Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The FEZ Post: Foose, Elevate, and Zen

When asked about an obstreperous yet vacuous back-bencher, I believe it was former British PM Sir Anthony Eden who opined, “I don’t think much of him, alas, too frequently.”

Shifting from the intrigues of Westminster in the ‘50s to Howard County of today, Renee Foose, of course, is the answer to what happens when an uncontrollable Superintendent meets up with an unyielding Board.

Careful readers of this blog will know that this author generally believes the Reform Five to be more in the right when it comes to matters facing HCPSS.  That said, the recent traditional local media coverage is making it appear as though we are dealing with a “she said/they said” controversy…school yard fractiousness where the combatants are roughly equivalent in their degree of wrong, or short-sighted-ness, or self-interested-ness, etc…

The reality, from a communications perspective, is that Foose and her allies have been punching above their weight in terms of advancing her “case.”  Her opponents, quite simply, are not as cohesive as they could and should be.  The election results of 2016 should have been seen as a massive repudiation of the Foose regime.  A different Superintendent might have taken the hint and resigned, or opted to find a way to collaborate with the new Board.  Nay, not Ms. Foose.  By choosing to dig in her heels and snipe away, she opted to become an Obstacle, seemingly more intent on career preservation and on retaining whatever control she has over the day-to-day operations of the school system.  A different regulatory structure could have provided a faster remedy to this impasse, alas, it was not acted upon by our good friends in Annapolis.  So, we find ourselves in the mire.

It is unfortunate that we rely so heavily on citizen journalists and other interested parties to get the story right.  Such is the reality of our modern era, with traditional media often having neither the resources nor the institutional memory to provide its consumers with the depth of coverage such a story requires.

Speaking of citizen journalism, this blog would be remiss if we did not single out the new podcast offered up by HoCo’s own Action Squad:  Candace Dodson Reed and Tom Coale, Elevate Maryland (elevatemdpodcast.com).  While I enjoy the interview and discussion format, and they landed two interesting guests for the first two shows, I would definitely like to hear more of their thoughts on various state and local issues.  Perhaps the biweekly nature (and length) of the podcast necessitates the coverage of more topics within a relatively short span of time, but I would love if they could drill down on certain issues and share more of their expertise and insights.  Overall, nicely done!

Finally, on a sadder note, this blog would like to recognize the passing of Robert Pirsig, author of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”  I recall reading his book in its entirety over a series of Metro rides, which is precisely the wrong environment to consume this work.  An attempt to reconcile our technologically-driven society with a personal commitment to a higher expression of human values, which he summed up through his perspectives on Quality as a metaphysical concept, one felt the struggle of the protagonist as he tries to live authentically, and meaningfully, in a world that doesn’t necessarily appreciate his worldview.  His ability to locate the spiritual within the mechanistic, when seen through the lens of mindful action and a self-perfecting impulse, helped lead to the creation of this classic work.  He shall be missed.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Maryland Gubernatorial Democratic Primary Election Survey Results – April Fool-Free Zone

Disclaimers first:  this was a “fun” poll…it is not based on proportionate-to-probability sampling of the likely electorate.  The findings are not projectable.  Most of the study respondents are probably highly informed/politically engaged individuals who reside in the Greater Howard County Metropolitan Region.  The data collection mechanism was via social media platforms, with my Facebook friends and Twitter followers constituting all, or almost all, of the study participants.  The total N was 40, about the size of 4 or 5 standard focus groups.

With all of the above in mind, that doesn’t mean there weren’t some interesting results…

Question: Looking ahead to the 2018 Maryland Democratic Primary Election for Governor, if that election were being held today, for whom would you vote?

1)    Total number of votes won by Rushern Baker, John Delaney, Kevin Kamenetz, and Dutch Ruppersberger combined?  Zero.  Analysis:  I would have expected at least a smattering of votes for the two County Execs and the two Congressmen, primarily the former three. 
2)    So who “won?”  Former County Executive and LG nominee Ken Ulman (20%).  Analysis:  I intentionally kept this a one question survey, so I didn’t ask where the respondents resided. So, I can’t run crosstabs by such demographics.  That said, this outcome is not surprising.  That also said, it is clear that there is no overwhelming front-runner in this still-evolving and largely “invisible primary.”
3)    Most interesting outcomes:  The strength of Delegate Maggie McIntosh (15%), Senator Rich Madaleno (12.5%), and former president and CEO of the NAACP Ben Jealous (10%).  Analysis:  it stands to reason that the progressive wing of the party has been energized following the 2016 election results and that such candidates would fare well in these early ballot tests.  Full disclosure: my current “favorite(s)” can be found on this short list.
4)    Mild surprise.  Former MD AG Doug Gansler (7.5%).  Analysis: this has to be driven in large measure by Name ID.  Where precisely is the Gansler constituency in today’s Maryland Democratic Party? 
5)    Receiving two votes:  Congressman John Sarbanes (5%).  Analysis: good political name, decent visibility, has sort of a “goo-goo” issue profile among the cognoscenti. Not certain if I see him as the best option to take on Hogan in 2018…but apparently at least two people do.   
6)    One-voters: Current Delegate and former Congressional candidate Joseline Pena-Melnyk and “technology executive and author” Alec Ross (2.5% apiece).  Analysis: it should be noted that one of the write-ins was “anyone but Joseline Pena-Melynk.”  Ouch.  Ross, on paper and as of this writing, profiles as a different sort of candidate…and if he can raise enough $, he could finish in the top three in a primary…with 15% of the vote.  
7)    There were a total of 10 write-ins (25%).  Analysis: normally, I would attribute this relatively high figure to a design flaw in the questionnaire.  But then I saw the names and realized several people were doing wish lists (again, a manifestation of their dissatisfaction with The Establishment, such as it is), some were undecided, and a couple of respondents were just having fun.  There were four serious names, all receiving one vote apiece:  AG Brian Frosh (2.5%), former Congresswoman and U.S. Senate candidate Donna Edwards (2.5%), former Delegate and candidate for Governor Heather Mizeur (2.5%), and Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner (2.5%).  I voted for three of those four candidates in recent cycles, all fine choices. I already mentioned one of the “other” write-ins…which leaves two other names, neither of which I will report here, one “none of the above,” one “undecided,” and one “sigh.”
8)    Oh yes, influential attorney and former chairman of the University of Maryland Board of Regents James Shea, zero votes.  Analysis: welcome to dark-horse country! Hope the exploration is going well.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Oh Columbia, My Columbia

