Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Still growing

Despite not reaching it's job creation goals, Howard County's economy had a pretty good year in 2005, at least according to the CEO of the Economic Development Authority, Richard Story. And though such growth is admirable, it will pale in comparison to what we'll see in a few years when the military base realignment--slated to bring 5,300 new jobs to Fort Meade, as well as up to 15,000 new defense contractor positions--is finished.

While not all of the new defense workers will live in Howard County--Story predicts about 40 percent will--those who do decide to make our county their home will need housing and services, the latter of which will lead to a further increase in jobs, though typically the low-wage type.

Good news, right? Maybe not.

The same story above mentions some undeniable facts that we have heretofore decided to sweep under the rug.

Although there are no trends suggesting an economic reversal for the county, there are issues that, if not addressed, could cause problems in the future.

One of the most problematic is declining land to accommodate growth. The Department of Planning and Zoning projects that at the current rate of growth the county will exhaust all developable land by 2020.

In-fill development in places such as Town Center in Columbia, Maple Lawn and Emerson and, ultimately along the U.S. 1 corridor, "is still a relief valve," Story says, "... but at some point in the near future, we run out of land for residential, retail, commercial and industrial."

The only other options are permitting higher density in areas such as Town Center, Turf Valley, Maple Lawn and Emerson, or permitting more growth in rural western Howard County. But the public and elected officials have opposed both, sometimes vehemently.

Higher density is anathema to many in this county. However, many of these same people bemoan the increasing economic exclusivity of this county, saying it runs counter to the character of our community, particularly Columbia, which was founded on including residents of all incomes--something that is important for social as well as economic reasons (somebody's got to fill the low paying jobs, right?). Unfortunately, we can't have it both ways.

Thankfully, Story recognizes the looming problem, saying "Affordable housing is the real question mark, but it's a question you have to start addressing today, even though the impact will be beyond 2010."

One of the big problems I see with the issues of growth in this county is an inability to look beyond the horizons of our immediate future (5 years, give or take). Whenever growth is brought up, the discussion immediately gravitates to overcrowded schools and increased traffic, as if these impacts are going to be felt tomorrow.

The plain truth is that there are both good and bad things about growth (or, positive and negative externalities). The county has already slowed the pace of growth to a crawl and this, coupled with the Federal Reserve's foolishly low interest rates, created housing "froth" and maybe a bubble (many like to say Howard's housing market will withstand a cooling off period without appreciable drops in prices--just a leveling off--but I'm not so sure).

It's time for us to have honest discussions about the future of this county and how it will grow. Not conversations based on fear and short-sightedness. Sadly, the only person I've found willing to have this dialogue is me, and talking to oneself is generally perceived as a sign of craziness, a label that's never scared me in the past.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A confession

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to confess something. Well, two things.

First, I'm not a good flyer. For all the complex technology on board, planes, in my mind, are little more than school buses with wings. And that thought passes through my brain approximately 1 million times in the days leading up to a flight. So, needless to say, I get a little nervous about air travel.

Those of you who know me know that I'm a pretty big admirer of birds, particularly raptors, some of which fly impossibly high. My fascination with these birds, it seems, would make flying an enjoyable experience. To be sure, I like looking out the window while the plane is traveling smoothly, admiring the views and landscape below, but as soon as there's a bump in the air, the sweat glands in my palms start working extra hard.

Second, in order to "deal" with flying, Hayduke enjoys his own special blend of medication--specifically, Jack Daniels Old No. 7 Tennessee whiskey and ginger ale. Not enough to get drunk, mind you. Just enough to get from one stuffy airport to another (Because of this, I have no idea how people--Father Hayduke, to name one--endure trans-oceanic flights that are measured in days, not hours. The mere thought of this has drenched my keyboard in sweat).

So, why am I telling you this? Because I had to fly today, and therefore I had to imbibe a drink or two. Thus, if the following posts don't seem up to par, that's one of my lame excuses.

The other lame excuse for subpar performance is that I'm writing this in the shadow of the tallest ivory tower in the nation, Harvard, in what only can be described as the Smartest City in America, Cambridge, MA, and suddenly my extended education in a string of Maryland public schools doesn't seem up to snuff.

Where there's smoke...

To be honest, I'm getting a little burned out over writing about smoking stuff. I think my position on this issue is sufficiently obtuse and therefore is in no need of clarification. However, a couple stories from last week are worth mentioning.

First, the Sun writes about the election implications of the proposed smoking ban. As I've said before, I don't think candidates are going to win or lose many votes based on their position on this bill, but it is interesting to see the flack councilman David Rakes is taking for reneging on a campaign promise:

(Rakes) told Glenn Schneider, legislative chair of the Howard County Smoke Free Coalition, he had not met him until after winning the primary.

"One of the first things you did was say, 'Are you against smoking? Sign this.' I hope you can appreciate how elated I was winning a hard-fought election," Rakes told Schneider. "If somebody said, 'Sign this check,' I probably would have signed that, too."

But Schneider, who testified for the bill, held his ground, replying that Rakes was given the pledge before the election, and had time to deliberate before signing it.

"You signed that pledge in August 2002, prior to the election. No one forced you to sign that pledge," he said. "You did sign that. I know you got votes" as a result, he said. "I was very happy to vote for you."

..."If I'm voted out of office because of my vote on this issue, then so be it," Rakes replied defiantly. "We need people to be leaders and do what is right."

It's good to see Rakes actually take a firm stand on something, even if it is a reversal from his firm stand of three years ago.

Meanwhile, near the end of the same article, my position that this isn't really a big vote changing issue is validated by a college professor.

Donald F. Norris, professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, agreed with Robey (that politicians, like Rakes, are free to change their minds).

"If the smoking ban were a really, really big thing, and there were large groups for and against it and someone changed their mind, it might be a big thing," Norris said. "I don't see this as being one of those issues.

"We elect these people to use their brains. Occasionally, they actually do that. Positions are nuanced. I don't see the fact that an elected official changes their mind as a bad thing."

Finally, a letter to the editor in the Washington Post provides an interesting and articulate take on this issue. I've included it in full below, so no need to click the link, unless you need to verify my honesty (Please do!).

I must disclose the following. First, I am not a smoker. Second, I have lost a spouse to cancer. Third, I have been a steady and frequent contributor to and supporter of the American Cancer Society.

When I returned home recently from a beautiful afternoon of hiking in Patapsco State Park, I found a misleading flier from the American Cancer Society inside my front door. The flier was misleading because it encourages the reader to call a County Council member to demand a vote for smoke-free restaurants and bars in Howard County.

Howard has been a leader in smoke-free elevators, workplaces and restaurants. Just a few years ago, bar and restaurant owners were required to build expensive partitions between bars and dining areas to keep the dining area smoke-free. All restaurants in the county are smoke-free. People who choose to work in and patronize bars where smoking is legal know the risk before they enter the establishment.

