Carnival of Maryland 47

November 30, 2008 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging, Personal stuff · 5 Comments 

Yes boys and girls I continue to roll sevens. I enjoy playing host to the Carnival of Maryland every few months – whenever the C of M number ends in seven – because it gives me an excuse to read and comment on some of the best the Free State’s blogosphere has to offer and maybe introduce readers to places they hadn’t seen yet. (Even I found a couple I wasn’t aware of.) So welcome and enjoy the reading!

I’ll begin with the humor this time and get serious someplace along the line. Having just celebrated Thanksgiving with friends of mine, I can relate to at least the title of Kevin Dayhoff’s contribution to this effort, A Waist Is A Terrible Thing To Mind. And yes, it is a humorous look at some of the holiday traditions both in and outside of Kevin’s family.

When I do the Carnival, submissions come to me through my e-mail. One submission this time around came from the originator of the Carnival himself, “Attila” of Pillage Idiot. However, in his e-mail inbox he recently became a recipient of a Nigerian solicitation to end all Nigerian solicitations. Naturally he found the humor in what he called Post-modernism meets the Nigerian e-mail scam.

Okay, getting sick is rarely humorous, but the blogger who goes by the curious handle of “Bake My Fish” (I need to find out the story behind THAT) managed to find some humor amidst all the nasty stuff at our State Fair earlier this summer. The post is called I Went to the Animal Fair; the Germs and the Microbes Were There and comes from Boomer Twilight. Fortunately he’s recovered enough to send me the post!

While the title of Wanna be a Rocket Scientist? may lead one to believe that I’m onto another humorous post, “The Patriot Sharpshooter” at Common Sense doesn’t find the financing situation in Maryland’s Washington County all that funny – in fact he asks “are all the bureaucrats so inept that we are past the point of saving our society?” TPS also remarked to me that one could “substitute your city/county/state and the results are similar.” Unfortunately, I think he’s right.

In other Maryland county news, considering her home county of Prince George’s voted just under 89% for the guy, residents there are quite pleased that Barack Obama won his bid for the Oval Office. But on the Race Matters blog, PG County resident Joyce Dowling isn’t quite convinced we’ve seen the end of racism despite Obama’s win and asks the incoming administration to make ending it a priority.

Something that the writer of The Political Octagon would like to see end is the Republican Party straying from its principles, using the example of the Citigroup bailout as a case study for the party losing its way. As a member of the Grand Old Party myself I happen to agree that leadership by RINO should be killed off but our conservative brand should live on.

Conservative may not be the word for Maryland’s fiscal policy, as “Zinzindor” notes on Leviathan Montgomery. Instead, Maryland ranks number one in the fiscal policy ratings by the Cato Institute – that is, if you’re counting from the bottom as he was.

Nor is Maryland’s recently-concluded commission to study the death penalty spared a firing squad, and Soccer Dad is the trigger man with his critique called Killing Logic. There he hammers on Governor O’Malley for following the Maryland General Assembly’s example of the recently-passed video slots referendum and seeking a fig leaf to cover a lack of leadership.

Shifting gears from the political to the musical, Clark Bjorke of Clark’s Picks brings traditional jazz pianist and “bell gal” Sweet Emma Barrett to the blogosphere, where we see her sing I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None Of My Jellyroll.

Joyce Dowling returns again with a post about TDRs (transferable development rights) in her home county of Prince George’s. In her latest look at environmental news on Creating a Jubilee County, a pitched battle pitted environmentalists against developers and farmers, with the developers winning – for now.

Seeking an abundance from the land as well is Steve, who is all for setting up a new class of liquor license that will encourage the Maryland wine industry to prosper. While the blog is called Steve Likes to Curse, he also notes, “This could be a rare and welcome example of our representatives in Annapolis actually doing something positive for their constituents.” Sounds more like a commentary than a curse, although he does do a smattering of what the site is named for in the post. (We’ll call that a caution.)

Another regular C of M contributor and certainly one who treasures the environment is The Ridger. As is normally the case, she has a sharp eye for avian life and a ready camera for her two contributions from her site The Greenbelt, Shiny and Staying Very Late. I also need to add that as long as she doesn’t see the post up here, it’s never too late for her submissions.

A Maryland-based blog I wasn’t aware of that deals in financial issues is called Blueprint for Financial Prosperity, and Jim came through with two submissions on high-yield savings accounts and next year’s federal energy tax credits. (As always, actual results may vary – but I admire entrepreneurism.) And it was really nice of Jim to provide me the bridge from environmental posts to my last post, which comes from the host. (That would be me, from the recent archives of monoblogue.)

Last week I asked the question, “how much green does ‘green’ really save?” You’ll have to forgive me for not bowing at the altar of the environmental movement, but readers old and new should be aware I don’t take things at face value, nor an I in foursquare with the green building requirements which now seem to be in vogue and affecting the world of architecture where I make my living.

It’s on that particular point I will close the 47th edition of the Carnival of Maryland. As always, I appreciate those who submitted items to me and thank you for reading it.

A shift in tactics but not philosophy

November 29, 2008 · Posted in Delmarva items, Mainstream media, National politics · Comments Off on A shift in tactics but not philosophy 

The recent events in India that concluded with a hotel in ruins and over 200 killed, including most of the hostage takers, reminds us that the world still isn’t a safe place. At least six Americans lost their lives in the incident, which in some respects may be thought of as India’s answer to 9/11. The world’s second most populated nation (and largest democracy) has seen its share of international news lately as an Indian Navy ship sank a suspected “mother ship” of Somali pirates who have threatened shipping in that region of the globe.

