The coming Constitutional crisis

Editor’s note: On Friday, as usual, I had a piece in The Patriot Post. Normally it is published pretty much as I send it in, but when I got the response from my editor Nate Friday morning he noted that my submission was a little long and he boiled it down to some extent. So I decided to do this post with the deleted parts added back in as originally written.


While he’s in the news, based on his recent podcast interview with Jenna Johnson of the Washington Post, for a different reason, it’s interesting to hear these words from a certain Senator: “I trust the wisdom of people. And I’m confident – especially after having traveled (my state) for two years – people are good, fundamentally, and if given the choice to do the right thing, they will. To do the good thing, they will.”

Robert “Beto” O’Rourke may or may not be running for President in 2020, but we can be assured that neither his previous comments on the “exhaustion” of the Constitution nor his favored “progressive” policies square with that stated philosophy of trusting people will do the right thing. Naturally, conservatives have had a field day criticizing Beto’s notion that the Constitution is an outdated document, but they’re also giving some thought to the state of our government and whether it’s even trying to keep the checks and balances that were designed into it. Exhibit one: David French at National Review:

We’ve reached this point in large part because Congress has utterly abdicated to the president its constitutional responsibility and authority to declare war. It’s simply handed over one of its most important powers, and it stubbornly refuses to take it back. And that’s not the only power it’s given to the president. Donald Trump has lately been able to make sweeping, unilateral decisions about immigration (the travel ban, for example) and tariffs (our trade war with China) precisely because of previous congressional acts delegating an enormous amount of authority to the executive branch.

“Beto’s Constitutional Folly,” David French, National Review, January 16, 2019.

Is Congressional oversight really a thing of the past? The answer may be “yes” if you believe French’s cynicism. But the funny thing about the situation is that even those who inhabit the progressive Left get it. This passage comes from one of their more recent political Bibles, the Indivisible Guide:

(C)onstant reelection pressure means that MoCs (members of Congress) are enormously sensitive to their image in the district or state, and they will work very hard to avoid signs of public dissent or disapproval. What every MoC wants – regardless of party—is for his or her constituents to agree with the following narrative: “My MoC cares about me, shares my values, and is working hard for me.” (Emphasis mine.)

The Indivisible Guide

Our nation came into being because men with foresight and a sense of altruism wanted to allow the rest of us to have the freedom of controlling our own lives without answering to a tyrant not of our choosing. They carefully set up a government with three co-equal parts in the hope the triangular split would keep itself in balance, not allowing one side – especially the Executive Branch – to dominate. But that freedom came with the responsibility of maintaining diligence and a strong sense of morality, and as we became farther and father removed from the generation that founded our nation, our people backslid into trying to take shortcuts and passing the buck away from being responsible for our actions. “It’s not my job” became the national mantra.

In the case of Congress it meant figuring out ways not to have to take unpopular votes – and risking electoral defeat – by delegating its authority, as French points out. So something had to fill the vacuum, and ambitious progressive chief executives have too often been the ones who stepped up to do so, winning elections on the emotional appeal of promising a life of ease (or at least taking from those who have the means) if you didn’t mind ceding a just a little bit more of your freedom and fortune in the process.

Perhaps the earliest example of this was President Woodrow Wilson, whose election in 1912 (by a mere plurality of the vote thanks to a Republican Party rent between its own Roosevelt progressives and those who were Taft conservatives) ushered in a plethora of radical changes in the form and powers of government: in his first term the Constitution was changed to allow for taxation of income and direct election of Senators, and the Federal Reserve was formed. Wilson’s second term brought further Constitutional changes on a more social front with Prohibition and women’s suffrage. All those changes, enacted within an eight-year period, permanently altered the direction of the American republic and set the stage for a century of liberty erosion through the New Deal, Great Society, and, finally, Obamacare.

Some might call that which Wilson began “fundamental change,” but the problem with its evolution from Wilson to Barack Obama was succinctly addressed by our Mark Alexander: “If you believe government has whatever power it desires and is the answer to every problem, as Obama clearly does, you should at least competently run it. Instead, systemic bureaucratic corruption and craven political considerations rule the day.” Career bureaucrats have carved out their own fiefdoms in this modern-day age of kings.

So those who – perhaps naively – believed the days of incompetent progressive government were over when Donald J. Trump rolled into town have certainly been disappointed with his lack of progress in draining the Swamp. Surely many of those Trump believers were also the ones confident the TEA Party would restore the vision of our Founding Fathers based on a single election only to be disappointed by the excuse – passing the buck at its finest – that they only controlled half of one-third of the government by virtue of a House majority; however, that majority in the House became one in the Senate four years later and grabbed the White House in 2016, meaning work could be done on righting the Judicial Branch.

So the good people thought, finally, all the pieces are in place for a reform where the right things would be done to restore our Constitutional republic. But they failed to foresee a process that started out being made doubly difficult by the national Fourth Estate and its unrelenting negative coverage of everything Trump and became all but impossible because of a midterm election where the issues were subordinate to the personalities and emotions involved.

Given the midterm results, a better question to ask regarding the Constitution is whether the people really want it at all? In the midst of the 2017 Obamacare battle, writer W. James Antle pointed out an inconvenient truth about modern America, noting, “In practice, the American people want a much bigger federal government than the Constitution currently authorizes. Not long ago, a conservative wag quipped that if a president actually tried to enforce the Constitution’s limits on federal power, he or she would be impeached.”

On January 3, 2019, articles of impeachment against President Trump were re-introduced in Congress. While it’s claimed that the impeachable offense is obstruction of justice, the reality is that Trump was obstructing the transfer of power to the unelected bureaucrats amassing their fiefdoms and making their favored friends wealthy on the backs of the long-suffering taxpayer. It’s a process that makes a nation one of well-connected “haves” lording it over the hapless “have-nots” who see opportunities snatched away and reserved to a select few.

If power is ceded to the unelected few, or if differences in philosophy become so great as to be irreconcilable, the last resort becomes violent revolution – and our nation already tried that, twice. The harder but necessary responsibility for good people to undertake and – more importantly – demand from their leaders would be that of getting back to honoring the intentions of those who wrote the document we’re supposed to be living by. Restore our checks and balances.

monoblogue music: “Wasted Time” by Future Thrills

After nearly five years of trying, this is the first time I have had the opportunity to review local music. And considering this exercise was instituted in no small part from my long-running “Weekend of local rock” series, it’s amazing that it took over a hundred reviews before I did one where I could easily see the band in person.

So back in late December I was minding my own business and perusing my e-mail box when up popped an e-mail press release from this band. I suspect I’m on their mailing list because Future Thrills bassist Chris Slavens is a fellow writer who I’ve known awhile, but regardless I thought it would be a good time to add a local element to monoblogue music since part of the intent of Weekend of local rock all along was to promote area music and this is the extension.

So what did I think of this four-song EP, recorded just up the road in Baltimore? Let’s just say this package generally has the sound you would hope to hear in an up-and-coming rock band.

The opening song Believe provides a great introduction, not just to the album but to Future Thrills’ influences as well. What begins as a relatively standard-grade post-punk alternative track takes several interesting turns through tempo changes and a detour into some reggae style before wrapping itself up. They avoid falling into some of the traps that make the sound stale.

