Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Crawling Back to Normal

It strikes me a bit odd that trash collection in HoCo continued on Monday during some of the worst of the storm but was suspended yesterday when the weather had cleared considerably. HoCo trash collection is now the slide schedule for the rest of the week.

Even though a new law took affect on October 1st that requires all Maryland drivers to stop at a non functioning traffic signal, it appears that many folks didn't get that memo. Yesterday while driving between BWI airport and Columbia I repeatedly witnessed drivers who, apparently believing that they had the right of way, continue to roll through intersections with malfunctioning signals at times without even slowing down. This morning, at the intersection of MD 104 and MD 103 in Ellicott City, I saw drivers do this right in front of police officers sitting their cars with lights flashing. I didn't see anyone enforcing the new law.
Yesterday morning CG asked me if I thought Dick’s Sporting Goods would be open. I told there was a about a 75/25 chance that it wouldn't be. Even though the weather had cleared, businesses were slow to reopen. Some banks were open, others were not. A Dunkin Donuts in Linthicum was closed but the Starbucks on West Nursery Road was open. The Starbucks in Shipley’s Grant was open too and it was packed at 1:00 PM.
Today, with schools back in session, loco life returns to normal, at least what constitutes as normal in the week before elections.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Frankenstorm: River Watchers

This morning I drove down to Main Street to see how the old town fared last night. After parking in the Old Mill Bakery Café parking lot I walked across the bridge to check out the river.

It was a popular spot. While I was there a steady stream of folks came by to take pictures and videos of the raging waters. This is what they saw.

Unlike yesterday, the Old Bakery Café was closed. Fortunately I saw on facebook this morning that Bean Hollow was open so I grabbed a cup of coffee before heading back up the hill.

People were taking pictures of the water in Columbia too. Fellow HoCo blogger, Clayton, sent me this picture of the Town Center lakefront from this morning. He also noted that “Clyde's and Lakeside Roastery both were open yesterday morning, but not today.”
Thanks Clayton.

Last night we lost power at 8:34 PM but much to our surprise it came back on at 9:20 PM. I salute the men in the yellow slickers and hardhats who labored through the evening to keep the juices flowing. As was pointed out earlier by Marshmallow Man, the Derecho storm this summer may have actually mitigated the damage from Sandy. That storm did a good job of clearing out much of the rotted limbs and weak trees before Frankenstorm arrived.

At WSw it is calm right now. The lowest pressure recorded during the storm was 28.21 inHg at 11:16 PM last night. Right now it has risen back to 28.95 inHg and is headed back up.

Today, life slowly returns to normal.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Frankenstorm: It Blows

For a brief moment, at 3:35 PM, we lost power. Miraculously  it came back on in less than ten minutes. I figure we’re living on borrowed time here so I’d better get up another post while I still can.

This is what Frankenstorm looks like in my backyard with 17 mph wind gusts. 

The winds are beginning to wreak their havoc too. Right now 5,744 BGE customers in HoCo are without power. The good news is that 2,772 customers have had their power restored. I wonder if our litte ten minute outage counts in that restored number?

At WSw the relative pressure is now 28.46 inHg and still going down. Sustained winds of 11 mph are out of the northwest with gusts up to 17 mph. 

If you have HoCo loco Frankenstorm pictures you like to share send them to me at I’ll put up as much as I can as long as I can.

Frankenstorm: Stormy Monday

Though the streets are fairly empty not everyone is enjoying the luxury of staying home as Frankenstorm begins to bear down us. In addition to the usual suspects of emergency and medical folks, there are road crews and retailers on the job as well.

At 9:30 AM the Dunkin Donuts on Montgomery Road was open. “We’ll probably close around 2 PM,” Peter told me.

The majority of loco retailers didn't even bother with an abbreviated day. The Mall was open at 10:30 AM but none of the stores were.

 Walgreen's in Columbia and Rite-Aid in Ellicott City were open early this afternoon. The cashier at Walgreen's said she wasn't sure when they’d be closing.

Driving through Ellicott City I noted that The Wine Bin, Phoenix and the Old Mill Bakery Café were all open. Some closed stores had windows boarded up, others has sandbags blocking the doorways. HoCo road crews were blocking off Parking lots A&B, along the Patapsco River.

In addition to the rain, some loco roads are also covered in leaves making traction a little dicey in certain spots. 
It’s starting to get a nasty out there. WSw has started registering wind gusts up to 14 mph with sustained winds around 8 mph. The temperature has dropped to 48.2 degrees with the added wind chill it’s 38.3 degrees. Relative pressure is now 28.89 and still heading south. The WSw rainfall monitor doesn't seem to be working. It is showing 0.00 rainfall so far and any fool could see that aint right.

It’s only going to get worse. Around six tonight, Foots forecasters tell us to expect sustained winds of 40 to 60 mph. From nine to midnight that element of Frankenstorm ratchets up to “occasional gusts to Hurricane Force (~74 mph).”

HCPSS has announced that schools will be closed tomorrow too.

