The third administration

I observed on Facebook earlier today that eight years may seem like a long time, but on the other hand my wife and I have only known one administration as a couple: we met just two weeks after Barack Obama took office.

By that same token, today monoblogue moved into its third administration, as I began this enterprise in George W. Bush’s second term and somehow made it through eight years of Barack Obama. Obviously one may conclude that, being a conservative, I would have a lot less to complain about in a Republican administration – but something tells me this will be a Republican administration like no other.

In a lot of the analysis I’ve read about why and how Donald Trump came to the place of being sworn in today as our 45th president, the quick take is that he did it much like Ronald Reagan did: he appealed directly to the people and was effective enough at working around the filter of the media that he succeeded where Mitt Romney, John McCain, and the two Bushes had failed – and yes, I am aware that George W. Bush was president for eight years (and his dad for four.) But would you consider them successful presidents? I’m not sure that I would. On the other hand, Reagan is fondly remembered by most of America except the hardcore Left.

It’s no secret that I didn’t vote for Trump in either the primary or general elections, and my approach to him at this point is one of a fairly wary optimism. In all honesty, that’s based more on the public perception that things are turning around for the better than any evidence I have that his policies will show us the way to make America great again. (I will say, though, that what I wrote about in today’s Patriot Post did tug the rope slightly more in his favor. But I have to see follow-through.) Yet one thing Reagan had in his favor was his sunny optimism that it was morning again in America, and many of my more conservative friends invoked that sentiment in discussing today’s events. (Of course, those few left-leaning friends of mine will likely feel like the old Li’l Abner character Joe Btfsplk with the black cloud perpetually over his head for the next four to eight years.)

Yet I share in the optimism, if only because my circumstances are improved from the last time around. When 43 became 44, I was out of work – however, I was warned that if Obama was elected our business may be in for a rough ride. He was elected and I was let go a month later. Needless to say, it wasn’t really my mood to give him a chance because I could sense Obama was bad news for America based on the policies he wished to put in place. And I believe I was correct in that assessment because I’m not better off than I was eight years ago, at least in an economic sense. If Obama was a progressive, we desperately need a regressive as far back as the Constitution will let us go. Unfortunately, Trump’s not that guy and the one I thought would be got 200,000 votes nationwide.

In that time, though, I’ve become more convinced that we are under the control of a higher power anyway. If it is His will that America survives, it will indeed do so – if not, I leave my fate up to Him. I’ve been blessed to spend 52 years here in this God-blessed nation, which is something that few who walked on this planet ever got and likely much more than I as a sinner who falls short of the glory of God deserves. So I sort of get this sneaking hunch that the reason I was given the talent I have and placed where I was is to try and preserve the blessing – thus, I will remain on that side of the equation regardless of who is president.

So good luck to President Trump and Vice-President Pence, and best retirement wishes for the Obamas and Bidens. Enjoy being private citizens again. As for me, it doesn’t matter who is president because I am writing for a different reason.

monoblogue music: following up in 2017

January 7, 2017 · Posted in Music Reviews, Personal stuff · Comment 

A few weeks back I resolved to follow up on the acts which have made my top 5 review lists from 2014, 2015, and 2016. I was curious to see if they were still making music and whether it was still good stuff. So over the last couple weeks or so I have been checking things out with these 15 acts and this is what I found, beginning with the 2014 crop.

Billy Roberts And The Rough Riders were my #5 pick in 2014. At the time I noted the Australian native was not a big fan of social media, but he has been prolific musically: in 2015 he did a follow-up called “Go By Myself” and this year I was alerted to another new release via e-mail – somehow I have managed to get on the e-mail list. Back in the summer Roberts released a rather haunting single called Little Johnny, which is purportedly off an upcoming album called “Greenbah.”

In this case, the song seems to fit the voice much better. With this single I think Roberts drifted away from country into a harder blues sound, but he came back just before Christmas (and actually after my initial draft of this piece) with a new single called Blood and Bones.

This one is more pop-flavored with the inclusion of some tasty organ. Again, for the most part Roberts is taking advantage of his raspy voice to good effect, and we now can see that “Greenbah” will continue Billy’s tradition of stylized animation for his album and single covers.

For awhile in the first couple years of monoblogue music, Tomas Doncker was a staple feature with his True Groove record label and musical performances, including the Tomas Doncker Band that had the #4 record from 2014, a tribute to Howlin’ Wolf. They actually had two albums reviewed in the space of a few months, with “Big Apple Blues” reviewed in October of 2014. Doncker also helped out on releases from TG members Lael Summer, Marla Mase, and Kevin Jenkins – all within the first 18 months or so of this feature’s existence.

In more recent times, Doncker’s band has subsequently sent out another soulful but politically-charged release called “The Mess We Made.” While several of the songs set an angry tone, it also has an interesting redo of U2′s Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, too. The band also continues to play the occasional show in the New York region, but I suspect most of his energy is working toward the True Groove Records corporate goals.

Hailing from Sweden, The Lost Poets did an EP called “Insubordia” that landed in my #3 spot in 2014. I noted in my year-end review that they had put out a subsequent single called Mouth that I wasn’t sure would be part of a larger project or a bridge to the next thing. Well, I found out my answer: earlier this year The Lost Poets put out a full-length album called (not exactly original here) “Insubordia Pt. II.” It’s an album that remains true to the band’s grungy, heavy-laden style of grinding guitar and occasionally plodding rhythms – had I reviewed it, though, they would have had another top 5 contender. Meanwhile, Mouth was not only included in Pt. II but also added to a motion picture soundtrack for a movie called “Don’t Kill It,” a Dolph Lundgren flick coming out this spring.

But what’s even cooler, and speaking of movies, apparently this is the band’s next move.

It’s a short film under consideration for the next Sundance film festival. So the band may move out of the standard tour/album mindset into a different corner of the music world, but in the meantime they recently released In A Wasteland from Pt. II as a single that’s getting a little bit of internet radio airplay and promise another one later this month. Should be interesting.

Two years ago, my #2 album was the very first album I reviewed, “Turn the People” from Australia’s Monks of Mellonwah. They were definitely a band on the upswing, with some dates in the U.S. that summer and fall, with the summer dates backing Scott Stapp and that fall opening for Sevendust. Late in 2015 they did an EP called “Disconnect.”

But that EP seemed to have more of a pop sound rather than alternative rock. (I couldn’t see Sevendust fans being into it, that’s for sure.) And it seemed to be the end of the road – no social media updates, no new music, nothing. Their website – suspended. So I have no idea what happened to these guys, whether they went their separate ways or just put the Monks on a deep hiatus. Sort of a shame.

As for Paul Maged, whose 2014 effort “Diamonds & Demons” was my #1 selection, it appears he’s busy working on the follow-up while doing an occasional show with his “new and improved” backup band, the Strangers. Back in the spring I reviewed a one-off single he did called The Wild, which I was mostly pleased with. If I considered singles for my top 5, it would have been on the short list for inclusion but maybe more of an honorable mention.

But as I checked into his doings it was funny in checking out his Twitter feed that he was #NeverTrump too; however, I truly suspect his reasons were a lot different than mine – particularly as he was working on a gun control song and I’m definitely pro-2A in my viewpoint! But I’ll bet the music is good nonetheless. As he was recently in the process of mixing a song called The Glass River, I’m hoping that I get a chance to check a new album out in the early stages of 2017.

Now I’ll look at my 2015 winners, beginning with the #5 album from Idiot Grins. “Big Man” is still getting airplay around the world, but as of this past September the group was in the studio working on its follow-up. So I would imagine they will be debuting something new in 2017 – but it would be nice if they updated social media more than once in awhile.

On the other hand, The Liquorsmiths, who had the #4 album, are both proficient in social media and have followed up on “This Book Belongs To…” with a album that came out in August called “All My Friends Are Fighters.” I gave it a listen, and to me it took the band in a good direction but the execution was uneven. This may have been the unusual production strategy or just my general mood, so you may disagree. While they did a mini-tour from Georgia back to home awhile back, more recently they’ve been sticking around their own San Diego area playing the occasional show. They still do well marketing, though, with the most recent release being a full compilation called “The Complete Works.”

