Monday, March 31, 2014

Professional Baseball in Howard County

No time for flowery prose today.  My in-box is full of outrageous requests that are demanding my immediate attention.

Howard County should have a professional baseball team.  Either a minor league franchise or a team in an independent professional league.

Let's focus on demographics for a moment.  Howard County itself is home to approximately 300,000 people (299,430 according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2012 estimate).

If HoCo were a city, that would place us at #63 on a list of U.S. cities, ranked by population according to the same 2012 U.S. Census Bureau population estimates.  We would be sandwiched between Lexington, Kentucky and Anchorage, Alaska.

How many of the 62 cities ahead of us on that list have either a major league or minor/independent league team? 55. The seven that don't include cities that had such a team until fairly recently (Tucson, Long Beach, Mesa, and Honolulu) or have recently approved the construction of a new baseball stadium (Virginia Beach).

Howard County is relatively compact, from a geographical perspective, for a county.  At 253.55 square miles, we are smaller than the equivalent of two Detroits (142.87 square miles  x 2 = 285.74 square miles).  So the city - county comparison is not wholly without merit.

Let's focus on the Columbia - Ellicott City Metroplex.  Combined, our population is 165,449 (based on the 2010 Census).  That is still larger than a number of cities that currently have minor league teams.  My old stomping ground, Lansing, Michigan has a population of 113,000 and is able to support the Lansing Lugnuts, a Class A minor league team.

Suffice to say, our economy is slightly stronger than Mid-Michigan's.

I floated the idea of professional baseball in Howard County at a forum I attended last fall.  I think it is time for a heavier float.  This is an idea that should be explored by our policymakers and shapers.  If we are looking to the future and want to build a Howard County that appeals to multiple generations, why not have a local baseball team?

The naming process alone should be good for hours of entertainment.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

You’ll Never Find…Anarchy, State and Utopia

It is Saturday, at the noon hour.  I was supposed to be writing this blog post from a hotel room in lovely downtown Salisbury, Maryland….a mere 45-minutes from the gentle salt water breezes that, at this very moment, are failing to dissipate the heavy fog enveloping Ocean City.

Alas, a confederacy of circumstances is keeping me holed up at the Home Office, well to the west of the Bay Bridge.

I have been thinking about Rawls lately, not the singer (Lou) but the political philosopher (John).  A true heavy-hitter in the field, his thoughts on justice and governance were, and continue to be, enormously influential.  Some of his key constructs, such as the “original position” and the “veil of ignorance” require a bit of explanation:

“The original position is a central feature of John Rawls's social contract account of justice, “justice as fairness,” set forth in A Theory of Justice (TJ). It is designed to be a fair and impartial point of view that is to be adopted in our reasoning about fundamental principles of justice. In taking up this point of view, we are to imagine ourselves in the position of free and equal persons who jointly agree upon and commit themselves to principles of social and political justice.

The main distinguishing feature of the original position is “the veil of ignorance”: to insure impartiality of judgment, the parties are deprived of all knowledge of their personal characteristics and social and historical circumstances. They do know of certain fundamental interests they all have, plus general facts about psychology, economics, biology, and other social and natural sciences.

The parties in the original position are presented with a list of the main conceptions of justice drawn from the tradition of social and political philosophy, and are assigned the task of choosing from among these alternatives the conception of justice that best advances their interests in establishing conditions that enable them to effectively pursue their final ends and fundamental interests.

Rawls contends that the most rational choice for the parties in the original position are the two principles of justice. The first principle guarantees the equal basic rights and liberties needed to secure the fundamental interests of free and equal citizens and to pursue a wide range of conceptions of the good. The second principle provides fair equality of educational and employment opportunities enabling all to fairly compete for powers and prerogatives of office; and it secures for all a guaranteed minimum of the all-purpose means (including income and wealth) that individuals need to pursue their interests and to maintain their self-respect as free and equal persons.” [Source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

So what does this mean? In simple terms, this thought exercise should remove one from their personal notions of self-interest.  If you didn’t know who you might be, or where you might end up in a society, you are less likely to design a society whereby the rights of the have-nots or of particular minorities receive a lesser degree of protection compared to the haves or of any particular majority.  It is intended to promote a rational discussion of fairness, and how such principles could be used to inform and undergird a fair system of government.