When are we going to stop bullying people and businesses for individual agendas? Smokers have rights. Business owners have rights. People who don't smoke have the right to patronize establishments where smoking is not allowed and avoid bars where smokers congregate.

The misleading propaganda distributed Sunday afternoon would have you believe that all restaurants in the county allow smoking when they do not. I am alarmed by the use of my contributions to the American Cancer Society to print and distribute such false and disingenuous information. This is not research, and it is not prevention. This is a heavy-handed attempt to control a segment of the business community and its adult patrons.

If I receive another one of these false and misleading fliers, I will stop contributing to the American Cancer Society and find a nonprofit group that is less invasive and more truthful where my contributions will be used more effectively.

And they're off...

Following recent announcements from councilmen Chris Merdon and Ken Ulman, the race for county executive is, I guess, underway. Both have said they would campaign on issues and leave partisanship aside, which shouldn't be too hard on the local level where party labels are all but useless, at least in my opinion. The anti-partisan campaign theme received a boost at Merdon's coming out party, where he said:

"This is not a race about party labels," (Merdon) said Saturday. "In order to represent all the people, the county executive must transcend all party lines. And I have a record of doing exactly that. In fact, the district that elected me to the County Council two times is a Democrat district."

During the same speech, Merdon went on to outline several key issues--notably, zoning reform and strengthening schools--he would address if elected. Meanwhile, Ulman has been preemptively responding to criticism over his vote to increase taxes a few years ago (when a slumping economy resulted in budget shortfalls at all levels of government) and is touting his leadership on issues, particularly the charrette.

So far so good, right? Nobody's tossing around cliched partisan rhetoric; no one's making baseless attacks; we're all sticking to the issues, right?

With both men last week announcing their intentions to seek the county's highest office in 2006, Republicans began casting Ulman, a Democrat, as a tax-and-spend liberal whose personality is too brash to win election to the seat.

In turn, Democrats charged that Merdon, a Republican, doesn't financially support the county's services and is too timid to lead.

Key to the debate is a 30 percent income tax increase the County Council's three Democrats, including Ulman, passed in 2003, after voting down an alternative proposed by the council's two Republicans, including Merdon, that would have cut the proposed budget by $24 million, several observers said.

Ulman is "fiscally irresponsible," said Jim Oglethorpe, president of the Howard County Taxpayers Association, a citizens group that opposes tax hikes, including the 2003 increase. "He fleeced a large tax increase on us."

Howard Rensin, the chairman of the Howard County Republican Central Committee, agreed. "Ken Ulman is very quick to raise taxes," he said, while Merdon "is fiscally mature."

But County Council chairman Guy Guzzone, a Columbia Democrat, made the opposite charge: That Merdon's alternative budget in 2003 irresponsibly attempted to cut key services.

"Clearly, Mr. Merdon has done his best to try to make cuts in the school system and in libraries, cuts in the police department," Guzzone said. "Fortunately, none of them passed. He has, in my opinion, not done the difficult things to ensure that we maintain the quality of life that we all enjoy."

That's right, liberals just want to steal citizen's hard earned money and use it to further bloat a bureaucracy and conservatives view government as the root of all suffering in this world. It certainly didn't take long for the veneer of civility to wear off.

It is unfortunate that national politics and ideologies are going to dictate the course of our local election, where the distinctions between Democrats and Republicans are all but nonexistent. If Merdon and Ulman really want to base their campaigns on issues, they can call of the attack dogs. However, it seems fairly evident, even at this early stage, that party labels will play a major role in this election. And for that, we're all worse off.

Charrette comments

Do you have any deep convictions that you feel were not adequately represented during the charrette? Is there something you thought of after the week-long planning session that you feel must be considered as the plan is drafted? Or, do you just feel like pestering a county bureaucrat?

If so, the county has set up a web page for you to send in comments about the charrette. Click here, and let 'em have it.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Turkey Hangover: Done

Another f-ing holiday--food, family, friends, frivolity and football--left Hayduke needing a few days to fully recover, particularly from football-related thumb injury that left the opposable digit on the right hand a couple sizes larger than the corresponding one on the other hand. Not to worry, movement has returned, the swelling has gone down, and the overall soreness of the thumb--and entire body for that matter--has diminished to the point where at least non-physical tasks are no longer painful.

I don't feel old until I try chasing after an oblong pigskin orb for a couple of hours.

Anyway, enough about me. Here are a few new posts. Sadly, this is all for today. Several other posts are in various stages of completion, but with more football coming on the magic picture tube in a couple of minutes, I've got to go drain myself of intelligent thoughts for the rest of the day (as if I had any to begin with!).

Comcast has also not been cooperative. The internet connection has toggled between barely and not working today, which is just about par for the course for Howard County's legally protected cable monopoly. Three cheers for consumer rights!



I never enjoyed reading for my high school English classes. Whenever I read something, I approached it very literally and was often amazed at all of the symbolism my peers and teacher noticed in assigned novels--The Great Gatsby and Native Son stand out in particular.

But with age I've grown to appreciate symbolism in written works, and thus the true message of this story is not lost on me.

A sturdier pair of eyeglasses that will be more resistant to vandalism are being retrofitted on the slightly larger-than-life bronze statue of James W. Rouse, a Columbia Association spokeswoman said.

The sculpture of the visionary developer of Columbia, who died in 1996, was removed from its site near Lake Kittamaqundi in Town Center last week.

The statue's creator, William F. Duffy, who is adding the new glasses, said one side of Rouse's existing eyeglass frames were removed by recent vandalism.

"Somebody wrenched and probably stuck a lever in between the glasses and broke them off," he said. "What I am doing is putting on a stronger and heavy-duty pair of glasses in bronze."

I get it: Rouse's vision has been messed with. Literally, vandals--probably pesky teenagers--have targeted it for fun, while figuratively, someone else has targeted it for, um, other reasons. Additionally, Rouse's supporters are taking steps to preserve his vision in the face of such unwarranted tampering.

Can I get that "B" in English changed to an "A" now?

No win for CA

Because I'm still not sure what to call them, I will henceforth refer to the governing body of the Columbia Association as the "Columbia Association Governing Body" or CAGB for short.

With that out of the way, I must confess similar confusion over the issue of what is to become of the old Teacher's Building on the lakefront in Town Center, CA's current headquarters and home to local restaurants Clyde's and the Tomato Palace. From the Sun:

An idea from the county-sponsored charrette about the future of downtown Columbia included razing the building to make way for an open lakefront vista. Complaints from residents have prompted the county to look for alternatives.

Many have been drawing the wrong conclusion that demolishing this building would result in the destruction of Columbia's "Cheers," which surely will not happen. The building itself is nothing special--a rectangular stucco structure with no real redeeming architectural attributes--but certainly its tenants are. However, wanting to keep Clyde's on the lakefront and wanting to get rid of the Teacher's Building are not mutually exclusive. I support them both, and apparently the county sees that we can have it both ways, too.

