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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Graffiti Time!

     Happened to notice the new graffiti on the Quick Mart and pool building in Owen Brown this morning.  I have never understood the point of graffiti other than to express anger at something.  I can't also understand the symbolism of this graffiti other than the profanity. Anyone able to decipher these messages?  One explanation for graffiti is here.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Friday, May 26, 2017

Spring smells


    One of the enjoyable benefits of going out early in the morning in Spring for a run is that you get to experience the smells of Spring.   From the sweet smells of honeysuckle and other flowers to the earthy smells of fungus and rotting wood the Spring provides our sense of smell with a lesson on the diversity of nature.   With our heavy wooded areas in and around Columbia we have many places to experience these smells.  On this holiday weekend take time to enjoy this early morning experience that will all come to pass too soon.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

And you thought it couldn't get weirder

Where is Harry Potter??  I kept waiting for Trump's hair sprayed hair to stand up like at the Maryland Science Center exhibit on static electricity.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Annual cicadas post

     We seem to have a new abundant crop of cicadas this past week as seen in the pictures above.  I counted a dozen on the tire of one of our vehicles.  It is fascinating to understand how they all know to come out of the ground at the same time.  Here is what I found out:

“The year of cicada emergence is cued by what I and others believe to be an internal molecular clock,” she said. “The clock is most likely calibrated by environmental cues that signify the passage of a year, such as the trees leafing out, changing the composition of the xylem fluid on which they feed. The molecular clock keeps track of the passage of years. The accumulation of 13 or 17 years triggers the emergence of fifth instar nymphs. The day of emergence is triggered by accumulated ground temperature. This was demonstrated by James Heath in a study published in 1968.”

My colleagues and I hypothesize a molecular clock in periodic cicadas that somehow keeps track of the years,” he said. “That is what we’re looking for now. We suspect it is tied to yearly cycles of the trees they are feeding upon.”

In 2007 in Cincinnati, it was warm in January but there was a hard freeze in February, and then a normal spring, which caused maple trees to produce two leaf sets that year. Hundreds of cicadas feeding on those trees emerged a year early, after the trees produced 17 leaf sets in 16 years.

During years when they are set to emerge, the time of year is determined by soil temperature.

“Emergence is temperature driven,” said Dr. Kritsky. “During the last emergence in our area, I planted temperature probes in the ground all over campus to track the emergence. The cicadas emerged over a period of two weeks after the soil temperature reached 65 °F (18 °C).”

   Roasted cicadas anyone?  They are gluten free!


Monday, May 22, 2017

44 years ago in US history repeating itself?


     For those of you who are two young to remember 44 years ago this week the Senate Watergate Hearings were starting.  Testimony at this set of hearings revealed the taping system at the White House that ultimately led to the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox by President Nixon.  Those tapes eventually were turned over to the Committee and they provided the "smoking gun" that led to the Nixon resignation.
     I was working at a hospital in Washington DC at the time and I remember getting up after working the evening shift to having breakfast and watching the hearings that were being held live on TV.   PBS even ran the tape of the hearings every evening.  Everyday we waited to see what new revelations would come out of that day's hearings.  John Dean, Bob Ehrlichman, H.R. Haldeman and finally Alexander Butterfield's testimony started to fill in the pieces that led to Nixon's impeachment because of his obstruction of justice.
       I can't help but having a sense of deja vu when I watch the news this past week.  Another firing to stop an investigation, hints of a taping system, former National Security Chief claiming the 5th and Trump bragging about the firing to his Russian friends and thinking this might end the investigation.  At least Nixon never admitted his obstruction of justice.  Can't wait for the testimony of former FBI Chief Comey after Memorial Day.  You can bet I will be watching the TV that day.