It is also an excellent and practical means for detecting hypocrisy (or other defects) among political candidates.  All you need to do is ask yourself, or them directly:

“Would you hold the same position if [Population X] constituted a majority in the United States?”  Or, even more to the point, “Would you espouse such beliefs if you, yourself had Characteristic Y and not Z?”

His ideas can be employed to help provide another way of viewing those who seek public office, and of evaluating the platforms for which they advocate.  This approach offers another way of cutting through the rhetorical mists, to go deeper than a surface examination of the Issue Stances to ascertain the true beliefs (or lack thereof) of a political candidate.

If nothing else, asking such questions might enliven some candidate forums.  Lord knows they can be dreary affairs.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thunderdome on the Little Patuxent

I wanted to stay home the other night.  Michigan State was playing North Carolina in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.  A fifth seed versus a fourth seed, with the winner likely to face off in the next round against a formidable University of South Carolina team coached by Philadelphia’s own Dawn Staley.  The game promised two solid hours of hoops-centric entertainment.

But as a member of a local village board, a civic organization designed to promote the “health, safety, common good and social welfare of the owners of property in, and the residents of…the Village of Wilde Lake,” I found myself instead at a community hall with around 100 of my neighbors, all of whom had braved a late March snow-fall to attend an event called the “Columbia Market Analysis and Economic Development Services” presentation (the second of a planned three public meetings on this topic). It was shaping up to be the Empire Strikes Back of the Market Study trilogy.  A must-see.

I sat in the back, close to the entrance of the theatre room in the Slayton House.  Doors provide a natural choke point.  Like the Greeks at Thermopylae, I knew any numerical advantage any crazed attackers might possess would be diminished by their need to come through single-file.  This was a comforting thought.

However, as most of my primarily middle-aged neighbors were ensconced in their seats, facing front and showing no overt signs of imminent physical hostility, I turned my attention to the presenters, who were calling the meeting to order.

The PowerPoint deck was displayed on the screen.  Our Director of Community Building and Open Space Services Bureau ably provided a succinct introduction to the evening’s proceedings.   Essentially, we would be glimpsing into the future of Columbia as an economic entity.  We would hear from the Experts regarding what businesses could work, and where, and why.

[I feel as though a brief digression is in order for those who are unaware of Columbia’s history.  What follows is a bit reductionist, so please bear with me:

Columbia is what is known as an unincorporated “census designated place.”  Contrary to appearances, we are not a city in the traditional sense.  With a population of around 100,000, Columbia is the second largest community in the state of Maryland (Baltimore being the largest).  However, not being an incorporated municipality, most local government functions reside with either the county government (Howard County) or with a curious local entity known as the Columbia Association.  The Columbia Association, or CA for short, would be the rough equivalent of a city council…with powers more closely aligned with that of a parks and recreation department of a mid-sized American city, with some notable exceptions and responsibilities unique to our planned community.

Within that community are 10 villages, really nine villages and an embryonic urban core called the Town Center, at the center of the center is our Mall and an area known as Symphony Woods, within which is a popular outdoor concert venue known as Merriweather Post Pavilion.  The population of the 10 villages ranges from slightly north of three thousand to over 14,000.] 

This demographic information is important to bear in mind, given the findings that were presented last night.  What follows is my interpretation of the key takeaways. 

Groceries:  When Columbia was founded, the idea was that each of the villages, within what is referred to as their village centers (places that would include retail outlets as well as community facilities), would have its own grocery store.

Given the emphasis the presenters placed on the developments in the space traditionally occupied by supermarkets (the rise of hypermarkets (most notably Wal-Mart), the entrance of pharmacies into the food and beverage retail marketplace, and the growth of niche or specialty players, ranging from Trader Joe’s to “ethnic” supermarkets), it is clear that the old model is now considered, as Ron Ziegler might have put it, inoperative. 

