A unique tribute

Today was a rainy afternoon on Delmarva, so I spent part of the day inside browsing the “Beast of the East” bike show being held here this weekend. At the show I came across a tribute to the fallen of 9-11 that I’d never really thought about but is well done. An organization called “America’s 9/11 Foundation” is raising funds by raffling off this bike. (I’d place the picture online but it would blow my formatting to smithereens – I take my digital photos in 1600×1200 format and crop things like my SotW pictures to 450 pixels wide to maintain the proper widths. And I pictured the bike separately and with the whole display area, there’s two links.)

This raffle will be one fundraiser that the organization does in order to provide scholarship money for family members of active or disabled EMS/firefighters/police officers along with other support services for first responders. The other main fundraiser is “America’s 9/11 Ride“, which will have its sixth installment this August. It’s a police-escorted motorcycle ride to all three of the 9/11 sites: the Pentagon, Shanksville, PA where Flight 93 crashed, and Ground Zero in New York City, where the tribute bike will be raffled off.

It’s a good thing that there are people who don’t forget that we’re just a few years removed from the worst terrorist act to hit our shores. While it only took about 3 1/2 years to finish the last enemy who hit us in a comparable sneak attack, this war promises to be much longer as we face an enemy that is fueled by a passion to achieve the afterlife in a blaze of homicidal glory. To many who get their information on current affairs from the TV news or the newspapers, it’s our side who’s to blame for inciting these “freedom fighters” who struck the Twin Towers. Some even feel it was a government-backed plot.

Tomorrow is the final day of “Beast of the East” so if you want to take a look at the bike for yourself, I encourage you to come to Salisbury and do so. As you can see from the post below, the city of Salisbury can use the extra tourism dollars that our fickle weather washed away.

Earth Day gets its revenge?

The typical Earth Day is full of the celebration of Gaia, where the tree-huggers get together and commune with nature and each other. Topics like renewable energy, global warming, hybrid cars, recycling, and organic foods are among many that get discussed at these get-togethers, while amenable politicians pander for votes by telling these folks that the government should force people into acting in an environmentally-friendly manner.

But in Wicomico County things are different. Whether by grace of God or happy accident of the calendar, Earth Day 2006 here gets celebrated by having dozens of gas-guzzling trucks and vans converge on an open park to bring and set up large steel charcoal pits, which are filled with the remnants of once-proud hickory trees that are ignited to pollute the air for the purpose of cooking a goodly number of God’s innocent creatures – just to win a barbeque competition.

To make matters worse, these barbeque competitors have to live there – at least overnight – so gallons of fuel are consumed to run electrical generators that power all the amenities to make the lives of these people who are cooking up the poor defenseless animals a little more bearable. Still more precious fossil fuel is used up to crank out the entertainment as several bands running the gamut from blues to country to rock are slated to perform. That noise will certainly scare off the wild creatures!

And all of this so people will come and eat way too many pork ribs and drink too much beer. No vegans need apply.

But tonight Mother Nature got her revenge. After one of the driest Marches on record and a fairly dry April, it decided to just let loose and rain all this weekend. At a time on Saturday evening when a good crowd of people were supposed to begin arriving to enjoy the ribs, beer, and entertainment, the folks at “Pork in the Park” were packing up to leave. Relentless rain finished the event after the judging of the competition.

To me, it was a complete bummer. I’ve been waiting for some good ribs but I couldn’t attend last night, so this evening was my best chance to make it over there. But it wasn’t to be, and I have to think that the Wicomico County tourism folks also got a financial bath from all this rain. Hopefully they had some sort of insurance for a washout, but that’s still not going to help make up everything that I’m certain they lost financially.

I guess the question becomes not just whether to maintain a late-April event in 2007 (I went last year on a cool, damp evening as well) but whether to have it at all, or if a different venue setup is needed. A better venue would have a more permanent stage and plenty of sheltered area close by the food vendors. I’m not sure that the date is going to be able to be changed in order to get better weather, since most of the summer weekends are booked up by older and more established barbeque competitions.

In looking at the 2007 calendar, we’re going to miss Earth Day if Pork in the Park is held on the third weekend in April again. Perhaps Gaia will smile on us and allow better weather if we don’t insult her on her celebration day. Or we might just luck out, it can’t rain every year they do Park in the Park – can it?

The “Gas War” e-mail

Actually, I got an interesting e-mail today from Drea, it was one that was sent to her and forwarded on. Here’s the e-mail I received, with the forwarded note by the sender she got it from:

I’ve been doing this for at least a year. If you haven’t yet, I suggest that you start. Not only will it hurt the bigger companies, but it’ll most likely be less expensive going somewhere else, like an Arco if you have it (just make sure it’s not owned by exxon or mobil first). Also, if I can avoid driving around town I will, for the sake of gas, the environment and my health. Biking is great exercise and it’s fun!

(B.C.)

GAS WAR – an idea that WILL work …

This was originally sent by a retired Coca Cola executive. It came from one of his engineer buddies who retired from Halliburton. It’s worth your consideration.

Join the resistance!!!!

I hear we are going to hit close to $ 4.00 a gallon by next summer and it might go higher!! Want gasoline prices to come down? We need to take some intelligent, united action.

Phillip Hollsworth offered this good idea. This makes MUCH MORE SENSE than the “don’t buy gas on a certain day” campaign that was going around last April or May! The oil companies just laughed at that because they knew we wouldn’t continue to “hurt” ourselves by refusing to buy gas. It was more of an inconvenience to us than it was a problem for them. BUT, whoever thought of this idea has come up with a plan that can really work. Please read on and join with us!

By now you’re probably thinking gasoline priced at about $1.50 is super cheap. Me too! It is currently $2.79 for regular unleaded in my town. Now that the oil companies and the OPEC nations have conditioned us to think that the cost of a gallon of gas is CHEAP at $1.50 – $1.75, we need to take aggressive action to teach them that BUYERS control the marketplace … not the seller’s. With the price of gasoline going up more each day, we consumers need to take action.

