Monday, December 31, 2012

2012

2012, like 1984 or 2001, was a year better defined by expectation than reality.  Election, Mayans, Olympics.  Sitting on the other side of all that, I don't think any of those things will remind us of 2012 during 2021 Trivia Challenges at our favorite watering hole.

It started with a Ravens heartbreak.  Who is to say that the Ravens had any business going to the Super Bowl, but Lee Evans has to catch that ball.  And John Harbaugh really needs to get more comfortable calling time outs.

The Orioles won...and then won...and won some more.  When I was little, my brother and I used to hide around corners and jump out when the other came back from using the bathroom.  If you weren't expecting it, the experience was quite jarring.  I liken the 2012 Orioles Season to expecting that annoying jolt.  The whole season I was just waiting for the bottom to fall out (and even predicted it a few times on this blog just so I could ready myself for the disappointment).  It never happened.  And consider me one of the happy losers that considers 2012 a success.  If you feel otherwise, your Orioles hat probably still has a tag on it.

Personally, I changed political parties.  This was a very difficult decision for me and one I tried to thoroughly hash with all of you.  Heck, this blog probably contains more of what I think than I think I think (that sentence stays).  Nevertheless, as expected, it has been a point of criticism by others who see political motivation under every throw rug.  Fine and dandy.

The Supreme Court decided Obamacare.  If you didn't think that was a big deal, you probably aren't a lawyer.  I don't say that as someone who puts "Esq." at the end of their name (never ever do this), but rather someone whose daily interaction with friends, family, and anyone else who knew I was a lawyer for about a two-month time period included a question about the decision.  I even read the darn decision just so people didn't doubt my ability to carry the profession.

The 2012 Election.  Ugh.  I write about politics just about every day.  For the most part, I try to stay somewhat unemotional about the whole thing.  The 2012 Election was not allowing anyone to be unemotional.  Sure, some people tried, but if you got them alone or with the right group of people, they would say how "terrified" or "concerned" they were about one of the two candidates winning.  And with Facebook acting as a constant fire alarm (CAPS LOCK, exclamation points, and screaming lunatics included), it did feel like something horrible was going to happen.  But then the election came and went...and things are exactly as they were before.

I'm not sure we're going to be able to use the Election as a reference point, mainly because I see it as a soon to be suppressed memory.  We were pretty nasty to one another.  I saw the nicest of my friends snap under the placement of an improperly considered Facebook comment.  Familial bonds were stretched.  Friends "blocked" or "unfriended".  I regret my own personal role in all of that and have used it as a learning point.  I use Facebook a little less and hope to make it a smaller and smaller part of how I interact with people I care about.

The sounds of moving plates echo throughout Columbia.  Admittedly, we are still without the ribbons and obscenely large scissors (can we pre-order these?  The office-issue scissors just aren't doing it for anybody), but Howard Hughes and the County have certainly kicked the tires on the new Downtown Plan.  We're getting a Whole Foods, which is more significant than anyone seems to acknowledge (hint: it's not just a grocery store).  Unfortunately, I think we will look back at 2012 as the time when the parties were getting along in contrast to a prolonged period of acrimony, capped on the other side with ribbons and obscenely large scissors.

Maybe it is still the proximity to Newtown, but I can't help but get stuck on the fact that 2012 will be stained with tragedy.  Aurora, CSX, Sandy, Newtown.  They stand out like profound defects on an otherwise unfulfilling year.  Would we redo all 12 months if we had to do those events all over again?  I'd rather just erase the tape.

Last week, I got to be Santa for two little girls who were going through a tough time with splitting parents and a backdrop of Hurricane Sandy.  It will probably be the highlight of my year.  My costume was good, but ill-fitting.  My belly was a pregnancy suit.  I've dressed up like Santa almost every year for the past 10 years.  It was my initiation into Jane's family and has seemed to have stuck.  Every year I have had two thoughts going through my head: 1) "Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas" and 2) "Don't blow it."  "It" being Santa.  There is a lot of pressure in carrying the hopes, expectations, and imagination of children on your shoulders for a 10 minute interaction.  It is terrifying.

When I walked up to the door, I could see into the window of the house.  One of the little girls saw me.  Her mouth dropped open.  I knew I wasn't going to blow it.  She raced over and hugged me as I came through the door.  I rattled off the toys we had dropped off the night before (to show her I was the all-knowing Santa) and she told me how much she liked them.  Her sister was washing her hands in the other room and came racing at me, knocking over a plate of half-eaten grilled cheese in the process (Santa business is almost always messy).  Jane was there too and later recounted how many times my white beard slipped, revealing the not-white-at-all-imposter beard underneath.  The girls didn't see it.  Their imagination washed over me like some magic paint, making my costume perfect, my preggo belly into jolly heft, and my 30 years into timeless demi-god.  Jane, the mom, me - we were all smiling (with maybe a little bit of dust in old Santa's eye).  The girls had flipped a switch.

I want to encourage all of you to take that spirit into 2013.  It will have blemishes.  The white beard is going to slip and show you the faults underneath.  But if you really believe in something better, something bigger, it will be the only thing you see.  And it will change the lives of everyone around you.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Heart Covers Stairway to Heaven

My favorite description of the "Holiday Season" is that it is a time when the film between the supernatural and natural feels the thinnest.  For whatever reason, this oddly moving cover of Led Zeppelin made me think of that.  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Very Columbia Christmas

My father-in-law sent me this cartoon and it immediately made me think of Columbia.  I think I've even seen this house near Hobbit's Glen.  (Pardon the language).

No Post Thursday

I'm a little burnt out.  Not just with the blog, but just overall burnt.  My Christmas break starts Friday at 5 pm, which can't come soon enough.

I don't know if I'll post anything tomorrow.  We can all use a break from talking about Sandy Hook, gun control, and "mental health", which tend to be the only things on my mind this week.  That and my frustration that Kindle does not show me page numbers, which is making an otherwise enjoyable jaunt through Team of Rivals a series of immeasurable stints of progress.

If you don't hear from me, have a great holiday or non-holi-day-off-from-work.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Kill Adam Lanza? (Wednesday LINKS)

If Adam Lanza had not taken his own life, and were sitting in a Connecticut prison right now after killing 26 innocent people, would we be calling for the government to kill him?  For all of our hand-wringing about "mental health", would Adam Lanza's mental well-being be of any concern if he were still available for vengeance?  Would this event reignite an interest in televised executions?

