Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Magic Drawing Board

Recently I received this email from our realtor:

The owner of the property you just checked out on Facebook wants to know what you thought about it. On a scale from 1-10, how close is it to what you're looking to buy?


Which house? Oh....that house. Well, no, maybe this house. Hmm...

I responded:

I just like looking at houses! Sorry.

We read all the time and hear on the news about how our data on social media is used by companies looking to sell us something. We understand that, should we do a Google search on end tables, soon a vast array of end tables for sale will appear in our Facebook feeds. 

But this was one step beyond for me. This was very like the moment I had, long ago, when I realized that the Magic Drawing Board on Captain Kangaroo was not really magic, but that a man named Cosmo Allegretti was behind it, invisible, drawing from the back. 

It didn’t make me run screaming from the room. It didn’t make me sign off of all of my social media accounts in fear or disgust. But it really stopped me in my tracks for a moment. It made me think. When I click on these links to look at these houses, someone is watching. And, in this case, it’s someone I know because I voluntarily liked this real estate firm because it is owned by a trusted acquaintance. 

I chose that. I allowed that. So why did it feel so creepy?

Certainly I use social media as a way of sharing things that I think are important. I look to use my social capital to share my enthusiasm for music education, early childhood education, interesting things happening around Columbia and Howard County. And I don’t find anything creepy about that. But when it came to a moment where I didn’t realize how precisely I was being targeted and observed, it felt different. 

It rather felt like a Truman Show sort of moment, if you know what I mean. 

Anyway, this is the house. It’s huge and funky and delightfully dated and someone should buy it. 

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Paradoxical Primary

I’ve been mulling over the most recent episode of Elevate Maryland. It was essentially a “part two” episode analyzing the results of the primary election. The guest is Roger Caplan. You can find the episode here:

Episode 34 with Roger Caplan

I find Mr. Caplan’s views on the District 1 Council race to be puzzling. On the one hand, he describes the incumbent Jon Weinstein as being the scapegoat for citizen unhappiness over issues that had absolutely nothing to do with him. On the other hand, he paints challenger Liz Walsh as being merely the candidate of change who happened to be in the right place at the right time. “Mickey or Minnie Mouse could have won...”

Amazing. Here we have an election where neither candidate has any agency or responsibility. Mr. Weinstein’s own record, for good or ill, had nothing to do with his loss. Ms. Walsh’s qualifications and platform had nothing to do with her success. And, most of all, voters were completely ignorant and would have voted for anybody.

This makes no sense. While I took no official position on this race, my own observations are at odds with Mr. Caplan’s analysis. Mr. Weinstein cannot truly be depicted as an innocent victim who was walking down Main Street and was inexplicably mowed down by an out of control vehicle. Ms. Walsh is not a random lottery winner whose name was pulled out of a hat. Somebody, somewhere, has to have agency and responsibility here. This particular framing of events simultaneously cushions the Mr. Weinstein’s loss while erasing Ms. Walsh’s win.

While Mr. Caplan is quite knowledgeable and is certainly entitled to his opinion, I think that the reality of the situation doesn’t fit within his framework.

On another topic, I was surprised by his candid lack of enthusiasm about Howard County restaurants and events. After you listen to the episode, let me know what you think. I’d have to say that his unpopular and (perhaps not that) benign opinion is that Howard County is just not a very big deal. Hmm.

And then, right at the end, Mr. Caplan completely redeemed himself by his suggestion as to what we need to do to elevate Maryland. I wish I could copy and paste a quote or two for you here, but podcasts just don’t work that way. In short, he makes a pitch for better education when it comes to civics. We need to place a much higher level of importance in educating citizens to be involved in community affairs, educating themselves about issues, and voting. I agree one hundred per cent.


As a postscript, I see that the folks at Elevate Maryland have invited Liz Walsh to be their next guest. I’m looking forward to learning more about her.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Another Farewell

These are the words of Kate Magill:

When you're in person covering a school mtg & are also streaming a gov't mtg b/c you're the only reporter on staff and are literally trying to be in 2 places at once.

