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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A little history lesson with current implications

Today I wanted to divert from my usual Howard County based post to talk about a recent book I read called "James Madison" by Richard Brookhiser.  I have read many books on our Founding Fathers and while this book is not as thorough as many that I have read it did make me think of our current debt situation in Europe.

James Madison is credited with writing much of the US Constitution.  While this maybe an over exaggeration he is credited with many of the rights spelled out in our Bill of Rights.  Many of the Bill of Rights came from the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Something that was not envisioned when the Constitution was written was the development of political parties.  It didn't take long after our current form of government to exist before two political parties were created with the northern states leaning toward the Federalist party and the southern states leaning toward the Republican party.  Interestingly that Republican party of Jefferson and Madison is the party that became today's Democrat party.  The Federalist were supporters of a strong central government and the Republican party was a supporter of states rights.

The weaknesses of the Articles of Federation were many.  It had no taxing authority, no executive or judicial branch and states rights trumped federal authority.  It was a loose federation mostly for common defense although most states had their own militia.  It became apparent that a "federation" could not create a unified country that was necessary to address common needs among the states. This reality caused the states to come together to create a central government under our current Constitution.

The current situation in Europe with the European Union reminds me of our country under the Articles of Federation.  Individual countries of the European Union still have control over their economies and governance.  They share a common currency but not much else.  The current debt crisis in some of the countries of the Union show that without the countries of the Union giving up some of their sovereignty the Union doesn't stand much chance of surviving.  Just as the states in our early history had to create a central government to exist as a unified country so will the European countries  have to create a unified government which has power over the individual countries.  An "United States of Europe" with a common governance will come about at some point. The world economy and global communication are moving political governance around the world toward larger unions of countries.

P.S.

My interest in the early history of the United States and the Founding Fathers comes to some extent from my family history.  My family came to this country in the early 1700's from Scotland and settled in Pennsylvania.  I am a descendant of Arthur St. Clair who was the elected President of Congress in 1787. That Congress was the governing authority under the Articles of Confederation. He was later named by George Washington to be the Governor of the Northwest Territory. From the history of that time he seems to have been a lousy military general and governor.  And he died poor!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Giving to Grassroots: What the season of giving is all about

If you saw the 60 Minutes segment this past Sunday on homeless children living in a truck you might want to know there is a way to help homeless children and families in Howard County. Below is a list of items that Grassroots can use by Dec. 16th.
HOLIDAY WISH LIST 2011 (Please deliver items by Fri.. Dec. 16)
Thank you for your interest in helping out those in need during the holiday season. Items can be dropped off any time at our main location at 6700 Freetown Road in Columbia. Please be sure to fill out a donation slip so that we may properly acknowledge your donation. For any other types of items please contact the shelter office at 410-531-6006 or e-mail to 1enny@grassrootscrisis.org.
Grassroots year-round shelter needs list is available on our web site at http://www.grassrootscrisis.org/wishlist.aspx
Sorry, but we cannot accept donations of stuffed animals, books, clothes, or puzzles.
GIFT CARDS
Donations of gift cards allow Grassroots to make sure that all our residents get something special for the holidays. They work well for both men and women and are perfect for all ages, sizes, and interests.   Gift cards allow parents to personally pick out something special for their own children. Please consider donating a gift card for the following:
                   Food stores (Giant, Safeway, etc.)
                   Target/Walmart
                   Restaurants (McDonalds, Wendy's, Burger King, Chick-fil-A)
FOR TEENS
Grassroots is currently in need of gifts for kids ages 12 and over who reside in our
shelter.
•       Sports Team Items (t-shirts, sweats, wallets, mugs, head bands, etc such as
Ravens, Redskins, Steelers, Terps, available at Walmart, Kohls, and Target
for under $20)
                   Gently Used Nintendo DS players with games
                   Inexpensive hand-held video games for teens such as: Simon, Tetris, and
Solitaire (with AA batteries) all available at Walmart & Target for under $20.
                   DVD's for middle school and high school age (Green Hornet, Diary of a Wimpy
Kid, Soul Surfer, True Grit, Rango, Up, Transformers, Pirates of Caribbean)
                   Watches and wallets for teens - male and female
                   CD Players and CD's for middle and high school age (Beyonce, Justin Bieber,
Katy Perry, Maroon 5, Jonas Brothers, Glee)
                   GameStop gift cards
                   Footballs and basketballs
                   Sweats in neutral colors sizes S, M, L, XL (for teens to hang out in)
FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN
                   Dolls - Cabbage Patch, Dora, Fashion Make-up Brats, Polly Pocket, Barbie
                   Squinkies
                   Hexbug robots, Transformers, Lego Sets, and Action figures such as Captain
America, Green Hornet, Power Rangers, Star Wars, Ben 10
                   Zhu Zhu Pets (with AAA batteries), Little Pet Shop, and My Little Pony
                   Sweats in neutral colors sizes S, M, L, XL (for kids to hang out in)
FOR MEN AND WOMEN
                   Bathrobes (all sizes especially XXL)
                   Sweats in neutral colors sizes S, M, L, XL for men and women
                   Sports Team Clothing in M, L, and XL Sizes (Ravens, Redskins, Steelers,
Terps, etc.)
                   Sports Team Items (wallets, hats, gloves, scarves, backpacks, etc)
                   Personal Hygiene items - Full Size Lotions, Soaps, Body Gels, Cologne
                   Portable CD players and music CD's            
                   Heavy winter gloves, hats, and scarves

Monday, November 28, 2011

Best Christmas lights in Howard County

It is the season to see the best decorated homes in Howard County.  It used to be the Colby's house in Owen Brown but since the Colby's sold their house a few years ago the new title goes to Chuck Daniels in the Beaverbrook neighborhood.  If you haven't seen it  yet it is worth the drive to check it out.  The address is 5034 Durham Rd E in Beaverbrook not too far off Route 108.  After retiring from work programming computers for lottery systems Chuck decided to walk the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trails. But when October comes Chuck starts to prepare his Holiday almost 200,000 lights show.