They call it Stormy Monday but Tuesdays just as bad…

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Frankenstorm: Sunday Night

We decided to take in a matinee today. With loco authorities asking us to stay off the roads tomorrow, Mama Wordbones and I figured it would be a good idea to get out of the house before Frankenstorm started limiting our options.

It was actually my second movie this weekend. On Friday night Peanut and I went to see Cloud Atlas in Town Center. As we were leaving, I ran into Chris Oxenham and his fiancé, Nicole Mele. They were catching the 9:00 PM showing of Argo. That’s the movie we saw this afternoon.

We expected to find a full parking lot at the Snowden cinemas but discovered just the opposite. We took an umbrella inside with us. It was a two hour movie beginning at 4:00 PM.

The umbrella was not necessary. When we headed to our car there was only a light drizzle.

It seems like everything is closed tomorrow except HoCo trash service. Those guys are Frankenstorm studs.

It’s on our doorstep and the Foots Forecasters say “This is why it's called the "Frankenstorm…Consider, at the same time, we have a:" 

"*Blizzard Warning in Garrett County,Maryland and portions of West Virginia;
*Hurricane Force Wind Warnings for the Chesapeake
*High Wind Warnings for all of Maryland
*Hurricane Warnings off the coast of Ocean City."

In other words, a monster storm.

HoCo loco conditions are beginning to worsen. At WSw, relative pressure continues to drop, currently at 29.33 inHg and falling. Winds, coming out of the northwest, are beginning to gust at 7 mph. It’s 52.2 degrees and a light rain is falling

Frankenstorm: Giving Up the Ghost

Every year, my neighbor Peter goes all out for Halloween. His front yard ghoulish display is among  the best I've ever seen. Each year he even adds a new character or prop. Last year it was a full sized coffin. This year it was the Mummy. A larger than life Frankenstein is a standard feature of the tableau.

Frank and the Mummy have retreated into the garage. It’s a wise move. They may inflict shivers and chills on children but they are no match for Frankenstorm. Yesterday, three days before Halloween and in the face of Frankenstorm, the display came down.

I’m thankful too. Fifty mile an hour winds could easily put Peter’s monsters on the move. I like them just fine in his yard but not so much sticking their heads through the screens on my screened porch.

Our display is much more modest. Since CG was just a little girl Mama Wordbones has always put a simple little homemade ghost in a front yard tree. That ghost is gone now too.

Peanut got some good news this afternoon. HoCo schools are giving up the ghost too. HCPSS announced at noon that public schools will be closed tomorrow.

At WSw the temp is now 56.3 degrees, and humity is 66%.  Pressure continues to drop at 29.42 inHg. Average wind speed has doubled to 4 mph.

Baby steps of the beast

Frankenstorm: Sunday Morning

I believe we’re going to lose power. In my mind it’s only really a question of when. Our neighborhood doesn't do well in storms. Almost any storm worth its alert results in some sort of power outage for us.

This morning I asked Mama Wordbones when she thought we’d lose it.

“I don’t know but you’d better bring the coolers up from the basement today.”

That’s just another one of the things we’re doing for Frankenstorm. Yesterday we secured the outdoor furniture and cleared off the deck. I weighted down anything that had the potential to become airborne.

We will begin to feel Frankenstorms footsteps today. According to last nights posting by Foots Forecast Central Maryland team,  Hurricane Sandy “will be approaching from the southeast, cloudy skies with rain mainly in the afternoon with highs around 60 with northeast winds 15 to 20 mph with gust up to 30 mph. Sunday night rain with north winds 20 to 25 mph with gust up to 40 mph.”

The meteorological monster is now expected to arrive on Tuesday.

It’s still pretty calm here at WSw. The current temperature is 55 degrees with 64% humidity. The relative pressure is currently 29.51 inHg but it has been steadily dropping since Friday. Winds have begun to register at 2 mph.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Frankenstorm: Prelude 2

It’s alive and, at the moment at least, we are pretty close to ground zero. According to the 6:30 AM posting on the Foots Forecast Central Maryland page, we are now looking at “12"+ of rain for coastal Delmarva and up to 8" for the western shore including Central Maryland.”
“The Maryland Team is working new graphics and statements to be issued here and on the main site this morning. This is part of our usual round of pre-storm consults with local emergency management. We always make sure they're informed of the bad news first. But don't wait for us, if you haven't made the trip to Sam's Club or Costco, go now while there's still a parking space left.”

More than a few of us started getting ready yesterday. Around noon, Costco in Gateway Crossing was packed. One of the employees told me that they had already been through several pallets of bottled water.

I bought a case, along with batteries and a rain jacket for Peanut.
If you wanted to grab a generator you were probably already too late. According to this story by Scott Dance in The Sun “portable generators were in high demand and short supply at local hardware stores.”

And people are going to lose power. BGE currently estimates that 700,000 of their customers will lose power during Frankenstorm. They are already bringing in crews from out-of-state to handle the expected workload. With sustained winds expected to exceed 50 mph over two days, even the extra crews won’t insure a timely restoration of power. You can’t use the bucket on a bucket truck once winds exceed 35 mph.

If you need help in deciding how to prepare, FEMA has a smartphone app with “disaster safety tips, interactive lists for storing your emergency kit and emergency meeting location information, and a map with open shelters and open FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs).”

