Friday, August 31, 2012

Liz’s Last Stand

Delegate Liz Bobo announced last night that she will retire in 2014 after her current term expires. According to this story by Lindsey McPherson in Explore Howard “she made her decision this summer, shortly before the special session on gambling expansion, which she did not attend because she was on vacation with family.”

Some people criticized Liz for passing on the special session. At the time she defended her decision to stay on vacation instead of returning to Annapolis by claiming that her vote against the gambling bill was not likely to affect the outcome.

I'm not so sure about that. As it turns out the vote was very close.

Liz was facing a different playing field if she had decided to run for reelection. Her legistlative district was been redrawn, diluting her Columbia base.

Right away speculation has begun as to who might take her place. Among those being talked about even before Liz made her announcement is County Council person Mary Kay Sigaty. Mary Kay was once a Liz ally but they became estranged over Mary Kays decision to sponsor the Columbia Town Center redevelopment legislation. Liz backed Mary Kays Democratic primary challenger in the last election.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Irish Football

Though I can’t say that I am all together pleased that summer is ending, there is one good thing about it; the return of football.

Although the NFL season doesn’t officially start up until next Wednesday, college action begins this weekend with a storied rivalry being played in Ireland. On Saturday, Navy and Notre Dame will face each other in Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

A good number of US football fans will be making the trip across the pond to catch the game. That’s a good thing. I suspect Irish football fans find our version of the game slightly boring. Their own unique version of football moves a bit faster.

And though the Navy - Notre Dame game is grabbing the spotlight, the Irish gridiron action actually begins tomorrow when my own alma mater, John Carroll University takes on the St. Norbert College Green Knights at Donnybrook Stadium in Dublin.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Clyde’s Renews, Building Expands

As previously noted, Clyde’s restaurant, a mainstay in downtown Columbia for over thirty years, has renewed their lease and is planning a major renovation. According to this story by Brian Hooks in Patch, the work is slated to begin in January and “the job will take a couple months, during which the restaurant will be closed.”

Hopefully the work will be completed in time for St. Patrick's Day!

The office building housing Clyde’s is also in line for renovations from its owner, the Howard Hughes Corporation. Preliminary plans call for the 56,000 square foot building to be expanded towards the parking lot in front of the Exhibit Center. The addition will add about 30% more space.

The building was originally named the Teachers Building in honor of the Teachers Insurance company (now TIAA-CREF) which financed the early infrastructure of Columbia. It was Columbia’s first office building, constructed in 1968 and last renovated in 1992 when the Columbia Association became the major tenant.   

Monday, August 27, 2012

Brian, Bloggers, and Bullying

Brian Meshkin has launched yet another initiative to burnish his public image. This time he’s hitched his wagon to the nascent anti bullying crusade. In a press release last week he announced the formation of One-Howard-County “a new initiative aimed at reducing cyberbullying and avoiding other digital dangers among youth and adults here in our community.”

The key word here is “adults.” Brian believes that cyber bullying is something that effects adults as well as kids. I suspect he believes that he has been just such a victim.

“Examples of such "adult bullying" include bloggers that attack instead of discuss and individuals who post personal attacks on comment boards of online news articles, oftentimes under pseudonyms or false identities.”

I think he might be referring to me and possibly my HoCo blogging brethren, Tom Coale.

Regular readers know that I am no fan of Brian, mostly because he wildly exaggerates his professional accomplishments and often repackages others ideas as his own. When confronted with hard truths, he has a tendency to go silent. For example, in this exchange with Steve Murphy, MD on his blog, Gene Sherpas, Brian took issue with Salugen being referred to as a “snake oil company.” When the doctor asked him to back up his claims, Brian went silent. Eric Berger, a science reporter with the Houston Chronicle had a similar experience with someone who identified themselves as a “Salugen Researcher”. Given that Salugen never had a staff of more than ten people; it seems likely that “Salugen Researcher” was actually Brian. The tone of the writing is strikingly similar to the comment posted on the Gene Sherpas blog.

Salugen eventually tanked, resulting in financial judgments being rendered against Brian and his company. The State of California even revoked its charter for non payment of taxes. One of his former partners had this say about the company's' demise.

“Sadly the company Salugen, Inc. San Diego, California, had very poor management and due to alleged fiscal infractions especially committed by the president and CEO, Brian Meshkin, all top executives including myself, Bill Downs, Rodger Waite as well as others resigned. My hat is off to Kim Downs Bill's wife, for having the insight to personally confront him, thereby precipitating the exodus.”

None of this would even be on my radar if Brian wasn’t serving on our school board. As long as I didn’t have any dealings with him, his business antics would not have concerned me in the least.