If you know of any other homes to see comment below

P.S.
The Poinsettia Tree in the Columbia Mall is one of those Columbia traditions that GGP found out the hard way when it tried to do away with it in 2007.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday--Is that all there is???

           I know that the health of our economy is dependent on consumer spending----at least that is what the economists say.  Am I a grinch to not feel the appeal of shopping? For the next month any road around a shopping center in Columbia will be clogged.  Somehow an enjoyable holiday has been turned into a frenetic search for the toy every child needs to have or the best price on the "got to have" electronic toy. The commercial this year with the Target lady has got to be the most annoying commercial ever.  Is "annoying" the new way to get people to pay attention to your commercial?  Do people really buy Lexus and Cadillacs for each other as Christmas presents.  I don't know about you but I wouldn't be smiling if my wife surprised me with a Lexus for Christmas.  I think my reaction would be more like "Are you crazy for spending that much without us talking about it first?" OK enough complaining.  I really do enjoy driving by the holiday lights at Symphony Woods,  Christmas music and holiday food. Just don't look for me to "stimulate" the economy this month.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Myths about Thanksgiving


I will be traveling early Thursday morning so I am posting this a day early.

Most of our traditions and celebrations are more myth than fact.  This certainly applies to Thanksgiving so I thought I would share some of the more common myths of this holiday.

Myth #1–Pocahontas helped the pilgrims. This is a myth that has been around for a long time. It is actually more of a misunderstanding than a myth. There were two groups of colonists settling in America in the early 1600s. One group was called the Pilgrims. They were religious separatists who had come to the New World to practice their own religion. They arrived in America in 1620. Pocahontas died in 1617; about the time the Pilgrims were deciding to make the voyage to America.

The truth behind the myth is that Pocahontas did help the other group of settlers. They arrived in America in 1607. During the winter of 1609/1610, they suffered from disease and starvation. Some of the local Indians came to help and Pocahontas was among them. She was just a child of about 12 when she first met the settlers and they enjoyed her charm and her energy. Although they enjoyed her and appreciated her, they did take her hostage at one point. She eventually married John Rolfe and traveled to England with him. She died on the return voyage in 1617 at the age of 22.

Myth #2–The pilgrims ate pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes at their Thanksgiving feast. The traditional Thanksgiving dinner that your Grandma cooks for you is not the traditional Thanksgiving dinner that the pilgrims ate. They did not have potatoes yet and although they had pumpkin, there were no pumpkin pies. Other things that the pilgrims did not have at that time include cranberries and sweet potatoes.
What the pilgrims did eat that we eat at Thanksgiving was turkey. There were plenty of turkeys in the area. One of the Pilgrims kept a journal in which he reported that there were enough birds killed to keep the whole company fed for a week. They also ate a lot of venison; the same journal reported that five deer were killed for meat. The other staple on the menu was cornmeal. They ground the corn from the harvest into a fine meal from which they made puddings and cornbread.

Myth #3–The Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving and we have been celebrating it every since. Actually, the first thanksgiving was not considered a holiday at all. It was a spontaneous party that resulted from a great harvest. The Pilgrims were thankful for the harvest and for the Indians who taught them how to plant and grow corn. The next year at harvest time there was no such party. In fact, the next year’s harvest wasn’t that great so there was not a lot of thankfulness that year.

Several governors of that time tried to institute a Thanksgiving Day but it didn’t really stick. The first President, George Washington, declared a national holiday to celebrate Thanksgiving but that didn’t stick either. It wasn’t until the 1860s, under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, that Thanksgiving became a recognized holiday that was commonly celebrated. It was even later than that when the day that Thanksgiving was celebrated became the fourth Thursday of November.

It is interesting to look at the real history of Thanksgiving. If you study it, you might find that there are other surprises surrounding the holiday. For example, did you know that in Virginia, some people still celebrate Thanksgiving on December 4th? It’s true; they do.

Myth #4: Pilgrims dressed in black and white with buckles and pointy hats.
Fact: Black is a very hard color to achieve using natural dyes – the only source of dyes available during colonial times. Colonists lucky enough to have black clothing reserved it for Sunday church services and special occasions. During the rest of the week, Pilgrims were more likely to be found in earth tones. 

Myth # 5: The Pilgrims prepared a lovely feast and invited the Native Americans to Thanksgiving.
Fact: The Pilgrims did not call this feast Thanksgiving. It was more of a harvest celebration. For them, Thanksgiving was a day of prayer to thank God when something really good happened. As for the food, much of it was likely brought and prepared by the natives.

Nation of Immigrants


I had a chance to talk yesterday with Zo Tum Hmung who leads a local congregation of refugees from the Chin region of Burma.  I have blogged on this population settling in Howard County a few weeks ago.  What I learned today gave me some of the background to their story of persecution in Burma (Myanmar) and how they ended up in Howard County.

In the 1800’s the British Empire extended into Asia and Burma became a British colony until after WWII when the country won its independence.  In the 1960’s the Burmese military gained control and it has been under military control most of the time since the 1962.  The persecution of ethnic and religious minorities began in the 1990’s and the rulers changed the country's name from Burma to Myanmar.  Persecuted refugees started leaving the county going to Malaysia and India.  As political refugees they were permitted to come to the United States.  Tens of thousands have been resettled in the US.