Jared Loughner and James Holmes are still alive, with Loughner waiting out a life sentence and the Holmes trial still on deck.  In both cases, defense lawyers are pleading insanity, suggesting that their clients could not tell the difference between right and wrong when committing their heinous acts.  The victims of the Aurora Shooting have spoken out in favor of imposing the death penalty on Holmes, while others have observed that the failure to use it in a case like this would effectively end capital punishment in Colorado.

If Adam Lanza were alive, would we be scrambling to kill him?

I would say that it is "notable" that this massacre occurred around the same time that Maryland will be considering a full and complete end to the death penalty in our State, but the frequency of large scale shootings have made the context common-place.  To echo the writer from Colorado, if we aren't going to execute Adam Lanza, who are we comfortable killing?  And I wish we would do away with the sterilized words like "capital punishment" and "execution".  Just say "kill".  That's what happens when you take a living person and make them dead.

This case does not present any of the evidentiary or racial concerns that prompt a heavy discussion on the death penalty.  If we are to believe the press, there is no doubt that Adam Lanza committed this crime and no suspicion that his guilt is premised on racial considerations.  Sure, we believe there is a mental health component, but this may be as much of a smoke-screen to take the conversation off guns than it is a honestly held belief.  Can anyone articulate exactly what mental illness brings someone to kill 20 children?  And when our blood is hot, do we find mental illness to be controlling anyway?  Does that make the pictures of victims any easier to look at?

And why just kill him?  If we are to spend much time in Justice Scalia's thoughts on the 8th Amendment, we should be permitted to incorporate all sorts of public torture before finishing him off.  Why settle for poisoned IV's?

We're going to have this discussion in 2013.  Who do we kill and why?  As you can see, the death penalty raises more questions than it can ever possibly answer.

LINKS

Depending on how the Howard County Council votes on the new Community Enhancement Floating district next month, we may be facing another drawn out legal battle.  According to Blair Ames's article in the Flier, Susan Gray and other zoning advocates have claimed that "the proposed zoning district violates the County Charter by illegally moving rezoning map authority from the County Council to the Zoning Board."  As Blair also points out, the five County Council members also serve as the Zoning Board.

Gov. O'Malley has indicated that he will be submitting a "gun control package" in the next legislative session that will focus on "limiting the type of guns that are allowed in Maryland, restricting access to guns by the mentally ill and looking at ways that the state can make schools safer."  On a similar tact, Howard County Ken Ulman will be forming a Task Force composed of public safety, school, and mental health professionals to address school safety.  When I see the rush to legislate, I can't help but think "All the kings horses and all the kings men..."  We'll see what comes out of it, but the apparent lack of coordination between the federal, state, and local levels is concerning.

Despite high gas prices, AAA is projecting an increase in holiday travel, with most Marylanders on the road.  That will include Jane and I.  Ugh.

Featured Blog Post of the Day:  As WB noted on Monday, CA will be opening a new gym in the Gehry Building alongside Whole Foods.  This is a critical component in maintaining the Columbia Association's position as the main provider of health facilities in Downtown Columbia.  While I understand there is some concern over the prospect of increased fees for use of this facility, this is nothing new.  The stratification of health memberships is part of what allows CA to offer some memberships at below market rates and others at a subsidized cost.  As Columbia moves forward in redevelopment, all residents will note a premium on Downtown shops, goods, and restaurants that may not have been there before.  That is an unfortunate, but expected, by-product of a "City" and the passed-on costs imposed by incremental taxes and developer obligations.

That's all for today.  Have a great Wednesday doing what you love.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gun Control

I don't plan to advocate for gun control in this post, but I used that title to point out just how terrified we seem to be of that phrase.  Maybe it is our revolutionary ancestry or the figment that our home arsenal is what stands between us and government servitude, but removed of paranoia, most of us agree with it.  Most of us agree that a hobbyist should not be permitted to own a Stinger RPG or a functioning M1 Tank (with due acknowledgement that some of my dear commenters may disagree on both counts).  That's "gun control", but we all see it as common sense.

This aversion to "gun control" has drawn our conversation sideways.  We appear interested in talking about anything BUT "gun control", because "guns don't kill people, I do".

Let's look at some of the non-gun control ideas that we've heard over the last few days:

1. Arm Teachers:  This is the single worst idea I have heard in my entire life, and I say that as someone who had friends in college who really really REALLY liked the Jackass TV show.  If we don't hear this idea for another 100 years, it will be too soon.  First and foremost, teachers may not want to carry a firearm, go through weapons training, and have the necessity of such a weapon creep through their thoughts as they are drafting a lesson plan on Charles Dickens.  Second, we put scissors that can't cut cardboard in schools, yet we feel that adding a deadly weapon is ok?  I don't care what kind of lock-box you put around that gun, there will be carelessness met with ingenuity that will cause tragedy.  Finally, and this will be a repeat theme, I think it is foolish to suggest that more guns is the answer to a shooting.  In an attempt to take down the Empire State Building Shooter last August, nine bystanders were hit by crossfire bullets or bullet fragments from ricochets in the course of the following gun-fight.  Those were trained police officers.  Replace them with scared move-goers or teachers and you should not expect much better.

2.  Additional Security at Schools:  As I'm sure I've mentioned before, I taught a year of high school at Dunbar in Washington, D.C.  There is a metal detector and an armed security guard at the main entrance, with all other entrances locked.  It was a nightmare.  A single student could hold up the line for up to ten minutes as the security guard and the student try to figure out what is making the poorly maintained metal detector (see "school infrastructure") go off.  My best students were late, sometimes not getting to class until there were 10 minutes left in the two hour seminar.  Sometimes half the class was late when the "metal detector was down" and the security guard had to use a wand or pat down every student.  Notably, the same people who advocate for this type of security mumble "the terrorists won" every time they have to take their shoes off at the airport.  Without getting too fluffy on you, modeling schools after prisons has an effect on their ability to learn.  The entire arrangement screams "You are unwanted", "You are dangerous", "You are scared".