But he is on our school board and he continually paints himself as a wise and savvy business person. That simply is not borne out by the facts. He may see this as bullying but I see it as merely pointing out that the emperor has no clothes

And if Brian would truly like to discuss his record, I extend him an invitation to join us on "and then then there's that..." That's a discussion I'd like to have.

Being Brett

I came across this video today and it cracked me up so I decided to share. Enjoy.

Enterprise to Relocate in Town Center

Enterprise Community Partners, one of the oldest tenants in the American City Building, one of Columbia's oldest office buildings, will soon be relocating to 11000 Broken Land Parkway. Enterprise, which currently occupies over 80,000 square feet in the 117,000 square foot building, has been in the building for over 26 years.

11000 Broken Land Parkway was recently purchased by the Howard Hughes Corporation. The American City Building is also owned by Howard Hughes.

The American City Building was built in 1969 and was HoCo’s first high rise office building. It was named after the American City Corporation, which was once the largest tenant in the building.

Given its location next to recently announced Whole Foods Market, it would have to be considered a prime candidate for redevelopment.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Divine Intervention

We first tried to get Dr. David Anderson to come on the podcast back in December of last year. We thought it might be fun to get him to give us his religious perspective on New Years resolutions. That didn’t work out. It turns that out Dave is a pretty busy man these days, not only tending his flock in Columbia, but also his growing flock around the world. The services at Bridgeway Community Church are now live streamed to followers in forty two countries.

His church is a real HoCo success story. He began in 1992 by essentially cold calling people at the downtown Columbia lakefront in front of Clyde’s and holding services in HoCo loco homes. Today the church employs 35 people and occupies a 52,000 square building in the Oakland Ridge Business Park that was originally built as the corporate headquarters of Head Sportswear. Bridgeway purchased the building in 2009 for $7.5 million.

This is even more impressive when you consider that he accomplished all this in a time of declining church attendance nationwide.

He’s also a great guy with an easy sense of humor.

Our HoCo loco news recap was dominated by the tragic events of early Tuesday morning in Ellicott City that claim the lives of two young people, Elizabeth Nass and Rose Mayr but there was good news as well. The story of HoCo Olympians Hanna and Tatyana McFadden wins hands down as the good news story of the week. In many ways it is also a story of the triumph of good parenting.

You can listen to the 72nd episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Road Reopens

Last night we arrived in Ellicott City just as the road barriers were being taken down. After almost four days of being cut off from the other side of the river, Frederick Road was reopened and downtown began its own road to recovery.
Shortly after parking, we ran into the county exec as he was walking towards the railroad underpass where Elizabeth Nass and Rose Mayr lost their lives just after midnight on Tuesday. Ken looked a bit tired but was generally upbeat about the how quickly the clean up had progressed. He told me that he had read the To2C blog post about the businesses in Oella and, to spread some inter county love, he had made plans to cross over to the Trolley Stop and have a beer with Baltimore County Councilman, Tom Quirk.

We also talked a bit about Lance Armstrong. The seven time Tour de France winner has been a longtime supporter of the Ulman Cancer Fund. Ken pointed out that the news media was getting it wrong when they said that the USADA had stripped Lance of his Tour de France victories. “They don’t have jurisdiction over that,” he said.
After leaving Ken we walked up Main Street and noted the impromtu shrine that had been set up in Tiber Park for Elizabeth and Rose. I suspect there will be more flowers placed here before the weekend is over.
Though the road is reopen, the clean up is continuing and it will still be awhile before parking lots B & C are reopened. In the meantime, for this weekend at least, the exec has made parking free in all the remaining lots.

As it has done in the past after other disasters have ravaged the old mill town, Ellicott City has picked itself up and brushed itself off and is moving on.

 This morning, another CSX train rolled through town once again, albeit a bit slower than usual.

Big Boys Media Note: In todays Washington Post, Ashley Halsey III and Jenna Johnson reconstructed the sequence of events leading to the tragic train derailment beginning with the departure of CSX Train U813 from Grafton, West Virginia at 8:20 AM on Monday. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

For the Want of a Hoodie

Approximately two years ago, at a blogtail party at Kloby’s, HoCo’s uber blogger David Hobby (aka The Strobist) arrived sporting a Blogger hoodie.

“How did you get that?” I asked. Blogger is the blogging platform I use.

“If you had a million page views on your blog you might get one too,” JessieX interceded.

Some time in the next few days that will likely happen. As of this moment, according to Bloggers own stats, To2C has registered 994,516 all time page views. It’s only taken about six years to get here. I suspect it took much less time for David to reach that milestone.

Still, it would be nice to get a hoodie.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Report from the Restricted Zone

As bad as things are for the businesses in Ellicott City, it’s even worse for the handful of businesses just across the bridge in Oella. State Highway Administration crews have a roadblock set up on Frederick Road at River Road denying further access to anyone except employees at Washington Quality Foods.

