Ringing in 2017: a treatise on “stuff”

January 1, 2017 · Posted in Personal stuff · Comments Off 

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electronic gadget really add to one’s life, especially if it replaces one that’s still functional but perhaps slightly outdated as far as technology goes?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!

monoblogue music: 2016′s top 5

December 31, 2016 · Posted in Music Reviews · 1 Comment 

For year three of this enterprise I was a little disappointed that I had fewer records to review; however, the Top 5 would still compare favorably to the group from either of my other years. Again, it is a relatively diverse list that spans a number of genres and styles.

After going back through all the reviews and reminding myself why I liked these albums, here is your top 5 for this year.

5. “A Little More Country” by Michael Van and the Movers

Original review: December 10.

This album (as well as another in my top 5) represent a little bit of a rebellion against the state of country music today. Outstanding instrumentation and good songwriting are the hallmarks of this California-based group. It may be a surprise to listeners that they don’t hail from the hollows of hill country.

“A Little More Country” is the product of good collaboration between the three bandmates that wrote 12 of the 13 songs, and they picked a very appropriate cover song to close the album. We will see what 2017 brings for this five-member group.

4. “New American Century” by Midwest Soul Xchange

Original review: January 2.

Going from the last to the first, and a studio collaboration between five musicians to two musicians working in separate locations trying to put together a cohesive whole. Looking back on this one, this was perhaps one of the darker collections I listened to this year, but the pair put this together in a rather seamless fashion. It has a lot of different prog-rock influences, but the one I noticed most was Pink Floyd.

This duo will be one I’ll be interested in updating with a new feature I’m working on for next week.

3. “The Songs” by Jim Peterik

Original review: October 8.

One would expect this musical veteran to put out good music, but the hook of this album is the treatment he gives to songs that he wrote decades ago, music made famous by bands like .38 Special, Survivor, Sammy Hagar, and the Beach Boys, not to mention the band he’s most associated with, the Ides of March. So you know the songs but you will be pleasantly surprised by the updates.

After I wrote this review, I found out Peterik is embroiled in legal issues with his former band, Survivor. It will be interesting to see how that plays out, but in the meantime he’s still active with his original Ides of March.

2. “The Miller Girl” by Steve Hussey and Jake Eddy

Original review: October 29.

When I did the December review for Michael Van and the Movers I noted the similarity between their album and this one. Both are fine examples of musical craftsmanship in a genre which places a premium on such things.

But I thought this effort outshone the other, and it’s a merging of two generations of players who have come together to write a great album’s worth of work. Hopefully they are part of a growing backlash against the excesses of modern country music, which more and more resembles the dreaded “power ballad” era in rock but with different instruments. Hussey and Eddy bring an emotion that’s clearly missing in the more modern stuff.

1. “Stealin’ Thunder” by The Magic Lightnin’ Boys

Original review: April 16.

Of all the albums I reviewed this year, this one was most in my wheelhouse because, simply put, these guys rock. Yes, blues-based rock has been waning over the last few years as the hip-hop influence pervades the scene – it’s a recent change that reminds me of being outside on a pleasant sunny day when the wind shifts and suddenly you notice you’re right by a pig farm. Luckily, these guys have their heads screwed on right and put together good music the old-fashioned way, reminding us that the southern influence was what made a lot of classic rock, well, classic.

This was actually a rather easy choice for the number one album I reviewed, and may it spark a revival in a music industry gone commercialized and so, so stagnant.

As I alluded to earlier, next week I want to track some of the bands I’ve honored over the years and see if they are still making good music. That should be a fun post to put together as we all combat the post-holiday blues. Hey, maybe one of these guys can make that into a song!

Since this turns out the be the final post of 2016, I want to take a sentence and wish all of you a happy and blessed 2017. See you next year!

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.

The era of Trump is set to begin

For all the hype and hope that somehow the Trump Train would be derailed over the last year-plus, that engine has reached its destination with the Electoral College formally making Donald Trump the President-elect. Indeed, the guy who many of us thought would have his poll lead evaporate once the field was narrowed down and figured in no way could defeat Hillary Clinton served us a heaping helping of crow. (And it wasn’t the best-tasting stuff, either.)