Plus, there are many reasons to believe that additional security is a safety blanket without substance.  Think of Fort Hood.  Do you think a security guard who spends most of their day telling high schoolers to take butter knives back to their car, and the other part of their day reading paperback novels, will be ready for an assailant who is mentally prepared to shoot?  Not a chance.

3.  "Mental Health":  We all agree that the mental health system in this Country is inadequate, but I think we overlook the idea that this issue is as much of a sticky wicket as "gun control".  Quash the personal freedoms of the few for the safety of the many.  It is the same problem with different clothing.  Many of the drugs used for schizophrenia have terrifying consequences, including immobility, aphasia (inability to speak/loss of consciousness), and malaise.  In other words, our medicine is not where we would like it to be to "treat" mental illness without wiping out the person underneath.  Our resources can be better ($$$$) and our safety net stronger ($$$$), but trying to sanitize the public from the dangers of mental illness is like trying to catch a butterfly with a tennis racket.  How do you identify the dangerous?  How do you balance the liberty of someone who has not yet committed a crime with the security of the populace?  Another view on the "I am Adam Lanza's Mother" post from yesterday is that this woman is putting forth a slanderous version of child abuse.

More importantly, why is the liberty of the law-abiding mentally ill so much easier to give away than that of law-abiding gun owners?

I don't pretend to have answers and would again recommend cautious deliberation.  As my friend Bobby Allen has written on his newly formed blog, it's ok not to have an answer for everything, especially when it is something as difficult to conceptualize as the cold-blooded murder of 20 children.  But let's not take anything off the table arbitrarily.  Let's not tell people they can't talk about certain things because we disagree.  If we back ourselves into self-created alleys, we will support stupid laws that harm without benefit.

And maybe there is no response.  As unacceptable as that may seem, it is perfectly reasonable.  Free societies bear the burdens of freedom.  That idea disturbs me greatly, but it doesn't make it wrong.

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love.

Friday, December 14, 2012

This. Guy. Sucks.

Pardon my language, but I'm hoping to draw some eyeballs to this ugly mug:

This waste of carbon stole Holiday gifts delivered to the front step of a Columbia home along the 6200 block of Tamar Drive around 2 pm on November 28.  Thankfully, the resident caught him on security camera, but unfortunately the camera could not stop the crime.  Here's another look:

If you know this Grinch, or think you have seen someone looking like this around town, please contact the police via the non-emergency number 410-313-2200.

CA Board Recap: December 13, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:32 pm
End Time: 10:20 pm

Overall, a good meeting taking care of those things that were time-sensitive and needing address.  As with many other Board frustrations, it often feels like we are a ship at sea with a broken sail.  We just take the next wave and are pushed in whatever direction the sea may dictate.  I think the next Board would do well to set out a strategic plan for the entire year in May and plug agenda items into that framework as the year moves on.  The spontaneity and lack of focus has invited triviality and inertia.

Columbia's 50th Birthday

The Board is beginning to plan for Columbia's 50th Birthday celebration in 2017.  More accurately, the Board is beginning to see its limitations in that regard, and passed a motion last night approving the creation of a 501(c)(3) organization specifically dedicated to the celebration, how it will be managed, and fundraising relating to the same (CA cannot receive private donations).

There was some measure of consternation over the mission statement of the proposed 501(c)(3).  Preliminarily, I do not believe we are legally permitted to dictate the statement of purpose for another organization.  The members of that organization may do so, but the proposing body may not.  The supporting materials noted what a statement of purpose "could" look like, but this task will most likely be taken up by the Board for the new organization once it is formed.

As for the concept itself, I love it.  I am happy that this endeavor will be brought forward by a diverse fabric of community members from the corporate, non-profit, and grassroots elements of our City.  I also think that whatever Board is created may have something to show the CA Board in terms of how a non-profit Board can be effective.

Columbia Demograhics

Jane Dembner put on a fantastic presentation about Columbia demographics that will be released to the public on Monday (so as not to be eaten up in the Friday news dump).  This project incorporated truly ingenious methods of taking Census data that does not consider the ten Villages of Columbia and sculpting it in such a way that it is accessible down to the Village level.  I was certainly impressed by what Jane was able to do with this information and appreciated the time and effort that went into it.

I want to be clear on this point, since it is prone to misinterpretation: There were no extrapolations from this data regarding the "graying" of Columbia or shifting focus away from young families.  It was merely the data as it stands.  This Board, and this organization, continues to be focused on enriching the Columbia experience for young families, as shown by innumerable actions and votes with that focus in mind.

FY2014 Budget

The danger with any budget discussion is that it often boils over into policy, priorities, and reconsideration of all of the votes leading up to that point in time.  I think you can make a good guess as to how this went.  Let that not be a reflection on Planning and Strategy Chairman Ed Coleman, who was fair, but directed in his management of these discussions.  It is just the nature of this Board to open every door of the Advent calendar at once.

In reviewing the Capital Budget, a concern was raised about the Hobbitt's Glen Clubhouse and whether enough money had been allocated for this project.  There have been some recent discussions with the architect that have muddied the waters regarding what will be necessary to meet the expectations of the community while staying within our $6 million Clubhouse budget.  No lie - design schematics for the clubhouse were passed around the room.  Yet again, CA's Management Team was put between a rock and a hard place.  We have one Board member that would rain fire and brimstone on the Board chamber if this project is even $1 over $6 million (who is conveniently silent) and another Board member who wonders if $6 million will be enough.  Representations made by Phil Nelson and others on the Management Team stating that they were holding a hard line, but that they were confident that the Clubhouse would be everything we have come to expect from the new Project, assuaged any concerns about FY14 Budget allocations.

One Board member had filed a set of proposals to amend the Budget, oftentimes with the effect of amending fundamental policy decisions relating to the Aquatics Master Plan, membership rates, and even the manner in which we replace certain CA fleet vehicles.  At least one of these proposals merits further consideration, but I did not believe it was appropriate in the context of approving the FY14 Budget.  For this, I, as well as the rest of the Board, was accused of being "closed minded" and "not caring about pools", despite spending a good part our Winter/Spring of 2012/13 in meetings and works-sessions about Columbia's pools.  I think all Board members should be careful with these kind of accusations, particularly as they may related to the "glass house" dynamic.