One thing unique about Tumbler, which came in with my #3 pick in 2015, is that after I reviewed it I received a nice note from and struck up a brief e-mail conversation with Richard Grace, who is the musical veteran of the group shepherding his son Harry into the music business. He said a year or so ago that they would follow up in 2016, and indeed they have with an album called “Come to the Edge.” The younger Grace penned four of the twelve tracks in the sophomore effort, and this could be a trend: as Richard said on the new album’s release, “Our kitchen concerts don’t happen so much these days. Endings though bring new beginnings. I don’t know where or whether Tumbler goes next. Whatever the future holds I’m grateful.”

But I’ll be damned if I’m not grateful for this release, because I thought it even better than the first – just like The Lost Poets above, this would have been a definite top 5 contender. The mix of songs would probably give some A & R guy a heart attack, but to me that’s part of the charm as old-school, traditionalist dad has several of the more retro, Beatlesque songs on the record while son has his more modern pop-rock tracks. “Come to the Edge” is a fun listen from great alternative to start to very upbeat, inspiring sort of prog-rocker to finish. I’m rooting for just a few more kitchen concerts.

Now I’m not quite sure what is up with the Space Apaches. Perhaps they’ve veered off to another galaxy, leaving just the traces of their second-place album from 2015 behind. Seriously, they haven’t done much in the way of social media or updating their website so they must be all doing their own thing as session musicians can tend to do, I suppose.

Speaking of doing his own thing, Jas Patrick is putting music on the back burner for a time and making some money in a slightly different arena. But he promises to get back to it and I’m holding him to that because the last thing he did was my #1 album of 2015.

Admittedly, this year’s crop really hasn’t had much time to do other things since putting out their music, but I still wanted to see if they were touring or following up at all.

Since I just reviewed the #5 album from Michael Van and the Movers last month, I wasn’t expecting a lot and so far not much has progressed except for a few more good reviews. We’ll see what they’re up to in the months ahead, but for now there’s inertia as far as they are concerned.

The social media is beginning to pick up on Midwest Soul Xchange, who kicked off 2016 with what turned out to be my 4th-ranked CD. Shortly thereafter, they announced they had enlisted a bassist and drummer to flesh out their band for a brief Midwest tour slated for last fall, and we’ve also been promised they are working on the follow-up album. They’re worth watching in 2017 to see how this goes, because I suspect the tour didn’t pan out – however, I just saw (again, since my initial draft of this before Christmas) where they have an April Fool’s Day show in Wisconsin where they pledge to “give a sneak preview of their upcoming material.”

I am truly convinced that as easily as some of us breathe, Jim Peterik writes songs. It’s like he must roll out of bed with riffs and lyrics on his brain, far better than I can write prose on a good day of blogging. Just recently he and friends Tom Yankton and Steve Salzman put together and debuted this country song.

And then you have the recent annual Christmas show he did with Ides of March in Chicago, not to mention that his band Pride of Lions will drop a new album in January. So I would venture to say that, even at the age of 66, he’s putting out more music than guys in the business half his age. (And dropping a lot of names on social media, where I found out he plays weddings. Of course, I suppose if you can pay for a wedding at Disney World, you can hire a well-known band, too.) It gives us whippersnappers hope, although I hope to be a successful writer a little bit before I’m 66. After all, #3 out of many isn’t a bad position to be in: I’d take the #3 spot on a best-sellers list any time - as long as there are more than three contenders, of course.

Having just put out their second-place album in November, Steve Hussey and Jake Eddy are seeing some success in Europe and hope to get a push stateside on the Americana charts as the year dawns. I haven’t seen a tour put together yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out they’re at least hitting the prime regional spots in the Ohio Valley. That may sound strange to us on the East Coast, but in their genre it’s a little like the Silicon Valley is to high-tech.

As they keep on supporting my top album pick of 2016, the Magic Lightnin’ Boys play shows around their home area of Cincinnati, but they also use their talents to bring awareness of a number of causes. In the first case, they take the song Fear & Freedom from their “Stealin’ Thunder” album I reviewed and use it to capture their take on the Standing Rock standoff that’s come to a temporary truce.

A little more recently, they did a touching version of an old country classic to honor those who perished and lost their property in the Gatlinburg fire.

Obviously there is no moss growing under their feet. They use their social media for a lot of live peeks at their rehearsals and such, so it’s entertaining to follow them. Hopefully we will see the next album from the group in the coming months (perhaps it will be an acoustic one?) because the world needs more southern rock with a heaping helping of blues and just a bit of old-school country.

So that’s where my top picks from the last three years of monoblogue music are as 2017 dawns. As long as I keep doing the music reviews I think I’m going to make this an annual feature, although I’m sure over time some of these artists and groups will no longer be actively making music. Yet if they keep it up - and based on what I’ve heard from a lot of them lately - it should be good stuff.

Update 1-14-17: I happened to see this in my social media message box, but here’s a follow-up from Ryan Summers of Midwest Soul Xchange:

I saw your (social media) note about talking about updates from the winners. Just thought I’d fill you in on what’s happening with us. There should be a steady stream of shows coming up from here on out. Being an independent act living in two parts of the country, it’s taken us awhile to get the infrastructure set up to put on a good live show. More to come there… The next album is already in the works. It’s going to be a concept album and should be due out late this year or early next. There might be a couple singles we’ll release prior to that as well. Feel free to send me any other questions too. Thanks again! Ryan – MSX

Ringing in 2017: a treatise on “stuff”

January 1, 2017 · Posted in Personal stuff · Comment 

I had a vacation day left over from work last week, so I did what a lot of people do and took it in the dead period between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

So as I sat in my chair as I often do when writing, I took a look around. We still had all the Christmas decorations up and many of the presents we received remained under the tree in the gift bags we got them in. Obviously we appreciated the sentiments and the thought, but there was also a part of me that saw it as just so much clutter that we had to find a place for, either cramming it in with all the other things we already have or getting rid of the old. That weeding-out process seems an appropriate way to close out one calendar year and begin another: the thing I think people like about New Year’s Day is the clean slate and fresh start – never mind you will likely fall back into your old habits before the first robin of spring shows up.

And the same may be true for me, but then I wondered about all the other people out there whose mindset anymore is that “he who dies with the most toys, wins.” I don’t have the retail sales numbers handy, but I’m sure most of them had plenty of floor traffic and online sales to make their Christmas season brighter. As far as that goes for keeping people gainfully employed and shareholders happy, that’s a good thing. But what does the newest electronic gadget really add to one’s life, especially if it replaces one that’s still functional but perhaps slightly outdated as far as technology goes? (As an analogy, it’s like replacing a 2016 model automobile with a 2017 model because it was “redesigned” – the old one still achieves its purpose just fine.) I asked for and received stuff I found useful: sweaters for a chilly office at work, gift cards to Wawa for the days I don’t pack a lunch, and things like that. But I still need more hangers in my closet thanks to the sweaters.

On the other hand, the things I gave to family were at least no more than a couple degrees of separation from experiences: our daughter likes hunting so I got her a gift card she can use to further that which she enjoys, while Kim got a place to store all the photos she takes when we go away or have memorable events. I also gave her something where she can have her own rather unique experience with people of her choosing. Those are the kinds of gifts I like to give when I can.

It may be a facet of my personality but I do not like clutter and prefer order; on the other hand, I also have the tendencies of a pack rat when it comes to certain mementos. But I had a time in my life when I needed to purge a lot of “stuff” and it was among the most liberating things I did. And, if you are on social media, have you ever considered the meme that shows some desolate one-room cabin in the woods and asks something along the line of “would you stay in this place with no internet for a month for $100,000?” More often than not, people say yes. But you better believe they would want some of their stuff to take along. I’d rather have the internet and live with just the basics.

