Sunday, June 26, 2016

On Brexit and Melancholy

“Please give me a second grace
Please give me a second face
I've fallen far down
The first time around
Now I just sit on the ground in your way”

-       Nick Drake, “Fly”

There is no doubt, in our newly post-Brexit World, that many “Leave” voters are re-assessing the wisdom of their vote.  Based on interviews obtained with that slice of the electorate, a buyer’s remorse has settled in amongst those who either did not really wish for a “Leave” win…and/or those who did not fully appreciate the consequences of what promises to be a protracted and painful separation.

The regional results show solid “Remain” victories in Scotland, London, and Northern Ireland, all 55%+. “Leave” pulled out majorities in every other area, with the West Midlands (59.3%) and the East Midlands (58.8%) leading the way.

It is unknown, at this writing, what this outcome means…if anything… for ostensibly “populist” sovereignty movements in other Western democracies.   Donald Trump’s brand of nativism struck a chord with some American voters, but the force of his personality muddies the issue.  Is nationalism rampant again or are we foundering about in our quest for security and identity in a post 9/11 world?  Is simplistic triumphalism our yana of the moment…a raft that millions of Americans are grasping out of some deep fear about who we are and where we are headed? 

There was , of course, a generational split with the E.U. referendum, with older voters more likely to cast their ballots in favor of “Leave.”  Given GOP antipathy toward deeply-embedded initiatives such as Social Security and Medicare, it is unlikely that the Republicans can cobble together a sizable enough percentage of 65+ voters to offset their likely defeat amongst the Millennial and Generation X cohorts.  But it is early and we don’t yet know the strength of the Clinton General Election campaign…nor the ability of Trump to connect with an unnerved electorate.

Who knows?  Perhaps there will be another referendum in the months ahead asking U.K. voters if they should rejoin the E.U.   But in America, we don’t have snap elections.  We have to live with our election outcomes for certain fixed time intervals, and that is a sobering thought indeed.   
“Now if it’s time for recompense for what’s done
Come, come sit down on the fence in the sun
And the clouds will roll by
And we’ll never deny
It’s really too hard
For to fly” – Nick Drake, “Fly”

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Choose Mobility

As any sane runner will tell you, bear sightings are magic.  Nothing gets the legs kicking higher than the knowledge that a couple hundred pound representative of Ursus americanus, capable of 30 mph sprints, might be roaming in a near-by cul-de-sac, searching for food.  I know some runners carry bear spray, but that seems unsporting.  Pneu-Dart offers up a line of tranquilizer guns, but the post-run coffee stops at Corner Bakery can unnerve some of the more sensitive customers.

Which is why I opt for the mindful running approach.  I know some folks like to zone out, with their Sony Walkmans and Def Leppard, oblivious to the path before them.  That just isn’t smart. 

The same logic applies to running in thunderstorms.  Some athletes are mudders.  As an Asics aficionado, I don’t mind the rain. But I want to be aware when the tornado sirens sound.  That is when the adrenaline kicks in. Seeking cover is an option when buildings are around, but when you are rounding the corner at Harpers Farm and Broken Land with nothing but sideways rain, lightning, and your wits…it’s time to open up the throttle.  Fitbit be damned.

Today’s feature, “Running on Empty,” brought to you by neither Jackson Browne, nor the Howard County Striders.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Monday, June 20, 2016

On Deities and Doughnuts

Underneath his typical somber/sullen rhythms, I thought I heard what could pass for glee in his voice.  Of course the Skype connection wasn’t 100%, so it was hard to tell.

“You have Duck Donuts where you live?”

“Yeah, Slats, kinda.  Driving distance. Why?” I asked, wondering how he heard about the place.

“I ordered some the other day.  Having a couple boxes delivered here. “

“Here being…?”

“Never mind.  I stuck it on the Libertarian tab.  Their accountant is an anarchist, they will never notice.”

“Anyway,” he continued, “Have you had the maple bacon ones, the kind with the real bacon?  A divine torus, indeed!”

Knowing that Slats was a bit of a skeptic on matters pertaining to religion, I had to follow up.

