Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday Morning Reporting on Sun Reporting

I was very worried about my Sun delivery person this morning.  I'm an early riser and use my weekends to enjoy reading a paper copy of the newspaper, which is something that is just not replicated by the web pages (especially the Baltimore Sun jack-in-the-box web page, where you need to skillfully guide your cursor around the ads).  Without fail, my Sun edition is on my doorstep by 6 every morning.  This morning it was late.  6:00 went by.  6:30 went by.  7:00 went by.  My Washington Post "stuff" (it's the junk that fills the Sunday paper, but is delivered on Saturday) arrived.  Still no Sun.  Due to the steady delivery that I had come to expect over the past three years, I was not mad.  Just worried.  "What if something happened to him?" I said to Jane.

"Your newspaper person is fine," she replied.

Then, around 7:45, Jane looked outside and said "It's here."  My concern quickly switched back over to a general annoyance that almost two hours of prime newspaper reading time had passed, but I was also reassured that my reliable delivery person was uninjured (or at least uninjured enough to toss a newspaper).

Must Read

As for the paper, there is a must read on front of the Howard section about Jenna Miller and her family's efforts to raise awareness about the dangers of bulimia.  Most concerning for parents is the hidden nature of this addiction, which is why I think this article should have been featured on the Sun front page, and not relegated to the Howard section.  Reporter Janene Holzberg, who is unfamiliar to me, does a fantastic job and I really hope you all will seek out this piece once it is online.  God Bless Jenna's family.  I can not imagine how difficult it must be to accept the grief that comes with losing a loved one, yet pushing through to get a message out to the public in order to prevent future tragedies. 

Christmas In April

Larry Carson's Political Notebook includes a contrast of political theories on how the Maryland legislature is handling our money.  I was completely baffled at the suggestion that the continued raiding of the Transportation Fund somehow represented sound fiscal discipline, which appears to be what Delegate Guy Guzzone was conveying:

Asked by an audience member if state budgets ought to be run like family budgets, Del. Guy Guzzone, a Democrat who is taking over as chairman of the county's House delegation, said that's just what using transportation money to plug budget holes represents. "Should we take money out of a Christmas fund to pay for our son's college? Yes. These are hard times," he said.

I understand the logic that he was trying to convey, but there are many of us that believe road maintenance is a base level responsibility of the State and the failure to do so has significant consequences on citizen finances and quality of life.  These funds are not sexy.  They are normally not newsworthy.  But they effect us every single day, whether it be a necessary highway expansion, mass transit, or the pothole that caused a $1,000 repair for someone with $800 in the bank.

I don't fault Delegate Guzzone for making this comparison, but I am not certain that this legislature can say with a straight face that all of their expenditures were more "paying for our son's college" than "Christmas."

Battle Lines Forming?

Although we are still three years out, I have been fascinated with prospective races for the 2014 election, especially the potential County Executive (Watson v. Guzzone) primary.  That's why I also find it interesting to watch the jockeying of potential Gubernatorial candidates in this County.  If there is a County Exec primary, Ken will be backing Guy.  There is absolutely no question about that much.  What will be interesting is to see if Courtney lines up with Franchot in the race for Governor AND if any other County Council-members do the same.  (My prediction: Gansler will self-destruct sometime  before this race gets "real").  Admittedly, that is speculation on top of speculation, but it is still interesting to me.

Larry Gets Front Page

Larry Carson has a piece on the front page of the Sun about the predicted hike in gas taxes, which was recently discussed by the Guv's "Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding at Slayton House in Wilde Lake."  There is one quote in this piece that you really never want to see a member of the legislature say.  Delegate Shiela Hixson, chair of the House Ways and Means committee, said such an increase "is the easiest tax to pass. People see it as a user fee. … We don't get the push-back on it."  Oh my goodness.  Please don't call tax increases "easy."  Some of us like to work under the fiction that you are wont to raise taxes and will do whatever you can to avoid doing so.  If it is a necessity, so be it.  But please don't call it "easy."

That's all I have for today.  I have a busy schedule of meetings this morning and then will be heading to Annapolis to watch Jane race sailboats.  You read that correctly.  An archaeologist sailor.

Friday, April 29, 2011


As Martin Espada took the stage, he gave some appreciative remarks regarding his introduction, opened one of his books, then looked out to the audience and said "Not everyplace does this, you know?"

He then went on to provide some of the most engaging and thoughtful live entertainment that I've seen since leaving the storm swept streets of New Orleans.

I don't write about my NOLA trip very much, but it is something I think about every day.  Not so much because of the devastation, but more because of the texture.  That place has soul.  I was there with a group of other law students who volunteered to help straighten out warehouses of property records after thousands of landowners died without wills between Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (most people forget Rita, but she wasn't much better than her sister).  Every night we were there, we would go to a different bar and listen to music.  I heard crooners cry about water and mechanics play melodies with nothing more than a drum set.  Every.  Single.  Night.  I met Ellis Marsalis, who is still much more famous than his son in New Orleans.  Marsalis is known for the quote "In other places, culture comes down from on high.  In New Orleans, it bubbles up from the streets."  With the crime and broken infrastructure that still haunts the city, many folks can't understand why anyone would want to live there.  I couldn't understand why anyone would want to leave.

But last night, I felt that texture in Columbia.  I saw a poet dance (quite literally) with his poetry and wrap an entire theater in his words.  And for that, I have to thank you.

You see, you subsidized last night's performance.  The arts organizations in Howard County are partially subsidized by the County, and one of those organizations made a sizable contribution towards the Howard County Poetry & Literature Society, which, in conjunction with HCC, put on the Blackbird Poetry Festival.

The subsidization of the arts is a tricky issue.  In fact, I think it is more politically charged that Healthy Howard has or will ever be.  But we don't talk about it.  Either way, thanks for last night.  It was fantastic.


Anyone else watch the Ravens draft last night?  That was some horrible television.

Constellation Energy is merging with Chicago-based Exelon Corp.  What does this matter to you?  BGE customers will be getting a $100 credit!

Jay Hancock predicts that Baltimore will be a loser in this deal, and that jobs will be lost in the long-term.

If you received your degree from a "diploma mill," allow me to suggest you avoid public service...and the Baltimore Sun.

Political correctness has reached the Baltimore County Council.  The deer hunting bill I mentioned earlier this week will be amended.  All references to "hunting" will be removed in favor of "wildlife management program."  (Is that a two or three year degree?)  In other news, traffic signs will be edited to remove references to deer crossings, and instead say "Beware Unmanageable Wildlife."

The Flier reports that Superintendent Sydney Cousins has returned to work.  Great to see him back.

WB has been invited to be a guest speaker at the next Board of Education Ethics Panel Meeting.  He has decided to pass.

HowChow loves the Fish Noodles at Grace Garden.  Takes a mighty fine picture of them too.

Sarah discusses the gray area between historic preservation and nostalgia, which is ever so important in a County like Howard.

53 Beers posts about the path that is to connect Blandair Park and Howard County General Hospital.  Doug Miller also has a good op/ed about the path here.

There was one thing I refused to talk about today (sorry Duane).  Just can't do it.

Have a great Friday and an enjoyable weekend.  I am preparing for my second marathon, which will be in Gettysburg.  I'll admit to being quite nervous.  I had a horrible run of calf cramps at the end of my last marathon and am not sure I know how to prevent them from happening again.  My guess is that I need to have more sports drinks during the run (I've been running on straight water, and had cramps during my last long run).  Any tips from the runners?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Word on Elkridge

I have not really said much about the Elkridge CSX donnybrook, mostly because I don't know enough about it to provide any kind of valuable commentary.  However, I did note that we all have been called out.  Kevin Rector (Columbia Flier) notes that some folks in the Greater Elkridge Community Association feel like they are being left to fend for themselves:

"We've had trouble getting people in other parts of Howard County to care," [Doug Kornriech] said. "All of Howard County really does need to be concerned about where they're siting this."