While it’s doubtful these two incidents are related and the more recent crisis is thought to be Pakistani-based, it brings out the idea that it doesn’t take a large army to create chaos. It was a small network embodied in nineteen hijackers that engineered the chaos of 9/11; similarly less than a dozen gunmen attacked ten sites in Mumbai. But unlike the 9/11 terrorists the gunmen apparently were determined to survive their assault and had an escape plan that didn’t come to pass.

Obviously the question then becomes whether a similar incident would be possible here in America. While there’s generally no need to make our nation into a police state, there are probably some high-impact, high-visibility targets out there such as the Super Bowl or President-elect Obama’s upcoming inauguration where security is going to have to be airtight. Certainly those who partake in the events will grumble about this but it’s a consequence of depending on others for security.

If you look at the deeper meaning of the Mumbai incident, however, it’s also a reminder that tensions between groups which have gone back centuries aren’t easily solved with words. I guess these gunmen weren’t exactly enamored with the sentiment expressed below.

In the famous “Coexist” sticker, we have representations of Islam (the crescent and star), Wicca (pentagram), science (theory of relativity), Judaism (Star of David), Buddhism (the karma wheel dotting the “i”), the symbol for Taoism as the “s”, and Christianity (the cross). It’s obviously a nice concept; unfortunately we’re always going to have people who fail to live with the differences we have with one another.

To play devil’s advocate though, what would the world be like with one religion, one race, and one belief system? Probably the closest we have to that situation is a nation like North Korea, which is a totalitarian’s idea of paradise but not so great for those unfortunate enough to be born there. While the Marxist ideal is for a society made equal (the phrase “from each according to their means, to each according to their needs” describes the Marxist philosophy well) Orwell was correct when he observed in Animal Farm that some are more equal than others.

One thing many portions of the globe have in common is the lack of equality in opportunity coupled with equality of outcome for most, with that outcome generally being people living a hardscrabble, hand-to-mouth existence. While this also occurs here in America, most times it’s the fault of those who didn’t take advantage of the opportunities presented to them – still we’re also generous enough to continue making an effort to improve their lives through various means. It’s one reason that those Americans killed in Mumbai were in India to begin with.

Perhaps we in America more than anyone do coexist, but there’s always going to be those who see that as a weakness to be exploited. When weakness is evident the strong attempt to take advantage, and we as humans aren’t always exempt from the law of the jungle – the recent Mumbai tragedy tells us some would rather follow those rules than the rules of a just society.

**********

Maybe this doesn’t quite relate, but I think it’s worth bringing up as an afterword. Apparently my guess was correct that my lofty status on BlogNetNews indeed didn’t make another blogger’s day. On the other hand, it’s good to have friends too.

I’ll just choose to coexist for now since I have better things to write about.

The blackest of Fridays

November 28, 2008 · Posted in Business and industry, Personal stuff, Wal-Mart · 2 Comments 

Chalk another one up for what is quite possibly the most insane day on the calendar. Perhaps this victim spent his last day on this Earth with his family and friends celebrating a holiday that values being with the ones you love, only to be killed early the very next morning amidst a throng of shoppers whose motto seemed to be “every man for himself.”

While there’s also my sneaking hunch that the so-far unidentified man’s family will be receiving solicitations from the trial lawyers who wish to pick Wal-Mart’s deep pockets by claiming negligence, the sadder truth is that the incident on Long Island only serves to prove my contention that the holidays are rapidly spinning out of hand – all over whatever heavily discounted item these shoppers were looking for. (They took the retailing term “doorbusters” literally and the unfortunate worker was apparently trampled or crushed by the surge of customers, along with four others who were also injured.)

To put it mildly, I’m a typical guy who doesn’t like shopping*. I’ve never had the desire to drag my tryptophan-addled behind out of bed at 3 a.m. the morning after Thanksgiving just to buy a $49 DVD player or whatever loss leader was being sold “first come, first served…while supplies last” at the local Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, or wherever.

What’s also confusing to me is that I thought the economy was in the tank and mall traffic was down. Somehow I’m not completely surprised that retailers would have good traffic when they sell items the public wants at prices they’re willing to pay. But now people have become accustomed to the idea of buying their big-ticket items on Black Friday then waiting out retailers in a bizarre Chinese auction of sorts to see who blinks first – will the retailer slash the price before Christmas or wait until afterward?

Retailers aren’t stupid, though. By limiting the quantity of these loss leaders they’re drawing people to the stores like flies to a chicken farm but not losing a whole lot on the particular item the shoppers are seeking. If 200 people are trying to break into a store that has only 80 of whatever hot item they’re after, you’ll have 120 disappointed shoppers who will be too late to get to the next store for Plan B. If half of those unfortunate enough to not get the prime mover stay regardless and buy other, more profitably priced items while those who bought the loss leader also stock up on stuff, then the loss leader is well worth it. The Long Island shoppers certainly sensed this and wanted to jump the gun as much as they could, with tragic results.

There was another item mentioned on today’s ABC Radio news that brought back memories and may have been the pioneering “must-have” item to start this retailing trend. It was 25 years ago that Cabbage Patch dolls came on the market and hopeful parents swamped stores looking to buy one. In those pre-eBay days the aftermarket bidding was pretty fierce as well – surely some entrepreneurs who put ads in their local paper made a princely sum from parents who couldn’t bear to not have a Cabbage Patch doll under the tree for their little girl. This year there doesn’t seem to be that sort of item; instead shoppers are simply being price-conscious. Unfortunately in this morning’s instance they were far less conscious of being kind to their fellow man.

If you were one of those who was standing outside the local retailer at 4:30 in the morning, well, I hope you got what you came to get. Just spend the time you saved in getting your gifts early thinking about what this holiday season really means.