It’s not quite pulled off as well with Stuck on You, the second track and the one of the quartet that is perhaps the weakest link. The song has a good harmony to it, but seems to be more of a paint-by-numbers effort than the others.

Charging into Bide My Time, though, the band picks up steam with a little more heavy sound, although it still lies well within the range of mainstream rock. (Mainstream rock, that is, that doesn’t have the over-dependence on bass, drums, and rap influence plaguing the “active rock” genre.)

If you like the punk side of rock, the final song borrows the most from the frenetic pace from which that brand is known. Next Episode may leave you breathless, but it also leaves you wondering where the other eight or ten songs are. Given the fact Future Thrills has been together less than a year (although three of the four played together in an earlier band called Sidecar Falcon) it’s a good way to introduce themselves and a rather enjoyable way to begin the review year.

If the band is to be commended on its good music, Future Thrills should also be commended for finding a good producer (in this case a guy named Justin Day, who runs New Noise Recording), outsourcing something that often causes trouble for DIY bands who don’t have that unbiased ear to know when something just isn’t right. This is about as tightly-produced as a garage-style band can be without it affecting their sound in a negative way.

I always implore the readers to listen for themselves, but locals can go one better: Future Thrills has its EP release party on January 26 at Trader Lee’s in Ocean City. (It’s a good venue that has bittersweet memories for me.) So if you can make it out I encourage it. Support your local original music!

Next week I have the first of my regular reviews already in a queue, so it’s a busy start to 2019 for this tiny little department of monoblogue.

My version of fantasy baseball – part 1, the introduction

I sort of warned you about this back when I inducted the Class of 2018 into the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame. Membership in that body has reached the magic number of forty, and given the facts that the Hot Stove League is well underway and people always like to speculate about how they would build a team… well, now I have a team, of sorts.

Of course, there are a fair share of guys in my Hall of Fame who aren’t involved as players anymore, but the beauty of the intersection of fantasy baseball with sabermetrics is that people are able to compare performances over time. I’m not going to get too fussy with this exercise, for its goal is to speculate how a team made up of SotWHoF players would do in a regular season and (in my opinion) the best way to do this is to compile the player’s WAR (wins above replacement) statistics. Every player in the SotWHoF has these, although those who are still active maintain a fluid WAR rating that will change as their career progresses.

Wins above replacement is a complex formula that determines how much impact a player has on his team’s fortunes. A MVP-type player would have a seasonal WAR of 8 to 10, meaning his presence on the team assures the squad eight to ten more wins than the average replacement. Take two extreme examples of 2018 teams: in the left column are the world champion Boston Red Sox (108-54 during the regular season) and on the right are the woeful Orioles (47-115).

2018 WARBostonPos.Baltimore2018 WAR
-0.5S. LeonCC. Joseph0.3
0.9M. Moreland1BC. Davis-2.8
-1.1E. Nunez2BJ. Schoop1.3*
3.8X. BogaertsSSM. Machado2.9*
0R. Devers3BR. Nunez1.2*
3.9BenintendiLFT. Mancini-0.1
2.1J. BradleyCFA. Jones0.2
10.9M. BettsRFJ. Rickard0.4
6.4J.D. MartinezDHM. Trumbo0.3
3.3R. PorcelloSPD. Bundy0.1
4.4D. PriceSPA. Cashner0.6
6.9C. SaleSPA. Cobb1.1
3E. RodriguezSPK. Gausman2.2*
0.8*N. EovaldiSPD. Hess0.7
2.3C. KimbrelCLB. Brach0*
1.7H. VelazquezRPM. Castro1.3
0.5J. KellyRPM. Wright-0.1
1.1M. BarnesRPM. Givens1
0.5H. HembreeRPT. Scott-0.1
50.9Total WARPos.Total WAR10.5

(*) Totals with Boston or Baltimore only.

As you can see, while a few individual players held the Red Sox back in terms of not being better than a theoretical player replacing him from the minor leagues, there were also several who put up All-Star and MVP-caliber seasons (with 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts leading the way.) On the flip side, the Orioles had a batch of players who were hardly better than minor league players and one much worse – Chris Davis, we’re looking at you. And once the key players for Baltimore were traded away, their replacements couldn’t even achieve the passable numbers put up by those who were traded – bear in mind that there are perhaps 25-35 players not listed who were bench players, minor league callups, and so forth. Some would accrue more wins above their replacements and others would lose ground – those listed above are just the primary starters and most-used bullpen pieces. Adding in the other 25 Red Sox players increases their WAR total by 6.1 wins above replacement for a team total of 57, while adding in the other 37 (!) Oriole players gains them o.8 WAR for a total of 11.3.

So now you have an idea of the parameters I’m going to use for this exercise. Next week I’m going to re-introduce you to this 40-man roster and speculate on how it would work if put together in fantasy life.

The safe harbor is receding

Whether it’s a reaction to the perceived unpopularity of President Trump or the desire to get out in front of what promises to be a crowded field, the 2020 Presidential race is getting underway even as we finish packing the Christmas stuff and shatter any remaining New Year’s resolutions.

2020 will be the fourth Presidential race to occur since I began this website, and it seems the two parties handle things differently. We didn’t get the first formal announcement on the opposition GOP side in 2016 until March of 2015, when Texas Senator Ted Cruz was first to move. Four years earlier, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson was first in when he declared in April of 2011. (Some might count political consultant and gay rights activist Fred Karger as the first in; if so, he came online in March of 2011.)

On the other hand, when the Democrats were the opposition party they have started way early. Since I’ve been of the Republican persuasion for most of the nearly four decades I’ve been a registered voter, I had forgotten that the 2008 Democratic field was well into taking shape by this dawning stage of 2007, nearly a year out from the Iowa caucuses. If you believe Wikipedia, before January of that year was through we already had a number of Democrat candidates who had announced, with some having already formed exploratory committees:

  • Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel (April, 2006)
  • outgoing Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack (November, 2006)
  • 2004 VP nominee John Edwards (December, 2006)
  • Delaware Senator Joe Biden (January, 2007)
  • Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd (January, 2007)
  • Illinois Senator Barack Obama (January, 2007)
  • New York Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton (January, 2007)
  • New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (January, 2007)

Note that 2008 was an “open-seat” race, not one where there was a Republican incumbent. Also note that Biden and Clinton are considering yet another run but haven’t made a final decision yet.

So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised 18 months ago when Rep. John Delaney made it known he was skipping a fourth Congressional term (and a potential race for Maryland governor) to make a bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination. We hadn’t made the new year yet when Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren jumped in and now we have a couple others: Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro. Another candidate who declared last fall after losing a Congressional bid and could be taken as a second-tier hopeful is Maj. Richard Ojeda, an Army veteran and former West Virginia state senator best known as a passionate supporter of his state’s teachers unions – and for being called “stone cold crazy” by President Trump – who is running a populist campaign.