Perhaps what was most hilarious about the Electoral College vote was that Hillary Clinton had more defections than Donald Trump did. From the state of Washington, four of the twelve electoral votes she was supposed to receive went to others: former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell received three while Sioux tribal activist Faith Spotted Eagle received one from a fellow Native American. (I would imagine she may be the first Native American to receive a Presidential electoral vote.) Also, one of Hawaii’s four electoral votes that were supposed to go to Clinton went to Sen. Bernie Sanders. There were other Democrats who attempted to vote for others in protest but they either changed to Clinton or were replaced by another substitute elector.

Coming off the Trump ledger were two Texas votes: one for Ohio governor John Kasich and the other for former Congressman and three-time Presidential candidate Ron Paul, who finally got an electoral vote in a year he did not run (although his son Rand did.) So if you count the nominal Republican Powell as a member of the GOP, the Republicans got 309 of the 538 votes. (The GOP also picked up an extra vote for the vice-presidency, where Maine Sen. Susan Collins received one of Washington state’s four faithless votes along with fellow Senators Maria Cantwell and Elizabeth Warren. Native American activist and two-time Ralph Nader Green Party running mate Winona LaDuke received the other. No Republican defected from Vice-President-elect Mike Pence.)

So we have much of Donald Trump’s cabinet in place (pending confirmation, of course) and the transition is well underway. But it’s still less than clear to me just what we can expect from a Trump presidency. I will say that, after an initial steep drop, the Dow Jones and NASDAQ have looked favorably upon it and anecdotally I’m hearing the real estate industry is expecting a banner year (although interest rates have finally edged up after a long period of stability.) If perception is reality, perhaps we can get to the 4% GDP growth Trump promised – and the post-election euphoria may help Barack Obama enough to avoid going 0-for-8 on 3% or better growth, as the election happened early enough in the fourth quarter to possibly have a significant impact.

On the other hand, holiday sales results are mixed, as shoppers still have discounts in mind. The turning away from brick-and-mortar stores may lead to some significant closings in 2017, which will be blamed on Donald Trump rather than the continuing trend of shoppers to go online to buy their gifts.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump will certainly be tested on a leadership level, with today’s murder of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey leading some conspiracists to believe it’s the first shot of World War 3. That incident managed to temper the newsworthiness of another truck-based terror attack, this time in Berlin. And don’t forget the president-elect has already spoken out about the drone incident with China over the weekend.

In many respects, the speculation on what Trump’s effect will be has already written the bulk of an annual piece I’ve done, looking ahead at the next year. It’s not quite as short or sweet as last year’s but I suspect the era of Trump sets the tone for 2017 to such an extent that I’m just going to skip that look forward for the year and assume this will suffice.

Assuming no act of God to the contrary, all this will begin in earnest at noon on January 20 when Donald Trump becomes our 45th (and perhaps most accidental and unlikely) President.

Can there be reconciliation between “Deplorables” and the pure of heart? More thoughts.

December 18, 2016 · Posted in Cathy Keim, Culture and Politics · Comments Off 

By Cathy Keim

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 to men.  Luke 2:13-14 (KJV)

Editor’s note: Cathy began her series on reconciliation here.

The holiday season that begins with Thanksgiving, continues with Christmas, and concludes with New Year’s Day is always a difficult time for many who have troubled family relationships. The desire to come together for a meal and to remember the good old days is often marred by contentious jabs and barbed comments by cantankerous relatives.

This year seems to be one of the most difficult of recent memory due to the election of Donald Trump. I keep using the designated terms “deplorables” and pure of heart because the names capture the essence of how one side of the country views the situation and it behooves the other side to grapple with what this means for us and for them.

I started referring to progressives as pure of heart many years ago after a relative told me in all sincerity that she was glad that she didn’t go to bed at night happy that children were starving like I did. I was shocked that this relative who knew me would imply that I happily tucked myself in each night while chortling with glee that children were starving. That was the first time that I realized how deep the divide was between us.