Right now it’s the proverbial calm before the storm. At WSw it’s currently 63.4 degrees  67% humidity, and pressure is steady at 29.68 inHg but trending downward. There is no wind.

Frankenstorm: Prelude 1

I lifted this image off a friends facebook posting this morning. It kind of sums it all up.

Friday, October 26, 2012


My gray hair has led me to become suspect of storm hype in Maryland. I still harbor memories of high school homework deferred, relying on the certainty of our loco meteorologists predicting an approaching storm. The weather professionals would always add “expect school closings and/or delays.” 

I counted on them only to awake to clear skies and business as usual. They failed me. If you've lived in Maryland for any amount of time, they've likely failed you too.

Oddly, as often as not, it is the storms that they don’t call that hit us hardest. Nobody seemed to see that Derecho thing coming four months ago. I challenge anyone to identify a loco meteorologist who even uttered the word “derecho” in a forecast before June 28th.

With this in mind, I ponder the warning of the predicted collision of Hurricane Sandy and a classic nor'easter right smack dab over our heads beginning this Sunday, with some trepidation. Right now my Weather Station wordbones (WSw) is showing a tendency towards high pressure and clear skies. Admittedly my meteorological horizon is more limited than the big picture guys with the serious storm hardware. Those are guys are calling this impending weather event, “Frankenstorm.

You have to admit that this is a pretty cool name for a storm. This could potentially be one for the books. Forget trick or treating this year. We’re battling a real monster this Halloween!

As of 8:36 this morning, Foot’s Forecast had this to say about Frankenstorm in their posting on Facebook:

“Although the effects of Hurricane Sandy may not reach Maryland until Sunday, it is expected to be a long duration event. If the storm reaches the Delmarva coast as projected, it would produce winds e
qual to or greater than what we all observed with Irene. Impacts would be felt from the New Jersey coast to Norfolk.

From Ocean City to the Baltimore Metro area, sustained tropical storm force winds for a 24 hour period with higher gusts is not impossible, if there is a slow-moving system is crossing the state from east to west.”

I have a lot of respect for the accuracy of the Foots folks. I’m a Foots fan.

Prudence suggests proper preparations; water, check, flashlights with batteries, check, wine, check.

We’ll be ready at WSw. As long as I have service I’ll post about the readings of my little loco snapshot of the storms progress. If there are other HoCo loco weather geeks out there with their own set ups who feel like sharing, drop me an email at Send pictures too, if you’d like. I’ll put up as much as I can. 

Right now WSw is reporting a temperature of 61.2 degrees, 85% humidity, and pressure at 29.91inHg. Calm.

In the meantime, check those batteries.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Santa Claus for President

Tonight at dinner, CG’s bf Waterboy, mentioned that Santa Claus was listed as a presidential write-in candidate on his sample ballot in AA Co. Despite the political differences represented at the dinner table, all agreed that Santa would probably make a dam fine commander in chief.

After dinner I discovered that the jolly old elf is also listed as a write-in candidate on the HoCo ballot.

A quick Google search revealed that Santa Claus is actually serious about this.

Who can argue with Santa?

Early Voting Begins Saturday

It’s finally time to begin making your choices. Early voting in HoCo begins this Saturday at three locations; The Bain Center in Columbia, Ellicott City Senior Center and Ridgely’s Run Community Center in Jessup.

By now all registered voters should have received their sample ballots from the Board of Elections. With all the questions being placed before voters in this election cycle it would probably be a good idea to fill out the sample in advance after reading up on the questions here, here and here.

For those who need a little help with the school board race, here’s my recommendation, if you skip the first two names and pick any three of the remaining four, you can’t go wrong. They are all excellent candidates.

Disqus Interuptus

A regular reader and occasional contributor sent me an email yesterday saying that the Disqus commenting function on To2C was not working.

There does seem to be a problem. According to a notice from four days ago on the Disqus website “The Disqus embed is currently unavailable for some users. We're working to solve the problem as quickly as possible and will update our status when we have more information. Sorry for the disruption.”

Unfortunately my tech skills are rather limited in this regard so I am at their mercy to resolve the problem. If it doesn’t get fixed by this weekend I’ll give my friend Jamie call to see if he can help me out again.

In the meantime, to those who wish to throw in their two cents here, please hold those thoughts.

UPDATE 9:30 PM: It's working again. All it took was an upgrade to the latest version of Disqus and suddenly all is well. Thank you for your patience...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dead Pearl

A little over two years ago, on a podcast with HowChow, Paul and I quipped about the long term prospects of the Red Pearl in Columbia Town Center. At that time the new Asian restaurant was only the latest in a long list of food establishment to occupy the space. We noted that while the other lakefront restaurants, Tomato Palace, Clyde's and Sushi Sono, thrived, the occupants of this particular space kept failing.

We dubbed it the curse of the Red Pearl.

It now appears that the curse has finally taken down its namesake. Today a locksmith arrived to change the locks. Looking in the windows I saw that many of the tables had been removed.

