makes me incredibly sad.

WB is not so sure that Bill Clinton has been out of office long enough for us to be fawning over him on Presidents Day.  I tend to agree.  Jane and I watched an awesome show on the History Channel about the behind the scenes "perks" and hindrances of being President.  My only gripe was that there was one segment that made Ronald Regan look like a senile old toot that really wanted chocolate.

That's all for today.  In the time writing this, my parking lot has been plowed, so there is still hope of making it into the office today.  I guess that's a good thing.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Snow? For Serious?

I can't explain it, but I feel a certain sense of injustice at the projected 4-8 inches that we are supposed to get overnight.  The 70 degree day seemed like a love note from Mother Nature, letting us all know that Spring was on its way.  We knew our calendars would not allow for Spring in February, but at the very least it seemed like the worst was over.

But it's not.

Oh well, I normally use winter weather advisories as an excuse for an extra glass of wine with dinner.  Spring does not allow for such indulgences.  Maybe this winter thing isn't so bad after all.

Presidents Day (Monday Links)

Presidents Day is an interesting holiday in that is is the only one specifically designated in respect for a particular branch of government.  Sure, it's really George Washington's birthday (nearby Abraham Lincoln's birthday), but we don't call it Washington Day.  We call it Presidents Day.

It seems that since the position was created, people either adore or despise the person in this office, which is why I am skeptical of anyone who sits in either of those camps.  I think the President should be respected as a representative of our nation who has been designated with tremendous power, but I don't think this means I have to like them.  Nor do I think it is appropriate for people to hold placards attacking the President as a person, as opposed to policies he or she may have promoted.  I mean, go ahead if that's what makes you happy, but for the most part I've found that it is representative of a confusion or ignorance of the actual policies that are at issue.  My bet is that those with signs that say "Obama Lied, Jobs Died" are not going to be able to turn around and explain the economic policies that they believed caused job loss...or even the manner in which a President implements economic policy.

Same is true on the opposite end for those people with the really cool Change T-shirts.

In an ideal world, Presidents would be viewed the same way someone with a very important job is treated at the company he or she works for.  Not loved.  Not hated.  Respected.  And when he screws up, replaced.

LINKS

In their infinite wisdom, our State government attempted to encourage voter registration by allowing voters to register at the MVA.   The only problem?  They put the MVA in charge of voter registration.  (Article states 1 in 4 people who try to register through the MVA do not make the voter roles).

Cool story about a stone "fort" in the middle of the woods, and one man's efforts to preserve it.

If there is one type of story that the Sun reporters continue to knock out of the park, it would be crime reporting.  Justin Fenton has a fascinating piece about the Dead Man Inc. gang and its leader's pending release from prison.

There was a Trekkie convention this past weekend?  I am a little surprised I wasn't alerted to this by my Facebook friends...maybe what happens at Farpoint stays at Farpoint.

Thanks to my Dad (and more recently Mark Bittman), I am always excited by and dedicated to local businesses.  There is no reason to spend my money outside of the County/State if there is a vendor that can meet my consumer needs here.  As such, I am very excited about the new Sloop Betty vodka to be produced in Stevensville, MD by the new Blackwater Distillery.  Admittedly, I am not a vodka fan, but I will try to get my hands on the first batch and report back.

Over the weekend, Strobist posted this piece on Twitter, which is a pretty damning account of the Patch business model.  At first I was a little hot and bothered about this.  I consider the Patch folks, or at least a few of them, to be my friends.  I also think they do good work.  However, if you're wondering why the front page is normally filled with high school basketball scores, this may give some insight.  All that said, Patch is still a go to location for local news (for me at least) and I think the quality of their work is comparable with any other local news outlet.

Sarah visits Blob's Park and has a great time.  (Another item added to the "must visit" list).

Apparently, WB has been sleepwalking to a local valet stand.  If you see a semi-conscious man in a red scarf, do not give him your keys.

53 Beers lays out his wish-list for the next EDA Chair.  It certainly will be interesting to see how our County's development reflects the new demographics (as suggested in number three).  Any dormant xenophobia will be forced out into the spotlight in quick and dirty fashion.  ("Why Tom, whatever do you mean?  This is Howard County!  We love everyone!")

That's all I have for you today.  I'll be working from home in celebration of GW.  How does one celebrate such a man?  The peaceful relinquishment of the remote control?  Ideas?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pizza and Oysters, It's a Maryland Thing

A dream born in the early morning hours of Saturday, February 19th has become a reality.  I had pizza and oysters for lunch.

First, the pizza.  Man, was it good.  After taking the picture and posting it here, I think pizza is one food that you just can't get a pretty picture of.  Sure, you can have basil, goat cheese, and a light tomato sauce that looks pretty, but when we want Pizza (capital P), it just isn't going to look pretty.

As I noted before, there was a Pudgie's in my college town of Williamsport, PA.  I say "was" because when I was looking up the phone number for our Pudgie's (410-531-6444 -- yes, they deliver), I noticed that my old Pudgie's is gone.  I want full disclosure here that my complete unconditional love for this pizza may be somewhat tinged by nostalgia, but that only gets you so far.