Aung San Suu Kyi, a democratically elected leader of Burma, was arrested in 1990 by the military and was under house arrest until 2010.  In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her human rights work in Burma.  The party she leads has just announced this month that they will compete in the upcoming elections to restore democracy to the country.  Last week Secretary of State Clinton visited the country to talk with the military leaders about the importance of the country returning to a democratically elected government to have the United States restore normal relations with the country.  This would also stop the refugee flight from the country.

Because of the presence of three Burmese churches in Howard County about 1,000 refugees have been settled in the County, mostly along the Route 1 corridor.  The relocation to this corridor is because of the job opportunities at warehouses along Route 1.  The Maryland Wholesale Food Center is a major employer of the refugees.

The refugee resettlement agencies support the refugees for three months and then it is up to the churches and refugee families to support the newly arrived refugees.  As one would imagine finding housing and employment are the two biggest challenges.  Most refugees arrive speaking no English and unprepared for the culture of the US and a very different climate.  The Burmese are used to the monsoons and floods that frequently kill thousands of Burmese.

Some local non-Burmese churches have assisted in this resettlement effort and my discussion today was how we as a community could increase the support and identify partners to work with the efforts of the Burmese churches in our area in the resettlement effort.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Families struggle to make it in Howard County


 Recently the Census Bureau reported the poverty rate in the United States. As reported in Bloomberg News, "rate rose to the highest level in almost two decades and household income fell in 2010, underscoring the lingering impact of the worst economic slump in seven decades. Data released by the Census Bureau today showed the proportion of people living in poverty climbed to 15.1 percent last year from 14.3 percent in 2009 and median household income declined 2.3 percent."

Has Howard County escaped this reality?  This past Wednesday the Association of Community Services of Howard County(ACS) released a report, 2011 Self Sufficiency Index, prepared by the Policy Analysis Center that identified how the recession has impacted income vulnerable families in Howard County.  We all know that the perception of many people living in Howard County is that poverty, hunger and homelessness are issues we read about as relevant for Baltimore and other areas of Maryland but not in our County.  The report shows in graphic manner how many families in Howard County have been pushed over the edge since the current recession started in 2007-2008. Some of the findings are:
1) Since 2007 there has been a 147 percent increase food bank grants and an increase in individuals using the food bank from 6,478 in 2007 to 16,011 in 2011.
2) Since 2007 the number of school children in Howard County schools receiving free breakfast and lunch has increased by 57 percent.
3)Howard County General Hospital has an 39 percent increase in uncompensated care provided since 2007.
4) Home Energy grants have increased by 129% since 2007.
5) Since 2009 there has been a 45 percent increase in the number of eviction prevention grants given out
6) Since 2007 the waiting list for Head Start has almost doubled from 40 to 75.
7) Since 2007 the number of individuals receiving food stamps (SNAP) has increased by 130%

The study shows that thousands of Howard County families live in very tenuous circumstances and are vulnerable to any changes in the economy.  For most families the past 4 years has been a recession but for some Howard County families it has been a depression. 




Monday, November 21, 2011

Howard County Council to make gender identity a protected classification under County law

Recently I blogged on the issue of gender identity.  Tonight the Howard County Council is expected to make gender identity a protected classification under the County's discrimination laws.  Howard County stands in the forefront in making issues of gender and sexual identity protected from the harassment that many gays and transgendered individuals still experience. Unfortunately we still see examples of bullying in our schools related to these two groups.  The beating of a transgendered person in a McDonalds here in Maryland recently shows the need for these laws. The need to discriminate is something that will probably always exist in any society but it is nice to live in a County that takes a stand against this form of discrimination.

P.S.
This weekend I ran past a house that made me wonder about some people.  The property was surrounded by a chain link fence with warning signs about attack guard dogs.  On the back window of the truck parked in front of the house was lettering that said "Choose Hostility."  The Library's efforts in its "Choose Civility" program has had many spin off bumper stickers and most stay with a positive theme.  But obviously others see civility as something to mock.  What really made me think was children's bikes and hot wheels in the yard.  I can't imagine being a kid in that home

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cranberry Pancakes


The second seasonal Thanksgiving pancakes I want to share are cranberry pancakes.  The tart flavor of cranberries is balanced with the sweetness of the sweetened condensed milk and syrup.

2 cups pancake mix
1 can whole cranberry sauce (half for batter and half as a topping)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk (more if you like sweeter pancakes)
2 whipped egg whites (egg whites make light pancakes)
Milk to the batter consistency you like

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wegmans Update

Yesterday I attended a meeting where Wegmans representatives discussed their hiring policies and benefits.  Hiring will begin in January for the June 17th opening.  We saw a video of the opening of the Wegmans in  Largo near the Redskin's Stadium.  1500 people were in line when the doors opened the first day with some people waiting in line for 6 hours.  One can only image what the traffic on Snowden Parkway and McGaw Road with be like on June 17th.  I have the feeling that the Wegmans will be a "game changer" in many ways for Columbia.  The store manager, Wendy Webster, explained the many competing stores try to upgrade their stores in advance of the Wegmans. Don't be surprised to see sales at other stores on the 17th.

Like most businesses the jobs in Columbia will be offered first internally to existing Wegmans employees.  In addition to reducing new training this internal advancement encourages employees to stay with the company.  Many of the manager positions at the Columbia store will be filled this way.  Jobs can be applied for at their website  www.wegmans.com once they start the hiring process.  All new hires go through a training period at an existing Wegman's.  Hunt Valley and Largo would be the closest locations.  We were told that they try to work out car pools for new hires living in our area without transportation to one of these sites.

