Odds and ends number 97

You know, I figured just as soon as I put old number 96 to bed that my e-mail box would fill up with interesting tidbits, so it wouldn’t be nearly as long before I got to number 97. So let’s see what I have here.

A look at theology

People tend to think of Erick Erickson as just a radio personality and pundit, but it’s not as well known that he’s studied divinity. So when he talks about religion it makes my ears perk up, and this recent column of his was one of those times.

Christians need to be preaching Jesus, not Christianity. We need to preach about the end and the return and the world made new. It is fantastical and supernatural and unbelievable for so many. But it is real and right and true and will give the hopeless hope.

Erick Erickson, “Groaning for Justice: The Theology of What is Happening”, June 25, 2020

It sounds a lot like my church. But it’s worth remembering that on one side is the world and on the other side is God, expressed in the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Perhaps I have a simplistic perspective about it all, but then again I came to the game later in life than a lot of other people so my flaws were more apparent.

I believe that when Jesus said no one comes to the Father but through him that He was absolutely right. There’s nothing wrong with trying to make the world better but there should always be that end goal in mind, too.

Is there any reason for college?

This may seem strange to say as an alumnus of Miami University, but insofar as career preparation I learned as much in a year of work as I did in securing my four-year degree. (However, I did manage to consume many “Gobblers” and adult beverages from various eating and drinking establishments around Oxford, Ohio, and I got to go see Division I sports for free. So there was that.)

By the same token, Victor Davis Hanson has toiled in the academic field for decades – yet he delivers a scathing critique of college life and educational achievement in 2020, 34 years after I walked away from Millett Hall with my diploma case in hand.

31 years later I was witness to a similar scene but under wildly different circumstances, as my wife received her bachelor’s degree from a nationally-recognized college after taking online courses tailored to the working world. For these folks, their campus was the Washington, D.C. area and beyond, and hundreds of them were in what was then the Verizon Center for their big day. They received their degrees after enduring a lifestyle of trying to juggle work, kids, and other responsibilities with their academics as opposed to being cloistered on a campus and shuttling between academic halls, student centers, and their dorms. That was my world in the mid-1980s as a snot-nosed kid from a small Ohio town.

Yet many kids still do the same thing I did four decades ago, and the problem with that approach is that it’s rapidly becoming an information silo. Kids learn a lot about things of little importance in real life then wonder why it bites them in the ass. I remember pounding the pavement for a job right out of college then finally taking something outside my field to tide me over – turns out I was there less than a month before I got the break I needed; then again I was in an avocation where there was demand in the real world so it finally needed my supply.

And my alma mater wonders why I ignore their pleas for alumni donations.

More from smart people

How this guy ever got to be governor of his state – and then re-elected – often mystifies me. IMHO he was really too smart for the job, and the same went for being President. I think Bobby Jindal could have been the next Calvin Coolidge, a President who exhibited admirable restraint of his powers and led the government to do the same.

Recently he penned an op-ed for the Washington Examiner where he focused on some items he saw as long-term trends accelerated by the onset of the Wuhan flu. This one was the one that piqued my interest the most:

De-densification: Elevators, mass transit, and air-conditioned spaces, all critical components of urban living, will be rendered safe again one day. Yet, the nation’s most successful cities were already victims of their own success, with the rising cost of living pushing working families to the suburbs and exurbs. Workers are going to demand more flexible work arrangements and less time wasted commuting. Remote work and virtual meetings will allow many office workers to be productive in the exurbs and in the country. Wealthy families will join them with getaway homes, and companies will require less-dense and smaller offices. Smaller communities near urban centers will benefit and become more economically viable for their permanent residents. The economic efficiencies that have driven urbanization will still continue to be compelling, and first-tier cities especially will reinvent themselves and continue to attract immigrants and new businesses.

“How the COVID-19 pandemic will change us”, Bobby Jindal, Washington Examiner, June 24, 2020.