Despite its legacy, the space may not stay dark for long. Sources tell me that a deal is in the works for a new place. Perhaps the landlord should contract with Miss Rudolph first.

Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Covenant Cops Back on the Beat

A year ago I wrote a column in The Business Monthly about the lack of covenant enforcement in some of Columbia’s commercial properties. I singled out two properties on Dobbin Road as examples of blatant  violations of Columbia's once rigorously enforced covenants; the chain link fence surrounding an auto repair storage lot and a taped up storefront window at Hanmi, Inc.

The window had been taped up for over three years.

What a difference a year makes. The window at Hanmi has been replaced and last week the chain link fence was taken down and a new, less noticeable, fence has been erected in its place.

These covenant corrections indicate that the Howard Hughes Corporation is still committed to protecting the Columbia brand, even in areas outside of Town Center

Monday, October 22, 2012

Flu Myth

“Do you want to get your flu shot today?”

I was at my doctor’s office for a regularly scheduled appointment this afternoon when the physicians’ assistant posed this question. It wasn't an easy question for me to answer. I haven’t gotten a flu shot in years and I can’t recall the last time I had the flu. I’m not afraid of getting a shot. I’m afraid of getting the flu.

My reluctance in getting the shot is linked to my belief that some people actually get sick after having a flu shot. Why would I want to do that when I rarely get sick under normal consequences? Then again, just because I hadn't gotten the flu in years doesn't necessarily mean I’d dodge the bullet again this year.

“Do you want to wait and discuss this with Dr. Fish?”

For a brief moment I considered that and then thought “why bother.” I knew my doc would recommend it. I told her to go ahead and give me the shot.

When my doc came into the exam room I asked him whether he knew of anyone getting the flu as a result of the flu shot. “Never,” he replied. He went to say that it was medically impossible.

When I got back to my office I checked the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just to get a little reassurance.

“The viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated), so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. The risk of a flu shot causing serious harm or death is extremely small. However, a vaccine, like any medicine, may rarely cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. Almost all people who get influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it.”

Still, getting a flu shot is no guarantee that you won’t get the flu either.

“The ability of a flu vaccine to protect a person depends on the age and health status of the person getting the vaccine, and the similarity or “match” between the viruses or virus in the vaccine and those in circulation.”

All I know is that if I get the flu this year I’m going to be pretty pissed.

Ale House Opening in December

Yesterday, before leaving the city after the wedding festivities, a group of us walked over to Pratt Street Ale House to watch the Ravens get mauled by the Texans. We also hoped to sample some of the craft brews being featured during Baltimore Beer Week.

Pratt Street Ale House is owned by the same folks who are transforming the former Rocky Run Tap & Grill into The Ale House Columbia. I asked our waitress when the Columbia restaurant was going to open.

“December,” she told me.

She also told me that some of the staff would be working in both locations, at least initially.

The Pratt Street Ale House turned out to be an excellent place to watch Sunday football. Our group included folks from out of town and where we seated we could simultaneously watch the Ravens/Texans, Redskins/Giants, Panthers/Cowboys, Saints/Bucs and Browns/Colts. Fortunately, the excellent beers made up for an otherwise pitiful showing by the hometown team.

Wedding Weekend

Regular readers may have noticed that I took a blog break this weekend. My nephew got married in Baltimore on Saturday and it was the first time that all my siblings, a brother and five sisters, have been together at the same time in almost ten years.

It seems that the older I get the more quickly the years go by.

We had a blast and it was picture perfect fall weekend in Baltimore.
 Even though I took a little blogging hiatus, I was still thinking about To2C, particularly when I saw the 1936 Rolls Royce 20/25 that the bride and groom hired to shuttle them from the church to the reception.
This beautifully restored limo is owned by Dean Ray who is also a professional photographer. He even wore white gloves for the occasion.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Like Minds Pick Great Candidates

In an earlier post I singled out four of the six school board candidates as the best choices for our schools. Yesterday, Explore Howard endorsed three of them. In this editorial, the paper named David Gertler, Ellen Flynn Giles and Jackie Scott as their top picks.

I applaud their very wise choices.

Bandit Signs

New home builders refer to them as bandit signs; those signs that pop up every weekend in the right of ways promoting new housing developments. By local sign code they are allowed to remain up over the weekend but must be taken down by Monday or the county will take matters into their own hands.

In election season they are simply illegal signs yet seemingly every candidate, is guilty of this transgression. It’s okay to place signs on private property, with the property owners permission, but not in the public right of way. Enforcement is lax however, which only further serves to encourage  the practice.

Today I spotted a certain school board candidate who is really thumbing her nose at the regulations. Passing by Oakland Mills High School this morning I saw a line of her signs all along the road directly in front of the school.
While I think this says a good deal about the behavior of the candidate, I also think the school system should be ashamed for tolerating it.

Brain Food

Instead of watching the debate Tuesday night we headed into Baltimore for the first lecture in the Baltimore Speaker Series. I've often described these evenings as brain food. It’s not as if we escaped an evening of politics either, the featured speaker was Bill Clinton.