Wegman's has a college internship program with a 1-3 year commitment that is designed to provide work experience to college students that could lead to future management positions with the company.  The students must be in a bachelor's degree program or a 2+2 program at a community college.  Business Management and Food Marketing students preferred. They also try to provide employment with organizations working with special needs populations and those working in other training programs.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Is "Main Street" the future design of all Malls?


This week we learned of the plans that General Growth Properties has for the Owings Mills Mall.  It will soon be de-malled. As the Carroll County Times reports:

"De-malling is what the process has come to be known as - with Hunt Valley Towne Centre a local example of what the results can be when an aging enclosed shopping mall is transformed into a Main Street-style collection of avenues lined with out-facing shops and restaurants. Like Hunt Valley, Owings Mills mall has a movie theater, which will be retained in the redevelopment."

Our Columbia Mall still seems to be popular with shoppers but it does make you wonder how long before the Mall reaches the point or a redesign.  We have already seen this change with some of our village centers. Oakland Mills and Owen Brown centers used to be enclosed in design and now have an open design. Also we saw how the once enclosed Chatham Mall was changed to the new open shopping design.


Last June Christopher Leinberger spoke to a large group in Columbia and indicated that the enclosed mall in America was dead.  Apparently no new enclosed mall has been built in the past 9 years and that the "main street" design seemed to be the new design. There is even a website called deadmalls.com


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why teams out perform individual effort

Last Sunday I watched the 60 minutes piece on UMBC's President Freeman Hrabowski in which the power of teaming students in projects was discussed as training students to work and learn smarter.  It made me think about the natural reluctance of many people and organizations to work together in collaborative efforts.  Somehow our individual identities get threatened when we collaborate.  Yet when we think of the two individuals who most revolutionized our digital world today, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, we forget that they were only one part of a team.  Bill Gates had Paul Allen and Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak.It is very possible that Microsoft and Apple would never have happened if each had not met the other.

We can find many examples of teams creating the most successful efforts.  With a sports team the blending of the skills of a team owner, a general manager, coaches and players have to work together to be successful. In Baltimore with the Orioles we see how when those elements don't exist you can't succeed as a team.  Many of us feel that the Orioles won't be a winning team until they have a new owner.

What achieves student success?  Today nothing seems to be debated more than how to improve student performance.  Unfortunately the solution always seems to be focused on one element of the education system. Holding teachers to a higher degree of accountability or testing students more often seem to be the answers. I feel that each is doomed to fail because it doesn't address the issue in a team or collaborative manner.  Success comes from a collaboration and team involvement that includes students, parents, teachers, principals, elected officials and communities in a coordinated effort. Leave out the involvement of one of those elements and the chain of success is broken.

Successful teams have some common elements:
1) Clear outcome to be achieved- How often do we go into an team effort with no more clear goal other than to "increase, improve or develop" a current situation.  There needs to be a specific outcome to be achieved, how it will be achieved, who will be accountable for which element and when will it be achieved.  Just the old "what , how, who and when."
2) Valuing of a diversity of skills and ideas-  The most creative ideas are a blending of very different perspectives.  New paradigms are most likely to come out of divergent thought.
3) Buy in by team members- Nothing dooms a team effort like reluctant team members. Teams need to have the ability to control their work and outcomes.

Take away for today---"Two heads really are better than one."  Remember the computing power of a computer is the linking of many computer chips working in a coordinated manner.

P.S.
So Newt Gingrich was was only hired by Freddie Mac as an "historian." There must be college history professors all over this country who are kicking themselves because they never realized that in Washington "historians" can make 10 or 20 times what a college professor can make.





Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Path to Marriage Equality in Maryland


       I attended a meeting of PFLAG last week to learn more about the plan to get the marriage equality bill passed this year in the Maryland legislature.  There are multiple plans each with a different number of steps:

1) Legislature passes the legislation, the Governor signs the bill and a referendum to repeal the legislation fails in November 2012.  We have marriage equality in Maryland in 2012.

2) Legislature passes the legislation passes, the Governor signes the bill and a referendum to repeal the legislation succeeds and advocates for marriage equality appeal to the Maryland Court of Appeals arguing that the referendum repealing the law is unconstitutional in that it violates the equal protection clause of the Maryland Constitution. With the different make up of the Court of Appeals with three new liberal judges appointed by Gov. O'Malley hopefully their ruling would be different than the last time when the Court ruled on the marriage equality issue and voted on a narrow 5-4 basis.  The Court overturns the referendum and marriage equality exists in Maryland in 2013.

Marriage equality in Maryland is not a matter of "if" but "when."

P.S.
There are more than 1049 federal level benefits that are tied to marriage.  The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has to be repealed to make these benefits available to same sex couples.  That battle is still ahead and sadly will take many more years given the opposition from conservative legislators.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Out into the REAL space frontier!

I grew up enthralled by the exploits of the astronauts and the early space program in the 1960's.    It is sad to see that man flight for the United States has to rely on the Russians to launch astronauts into space these days.  With our spending billions chasing a couple of hundred terrorists you would think we could still find some money to explore space in a meaningful way.  To realize that we will never see another Space Shuttle launch or landing is sad.  I was fortunate to have seen a Space Shuttle launch years ago and it was an amazing experience.

One of the most amazing stories of our space program is the Voyager space flights that continue 35 years after their launch in 1977.  They are now approaching the limit of our solar system.  One interesting fact is that the computer system in the spacecrafts has less computing power than your quartz watch today.  Below is some interesting information on the space crafts.