The only way we are going to see the price of gas come down is if we hit someone in the pocketbook by not purchasing their gas!

And, we can do that WITHOUT hurting ourselves.

How? Since we all rely on our cars, we can’t just stop buying gas. But we CAN have an impact on gas prices if we all act together to force a price war. Here’s the idea: For the rest of this year, DON’T purchase ANY gasoline from the two biggest companies (which now are one), EXXON and MOBIL. If they are not selling any gas, they will be inclined to reduce their prices. If they reduce their prices, the other companies will have to follow suit. But to have an impact, we need to reach literally millions of Exxon and Mobil gas buyers. It’s really simple to do! Now, don’t wimp out on me at this point…keep reading and I’ll explain how simple it is to reach millions of people!!

I am sending this note to 30 people. If each of us send it to at least ten more (30 x 10 = 300) … and those 300 send it to at least ten more (300 x 10 = 3,000) … and so on, by the time the message reaches the sixth group of people, we will have reached over THREE MILLION consumers. If those three million get excited and pass this on to ten friends each, then 30 million people will have been contacted! If it goes one level further, you guessed it . THREE HUNDRED MILLION PEOPLE!!!

Again, all you have to do is send this to 10 people. That’s all! If you don’t understand how we can reach
300 million and all you have to do is send this to 10 people . well, let’s face it, you just aren’t a mathematician. But I am. So trust me on this one. How long would all that take? If each of us sends this e-mail out to ten more people within one day of receipt, all 300 MILLION people could conceivably be contacted within the next 8 days!!! I’ll bet you didn’t think you and I had that much potential, did you!

Acting together we can make a difference. If this makes sense to you, please pass this message on. I
suggest that we not buy from EXXON/MOBIL UNTIL THEY LOWER THEIR PRICES TO THE $1.30 RANGE AND KEEP THEM DOWN. THIS CAN REALLY WORK.

Kerry Lyle, Director, Research Coordinator

So I took a few minutes and wrote Drea back. (Names initialized to protect the innocent.)

Hi Drea,

Personally, I’d rather boycott Citgo because its owned by the Venezuelan government and their anti-American thug dictator Hugo Chavez.

All the oil companies pretty much have to pay the same price for a barrel of oil that’s imported. I’m sure D. and B. are angered about having to pay so much for gas, but if someone found a large oil field in Oregon, something tells me that they would be the first to line up and oppose the new drilling.

And by the way, if price of gas were to drop down to $1.30 a gallon, the only people who would lose out are the oil companies and the owners of the service stations – the taxes on a gallon of gas won’t drop. And that’s anywhere from 24 to 50 cents a gallon depending on state (including the 18 cents a gallon the feds charge – notice they’re making no moves to drop that, even temporarily.)

In terms of oil price, the price of gas is relatively proportional. When oil was $15 a barrel about 6-8 years ago, we paid 90 cents a gallon and the oil industry was hurting bigtime with layoffs and such. Now oil is $75 a barrel and the oil industry is fairly profitable.

If you ask me, the short-term solution to this whole problem is allowing more oil exploration and gaining more refinery capacity. Medium-term solutions involve using resources we already have in our country, particularly making oil from the shale found in several Western states.

In the long-term we will find a substitute for oil, as diesel and gasoline supplanted wood and coal-driven steam power for transportation needs. Hopefully the government will get out of the way and allow this research to go on, even if it does pay huge dividends to the people smart and brave enough to venture into the field and risk the failure of their ideas.

Oh, just so you know, I live pretty close by an Exxon/Mobil station, I just filled up there yesterday because they had the best price of the three that are close by me. It’s generally where I fill up my car. So if this boycott idea worked, I’ll be happy to play contrarian and let them lower the price so I can fill up my car more cheaply.

take care,

Michael

In researching the matter further, I’ve found that the author, “Kerry Lyle”, claims to be from the University of Alabama, but no one by that name teaches there. From this website I followed the link to this website, which hasn’t had much play of late. But perhaps he/she is responsible for this letter.

And Phillip Hollsworth? He’s a very popular guy, the one who came up with this idea. Apparently he’s also a figment of someone’s imagination. A similar letter has circled round and round the Internet since 1999.

So I wonder…will this reply to the idea go round and round the Internet? It would be nice, but somehow I doubt it.

I know the couple who started sending this particular branch of e-mail because I read their blogs, they’re young liberals (oh, sorry, “progressives”) who perceive themselves as well-meaning folks. But with age comes experience, and I knew that this e-mail chain was a hoax. I just love to tweak the anti-free market people whenever I can and expose them to a dose of reality. Thanks for allowing me to do that!

Shorebird of the week 4-20-2006

Lorenzo Scott Jr. waits on deck during Tuesday's contest.

This week the SotW spotlight turns to a first-year Shorebird, Lorenzo Scott Jr. This 24 year old is a product of Ball State University in Indiana (a familiar Mid-American Conference foe to my Miami RedHawks) and was picked by the Orioles in the 17th round of the 2003 draft.

His 2005 offensive numbers at short-season Aberdeen were hardly eyepopping (.218 average, 3 HR, 12 RBI in 34 games with 7 steals, and 58 K’s in 133 at-bats) but his speed and solid defensive play (no errors in the field last year) has kept him in the Orioles system. So far this year their patience has been rewarded as Scott is tied for the South Atlantic League lead with 6 stolen bases and is second in the loop with a .512 on-base percentage. Hitting a solid .355 is helping that cause in the early going.

So the Shorebirds have a speedy threat at the top of the lineup – anyone who gets on base better than half the time and has the speed to be on pace for a 50 steal season will obviously get the attention of opposing pitchers. That benefits the later hitters in the Delmarva batting order and gives the team a better opportunity for a big inning. It will be interesting to see if Lorenzo Scott Jr. can keep the early success going, hopefully he’s in the process of becoming a late bloomer of sorts.