“Divine?  This is coming from a committed agnostic, right?” I prodded.

“Aren’t you the World’s Worst Buddhist? Look, the universe is too big to discount the possibility of an omniscient being.   It is the pinnacle of self-conceit for humankind, with our thin record of civilization collectively and our short live-spans individually, to think otherwise,” he replied matter-of-factly.

“So, Gary Johnson paid you on time then?” I inquired.

“In cash, check, and Bitcoin.  Hallelujah.”

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Monday, June 6, 2016

"Non-Partisan" Does Not Equal "Non-Values"

Without naming any local names, here are some considerations:

1.     Individual party affiliation is not an immutable characteristic.  Nor is it determined for us.  People choose to affiliate with a political party…or to not align with any political party.
2.     When people decide to join, or vote for candidates belonging to, a political party, they do so because they feel a certain kinship with the values associated with that organization.  In some cases, the attachment is strong; while for some, the connection is more attenuated.
3.     In the United States, today, there is a strong correlation between ideology (conservative, moderate, liberal) and party registration (Republican, Democratic, etc…).  There are few conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans left, compared to the size of those blocs from the New Deal era to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.  Of course, voters can be conservative on some issues and liberal on others.
4.     So, when a candidate seeks public office, even one in a non-partisan election, I believe it is important to understand their worldview and how this might impact their policy decisions.  Part of a candidate’s worldview is expressed through their political beliefs and activities.  If they support Presidential Candidate X or Senate Candidate Y, it is fair game to ask, “Why?” 
5.     Let’s ground this a bit more.  Say I am a progressive Democrat and I reside in Howard County.  Let’s further assume that Board of Education Candidate Z is a Republican who, in 2016, supports Donald Trump for President.  Now, my first inclination is try to understand their policy stances on a host of matters that pertain to the office they seek.  What do they think about school choice and vouchers?  What are their opinions regarding the role of the Federal Government in K – 12 Education?  What is their perspective on Common Core (this issue having far less of a right/left split than others)?  And so on…These are the most salient questions, given the office. 
6.     That said, I think it is legitimate to ask Candidate Z, respectfully, "Who do you support for President and why?"  I would feel the same way if Howard County were 90% Democratic or 90% Republican. 
7.     Now Candidate Z has the option of not responding.  That said, I think it’s a within-the-bounds question.  The voters get to select what is important, not the candidates.  A non-response allows voters to fill-in-the-blanks, and this rarely works to the benefit of the candidate.
8.     If Candidate Z says that they like Donald Trump because of his immigration proposals, for example, I might want to dig deeper to determine precisely what he or she likes about them. The idea here is not to play gotcha, but to get a handle on how they perceive the world, as well as their judgment and critical thinking processes.  These are all relevant calculations when it comes to electing someone to the Board of Education, bearing in mind the responsibilities of that position.
9.     Ultimately, it is the job of the Candidate Z (who, it should be noted, chose to seek public office) to communicate their values to us, the electorate.  The Candidate may not like the rough-and-tumble of political life, but that, my friends, is hard cheese.   
10. The key here is respectful dialogue. I am not going to point out any recent examples of civil or non-civil conversations.  Something tells me everyone can locate these readily.  My point being is that we don't need to bring the national vitriol into our local discourse.  And that, I believe, is the truest distillation of Howard County Values.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.     

Sunday, June 5, 2016

No Slats, Just Stats

2016 Howard County Primary Election Fun Facts – Presidential Candidate Electoral Performances at the County Council Level:

