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Sunday, July 31, 2011


For those of you that have lived in Columbia for a few years you will probably remember the Magic Pan restaurant next to the 3 movie theaters (how did we ever get along with only 3 movies to choose from!)  While it did offer some non-crepe items most of us selected a dinner crepe and then a dessert crepe.  Crepes have always been my family's favorite dessert.  Made with vanilla ice cream, fresh fruit and real maple syrup or whipped cream it was always great.

The variety of crepes is endless.  Breakfast crepes with eggs are better than the breakfast burritos that the fast food restaurants all now offer.  A filling of scrambled eggs, ham with green onion with Hollandaise sauce over the top of the crepe is my favorite breakfast crepe. Your basic crepe recipe is:
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/3 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Using a non-stick pan works best.   I spray on some Pam spray and pour about 3 tablespoons of batter onto the hot pan and swirl it around till the pan has a thin coating of batter.  When the edges start to curl I flip it over to cook the other side.  Let them cool on a plate with plastic wrap covering to keep them soft.

Favorite filling beside ice cream is a filling of ricotta cheese mixed with vanilla pudding.  A little lemon curd is a nice addition to the mixture.

Try a crepe lasagna by replacing the noodles with crepes.  Make the crepe a little thicker than regular crepes but it makes an interesting dish.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Some cool places to visit on a hot weekend

We are fortunate to have so many museums close to visit that are free.  The Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore is a fascinating place to visit that has much more than you would expect in an art museum and it’s free.  If you have never visited the Walters you have missed a great museum.

The Baltimore Museum of Art on the Johns Hopkins University campus is also free and has an amazing art collection.

For a pizza treat when visiting either of these places try my favorite Baltimore pizza place, Iggie’s Pizza on North Calvert St. for some really unique pizzas.

For the more scientific minded the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport is where the Smithsonian Museum shows all the planes too big to show on the Mall museum.  The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest jet in the world; the Boeing Dash 80, the prototype of the 707 and the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay that dropped the first atomic bomb.  The highlight is the Enterprise Space Shuttle that has recently been retired.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Mars and Venus Revisited

       I had an experience a little while ago that got me thinking about how men and woman are so different.  I have heard the saying that women exist to civilize men.  As a guy who grew up in a male dominated family where sports and competition were strongly ensconced, I was rudely welcomed into the other half of the world when I had three daughters.  I also chose a female dominated career choice—social work.  I used to joke that if all the men in the world disappeared except for me it would take me a week to realize something happened.

       So what happened to me to bring all the differences between men and women to mind?  I had been out on a bike ride on our paths when I got a flat tire.  If you have ever tried to change and pump up a flat bike tire with one of those bike pumps that fit on your bike you know that it isn’t the easiest task.  I was four miles from home but I decided to walk my bike home where changing the tire would be much easier.  Walking along the path I had male joggers and bikers past me without a passing glance.  I even had one male biker almost run me over as if he was in the Tour de France.   After about 20 minutes and walking a mile a group of three women bikers approached.  They stopped, inquired if everything was OK and asked if I wanted to use a cell phone to call someone.  Realizing that I was about 100 yards from a road that my wife could easily bring our van and meet me I took up their offer.  Five minutes later I had my bike with the flat tire in the van and on my way home.

       On my way home I began to think what would I have done if I had passed a biker walking their bike on the path.  Would I be like the other men and just pass them by? What is it about women that make them more sensitive to people in need?  Is it the mothering instinct?  I began to re-examine my feeling that women spend too much time in meetings trying to see how everyone feels about something and not just get to the point and make a decision.  I guess I should have remembered how when one of my daughters would call from college unsure how to do something and I would offer fatherly solution after solution only to find that they didn’t want that but just to have me listen to them. So what is it with women wanting to have someone listen to them?  Don’t women realize men are problem solvers? Even when we don’t know much about something we still think we have the answers.  This may explain why women still are not represented well in elected government.

     So thank you to all you caring, helpful women. Here is one biker who is thankful you were there on the bike path that day.  Trust me I will pay it forward when I get the chance.  

   I have blogged int the past on the situation with Columbia Association pools.  CA has now developed a tool to continue the discussion of how best to utilize the pools. 
If you have something to say about our pools, then the Aquatics Commenting Tool (ACT) is just the ticket. ACT  -- -- provides another way (in addition to focus groups, public workshops, Facebook, the Task Force) to contribute and be part of the aquatics master planning process.  ACT’s pool-specific commenting feature allows you and other community members to express ideas about desired improvements for the future of Columbia’s aquatics and view comments from others.
ACT also allows you to explore outdoor pool visitation for 2010 -- which pools have high attendance? Which draw a majority of their visitors from the immediate area around the pool? And which draw folks from a very large area?
Visit for more information about the Master Plan process.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What are the Greatest Community Needs in Howard County?

          Today I wanted to share some information from the Columbia Foundation “Listening Project” which was an attempt by the Foundation to identify the priority areas that County residents felt were most important to address in a pro active manner.  Both adults and youth people were surveyed.  The full report is available online but I wanted to share some of the information here. I am quoting from the report.

      “The Columbia Foundation’s Board of Directors completed a Strategic Plan in
2009 for the Foundation, which included creating a Strategic Initiatives Committee. One aspect of the strategic plan includes increasing awareness about community needs that demand attention. What better way to gather this information than to communicate with the community directly? Thus, the “Listening Project” was created. The Strategic Initiatives Committee, made up of ten community leaders, was responsible for overseeing the ‘Listening Project’ launched in the spring of 2011.”