Sign the petition, I will

Art. 16. That sanguinary Laws ought to be avoided as far as it is consistent with the safety of the State; and no Law to inflict cruel and unusual pains and penalties ought to be made in any case, or at any time, hereafter. – Maryland Constitution and Declaration of Rights

And there’s a law out there that is quite sanguinary. It’s called the early voting law, or as I see it, the “invitation to voter fraud” law. The Maryland GOP is planning a petition drive to allow a true democracy to judge the bill by its merits, that being the people of the state of Maryland.

On the surface the bill seems to be in the public interest, as the proponents state that low turnout on Election Day is caused by people who may work two jobs or odd shifts (those mythical “working families” again) not having an opportunity to get out and vote – thus, we need several extra days of voting to accomplish as large a turnout as possible. However, the party out in front of this measure just so happens to be the one that is supposedly helped by a large turnout. I have no problem with turnout – personally I think everyone eligible should get out and use the right our forefathers died for – but the abuse of that right is the crux of my problem, and having multiple-day elections seems to me a situation ripe for exploitation.

I have worked the polls as a campaigner for many years on Election Day. I know that the voting turnout is pretty slow the first hour (Ohio voting runs from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.), picks up between 7:30 and 9 a.m., has a small peak at lunchtime, and is heaviest from 5 to 7 p.m. The poll workers almost always take their lunch breaks between 1 and 3, when few voters show up. The polling place I generally worked as a campaigner was also my personal voting place, so a lot of years I was voter #1 or #2 since I voted first thing then passed out literature or held up the sign for the rest of the day. It was less than a mile from my house, so I could take 5-10 minutes for a potty break if need be. The point is, there’s 13 available hours for a person to get to their polling place, which most times is within a short distance of their home. If a person can’t make a little bit of time in that period (or get an absentee ballot, which is almost ludicrously easy to get now) to exercise their right, is having those extra days really going to matter? People who simply don’t want to vote could have all year and they won’t do it. But someone with larceny in their heart and a valid voter registration card could now make the grand tour of Maryland polling places, casting provisional ballots all along the way in the hopes that some of them sneak through into the total count.

Throughout American history there have been tales of electoral shenanigans by the party in power, from the corrupt Tammany Hall Democrats in late-1800’s New York City to the Chicago Daley machine who voted from beyond the grave. A party accustomed to power used whatever methods necessary to maintain its stranglehold on government. In this year’s General Assembly session the state Democrats unsuccessfully tried to add felons to the 2006 voting rolls to pump up their likely turnout; by selecting early polling places that were mainly in Democrat strongholds, they again attempt to jigger the results their way. (Even though, if you believe the polls, they don’t have a lot to worry about.)

To get the petition on the November ballot, the proponents of overturning early voting need to get just over 50,000 signatures by June 30, with 1/3 of those collected by May 31st. This is according to the Maryland Board of Elections. However, Democrats are quick to point out that an opinion last year by Maryland Attorney General Joseph Curran (also a Democrat, and father-in-law of current candidate for governor Martin O’Malley) established that the petition drive should have been completed last year when the law was actually passed, not in 2006 when Governor Ehrlich’s veto was overriden.

For its part, the Board of Elections petition regulations clearly state that “Acts or parts of Acts passed at the 2005 and 2006 (boldface emphasis mine) Sessions of the General Assembly, if they are successfully petitioned to referendum, will appear on the next general election ballot (November 7, 2006).” So, in my view, Attorney General Curran is incorrect, and the petition should stand if successful.

Admittedly, it would be an uphill battle to pass this referendum, even if the Maryland GOP can get the 50,000 signatures. Likely that won’t be a problem; the trick will be convincing the voters of Maryland, many of whom get their news from the anti-Ehrlich and anti-GOP major media outlets in the state, that a measure that sounds great on the surface is really a thinly disguised partisan play by a party smarting from being out of the governors’ chair for the last four years and scared of a black conservative Republican hopeful for U.S. Senator.

It is good to know that there is a method for Marylanders who are fed up with the stupidity of laws passed by their General Assembly to petition for redress of grievances. Now if they would get motivated to educate the balance of the state on the reasons why these dreadful measures get passed, we can do something about again making our nickname of “The Free State” truly meaningful.

Sine Die…for now anyway

I think the dust has sufficiently settled in Annapolis now to comment about the farce otherwise known as the 2006 session of Maryland’s General Assembly – noted by the Wall Street Journal as America’s worst. (You can’t blame me, I’ve never voted for any of them – I was an Ohioan the last time these folks were elected.)

The interim few days also gave me time to peruse some of the media coverage of the last session day, along with overviews of the session as a whole. I culled items from the Baltimore Sun, the Gazette, the Washington Times, and press releases from both parties in order to read up on the spin and the real results.

The session started and ended with a flurry of veto overrides. At the start the Democrats in the General Assembly made the Fair Share Health Care Act (generally known as the “Wal-Mart” bill) part of the state’s law books and further frustrated Maryland small businesses by increasing the minimum wage $1 to $6.15 per hour. To finish the session, the Democrats blocked efforts by the state to take over the failing Baltimore City Schools, mandated the governor must reappoint and have reconfirmed his Cabinet secretaries if he wins a second term (a clear usurpation of executive power); and overturned Ehrlich’s veto of a bill selecting early polling places that the Democrats in the General Assembly picked out, likely to their partisan advantage.

What was most noteworthy and certainly drew the most attention on the last session day was an attempt to modify proposed electric rate hikes that would begin this summer. The proposed increases came about as a sort of payment due from deregulation legislation that was passed back in 1999, under previous Governor Parris Glendenning. To be more specific, long-term contracts that locked in prices paid by consumer electrical suppliers (particularly Baltimore Gas & Electric) were set to expire and current market rates are set much higher. Instead of possibly 6-10% increases every year from 2000-2006, this balloon mortgage of sorts was slated to force a 72% rate hike on BG&E customers – a group that is a huge voting bloc, possibly the largest in Maryland short of party affiliation.