I honestly feel bad for these folks.  I don't care that the neighboring land was zoned industrial.  I cringe anytime I see someone write "You made a bad choice buying a home there" as can be found amongst some of the commenters.  These criticisms are missing a root level empathy that is a prerequisite to any discussion about where this CSX facility is placed.

I understand that there are "cold hard facts" regarding the CSX placement and that there are very good reasons for putting it in Hanover.  Nonetheless, the people of Elkridge have a right to petition their elected officials and fellow citizens to support them in opposing this project.

In Columbia, we bemoan the low turnout for village elections and the lack of community enthusiasm.  If there were a "Village Election" in Elkridge tomorrow, I am sure the ballot box would be stuffed.  We should not let our supposed "shining city on the hill" blind us to the fact that we are a part of a larger community; one that has explicitly asked us to help.

If you believe the CSX facility in Hanover will be a boom for business, and want to support it, that's your prerogative and I certainly don't paint you a villain for doing so.  But I hear what Doug is saying.  And next time they have a meeting, I may just rock the red.

Make Big Plans (Thursday Links)

Trudging through "Better Places, Better Lives," I've learned a lot about our town's founder and the motivations that pushed him through life.  In his urban renewal efforts, James Rouse quoted Daniel Burnham in saying "Make no little plans, for they have no power to stir men's blood... Make big plans."

The ability of a people to identify and follow a "big plan" is a powerful force.  It offers predictability, opportunities for involvement, and certainty in outcome.  Like most, I find myself attracted to documents like the "Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness," which lay out in large scope multiple individual efforts that feed into a larger goal. 

I can't say exactly why I wanted to share this, but it was something that stuck with me from last night.  Make no little plans.  Make big plans.  There's a lot of sense in that.


After his representative was quoted as being non-committal at the recent Greater Elkridge meeting, Ken Ulman has now come out to say that "This [Elkridge] site is not going to happen."  In ya face, CSX.  Nonetheless, the Guv's office seems to be suggesting that the cross-hairs have not moved from Hanover.  As an aside, we've seen many citizen groups suggest that they were representing the will of the people, but I'm not so sure any of them have executed a PR campaign like the GECA.  Good on ya.

Two months after a scandal that rocked the Baltimore City Police Department, the City Council has agreed that the manner in which towing contracts are awarded may need to be reformed.

Mayor SRB's $1.29 billion budget has moved from the Board of Estimates to the City Council, with an additional $6 million from expected state funds going to reduce furloughs and keep the libraries open, among other things.

Howard Community College will be capitalizing on Maryland slots with a new Casino Management Program.  I'm sorry, I can't think about "Casino Management" without thinking about Joe Pesci and a vice.

The Horizon Foundation has committed $95,000 to the Domestic Violence Center.  This is very good news, but also expected.  The boundaries have been set for non-profits in Howard County. 

HoCo360 (aka Strobist) is aghast that Red Pearl did not know who (or what) HowChow was.  He then goes on to note who "gets it" with regard to social media in Howard County.

Trevor gets local and posts about Speed Cameras and the River Hill Village Center.

Sarah discusses the manner in which we extrapolate our own experiences on to others, especially with regard to the value of social services and political positions.

Every time CSX, Intermodal, and Elkridge are combined, WB finds himself in the mix.  (Hard-hat required, heavy name-dropping within.)

Duane posts about money management and the makingChange program.

HowChow recommends Daedalus for cookbooks.  (Whenever that bookstore comes up, I wonder how many people don't go because they are afraid to mispronounce the name.  "I'm looking for a book, let's go to Daddy-larus...Daydulus...Borders.  Let's go to Borders."  I mean, let's be honest, there aren't many folks over 65 that can pronounce "Chipotle" and that place has been around for almost a decade.)

Don't forget, Martin Espada is speaking at the Blackbird Poetry Festival this afternoon and evening.  If you want to know why I am excited, read this.

Went way overtime today.  Have a great Thursday and Make Big Plans!!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Democracy Needs Crisis (Wednesday Links)

First, great comments yesterday.  I was in a deposition and did not have the opportunity to get in on the fun, but I did enjoy reading them (and learned a new term: DINKY).

On that topic, I don't think it is good, or healthy, for us to all agree on "One Columbia" for which all other versions shall be forsaken.  That is exactly what I think the problem is.  "Here is what Columbia should be, don't touch it."  Also, I know I come back to it often, and you all probably are tired of hearing it, but we need to allow for the organic growth of our community.  One thing is certain -- it will grow.  With rising populations and the ever-expanding federal government, Columbia is certain to grow.  The question is whether we will have put infrastructure in place to receive that growth in the most constructive way possible.  That does not mean Columbia will need to be a metropolis with flying cars in 30 years (although there is not much I wouldn't trade for a flying car), but it does mean that we all need to have a voice and make sure our interests are being represented at every level of Columbia's Russia Doll governance.

One of my favorite podcasts to listen to on the walk between my parking garage and my office is "Start The Week with Andrew Marr."  You can't help but feel smarter when listening to a bunch of Brits talk about the philosophical challenges to democracy.  It was during such a discussion that I heard one of the guests note that de Tocqueville was concerned that democracy was so perfect of a system of governance that people would become complacent.  He thought citizens would be coddled into believing that everything would be ok, because if it wasn't, they could get up and fix it.  Another guest said that democracy depended on crisis to keep the system working.  Otherwise it would become a plutocracy or some other form of "not-really" democracy, ruled by those who had the most to gain.

I can't say the entire discussion was relevant to Columbia, but I can say that in the "Second Best Place to Live" it is no wonder that we have low turnout for Village elections.

Speaking of Village elections...APRIL 30!!  THIS SATURDAY!!  VOTE!!


Red Sox Nation, I introduce you to Zach Britton.  Mr. Britton, the Nation.

"Managed Deer Hunts" always cause a controversy.  Every single time.  Then again, any time a bunch of suburbanites can say "massacre" from their comfort of their back-yards, about 20% of them are going to take that opportunity.

Speed cameras are predicted to pass the Howard County Council in a 4-1 vote.  I think this is a vote that will bite some people in the butt.  Your average voter does not come out and testify to maintain the status quo.  As we note all too often here, most people don't even know their Council-person.  However, once this legislation is passed, the contingent of Howard Countians that just want to be "left alone" are going to look at this as an imposition that they didn't sign up for...and probably find out whose district they are in.  Then again, the Council must consider this dynamic with every vote they make. 

Two robbers in Bel Air used a "heavy application of spray-on tanning agent" as a disguise to rob a paintball shop.

Patch reports that 16 congregations across Howard County hosted dozens of homeless men and woman during the winter months in conjunction with the Grassroots Cold Weather Shelter program.  This is another call to action for Howard County to implement and/or support policies and programs to end homelessness.  There is no excuse for Howard County citizens living in the woods.  (Make sure to check the list of congregations at the bottom of the article to see if yours was included.  If not, send the article on.)

Patch also notes that poet Martin Espada will be speaking at the Blackbird Poetry Festival tomorrow in Columbia.  I am very excited about this event and have already blocked off a spot on my schedule.

53 Beers is not 100% sold on speed cameras. 

Sarah loves her new MacBook Air.  Nothing like a Apple-head getting a new Apple product.  It's a brand of consumer euphoria that is not available from other purchases.

WB notes that Howard County purchased another building (and provides an interesting run down of County purchases over the last few decades).

Duane notes that Rebuilding Together in Howard County (formerly Christmas in April [I have a t-shirt from CiA somewhere]) is this Saturday.

HowChow checks out Flavors of India in Aida Bistro's old spot.  Royal Taj is still our favorite Indian place (mostly because the guy in the shiny vests is always happy to see me).