If you love garlic, you will love Pudgie's.  The sauce is garlicy.  The crust is garlicy.  The box may be made of garlic shells.  Just a lot of garlic.  But what makes the pizza good is the strong cheese flavor.  This is not just provolone.  There is some parmesan mixed in, which I think is a critical requirement for any good pizza.

If you're big on crusts, this pizza may not be for you.  If you can't tell from my picture, the crust plays a very small supporting role.  Don't get me wrong, it's good, but it is a little weak and very soft.  I kind of like it that way.  In their larger sizes, the pizza is squared (further study: Howard County and square pizzas), which means the crust is pretty much delegated to "extra reading the newspaper in the cafe" for the center pieces.

Price wise, it was $16 for a medium pizza.  I can't tell if that is expensive, but it seemed a little steep for what would probably barely constitute a meal for a teenage boy.

BUT, I loved it.  This is good pizza, and I would probably say it is the best pizza in town right now (although a good Food v. Food would be Coal Fire v. Pudgies)...(I don't really like Facci pizza).

Next, the oysters.  This was my first trip to Frank's and I was a little taken aback by the security (you need to turn in your ID to be allowed to take your car inside the "seafood zone").  Once inside I was glad that I came there with a purpose, otherwise I would have been overwhelmed.  There is so much to choose from, all with very expensive consequences.  Despite just coming in for oysters, I ended up grabbing some shrimp salad as well (personal weakness).  I bought a dozen "Maryland" oysters and a dozen "Chincoteague" oysters.  I also bought a shucking knife.

In preparation for my shucking, I watched two online videos.  I'm not very coordinated, which is why I choose sporting activities that require little more than the physical and mental endurance to continue doing something simple over long distances.  As such, I wanted to make absolutely sure I was not going to cut my thumb off.

I went for the Maryland oysters first.  Despite the way those videos make it seem, it is very hard to find an entry point (TWSS).  However, after you get in a groove, it is almost like those magic eye puzzles where you finally just "see" it.  I shucked four oysters and was very proud of myself.

They looked just like they do in the restaurant!  I don't know why I didn't expect them to look the same, but...well...I didn't.  Sadly, one of my oysters did not get eaten.  He looked a little too gray for comfort, and had a distinctly different smell.  Ever since my bout with food poisoning this past summer, I don't mess around with seafood I don't trust.  The other three were light, with just enough "taste of the sea."  I admit that I put cocktail sauce on my oysters (which is frowned upon by certain shell heads), but this was only because I don't know where to find the vinegar sauce that you find at places like Woodberry and Victoria.

Next, the Chincoteague oysters.  These things are the cat's meow.  They're rich without being overpowering and have a great mouth-feel (does "mouth-feel" apply to oysters?  Don't care.  It makes me sound sophisticated).

Needless to say, I am very satisfied with myself right now.  I had Pizza and oysters for lunch, and I don't think that is offered by many restaurants.

Bachelor Saturday (LINKS)

Jane is heading off to (insert flower place) to help her sister pick out (type of flower) for her wedding, which is this Fall.  Said flower place is a couple hours away, so I will be by myself today.  I've already promised to make dinner from my new Food Matters Cookbook, which came in the mail yesterday, but lunch is TBD.

Until about five minutes ago.  When you work in Baltimore, but live in HoCo, there ends up being a lot of food places you hear about, but don't have a chance to check out (I know this is even more true for those with kids...which is why I don't have kids).  Two on my list: Frank's and Pudgies.  Pudgies just opened Thursday, but I've been excited ever since I saw their violently orange sign along 108.  In my college town of Williamsport, PA, Pudgies was THE pizza place.  It is good stuff and may be better than a good number of the pizza offerings in the area (despite being a chain).  As for Frank's, I love oysters.  They have oysters.  And HowChow tells me that they may give me a brief tutorial on how to shuck the oysters.

So there's the choice...until HowChow suggested I do both.  (Jane: "Oysters and Pizza?  Is that a Maryland thing?") These places could not be much further from one another, but I'm going to make it happen.  Hopefully a post (with pictures in appreciation of The Chow) will follow.

Addendum: Do yourself a favor and make the trek out to Black Ankle Vineyards in Mount Airy.  I am not a fan of Maryland wine.  Allow me to restate that: I really do not like Maryland wine.  Most of it has been chapitalized beyond recognition, and when they aren't adding sugar, they're adding chocolate, berries, or gummy bears.  Black Ankle is good real wine.  The tasting room is like one big party and Damon Foreman knows how to work a crowd.  Jane and I had a blast.

LINKS (and reporting on Sun reporting)

I can't find a link, but the Howard section states that Howard County gained 43 jobs last year.  That may not sound like much, but this is while our surrounding counties lost thousands of jobs, even in those areas effected by the early stages of BRAC.

There's also a neat article about seniors that have been recruited by the Board of Ed to volunteer at Howard County schools, and even teach some classes.  These are the types of programs (and people) that make the County a great place to live.

From the add-insult-to-injury playbook, the Frederick County Board of Commissioners voted to cut the County's entire $2.3 million share of Head Start, which is approximately half of the program's budget.  Two of those county commissioners followed that vote with stories about how their wives had given up 18 years in the workforce to stay at home with their kids, thereby suggesting that others do the same to make up for the downsized program.  My mom stayed at home to raise my brother and me when we were growing up.  She made sure we did our homework, didn't watch too much TV, and, most importantly, was the first person to go nuts when we got off the school bus with a good grade in our hands.  I have no doubt that I am the person I am today (or at least the good parts) because of this additional support from my Mom.

