Thursday, November 30, 2006

How about a few libertarian rants?

Now, I don't want to turn Howard County into a gambling hot spot, but it is absurd that of all the counties in this fine state, ours is the only one where it is illegal for bars to host poker tournaments, which, in case you haven't noticed, are quite popular nowadays. I don't think we'll slide down a slippery slope towards full-bore casinos if we allow bars to host a couple tournaments a year as a way to drum up some extra business and let their patrons have a little fun.

Also, why is this a state law that affects on Howard County? More absurdity.

Although our county may be a little overbearing in this respect, at least we're not as bad as Fairfax, whose government was just given (by me) an award for being the most outrageously stupid and evil bureaucracy in history.

The casserole has been canned.

Under a tough new Fairfax County policy, residents can no longer donate food prepared in their homes or a church kitchen -- be it a tuna casserole, sandwiches or even a batch of cookies -- unless the kitchen is approved by the county, health officials said yesterday.

They said the crackdown on home-cooked meals is aimed at preventing food poisoning among homeless people.

But it is infuriating operators of shelters for the homeless and leaders of a coalition of churches that provides shelter and meals to homeless people during the winter. They said the strict standards for food served in the shelters will make it more difficult to serve healthy, hot meals to homeless people. The enforcement also, they said, makes little sense.

Under state and county code, food served to the public must be prepared in a kitchen that has been inspected and certified by the county Health Department. Those standards are high: a commercial-grade refrigerator, a three-compartment sink to wash, rinse and sanitize dishes and a separate hand-washing sink, among other requirements.

Health officials said they weren't aware that food from unapproved kitchens was being served in homeless shelters.

"We're dealing with a medically fragile population . . . so they're more susceptible to food-borne illnesses than the general population," said Tom Crow, the county Health Department's director of environmental health. "We're trying to protect those people."

To help the churches prepare, the Health Department is waiving a $60 fee for certification and is holding additional safe food-handling classes for church volunteers. It is also giving churches that do not have approved kitchens a list of other houses of worship with such facilities.
Isn't that nice of them to waive the fee? I'm sure that $60 will really help all the churches upgrade to professional kitchens. Commercial grade refrigerators can't be more than a couple hundred bucks, right?

Oh, well, it's just another reason to not like the Commonwealth to our south, as if you needed more.

(Sorry if you're from VA. As Cindy V says, present company excluded.)

(In case you couldn't tell, I'm a little cranky today. But football is on tonight, so the world will be right soon.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Data Digging III, Special Guest Edition...

I'm posting the following without comment of my own, but I'll probably have something to say about it later. A friend of mine was interested in gauging how much of an impact Bush Derangement Syndrome had on our little old county's elections -- specifically the race for County Executive -- and decided to take a look at the data. Below is how it was done and what was found.


"I don't think growth was an issue in this election. I think George Bush and Iraq were the issue." -Chris Merdon, The Baltimore Sun, November 12, 2006

Speculation in the local media and blogs suggests that the 2006 midterm elections were nothing more than a vehicle for voters to send a message of discontent to the national politicians and, specifically, Bush.

Is Ulman’s lead by 9,111 votes over Merdon attributable only to voter anger with the federal government and/or ignorance on local issues?

Looking at a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press poll conducted in the days leading up to the mid-term elections, we see that public opinion weighs heavily against Bush and the Iraq war. Poll results can be viewed here.

What if voters voiced their discontent through local elections on November 8? What if the votes were based only on dissatisfaction with national issues?

Three poll results were used to extrapolate possible county executive votes. They are: “If voters saw their vote for congress as a vote or against Bush,” “Opinion of how the military effort in Iraq is going” and “Approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president.”

Poll respondents were registered voters, grouped as registered Republicans/Republican leaning, registered Democrats/Democrat leaning, and undecided. The results were also tabulated to reflect the responses of all registered voters. For the purposes of this exercise, only respondents grouped into the first two groups were counted.

Calculations were run to determine probable county election outcomes based on three scenarios. The first scenario assumes that voters saw their local county executive vote as a vote for or against President Bush. The second scenario assumes that a vote for the county executive candidate followed sentiment regarding the status of the Iraq war. The third scenario assumes voters chose the county executive based solely on their approval of President Bush’s job as President.

In each scenario, it was assumed that public opinion in favor of Iraq or the President would equal a vote for the Republican candidate for county executive. Where public opinion was not in favor of the President or the war, a vote was tallied in favor of the Democratic candidate for executive. In instances where a material percentage of poll respondents indicated that Bush or the war were not factors or they were undecided, votes were split according to respondents’ party lines. Lastly, results from Hayduke’s Votes Stolen by Wallis calculation were used to remove votes from the both candidates’ calculated results and attribute them to Wallis.

The results if our county residents were truly trying to send a message to the federal government?

The calculation shows that if voters actually voted based solely on their dissatisfaction with national issues, Ulman would have won with a significantly larger margin.

In a county where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by nearly 22,000 voters, is it any surprise that a Democratic candidate won? If anything, the margin of only 9,000 votes speak volumes to the fact that voters were willing to jump across party lines to vote for the candidate that they trusted with the next 4 years at the helm of Howard County’s government. That the margin of victory for Ulman was not wider shows that despite strong public sentiment against Bush and the Iraq War, voters were willing to vote Republican.

In every election, there are voters, both Republican and Democrat, who vote strictly according to party affiliation. However, in 2006, Ulman’s victory cannot be attributed solely to the anger and dissatisfaction of voters.

Wednesday Round Up...

Just a couple short items today...

First, although I'd rather not wade into such murky waters, the most recent Columbia Association kerfuffle confuses me. The gist: Five board members are opposed to granting a three-year extension to CA president Maggie Brown's contract because they "are looking for a different style of management and a different direction." One of the five, Phil Marcus, explains more on his blog, saying he'd like to see CA "gently shaken" to bring about better quality assurance measures and more innovation.

I don't really feel like commenting much on this story myself, but I do have a couple questions I'll pose to you. First, what's your opinion of the now in vogue concept of performance measurement for individual employees? Dealing with performance measures for a non-profit on a daily basis has soured me (to an extent) on the practice.

And second, what do you think of five CA council members meeting as a "caucus?" Although they're just under the threshold for open meeting requirements, such collective action I think raise concerns about closed-door decision making, the same type of concerns that (ironically?) brought at least a few of the five involved in this caucus to power?


The second item came to me in an email from the county. File it in the Not Surprised folder. After getting sworn in this Monday night, the first piece of legislation on the new council's agenda is: "Council Resolution No. 145-2006 – By Calvin Ball – Calling for a task force to study the tax credit enacted by Council Bill 68-2006 and advise the County Council; calling for certain membership, officers, staff, duties, and lifespan."

That would be the senior tax cut, passed just days before the election by a lame duck council comprised mostly of people unwilling to be deemed "anti-senior" in last minute politicking.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

More green buildings...

All right. First it was DC, now MoCo's getting into the green building mix.

The Montgomery County Council today is expected to approve legislation that would encourage builders to include energy-saving and pollution- reducing features in future developments.

Called the "Green Buildings" bill, the legislation would make the county one of the most environmentally clean metropolitan areas in the nation.

"This is my most major initiative of my last year as council chairman," George Leventhal, at-large Democrat, said during a press conference yesterday.

Later yesterday, the council's Transportation and Environment Committee began working out details of the bill.

If approved, the Green Buildings legislation could take effect in a year and would apply to new and public buildings of 10,000 square feet or more.
(How about that? Hayduke linking to the Washington Times.)

I said it before and I'll say it again: Where's our green building law?

Despite what you may think, the specifics of such a law shouldn't be that hard to iron out. The U.S. Green Building Council already has standards for what classifies as a "green" building, as do (ahem) other groups. Using these criteria as a foundation, we would only need to tweak a few things to fit the unique circumstances in our county and figure out whether green building requirements should be mandatory, voluntary with inducements, or something in between.