That's all for now.  Have a great Wednesday!!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Home Elephant App

Many people have suggested that the Internet has "replaced" community.  In light of all the opportunities for connectivity that the Internet allows, this would seem to be counter-intuitive.  Thankfully, there are many programs (and people) that are directed towards meeting that potential.

One of which is Home Elephant.  As described by GOOD Magazine:

A new app called Home Elephant puts neighbors in touch about their mutual concerns: the stuff that's going down in the neighborhood. It's kind of like an online neighborhood-watch-plus-bulletin-board for hyperlocal communities. Once you sign up, you can exchange messages and alerts with people who live on your block, around the corner, or down the street. Home Elephant has a practical focus: Users share crime reports, lost pet announcements, notices about traffic disruption—that kind of stuff. The sort of information that you naturally want to exchange with your neighbors.

So far, Home Elephant serves 1,039 neighborhoods in 20 countries and counting. We just signed up, but membership in Los Angeles is still small. If the app takes off, however, it could be a great way for people to strengthen their local communities—and may just help you meet some new friends without the potentially awkward experience of dropping by unannounced with cookies or whatever.

Pretty frickin' cool.  I signed up.  I hope you will too.

Learned Helplessness in Columbia (Tuesday Links)

I had the opportunity to meet up with Julia (aka macsmom) for coffee last night.  Julia is a great person and has been very involved in her Village and the community.  We discussed everything from the future of Columbia to the nasty commenters over at the "silly place," but primarily focused on the citizen governance of Columbia (and its annexed properties).  Julia is not so sure that apathy is to blame for the lack of candidates, but rather a "learned helplessness" that has been brought on by years of "questionable" neighborhood politics that have effectively blocked new participants from being elected to the CA Board.  She suggested that after a while, the few people that are willing to offer themselves for this thankless, challenging position will give up and discourage others from trying.

And that's exactly what "they" want.  Most of you are aware that there are a good number of Columbia residents that want Columbia to stay exactly how it was on January 1, 1979.  Village Centers were rocking.  Crime was low.  Shiny happy people holding hands.  "Change" is the problem.  "Change" between 1979 and today is what has brought all of the social ills and vacant store-fronts.  Things were never the same after Jim Rouse retired.

Within that construct, the "new people" are here to hurt Columbia.  They were not here when things were groovy.  They don't know how this "thing" is supposed to work.  Leave Columbia to us professionals.  Enjoy your tot lots and Splash Down, but please don't stick your hands in the machinery.

And so now, in a philosophical sense, Columbia is being pulled in two directions, with one group looking to bring Columbia back to its glory days from the 70's and 80's and the other, including the County government, interested in bringing Columbia to its glory days of the future.  This dichotomy has created perceived "good guys" and "bad guys."  The word "developer" is cast about with the gravitas of a racial epithet.  Meanwhile, Kevin Columbia wants to run for CA Board and serve his community and is caught in a whirlwind of nasty politics before he ends up on the other end, without a spot on the CA Board, and with a suitcase full of negative feelings towards his homeowner's association and public service.

It seems to be that stubborn engagement is the only way to break through this cycle.  Stubborn persistent engagement. 


I've been staying away from the Rosedale McDonald's beating, mostly because I think it is being blown way out of proportion.  I acknowledge that it is an opportunity to reevaluate how we treat people who are perceived as "different," but I also think the idea of "hate crime" overlooks the very nature of violent crime.  It's hateful.  Whether the motivation is the five dollars you saw me put in my pocket or the fact that I am white and you are not, that punch/stab/bullet is going to hurt just as much and do as much damage to our social order either way.

The trial of officers accused of kidnapping a Baltimore teen and taking him to Howard County finished its fourth day yesterday, with the alleged victim taking the stand.

HowChow notes that the Baltimore Sun will be listing the Top 50 Suburban Restaurants.  Hopefully this list is better than Explore Howard's Top HoCo list.  I'm still shaking my head over "Outback Steakhouse" for the best steak in Howard County.  I hear this Irish place has good hamburgers.

WB is excited about the HoCo GOP Lincoln Day Dinner.

Sarah notes that bike month is coming fast.  I went on Google to see how Bike to Work Day would work for me, but seeing as the most common light source will be of the blue variety, I am going to have to stick to the auto.

Running a little late today.  I know I was light on the links, but my conversation with Julia made for a big post at the front end.  Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Alright, Back to Work (Monday Links)

These weekends are apparently on fast forward.  In light of the holiday, I ended up spending a lot of time with my family and "not much" time getting the things done that I wanted to get done.  That's fine by me.

As for the O's -- I wore my hat to yesterday's game.  We left in the 10th when it started to pour.  You know how things went from there


I highly recommend two op-eds from this weekend's Post, which deal with rhetoric.  The first is written by an economist who addresses what's "fair" when discussing taxes.  Most interesting to me was the statement that 70% of Americans take more from the government than they pay in taxes.  I am presuming some measure of statistical funny business here, but even if this is partly true, it is concerning.  The second criticizes arguments for "common sense" government that ignore the complex practical matters of governing.  Both are fairly short reads.

The Sun reports that a number of Maryland Civil War battlefields are lying in the path of planned development projects and are being surrounded by a number of non-period features, such as smokestacks and shopping malls.

Baltimore City parents are going to jail for the truancy of their children; sometimes up to ten days.  This seems rather severe, especially in light of the other folks that spend their time in Baltimore lock-up.

There is an interesting dynamic on the Anne Arundel County Council where two of the sitting Council-members have County paid health care and the other five do not.  As can be expected, this caused a little tiff.

Special reminder that Baltimore City traffic is going to be horrible today.

HowChow reports that Looney's is starting outdoor dining, Kloby's is expanding, and Facci is offering valet parking.

Sarah comes back to the fact that there are less women bloggers than men bloggers and wonders why that is the case.

WB chats with Rich Ruehl of the Howard County Professional Firefighters union.

That's all for today.  I hope you had a refreshing weekend and are ready for whatever the week has in store.  (If not, lie to least for today).

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saturday Morning Reporting on Sun Reporting

While most see Ken Ulman's budget as an object worthy of praise, Larry Carson takes a much more critical view in this week's Howard Section (Paper edition headline: "Little wiggle room in $1.5 billion plan" and also is a much longer piece than the article online).  Nonetheless, the quotes from stake-holders are discordant with the overall tone of the article.  Larry notes that the BoE allocation is "just enough to satisfy" the maintenance of effort law, yet Charwoman Janet Siddiqui is "very pleased" that it includes all of their requested budget.  Larry notes that the Council could still cut Board funds, yet Chairman Calvin Ball is quoted as saying that "education is a top priority," with the added hedge (found throughout the article, suggesting this was a question Larry was specifically asking) that no one will get a free pass ("Does this mean the Board of Education gets a free pass on budget considerations?"  "No, no one gets a free pass.")

Larry also notes that Ken's overall budget constitutes a 8.8% increase from last year, with the general fund budget increasing by 5.6%.  The article goes on to say that there is not much for the Council to cut, even if they wanted to: "[T]he council might have a hard time finding things to alter in what budget director Raymond S. Wacks called 'a continuation of services budget with a few targeted increases.'"

Income tax revenue increased by $26.5 million, which "allowed $3.5 million to go into a fund to help pay for future retirees health benefits and $10 million for cash for capital budget projects."  Therein lies OPEB.  I've heard an interesting rumor about the 2010 OPEB allocation that I am following up on, but as I noted in an earlier piece, I think that so long as we are making "optimistic budgets," the County can afford to put more money into this fund.

The remainder of the piece addresses the smaller allocations to various social programs, non-profits, and Howard Community College.  I'm wondering whether the "lack of wiggle room" will cause this Council to take a more critical look at political hot buttons like Healthy Howard's $500,000 ledger entry.  Even if that were to happen, it would cause little more than a symbolic vote.  3 Council votes to maintain funding.  2 against it.