The pure of heart are sure that they are good and that their motives and deeds are correct. They are also sure that anyone that doesn’t agree with them is evil and can only act in wicked self-interest. Because they are pure of heart, they don’t have to do any good deeds. A simple retweet or #hashtag affirming sympathy with the right cause or a Facebook post are sufficient to prove their good standing with the crowd. Despite any good deeds that the deplorables may perform, those who are certain of their purity believe the milk of human kindness is totally lacking from their deplorable hearts. Progressives are convinced the other side doesn’t really mean their acts of kindness, but are just putting on a show for public approval.

The enemy is all around them as evidenced by the bitter clingers and deplorables that refuse to go away. They may ask just who these people are, and the answer is that they are normal Americans, many of whom are Christians. Those folks are busy working, raising their families, going to church, helping in their communities, and minding their own business.

Our country has been purposely fragmented into small, easily manipulated groups based on skin color, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. Christianity transcends all those designations and sets people free to be who they are: individuals created in the image of God with inherent worth due to that very fact. Our Founding Fathers understood that. I keep returning to this basic truth because it is the foundation of our country. Without grasping that truth, our country doesn’t have a way out of our present predicament.

The deplorables and bitter clingers are patriots that understand that America is not built upon progressive ideas and that the progressive Utopian schemes will end in disaster as every utopian scheme always has.

Remember that the deplorables did not make a show of wailing and gnashing their teeth when Barack Obama was elected president. I walked around in a daze for a week after the 2012 election because I could not believe that he had been re-elected, but we didn’t riot. We just continued working, raising our families, going to church, and living our lives. There was a lot of concern for the damage that another four years of progressive policies would cause, but there was no cancellation of classes or public mourning.

Now that the shoe is on the other foot, the response is noticeably magnified. For example, the aftermath of the 2016 election included articles to help us survive Thanksgiving with our families, with helpful tips like this one:

Dr. (David) Nicholson, a clinical and consulting psychologist in Texas, gives a lot of good tips on how to deal with family members on Thanksgiving Day.

“We love each other more than we love our own policies and candidate,” Nicholson said. “Or at least we should.”

This is good advice to keep the family peace when the relatives gather for the holidays. But how do we extend the peacemaking to our extended family, our fellow citizens? I feared for our country for the last eight years as I watched policy after policy enacted without Congressional authority, as the debt ballooned, and our family values were attacked.

Now we have a change of administration coming and a promised change of direction. None of us knows how this change will turn out. It may look like something we have hoped for or it may not, but we are all along for the ride. Unlike the last transition, this one is accompanied with a lot of complaining, moaning, and outright assaults on the election process and the Electoral College. It is not clear that the pure of heart love their fellow citizens and their country more than they love their own policies and candidate.

Sadly, I do not think that the pure of heart are going to decide to buck up and give the new administration a chance to implement their policies. The past efforts to cajole and bribe the progressives have not worked. This time I am thinking that it will be best to just ignore them as you would ignore a two-year old child that is having a tantrum. Just make sure they are safe and leave them there until they realize that the tantrum is not having the desired result.

The federal government needs to be reined in and that is going to cause a lot of pain and anguish. It will be a fight. If any course correction is achieved, it will only be because a lot of tough love is administered by the new leadership. Tough love is painful for the child, but it is possibly even harder on the parent who must demand the correct actions from the child. Parents want their children to be happy. Even when you know that you must remain firm, the wailing and tears tear at your heart.

Get ready, America.  The tears and wailing of the pure of heart are only going to increase before the desired result can be achieved. The deplorables must take the role of the parent and make the necessary hard decisions to bring our nation back from the brink.  

Eight is far less than enough: a postmortem, part four (and last)

For Maryland, the results for the 2016 finally in and official. There are a number of conclusions which can be drawn from them.

Originally I predicted that Evan McMullin would be ”eclipsing the 5,000 mark statewide” while Darrell Castle would pick up about 1,100 votes. Turned out that McMullin exceeded expectations by about as much as Castle underperformed them, with the former garnering 9,630 write-in votes while the latter had 566.