      We know that with the Republicans in control of Congress it will be difficult to move too far toward impeachment but the Republican dam might be cracking just a little bit.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cost of college explained

     The United States came out of World War II with the commitment to providing college educations to veterans and those unable to afford the cost.  This trend continued through most of the 1960's and 1970's.  Costs at public colleges was heavily subsidized.  I was a beneficiary of this reality when I only had to pay $500 a semester in both undergraduate and graduate college.  Easy to obtain scholarships allowed me to graduate with money in the bank from working summers and no debt.

     Just at a time when a higher education is needed more than ever the reality is that funding for college is falling behind the cost of college.  Student loan debt in the United States is now second to only mortgage debt.  Students now owe more than a trillion dollars in student loan debt.  Here is a link to explain why student debt is so high.   Some countries provide free college educations.  New York is now poised to be the only state to offer a free public college education
      This trend doesn't seem likely to change as long as our priorities for funding seem to be misdirected.  

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Armed robberies in Columbia


       I guess part of becoming a city is to have some of the criminal elements become a part of our town.  Armed robberies are rare in Columbia but certain businesses seem vulnerable from a recent story in the Columbia Patch.  Two Exxon stations were recently robbed in the early morning hours.  I have frequently used the Exxon station on Snowden River because they have a M&T ATM machine there.  I would never use this station after dark and that is a sad thing to say.  Being afraid to go to anywhere in Columbia after dark is not something I had ever thought about in the past.  Desperate people with drug dependencies have altered our habits.  Maybe we will see the type of arrangements at our local 24 hour gas stations that you see in Baltimore.   After dark you can't go into the gas station to pay or purchase something and the clerk takes your payment and passes your purchases through a bulletproof glass.



     Years ago we saw all the 7-11's and High's stores leave Columbia because of the robbery threat.  Now our local convenience stores are privately owned and heavily reinforced with gates when they are closed.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

A thought on Mother's Day

    In providing healthcare and other socially beneficial programs the United States often finds itself as a Third World Country.   On Mother's Day it is good to remember how backward we are in recognizing the importance of a mother's role in child development.  Here is how Parents Magazine stated it:
   "For such a world leader, the United States is surprisingly far, far behind when it comes to providing maternity leave. In fact, it's only one of three nations in the whole world that doesn't mandate paid maternity leave benefits (the others are Papua New Guinea and Swaziland). Paid leaves in other countries vary from the highest: what averages out to about 82 percent of pay for sixteen months (well over a year!) in Sweden and 100 percent of pay for a full year in Slovenia; to the low end of 50 percent pay for 12 weeks in Niger, or 30 days at 67 percent pay in Tunisia. Still, the lowest of the low is a whole lot more than we've got going on here."
   "The average new mom in America is given just three months of leave (unpaid!) and only if she works for a large enough company. The passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 1993 entitles many female workers up to 12 weeks of job-protected medical leave for birth or adoption, but this is without pay. In general, coverage for maternity leave varies state by state and can also depend on how large your company is (FMLA only applies to companies with more than 50 employees within a 75-mile radius), how long you've worked there, and how many hours you've worked in the past year (most policies require you to have worked at least 12 months and 1,250 hours)."

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The interrelationships of our ecology

   I have blogged often about how what we do on our own little properties impacts the larger ecosystems but recently I saw something that brought this point out in an amazing manner.  Watch this amazing video.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Howard County the healthiest county in Maryland


    As the Republican Congress debates how healthcare should be provided in the United States one reality of our private insurance system needs to be recognized.  That reality is that income is a direct connection with the health of any community.  Healthcare that is not a right will rely on one's ability to afford access to our healthcare system.   This reality was recently shown in some data from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation.   Moving over this chart with your cursor you can see the number of deaths per 100,000 in any county in Maryland or the United States.   Howard County which is the wealthiest county in Maryland has the fewest deaths per 100,000 in Maryland at 579.  Wicomico and Allegany Counties have the highest rates in Maryland with over 900 deaths per 100,00.  Interestingly, close by Carroll County has a high rate of 807 deaths per 100,000.
     When you look at the Nation as a whole the relationship between income and health becomes even more apparent.  The county with  the most deaths is Buffalo County South Dakota with 1625 deaths per 100,000.  Here is some information on that county:
   "Buffalo County, S.D., is the nation's poorest county. The 2000 census says Buffalo County has more poor children than any other county in the nation. The latest round of census numbers show us how many homes don't have kitchens, plumbing and telephones. In Buffalo County the number of homes without those basic services is increasing.
    Most of Buffalo County is made up of the Crow Creek Indian reservation. It's one of the few rural South Dakota counties that has more children now than 10 years ago. "