The initial push to the suburbs in the postwar era was fueled by the surge of new families looking for room to grow, coupled with the inexpensive cost of gasoline and car maintenance and expansion of highway construction allowing commuters to bypass mass transit. Suddenly small towns that were once on the outskirts of metro areas and surrounded by cornfields became the loose center of dozens of subdivisions looped together by beltway interstates surrounding the city core. My parents did this in spades, bypassing suburbia altogether to buy five rural acres for three active boys to play ball on and dealing with a half-hour or more commute.

Being in the design world, I’ve seen the push for a new urbanism. For example, in nearby Salisbury their mayor Jake Day has pushed for a new style of downtown revitalization, attempting to bring in mixed-use development accessible by multiple modes of transportation. Surface parking on city-owned lots downtown is rapidly becoming a thing of the past as lots are sold to developers.

Fortunately for Day, Salisbury is still a small enough city that it doesn’t suffer from the maladies of Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, and others which have seen their urban core rot away from a toxic combination of crime, poverty, and lack of opportunity. It could yet go that way, or it could become a destination precisely because it’s been small enough to escape these issues – the sort of small town Jindal envisions succeeding thanks to the remote technology we now have.

But these urban escapees have another close-by alternative which is also retiree-friendly – if we don’t screw it up.

Picking too many losers

The state of Delaware lags the field in state-level GDP growth these days, one survey placing the First State last in the nation.

Perhaps a reason for this, argues the group A Better Delaware, is that our state government is terrible at determining winners and losers. As it has often turned out, the well-connected are the winners and taxpayers are the losers, and the group goes through some examples in this recent piece.

As I see it, job creation is about filling needs. An entrepreneur sees a market void and figures out a way to fill it, then once that venture is a go he or she may find the work is too much for one person to handle. Suddenly they’re signing the front of a paycheck, and the measure of a business-friendly state is just how easily that employer can get to that point without feeling violated from the anal rape of a corrupt system installed to grease the palms of a thousand bureaucrats. Somehow Delaware seems to believe that making life easier for those who promise scores of jobs without figuring out the market void is a good thing to do. I tend to like my strategy better.

The library

I was recently introduced to an interesting website in a unique way: one of its employees requested to purchase a paper copy of The Rise and Fall of the TEA Party. So I autographed it and sent it to Tennessee for his enjoyment. (By the way, I have several more available.)

So while Ammo.com sells – as you may guess – many different varieties of ammunition, they also feature what’s called the Resistance Library: a collection of articles on many and varied topics. (Actually, the whole site is worth exploring.) The post my newfound friend was dying to share with me, though, was on “Policing for Profit.”

Civil asset forfeiture is a popular concept with the “if you don’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about” crowd; the same ones who shout “blue lives matter!” (And they do, but so does the law.) In reading this lengthy, well-written treatise on the subject I found out that Delaware is a state which is one of the worst in that regard.

And civil asset forfeiture laws are difficult to change because there are two large lobbies already stacked against these efforts: law enforcement and local government. Imagine what $200,000 seized could do for a local government’s bottom line when they may spend $2 million on a police department annually. Never mind it’s not their property and they have only suspicion that it was gathered illegally. It’s like crack cocaine to an addict: wrongly or not, they can’t pass it up. We need to send our state to a proverbial NA meeting next year when the General Assembly reconvenes.

More bad advice

I like to end on a light-hearted note when I can, and what better way than to poke fun at those who tell me how to run this place?

Hello monoblogue.us team:

As you know because of Global pandemic, the world has shut down and a big question mark on sustainability of business.

We are connecting the business owner to create a high standard for their business website and marketing strategy. To start this, we recommend to upgrade the website to more customer friendly.

If you have same idea in your mind, Let’s discuss about redesign of your website in economic cost.

A really badly written e-mail.

I can’t decide whether this came from China, India, or some other third-world country where English is taught as a second language. (In this case, maybe third.)

Fortunately, I didn’t shut down during the pandemic. Now I won’t say that I was terribly productive during the time span, but the college degree I alluded to way above led me to a job deemed “essential” so I have been working my usual full-time hours. Even so, I sustain into my fifteenth year of this site. (I even outlasted Red Maryland.)