There are few things as awful as the detritus of the 1970s. An era that gave us crock pots, Pintos, pet rocks, shag carpet, the avocado green refrigerator and the Captain and Tennille is an era best lost to history. But then, of course, there are the Voyager spacecraft. It was in August and September of 1977 — when Jimmy Carter was in the White House, "Best of My Love" was the No. 1 song, Laverne & Shirley the No. 1 show, and the Dow was headed for a year-end close of 831 — that Voyagers 1 and 2 were launched. Their mission was ambitious: fly to Jupiter, then on to Saturn and then, just maybe — if the hardware was working, the gyros were sound and the thrusters hadn't frozen — swing by Uranus and Neptune too. Voyager 2 made that grand tour, flying in the flat straight through the solar system and successfully rendezvousing with Neptune in 1989. Voyager 1 made a gravitational whipsaw below and above Saturn, a trajectory that flung it up and out of the solar-system plane and limited it to a two-planet itinerary. But the ships' primary missions succeeded beyond the giddiest predictions of the engineers who built them. And today, improbably, those missions continue, with the creaky old spacecraft adding 330 million miles (530 million km) to their odometers every year — each mile constituting a new distance record for the reach of the human species. This month, NASA engineers young enough to be the grandsons and granddaughters of the people who built the Voyagers announced that they'd taken new power-saving steps to ensure that the missions continue — and it's not just the distance record they're after. The Voyagers are poised to pass at last from the outermost boundary of the solar system into the truly uncharted regions of interstellar space, and NASA wants them fit for duty when they do.
There's no way of knowing exactly where the solar system ends, but the best guess is that it's up to 14 billion miles (23 billion km) from the sun. That's where the last breaths of solar wind — the storm of charged particles the sun pours out all the time — bump up against the tenuous hydrogen and helium that swirl through the cosmos. Fourteen billion miles is about three times the maximum distance of Pluto (which was still a planet when the Voyagers were launched), so scientists always knew there would be a lot of flying to do before the ships crossed that threshold.
That endgame, however, is approaching. Voyager 1 is currently about 11 billion miles (18 billion km) away; Voyager 2 trails a bit at 9 billion miles (14 billion km). In December of last year, Voyager 1 beamed back data showing that the charged particles around it appeared to have come to a standstill, suggesting that it had entered a final transition zone before interstellar space. Such an area of stagnation had not been in the astronomers' models, so they can't predict how thick the particle wall will be. 
 
"These calculations show we are getting close, but how close?" asked Voyager project scientist Ed Stone at the time the discovery was made. The fact that the Voyagers have enough juice left to make that crossing is a tribute to the radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) — otherwise known as teeny, tiny nuclear power plants — onboard. The RTGs are fueled by plutonium-238, which, at the time of launch, was predicted to be good enough to keep the ships going for 50 years. So far those projections are holding, with power expected to last until 2025.To ensure that it does, engineers have instructed both spacecraft to switch to a backup set of attitude thrusters that had not previously been used in flight. Voyager 1 received that command in 2004, after its primary thrusters had fired 353,000 times. Voyager 2 got the same instruction on Nov. 4 of this year, after 318,000 primary firings. For both ships, the switch is intended to save about 12 watts of power since the heaters that kept the main fuel lines warm can be shut off.  It's a measure of how elegant the design of the 34-year-old spacecraft that the 12 watts represents nearly 5% of the total electricity the ships need at any given time — meaning the most durable and distant machines humans have ever built do their work on less energy than it takes to run three light bulbs. And it's a measure of how far that engineering has carried them that it took 14 hours for the thruster command — traveling from Earth at 186,000 miles per second (299,000 km/sec.) — to reach the Voyagers and another 14 for the confirmation to come back. On Nov. 13, Voyager 2 will transmit another signal confirming that the backup thrusters are functioning as planned; engineers won't look for it until Nov. 14. When the twin spacecraft do fall silent, they will continue to serve as earthly messengers. Attached to their flanks are their celebrated golden records — 12-in. (30 cm) gold-plated copper disks containing analog etchings of pictures, music and greetings from Earth. The disks resemble old phonograph records and work like them too — but that, of course, makes sense. In 1977, who in the world had heard of a CD?

P.S.
Listening to the most recent Republican debate it is amazing. John Huntsman was the only candidate that sounded like he knew what he was talking about and didn't have canned answers to play to the audience.   Watching Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain answer a foreign policy question is painful. I don't even want to think they might have to answer that "3 a.m. call."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sometimes we can learn about life from animals: The Story of Tara and Bella


I have blogged before about how I became a dog lover after many years of not wanting the responsibility of having a pet.  For people who don't have a dog you can't begin to understand how deeply a person can become attached to an animal.  Somehow their joy at seeing you come home and how they understand your every pattern is unlike anything you will ever experience with a person.  You don't understand loyalty till you have a dog.

Yesterday on CBS Sunday Morning  I saw something that showed how animals can show humans about what is really important. The story of Tara and Bella and the way they bonded is a story not to be missed.  Click on this link to see a story that will stay with all day and better understand why sometimes animals are like people. If you know an animal lover share this blog with them so they can also appreciate this story.  And consider adopting an animal from the shelter

Some Howard County groups to support that work with animals:

Animal Welfare Society
8556 Davis Road
Columbia, MD 21045

If you have any questions, please feel free to call the clinic at (410) 465.4350.
Fidos For Freedom, Inc.
P.O. Box 5508
Laurel, Maryland  20726
(410) 880-4178

Pets on Wheels
Office on Aging
410-313-7213

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Morning

Since 1979 a Sunday morning activity for me has been watching CBS Sunday Morning.  First with Charles Kuralt and now with Charles Osgood this program has been the TV version of the Sunday newspaper.  It covers the news, weather and sports but also includes sections on the arts, music, movies, human interest, commentary and it "moment with nature" at the end of the show.  Judging by its commercials for drugs and financial services you would think that it is mostly watched by older persons but it still wins its time slot ratings with people 25-54 which is why it has stayed on the air so long.