What's more, USGBC is also working on standards for green neighborhood development, which would be really great to include in our efforts. Note that MoCo and DC fail to include private residential development in the green building laws, an oversight (or, more likely, compromise) that I do not support. If we really want green buildings and design to have an impact, we have to apply the standards as widely as possible. Including residential buildings and neighborhoods in the law is only sensible.

So, new County Executive and Council members, what say you? DC and MoCo have set the bar. Do we raise it?

Thanks to David Keelan for sending the article my way.


An interesting column about post-election transition teams from the Sun and how they've swelled in size over the last few decades.

When Harry Hughes was elected governor in 1978, his transition team consisted of himself and a few trusted advisers.

Today, though, Hughes is co-chairing a 47-member transition team helping Peter Franchot ease into the Maryland comptroller's office, as well as serving on the 42-member transition team of Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley. He somehow escaped being named to the third transition team that is in business these days - City Council President Sheila Dixon's 47-member group, marshaling her move into O'Malley's soon-to-be vacated mayor's office.
I'm not particularly alarmed or concerned about the large number of volunteers willing to spend their own time crafting a plan for a new administration. But I will point out that Howard's County Executive-elect has a team of only nine members, though with subcommittees being formed, the number will likely rise.

The best take on transition teams, I think, comes at the end of the above-linked column:
"You want to do something for people who were of value to you during the campaign," said Alan Ehrenhalt, executive editor of the Washington-based magazine Governing. "It's an honorific. People like to say, 'The governor listens to me.' You're giving small rewards, particularly to people you might not be able to reward any other way."

Transition teams have grown along with government in general, he believes - there are simply more positions to fill these days.

Speaking of Ken Ulman's transition team, there will be a public input session next Wednesday, December 6 at 7:30 pm in the Banneker Room of the George Howard Building. Residents will have an opportunity to share their thoughts on the future of the county with the team.

Three cheers for lawsuits...

The city of Baltimore (Get in on it!) is joining a bunch of states and assorted rabble rousers in a lawsuit aimed at forcing the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, those pesky people-produced chemicals that are fueling large changes in the composition our atmosphere. From the Sun:

The city, which hasn't had a case before the nation's highest court in decades, is arguing that at least 860 buildings near the Inner Harbor could suffer $420 million in flood damage if the federal government doesn't act on its legal obligation to slow global warming and sea-level rise, according to papers filed with the court.

New York City and the District of Columbia also have joined Massachusetts, California and other states in suing the Bush administration for refusing to regulate carbon dioxide and other global warming gases from vehicles under the Clean Air Act. That law, last revised in 1990, says the EPA shall set standards for emissions that "cause or contribute to air pollution which may be reasonably anticipated to endanger public health or welfare," including through climate or weather.

The arguments in Massachusetts v. EPA are scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow, although a decision is not expected until after February. A win by Baltimore and the other plaintiffs could empower federal and state governments to take action on what some have called the most important environmental issue of our time, while a loss could inhibit efforts to reduce global warming.

"Congress has already acted - and they've given the EPA the clear mandate to regulate air pollutants," said Bill Phelan, principal counsel for the Baltimore city solicitor's office. "And all of the greenhouse gases being considered - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide - are all things that easily fall within the definition of air pollutants."
(Phelan, huh? That name sounds familiar. Oh yeah.)

In case you're wondering, I support the lawsuit and, by extension, the regulation of greenhouse gases. But then, I tend to think that byproducts of fossil fuel burning that alter our atmosphere with potentially catastrophic consequences should be classified as pollutants, not "Life" or some other inappropriate euphemism. And I'm continually amazed at things like this:
The Bush administration argues in its brief to the Supreme Court that carbon dioxide isn't really a pollutant, but instead a normal and inevitable product of burning oil and coal. The only way to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles is to improve their fuel economy, and these standards are set by the Department of Transportation, not the EPA, the administration argues.
Sulfer dioxide is a normal and inevitable product of burning oil and coal. So are mercury and nitrogen oxides. Yet, all of these are regulated as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

Am I missing something?

Monday, November 27, 2006

It's beginning...

My, news has been rather slow around here as of late. Local bloggers have either been dormant or shifted focus to matters beyond Howard County, while newspaper scribes are busy trying to keep post-election politics interesting or, oddly, sharing stories about their own exercising experiences (perhaps a subtle hint to some of us).

So, into this news vacuum I tread, soreness be damned (with each passing year, the annual Turkey Bowl football game gets a little harder to recover from). Below are a few short and hopefully substantive posts, but for the remainder of this one, I’d like to submit a request.

Some friends were talking this weekend about driving around Howard County to look at Christmas lights. And while there's always the Symphony of Lights, they (and I) were more interested in seeing what our neighbors have done. But, the county's a pretty big place and just heading out willy-nilly probably isn't the best approach.

Of all people, Abbzug, my wife, said the local papers should compile a list of particularly bright streets or neighborhoods to use as a starting point for those seeking free light shows. I was offended that she would defer such a task to "the papers," and decided to take her up on the challenge.

But since I don't get around much, I really have no idea where any good spots are. My parents' old neighborhood is a good place to start and I'm planning a light extravaganza for our house that is sure to annoy the neighbors (my tackiness knows no bounds), but beyond those, I'm lost.

So, I'm asking you, the readers, to help me and my friends in our quest for Christmas kitsch. Do you know of any houses, streets or neighborhoods where holiday displays are worth the trip? I know Howard County lacks a "34th Street," but there must be a few other shameless crazies like me willing to spend lots of time (and/or money) on decorations with a shelf-life of little more than a month.

Leave your suggestions in the comments section or send them to me in an email. If demand warrants, I'll post a summary of the recommendations in a week or two. Also, feel free to send pictures of your house. If I get a some good ones, I'll post them (with the homeowner's permission, of course).

We are not alone...

From the left coast, an interesting way of dealing with regional growth.

To ensure that market-rate and low-income housing keeps up with population growth, California law has since 1984 required regional agencies, such as [The Association of Bay Area Governments], to mandate how many new units individual cities must build. It also requires individual cities to outline how they will meet those goals — although it does not actually require cities to build housing, according to Cha.

For the first time, ABAG will create those quotas based on economic growth — those cities showing signs of job and residential growth near major transit corridors will be assigned a higher housing responsibility.
And, naturally, the quotas are causing concern for some.
San Francisco is protesting a new method by which Bay Area cities and towns will be asked to create new housing, in part because it would double the amount The City is recommended to build.

...For San Francisco, ABAG will boost local quotas for the creation of new housing — which were 20,000 between 2002 and 2009 — to 40,000 between 2009 and 2016, according to San Francisco Planner Sarah Dennis. In the past seven years, The City has struggled to meet its allocation, creating only 13,000 new units by the end of 2005.

“We would be looking at 5,000 or 6,000 units a year, which San Francisco has never seen,” Dennis said. “It’s hard to imagine, especially at a time when the market is cooling off.”

Despite San Francisco’s protests, ABAG created the new methodology “based on what cities and communities have said about their own parameters, restrictions and challenges,” Cha said.
To some extent, we've seen some regional coordination in Maryland -- namely, during the Reality Check Plus visioning exercise. But, so far, nothing that carries the power of law has been enacted.

Is it about time?

Look what the cat dredged up...

I can’t say that I’m sad to see this:

Researchers have concluded that Asian oysters are susceptible to a parasite that could wipe them out if they were ever planted in the Chesapeake Bay, raising new concerns about a proposal to use the foreign species to revive the region's struggling seafood industry.

The research found that Asian oysters experienced "almost total mortality" when exposed to the parasite Bonamia from the earliest stages of life, said Ryan Carnegie, a scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, where the study is being done.