It is not all that uncommon for protesters to show up at some of these lectures. A few years ago when we went to hear Pervez Musharraf, a sizable group of protesters in the park across the street from the Meyerhoff greeted attendees. Tuesday night a handful of protesters were on hand for the 42nd presidents appearance but their cause was much more benign. The signs they held read “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Hillary.”

Even if you don’t agree with the mans politics or find his presidential behavior to be abhorrent, you probably would have enjoyed his lecture. He spoke at length about the work of his foundation but also offered his perspective on current affairs, um, I mean events.

As reported in this story by John Fritze in The Sun, the former president told the audience “he is confident Washington will work quickly through the nation's looming fiscal crisis after the election despite predictions that partisanship will continue to leave the federal government gridlocked next year.”

It’s easy to forget that before the impeachment mess he actually enjoyed a pretty good relationship with Congress, much better than Obama has. That being said, he was hopeful that things would soon improve.

“He reiterated calls for Congress to adopt a 10-year budget plan front-loaded with new spending to boost the economy that would then begin to impose cuts to reduce the nation's debt in the out-years. He said the Nov. 6 election would be a defining event that would force Republicans and Democrats to work more cooperatively.

"I think you'll be surprised after this election," he said.”

Next up in the speaker series is Jeanette Walls, author of The Glass Castle. I doubt there will be any protesters for her but we’ll still enjoy another healthy serving of brain food.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Election Forecasting

The almost daily release of polls on the presidential contest provide continual fodder for political debate. Political junkies like me eat this stuff up up and for longtime HoCo blogger Dave Wissing this is high season. The Hedgehog Report has posted the results of five polls already today and his readership is souring. A year go his monthly site visits were just shy of 40,000. This month they've already exceeded 110,000.

This morning, while digging around for post debate data, I discovered Nate Silvers FiveThiryEight Forecast blog in The New York Times. If you enjoy reading Hedgehogs daily poll postings you’ll love Nate's daily breakdowns of Electoral Votes, Chances of Winning, Popular Vote, State by State Probabilities, Electoral Vote Distribution, Tipping Point States, Return on Investment and more.

He covers the Senate races too.

All in all, good stuff.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Surfacing at The Mall

In what may be test for a future permanent store, Microsoft will open a retail kiosk in The Mall next week. The opening will coincide with the launch of their new tablet, Surface.

Aside from video games, Microsoft has not enjoyed much success with its own hardware and once again it finds itself playing catch up to Apple. According to this story by Nick Wingfield in The New York Times, Surface will retail “for a starting price of $500, the same starting price as the current generation of Apple’s iPad.”

“Microsoft said it would sell a 32-gigabyte Surface bundled with a black Touch Cover, a keyboard that doubles as a protective shield for the tablet, for $600. A similar bundle with a 64-gigabyte Surface will cost $700. Microsoft will sell Touch Covers separately in a wider assortment of colors for $120, and a different type of keyboard cover with moving keys, called Type Cover, will sell for $130.”

Microsoft has already opened about 31 regular stores in the US and Canada. The closest ones to HoCo are in Virginia in Tysons Corner Center and the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. Next week they will open another 35 “curated” stores for the holiday season. Besides Columbia, the only other Maryland curated store will be in the Montgomery Mall

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ellicott City Parking Wars Two

I was having lunch with a senior county official last week when the topic of the new Ellicott City parking system came up.

“Some of the merchants are getting a little ugly about this,” I said referring to the group opposing the plan, which appears to be spearheaded by the owners of the Still Life Gallery. The issue has divided the town and created ill feelings up and down Main Street. Someone even hacked into a reader board changing the message to read “Ken Ulman Hates Ellicott City.”

“It’s this type of thing that discourages the county from trying to anything,” my lunch guest responded adding “we’re dammed if we do and dammed if we don’t.”

This morning I spoke with another Ellicott City merchant who has been instrumental in breathing new life in the historic district with First Fridays, Second Sundays and other events. This particular merchant was concerned that the increasing vitriol might undo the goodwill that the Ellicott City Business Association (ECBA) has built up with the county over the past few years.

And it’s all over parking!

It is as if some people believe that free parking on a public road, in front of a store or residence, is a god given right, enshrined in the Constitution.

Though I don’t own a store or live in the historic district, I do live close by, about a mile and half from Main Street. As such, we are fairly regular patrons of the stores and restaurants in Ellicott City. In fact, proximity to Main Street was one of the reasons we chose our home. Unfortunately, we do not enjoy pedestrian friendly access to the town which means that almost all of our visits are by car. This makes us acutely aware of the parking situation. We've always managed to find a parking spot, even during the busy times like Midnight Madness, but doing so usually involves a series of u-turns and something akin to a treasure hunt. Count us among those who applaud the fact the county is finally doing something to address this problem. I don’t know if it will work but from what I've read about it so far, it appears to be a good start.

Actually, I’d prefer to see a plan that eliminates parking along Main Street all together. That would allow for wider sidewalks and open up opportunities for outdoor seating at restaurants and performance spaces. I understand that the county has studied this idea as well as a way to help control runoff with rain gardens.