This morning I talked my way through by saying I just wanted to fill up with gas at the station in the rock just down the hill. Reluctantly they allowed me to proceed but suggested that if I parked anywhere I would likely get a ticket.

After filling up with gas I ventured further to the Old Mill Bakery Café where I was able to grab the last spot in parking lot. All of the other spaces were taken up with clean up crew vehicles. The folks in the café said business was off but they have benefited a bit from the all the workers.

 That certainly wasn’t the case at the Trolley Stop. “We’re pretty much dead,” Franny Fields told me. I asked if the workers have been patronizing her establishment.

“Not really. CSX is feeding everybody.”

I approached a Baltimore County police officer and asked when the road is expected to reopen. Nice guy. He didn't admonish me for being there and he didn't give me a ticket."They are now telling us it will be another 48 hours," he responded. 

That’s a long time for a restaurant that normally does a pretty good business for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Assuming that the road opens back up this weekend, it would be nice to spread to spread a little of that HoCo love to our neighbors across the river too.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Take a Hike, Help a Merchant

As my HoCo loco blogging brethren, HoCo Rising and HowChow have already pointed out; things have been a little rough for the merchants of Main Street in Ellicott City lately. If ever there was a time they could use a little love it would be now. The disruption in business from the massive cleanup of Monday’s train derailment is just the latest in a series of unfortunate events to befall the merchants in the old mill town.

Helping them out could actually be good for your health too. The upper part of Main Street is still very accessible with plenty of parking in lots D, E and F. Parking at the top of the hill and then walking down to the shops and pubs at the lower end of the street is a nice bit of exercise. On your return trip back up the hill you could even reward yourself with some of that awesome ice cream from Scoop Ahh Dee Doo.

That of course would likely negate any of the health benefits from the hike but at least you’ll feel better for doing so.

No More Free Ride on Main Street

If all goes according to plan, come October you will no longer be able to park for free on Main Street in Ellicott City. Last night the county unveiled plans to institute a new high tech parking system for the historic district which will eliminate the current two hour free grace period for parking on Main Street. The Main Street spaces will become premium spaces costing a buck an hour.
The rates are going up in the existing metered spaces too, doubling from twenty five cents an hour to fifty cents an hour. The existing parking meters will be replaced by thirteen of these pay stations spread around the town. According to this story by Lindsey McPherson in Explore Howard, “Each paid parking space will have a number that the person will enter into the multi-space meter when he pays for the allotted time he plans to spend downtown.”

 Unlike the Easy Park system in Baltimore, these new devices don’t print out a ticket that needs to be placed on your dashboard. All you do is tell the meter which space you’ve parked in, pay the required amount and then go about your business. Another feature allows you to remotely add more time using your phone instead of schlepping back to the meter.

The good news is that, for now at least, free parking will still be available in the old mill town. According to the county, 351 spaces in parking lots A, D, and F will remain free of charge.

The county expects the new system to pay for itself in three years.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Cleanup Begins

I returned to the scene of the train derailment this afternoon just in time to catch the removal of the first damaged coal car.


A CSX coal train derailed in Ellicott City late last night dumping coal from twenty one rail cars along a the tracks stretching fromParking Lot B to just past the B&O railroad museum. At least two people are known dead. The Washington Post has identified the victims as Elizabeth Conway Nass and Rose Louese Mayr. As of 10 AM rescue workers were still digging out cars in the parking lot buried under derailed cars and coal. The CSX tracks run the length of the small parking lot along the river.
By the time I arrived on the scene this morning it had become a full blown media event. Camera trucks were stationed in the parking lot of St. Pauls church, on the sidewalk in front of the old post office and all along Main Street. Main Steet was closed closed off from Old Columbia Pike down to the river. Matthew Milani, the owner of the Rumor Mill restaurant, said he had been told the street would be closed until Thursday.

It will likely take longer than that to clean up all the coal. 

I overheard one local telling a reporter that "nothing bad ever happens in Ellicott City, except floods."

And then there's that...

Monday, August 20, 2012

Columbia’s Confederate Roots

I finally got around to checking out “The War Came by Train” exhibit at the B&O Railroad museum in Ellicott City yesterday and I walked away with a new understanding of the origins of the Village of Harpers Choice in Columbia. It was once part of the farm of Lt. Robert Goodloe Harper Carroll, Aide De Camp to Confederate General Richard Ewell. He went south at the beginning of the war with the Howard Dragoons and saw action in Virginia and Maryland, including the retreat from Gettysburg. He resigned from his post in November of 1864, almost four months prior to Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865.