Unfortunately, over the last several years we have seen what conspicuous consumerism has wrought for some people. Certainly there were those who, a dozen years ago, used the equity on their home to buy a boat, a motorhome, and the latest in electronic equipment – only to have to dispose of these things at fire sale prices (or less, such as losing all they had paid on the big-ticket items) when everything about the economy went to hell in a handbasket. Even a lot of people who otherwise did things the “right” way (as they were told) fell victim to overextending beyond their means when the rungs on their economic ladder were sawn off by a job furlough. And they were layoffs caused in no small part by people who wanted all the “stuff” they could get and borrowed the money to acquire it. In one perspective that boom period of a decade ago had a great system: letting people have everything their hearts desired, making profits for bankers, and goosing up production at thousands of factories around the globe, enabling them to hire more people or invest in devices that increased production – but it only lasted until the fiscal house of cards we had built on derivatives collapsed under its own sheer weight.

So imagine what it would be like to have less “stuff” by your own choice and not the force of external events. Would it have an effect on the overall economy? To hear the corporate shills tell it, they would be mortified at the prospect and would sell you on the siren song that gloom and doom awaited as thousands would be laid off and we would have a depression, not a recession. But, once we divested ourselves of the excess and that which was salvageable found its way to those who could better use it, I think we would see our standard of living improve from a spiritual and societal standpoint. Perhaps we would treasure fellowship over frivolity, enjoy the slower pace of life, and turn our backs to the world to some necessary degree. It doesn’t take retreating to a Spartan cabin in the woods to get closer to your true self. But ponder as I have during the time that I wrote this piece whether you are living to acquire things or to enjoy life’s rich palette of experiences, and plan your 2017 accordingly.

As this is posted our family will be in church and will soon enjoy the fellowship of a pork and sauerkraut New Year’s lunch afterward. Perhaps a good resolution for readers who haven’t made that decision would be that of setting yourself right with our Creator?

Just remember: you can’t take “stuff” with you.

But if you insist on the political, I went back and looked up my thoughts as the economy bottomed out after the 2008 financial crisis. While I still agree with what I wrote in a political sense, this eight-year period sure has seen a lot of change in my life otherwise!

A look ahead: 2017

Last year I did this in three parts, but to me that may be overkill this time around. Consider that 2017 is not an election year, so if anything we will not see much on that front until the latter stages of the year as the campaigns for 2018′s state elections ramp up. And because all but one of our local officials are first-term representatives in their respective offices, it’s likely they will wish to continue in office. Bear in mind, though, on the Senate side longtime House member Addie Eckardt will be 75 and Jim Mathias (who is in his second term as Senator after one-plus in the House) will be 67 by the time the next election comes around, so they are likely closer to the end of their lengthy political careers than to the beginning. And thanks to Wicomico County voters who passed the referendum this past November, 2017 will be the year we formally set up the elections which will net the county its first fully-elected Board of Education in late 2018.

Speaking of the local BOE, we still have an appointed board until that election and the two members whose terms expire this year are both Democrats who are term-limited. I suspect the local Democrats will try and send up names of people who will run for seats in 2018 to gain that incumbency advantage – as envisioned, though, these will be non-partisan elections. And the final say goes to the state Secretary of Appointments, who over the years hasn’t always been kind to those we preferred, either. Or, conversely, since the incumbents serve until their successors are appointed, we may see a long stalling technique, too. It will be interesting to see how that plays out, but I’ll bet those who are appointed will use that tenure as a springboard for eventual election.

Elsewhere in Wicomico County as 2016 comes to an end, it appears the city of Salisbury and Wicomico County are working out their issues rather well. The biggest sticking point remains fire service, and it’s relatively likely the city is going to see more of a reimbursement from the county when it comes to that – perhaps to the tune of up to $2 million a year. It’s possible there may be something to cut to make up for this, but as the county has increased its debt in the last few years to build several schools it leaves less room for spending cuts to make up the difference. If the city receives $2 million annually that would equate to about a 3 or 4 cent property tax increase for county residents. There’s also the chance that a tax differential or rebate may be on the table in order to reimburse city residents, as they pay the same tax rate as county residents. Wicomico is one of only three counties in the state that choose not to provide a tax differential to their municipalities.

But there is another factor to consider. Back in June the number of people working in Wicomico County set an all-time high of 52,010, eclipsing a mark that had stood for nearly a decade (July 2006.) That record lasted a month, as July came in at 53,668. While the number of jobs has finally reached where we were a decade ago, bear in mind the labor force is about 1,000 larger – so unemployment is in the 5.5% range rather than 4%. Even so, that extra number of people working – a number which year-over-year between 2015 and 2016 has fluctuated quite a bit but usually comes in at 1,000 or more additional workers in 2016 – means there’s more revenue to the county from income taxes so paying the city of Salisbury may not be such a heavy lift. The question for 2017 will be whether these economic conditions continue and whether Wicomico County will want to spend every “extra” dime on items which are unsustainable in rougher economic times.

That same question goes for the state, but the trend there has been for more spending. Democrats in the General Assembly added millions in mandated spending to the state budget and it’s a sure bet they will try again this year. Add to that the general belief that year 3 of a Maryland political cycle sees the most ambitious agenda put forth – it’s time for those incumbents to bring home the bacon and burnish their re-election chances the next year – and you can bet that paid sick leave will pass, Radical Green will have its day (perhaps with a fracking ban, which would devastate Western Maryland), and any Hogan veto will be promptly overridden. It’s certain that they will leave enough time in passing these controversial bills to do so. We’ve already seen battle lines drawn with the counter-proposal from Governor Hogan on paid sick leave and the social media-fueled drive to repeal the “Road Kill Bill” that Democrats passed over Governor Hogan’s veto in the spring of this year.

The wild card in state politics, though, comes from national politics. It’s not because we had the well-publicized answer to an extremely nosy press – if only they paid as much attention to some of Martin O’Malley’s foibles and scandals! – that Larry Hogan wasn’t going to support his (nominally at best) fellow Republican Donald Trump, but the idea that Donald Trump may actually do something to cut the size and scope of government. (Military contractors, particularly, have reason to worry.) And because Maryland’s economy is so dependent on the federal government, to a shocking and sickening degree, we know that if Trump begins to make cuts it will hurt Maryland the most. Given the typical bureaucrat CYA perspective, it explains perfectly why four of the five jurisdictions Trump did worst in - the only five which came in below his 35% statewide total – were the four counties closest to the District of Columbia (MoCo, PG, Charles, and Howard. Baltimore City was the fifth.) While I am entirely a skeptic on this, there seems to be the belief that Trump will take a meat cleaver to the budget and thousands of federal and contract workers will be cast aside because of it.

And in a situation where revenues are already coming up short of forecast, a recession in the state’s biggest jurisdictions, coupled with the mandated spending Democrats keep pushing through, will make it really, really difficult on Larry Hogan going into 2018. You will be able to judge who has the most ambition to be Governor by who carps the longest about these cuts.

While the Dow Jones stalled this week in an effort to breach the 20,000 mark by year’s end, the rise in the markets echoes consumer optimism - even as fourth quarter GDP forecasts turned a little bearish, consumers still feel a little better about the state of our economy. If we can get the 4% GDP growth Donald Trump promised we may see some of these fiscal crises take care of themselves.

Yet there was also a sentiment in 2016 that the world was going mad: consider all the terror attacks, the seemingly unusual number of and extended shock over high-profile celebrity deaths, and a general turning away from that which was considered moral and proper to that which fell under the realm of political correctness, wasn’t a “trigger” and didn’t violate the “safe spaces” of the Millennial “snowflakes.” (I can’t resist linking to this one I wrote for The Patriot Post.) At some point the pendulum swings back the other way, but in most cases that takes a life-changing event like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. I’d prefer a much softer transition but a transition nonetheless.

As I see it, the key word for 2017 will be leadership: if the current elected officials and new President have it and use it wisely to the benefit of our county, state, and nation “so help me God” things will be okay. If not, well, we’ve seen that movie for about eight or ten years already and we will continue to slouch toward Gomorrah.

2016: a monoblogue year in review

December 29, 2016 · Posted in Personal stuff · Comments Off 

I don’t have as much to review this year, for reasons which I will remind readers of along the line.

So perhaps my first post of the year in January was prescient, as I talked about transcending the political. On the other hand, Cathy Keim was of the opinion this would be a pivotal year in politics. She didn’t like the push polling, either, and later in the month I speculated on who did it and why. She and I also discussed a controversial school board nominee in Baltimore County – controversial because she’s conservative.