Speed Cameras and $$$

I've seen a good deal of numbers thrown around regarding speed cameras and it's enough to make you dizzy.  Patch's Brandie Jefferson notes that Ken Ulman's budget allocates $1.23 million for the program, which will include "salary for six related employees: a supervisor, an administrative support person and four technicians to staff two mobile vans."  On the back-end, Lindsey McPherson writes that $150,000 from the expected revenue will go towards traffic projects in the capital budget.  Patch's Lisa Rossi points out that Baltimore County, with a 15 camera pilot program, has charged "$1,163,160 in ticket fees" over the past 5 months.

With a $1.23 million outlay, how much are our cameras supposed to bring in?  Forget the privacy/Big Brother concerns.  It may just be bad math.

Sales Taxes Coming?

The Maryland Reporter notes that Senator Ed Kasemeyer advocated for the inclusion of an array of sales taxes with Governor O'Malley's transportation package that will be discussed during this Fall's special session.  Tax raises during special session are incredibly dangerous and bad for democracy.  Why?  Because the prohibition on law-maker fund raising is suspended.  It is a lobbyist feeding frenzy with your money as the bait.

Here's some fun homework.  The 2007 special session was held from October 29 to November 19.  Go to the advanced search function on the campaign finance database, put in your favorite Delegate or Senator, and search between 10/29/07 and 11/19/07. 

So while there will be a number of legislators, if not all of them, who bemoan the forced march back to Annapolis, my guess is that they really don't mind.  Campaigns don't pay for themselves, now do they?

That's all I have for you today.  Have a great Saturday and a great weekend!

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Community Blogger (Friday Links)

"You're not going to blog about this, are you?"
"This is off the record."
"Please don't post this."

Blogs give people the heebie jeebies.  Sure, there are some people who posture and pontificate before you as if they see themselves writing your post word by word (posts that are never written), but for a lot of folks, they act like there is a tape recorder on the table and a pencil behind your ear.  It is completely understandable, but also annoying. 

There is discretion in all things.  I'm oftentimes looked at like the two year old with a crayon in his hand.  "Hey buddy!  What's that you got there?  A crayon?!?  Wow.  Could you give it to me before you write on the wall?  That's my boy!"  I have no doubt that a lot of this has to do with my age.  People of a certain...advanced level of life experience...sometime feel an irresistible need to tell the younger generation what to do.  The blog provides a very easy basis for such instructions.

But conceptually, I will assure you that my interest in not "crossing lines" is much greater than any of those that would tell me not to.  One's ability to operate in Howard County is based on 90% reputation and 10% ability.  If I violate your trust, or the trust of those I partner with, I endanger the effort to raise money to end homelessness, the non-profit Boards that I sit on, and my ability to do the thing I love most which is meet with all of you and talk about what is going on in our community.

About four months into my first year of writing this blog, I crossed a line and wrote about a meeting that I should not have written about in a way that I should not have written about it.  That post is long since deleted (and probably one of the least controversial posts I've ever written), but I learned an important lesson about what I could and could not write about.  By my own cognizance, I have not crossed that line since.

I want to reiterate that I understand the skittishness and do not expect the "off the record" requests to go away.  However, I do want my readers to know that there are, and will continue to be, things that I just can't write about.  One is the Charter Review Commission.  The next may be the CA Board.  In neither respect does that mean I can't engage you and let you know about what is happening, but that is different from giving you my honest opinion on things.  I have an obligation to you as a reader.  That obligation is to avoid "blowing smoke" at all times.  This is another valuable trust which, if broken, could ruin something that I have worked very hard to build.  I also have an obligation to those I work with and for to put the mission of the organization before my own personal beliefs and opinions.

So, don't worry about me.  Or do.  Just know that I have "skin in the game" and don't plan to lose it.


Sarah linked to this piece regarding the transformation of suburbs to cities yesterday, so I thought I would co-sign the recommendation (although I think Sarah's post on the subject is better).

The Sun suggests that we Baltimore commuters may have the Grand Prix to thank for the extra 20 minutes that have been added to our intra-city commute.  It is really awful folks.  And can we all agree that the police officers directing traffic are not helping things?

Gov. Schaefer's body will be "ferried" around Baltimore City on Monday and then lie in state at City Hall until Wednesday.

The silly season never ends.  Attorney General Doug Gansler toured a Baltimore County waterway to view all of the debris that has collected in Back River.  I was not aware of this, but our AG is conducting a state-wide study of the Chesapeake and its tributaries.  So while our Governor is going to China, our State's lawyer is touring swamps and streams.  It's like a big game of musical chairs.

Representative Chris Van Hollen has sued the FEC for greater disclosure regarding political commercials in the days leading up to elections.

165 (!!) residents attended the Greater Elkridge Community Association meeting last night to protest the proposed CSX facility in Hanover.  A gaggle of politicians (and/or their representatives) attended, all of whom seemed to agree that this CSX facility should not be in Hanover...except one:  "Ulman's representative was noncommittal on the executive's position, which drew criticism from residents."

53 Beers: "Someone recently said in the media that a"one size fits all" approach for the village centers doesn't work for everyone.  Well, big whoop on that."

WB posts about Allen Dyer's recent "transparency initiative" (Operation "Sue Baby Sue") and garners some of the downright weirdest comments I have ever seen.

Duane is a proud Grandpa and considers himself the opposite of the "Tiger Mom."  (Thanks for the hat tip!).

That's all for now.  I'm working from home today and plan to get some things done around HoCo.  If you feel like meeting up for a beer after work, let me know.  Have a great Friday!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Caps & O's FTW! (Thursday Links)

I had a fantastic evening last night.  First, the O's win (despite Kevin Gregg's efforts to the contrary).  Then, we reached our $3,000 goal.  THEN, the Caps came back from being down 3-0 to beat the NY Rangers in Double OT.  Ok, the sports stuff doesn't really matter, but it still put me in a great mood.

I also had Part 1 of my New CA Board Member Orientation yesterday.  Since both elections are uncontested, CA is getting in front of the normal orientations schedule.  I am actually very excited.  I think that is because the alternative is...well...not something I'm willing to entertain right now.  Yesterday's meeting was geared towards introducing the structure of the corporation and the various bureaus, departments, and employees.  For all the criticisms, I think CA has a tremendously talented group of people running the company. 


O'Malley is leading a trade mission to China.  Um, O'Malley is leading a trade mission to China?  I never really understood these types of trips for purposes of State or local business.  That seems like one of the items that we are supposed to abdicate to the Federal government, meanwhile the feds are running our schools and our Governor is taking trips to China.  Nonetheless, I did find it interesting to read that Maryland has "several trade offices" in Asia.

According to Larry Carson, proponents for speed cameras outnumbered opponents 2 to 1 (30 to 20 according to Lindsey McPherson's piece) at last night's County Council hearing.  Kudos to the Howard County Republican Club and President Jeff Robinson, who is slowly becoming an "expected" voice at County Council hearings.  In fact, credit should also go to "our own" Chris Oxenham, who has been getting the word out about important County issues and recruiting testimony for the same.  As far as the testimony itself, Board of Education Member Brian Meshkin is quoted in Larry's piece, asking the Council to reject the legislation as "bad public policy" after fellow Board member Frank Aquino spoke in favor of the bill (both speaking as private citizens).  Despite the apparent party identification of the speakers, I don't think this issue breaks down along party lines.  There are "evildoer-be-damned" Republicans who support it and "ACLU-privacy-hound" Democrats who are against it.  It should be interesting to see how this shakes down.  It will not be a unanimous vote, and most likely will break down 3-2.  My guess right now is that it will pass, but it depends a lot on what Council-member Jen Terrasa does.

A program in Baltimore City is aimed at turning 10 vacant acres over to farmers.  This is one of those eye opening ideas that seemingly solves multiple problems at once: Community pride, nutrition, blight, and possibly even crime (many studies have shown that the physical environment can be a predictor of chronic violent crime).  Make sure to find a way to support Five Seed Farm, which is the model for this effort.