However, I think it is wrong to suggest that women have an obligation to take on this role.  We just found out today that Jane was admitted to the Johns Hopkins Masters program for Museum Studies.  This will be her second masters.  I would never ever expect, suggest, hint, or subliminally proffer that Jane should give up a career that she is working hard to build in order to take care of our children.  There are certainly practical matters that must be evaluated by a family unit in terms of comparative incomes, cost of day care, etc., but that is for each family to decide.  In the 21st century, there are plenty of couples where the woman is the primary bread-winner, and that will only increase as social norms are found to be...well...stupid.  I know that these County Commissioners meant well, but they ended up just looking old-fashioned and condescending.  That's a bad combination.

Florida's loss could be Maryland's gain.  $2.4 billion in transportation funds is in the balance.  If the Federal government was the teacher, and all the states were students, I think O'Malley would be the kiss up.

Dear Maryland Republicans, please stop giving the Baltimore Sun opportunities to flaunt your ridiculous failures as human beings, such as naming a black cow "Oprah."  Sincerely, HoCo Rising.

David Zurawik points out how ridiculous and self-important MSNBC has been in its coverage of the Wisconsin protests.

Let's talk a bit about Wisconsin.  It seems to be a crystallization of the GOP/Dem dynamic.  The Republicans pass large scale tax cuts, which put the budget in a bind, which puts the Governor in a position where he says he has to take a hard line with the unions.  The public employee unions have been very successful for their peeps.  Most pay only 6% of their health care costs and don't have to contribute anything to their pensions.  That can be compared to the nationwide averages of 29% and 5.8% respectively.  In Milwaukee, teacher compensation (salary plus benefits) is approximately $100,000.  I know that we Americans have had fun with our Facebook accounts by "standing in solidarity" with all sorts of protests recently, but let's take a breather.  Something needs to be done about these labor costs.  I don't think it is appropriate to interfere with bargaining rights, but I also don't think it is fair for the people of Wisconsin to fund extraordinary salaries and benefits.  Fight union wages, not union power.

I've gone a little long today and need to get started on my schedule of events.  I'll let you know how the Pizza & Oysters thing turns out.

Friday, February 18, 2011

I Can Fix That -- Episode 4 BUDGETS

The latest episode of I Can Fix That is up on the interwebs for download.
As always, we had a lot of fun.  Budgets, despite their not-fun title, are an interesting topic to discuss, especially if you can manage to get behind the political rhetoric.  Both parties have sacred calves that are shielded behind vague titles like "Education" and "National Defense."  Once you lift the hood you see that "cuts" are always available, so long as you can offer them in a palatable context.

You are free to listen, critique, or slander, but please don't ignore...and if you're going to slander, make it me...Jodi didn't sign off on that part.

No Shelter, No Service?

The Washington Post has a very concerning piece about the apparent targeting of homeless men and women at the Columbia Mall.  The Grassroots Cold Weather shelter has a drop off point at the Mall, which may have caused a number of homeless to go into the mall for shelter, coffee, or just to spend some time.  According to the post, our fellow citizens are being routinely removed and targeted as "trespassers."

GGP has released a de minimus statement in response to the Post's inquiry: "If anyone does not adhere to our rules and regulations," the statement read in part, "they are first issued a warning; and secondly, if their behavior does not improve, they are banned from the center."

The bigger question is whether "appearing to be homeless" is against the rules and regulations of the Columbia Mall.

According to the piece, it is even against the rules to ask about how the homeless are being treated:  "A few minutes later, two security guards appeared and ordered a Washington Post reporter to leave the mall grounds. One of the guards, J. Middleton, said interviewing people at the mall without permission constituted solicitation and warned that police would charge the reporter with criminal trespassing if they were summoned. "

Before any apologists come out, lets all admit that we've spent some time at the mall without the intention of buying anything.  Some of you have used the Mall as an indoor track during the winter season.  Others a recording studio.  We are not talking about loitering.  This story has the nasty tinge of a rich community seeking to ignore and/or hide its poor.  If you don't like seeing homeless people, work towards finding them a home.

And GGP, this smells like a mighty fine lawsuit.  I hope your e-mails are clean.

Frikka Frikka Friday (LINKS)

I hope you all have had an expedient intermission between weekends.  Mine started slow and is ending strong.  Tonight, Jane and I plan to go to Mt. Airy to see our friend Damon Foreman play at Black Ankle Vineyards.  I really can't think of a better way to spend a 65 degree February evening.

LINKS

The small news getting big attention award has to go to the announcement that Healthy Howard will be requesting an additional $500,000 from the County.  With the support of Ball, Sigaty, and Terrasa, they will be getting this money.  The real question is whether Courtney Watson holds the line from 2009, or whether the exit of the Horizon Grant will have her see a larger role for County funds.  In terms of the longer narrative, it should be noted that HHAP has kept its request steady, despite the absence of its largest donor.  This suggests that the program has been successful finding private donors.  However, as I've noted previously, any nonprofit born from the mind of the current County Executive should be given additional scrutiny when it requests funds.  (And I still plan to post that audit once I have some time)

Don't worry everybody, the Hilltop development is just a sparkle in its daddy's eye right now.