Harper, as he was generally referred, returned to his farm in HoCo where he lived until he died in 1915. He was the great grandson of Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

High Wheeling

We headed up to Frederick yesterday to grab an early dinner in town followed by a Frederick Keys baseball game. We found the town unexpectedly packed and had difficulty finding a place to park. Part of the congestion was caused by one block of the downtown area being closed off to traffic.

We soon discovered the reason. It was the Frederick Clustered Spires High Wheel Race. About 25 riders participated in the one hour criterion race that looped around a block in the center of town. Apparently this was one of only a handful of such races held around the world. Three time Tour de France winner Greg Lemond was in attendance but did not race.

According to this story by Nicholas C. Stern in The Frederick News-Post “Rick Stumpff, of Galena, Mo., won first among the male riders with 42 laps, while Sheryl Kennedy, of Hagerstown, won first place for the females…”

The bicycles, also know as penny farthings or ordinaries, are about sixty inches high and have no brakes. Mounting and dismounting can be a bit tricky as demonstrated in this video.

Racing these bikes can be dangerous too. One rider, Alison Torpey of Louisville Kentucky, was seriously injured after crashing with another rider on her final laps and was flown to Shock Trauma in Baltimore.

Aside from that it was a fun event to watch as riders “were encouraged to dress in woolen knickers and other period garb…”
After the race we headed up the road to watch the Keys defeat the Winston-Salem Dash, 8-4. The hero of the game was the Raven’s quarterback younger brother, Mike Flacco, who hit the go ahead home run in the fourth inning.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Numbers Guy

I had coffee with David Gertler yesterday. David is one of six candidates vying for three open seats on the HoCo Board of Education this November. I've winnowed my choices down to four and David is one of them so I was curious to find out more about him.

The first thing you should know about David is that he’s a mathematician, a real numbers wonk who initially moved to HoCo after being hired out of college by NSA at Fort Meade. Given that NSA and the newly created Cyber Command are likely to be major economic engines for this region for the foreseeable future, I see this experience as a big plus. The demand for people with strong math skills to work in the burgeoning cyber security field puts real pressure on our school system to step up its game in this area.

He’s more than just a math guy though. He’s also a successful business person, with a Wharton MBA. He’s worked in large corporations and start ups and unlike what you might expect of a math geek, he’s also done stand up comedy. After four years of Allen Dyer, a little sense of humor on the board would be a good thing.

In case you haven’t already figured it out, I liked the guy. We are fortunate that people like him are willing to put themselves out there by running for school board. I also like that, unlike certain others, he doesn’t seem to harbor a desire for a life in politics either. David told me that if he is successful, he would limit his service on the board to two terms.

With only eighty days until the election, I have narrowed my personal preferences down to four, Ellen Flynn Giles, Janet Siddiqui, Jackie Scott and David Gertler. All four are excellent candidates which will make culling the list down to three all the more difficult. I honestly believe that all four of them would serve our students well.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Three HoCo Companies Make Inc. 500

Every year Inc. magazine ranks the 500 fastest growing busisines in the United States based on revenue growth. This year, Astrum Solar, based in Annapois Junction, was ranked No. 2.

According to this story by Ryan Sharrow in The Baltimore Business Journal, Astrum recorded “23,577 percent growth in the last three years and revenue of $26.9 million in 2011.”

They weren’t the only HoCo companies to make the list. Columbia based PCI Strategic Management was ranked 112 and Elkridge based Linq Services was No. 300.

The complete list for 2012 will be published in the September issue on Inc.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

White House Beer

Beer is the new red wine, or so it seems to me at least. Lately more than a few people who generally prefer a glass of red wine as their adult beverage of choice, have mentioned to me how much they’re enjoying the craft beer revolution. Having come of age in a time when Heineken was considered the gold standard for beer and most bars only offered one or two beers on tap, I never really took to brewskis.

That is no longer the case. Nowadays I’m just as happy to enjoy one of the ever growing number of microbrews as I am a glass of red wine and any bar worth its beer nuts offers a myriad of draft beers on tap.

President Obama has even gotten in the craft beer game. According to this story by Amy Gardner in The Washington Post, the president “bought a beer-making kit (with personal funds) for the White House. The kitchen staff has made three varieties so far: White House Honey Ale, White House Honey Blonde Ale and White House Honey Porter. All are made with honey from Michelle Obama’s kitchen garden.”

He’s come a long way in three years. Back in 2009, when he hosted the beer summit with Henry Louis Gates and James Crowley, Obama had a Bud Light.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It’s Not About the Coffee

I needed a little pick me up around three o’clock today so I stopped by the Dobbin Road Starbucks for a cup of coffee.

The place was so busy I had difficulty finding a parking space. Fortunately, when I walked inside, there wasn't a line.

“We don’t have any coffee,” the barista told me.

I wasn’t sure I heard him right. “What?”

“The machine broke down, we can’t make coffee.”