My site is not really a business site, but I do have a marketing strategy: write good sh*t. It’s even customer-friendly because I kept out the offending letter.

And, in case this guy missed it, I redesigned my website a couple years ago, finally retiring old “Black Lucas” after nearly a decade of service. I still miss that theme sometimes but I like the back end that goes with the current “Twenty Sixteen” theme much better.

So I think I have flogged the dead horse of my inbox enough for one visit. I didn’t even get to the silliness that’s the Delaware governor’s race, but maybe I’ll hold onto that for a standalone post after all.

Programming note

Once we clear the filing deadline this coming Tuesday I’m going to add my Delaware political sidebar with all the primary and general election candidates and then the following Monday or Tuesday release the 2019-20 monoblogue Accountability Project – Delaware edition. The delay is because I have to determine whether the legislators involved get a free ride in November or not.

Because the Delaware session was truncated this year, I decided to simply amend the 2019 edition to use four votes this year and drop the least impactful four votes from last year to maintain 25 separate votes. You’ll see what I mean when I put it up later this month.

Building a three-headed monster

Yesterday I posted on Third Friday, a monthly event that’s become so successful that it spawned a similar spin-off called First Saturday and may have pushed downtown redevelopment over the hump. Similarly, there are some new businesses and apartments going up on the northern edge of the city along U.S. 13, and even the venerable Centre of Salisbury – venerable as a 27-year-old mall can be, I suppose – has the promise of something Salisbury has longed for, a Cracker Barrel restaurant. It’s slated to be built in the parking lot outside the abandoned J.C. Penney store. (Shoot, I was happy when Buffalo Wild Wings finally made it here from Ohio.)

But there is one prime area that has all the ingredients needed for success – plenty of traffic, good visibility, and reliable city utilities. Yet it sits vacant and unused because its plans for development came along at a bad time.

Several years ago, before my unplanned exile from the building industry, I helped draw up a proposed project which would have established a third attraction for Salisbury. Obviously we know the Centre of Salisbury was a retail destination point and at the time the downtown area was being discussed as something which, as it turns out, it is in the process of becoming – a place where visual and performing arts serves as the draw, along with a handful of local eateries.

But the plot of land just south of Perdue Stadium had its own node, with a guaranteed gathering of anywhere from 500 hardy, weather-tested souls to overflow crowds of over 8,000 people 60 to 65 times a year during the spring and summer. Add in the thousands of travelers driving by and there was the potential for a destination of its own; close enough to the beach to be a viable alternative for budget-concious travelers looking for something with a slower pace, yet with the attractions to enjoy a summer evening without the need for driving around.

As originally envisioned, the development had several key elements for success: office space for workday usage, restaurants for both travelers and those seeking a place to have a business or casual lunch, and lodging for those who wanted to have an anchor point to explore the area yet not have to deal with beach crowds. Its misfortune was beginning the development process at a time when we were entering the Great Recession of 2007-whenever. (Some may argue the area is still in one based on employment numbers.)

One other proposal envisioned for the site was the construction of a new Civic Center on the opposite side of the Perdue Stadium parking lot. Besides the obvious plentiful parking available, a new Civic Center would have the advantages of making beer sales at events possible (a deed restriction for the property of the current Wicomico Youth and Civic Center prohibits alcohol sales as a condition of having it donated to the county for its use) and could be configured for more seating than the current arena to attract larger acts.

Any action on that, however, is several years to a decade away. Yet the county is putting money into 20-year-old Perdue Stadium and the owners of the Delmarva Shorebirds are committing themselves to another two decades as the station’s prime tenant. In short, the main attractions aren’t going anywhere.

Yet this valuable land sits as a part of Salisbury time and economics seemingly forgot.