As I see it, this has as much to do with press coverage and awareness of the McMullin campaign as it did where he stood on the issues – but it’s interesting that McMullin did the best in Anne Arundel, Howard, and Frederick counties as a percentage of the vote. In those three counties he had over 1/2 percent of the vote as a write-in. These were also counties where Trump received less than 50% of the vote – in all, his 35% of the vote was driven down by just five jurisdictions where he was under that mark: the usual suspects of Baltimore City, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties, along with Charles and Howard counties. (In essence, the inner city and capital regions.) On the other hand, Castle’s performance was more consistent with his small average – he actually did best in Somerset and St. Mary’s counties by percentage, although in Somerset’s case it’s just 6 votes of 9,900 cast. The “eight” in the title refers to the 8 votes Castle received in Wicomico County. So there are seven others who agreed with me.

But if you look at this race from the perspective of breaking a two-party duopoly that seemed very evident in this race – as both candidates did their share of moving to the left on certain issues, making themselves indistinguishable as far as rightsizing government goes – there is a huge lesson to be learned: ballot access is vital.

If you take McMullin, who entered the race too late to make the ballot in most of the 42 states where he actually contended (there were several where he even missed the cutoff for write-in access) and analyze his vote totals nationwide, he’s received between 60 and 70 percent of his votes from those 11 states where he was on the ballot. Granted, Utah by itself – a state where he was on the ballot - will make up about 1/3 of his overall total once all the write-ins are tabulated (hence the possible range on ballot vs. write-in) but the disparity between states where he was on the ballot and listed as a write-in is quite telling.

It’s even more steep for Castle, who put the Constitution Party over the 200,000 vote plateau nationwide for the first time. The 24 states where he had ballot access ended up accounting for 186,540 of what should end up being between 204,000 and 210,000 votes. (With seven states that have not yet or will not report write-in totals under a certain threshold, Castle is at 202,900 nationwide, so 204,000 seems plausible.) There were 23 write-in states for Castle, so the difference is quite stark.

[By the way, 200,000 votes may not seem like much, but at last report two other candidates I considered, James Hedges of the Prohibition Party and Tom Hoefling of America's Party, had 5,617 and 4,838 votes, respectively. The vast majority of Hedges' votes came from Arkansas (where he was on the ballot and edged Castle by 96 votes with 4,709 vs. 4,613) and Mississippi (715 as a write-in), while Hoefling got nearly half of his total from the two states he was on the ballot (Colorado and Louisiana.) In Maryland they had 5 and 42 write-in votes, respectively.]

And if you compare the Constitution Party to the Libertarians, the vote totals over time have been far smaller but Libertarians have had ballot access in most states since 1980. Considering the Constitution Party only made it in half the states (and missed in four of the six largest, with only write-in status in Illinois, New York, and Texas and no access in California) they overcame a lot just to get as far as they did.

As the Republican Party moves farther and farther away from conservatism toward the adoption of populist planks, softening on social issues, and the idea that government simply needs to be more effective and efficient rather than limited - a philosophy that will probably take further root as they’re going to have Donald Trump’s hand-picked chairperson to lead the GOP come January – those of us on the political right may have to search for a new home. (Obviously I’ve had this thought in mind, too.) The Constitution Party may not be perfect – I don’t agree 100 percent with everything in their platform but that’s true of any political party – but perhaps it’s time to bring them to the point of being a viable place for those who believe in all three legs of the Reagan-era conservative stool.

To have ballot access in 2020 in Maryland, the Constitution Party would have to follow the same route the Libertarians and Green Party have often had to: collect 10,000 signatures to secure access for the remainder of the gubernatorial cycle. If they can secure 1% of the vote in a statewide election they maintain access – based on their showing in the 2014 election, the Libertarians automatically qualified for this cycle but for several beforehand they went through the petition process.

It’s somewhat easier in Delaware, as the Constitution Party already has a portion of the number of 600-plus voters registered with the party they need to be on the ballot. Perhaps the place to look is the moribund Conservative Party of Delaware, which has a website full of dead links and no listed leadership – but enough registered voters that, if the two were combined under the Constitution Party banner, they would have enough for access with about 100 voters to spare.