The upshot of all this is that I decided it was time to put together a widget for my Democrat friends – and of course, for the Republicans it will include Donald Trump as well since he has declared for re-election. Also included are some of the Libertarians who are also running. I did a soft opening for it yesterday afternoon, but it’s placed down the page a bit so you may not have noticed. Now you should, as I did it in the style of my 2018 widgets with social media links included.

Odds and ends number 91

It’s amazing how much stuff one thinks is newsworthy at the time and thus collects in an e-mail account, but by the time they think about writing on it the moment is gone. In this case, it’s items I thought were important enough at the time to keep around and still hold enough interest to me to make the cut days or weeks later.

As usual, it’s a sentence to a few paragraphs. So here goes…

Obama goes all-in on redistricting

Back in December I (along with millions of others) received an e-mail from our most recent past President telling us he’s joining forces with Eric Holder:

Next year, OFA is fully combining forces with the redistricting effort of my former attorney general, Eric Holder. We’re going all-in on the fight against gerrymandering — because for all the hard-fought progress we’ve achieved together, the lack of truly representative government has too often stood in the way of change.

Now, that structural gridlock has been frustrating, no doubt. But if we capitalize on the opportunity to reverse these undemocratic and unrepresentative maps, the bounds of what is possible will fundamentally change.

With maps that deliver on the promise of equal representation, our political leaders will be forced to actually prioritize the will and well-being of the American people on the most pressing issues of our time.

“What’s Next,” e-mail from Organizing for Action, December 20, 2018.

Traditionally the federal government has pretty much left states alone in how they apportion their given number of representatives, which means you get diametrically differing results: some states have it done by a commission, others by their legislature, and Maryland has the governor do it. (Obviously it’s no issue in Delaware as they get just one at-large House member.)

Since attaining office in 2014, Larry Hogan has tried to reform redistricting to no avail. Perhaps this is because Democrats have controlled the process for every redistricting since 1960, a census that led the state to having an “at-large” representative until the shape and placement of an eighth district could be agreed on. (The state was allotted an eighth representative in the 1960 census.) The dirty work of reform could be carried out by the Supreme Court, too, which is the hope of Democrats (like Obama) who think the GOP should blink first because they control more states.

But it’s certain Maryland’s situation is closer to the Obama-Holder idea of “fairness” than other, Republican-drawn states are. I notice they haven’t made a big deal about our state’s blatant attempts at shifting districts from Republican to Democrat – a case that led to the district court ruling mandating a redraw of our Sixth District before the 2020 election.

An Indivisible shutdown

Not surprisingly, the left-wing Astroturf group is taking credit for egging on the Schumer-Pelosi shutdown and calling on the Senate to consider no legislation until a “clean” continuing resolution is sent up for approval.

Just (Tuesday), Senate Democrats, lead (sic) by Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), backed our strategy to refuse to proceed with business as usual until Mitch McConnell brings a bill to the floor to reopen the government. They played hardball, and they won – blocking the first bill that Mitch McConnell tried to bring up.

“When autocrats abuse the tools of democracy,” Indivisible e-mail, January 9, 2019

But listen to the rhetoric they are using: did you know concrete and steel are racist? This is from the “Republican Senator” call script (there’s one for Democrats, too.)

Will [Senator] commit to passing the House funding bills that would reopen our government instead holding our government hostage over Trump’s racist wall?

Indivisible action page

Look, I get the argument about how more of our illegal immigrants are those overstaying visas than those sneaking across the border. So I know a wall is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem, since there also needs to be enforcement personnel put in place as well as measures to make being here illegally less attractive, such as an end to “birthright citizenship” and punishment for businesses that routinely hire illegal aliens. I would listen to an argument that allows those here illegally to become citizens, but it would involve them starting the process from within their home country.

First things first, though: pony up the $5 billion and build the wall. (Dude, in the grand scheme of our overly-bloated federal government budget that’s a rounding error.) The last time I checked the Constitution – you know, that document public officials swear to uphold – common defense was supposed to be provided for, and to me a wall would be part of common defense, even if it’s not in the actual defense budget. Every day the Democrats obstruct is a day they putting politics above safety.

Meanwhile, in news being ignored…

Americans keep getting hired to build things. Remember a few years ago when the Alliance for American Manufacturing had a monthly count comparing the actual number of manufacturing jobs created under Barack Obama to the million he promised? I think that ended about 700,000 short. But instead of giving Donald Trump credit for eclipsing the half-million mark in that category in less than two years, they want more trade enforcement. Stop and smell the roses, guys.

But can the good times last?

There’s going to be a two-front war on prosperity conducted by the Left. On the public front there’s the so-called “Green New Deal,” which has been ably dissected by Hayden Ludwig of the Capital Research Center. Corollary to that is the contrarian advice to Democrats given by Bobby Jindal in the Wall Street Journal. I won’t take you behind the paywall, but the upshot is that “(a) more effective strategy (than impeachment threats, abolishing ICE, or installing “Medicare for All”) would be for House Democrats to take Mr. Trump’s populist campaign rhetoric seriously and seek to divide him from his more conventional Republican colleagues on the Hill.”

I don’t know just how far Jindal’s tongue is in his cheek, but I have to question how serious he is when he says:

Populist Democrats can help the president make good on his promises – and make Republicans shriek – by proposing a financial-transaction tax and a revenue tax on tech companies. They’d be following Europe’s lead. Democrats can force the issue by ending the carried-interest tax break, another of Mr. Trump’s campaign promises.

That new revenue would reduce annual deficits and make a down payment on another Trump campaign promise: eliminating the nation’s debt in eight years. Contrasting themselves with supposed small-government congressional Republicans, who presided over a $779 billion budget deficit during the last fiscal year, Democrats can be the party of fiscal responsibility, expanding government while reducing the deficit. There is no law mandating they spend all the new revenue they raise.

“If Democrats Were Shrewd…”, Bobby Jindal, Wall Street Journal, December 30, 2018

Wanna bet they won’t spend the revenue? See “Green New Deal” above.

Behind the scenes, though, the die has been cast for a rerun of 2007-2008, when a Republican President saddled with an unpopular war let a Democrat Congress that promised to be reformers walk all over him. To that end, the first thing the Democrats did when they got the reins of power was change the rules. This link came courtesy of my old friend Melody Clarke – longtime fans of the site (like her) may remember her as Melody Scalley, who twice ran for Virginia’s House of Delegates and used to have a conservative talk radio program I guested on back in the day. (Geez, that was almost a decade ago. *sigh*)

But the House rules are important because previous incarnations made it more difficult to raise taxes or create new spending without offsetting it somewhere else. Now they favor bigger, more intrusive government for the well-connected special interests that attach to Democrats like ticks to hound dogs.

Creating more choices for Maryland

If you recall my postmortem coverage of the most recent past election, you will note I was corrected in one of my assertions by state Libertarian Party Chair Bob Johnston. I thought it was any statewide candidate who could get 1% to keep a party on the ballot, but he said it had to be governor (or President) and despite my last-minute support Shawn Quinn got well less than 1% of the vote.