I understand the emphasis our city fathers have placed on revitalizing downtown and trying to make it a close-by gathering place for both young professionals and Salisbury University students. With a transit system already in place to ferry students from campus to downtown several nights a week and grand plans to spruce up the Business Route 13 corridor from SU to the east edge of downtown, city visionaries and elected officials have it covered. Meanwhile, the part of town encompassing the Centre of Salisbury up toward Delmar seems to be doing just fine although admittedly some of that retail may be getting long in the tooth and due for upgrades. The closing of J.C. Penney was just another pockmark on a facility which may need its own transformation in the next decade lest it suffer the fate of the old Salisbury Mall it replaced.

But that rebirth can be set on the back burner for now. Downtown development may be the place where the cool kids go, but there are other assets Salisbury can put in play with the proper foresight and investment. Imagine what could be there now if things had proceeded a decade ago, and work to make it a reality in the next few years. The infrastructure is already there thanks to the aborted previous plans, so let’s get this diamond in the rough to shine.

A symptom or a disease? Part 2

Last month I made a post which pondered whether the economic situation was adversely affecting the Delmarva Shorebirds and their attendance, which seems to be markedly down from last year.

But in speaking with Shorebirds General Manager Chris Bitters on the subject, he protested that last season wasn’t a fair comparison because this year’s schedule is front-loaded with home games and attendance picks up once kids are out of school. I thought it was a fair critique so today I did a little research.

Looking back in time, the Shorebirds last had a comparable schedule in 2007. Like this year’s, it featured a long June break as the 2007 edition of the team was sent on the road to both complete the first half of the season and begin the second half – that season Perdue Stadium was dark for 2 1/2 straight weeks in June. (At least this year we have the SAL All-Star Game to break up the monotony.)

So I went back to the milb.com archives and looked up each home game of the first half of the 2007 season. In total, there were 31 home dates as four starts were rained out. Add it up and the 2007 first half attendance was 96,310, an average of 3,107 per game.

Fast forward to 2011. Going into last night’s scheduled contest, the Shorebirds had drawn 95,556 for 33 home games. On paper, the per-game average of 2,895 looks to be about 10 percent behind the 2007 clip and well behind last season’s full-season totals.

However, having attended the game I would venture to say that there were at least 5,000 people there last night for a game which was eventually suspended. It’s not counted in our attendance because the game wasn’t completed and will have to be finished next week in Hagerstown because the half is almost over. If you add that lost home date and the estimated 5,000 patrons in to the total of 95,556 which had previously attended so far in 2011, the average would have jumped to 3,104. It makes the comparison pretty much a wash.

In fact, given the fact there were two fewer weekend dates (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) on the schedule so far this year, it would appear the Shorebirds haven’t lost a step and could be headed for a pretty decent season as far as attendance goes. You can also add in the fact that the weather hasn’t been all that bad since the average temperature at the Shorebirds starts was 72 degrees vs. 71 degrees in 2007.

Still, my only concern is that attendance at weekday games has been fairly pathetic, as one game this season barely drew 500 fans. A good percentage of the crowds so far have been enticed by the free tickets given out for reading a certain number of books. (The tickets are paid for by the event sponsors.)

So perhaps I was a little hasty in predicting a down year for the Shorebirds, but that’s okay. I’d rather err on the side of caution.

Yet all is not sweetness and light. Today’s Daily Times featured a loving obituary for the Flavors restaurant which used to be on East Main Street downtown. Add to that the bankruptcy of Allen Family Foods last week, where its assets will likely be purchased by Mountaire Farms, and the impending closing of the local Super Fresh grocery store (with about 80 or so jobs lost) and it’s no wonder people may not be able to afford a ballgame soon. For every success story we seem to have two to three failures.

Allen Family Foods is a blow specific to the Shorebirds because they were longtime team sponsors, annually hosting an employee appreciation night. It’s one business which won’t be contributing to the community anymore. Even Flavors had a Shorebirds connection because they were the pizza vendors for one season a couple years back. (The pizza they have now is not as good.)

But there’s more to the story, and it’s about lost dreams in the last four years.