Legislation to modify these increases managed to make it through the House of Delegates, but the Senate could not ratify the bill in time. Cinderella’s horse-driven coach turned into the pumpkin of a possible special session to resolve the matter.

Moreover, the rate increases aren’t limited to just the Baltimore area, as the juice that runs my computer (and heats/cools my house, does my cooking, etc.) comes from Delmarva Power, who’s also looking to increase rates by a significant percentage. The effects of electrical deregulation have obviously become a contentious issue, and a sidebar to it is a proposed $11 billion merger between Constellation Energy (BG&E’s parent company) and Florida Power and Light. That merger was also held hostage to the whims of the General Assembly, which isn’t too friendly to business interests.

Now, generally I’m a free-market sort of person, and what I can’t understand is how deregulation didn’t work in this instance. I suppose the only explanation I can think of is that because the electrical power industry is so capital-intensive and also quite dependent on other natural resources (coal, natural gas, etc.) that new players and competitors have a difficult time getting started. Conversion is the key in this case – something has to be converted to electricity, at least until someone figures out a way to transform natural lightning into a form useful enough to supply your typical 120 volt outlet.

As it stands now, a guy like me is looking at about $300 a year more for electricity. Strangely enough, my electric bills are higher in the winter than the summer, but most people will see big bills come July and August, just in time for the campaign season to begin. For their part, even though the Democrats in the General Assembly passed the deregulation legislation in the first place and it was signed by a Democrat governor, they’re calling it “Ehrlich’s rate hike.”

And that’s a good part of the spin that they try to attach to their achievements during the 2006 Assembly session. Some items cited in their press release include:

$462 million for schools. The problem with saying that is that Governor Ehrlich sets the initial budget, so that was his amount of money – the D’s simply chose not to cut it.

The “Healthy Air” Act. In other words, more regulation on Maryland’s utilities, which will likely benefit those downwind of us moreso than our state. So I guess Delaware thanks us, while our electric rates go up to cover those mandates.

Fighting the “Ehrlich” utility rate hike. Since no legislation passed, and the Democrats run the General Assembly, I’m not certain that I’d call this a “victory.”

Fighting voter supression. In fact, I’d say the bills passed by the Democrats fight it so well that many people are going to vote 2, 3, even 4 times! And what a surprise, they’ll vote for Democrats.

Stem cell research. The devil is in the details. Personally, the only stem cell research I favor is that performed on non-embryonic stem cells. Any why is it up to the government to fund this research? Wouldn’t one think that a private comany would love to come up with a cure for an ailment that affects a large number of people and be able to profit from that? Maybe they’re seeing how the pharmaceutical industry gets treated by our lawmakers and it forces government to step into the breech.

College tuition. I have an issue with the state funding college tuition anyway. Sometimes I think that the purpose of college has become almost the same as that of a vocational school. You go to school to say, become an architect, and unless you apply yourself to the purpose like I did you don’t learn what is truly higher education, that of critical thinking.

A pay hike for “working families”. First of all, how many “working families” in Maryland really work at minimum-wage jobs? Most of these are held by teens or part-timers, where these low wage jobs exist. The market in Maryland is such that the average Joe working someplace makes far more than minimum anyway. But this measure increases costs for everyone regardless of income.

Minority Business Enterprise. At the risk of pissing off readers who trace their ancestries to sub-Saharan Africa or south of our national border, and even those who are physically capable of carrying and bearing children, I have to say that this should be phased out. I don’t believe in discrimination for or against a certain group, and a leg up to “minority” business enterprises, while necessary a generation ago, is no longer required if you ask me. Even if you don’t ask me, it’s my blog and I say so. MBE should have been sunsetted this year as proposed.

Juvenile justice failures. Honestly, with no kids in Maryland’s system, I’m no expert on whether juvenile justice needed to be reformed. This mostly has to do with a veto override in the first days of the session.

Teacher pension improvements. Yes, now Maryland is in the “middle of the pack” instead of the bottom. What they don’t say is that the teachers themselves will be fronting most of the costs. Need to keep that quiet, like the teachers’ unions would ever endorse a Republican anyway.

Tax relief. As the press release says, “Dems proposed and passed tax relief measures for those in need.” In this case, they determined homeowners, seniors, the disabled, military retirees, and heirs of small business owners were in need. I don’t have a problem with the list, but I wonder how many of these bills were Democrat versions of those introduced by Republicans, which did happen in this year’s General Assembly simply to make sure the GOP could get no credit. Really I’d like to see everyone get a tax cut though, not just a selected few.

For the GOP side, they chose a lighter approach in their view of the session. They selected the “Top Ten Silliest Bills” of the 2006 session. Rather than rehash the list (hey, just go read it – it’s funny in a sad sort of way) I wondered just how our local Assembly men and women voted on these bills! That’s way more important to me.

10. House Bill 1292 did not make it out of committee, no local elected officials were among the sponsors of either this measure or the companion Senate Bill 1017.

9. Senate Bill 983, believe it or not, passed 45-0. Both local Senators were among the 45.

8. Senate Bill 136 was defeated in committee. Sen. Richard Colburn (District 37) joined two other Republicans and 13 Democrats to sponsor the bill.

7. House Bill 1037 did not pass through its committee. No local Delegates were sponsors of the bill.

6. Senate Joint Resolution 15 passed 45-0 as well. Again, both of our Senators voted for the resolution. I have to comment on this one. Let me see, the trek of Lewis and Clark started in Missouri, correct? I went to Missouri for my vacation last year and I took two days to drive the distance. So, back in the days of horseback, that was likely a weeks’ trip or more. What the hell does Maryland have to do with this?!?