    The county with the lowest death rate is Summit County Colorado with 323 deaths per 100,000.  Here is a description of the demographics of that county:

   "Summit County has very high education, high income, high access to medical care, the people are physically active, obesity is lower than anywhere else — so you're doing it right," said Dr. Ali Mokdad, one of the study's co-authors."
     The only proven way to increase positive health outcomes and lower cost is not through tweaking our private healthcare system but going to a universal healthcare system.  One recent study had this conclusion:

   "Achieving effective and equitable UHC (universal health care) has a strong potential to improve and extend people's lives, reduce inequality and potentially lead to economic growth. There is a positive association between UHC and health outcomes. Failing to do may lead to deteriorating population health outcomes."


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What the heck is Pickleball?

    What's the fastest growing sport in America?  Try pickleball.  The sport with the funny name has caught fire in this Country, especially with the retired senior crowd.  Go to any senior community and you will find this game being played on underutilized tennis courts.  The sport has been brought back up north from those snowbirds who learned the game in Florida.  The epicenter of the pickleball world is definitely The Villages in Florida.  Having played there the past two years I can't begin to tell you how seriously pickleball is taken at this location.  Players line up at 8 am every morning and play throughout the day and evening.  They are now up to 180 courts.
    The  game is played with a plastic whiffle type ball like the one shown above.

   The paddle is larger than a ping pong paddle but smaller than a tennis racket.

   The court for pickleball is smaller than a tennis court which is one reason that the sport has become popular with the mature crowd.  You can find many former tennis, racquetball and ping pong players playing the sport.

   Here in Howard County you can find a large number of players, pictured above, at the tennis courts behind the Ice Rink in Oakland Mills Village Center most Tuesday and Saturday mornings depending on the weather.  This year we played throughout the Winter except when there was snow on the courts.
    If you or anyone you know would like to try this game come out to the tennis courts behind the Ice Rink this Thursday May 18th at 10 am.  Rackets and balls provided with some instruction.

   The first pickleball courts in Howard County are almost ready for play at the Atholton Park in Allview.

P.S. 1
   Here is the link to a Howard County Recreation and Parks August pickleball tournament.

P.S. 2
     Here is a link to watch an instructional video.


Friday, May 5, 2017

Let's get to the heart of the healthcare debate


   As the Republican led Congress continues to struggle with the healthcare issue and the Obamacare program it is important to understand where each side stands on how healthcare is provided.  The progressive side wants to expand the number of people with health insurance coverage.  The conservative side wants to have the government get out of the business of trying to expand healthcare through subsidies and regulation.  For conservatives the private healthcare market should be in control and determine how many people have health insurance.  Conservatives of course lose if the argument is framed as I have just explained.   They use the argument that getting the government out of the health care business will provide people with more choices at lower cost.  How many times did we hear Trump say this exact thing without and concrete plan to back up his words.
    The Republican plan would give states the choice on what is mandated in health insurance in their state.  This would permit conservative states to have health insurance plans that would charge huge premiums with large deductibles to those with pre existing conditions.  One Representative even said people with pre existing conditions should move as a way of getting coverage for their preexisting condition.
     What are some of the possible improvements that could be made to Obamacare that would expand healthcare coverage in a way that could also be cost effective?   Here is an article in the American Prospect magazine that looks at lowering the age to be eligible for Medicare, bringing back the public option and increasing public subsidies to purchase insurance.  Allowing for the importation of drugs from Canada would also lower the exploding costs that Americans pay for their medicine.   I am not sure why the Democratic leaders in Congress are sitting back and waiting for the Republican plan to fail before they present any of the preceding ideas as a way to improve Obamacare for real.  It's one thing to put it in your party's platform but another thing to introduce the ideas as legislation.  Is Independent Bernie Sanders the only one up for the battle?