53 Beers shares his memories about the former Governor of Maryland.

WB notes that local civil war buffs have a lot to be excited about in the coming months.

Sarah introduces the General Plan website and discusses her homework for the weekend.  For those interested in the General Plan, please make sure to use Sarah's blog as a forum for ideas.  I think that would be very helpful to the process and helpful to Sarah as a Task Force member.

Duane encourages readers to consider buying "Impact Notes" which help fund affordable housing projects (with a 2-3.5% ROI).

I'm off to my first Charter Review Commission meeting.  I'm very excited about getting started with this group and appreciate the opportunity to serve in this capacity.  Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

$3,000 GOAL MET!!

"kept waiting for you to reach the goal... can't stand it any longer - congrats"

That was the comment left by the beautiful wonderful anonymous person that donated the last $74 towards reaching our $3,000 goal towards ending homelessness.  We started this effort on March 18.  We finished a little over a month later.  I am so appreciative for each and every one of you that contributed from $10 to $250.  As I noted before, I think this is about more than raising money.  It is showing an interest in getting things done.  

Earlier this week, I was assured that our first $3,000 will be going towards the subsidization of sober housing.  This money is incredibly important and will mean so much to those it helps.  It is life changing money.  This housing will provide the foundation for a future in recovery and make homelessness a thing of the past.  We are indisputably ending homelessness.  The only question is how many times.

That brings me to the next question.  We've already raised $3,000 by May after originally planning to raise $1,500 by June.  I promised not to keep moving the finish line and I don't plan to.  However, I don't think it makes sense to close shop on donations.

We've already had one wildly successful fundraising idea.  Any one have any more?  Until then, stay tuned for information about our Stage 1 Round-Up Party in June!  You all are awesome.

Allen Dyer Files Again

Congratulations Howard County!!  You are the sponsor of another rousing defense of the Howard County Board of Education in response to yet another lawsuit filed by Board Member Allen Dyer shortly on the heels of summary judgment being granted against him in his previous lawsuit.

"Gray Skies are Gonna Clear Up": Ken Ulman's Budget

County Executive Ken Ulman's budget has hit the presses this afternoon and the overall impression seems to be that things are "pret-tay, pre-tay, pre-tay good."  County employees don't get cost-of-living raises, but escape those pesky furloughs.  We'll all be getting a once-a-month bulk trash pick-up.  Non-profits get more (Healthy Howard gets the same).  Admittedly, I have not had a chance to review the Operating Budget, but may try to give it a look this evening. 

I will be interested to see whether OPEB is getting any love.  It is a politically thankless ledger entry.  Whatever money you pay towards it will be the "success" of your "successor."  And it will never be enough.  Unless Ken bankrupt the County in efforts to pay the retiree health benefits of his 30-year-old staffers, the critics would not be satisfied.  Nonetheless, it merits present attention.  The County is maintaining pay-go for retiree benefits without any apparent problems, but baby-boomer retirement is close at hand, which has the possibility of throwing future budgets on their head.  If I were a prospective County Executive, I would probably want to make sure that this can was not being kicked...or at least not kicked very hard.

UPDATE Lindsey McPherson notes in her piece that Ken's budget provided $3.5 million towards OPEB in this year's budget.

Another thing I will be interested to see is whether this is a "Campaign Budget."  Based on the coverage, it seems as if a lot of new money is going towards environmental projects that could conceivably be sold to benefit the "State of Maryland," including the hiring of a Storm water Czar, which sounds like a bad guy from Captain Planet (I imagine someone that smells like a swamp and talks with a constant gurgle).  I'm not criticizing these efforts, but as with most things, County budgets are about prioritization.  Are there more important things, hyper-local things, that this money could go towards?

How My Hat Saved The O's (No Link Wednesday)

I have a hat.  I would say it is more than just a hat, but that would be a little melodramatic.  It is a worn Oriole's trucker cap with a mesh back, plastic fitter strip, and an Ornithologically Correct Oriole Bird.  The brim is a piece of plastic between two pieces of torn fabric.  The front is sun-bleached a reddish brown.  It is my hat.

In August of 2004, I was cleaning my parents' garage and uncovered this beat-up old hat.  (Technically, it is my Dad's hat, but possession is 90% of the law and all that jazz).  When the 2005 season rolled around, I started wearing it.  You will recall that the 2005 season was the last time anyone could be excited about the Orioles.  At the All-Star break, the O's were about 1.5 games out of first place, after holding first for most of the first three months.  I had worn that hat for almost every game they won.  But around July, I went on a road trip to Florida.  I left the hat in my buddy's car.  My buddy lived in North East PA.  He kept saying he would send me the hat, but he never did.  I didn't wear it, the Oriole's lost.  I got the hat back in December.

Since that time, the hat has been my "lucky hat," although it has been less than lucky.  Something was lost when I left it in that car.  A trust was broken.  I still wear it, mostly to show people that I am a long suffering fan and not a "pink hatter" (as is so prolific with the Red Sox bunch).  I had not yet broken out the hat this season, in good part because Jane hates it and had rudely hidden it at the bottom of my hats.

But yesterday, I knew the team needed the hat.   I scrounged for the hat, pulled it out, and put it with my bag to go with me to work.  There was no way this hat was going to allow a 9 game losing streak.  It was against its very nature as a lucky hat to allow such a thing.  I went through my entire day with full confidence that the Orioles would win.  My safety blanket was working.

But sure enough, they won.  Ok, so it wasn't the hat.  It was an offensive explosion behind clutch pitching.  But seeing the team from Monday and then seeing the team last night, you couldn't help but feel like something had changed.  It might just have been an old beat-up hat.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ellicott City Shooting Stones Throw From Police Department

(Small stone, good arm, wind at your back, downhill...but still very close)

View Larger Map

If you've been paying attention to the news today, there was a shooting in Ellicott City last night, leaving the victim in critical condition.  What these reports are leaving out is that the shooting was almost equidistant between the George Howard Building and Old Ellicott City.  I don't say this to embarass the police (or anyone else for that matter), but the location of this shooting is surprising.

The Extra Chores of Summer (Tuesday Links)

Around this time of year, I normally have at least one "I-forgot-how-awesome-the-Sun-is" moment when I stand outside and just enjoy the weather.  However, as suburbanites, we must face another seasonal affliction: the extra chores of Summer.  Yesterday I spent about 15 minutes deciding that my roof is just too steep to clear out my gutter (it involved a lot of me hanging onto a window frame, sliding down the shingles, saying "Lemme just...nope...ok, I'm slipping...maybe if I just...nope, almost fell there").  Having failure fresh on the brain, I decided to do something I knew I would be able to complete: cut the lawn.  Little did I know that Jane had volunteered our lawn cutting services to our neighbors because she "wanted the clipping for her garden."  I didn't really mind too much.  There is something fun about the first lawn cut of the year.  The smell.  The pride in ownership.  Pushing a machine around (insert Tim Allen grunt).

But then there was the rain barrel.  You see, after Sharon was nice enough to point out in the comments that Howard County was giving away rain barrels, I forwarded this to Jane.  Jane loved it.  So now we have a rain barrel (for those who don't like the color, Jane spray painted it...and portions of our back patio).  The only downside of the barrel is that it needs to be constructed.  There are plenty of "add-on" parts that I will not bore you with, but we finished around 8 pm.  Jane with a satisfied smile.  Me with a slightly diminished interest in being green about anything ever again.  (Joking aside, get a rain barrel -- you can put goldfish in it).

And thus, round one of the extra chores of Summer was complete...until next week.


William Donald Shaefer has died.  You can tell the Sun must have been maintaining a "Schaefer bureau" based on the length of their "Life in Full" piece.

Scary day on the Bay Bridge yesterday.  Three people were thrown/jumped into the water.