-       Trump won in four of the five County Council districts, losing only in the Fightin’ Fourth to Kasich by a 64 vote margin (2,884 to 2,820).
-       Trump’s biggest margin was in the 5th County Council district, where he outpolled Kasich with 7,550 votes compared to 5,300 for the Ohio Governor.  He also won rather handily in the 1st District, with 4,250 votes compared to 3,494 for Kasich.  In short, Trump performed best in the West HoCo GOP stronghold and ran quite well in the swing-ish 1st.
-       Kasich kept it reasonably close in the 2nd District (losing to Trump 2,716 to 2,602 votes) and in the 3rd District (again placing second to Trump by 2,512 to 2,272 votes).  In short, Kasich fared best in the more Democratic County Council districts.
-       Cruz had his strongest showing in the 5th, with 2,968 votes.  He placed third in all County Council Districts.
-       The only other GOP presidential candidate who broke three figures at the County Council level?  Ben Carson (148 votes in the 5th). 
-       Worst showing?  A tie between Huckabee (8 votes in the 1st) and Santorum (8 votes in the 4th).  Don’t stop believing.
-       On the Democratic side, Clinton won in all five County Council districts. The margins of victory were somewhat narrower in the 1st District and the 5th District, slightly over 2,100 votes in both cases.  She crushed it in the 4th, with 10,126 votes compared to 6,218 for the Vermont Senator. 

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

On Hospitality Best Practices, Ethics, and Democracy

“You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that's what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant... oh, fuck it.” – M. Gustave, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Such is the decrescendo of our times; a diminished hope that trails off into a resigned shrug.   One can only hope that our “better angels” can keep the embers of our shared humanity glowing.

I have been reading about the ethical intersection between the actor – the act – and the act’s consequences; and while I don’t expect presidential candidates to spend time on the trail invoking Aristotle, Kant, and/or Mills…I am comforted knowing when they are capable of such introspection.  I would like to believe that the next leader of the Free World is capable of grounding their actions in something more than brute instinct or narrow self-interest. 

Perhaps it is too much to ask of our public officials.  “Every country has the government it deserves” according to de Maistre, or perhaps it was Jonathan Winters.  Either way, the quote portends a long and bitter election season.  

Hope (such as it exists) must rest in those who, at the national, state, and local level, aspire to promote the common good while appealing to our virtuous nature. 

2016 might not be the year of the Philosopher-Statesperson, but at the very least, they can toss some kindling on the bonfire.  Keep those glimmers gleaming.  

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Gadzooks, what an election!

I have slices of four posts in mind.  I have skeletons for some, nervous systems for others.  I am hoping to roll those out over the course of June.

This is more of a “Did you know?” piece based on the 2016 Howard County Board of Education Primary Election Results.  Based on the data available on the Maryland Board of Elections website:

-       Kirsten Coombs finished in first place among the 11 candidates.  We knew that.  But did you know that she won 92 of the 118 Election Day/Polling Place precincts?  She also won among Early Voters and Absentee/Provisional Voters.  What about the other 26 precincts where she didn’t win?  She placed second in 19 and third in 7.   This indicates wide and deep support, countywide, for Ms. Coombs.    
-       How big was the win?  Coombs, with 35,298 votes, shattered the previous high-water mark for recent Board of Education primary elections, which was 28,320…which was set by one J. Siddiqui in 2008.  More on her shortly.
-       Fun fact: there is higher turnout in General Elections compared to Primary Elections, but Coombs’ vote tally, in the 2016 Primary Election, would have been sufficient for her to win a Board of Education seat in the 2010 General Election, ahead of Brian Meshkin and Cindy Vaillancourt.   
-       Who failed to finish in the top three in every single Election Day district?  Ellen Flynn Giles and Ann DeLacy.  It is not my intention to be cruel here, but rather to point out that this election cycle constitutes a referendum on the direction of the Howard County Public School System.  DeLacy and Giles finished second and third respectively in both the 2012 Primary and General Elections.  For them to be swept across the board four years later with 8th and 9th place finishes demonstrates the strength of positive, change-oriented, reform-minded platforms.
-       Dr. Janet Siddiqui is in serious trouble.  As the last incumbent standing in this election cycle, she becomes the WHOLE poster child for a failing status quo.  She managed to win only six election day precincts.   Of the top six vote-getters, there were 123,369 votes for challengers compared to 24,660 votes for the “strongest” incumbent: Siddiqui, so 83.3% for reform candidates against 16.7% for Siddiqui.  There might not be enough orange paint in the County to vault her out of fourth place. 

What will come next?  The Presidential Campaign? Thoughts on Downtown Columbia and Sensible, Civic-Minded Growth?  Shenanigans in Wilde Lake? Adventures with Slats?
Stay tuned, as more will follow.