Upon taking office four years ago, the Ehrlich administration said it planned to introduce Asian oysters into the bay to help filter the increasingly polluted water and to give struggling watermen a crop to harvest. Diseases and overharvesting have all but destroyed the native oyster populations in the bay.
Although the threat posed the parasite isn’t enough, on its own, to halt the potential introduction of the non-native oyster species, it certainly doesn’t brighten the prospects of this fool-hardy policy.

Because I’m talking about oysters on a local blog, perhaps a little background is in order. The short story of the last 150 years is this: Oysters were once so plentiful in the Chesapeake Bay that they could filter all its brackish water in a couple days and their reefs posed serious navigation hazards; then, a lot of people decided they really liked the taste of oysters, and watermen obliged, tonging and dredging them from the Bay bottom in tremendous quantities. Add two deadly diseases to the mix in the mid-20th century and you have a population of oysters – an essential, maybe even the essential, species in the bay – and an industry that are barely hanging on.

Enter Crassostrea ariakensis: A fast-growing, disease-resistant Asian oyster that can thrive in the Bay’s water. In short, a silver bullet, or so it seemed.

Though the idea of introducing non-native oysters to replenish the Bay’s supply has been around for a while (non-native oyster introduction has proved successful elsewhere, but may have played a role in the presence of the deadly-to-natives diseases we are dealing with today), it really gained steam when Governor Bob Ehrlich took office four years ago.

The Asian oyster was, wrongly, seen as a single solution to a problem with two parts: economy and ecology. It was assumed that the Asian oysters could provide filtering services to the Bay at the same time that struggling watermen could revive their businesses on the backs of the implanted bivalves. Unfortunately, as with all things that seem too good to be true, we’re now finding out it was.

By giving short shrift to the separate-but-connected ecological and economic problems posed by the decline in our native oyster population, we’re destined to develop a series of easy-to-swallow, but terribly ineffective and unsustainable “solutions.”

However, finding the right solution is not really what we need right now. To be sure, each day another waterman closes up shop, the Bay’s health declines, and the myriad other issues caused by these occurences continue toward intractability. But before we can hope for a solution, we must first fully understand the different problems.

Something to keep in mind as we address ecological problems in our own backyards with solutions that are decidedly and unanimously not sustainable. The superficial problem in our county described in the above links is, of course, that our lakes are filling with sediment, but the underlying cause of the problem – the real problem – is the excessive rain runoff sliding across impervious surfaces and scouring our slopes and streambeds. And in a sense, the lakes filling with runoff is actually a solution to another problem, the burying of submerged aquatic vegetation in the Bay.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving Round Up...

I’m a little burned out on the numbers stuff for now and, therefore, am calling shenanigans on this whole blogging business. That’s right, the most rested blogger in the local ‘sphere is using a four-day hiatus from paid work to take a four-day hiatus from the volunteer stuff, too. Between all the gatherings, concerts, sporting events and other activities, there’s simply no way I’ll have enough time to blog and get the requisite 8 hours of sleep I need to maintain my youthful good looks. Alas.

Before I go, however, I’ll attach a few random thoughts to some links, in a special Thanksgiving Round Up.

General Growth is reaching out to local high school and college students to hear their thoughts on the future of Town Center. I applaud this move. Young people are full of ideas – some reasonable, some not – but aren’t very likely to engage in the community meeting-type stuff that is essentially required if you want your voice heard. So, rather than waiting for them to engage, GGP is actively connecting with the local students, which is probably the only way we’ll hear from them. Considering many who grow up here will choose to live here as adults, it’s only fair that their input be included in this community visioning process.

As for what they had to say, well…

Some concepts, to be sure, reflected a decided generational gap: the need for an arcade parlor, more free concerts, a casino and expansion of the mall to serve those with an insatiable desire to shop. One student at a recent discussion even suggested -- twice -- that there be a prohibition downtown on housing for the elderly.

But many other suggestions mirrored those advanced in the last year by county officials and residents: mass transit, an improved pedestrian network, nighttime entertainment venues and better parking facilities.
Some reasonable, some not.


The Columbia Association is rolling out a new program that encourages volunteerism and good deeds by giving those who serve others points in a time bank that can be used “or tutoring, landscaping, transportation and errands, among other services.” It’s kind of like karma, only exclusively positive and you don’t have to wait for the afterlife to enjoy its benefits. I’d say Instant Karma, but I think that evokes negative connotations (“Instant karma gonna get you, gonna knock you right on the head”).


Finally, here’s a good story about HoCo’s newest organic/natural foods store, My Organic Market in Jessup, and how its emphasis on organic stuff is not just a marketing gimmick to get affluent liberals and other crunchy-types to buy their food, but an extension of their concern for the environment, too.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Data digging, Part II...

After starting with an overview yesterday, I’m going to dig a little deeper into the results of the County Executive (CE) race today in an effort to determine how much independent Steve Wallis affected the outcome. Since there’s no clear, objective way to do this, I used some creative measures that may take a little while to explain. Please bear with me.

As was shown graphically in yesterday’s post, both Ken Ulman and Chris Merdon failed to keep pace with candidates for county council from their party in most districts; Ulman bested Calvin Ball in District 2 and Don Dunn in District 5, while Merdon only outran one council candidate, Tony Salazar in District 1.

While such data are interesting, they don’t really tell us much about how the candidates performed relative to expectations or whether Wallis stole some of their votes. Indeed, in order to gauge whether Wallis had any impact at all, we have to first establish a baseline (how we think they would have performed without him). With the data I have, there’s no elegant way to do this. So, here’s my makeshift attempt, the methodology for which you are welcome to question or improve upon.

I established a new variable that called the Party Proxy Index. This variable estimates the expected performance of CE candidates by averaging the precinct-level voting percentages for the County Council, Governor and U.S. Senate candidates from within their respective parties (I used percentages to account for differences in total number of votes).

So, for instance, if Bob Ehrlich received 55 percent of the votes in a given precinct, Michael Steele received, and Tony Salazar received 45, the average/expected percent of votes going to Merdon should be 50.

Then, I multiplied the expected percentages for both Merdon and Ulman by the total number of votes cast in the CE race, arriving at an expected total number of votes for each candidate in that precinct, or what I call the PPI. Crude, I know, but it’s what I got.

The differences between their actual total and the PPI (essentially, deficits or surpluses), aggregated by council district, are shown below.

As you can see (and compare with the graph in yesterday’s post), Ulman did significantly worse in District 1 than his fellow Democrats. I can think of three reasons for this: Courtney Watson had a strong showing in several precincts, which skewed the index to an extent; this was Merdon’s council district and though it leans Democratic in registration, he managed to win here for years ago with well over 60 percent of the vote; and, as you’ll soon see, Wallis. To be sure, Comp Lite was likely a contributing factor to all three of these reasons, particularly with respect to Wallis. Overall, however, Ulman’s performance relative to expectations was fairly even.

Though Ulman had trouble in District 1, Merdon did, too. He failed to beat the Republican PPI in his own council district, something Wallis likely had a hand in. But the big surprise with Merdon, I think, are his performances in Districts 2 and 5, where combined he lost almost 2,000 votes relative to the average of his own party mates. Instead of guessing whether Wallis played a role in these discrepancies, let’s just go to the tape…

(Actually, before I show the graph, let me explain how I came up with a “Votes Stolen by Wallis” Variable. With the PPI, I had for each precinct a value showing how many votes CE candidates should or should not have gotten based on the performance of their party. For many precincts, there was a surplus for one and a deficit for the other, but these were never exact mirrors. So, I examined the unaccounted for votes [those not explained by the surpluses/deficits], compared them to Wallis’s totals, and arrived at a rough number of votes that I could reasonably expect as being votes that normally would have gone to a major party candidate in a two-person race. As I said, it’s crude.)