A man set himself on fire and jumped off a bridge near the Columbia mall yesterday evening.  That's all there is to say about that.  (Patch does a great job covering this one)

If Jeopardy ever has a category for "Maryland Civil Rights", one of the answers spewed by Watson 3.0 (over the objections of Watson 1.0 and 2.0) may be "Who is Senator James Rosapepe?"  (For fear of compelling you to click the link, he was the final committing Senator that gives gay marriage enough votes to pass).

I wish there were as many "lower drug penalty" supporters as there are "increase animal cruelty penalty" supporters.

Very interesting piece about the disbursement of Race to the Top grant funds...and all the contractors that are dying to show Baltimore City how to spend their money.

The Flier editorial staff suggests that Howard County should no longer be so much detritus that is scraped into other Congressional districts.  We deserve our own, and the political clout that goes along with having your own Congressional district, and not having to travel to Baltimore or Towson to visit your Congressman/woman.  That brings up the follow-up issue of "We don't really ask for much."  Howard County is a self-contained municipality.  We certainly contribute more to the State than our County gets back.  The recent "Online State" grant was pulled in (primarily) by Ulman administration folks, but will be shared with the surrounding counties.  It's time for us to collect on some vouchers.

WB is ready to declare the re-opening of the political season, with his recent invitation to an Ulman fundraiser at Turf Valley.  Dennis thinks it may be a show of force (a la parking some warships along the coast line).  Earlier yesterday, Dennis also posted about "The Amazing Meshkin."

53 Beers lost 45 lbs since July and for that I give him 2 thumbs up.

HowChow posts about Tres Leches cake at Cuba de Ayar in Burtonsville, which is still on my "must try" list.

Sarah puts out another great post, this time about the environmental impact of septic tanks.


Trevor jumps head first into the Healthy Howard debate, offering to start a reduced price (CORRECTION: Free, or as Trevor says "FREE") dental clinic for 720 people if the County pays him $500,000.

That's all for now.  For those of you who have a three day weekend coming up, congratulations.  Buy us two day weekenders a beer.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Good Letter, Bad Logic

Doug Dribben of Woodstock Maryland submitted a very well written letter to Columbia Flier arguing the public policy reasons for prohibiting same sex marriage.  Many folks, myself included, get tired of the religious arguments for why a state law should or should not be enacted, and this is a nice respite in the same-sex marriage debate. 

The centerpiece of Mr. Dribben's argument is that marriage, and its favorable treatment under the tax code, is for procreation, and that once you take out that element, there is no reason for the government to favor marriage.

I have some follow up questions for Mr. Dribben:
A) Should the allowance for joint returns extinguish itself after the woman reaches menopause?
B) Should infertile married couples be required to self-report to the IRS and forgo all tax benefits?
C) Should taxpayers pay less taxes for every child they have?
D) If you have a child out of wedlock, should you be able to file a joint return with anyone who agrees to help you raise it?

Mr. Dribben does make one argument that (almost) left me speechless: "The current law does not 'deprive a minority of equal rights.' Both homosexuals and heterosexuals can marry a member of the opposite sex, and neither can marry a member of the same sex. In fact, the proposed change, if limited only to homosexuals, would discriminate against heterosexuals who wish to marry a member of the same sex to provide that partner benefits."

I am curious whether Mr. Dribben foresees a "homosexual inspection" before same sex marriage is permitted.  "You must be 'This Gay' to enter...into a homosexual monogamous relationship."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Columbia Borders Stays

Looks like our Borders made the cut:
Borders Closures

Obama's Budget Made Easy

Seeing as none of us are going to read President Obama's proposed budget, I thought I would pass on this (really frickin' cool) interactive graphic put together by the New York Times.

Quite An Endorsement

I found this comment on the Baltimore Sun article about Columbia's sign code:

Talking about a failed dystopic vision, Columbia is just that.

Soaring high crime rates, tolerance of illegal immigration, ultra liberal educators brainwashing children, and to top it off, ridiculous lack of signs to help you find your way around something which resembles a maze.

The whole town is a commuter nightmare, with huge traffic backups clogging up route 175 that it deters everyone else from visiting. This is compounded by nearby Washington DC offering government jobs to people that live there which honestly produce nothing of value.

It was founded by a wacked out liberal and populated by them as well. I discourage anyone from visiting.

The structure is almost poetic.

Maryland Campaign Disclosures Rank Near Bottom

I was directed by this article in the Washington Post to a UCLA study that noted Maryland as being 44th in its rankings for Campaign Disclosure Laws.  44th! 
As I noted yesterday, I'm not too keen on painting big donations as bad in and of themselves, BUT I do want to be able to track the money.  Especially in an age of legislative immunity, where favorable acts by an elected official that may be related to campaign donations are legally prohibited from being offered as proof of a bribe.