Watching Sunday Morning is an example of why Sunday is my favorite day of the week.  It is the only day where I don't have to be productive.  Not having to do anything but watch a TV show or read a newspaper till noon just doesn't fit into my schedule any other day.  So if it is 9 am on Sunday it must be "Sunday Morning" for me.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thanksgiving Pancakes


The next two Saturdays I want to share a couple of "seasonal" pancakes for Thanksgiving.  For me Thanksgiving means foods like pumpkin and cranberries.  We are all familiar with these items in pies and relish but I always think how they would work in pancakes, my favorable breakfast food.  So today here the first one.

Pumpkin Sweet Potato Pancakes
1/2 Cup pumpkin
1/2 Cup pureed sweet potato from a can in heavy syrup ( pour some of the heavy syrup in the food blender)
2 cups pancake mix
1 egg
2 teaspoons baking powder
Add milk to get the right pancake batter consistency you like

I let the batter sit for 5 minutes to let the baking powder work
For a lighter pancake substitute 2 beaten egg whites for the baking powder.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Isn't it time to give back to an organization we have all used??


About a year ago I realized that I have been using an organization in Howard County for over thirty years that had saved me thousands of dollars. That organization easily saves me $50-$75 dollars a month. I thought it was time to pay them back for some of those savings.  That organization is the Howard County Library.  We are very fortunate to have one of the very best library systems in the country and what it does to enhance our community is invaluable. So a year ago I joined the Friends of the Library as my small step to pay the Library for the great service they have provided me and my family. Today I am asking you click on the Friends of the Library picture I have on the right side of this blog and become a member.  I am asking you to consider being a reoccurring monthly donor with an automatic charge to a credit card.  This is what I have done.  No need to write an annual check just have it done automatically.

Our Library is not satisfied with just being a great place to get reading material but they actively partner with Howard County schools to encourage students to become life long readers with fun activities.  Check out the events at the Library.

In 2002 the Library set up the A+ Partners program with local schools.  This info comes from their website:

In September 2002, Howard County Library System (HCLS) and the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) launched a groundbreaking county-wide initiative, A+ Partners in EducationSM. Several years later, Howard Community College (HCC) joined the partnership.

Our collective vision is to provide for Howard County students the best possible chance to achieve overall academic success. What makes A+ unique?


  • Every HCPSS school, and each HCC department, is assigned an HCLS branch and liaison.
  • Each student receives an HCLS card through school registration.
  • Kindergarten field trips to HCLS are part of HCPSS' curriculum.
  • HCLS instructors teach A+ Curriculum Enhancement classes at HCLS branches, and in the schools.
  • Faculty send HCLS instructors Assignment Alerts.
  • The partnership is celebrated annually at the A+ Partners in Education Celebration.
Since its inception, numerous libraries and schools have requested information about how to replicate such a partnership. If you are interested, review our toolkit for details.

STEM

A launching point in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) pipeline of future scientists, mathematicians, and engineers to fill high-tech BRAC-related jobs, Howard County Library System delivers an impressive line-up of STEM-related classes for preschool, elementary, and middle school students. The series, which teaches STEM through children's literature and experiments, includes: Having a Ball with Chemistry, Candy Science, Wiggly Giggly Gelatin, Snowflake Science, Go Figure, Robotics Fair, and Everyday Engineering. Watch a video about HCLS' STEM-related classes.

HCLS' A+ Curriculum Enhancement
guides, source (quarterly classes and events guide), and online calendar
list the STEM classes, which HCLS instructors teach at HCLS' six branches for the general public, and take into school classrooms as part of A+ Partners in Education. 
 
Rube Goldberg Challenge
The Rube Goldberg Challenge unleashes the creativity of fourth and fifth grade students as they apply STEM concepts to solve a problem. Download a PDF of the photo sheet from the 2011 Awards Ceremony. Details.

Howard County Library System Spelling Bee
Participate in the seventh annual Howard County Library System Spelling Bee. Details.
Download PDFs of photo sheets from the 2009, 2010 and 2011 competitions. Visit our Flickr page for more 2011 photos.

Battle of the Books

The fourth annual battle takes place April 20, 2012.  Details.

Download PDFs of photo sheets from the 2009, 2010 and 2011 competitions. Visit our Flickr page for more 2011 photos.

Great Scavenger Hunt

Read a book. Take a trivia quiz. Enter a prize drawing. Details.

Howard County Library System Teen Idol

Congratulations to everyone who participated in the competition! Details.

Summer Reading Club

A record 27,000 students enrolled in HCLS's 2011 summer reading clubs.
Download PDFs of photo sheets from the 2009, 2010 and 2011 kickoff events. Visit our Flickr page for more 2011 photos.



P.S.
11/11/11 just one more year to experience sequencing of the date for all of us.  This one even says the same thing upside down.  At 11:11 am and pm should make us all just pause for this unique experience.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Are we letting our Children down with a Code of Silence?


I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania in the 1950's and 1960's that had a pedophile who was the Cub Scout leader and the Sunday School Superintendent at a local church.  Many people in town, including the Boy Scout leader, knew he was a pedophile but the town's "code of silence" prevented any charges from ever being brought against him.  In the past few years we have learned that child abuse still exists within almost every institution in our society and it still goes unreported.  Priests, teachers, coaches and Boy Scout leaders have been shown to use their positions of authority to abuse children. Somehow we have hoped that the recent realization that we all have a responsibility to not be silent about child abuse would prevent these acts from occurring today. Unfortunately two recent news stories have brought home the reality that child abuse is still a reality for many children today and authorities still look to protect their institutions instead of children.