As you can see, Wallis took many votes from Ulman in District 1, thanks almost entirely to a few key precincts – for one, St. John’s Lane Elementary School, Wallis’s home district and the center of much of the Comp Lite backlash. Also, Wallis took a lot of votes from Ulman in District 4, but again, a few key precincts – his school, Harper’s Choice Middle, Harmony Hall and Longfellow Elementary – accounted for much of this.

Meanwhile, the main story of the graph has to be District 5, where Wallis nabbed almost 800 votes from Merdon. I’m still not sure what caused this, but a few people floated some ideas in the comments of yesterday’s post, including the incident at Cattail Creek Country Club and Merdon’s failure to endorse Greg Fox in the primary. I’m not sold on those explanations, however.

But, then, I don’t have any ideas of my own (yet), either.

In the end, however, with less than 5 percent of the total votes, Wallis didn’t alter the outcome of the election; even if all of his votes went to Merdon, it would not have been enough.
Feel free to share your thoughts below and expect more charts tomorrow (probably a closer look at District 1).

Bonus coverage: I not sure what this shows, but I ran a correlation calculation using the percentage of votes for each CE candidate and the percent turnout. Interestingly, there was a fairly strong correlation between high turnout and higher percentages for Merdon, with a weaker but still positive correlation between Wallis votes and turnout. Here’s a graph from District 1.

Notice how Merdon’s line tracks with turnout. Thoughts?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Data digging...

As anyone who spends much of their time staring at spreadsheets knows, it doesn't take long to get lost in the numbers. Also, it doesn't help if you're dividing your attention between election results and football games, as I did yesterday.

Anyway, after a few hours of "analysis" here is a first cut.

Using the wide angle lens to get a sense of the outcomes of county races by council district, the graph below shows the percentage of votes candidates received in each district. (Note: I've lumped all council candidates into two categories for ease-of-labeling purposes.)

(Click to enlarge the picture.)

Nothing too surprising here. The Democrats won handily in the heavily Democratic districts (mainly, Columbia), with the same being true for Republicans. The only parts approaching anomaly status are:
  1. Merdon receiving less than half of the votes cast in his council district (#1)
  2. Ulman receiving less votes than Mary Kay Sigaty in his council district (#4)
  3. And, Merdon garnering significantly less votes in the Republican stronghold District 5 than Greg Fox
With a systemic registration disadvantage, Merdon needed to have a strong showing in the traditionally Republican areas, as well as capture some additional votes from the more Democratic areas. But, as you can see above, Merdon was unable to outperform any Republican council candidate in the middle three, largely Democratic districts.

I'll probably post charts like this all week, until my Thanksgiving blogging hiatus. Hopefully, by the time I get around to this tomorrow, the Excel-induced blurred vision and lack of perspective will lead to more insightful analysis.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Slow news day...

Really. I'm not just being lazy. The most "newsy" story of the bunch in today's Sun is this piece about Columbia Association easement-granting rights.

Today is the likely start of a slow news week, too. Thanksgiving and all that.

But that's fine; I have more than enough stuff to write about.

Because I lead an incredibly exciting life, I spent Friday night inputting the county election results into a spreadsheet, and today I'll probably geek out on the numbers for a few hours. Even if I don't find anything interesting, you can bank on at least a couple charts and graphs, which are always fun.

Although another local blogger, whose spreadsheet is much more complete than mine, is planning to make the results available for download, if you really can't wait to play with the numbers yourself, let me know and I'll send you a copy of what I have.

Friday, November 17, 2006

(Insert witty title of your choosing)...

So…no recap of last night’s Voices of Vision forum.

It’s not that I don’t want to write about Ann Forsyth’s lecture, which I thought was quite good. I just don’t know what to say…yet.

I will say that I’d really like to read her book Reforming Suburbia, and if a certain fellow HoCo blogger doesn’t find his copy soon, I’ll just have to buy it from Amazon. Forsyth, somewhat surprisingly, doesn’t seem dogmatic about planning and design or dismissive of suburbia, which are refreshing traits to see in an urban-focused academic and make me more interested in her work.

An added bonus of waiting for the recap is that GGP will post her Power Point presentation on the VoV website. Which means a blog post with pictures!

Meanwhile, Washington, DC’s getting greener.

The District is poised to become the first major city in the country to require that private developers build environmentally friendly projects that incorporate energy-saving measures.

By 2012, most large construction in the city -- commercial and city-funded residential -- would have to meet the standards, if the D.C. Council gives final approval to a new bill next month.

The era of "green buildings" would include devices such as low-flow shower heads and recycled materials and would require designing passageways that encourage walking, choosing drought-tolerant plants and improving air quality by reducing the need for artificial heating and cooling.

Although smaller cities, such as Pasadena, Calif., have adopted similar laws, the District would be the first large city to force private developers to meet the standards, said Cliff Majersik of the Institute for Market Transformation, a nonprofit environmental group that promotes green buildings. All 13 council members voted for the measure in a preliminary vote this week. "This is big," Majersik said.

My only response: Where’s our green building law?

(On the whole, a pretty boring post, I know. But it's Friday, and in case you've been living under a rock [or just don't care about these things] the world is most likely going to end tomorrow when The Ohio State University and Michigan take the field in the College Football Game of the…I don't even know, something super big. At least that's what ESPN and it's Sports Friends make it seem like. Anyway, it's probably breaking some rule of sports fandom, but having married a Columbus, Ohio-raised beauty and visited many times The Place The Sun Forgot [my name for central OH], I've become over the last several years a infected by the OSU bug [I think there's something in the water, because Ohioans are freaks for the Buckeyes, and this is coming from someone who knows his share of freaks]. So, this is a long way of saying: a) I’m a little distracted; and b) Go Bucks!)

UPDATE: Speaking of that other HoCo blogger, he's got a recap post of his own about last night's forum. Now, what can I say that he didn't?

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I'll be at the Voices of Vision forum tonight and should have a report on it tomorrow. A truly dedicated blogger would, of course, file a report tonight. But, in case you haven't heard, Jim and Pam from The Office will be back together tonight and the TiVo will be anxiously awaiting my return. Must See TV, indeed.

Speaking of must see TV, there's an interesting story about The Greatest Show Ever, The Wire, on's Page 2. It's apparently a favorite of athletes ("Half the [Ravens] squad TiVo's it"), which isn't necessarily surprising. What is, at least according to the writer, is how many athletes root for Omar, an incredibly likable, honorable and cold-blooded killer ("A man got to have a code"). He also happens to be proudly gay, something professional athletes tend be a little hostile towards.

"The thing is that's such a small portion of who Omar is," [Ravens receiver Derrick] Mason says. "He is respected because he is tough, he doesn't take any stuff from anybody and he doesn't apologize for anything that he does or who he is."

[Cleveland Cavalier Larry] Hughes says he just "closes his eyes to that part."

"He's one of the best characters on the show," the Cavs guard says. "I think Omar is very believable. If you can have a businessman be on the down low, why can't you have a gangsta?"

Or athlete?

"That's different," Mason says. "Because Omar does his thing but you don't have to be around him all of the time. In football, you spend so much time together and you're in the shower … it's just different. I still think if an athlete comes out, he would be committing professional suicide."

The show's examination of the role sexuality plays in society is yet another one of its most interesting, if sometimes confusing, facets (i.e. Major Rawls's fleeting appearance at a gay bar?), and is another reason why it really is a show without an equal.

At this point, I know it seems like I'm being paid to write positive things about The Wire. Really, I'm just another crazy zealot (though I will say that my experience as a newspaper reporter and an actor should more than qualify me for at least a bit part during the next season, which will shift focus to the city's media).