From the desk of S. MacCune (celebrated apiarist):

As welcome as Baader-Meinhof at a Policeman’s Ball, the March ice plummeted, pelted, and absconded.  May the re-freeze be ever in your favor.

As noted in the previous column, “Whither Lotus 1 – 2 – 3 version 2.0, aka Lotus 4 – 5 – 6” I have been reviewing the readership numbers.  Since folks seem to enjoy tales of local significance, this post should delight all within a five-mile radius of David’s Natural Market.   

A Simple Columbia Bridge Solution: 

I think we all agree that fresh thinking is in order here.  I saw the sketches with the “geometric structure” and “lighting upgrades.”  How elegant. How refined.  How snooty.

How about Plan B?  Get rid of it.

Hear me out. I don’t mean with people on it or cars below it.  But what about demolishing it and replacing it with a rope bridge, like the one seen in the film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the 1984 “action-adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg.”

Think about all of the athletes, thrill-seekers, movie buffs, and Thuggee cultists that would flock to Columbia to run across a rickety rope bridge, high above U.S. 29.  Consider the economic benefits.  This could be a Columbia Association class.  Not to mention the booming sword rental market for the re-enactors.     

If Columbia is serious about celebrating its 50th Birthday with something resembling panache, nothing says fulfilling the vision of Diamond Jim Rouse better than having Allan Kittleman standing on a brand-new rope bridge yelling, “Let her go, Mola Ram!”

We could invite Kate Capshaw, Jonathan Ke Quan, and the family of the late, great Amrish Puri over to participate in the ceremony.  We can have Harrison Ford personally fly…wait, bad idea.

My point is this, we can have a boring renovated pedestrian bridge…or a bridge worthy of the cost of the priceless Sankara stones.  So come on County Executive & County Council, let’s do this right.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Anatomy of the Problem

Generally speaking, Congressman “Dutch” Ruppersberger is aware of the distinction between his ass and his elbows.  So I will assume that the following comments, lifted from the Indivisible Howard County website (https://www.indivisiblehocomd.org/effective-advocacy/) capture the barest gist of his comments on DJ Trump:

“Ruppersberger believes that there are two issues that directly affect Trump's polling: Russia and tax returns.  Whenever possible we should focus on these issues. It could be through op eds, letters to the editor, social media, marches, etc.”

Only partially true. Look, Trump’s tax returns need to be on the back burner at all times, and Russia should be on a higher flame, front and center.  But, again - and how many times do I need to explain this - voters care most about the impact of issues on themselves, not on the self-referential, inward-looking behaviors of any one individual.

It can’t be about Trump’s tax returns per se, voters already assume that most politicians are on the heavy make.  It has to be that his financial interests run counter to the very people that treat him as a savior…that he will sacrifice them at the altar of avarice so he and his grubby clique can pocket a few extra ducats.  That far from being a champion of the middle and working classes, he will gladly have them pay more in health insurance (a tax increase by any other name), in order to placate the interests of his golfing buddies. 

And on Russia, it can’t be about the sordid weekend games that oligarchs play…it needs to be boiled down to the following:  America’s security is at risk because our President is in bed with Russian neo-fascists.  This will put our young men and women who serve in our armed forces at greater risk as Putin and his cronies take advantage of our comprised Administration to advance their values – which are not our values or the values of our allies – around the world.  That anti-American sentiment will lead to greater strife and more American lives and resources spent in defense of not our national interest, but in the private interests of our “leader” who knows nothing about sacrifice for his country.  His lack of experience and Russian business dealings are not the core of the problem, they open the door to far more serious real-world problems which could impact the well-being of thousands of American families.   

So please, if you are going to persist and resist, always bring it back to John and Jane Q. Citizen.  Don’t limit it to Trump’s personal defects, of which there are many.  Make it about the impact of these shortcomings on the day-to-day lives of Americans.  This is what will assure the fraying of the Trump “coalition.”  Once they get a true sense of the bill, more voters will be able to re-align head and heart, and reject the insanity coming out of this White House.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.