In short, you want a new traditional grocery store like Giant (or Heaven Forbid, Safeway) within walking distance of your abode?  Hard cheese, my friend.   Seriously, if you want to buy some hard cheese, you will need to burn some gasoline.

Village Center retail outlets:  Are you a Mom and Pop store? Fantastic…as long as you are selling shawarma.  With Xers and Millennials more willing to spend their hard-earned dollars dining out compared to other age cohorts, the presenters believe that the village centers are ideal locations for restaurants and other food and beverage service-centric establishments.  

Hotels:  given our proximity to Washington D.C., our hotels are geared towards Federal Government contractors.  In short, don’t expect five-star accommodations anytime soon.

Growth/Development:  It is clear that the presenters believe that a section of our community, located in the southeastern quadrant of Columbia, is primed to be the Next Big Thing, at least from a commercial/retail perspective.  Many shopping centers already exist in this area, which was referred to by the efficient yet clunky acronym GEDS (GE Appliance Facility – Dobbin Road – Snowden River Parkway corridors).  This area could very well develop into Town Center II, but we will leave that for a future discussion.  

At this point, my notes get sketchy.  Several elected officials were seated in the row immediately behind me, and they were talking amongst themselves, presumably discussing the findings.  Either that or plotting the best means for Howard County to secede from the State of Maryland…and debating if the new state capital should be housed closer to the Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia or The Rumor Mill in Ellicott City. 

Following the conclusion of the presentation, a Q & A session broke out.  The first three questions from the audience nailed the source of the menace I noticed in the room earlier that evening: the Specter of Apprehension…about subsidized housing and safety in the villages, about change, about the future. 

One would think that more area residents would express a feeling of confidence about the days ahead.  On paper, there should be a greater sense of security. Howard County is, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the “second wealthiest county by median household in the United States.”  Of course there is poverty here too…many families in our neighborhoods are struggling to get by.  But the folks at this forum were, primarily, solidly middle-class. Not 1%ers, but people who were doing OK…all things considered.  Yet they were anxious.  What does this say about Columbia? About the American Dream?

Heavy questions, which remain unanswered on this bright Thursday morning. Time to go forth and launch into the day.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Road to the White House 2016: Manilow, Mistakes and Mandates

Déjà Vu
Could you be the dream that I once knew
Is it you
Déjà Vu
Could you be the dream that might come true
Shining through
I keep remembering me
I keep remembering you
Déjà Vu

            - Lyrics by Isaac Hayes and Adrienne Anderson. Performed by Dionne Warwick. Produced by B. Manilow

What concerns me most about the most recent, incarnation of the Hillary Clinton for President movement is captured succinctly by the name of the highly visible Super PAC extolling her virtues, Ready for Hillary.

It all feels oddly familiar.  A campaign, or in this case, a proto-campaign, that seems more focused on the candidate than on what she or he might deliver.

Of course this is a grotesquely unfair criticism.  Hillary Clinton is not a candidate, at least not yet. 

The problem is her past.  In 2007 - 2008, she ran largely on a solid resume and the perceived strength of her brand.  She trusted that those elements, along with a top-flight campaign team and oodles of ready money, would be sufficient to clinch a first ballot nomination.

Depending on your perspective, a tragic or a fortunate (and possibly hilarious) thing happened next.  Some member or members of her quite well-paid campaign team - reportedly - forgot how delegates are allocated in Democratic primaries and caucuses.  This is important as delegates ultimately determine who receives the nomination.  They were playing for high stakes and some key person or people (who shall not be named here) couldn't be bothered to thumb through a rulebook.  Figuratively speaking, of course. At least that is how the story was covered.  In the fog of the fight, who knows where the truth resides?

She did catch a run of bad luck.  The American electorate was looking for a clean break from the Bush years…and her candidacy represented not so much a fresh start but a risorgimento of the previous Administration, one that still elicited mixed emotions, even from a fair number of Democrats.

Enter then-Senator Barack Obama and the Politics of Change.  He seized a moment, in part because he had a theme larger than himself – while still amplifying his biography – and because voters trusted that he would deliver on that promise.