(Deputy director of the planning department Steve) Lafferty said residents primarily seem to be concerned about compromising the location of Clyde's. He said he believes it makes sense for the restaurant to stay on the lakefront.

"We don't expect the bulldozers to be out there; we don't expect Clyde's to lose their location," Lafferty said. "We fully expect that if the property owners decide they want to be done with the building there will be an alternative for Clyde's. It's an icon."

What I find most disturbing (or funny, depending on how you look at it) is the anger directed at CAGB over this. Since it doesn't own the Teacher's Building and its lease runs out in 2007, CA has been considering relocating to a new building for a while. Moreover, those trying to paint CAGB as a back-room deal-maker for conducting a public but unannounced meeting to discuss this during the charrette have not won my support with their protestations, which seem hollow considering that no decisions were made and that this was part of the charrette where many public but unannounced meetings took place between many public and private individuals. More moreover, CA doesn't even own the building. General Growth does, and they can do with it what they want without having to accommodate CAGB or anyone else.

Finally, all of this controversy stems from an artist's rendering of the area released during the charrette. The rendering, which was released on the final day and is in no way a legally binding part of the plan, shows a new building in place of the Teacher's Building, with improve sight lines from the mall area to the lake. It was meant to graphically represent what the finished product of this master plan might look like. It is important to remember here that master plan process, of which the charrette was a part, is still ongoing.

My hope is that the Teacher's building fades into architectural oblivion--along with several other mundane downtown buildings (cough, American City Building/Sterrett Place, cough)--and Clyde's, the Tomato Palace, and CA get buildings worthy of their stature in the community.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Turkey Roundup

Because of the two days of lost productivity this week (Holidays: A waste of workable hours), Hayduke's corporate overlords have been feverishly turning the screws the past couple of days. Thus, blogging has taken a back seat to the paying gig. Other obligations will keep my busy until the weekend, so for now, here's special pre-Turkey Day edition of News Roundup.

File this one in the Not Surprised folder: "Howard County Executive James N. Robey announced yesterday that he intends to run for the Maryland Senate next year, aiming to defeat incumbent state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, a moderate Republican." I'd say Robey has as good a shot at beating the popular incumbent Schrader as anyone. And, you've got to love his (expressed) reasoning: "'For the first time in 43 years of marriage I would be around the house every hour, every day,' if he retired, Robey joked"

Smoking update: Lots of predictable testimony given at a hearing Monday over the proposed ban. Interesting tidbit from the story, uber-lobbyist and felony-conviction-survivor Bruce C. Bereano made an appearance...for the tobacco wholesalers, naturally.

Finally, an informative story about the 300-acre park, nee farm, in the middle of Columbia that has been a source of controversy.

More this weekend (maybe tomorrow if the shackles binding me to my cubicle are removed at a reasonable hour).


Saturday, November 19, 2005

Terps lose, Terps lose

Well, the good feelings generated by the basketball team's cake walk over Farleigh-Dickinson have disappeared in the wake of today's football loss to BC. Oh well. At least I managed to get a bunch of writing done during the game, though I should probably reread it all to be sure that it actually makes sense.

It's official

Both Chris Merdon and Ken Ulman will be running for county executive.

Now, let's hope this is true:

If they win nomination and oppose each other, both promised campaigns based on issues and not partisan bickering.

"I like Chris," said Ulman. "I think we have an excellent working relationship. We have some fundamental differences and views on the role government will have, but my hope is this would be a ... campaign based on issues."

Merdon had similar sentiments.

"I think in this election campaign, our campaign will avoid partisan issues," he said.

So, that makes three candidates, two Democrats (Ulman and Harry Dunbar) and one Republican. Anyone else?

A little math

This + this = this.

I know I'm over simplifying things a bit, but I think these stories point to some very important facts about housing and development in this county.

The first story is from the Flier, and I hope it is a sign of things to come. In it, the Flier allows its writer, Andrei Blakely, to actually explore an issue in depth. He focuses on the changing demographics of the county, particularly that many seniors are choosing to age in place instead of migrating somewhere south of here.

The second story discusses the thousands on new jobs being shifted to Fort Meade as part of the federal military base realignment, as well as the fact that many of these folks will be moving to Howard County.

The third story is focused on addressing the county's affordable housing issue, especially as it relates to the charrette and Town Center. The first two stories make the third more significant. Programs to address affordable housing are certainly important, but such programs are doomed to fail if they don't consider the broader issue of housing supply, or lack thereof. As the need for housing, affordable or not, increases, limiting housing supply through overly restrictive allocations is going to make the situation untenable.

I don't wish to be painted as pro- or anti-growth. Instead, I consider myself one who looks at things as they are and as they are likely to be and addresses issues accordingly. And, from my perspective, overly restricting growth will do much to change the character of this community, specifically in terms of our supposed emphases on inclusiveness and diversity.

This isn't a matter of ideology. It's reality. We can either deal with it now, or we can live in denial until we can no longer live with that which we have created.


I am calling Shenanigans on Harry Dunbar. The "charrette-charade" gimmick was tired before the charrette even took place.

I am also recusing myself from commenting on the actual substance of the letter for fear of dignifying any of it.

Reaching out

This seems like a good idea...

The chairman of the Columbia Association board of directors last week proposed conducting a series of public meeting he hopes will increase resident participation in the board's decisions.

Chairman Joshua Feldmark, of Wilde Lake, proposed Nov. 10 that the board schedule public meetings in each of Columbia's 10 villages next year to allow residents to discuss with the board topics that the board and village officials would chose.

The board would then hold three Columbia-wide meetings on the three most important topics to come out of the village meetings, Feldmark said. Those larger meetings would be tentatively scheduled to occur in September, December and March.

Feldmark said he believes the board can do more to encourage citizen input on the issues it addresses.

Governments (or in CA's case, quasi-governments) should do more to connect with constituents, especially in this age where everyone seems to have millions of things to do, but where we haven't yet found a way to increase the number of hours in a day (or days in a week, Lennon/McCartney notwithstanding).

Of course, as with everything CA does, some are opposed.
(CA Boardmember Barbara) Russell said holding more community meetings would not necessarily improve residents' power to influence the board's decisions since board members would not be obligated to act on the concerns residents express at the meetings.

"All it does is offer people the chance to go to a meeting in CA or in their own village," she said.

Why is the sentiment that the CA board is some runaway body completely disconnected from the realities of the community so endemic? Russell seems to dismiss Feldmark's proposal because it doesn't do enough to engage citizens, but what has she done to engage them? I know she fought against the board restructuring because she thought it would further insulate the board from their constituents. If she has concerns with this or with engagement in general, I'd like to see what she would do to make the situation better.

Sometimes I consider stopping writing about CA altogether. Everything they do is nitpicked to death (yes, I know this whole enterprise of mine is nitpicking, but bear with me), and its members often seem promote controversy for controversy's sake.