But, thanks to a previous court case brought by an independent candidate for statewide office, the threshold for statewide ballot inclusion is now 10,000 signatures. (That helped Neal Simon run for U.S. Senate.) Using that logic, the Maryland Libertarian Party is suing the state to further relax ballot standing rules:

Maryland law requires smaller parties – all those other than the Democrats and Republicans – to renew their official status every four years either by attracting more than 1% of the gubernatorial or presidential vote or by filing a petition with the signatures of 10,000 registered voters.  In 2014 the Libertarians became the first smaller party in Maryland to reach the 1% goal, but in 2018 they fell short.  Now state law requires them to collect 10,000 signatures—even though the state’s own records already show that there are 22,338 registered Libertarians.

“The state’s interest in ensuring that there is a significant modicum of support within Maryland for the Libertarian Party is simply not advanced one iota by requiring Maryland’s 22,000 Libertarians to petition their non-Libertarian neighbors for permission to participate in the political process,” say the plaintiffs in their complaint.

Maryland Libertarian Party press release, December 27, 2018.

If the Libertarians are successful, they would qualify for the 2020 and 2022 ballots – although I’m not sure how they don’t qualify for 2020 when Gary Johnson received well over 1% of the Maryland vote in 2016. (Perhaps it’s only for the remainder of the state’s four-year electoral cycle?) This would certainly make the game easier for the Libertarian Party as they don’t have to spend money chasing petition signatures nor would they have to convince another 18,000 or so voters to join their ranks to get them to 1% of the registered voters. (Getting a percentage of registered voters is a criteria for both Maryland and Delaware, but the numbers are easier to achieve in Delaware, which only requires 1/10 of a percent – and subsequently has seven balloted parties.)

And with 9,287 registered voters and a “Green New Deal” to support, it’s certain that Maryland’s Green Party is watching this case (Johnston v. Lamone) as well.

Coming up…

As I mentioned in yesterday’s piece I have a special record review coming. I was actually listening to it as I did this post, so it was good background music I’ll take another spin at this week before posting.

I’ve also been putting together a short series of posts – ones that are long on number-crunching and research, which make them even more fun for me – on something I enjoy. My friends watching the Hot Stove League should really appreciate it, too.

It all beats the political, which has degenerated to me almost to mind-numbingly boring because it’s so, so predictable. When it strikes my fancy I’ll delve into it again, but in the meantime it’s the other stuff.

monoblogue music: following up with quick hits

As promised, this is a fun little feature I’m calling quick hits: a paragraph or two (as opposed to full reviews) on new releases in 2018 from those artists who made up my previous top 5 lists from 2014-18. Rank has its privileges.

It gives me a chance to use my headings, too.

“I’m Not Country Enough” by Michael Van and the Movers

Follows on: “A Little More Country” (2016)

If you are a country fan, Michael Van and the Movers will definitely work out of your comfort zone with this one. But they are correct in subtitling this one “Cowboy Reggae and Other Atrocities.” (And yes, they do cowboy reggae – it’s really quite cool.)

Consider that I have the perspective of not being able to stand most modern country (i.e. not a country fan) and realize that I really enjoyed listening to the songs where MV&tM stretched the genre. (There are a share of tracks that are more reflective of classic country and bluegrass, too.) Those divergent songs will probably never be on country radio – at least not your formulaic “iHeartCountry” station most markets of any size have – but those who perform in the genre would do well to listen to this one and take notes.

“Weakened at the Asylum” by Midwest Soul Xchange

Follows on: “New American Century” (2015, reviewed 2016)

This one took a stab at being a rock opera, one set against the backdrop of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. But I just don’t think they really pulled off the two most important parts: clear storytelling and memorably good songs. While they haven’t really changed their musical style, this one just didn’t grab me by the collar – in part because there’s no hook song on this one as there were on “New American Century.”

One thing I would advise is to listen to it in order and maybe you can figure out all the parts I missed. This was a definite step backward to me.

“The Last Ride” by The Magic Lightnin’ Boys

Follows on: “Stealin’ Thunder” (2016)

I tell you what: I sure hope the rumors of TMLB’s demise are just rumors. But if they are not, the four acoustic remakes of their previous work and the four new songs are a superb way to make one last ride and say goodbye.

There are a lot of bands over the years who have lived by straddling the line between blues and rock; sadly, they are becoming less and less prevalent these days as everyone wants to cross over to rap and hip-hop by making the drums and bass most prominent. I’m pleased to say the bass and drums are put in their place on this one, which shows great talent and musicianship. A formal review of this would have put the collection in my top 5 once again, so treat yourself and take a listen. Even Spotify knew better than to interrupt this one.

“Shadow of a Stone: Songs of Remembrance” (EP) by Geoff Gibbons

Follows on “Buffalo Hotel” (2017, reviewed 2018).

(Also being reviewed are two of his three 2018 singles, Rollin’ Free and Fall Girl.  The third was the holiday tune Lonely Old Christmas.)

On Geoff’s two singles, he continues his smooth pairing of a classic country sound and adult contemporary vibe with a pair of songs that tell their tales of loss and longing well. But he tops this in a more biting way with the three-song EP “Shadow of a Stone,” using the theme of being a soldier to produce music that really should make him very successful in attracting discerning listeners. If you like mature music, Geoff may be the singer for you.

Something I’ve noticed about various bands is the emphasis they put on internet radio airplay. Instead, Geoff seems to have carved out a niche in performing live for a select few – I noticed on his calendar a particular place he plays several times a week. Maybe that’s where the veteran performer – whose eponymous first album came out 24 years ago – wants to be, but he has the musical ability to go a little further.

So that’s a look at what some of my “top 5” artists have been doing over the last year. Next week I have one other special review to do before I return to doing the reviews from my regular source two weeks hence.

monoblogue music: following up in 2019

It’s become one of my favorite first-of-the-year traditions: the annual “where are they now?” following of groups which have landed in my top 5 albums from each year. I now have five years’ worth of them to follow, a total of 25 in all although some of them are no longer active. For the purpose of this exercise, if the band or group released new music, played some shows, or even did social media in 2018 I would consider them active.

My 2014 crop included five groups: Billy Roberts and the Rough Riders, the Tomas Doncker Band, The Lost Poets, Monks of Mellonwah (now inactive), and Paul Maged.

While Billy Roberts is still on the full-length 2017 release “Greenbah,” last year he put out a pair of singles: the brassy but rocking Hillbilly Blues and the more somber re-release of a 2015 song, Gone to the Dogs. He’s staying somewhat country, but trends more toward pop with these songs.

At the beginning of 2018, Tomas Doncker (as a solo artist) did a 10th anniversary reprise of a collaboration with poet Yusef Komunyakaa called “The Mercy Suite.” But more recently his True Groove record label announced they’re putting out yet another take on Doncker’s 2015 release “The Mess We Made” dubbed “A Slight Return” in February. So the band is on a hiatus of sorts, or perhaps it’s morphed into the very active “True Groove All-Stars.” In either case, I don’t think moss is growing under Doncker’s feet.

In that same vein, The Lost Poets are still promoting the short film Insubordia Pt. III – which has played at a half-dozen film festivals – but, more importantly, have an upcoming single to be released January 19 called River Runs Dry. One thing I missed in their 2017 update was a neat single called Vulture that I would love to see included in their next full-length, whenever that is. Will it be Insubordia Pt. IV or have they mined that genre? Stay tuned.