After the beginning of the rain delay that finished the game last night, Kim and I discussed where we should go to eat. I bemoaned the fact there were no close-by restaurants to the stadium and related to her that there once were grand plans to put up a business complex along Hobbs Road – a complex which would include restaurants, upscale motels, and office space. But that plan was shelved with our local economic collapse and may not be resurrected for a half-decade or more even though the signs are still there announcing the development.

Since I’m comparing our attendance this year to that of four years ago, let me close with this. Back in 2007, the dream of developing the land along Hobbs Road was on its way to becoming a reality as the plans were being drawn up and legal action taken to secure city water and sewer. We may have the same attendance at the old ball game, but we don’t have those grandiose schemes anymore.

And until we can straighten out the economic mess we are in, it may be a long while before we see attendance like we did in the early days of the Shorebirds franchise. To be quite honest, having the Shorebirds here was a key factor in my decision to relocate from Toledo because – to put it mildly – I’m a passionate fan of baseball and I wanted a team close by so I could go to games. While I’d seen “Delmarva Shorebirds” in the agate type of the transactions page on occasion, I had no idea they played in Salisbury until I came here for my job interview.

But even more than a regional drawing card like the Shorebirds, people need to have money to spend, and the lack of job creation hinders businesses of all sorts. Let’s keep capital in the private sector where it belongs so smart people can invest and create opportunities for themselves.

The federal land grab

Over the past few weeks there’s been a push to place more of the land below our feet under federal control.

Using the lure of potential tourism dollars, Democratic members of Congress from both Maryland and Delaware have submitted bills to set aside land for a national historical park – Maryland’s would honor Harriet Tubman while Delaware’s would encompass a number of the state’s historical sites. In particular, the Delaware lament is that they are the one state without a national park. (Hey, they’re also one of just five states where their state capital isn’t served by an interstate highway either, but I’m not seeing a clamor for something more important like that.)

Certainly there can be a case made that some historical areas are worth seeing and rank among the nation’s top tourist attractions. But the argument can and should be made that, if an area were worth preserving, it would have already been done by now. And, as fellow bloggers in both states point out, what other restrictions will be placed on those who live in areas surrounding the parks? In particular, Ann Corcoran speaks from experience, and as she notes:

I’m not saying economic development is bad.  It’s just that when governments and developers team up to cheat or trick landowners that’s where I object.  Our Founding Fathers would, I am positive, agree with me.

By the way, the strategy is always the same—they dupe those true historic preservation-minded citizens with this “preserving our heritage” mumbo jumbo into being shills for the plan.   What about our heritage of private property rights and limited government?

And a side note: remember awhile back when there was a development planned for a tiny sliver of the Blackwater area? Well, those 3200 homes and the golf course will be a distant memory now that the state has its clutches of the land, but perhaps the even more onerous taskmaster would be the federal government. They’ll allow the state its $8 million boondoggle that’s already in the works, but that’s about it. Isn’t it nice to have a park suitable for maybe a three-hour day trip but nowhere to stay or play nearby because the natural beauty of farmland must be preserved?

It’s worth pointing out too that the federal government already controls about a third of the land mass in the country, although the vast bulk of the area is west of the Mississippi. Yet they can’t maintain what they have, nor are they eager to allow mineral, coal, or fossil fuel exploration under their land (which could help defray part of their upkeep costs.) Although it’s doubtful we have that particular concern under the Delmarva Peninsula, the counties affected will have to deal with the projected vast increase in tourism without the help of the property taxes they may have collected from the government-owned land.

Sometimes the powers that be just do something because they can. The state already has its mitts on the most important part of the Tubman area and presumably the same situation applies in Delaware for its historical sites. To me, that’s plenty enough protection – we don’t need Fedzilla telling us what to do as well.

If anything, let’s start returning land to taxpaying status and encourage upgrading our infrastructure to accommodate more commercial and industrial development to go along with the bid for more tourism. While it wouldn’t be appropriate to render these historical sites worthless by crowding them with development, we don’t need them to exist in isolation either.