If you thought you could gamble away money stolen from a campaign account, you were wrong.  Senator Currie's Treasurer is sentenced to one year in prison for stealing over $160,000 from Currie's campaign account.  One year seems light.  I'm still waiting for someone to run on a "Public Trust" platform that would increase penalties for crimes of this nature (and make sure that those removed from office do not continue to receive pensions).

Speaking of Mayors, it now appears to be a three horse race with Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III throwing his hat in the ring.  With all due respect to "Jody," I don't see "Joseph T. Landers III" getting a lot of check marks in Baltimore City ballot booths.

Our long regional nightmare is over.  The Domestic Violence Center has hired a new Executive Director.

HowChow (is back!  Again!) suggests that Howard County have less supermarkets and more alleyway ramen vendors.  Ok, not really, but he reflects on his time in New York City and thinks about how that could work here.  Make sure to check out the comments.  Some of the HowChowettes are restless.

WB posts about the size of our neighborhoods and how we define them.  I define my neighborhood by the distance from which I can still hear the parking lot children squeal.  If I can still hear them, I am still in my neighborhood.

Sarah wraps up her Anonymous Project!  This is very impressive.  Overall, Sarah raised $600, $300 of which was her own matching contribution.  We are now $84 away from our $3,000 goal.

Moe writes about "Old Ellicott City" as she continues her alphabet challenge.  I imagine you have to start such a challenge with a very good idea about where the X and Z posts are going.

Duane further laments the problem with Village Centers and suggests a binding of ethnic food markets to create a "cultural hot spot."

That's all for now.  I'll be going to the baseball game tonight.  If they're going to lose 9 in a row, they will have to do it with me glaring from the stands.  I've got quite a glare.  Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Jobless Protestors At the Mall

Lindsey McPherson with the Flier reports that there was a gaggle of protestors at the Columbia Mall today.  Clearly they were protesting the banning of homeless men and women from the use of Howard Transit's main hub...right?

Nope.  They were protesting against Bank of America and the fact that it did not pay corporate income taxes this year.

Maybe there's something messed up with my head, but I don't get "infuriated" by the idea of corporations not paying taxes.  In fact, it makes me happy.  I know that a lower corporate tax rate is important to ensuring jobs in the United States.  I also know that while a corporation may not pay taxes, their shareholders and employees do.

So protests like these make very little sense to me.  Especially when the premise is "We don't even have jobs and these fat cats get to do business without paying taxes."  It is the kind of emotional fire-fight that involves very little critical thinking and a lot of yelling (and nicely colored posters). 

Quite frankly, I don't much like the idea of protests to begin with...but that's for another post all together.

Lost on Folly Quarter (Monday Links)

I've been training for the Gettysburg Marathon for the past two months.  While I was slightly worried about not having enough time to train, I've been making it through my long run progressions without much problem.  Yesterday was the two week out mark, so I decided to go for my LONG long run.  This involved mapping out areas that I had not run before...including Folly Quarter Road.  Besides a few close interactions with some distracted drivers, my run was uneventful until I came to the traffic circle that joins Homewood Road and Folly Quarter.  I knew that I was to take Folly up to 144, which then joins with 40.  However, the direction I thought I was to go said "West" when my understanding was that I was to go either North or East but certainly not West.

I took it anyway and spent the next 40 terrifying minutes thinking that I was running to exhaustion and getting lost at the same time.  Nonetheless, the scenery was beautiful.  When I finally saw Rte 144 (Frederick Road), I pumped my fist like I won something.

Anyway, that was a big part of my Sunday.  Hope you all had a good weekend.


Game of Thrones was very good.  Due to the expansive nature of the books, one episode felt like a flash in the pan.  I somewhat agree with critics that they are trying to shove too much story into too little time, but since it is such a great story, I really don't mind.  Even so, I'm not so sure this show would have done well with those that had not read the books, which is the vast majority of the viewing audience.  Did you watch?  If so, what did you think?

The Sun covers last minute sweeteners for Maryland industries in the General Assembly's spending plan.  Most of the time I don't even think the legislature cares about the appearance of impropriety.

There was an article over the weekend noting that the lines for Congressional districts will be redrawn with a focus on defeating Andy Harris.  It seems that this is one area where small d democracy can be manipulated in a cavalier and intentional way without any self-conscious explanation.  I would like to see an independent commission come in and make proposals, but that's not how it has been done, so that's not how we're going to do it.

BNotes have been let loose on the City of Baltimore.  If Howard County had its own currency, we should call it H-Cheddar.

A mismatch between job seekers and employment openings has drawn out the need for job skill training for the recently unemployed.  Interesting stat:  Maryland has 210,000 unemployed and 70,000 current job openings.

Mo talks about Columbia Neighborhoods and growing up in Long Reach.

WB was without power this weekend.  That storm was a doozy.  (I wish there were some scientific theory to explain the recent increase in the "frequency and intensity" of weather events.  Someone should get on that.)

Frank Hecker is dropping kilos.

Sarah has a guest post from Jeff Chamblee about "Pedestrian Prohibited" areas of Columbia.  Interesting aside (maybe only to me), but as I was driving home along Rte 40 on Friday, I noticed that there is a fairly new, fairly "dense" development about a tenth of a mile from the Normandy Shopping Center.  Despite the proximity, a pedestrian would have to walk about a quarter mile to get to the crosswalk to get over to Normandy.  At our recent Village Board meeting, someone mentioned that a Crosswalk installed at Centennial High School had drastically increased the number of kids that walk to school.  I wonder if the Normandy area may benefit from some added pedestrian features?

This week will be jam packed with all sorts of fun after work activities for me.  I'm currently reading "Better Places, Better Lives" and there is an interesting quote from James Rouse (that I must paraphrase) stating that his work life was a "platform" for efforts in his "community" life.  Seems just about right.  Have a great Monday!!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

$158 Away

It seems hard to believe that we are only $158 away from meeting our first benchmark of $3,000 with over two months to spare.  Don't worry, I won't be moving the finish line again.  $3,000 is a tremendous accomplishment and my efforts will be redirected towards a reception this June to celebrate all those who contributed and direct our efforts towards the next $3,000 goal.

Many people have told me that I should provide profiles of the people we are helping in order to raise funds.  People want to know where their money is going.  I want to do that.  But I can't.  Even with all the anonymity of fake names and circumstances, I feel like I would either be breaching confidentiality or selling you a fiction.  What I can do is provide you with the context of what this project means: The person in recovery.

The person in recovery most likely lives in a tent or a motel room.  Comfort is dependent on the sun and wind.  Whatever they value had better fit in a pocket or a backpack, otherwise it is sure to be lost.

The person in recovery has few friends they can trust.  In the years leading them to this point, they have been scammed, robbed, and beaten out of what little money they have.  The substances that they must avoid are the bonding agents of their community.  They spend a lot of time alone.

The person in recovery is told to get a job.  But first they need a shower and a place to shave.  They need a computer to print their resume.  Job references for their application. A work history to share.

The person in recovery had a family.  They may even have kids.  But those children have been taken from them by well-meaning relatives who no longer trust them with their own offspring.  The person in recovery is clean, but the wardens of their children are not accepting urine samples.  They just remember the past and see a homeless person.  This is the driving force in their life.

The person in recovery got here in a daze.  They remember making bad decisions, but have decided to stop.  Every obstacle is made larger by their circumstances.  They have only themselves to blame, but blaming themselves only gets them so far.

The person in recovery needs only two things: A clean place to live without drugs and alcohol and the fellowship of those who are in the same spot.

We say homelessness is unsolvable, but we never really look at how we've tried.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Baltimore Fortune Cookie (Saturday Recommended Reading)

The weekends are the only days where I really get to enjoy reading the newspaper.  Every morning I scan through the web version, but on Saturday and Sunday, I get to touch paper and read it how it was meant to be read.  If you're not paying attention, The Sun is getting smaller just about every month.  It took me about 25 minutes to read every local story today, including things I didn't care about like this story about police officers kidnapping kids out of Baltimore.  Admittedly, Larry Carson appears to be on vacation this week, so the Howard Section was about three articles deep, but still, our newspaper is quite literally going away.  More AP stories.  Less local coverage.  More ads.