5. House Bill 1468 died a quiet death, not even getting a committee vote. None of our local Delegates were involved.

4. Senate Bill 735 was approved by its committee but did not face the full Senate. I’m not able to find out if either local Senator voted for the bill in committee or not.

3. House Bill 681 sailed through on votes of 138-1 and 133-0 (a version amended by the Senate.) All of our District 37 and 38 Delegates voted for this. The companion Senate Bill 824 was voted against by Sens. Colburn and Stoltzfus, but they were outvoted 37-8. I guess the saving grace is that an amendment sunsets the bill in 2010.

2. House Joint Resolution 2 was shot down in committee. No local Delegate was a co-sponsor.

1. Senate Bill 235 was selected as the silliest bill by the Maryland GOP. The bill allows pets to have their own trust funds. Now, I like Sen. Stoltzfus, but his voting for this makes me shake my head. Senator Colburn voted no. The measure passed the Senate 33-13 but no House action was taken.

All I have to say is thank goodness it’s over. At least the state can’t pass any more bills that restrict my freedom and grant goodies to whomever is deemed the chosen few until January of 2007, where hopefully the makeup of the General Assembly is such that any bill vetoed by Governor Ehrlich (assuming his reelection of course) would have the veto stand. I’m not that crazily optimistic that the GOP will suddenly become Maryland’s majority party, but we need to start down that road at some point.

Otherwise we might be wishing to become part of a “greater Delaware” and see what adding the “red” Eastern Shore does to that blue state.

Shorebird of the week 4-13-2006

Arturo Rivas loosens up during a 2005 contest.

This week’s Shorebird of the week is last night’s hero, Arturo Rivas, pictured here from a game last July. Last night he came on to pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded in a tie game – a situation every kid dreams about. While it wasn’t the seventh game of the World Series, Rivas did deliver the game-winning base hit through the middle and lifted the Shorebirds to a 5-4 comeback win over Lake County.

The 22 year old Venezuelan native was among the top Shorebirds in most offensive categories in 2005 as he spent the entire season here, hitting .251 in 125 games. His 9 home runs and 62 RBI were good for second place behind Jason Fransz.

So far in 2006 Rivas is off to a decent start, hitting .273 (6 for 22) in 7 games played, with a home run and 3 RBI to his credit. He figures to be an important part of the Shorebirds’ plans as long as he remains with the team this season.

Grading the campaign blogs

This year’s campaigns are beginning to shape up and get their websites together. One thing that I like about a number of the websites I link to is the blog portion of the website. A growing number of these sites feature a blog, many times by the candidate him/herself, and some that are also open to a number of folks who contribute to the campaign (such as volunteers.)

As such, I’ve linked specifically to the candidate’s blog in cases where I’ve found that they have a related one linked from their overall site. Today I’m going to take a pass through the ones I’m aware of. All of these are linked from monoblogue, so I’m not going to bother with hyperlinks on this post.

Before I begin, I do owe hat tips to the “Big Three” local bloggers who have pointed me at various times to local candidate sites as I try to secure a database of links to them, letting the people decide for themselves – assuming they would like to spend a few minutes perusing the campaign site and getting to know their positions on issues rather than depend on the 30-second TV ad that’s usually more about tearing the opponent down than stating where they stand positionwise. Most folks who take the time to read monoblogue and the other sites likely don’t fall in that latter category.

The grading here will be subjective, based on the number, character, and variety of posts. I’ll not go into the nuts and bolts of positions stated within each post; even if somebody is completely opposite my point of view, they’ll still be graded highly if the blog and its posts are well-written.

Let us begin with Maryland Senate candidate (and current Lieutenant Governor) Michael Steele’s blog. First I need to apologize for having a dead link to his blog, this has been fixed.

I probably could have kept it as a dead link and gotten the same effect though, there’s been no posts within the last month. Other than a spate around Civil Rights Day (aka MLK Day) there’s not been much placed here. It’s almost like Michael Steele is afraid to say a whole lot after his stem cell gaffe. The last post was basically a shill for contributions.

On that basis, I would have to give Michael Steele’s blog a D. If he’s not going to pay much attention to it, the blog is really not worth having on the site. If someone from the Steele campaign reads this, perhaps they can take pointers from other blogs I’m familiar with and will grade as I go.

Another GOP candidate is Daniel Muffoletto. His campaign website links to a blog but there’s nothing in it except what seems like a test post, thus I didn’t link it separately. He gets a big fat F.

Continuing on the GOP side, Daniel “Wig Man” Vovak blogs on almost a daily basis, generally very short entries about how the campaign is going and the curse he has had placed on Michael Steele. Of late he also notes about how many campaign cards he has handed out (gaining on 9,000.) The blog is extensive and goes back all the way to December for the 2006 campaign.

This is an interesting one to grade out. It’s a little bit like blogging in sound bites, which to me is a minus, but he’s a pretty regular blogger as well and reading on the evolution of his shoe leather campaign is intriguing. So I’m going to give it a B-, which could be improved with longer posts. I’d love to see his psychic/campaign manager toss in a few posts as well.

Now I’ll turn to the Democrat side, starting with Kweisi Mfume. His blog’s also been active awhile, nearly a year. It only had a few posts over the first few months, but lately has been updated on a fairly regular basis.

The site has had an interesting change over the course of 11 months. At the start, Mfume actually did take a few turns blogging and the posts were more of a personal character. In the past few months, though, most of the entries are used simply to link to other resources or news stories about the campaign or relevant issues. This coincided with “Dan” becoming the sole blogger. While many blogs that I read on a daily basis use this approach to highlight news stories they find interesting, I’m not so sure it’s the best format for a political blog. I actually liked the early entries better than the last ones.

The blog does have one plus though as they allow comments. I didn’t take a lot of time to read the comments, but the ability to provide feedback is a plus. In this instance, I’ll grade the blog a C+.