While I await the third part of his proposed trilogy (2018’s “The Glass River” was part 2), Paul Maged put out a heavy rock single on Election Day eve called The Resistance. To say he’s no fan of Donald Trump would be an understatement, so it will be intriguing to see how that influences his 2019.

Moving up to 2015, the groups who won that year were Idiot Grins, The Liquorsmiths, Tumbler, Space Apaches, and solo artist Jas Patrick. (The latter two are now inactive.)

While Idiot Grins didn’t put out any new material in 2018, their most recent release of the album “State of Health” came out late enough in 2017 that they are still putting out singles – the most recent being Take It Back, which is charting on digital radio, according to a recent Tweet by the band.

Similarly, but on the flip side of the business, they’re still working from their 2016 album “All My Friends Are Fighters.” But instead of pushing for digital radio airplay, The Liquorsmiths are still doing the occasional live show around their San Diego home.

Lost in the runup to Christmas was the release of a new 2-song EP (for lack of a better term) by Tumbler called “The Power of the Song.” I just happened to stumble across it on Amazon Music, meaning I’ve only found samples to listen to – from the little I could tell, it sounds much like their earlier work. But on social media they’re promising, “We’ve already got some new things in the works for you in 2019!” so I will take them at their word.

From 2016, the groups in question were Michael Van and the Movers, Midwest Soul Xchange, Jim Peterik, Steve Hussey and Jake Eddy, and The Magic Lightnin’ Boys.

Lamenting that “I’m Not Country Enough,” Michael Van and the Movers put out an album in September that claims to have “Cowboy Reggae and other Atrocities.” This follow-up to “A Little More Country” that I reviewed is being supported by the occasional show around their California base.

Topping that, though, Midwest Soul Xchange put out their own album in November and supported it with a mini-tour through their home region last fall and plans for a more ambitious tour spreading eastward into Michigan slated for this coming spring. That’s appropriate given “Weakened At The Asylum” is described by the band as “a story (which) centers around the water crisis in Flint, MI, and follows the lives of several fictional characters as they navigate through unspeakable tragedy.”

The purple-haired one, Jim Peterik, is apparently taking a bit of a break from a solo career to do some new stuff with his old band, The Ides of March – an album that will include a guest gig from Mark Farner. Midwest-raised people like me would know that name, as he used to play for the Michigan-based Grand Funk Railroad. His other iron in the fire is the World Stage project, which has a recent collaboration with Dennis DeYoung of Styx for an upcoming show/album. Throw in a spring 2019 cruise for good measure and one of two things is true: either Jim is putting musicians a third of his age to shame or he’s got a great social media guru making up good stuff.

From what I’ve been able to gather, Steve Hussey and Jake Eddy still occasionally collaborate but are apparently working on different musical projects on an individual basis. Their joint website is no more and the combined social media page wasn’t updated in 2018.

Conversely, the previously-described demise of The Magic Lightnin’ Boys was more of a hiatus. They returned last month with an album combining some new songs with acoustic versions of older tunes called “The Last Ride.” Whether that is the last ride or not remains to be seen, but I’m hoping for more. In the meantime I will place those last three in the “semi-active” category insofar as continuing in their reviewed form.

2017’s top 5 (Revolushn, Rich Lerner and the Groove, Justin Allen and the Well Shots, Free Willy, and Freddie Nelson) is, as you might expect, still building on those releases.

For example, a brief California tour next month and a recent single called Little Red Dolls means Revolushn is still doing their best version of “American protest rock.”

But a funny thing seems to have happened to Rich Lerner and the Groove. While they went to studio in the spring of 2018 to follow up on “Push On Thru,” the trail seems to have grown cold insofar as that goes. But Rich and his band had a (slightly delayed) Groove Jam VII benefit concert in September and have been playing around their area over the last few months, so maybe 2019 is the year for a follow-up.

A couple of these groups have entered radio silence, though. Justin Allen and the Well Shots, who slated some shows in the spring of 2018, has abandoned social media and their website at some point since. So they may have done their last well shot for all I know. Similarly, Free Willy pops in on social media once in awhile but doesn’t seem to be making any progress on new music.

Meanwhile, Freddie Nelson continues to pick up airplay for songs off his “Shake The Cage” album and the occasional show around his native Pittsburgh area.

Last week I revealed 2018’s top 5, which were Maxwell James, Geoff Gibbons, Peak, Jared Weiss, and Justin Shapiro.

Of course, some of these artists just recently released their albums but I saw Maxwell James is promising a new song in the new year as he plays around Nashville. Interestingly enough, his song Roll Down Your Window Slowly made the top 200 digital radio charts in October, just a few slots behind Inspiration Nation by Justin Shapiro off his #1 album. Completely random but worth mentioning.

Geoff Gibbons has kept busy with three singles (including a Christmas song) and an EP taking up his 2018 – bear in mind I reviewed “Buffalo Hotel” almost a full calendar year ago and it had already been out several months prior to my review. So we’re talking about a year and a half for Geoff, and he’s made good use of the time.

Another group that’s been resting on an album for awhile is Peak, since we’re closing in on a year since their “Electric Bouquet” came out. They’ve been doing their share of shows around the New York area, but no word quite yet on new stuff.

The same goes for fellow New Yorker Jared Weiss, who has so many irons in the fire I don’t know when he’ll have time to do a follow up to his 2018 album.

The good news on the Justin Shapiro front is that we are slated for a live EP sometime in early 2019 as he continues to play in the area. Maybe we can get an Eastern Shore appearance? He is from the D.C. area, you know.

So that’s a wrap on my 2019 followup. Or is it? I think next week I am going to try something new as a companion to this piece: some “quick hit” (meaning a paragraph or two) reviews of music these previous top 5 artists put out in 2018. It should be fun to revisit their music as they develop. I also have a special treat in mind for January 19, so stay tuned.

Indivisible by zero: a local “Day of Action” in pictures and text

I decided that downtown was a good place to go for lunch today. So I popped into Maya Bella’s, got a slice of pepperoni, chips, and a drink, and strolled down the Plaza because I knew there was a show going on at the other end. At least that’s what I told the three SPD officers who were obviously detailed with the security.

This is what I found:

I took this from about the same general location as the TEA Party shot to follow. For a group claiming 2018 was their “first big victory” I expected more than this.

It’s a nice little crowd, but if you want to model yourself after the TEA Party you may want to step up your protest game. I found my shots of the 2009 Salisbury Tax Day TEA Party awhile back (this one also graces my book website) and it so happens I took it from about the same perspective as the shot above, give or take.

This is a shot from the Salisbury Tax Day TEA Party, April 15, 2009.

For good measure, even though it’s not quite from the same angle, I also have one from the No Ban No Wall Rally in February, 2017.

This came from the No Ban No Wall No Registry Rally held in front of the Government Office Building on February 18, 2017. That was when the anti-Trump movement was still white-hot. (Pun not initially intended, but I decided to keep it.)