Even then-Governor Clinton knew, in 1992, that he needed something beyond his record.  His campaign famously employed a compelling messaging troika: “Change versus more of the same,” “It’s the economy stupid,” and “Don’t forget health care.”

Fast forward to the present day.   Some heavy-hitting Clinton backers decide to launch a vehicle promoting Hillary Clinton as a potential presidential candidate.   Instead of linking it something actual voters care about or even a broad theme that suggests the outlines of a vision, they opt for “Ready for Hillary.”

When I first head that name, I thought: Are they criticizing voters for, presumably, not being ready for Hillary in 2008? Are they saying, in so many words, you were children but now it’s time to grow up?  Are they mocking us?  Hardly the inspirational stuff of “Yes We Can.”  More akin to “Why Didn’t You Before?”

I know, I know.  A Super PAC is not a presidential campaign.  But if you look at the roster of folks associated with Ready for Hillary, it is enough to give one pause.  If she runs, will she be a better candidate this time around?  Will she make the campaign about something larger than her admittedly impressive credentials?  How will she Connect?     

Or will we see an imitation of Clinton 2008?  She could probably get away with it, minus the ridiculous unforced errors, at least in the Democratic nominating process.  Democrats are so concerned about locking in the accomplishments of the Obama Administration, they want as close to a sure-fire winner as possible.  There is a measure of risk aversion and, on paper, Hillary Clinton offers the best path to 270 electoral votes…. possibly even a mandate in 2016, depending on how the next two years shape up.

In any event, I hope that the brain trust advising Team Hillary is smart enough to learn from the past, but not dwell in it.  

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Choice, Doom and Grilling Season

You have to have a certain admiration for the well intentioned doomed. 

A candidate for public office showed up at my door the other day.  I wasn't expecting company, so I peered out from an upstairs window moments after I heard the knock.  Safety first.  No sense being taken by surprise in these troubled times. 

It took me a few seconds, sufficient time to decide that my freshly brewed Café Pilon was scalding enough to blind any would-be assailant, at least long enough for me to introduce him to the concussive possibilities of the Club Steering Wheel Lock nesting in my umbrella stand, but I recognized the fellow standing on my welcome mat. 

I ran downstairs and flung the door open, which startled him.  He greeted me with a wan smile.  There was a mixture of nervousness and hope frozen on his face…an expression that would not be out of place on the countenance of an inexperienced and introverted missionary. 

He started winding up, about to launch into his elevator pitch, when I told him that I had seen him speak a couple of times and was familiar with his platform.  That seemed to drop his anxiety level down a notch.   However, his visage sagged when I told him I wouldn’t be voting for him in the June primary election.  Nothing personal, strictly the business of democracy.  

We exchanged thoughts on the campaign for a moment and I wished him well with his door-to-door efforts.  He flashed a seemingly sincere grin, waved goodbye and began the trudge over to the neighbor’s house.

He was not a natural candidate by any means.  There was little sign of the “Hail fellow well met” spirit in him…that sense that he enjoys the campaign process: talking with strangers, listening to their hopes and fears, and asking them for their support.  Perhaps he did, but if so, he hid it well. And if he was hiding it…why choose that mask?

Of course that is exactly the point.   It wasn’t a mask. It was, or appeared to be, his authentic self.  He was running for the cause, not for self-aggrandizement, not as a stepping-stone to even higher office.  That last point is key because he has almost no chance of winning.    Importantly, I believe he knows that too.

Yet in the face of that, and despite lacking the “practiced voice of the seasoned campaigner” (see: Monty Python, Whicker Island sketch), he chose to subject himself to the rigors of electioneering.  He chose to give up his weekends and evenings to lurch from one doorstep to the next, gripping and grinning, probably risking exposure to a norovirus infection every 50th handshake.  All because he wants to advocate for a set of public policy solutions that fit with his conception of how best to promote the common good.

The good news is that such people choose to seek elective office.  He isn’t alone – which also bodes well for the health of the Republic.  In Howard County, there are other candidates who are running for one public office or another…candidates who are in it for the right reasons (or at least something adjacent to them).  Some will win, he won’t. 