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Quote of the Day Year

"I didn't realize Howard County residents were that stupid." -- Brian Harlin, Republican Party Chairman for Howard County.

In fairness, he is the outgoing chair, if that means anything (not really).

It’s one thing when anonymous commenters call their neighbors stupid. It’s altogether different when a party leader does it, especially in an article about how the GOP plans to retake Howard County in four years because the Democrats are “incompetent.”

You can bet Republicans will be watching the Democrats like a stalker watches his prey. Really! Diligence, not just politics, requires such attention.

But you can also bet that this won’t be the last time you see Harlin’s stupid “stupid” quote, either.

Also worthy of note from the story is this bit:

"I'm very confident in the incompetence of the Democrats," said Brian Harlin, outgoing Republican Party chairman, who expects taxes and spending to rise during the next four years. "If Democrats in this county do what I think they're going to do, we'll be OK."
So, he’s very confident that the Democrats will screw things up, but that’s a good thing, because that means Republicans will win in four years. And we all know the ultimate end is not a great county to live in, but electoral success.

Priorities and prudent word selection are clearly not required to become a GOP chairman in this county.

Moving Goal Posts alert...

I’m not really sure how I feel about this proposal.

A plan to construct age-restricted housing units in Woodbine has ignited concern and, in some instances, opposition from nearby homeowners. The property is located roughly a quarter of a mile north of the intersection of Old Frederick Road and Woodbine Road and adjacent to the Lisbon Center shopping complex.

An ownership group, which includes developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. and attorney Richard B. Talkin, has proposed constructing 20 units. Planned are five structures, each designed to resemble a large single-family home, and would be restricted to people who are at least 55.

The structures would have a maximum of 5,000 square feet, and each unit within them probably would cost $300,000 to $400,000, Reuwer, president of Land Design & Development Inc., told a gathering of Woodbine residents Thursday night.
Here’s a picture of the multi-unit houses they’re talking about. That one's from Fairfax County and, I believe, contains four units.

I’ve seen houses like this before and I generally think they’re a good way of creating affordable housing in the land of McMansions. But, I’m not sure this is the right place for such housing, particularly considering how far removed from the county’s base of services this area is. So, in that sense, I’m agreeing with the local residents.

What I find most interesting and the reason for the title of this post is this quote:
"You can't buy a house out here for $300,000-$400,000," Sheldon told Reuwer. "We don't want low-income housing out here."
Housing in the $300,000-$400,000 range is now considered “low-income?” Cripes, I must be living in poverty.

And, speaking of affordable housing and moving targets, the task force charged with studying the issue released its report. I’m waiting to actually see the report before commenting with any real substance, but the following excerpt from this story is certainly relevant to the broader point of this post:
The group focused its efforts on households making 110 percent of the median income, or about $100,300.

They chose that income level because it was around the lowest level to afford the average cost of housing in the county, said Leonard Vaughan, director of the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development.
Does that mean we write off those earning less, tell they don’t have a chance to live here anyway? How far to we push the goal posts back before we realize that housing and incomes in our county are so out of balance that something dramatic, something bold must be done to correct the situation? Are we there yet?

If people earning $100,000 are having so much trouble finding housing, I’d say yes.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Tuesday Round Up...

No fancy introduction. No snark. No witticisms. No real insights. Just a quick run down of what's been in the news the last couple days.

Solar lighting on Columbia's pathways? Harper's Choice residents are asking for it as a way to increase safety after dark, which in case you haven't noticed is occurring far too early now. Although they would certainly deter people from loitering on the trails, lights will also create a new set of concerns. First, there are maintenance and performance issues. (I've personally never seen free-standing solar lights that are very bright). Also, lighted areas can create a false sense of security. There are often dead spots between lights, and seeing outside the light field while standing in it is almost impossible, which raises concerns about people with nefarious intentions hiding along the paths. Finally, I'm concerned about treading down a slippery slope; if we allow lights on one section of trail, how long is it until we need to light another (and another and another)?


What's going on with Route 40? It'll be the subject of a meeting tonight (7 pm), but the bigger point of this story is that the enhancements promised as part of a task force's study just aren't happening fast enough. Why? I'm not sure, but Town Center and Comp Lite seemed to be part of the problem. (Aren't they always?)


Speaking of routes in need of enhancement, Route 1 was the subject of a meeting today between local and state officials. Specifically discussed were options to improve transportation along the corridor. This story would be much more interesting if it was written tomorrow, recapping the discussion of the meeting. Oh, well.


Finally, as Howard County goes so goes the state. I'm glad to see that Howard serves as the bellwether for state politics. Does that mean more special treatment (pork!) from politicians looking to secure our support?

Less lameness tomorrow!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Voices of Vision

Nothing of substance to report today. Instead, an announcement.

This Thursday, November 16, General Growth and Howard Community College's Voices of Vision speaker series will feature Ann Forsyth, director of the University of Minnesota's Metropolitan Design Center. The forum will be held at 7 pm in the college's Smith Theater.

Because I'm feeling incredibly lazy, here's what the official announcement had to say about the speaker:

Ann Forsyth's work focuses on the social aspects of physical planning, urban design and urban development. Her academic contributions are numerous and her efforts have been heralded by numerous institutions through awards, citations and fellowships granted for her individual and collaborative professional work. Ms. Forsyth has analyzed the success of planned alternatives to sprawl, extensions between social and ecological values in urban design, resulting in her authoring three books:
  • Constructing Suburbs: Competing Voices in a Debate Over Urban Growth
  • Reforming Suburbia: The Planned Communities of Irvine, Columbia and The Woodlands
  • Designing Small Parks: A Manual for Addressing Social and Ecological Concerns.
Sounds interesting.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sunday Round Up...

It's raining and I'm not feeling particularly inspired. So, I'll keep this short...

In a story about the role Slow Growth played in the county executive election, we get this pearl of wisdom:

"We ran on the right issue of trying to slow the growth in Howard County, improve education and deliver government services at a lower tax rate, but it was the wrong year for Republican candidates," Merdon said. "I don't think growth was an issue in this election. I think George Bush and Iraq were the issue."
I expect to hear these things from disappointed activists, but from the candidate himself, it's unbecoming. The foundation behind the argument that it was All About Bush is that the voters didn't know what or who they were voting for. Although for some that was probably the case, it certainly wasn't universal. And lumping everyone who didn't vote for you into the "ignorant" category isn't necessarily the best way for your local party to win future elections.


Here's a good summary of the new county council, and here are good responses to the Sun's "We Want Your Opinions" feature that I took issue with last week.


Finally, I'm glad to see that Columbia Association moving forward with a plan to create a Town Center task force. Others might not be, however:

If the task force is created, [Kings Contrivance board member Phil] Marcus and other members of the board are asking that the group be made up of local experts in fields such as urban planning, sociology, architecture and urban economics.

"Columbia is blessed to have all kinds of experts here who are willing to serve on this, and it will be a great benefit," Marcus said.

I would be willing to bet something of not-insignificant monetary value that a panel of experts in these fields will come up with recommendations for Town Center that are closer to the draft master plan than what others are calling for, even if they couch their recommendations in the basic values of Columbia:
  • To build a complete city that meets all the basic needs of its people including housing, jobs, recreation, educational and cultural institutions and health care.
  • To respect the land.
  • To provide for the growth of people.
  • To make a profit.
The idea of feasibility is being applied selectively at this point, and CA's panel could add some interesting wrinkles to the discussion. My only wonder is how much weight we give to the findings of such a panel, one that would appear, at least superficially, to resemble the Working Group that "created" Columbia. Ultimately, if their work doesn't match our perceptions, do we seek to discredit them or do we reexamine our own positions? I promise the latter if you do too.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Work in progress...

I'm working on a longer, more meaningful post for later, maybe tomorrow. So, for now, here are a few stray links to keep you interested.