Allan Lichtman is another Democrat hopeful. His blog has a lot to recommend it as far as enjoyability. He and several other folks contribute to the blog, and the posts run the gamut from Lichtman’s accounting of his recent trip to New Orleans to birthday wishes for him and his son. They have even gone to archives of his posts in other places which runs entries back to January of 2005.

It has a good mix of commentary, postings on campaign events and appearances, and shows something about his character and the devotion of those people truly behind his campaign. While I’m most likely 180 degrees removed from him on the issues, I would recommend it as a good reading experience. He gets a very solid A.

Thus far, that is the extent of campaign site blogging on the Maryland Senate race. Next, I’ll turn to a Delaware Senate hopeful, Republican Dennis Protack.

Currently his blog nearly fits on one page, I barely had to scroll down to see it in its entirety. With one post in March on the ports issue (and 5 total since its inception in January), it seems to me another case where, if the candidate is not going to put his (or his campaign’s) full effort into the blog, why have it? The entries themselves are short and fairly well-written, but the interesting thing to me is that each entry ends with a question. It appears Protack is using the blog to solicit comments from the public. That’s noble in and of itself, but the lack of comments show that approach is not working. In his case, I give the blog a D+.

Moving down the Eastern Shore to Virginia, one U.S. Senate hopeful has a blog. Democrat challenger Harris Miller has the site, which is somewhat new – just starting up in February. It holds a lot of promise, in that the few entries (by various contributors, including Miller himself) speak to the variety of issues the challenger holds dear and points out differences between he and incumbent Sen. George Allen. Comments are allowed, and the site mixes news and commentary quite well. With some more diligence, Miller could have an excellent blogsite. As it is, I’ll rate it a C.

Shifting my focus to the various state Congressional races, the only blog that exists for the Delmarva district races (MD-1, VA-2, DE-at large) is a brand new blog by Delaware Democrat Dennis Spivack. The first entry was placed this past Wednesday. The two posts (an introduction post and one on health care) are nicely written.

There’s a few points taken off for not allowing comments, and several marks deducted for placing the blog on Blogspot. With the recent problems there (ask “Hadley V. Baxendale” about that!), the campaign would be much better off simply placing it as part of their overall site. I suppose there’s a “stealth” factor in this as normally leafing through Blogspot you wouldn’t find a campaign blog and several blogs I link to for political commentary reside on Blogspot. And, of course, it’s free.

As it stands, I will give this new blog a B+. Spivack’s team has a great opportunity to turn this blog into a solid campaign aid.

Coming back to the Free State, both Democrat challengers feature a blog on their site. I’ll work in alphabetical order and comment on Doug Duncan’s first.

This is another site that has all the plusses as far as these blogs go. The blog is updated regularly, almost daily. There are a number of contributors, including Duncan himself and members of his family. Comments are allowed, although there’s not a whole lot of them. Most of the posts are commentary on the campaign and issues, rather than just a link to something else. But they also get the word out about appearances and campaign events in a timely fashion. Plus the Duncan political quiz (posted April 6th) is pretty funny. I’ve lived here 18 months and I almost aced it…sad in a way.

Many of the bloggers who I comment on in this post could learn a lot about how to put together a blog in reading the Duncan campaign’s edition. All in all, another excellent blog, certainly the best of the whole lot. A+.

Martin O’Malley also has a campaign blog which has well-written entries and allows comments. A nice variety of contributors add their thoughts, including LG candidate Anthony Brown. The largest problem with O’Malleys blog is the dearth of posts. There’s only about 10 posts covering the time since November of last year. That alone hurts the grade. If the O’Malley campaign really wanted to reach out to the blogosphere, they have potential to do so if they placed more emphasis on posting in their blog once in awhile. I’m giving the site a B-.

The final blog I’ll review is one that links to incumbent Delaware treasurer Jack Markell’s campaign site. The odd thing about the “Blog for Delaware” is that it’s not truly a campaign blog. I would categorize it as more of a political blog that Markell happens to contribute to on a semi-regular basis.

So the grading is difficult to do. Yes, it is pretty well-written as far as arguments go, but there’s not the updating that’s necessary to make this a great campaign blog. It lies betwixt and between, and is most useful as background info rather than a source of campaign news and thoughts. On that basis I have to grade it as a C.

As a review, by political race:

Maryland U.S. Senate:

Lichtman – A
Vovak – B minus
Mfume – C plus
Steele – D
Muffoletto – F

Delaware U.S. Senate:

Protack – D plus

Virginia U.S. Senate:

Miller – C

Delaware U.S. House (at large):

Spivack – B plus

Maryland Governor:

Duncan – A plus (best of show)
O’Malley – B minus

Delaware statewide:

Markell – C

I’ll update the links continually as I find out about them and grade the blogs again every so often as the political season continues. With the filing deadline here and in Delaware not until over the summer, there’s still time for races to shift and new websites to be brought online.

A lot of people have some improving to do, others just need to keep up their good work.

Shorebird of the week 4-6-2006

Josh Potter, pictured at left as Juan Gutierrez looks on.

This will be a regular Thursday feature as I briefly profile one of our local hometown ballplayers. Tonight’s first SotW is pitcher Josh Potter, pictured here last May 15th. Potter is one of a handful of holdovers from the 2005 Shorebirds, and had a relatively decent season here, wrapping up the campaign with a 4-3 record, a 4.63 ERA, and a solid 67-25 ratio of strikeouts to walks.

Potter was drafted in the 23rd round out of Phillipsburg High School in Osceola, PA back in 2001. As with many pitchers who come right out of high school, he’s slowly moved up the system and this will be his fifth season in the Orioles organization. However, he still has some time to develop and move ahead in the system, as Saturday will be his 23rd birthday.

Although last year’s photo has him wearing #28, the roster this season shows him with #27.

The impact of impacts?