As I look back on that conversation, as we stood there, 20 feet away from a grill unlikely to host a hot charcoal briquette for several weeks, I believe what impressed me most was his respect for the democratic process.  He was willing to endure the discomfort of campaigning and the near-certainty of defeat because of his belief that reform is possible through our system of government.  It may not happen soon, but perhaps in the future.  And that is enough for him to knock on doors today, tomorrow, and all through the election.

You have to respect that.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind - Maryland Politics Edition

The boffins call it crepuscularity, being active during twilight.   Alert drivers know that deer are more likely to amble near the roads at those hours. 

The opportunities of the day seem most promising at dawn; the possibilities of the night appear greatest at dusk.  At those times of transition, the mind is open to considering multiple riffs in response to the question: “What if?”

Even veteran politicos occasionally ask questions or hold positions that, on their surface, might appear silly or otherwise off base. At times, they are.  Other times, they are plugging into their life experiences and, knowing that the world can be very odd indeed, they speculate out loud on the possible…and realize that even the highly improbable can become Reality. They have seen it happen before.

It is with these thoughts as a prologue that I turn my attention to the Maryland gubernatorial campaign – specifically the Democratic primary.

Using Professor Skowronek’s classification system, the front-runner, Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, would probably best be described as an “orthodox innovator.”  Elect the ticket of Brown and his running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, and you can expect an Administration that builds upon the work of the outgoing Governor, Martin O’Malley.  Two smart, competent public servants who are pledging the equivalent of Keeping Maryland Moving.

The Brown/Ulman campaign is leading in the polls, has considerable establishment support, and is raising steaming heaps of cash.  

Unfortunately, the talent-heavy combo is running a bit too cautious.  Their new ad “Trusted” is a well-produced bio spot but it feels like a safe move to reinforce the brand.  This happens to front-runners.  Muskie ’72 took a similar path and that campaign found itself on the wrong end of a boot stomping…and when the electability argument falters, there had better be something to replace it. 

Perhaps their records are strong enough, and their vision will be clear enough, to surmount the inevitable challenges that will arise between now and the June primary, but I don’t think the duo is quite there yet.

If the Brown/Ulman ticket is Coca-Cola, the Gansler-Ivey team is Royal Crown.  Had Congressman Delaney or Congressman Ruppersberger…or Comptroller Franchot…entered the fray, the conversation right now would be focused on how Attorney General Gansler can break the 10% barrier and if he could pay his staffers their gas reimbursements in anything other than IOUs for bitcoins.

His “For Us” ad is not bad. It connects to voter concerns and hopes.  This is smart politics but also – in his case – necessary.  His Party Selfie Shown Round the World and allegations of being a bit less than levelheaded require him to shift the focus from “the man” to “our cause.”  While he can raise some funds, he feels too close to his ceiling (despite current polls showing him only in the 14% - 15% range).  With luck, his campaign would finish with 28% of the vote but I would wager that is the high-water mark for that ticket.  He probably ends up with closer to 24%.  By July, his running mate, Delegate Jolene Ivey, will have a much brighter political future than Gansler.

Delegate Heather Mizeur has embraced the insurgent, issue-oriented, progressive positioning.  As a general rule, such campaigns are fun to watch.  Also as a general rule, they usually don’t win (at the presidential level, Dean 2004 leaps to mind…interestingly, the organization that he founded, Democracy for America, is backing Mizeur).

Her selection of Reverend Delman Coates, much like then-Governor Clinton’s pick of then-Senator Al Gore as his running mate, represents a decision to double down on a narrative.  In the case of Mizeur-Coates: an Outsider/Anti-Establishment theme.

Which may be smart politics in 2014.  Voter anxiety levels are revved up.  As it is a non-presidential election year, turnout is unlikely to be high…with the more ideologically driven voters constituting a larger part of the electorate.  Frustration is not limited to Republicans and Independents.  There are Democrats who feel alienated from their government, from politicians who they believe do not listen, or truly understand, their problems.  If they are looking to send a message of change instead of continuity, a vote for Heather Mizeur for Governor would send such a message.