There's a lot of discussion going on about my election recap. Join the fray here.

I've been completely remiss for not linking to the Business Monthly more often. It's been a little hectic around here recently. Anyway, there are several good stories in this month's edition, including this one showing how you can have open space, agricultural preservation and profit all from the same piece of land. And all because of a developer.

I also wanted to link to Dennis Lane's "The Way I See It" column, but it doesn't appear to be online. You can pick up copies of the Business Monthly in several places around the county, though, and I highly recommended reading his piece on Page 11 of the November issue.

Finally, if for no other reason than we could use a few laughs, here's a blog I've been keeping in my back pocket for several months. It's called "The Best of the Bozeman Chronicle Police Reports" and it is basically what it claims to be. The Bozeman Chronicle is the local paper out in Bozeman, Montana, which is near where my sister lives, and its police report section is legendary for its lunacy. Here are a few teasers to make you click the link:

A woman on North 24th Avenue told police her ex-boyfriend was sending her dirty text messages. The ex-boyfriend told police he was receiving harassing phone calls from her. Both of them were told to leave each other alone.

Someone reported a suspicious man at the East Gallatin Recreation Area. The man was just enjoying the sunshine.

A teenager on Driftwood Drive was upset with his parents for making him work all the time. They also don't pay him for the chores. The boy was told to listen to his parents.
And, the obvious winner, which may be below the high standards I set for this blog but is nonetheless hilarious:
A man pooped on his father's vehicle along South Black Avenue.
Oh, the trials and tribulations of the Bozeman Police Department.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election recap...

With all but a few votes counted, the question now changes from “Who won?” to “Why?”

(Except for the District 1 council seat, which could still go either way depending on those pesky absentee ballots.)

I’m not of sufficiently clear mind to have thought the “Why” question through in any great detail, but others have taken a stab at it and provided several plausible and likely explanations.

First, the Washington Post’s story about the county executive race blames President Bush (typical MSM BDS and whatnot):

The 32-year-old wunderkind of Howard County Democratic politics yesterday became the youngest person elected county executive in Maryland in recent history, cresting to victory on a wave of opposition to President Bush and Congressional Republicans.

In a near Democratic sweep that secured the party's hold on the bellwether county, Ken Ulman defeated his colleague from the County Council, Republican Christopher J. Merdon, and the Democrats picked up a fourth seat on the five-member panel.

The major local issue was how to control the unrelenting growth in Howard. But many voters said yesterday that their primary motivation at the ballot box was animosity toward national GOP leaders.

"This is a message to George W. Bush," said Julie Pogach, 50, a consultant from Clarksville, describing her votes for every Democratic candidate on the ballot. "My anger at him and the Republicans trickles all the way down to the local races."

Voters yesterday said they still cared deeply about the impact of growth on Howard, the third-wealthiest county in the nation and the site of one of the region's best-rated school systems. They expressed concern that an influx of new residents, including many from a planned expansion at nearby Fort Meade, could begin to erode the quality of life in the county.

But many residents said the wonkish debates over growth were so intricate that they could not differentiate between the two candidates. Merdon, a 35-year-old businessman, portrayed himself as the slow-growth candidate and said on his campaign signs, "Vote Slow Growth!" Ulman, a lawyer, disputed his opponent's characterization and attacked him for doing little to control growth in his own council district.

"Everybody says, 'I'm slow growth, I'm slow growth,' but I really don't know who is or who isn't," said Jason Shapiro, 45, an attorney from Columbia. "Who knows what they'll do once they get into office?"
Certainly, the anti-Republican sentiment was strong this election, but the Post’s writer seems to throw all his eggs in this basket, which I think is a bit of a cop out. As for the growth debates being “wonkish” and “intricate,” hey man, that’s what blogs are for: making wonkish accessible and fun.

The other papers posted stories about this race but offered few details beyond “Ulman leading.” The blogs, however, have stepped up to fill the analysis void. Here's Steve Fine:
Ken Ulman won (big) because:

It was a bad year to be a Republican.

The Ulman /O'Malley campaign did a fantastic job, except in the local free media.

The GOTV effort was superbly conceived and executed.

Ken was a much more substantive and sincere candidate.

Merdon's message was flawed: he had a number of pro-growth votes in his own record, while Ken lead the effort to save Meriweather and to create the Charette process.

The Growth issue didn't sway a lot of votes.
I agree with a few of those. First, the GOTV (Get Out The Vote, something I learned yesterday!) was impressive. I heard from several folks that they were disappointed with the lack of Democratic poll workers. Indeed, in my travels yesterday, the Republicans seemed to have numerous bodies at each poll, while the Democrats had significantly fewer.

Well, that is because many of the Democratic workers were out knocking on doors making sure their party-mates had voted. This is what I spent most of my day doing, and we actually had great responses from residents. How many additional voters were generated by this is hard to determine, but surely, it was more than zero.

The point about the dueling growth messages, on the other hand, only partially explains what was going on. Chris Merdon had his vote against Comp Lite as his centerpiece. Ulman had saving Merriweather. One could probably say something about the impact on voter psychology of an inherently negative message – “I’m against…” – versus a more positive message – “I saved…” – but I think that’s going too far.

Really, the success of the competing messages had more to do with the power of the symbols. Merdon voted against an arcane piece of zoning legislation that really upset a few people but failed to show up on the radar screens of most. Ulman saved Merriweather.

(Let’s not argue specifics here about what he did and did not do with respect to the fact that Merriweather remains open. Merdon never challenged this point, which I think says it all.)

Reports from several poll workers were that people did vote for Ulman because of his connection to Merriweather. Even my MoCo father met someone who said they were voting for Ulman because of Merriweather. To be sure, it is a much more powerful and understandable symbol than a zoning bill.

Meanwhile, Wordbones doesn't so much offer reasons for the way things happened as lessons learned:
What messages do I get from the election results?

1) COPE was a big NOPE. Angela Beltram and her minions were less than advertised in influencing voters. Cooler heads prevailed.

2) Democrats for Merdon were a very small group. The only ones behind those individuals who stood beneath the people tree pledging their support to Chris were the gold plated figures on the people tree.

3) We may not now who represents District One until Thursday. Tony did better than many expected him to. This is the one race besides the Governors that could be decided by absentee ballots.

4) Being a member of the Colloseum Gym on Red Branch Road in Columbia continues to be good luck for county exec candidates. Chuck Ecker is a member, Jim Robey is a member and Ken Ulman is a member. Chris Merdon is not a member.

5) The people in Howard County are more informed than I thought. The strongest evidence of that was Allen Dyer failing to win a seat on the school board.
I especially like number 4 (note to self: get a membership). Obviously, Wordbones is having a little fun with some of these, at least I think it's obvious. But he touches on a valid point; namely, the impact of small but vocal constituencies.

Reading the blogs over the last few months likely left most convinced of Republican domination. With so many outspoken critics of the Democrats -- particularly Ulman -- it seemed their loses were foregone conclusions. Which, clearly, was not the case.

As I said in my prediction post, I'm not very sanguine about the influence of blogs or local media in general. We touch only a very small portion of the electorate and the partisanship of cyberspace is considerably out of line with that of the county as a whole. We've created our own consuming reality, in a sense, which served to insulate us from more mainstream voters.

I don't mean to say the blogs are bad or anything like that. It's just that they skew our perspective considerably, something to keep in mind during the next election.

Finally, a few commenters on other blogs have floated the idea that the results of this election are a product of voter stupidity. This explanation deserves no more consideration than a mention. It is completely lacking in class and reason, and is more reflective of those who would resort to it than voters as a whole.

For better examples of how to deal with results that don't go your way, check out both David Keelan's and David Wissing's posts today. I'm sure they didn't want to write those posts as much as I didn't want to have to write one myself, but the fact that they did shows a lot about their character. You guys did great work.