*There is one exception. I can spend hours at a used CD store, and part of my agenda whenever I return to Ohio is a stop of one of The Exchange’s stores. But I still wouldn’t wake up at 3 a.m. to get to one.

Sarah Palin – the Thanksgiving edition

It’s likely there’s not a whole lot of folks who will get to see this in my particular venue, because I know Thanksgiving is one of my slowest readership days of the year. But many others will hopefully see this from wherever they’re watching television.

Since I’m writing this in advance (my real plans are to enjoy the holiday with some good friends of mine in Delaware) I’m not quite sure if they’re having turkey or the famous moose chili. But whatever you do have, be sure to ignore whatever diet you have for one day, root for your favorite team (Go Lions! Yeah, they’re playing Tennessee, so you can see one NFL team anyway), and don’t forget to actually give thanks!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Oh, before I go, here’s some reaction to the commercials from MSNBC. Maybe you’re polishing off one of those turkeys from the now-infamous Palin turkey pardoning in the background.

Just imagine if Sarah shot and field-dressed a moose on-air too.

CNN also put their two cents in on the effort. What was oddly humorous about the video of their report is that the video had an Exxon/Mobil commercial on the front – is that a subliminal message or funny coincidence?

Anyway, I’m off to my friends’ new place later today so have a great and blessed Thanksgiving!

Weekend of local rock volume 18

November 26, 2008 · Posted in Delmarva items, Local Music, Personal stuff · 2 Comments 

When I heard about a Battle of the Bands, that became a must-see date on my calendar. Where else could I catch eight bands slugging it out for cash and prizes chosen especially for them?

Ok, the “chosen especially for them” was made up, but the competition was real. Kudos should go to 96 Rock for sponsoring the event, Pirate Rob at delmarvanightlife.com for lining up the bands, and Brew River for hosting.

I have one confession to make though. Since I have a previous commitment on Friday nights which involves what I call “heaving the rock”, I missed the first two bands in the bracket, which I’m putting below.

The brackets placed some bands I liked up against each other right away. I missed the first bracket, which was Cottonmouth against Code Anchor.

I realize the writing wasn’t all that great (maybe they started on the Ketel One vodka a little early), so here’s the way the brackets worked out. For your convenience, I added the Myspace band links too. Wasn’t that thoughtful of me? And no, I did not try the vodka drinks.

Top left: Cottonmouth (Princess Anne, MD) vs. Code Anchor (Commack, NY)

Bottom left: Left of Avalon (Shadyside, MD) vs. Agents of the Sun (Baltimore)

Top right: Funksion (Virginia Beach, VA) vs. Pasadena (Pasadena, MD)

Bottom right: Bob (Washington, DC) vs. Below Sixth (North Beach, MD)

As I got there after the first skirmish between Cottonmouth and Code Anchor, I missed out entirely on Cottonmouth because Code Anchor won the judging fairly handily. Seeing that they’re the most local of the groups, I’m sure I’ll catch up to Cottonmouth sometime though. I picked up the action just as Left of Avalon was getting set to take the stage. They’re my first band photo of the post.

Taking the stage quickly after I arrived was the pleasantly heavy Left of Avalon.

When I saw them up there, I said to myself, “I’ve seen these guys before.” Then I remembered that they used to be known as Project Sideways and played a lot around Salisbury. (I even have a picture of them from a couple years ago. That may have been the very first local music post I did, even before the ‘Weekend of local rock’ series.) So I got to enjoy once again a great song they did back then called “Wasted Dreams.”

Next up was the veteran Baltimore rockers Agents of the Sun.

The energetic hard rock band Agents of the Sun put on a great show as well Friday night.

These guys have been around awhile, too. In fact, they were one of the bands at the very first local show I saw, which was a show out in the parking lot of the Civic Center held as part of the late, lamented Beast of the East custom bike show in April, 2005. And while I didn’t necessarily agree with the judges, it was Agents of the Sun who advanced to play again the next night against Code Anchor.

Coming up from the south to perform next was Funksion.

Funksion brought a little more of an alternative straight-ahead sound to the stage with their performance.

I’ve seen these guys a few times and they remember me, too – they’re nice folks who I’d like to see make the trip up here more often, although they’re certainly popular around their home base. But they ran into a tough opponent in Pasadena, who had the crowd dancing with their mix of rock and hip-hop.

Pasadena had a great following, although my picture doesn't get the sixth member of the group who does the rhymes. My Saturday night photos get him in the shot.

I only ended up with a few Pasadena shots on Friday. They’re fine musicians but their musical style isn’t really my cup of tea. However, they were the ones who moved on to meet the winner of the next bracket.

This picture was taken at one of those rare times when Bob was relatively still.

Although they don't fit the normal perception of a 'hair' band the guys in Bob have quite a lot of hair nonetheless.

Bob hammered out about a half-dozen intense metal songs which I enjoyed, particularly “F*ck Cali.” They went up against another group in a somewhat similar vein from the same area, Below Sixth.

Below Sixth was more melodic than Bob, but still packed a pretty good punch.

The battle between Bob and Below Sixth took forever and a day to straighten out, but Bob narrowly edged Below Sixth. I’m not sure that having a few sound problems on their first song didn’t turn out to be fatal to Below Sixth’s chances because it was that close. For being a last-minute addition to the bill because one band dropped out I thought Below Sixth did a tremendous job and hopefully they make some return trips to our neck of the woods.

I’m adding an extra photo of their guitarist just because I thought it looked pretty cool with the single light behind him.

This is Justin, guitarist for Below Sixth.

So Friday night’s quarterfinals was in the books, and Saturday’s semifinals shaped up to be Code Anchor against Angels of the Sun in one bracket, with Pasadena facing Bob in the other. But a funny thing happened over the next 18 hours or so – a family emergency involving one of their members forced Bob to pull out. That left just three bands and the potential of a bye for Pasadena.