Doing less for more

The Flier has a good editorial about the council pay raises, which I've mentioned before here and here. The editorial board at the paper (do they even have a "board" or is it just one or two people?) agrees that the council's pay should be increased but also that their duties--specifically those related to regulating things like zoning and liquor--should be transferred to political appointees.

Of course, the amount of money at stake here is but a drop in a $1 billion budget bucket, and we would agree some kind of raise is in order.

But the practical effect of the current legislation would be to encourage potential career politicians by allowing them to devote most of their waking hours to the county's business.

...While many - including this newspaper and some former council members - have for years called for the council to divest itself of these duties, it continues to exercise them.

It shouldn't fall to the taxpayer to support political ambitions, and the writers of the county charter never intended for people to quit their day jobs to be full-time members of the County Council.

Let's implement regular, reasonable raises for council members, but let's also make the workload reasonable for the citizen legislator, who will ultimately serve the county better than those intent on higher office.

First, in one word I can say why it is important to keep council members on the zoning board: accountability. The county already has a planning board, which is appointed by politicians and deals with many of the minor zoning and development issues so the zoning board does not have to. Instead, the zoning board is called upon to approve or deny several important, politically-sensitive things--like the General Plan--that I believe should only fall under the purview of elected officials. Removing accountability from these major decisions is highly undemocratic and should not be done to preserve some vague, antiquated notion of citizen-legislator.

The insistence on citizen legislators strikes me as unnecessary, as well. What's more important is that politicians serve the interests of their constituents. If they don't, they certainly won't be looking at long, successful political careers. Absent an expressed rationale--aside from the fact that the writers of the county's charter thought it was best, as if these folks were infinitely wiser than we are today--I don't know why the Flier is so strongly opposed to someone devoting all of their time to the business of the county. If one has higher political aspirations but fails as a councilmember, could he really expect to achieve success as a politician?

Smoking hot

I'm running out of creative titles for posts on the burning issue of the day, smoking, but since this is getting a lot of attention in the press now, I have to keep writing about it (and, by extension, writing headlines for my posts). Also, as I'm writing this, I'm watching the Terps play BC, so I may not have given the title as much attention as I should. Ah, multi-tasking.

Anyway, just a brief comment on this letter to the editor in Thursday's Columbia Flier:

County Executive Jim Robey has demonstrated outstanding leadership in proposing pro-health legislation. Any proposal that would permit existing bars to continue to expose workers to deadly secondhand smoke is unacceptable. There are no second-class workers in Howard County; all have the right to a healthy workplace. A progressive county like ours should enact proven public health policy and not make unreasonable concessions that compromise workers' health (emphasis added).

I agree in principle with the assertion that there are no second-class workers in the county, although I don't think reality supports this. The second part of this argument, however, is a bit of a strawman.

As it stands now, every worker has a right to a healthy workplace, even though some workplaces are not healthy. Indeed, those restaurants that allow smoking don't necessarily qualify as healthy workplaces. Yet because the majority of restaurants in the county do not allow smoking, workers in this industry have the right to choose whether they want to work in a healthy (non-smoking) or unhealthy (smoking) establishment. Nobody is being forced to work in a smoking restaurant, just as no customer is being forced to patronize one. Robey's bill, meanwhile, would eliminate such choices entirely.

Although the subjugation of personal choice is not the sole province of Democrats, it has certainly been branded to them, with detrimental results. Regulations are a necessary function of government. However, zealously micro-managing lives through the over-use of collective power clouds the distinction between good and bad regulations, giving more credence to the arguments of crazed libertarians.

All that said, smoking's bad, ummmkay.

And, damn, this game is killing me. BC 14, MD 10 at the half.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Come on, people, help me out

I just read through all my posts from the last week, and I must say that you, my dear readers, have let me down. Yes, I know your numbers are small (well, borderline non-existent) and I know I'm usually not your first destination in the blogosphere and I know you're not hanging on every one of my carefully chosen words, but still, some of the spelling and grammar mistakes were just inexcusable.

The beauty of this medium, I think, is the continuous feedback loop between the writer and the readers. If mistakes of the magnitude I saw on this blog are made, clearly there is a break in the loop. Now, with my frequent updates and incisive and prescient views on matters of the county, I think I'm holding up my end. What about you?

So I'm asking that when you see grammatical errors, typos, factual inaccuracies, unwarranted criticisms, ignorant bloviating or any other lapse in my intellectual functioning, please leave a comment (if you can make your way past the French kissing tips) or send me an email at

Yes, I know I could do my own copy editing, but doesn't that require a thoroughness uncharacteristic of blogging?

Please note: The above post was an attempt at sarcasm on the part of Hayduke. He takes full responsibility for all mistakes herein, though would appreciate some help from readers on occasion, but only to a degree that they are personally comfortable with. He does not wish to overly impose on readers, and therefore agrees to at least try to present a more-finished product when posting. Finally, Hayduke appreciates those who make this blog a part of their internet universe and wouldn't wish for them to stop visiting over a sarcastic post, the intentions of which didn't translate well in the written form.

Smoking ban: snuffed out?

County Executive James Robey's proposed smoking ban may have just gone up in smoke (shameless, I know):

A new majority coalition of three Howard County Council members favors a law that would allow smoking to continue in restaurants and bars that now allow it until those businesses change hands but prohibit smoking in new establishments.

The council's two Republicans and east Columbia Democrat David A. Rakes appear united on the five-member council in feeling that a total ban is unfair to business owners and smokers.

It is the latest twist in the council's political maneuvering over the smoking issue, which prompted two executive vetoes a dozen years ago, before the current law allowing smoking in separately ventilated areas was approved.

As I said before, I don't really have a dog in this fight, so my take on this latest development is on the politics, not the substance, of the matter. I don't think this bill is important enough to sway a significant number of voters toward or away from any particular candidate, but there are some interesting things worth pointing out in the above-linked story. For instance:

But Robey's bill faces strong opposition from the council's two Republicans and Rakes, who as a candidate in 2002 pledged to support a no-smoking ban.
This point has been mentioned in pretty much every article about the ban, as if it comes as a surprise that a politician is reneging on a campaign promise. In the case of David Rakes, consistency would be more surprising than inconsistency.

On then to another political point:

"Allowing smoking in a restaurant is a bad business decision," Merdon said. "But we allow choice. The government shouldn't come and tell you, 'We want to tell you how to run your business.'"

Unlike Rakes, Merdon is Mr. Consistent, insofar as he consistently plays both sides of the field. He is the quintessential have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too politician. In the same breath where he admonishes restaurants that allow smoking--going so far as to say it is the wrong way to run a business--he continues by saying government shouldn't tell anyone how to run a business. Isn't that kind of what he just did? Granted, he doesn't have a team of angry bureaucrats toting checklists, citations and pages of regulations, but he said from his position of authority, as a councilman, that he knows the right way to run a restaurant. What ever happened to letting the markets decide what's best for business? I guess Merdon gets by on a technicality.