The challenge for Mizeur is to ramp up her profile to the point where voters can make the connection that her candidacy is the best vehicle for change.  Not just intellectually, but viscerally.  That requires some heavy lifting in a relatively short period of time.

And perhaps the majority of Maryland Democrats favor some version of the status quo. However, her campaign is based on the animating principle that the voters want a new choice and a different direction.   Is she right? It remains to be seen.

Which brings me back to where I started.  Although she is running third in the polls, and contrary to what passes for conventional wisdom these days, I believe that Delegate Mizeur might just pull off the upset and win the primary.  If so, it will be by the narrowest of margins over Brown.  More likely, she runs a very respectable second and becomes the instant-front runner for another public office in a not-too-distant election cycle….but there is a path to victory for her in 2014.

I may be wrong and events may follow a different course, but I am open to the idea of that improbability becoming a reality…and the sun is high overhead.

 Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Community (disambiguation)

Civic engagement is important.  It offers the individual an opportunity to interact with his or her neighbors, to help build (or renew) a sense of community. 

Community can provide people with a feeling of belonging…or othering.  It is a source of identity.  It is what ends the phrase that begins with “We are…” 

Beyond the declarative, there are the interrogatives.  Are we simply people who live within close proximity or are we something more? What can we accomplish if we talk honestly about our fears and hopes about our common home?  What can happen if we reason together?

In Columbia, Maryland, service on a village board is one way to help shape programs and policies that impact our community.  There are some talented, thoughtful and caring people who serve on these boards.  I am glad they are my neighbors. 

Last May, when there was a vacancy on my local village board, in Wilde Lake, I decided to apply for a position.  I wanted to become more involved in my local community. I thought I could do some good. I was delighted to be appointed.

Thus far in the 2013 – 2014 term, we have worked on some important issues.  We have advocated for our residents and property-owners during a time marked by transition.  As anyone who visits our village center knows, revitalization is well underway.  Soon there will be new homes filled with new neighbors, all just a short distance from neighbors who have lived in Wilde Lake for years, sometimes decades.   Our merchants – those established and those yet to open their doors – will also help shape the latest evolution of our village.   This is a time for great optimism…for the progress-minded.

I hope to continue playing a role in these developments.  It just won’t be as a member of the Wilde Lake Village Board in the 2014 – 2015 term.

Between existing and emerging obligations, I did the math and realized I couldn’t dedicate the amount of hours necessary to do the position right.

Another choice. A tough one, but it feels like the correct one.

I will fulfill the responsibilities of my position for the remainder of the current term. 

I hope the next Board thinks very carefully about our community…not just the past, which is important to know, but also the present and future.   For the next Board, I hope there is a commitment to a pioneering spirit, a willingness to consider bold new ideas to help ensure the vitality of Columbia, and a rededication to the familiar principle that undergirds our larger Howard County community: Choose Civility.       

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Quiet Storm

Yes, an evening post.  Mixing it up. Change is good for the humors.

When I started this blog, I promised to talk about my local community.  Not tonight.  Not at length anyway.  The week ahead is chock full o’menace and I need some time to reflect, to enjoy the silence that Dave Gahan talked about.  Embrace the tranquility before the thunder.

I serve on the Wilde Lake Village Board.  I was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Board for the 2013 – 2014 term back in May of last year.  The filing deadline to run in the April elections draws near.  This Thursday, in fact.  At 9:00 pm local time.

I have made my decision as to whether or not I will run for a full-term. I would go ahead and tell everyone my plans but the keyboard seems to be resisting.  Perhaps it is relishing in the peacefulness of the night too. So, I will just post the “news” tomorrow.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

No Rain

Every so often, a person may find himself or herself at the center of a special kind of nexus in the space-time continuum.  A place combined with a span of time, sometimes measured in weeks, months or perhaps even a couple of years, where the chasm that exists between Potential and Fulfilled Promise is narrowed. 