I thought he was joking. I just couldn’t seem to wrap my mind around not being able to get a cup of coffee at the world’s most popular coffee shop. It was like being at a McDonalds and being told there were no hamburgers. “Seriously?” I asked.

“Seriously,” he replied. “Sorry.”

It didn’t seem to be hurting business either. Tables inside and out were mostly full.

I guess it’s really not about the coffee.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Turner Caves…Again

Delegate Frank Turner, a self proclaimed opponent of gambling in Maryland, has voted in favor of gambling, again. In this post by Len Lazarick on Annapolitics Len writes that, “as a business professor at Morgan State University, he wrote an academic paper critical of casino gambling,’ to this the District 13 Dem added “I still believe they’re not great.”

But apparently casinos are still good enough to get his vote, even when it didn’t matter. On Monday, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a slightly modified version of the guvs gambling legislation by a vote of 13 to 7.

This isn’t the first time Frank supported Maryland gambling either. When the General Assembly first took up slots legislation back in 2007, Frank voted it for it back then as well.

Frank serves as chair of the Finance Resources subcommittee which oversees gambling legislation. If he had voted against the bill it still would have likely passed. On the other hand, as chair, a vote by him opposing the bill might not have altered the outcome in the committee but may have given  a little political cover to others who might oppose it in the full house. In other words, leading instead of following the pack.

That didn’t happen. When it came time to stand up, Frank chose party over principal.

That’s what I disdain about the major political parties, particularly any political party that happens to be in power. At the end of the day, what the party wants the party gets, personal principles be damned.

And we, as voters, continue to give guys like Frank a free pass on it.

Air Heads

Wearing a bicycle helmet may be a simple way to protect against serious head trauma but many cyclists continue to resist wearing one. I’ve met more than a few women who forgo helmets simply because they don’t want to have helmet hair when they take it off.

What if someone invented an invisible helmet?

It looks like these two ladies did just that.

Note: "gypsypalace", a regular To2C reader, wrote me that the video that was embeded with this post kept launching automatically whenever she visited the blog. This isn't the first time I've experienced problems with a Vimeo video so I decided to remove it. You can still find the video by clicking on the "these two ladies" link.

Monday, August 13, 2012

In This Months Business Monthly

I decided to attend Ken Ulman’s community forum last month not because I had a particular gripe. I was just curious about what other people’s gripes were. Mama Wordbones sometimes has a hard time understanding that. She tends to view these exercises as a colossal waste of time.

On the other hand, I had nothing better to do that Monday night. I also knew that, at a minimum, I’d run into some people I know. As it turns out, I inadvertently grabbed an open seat next to Howard Johnson, president of the Greater Elkridge Community Association and one seat away from Marc Norman. Despite our opposing views on the intermodal issue Howard was very cordial. Marc on the other hand said I looked like crap. Marc is such an eloquent man.

I actually sat down the second time I entered the room. No sooner had I arrived in the meeting the first time than I realized I’d left my glasses in the car. At this point in my life I’m pretty much useless without my glasses. It’s not like I’m blind or anything but taking notes without my glasses is an extremely slow and frustrating process. I opted to go back to the car to retrieve my spectacles.

Ken’s meeting was being held in the Robinson Nature Center in Columbia. For those who have yet to visit, the nature center is a showcase for environmentally sensitive development. This means that the automobile is tolerated rather than accommodated with a parking lot that is tucked up and away from the building instead of being right next to it. The point being that walk to my car and back was not exactly a short one.

I don’t think I missed much. When I first arrived some guy was complaining about amount of money spent on defense. I’m not talking about a local issue here, like say defending against stink bugs. He was talking about the federal budget. I guess he felt getting any elected officials ear was better than nothing.

When I returned with my errant glasses another person was at the microphone complaining about speed cams. At least that was within the execs sphere of influence.

All in all, the concerns of the HoCo petitioners were predictably mundane but I guess that’s what is to be expected in the second best place to live in America.

You can read this month’s column here.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pfefferkorn Found

In a post last month I wrote that you can’t find Pfefferkorn coffee in HoCo right now. The only HoCo retailer that I knew carried the Baltimore based brew was Yates Grocery on Main Street in Ellicott City. Yates closed up shop this summer.

I was wrong. I need to get out in the west county more often.
Yesterday Mama Wordbones and I dropped in Larriland Farm after our  hike through the Morgan Run Natural Environment Area in Eldersburg (more on that in another post). While Mama Wordbones was sizing up some succulent eggplant, I discovered the Pfefferkorn coffee display.
Still, that’s a long way to go for coffee, even for me.