Instead, Pirate Rob decided to have each band play twice and the winner would be determined by the average high score. They played in the order they would have had the competition gone as scheduled, which meant the New York-based Code Anchor led off.

It was great that Code Anchor got to return, I'd seen them back in April at the same venue, Brew River.

Code Anchor put together a good set with songs that both have a hook and a sense of humor, even taking a brief time to rehash the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ theme. Most of the songs they’d play though came off the CD they had available for sale.

If you don't win the big bucks, it's nice to have a backup plan to make the gas money for the trip back home. I did buy one of their CD's and it's pretty good, although I prefer my music a little heavier then what Code Anchor put out on 'Rosada'. But to each his or her own, I can deal with a more conventional radio-friendly sound too.

Then Agents of the Sun made their first trip to the Saturday stage. On Friday, they needed to get the crowd going (lead singer Ray said something along the lines of having a better crowd in an OC bar with 25 people in it) but Saturday’s gathering was more to their liking.

Agents of the Sun came back in full force for their first of two Saturday night sets.

Wrapping up round one was Pasadena. They didn’t have as big a crowd as they did on Friday night so I got better pictures.

This time I got all six Pasadena members, the rhymer is in the striped hoodie on the right.

One thing that I found interesting but I believe better for the competition was that they didn’t reveal the first-round scores to the crowd. So the bands may not have known whether they were ahead or behind, although I don’t see any of these guys resting on their laurels or playing it safe in an event like this.

Again, Code Anchor started round two.

The round two picture does a little more justice to how active Code Anchor bassist Bill Burns gets on stage. He can multitask playing and dancing around quite well.

Agents of the Sun followed with a blistering set. I thought they were the only band which improved between sets, Code Anchor and Pasadena seemed to be about the same.

I thought Agents of the Sun had the best second set of the three.

Wrapping up the competition was Pasadena, who again delved into the regions of hip-hop and rap.

The horn player for Pasadena did get into this set too, I just didn't get a good picture with him. No rhyming on this tune, either.

I’m going to deviate from the actual order just a bit here. Because there was still some time before closing after the judging, the bands decided to have a free-for-all jam session. In looking at this picture though it appears only Code Anchor and Pasadena members decided to participate.

From some of what was said during the evening, I think Code Anchor and Pasadena became fast friends.

I saved three final pictures, one from each band. They’ll be in reverse order of how the judges rated them, so in third place it was:

Agents of the Sun finished a close third, although I thought they had the best second set.

Agents of the Sun was just edged out for second by:

This shot of Pasadena was during a point they were just a four-piece band sans horn and rhymer.

Personally I would have flipped second and third, and arguably Agents of the Sun could have been first. But your winner, representing the peeps of Long Island, was Code Anchor.

The band that traveled the farthest was the winner. Code Anchor did a good job winning the crowd over to be sure.

I definitely enjoyed the competition, although I didn’t always agree with the judges. Had Below Sixth made it past the first round, it would have been two really good semifinals and perhaps they would have won the whole thing. And certainly I favored Funksion over Pasadena as well. (I also was handed a copy of Funksion’s CD as well – told you they were nice guys. Sometimes it pays to be a regular fan of local music because a lot of bands are pretty generous.) Anyway, Funksion put together a solid set of 10 songs on their effort, called ‘Selling Fiction’. It’s a little heavier than Code Anchor’s CD but still radio-friendly in the vein of Nickelback.

If it were up to me, it would have been Code Anchor vs. Left of Avalon (barely) and Funksion vs. Below Sixth (again by the thinnest of margins.) After that, anyone would have been a good winner.

I’ll have more pictures sometime tomorrow on my Myspace site (they may just comprise a new photo album because I took a LOT of pictures and over 100 came out decently) – but wait, there’s more! I’ll also post my thoughts on the recent Staind/Seether/Papa Roach show I attended as well. Sadly, I didn’t get any pictures from that show but that’s all right – those guys have plenty of exposure anyway.

Aside from that, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

How much green does “green” really save?

November 25, 2008 · Posted in Personal stuff, Radical Green · 1 Comment 

As most of my readers know, I’ve become interested in the “green” building movement since I studied for and passed my LEED AP examination last year. Out of all the thousands of LEED Accredited Professionals though, my guess is that on the skepticism scale I would be off the charts. As far as the United States Green Building Council’s rating system is concerned, my problem lies not with the idea of enhanced energy efficiency but more in the social engineering aspects of the rating system.

Not one, not two, but three stories have come across my work desk in the recent days, stories which piqued my interest and actually attempted to put some parameters on the burgeoning green building movement.

The first comes from the Wall Street Journal, where writer Sari Krieger asks whether the uptick in green construction can be maintained until the training and education of those who actually build the structures catches up with demand. The “green gap“, as Krieger calls it, is leading to an increase in educational interest in the subject of green building, a demand sure to continue as the American Institute of Architects mandates green continuing indoctrination, er, education beginning next year as part of their overall requirements for continued professional membership. (Look for individual states to follow the AIA’s lead in the coming months by mandating the same training in their continuing education requirements for the profession. I’ll bet Maryland is one of the first five to adopt that rule.)

When you consider that the demand for green buildings is somewhat artificial because of govermental edicts declaring certain public structures need to comply with a green construction standard (usually LEED Silver certification), the question becomes at what premium will the work be done? That training isn’t very cheap and certainly contractors will want to recoup their investment in it, particularly when the time spent learning the techniques comes out of time which could be making the company money on the job.