In all seriousness, though, Merdon's playing the game well. He's showing his support for the business community, while still adhering to the politically-correct anti-smoking line. Time will tell if his hedged bet pays off, or if the unqualified commitment of his political rivals to banning smoking is more successful.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Getting their ducks in a row

Apparently, the Democrats have finally gotten together to talk about who's running for what. As I've said before, this is a good idea since beating Republicans--not each other--should be the main goal.

Also in the same story, it becomes apparent what Hayduke has felt for several weeks. Ken Ulman will run for county executive. Now, will Courtney Watson also run? Hayduke thinks so, but she's not saying. Stay tuned.

Assuming Ulman runs, his seat would open and already a couple of Democrats are lining up. Developing...

(Sorry for the Drudge reference. It's Sunday and I'm looking for crutches.)

Meanwhile, hyper-organized Republicans and their sign waving day last week get another mention in a local paper (I wrote about them yesterday but referenced the Flier's story). From the Sun's story:

While Democrats worked on their plans, Republicans lined up along Broken Land Parkway on Monday, waving at motorists from behind large signs and taking pictures of themselves as dawn broke.

"We want to show a unified front," said (county executive candidate Chris) Merdon, who organized the effort.

"Taking pictures of themselves"? I don't know why this piece of information was included in the story, but I love it! In fact, I love it so much (and I don't know why) that I went out and found one of the pictures they took.

Hey Chris Merdon (back row, third from the right), where's your sign?

Put 'em up

Let me get this out of the way first: I generally agree with the citizens' assertion in the current case involving expansion at Turf Valley that the development should be subject to the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. I'm not sure why the community was exempted from the growth control measure in the first place--the article provides no real answer--but removing the exemption seems, at least superficially, like a good thing to do. Unfortunately, I don't think the Planning Board has that power.

So, with that said, I have a couple of not-entirely-relevant comments on this story.

First, what's with the story lede? Here are the first five sentences.

A referee will mercifully stop a fight when a boxer is being pummeled. Although the battle over the planned expansion of Turf Valley is the zoning equivalent to a 15-round heavyweight bout, there are no provisions for compassion, which means one party will ultimately go down for the count.

As things stand now, the developer, Mangione Family Enterprises, appears well ahead.

"I think that's a fair conclusion," said Marc Norman, co-chairman of an opposition coalition. "But we have not had the opportunity to present our case yet."

Although I disagree with the use of a cliched boxing metaphor on principle alone, it's use in this story does nothing to enhance the point; in fact, it actually hurts the writer's (for this story the by-line is simply "A Sun Reporter") ability to convey what's going on. For instance, the first sentence talks about a referee calling an end to a fight when one boxer is getting "pummeled." Is it really fair to say the citizens are being pummeled at this point? Sure, they may have had some setbacks, but such quasi-judicial development cases are often characterized by setbacks faced by both sides. Moreover, as Norman said, the citizens haven't had an opportunity to present their case, or in the parlance of the boxing metaphor, they haven't thrown a punch. If two boxers enter a ring and one lands a couple of early punches, is it fair to call this a pummeling? Probably not.

The second point I'd like to make focuses more on the process used to decide these case. Many development proposals go through a quasi-judicial hearing process before either the Planning Board or Zoning Board. In these settings, there are always two clearly-defined sides. Usually, the citizens and the developer. Intrinsic antagonism between the two sides is reinforced by the process, as the presiding board and participants are segregated by procedural rules into clearly defined roles, elminating any middle ground.

I know this process has its benefits, but it also has some serious drawbacks. It offers no chance for dialogue. It is a confusing process that requires serious knowledge of arcane procedures and limits public input. And it is weighted heavily in favor of the developers, who can pay lawyers to spend many hours preparing for a case. Here's a quote from the developer of Turf Valley:"I have a very good attorney. He spends a lot of time preparing, and he anticipates a lot of things," (Louis) Mangione said. "He does what he has to do to keep the project moving."

Finally, this process also leads to the sad outcome predicted for Turf Valley by the opposition leader.

While professing optimism, Norman also said there's a contingency: "There is a high likelihood that this case will be tied up in the courts for years."

There has to be a better way.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


That's right. It's time for the second ever installment of News Roundup.

But first, this post had me thinking about suburbia for the past few days. Alas, my pondering mind rendered nothing of worthy of posting, but my activities today, which were not atypical for an average Saturday, say much about why I and others like me have found the good life in the 'burbs.

Here are the relevant details of today (thus far):

Morning: Wake up.

Mid-morning: Eat breakfast. Read papers. Browse internet. Finish reading book that I fell asleep with last night.

Noonish: Go hiking with my dog.

Mid-afternoon: Return from hike (roughly 8 miles, the majority of which was spent trekking over earthen trails beneath increasingly leaf-less trees along ridges and floodplains overlooking both local branches of the Patuxent--even spent some time letting the pooch dip in the chilly waters of the rivers' confluence).

Later than mid-afternoon: Deposit check in ATM. Grab a slice of pizza. Purchase some items from drug store. Pick up shirts from the dry cleaners.

Now: blog.

Total miles driven: 0.

As you can see, life in suburbia--under the tyranny of the automobile--is absolute misery.

Anyway, onto the news, which is still regrettably slow. Come on, Sun. Bring us something juicy tomorrow, even if you have to make it up.

Interesting news on the anti-smoking bill. It might not pass, but I don't think the politicians who favor the bill (Robey, Ulman, and Guzzone) are terribly upset. After all, they will benefit just by supporting this legislation, which, judging from the mostly supportive letters to the editor in local papers, I think is popular. Ulman sums up the situation by saying if the bill dies "it's something for people to talk about and think about as they decide who to support in the next election."

Something all politicians can agree on: A committee studying the salaries of HoCo's politicians voted to support pay increases for both the council and executive. While the 44 percent council pay raises sound substantial--and certainly the headline and reporting lean towards sensationalism--$49,000 a year does not seem excessive, and the 44 percent increase doesn't sound as significant when considering the salaries haven't gone up in several years. Indeed, in 1998 council members were making $31,100 a year. If they make $49,000 next year, the total pay increase amounts to less than 6 percent per year (you'll have to trust me on the math). Also, when you consider that HoCo council members earn less than most surrounding jurisdictions--and would continue to after the pay increase--it's really not such a big deal, is it? Here's a good quote from the story: "'Do I think it's necessary to play catch-up? I think it is. They've been behind for years,' panel member Steven Sass of Columbia said at Wednesday's meeting."

Another reason
to not want to be buried in a pet cemetery. Since we're on the subject of The Ramones, I'd like to give a shout out to my dad, who took me and my sister, both in our teens, to see The Ramones in concert. Before this he took my younger brother and I to see Metallica's Snake Pit tour. A few years later, he stood with my brother inches from a mosh pit, inspired by the Ozzy Osbourne-less Black Sabbath of the mid-1990s. I'm pretty sure that amidst the flying hair of various headbangers (is it still okay to use that word?) and the distorted cacophony of guitars at these concerts my Dad must have asked what he did wrong. Nevertheless, he endured. And eventually, we grew up.