Who put the dip in the dip-de-dip-de-dip (Wednesday Links)

We recorded another episode of "I Can Fix That" last night, and the topic for discussion was "Budgets."  One of the questions Jodi asked me (in a non-accusatory or aggressive manner, of course) was "Have you read the budget?"  Despite a quick inquiry last year, I've never read a state budget (I read the Howard County budget last year and boy is that a thrill-ride, especially if you have a thing for sidewalks).  Also, I don't think I ever will read a State budget.  It made me wonder whether it is a obligation of an informed citizenry to read the budget and keep our legislators honest, or whether we can rely on journalists to give a thorough read and give us an honest scoop.  The latter just seems so lazy, but the former is just too onerous.

Maybe we need budget reading study groups.  Split the budget into sections, every one read their portion and then reports back to the group.  ...   Sorry, law school flash back.  That doesn't sound like such a good idea after all.

At the end of the day, we may debate this budget, but we really will have no idea who put the dip in the dip-de-dip-de-dip, or whether it deserves to be there.

LINKS

Baltimore City schools need more funding for building updates at just the wrong time.  Unfortunately, it seems like they are already past due.

Harford County Republicans are shutting Democrats out of the redistricting process by way of a "fringe party" exception for political party inclusion.  I guess these are the dangers of a one-party County.

This article about the Columbia sign code almost comes off as a satire.  "Everybody's getting lost!  We can't find a daggone thing.  Only reason I can eat is because I stumbled across a McDonald's while looking for a hair salon."

Cordish has hired Billy Murphy in a $600 million defamation lawsuit.  Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet.

Maryland has received $6.2 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to set up a model health exchange that may be implemented in other states under the new health care law (PPACA).

I don't know if people realize how much of an effect O'Malley's septic ban could have.  This ban would effectively put a ban on rural development, which is a driver of growth in many of the Counties that don't lie along the 95 corridor.  AKA the red counties.  I'm not going to suggest that this is politically motivated (or at least not solely politically motivated), but you can assume that the deep red folks that are concerned about the new ban do not have the ear of the Band-leader-in-Chief.

Sarah posts about women's experiences in public spaces.

Trevor is taking off his dentist coat and putting on his lobbyist hat today.  In other news, Trevor charges $300 for teeth whitening.

WB posts about local bean sprouts, record breaking, and sex.  Don't worry, the three categories remain separate throughout the post.

It seems the big news in the local blogosphere yesterday was HowChow's post about a new kosher deli coming to Maple Lawn.  Despite all of the good food in Howard County, I feel like a good sub is one of the areas where we fall short.  My favorite is still Boarman's, but that may be nostalgia since I grew up down the road from there.  I also hear the BP Gas Station in Maple Lawn has some good hoagies.  Any thoughts?

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The LLC Loophole and You

The Sun is reporting that Governor O'Malley would support closing the LLC loophole that allows creative rich folk to put on different hats in order to avoid contribution totals.  It doesn't take too much fooling around on the campaign finance database to see that this will have a significant effect on local elections, where a few thousand dollars can make or break a candidacy.  (If you really want a good time, start looking up the Articles of Incorporation as well...)

I'm not big on the "follow the money" memes of political mud throwing.  If there is favoritism, then you can follow a thread back, but there is nothing "evil" in contributing large sums of money to a political candidate.  I do have a problem with the intentional manipulation of a loophole...and look forward to it being closed.

CMP (Tuesday Links)

I had a revelatory moment last night.  It did not have to do with public policy or the fine art of law, but rather...the best dessert I have had in my entire life.  Up to this point in life, the best dessert (...) title would probably go to a Dangerously Delicious pie (noting that my wife's fine cooking is not placed into consideration for this honor because it can be presumed that she would win).  Last night, we went to Woodberry Kitchen.  We had another great meal, but saved just enough room for dessert.  The last time I was at WK, I had a bread pudding that was very good and Jane had some sort of ice cream that she also liked.  This time I ordered the CMP.  It stands for Chocolate, Marshmallow, and Peanuts.  But don't let the simple title fool you.  It is malt ice cream, topped with a layer of fudge/peanut/caramel, topped with a layer of fluff, topped with a thin sugar shell.  I don't think I spoke five words in the 10 minutes it took me to eat the thing.  Jane and I already decided that we may come back just for desserts sometime...ok, well, I decided that we would come back for desserts and Jane has agreed to oblige.

LINKS

Larry Carson has a great piece juxtaposing the County's financial woes with three community initiatives in need of funding.  Whenever I get into a discussion about County spending with someone on the other side of the aisle (and no, I don't mean a Republican), they normally say something to this effect "Well, I know you care about funding for the homeless.  Where do you think that money comes from?"  At which time, I will stomp on their foot and run away.  The real answer, despite being somewhat trite and very obvious, is that government funding is about priorities.  You are a "tax and spend liberal" unless you are spending money on the Department of Defense.  Then you're a patriot.  You can certainly look for "efficiencies", but the manner in which government money is directed does not incorporate the same market forces that reward efficiency.  After the nuts and bolts of government is taken care of, any remaining projects are subject to the whimsy of the elected officials.

I believe the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness is a critical opportunity to end homelessness in Howard County before this problem reaches a size that can not be easily managed.  We are about to experience an unprecedented population boom from two different directions: BRAC and Columbia Redev.  Finding a way to stave off large increases in homeless men, women, and families is one of the most important considerations our County faces over the next few years.  This issue will affect crime, quality of life, the cost of future public services, and the way in which our County is seen by others.  It is not just "one of three" issues presented at the end of a budget hearing.  I wish I knew where the County could find funding, but I certainly think it deserves high prioritization.  Soon enough it will demand it.