These are also the words of Kate Magill:

My turn for *personal news* 

Tomorrow is my last day at @HoCoTimes. I've loved covering Howard County, but am excited for my next adventure spending a year in Shanghai, China.

Ms. Magill has burned brightly and burned her candle at both ends while covering our community for the Howard County Times. She has done at least the work of two reporters for much of the time she’s been here. 

And now, like the talented journalists before her, she is moving on.

I hesitate to lament this state of affairs because, every time I do, a host of helpful men take to the comments and explain how I just don’t understand journalism today. 

I do understand, really I do, oh helpful and knowledge men. I am grateful for every single journalist who has put in the time going to meetings and tracking down information and getting the quotes. I’m grateful for time and talent and effort and I wish it didn’t have to be too much work for too little pay.

I long for stable journalistic continuity in a world when that is nigh unto impossible.

Yes, I susbscribe. I encourage others to subscribe. Frequently. I am putting my money where my mouth is. 

Thank you, Ms. Magill. You have taken on our issues and our challenges and crises. You have had to deal with our quirks and foibles. You have certainly earned a chance to go and do something different. 

But we will miss you. 

Thursday, July 19, 2018


It started early yesterday morning. Banging, thumping. Our new neighbor must be having some kind of work done. I think when I met her the other day she said something about all new floors.

Bang, bang, bang. Pause. Thump, thump, thump.

We live in a community of quadroplexes: houses built in groups of four. The back wall of our house is connected to our neighbor to the right. It has rarely been an issue, except when I worry that my husband’s guitar playing (with amp, mind you) might be reverberating through the connection. We once shared a mouse. My neighbor finally caught it on her side.

Recently our beloved neighbor moved. I’ve been on the lookout to meet the new one. I want to be the kind of good neighbor that our old neighbor always was for us. And so I did stop to introduce myself and my daughter when I saw her head towards the house next door. She seemed a bit surprised that anyone would do that.

She’s young, confident. Firm handshake. That’s really all I know so far.

Bang, bang, bang. Thump, thump, thump.

It was still going on when we went to bed, and we heard a power saw as well.

There was a time in my neighborhood when residents were concerned that no one wanted to buy these houses anymore. Original owners were leaving, couldn’t find buyers, and so they were renting. The general consensus was that too many renters might mean too many owners not on site caring for their properties.

Also, during the recession, houses were staying on the market for a very long time. Owners wondered if the value of their houses was sinking. Combined with the usual “Oakland Mills is a dangerous place to live” rumours that always seemed to pop up as soon as another was extinguished, it was a worrisome time in my little quadroplex community.

Bang, bang, bang. Thump, thump, thump.

So much has changed since then. People have figured out that ours are among the few affordable starter homes in Columbia. The financial recovery has prompted more home buying. New neighbors are also investing in their homes through home improvements. All new floors, for instance.

We have a rich variety of things to complain about in Columbia. If you don’t believe me, go online or read the newspaper. You won’t find me complaining about a day of banging and thumping, though. I will admit that it had begun to wear on me by the time I went to bed. But it’s a sign of belief in my little neighborhood. A sign of ownership.

Welcome to the neighborhood.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Parks and Privilege

I’m pretty sure they have their hearts in the right place, but I’m going to put this in the category of things that might go horribly wrong:

Howard's parks seeking to enlist alert volunteers for safety watches by Leah Brennan for Howard County Times

From the article:

Howard County is looking to enlist regular visitors to its parks to become additional “eyes and ears” of the Recreation and Parks Department. 
The county on Monday rolled out a Park Watch program, which seeks to bolster safety and deter crime through a system that will use trained volunteers observing park activity to alert rangers, who contact county police for anything that would be pursued criminally.
What could go wrong with that, you ask? Isn’t this just a common sense way to appeal to the community to help keep our parks safe?