Yesterday, I stumbled across this piece about the LA Times and the transformations it has seen in efforts to raise money and then reclaim its stature as a respected authority.  It is a thought-provoking article, especially for anyone who shares my concerns.  The funny thing is that I don't feel a lack of information.  I just feel like I have to go to more sources to get the full picture: The Sun, The Flier, Patch, Washington Post, Maryland Reporter, NY Times, CNN, Drudge Report, etc.

And I'm not saying The Sun has done anything wrong.  Those that say they canceled their subscription due to party bias are those that don't trust their own critical thinking skills.  This is the only regional paper we have.  You either read it, or you "don't know."

As for ads, The Sun website has become an obstacle course of pop-up ads and sliding ad boxes that make you feel like The Sun is Woody Harrelson and the web-page is Demi Moore.  Most of their best writers have been delegated to these news analysis-type columns that appear to be made to distract the reader from the fact that there is less and less "news."

I really wonder where we go from here.  I would like to think that local coverage will never go away because there will always be a market for it and someone will just have to find a way to deliver it in a more affordable package.  Will the best and the brightest still want to be newspaper reporters?  I hope so.  For all of our talk about teachers and public workers, we would do well not to forget reporters.  Sure, they work for private employers, but their continued existence is critical to how we function as a Democracy.  Not just existence, but high quality, critical, smart folks who care about what they do and the service they are providing. 

This is all a long rant to say that I'm worried.  The Evening Sun died when I was in 8th grade.  Mr. Haddaway said things would never be the same.  He was right.


I made myself one promise this weekend: you will finish Game of Thrones before Sunday at 9 pm.  That is because HBO's new series comes out on Sunday and I am very excited.  I'm really not one for the elves/dwarves/goblins stuff...which is exactly why I liked Game of Thrones so much.  All of that flim flam is gone.  It is just a really fantastic story.  As such, I think this is going to be a great series and highly recommend the (long) books.

Outside of the shrinking newspaper, another thing that terrifies me is the fact that Congress is in charge of saving our Country from financial ruin.  Imagine you're being kidnapped by a 250 lb football player and your two 10 month old twins are fighting over a handgun intended to save your life.  That's about how I feel right now.  I am incredibly disappointed that our charismatic well-educated President appears to be as much of a spectator as the rest of us.  If we ever needed a leader, it is right now.  Republicans are lobbing political footballs instead of real solutions.  Democrats are stomping their feet saying "Did you see what he just did?  I can't believe he did that!  That was so mean!"  Meanwhile the "Gang of Six" is standing off in the background waiting for a chance to speak "Excuse me.  Pardon me.  Not finished yet?  Ok, go right on.  We apologize.  We only have the solution to the largest crisis our Country has ever faced over here, but it can wait."  I would like to think that these political theatrics will resolve before someone gets hurt.  "Someone" being you and I.  "Hurt" being drastic changes to our very way of life.

That's all I have for today.  Maybe the weather is putting me in a dour mood.  I'm sure everything will be just fine.  Oh, by the way, Judgment Day is May 21st.  Make sure to buy gold, safe deposit boxes, and weapons.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Gimmicks and Give-aways (FRIDAY [!!] LINKS)

Long time readers know that I strongly support the general mission of nonprofits: to serve a public need via quasi-private means.  ("Well put a rose on your nose, so does everybody else.")  By that, I believe it is "our job" to take care of "our problems."  Not an amorphous government body.  Us.

Anyone who has ever served on a non-profit board knows that you spend about 70% of your time (if not more) thinking of gimmicks to get people to donate.  Most of the time, this gimmick fits within the following mad lib: "We can hold a gala/ball/ho-down/barn-burner and raffle/silent auction off a house/car/first child/private space travel."  I really enjoy these functions and am sure you could fill your schedule with such events, but I wonder whether it has always been this way.  Was there ever a time where nonprofits didn't have to "Trick or Treat" their way to sustainability?

Grassroots has recently started a program called "Friends of Grassroots."  To be a "Friend" you must contribute $600 a year to Grassroots.  You don't get a car or private space travel.  No black tie required.  Just the satisfaction of contributing to an organization that does a tremendous amount of good for your community.  (The HoCo Library has a similar program).  I wish more organizations could "get away" with this.  "We are an organization that matters.  We deserve your support.  We will not be dancing for your dime."

I'm going to talk to Jane about becoming a "Friend."  It's the right thing to do.


Orioles lost a heart-breaker to the Yankees, which is why these links are late.

Another downtown institution closes its doors: Werner's will be serving its last meal today at lunch.

8,000 Community clinics across the nation are facing down a $600 million cut in federal money.  Certainly would have liked to have seen more cuts coming out of the defense budget and less coming out

I'm addicted to Baltimore City gang stories, especially those written by Justin Fenton.

Baltimore County Exec Kevin Kamenetz drew $61 million from the County's reserve fund, leaving $150 million, to balance his spending plan.  I don't even know what Howard County's reserves are...unless that would be referring to the "Rainy Day Fund," which is somewhere around $48 million.

I'm a little late to the party on this, but congrats to Delegate Warren Miller for having his liquor tasting bill passed.  I think he sums up the bill pretty well here: "I don’t know that it does much to attract more people,” Miller said. “It might just change what you buy when you’re in the store.”  (Much better than the original subheading the Flier was going to use: "Republicans Support Drinking Booze On Your Way Home From Work").  I don't share the concerns of others that people will circumvent the one ounce per day limit by visiting multiple liquor stores.  Chances are, if that's how you get your buzz, you aren't someone that puts much of a governor on how much you drink in the first place.

The County Council discusses speed humps v. speed cameras.  Better not combine those two.  Probably illegal in Maryland.  (Come on, it's Friday!  Laugh a little).  An interesting note from that piece is that Executive Ulman's capital budget has already allocated $150,000 expected to come from speed cameras for transportation projects.

WB posts that the Oregon Legislature Rick-Rolled their state in slow motion.

Mo Loves her Library a Lot.

Must read post of the week: Sarah's run down of the first General Plan Task Force meeting.

Frank Hecker provides a very interesting discussion of the meaning of Liberty (as inspired by the Liberty bell).

TJ notes that HoCo water bills will be going up.  Looks like Jane and I will finally be getting around to that rain barrel.

That's all for today.  I'm not sure what the weekend holds for me, but am quite certain it will have at least a little work.  Have a great Friday (impossible not to) and enjoy this wonderful weather!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Harry Potter Complex

One of the things that stuck with me from this video was the idea of a "Hero Complex" in relation to community leadership (i.e., you must be selected...and may be marked with a lightning shaped scar).  It rang true.  Yet, this is not how leaders in our community are chosen.  We all too often scoff at their ambition, but at the end of the day, these folks volunteered.  I've said many a time that I won't vote for someone who is running simply because "they think they're smarter than everyone else."  Maybe that's not fair.  Maybe I should vote for that guy/gal.  Maybe I should appreciate that they have volunteered when others have wilted in the face of opportunity.

Approached from another angle, how many of our Village Board vacancies would be filled if people were specifically asked to run as opposed to "asked to apply"?  "You know Sam, I've seen your work on/with/for (community project/group/person) and I would really appreciate it if you would consider running for our Village Board."  How much of the inhibition towards running for such a position has to do with self-doubt as opposed to the convenient excuse of "apathy"?  As of April 14, 2011, there are more people on my Village's RAC than there are on the Board.  Time committment is just about the same.  Work load is just about the same (for Dorsey's Search, mind you, maybe not in the other villages).  Yet the RAC is conveniently low pressure.  Check out a house, vote yay or nay, and your vote is still just a recommendation.  Very hard to screw it up.  None of us "ran" for that position, we just "took" it.  There was comfort in the ease of acquisition and low-profile of the position.