While I’m not thrilled that the candidate I selected after a lengthy time of research and bout of prayer received just eight votes in Wicomico County, I can at least say there are a few of like mind with me. It’s seven fewer people I need to educate because they already get it and won’t compromise their beliefs. As for the rest of the conservatives in the nation, the task over the next four years is to convince them they don’t have to settle, either.

A rally for a better way of life

I’m certain there’s a percentage of my readers who would disagree with the title, but for those who would like to improve our state there’s a chance to take action: specifically a week from tomorrow, but in general before the Maryland General Assembly begins its annual “90 days of terror” in January.

I was introduced online, through a mutual friend, to one of the leaders putting together a rally in Annapolis, as she explains:

The Maryland legislature is considering regulations that would finally allow natural gas development in our state.

We need to show that Marylanders want responsible energy development and that any regulations MUST be reasonable and consider their impact on Maryland jobs and energy costs.

Please join us Tuesday, December 20 for an Energy Citizens and Energy Nation Rally to support clean and affordable natural gas and jobs for Marylanders!

The Energy Citizens group is springing for breakfast at Harry Browne’s beginning at 8:30 a.m. before reconvening for the rally at 9:30 a.m. on Lawyer’s Mall. (All they ask is that you RSVP first.) They will stay until 11, hopefully long enough to make their point, which is:

A Maryland legislative committee is considering new regulations for natural gas development in our state. Any regulations MUST be reasonable and consider their impact on Maryland jobs and energy costs.

Responsible energy production would give Western Maryland the chance to create thousands of good-paying jobs, boost the local economy, and make energy more affordable for families and businesses across the state. But time is short.

Please Email your Representatives now. Tell them you support responsible natural gas development and to consider jobs and energy prices when any new regulations are being discussed!

(snip)

Hydraulic fracturing is safe, and reasonable government oversight and regulation are appropriate, but Maryland should follow the example of dozens of other states where production has proceeded safely for years.

The Western part of our state should have the chance to create thousands of jobs and stimulate their local economy. Our families deserve affordable energy to heat our homes and power our businesses. (Emphasis in original.)

Now this is the part where I may go off the organizer’s script (if she had one in mind for me) but I’m a guy who tries to give the straight scoop. The lefties* at SourceWatch sneeringly call Energy Citizens “a front group backed by the American Petroleum Institute,” and the backing part is absolutely true. I knew this awhile ago because I’m quite familiar with API. It’s a very good group from which to get energy information, and I have a vested interest in keeping energy as reliable and inexpensive as possible – it’s called electric and heating oil bills to pay. 200 gallons in the oil tank isn’t cheap, but we needed to get them nonetheless to have a full tank once the cold weather hit. I definitely prefer not to have to run my laptop and internet off a battery and at this time of year I like to be something close to warm.

And look at the approach they are taking, saying “reasonable government oversight and regulation are appropriate.” They are not advocating for the Wild West of fracking, but something that is reasonable – unlike the authors of the various proposals in the General Assembly. I’ve not forgotten that the original first reading bill that mandated the halt on fracking through October of next year originally had an expiration date of April 30, 2023 – and only after a panel stacked with “public health experts” as opposed to those expert in ”science and engineering” were charged to ”examine the scientific literature related to the public health and environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing.” I wonder what a panel of “experts” appointed by liberal leadership would have found? </sarc>

Bear in mind that the bill was not properly vetoed by Governor Hogan, but he didn’t sign it either. He just let it become law without his signature, rather than tell these misinformed environmentalists to pound sand and dare the Democrats to vote against good jobs once again.

Furthermore, according to that bill, these regulations should have been in place by this past October. The MDE, however, was about 6 weeks behind and put them out November 14, with public comment closing later this week. Assuming they are close to those detailed back in June, the state will have some of the most stringent regulations in the nation. That doesn’t seem to be very balanced or reasonable.