     “The goal of this project was to hear from residents of Howard County to find out what they felt the greatest needs are within the community. Listening sessions along with the creation and distribution of an adult and youth survey were utilized to discover the top issues within the community. The Foundations Strategic Initiatives Committee will then recommend two to three strategic focus areas for the Foundation’s board of Trustees to consider for future support. The surveys that were distributed collected information from residents on their demographics, what they enjoyed most about living/working in Howard County, their satisfaction with the community services offered and suggestions for improvements. In total, close to seven hundred responses were received from the surveys. After extensive marketing research and data analysis, the most important issues that residents of Howard County felt needed to be addressed were determined. It can be suggested to The Columbia Foundation that improvements need to be addressed in the areas of transportation and childcare/adolescent programs. It is also suggested that safety measures and educational support be considered. Support for these strategic community areas will overall strengthen the Howard County community and address the expressed concerns of its residents.”

     “Transportation came across as the most important issue to Howard County
residents. About 50% of the open-ended questions in the adult survey mentioned
improving transportation. Several respondents stated that they had limited means of getting to the BWI airport without a car. Other respondents talked about how there is no way to commute to Washington D.C. or Baltimore without a car. Respondents also were displeased with the limited bus schedule and unsafe bus stop locations, which deterred them from using public transportation. Overall it was deemed that if one does not have a car, he/she is at a serious disadvantage. Not only did the open-ended answers certainly convey transportation to be an issue, but when considering the Likert scale answers to the question of how satisfied residents were with transportation, a large majority answered
dissatisfied as well. Close to 70% of the respondents checked neutral or dissatisfied with transportation. The issue is further brought forth when considering that many residents in the quantifiable community question about what they enjoyed most about living in Howard County ranked location/proximity/convenience as the number one thing they enjoyed most. It is not likely that residents will continue to be happy with this benefit if transportation issues are not addressed; this positive aspect of Howard County may in the
future become obsolete.”

      “Childcare/adolescent programs also have proven to be of concern to residents of Howard County. Although only 8% of the respondents were below satisfied with childcare, the vast majority (over 50%) were only satisfied according to the Likert scaling. With 43% of respondents having children at home, the issue stuck out as important in the data. Respondents also cited a need for improvement on childcare/adolescent programs in the open-ended questions claiming that childcare/adolescent programs are not affordable and should be subsidized for lower income families. A direct correlation was seen in the cross-tabulation comparison between childcare/adolescent programs and household income level showing more affordable childcare/adolescent programs is needed. It was also profusely conveyed in the open-ended questions that more after school activities and extracurricular activities would be beneficial to the community. These improvements would extend childcare/adolescent programs to the older child age groups as well. In the youth survey, answered by 92% respondents of this older child age group (13-17), the youth ranked sports/recreational activities as the most enjoyable aspect of the Howard County community for them. An improvement in childcare/adolescent programs for all ages therefore would likely prove beneficial for the Howard County community.” 

      “With regards to safety and security, respondents felt that Howard County was in general a safe place to live; yet there were still issues that could be improved on. As could be seen in the cross-tabulation comparisons, females feel less safe than males. A generalized increase in safety precautions and measures may help to ease this issue along with the issue that certain areas within the county appear to be more unsafe than others. This fact became apparent in the cross-tabulation comparison as well, showing that increased safety measures would be needed in some cities more than others. In the open-ended answers, respondents conveyed generalized concerns about safety as well as more in depth personal safety concerns as well. Complaints about thefts on bike paths and unsafe mall conditions were verbalized along with unsafe bus stop locations.”

            I am a little surprised that the issues of an aging population and the growing foreign born population that came out in the 2010 Census didn’t get reflected in the answers in the survey.  What do you think are the County’s greatest needs to addressed?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Do we have homeless persons in Howard County?

As a society or community we are challenged to determine how far from our immediate family do we sense a responsibility to others.  Do we have a responsibility for foster youth in our community?  The mentally ill? The elderly and others with significant disabilities? Are people poor or homeless individually responsible to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps?”  Or do we as a civilized society set a safety net beneath which we will not let anyone fall?  These ethical and political questions are being played out today in all levels of government and in every community in our country. Today I wanted to discuss how our community is addresses the question with one of the most vulnerable segments of our community---those that are homeless.

When we think of homelessness we probably think of our inner cities with people sleeping on the streets and panhandling.  While we have some panhandling around our community the homeless are not that visible.  Recently I had a chance to talk with Joe Willmott the Coordinator of the Plan to End Homelessness in Howard County to gain a better understanding of what homelessness in our community looks like.  He directed me to the Plan to End Homelessness that was developed last year by the Committee to End Homelessness. 

On any given day more than 200 people are living in shelters or in the woods or their car.  Hundreds more are living with relatives, doubling up or “couch surfing.”  Shelters are always full and about a dozen people are turned away from our shelters every day.  Last year Grassroots and Bridges to Housing Stability turned away more than 4200 people and that is up from 3300 in 2009.  Many more are facing an uncertain future and are facing eviction or foreclosure.

The homeless population can be broken down into two main groups—the chronically homeless and the situationally homeless.  The chronically homeless are the ones that most people think of when they think of a homeless person.  They almost always have a mental illness or addiction problem or both that is a barrier to having a stable housing situation.  Often they have strained relationships with family that maybe could provide housing.  Starting in the 1970’s the deinstitutionalization of mentally ill from institutions wasn’t followed with the creation of adequate community mental health centers to address the needs of this population.  Substance abuse treatment programs never seem to be sufficient to address the amount of the need for these community programs. The streets become their home.