One such nexus, for me, came into being at Spartan Village Apartments in the City of East Lansing, Michigan in 1993.  Blind Melon was crushing the charts and I (reluctantly) retired my Girbauds from the jeans rotation.  After a brief interregnum from undergraduate studies (a hiatus brought about at the request of my now alma mater), I returned with a renewed Focus.  Although I was holding down a job that would turn out to be the launching pad for my career, I was hitting the books consistently…earning High Honors.  I was living with my then-girlfriend, soon-to-be fiancée (later my wife and now ex-wife).  I wasn’t rich, very far from it, and I may have been sowing dragon’s teeth in my personal relationship…but life seemed easy.

I left that nexus perhaps in 1995, definitely no later than 1996.

It is said that you can never walk in the same river twice.  I think that was my problem for a while.  In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, I kept trying to herd the same water molecules back to the same spot.  Even though I had moved to Northern Virginia and started dealing with an array of Adult challenges, I kept trying to re-enter or otherwise re-create that nexus.  If I could just go back, life could be easier again.  I was grasping and, quite frankly, floundering.  I was fighting change and it was a losing rearguard action.

Had I been willing to see the World as It Is (as opposed to Was), had I been willing to accept the changes in my life, perhaps I could have avoided a not-inconsiderable amount of the unnecessary anguish and heart-ache that occupied several years of my existence.

I don’t mean to sound fatalistic…I believe there is such a thing as free will and that we can work hard to try to forge a certain existence, to create a life as we want it to be.  Simultaneously, we need to accept that others in our life have their own goals, aspirations, desires, needs and fears…and that these can change too.  Moreover, sometimes Events intervene over which we have little or no control.  Health issues, job downturns and the like. 

Perhaps it requires an exercise in mindfulness… knowing when one has left the nexus, and having the wisdom and courage to accept that…and Move On to the Next.    Time, at least how we humans perceive it, rolls forward and we are swept along with it. 

Even Places are not immune to change.  I was reminded of this reality when I came across the following post the other day:

“The buildings have exceeded their life expectancy and have become very expensive to maintain and repair. While the buildings that are currently occupied remain safe for the time being, in order for us to continue to deliver outstanding Spartan experiences to our residents, we have determined that Spartan Village Apartments will close in 2017. “

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Friday, March 7, 2014

(Chalk) Dust in the Wind

A professor of mine once said that, “the older I get, the more I become like I really am.”  He said this during a lecture on personal identity, but (as an aside) the same logic applies to a community.

The most accessible interpretation of those words is that we get more comfortable with who we are as we mature, more willing to express our honest feelings, better equipped to embrace our idiosyncrasies.  To one extent or another, we reconcile with ourselves and find a place in the world. 

Another extrapolation from that sentiment is that, like a novel or movie, the most authentic version of our self can only be known when it is complete…when it is finished.  That anything less constitutes an incomplete narrative or picture of events.   In short, we are most like who we are the second before we shuffle off our mortal coil.

I am posting this in the morning, so are you enjoying your Wheaties yet?    

Are we all works-in-progress?  If so, are we the artist or the canvas?   

I know many of my dear readers are probably of a certain age and reflect on such questions.  We stand mid-life, equidistant from the end of our college days and the promise of our retirement years…the former recedes as time pushes us closer to the latter.  We wonder about what we have accomplished, and what we might yet create. 

“We are what we are, as well as the process of what we are becoming.” Same professor, same class period.  He was on fire that day.  I can see him standing there now, arms flailing as he stabbed the blackboard furiously with his chalk.  I thought he was On To Something.  Perhaps he wasn’t…maybe he was just running the short con in front of some naïve college freshmen but in the almost 25 years since that lecture, I still think about the meaning of what he said.   So I suspect he was imparting hard-earned Knowledge. That class, that lesson, was tuition well spent.

What will your novel be?  What words will be written next?

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Esto perpetua

Yesterday, I began my blog by talking about turning points.  This post is about such a point, although it wasn’t apparent at the time. 

It was 1998.  I was 26 and in Coeur d’Alene for the Idaho State Republican Convention.  This was during the time of the militias, the rise of the Black Helicopter crowd.  Easily one third of the assembled believed that blue-helmeted UN soldiers were massing near Sandpoint, ready to swoop down on the gathering.  At least that was my perspective on their thinking. 