We can bang our heads against the wall with posts saying "We need YOU," but the general nature of these requests do nothing to respond to an individual's belief that they "don't fit" or "aren't needed." Apathy is a much harder problem to solve than self-doubt.  Apathy is a fault of the community, while self-doubt is individualized.  Outside of the context of Village Boards, I think if you described Howard County as an "apathetic" community, you would get laughed out of the room.  How many people are going to be at the Columbia Foundation's Spring Party?  Hundreds...of apathetic people?  I don't think so.  Out of those involved, caring, smart, dedicated people, there are at least 50-60 "Harry Potters" waiting to be told that they are appreciated and needed.

We're not apathetic.  We're heroes with a healthy case of self-doubt.

Speed Cameras And YOU (Thursday Links)

There was a presentation at my Village Board meeting last night regarding speed cameras.  Evidently, the Police Chief and a number of his deputies are lobbying all of the village boards for support of this legislation.  There was a tremendous amount of data that was collected about our school zones and the number of cars that speed in those areas.

However, an interesting thing happened on the way to supporting this legislation... If you live in Dorsey's Search, you've probably been on Grey Rock Drive once or twice.  It pretty close to a straight away between Columbia Road and Frederick Road.  People drive fast.  Someone asked "Is Grey Rock in a School Zone?"  There was no direct answer (since we didn't have a map), but the apparent suggestion was that despite the fact that Grey Rock had no schools on its 2 mile stretch, police may look into placing a camera on that road, so long as it was within a half mile radius of a school.

I'm not saying this weighs for or against the legislation, but it is certainly something to consider.  After seeing this Deputy speak about having to speak to the families of those killed by speeding, my heart strings were definitely plucked.  But that doesn't mean this legislation will stop those doorbells from ringing.


It was not pretty, but the Caps won their first playoff game against the Rangers

Superfresh wants to sell 22 of its Maryland stores.  Based on our experience in Howard County, a supermarket looking to sell is never a good thing, and often leaves a shell behind.

Baltimore County Exec Ken Kamentz will be releasing his first budget today and is warning that he is "only here to further tighten the belt."  If you look at our surrounding counties, you have to acknowledge that our Executive and County Council have done a good job of steering us through tough times.  Outside of furloughed employees, there have not been many of the "painful cuts" that have been experienced elsewhere.

It is about to get a little more expensive to live in Baltimore City...again.  Water bills may be going up as much as 9%.

Neat story about the Deputy Mayor's efforts to raise money for breast cancer research.

The Flier notes that "Apathy A Strong Contender In CA Elections."  After attending the meeting last night, I can say one thing: The atrophy of Board participation is as critical to the future of Columbia as empty storefronts and grocery stores.  My Board is at the point where it needs full attendance at every meeting or it can not take care of Village business.  While many of your villages are better off in this respect, I think Dorsey's Search may be a good canary.  We can't get people off the couch, but I do think it is incumbent on organizations such as Leadership Howard County (which I'm told receives CA funds) to think about how it can help.

Right when the bees stop buzzing, WB gives the nest another kick and looks into the other HoCo CSX site.

Bill looks into the way the Dem primaries are shaping up for 2014.

Mo reflects on what it was like growing up in Howard County including United Martial Arts YES I CAN!  (She didn't include that last part, but I can't type [or think] United Martial Arts without the responsive chant).

Sarah looks at sexism in Hollywood.

Duane posts about children's mental health.

HowChow (we missed you!) posts about magenta eggs and Mark Bittman.

That's all for now.  Busy day ahead.  Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Far Away and Back: 4.5 hours of Talk Radio

I had to trek out to Cumberland Maryland for a motions hearing this morning.  That is a hike.  While I generally enjoy music, time in my car is normally spent listening to people talk.  80% of the time, that means NPR.  10% of the time, that means 105.7 The Fan.  10% of the time, I am listening to whatever I can find.

I started off the morning listening to Ed Norris say that he "liked [Josh Hamilton] better when he was a drunk."  For those that don't know, Josh Hamilton is a recovering drug addict...from an addiction that almost killed him...clearly the type of thing that is available fodder for a morning talk show host.  I won't get on my high horse about this, but I thought it was a disturbing and insensitive thing to say.  I try not to listen to this show.  Taking someone's "man card" was funny when I was in college and my buddy's girlfriend wouldn't let him come out to the bars.  It's not funny to hear two (upper)thirtysomethings talk about taking "man cards" for three hours every Tuesday.  In this same show, Ed Norris went on to brag about how he hit some guy in the face because he wouldn't sit down at a Genesis concert.  Totally not making this up.  Genesis!! 

I spent most of the next two hours listening to Morning Edition until I hit the NPR dead zone that is Allegheny County.  I'll admit that when I took on this case, I was not excited about the locale.  Once I arrived, I was singing a different tune.  For those that enjoy "nature", you need to head West.  After losing my radio, I just turned it off (after listening to about 15 minutes of West Virginia talk radio -- saying "no" to the influx of trash from other states is evidently a really big deal over there).  Driving up and down through the clouds was fun.  It was remarkably refreshing for reasons that I can't name. 

After the hearing, I listened to Laura Ingraham.  Wow.  I'll say this much, at least I know where the talking points are coming from.  The next hour or so was an interesting case study in talk radio, which is primarily geared towards selling end-of-world items like gold, wills, and safe deposit boxes (as well as dental services -- couldn't figure that one out).  In about an hour listening, I did not hear Ms. Ingraham make one cohesive argument.  Here's a brief summary:

Trump -- People like him because he will take on Barack Obama
(Also included a sound bite wherein Trump says America is "going to hell" and talks about how his Chinese friends "laugh" about how American politicians let them "get away with so much."  Sounds like a pretty stupid thing to joke about when you're friends with a loud mouthed Presidential candidate.)
Barack Obama -- completely unqualified to be President
Tim Pawlenty -- botched the announcement of his intention to run for President on the Piers Morgan Show
Tom Brady -- Cries
Brett Favre -- Cries (and makes horse sounds when he cries)

To sum it all up: She's a bully.  She spends her time in a very influential position to make fun of people in a malcious way.  It's not even laugh out loud stuff.  Just the sort of "we hate that person" talk that has poisoned our well of democratic (small d) conversation.

I'm not breaking any new ground with these observations, but it is a subject of concern.  These demagogues only make sense when you believe everything they say.  You don't listen to Rush Limbaugh and say "now Rush, I do believe our entire social order is based on some measure of social welfare to create fluidity between the economic classes, but besides that, you and I are on the same page."  If there is one thing I am forever idealistic about, it is the ability to reason with someone.  The ability to say "I appreciate your point of view, but I wonder if you ever thought about things this way AND if you did, would that change your opinion?"  With that in mind, the whole cock-suredness of these talking heads is nothing less than terrifying.

However, there is hope.  Olbermann and Beck are gone and going.  I have not read enough to figure whether talking heads are going out of style, but I do have to believe that the democratization of the news (overused term, but bear with me) has made it very difficult to sustain a news-ertainment show that requires obedience.  These folks are talking about incredibly complicated matters of social and economic policy, for which there are others who spend 8 to 12 years studying just to get in the door of those who write such policy.  Those that blindly opine on such subjects, especially with the intent to criticize, are going to be wrong.  A lot.  One would hope that if the curtain is pulled enough times, faith is lost.  And these shows are truly the modern-day equivalent of evangelists, running mostly on the tenor of their voice (and references to Nazi Germany).

So what does that mean?  I don't know.  I do know that when I show people this clip, they think Larry the Cable Guy is a lot less funny.  I would like to think that the over-saturation of news had made us all a little more skeptical.  We only trust people who tell us not to take their word for it.  Maybe they'll start replacing some of those news talk shows with music.  Or nothing at all.