The situationally homeless are those persons who become homeless because of a loss of a job, an illness or an eviction.  For most of the lives these persons were not at risk for being homeless.  When these people find a new job or recover from an illness they are no longer homeless.  While the chronically homeless are usually single men and women, the situational homeless are many times families.  Last year the Howard County Public School System identified 462 children who were homeless or at risk of being homeless and that was up 27 percent from the previous year.  The lack of affordable housing in Howard County makes it difficult for families to find alternative housing if they have had a significant reduction in income. The average rental price for a 2 bedroom rental in Howard County is $1450, a 3 bedroom is $1850 and a 4 bedroom is $2500.  Affordable housing would be no more than 40% of your monthly income.

So what are the solutions to the current situation? Prevention for those that are going to be situationally homeless by trying to prevent eviction from current housing until an alternative housing situation is available.  Negotiating with landlords on reduced rents and emergency funds to pay rent would be helpful.  The earlier the situation is addressed the more likely that a resolution can be found. There maybe families that will have to move to areas where more affordable housing may exist.
For the chronically homeless who are dealing with mental illness or an addiction getting into a stable housing situation makes the possibility of addressing the underlying problem more likely.  It is hard to deal with the underlying problem when the person is homeless.  The development of sober houses and single room occupancies maybe the housing resources to address the housing need of the chronically homeless.

Columbus Ohio has tried to address the homeless issue by developing a plan that creates the mechanism to coordinate and measure the effectiveness of the multitude of needed services to prevent homelessness.  In working this way Columbus has been able to more effectively use resources and identify gaps in services that need to be addressed. By these techniques Columbus has developed a model for other communities to follow.

Dayton Ohio has addressed their homeless issue by developing supportive housing called River Commons that engages the entire community in developing the needed services. 

Sometimes people look at homelessness as something that will always be with us just like always having the poor among us.  The Great Society's "War on Poverty" is looked at as a failure.  But those efforts created many of the programs that provided a path to economic independence for millions of individuals.Some examples are Job Corps, whose purpose was to help disadvantaged youth develop marketable skills; the Neighborhood Youth Corps, established to give poor urban youths work experience and to encourage them to stay in school; Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), a domestic version of the Peace Corps, which placed concerned citizens with community-based agencies to work towards empowerment of the poor; the Model Cities Program for urban redevelopment; Upward Bound, which assisted poor high school students entering college; legal services for the poor; the Food Stamps program; the Community Action Program, which initiated local Community Action Agencies charged with helping the poor become self-sufficient; and Project Head Start, which offered preschool education for poor children.

Is homelessness inevitable? That question is up to every community to answer for itself.  For a committed community the answer can be "no." Easy way to answer this question today is to donate to fellow blogger Tom Coale's effort to raise $3,000 for Grassroots.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Something our community can get behind

        I thought in today's blog I would share with you a way that you can make an immediate impact on helping a foster youth who is moving into an independent living situation and needs some very tangible items.  Fostering Futures, which I have blogged on a couple of times, is right now looking for the following items for two youth.  If you would like to be added to their community network or can donate the following items that are new or are in good condition contact the VOICES for Children office at (410) 740-0933 or
College items: for a young man
 Alarm clock
Pillow, Sheets, and mattress cover for 80 inch - extra long twin mattress blanket and comforter
Shampoo, soap, razors, deodorant
Floor Fan 
Clothes hangers
Study lamp or table lamp
Surge protector with extension cord
Small microwave
Mini refrigerator
Shower tote
Gift Cards – WalMart, Target
 Apartment Items: for a young woman
Kitchen Table
Coffee Table
Side Table
New Twin Sheets (favorite color is purple)
Dish Towels
Gift cards – WalMart, Target, Giant

Monday, July 25, 2011

Baseball Without the Millionaires-Minor League Baseball

About 15 years ago the Major League Players went on strike for a greater share of the profits of the baseball franchises.  The owners wanted to keep as much of their profits as possible and the baseball season was lost.  No World Series.  All I could see was millionaires fighting for more money with billionaires but both forgetting the fans supported these teams and made them rich.  I said I would never buy a ticket to a major league baseball game again. As a family we had enjoyed seeing Oriole games and our girls were big Cal Ripkin and Brady Anderson fans.  I have kept to this boycott of major league games except for attending the games that Cal Ripkin tied and broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak.  I was too big a Cal Ripkin fan to miss that.

This boycott has led me to discover a better alternative to enjoying professional baseball and that is attending minor league games.  We are fortunate to be an easy drive from the Oriole minor league teams in Frederick and Bowie.  The best thing about minor league baseball is that you can decide to take in a game the same day, arrive at the park 30 minutes before the game, park for free, sit in seats that only season ticket holders would have at Camden Yards and not pay outrageous prices for a ticket or food.  Now the level of play is not major league quality and you probably won’t know much about the players unless you follow the Orioles drafts and know their up and coming players.  That is a small price to pay to see the future Oriole stars at an affordable price.  The Orioles future projected star third baseman, Manny Machado, is now playing with the Frederick Keys.  It is fun to see this potential future super star early in his career. So forget the hassle of driving to Camden Yards, paying for expensive seats in the upper deck, watching the Orioles lose another game to some overpriced team like the Yankees or Red Sox.  Try the minor league teams for a much more satisfying evening. 

They actually appreciate that you have come.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Best Chicken Wings you will ever have

I have never been a fan of chicken wings because the ones you buy are too greasy and have too much chicken skin.  The following recipe has never of these qualities.  While I wouldn't call these wing healthy they are better than the wings you buy. I would take the skin off the wings before preparing this recipe.  The key thing in this recipe is the slow cooking.  Start the day before serving to have the wings marinade and the cooking  will take most of the next day to prepare these wings but the reward it worth it.

1) Take about a cup of sake and a cup of Japanese plum wine (I normally use the takera brand plum wine), put in some soy sauce, one cup chicken stock, some honey and fresh ground pepper. 

2) Boil it down to reduce by about half and let cool.