The idea of monetary impact was addressed in another forum I ran across, the Green Inc. blog of the New York Times. In Kate Galbraith’s Debating the Green Building Premium, it’s claimed a report by the U.S. Green Building Council (the entity behind the LEED certification system, remember) shows that the additional costs borne by owners of green buildings for construction work out to 2.5% of the total up-front cost. So if a building costs $1 million, the additional cost in construction is supposedly $25,000. I have a hard time believing that statistic when the certification alone runs around $2,500 and as I noted above labor skilled in green building techniques is at a premium. I would peg the number to be more like 5-10 percent.

Galbraith’s story also quotes the lead author of the study, who notes payback on energy costs comes in “five to eight years.” Generally I prefer a five-year or less payback based on the additional up-front investment; moreover what’s not clear is whether the study includes any additional costs for maintaining and verification of green building components – for example, how much additional maintenance is involved with a “green” roof as opposed to a regular roof. On the other hand, the cost of taking care of a “graywater” irrigation system is probably little more than the cost of keeping a regular irrigation system operational as long as the water supply remains enough for operation. In that case, the up-front costs are the greatest portion of the investment because there’s additional piping and storage required.

Naturally, those who have a vested interest in the continued success of the movement believe that all we’ve done is simply a good first step. On the Greenbiz website I came across this staff report that claims the sum total of green building savings has equaled the impact of burning 1.3 million fewer tons of coal for electricity, using 9.5 billion fewer gallons of water, and 400 million fewer miles driven by green building occupants, as examples. But they still aren’t satisfied:

“LEED buildings’ relatively exemplary performance is not helping to make enough of a dent in contraining the growth of the building sector’s CO2 emissions,” (GreenerBuildings.com Executive Editor Rob) Watson said. “We need much more — and much more quickly — to reduce total emissions.”

To me, that is code language for more mandates on buildings and restrictions on the types of materials and systems allowed. After all, a large part of their business to date has come about simply because of existing mandates for LEED-certified buildings, and something tells me these folks were smiling broadly on election night when Democrats were ceded further control of the levers of the federal government.

I happen to believe that these systems need to stand or fall on their own merits and not be placed because a lobbyist for some environmental group whispered into a Congressman’s ear after his industry PAC dumped big bucks into his or her campaign, or because that same lobbyist befriended some hapless middle manager at a Fedzilla department, agency, or bureau and sweettalked him or her into writing up some nice helpful regulations that assured their industry a piece of the building pie it might not have otherwise deserved. We’ve gotten a long way toward energy efficiency simply by customer demand (hey, energy’s not getting any cheaper as a whole) so I see no need to goose the process even more by dictating standards.

Unfortunately, those in charge haven’t quite gotten that lesson down – perhaps they should skip the next LEED seminar and instead take a course in free market economics.

A gathering force

November 25, 2008 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging, Business and industry, Delmarva items, National politics, Personal stuff, Politics · Comments Off on A gathering force 

I’ll be fairly brief this afternoon, but there are two things I wanted to call attention to as the Republican Party and conservative movement in general seem to have stopped the finger-pointing which tends to happen to any political group after an electoral defeat and now begins the process of hopefully learning from where it went wrong and how they can change it.

I’m going to begin with an interview one of the newer Red County contributors, Michael Patrick Leahy, secured with longtime conservative activist and direct-mail pioneer Richard Viguerie. What I found most interesting on Viguerie’s part was his contention that the most recent conservative movement which began in the 1994 Contract With America elections went off track in just two years because Newt Gingrich “blinked” in that year’s budget standoff with President Clinton.

But Richard also made a good point about how the GOP learned from Democrat success in the era prior to Ronald Reagan. By “reverse engineering” what the liberals did the conservatives found a way to not only match the success of the Left but beat them at their own game.

To that end, many political pundits have come to a conclusion in their electoral post-mortems that one key ingredient in the success of Barack Obama and his Congressional minions was their dominance over the internet. I think of it as a sort of vicious cycle – Obama already had an appeal to the younger generation which is more internet-savvy and the brightest among that generation in turn created ways to appeal further to that target group, and so on. And while I know it’s a difficult task because conservatism doesn’t have nearly the emotional appeal that liberalism does, the internet certainly can’t be abandoned by the Right as a tool to educate and inform.

One of those thing which popped into my inbox yesterday was the announcement of a new website which promises to unite thousands of conservative bloggers into a news and information force to be reckoned with. It’s a site I was already familiar with but is now launching an effort to place itself on similar footing to those liberal sites with multiple contributors – to use a Maryland example, sort of like the battle between Red Maryland and Free State Politics. (By the way, if you go by readership we’re winning.) In looking at the newly relaunched NetRightNation, I saw a number of familiar blogs already listed as members; hopefully mine will be among them soon since I applied to join too. (Obviously a goal of mine would be to have my posts prominently featured there on a frequent basis.)

The trick now is to build readership, and the NetRightNation model is a little different than the model used at the Red County site I also post to simply based on the vast number of contributors. In either case, it’s good that we on the Right are trying to beat the Left at its own game because we have to do a lot of education to overcome the emotion!

This evening I’m looking to do a post on a topic with youthful appeal and emotion: the green movement. How much does it really cost?

WCRC meeting – November 2008

Tonight our hearty band met for the final time in 2008 as a post-election gathering. For those of you who thought it would be much like a wake, it really wasn’t that bad. In all honesty our expectations were only unmet in one race, that race being the First Congressional District battle. More on that in mere paragraphs.

But first we did our usual club business (that being recitations of the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, reading of the October minutes, and Treasurer’s Report) and heard a reminder about our upcoming Christmas party. It was also noted that the attendance was better than expected with no speaker scheduled this time around, with about 30 members making the meeting.