In terms of caveats, the TEA Party was held late on a Wednesday afternoon (as opposed to lunchtime) and the No Ban rally was on a Saturday, so the crowd was naturally going to be larger. It also had a counter-protest, which is actually in the foreground of my photo of the event.

So suffice to say today’s group was just a portion of what I like to call the “traveling roadshow.” These are the same folks who go to give Andy Harris a hard time at his town hall meetings – in fact, one speaker today led the group in one of their many chants, “Andy, we’re watching you.”

Addressing the Congressman, that same speaker intoned, “we’re very interested in what you’re doing.” Well, I’m interested in what you are doing, too. Why do you think I showed up?

I moved a little closer so I could make out what the speakers had to say. It wasn’t the best setup. Look closely on the left side and you may notice the lady with the rainbow bag has a genuine “p” hat.
This shot was taken just before I left. I spent about 20-25 minutes listening to a litany of complaints about our “democracy.” “This is what democracy looks like,” said a speaker previous to this one – I think that’s Jared Schablein speaking in the photo, way back by the building.

I thought it was interesting that Indivisible was described by one of the local organizers as run by attorneys in D.C. who used to work for the Obama administration. That’s a point I’m planning on returning to, but the same lady also noted that “we are on offense,” which has been an Indivisible talking point since the election. In fact, they have several of them:

As always, Indivisible has you covered. In this toolkit, you will find a planning meeting agenda, sample roles, a press kit, and more to make your event as successful as possible. Because whose House? Our House! (Emphasis in original.)

The online Indivisible “January 3 Day of Action Organizing Toolkit.”

That, by the way, was another chant they serenaded downtown with at least a couple times: “Whose House? Our House!” Just remember, you only have a 2-year lease.

Another key talking point was the Democrats’ H.R. 1 bill, which was slated to be introduced today (along with articles of impeachment, to no one’s surprise, but that’s a different story.) Redistricting was on Jared Schablein’s mind, but as I brought up on social media with him, the Eastern Shore is going to have to share with someone. And if they feel unrepresented, bear in mind that the last Democrat nominee for Congress from our district also came from across the bridge (and he carried Wicomico in the primary.)

But it wasn’t all talk about H.R. 1. Just like the TEA Party got off on other tangents, the Indivisible rally strayed at times, too. As a prime example, there was some lady speaking on gun control. One thing I found interesting in her remarks was the disparity in concealed carry permits between Maryland (20,000) and Pennsylvania (1.3 million) – all in the difference between being a “may” issue state like Maryland and a “shall” issue state like Pennsylvania. She thought it was a good thing, I beg to differ.

I have one more photo to use from the event.

You know, if the TEA Party used preprinted signs it would be called “Astroturf.” So is this really grassroots or just manipulation of a group of malcontents?

They actually hadn’t handed out many of these signs; in fact, there really weren’t that many signs there. Maybe the threat of rain made the participants decide to keep them at home. So it wasn’t a media-friendly event – I believe the only media person I saw there was Don Rush from Delmarva Public Radio (naturally.) He was taping some “man-on-the-street” interviews with various participants and bystanders, and I was taking photos and notes on my phone.

But the signs bring up a final point. Do a Google search on “indivisible astroturf” and you get about 28,400 results – many of them left-leaning sites denying the claim. On the other hand – and yes, this could be from a much longer history – the search “tea party astroturf” gathers 513,000 results. You can easily find claims about billionaires funding the TEA Party in the New York Times but it takes digging into the far more obscure Capital Research Center website to get an idea of where Indivisible gets its funding. Indivisible is the brainchild of Beltway insiders using standard sources of left-wing funding to try and appear to be a “grassroots” movement. This wasn’t nearly as spontaneous as the TEA Party was, and you can see the proof right here.

My pizza was pretty good. But if you were looking for a day of action today in downtown Salisbury, frankly, there wasn’t much to see. Sorry.

2018: a monoblogue year in review

Can you tell this was an election year? If not, read on and you’ll figure it out.

But it began by figuring out (in a tongue-in-cheek fashion) what I’ve been doing wrong all these years. Seriously, January got moving with my look at what my top 5 monoblogue music artists over the last four years have been up to and kicked into political gear with the annual countdown to terror.

That terror got underway quickly as General Assembly Democrats slapped down a Hogan veto and made employers sick. And the campaign wasn’t ignored either as Democrat Ben Jealous made some chicken poop claims and I had to dredge up my old sidebars.

I also found out our neighbors to the north were doing something right and got around to revealing perhaps my most unusual story idea ever from a Christmas card. I made the plea for common sense to wrap January, and as February dawned I found out my original pick for President in 2016 had put some in the Wall Street Journal with a piece on the post-2020 GOP. Later that month I got to play the Lord’s advocate (a refreshing change) but still had to lecture people that, in the aftermath of the Parkland massacre, guns aren’t the problem.

It took me awhile, but I got March backwards: it came in like a Lamb. In light of Conor Lamb’s surprise special election win I asked if a Lamb would be slaughtered in the First District. (Turns out his clone was.) It wasn’t as backwards as the furious backpedaling a number of Maryland Republicans made once their votes on the “red flag” bill were revealed, though.

It was the spring of my discontent with the state of the ballot as well, but it did give me an opportunity to go into some website plans – which, by the way, were delayed to an extent but now may be closer to realization thanks to a nice Christmas gift I received.

The month of April began by planting a farmer’s lament, but moved quickly into a look at our federal races. That was short-lived because I had to remind people that, in 2018, we determined General Assembly session winners and losers months after session was over. I also spent a perfectly good Saturday seeing the dregs of the Democrat gubernatorial field go through the motions of a debate at Salisbury University. (Combined, those who showed ended up with 24.7% of the vote, so dregs it was.)

The next week I spent a perfectly good Friday evening downtown, giving me the opportunity to put my thoughts on 3rd Friday to pixels.

Honestly, May wasn’t much to write home about, since I did a lot of repetitive items like record reviews, odds and ends, and the return of the Shorebirds of the Month. But I found time to address a critic and return to a tradition of detailing my Memorial Day weekend.

I didn’t have a June swoon this year, thank goodness. Instead I got revved up talking about wind energy, releasing the final Maryland edition of the monoblogue Accountability Project, making my endorsement in the state’s U.S. Senate race, and advising those vying for Central Committees across the state how to be a successful member. I also took the time to spin a tale of two events.

July began when I revealed my worst-kept secret: I have an agenda. In this case, it was a chance meeting with the Governor as an opportunity to promote school choice. It was much better to write that than it was a litany of big spending that some other guy running for the job had on his platform: I covered two of the most egregious examples during the month. But I got to see both gentlemen at the latest rendition of a long-standing political event – honestly, though, the runup to the Delaware primary was more interesting to write about.

And I wasn’t through with the First State, restarting a long-dormant series with an outdoor show featuring a Christian band and spending a night at the fair.

Speaking of fairs, I took two August posts to recount the Wicomico County version. But I also returned to politics with the announcement of my Delaware version of the mAP and another part of shooting fish in a barrel – some may call it a platform critique. It was already getting tiresome, so I spent some energy digging into where an “independent” campaign got its money.