Note: The picture quality in this post is a bit off. I forgot my camera yesterday and had to rely on my phone. Not happy about that.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Defending Liz, Slightly

It was fortunate that there were at least three engaging individuals on the podcast this week. I wasn’t one of them. From flubbing the opening news story about the accordion bomb scare to mistakenly putting the Sikh temple tragedy in Illinois instead of Wisconsin I just didn’t bring my A game Friday.

It didn’t matter. Paul and our two guests were strong enough to carry the show. This is the second time we’ve had Roger (“The Rog”) Caplan and Chris (“Ox”) Oxenham and it certainly won’t be the last. These two guys hadn’t met until we first put them together for our version of politics from the left and the right. Roger is a hired gun loco politico consultant working mostly for the Dems. I say mostly because at heart I think he sees himself more as a political mercenary. In fact Roger played a role in helping Chuck Ecker upset Liz Bobo for county executive back in 1990.

And speaking of Liz, Chris Oxenham, no fan of liberal politicians, uncharacteristically came to Liz’s defense for deciding to skip the special session on gambling completely. “Let me do something crazy and defend Liz Bobo on this one, slightly.”

That may be a first and a last.

Chris Oxenham is a Repub operative. I first met Chris when he was helping Delegate Warren Miller in his reelection campaign and now he’s helping out Allan Kittleman in his exploratory campaign for county executive. He’s also promoting Bob Ballinger in his quest for a seat on the school board.

Despite their opposing political views, Chris and Rog have a nice chemistry together, particularly in this type of freewheeling format.

There was also a surreal moment when I asked Rog if perhaps the real goal of extending council term limits was to try and entice Courtney Watson not to challenge Guy Guzzone in a primary. As if on cue, a brief moment of silence was followed by a piano somewhere in the background tapping out about three single notes.

You can listen to the 71st episode of “and then there’s that” here.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Special Delivery

I’m not exactly anti gun but I do count myself as one of those who believe that obtaining and possessing a semi automatic weapon ought to be more difficult than obtaining a fishing license. I don’t own a gun and I’m not a hunter but I have been known to enjoy blasting the hell out of trap and skeet on occasion.

It’s not so much the senseless assault in the Aurora Colorado  movie theatre that scares me as it is how loosely regulated the gun market is. Today, in this country, you could just as easily have an assault weapon dropped on your doorstep as any other package from UPS, even if you didn’t order it.

That's what happened a few days ago just down the pike in DC, a city with supposedly stricter gun controls than most states. Seth Horvitz, a DC musician, ordered a television through Amazon and ended up with an assault weapon instead. According to this story by Paul Duggan in The Washington Post, Seth “heard a knock at the door. By the time he opened it, a UPS man was leaving the building, on Eighth Street NE. To the right of the door, propped against a wall in the hallway, was a rectangular cardboard box about three feet long.”

He had ordered a 39 inch television. That would typically come in a bigger box.

In a box this size you get a “a tactical military-style SIG716 semiautomatic rifle, wrapped in heavy plastic and encased in Styrofoam, with an empty magazine for 7.62x51mm ammunition...”

“I definitely knew it was a mistake,” he said. “But I was confused as to how that kind of mix-up could happen. Especially given the recent events, the recent shootings. It surprised me to see how easy it would be for a gun to show up on someone’s doorstep — not just a gun, but an assault weapon.”

An Amazon spokesman did not return calls for comment. A UPS spokesman could not be reached.”

And, just in case you were wondering, this is the rifle that was dropped on Seth's doorstep. 

Positioning for 2014

Our Pub Politics group reconvened Tuesday night. We had not gathered together to discuss the HoCo loco politico scene since March of 2011 so we were a little overdue. This ad hock multi generational  group is made up of about ten men and women, from both major political parties, who share an interest in local politics. Our discussions center on people and strategies more than issues which keeps things from getting overheated.

The 2014 county exec race was discussed at length. The group remains unconvinced that Guy Guzzone will make a run for the top job, even though he is considered by many in the Dem establishment to be the frontrunner. Guy’s stature and influence in the state house has grown in the five short years he’s been Delegate and that is only expected to increase going forward. A run for county exec would mean giving all that up. On the other hand, his wife Pam has made no secret of what she’d like him to do.

If Guy does decide to run he’ll likely have a primary fight with Courtney Watson. Unlike Guy, Courtney has made it pretty clear what her intentions are. No one sees her backing down if Guy decides to run too. A messy primary battle is something the loco Dems would prefer to avoid.

The Repub candidate for county exec is likely to be Allan Kittleman. Everyone seems to  like Allan except perhaps some of the more conservative Repubs. His early support for civil unions did not go over well with the far right and ended up costing him the minority leader job last year. Still, a moderate like Allan stands a good chance of winning the support of independents in HoCo. With the Dems numerical superiority in loco registrations, swaying the independents will be the key to winning. The consensus of the group was that Allan would stand a better chance against Courtney than he would against Guy.