      If it is going to be impossible to get anything progressive at the national level then maybe states like Maryland should look at developing our own public option plan here.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Long Reach Redevelopment plan released


    Orchard Development has released its plan for the redevelopment of the Long Reach Village Center.  Here is a summary of the plan:

   "At the heart of Orchard Development Corporation’s proposed development plan is the vision of a mixed-use center that can be both a focal point and anchor for the Long Reach neighborhood. It will offer live-work-play opportunities for existing residents as well as newcomers, and, it will have features that will make it a destination for greater Columbia and Howard County. The revitalized Village Center will also include multigenerational housing, with both for-sale and rental options. The center will feature attractive and well -landscaped recreational and community gathering spaces for neighborhood use that will be accessible by foot, bike, public transportation and car. In fact, the Long Reach Village Center will be a transportation hub with a sheltered transit stop for buses, Uber/Lyft, bike racks and a shared bike station. Attractive and easily discernible wayfinding signage will also be integral to the overall redevelopment. "
      " The proposed redevelopment will conform with the existing New Town Zoning requirements, although an amendment to the Preliminary Development Plan will be required to include the proposed residential uses. The Village Center Redevelopment, Major process will be required to implement the proposed plan. Our vision of the revitalized Long Reach Village Center begins with the demolition of the existing retail and office buildings, including the existing liquor store and deli, both of which are anticipated to re-locate into the a new retail building. The newly constructed buildings will have a mix of retail, office, for-sale townhomes, senior rental apartments, market-rate general occupancy rental apartments as well as new on-street and structured parking, in keeping with the principles of Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND). Also included in the development plan is a prominent plaza, an active vertical farm, and pedestrian links to the Long Reach neighborhood beyond."


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

8 things I don't understand

    OK so I may do things that others find unusual but recently I have been keeping a list of  things that remain a mystery to me.  Here are my list of my top 8 things.  Feel free to add to this list.

1) Men with male pattern balding who shave their heads bald.

2) Women who wear tops with their sleeves cut out.  Do they have a problem with overheating shoulders?

3)Ripped jeans.  Is this also a "ventilation" thing?
Denim & Supply Ralph Lauren Men's Prospect Slim Ripped Jeans

 4) Tongue rings.  Is this a rebellious act against parents? We used to just grow our hair long in my day. It doesn't hurt as much.

  5)Women with skull tattoos with flowers.  Of course any tattoo of a skull is weird but does it soften the effect to have flowers with the skull? P.S. I am not trying to pick on women.

  6) The growth of gluten free foods.  I know that for someone with Celiac Disease gluten is a problem but for Wegman's to have 3 whole aisles of gluten free products it seems to be a much larger market than those with the disease.

 7) Bottled water.  Why pay for something that is free out of our taps.  If you have a concern about impurities in our water add a water filter.  To say nothing of creating a ton of plastics used in many of these bottles.

8) Beef jerky.  Eating dried hard pieces of beef sounds too much like carrion that a vulture would be eating as roadkill.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Unicef report on the well being of children

    Unicef has just released its 2017 report on the well being of children around the World.  United States ranks 26th out of 29 developed countries surveyed.  Here is where we stand in five areas measured:

26th in maternal health
25th in health and safety
27 education
23 behaviors and risks
23 housing and environment

These countries rank above us:
Greece, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia

      That's right former Communist countries and debt ridden Greece are better places for children than wealthy United States.   What are the top countries in the report?  No surprise it is the social democracies of Scandinavia and the Netherlands.  Seems that putting you tax dollars into health care and social programs works better for children than building more weapons.