Only three more years until the next election begins!

The morning after...

I've been sitting here for the last several minutes, delaying the inevitable trip to work, in hopes of thinking of something good to say. A conversation is underway below, but something tells me there won't be very many readers contributing today.

There will be plenty of time to analyze results and prognosticate about what comes next, perhaps even tonight. For now, let's take a step back and breath.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Final post for tonight...

Despite the confidence at Kahler Hall, I'm still not comfortable calling any races for anybody.


Things are looking pretty good for the Democrats. I know there are still absentee ballots to be counted, but as of 11:57 pm, more than 70 percent of the precincts are reporting and the local races look like this:

County Executive:

Ken Ulman: 52.84%
Chris Merdon: 42.63%
Steve Wallis: 4.50%

County Council:

District 1:
Courtney Watson: 53%
Tony Salazar: 47%
District 2:
Calvin Ball: 61%
Gina Ellrich: 39%
District 3:
Jen Terrasa: 61%
Donna Thewes: 39%
District 4:
Mary Kay Sigaty: 65%
Tom D'Asto: 35%
District 5:
Greg Fox: 61%
Don Dunn: 39%
As for the other races, things are pretty much looking like one would expect them to. Of note, however, is Jim Robey's lead over Sandy Schrader in the District 13 Senate race, which stands at 60% to 40%.

Hopefully, there will be full resolution tomorrow, though I heard on NPR that Bob Ehrlich isn't going to concede anything any time soon. What this portends for local races, I can't say.

Good night.

On the road...

I'm heading out from my hideaway and going to the Democratic party at Kahler Hall. I'll see if I can post more from there.


I've been a lot busier running around counting numbers than I thought I'd be. The lack of updates is simply shameful. I know. I'm doing the best I can.

Anyway, we're getting some interesting numbers. I'll post more when I know more. But for now, we'll leave it at interesting.

Election Follies: Part I...

You stay classy, Bob Ehrlich.

Inaccurate sample ballots describing Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Senate candidate Michael S. Steele as Democrats were handed out to voters in at least four polling sites in Prince George's County this morning.

The ballots were distributed by people who said they arrived by buses this morning from Pennsylvania and Delaware.

...The Ehrlich and Steele campaigns yesterday acknowledged sending out an election-eve flier, sporting pictures of Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson, his predecessor Wayne K. Curry and former NAACP president Kweisi Mfume. The mailer, declaring itself an "official voter guide" and criticized by Democrats, suggested the three Democrats backed Ehrlich and Steele. Curry has endorsed Steele; none has endorsed Ehrlich.

Almost there...

Polls are open for another few hours. So, get out now and vote if you haven't already.

I've spent the day on the streets, making sure people know where their polling places are (and reminding them to vote Democratic!). Judging from the slice of the electorate I've encountered, I think turnout is going to be pretty high. It remains to see what impact the rain will have on voters -- and the campaign workers, for that matter. Right now, I'm just sore, and adding soaked to that isn't very appealing.

I'll be working until probably around 8:30, but the Board of Elections is playing it safe with results, saying they won't be posted until after 9 pm tonight. Here's the BOE results page, which you can feel free to check out in my absence. Just be sure to come back here for a well-rounded analysis of the numbers. (That was a joke...a bad one.)

I'm still not sure where I'll be blogging from tonight. Any suggestions?

UPDATE: Please post your voting experiences in the comments, as Wordbones has done. I think we're all interested in hearing about what's happening around the county.

Also, as I mentioned in a previous post that I don't have time to link to, I had planned on taking a picture of my polling place for some national citizen journalism experiment (and also to post here), but I was told that photography at the polls is strictly verboten. My bad.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Antsy pants...

Resolution: it's almost here.

In a little more than 27 hours, we should start seeing returns from races around the state. I'm still not sure where I'll be when the returns start rolling in, but I can guarantee that I won't be far from a computer. Check back starting around 8:30 pm tomorrow for a less-than-deferential treatment of the Election Night Follies.

Between now and then, however, it's little more than a waiting game. And since I'm not a good "waiter," I'm trying to occupy my time tonight with as much mindless activity as possible.

First, an earlyish showing of the new Borat movie. I hope it doesn't suffer from inflated expectations, but even if it does, I'll at least have made it through a couple hours without thinking about politics, which is the goal. And, because I like contests, go watch the "Driving Instructor" clip on this page and see if you can guess where in Columbia it was filmed. I can't pinpoint the location of neighborhood scenes, but I'm pretty sure I know which main road they're driving on. Background on the clip here.

After the movie, we'll come home to watch episode 46 of The Wire. Unlike several others, I thought episode 45 was really good. The feeling of exhaustion it induced, I think, was intentional. Plus, it set the table for a dramatic rise in action during the second half of the season. But that's just me.

Finally, I'll probably stew late into the night until the nervous energy subsides, alternately switching back and forth between a crummy Monday Night Football game and Comedy Central.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Bits and Pieces...

A few stray thoughts on a Sunday night...

If elections are determined by who has the most signs along public right-of-ways, then Bob Ehrlich, Michael Steele and Chris Merdon should have nothing to worry about...

I went to a party of mostly non-political people last night. Despite a nearly unanimous desire for the commercials, phone calls, mailings and door-knocking to end, all anyone could talk about were the elections. Is politics like a car accident; no one really wants to look, but you just can't help it...

Speaking of the mechanics of elections, how effective do you think mailings and phone banking are? Both seem universally despised, yet they're such a key part of every campaign. I wonder if there's anything to gain by running on an "I promise not to ever bother you" platform...

Wow! As of 6:18 pm on Sunday, we're up to 59 comments on the Vote Ken! post. For no other reason than boosting my ego, let's see if we can get it up to 100!

Since I shared my reading list earlier this and my humor is sometimes misinterpreted here, I submit to you here what I find truly funny. At the top of the list are Christopher Guest movies -- This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and Waiting For Guffman. But it's also safe to assume I'll laugh at just about any fart joke...

How about some football? Great wins for the Terps yesterday and the Ravens today, but what I'm mildly ashamed to admit is that I was most interested today in the Redskins game. Unlike typical Ravens fans -- who are generally insufferable when it comes to the Skins -- I'm not afraid to say I was once, and to some extent remain, a Redskins fan. Abbzug, meanwhile, is the mirror of me -- she prefers the Redskins but also roots for both.

Anyway, she went to the Redskins game (while almost everyone else I knew went to the Ravens game and I raked leaves [see below]). She takes her rooting seriously, too. Today she was adorned from head to toe in the gaudiest burgundy and gold outfit you could possibly imagine -- sparkling cape, wigs, face paint, sequined pants, etc. It took several days for her and her friend to construct the game day apparel and signs, and if all that effort went towards a loss (to Dallas!), I don't know if she would have recovered. It's fun win your main team wins, but it's much more fun when your wife's happy -- even if the floors are still littered red and gold glitter...

Finally, as a reminder, be sure to spend a few minutes playing in your leaf piles before you bag them. All work and no play is not a good way to go through life...

Are we there yet?

As the election winds down for those of us who write about it (or not), attention will inevitably turn to something else. Buried beneath several election-related stories, the Sun gets the ball rolling with a question for readers:

The new, 56,000-square-foot Glenwood Community Center uses some of the latest in "green" building technology and design, including geothermal energy for heating and cooling and large windows to provide natural light. It is the first county-owned building to meet national standards for energy savings - and it cost $13.8 million. How much of a priority should the county be putting on environmentally friendly design and technology in its buildings and infrastructure - and how much of a premium should it be willing to pay?
The question is fine, but the framing is just horrible. It is very misleading to include the seemingly-high cost of the green building ($13.8 million) without even mentioning how much the actual premium was or that green features help reduce the long-term operating costs. Indeed, the future savings often outweigh the upfront premium (even accounting for the time value of money), meaning we would have actually paid a premium to be not-green.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Thursday Round Up: Saving Lives...