But within the political for me was the expected turnover in the Presidential race. We also got an endorsement from a former VP candidate who chose populism over substance, while the battle lines were being drawn for the conservative movement. I still had reservations about the frontrunner and his effect on the GOP.

On the state level there were bad ideas about changing the terms of Central Committee members and automatic voter registration. There was a better idea from a wildly popular governor to attract manufacturing to our local region, but it went nowhere fast. However, we had our school board bill reintroduced, with an electoral twist.

I also had to point out one of the narratives which has bedeviled the state and nation for far too long, as assumptions need to change. Another of them was the red vs. blue mindset, to which I introduced white. And would the Baby Boomers ever leave the stage?

Cathy did me a favor and covered a state conference in several different parts, a conference that we found out later won’t have a 2017 edition. I also noted the belief our fair city hadn’t arrived yet because we’re missing a Cracker Barrel - even as a former mayor announced ambitious political plans – and formally remembered a late friend through music.

As is always the case in our first month, the state began its legislative session and those subjects lasted into February. While the elected school board bill advanced steadily, there was also talk in the state campaigns about manufacturing, a subject I often opine on. And I found our legislators weren’t always what they were cracked up to be.

We lost an esteemed figure in the conservative movement during the month. Looking back, death was a big news item in 2016, wasn’t it?

Yet our second month brought me the news I won a competition to review a wonderful (and very relevant) book. It’s definitely not part of the “PC groupthink” Cathy talked about, and perhaps it’s not a case study in using humor, either. But its author figured prominently when I reached a milestone. She also covered a Second Amendment event for me, as I was off being a newlywed. It was the first of her promotions from cub reporter through apprentice reporter (to cover a local appearance by Senate candidate Dave Wallace) to just plain reporter.

Still, while Cathy had her own thoughts on including women in the draft, found the weakest link in the abortion chain, and was perhaps prescient enough to discuss a hidden perk in the Electoral College (I rebuffed the national popular vote argument that came from it in the comments), it was the month I became more and more #NeverTrump - although Cathy could see why he was so popular - and the Iowa caucuses began to winnow the field for both Republicans and Democrats. Among that smaller group was Ben Carson, who got an interesting endorsement in time for the “SEC primary” that began March.

In its aftermath, I pled in vain for a unity ticket to stop Donald Trump since Carson saw the writing on the wall, too. And since Cathy was doing such a good job speaking about small victories, chicken farms – the subject of a later hearing I covered – and other agitators I decided to add another voice for energy commentary. (She even put me on her radio show.) Yet I didn’t need her to have my say on a federal energy policy.

So what was this Cathy wrote on “Cinderella men?” Maybe it had something to do with the totalitarian ideology that is Islam. I also found the need to editorialize on my loss of taste for talk radio and class envy in sports. In the sports realm I also announced a retirement tour for 2016.

Our third month also brought yet another twist on our electoral system, this time gerrymandering. I also thought ahead to 2018 given Governor Hogan’s approval ratings while hearing from a former governor at a book signing. (Never did get my copy, though. I was talking.) On the local front we heard from one Senate candidate while another received a passionate endorsement.

It was the same old same old as the “90 days of terror” wound down, as the Democrats rammed through their tribute to greed and power. (Now a bid for its repeal is making headlines.)

That affair came to a screeching halt in April. Cathy continued to make her points as well, speaking on building mosques, the culture of death, I was just concerned about a blogger I admire and a topic I visit often, manufacturing. I joined Cathy at a pro-life protest but also made some time to cover a local event hoping to continue a rebound.

As Donald Trump became more and more inevitable, I had to poke some fun at him. (But it was nice to see Maryland get a little candidate love while it lasted for a change.) I had my impressions (as well as a second helping and endorsement) on the Senate race, with my final bit of candidate coverage for both Senate and Congress (including a critical error, in my opinion, by one candidate that cost him my endorsement) two weeks before the primary. After our primary, though, there was another interesting race to attend to which would play out in May.

But I began that month with a serious thought piece on the audacity of faith. Rereading it, I can see why I’m proud of that analysis. Cathy also addressed faith with her coverage of the local edition of the National Day of Prayer Breakfast and perhaps peripherally with her case for homeschooling.

Yet politics beckoned and the first question was what to do with the “Trump Republicans.” I contended the increased turnout was more of being a contested primary. It became moot a couple days later, though. In spite of that, I noted the “lesser of two evils” endorsement and pondered the third-party effect that turned out to put Gary Johnson on the ballot.

So I turned to the Maryland GOP Spring Convention, noting the vast number of people vying, many as part of slates, for at-large Delegate and Alternate Delegate slots, the deepening National Committeeman race, and my usual coverage of the convention itself. I wrapped it up by checking how the slates fared. (Just as an aside, I think the aspect of my leaving the Central Committee people miss most is my convention coverage.)

As I prepared my monoblogue Accountability Project, I bounced off a column by Marita Noon with a Maryland-centric twist on it. Two of the female members of the Maryland General Assembly gave their spin on the session to the Wicomico County Republican Club. Unfortunately, too many of those bad bills became law because Larry Hogan’s veto pen must have run out of ink.

Turning to other subjects, I noted the passing of an online media enterprise and renewed my traditional Memorial Day weekend activities despite some rain. It took a couple weeks for me to finish that coverage.

But June began with me making a stand as #NeverTrump, which, along with the reaction and a desire for a do-over, dictated a lot of the rest of the year. (I’m sure it was just coincidence that Cathy had a piece on modern-day tyranny a couple days later.) Later in the month I found out I had company in high places. Still, I compared Trump’s ideas on trade with some other friends of mine, and found out our Trump headquarters made a national publication (before it did again in October.)

I returned to the state realm with the release of the 2016 monoblogue Accountability Project, which had two members garner perfect scores for the first time. On the local level, I compared a Wicomico County proposal with a program in place out in Garrett County, warning that it may be a budget-buster. Also a budget-buster: the idea of “clean energy.”

In the wake of the Pulse nightclub attack, I learned there was a fear…of Christians meeting to read the Bible. But there was no fear of drinking beer or listening to the bands. I also pined for a new political arrangement that would benefit all of us on this peninsula. But to start July our part of the peninsula was talking hockey.

Since the GOP convention was on the horizon – and the presumptive nominee was not stridently pro-life – there was a group looking to remind GOP convention attendees they were supposed to be the pro-life party. Then again, this was a question of whether we were a nation worthy of blessing, anyway. Not only that, it was rapidly becoming the season of my political discontent, so I laid out the case against Donald Trump in two parts. It led to a bit of a chilly reception at a later meeting.

That discontent with both the political situation and my body of work led to the admission that I had to throw in the towel on being a daily blogger. So it was a few days before I got back into things with a report on a traditional political event that actually was preceded by a few days by a great fundraiser and other local events.

I wrapped up the month with a compare and contrast piece on manufacturing, but began August with a micdrop bombshell: submitting my resignation from the Central Committee. It led to a new road that I’m now pursuing as well as my first post-GOP teaching moment. A few days later came another one dealing with Medicare. Conversely, I disagreed with my “partner in crime” on defunding Donald Trump. And, I asked, what is a flip-flop anyway?

It had been awhile since Cathy had contributed, but her and I got back together to discuss the various party platforms when it came to life issues. On her own, though, she returned to familiar topics of hers: immigration and Islam. She also took a hard look at the fear of being called racist.

Lastly, before Labor Day came and the campaigns really began, there was speculation that Andy Harris wanted a more prominent position. But I began September with the answer to the most trivial of questions: pitcher Mike Burke was my 242nd and final Shorebird of the Week. As always, it led to my season wrapups: Shorebird of the Year and picks and pans. I also debuted a fun five-part feature at the end of the month, looking at the art of the trade from an Orioles’ perspective.

Labor Day became more prominent in Maryland as Governor Hogan decreed it to be henceforth the final day of summer vacation for Maryland school kids – a good idea, but done with the heavy-handedness of the state behind it. But it was that day I talked about a different union between the GOP and conservative activists, and later in the month I took a frank look at the Senate campaign.