3) Marinate the chicken wings in it for at least one day

4) Cook covered on a low temp (about 225 degrees) in the oven for a long time, 8-12 hours should be good, but keep checking it every hour.

5) When its ready and the meat is really tender, remove most of the sauce and put on the stove top to thicken:
       Thicken the sauce by bringing it to almost a boil and then removing from the heat, pour some of the sauce into a cup of egg yolks (how many depends on how much sauce you have, if I was making this for 2 people I would use one egg yolk, for four people 2 etc.)  Stir it together with the liquid you poured into the egg yolks and then add back to the pot of sauce off the heat and stir in, it should thicken right away and is now ready.

      While you are thickening the sauce the wings can cook uncovered with a small amount of sauce in the oven on a slighter high temp, like 300 degrees.

6) Either toss the wings in with the thickened sauce or serve sauce on the side and its ready to serve.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Invent a Search Engine----- Start a Revolution

         I have come to believe that Google is the most important invention for the transmitting of knowledge since the invention of the printing press.  And as we know that the invention of the printing press was a key factor in the creation of the Renaissance and bringing on the end of the era of kings as the normal form of governance.  So how will Google and other forms of social media such as Twitter and Facebook impact the governance on our current world?   If I were to make a prediction based on how these tools have been recently used in the Middle East I would predict that the movement toward more democratic forms of government will continue to become more common throughout the third world and bring an increasing modernization to those countries that have remained stuck in the Middle Ages.   As countries have more access to information about the western world dictatorial leaders will lose their control of information and power.  The lines of country states will blur and movements like the creation of European Union and common currency among countries will increase.  The increasing spread of the Web throughout the world will make English the universal language.  The increase in the information flow worldwide, a world interconnected economy and the increasingly shared use of English will make conflicts that end in military conflict far less likely.  This reality is now seen in terms of how China and the United States are so linked economically that even though our political beliefs are very different the possibility of military conflict between the US and China is very unlikely.  The historical direction is toward some form of world governance far beyond the influence of the United Nations.  The world corporations will push for this type of governance to have stability in their business activities.  Tariffs will diminish if not disappear entirely.  We see this now with large business in the US not wanting states to have different requirements for business operations.

Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin never realized they were changing the world in ways unimaginable in developing a search engine.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

In Praise of a County Agency

We hear a great deal from politicians today about the need to shrink government and that working for government is not a real job.  The fact that the public sector has been losing jobs is seen as a victory for taxpayers.  No one would ever deny that there aren’t public sector jobs that may not contribute to the well being of a community just as there is waste in the private sector.  We all know that we have a first rate school system and library but today I want to highlight another Howard County agency that I have worked with and used their programs and I think deserves some high praise-----Howard County Recreation and Parks. 

I have known and worked with the last three Directors of this agency, Jeff Bourne, Gary Arthur and John Byrd and they each have been innovative and responsive to the recreational needs of our diverse county.  Something about our Rec and Parks Department that attracts the most creative people. We have first rate playing fields, great parks and a great summer camp program that contribute greatly to the quality of life in our county.

Is there a better more successful county event then Wine in the Woods?  I know that this big event some years fell on the same weekend as the Columbia Triathlon at Centennial Park but the Department managed to pull off the Wine in the Woods and support the Triathlon at the same time.

Today what I wanted to highlight with this agency is its efforts to create public art.  If you have been reading this blog for any time you know that this is a topic I have done a few blog posts about.  I have been discouraged to see the gang tagging over the art work on the underpass on Oakland Mills Road.  So I was surprised today driving to the East Columbia Library and seeing the mural on the side of the storage building that Rec and Parks uses for the soccer fields by the Library.  Whoever in the Rec and Parks Department has come up with this idea I commend you and hope we see more of this around our parks.  I would also hope the idea would catch on around the county on more of our buildings.

Pinnacle Empowerment Center - Mark your Calendar to attend next Job Club
on Tuesday, August 2 at 10am. Job clubs are designed to give job seekers
the added support needed to land a job in today's economy. Space is
limited, you must RSVP to reserve your spot by Noon Monday prior to the
job club. Fee: $10 donation. or 410-799-1097
location: 8180 Lark Brown Road, Ste. 301, Elkridge, MD 21075:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Borders Closes----Are Libraries Next?

I knew it was going to happen eventually.  Bookstores are going the way of the video rental stores, newspapers and music stores.  Everything is going digital.  It is a new world.  But going to a bookstore is something I will miss.  When my wife and daughters would shop in the malls I would head for the only store that interested me---the bookstore.  When waiting in an airport the bookstore was a place to loose yourself and pass the time.

Borders in Columbia Crossing was a really special place for me.  When I had a couple of hours to get away and relax my first choice was always to go to Borders, browse for a book, get a latte and read in the cafĂ©.  I can’t tell you how many books I read that way.  I know that I might be able to do that at a library but the lattes at Borders made it different. Plus I usually read a new book that you have to put on reserve at the library.

Speaking of libraries how long will it be before they go digital?  When the digital readers replace the printed book how often will people go to the library? Will our world only be virtual and digital?  Remember the world without the computer? How did we ever work and communicate without the computer? What do I look at first in the morning and last at night?  When someone asks me what would I get out of my house if it were on fire I would say my computer after the family and pets.

So goodbye old friend Borders and thanks for the memories.  You will be missed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Should Education be Free—Remembering the Open University

With the costs of higher education reaching astronomical levels ($50-60,000 a year---really??) is the present higher education model pricing itself out of the average person’s range?  Should a student be paying their student loans as long as their mortgage?  When you look at where the costs go to operate a university you often see a bloated organization that has many costs unrelated to educating students. Higher education has become an industry as inefficient as any other outdated industry.  The online model is giving the traditional campus model a run for its money.  The traditional universities can hold on to the myth that you can only get an education by going to an ivy-covered university with exorbitant costs for so long.