If I were to make a modest, sensible proposal, I would posit that Maryland’s regulations should mirror Pennsylvania’s as closely as possible, for a very logical reason: for most of those companies already doing business in Pennsylvania, that portion of Maryland is but a short distance from their other operations and would likely by overseen by supervisors based in Pennsylvania – a state which, by the sheer size of its share of the Marcellus Shale formation, will have far more natural gas output than Maryland ever will. If Maryland even gets to 10% of Pennsylvania’s output it would be a victory for the Old Line State. So why not make it easy and convenient for those experts in the field, considering that they’ve had the better part of a decade now to iron out the kinks just on the other side of the Mason-Dixon Line?

At the market price for natural gas, we should be doing all that we can to make it easier to create the good-paying jobs (not to mention the royalty payments landowners could receive) for a part of the state that, like the Eastern Shore, always seems to lag behind the economic curve thanks to shortsighted policy decisions in Annapolis. I hope a lot of my Western Maryland friends (and maybe some from our part of the state) go to support a better way of life for themselves a week from Tuesday. They’ll even bring you over to Annapolis from the west side of the state.

You can call me just another Energy Citizen.

______________

* I like this description of the Center for Media and Democracy, which is the backing group of SourceWatch:

CMD takes significant sums of money for its work from left-wing foundations, and has even received a half-million dollar donation from one of the country’s largest donor-advised funds – all the while criticizing pro-business or free-market advocacy groups who also use donor advised funds or rely on foundation support.

Don’t you love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning?

monoblogue music: “A Little More Country” by Michael Van and the Movers

December 10, 2016 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off 

Michael Van - A Little More CountryComing out later this month as the bleakness of winter approaches, this album hearkens back to something you might have seen in your local rural America record store or Sears & Roebuck back in 1969 – honest, good old-fashioned country music with a heaping helping of bluegrass pickin’. I suppose if there were a truth in advertising rule for naming an album, this one would comply.

But unlike those albums which may have graced my dad’s record collection when he was younger (as he likes country music), these songs are more lengthy and, in many cases, more humorous. (Of course, modern technology makes this possible - in the days of the LP, 54 minutes’ worth of music is a two-record set.) But Michael Van and the Movers make this album work by a rich interplay of instruments and voices.

Yet if you watch and listen to the title track, you may swear this could be played on the more modern, formulaic (think “iHeart Radio”) country music stations. I don’t think the fellas in the band would mind some radio airplay, but given the balance of their work I can’t see them sharing a lot of airtime with Blake Shelton, Kenny Chesney, et. al.

Michael Van (the name is actually a shortened version of Van Arsdale) wrote that song, but the album features three of its players as songwriters and vocalists. There are four tracks apiece from Van Arsdale, guitarist and banjo player Pete Ahonen, and mandolin and fiddle player Alan Bond, with the thirteenth and final track a cover of a song done originally by Gillian Welch in 2003 called Look At Miss Ohio. That gave Ahonen and Van a chance at some harmony, which worked quite well.

Whether intentional or not, this collection is set up with the more upbeat tracks up front. A Little More Country is the lead single and track, but I was more impressed with the playing on the next song called Skedaddle Mountain Lullaby. And how can you not like a song with a chorus lyric like “drank whiskey for his health and now the man must die.” It’s a very honest country song, and Gettin’ Drunk On A Monday is another old-line tune to go with it.

There’s a more poignant mood with Love Me Till Thursday, which came across as a very weepy-style ballad, but that spell is broken with Juanita, a tune which has a somewhat Caribbean flavor to it. This song began a trio which showed the humorous side of the group, even if Van is “singin’ out the hurt” on Gimme Back My Guitar. Pretty Penny is a great story song which doesn’t seem overly long despite running over six minutes – in the country genre, that’s like eternity. But if you have a good story to tell, what’s the rush?

With the opening beats of Center Of The Universe, though, the moods change: this and Don’t Mind It If I Do seem to be more prototypical country love songs, while River Road turns introspective, with steel guitar playing a more prominent role. We also get the usual tribute to wanderlust with That Train – which also has a little bit of background harmony to it – and the mixing in of bluesy elements with Sounds Like Rain. This isn’t to say these are bad songs at all, but the more musically adventurous part of the album seems to be in the opening seven tracks. (Interesting to note: from reading the band’s social media page, those in the alternative country music radio business seem to think That Train has “great radio potential.” Let ‘em play it.)