I'm going to be honest here. I haven't read this, but it looks interesting. I gather that it's about the difficulty of making a living on a farm in Howard County. I'll get around to it.

All in one link: Anti-anti-smoking bill to be introduced (kinda); burning trucks (and I don't mean Paris); unapproved fringe benefits; and tennis anyone/no one? That was easy.

Election talk: Republicans waving at cars with signs. Democrats at odds over governor's race. One thing: Can we call an end to the stand-on-side-of-road-and-wave-at-commuters-on-their-way-to-work style of campaigning? I don't care about politics at 7:30 in the morning, and I certainly don't want to see smiley-faced candidates pretending to be nice while probably cursing the cold/wind/exhaust fumes under their breath. Has anyone looked into whether this is effective? My guess is that it has no impact whatsoever on the outcome of the election. Also, isn't this kind of a metaphor--however strained--for the state of politics in general? That is, superficial. I understand campaigning door-to-door and talking to voters. Doing so can help a politician understand what people really care about. But what good does this serve? Okay, I'm rambling. I'll stop now.

Still the most entertaining section of the Flier: The letters page, filled to overflowing this week.

And finally, happy birthday to West Friendship Elementary. Howard's oldest school turns 80.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Suburban studies

I fashion myself as somewhat of a scholar of the suburbs, having lived all of my years in these comfortable, if sometimes bland and mediocre, locales. Apparently, however, the school of My Own Personal Observation is not accredited, and therefore, my hard-earned PhD means little to the outside world. Alas, there are other scholars who are more "respected" and their suburban studies are finally getting some traction within the cozy confines of the Ivory Tower.

Increasingly, if still a bit disdainfully, academia is beginning to pay attention to the 'burbs, home for years now to at least half of all Americans.

"Emerging" is the assessment Robert E. Lang gives to suburban studies on most college campuses. He's the founding director of the Metropolitan Institute on Virginia Tech's satellite campus in Alexandria, Va. The institute is one of a handful of academic think tanks that have sprung up around the country in recent years - including in Maryland - that study suburbia as well as cities.

On the surface, I'm kind of agnostic on suburbs in general, but my living preferences should give you a good idea of how I actually feel about them. That said, I think living in Columbia for the last 14 years has given me a different perspective on what suburbs can and should be.

Having read several anti-suburban tomes, I agree with the assertion of several professors in the story that suburbs are given a bad rap. Being critical of suburbs is one thing, disguising genuine disdain with supposedly objective criticism is another. There is a lot not to like about suburbia, but there's also a lot to like. And the same could be said about cities. So, let's not get into a turf war over who's really living the good live and who's missing out.

Here are some good quotes from the story:
"Many of these people see the suburbs as the ultimate expression of everything they hate about America," contends California author and social critic Joel Kotkin. A native New Yorker, he has lived in suburban Los Angeles for the past three decades and writes frequently about the suburbs. "Even the people who study suburbia do it mainly to dis it."

"There's a huge bias [against suburbs]," agrees Donald F. Norris, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, situated in another suburban locale, Catonsville. "I've had countless academics in this field tell me, 'I wouldn't live in a suburb. I only live in a city.'"

..."The fictional portrayal of suburbs remains fairly bleak," counters D.J. Waldie, whose nonfiction Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir, recalls growing up in suburban Los Angeles. "It is a convention in American fiction writing to regard suburban places as problematic at best and as horrific at worst."

That sounds about right.

Meanwhile, here's a story about a new book that presents both sides of the suburban sprawl debate and even describes how suburbs have been around since the Roman empire. Sounds interesting. And here's a link to the scholarly journal Opolis, which is mentioned in the article and is devoted to studying suburban issues.

I have more thoughts on this, but I'm having trouble finding the right words. Perhaps during the next slow news week I'll get around to it.

Techno: phobic or philic

The past few weeks have been pretty slow, news-wise anyway. So, I'm reaching deep down into my bag of tricks to pull out a couple of posts that would be pushed aside during the normal rush of covering the day-to-day affairs of the county of Howard. Today's topic: Newspapers and the internet.

Despite being named by USA Today as the second most "tech-savvy" county in the country, Howard County suffers from information underload. And for this, I fault the local papers that have failed to take advantage of widely available information technology. Sure, many bloggers have made a cottage industry out of denouncing the media for failing to keep pace with the times, and I don't really have much to add to the discussion.

However, one salient point I'd like to make is that newspapers today and in the future should shift their focus from being a source of information to a portal to information. Instead of being an end for internet browsers, they should become an entry, linking to various pertinent outside information (studies, source information, blogs) that would enhance a readers understanding of a particular story while at the same time making the paper an invaluable tool for information collection and dissemination. With the ease at which information can be found and linked to--after all, if I can learn to hyperlink, anyone can--it makes no sense to me that they still view stories as a end and not a means to greater understanding.

So, how do Howard's rags stack up with the needs of the "information age?" From best to worst:

The Washington Post: In the main section of the post, stories that are cited by blogs usually have a box pop up to show readers what others are saying about the story. For instance, see this story which I blogged about here. Not too shabby, eh? The Post also does a pretty good job of creating discussion forums and having on-line chats, but the stories still lack links to other pertinent sources of information. Meanwhile the Post's Howard Section has a pretty good list of links to sites of interest for county residents (schools, government, traffic, etc), though there are often stories in this section that only tangentially apply to the county. For instance. However, I imagine they have to fill the space and if there are no local stories, a state story isn't a bad second choice.

The Baltimore Sun: Although the Sun generally does a better job of covering Howard issues, their site lags behind the Post in connecting the information dots. To be sure, there is a "Howard Survival Guide" with static information about the county and some stories have embedded links to internal pages (such as one describing Ellicott City). But, on the whole, the paper still sees itself as an end not a means.

The Business Monthly: I recently added a link to this local publication because I think it's reporting is very good and the range of stories it covers is the best of the bunch. It's website is pretty difficult to navigate, but since it only comes out monthly (really?), I'll cut it some slack.

Patuxent Publishing and The View: These papers are standard local papers, and they're good at what they do, which is publishing stories of local interest on dead trees. Both of their websites, however, stink. While The View has marginally better production values, they both could really use complete overhauls. I understand that websites cost money and these papers don't have much of it, although Patuxent is owned by the Sun, which is owned by the Tribune Co. However, a new website and better system for conveying information--their job--should be looked at as an investment that will pay off in the long run.