At Penn State people within the University, including Joe Paterno, felt that sexually abusing children should have been handled as an internal manner.  The damage to the image of the institution seemed to be the overriding concern.  As a result ,as it was within the Catholic Church, no reports were made to law enforcement to have the situation handled as a criminal matter which it was.  Even when it comes to the horrendous crime of sexually abusing children many people given positions of authority in our institutions still react first to protect the image of the institution.

The second recent story has been in the news as a result of a You Tube video of a father beating his 16 year old daughter.  The father happens to be a judge and was a well respect member of his community. I am posting the link to the video to show how severe physical punishment can be with a parent who feels that corporal punishment is an acceptable form of discipline.  We still have many people today who would never condone kicking a dog or hitting a spouse but still feel that it is appropriate to use corporal punishment as a form of discipline with children.  Hitting a child is never about teaching them discipline but is about an adult taking their anger out on a vulnerable child.

Sadly we still have a long way to go to change the code of silence about child abuse in our society.

P.S.
I would be remiss if I didn't use this blog to direct people who want to become involved in this issue to VOICES for Children.  They are a great organization and are always looking for more volunteers to work with abused children.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Health of a Society is Determined by its Level of Social Equality



I have been following TED Conference presentations online with their podcasts.  They are simply 30 minute talks on a wide range of subjects that are designed to be thought provoking.  When you have a hour or two listen to some of the presentations online.

With the Occupy Wall Street movement in the news on a daily basis and the political debates proposing how to fix our Country’s economy but not taxing the “job creators” I thought it might be worth looking at a recent TED Conference presentation on the impact of social inequality and its relationship to the quality of life.  I strongly suggest listening to the entire talk to get the full context of the presentation but what follows is the report of the presentation that appeared in a CNN report:

“People have always known that inequality is divisive and socially corrosive. What is surprising, now that we have the data to compare societies, is how clear the effects of inequality are. Wide ranges of social problems are worse in societies with bigger income differences between rich and poor. These include physical and mental illness, violence, low math and literacy scores among young people, lower levels of trust and weaker community life, poorer child well-being, more drug abuse, lower social mobility and higher rates of imprisonment and teenage births.

The differences in performance of more and less equal societies is often enormous: Most of these problems are between twice and ten times as common in countries like the United States, Britain and Portugal, which have large income differences compared to countries with smaller income differences like the Nordic countries or Japan. For example, taking high, medium and low inequality countries, the homicide rate in the United States in 2009 was 50 per million population compared with 18 in Canada and 5 in Japan.

The police, prisons and public services needed to defend ourselves against these problems are expensive and often not very effective. But the underlying causal processes are fairly clear. The problems that get worse when there is more inequality are all problems that become more common lower down the social ladder within each society.
Greater income inequality seems to amplify and intensify the effects of social status differentiation -- bigger material differences creating bigger social distances. So the most common trigger to violence seems to be people feeling disrespected and looked down on. Although social class imprints its effects on us from earliest childhood onward, greater inequality makes these effects more marked.

But inequality does not harm the poor alone. The effects are so large because almost everyone is affected. The benefits of greater inequality are biggest at the bottom of society, but a number of studies suggest that a large majority -- perhaps 90% or 95% -- of the population benefits from greater equality.
We cannot say what happens to the superrich because they are a fraction of 1% of the population and we do not have separate data on their health, violence or drug use.
Because position in the hierarchy has always been important to well-being, we have an inherited sensitivity to social status that works rather like ranking systems among some monkeys. However, human beings have lived in every kind of society from the most egalitarian (such as the hunting and gathering societies of human prehistory) to the most tyrannical dictatorships.

Where there is more equality we use more cooperative social strategies, but where there is more inequality, people feel they have to fend for themselves and competition for status becomes more important. Crucially important is the quality of social relationships. Because members of the same species have the same needs, they can, all too easily, be each other's worst rivals -- fighting for food, nesting sites, territories, sexual partners and so on. But human beings, as well as having the potential to be each other's most feared rivals and competitors, also have the opposite potential: We can be each other's best sources of cooperation, assistance, help, learning and love. Depending on our social relationships, other people can be the best -- or the worst.

Of paramount importance in our social development was to avoid conflict and competition for basic necessities. That is why we eat together. It is also what the religious symbolism of communion is about. Whether society has great inequality and a strong status hierarchy, whether there is a strong sense of superiority and inferiority, tells us whether we are in the same boat together and depend on cooperation and reciprocity, or whether we have to fend for ourselves in a dog-eat-dog society. What matters is not simply adults' recognition of inequality and social status; it is also a matter of how the parental experience of adversity is passed on to children to affect their early development. The sensitive period in early childhood that shapes development exists in many different species. Its function is to enable the young to adapt to the kind of environment they will have to deal with. Among human beings, that is primarily a matter of adapting to the social environment:

Are you growing up in a world where you will have to fight for what you can get, watch your back and learn not to trust others because we are all rivals, or are you growing up in a world where you will depend on cooperation, reciprocity and mutuality?

With the median income in Howard County over $100,000 you might not think that we have the same income disparity that our Country experiences on the national level but you would be wrong.  The following information came from a report prepared this year by the Community Action Council of Howard County:

 ·4.1% of the county population have incomes below poverty level
• Single female-headed families with children under age 5– Total Poverty Rate: 24%

Of those below the poverty level where they live:
• 27% Columbia
• 26% Laurel
• 21% Savage
• 8.1% Elkridge

The number of persons receiving Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) increased from 821 to 1358 over the past three years.  The number of families receiving Energy Assistance doubled over the past 3 years to over 4800 households. The number of individuals receiving food assistance from Community Action almost doubled to over 12,000 from 2009 to 2010.  4300 families are on the Housing Assistance waiting list.  13% of residents under 65 have no health insurance.