Back in the 1970’s a movement spread around the country to form Open Universities.  The intent was to have education take a less formal form.  Rebelling against the control and expense of higher education the Open Universities were locally organized by people who were interested and willing to teach others in their communities for free.  The classes ranged from people teaching about their hobby to university professors teaching a class they could never get their universities to approve.  Many of the classes were held in instructor’s homes or local coffee shops.  No tests were given but some of the classes did require papers or other evidence of what each person learned.

In DC there was a thriving Open University for about 5 or 6 years.  But unfortunately the University stopped when the cost of printing and distributing the catalog of courses grew too expensive.  The concept may have been ahead of its time.  The online format now can eliminate much of the cost and distribution costs that killed the earlier format. Did you know that there is an Open University on iTunes?  You would also be amazed at the instruction available on YouTube’s Education Channel.

I have often thought that Howard County would be an ideal location for the creation of a Howard County Open University.  With our well-educated population there should be an abundance of persons with a wealth of knowledge on all types of topics.  In fact there are few people who couldn’t find something they could teach.  Cooking classes, bike repair, the Hubble Space Telescope and any American History class would interest me.  Free learning------ maybe the technology has finally caught up with the idea.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Leftovers? No problem just Google a solution

Like most people we have leftovers from our week's meals that leave you with the choice of throwing them out or doing what I do frequently.  I put the leftovers into a google search and search for a recipe that uses the different foods.  You would be surprised at the recipes that use the different leftovers.  Casseroles and omelets are  frequent results but sometimes you get some very interesting results.  Pizzas with some interesting toppings like combining fruit and vegetables are also interesting.  Beats throwing food away.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Are elected officials more responsive if they have to run for office more frequently?

Efforts to make our elected officials responsive to the wishes of the electorate have been attempted in many ways.  Term limits and having our elected officials run more frequently are two methods most frequently tried. Today my second guest blogger, Jason Booms, argues for the second method of shorter terms.

"In 1788, when Maryland ratified the Constitution, Article I provided for an original apportionment of the U.S. House of Representatives based on the provision of one Representative “for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one…”

Had the same formula been in place following the 2010 census, the U.S. House would consist not of 435 Members, but over 10,000.  Maryland alone would have 192, instead of the present eight, Representatives.  Under this scenario, our “alternate universe” Congressional delegation would be slightly larger than our actual state legislature, the General Assembly (which consists of 188 Members including 47 Senators and 141 Delegates).

While a legislative body numbering in the five figures would be, among other things, unwieldy, the U.S. Constitution allows Congress the flexibility to expand the size of the House of Representatives.  Congress has done so, from time-to time.

Our Founders designed this provision, with a mechanism for revision, to ensure adequate representation among the various states at the federal level.  Moreover, they mandated that elections for the U.S. House of Representatives would be held every other year.  This measure was intended to help ensure that Congress would be subject to a frequent, and regular, formal check by the electorate.

Like the federal government, our state government has adopted revisions to adapt to changing needs and priorities.

Maryland’s General Assembly has increased in size from 152 members in 1960 to the current composition of 188 legislators.  Given the current political and economic climate, an additional expansion is unlikely to occur in the near future.

Of course in Maryland, the Office of Delegate is up for election only every four years.  In addition, the average number of constituents per State House district is now up to 40,947.  This number rises to 122,842 for the many multi-member districts in our state.

All of these facts and figures lead this writer to one conclusion: in Maryland, our elections are too infrequent and our districts, in many cases, are too large to provide for the optimal degree of legislative accountability and responsiveness to the citizenry.

Under the present system, legislators can spend the first year or two of their term casting multiple votes that are not aligned with the will of a majority of their constituents, recognizing that the electorate will not have the opportunity to judge them at the ballot box for another couple of years.  As is often the case, there may be good reasons for Delegates to adopt such stances.  However, given the sheer number of votes that occur every session as well as the considerable passage of time, the Delegate should be held accountable for their votes every other year, as is the case in 44 other states.

I have heard criticisms of my proposed measure from thoughtful individuals, including some policy-makers.  Many of them center on the additional campaigning and fundraising involved with holding elections every two years instead of every four years.  Some say that governing decisions will become politicized with the shorter election cycles.  Others are concerned that the legislative learning curve will be too steep for a two-year term.

My solution is not only greater than the sum of the problems; it also addresses each of the problems individually.

Concerned that your Delegate is becoming a captive of special interest largesse?  Vote him or her out of Office.  Contributors can already donate to the campaign(s) of their choice, for whatever reason(s), for most of each calendar year.  It seems, at best, unseemly that voters can express their judgment at the ballot box for this Office only every four years.

Would there be more money in politics?  Sure, the need for fundraising is an unfortunate aspect of modern-day electioneering.  That said, doubling the number of campaigns does not mean that the amount of funds raised per election cycle would be doubled.  In short, this is a price worth paying for the voter to have the ability to exercise his or her right to vote twice as often.

What about requiring legislators to spend more time on the campaign trail?  Won’t this detract from policymaking?  I say no.  In a democracy, campaigning is an extension of governing.  Voters are listened to, issues are debated, popular support for various policy measures is ascertained and ideologies are ratified or rejected.

To those who say that Maryland is a part-time legislature, and that requiring legislators to juggle the needs of their full-time job with their public responsibilities would prevent some citizens from seeking office or learning the ropes of their new position, I respond there are multiple examples that illustrate that such a balance can be achieved.  Maryland is one of several states with what the National Conference of State Legislatures describes as a “70%+ full time” state legislature.  Other states in the same category include Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington.  All of those states have a lower legislative house (akin to our House of Delegates) with two-year terms of office.  Surely, our Delegates are every bit as capable as those legislators.