But as usual for the date I reminded people about 9/11, which came a couple days before the primary election up in Delaware. As a family that derives most of its income from the state, I felt I had to say something about it. At the end of that week, I celebrated our Constitution along with dozens of others here in Salisbury.

Opining on the gift of children, Cathy continued to find interesting subjects to comment on. I particularly liked her call to stand up and legislate! (And by legislate, she meant with the power of the purse, not more law.) Things didn’t always compute with her, just as the Ted Cruz endorsement of Donald Trump didn’t compute with me, either.

I don’t do a lot of book reviews in a year, so I moved from the reality of today in the first one to a well-done re-enactment of history for the second.

In October, I did a lot of posts but many of them were series posts. There was the look at that pesky electoral map, though, which as it turned out was Hillary’s Achilles’ heel, as well as yet another Trump bimbo eruption.

Most importantly, though, I embarked on the quest to find and endorse my choice for President. While Cathy was coy about her choice, she made the trip to Annapolis to check out one of the final stops on Franklin Graham’s Decision America tour. At month’s end and into November I wrapped up Congressional races in both Maryland and Delaware, the Maryland U.S. Senate race, and Delaware’s two highest statewide offices. I also took the time to study up on some local ballot issues.

So on the eve of the election I made my wild guesses and was shocked at what might pan out. After final thoughts on the election it was time for a series of postmortems looking at various aspects, including Donald Trump’s potential for success with those involved with manufacturing. On a related note, I renewed a call for shoppers to buy American for the holidays.

And did you know there are people trying to help me? I think I do okay on my own, but it was much-needed snark for me after the election. Unfortunately, the good feeling was short-lived: after bringing her on just a few months earlier, I lost the services of Marita Tedder (who wrote under her previous married name Marita Noon) when she declared her work finished. It led me to discuss the state of the writing business.

To begin the holidays, I gave thanks and it led to a week of introspection as December rolled in and my site celebrated eleven years.

One thing I missed, though, was the Maryland GOP Fall Convention – no coverage, and just a “meh” set of options for party leadership to pick from. I still gave that person some advice, though. I also missed Cathy Keim, but after a long break she explored the “deplorables” and pure of heart in a great two-part series. And I finally did the last 2016 election postmortem after the write-in votes were finally tallied.

I explored the idea of Carrier economics as Donald Trump got the official votes needed for President and promoted a key event, but my month was spent more on the less weighty side of things, such as my Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame induction post and extending Christmas greetings. Tomorrow I will look ahead to 2017 in just one post and Saturday, on New Year’s Eve, I will wrap a bow on 2016 by selecting my top 5 records out of those I reviewed this year.

By my count, that’s 188 links that define my website’s year. But the other measuring stick I have is readership, and unless my last few days come in with some huge numbers it looks like I will be a shade under 30,000 readers for 2016. It’s the lowest I’ve had since I started using this particular statistical program in 2007.

I suspect some will consider that punishment for not toeing the party line, holding my nose and supporting Donald Trump, but I’d rather have a clear conscience and stay true to principle. If I never get back to the readership numbers I had from 2012-14 I can at least say I’ve made an effort and said my piece. It’s not like no one reads here, either, as 30,000 readers would still be about 600 a week – and those who were here from the beginning know I was ecstatic the first time I made 500 way back when.

So that’s the year of monoblogue. It was a year where, arguably, more transition was made than any other. Hopefully 2017 will be a year I settle into a nice little groove.

Programming notes, a book update, and bleg

December 26, 2016 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging, Culture and Politics, Personal stuff · Comments Off 

To allocate a word from the hapless “Married With Children” character Al Bundy regarding the mouse in his house, this week is the deadest. It’s a week news outlets fill with year in review items and for me it will be no different as I sandwich my single-part look at things to watch in 2017 between my monoblogue year in review Thursday and the top 5 list of the albums I reviewed on Saturday. Now I won’t go as far as the blog expert who suggested that bloggers need not come back until mid-January, but unless the creek rises there’s no real need to write a deep thought piece here this week.

So I’m saving the deep thought for my book, which is now past the 10,000 word barrier in its initial draft. Overall, I would like to cover the subject in about 80 to 100 thousand words, which is at least half again as long as So We May Breathe Free was (and remember, this is all original.) I also have a couple more books on my list to acquire and read.

One thing I have done is put together a rudimentary, somewhat under construction social media page for the book. As I get farther along I will be adding more features to it, and perhaps create another outlet. After doing a book all by myself, this time I have some idea of what to avoid for round two.

And finally, I learned this morning The Patriot Post has someone willing to match donations as their year-end campaign reaches its final week. I added to my total for the year to keep them going, so if you enjoy reading it as much as I like writing there, perhaps you should consider a donation too. It’s a valuable outlet for news and informative perspective from a pro-liberty, pro-faith traditional point of view.

I told you Saturday I’d be back Monday, and so I have been. I just didn’t promise the longest of pieces.

Wishes for a Merry Christmas 2016

December 24, 2016 · Posted in Personal stuff · Comments Off 

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

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. (Luke 2:1-14, KJV)

So here we are again, celebrating our Savior’s birth with faith, food, friends, and family.

For many years I have kept up a tradition of leaving my site dark on Christmas Day, as oftentimes that would be the only day I take off from blogging in a year (at least in theory because I regularly schedule prewritten posts, like this one.) But as you obviously know, priorities in life change and things of this world that were once important or valued for their surface worth eventually fade away. So I will again leave the site dark for Christmas but of late that’s not been a unique occurrence.

I’m not sure if I can put my finger on just why this Christmas feels different than many of the rest. Since I’ve moved to Maryland (and even a time or two when I lived in Ohio) we’ve gone without snow in the runup to the holiday, and there have been those years when we have been told how bad it was at Christmastime. My messages over the last couple years have focused on the senseless tragedy in our nation leading up to the holiday, and last year for me there was a sense of great loss.

Things always happen for a reason, though. Each week I am given a writing assignment by my editor at the Patriot Post, one which I don’t know in advance. Yesterday, for our final day of original publication this year (there will be some “best of 2016″ items this coming week) I was charged with writing on the rebirth of hope as this otherwise dreadful year came to a close. It got me to pondering the Christmas season, which is one reason I didn’t finish until after midnight Thursday night.

In this place we call Delmarva, within the nation we call the United States of America, we live on the border between two disparate nations within a nation. On this sandbar we go to church to worship our Savior, deposit lots of money in those red kettles and perform other charitable endeavors, and say with feeling and caring, “Merry Christmas.” Yet just a short distance away there are people who also inhabit this country who worry more about buying the perfect gift, attending the best parties, and having “Happy Holidays.” Their giving is meant to be a reflection on their works, not what’s in their heart.

But no present can top the gift we received in that manger long ago, and it’s worth remembering that salvation comes absolutely free of charge. Perhaps this is why I don’t necessarily feel like I’m conforming to the Christmas spirit as corporate America would have me do. I don’t watch Christmas specials, change the station when many Christmas songs come on, and curse at the traffic holding up my ride home. (Prayer request: pray I’m granted more patience in the coming days.) But I enjoyed the Christmas presentations at my church because they focused on the truly important part of Christmas: I did not hear one reference to Santa Claus there.

So if your church has a Christmas Eve or Christmas service, I encourage you to attend. (Our church has theirs at 3:00 Sunday; alas, we will be eating dinner with my in-laws.) If you don’t have a church, this is a good time to have your own spiritual birth. Of late I have been praying for a nationwide revival, so perhaps it will answer my prayer in a small way.

In the world Christmas has become a holiday month defined as beginning when shoppers line up as they digest their Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing and ending when the radio stations that go wall-to-wall with holiday music wrap things up around New Year’s Day. I suppose it’s a good thing that we take so much time to celebrate a holiday that is religious at its heart, but as the years pass I’ve begun to compress my idea of celebration to just a few days right before the actual holiday, aside from functions I attend that are held earlier like my company party.

Thus, on this eve of Christmas Eve as I sit here in my chair in Salisbury, Maryland with laptop in lap and write this lengthy treatise on the holiday for publication on Christmas Eve I think I have finally arrived at the point where I can honestly say it’s Christmas time. From my family to yours, have a Merry Christmas and I will see you all on Monday.