I believe the Baltimore Sun has effectively manufactured a controversy in their suggestion that Baltimore City is buying out its most "experienced" teachers.  Just about all of my best teachers throughout my life have been in their late thirties/early forties.  Is that to suggest that older teachers are not as good?  Absolutely not.  But if a teacher is older and wants to take a buy-out, it may be fair to consider that they've lost their passion for teaching.  All the experience in the world can't replace that.

In case you had not heard about this, a Loyola University professor has been accused by a US Representative of having links to a secessionist group. 

Vegi-Pak in Mt. Airy has been closed over unsanitary conditions.

The fight for marriage equality gained two more friends yesterday (including Senator Ed Kasemeyer!  Nice job, Ed!).

Sarah notes a few pieces that she would recommend for consideration, addressing wedding dresses and the transportation trust fund.

About 15 years ago, Dennis sold a guy a church to use as an art studio.  Dennis would now like to know whether you would like to use a church as a _________.

That's all for today.  Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Great PPACA Summary

For anyone looking to get into the "meat & potatoes" of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA; aka "Obamacare"), I highly recommend this 10 page summary prepared by Foley, LLP.  Ironically enough, I have been asked to prepare a presentation on some of the features of PPACA, and this document has been a good starting point.

That's AAAlll Folks

As announced at a few public events last week, and today on Twitter: Howard County has maintained its AAA bond rating.

The response to bond ratings span the gamut, from "This is proof of 'strong financial stewardship'" to "Let's look at all those Bear Sterns AAA bond ratings from 2007."  My view is somewhere in the middle. 

First, there can be no question that this is a very good thing.  Our county government can sell bonds at a lower interest rate than all but 30 other municipalities in the United States.  Our debt maintenance costs are less and we get more bang for our buck.  That's huge.  For those concerned with fiscal matters, you need to tip your hat for the ability to obtain and maintain this rating.

However, this is not a dispositive rating.  Moody's does not insure solvency.  It is a commentary, which is as valuable as the authority it comes from.  Moody's, and other other rating agencies, have built a strong reputation, but this reputation has also had holes poked in it, especially over the past five years.

When you consider the affluence of this community, its proximity to a stable workforce in DC, and the overall solvency of the State of Maryland, it would be hard to see why Howard County would have a bad credit rating.  The top three richest municipalities should be receiving AAA bond ratings.  Loudon County has AAAFairfax County has AAA.  Howard fits right in. 

Happy Corporate Holiday! (Monday Links)

It has become almost cliche to call St. Valentine's Day a "Hallmark Holiday," but for many people, that is preferable to having to say the word "Saint."  I recall that one year I attempted to research a little more about St. Valentine for a speech I was giving.  It turns out that not much is known, and what is known is quite gruesome and not very romantic.

However, for many folks, myself included, the day has been used to show appreciation for the ones you love (or, if you are in 1st through 5th grade, the cartoons you love that can fit on to 5x6 inch pieces of paper).  You don't need to buy into the "corporate" stuff to buy into the holiday.  I know that we yuppies love to scorn convention, but days like today are something I can get into.  If you don't want to, that's fine, but just remember that non-observants will just be stuck with an ordinary, boring Monday in between football and baseball season.

LINKS

The buyout craze continues with Baltimore City Superintendent Alonso offering retirement buyouts to up to 750 of Baltimore City's oldest teachers (the article uses the term "most experienced" in place of "oldest", but I feel that this characterization seems to give the story a bit of a spin).  This would be an even better solution if teacher pensions had been addressed, making the younger workforce a more affordable one as well.

Speaking of education, President Obama is coming to Balmer Cownie today to talk about investments in education!

Please read this article and tell me if you can figure out what role "road rage" played in the shooting.  Maybe it is too early for me to figure it out.

Archaeologists in Baltimore have discovered a Jewish ritual bath that may be the oldest in the United States.  (Jane had been working on this dig about four months ago.)

I read this article about Weight Watchers programs in Baltimore City and thought it may have some parallels to Howard County's Health Access Plan (at least the "health coach" part).

WB heads over to the Visionary Arts Museum for some laughs and also puts out another episode of And Then There's That.

HowChow highly recommends Mark Bittman's new book "Food Matters."  I didn't get to finish reading the post, but I'm already sold.

Sarah spruces up her blog and spreads the work about a Dating Violence event at HCC this Wednesday.

That's all for today.  I hope you have a great Valentine's Day no matter your choice of celebration.  If you don't have someone to spend it with, there is always a dog looking for a walk.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday Recommended Reading

I have a few things to offer up for your Sunday morning consumption, especially if, like me, you reached the end of the Baltimore Sun before you finished your first cup of coffee.

First, from the Sun, an interesting op/ed about the Huffington Post/AOL merger/acquisition, which ends up being a hit job on the entire Patch concept.  I've been a big advocate for Patch, mostly because I think these reporters are filling a vacuum that is slowly developing in local news.  This editorial seems to pretend that "journalism" (as opposed to "content") had previous existed in a bubble that was protected from market forces.  My American history class taught me differently.