Maryland is without a recall provision.  We have seen examples of policymakers who have engaged in unethical, even illegal, behaviors and who have attempted to cling to office.  Why should their unfortunate constituents have to wait years for the next election cycle to have the opportunity to remove such bad actors from their positions of responsibility?

Two-year terms were the case for the House of Delegates from 1845 to 1922.  America was in the midst of an anti-Progressive backlash during the time when Maryland shifted from two to four year terms for the lower state house. I say it is time that we re-adopt the two-year term as the ideal performance review point for the House of Delegates by the voters who elect them.  As was said during President Cleveland’s Administration, “a public office is a public trust.”  Let the people renew, or establish anew, the bonds of that trust every other year."

Do we have a gang issue in Columbia?

  The above picture was taken yesterday morning by the underpass of Oakland Mills Road in Columbia.  The tagging had been a problem with this tunnel for a long time and Howard County Parks and Rec’s attempt to have a high school student paint a landscape mural to stop the graffiti appears to have run into a problem with the tagging over the mural. I have read about the gang growth in Columbia but have not seen the evidence except for the tagging.

The issue that I am wondering about is if the tagging by gangs is like the “broken window” theory of how community deterioration begins.  The “broken window” theory holds that more serious community issues develop if the first signs are not addressed.  A broken window is the first sign that control of the community has shifted to a criminal element. If it is not addressed it escalates to more serious crimes.  Allowing tagging to stay in place can have more serious consequences.  The efforts of CA and private business owners to remove the tagging are critical.  I have seen how CA has tried to keep up with removal of these signs.

The following comes from a Columbia Patch article from 2010 and is the best accounting of this issue
“They are Crips and Bloods and Vatos Locos, among others. They are gangs and gang members in Howard County. They are in villages, in schools, in the mall. They, in total, are an estimated 500 gang members living, working and passing through the county each day, according to the Howard County Police Department.
They are not new news to local police. But to some area residents, learning who these gangs and gang members are – and where they are – can be an eye-opening experience. "How many of you have observed gang members in the county?" asked Sgt. Dave Trapani, the police department's gang and intelligence supervisor. Only a couple of people raised their hands. "How many of you shop at the Columbia Mall on a Friday or Saturday evening?" Trapani asked. "How many of you shop in village centers in evenings, walk on the Savage Trail in summertime? Chances are you've been in the presence of gang members or associates."
Trapani runs through names that sound as if they should be headlining music festivals, not selling drugs and committing other crimes:Pasadena Denver Lanes. Tree Top Puri. Bounty Hunter Bloods. Redstone Riders. Purple City Byrd Gang. These are all local sets of the nationally known gang called the Bloods. Combined, they are Howard County's largest gang. That doesn't mean they get along with each other. "These are drug crews. They're in competition with each other," Trapani said. "If there's a buck involved, if there's something to do with testosterone, they're going to have a beef with each other." The police sergeant runs through identifying characteristics of the Bloods and members of other gangs: clothing colors, tattoos, graffiti, hand signals. "Go to Columbia Mall … you'll see kids in there spelling out gang signs," he said."Members of the criminal element are joining gangs," he said. "That's for market share, for protection, for all sorts of reasons. The criminals are still criminals. They would've been there anyway." In 2009, gang members in Howard County were involved in attempted murder, robbery, weapons violations, thefts, burglaries, motor vehicle thefts, assaults and drug distribution, Trapani said.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

In Praise of Women Athletes

Anyone who watched the United States Women’s World Cup game on Sunday couldn’t be thrilled by the way the team played in spite of some poor calls against them.  Women’s sports have come so far in the past 30 years with the progress made under Title IX.  For those of us baby boomers we remember a time when women had very limited opportunities to participate in sports.  When I was in high school the only opportunity for girls to letter was as a cheerleader.

As a guy who had played sports since I was a child becoming a father to three girls it seemed that dance and piano lessons would leave me longing for a son to play ball with.  However the Columbia girls youth softball league (CYBA) provided the opportunity to share my passion for sports with my daughters.  Our back yard became a pitching location in the Spring and a volleyball net location in the Fall.  Spring afternoons and Summer weekends were spent watching the girls play softball.  A few years I even coached some of their teams and learned how girls had a different orientation to organized sports.  I was used to coaches yelling at you and even cursing sometimes.  Fortunately those days are in the past and I saw how sports for girls were as much a social event as a sporting event.  Not that some of the girls were great competitors but it was usually moderated with good sportsmanship.  I saw this difference most clearly one year when I was coaching and my centerfielder came in after one of those never ending innings of walk after walk.  She came up to me and said, “Mr. St. Clair look what I made!” It was a clover necklace.  I asked her when she made it and she said during the last inning.  I asked her if she was paying attention to the game but she said that no one ever hit the ball out to center field.   I knew then that coaching girls was going to be different then I remembered. This attitude is seen in the You Tube videos that show the way girls play sports.  Watch both of these  video 1  video 2

This attitude of women was shown again when I spent 10 years as an ASA softball umpire.  I umpired men’s, women’s and co-rec mixed women/men teams.  I women games were always better to umpire than the men’s but the co-rec were the worst.  When men played with women, many times their wives and girl friends, they could become real jerks.  Arguing with the umpire must have been done to prove their manhood to the women.  This led to one of the craziest experiences I had as an umpire.  In one game with the husband playing shortstop and the wife pitching I heard constantly from the husband how awful my strike zone was for his wife.  Finally I decided I had enough and at the start of one inning I went out behind the husband shortstop and told the wife pitcher to go ahead and pitch.  She looked at me strangely and asked why I wasn’t going behind the plate.  I told her that her husband thought that this was a better location to judge balls and strikes.  She smiled and then told her husband to shut up and got my point across.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Interfaith Congregations for the 21st Century

Yesterday I blogged on how the concept of the Interfaith Center model developed in the mid-sixties by Rouse and the planners of Columbia.  That historical perspective on how people worshiped has changed substantially in the past 50 years.  In the mid-sixties there was a close association with denominations that each had their separate religious beliefs.  What has changed in the past 50 years?