We all have a vote and I think the Board was more than fair in the hearing of these proposals.  It was apparent that the proposing Board member had polled the Board prior to the meeting and should have been very well aware of how his proposals would be accepted.  The decision to press on, and use up Board time on these minority reports, was magnanimous, yet unappreciated. 

All in all, not necessarily a productive evening, but it moved the ball.  A Board member has recently questioned openly in an e-mail why "CA can never get anything done."  There were numerous examples last night of why that is.  We know where the rewind button is located and are not afraid to use it.  Just as popular sentiment changes, so too does the sentiment of certain Board members.  I don't think this is shared by a majority of the Board, but we are all pulled along by the tail.  "I think the Board should consider [X] before anything happens" is rarely, if ever, denied.  That's fine, and probably engenders a better working environment, but it is a bad way to run a $60 million organization.

That's all for today.  Have a great Friday doing what you love!  Stay safe on the roads!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Franchot's Last Poll

Comptroller Peter Franchot's last poll before officially leaving the unofficial race for Governor lends even more light on the state of the race and why Franchot left.  From my review, it appears that the Comptroller chose to leave in a position of strength with strong favorables for his job performance and a competitive level of name recognition.  Any reasonable pol could have read these numbers and concluded that they should stay in the race to see how fundraising numbers shake out.  The danger with that approach is that you take the decision out of your hands and prompt a move based on weakness (i.e., money in the bank).

Normington Petts & Associates took the poll from likely Democratic Primary voters in May and December of this year.  The number of respondents was not disclosed.  These voters had an 85% favorability rating of the President and 70% for Governor O'Malley.

When asked about prospective Gubernatorial Candidates, the results were stark.  Here is how the candidates broke down for favorability (with name recognition in parenthesis):
  • Peter Franchot    36% (54%)
  • Anthony Brown  35% (52%)
  • Doug Gansler     31% (44%)
  • Ken Ulman         15% (25%)
It is interesting that although Anthony Brown's poll had the Lt. Gov. doing much better with favorability and name recognition, the results for the other candidates were mostly consistent.

Although 53% of respondents remain undecided on the current slate of candidates, for those that have made up their mind, voters lean heavily towards Brown.  If the race were held today, with all four candidates in the race, the projected results would be:
  • Brown    22%
  • Franchot 13%
  • Gansler   8%
  • Ulman    4%
Leaving the Gubernatorial race, 49% of respondents said that if the election were held today, without knowing the opponent, they would vote to re-elect Peter Franchot to the Comptroller's office, which may respond to some of Franchot's critics saying he has gone too far to the right to do well in a state-wide primary.


It is difficult to get a good read on this race, other than to note that Anthony Brown will be a formidable candidate through the primary.  Another constant is that Ken Ulman has a steep hill to climb in order to even get himself in the conversation for Governor, much less beat out the Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General.  It can be presumed that Team Ulman has their own set of polls that show an avenue for victory, however narrow that may be, but it isn't showing up in the hard numbers.  Growth Tier Vetoes and Soda Bans may be part of that path, and there is a lot of room for growth, so long as there is time to do so.  But when well situated candidates like Franchot are bowing out, you have to wonder what Ken is seeing that no one else can.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why the Soda Ban Matters

The Columbia Flier has yet again inspired me with an unsigned missive, this time about County Executive Ken Ulman's Executive Order banning the sale of "sugary drinks" on County property.

This is not about the "nanny state".  In fact, I would assume that the actual volume of "sugary drink" sales was minuscule to begin with.  How often in a given day do you use your office's vending machine?  When was the last time you used a vending machine at all?  Sure, the Howard Building soda fountain may be a few spigots down, but die-hards can bring their six-packs from home, which probably saves them a few dimes in the process.

What this is really about is identifying a danger.  I've previously ridiculed the "When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors" campaign, and will continue to do so, because our caveman-reptile brains have informed us that thunder is bad news.  Our caveman-reptile brains have told us that sugar is good.  It is quick energy, which the body craves.  Before we made the synthetic foods available today, you had to work for your sugar.  They were the structural components of carbohydrates or mixed in with vitamins in plants.  Our food economy decided to do away with all that "work" and make the sugar accessible directly, in great quantities, and cheap.

Ken Ulman's ban, and the new campaign by the Horizon Foundation, are making a loud statement that sugary drinks are not just "bad for you", they are poisonous.  These drinks will still be available, but with the kind of "noise" that will be generated from this kind of act, parents will have no choice but to be on notice that 1) children should not be drinking Coke/Pepsi; 2) juice is not fundamentally good for you, and is sometimes worse than soda; and 3) there are healthy alternatives other than water.

County Employees, and late night hangers-on at County Council meetings, may be inconvenienced by this ban, but by no means do we have a "right" to buy what we want wherever we want it.  The County is a property owner.  Despite what your righteous indignation may tell you, what we own collectively does not need to meet the objectives of our individual concerns.  This ban is much bigger than that.  The County, and Horizon, are sticking their finger in the eye of the status quo and saying "Wake up!"

Guv 2014: And Then There Were Four (Wednesday LINKS)

Comptroller Peter Franchot's announcement that he will be seeking re-election for Comptroller in 2014 marked the shift from "what-ifs" to "brass tacks" in our projections for who will  be the next Governor.  Some had predicted the field to thin after Anthony Brown put out the results of a poll in mid-November showing a significant lead in name recognition amongst the putative candidates.

Brown: 63%
Gansler: 54%
Franchot: 54%
Ulman: 21%

This poll also showed that in a four-way heat, Franchot would be the odd man out with 14% (Ulman with 4%).  Presumably, the Comptroller's office had their own internal polling that showed a similar configuration of the race and saw some big-eyed politicos staring down the Comptroller's empty seat, leading to yesterday's announcement.

I don't see this changing the race very much.  Josh Kurtz over at Center Maryland suggests that both the right side of the Democratic party and the Baltimore suburbs have been ceded to Ken Ulman:

Ulman is the candidate who is going to most aggressively court the Baltimore suburban vote and with Franchot out of the picture he has significant room to grow. As a county executive who is bound by law to balance budgets year after year, he is also best poised to become the fiscal conservative in the race.