The Sun also has a very fair piece on the Death Penalty debate, focusing on the families that have already been through the rigors of appeals, only to now face the ambiguity of political maneuvers to end the practice of capital punishment.

If you REALLY have a lot of coffee left in that mug, you need to check out this addicting piece on Scientology.  It took me three sittings.

I really hope we're not going back to the days where we say our enemies "hate our freedom" as this analysis piece seems to suggest.

Most lawyers will inevitably have a conversation with a family member or friend which invokes the question "How could anyone ever defend 'those people'?"  More times than not, they are referring to someone like Jared Loughner.  As such, it is incumbent on all attorneys to read articles like this.

That's all for now.  I'm going to get in a quick run and then head off to see Georgetown play Marquette at the Verizon Center.  My primary rooting interest appears to be heading for the "Not In Tournament", so I may as well start figuring out the names of the players on my secondary team before March Madness.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Wilsongate Is Over...I think

Brandie Jefferson and Patch do a better job with the Ethics Commission ruling than I ever could, so I will refer you there for the run down.  The most important line of the decision (I think) is: "Regardless of the reason for the Chamber's decision, however, the Chamber ultimately made a business and personnel decision in its capacity as a private employer, which it was entitled to do for whatever reason it chose."  Despite my cherry-picking, I think that any one that cares about this issue really needs to read the decision, which is well written and certainly well-developed for something that was drafted within a couple days.

I don't want to let this issue go away without noting that I've heard from many people that Diane Wilson is a wonderful woman with valuable experience in both business and politics.  Unfortunately, the political meat grinder works both ways, even if you feel you are a political innocent.  I just keep coming back to my primary consideration on this matter, which is that when you run for office, engage in wide-spread political speech, or make a politician your "opponent" in any respect in this County, you are taking a risk.  For good or for bad, everyone understands this, whether or not they wish to admit it.  None of you, no matter how much you may like me personally, would think that I would be a very good lobbyist.  Why?  Because I've got a big friggin' mouth.  There is a tremendous amount of delicacy involved in lobbying that I am just not comfortable with, nor would I be good at it. 

I don't know the story with Diane, the Chamber, and our County officials.  But I know enough to question any allegations of malfeasance.  That's right, malfeasance.  There may be no winners in this, but there are a lot of losers.  Being a lawyer, I often find myself saying "If only someone had apologized."  I don't know if anyone has to apologize in this matter, but picking up the phone wouldn't hurt.  We're a small town type of place.  That's how business gets done.  Maybe we don't have to let that go.

Ethics Complaint DISMISSED

Diane Wilson's ethics complaint has been dismissed.  More coming soon.

Ladies Love T-Bonz

(Wouldn't LL T-Bonz be a cool rapper name?)

Anyway, last weekend I was in T-Bonz having a few beers with a friend and I started chatting with Chris Mabe, who is the bar manager there.  He started telling me about this awesome Flying Dog beer dinner: Four courses paired with four beers for $75 a couple.  Jane doesn't much care for beer, but I immediately thought of my Dad, who has introduced me to the wide world of beer that exists outside the shackles of "Coors, Miller, and Bud."  $40 a person for a beer dinner is a down right steal.

I said, "Sign me up."

Chris turned to ring me up and made a passing reference to "Valen... Day."

Aww shoot.  I had made reservations almost two months ago for Woodberry Kitchen and Jane, while understanding, is not so understanding as to allow me to cancel such reservations for a beer dinner (as awesome as beer dinners are).

So!  If you are still looking for Valentine's Day plans, have the great honor of dating someone who loves beer, OR are planning a "Love Stinks" night, I think the T-Bonz beer dinner is a great plan.  You can e-mail Chris or call the restaurant.

(I am not getting paid for this plug.  I just like to support local businesses...especially ones that are offering good deals like this one).

IT'S FRIIIIIIDAY!!! (Links)

This has surely been an interesting week.  I imagine that there are a number of local folks that will appreciate a chance to collect their thoughts over the weekend.  Between vet visits, car appointments, and honey-do's, I'm not sure I will have that luxury (not that I have any need for thought collecting myself...I just put them all on this thing called a "blog" and come back for them whenever I need them).

Other than that, I don't have too much to say this morning.

LINKS

Maybe I have a selective attention span, but it seems like every other month we receive a report that home sales have jumped, while prices remain depressed.  Please leave me alone until prices jump.  My quarterly Zillow statement is bumming me out.

I think The Sun found Bizarro Columbia: Clarksburg, MD.  It's main drag? Snowden Farm Parkway.  One of the biggest complaints?  "Not enough foot traffic."  Second complaint?  No major grocery store.  Ok, I'm freaking myself out.