In September I finally put that platform critique to bed because the Jealous campaign was going nowhere anyway. With Neal Simon’s campaign as inspiration, I took closer looks at financials on several groups of races: Wicomico County campaigns, District 37, and the most interesting one of all: District 38. By month’s end, that District 38 money was ending up in my mailbox as full-color mailers.

Once again I revived the tradition of remembering 9/11, but on a more light-hearted note I selected my Shorebird of the Year (going off the board, so to speak) and expressed my picks and pans as a Shorebirds fan. I even found time for more odds and ends.

October was a crazy busy month that focused on different angles for the election: people who couldn’t be bothered to file required campaign finance reports, neat ways to convert poll data to votes (as well as a second helping), critiques of mailing after mailing after mailing, and a direct comparison of voting records in the District 38 race over the last four-year term. One of those contenders also got a supportive visit from the Governor while our Congressman came to say a word for the U.S. Senate candidate. But I also found time for yet more odds and ends as well as October traditions the Good Beer Festival and Autumn Wine Festival as well as the GBF and AWF music as Weekend of Local Rock pieces. I also supported a great cause with a funny guy.

We all know what happened in November, and the election hits kept coming: a look at early voting, pregame thoughts, and two parts of immediate postgame analysis for starters – and, of course, associated odds and ends with the campaigns. Then I took a few mental health days before returning with my Thanksgiving message and shopping advice for Cyber Monday.

Wrapping up in December, I began the end-of-year watch by writing about my moody teenager and performing one of my favorite tasks: inducting new members for and updating my Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame. Speaking of baseball, I opined on how Salisbury could be a better minor league town, too.

But the year’s last month brought a new look to odds and ends (and the site in general.) I also got to compare the Indivisible movement to the TEA Party (which relates to my forthcoming book, which also got a placeholder website during 2018) and provided the other usual year-end goodies of my Christmas message and top 5 records I reviewed for the year.

So that is how 2018 went. With a couple days to go, I’m some significant number of degrees of Rushalanches away from readership in my halcyon decade of 2007-16. Hey, at least I made 5 digits at 10,372, but then I really don’t promote the site on social media anymore, have fewer posts to link to, and found that people don’t think of me as much for political horserace analysis and advice nowadays – in large part because I’ve consciously stepped away from that scene. While I devoted a large part of my year to Campaign 2018, I was only made more jaded and cynical from the results and the easy manipulation of the electorate by “fake news” such as the overwhelmingly negative coverage of President Trump. If people don’t get the concept that fewer regulations and lower taxes at the federal level makes life better for them because they have more freedom to choose how they live their lives and spend the money they earned – well, I don’t know how else to help them. Lord knows I couldn’t influence the formerly Republican-held House to do its stated task of eliminating Obamacare.

So I’ll look closer to home, as perhaps I should have all along. If the Good Lord is willing to provide and answer my prayers in a positive manner, 2019 has the prospect of being an exciting year for me: a new (or new to us) home across the border, and the release of my second book The Rise and Fall of the TEA Party, which has already received a glowing pre-review from a major early participant.

Granted, there will be the fun of watching Democrat presidential contenders try to leapfrog farther and farther to the left. (Well, it’s fun until someone gets hurt or – Heaven forbid – we actually elect one of them.) Let the whole host of them try to appease the Indivisible Left, splitting the vote from the progressive wing while the establishment Democrat wins the nomination – just like the 2012 GOP Presidential race with the TEA Party. And Lord help us all if Hillary runs again.

But I’m really looking forward to the personal things I described two paragraphs ago. Over the last couple years this blog has sort of evolved from a political diary to a more personal one, reflecting (as always) what interests me and prompts me to write. So as 2019 dawns I wish it to be your best year ever, despite the seeds of chaos that will be sown by forces of darkness.

monoblogue music: 2018’s top 5

Once again, for at least the third year in a row, I was disappointed that I had fewer than 20 records to review – that in spite of adding a few unsolicited contenders for the prize, one of which is represented on this list (and another that just missed it.) Thanks to those two I had a couple extra contenders because otherwise my top 5 would have been sort of “meh.”

So after going back through all my 2018 reviews and reminding myself why I liked these albums, here are your top 5 for this year.

5. Maxwell James (self-titled)

Original review: July 14.

This debut straddles lines between several genres despite its short length – it’s a five-song EP. Taking elements away from classic country, blues, and alternative rock, Maxwell James puts them together in something that was a pleasure to listen to. Unlike a lot of other artists who give us too much filler to pad out an overly long effort, Maxwell makes you wish there were a couple more on the CD. It leaves a listener wondering which direction James will decide to go as his career advances.

4. “Buffalo Hotel” by Geoff Gibbons

Original review: January 27.

Gibbons presented the image of a rough-and-tumble Western-style artist based on the cover of this one, but it turned out he was rather far from the “hat band” style of country that’s dominated the charts over the last couple decades. Instead, he reaches back to a bygone time when country music wasn’t rock music played with different instruments, and when there is the rock influence it’s done with a light touch. It’s worth listening to for the stories that are told.

3. “Electric Bouquet” by Peak

Original review: December 16.

If you look at the album cover hard enough, you’ll figure out that it indeed is an electric bouquet. If you listen to the album long enough, you’ll wonder why these guys aren’t raking in millions on a record deal and tour. They certainly have the musical chops to do so – perhaps they have more talent than the market will allow.

This was one of the three “filler” albums I closed out my year with, and by a pretty good margin it was the best of the three. I’ll be interested to see what this group that intersects funk and rock will do with their next release.

2. “Isolated Thunderstorms” by Jared Weiss

Original review: August 18.

There’s no doubt that Jared can sing, since he’s a performer on the musical theater circuit. But this album became a winner because Weiss can also write very compelling songs that range the gamut from acoustic ballads to active prog rockers like my favorite song of all those I reviewed this year that comes from this album, Elusive Particle.

Another thing that set Jared apart from the rest was the sense of humor he has in his lyrics, a trait long-ago balladeers like Harry Chapin or Jim Croce could also pull off (and sell a truckload of singles in the process.) The music industry has changed since then, but good writing will still sell eventually.

1. “Campfire Party” by Justin Shapiro

Original review: June 9.

This was actually a very close competition between 1 and 2, but what pushed Shapiro over the line first was the multitude of well-written songs set with a backdrop of clear Southern rock influence – something that for me is really tough to beat having grown up and listened to Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers as they gave way to the heavier takes on the genre presented by Molly Hatchet, Blackfoot, Jackyl, and others.

As I said in the original review, this one hit my sweet spot and try as he might, Weiss couldn’t dislodge it nor could anyone else. Not only did it end up in my top 5, but “Campfire Party” finished as the top one.

I should add that a couple albums from 2018 deserve an honorable mention as they were also contenders for these spots: “Inward” by Ghostly Beard (reviewed the week before Shapiro in June) and last week’s offering “Past” by Kate Coleman were also seriously considered for this list. It’s also unfortunate that Paul Maged didn’t finish his trilogy this year because that would certainly be in contention for a position – but I want to judge it as a whole despite the fact it will be released in three different calendar years.

Next week (or perhaps January 12, depending on how long the research goes) I’ll revisit these and my previous listed artists – at least those who are still around and making music – and see how they’re doing.