Because there wasn’t a guest speaker, the meeting promised to be a little more brief than usual. In their report, Mark Biehl, President of the Lower Shore YR’s, reported simply that the club’s next meeting is December 11th at Vinny’s La Roma Restaurant and that they’re doing a canned food drive locally on December 13th. He also was pleased about the continuing uptick in membership, although that may subside now that the national election is past.

Having a headquarters turned out to be extremely successful, reported Bonnie Luna and Cynthia Williams, and after accounting for the expenses it turned out that the freewill donations made were enough to cover, with a little bit left over. Personally I think it behooves the club to give 10% of that sum back to the community – it would be an amount that wouldn’t have to be voted on by the membership (not that they’d object anyway.)

The longest portion of the proceedings by far was the Central Committee report by Dr. John Bartkovich. In a nutshell, he rehashed the two GOP races on both a national and local scale.

In asking those who were there what they thought was the issue with McCain, the consensus was that three issues did his candidacy in, with the obvious being the poor economy. There was also the perception of his term being Bush III and a lack of appeal to the conservative base of the party, save for his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. If you ask my opinion (and even if you don’t because I’m writing this post) the only reason McCain won our county was Palin. I haven’t yet seen the turnout numbers for our county or the First District, but I’m betting our side’s turnout dropped below 80 percent in Wicomico County and 75 percent for the district.

Speaking of the First District, the opinions on Andy Harris’s failure were more divergent. Some of these have been discussed here before in post and commentary (Eastern Shore vs. Western Shore, a perception of Harris’s arrogance because of the SU debate, the $2 million worth of DCCC television ads, and having a Libertarian in the race who siphoned a bit of conservative support) but perhaps the largest factor in the eyes of those attending was Wayne Gilchrest’s endorsement of Frank Kratovil being just enough to tip the soft GOP’ers and independents Frank’s way. Personally I think the $2 million did more damage but then again I saw my precinct’s results and while McCain carried it easily Andy didn’t. That makes a case for Gilchrest’s endorsement being a tipping point. (On the other hand, there were few if any ads attacking John McCain, which serves to bolster my contention.)

In any event Bartkovich did think that the future for the local GOP was still “bright” and was “exceedingly grateful” to all the volunteers who stepped to the plate (well over 100 different volunteers staffed our headquarters during the campaign, for example.) Our local party is still “viable” and will prove that in 2010.

One other interesting question John asked was the sense of who would be the Presidential candidate in 2012. Most of those attending naturally thought…Bobby Jindal. Even though Sarah Palin is “principled” I think the perception was she’ll be too damaged by the constant bad press she’s gotten as the early front-runner. Other names mentioned were 2008 also-rans Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.

It was a pretty interesting meeting since I hadn’t spoken to most of the attendees since the ballots were counted almost three weeks ago. While I have a Central Committee meeting in a week, I think the tenor will be more similar at the upcoming Maryland Republican Party Fall Convention a week from Saturday.

By tradition, the club doesn’t meet in December so our next meeting is scheduled for January 26, 2009. When we next gather we’ll kick off the process of nominating and electing officers for 2009 and possibly begin hearing from the hopefuls in the upcoming Salisbury city election as well. Because that’s a non-partisan ballot we could have some people stop by who wouldn’t normally show up at the Republican Club; for that we’ll have to wait and see.

A slow blogging weekend

November 23, 2008 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging, Delmarva items, Personal stuff · 1 Comment 

I wasn’t feeling it a whole lot today, and that’s part of the reason I wasn’t on a lot this weekend.

First of all, it’s no surprise that in most cases blog readership has tailed off after the election, mine included. When you have a predominantly political site, that’s the way the game is played. I’ve tracked my stats for about 2 1/2 years and generally the holidays are about my slowest time of year, along with mid-summer. So to be quite honest I took today to do some other items related to the project I announced last week, attempting to put together a somewhat comprehensive guide to Maryland blogs. Basically it was an effort to weed out a number of those in the universe of the Maryland Blogger Alliance and BlogNetNews who wouldn’t make the cut, generally because of a lack of posting frequency. At the moment with my first pass I have 19 which qualify based on frequency of posting and readership, but about 30 which I couldn’t immediately get the stats to verify the number of readers. After I check those stats I’ll get into other blogs which aren’t members of either group.

I was also pleased to find out this morning that I have my best-ever combined influence rank between Maryland and Delmarva. Today was the second time I’ve been #1 on the Delmarva side – for some reason I normally don’t do as well against Delaware blogs as I do Maryland ones. Even better was the fact that this website you’re reading now has moved into the #1 spot for the 12-week rolling average Maryland’s BlogNetNews site uses as a long-term influence guide. (Generally I hold the #1 slot among the blogs who consider themselves “conservative” as well. How I beat the dozen or so contributors to Red Maryland each week I don’t know, but I usually do. Works for me.) I’m sure that doesn’t make another local blogger’s day, but I’m also sure we’ll trade that spot back and forth for awhile. Just enjoy things while they last.

Don’t be alarmed, I’m not shutting things down by any means. Sometimes I just need a bit of a break and researching sounded more enjoyable to me than writing did today. And listening to Local Produce sounds good right now, so that’s what I’ll do. Tomorrow it’s back to business since the Wicomico County Republican Club meets.

Interesting polling data and other thoughts

At the risk of stepping on the toes of sites like my fellow MBA member the Hedgehog Report, I’ve come across a couple interesting polls this morning. Actually, one was quite accidental because I was updating my Yahoo home page and found out I can get a feed from the folks at Pew Research.