I guess.  Unfortunately for Ken, I think the more likely scenario is that he becomes the next candidate on the "please drop out" hot-seat.  As someone who follows politics closely, and lives in this County, I think Ken makes for a great candidate that would do some exciting things on the State level, but it is hard to see a white guy from wealthiest suburb in the Country winning Baltimore City.  Even more challenging is the fact that people just don't know Ken.

I clearly underestimated Anthony Brown, but I also don't see him as the front-runner.  If polling and fundraising numbers stay close come January 2013, this is Doug Gansler's race to lose.  Let's be clear: there is only one candidate left in the race that has won a State-wide campaign.  And not to fall back on lazy sports cliches, but Lieutenant Governors just don't stand up well in Maryland.  I understand that Martin O'Malley is popular and that Kathleen Kennedy Townsend may be a bad example, but it is within that context that Anthony Brown is running.

The November poll also shows that the candidates may not be taking Heather Mizeur seriously.  That is forgivable in light of the fact that it is so unusual for a Delegate to shift focus to Governor.  Based on conversations I've had with some of Heather's supporters, I think they will say it is still "far too early" to make any decisions about whether or not to run, but I also know that just about the rest of the Democratic party is ready to make this a two-horse race.

This all comes down to the January fundraising reports.  I expect Ken to do very well, and possibly find himself second.  If he's not, the Ulman campaign for Governor will effectively be over.

LINKS

"So you said ten tons of SAND?  Oh ok, because the news article said sugar."  County employees may be trucking their own 2-liters of Dr. Pepper to work after the County Executive issued an Executive Order banning all "sugary drinks" from County property.  This Executive Order will not apply to County schools, although beverage companies have already agreed to some self-imposed restrictions that limit the number of sodas in school vending machines.  Superintendent Renee Foose has also indicated that the school system will re-evaluate its wellness policy in light of the order issued by the County Executive.  This is an interesting development and one that surely will draw the ire of "mommy-state" complainers.  So long as we're making these chemically-charged syrup concoctions harder to find, and not illegal, I'm ok with it.  Make sure to check out HoCo Unsweetened for the Horizon Foundation's campaign to help kids (and parents) find alternative to these horri-awful staples of the American diet.

State Senator James Robey has sponsored legislation making it illegal for counties to pay speed-camera contractors on a per ticket basis.  The fact that this was ever permissible in the first place is infuriating.  Imagine if we paid police officers per citation.  There's a phrase for that: Gone Huntin'.

Looks like Maryland will come up empty on the Race to the Top grants, after 16 districts were chosen yesterday to receive a share of approximately $400 million, none of which were in the State.  You will recall that Howard County did not make it past the first cut after submitting an application that did not include a sign off from the president of our teacher's union.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: HowChow reports that the Ale House Columbia is open and serving what one of his readers recounts as "the best burger I have ever eaten."  In my experience, that phrase gets thrown around way too often, but consideration for the title alone merits recognition.

That's all for today.  Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Political Historical (Tuesday LINKS)

One of the most interesting aspects of living in Columbia is just how much our history imposes itself on our politics.  Some would even say there's an entrance exam.

"Did you read...Rouse?"
"Do you know this about...Rouse?"

When I first moved back to the area, I saw this almost like a quiz with an answer key.  When faced with this problem, Rouse did X, proposed X, hated X.  It is inescapable.  The benefit is that it provides some base truths in an arena that is so often ambiguous.  Integration.  People power.  Personal growth.  Environment.  Core values to guide all further discussion.  We never talk about "bringing jobs to Columbia" or "increasing property values."  Those topics are so pedestrian when living amongst the trappings of a giant like Jim Rouse, right?  Or at least that's what we tell ourselves.  It makes everything shimmer a little more...makes the graffiti less vandalism and more "street art".

In the midst of our second great development, it is hard to see that basket-weave of history and politics sustain itself.  We're moving off of a single line from Rouse to Present.  "That was built by Howard Hughes" may become part of our driving tours of Columbia.  And in the muddling, it seems the historical frame of things becomes a little less pressing. 

Columbia needs to think seriously about what it is going to do with its history.  The Columbia Archives is a treasure.  Not just to this City, but to the Country, if not the World.  A man built a city based on a set of ideals.  That is incredible.  The success or failure of that attempt can be left to the moping of post-post-modern authors, but the idea is spectacular enough to merit preservation and promotion.  We can, and need to, do more to share this story.  It seems so foreign to the 21st Century way of things.  Can you imagine anyone doing what Rouse did now?

I worry sometimes that we may be brought to resent our history.  Its close integration with politics prompts a dangerous game.  Rouse, through no fault of his own, has already found himself a punchline of jokes having to do with trees in Symphony Woods or density around Town Center.  Sometimes its better to leave a bit of history in the past, if for no other reason than to leave room for adoration and respect.

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"You don't have Cameron to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is his last press conference."

As for new O-Coordinator Jim Caldwell, he just needs to do this, every day, three times a day, while saying "one-two-three-THROW.  One-two-three-THROW."

The Howard County Farm Bureau issued a statement yesterday supporting the County Council Tier legislation, further complicating the County/State dynamic for our County Executive and his veto pen.  There seems to be a 80% likelihood that he uses his veto by Friday, but the list of local opinions he will be rejecting with such an act seem to be getting longer.

Today, at 11 am, the Horizon Foundation will be dumping 10 tons of sugar into a parking lot at Burleigh Manor Middle School to begin their campaign against sugary drinks for kids.  This stunt, and the expenses related thereto, may confuse or disappoint some of the nonprofits that have had grant applications turned down by the Foundation in its pursuit of a more targeted focus on childhood obesity.

Delegate Jon Cardin has proposed a $1,000 fine to be paid by local jurisdictions for every "bogus" speed citation issued by one of their machines.  This seems to be one more law aggravating the increasingly adversarial relationship between the General Assembly and County governments.  I think what many more of us would like to see is a rescission of automated law enforcement, not a bill that would bankrupt County coffers over an afternoon of malfunctioning equipment.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: I'm sad to report the passing of another blog into the digital mist.  Sarah Says she is moving to California and, for reasons left to the author, will be deleting her blog.  Sarah's posts made you smarter and think differently about complex issues, particularly in regards to transportation.  I hope California brings her all of the rail, bus, and bike lanes her heart desires.  We will miss you.