So, what's the point of this? The point is that I think with minor changes our newspapers could do a much better job of informing residents about issues affecting the county. Why do Patuxent and The View feel compelled to limit themselves to weekly updates? Why not put bi-weekly or (god forbid) daily updates on their sites and turn themselves into invaluable information resources and generate lots more traffic (and ad revenue)? How about putting up a blog or two, or sponsor a forum where residents can make their own blogs or participate in discussions? At the very least, Patuxent could update its site template, which has remained unchanged for as long as I've been reading it on-line--more than five years, at least.

If we're really such a tech-savvy county, why not cater to our needs? I almost never read the print edition of the papers, and I have a feeling I'm not the only one. Failing to understand and respond to this trend will ultimately harm to the print media, but unlike other bloggers, I'm not going to starting writing a eulogy for newspapers...yet.

Sunday, November 06, 2005


Here's a list from the Howard Section of the Washington Post of the worst mid-Atlantic hurricanes.

Noticeably absent is Hurricane Agnes, which I thought was sort of used as a benchmark for the area. But what do I know?

Time for football. Here's to a season no longer plagued with expectations.

More soon.

Equal time

Here's a well-written response to the boob who wrote a couple of weeks ago in the Flier about how Giant Food hates suburbia--well, it at least makes us pay more for stuff than it makes District residents pay.

Grocery chain's pricing follows economic principles

The letter from (Hayduke--name left out to protect the foolish), "Giant stereotypes customers according to where they live," compares Giant's prices in the District of Columbia and the suburbs. To him, the difference somehow suggests a focus on the monetary status and sophistication of residents: D.C. is poor and unsophisticated, while suburbanites are rich and sophisticated.

Perhaps the true discrimination comes from (the guy)'s assumptions on the correlation of sophistication and monetary worth.

The fact is that Giant researched the market and determined how much it could profit based upon what the market could bear. That's the law of supply and demand.

Actually, only because I'm a stickler, what Giant is doing is technically called price discrimination. But that's a principle of microeconomics, and not the type of discrimination the first writer was implying (or even knows about).


Although many people may not have heard of him, Robert Tennenbaum is a bit of a Columbia icon. After all, he was there at the beginning as a planner employed by James Rouse. Tennenbaum is still active in issues affecting the community, and played a significant role in the Charrette. But he's got some concerns (two links), particularly about the idea of demolishing the Columbia Association headquarters building, which is also home to Clyde's, the iconic Columbia restaurant. From the first link:

The lakefront is the iconic image of Columbia and as such the entire urban design of the lakefront should be preserved as is. The Exhibit building, Columbia Association headquarters building, American Cities Building and the General Growth Properties Inc. headquarters building were designed to be in scale with each other, the trees and the lake. Frank Gehry, now a world-famous architect, designed two of the buildings to respect the urban design of the ensemble. Jim Rouse followed the design process and approved it.

Amazingly, the proposed demolition completely ignores the fact that Clyde's and Tomato Palace would be sacrificed. Both restaurant/cafes are a vital part of the social fabric of Columbia. Clyde's, celebrating its 30th year, and Tomato Palace are exactly the kind of restaurant/cafe that the charrette plan believes is vital for a vibrant Town Center. But the plan sacrifices them for a "view."

The demolition idea and the sketch depicting the silly church steeple building replacing the CA headquarters building should be trashed.

I love the honesty, though I don't fully agree with his position. I think the building could go, and Clyde's could be preserved by moving either to another location or to whatever is built in place of this old building. That said, I don't think we need less buildings around the lake, and I don't particularly buy into the idea that we need vistas of the lake, aside from those afforded in pedestrian plazas, which we already have. I just think we could demolish the building (and even the American City Building for that matter) in favor of some nicer architecture.

From the second link above, Tennenbaum writes in the Flier:

The charrette process (and the General Growth Properties Inc. process) educated residents about what constitutes a vibrant town center.

However, I have reservations.

Phasing was ignored. If proposed development is scattered, residents will have a long wait for a vibrant Town Center. A phased "smart growth" plan should be developed to assure development of the Warfield Triangle, the Corporate Boulevard and core "infill" sites before development on the Crescent Site. This would create a critical mass of residents and retail activities sooner for today's residents to enjoy.

The county, the Columbia Association and General Growth should develop a coordinated plan to implement pedestrian circulation improvements that can be accomplished soon, such as sidewalks, pathways, crosswalks, signage, lighting, landscaping and traffic signals. This will show progress.

I agree that we need to actually plan how we're going to implement our plan, and we certainly need to make sure that we start seeing the good things--new pedestrian connections, better signs, etc--at the same time we're forced to look at some, er, not-so-good things. And I think it's great that we're talking about all of this now, instead of when the process has moved too far along.

But, more than anything, it's great to still have Tennenbaum around to provide input and put bad ideas in their place.

How a bill becomes law

Larry Carson writes today about the local bills that Howard County would like the state General Assembly to approve.

Like an aging rock star's "Best of ..." album, the list of Howard County bills proposed for General Assembly approval in January - the last session of this four-year term - is peppered with the legislative version of oldies but goodies.

Love the lede, Larry. Sorry for the interruption. Now back to your regularly scheduled news story.

Seven of the 19 local bills scheduled for a hearing in Ellicott City Nov. 29 are repeats from last year.

The House delegation chairman, Del. Shane E. Pendergrass, a Democrat, said her plan is first to consider three local bills approved by the delegation last year, but which failed for various reasons to get full General Assembly approval.

Next might come six requests for state bond funding for local projects, "since they're pretty uncontroversial," she said. Then could come repeat bills defeated last year, and finally new measures.

"I'm trying to determine how to efficiently work through the job we have to do and make it convenient for citizens," she said.

I'm glad Del. Pendergrass is trying to make this process run more smoothly. I attended the hearing last year, and it was definitely a lot to get through in one night (I seem to recall having to miss most of a Terps basketball game, which was very unfortunate). Also, last year was memorable for the fact that the delegation and General Growth Vice President Dennis Miller almost came to blows, but that's a whole other story.

Back to this year's slate of bills, I quickly perused them and didn't see anything particularly noteworthy--at least aside from what Larry writes about (read the whole thing). The bill banning steel leg-hold traps is likely to generate a lot of testimony, and if past is prologue, almost all of this testimony will come from interest groups (hunters vs. animal-rights folks) located outside the county. To them I say, mind your own business.

To view the list of bills, visit the county's State Delegation website. I'm sure I'll write more about these bills as the hearing and General Assembly session near.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


I, um, forgot that I'm wearing my musician hat tonight. So, this is all you'll get.

Since I'm wearing the same hat tomorrow night, don't expect anything then, either (unless I somehow drag myself out of bed a half an hour early and blog before work).

If you need something to occupy your time between now and my next post, contemplate this:

A Cup of Tea

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"

"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

All for now. More later.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Savor the moment

Yes, yesterday's hype has become today's let down (desire is the root of all suffering and what not). I've failed to live up to the vaunted headlines from last night--only getting three out of four hard hitting pieces in the Tuesday edition. But you're in luck. Tomorrow promises to be yet another day with only minimal obligations beyond blogging (today's excuse, if you're keeping score, is a friend in need of iPod assistance and a wife in need of company).