In the meantime, go check these folks out if you like good music!

A better minor-league town

This definitely goes in a unique “stack of stuff” but to me it’s also a springboard to a relevant point. Plus it’s a dead week between Christmas and New Year’s so it’s not a political week.

If you go back to post number 2 – number one being the “soft opening” URL placeholder – in this long-running saga of my political thoughts and life in general, you will find it’s related to my hometown baseball team. So it is with this post, as Toledo was named the nation’s top minor league town.

The hometown rag had a good time with this, but if you read the piece you’ll see why Toledo was selected. And it’s worth mentioning something the writer of the original assessment said in the Blade story:

“They took a big risk coming back to downtown when they did, and deserve a lot of credit for the excitement in downtown revitalization,” said Birdwell-Branson, who recently moved to Toledo. “Essentially, it came down to this: Toledo is not Toledo without its Mud Hens or its Walleye.”

“Toledo ranked No. 1 among minor league sports towns”, Mark Monroe, Toledo Blade, December 12, 2018.

Just for context’s sake, Toledo, with its metro area of about 600,000 hardy folk, has two major professional sports teams. Most not under a rock have heard of the Mud Hens baseball team, in large part thanks to a guy best known as Max Klinger, the dress-wearing corporal in the TV series M*A*S*H. (Far fewer know him as Jamie Farr and only real trivia buffs – or Toledo natives – know him as Jameel Farrah, but that’s his real name.) While 507,965 made it out this season, it was a down year for attendance: the Mud Hens’ worst since moving to Fifth Third Field in 2002 and despite winning their first IL West title since 2007. (Perhaps eight losing seasons in a row prior to 2018 dampened enthusiasm.)

It could also be that some of their thunder was stolen by the Walleye, as the hockey team set new attendance records in the 2017-18 season and finished second in attendance in the 27-team ECHL, a league analogous to the AA level in baseball. Had their Huntington Center been larger, it’s likely they would have led the league in attendance as the Walleye averaged 102% of capacity. In 2018 the Walleye season didn’t end until early May when they lost in their division finals – they have won their ECHL division in the regular season four straight seasons – so there was an overlap between the two teams that may have cut the Mud Hens’ attendance.

In the minds of ownership, however, it doesn’t matter if the fans flock to Fifth Third Field or the Huntington Center because both are owned by the same entity: Toledo Mud Hens Baseball Club, Inc. (The Walleye are owned by the subsidiary Toledo Arena Sports, Inc. They purchased the former Toledo Storm ECHL hockey franchise in 2007 and put the team on ice, as it were, until the Huntington Center was finished in 2009.) It’s a business entity with an interesting background:

The unusual ownership structure was inaugurated in 1965 when Lucas County formed a nonprofit corporation to buy and manage a team. A volunteer board of directors appointed by the county board of commissioners owns and operates the team, with the county as the ultimate financial benefactor.

“Toledo Mud Hens, Walleye reorganize top management”, Bill Shea, Crain’s Detroit Business, June 15, 2015.

In Toledo, then, Lucas County (Toledo is county seat) owns both the teams and the venues, which are conveniently within blocks of one another in downtown Toledo. Spurred on by government money, the county has also invested in Hensville, a renovation project taking existing adjacent building stock and creating an entertainment center with the ready-made prospect of 7,000 or more fans at an adjacent venue on about 100 nights a year, mainly on weekends in the winter and spring and any night during the summer. (Note this doesn’t count concerts and shows held several nights a year at Huntington.)

Now let’s compare our scenario: the recent (2015) addition of Sussex County, Delaware and Worcester County, Maryland to the existing Salisbury metro area gives it a population of about 390,000, about 2/3 of Toledo’s but spread over a much wider geographic area. This difference, as well as the disparity in levels as the Delmarva Shorebirds are three steps below the Mud Hens, more than likely explains why attendance for the Shorebirds is less than half that of the Mud Hens, barely eclipsing the 200,000 mark in 2018 as an all-time low. Moreover, even if Salisbury had a hockey team, as has been rumored for the past few years, it would probably be at the commensurate level to the Shorebirds, and at least one step below the ECHL.

On that note, the two most likely possibilities for pro hockey in Salisbury are the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL), a 10-team league as currently comprised, and the Federal Hockey League (FHL), which has six teams at present. The SPHL is the more stable of the two, and has better-attended games: league average attendance for the SPHL is 2,870 so far this season compared to a puny 1,409 between the six FHL squads – but only two Federal League teams are solidly in a four-figure average; a third is at 1,010 per game.

Unfortunately, the travel scenario for a Salisbury-based SPHL team would be dicey: the league’s closest franchises are in Roanoke, Virginia and Fayetteville, North Carolina and both are just under six-hour trips; moreover, six of the ten teams lie in the Central Time Zone. The most likely way Salisbury could be added to the SPHL would be in a pairing with another expansion team along the East Coast and a switch to a format with two six-team (or three four-team) divisions. On the other hand, while the FHL is somewhat spread out over a geographic area ranging from upstate New York to North Carolina to Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois, Salisbury is within the footprint and the league only schedules games on weekends, with one team generally playing two consecutive nights against the same opponent. Placing an eighth team in the Midwest would allow the league to have two four-team divisions (and possibly even adding a weeknight game within the four-team blocks, expanding the FHL’s current 56-game schedule. The schedule is similar in the SPHL; by comparison the ECHL plays a 72-game season.)

While the lack of a hockey team is a major stumbling block, the bigger issue is a lack of synergy between the two venues because they are several miles apart. And since a downtown location is out of the question for these facilities, the next best scenario to me would be to eventually replace one of the two facilities and move it adjacent to the other. Of course, having just spent millions of dollars of state and county money to repair both facilities as part of renovations requested in part by the Orioles (for Perdue) and a county study (for the WYCC), that’s not happening anytime soon, either.

So we have to make do with what we have. While it won’t necessarily be pedestrian-friendly, there is available land adjacent to both venues that could be developed into further entertainment options. In all honesty, there are pros and cons to development at both locations: the Hobbs Road site has great highway access and open land with infrastructure in place as it’s already annexed to the city. Would it be out of character with the area to have an urban-style development close by Perdue Stadium? Perhaps, plus there’s also the aspect of certain city leaders who seem to want all the entertainment options to be downtown and not develop the outskirts as a competitor.

On the other hand, redevelopment of the Old Mall site would be a welcome lift to that part of Salisbury but it’s not going to happen without a steady stream of events at the Civic Center, and minor league hockey seems to have the same level of fickleness as independent league baseball.

Every town is different, but I think Salisbury is missing out on some opportunities. I’m truly hoping that renovations in progress at Perdue Stadium bring out some of that entertainment district element and the WYCC gets that hockey team tenant to help fill the venue another 30 or so nights a year. It’s probably the best we can do for the immediate future.

Wishes for a Merry Christmas 2018

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Luke 2:8-20 (KJV)

I’m not going to write a lot about this Christmas season, preferring instead to simply wish you a merry one. As usual, mine will be spent with Kim’s family so the site will be dark tomorrow.