That's all for today.  Have a great Tuesday doing what you love.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Doing Time

No matter how you approach the issue, we pay far too much money to put far too many people in prison.  The United States has less than 5% of the world's population, but 23.4% of the world's prison population. Almost 1% (0.7%) of us are currently in prison with 3.1% of all American adults under some form of probationary supervision.

And you can bet that this is expensive.  According to federal estimates, we spend $28,284.16 per year per prisoner, with an average daily cost of $70.56.  In Maryland, we pay more.  For FY2010, Maryland taxpayers paid $836.2 million (combination of the Dept. of Corrections budget and other prison related costs) to incarcerate 21,786 Marylanders.  The average annual cost per inmate was $38,383 (and before you start thinking the prisoners are having lobster for lunch, recall that a good amount of any government cost is personnel).  Comparatively, Maryland's per-pupil spending for  2010 was $14,244.

Why am I throwing so many stats at you this early in the morning?  Because it may be time for Maryland to re-evaluate its criminal code, particularly as it relates to the criminalization of marijuana.  Whether you want to see this as a fiscal issue, a civil rights issue, or a libertarian issue, it doesn't matter.  What should be offensive to all of us is that we spend over twice as much money ruining lives than we do building them up.

In Maryland, possession of marijuana for personal use is a misdemeanor, carrying with it a jail time of up to one year an a $1,000 fine.  Despite the light sentence, make no mistake that people do go to jail in Maryland for possession of marijuana.  In places like Montgomery County, marijuana makes up the majority of drug-based offenses, up to 74% in 2010.  Last year, the Maryland General Assembly passed "Marijuana Reform" with a law that lowers the maximum penalty for possession of 10 grams or less to 90 days and a $500 fine.  Another law passed last year made marijuana possession a citable offense, meaning that an officer could arrest someone found in possession of marijuana, but could not jail him for that offense alone.

The recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado (where they can tax and regulate the drug) shows that the electorate may be evolving on the issue.  Unfortunately, the reaction in the press and the public conversation has been entirely goofy, missing out on an opportunity to have a serious discussion about our expensive habit of putting harmless people in jail.  That's not what prison is for.

An unfortunate truth in all of this is that we have attempted to use our prison system to segregate out people we don't want to be around.  We've used prison as a filter with a bright line separating the law followers from the law breakers.  What's most unfortunate is that once you are on the other side of that line, many of the benefits of a law-abiding lifestyle (employment, education, society) are no longer available to you.  So, you go back to breaking the law.  Partly out of choice, but partly because that is the life that has been prescribed.

And we pay a lot of money to keep this system working.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

Gimme Shelter (Friday LINKS)

As the weather starts to turn colder and darker, it's hard not to think about the people living outside.  It's likely that the coldest you feel today, as you walk to your car or from your car, is the warmest they'll feel all day.  I don't offer this to pull on your heart strings as much as I do to communicate the empathetic component of understanding an issue.  How do you "get a job" when you can't think straight?  How do you "take personal responsibility for yourself" when base survival is still such a pressing topic?  Shouldn't all party planks regarding the poor, conservative to liberal, start with a base acceptance that we need to get people inside?

But even if we can get universal acceptance on an umbrella policy idea, the "where" is a political lightening rod.  Look at the quotes from North Laurel in consideration of the apartment complex that will house 33 to 50 chronically homeless men an women (interesting how that number changed).  These quotes are not new.  "Wander", "Property Value", "Background Check."  All legitimate concerns, but most likely without assuaging.  We don't want people in the cold, but we also don't want them as neighbors.  Maybe it is some unchangeable construct that if we live next to someone coming off the street, we, in some cosmic way, are a step away from living on the street.

All my interactions with the acute and chronically homeless notwithstanding, I would still have concerns if the townhouse next door was being made into a group home.  We are afraid of those who have had to wake up every day with survival a conscious goal.  For good reason.  Morals bend.  Desperation justifies.  But, if we're going to make the changes that need to happen to end homelessness (which is an entirely realistic goal in this County), we need to confront those fears and prejudices.  Look into the eyes of your neighbor and realize that they had a favorite television show growing up.  They hoped for something more out of their eight decades.  Their ability to experience anxiety, fear, happiness, and shame is no different than yours.  And we take a risk by sharing close space, but not so much more that we are inviting "danger".  It is the risk that this person's attempt to rejoin the community, out of the cold, will fail.  A risk borne ten times over by the person at issue.

In the meantime, we're just throwing around labels.  "Homeless".  Not "Anne, Jeff, and Joey."  If it were the latter, I do wonder how the conversation would change.  Especially if Ann, Jeff, and Joey sat in the room and faced down those who will accuse them of wandering, stealing, and acting up.

The 10th season of the Grassroots Cold Weather Shelter program is underway and will run until March 24th.  Last year, there were 74 participants, including 12 children.  The Cold Weather Shelter program is operated by a network of 16 churches that open up space for one to two weeks.  This year's participating churches are:

Atholton Seventh Day Adventist Church,
Bethany United Methodist Church,
Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church,
Columbia Community Church,
Covenant Baptist Church,
First Presbyterian Church of Howard County,
Gary Memorial United Methodist Church,
Glen Mar United Methodist Church,
Grace Community Church,
Kittamaqundi Community Church,
Linden-Linthicum United Methodist Church,
New Hope seventh Day Adventist Church,
Owen Brown Interfaith Center,
St. John Baptist Church,
St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church
and St. Paul’s Catholic Church.

If you would like to consider contributing towards Grassroots and their effort to bring people inside, you can do so via this link.

LINKS

Allen Dyer is so out of office.  How out of office is he?  He lost an election and was impeached.  To quote Sara Toth: "An administrative law judge overseeing the impeachment proceedings of former Howard County Board of Education member Allen Dyer has recommended Dyer be removed from office — two days after Dyer's term ended."  All jokes aside (and there will be many), I'm told that this decision still has value for the Board of Education in defining their powers and the standard of behavior for BoE members.  While we may be frustrated with the cost and prolonged process, the end product will be valuable in ensuring that Dyer's term, and the shenaningans related to the same, are limited to a single term by an ineffective politician.