According to the poll by the research company Aris the percentage of Americans who define themselves as Christian has dropped from 86 percent in 1990 to 76 percent in 2008. In one of the most dramatic shifts, 15 percent of Americans now say they have no religion -- a figure that's almost doubled in 18 years. Americans with no religious preference are now larger than all other major religious groups except Catholics and Baptists. Megachurches are booming, rising from 5 to 11.8 percent of the population. And with the economy in free fall, many megachurches say they're seeing increased attendance. They're praying that perhaps hard times will draw Americans back to their faith.

In a report by Benton Johnson, Dean R. Hoge & Donald A. Luidens this decline is described this way,
“America's so-called mainline Protestant churches aren't what they used to be. For generations on end, the Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, and kindred denominations reported net annual membership gains. As recently as the 1950s their growth rate equaled or exceeded that of the United States as a whole.

But in the early 1960s their growth slowed down, and after the middle of the decade they had begun to lose members. With very few exceptions, the decline has continued to this date. Never before had any large religious body in this country lost members steadily for so many years. By 1990 these denominations had lost between one-fifth and one-third of the membership they claimed in 1965 and the proportion of Americans affiliated with them had reached a twentieth-century low.

The first step toward identifying these special factors was the discovery, in the late 1970s, that the principal source of the decline was the tendency of many adolescents who had been confirmed in these denominations from the early 1960s on to drop out of church and not return. It was the children of the members themselves-and especially those born after World War II-who were leading the exodus. Some, of course, returned to church when they married and had children, but not enough to replenish the ranks. In the meantime, of course, the average age of the membership was steadily increasing. One can sit today in the balcony of a typical United Methodist church and look over a congregation of graying and balding heads. Unless there is a surge of new recruits, rising death rates will diminish the ranks of the mainline denominations even further in the years ahead.”

As I have talked with other baby boomers about their religious journeys from the strict religious doctrines of growing up in the 50’s and 60’s to a more liberal belief system that accepted other religious beliefs as valid I have noticed that our children have moved the bar even farther to a rejection of religious beliefs.  It is not uncommon to hear that the generation in their 20’s and 30’s are agnostic or atheist.  How this generation will look at religious faith as they age is still to be determined.  This trend would place the United States more in line with European countries in regard to religious belief.

In Howard County we have seen the new non-denominational congregations develop that move the interfaith concept from separate congregations sharing a building to the congregation itself being interfaith.  Congregations such as Kittamaqundi Community Church, Bridgeway and Grace are examples of congregations that draw membership from many different traditional denominations.  When you include a denomination like the Unitarians that have a long history of attracting members from many religious faiths you can see that this is probably the new model of the interfaith religious congregations.
Rouse would probably be pleased to see that the interfaith concept is still alive but in a form that goes beyond just sharing space.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Is the Interfaith Center Concept Outdated?

One of the most interesting aspects of blogging on Columbia, and the broader Howard County, is to examine the aspects of our community that are unique and separate us as a community from anywhere else.  We all refer to this as the Columbia or Howard County “bubble.”  Our children understand this when they go off to college and meet young people who didn’t grow up with “tot lots”, pools in every neighborhood, tolerance for people of other religions or races.

Today I wanted to blog on one of those distinctly Columbia concepts—the Interfaith Centers.  In doing some research at the Columbia Archives (another unique Columbia institution) I was interested in learning some of the early thinking that went into the concept of congregations sharing a common building.  Any discussion of this concept has to recognize where religion was in the early to mid sixties.  Vatican II was attempting to modernize the practices of the Roman Catholic Church and the National Council of Churches was gaining support for liberalization of the traditional Protestant churches.  In small ways clergy from different congregations were holding joint holiday celebrations and some of the religious beliefs that had separated religions was being re-examined. Overlay this with a rejection of religious practice by many of us baby boomers and you can begin to see how the interfaith concept would logically impact the creation of a modern  new city.  The hope was that if religious congregations shared the same space that they would grow to have greater respect and tolerance for each other.

But the early planners of the Interfaith Centers had to address many of the issues that gave many religious congregations their identity.  How could you worship in a building with no steeple or other permanent symbols that had provided meaning and tradition to so many people?  This was a challenge among the different Christian faiths but was even more challenging in the efforts to be inclusive of Jewish congregations.  Christians didn’t realize that some many symbols that they had were not shared with other faiths.  You mean only Christians called their meeting places churches?  Is stained glass not interfaith?

Then the more practical issues had to be worked out.  Some of which reminded me of the Continental Congress and how power was divided up.  Just as different size states had different ideas on who should control government so did the different congregations.  Would larger congregations have “more power” in the Center decisions?  How would the governing bodies of the Centers be determined?  Would the Jewish congregations have priority over the space on Saturday and Christian congregations on Sunday?  Of course the thought that Muslim congregations might be in the mix was not even thought of in the sixties and that even Friday events could be impacted.