I’ve heard the buzzphrase “growth pays for growth” quite a lot since I’ve been down here. It took the Wicomico County Council to make it happen. I imagine the lineup for building permits is going to be quite long around Memorial Day (the fees take effect in 60 days hence), so any projects inhouse for us that are situated here just got on the fast track – I know enough about developers to know that they aren’t going to want to spend $1,524 per condo unit unnecessarily. To give you an example of a project I’m working on, that fee would cost the owner/developer an extra $62,000. (It’s hypothetical since the building will be in Accomack County, VA.)

I’ll grant you that the going price of $700,000 per in that example isn’t going to be affected much. However, there’s two directions that this can go in since the precedent is set now, and both of them worry me. One scenario I see playing out is that we’re going to see a never-ending call for hikes in impact fees or the expansion in scope to when a school building needs some sort of renovation but the fees aren’t enough to cover it. I realize the “return” provision was placed into the law where fees unused for six years are returned to the developers but, honestly, once government gets its greedy little hands on the money, it’s not going anywhere. There’s always SOMETHING that needs to be fixed on a school. Look at the example of the poor students having to suffer in the late spring and early fall because there’s no air conditioning in their building.

The second downfall I can sense is where the fee structure expands to certain home renovations. As I understand it, the fee only is charged to new housing units being built. I may as well be the first to point this out. What if a landlord changes a single-family home to a duplex or triplex? Would that not impact schools? Could the County Council, strapped for money because of the constant cry for better school facilities, decide in its wisdom that adding a bedroom onto your existing house is a sure sign another future Wicomico student is on the way, and thus merits an “impact fee”?

I listened to “Cato” this morning on Bill Reddish’s show. He did make a refutation to one of my earlier arguments that has merit. It’s true that, whether there’s a fee or not, the market will be the final arbiter of housing prices and the extra $5,000 would likely end up mostly out of the developer’s pocket rather than from the end user. But I’m not sure that’s a good way to encourage the capital infusion necessary for Wicomico County to prosper. It may help out the surrounding counties a little though.

There’s things that bother me about the whole school situation in general, and the impact fee passage is an ideal time to bring it up. It’s my understanding that Bennett High School has 400 more students than what it was designed for. But where do they come up with that number?

In my schooling days, back in the 1970’s, it was commonplace to have 30 kids in a classroom. It was also not a big deal that one school I attended was first built in 1909 as a small-town high school, and even with its later conversion to a middle school, hadn’t been renovated in a major way since the 1950’s.

I’m most familiar with Ohio’s regulations on school buildings. A few years ago, they did a comprehensive study on all the schools in the state and the majority of them had physical plants that weren’t deemed to be up to snuff. So the state went ahead and mandated either renovating existing schools or building new – generally any school over 30 years old was targeted for replacement. To date, this has cost the state almost $5 billion over ten years, and the job is about halfway done. They’ve already completed the work in the district I graduated from. Where there were once 3 public elementary schools, 2 middle schools, and a high school spread among the several small communities that make up the district, now there are 3 schools based on one campus in the rural area where the original high school was built (it’s now the middle school.) And my old school building? Still standing, and soon to become is now a satellite campus for the local community college. Obviously what wasn’t good enough to the state of Ohio for students in grades 5-8 is just fine for adult students. Hmmmm.

It’s surprising that Maryland hasn’t tried something like this. But at the time Ohio started this, they were flush with cash. Now they’re sort of stuck with this program at the expense of higher taxes for state residents.

That aside, new school buildings are nice. They certainly can create a lot of jobs in the architectural field; at one time I had a job at a firm that almost exclusively did schools. But to me, it’s not necessarily the building that makes the school, it’s the teaching that goes on inside. There I have the biggest problem, and you can build a Taj Mahal school without solving it.

But back to the subject at hand. To me, the jury is definitely still out on this impact fee concept. It’s going to be interesting to see which direction this goes in once the 2006 election is past and a new County Council faces the same old problems with the schools, as well as with the roads and the services. My fear is that growth isn’t just going to pay for growth, but eventually for unnecessary largesse as well.

Baseball tonight!

I’m ready for the 2006 season to start as tonight an AL Central battle is slated for the lidlifter, the White Sox host the Indians. (Unfortunately, there’s an 80% change of strong thunderstorms in the Chicago area tonight.) Went up to Perdue Stadium yesterday and fought off the mob of Easter egg-hunting kids to pick out some seats for the home opener next Monday. (I’ll save the office tix for someone else, heaven knows I’ll get enough of them once things get underway.)

So this morning I’ve been perusing the sports pages trying to get a fix on how things look in 2006. I’ll start with the local major league teams, Nats and Orioles.

The Nationals were a last place team in 2005 despite also being a .500 team at 81-81. The good news for Nats fans is that they’re not picked to be a last place team this year by 8 of 9 predictions I saw, including all of the “national” (no pun intended) predictors. The bad news is that they’re likely to finish a few games short of the .500 mark this season and probably a dozen-and-a-half games out of the division title. Most experts are picking the Braves for a fifteenth straight division crown, but the Mets have gotten some respect (2 of the 9 pick the Mets to break the Atlanta streak.) What saves the Nats from the basement is the dismantling of the Florida Marlins and their continuing rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches-to rags again story. Go ahead and contract that sorry franchise, and put a restraining order on Jeffrey Lurie ever owning another ballteam.

Speaking of restraining orders, perhaps the same should be done for Peter Angelos and the Orioles. I’m only going to make two actual predictions in this post, and here they are: in the Orioles’ next-to-last homestand, September 8-14 against Boston and New York, the attendance by people wearing Red Sox or Yankees colors will be higher than those supporting the hometown team, and you’ll hear more cheering for Big Papi or Derek Jeter than for Miguel Tejada. For the last home series against Minnesota, the total attendance won’t break 60,000. You guessed it, a second-division finish is in the cards for the O’s if the experts are correct. Most have them trailing the D-Rays and inhabiting the AL East cellar, while a few pick them just ahead of Tampa Bay. The very first series for Baltimore is home against the Devil Rays so they’ll be stacked up right off the bat.