Advice for the next MDGOP leader

On Wednesday night I put up a relatively quick post handicapping the various officer races for Maryland Republican Party leadership. But there was one person I may have missed, and his name is Gary Collins.

Over the last few days his social media has been on fire because he had noted his thought about trying for the brass ring, but deciding against it – only to find a lot of people want him to consider it anyway. It seems to me there can be floor nominations (although my recollection is rusty on this) so he may have something of a support base if he decides to try.

Back in the summer, though, Gary was one of the strongest Trumpkin voices screaming for my resignation, and I suppose he eventually got his wish because I did. Now he has to be careful what he wished for, though, because I’m going to give him (and anyone else who seeks the top spot) some free advice from an outsider who was once on the inside. It’s not so much on how to be chair of the party as it is a general treatise on philosophy. So here goes.

  • There are two numbers for the new Chair to remember: 818,890 and 1,677,926. The former number is the Democratic vote in 2014, and the latter in 2016. We can’t count on a weak Democrat that the party can’t get excited about to run in 2018, and you can be sure that the other party will be trying to tie the person who only won in 2014 by about 65,000 votes to the guy who lost two years later, in large part from Democrats and independents voting against him as opposed to being for their own flawed nominee, by over 700,000 votes. (You can fairly say that 1/3 of Hillary’s popular vote margin came from this state.) This is true even though Larry Hogan didn’t support Donald Trump and reportedly didn’t vote for him.
  • Thus, job one for the party Chair is to re-elect the governor and job 1A is to get him more help. You may not like it, and the chances are reasonably good the winner supported Trump from early on. But not everything Trump says or does will play well here, especially when 2/5 of the voters live in the Capital region.
  • Legislatively, this will be the year in the cycle the General Assembly majority is most aggressive. You can bet that paid sick leave will pass and they will dare Hogan to veto it. Even other crazy stuff like the “chicken tax” and a renewed push for the O’Malley-era phosphorus regulations have a decent chance of passing – both to burnish the far-left legacy of ambitious Democrats and to attempt to embarrass Governor Hogan. Meanwhile, if it’s an administration-sponsored bill you can be certain the committee chairs have standing orders to throw it in their desk drawers and lose the key. (Of course, identical Democrat-sponsored legislation will have a chance at passing, provided they get all the credit.) Bear in mind that 2017 will be aggressive because 2018 is an election year and the filing deadline will again likely be during session – so those who wish to move up in the ranks may keep their powder dry on the most extreme issues next session until they see who wins that fall.
  • Conservatives have a lot to lose. Larry Hogan is not a doctrinaire conservative, but he needs a second term for one big reason – sort of like the rationale of keeping the Supreme Court that #NeverTrump people were constantly subjected to. It’s the redistricting, stupid. They got rid of Roscoe Bartlett by adding thousands of Montgomery County voters to the Sixth District (while diluting the former Sixth District voters into the Eighth or packing them into the First) so the next target will be Andy Harris. If you subtracted out the four Lower Shore counties from his district and pushed it over into Baltimore City, you would only lose a little in the Democratic Third and Seventh Districts but pick up the First. The Lower Shore voters would be well outnumbered by PG and Charles County as part of the Fifth District (such a district split is not unprecedented.) Democrats dreamed about this last time out, and they want no part of an independent redistricting commission.
  • One place to play offense: vulnerable Democrat Senators. I live in Jim Mathias’s district, and it’s very interesting how much more of an advocate he was for an elected school board after 2014. He’s always tried to play up his somewhat centrist (compared to most Democrats. anyway) voting record, and I suspect there are a handful of other D’s who may try to do the same. Don’t let them get away with it, because over years of doing the monoblogue Accountability Project I’ve found (with a couple rare exceptions) that even the worst Republican is superior to the best Democrat as far as voting is concerned.

So whoever wins Saturday can feel free to use these ideas. As for me, I have far better plans for my weekend – I’ll wave in the general direction in Frederick as we go by. Fair warning: comment moderation may be slow or non-existent.

monoblogue turns eleven

To borrow a phrase from Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel, I have to give this post that extra push. Whether that push is over the cliff or not remains to be seen, but this website is going to 11.

Once again I’m writing this “state of the blog” address on its anniversary. Since this is year 11, I don’t have to be as fancy as I was last year with “10 from 10″ – just one post will do. That’s a good thing because, to be quite frank, this past year was a brutal one for this site that I would rank as the worst, for a host of reasons. Maybe it’s the realization that it may never quite be all I wanted it to become since I just don’t have the resources or talents to make it so. And almost everything I’ve tried to do recently has failed to make an impact.

So I came to the decision back in July that this could not be an everyday endeavor going forward. The reward just hadn’t been there for the effort I had been putting in, either in readership or political change.

I have had the same program count my readership for nearly a decade, so I have a pretty good idea of what the numbers will look like in any given year: even-numbered years generally outperform odd-numbered ones because this is, after all, a political-based site so interest will peak coming into an election and wane for awhile afterward. (Since only 32,000 people live in Salisbury and only a tiny percentage of them bother to vote, municipal elections really don’t help the readership cause out much. Moreover, I don’t even get that modest benefit next year because the city adopted a system similar to the state of Maryland: all of last year’s winners are set until 2019, so there’s no city election in 2017.) With Maryland’s four-year election cycle, this makes 2012 the most comparable year to 2016 – and unless I hit a readership number in the next month I haven’t had in many moons I won’t even reach half that 2012 level. Simply put, since the 2014 election my numbers have been terrible in comparison to my peak years of 2012-14. For 2016 they may not even make it back to my previous all-time low year of 2009, which was be the similar point in the cycle as 2017 will be. I never really got the October peak my site usually gets in an election year, but what’s done is done I suppose.

Another conclusion that I reached last year was that I couldn’t do justice to my Shorebird of the Week series, so it’s gone by the wayside. And given the paucity of other long-running features such as Weekend of local rock (just four volumes in the last year) and odds and ends (only six this year, and one since March), this site is undergoing a transition to a completely different look and feel that reflects my own changing priorities. (That’s not all my doing, though: I will miss having Marita’s columns each week, too. Hopefully Cathy Keim hasn’t forgotten me, either.)

One of those priorities used to be that of being a reporter, but because of the aspect of political change I haven’t recently done a number of on-the-spot posts I had previously done – and they’re not coming back. Because I decided I couldn’t support a particular candidate, there was no longer a monthly Republican Club post, reports related to events I would attend on their behalf such as the Good Beer Festival, Autumn Wine Festival, or Lincoln Day Dinner, or the other “insider” stuff I used to receive. (As an example, the Maryland Republican Party will elect a new leadership slate on Saturday – and I haven’t seen or heard a thing about it, as opposed to the contested elections we had in the spring when I was still on the Central Committee.)

Perhaps that’s why I didn’t get the October bump, but then again if you were reading this site just for that sort of reporting you were somewhat missing the point. And if you’re on a jihad against me because I wasn’t a good Republican who fell in line to support Trump (as many of my cohorts did, for the sake of party unity) you probably don’t understand the philosophy I live by. If the choice is between my conscience and increased readership, I will choose the former and live without the latter, every time. We all have choices to make in life and I made mine.

So now that I’ve gone through all the doom and gloom as well as the murmurings and disputings, allow me to look forward. And yes, despite the lower readership numbers, there will be a forward. The site is paid up for the next year so I may as well use it every so often.

Where I see this enterprise going is that it becomes more of a teaching tool, and part of that is because of another project I am doing simultaneously with this website.

We have three elements at work here: first, we have the results of socialism and government overreach that arguably were rejected with the latest election returns. (At least they were rejected in enough states to put Donald Trump in the Oval Office.) Secondly, we have the premise that President-elect Trump will govern from the center to center-left rather than the Right, at least on balance. Most of his “alt-right” supporters are surely disheartened with his transition as he’s backed away from several campaign planks and placed those who didn’t necessarily support him in positions of authority, but I never expected Donald Trump to be a doctrinaire conservative in the first place. This premise leaves the distinct possibility that some faction of the GOP will not back Trump on his proposals like paid maternity leave or increasing the minimum wage, among others. For those issues Democrats will cross the aisle to support him, probably in return for additional liberal folly.