The next big thing in land use disputes appears to be the Hilltop Housing complex in Ellicott City.  More specifically, a 76 unit apartment complex with parking garage intended for public housing.  The standby objection to all public housing?  "Shared concern about the preservation of Historic Ellicott City."  As we all know, poor people hate history and will most likely find a way, with their poor-people-schemes, to destroy Historic Ellicott City as we know it.  I understand that these residents may have legitimate concerns, but I wish they would stop trying to hide their real complaint -- "I don't want to live next to a public housing complex because it is more fun to care about poor people on my ballot than it is to care about them in my backyard."  (And for what it is worth, this would be "mixed-income" housing)

(UPDATE: On further reflection [see comments below], this is probably an unfair over-generalization, but I intended to respond to the objections in the article.  I don't doubt that there are other concerns that do not have to do with a fear of poor people)

In a conversation about signs, our local electeds received an ear-full about their own advertisements

Sara Toth with the Flier writes up a good piece about what type of hits Howard County teachers have taken through this recession.  While I still think there needs to be some honest talk about pensions, I think we've done enough burden shifting to this part of the County workforce.

WB notes that the Columbia Flier is on the move and will be closing its office building in Columbia.

Sarah gets in to some very complicated budget talk in relation to the Purple Line and Senator Pipkin's idea to have Montgomery County pay for it.  If I may, that is a stupid idea.

HowChow notes that "Sedona Cafe" is coming...and then asks "What is Sedona Cafe?"

Trevor disagrees with the lady that is protesting the managed deer hunt.  You know..."Valentine's Day Deer Massacre" lady.

That is all for now.  Another exciting day in the land of pleasant living.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

We're Going Through Changes

Change?!?  Not change.  Anything but change!  Where's my milkman?  Why doesn't my refrigerator have a panel in the back for me to put the ice block?  WHERE'S MY ICE BLOCK?!?

Done?  Ok, well I wanted to refer everyone to this map from the Washington Post, which notes that along with ~16% growth in population for Howard County, there was a 123.4% increase in the hispanic population, and 116.6% increase in Asian population.  The map is actually a lot of fun and you can keep clicking to mine the data further and further, by smaller jurisdictions.

For instance, Ellicott City's population increased by 18.1%, with the Asian population increasing 115.5% and Hispanics 104.8%.  I'm sure that others will get much more into the nitty gritty of the data, but so long as we are talking about pointing and clicking things, I feel as if I am still in my comfort zone.

Simmer Da Nah (Thursday Links)

I expect that over the next week or so Wilsongate will fade further into the rear view.  The funny thing is that ethics complaints are filed quite often.  What is not as frequent is the complainant's choice to send their complaint to a local blog, which is one of the reasons we're talking about this.  I spent a good part of yesterday on the phone with a lot of folks and heard some good points on why this is a legitimate complaint:

1) It is a privilege to govern, and, in appreciation of that privilege, you need to learn to work with people you don't like;
2) Eight years is a hella long time to hold a grudge, no matter what kind of ad was put out;
3) Republicans that lose elections don't have a choice in deciding not to work with victor Dems that put out mean ads about them.

What I like about these points -- they're practical.  What's not practical?  Impeachment and indignation.

For good or bad, this episode turns the small town operations of this County on their head.  There is so much of the business of this County that goes on via telephone call or casual conversation.  Many would suggest that this leads to corruption, but I am in the camp that thinks we can trust our Council and Executive.  That is certainly naive, but I don't much care for the alternative, where all deliberation and County business is limited to public meetings that go from 7pm to midnight.  Don't get me wrong, I think there should be full disclosure of important discussions and vested interests, but Robert's Rules is the biggest pain in the ass brought from England since the tea tax.

So what does that have to do with Wilsongate?  I think some of our local politicos were caught up in the informality that we all appreciate and allow.  To the extent anyone picked up a phone and gave an unsolicited opinion that Diane Wilson should be fired, that is bad.  However, should there be an investigation, I think we will all find that it was a little less direct than that.  There may have been a "What do you think?" or "How do you think she would do?" thrown in, which brought this all to a head.  Either way, one thing is for certain -- all informal conversations between members of our County government and the Chamber of Commerce will replicate the stunted chatter of a nervous high schooler that has just spilled punch all over his prom date's new dress...with the same likelihood of success.

LINKS

Census numbers are out.  Everybody go nuts!

Maryland is number 1 in AP test scores!  Finally number 1 in something that doesn't have the word "traffic"!

State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein is looking at the feasibility of having prosecutors divided by geographic area, as opposed to category of crime, in order to track repeat offenders.  This type of innovation gets you excited about what kind of innovations a new State's Attorney can bring to Baltimore.  The problem is that the best outcome is more people in jail, not necessarily less crime.

Baltimore City would like to sell you one of its 4,000 vacant homes (which may or may not have a dead body inside).

"Valentine's Day Deer Massacre" -- has a nice ring to it.

WB (finally) weighs in on Wilsongate.  His conclusion?  "In the end there will be no winners."  I feel the same way.

HowChow notes that the Red Pearl has received some regional praise on the Kojo Nnamdi show.  I definitely need to give this place another shot with someone who knows how to order Chinese food (and won't make me eat duck feet).

Sarah posts a Census graphic and notes that Howard County grew 15.8% in the lead up to BRAC, which is expected to make us swell even further.  This is great, since our home values are not going anywhere good.

HoCo Politico says he would be the first local blogger to endorse Gov. Christie, should he decide to run for President.  It all depends on who is closer to a computer.  (I would also refer you to Lisa's comment on that post, which makes some interesting points about what Gov. Christie is cutting, and what he is letting ride)

That's all for today.  The week seems to be flying by for me.