I watched the lighting of the Washington Monument last night on Channel 11 and I have to admit...it got me into the Christmas mood.  Anyone who knows me will tell you that this is near impossible.  Outside of the four days before Christmas, I'm a bit of a Humbug.  A meeting with someone doing a project for the Columbia Archives will bring me to the Mall Starbucks on Monday, violating my half-decade long pledge to avoid the scene from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and I am dreading the experience.  But seeing all those kids, and even some of the adults, show that kind of joy for no other reason than a larger concept of what this time of year "means" was touching.  (And yes, I know that it all changes "when you have kids", please please refrain from posting the same in the comments...in fact, just never use that term around those of us who still like to eat out without a $30/hr babysitter surcharge.)

The first marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples yesterday and my wedding ring still works.  Miraculous.

Baltimore sports writers are split on the Ravens/Redskins game (guess which way Ed Lee went).  I can't figure out this game.  RG3 is spectacular, but the Ravens tend to do well with one dimensional teams.  It is cliche to say that losing to Charlie Batch was a "wake-up call", but the Ravens don't normally lose two games in a row (a stat that means absolutely nothing).  I need to stop there.  I am tripping over sports cliches in an attempt to predict the unpredictable.  I apologize for making fun of you for the past three years, Jon Gruden.

Featured Blog Post of the Day:  WB gives a more detailed review of the decision removing the removed Allen Dyer from office.  He even is mentioned in the opinion...as "Woodbones."  That's the type of nickname that needs to be followed by a last name like Magillicutty.

That's all for today.  Have a fantastic Friday doing what you love!  It's impossible not to.

Ravens: 23
Redskins: 21

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Higher Calling (Thursday LINKS)

I had no intention of writing three posts about the County Executive's projected veto of the growth tiers bill, but it is interesting and has a number of dynamic components that I thought may be of interest to you, the reader, and also important to how we think about our government.  Thinking over the issue yesterday, I realized that I may have had its construction all wrong.  This isn't about what Ken can do.  It's about what he can't do.

Ken can't sign the Council's bill.

We've accepted the paradigm of Executive Veto, an assertive act, when in fact this is more about playing defense.  The Executive is staring down a political football that could cause serious harm to him down the stretch and is putting up an S.O.S., hoping that one of his Columbia Democrat friends will take it off his hands.  And if they don't, so be it.  He didn't sign it.

Why can't he sign the bill?  As one of my friends from outside of Howard County observed, "it would violate the holy trinity of Democratic politics."  (I have two of the three, but can't figure out the third: Labor, Environment, ??).  We've talked off and on about the harms and benefits of having a County Executive focused on the Governor's Mansion, but one of the downsides is that his politics is not our own.  In fairness, that predilection may have existed from day one, but it takes an episode like this to draw it into focus.

If Ken were to sign the bill, one noted as "red" by 1,000 Friends of Maryland, he too would be "red", a blemish on the electoral scorecard.  All the embarrassment and local strife caused by a veto could not outweigh this demerit and what it would mean for 2014.

So while I've been blabbering on about Ken's power moves, I really should have been talking about the weaknesses that come with ambition.  The strings that are pulled.  This isn't to say Ken's honestly held convictions don't line up with this move, but it would be fairy tale politics to suggest that those are the motivations driving this discussion.  It's about a scorecard.

LINKS

Howard County Schools have missed out on a $30 million Race to the Top grant that was to go to a personalized learning program.  I don't think it is clear whether the application was denied due to HCEA President Paul Lemle's refusal to sign the application (a lot of that going on nowadays), but I imagine that an "incomplete" application did not show well at the evaluation stage.  With what little I know about new Superintendent Foose, I imagine her next focus will be to develop a working relationship with the union to make sure this never happens again.  It would be foolish to arbitrarily blame HCEA for not receiving this money without a full vetting on their concerns and the reasoning behind having a union president sign the application.  It is without question, however, that our kids missed out on a lot of money here, and the underlying cause was politics.

About two weeks ago, all members of the Columbia Association Board of Directors received an e-mail from Luke Lavoie regarding the nascent legislation that would make all residential lot owners in Columbia "members" of the Columbia Association.  At present, the only "members" are the 10 Directors elected from the 10 Villages of Columbia.  This measure has come up from the Alliance for a Better Columbia as a response, of sorts, to CA's attempt to carve out a special section in the HOA bill for the unique circumstances of a $60 million recreation-open-space-public-works HOA.  I didn't respond, but now wish that I had.  This is a wrong-headed effort that ignores commercial lien-payers and renters and appears to be poorly thought out from the start.  We'll see if any legislators take up the measure, but if they do, they should very well be willing to defend it and all of its unintended consequences.

FEMA issued a decision Tuesday denying the claims of Marylanders on the Eastern Shore resulting from Hurricane Sandy.  FEMA determined that the extent of destruction on the Eastern Shore was not sufficient to merit individual aid.  Based on the article in The Sun, most of the discussion about Maryland relief focused on Crisfield in Somerset County where 300 homes were badly damaged. 

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB recaps another meeting of our Pub Politics group, leaving out the pot-shots and eye-gouging.  I wasn't able to make the last meeting, but it was nice to meet up again.  I can't say I agree with all of the projections (i.e., MKS running for County Executive), but finding a group that likes to talk about hyper-local politics is an accomplishment in itself.

That's all for today.  Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ulman's Veto (Tuesday LINKS)

Last night, the County Council approved a revised growth tiers map 4-1, with Greg Fox...wait, what?  Courtney Watson as the lone dissenting vote.  The Sun reports that the new map "assigned parcels in western Howard County that are currently preserved or designated as priority preservation areas as Tier IV while designating already developed residential parcels and uncommitted parcels that abut those parcels as Tier III."

Shortly after this measure passed, County Executive Ken Ulman called the vote "unfortunate" (political speak for "bad") and spokesperson David Nitkin was quoted as saying that Ken is keeping all of his options open, including a veto.

Next thing you know, the title of the article is "Ulman Weighs Veto of County Council's Growth Tiers Bill" and Ken is projected to "veto council legislation for the first time in his six-year tenure."

Ken Ulman will not be vetoing this bill unless he is very bad at math.  Under Article II, Section 209(g) of the County Charter, an Executive Veto may be overriden by 2/3 vote of the Council.  That's not to say that I don't think the Ulman team would be able to turn the ear of at least one Council-member, but it would be a very risky proposition and put one more splotch on Ken's otherwise burgeoning Gubernatorial resume.