Judging from the reaction to this current plan, that probably doesn't stand much of chance of happening any time soon.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Game of Thrones Local Edition

One of my favorite pastimes is discussing loco politico maneuvering with others who pay close attention to the games. Recently, in a discussion with other loco politico watchers about the early field of Democratic gubernatorial candidates, an interesting scenario regarding our own county exec was suggested. The speculation was that if Obama wins a second term, O’Malley may well end up with cabinet appointment. The guv has certainly earned consideration for a plum job in the next administration for all of his high profile appearances supporting the presidents’ policies.

This would trigger a Maryland style Game of Thrones that my pundit friend said could go like this: Anthony Brown moves up to the governors seat and appoints Ken as his lieutenant to fill out O’Malley’s term.

This move would lead to a situation where the county council would pick someone to fill out Ken’s term. That could get real interesting.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Civil Session

When it was first suggested that we do a podcast in conjunction the HoCo libraries Choose Civility Symposium I wasn't so sure it was a good idea. Paul and I both view the Choose Civility in Howard County effort with a fair degree of skepticism. On the other hand, it was an opportunity to have a freewheeling discussion about civility with Andy Green from The Sun, Korva Coleman from NPR, and author and investigative humorist, Henry Alford. That was too tempting to pass up.

We talked about civility in politics, the press, Facebook, old TV shows and email. It was more fun than I’d hoped. This was first time we've had three guests at the same time and somehow everyone managed to get equal time. I credit that to having a professional broadcaster in the group.

I also screwed up by calling Andy "David" at least once. I’ll chalk that up to the fact that maybe I was bit tired after a day that started at 5 AM. We didn't start taping the show until a little after nine last night. In keeping with the civil tone of the evening, Andy took it in stride and never said a word. When I listened to the show this afternoon I was embarrassed, to say the least. I can't imagine Korva making a gaffe like that. Sorry Andy.

Since it was late, we deliberately kept it shorter than usual. This episode is is only 26 minutes long. You can listen, to what may be our most civil podcast yet, here.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Not Quite As Advertised

Supporters of the move to expand gambling in Maryland (Question 7) have been claiming that it will bring in $200 million in additional state revenue.

That may be off by half.

According to this story by Gary Haber in the Baltimore Business Journal, almost half of the “revenue promised from adding a casino in Prince George’s County and table games at Maryland casinos is existing gaming revenue…”

And that whole thing about how this gambling expansion will help our schools?

“Cutting casino tax rates for casino operators to compensate them for lost business from a Prince George’s County casino will reduce the amount of money a casino expansion would contribute for education funding, the report said.”

The study, conducted by the Maryland Policy Institute, also found that, of the revenue from a new casino in Prince Georges County, only “22 to 24 percent will come from out-of-market visitors.”

You can find the complete study here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Thoughts on Gehry’s Visit

When I first heard John DeWolf say that he was going to bring Frank Gehry back to Columbia I didn’t really expect the visit to be much more than window dressing. As much I have applauded the plans to remake Columbia’s downtown, my expectations for the future cityscape were modest. I fully expected that the end result would resemble something like the Annapolis Town Centre at Parole project, nice but not exactly inspiring.
Annapolis Town Centre at Parole
I may have underestimated John on this score. Judging from what I read in this story by Edward Gunts in The Sun, Columbia may set a new standard in neo urban design.

“He would like Gehry, who has gained international fame for his highly sculptural buildings, to do more work in Columbia. DeWolf visited Gehry in California last month to outline his company's latest redevelopment plans and issue a personal invitation for the architect to return.

"We're working with world class architects all over the country," DeWolf said. "We want to use him" in Columbia.”

It would be a fitting bookend to Columbia’s development. Before he gained international fame for buildings like the Guggenheim-Bilbao and the Dancing House in Prague, Frank Gehry designed buildings for Jim Rouse in Baltimore and Columbia. His Columbia imprint is seen in Merriweather Post Pavilion (1967), the Exhibit Center Building (1967) and the former Rouse Company headquarters building (1974) and the Banneker Road Fire Station. In a sea of suburban office park architecture, these buildings stand out.

I actually had the opportunity to meet Frank Gehry in 1980 when The Rouse Company was developing a shopping mall in his adopted hometown, Santa Monica, California. Gehry designed the mall and would often sit in on our development progress meetings held in a vacant storefront across the street from the site. He even lent the development team his conference room table and chairs which were made out of cardboard.

Of course its too early to tell what role the iconic architect may play in Columbia’s makeover, but the very thought of what that role might be is exciting. Two years ago in this post, I pondered whether we should be concerned with the new leadership of the Howard Hughes Corporation after they fired Greg Hamm. It appears those concerns were misplaced. These guys are the real deal.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Beer, Wine and Groceries

A new statewide poll has found that Marylanders overwhelming support changing the states antiquated liquor laws to permit beer and wine to be purchased in grocery stores. According to this story on, “a majority of Marylanders like the idea of being able to buy booze at the same place where they buy their groceries.”

“The latest Gonzales poll done in September shows that 64 percent of those surveyed said they favor being able to buy beer and wine at shops like grocery, drug or convenience stores.”