Originally it was thought that every village would have an Interfaith Center but over time the demand for new Interfaith Centers didn’t develop to this extent.  Do you realize that the Bain Center and Winter Growth are on the land originally designated for the Harpers Choice Interfaith Center?  The early planning envisioned the development of fifty new religious congregations as the population of Columbia grew to completion.  What was unknown was how many of the new Columbia residents would choose the interfaith concept or choose to join one of the more traditional congregations already in the area.  As we now know that many new residents did choose these other congregations.  The thinking about this can be seen in the working paper developed in the early sixties by the National Council of Churches,

         Local congregations already in the area may be expected to absorb some of the population increase, but it also seems likely that there will be population in­crease in the areas around the new town which may wish to go to church in the new community.  A reasonable assumption then would be that about 50 new local congregations will be" needed,

            The basic staff needs of these local congregations may be estimated by using the general norm of one pastor or full-time staff person for every 500 members, on this basis, the probable needs per village would be 6-9 staff persons.  The probable needs for staff in local congregations for the whole community would be in the range of 90-110.These might include 50 pastors, 30 associates, and 30 secretaries. Custodial personnel are not included in this projection.  Some of the associates might be directors of youth work or religious education, although the possibilities of shared-time religious education will call for alternative projections.)  Between $800,000 and $1,200,000 will probably be required for support of the basic staff of local congregations.

            The projection of needed seating capacity is rather difficult.  A general formula might be as follows:  A village population of 12,000 might be expected to have 1/4 to 1/5 of the people in Protestant worship services on Sunday morning.  If their attendance were divided between two services in which the sanctuaries were 75% full, then a total seating capacity of 1,500 to 1,900 would be needed.  This is probably an optimistic assumption in two regards.  First, that 1/4 to 1/5 of the population would normally attend Protestant churches, and second, that the attend­ance would be evenly divided between two services in various sanctuaries.  This latter assumption may have greater or less validity depending upon the handling of the facilities problem.”

            The size issue is one that sometimes causes interfaith congregations to move out to larger space.  How to meet the space needs of these large congregations is one that has not been solved.

Tomorrow I will blog on where the interfaith concept 50 years later.

P. S.
For everyone that didn’t read the Sunday blog I wanted to mention it again because of the challenge I had in it.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Gift of Life

I started donating blood in 1981 when the County Government would have a Red Cross blood drive in the George Howard Building for County Employees.  Working next door made it too convenient to not do it.  Little did I know that like many other things in my life like running and now blogging I would make it a regular part of my life.  And like running my Type A personality soon set out a goal that I wanted to reach to keep me motivated.   The County donations only occurred twice a year so to reach my goal I started donating at the Columbia Donation Center.  The County was generous enough to let you donate during the day if you donated under the County Gov't group.  The group donation made blood available to any County employee without cost.

The Donation Center had pictures of folks as they reached new gallon goals.  Kind of a "Hall of Fame" on the wall.  The pictures were many for the one gallon donors and became fewer as you went up the scale.  The elites were definitely in the five gallon or more category.  The top was definitely in the ten gallon club.  Eight donations made a gallon so 80 donations were required to hit the 10 gallon club.

I started donating every 6 weeks which is the shortest interval allowed.  I was breezing through the gallons and then it happened.  A pulmonary embolism caused me to have to go on blood thinners and that knocked me out from donating blood.  After a year and in consultation with a hematologist I decided to stop my blood thinners to be able to start donating again.  Then almost exactly a year later a second pulmonary embolism happened.  That got my attention.  Ten percent of embolisms are  fatal so having been lucky twice I decided (with a little help from my family) that blood thinners are going to be a part of my life forever.  If only I had not just reached the eight gallon level!  Another goal not reached just like my running goal of running a 10 K race in under 40 minutes.

Donations go down in the summer and holidays so now is a good time to consider donating.  The need doesn't go down but the supply does.  Be a summer and holiday donor.

So is anyone willing to go donate the last 16 pints for me to reach my goal?  Contact the Columbia Donation Center and tell them that HoCo Connect sent you.  Do it for both of us.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Best Burger and Fries in Howard County

I have blogged on the best places for burgers in Howard County in the past.  One place that I had not tried was Victoria Gastro Pub.  Trying it last week I have to say that their Black Angus Burger and Duck Fat Fries are the best burger and fries that I have ever eaten.  Ten dollars for a burger might seem expensive but this burger is worth it.

When I heard about Duck Fat Fries I was hesitant to eat them because they sounded greasy.  The waitress explained that they are fried in normal oil and then seasoned and finally tossed in the duck fat.  Bad as that sounds they are fantastic. The Aioli sauce that this comes with the burger is great for dipping the fries in.

If you are looking for something to do this weekend check out the Howard County Conservancy website

Friday, July 8, 2011

“Living Simply” with what you need not what you want

Last night I attended the first session of the Living Simply Circle of the Climate Change Initiative of Howard County.  I knew I was in the right place when I pulled up at Oliver’s Carriage House and saw all the Priuses (Priusi?) and Obama bumper stickers. The Climate Change Initiative has circles on different topics.

For many people trying to live the simple life brings up images of Thoreau and Gandhi.  Do we find meaning in our lives in consuming? Have “things” replaced human interaction?  Are we all hoarders of “things?” Most of us decry the commercialism that has taken over our culture and our holidays. When is enough stuff enough? Why has shopping become the main leisure activity for so many people?

I want to propose a challenge to everyone.  Try to have "spending free days" each week when you will carry no money, checks or credit cards. You can then compare your quality of life on your “no buying days” with your normal spending days.  At the end of the period you can evaluate the experience and then see if you can increase your “no buying days.”  To make this a day of denial I would suggest that you plan an activity on the “no spending day” that you enjoy that doesn’t cost any money.  For me this is going to Borders picking out a book to read for an hour or two (but this week I will forgo the vanilla latte at Border’s that I love to have when reading).  

Maybe we will find that what Janis Joplin sang  “freedom just another word for nothing left to lose” is true when it comes to our need to own "stuff."