So the AL East dynasty of the Yankees winning the division and the Red Sox finishing second is expected again, for the most part (a few see Toronto as the #2 team.) It’s in the 2007-2008 seasons that the change of the AL East guard is expected to occur with the rapid ascension of Tampa Bay and their great young talent. The Orioles don’t even get placed on the radar.

Now I can talk about the important division, the AL Central. Just like the Eastern divisions of both leagues, it’s been a dynastic division where one team generally runs a string of division titles (Cleveland ’95-’99 and ’01, Minnesota ’02-’04). That’s good news for White Sox fans who hope to make their success in 2005 into their own dynasty. The bad news is that Chicago was the odd team who won in 2000 and pretty much became the placeholder between the Cleveland and Minnesota runs. Some are predicting that same placeholder scenario for the Sox and returning the dynasty label back to Cleveland. The experts are almost evenly split on this year’s winner, with a bare majority picking the White Sox.

Of course, to me all other AL Central teams are the “enemy” since I’m a Tigers fan. This spring, they’ve been making some noise and it’s possible this accursed streak of losing seasons could finally end before it hits 13. They did suffer a blow in their final spring training game as free agent signee and annointed closer Todd Jones got hurt, but that could mean highly-regarded prospect Joel Zumaya gets an opportunity to apprentice as a setup man for interim closer Fernando Rodney. One thing I think the Tigers did well in working Zumaya through the minors is that he’s been a starter so he’s had to develop several good pitches. If he’s destined for the closer’s spot, it will serve him very well.

So who do the experts think will be standing at the end? It’s a wide-open race, with eight experts I got six possibilities. The White Sox and Cardinals were picked by two each, others mentioned the Braves, A’s, Yankees, and Blue Jays. St. Louis is a very popular NL pick (7 of 8, the other being Atlanta), but few thought they could handle the AL winner. I’d love to see my Tigers upset that apple cart though. Restore the roar and place the Olde English D back into the prominence it deserves. My Mud Hens washed away a 38-year title drought last year, maybe this year the Tigers can end a 22 year hex.

One year in the books

A year ago tonight, I went to the Blogger website and signed up for what has now evolved into monoblogue. Originally, the website was called “ttown’s right wing conspiracy” and it all started with this post called “Introduction“. Oddly enough, it’s dated April 2nd but I actually signed up prior to midnight on that Friday night – just took me awhile to write that particular post. And if I’m to believe the totals on the ttrwc site and here at monoblogue, this is post number 193 in toto, the 85th at monoblogue.

In May of last year, I started site metering just to see what kind of readership I got. The very first full week I had 28 visits. It took until mid-June to break 100 visits total. It wasn’t until the middle of August that I had 100 visits in a week, and that turned out to be a one-time occurence. When I changed over to the monoblogue site, I had a total of 902 visits in about six months. Moving to monoblogue.us helped me get my opinion out…I had over 1,000 visits in December alone.

Thanks to links that I’ve been fortunate enough to get, and hopefully people who are impressed enough with the content of the site to keep coming back on a daily (or more frequent) basis, in March I had a total of 5,583 visits and 19,635 hits, both creating all-time highs. Every month monoblogue has existed has seen at least a 70% growth in my average daily visit rate, and I have you, the reader, to thank. I know at some point the growth will level out but I’d like that time to be a LONG way down the road.

Like I said, it’s all about content. While the backbone of the site is political commentary, I write about stuff I’m interested in. The challenge is to write in an intelligent, sort of scholarly manner but keep the subject interesting to the reader! So I’m generally not going to write about what everyone else is writing about. Either I get to the subject once some time has passed so I can review and comment on the commentary, or I do what’s more fun for me and try to dig past the obvious takes. Going off the beaten path is a good way to go. Blogging also helps me when I’m asked to write articles by the editor of the newsletter I occasionally contribute to pseudononymously.

So where does monoblogue evolve to from here? As you can probably tell, I have some blog ads that I’ve placed on the site. One in particular I just added is for Blogburst, which is a service that will allow the “mainstream” media to access my blog and place my thoughts in print as circumstances dictate (with credit of course.) There’s a few papers leading the way in that department, including the WaPo. But paying advertisers are welcome to come to my site as well. (How about I say SOME paying advertisers?)

Content-wise, I do have some plans for additional coverage of the 2006 elections here and around Delmarva. I’ve already started by adding links to campaign websites so monoblogue becomes a “one-stop shop” for political links. While it’s obvious I have a biased opinion politically, my goal is to be fair in giving all voices an opportunity to air their views to better inform the voters. Thus I link to all the websites, left, right, and way out yonder. There’s a couple other things I’m working on as far as races go, and hopefully the seeds I’m planting now will bear fruit for the primary and general elections.

While politics will be a focus, I have other things in the hopper that will be fun diversions to highlight life in Delmarva. Like I said, it’s about what interests me, and I’m only a political junkie to an extent. The hard part for me will be blogging and paying attention to events when it’s summer on Delmarva. But I’ll give it an honest effort.

However, my growth in the blogging world ultimately depends on the reader. If a reader peruses monoblogue and finds it poorly written or boring, they’re likely not going to come back to read it again. Hopefully that’s not the case, as I’d guess that I’m retaining readers who come across me from the politically-oriented Delmarva Dealings, Justice For All?, The Goldwater’s Oracle, and Suitably Flip; or my blogger friends like Drea and “T.B.” I think it’s because I follow a simple rule when I do this: have a lot of fun!

On that note, I’ll stop having a good time with this post and start anticipating my next one. Hope you enjoyed the ride in year one, because I’m looking forward to making year number two twice as good.