I wouldn't get my hopes up about this changing anytime soon though. As the recent failed attempt to put a liquor store in the new Wegmans store demonstrated, the Maryland Licensed Beverage Association has an out-sized influence in maintaining the status quo at the expense of consumers.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Turner Offers a Defense

In earlier posts I've called out Delegate Frank Turner for his lack of backbone on the gambling issue. In this June article by Lindsey McPherson in Explore Howard Frank told the reporter “he hasn't changed his mind about the need to let the five authorized casinos — approved by voters in 2008 — get up and running before the state approves a sixth.”

"I don't think I'm going to back off my principle," Turner said during a break of the June 12 meeting in Annapolis.”

Just two short months later he backed off his principle.

Recently, in a Letter to the Editor in Explore Howard, he defended the abandonment of his principle.

“We have all been confronted with situations in the workplace that we do not agree. That does not mean we abrogate our responsibility and walk away. I did not create this system nor do I wish to create total chaos by doing something that would make me totally ineffective in the future as a legislator. We must choose our battles wisely.”

Who is this “we” Frank is referring to?

Every day someone, somewhere is confronted with the choice of principle over personal interest. Courageous people make the hard choice.

The bottom line, as I see it, is that Frank wasn't willing to put his political future at risk by standing on principle.

That says a lot about a man.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Answers to the Big Questions

There are three big ballot questions for Maryland voters to weigh in on November 6th, the expansion of gambling, in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants and gay marriage. After a series of conversations I've had with a cross section of voters over the past few weeks, I’m ready to make the following predictions:

Question 7. This is also being referred to as proposition 7 in the multi-million ad campaigns designed to sway voters to either vote yes or no to expanding gambling in the state. Voting yes would allow table games in all existing casinos and would permit the establishment of sixth casino in Prince Georges county, most likely in National Harbor. Most of the folks I've spoken with are disgusted with the process that put this question on the ballot. I think the voters will deliver a decisive “No” if only to send a message to their state legislators.

Question 6. This is the Civil Marriage Protection Act. A yes vote on this question will allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a Maryland marriage license. The general consensus I’m getting from people is that this is a non-issue. If people want to get to married, let ‘em. Everyone should be entitled to the same joys and miseries of being legally married and the same consequences of divorce. I believe the voters will give this a yes, though probably not as decisively as Question 7.

Question 4. This question seems to be the most divisive. Question 4, also referred to as the “Dream Act,” would allow children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at community colleges and four-year institutions. In speaking to voters I've found that many people have a misconception of what this question is really about. I've had people tell me it will deprive children of legal residents scholarships and that will it will make it more difficult for the children of legal residents to get into the University of Maryland. Here is the official ballot language:

“Establishes that individuals, including undocumented immigrants, are eligible to pay in-state tuition rates at community colleges in Maryland, provided the student meets certain conditions relating to attendance and graduation from a Maryland high school, filing of income taxes, intent to apply for permanent residency, and registration with the selective service system (if required); makes such students eligible to pay in-state tuition rates at a four-year public college or university if the student has first completed 60 credit hours or graduated from a community college in Maryland; provides that students qualifying for in-state tuition rates by this method will not be counted as in-state students for purposes of counting undergraduate enrollment; and extends the time in which honorably discharged veterans may qualify for in-state tuition rates.”

I think this will be close but that it will pass, by a squeaker.

You can find the complete sample ballot for HoCo voters here.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

A One Dimensional Guest

When we received notice late Thursday that Brian Meshkin was reneging on his agreement to join us on the podcast, we had to decide what to do to fill the spot. We discussed trying to get someone else to fill in at the last moment but in the end decided it would be more fun to simply have Brian in absentia.

We mounted his picture on a piece of cardboard and propped it on a chair.

No one of us were really surprised at his cancellation. Beer bets were made that he’d find some excuse not to join us. You might be surprised to know that I actually took him at his word. I told the doubters that Brian had said he welcomed the opportunity to come on the show in comments made to this post.

“Growing up here in Howard County, I always felt like we were a small town between two big cities – a place where everybody counts.  That’s why my wife and I moved back here from California a few years ago.  It’s not a county where we lob personal attacks – it’s a place where we speak civilly and discuss fully.  So, if you’re interested, I’d be happy to come on your show.”

Note that he wrote this comment well after I posted this, this, this, this, and this about him. I thought he was genuinely interested in demonstrating that I had him all wrong.

“I look forward to finally meeting in person and having a conversation.  Who knows?  Maybe we’ll think better of each other afterwards.”

So, despite the popular sentiment that he wouldn't post, I took those beer bets. I actually took Brian for his word.

What was I thinking?

I should have known better. All I’m now left to conclude is that the questions of Brian Meshkin's character, that I and others have raised, have real substance.

You can listen to the 75th episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Healey Man

When I pulled into the Old Mill Bakery Café yesterday morning I spotted this restored 1961 Austin Healey 3000 in the parking lot. At an outside table nearby I spotted John Bassett, the owner of Carpe Vinum on Main Street in Ellicott City. John introduced me to cars owner, Gary Hemphill.
Gary told me he bought the car in 1971 for $350. “It was actually in pretty good shape with the exception of the interior,” he told me. He finished the restoration in 1972.  Today this car could easily sell for over $80,000.
Gary was the perfect guy for this car. He owns Hemphill’s Healey Haven in Catonsville.