As a whole, this album reminded me a lot of another one I reviewed a few weeks back by Steve Hussey and Jake Eddy. Both of these take a genre that overall sorely needs a kick in the pants and bend it back toward what made it worth listening to in the first place. I’m much more familiar with the hard rock/metal scene since that’s what I grew up listening to, so my analogy for the state of country music today is that of where the hard rock genre was as the “power ballad” era was playing out. The players involved may laugh at the comparison, but in a musical sense they are bringing to country what Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and others of their ilk brought to rock: a sound and passion for it that brings the musical style back to what it was meant to be.

If nothing else, what I admire about the bluegrass end of country music is the craftsmanship that is missing from the commercialized side of the genre. This album is another one that has that quality in spades, and if you want a listen before it comes out, feel free to judge for yourself.

Since this may likely be my final review of 2016, I’ll just say this one is a contender for my top 5 list that I will put out on New Year’s Eve (as it’s a Saturday.) I’m also contemplating a new annual feature to follow up on some of my past winners, so look for that as 2017 begins.

The Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame Class of 2016

December 8, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off 

For a short time this summer, I thought I was going to have a record class for the SotWHoF this season, but as it turned out it matched last season’s class of five players. But this season’s class is making a prediction I made a couple years ago on the Shorebird of the Week tracker page come true:

I think the 2014 (SotW) crop has the potential to match the 2008 SotW group in terms of guys who can make it. They just seem to have that air about them, and three of them made the jump to Frederick immediately after the All-Star game.

True to my prediction (and within the timeframe of 2 to 3 years typically elapsing after their selection as Shorebirds of the Week) there are three players I picked in 2014 among the five inductees this season. In order of their debuts, they were Steven Brault, Donnie Hart, and Trey Mancini. Parker Bridwell was only the second player from 2013 to advance to the Show, and Ty Kelly finally gave me one player from the 2010 SotW crop that made it – from a team that was sometimes nearly unbearable to watch.

As has become a trend over the last few years, we have watched as two players traded away for a quick lineup fix made it to the majors with other franchises. But while Brault was acquired by the Pirates in a trade with the Orioles, it took another trade, waivers, and free agency (along with a blazing hot start) to finally bring Kelly to the bigs. But Kelly was among a record five Hall of Fame members playing in the postseason this year (and the only one not suiting up for Baltimore.) However, none of them advanced past the wild card game and Zach Britton was a healthy scratch that could have been six.

Perhaps the one making the most impact of this season’s crop was Hart, who has been a solid LOOGY (left-handed one-out guy) for Baltimore. But none of the five made a great splash this season like some have in the past; luckily that’s not an indicator of future results.

I actually did rather well predicting some of the guys who made it this year, but I think 2017 may be a somewhat barren year. Sure, you could have the feelgood stories of longtime prospects like Garabez Rosa, Michael Ohlman, or Tim Berry finally breaking through, but if you look at the guys from 2012 and 2013 who are still hanging on no one jumps out at you. Former SotW players who participated in the Arizona Fall League included Adrian Marin from 2013, Jimmy Yacabonis and Austin Wynns from 2014, Stefan Crichton from 2015, and Jesus Liranzo from last season. (Liranzo was also the only SotW added to this winter’s 40 man roster.) None of them really made an impact in the AFL, though. The most likely person to be a 2017 class member could also be the first Shorebird of the Year to make it, 2014′s Chance Sisco.

And going forward I’m a little bearish on the prospects that I will have another class with as many as five in it, as the players over the last two years don’t seem to have the same prospect cache as those from 2014. So this class of five may be the last really large one.

Yet the process may not be done with this past season after all. I am thinking about a less stressful alternative to weekly honors, with the thought of perhaps going to a monthly award with the prospect of repeating during a season (so the monthly honoree in April could repeat in May.) It may also expand to a position player and pitcher, based on merit, and if I decide to do this it would begin the first Thursday in May for the April player and pitcher so honored.

But in the meantime it’s time to congratulate my five newest members of the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame, and with the posting of this article I will restore the SotWHoF page to public view.

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