At this point certain group members began throwing out numbers from different polls that certain candidates have commissioned. I mentioned that polling has become much more difficult now that more people, especially young people, are forgoing landline phones entirely. Unlike landline phones, polling organizations are challenged by phones that aren’t linked to geographic location. In other words, you can’t be sure that the person you’re polling is even in the same state, let alone the same county.

Assuming that Courtney does run, the District 1 council seat would come into play. One of the group mentioned that Chris Merdon may take a run at it. Chris held the seat before deciding to take on Ken Ulman for the top job in 2006. On the Dem side I heard Frank Aquino’s name mentioned for the first time. Frank currently serves on the school board, the same path that Courtney and Mary Kay Sigaty took to higher office.

If Allan Kittleman does run for county exec, his District 9 senate seat would then be open. The group generally agreed that Gail Bates would be his natural successor. That would open up another delegate spot in the Repub leaning 9A. It may even leave Warren Miller vulnerable to a challenge since he and Gail have been joined at the hip in their previous campaigns.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Facci to Open in Turf Valley

Facci, the popular Maple Lawn restaurant, will open a second location in Towne Square at Turf Valley. The new shopping center, developed by Greenberg Gibbons and anchored by Harris Teeter, is projected to open next spring.

According to the developers website, Perfect Pour, a liquor store located in the Gateway Crossing shopping center in Columbia, will also open a store in the new center. Perfect Pour was one of the leading opponents of the proposed liquor store at Wegmans.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Banner Men

The HoCo school board was well represented in the HoCo Fair Grand Opening parade on Sunday. Janet Siddiqui, Ellen Flynn Giles, Cindy Vaillancourt, Brian Meshkin, and Allen Dyer all took time out on Sunday to march down the midway.

I was a bit surprised to see Allen Dyer leading the procession representing the school board, despite facing impeachment and having failed in his bid to be reelected for a second term.

Then again, I shouldn’t be all that surprised. Allen has always been, and always will be, a man who craves attention. From my perspective, he’s always been more about himself than the students in our schools.

I did find it appropriate that his fellow banner man was Brian Meshkin, another school board member of dubious distinction.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Fair Games

Yesterday, as we were driving out to the 67th Annual Howard County Fair, I asked Peanut which part of the fair she liked best.

“The animals,” she answered without hesitation.

I told her that it is the people I find most interesting.

As it turned out we arrived just in time to catch the Grand Opening Parade. I expected to see a full compliment of our loco elected officials marching down the midway with the tractors and fire engines, showing their support of county agriculture.

All I saw was the red team.
 “It’s not an election year,” Warren Miller pointed out. He was there of course, along with fellow Repubs Gail Bates, Allan Kittleman and Greg Fox. Though West Friendship is generally considered red country this is still our county fair, election year or not. It would have been nice to see at least one member of the blue team, if only to lend support to their own volunteers manning the Dem party booth.

It’s not like HoCo Dems don’t go to the fair. I saw more than a few loco Dems as Peanut and I made our way around the grounds.

I like our fair. It’s small enough to still feel like a real homegrown country fair. We saw  4-H members parading their animals in funny costumes, checked out the livestock, consumed some Glenelg High School french fries and even took in a couple of rides.
In other words, we had a pretty good time.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Phantom Feature

One of the reasons I choose the Nook for an e-reader was the ability to share my digital books with others. Prior to joining the ranks of digital readers I freely borrowed and lent books to friends and family. The Nook is the only digital reader I know of that at least allows you to share your digital books with other Nook owners. Granted, that’s a significantly smaller universe than printed books but I figured it was better than nothing.

Or was it?

Last month, Jessie Newburn asked if she could borrow Steve Jobs biography that I had just finished. Jessie is a member of that small Nook universe with her Nook Simple Touch. I was anxious to see how the Nook digital lending worked so I immediately agreed. We met at Lakeside Coffee with our Nooks to make the switch.

We couldn’t figure it out. Neither of us could find a command nor prompt to get my book to her Nook. Put another way, there'd be no Nookie for us.


Yesterday I dropped by the Nook support desk at the Barnes & Noble store in Ellicott City to see if I was doing something wrong. “The lending feature is not available for all books,” the tech told me. “The authors and publishers decide whether they want to make a book available to lend. With most of the more popular titles they haven’t allowed it.”

The digital book lending universe is now even smaller than I thought. 

Friday, August 03, 2012

Keeping It Real

A commenter to this post wrote, that after a recent visit to the home of George Washington, he was “reminded of the remarkable character of the people in positions of public trust and authority at the time which  set the standard of how public officials and their appointees were, and still are, expected to conduct their official duties.”

It has become common practice among certain activists to nostalgically reach back to the days of our founding fathers and compare them with contemporary politicians. They'll often write and  speak in revered tones of the wisdom and character of Washington, war hero and first president, Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, and Madison, author of the Constitution.