Gary owns a few other classic cars as well. It turns out that he is the owner of the Morris Minor 1000 I saw in almost the exact same parking space back in June.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Lindsey’s Last Day

Lindsey McPherson, a writer for Explore Howard who covered the HoCo loco politico scene, is leaving the HoCo beat. She has taken a new position covering Congress for Tax Analysts.

During her brief stint in HoCo we were fortunate to have her as a guest on our podcast not once but twice.

She will be missed. Her last day is today.

Good luck Lindsey.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Brian Backs Out

Last month, in a lively exchange on this post, school board member Brian Meshkin agreed to come on "and then there's that..." to refute some of the things I've written about him. After offering Brian three different dates he settled on our October 5th show. Yesterday I sent him an email requesting a copy of his CV in advance of the show so Paul and I could learn a little more of his background. We did not consider this to be an unusual request. We've asked it of other guests over the three years we've been doing this and no one ever had a problem with it.

Until now.

This afternoon I received the following email from Brian:

“In light of your request for my CV yesterday, I spoke with our corporate legal counsel at Whiteford, Taylor, and Preston.  

In reviewing the written record on Dennis' blog posts, he has instructed me to "cancel" my appearance on the show based on what legal counsel has concluded to be "damaging defamatory attacks coming from Dennis Lane".   


I seriously question whether this unnamed attorney used the phrase “damaging defamatory.” As a member of the school board he should at least know that “damaging defamatory” is redundant. That's not the kind of thing you usually see from an attorney at a large firm like Whiteford Taylor.

I also like how he blames the last minute cancellation on this attorney. This podcast appearance has been scheduled since August 31st. Perhaps his attorney thinks he’s said too much already. There are lots of holes in Brian’s story about Salugen that Paul and I were hoping to explore with him. I suspect that this is somewhere that Brian would really prefer not to go.

To be honest, more than a few people told us that Brian would find some excuse to bag out at the last minute. It’s okay, the show will go on, only now it will be with an empty seat.

In This Months Business Monthly

It has long been said that discussions of religion and politics have no place in polite conversation. That advice obviously does not apply to Facebook. With a neck and neck presidential election coming down to the wire, status updates attacking both candidates have increased in frequency.

What do people who post these things expect to happen?

Change minds?

Maybe. According to this article by Will Oremus in Slate, a Pew Internet survey “found that nearly half of Democrats who use social networking sites say those sites are important to them in keeping up with political news. About one in three Republican social-network users say the same.”

“Here’s the shocker: A few people even report changing their minds about an issue based on their friends’ political posts. They’re in the minority, to be sure: just 16 percent overall. Among self-described liberals, though, that number rises to 24 percent. And 39 percent of liberals say that political posts have motivated them to get more involved in an issue. (The figure is 24 percent for conservatives and 21 percent for moderates.)”

Great! As if these people needed further encouragement.

With friends like these

You can find this month’s column here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Parking Wars

Not everyone in Ellicott City is excited about the new parking system that the county will soon be installing in the historic district. Monday, following the County Councils approval of the schedule of parking fees, one disgruntled loco hacked into the reader board on New Cut Road changing the message that informed motorists of the road work ahead to “Ken Ulman Hates Ellicott City.”

That’s a little hard.

Say what you will about Ken Ulman but as county exec Ken has finally addressed a parking issue that has bedeviled the historic district for years. In the eight years since a revenue authority was first established to build a parking garage in Ellicott City the only thing that it has accomplished is a study that determined the old town didn’t really need a garage.

The parking problem in Ellicott City is more of a resource management issue than anything else. There are 594 on- and off- street parking spaces in the downtown area. There are an additional 197 up the hill by the courthouse. The problem is that they are spread out along Main Street and in six separate parking lots. That can make finding an open space a little challenging in peak times.

Ken’s parking plan fixes that by putting available spaces online in real time, accessible on your smartphone or tablet. While that may not serve everyone right now, it won’t be long before it will. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism in collaboration with The Economist Group, “50 percent of Americans now have mobile Internet access through either a tablet or a smartphone.”

That’s double the number from a year ago.

Still, despite the obvious benefits, some Ellicott City merchants are pretty upset. In an email to Councilperson Courtney Watson, Sara Arditti, the owner of the Still Life Gallery, even went so far as to suggest that the award of the parking contract was corrupt.

“Many are calling for an investigation of the "sole bidder" procurement process in which the RFP appears to have been tailored to Streetline's exact specifications such that its competitors may have been eliminated at the outset, by design.”


She goes on to say that “I will not stop fighting by all legal means necessary.”

That should make some attorney very happy.

Not all Ellicott City merchants agree with her. In fact, all the merchants I've spoken with are actually in favor of it. They are glad to see that something is finally being done about parking rather than just being talked about or studied

Then again, change never comes easy. We saw that in Columbia and Turf Valley too.