I’m afraid I can’t look at this initiative in a vacuum. After reading regular reports from across the country where white people have called the police to report people of color engaged in “suspicious activity”, well, I just wonder how this will play out in Howard County. Is this an invitation to all the “Permit Patty” types to come out of the woodwork and report the “suspicious activity” of those whose race differs from their own?

Might it become NextDoor for Park-goers? 

“That man runs here every morning and he throws his energy bar wrapper on the ground.” 

You know what I mean, right? The world is filled with people of privilege who are just itching for their chance to demand to speak to a manager. 

I have no intention of dismissing this initiative before it even has a chance to take root. I hope it is embraced by the community in the positive spirit with which it has been created. We have beautiful parks in Howard County and, if the public can help support that, well, we certainly should.

That being said, if it should happen that Park Watch unleashes a spate of reports on “park-ing while black”, I’m not sure I’ll be all that surprised.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Staying Local

Yesterday’s feeling of foreboding upon awakening did not get one bit better as the day progressed.

I’m putting in my two weeks commuting daily to Bethesda so my daughter can go to camp. To all of you who regulary do such commutes: I’m sorry. You have my condolences. It is truly a soul-sucking experience.

The drive down yesterday afternoon was made somewhat less dreary by listening to the most recent episode of the Elevate Maryland podcast, with guest Roger Caplan. They continued with the analysis of the primary election begun on the previous episode with Dylan Goldberg. I found what they didn’t discuss almost as fascinating as what they did. More on that later this week, perhaps tomorrow.

A recently-eleminated BOE Candidate popped up on social media last evening making gloom and doom predictions and spreading incendiary rumours. It almost seemed as though her account had been hacked by a previous (ousted) board member. Hmm...One can only wonder how such tactics would have played out had this candidate been elected.

A hair-raising story is making the rounds on social media about how a woman of color was treated in the Wilde Lake CVS. Blogger Jason Booms has more to say on that.

CVS, Columbia, Race, and Justice

I’d love to know who came up with a special tax for people who live in mobile homes. My guess is that it wasn’t anyone who has ever lived in one. I do hope the County can find a way to live without that revenue. Sheesh.

I was thinking a lot yesterday of one particular Howard County candidate who was unabashedly enthusiastic about being “on the Trump train.” I wondered how he was feeling about that yesterday. And I wonder if that will make a difference in local electability in November.

The bad news on the national and international front has been relentless in the last twenty four hours. I’m doing my darndest to stay local.

Monday, July 16, 2018


Five thirty am.

My iPad says I have internet and yet I can’t connect to anything except for Facebook. No Twitter. No Google. No Blogger. Yes, I have tried resetting the home internet connection. As I sit here as the darkness turns into light I am the only person awake at my house. 

I am alone with my fears. I ponder the possibility that I might still be asleep and this is a bad dream.

I wonder if my inability to connect to the Internet is some kind of sabotage. Yes, that may seem paranoid or wacky to you, but, what would be the quickest way to keep citizens from mobilizing? Cut off their ability to get information and to connect.

The current political situation fills me with dread.

Everything that I believe in about this country is being destroyed. I am heartsick. I am soul sick. Each new day brings another betrayal of our democracy and our basic human values. And so it is not too far-fetched to believe that malevolent forces have taken down most, if not all, of the Internet. 

Perhaps when my husband wakes up he will flip some switch, as yet unknown to me, and everything will work again. And then I will feel foolish. 

What would we do if we woke up and discovered that our access to the Internet was gone? Perhaps our telephone service as well? How would we find each other and where would we meet up? As crazy as it sounds, perhaps we should have a plan. I don’t think we can rely on the world to work the way it ought to anymore. I don’t think our basic freedoms are protected. And that scares me. 

Right now I feel alone. And disconnected. And powerless. 


Some time shortly after six-thirty, my internet connection came back. Right now I have no idea what happened. I still wonder if we need to have an emergency plan.