So check back for more of the same...only different!

Why Giant Food hates suburbia

I'm always a little hesitant to rip into letters to the editor because I am generally supportive of people expressing their views in writing, no matter how inane. This week, however, someone wrote a letter that was just too good to pass up. Here is link (scroll all the way down), but for your sake and mine, I'll include the whole thing here:

Giant stereotypes customers according to where they live

Judging by their sales fliers, Giant believes that the residents of the District of Columbia are poor and unsophisticated while the residents of the suburbs are rich and sophisticated. In a recent flier, the supermarket chain advertised chicken at some District stores that cost 59 cents a pound while the same product is 79 cents a pound in the suburbs.

Potatoes are 20 percent more expensive, orange juice 16 percent, bathroom tissue at 9 percent, and shrimp $1 more per pound. Apparently, Giant believes the downtrodden District needs help while the rich suburbanites can afford to pay more.

This stereotyping is insulting and discriminatory.

Where to begin with this one? How about the astounding lack of logical reasoning? Or the total inability to express a point clearly? Or the disturbingly sheltered view of the world?

There are any number of reasons why Giant would charge different rates for the same items in two markets--none of which are related to the company's preferences for one group of people over another--such as, higher transportation costs related to shipping these items from Landover to Howard County versus Landover to DC (Giant's main distribution center is in Landover, where they house produce, meats, and the other "unfairly" priced goods cited by the writer); higher costs of doing business in the different locations--higher taxes, employee wages (Giant is unionized, after all), or per-square-foot costs; different levels of demand, which we all know from Econ 101 will have an impact on price. There are more reasons, but since the writer was lazy, I can be too.

In short, the fact that Giant sells the same items in two different markets for two different prices reflects nothing about the way the company views its customers. Rather, such price discrepancies reflect how it view its profit, the driving force behind every single corporation in this country. If anything, the writer is the one who is pushing stereotypes and generally being insulting.

It sounds to me like the writer is trying his damnedest to be oppressed, to have someone he can point to as "holding him down." It's sad, really.

If he's got beef with Giant, why doesn't he just shop at Safeway. Lord knows the one by my house can use all the help it can get. And I can assure him that they are absolutely non-discriminatory--they treat every customer with equal disdain.

Smoke 'em while you can

Not content to be one of the first county's in the nation to adopt smoking bans in most restaurants, Howard County is trying to snuff out all indoor smoking.

The measure, which would fine establishments $500 for allowing indoor smoking, is similar to legislation that Montgomery County passed in 2003 and that is under consideration in the District and Prince George's County.

If the proposed bans take effect -- which appears likely in at least two of the jurisdictions -- it would create a four-jurisdiction smoke-free zone stretching from the White House almost to Baltimore.

"I just can't wait any longer to ban smoking," said (County Executive Jim) Robey (D), who said he has watched several friends and family members die of smoking-related cancer. "Too many lives are at stake."

Naturally, the restauranteurs of this county, many of whom spent money upgrading ventilation systems in their establishments when the last ban took effect, are not very happy.

Melvin R. Thompson, vice president of government relations for the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said a smoking ban would cripple the state's hospitality industry, particularly small bars and restaurants that depend on loyal smoking customers.

"It might be a small percentage of the entire market," he said. "But this sort of ban can really kill them."

...Thompson said 83 percent of eating and drinking establishments in Howard prohibit smoking as a result of that measure. He questioned why additional restrictions were necessary when so few businesses allow smoking.

On this issue, I'm divided. On one hand, I'm sympathetic to those who don't want to go out to eat or socialize surrounded by thick, noxious clouds of smoke. However, those with the most aversion to such atmospheres, it seems, have plenty of other options. Still, there are way more non-smokers than there are smokers, and we live in a society where majority rules (or at least, that's what my Republican friends like to tell me).

Moreover, I'm sympathetic to the bar and restaurant owners who assert that such bans will hurt their businesses (especially those who have already invested in ventilation systems). Despite the oft-repeated claim that such bans don't hurt sales, Thompson makes a very credible point with, "(i)f we didn't notice a pattern of economic damage to restaurants and bars, why would we be fighting this issue?" Um...nothing better to do? Wait, that was probably rhetorical.

What really gets under my skin about such proposal is the patronizing argument that smoking in these establishments is unfair to the employees, whose safety and well-being is at risk by second hand smoke. This argument is bunk for several reasons:

  1. Most people who work at bars smoke. If you don't believe, go to one (wear a mask or ventilator if you have to) and watch as bartenders sneak cigarettes between pours or servers steal away out back for a truncated smoke break.
  2. You almost never hear those who actually work at the bars and restaurants agitating for smoking bans.
  3. If over 83 percent of the eating and drinking establishments in HoCo already don't allow smoking, that should provide a sufficient array of potential employers for non-smoking workers in the industry.
There comes a point (and I think we're there) when government has to step aside and let people make their own choices--instead of parading the "We know what's best for you" line around ad nauseum. Everyone knows smoking is very bad for your health, yet despite taxes, regulations, prohibitions, and other controls some people continue to do it. So, if people are going to smoke, I say at least let them do it in comfort, rather than huddled outside a bar at 1 am in the middle of winter like a bunch of pathetic junkies jonesing for that last bit of nicotine.

For the second to last word, we'll turn to the western Howard councilman, Charles Feaga, who said, "Unless cigarettes become an illegal substance, we've gone far enough. This ban goes too far with its impact on the economics of the businesses and personal freedoms of smokers."

I'm sure you'll find that many smokers would be more than willing to "chip in their buck-o-five" if they could enjoy the freedom of enjoying both of their vices without leaving the comfort of a bar stool.

Yes, Len, that one's for you.

Another one bites the dust

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are currently over 1600 mobile homes in Howard County, down from more than 1800 in 2000. And the downward trend will continue, as mobile home parks, such as Beechcrest, are being demolished in favor of more permanent housing.

The hoped-for revitalization of U.S. 1 received another boost with the approval of a brief and, on first glance, irrelevant change to the voluminous zoning regulations.

The amendment, though, was the initial step in replacing a mobile home park with an apartment complex in North Laurel.

Although there are many stages left in the development process, the president of Beechcrest Mobile Home Estates, Mirza Baig, said the apartments would serve two county objectives: beefing up the historic U.S. 1 corridor, large parts of which have over the years fallen into economic disrepair, and providing moderately priced housing.

On the whole, replacing mobile home parks with apartments is something we should welcome, particularly along the beleaguered Route 1 corridor, where revitalization has been slow in coming, though not for lack of effort. However, while our remaining mobile home parks will likely be replaced by additional housing that is also affordable and in better condition, it isn't hard for me to muster some sentimental feelings for these remnants of Howard's past.

But I think we all know what happens when you try to stand in the way of suburbia.