Thirdly, and most importantly, there is an argument to be considered: was Trump a product of a conservative wave that gave Republicans resounding victories in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, or was Trump’s election a populist revolt rather than a conservative one, meaning conservatism as governing philosophy is back to the place where it was before Ronald Reagan? Corollary to that, one has to ask whether the TEA Party movement was extinguished by Donald Trump or is he their logical extension?

Truth be told, I was thrilled by the TEA Party because I thought the populace was finally coming around to where I was in terms of political philosophy, and I embraced it. So the question above is fascinating enough to me that I am underway with a book that will answer these arguments and questions for me and (prayerfully) many thousands of other readers. It’s something I am truly enjoying researching and writing, so I will ask your pardon if this website isn’t updated on a daily basis. Answering these queries is going to take some of my time, although I now enjoy the advantage of having a little more of it being away from the active political world.

So the book will address the third part of my above troika, but the philosophy of this site will ponder the first two elements, as well as those issues I care about within the states of Maryland and – to a more limited extent – Delaware. I’ll still be doing the monoblogue Accountability Project, for example. It may not be the type of content you’ve come to expect over the first eleven years, but I’m still striving to make that content I write of the highest possible quality.

For your consideration, that is the push I’m going to give you when I take this site to, and beyond, 11.

Happy Thanksgiving 2016

November 24, 2016 · Posted in Personal stuff · Comments Off 

As things sometimes happen to fall in life, for me Thanksgiving begins a short period of recollection and gratitude each year because it generally falls within a week of the anniversary of my website. So I write a pair of summary-type navel-gazing posts in a short period of time, although I use this one to think about my station in life and the December 1 post as a look back at another year of blogging. Last year I did a combination deal because I used an older Thanksgiving post that happened to fall into the “10 from 10″ retrospective I did to celebrate a decade of monoblogue, so really I didn’t do my usual thoughts on my life.

Yet to say the least, a lot has occurred over the last two years: I’ve become a relatively regular churchgoer, found a steady full-time job in my original field of work, got back on the Central Committee after a hiatus away as a non-voting secretary only to leave less than a year later, and (of course) married my sweetie on a definite day to remember. And that’s just the big stuff.

So I indeed have a lot to give thanks for, and despite the fact most people have some sort of bone to pick with 2016 I didn’t think it was all that awful of a year. Yes, it was definitely different than most in the 52 I’ve been here, but it wasn’t horrible all things considered.

However, there are things I miss about Thanksgivings past. Obviously growing up as a child most of us have family traditions, and as you get older you begin to look back fondly on the way things were – the warts seem to fall away. It’s been over a decade now since I celebrated the holiday with my parents and family, although this was by my choice to great extent since I live here. In this case, it’s also true that you can’t go home again as my parents moved to Florida not long after I came to Maryland and my older brother is no longer with us. Alas, all those memories are part of the past, and over the last two years I’ve missed out on another regular Thanksgiving tradition as one of the friends who graciously hosted me (and later Kim and Kassie) for several years passed away last December at the age of 41. (She was too ill to host Thanksgiving last year as her cancer was finally beating her after a seven-year fight.)

Yet even with those sad realizations, I just have to remember it’s part of life. None of us are here forever, so it’s a good thing someone came up with the idea of annually taking the time and being thankful for the bounties life provides for us - even if we don’t always recognize them.

One of my latest writing assignments is one that I’m not paid for, doesn’t really come with a regular schedule, and has a fairly limited audience of just a few: I summarize the prayer requests of our small Bible study group and text out a reminder to keep praying for these things. Somehow this has fallen on me, but that’s not so bad because it’s a way to be better connected with the extended family of our church and (in our case) fellow parents of teenagers in the church’s youth group. And we all pray for different people we know or problems we have, with the understanding that God does answer all of our prayers. (The answer isn’t always the one we want to hear, but He is in control for a reason.)

But some of our prayers are simple expressions of thanks for His works, and it’s with that in mind that I hope you share today that which you are thankful for with our Creator. I understand for some that list may be far too short, and for others they haven’t quite learned that their long list of blessings is there in no small part thanks to His intercession. (I think He is certainly approving of the endeavors and efforts one undertakes in pursuit of those blessings, though.)

So I pray that all of you have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving, and we will see if my other, more modest prayer for a Lions win over Minnesota is answered in the way I’d like it to be. Despite being division rivals, this is their first Thanksgiving meeting since 1995 – Barry Sanders played in that game, to illustrate this lengthy interregnum. And unlike a lot of Thanksgivings in the past, this game has a lot of meaning: the winner grabs first place in the division.

Enjoy your dinner, friends, and family, and count your blessings. Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)

The writing game

November 19, 2016 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging, Business and industry, Marita Noon, Personal stuff · Comments Off 

I wonder if people thought Marita Noon’s final column was actually about me since I hadn’t posted in several days. (However, I did a little work on the site and updated the SotW Tracker page.) But you may recall I made some comments at the end of her post regarding what she had chosen to do in her career beyond writing in and about the energy field.

Something you may have missed earlier this week ties into the plight of the energy worker, and it’s a shame Marita won’t be commenting on it here on my site. On Tuesday the United States Geological Survey (USGS) came out with the news that a west Texas oil field could be “the largest estimated continuous oil accumulation that USGS has assessed in the United States to date.” They estimated 20 billion barrels of oil could be recovered, which would supply our needs for three years just by itself. (Ironically, this field probably lies deep under Marita’s house.) It’s great news, but with a catch: the price of oil needs to rebound to $60 to $65 a barrel to make this bonanza worth recovering economically. According to an oil industry expert quoted by CNN:

Morris Burns, a former president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, told KWES the low price of oil - currently around $46 a barrel - means the oil will sit underground for the foreseeable future.

“We are picking up a few rigs every now and then but we won’t see it really take off until we (get) that price in the $60 to $65 range,” Burns told the station.

Many years ago I remember the price of gas getting under a dollar a gallon; this was probably back in the late 1980s/early 1990s. At the time oil had plunged to about $10 to $15 a barrel. For consumers it was great news but for oil companies and workers it was a desperate time. A few weeks before her “retirement” from energy writing and commentary, Marita had wrote what seemed like a counter-intuitive piece concerning the slowly increasing price of oil. But if you look at it from the perspective of an energy worker, the best of all worlds is a price where demand stays constant but profitable. Oil scraping $30 a barrel may have dropped our pump prices close to $1.50 a gallon but it was killing the domestic energy industry (which several OPEC members wanted it to do, as the U.S. is now their major competition.)

By the same token, Marita began her career in the energy field at a time when oil prices were sky-high and we truly needed to work out ways to make ourselves energy independent at a lower cost. (One such idea I played up in the summer of 2008 because it was done with such humor was the “NozzleRage” campaign. Unfortunately, their answer was a government mandate for flexfuel cars and additional requirements for ethanol.) But these prices also came with the benefit of sustaining the industry in such a manner that the fracking revolution created a boom in the energy industry and made previously dormant regions like the Dakotas and west Texas economically attractive again. (North Dakota, in particular, was depopulating prior to the Bakken oil boom because there was little there to attract young jobseekers who were abandoning the state in droves – by 2005 it had the largest percentage of residents age 85 and older.)

And Marita was sharing in that boom – as she noted, her “field of dreams fundraising model” was getting her enough $500 annual donations to provide a reasonable living. But as the industry suffered, her own revenue sources withered and it eventually led her to dismiss her PR person and in the end chased her away. (Had Hillary Clinton won, the result of her withdrawal from the punditry game would likely have the same but surely Marita would have considered herself a failure.)

In a roundabout way, this brings me to a point I began to make the other night: writing for a living is a difficult game at which to succeed. I found this out several years ago when I was out of work and tried to make a go of it – there are too many people out there chasing too few dollars, particularly in general interest writing. When I reviewed political websites during the campaign I openly questioned whether the people some hired to write their copy even lived in the country, which I can do because I have had to compete with people who can live on a few dollars a day. A penny per word nowadays is a huge amount to make for an article, but even if you wrote 5,000 words a day that doesn’t fly in America. Yet on competitive writing job sites you’ll often find people who are willing to take half that – or less – just to write copy. (And that doesn’t count the old adage used to trap aspiring writers who get convinced to write for nothing because “it’ll give you the exposure you need.” Yeah, right. Expect to double your salary every week from that point.)