I gave blood today, and as a result of my kindness, I'm told I saved three lives. I expect "Thank You" cards from each...

I'm kidding, of course. Not about giving blood or the cards, but about being kind: I did it for the free cookies (mmm, oatmeal raisin...).

Since my body has yet to fully restore the lost pint, I'm not firing on all cylinders right now. Which isn't really different from usual, but at least this time I have an excuse.

Anyway, in my depleted state, the best I can muster is a Round Up.

Tons of letters to the editor today. See if you can spot the differences between the Flier and the Times. Here's my favorite letter:

In evaluating the political judgment of the editorial board of the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times, we need only to harken back to this from the Oct. 21, 2004 issue: "But on balance, George Bush is resolved to doing the right thing. That's why he wins our endorsement."

Great call.

Oh, snap!

Speaking of Patuxent Publishing, have you taken their online readers survey? While I'm glad to see them thinking about how to improve their (awful, out-dated) website, I have a concern with one of their questions. The third one asks how often you visit their site. I only visit once a week or so, but would go more often if I had reason to.

As it is now, the site is only updated once a week, which is pretty lame, even for a weekly paper. At the weekly paper I used to work for, we updated our site almost daily, because, you know, stuff happens every day.


Meanwhile, the new Kings Contrivance grocery store is already behind schedule. If I still lived there, I'd be up in arms. Or, at least mildly annoyed.


Here's an interesting "citizen journalism" experiment. The Polling Place Project is trying to get voters from each polling location around the country to submit pictures of "democracy in action." I'd say it's a pretty safe bet you'll see Oakland Mills Middle School, where I'll be casting my votes. How about yours?


Finally, since I'm pretty sure that after the election the number of people who read this blog is going to drop precipitously, now is probably my last chance for far-reaching shameless self-promotion.

As many of you probably know I'm not only a blogger, I'm also a musician (which I think is two strikes right there). In the spirit of reconciliation after being forced to choose sides, I'm officially making November "Let's Get Together and Drink Beer While Hayduke Plays Music With His Band" Month, or for the bureaucrats, LGTDBWHPMWHB Month.

My band, Hayduke and the Midnight Destroyers (really, Bittersweet), is playing several (well, two) local "gigs" this month, affording you multiple opportunities to experience the magic that is our live show. I can promise both a good time and a night without politics. And, really, what more can you ask for?

The first show is Friday, November 10 at Ram's Head Savage. The second is at Frisco Burrito on Saturday, November 18. For you early-to-bed types, I apologize, but the music doesn't usually start until 10ish.

Full schedule and more info about the band here.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Vote Ken!

I’ve gone back and forth on this for a while, but after attending the final County Executive candidates’ forum Sunday, I decided it was ultimately worth writing.

I support Ken Ulman for County Executive.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to any readers -- though some might feign it for effect. But while my support for Ulman hasn’t been a secret, it hasn’t been explained much, either. And that’s what I hope to do here.

Sunday’s forum was sponsored by the Howard County Chinese School, which provides weekly classes on Chinese language and culture for local students.

Many of the questions asked of the candidates -- each of whom sat at tables covered with appropriately colored cloths (blue for Ulman, red for Merdon and white for Wallis) -- were standard forum fare – education, growth, transportation, etc. There were a few questions specifically about the Chinese and other immigrant communities.

But there was only one question that really stood out.

Towards the end of the event, after the floor was opened for audience questions, a woman began by mentioning the youthfulness of the non-independent candidates and followed by stating that only a fool would think these two don’t have political aspirations beyond County Executive. Which is completely true for both, no matter what they or their defenders say.

Given that they may soon seek to represent her on the state or federal level, she wanted to know how the candidates feel about some of the moral questions facing society today. And, naturally, she picked the most controversial of the bunch: abortion, stem cell research and gay marriage.

Wallis answered first and punted.

Merdon answered second and likewise ducked the questions.

Ulman stood up and responded to all three.

And in that moment, the differences between the two (well, three) and the reasons I’ve supported Ulman became even clearer.

When faced with the decision to follow principles or expedience, Ulman has chosen principles every time. Often, the two are no different, as was the case when he first proposed the charrette as a way to give citizens unprecedented zoning power and a real stake in the future of our community.

But just as often, they’re divergent, as was the case when he chose not to denounce the charrette and the planning department when their popularity began to wane, opting instead to support the messy, if all too public, process of working through the details to create a true compromise plan.

Like many of us who were raised in this county, Ulman is guided by bold principles and a strong vision for our future of Howard County, one that calls for exceeding our already high standards for education, public safety, and livability. The strength of his vision and principles are manifested in the strength of his actions. When it became clear that Howard County had fallen behind other jurisdictions with respect to public health and indoor smoking, Ken pushed for a quick and encompassing ban, while his opponent sought the path of greatest expedience, a blatant attempt to have it both ways on the issue (supporting it for residents, opposing it for business) that was similar to his approach on Comp Lite and the subsequent rezonings.

In short, he has positive, optimistic vision of the possible – a product of strong convictions and principles – and goes after it.

Ulman understands that being good is easy, but being great requires bold and forward thinking. Jim Rouse wasn’t trying to build suburbs with a few apartments thrown in for good measure, he sought to reorder how we think about community building and, in the process, create places where growth was talked about in terms of individuals, not just building units.

Sometimes, of course, boldness backfires, as it did when Ulman was criticized for proposing to change the zoning process during an election; a proposal that I believe will be vindicated eventually, as Oakland Mills has shown the power of proactive, community-based planning. But, ultimately, what we need are leaders who challenge rather than pander, who are unafraid to take reasonable, principled risks when there is a strong community behind them to help guide the ideas to realities.

Politics is not for those who would rather sit on the sidelines. By failing to answer the question posed of him, Merdon indicated that he would rather take a back seat than take a chance. Sure, it was only one question – and a controversial one that certainly would have hurt him in his quest to lure Democrats – but nonetheless, avoiding tough situations is not going to solve the problems we’ll face in the years ahead.

If I told you three years ago that by 2006 citizens will be in control of the Columbia downtown development process, would you have believed me? If your answer is yes, you’re not being honest. At that time, all most wanted was a seat at the table. Instead of a seat, we got the table.

As I said before, the master plan process hasn’t been perfect, but nothing is. That some would like to stop it entirely says more about their willingness to cope with difficulties than their commitment to a strong citizenry and a fruitful community dialogue.

Now, Town Center is but one issue we’re facing. There are many more: transportation, affordable housing, continued excellence in our schools, loss of open space, development pressures and so forth. To me, the question is not will we find a solution to these problems, but how?

Will we continue to adjust the bus schedules to get a few more riders, or will we create a truly effective and efficient system to cope with (hopefully, in the decades ahead) a decline in automobile use?

Will we create healthy, mixed income neighborhoods that respect our community’s character and open space at the same time they provide a range of housing options for those who need it? Or, will we add a few affordable units here and there until it becomes clear that the gates are closed?

Will we create a development system that truly benefits and empowers citizens, or will we keep doing what we’re doing, with small adjustments for "inflation"?

Will our open spaces continue to suffer the ill and exponential effects of development that has already occurred, or will we find ways – through mitigation, restoration and redevelopment – to bring back healthy, functioning ecosystems?

Will our schools excel beyond where they are now by attracting the best teachers and administrators (who need both good pay and affordable housing), or will we rest on our laurels?

The possibilities for us are endless. We are a strong community with a strong foundation to work from. If we are committed to fully addressing the problems we face, we need to act with strong purpose, for the challenges loom large. And, I believe, Ken Ulman is poised to face those challenges head on for us and our future.

By the way, I think Ulman wins it by 5.