In doing so, they tend to gloss over the fact that these three white guys were humans, not saints. For example, it is important to remember that all three of these men held other humans in bondage while simultaneously championing the cause of liberty and equality.

I just completed Ron Chernow’s 904 page biography of George Washington, “Washington. A Life.” I am fan of Chernow’s work, having previously read his biographies of J.P. Morgan, John D.Rockefeller, and Alexander Hamilton. The author painstakingly researches his subjects leaving no stone unturned.

This is actually the second biography of George Washington that I’ve read. From “His Excellency” by Joseph Ellis I first learned that Washington was quite the land speculator, buying up thousands of acres of land west of the Allegheny Mountains in the path of the new nations growth. What I further discovered after reading Chernow’s book was that Washington also profited on what today would likely be considered insider information. While president, he took a personal interest in the layout and development of the new capital city and purchased a few choice parcels of land for his own account. That hardly “set the standard” for conduct in office. If a public official tried to pull that off today they’d be run out of office in a New York minute.

Don’t misunderstand me. George Washington served our country selflessly, both as a warrior and a politician. At the same we do a disservice to history by overlooking the things that made him human. While he did free his slaves in his will, waiting until he died meant that he was able to avoid dealing with the social and political consequences of his actions. That makes him human and a bit flawed, just like the rest of us.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Random Stuff

Between the demands of my real job and the distraction of the Olympics, I’ve been left with little discretionary time for blogging in the past few weeks. That being said I have a number of subjects that I intended to post about so, to clear my mental backlog, here are a few things that have been rolling around in my head.

Wegmans Liquor Store

It’s not over yet. The store owner, Chris O’Donnell fumbled the ball badly in his application for a liquor license with the Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board and his opponents ate his lunch. As Lindsey McPherson reported in her article in Explore Howard, “only one person not directly affiliated with the application testified in support of it.”

The opponents, existing liquor store owners who don’t want the competition, turned out in force to oppose this store. Attorneys representing Kings Contrivance Liquor Store and Smoke Shop, Glenwood Wine & Spirits, and Perfect Pour successfully argued that O’Donnell’s local partner, Mike Smith was a poor choice to run a liquor store.  Board member Anne Santos agreed.

Smith "presented himself as a pretty uneducated potential owner," Santos said, noting he was unable to answer questions at the first hearing about the planned inventory for the store or O'Donnell's role in its operations.

"His liquor experience, he testified, was an interest in craft beers," Santos said.

I predict that the decision will be appealed and next time around O’Donnell will have a partner who knows something about running a liquor store.

The Wire

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I finally got around to watching the HBO series The Wire. In the sixth episode of the final season, I was surprised to see our county exec in a cameo role as a reporter. It was nice to see him on the other side of the podium for once.

The Good Life Redux?

The word on the street in Ellicott City is that the former proprietors of the Good Life Shop, Steve Archuleta and Randy Neely, are back in town and planning on opening another store.

Lost Weekend

Last week Tales of Cities was a victim of a software glitch with Site Meter, an audience measuring device embedded in this blog. While “moving their servers” they inadvertently wiped out all visits to Tales of Two Cities from Thursday and Friday last week. After calling their attention to the problem they were able to restore those days but wiped out Saturday and Sunday stats in the process.

Double Rainbow Redux

For the second time this summer and in my life, on July 16th, I witnessed anther double rainbow in our Ellicott City neighborhood. That has to be a good omen but I’m just not sure of what.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Creative Classing

The recent news that The Atlantic Cities online magazine had recognized HoCo as one of top ten counties in the country for concentration of the creative classes whetted my curiosity to learn more about what that actually means. The term “ creative classes” has been popularized by Richard Florida’s book “The Rise of the Creative Classes” eight years ago. 

“The economic need for creativity has registered itself in the rise of a new class, which I call the Creative Class. Some 38 million Americans, 30 percent of all employed people, belong to this new class. I define the core of the Creative Class to include people in science and engineering, architecture and design, education, arts, music and entertainment, whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology and/or new creative content. Around the core, the Creative Class also includes a broader group of creative professionals in business and finance, law, health care and related fields.”

That’s a pretty big class.

Richard Florida is a senior editor of The Atlantic, the parent publication of The Atlantic Cities, so it comes as no shock that it focuses so much energy on identifying creative class areas of the country. In addition to ranking the counties, they ranked creative class states of which Maryland is number 3, behind the District of Columbia and Massachusetts. I suppose it’s nice that we beat Virginia at something. Squeezing even more juice out this topic, the magazine also ranked creative class metro areas. In this list Maryland got lumped together with DC, Virginia and West Virginia for a third place ranking.