Going in, I knew that a well-known white nationalist outfit had an HQ in the general vicinity, that somewhere past the lake, past the pines and well-kept homes with unlocked doors and townies with easy smiles…there was a hate-filled menace.

I tried to put this out of my mind when I arrived at the hotel, a pleasant enough one-star lodging.  During the check-in, I must have been biting on a fingernail because the hotel clerk commented on it.  She mentioned that she did the same, but with her toenails as well.   I was focused on getting to my room, so I didn’t stop to consider the implications of her disclosure.  Perhaps that is what passes for idle chatter in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe The Uneasy Vibe was getting to her too? People say strange things when they are nervous.

For those who don’t know, I was working for the Republicans back in those days.  It was a dance-with-who-brung-ya situation, since a GOP polling shop hired me back when I was still an undergraduate.  In politics, once you pick a side, changing teams is no small thing.  The same logic applies with crime syndicates.

The main purpose of my visit was to brief a client on some poll results.  She was still riding the wave of the 1994 Republican Revolution, undaunted by President Clinton’s re-election two years later.  The strategy meeting itself went about as well as could be expected…. totally uneventful but, like the entire trip, vaguely disquieting. 

It was on the last day there, as I was having lunch at a restaurant overlooking the lake, that something odd happened.  My eyes became very sensitive to the light.  It was like the feeling you get from snow-blindness, but there was no snow, just a big lake with plenty of H2O in liquid form.  It was cloudy, so no sunlight was reflecting off the water.  Yet there I was, squinting like Mr. Magoo for no discernable reason.

According to Wikipedia, the “Inuit carve snow goggles from caribou antlers to help prevent snow blindness.”  Unfortunately, I had neither caribou antlers nor Wikipedia. 

As I was sitting there, trying to blink off this strange affliction, I was hit by the thought, “What am I doing here?”

“What am I doing here?” is a question that needs to be asked more often.  It pulls us, if only briefly, out of mundanity.  It compels us to consider our place in the world.  From it springs a host of other queries: what actions am I taking? Why? To what end?  Regardless of our ability to do something, should I be doing it? Is it fulfilling? Is it consistent with my values? Is it something that “The Best Me” would do or no?

This question lingered as I drove to Spokane International Airport to catch a plane home.  Eventually, it led to a decision to leave politics (for a while), switch party affiliation and chart a new career path.  It helped bring about change.

Of course there was a great deal of unnecessary frustration and foolishness that occurred after the question was asked, because sometimes accepting the answer is quite difficult.

That said, I am glad the question came to mind.

 [The next post will be shorter]

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

An Inaugural Redress

March 5, 2014

It is time to hunker down.  Get serious, even about trivial matters. This unflinching winter deserves no less.  Perhaps a volley of sincere phrases will drive back the lingering chill, the last remnants of a cold year.

2013: the guest who overstayed their welcome and is now pilfering through the candy jar.  Not out of hunger; but pure spite.  The screen door is flung open for your departure and ye shall not be missed.

So what is this blog about? Why should you care? Does anybody really know what time it is? That might take a moment.

I moved to Howard County, Maryland in early 2011.  In part, this blog will explore my new home.  Perhaps more about the concept of home.  Identity and community. Exploring the meaning of the common-good and finding ways to avoid alienation (in 10 Easy Steps!).

It will, of course, cover political matters from time-to-time.  Given my former (and to some extent current) occupation, that is unavoidable.  When you tell people you are a pollster, there is the inevitable furrowing of the brow...the memory of a dinner interrupted by an interviewer who massacred your name, the image of a political hack hovering over a dot-matrix printer...waiting for the numbers to emerge that will justify the politician's platform.  Find the words, elevate the stance from mere Realpolitik to High Minded Principle.
But I shall refrain from such self-indulgent electoral observations for the moment.  

There will be reflections on turning points.  Choices made and the considerations that led to such choices.  Hence half the name of this blog.  It is there where I expect most of my dear, loyal readers might find that with which they can connect most readily.  Or at least be entertained by the material.

At least I hope that is the case.  And lots of action.  Popeye Doyle behind-the-wheel, heart-stopping action.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.