Personally, I find the Council's approach to this matter to be responsible, empathetic, and practical.  As much as I hate the semantics, it is hard not to feel like there isn't a "War on the Rural West", particularly as it relates to this bill and limitations on rural development.  If you live in an urban suburb, you can use any kind of lawn fertilizer that is street legal to buy, yet if you live out west, the most advanced nitrogen stripping septic tank is washed over in blanket prohibition.  Why?  Because the politics are easier.  Less density = less votes.  The West is postured as a political punching bag with the only deterrent being a line of tractors down Route 40. 

I think the State bill was bad law and the Council did what they could without unnecessarily harming the rural West.  We can debate all day long whether this is mere zoning or a per se regulatory taking, but what we will never avoid is the fact that Tier IV changes the financial position of landowners in such a way that would be unacceptable to some County lawmakers.  That's enough for a 4-1 vote and enough to override any veto from the County Executive.

LINKS

The new Board of Education was sworn in yesterday afternoon, formally ending Alan Dyer's term, and bringing on Ann De Lacy for a four year term.

Former MoCo County Executive and Gubernatorial candidate Doug Duncan is looking to retake his old seat in 2014 after a six year sabbatical.  Identity politics and changing demographics aside...did Doug Duncan just make it ok to say you're running in 2014?


Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB looks at vacant lot at the intersection of Centennial Lane and Frederick Road that may be developed for residential property if approved by the County Council sitting as the Zoning Board.  These folks should have a nice view of Route 40, standing forever testament to the value of zoning laws.

That's all for today.  Links are a little paltry, but there wasn't much I saw worth picking.  Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Idle Hands in the General Assembly (Monday LINKS)

I was a little taken aback over the weekend when I saw The Sun pick the death penalty as the next big item on the General Assembly's agenda.  More accurately, they picked it as Governor O'Malley's next heralded legislative accomplishment.

The entire editorial reads as if Maryland Democrats are playing with house money and, in less than figurative ways, they really are.  But looming behind electoral successes and squirrely redistricting maps is the structural deficit, ready to eat away at party hubris and overreaching.

Unlike the federal government, the State of Maryland is required by its State Constitution to balance the budget every year.  Nevertheless, through what I like to call "government math", expenditures are projected out to pay-out dates as opposed to the dates in which they exist on an accounting ledger, thereby balancing the budget today by putting tomorrow's budget in the negative.  A good example of this would be the retirement and pension system.  While the government accounting systems are complicated and I don't mean to overly simplify things, for the most part, our State has projected retiree health benefit expenditures into the year in which they are due, also called "pay-as-you-go".  Same is true for transportation, school, and infrastructure upgrades.  These costs are known to exist, they are de facto liabilities, but they exist on a figment basis when it comes to balance sheets so as not to affect our constitutional requirements.

Meanwhile, our roads are coming apart, are overly congested, and face repairs on an as-needed basis.  Our baby-boomer retirees are racing towards the exits.  The State is primarily basing its ability to pay these costs on casino revenue and increased sales taxes, but the jury is out on whether the revenue will be enough.

What happens when we face these financial crises?  The General Assembly passes incremental taxes that have little noticeable effect on an annual basis, but collectively wear on the patience of the electorate.  Note: I am not suggesting that these taxes have "hurt our economy" or "stopped businesses from creating jobs."  I find that much too speculative for the purposes of getting the State's financial house in order.  All projected injuries and benefits being equal, the Democratic majority needs to stop treating the State Budget like a game of craps.  Not just for the purposes of good public policy, but also for the sake of their majority.

"You're not really suggesting that the Democrats could lose elections because of this, are you?"

Over the short term, definitely not.  Over the long term, definitely.  Between 1935 and 1969, Maryland had three Democratic Governors and three Republican Governors.  That is the exception to the rule in Maryland's 250 year existence, but it is offered for the simple fact that political parties are fluid.  Critical issues shape an electorate and can wrench a majority to its knees.  Sitting on a boiling pot and expecting it not to pour over is a fatal mistake.  Continuing to go back to the social issue basket while the opponents are too weak to fight is a fatal mistake.  Leaving your roads, schools, and retiree benefits to rot are all fatal mistakes.  Pile enough of these up, and you've got a tide shift on your hands.  Maybe not this decade, but possibly the next.

LINKS

Mike Preston called yesterday's Ravens game an "Embarrassing Loss to an Ancient QB."  Don't think we have to say much more than that.  The Ravens still are in an ok spot for the playoffs, but may have kissed their first round bye...um...goodbye (sorry).  I assume it takes two losses in a row to fire the offensive coordinator, and I know people will say "Calm down, it's one loss", but really it feels like more due to the way this offense has played.  Sickening.  We can only hope it is a wake-up call and not a sign of the level of talent for an over-performing team.

The "Baltimore Spectator" Twitter feed was always an interesting follow, but even more so over the weekend with the BCPD-critic blogger arrested after a stand-off with police over a failure to appear warrant.

Baltimore City officials have said that they "no longer have complete confidence in the accuracy of their speed cameras", putting automated traffic enforcement across the State in the cross-hairs.  Personally, I would like to see a statement from the Howard County Police Department confirming that the problems noticed in Baltimore City do not apply to our network of cameras and believe the County Council has the motivation to see that happen.

The Howard County Agriculture Board has recommended against the easement termination sought by the Mullinix Brothers in their attempt to get out from their land preservation agreement.  I imagine that will be the last word on the subject as the Mullinix family finds itself without an army.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: And Then There's That invited Community Action Council President Bita Dayhoff onto their show this past Friday.  It was a good show as always (although I have to wonder if their semantic skills are as good as their math skills -- "mobile" homes).  One of the unheralded skills that Bita brings to the community is her dogged advocacy for those without a voice.  The accomplishments of the CAC have not been without a fight and I don't think there is anyone else I would want on my side than Bita Dayhoff.  This past year I had the opportunity to work with her on a Head Start initiative and although we could not make all the pieces work, I was inspired by her determination to make something out of nothing.

That's all for today.  I'm fresh off a half-marathon with my brother this past Saturday, so I have a little hitch in my giddy-up.  I think that but for that run, I would be in a much worse mood this morning in light of our mercenary team's loss to the mercenaries from Pittsburgh.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!