Social inequality weakens a society’s shared sense of purpose.  A progressive tax structure that works to lessen the impact of income inequality is necessary for economic and political stabilization in any healthy society.  I know this may be heresy in one particular political party today. If you still don’t think the data supports this listen to the video presentation.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Do we really need leaf blowers??

Autumn used to be a season of raking leaves (and jumping into the leaf piles as a kid) and the smell of burning leaves.  While burning leaves is no longer permitted for safety and air pollution reasons I can’t help but think that the season now has the annoying sound of leaf blowers.  I have blogged about the leaf blowers ruining the outdoor seating at many locations in Town Center.  Couldn’t these machines be required to be made with “silencers.” 

I also wonder why Howard County doesn’t have a system of using trucks that have large vacuums that come around to suck up the leaves that are raked to the curb.  My hometown of a couple thousand people has this service and it seems more environmentally friendly than all of us putting our leaves in plastic bags for pick up.  Of course I have to say that I have been one of those lazy people who think the wind will eventually take care of the leaf problem in my yard and what leaves remain will provide a natural fertilizer for my yard.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Is organic now the newest marketing gimmick?

 
I couldn't help but notice the new sections in the local Giant supermarkets that now have a very visible organic section when you first walk in.  Organic products that used to be spread out throughout the store are now all together in a mini market section in front. After browsing the section you couldn't help but notice that the products in this section were two to three times the prices of many similar non-organic products sold elsewhere in the store.  I know that organic products can come from smaller producers and consumer price is impacted by economy of scale but I couldn't help but wonder if this isn't a way to market products at a higher profit margin than their non-organic products? Should we always expect to pay a premium for organic products? I somehow feel that stores know that organic products are more likely to be purchased by consumers with higher incomes and they take advantage of this in their pricing of organic products.  It is similar to how gas stations in Columbia can get away with charging prices 30-40 cents higher than stations 5 miles outside Columbia.  I know that rents are higher in Columbia but I can't help but think that there is a little price gouging in there too.

So as someone who is disgusted with how we seem to be polluting our environment and food with chemicals my desire to encourage a more earth friendly food production system will always balance this desire against feeling I am being taken advantage of by a system of price gouging.  I would hope that someone would figure out how to build economy of scale into organic food production.  Is it too much to ask to like safer food and a good price?

One final thought.  Don't be sold on "organic" meaning "healthy."  I couldn't help but noticing that many of the organic products had high amounts of fat and sugar.  Both of those are of course "organic."  Made me remember how many low fat products are loaded with sugar. Anyone else see the commercials out lately telling parents how their sugary kid's cereals are a good source of fiber? What cereal manufacturers produce for kids should be criminal.  Should we allow them to poison our kids?  I know they would say in a free market the consumer determines what products are made but what cereal manufacturers make is no different than the candy manufacturers once making candy cigarettes.

For everyone who wants to know what the organic standards are I will share what I copied from the USDA site on organic food:

What is Organic?  
Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods. These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.
 How Are Organic Products Overseen?
The National Organic Program regulates all organic crops, livestock, and agricultural products certified to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic standards. Organic certification agencies inspect and verify that organic farmers, ranchers, distributors, processors, and traders are complying with the USDA organic regulations. USDA conducts audits and ensures that the more than 90 organic certification agencies operating around the world are properly certifying organic products. In addition, USDA conducts investigations and conducts enforcement activities to ensure all products labeled as organic meet the USDA organic regulations. In order to sell, label, or represent their products as organic, operations must follow all of the specifications set out by the USDA organic regulations.
How Do I Know if My Food Is Organic?
Look at the label. If you see the USDA organic seal, the product is certified organic and has 95 percent or more organic content. For multi-ingredient products such as bread or soup, if the label claims that it is made with specified organic ingredients, you can be confident that those specific ingredients have been certified organic.
What About Other Labels?
There are other voluntary labels for livestock products, such as meat and eggs:
Free-range. This label indicates that the flock was provided shelter in a building, room, or area with unlimited access to food, fresh water, and continuous access to the outdoors during their production cycle. The outdoor area may or may not be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material. This label is regulated by the USDA.
 Cage-free. This label indicates that the flock was able to freely roam a building, room, or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water during their production cycle.
Natural. As required by USDA, meat, poultry, and egg products labeled as “natural” must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients. However, the natural label does not include any standards regarding farm practices and only applies to processing of meat and egg products. There are no standards or regulations for the labeling of natural food products if they do not contain meat or eggs.
Grass-fed. Grass-fed animals receive a majority of their nutrients from grass throughout their life, while organic animals’ pasture diet may be supplemented with grain. Also USDA regulated, the grass-fed label does not limit the use of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides. Meat products may be labeled as grass-fed organic.
Pasture-raised. Due to the number of variables involved in pasture-raised agricultural systems, the USDA has not developed a labeling policy for pasture-raised products.
Humane. Multiple labeling programs make claims that animals were treated humanely during the production cycle, but the verification of these claims varies widely. These labeling programs are not regulated.
Protecting Organic Integrity
30,000 on-site inspections per year by certifying agents to monitor compliance with USDA organic standards
Certifying agent audits to ensure appropriate monitoring
Residue testing program to verify that prohibited pesticides aren’t being applied to organic crops
Robust compliance and enforcement activities
Issue-based investigations (e.g. country- or commodity-specific)

P.S.
Watching the New York Marathon yesterday my mind said "Wouldn't it be neat to see if you could still do one of those every year?" and my body said "Are you crazy--- don't you remember how you felt after finishing one of those?"