So I did that, and what was the third poll up there (disclosed on Wednesday)? 60 percent of Republican voters believe the party should move in a more conservative direction. Well, they didn’t call me but I would have bumped that number up another tenth of a percent. The results actually tied in nicely with yesterday’s post about recent remarks by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer at the National Press Club. Naturally, Hoyer would have probably taken the contrarian view of the 32% of GOP voters who described themselves as moderate or liberal – naturally 66% of that set wanted the GOP to move left. Folks, we tried that and you can see how well that trick worked.

The GOP has a set of principles which can generally be described as conservative, so people like the majority of respondents (myself included) were quite vexed when the party moved in a direction toward a larger federal government, directly violating their stated principles. It’s unfortunate to me as well that the debate seems to have shifted toward the question of how large entitlement programs should be and away from whether they should exist at all – personally I refuse to cede that ground because when I read the Constitution, “promote the general Welfare” doesn’t mean government handouts.

Speaking of government handouts, the Big Three bailout doesn’t seem to be gaining much favor either. I saw this polling data on the Club For Growth site which showed that even in the far-left bastions of the country like Portland, Oregon and Boston the bailout has less than 40 percent support. Obviously they didn’t cite a poll taken in Detroit or any other Rust Belt city but my sense is that, outside of areas within the shadow of an auto plant, the idea of a Big Three bailout is not well-liked.

Growing up in an area where it was joked that if Detroit sneezed, we caught the cold, it’s nice to see that the bailout isn’t universally supported there either.

One of the first political campaigns I ever helped out on was to put Maggie Thurber, a Toledo-area blogger, in as the county Clerk of Courts. She eventually became a County Commissioner and radio show host. I sort of figured she’d have something to say on the bailout on her site called Thurber’s Thoughts and I was proven correct.

Of course, there is the tension of living in an area which is really dependent on the auto industry. In a separate post Maggie wrote:

I’ve struggled with the issue of the automotive bailout currently being debated.

On the principled side, I oppose the government action. On the compassion side, I have empathy for the individuals and families affected by the problems.

There is plenty of blame for the current situation from the individuals demanding unsustainable wages and benefits all the way up to the CEOs, who made the bad decisions over the last decade, and Congress, who is more interested in placating special interests than in protecting all the rest of us who foot the bills.

Aside from the CEO salary remarks, I tend to agree with Maggie’s assessments. I have no animosity toward most of the executive salaries and perks because there’s only one CEO as opposed to thousands of workers, so the guy in charge generally (with some exceptions) has to have shown some amount of talent and creative thinking in order to have gotten to a career point such as he or she has. Out of the tens of thousands of dollars one pays to buy a new Detroit-made auto, the chief executive’s pay and perks might account for $50 of the sum. Admittedly showing up for a Congressional hearing to plead for taxpayer cash via corporate jet isn’t all that great of a PR move, but would they have been as savaged for doing so had no money been involved? If they showed up saying only, “would you please lay off these oppressive CAFE standards we have to deal with?” I doubt the transportation mode would have been nearly the issue. As I’ve stated for quite awhile, the best thing the federal government can do for the auto industry is drop most of its regulatory restrictions on it.

But what if the feds said no and the Big Three had to declare bankruptcy? In theory, they could continue to operate while reorganizing their debts – this happens all the time. However, the ball would be squarely served into the UAW’s court. Do they stand firm on their wages and benefits and commit occupational suicide, or do they relent mid-contract in order for their employees to maintain their jobs? Obviously that puts the United Auto Workers’ management in a bind and would make for some very contentious union gatherings in coming months. Nor do I think that wildcat strikes or sick-outs by workers dissatisfied with the changes would be out of the question.

We live in interesting yet troubled times, folks. And it seems to me that the next several sounds you hear will be of plenty of shoes dropping. Wonder if they’ve done a poll on which shoe people think will drop next?

One final note: while the union angrily talks about right-to-work states bailing out their competition, the governor of one sets them straight. (h/t NetRightNation).

The rest of Hoyer

November 21, 2008 · Posted in National politics, Politics · 2 Comments 

As I promised on Tuesday, I have a little more to say about the National Press Club speech by House Majority Leader, Congressman Steny Hoyer. (The transcript comes from CQpolitics.com.) What piqued my interest in this case was his statement on his opposite number, the Republican Party. I think I’ll tackle this a paragraph or so at a time:

First, let me say a word about the opposition. George Orwell recognized that the difference between majority and minority is less a question of seats than of psychology. The majority, he wrote, and I quote, “is always faced with a question, in such and such a circumstance, what would you do, whereas the opposition is not obliged to take responsibility or make any real decisions.”

Having served in both capacities, I can share Orwell’s view.

Let me quickly put aside my thoughts of an Orwellian future for our nation, beginning with President-elect Obama’s scrubbing of his change.gov website once his plans for compulsory volunteerism were read. We’re not quite up to the Ministry of Truth here, but just wait.

Back on point. The job of a minority in politics is simply to put itself back into the majority. In the meantime, their task is to mobilize their supporters to fight tooth and nail anything which veers too far in the opposite direction. It worked for the Democrats while Bush was President and the GOP ran Congress, so now it’s our turn. Our responsibility on the right is to stand up for our principles and by extension for those of us who elected (or voted for) Republican members of Congress based on their belief in Republican principles.

That is now the Republicans’ strongest temptation: the unchecked chance to criticize. Republicans may choose to emphasize disagreement and practice obstruction, especially when so many are blaming the media, blaming moderates, blaming everyone but themselves for what happened on November 4th.