So when a polished and experienced writer like Marita, who wrote several motivational and Christian books under her maiden name Marita Littauer and the energy columns under her initial married name Marita Noon (she has since remarried, but maintained the name for professional reasons) can’t make a go of it, one has to wonder what’s in it for others in that same predicament?

Now I have never done a “field of dreams” fundraising approach, although I have been known to “bleg” every once in awhile. And it brings a smile to my face when I see someone actually clicked the donate button up top and chipped into my PayPal account. But as I have told you when I left the political party game (and slowed down on my own writing pace to some degree) part of the reason I stepped back was to write a second book – hopefully learning from the mistakes I made with the first one. That will continue nonetheless because I believe I will be making important points and contributing to dialogue going forward. The same also goes for this website – I really meant to write this column Wednesday but was sidetracked for several reasons. So you get it late Saturday night instead.

Sometimes I wonder, though, if my priorities are quite where they should be. Truly I enjoy writing, but I also have to make sure to be a good Christian, husband, stepdad, and employee. So I may never get back to (or even arrive at) the place where some said I had to be to maintain a successful blog, meaning lots of content updated frequently. After all, I often get the opportunity to sell article space on my site for dubious reasons, probably someone else’s marketing scam. I’m not going to damage my brand like that.

But the reason I went into this spiel is to make it plain I can understand why people get so frustrated with the writing game. We seem to be the last thing people need, but I happen to think we are the most indispensable people out there when it comes to making sense of the world. For that reason, Marita’s insight (as well as that of several others I have known through the years) will be missed.

Closing the loop: a postmortem, part one

I’m sure that many millions of people like me who stayed up until almost 3 this morning (yet had to get up and go to work) were of several minds: anything from watching a slow-motion trainwreck to openly savoring the bitterness coming from the hearts of the so-called “experts” who predicted a massive blowout loss for Donald Trump. And until the last maybe week to 10 days I was among that group, but it seems there is a reservoir of support Trump could keep tapping into that other Republicans could not.

That subject is one I will get to in due course (that being part two) but for the moment I just want to work through my series of predictions and see if my crystal ball has been fixed. Just as I reeled them out from national to local, I will wind them backward to wrap them up.

And just as an aside, while early voting had historically high turnout, the reason will end up being that people just wanted to wash their hands of this election.

I think that panned out to a fair extent. Turnout is lining up to be right around or perhaps slightly below where it was in 2012, depending on how many absentees or provisional ballots there were. Including early voting, Maryland brought out a little over 2.5 million voters. Considering the state has about 300,000 more voters in this cycle, I think the turnout percentage will decrease or stay about where it was – the timing of votes was what shifted.

Across the border, I fear Delaware will vote for more of the same then wonder why their state isn’t getting better. Basically the state will have the same political composition with different names on the nameplates in Congress and state executive offices – not that Sussex County agreed with it, but they will be outvoted as usual by the New Castle Democrat machine.

In the state of Delaware, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by a 53%-42% margin, Democrat Congressional hopeful Lisa Blunt Rochester won 56%-41% over Republican Hans Reigle. and in all three state government races, the Democrats won by almost identical margins: 58%-39%, 59%-41%, and 59%-41%. Aside from an extra 10,000 or so votes cast in the governor’s race to accommodate the Green and Libertarian candidates, the Democrats’ totals were all within 2,000 votes and the GOP within 2,500.

But if you break it down by county and the city of Wilmington, you find that Hillary won 84.8% in Wilmington, 59.4% in the rest of New Castle County, 44.9% in Kent County, and 37.2% in Sussex County. The problem is New Castle County’s Hillary votes were more than the combined overall total of either Sussex or Kent County. Sussex only went 41% for Rochester, 45% for governor-elect John Carney, 47% for lieutenant governor-elect Bethany Hall-Long, and 40% for new insurance commissioner Trinidad Navarro. Going forward they need to keep statewide Democrats in the 20s in Sussex County, but that may be a tall task as those who retire there generally come from Democratic core states and apparently don’t change their voting patterns.

On the questions, I believe Question 1 will get in the neighborhood of 80% statewide but maybe 75% here. The biggest controversy will be that Question A’s Option 2 will win a plurality of the vote but not quite a majority – a spirited Democrat effort will pull Option 2 down to 48% but Option 1 will get just 32%, with 20% opting for the hybrid. Otherwise, all the charter amendments will pass by healthy margins of 65 to 80 percent in favor.

Question 1 got 73.6% here (so I was close) but I underestimated the statewide wisdom to some extent, as the partisan measure passed on a 72-28 margin overall (as opposed to 80%.) I was just 3 percentage points off on Question A but Option 2 managed a slight 51% majority rather than a plurality. The Democrats probably got a late start in backing Option 1 because it underperformed my estimate by 7 points while the hybrid Option 3 outperformed by 5 points. The other questions ranged from 63 to 77 percent in favor, so I was in the ballpark. Maybe my public opposition brought them down 2 to 3 percent each.

Andy Harris will be returned to Congress, but not by as much as previous years. He will get 60.7% of the vote both overall and in Wicomico County, but Joe Werner’s 35.9% of the vote districtwide will shrink to 33.8% here. The Libertarian Matt Beers will have 3.2% districtwide but do somewhat better here, with 5.2% support in Wicomico County.

I was somewhat correct with Harris. He got 7% better than I predicted districtwide, but I was correct that he did decline slightly from 2014, when he was a shade over 70%. That extra came from Werner as he came up 7.9% short of what I thought he would and Matt Beers came in 1% better at 4.2%. Here in Wicomico, though, I was much closer: Harris underperformed my guess by 1.7% while Werner jumped 3.3%. The Libertarian Beers came in 1.5% less here. It’s worth noting, though, that the Libertarians’ share of the vote has increased slightly with each election they participate in – back in 2008 they had 2.5%, in 2010 3.8%, in 2012 3.8% (but Muir Boda came close to edging the write-in Democratic candidate here in Wicomico with 5.9% vs. 6%) and now 4.2%.

Looking at the U.S. Senate race, I think that Chris Van Hollen wins no more than eight counties but those will be enough to propel him to victory with 61.1% of the vote, compared to Kathy Szeliga’s 37.8%. Margaret Flowers will get 0.6% and various write-ins the rest. Wicomico will be one Szeliga wins, but not quite as strongly as Trump – she gets 59.3% of the vote while Van Hollen has 40.3% and Flowers 0.2%.

Van Hollen won just six counties, but unfortunately for Szeliga they included the four biggest so she was trounced. I gave Van Hollen about 1% more credit than he deserved, but Szeliga got no benefit as she was 1.4% short. All the underage went to Flowers, who grabbed over fivefold the share I predicted at 3.2%. Just as some on the right may give Libertarians the vote in a race they know is safe (I’ve done this several times in the past) I think those well out on the left figured it wouldn’t hurt to push the Flowers total up. But when Szeliga undercuts my modest expectations (to have a shot, she really had to be in the 75% range here and elsewhere on the Eastern Shore) by a full 5.7%, it’s a short wait for a concession speech. Van Hollen only lost our supposedly conservative county by 10.4 points (and beat my guess by about 3 points) but a shocker was that Flowers did about as well here as she did statewide. I thought she would be lucky to get 100 votes locally; she picked up 1,163.

I’m going to stop with that because I want to see the write-in votes for President before I comment on that race. But I will say that I am shocked at the number of write-in votes, as over 40,000 were cast statewide. I’m sure many of these won’t be counted, but it won’t be 85% of them like it was in 2012. I may have been overly pessimistic on Evan McMullin, Darrell Castle, Tom Hoefling, and so forth as they may split 15 to 20 thousand votes (although McMullin will get the lion’s share.) We won’t know for a few days, though, and when we do I will pick up with the second part regarding the Presidential race.

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