First of all, we have plenty of room to complain. Why is it that only we should we take defeat lying down? The Democrats don’t know the meaning of the word defeat – even when the election results don’t favor them they oftentimes cry fraud or voter suppression. Remember Florida 2000? Obama was the first Democrat presidential candidate to win with a majority of the vote since Jimmy Carter, who ran with a somewhat similar message against a scandal-marred GOP administration whose candidate (President Gerald Ford) was an incumbent solely by virtue of the 25th Amendment. I happen to think those who voted for Obama mainly voted on the idea of change rather than the practicality of it.

Despite the election results, more voters still consider themselves conservative rather than liberal. It is up to us to represent that number any way we see fit. Obstruction and obfuscation worked well for the Democrats when they were a minority; we reserve the right to be just as obstinate.

But we know what happened. Over the last eight years, Republicans had an unprecedented opportunity to put their philosophy into effect, and it was weighed, and measured and found wanting.

On that I disagree. With better conservative leadership at the top, perhaps you’d have a point. But I don’t consider the huge growth in government spending and additional federal power and entitlements as part of the Republican philosophy – please fill me in on where those aspects fit in. A more accurate measure of Republican philosophy to me would be the Reagan presidency, which indeed had a successor in Bush 41, and again trumphed in the 1994 Congressional elections.

Some conservatives understand that already. As the National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru put it, “What we have seen over the last two election cycles, it should be emphasized, was not the rejection of one or another faction of the Republican Party, but of the party itself.”

In the immediate future, with no governing responsibility and with the moderate Republican virtually extinct, the other party is likely to move towards a more narrow agenda, even further away from the centrist and independent voters who sustained its majorities.

But that would not simply be damaging to the future of the Republican Party, in my opinion; it would be dangerous for our country.

If a “more narrow agenda” is stopping the slide toward an all-powerful federal government, then count me in. We do not take the view that government should be all things for all people.

What was rejected over the last two election cycles was a seemingly headlong rush to become Democrat-lite by the GOP. The Republican moderates were tossed out because they tried to be a paler shade of purple and voters decided that if you’re going to vote for a liberal, don’t mess with the pale imitation. You’ll notice that Democrats have gotten smarter about backing centrist candidates in conservative districts (like Frank Kratovil) because they know conservatism sells to voters. The trick is keeping the true agenda hidden until the votes are counted.

Our country needs a loyal opposition to work constructively on legislation, to challenge the Democratic arguments, and hold us accountable.

Our country needs Republican leaders in the tradition of Bob Michel, Everett Dirksen, and Howard Baker, who saw country first and party second, conservatives who are in the strong — who are strong in their principles, but who would rather help shape legislation for the common good than reflexively obstruct it for partisan positioning.

We see in Maryland just how working constructively with Democrats on legislation works. Any common-sense amendment the GOP puts up is routinely voted down, and it’s rare that major GOP-pushed legislation sees the outside of the committee chair’s desk drawer.

Personally I do see country first and party second, which is why I’m critical of moderate Republicans. Basically what Hoyer did with this portion of his speech is project onto Republicans many of the very actions his Democrat cohorts did during the previous six years. Hopefully the GOP can succeed at stopping most of Barack Obama’s agenda (yes, we can!) Needless to say, you can also give me a conservative Republican leader like Newt Gingrich or Ronald Reagan anytime.

In American politics, we have two sides competing. One side aims to grow government ever larger and have it take more and more control of people’s lives, under the guise of helping them prosper. That’s the side Hoyer stands on. The other side, where I stand, is one which favors more individual freedom, and while that does carry more of a risk of failure on a personal level, the constraints on achievement are fewer as well. Oftentimes the opportunities we attempt to create make the rewards much greater than the risk involved for anyone who’s bold enough to seek them – regardless of background; meanwhile the Hoyer side is attempting to reduce risk and create rewards for only a few of their favored special interests.

It always amuses me when those who stand on the other side attempt to give our side advice on how we could do better, when their real objective is something along the lines of burying us so far underground we won’t see light for ten years. True, there are things we can do better as a party and where we can learn from how the Democrats won this election insofar as tactics and strategy go. I read a good article on this subject today that’s worth checking out, by Bill Wilson of Americans for Limited Government. Read carefully his criticism of the GOP’s usage of the internet compared to Obama’s.

However, the one thing we as conservatives who favor a more limited, Constitutional government should never, ever do is compromise on our set of principles. Perhaps the American public has been dumbed down to a great extent, but they can still smell a rat.

Finally, to those who think I have a “my way or the highway” viewpoint, let me state to you what Barry Goldwater noted, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” And while Goldwater lost that year’s election, the movement he inspired eventually carried the day. There will come a day again when conservatism is in the electoral majority; my task is to educate those who are uninformed as to why it deserves to be installed there as quickly as possible.

As promised, here’s Sarah!

November 20, 2008 · Posted in Campaign 2008 - President, National politics, Politics · 12 Comments 

I told you folks when I found out about the pro-Palin ad, I’d put it up. Tonight you get to watch and enjoy.

The thing I like about the ad is that it’s (mostly) regular people, although I know the second woman is my interviewee Deborah Johns and the black guy is Lloyd Marcus. (Truthfully I remember his hat.) They were two of the three doing the October pro-Palin tour.

If I were to add my thanks to Sarah, it would have to be more than a few seconds. But I would say this.

Thank you, Sarah Palin, for giving the Republican Party, and more importantly the conservative movement, a voice in the most recent Presidential campaign. You were the focus of a lot of attention during that two month whirlwind where you graced the national stage, and you handled it well despite all the traps and pitfalls many who wished you ill laid out for you.

For bringing excitement to our ticket where the man who was nominated could not, we thank you.

Overall, I think it’s a good commercial in that it’s not overtly political but expresses the gratitude of a significant part of the nation. Good for the Our Country Deserves Better PAC to keep her in the limelight and provide a little counterweight to the “all Obama, all the time” news coverage.

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