Monday, June 27, 2016

Where We Are

A year ago Columbia-raised Bree Newsome scaled the flag pole in South Carolina to take down the Confederate flag. Some saw it as an act of liberation--I did. Others saw it as lawlessness, provocation. The last year has been filled with more violence and injustice towards African Amercian citizens of this country. More of the same, more of the status quo.

Here in Howard County a racist video made and posted publicly by Mount Hebron students was a punch to the gut from which we are still recovering. Local students mobilized, spoke out, walked out. The response from the school system felt more like spin. "Let the grown-ups handle this." The sincerity of their actions was called into question when it was learned that the student who had shared the video in order to call out racism was punished right along with the maker of the video itself.

An all-day youth summit on racial justice sponsored by area churches sought to lift up, educate, and empower the young people themselves. One of the presenters: Bree Newsome. Local student activists were flown to San Francisco by Twitter to participate in a panel on "Creators for Change", focusing on their work with HoCoStudentWalkout. The school system floated the idea of a Diversity Coordinator, the Board passed it, then the school system cut it when the budget negotiations didn't go their way.

All the while members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia have been standing out in the center of Downtown Columbia one Sunday each month with their Black Lives Matter signs and a banner proclaiming, "Standing on the Side of Love". From their website:

BLACK LIVES MATTER MONTHLY VIGIL – 4:00-5:00 PM at the intersection of Governor Warfield Parkway and Windstream Drive. Join us on the second Sunday of each month for a recurring action in Columbia to keep public attention focused on the problem of black lives NOT mattering in our society.

Last night actor Jesse Williams gave a speech at the annual BET Awards that just about set Twitter on fire, and rightfully so. Video and full transcript are here. These words, in particular, struck me:

And let’s get a couple of things straight, just a little side note: The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job, alright? Stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance—for our resistance—then you’d better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest… If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.

In the battle for racial justice, I never sought to be a leader. I have thought it was enough to "have my heart in the right place." Reading Mr. Williams' speech made it clear to me that I'm not even a very good follower or ally. What does it mean to have your heart in the right place if it does not move you to act for justice? Being a nice person on the sidelines is still a choice to be on the sidelines, after all.

Today, June 27, 2016: this is where we are.

Where are we?


Sunday, June 26, 2016


I had a great post lined up for this morning but I realized that I just wasn't up to dealing with the possibility of conflict in the comments. It was about this article by Fatimah Waseem in the Howard County Times. There's absolutely no point in writing if I'm going to put the post under glass and hope for no (unpleasant) response, so I'll just skip that.

Today is my brother in law's last service as a minister in the United Methodist Church. He is retiring. When I was little I never understood adults saying "It seems like only yesterday that..." but now, I know. It was only yesterday, wasn't it, that he left his management career at Kraft to go to seminary and completely changed the course of his (and my sister's) life? He has given it his all.

Love, humor, pragmatism, grace, insight, vision, hard work, patience, diplomacy, endurance. Talking the talk and walking the walk. I've always thought that, had I lived nearby, I would have become a Methodist just because of Evan.

I learned recently that he has become well-known for closing each service with the following:

Spend time with the people that you love, and let them know that you love them.

That's undoubtedly a better message than any blog post I might have written today. Godspeed, Evan. And to my sister and nephews--what a huge part of this amazing ministry you have been. No one can be a minister in a vacuum. I know what a big part of your lives has been commingled with Evan's life's work. You have given your all, too.

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. --John Wesley, founder of Methodism


Oh, and one more thing: peaches are in at the Oakland Mills Farmers Market today, 9 am to 1 pm. And a visit from Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm! Don't miss it.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Pie 5, Coke 0

Spotted at the new Dobbin Center restaurant pie five:

Strategically placed by the check-out, this eye-catching sign is a slick way to shame people out of the old tap water habit. Tap water is boring--you don't want to be boring, do you?

I wonder what the folks at HoCo Unsweetened would think of that?

Sugary soda (and other high-sugar beverages) and the frequency with which the typical American is drinking them continue to be a huge public health challenge. The movement to address the long-term consequences of the SSB (sugar-sweetened beverage) habit is bigger than initiatives in our own little bubble. A statement from the Baltimore City Health Department includes these words:

Studies have shown that beverage companies disproportionately market their sugary drinks to low-income communities that are already hardest hit by health disparities and have the highest rates of diabetes and heart disease. The consumption of SSBs is increasing rampant inequities, speeding our most vulnerable children toward poor health and shortened life spans.

The statement, urging warning labels on SSB's, makes it clear that BCHD views this not only as a Public Health issue, but as taking a step towards remediating a social injustice.

In Philadelphia the City Council recently approved a 1.5 cent tax per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened and diet beverages.

The American Beverage Association has spent nearly $5 million on advertising against the tax. A nonprofit created to support the mayor's initiatives spent just over $2 million, according to its spokesman, $1.6 million of it from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

That's a lot of money.

Back to the sign. What struck me about it, aside from the health aspect, was the money involved. Let's be honest. This sign might as well read:

Tap water is Free. These alternatives, made by us, cost money. If you drink tap water, we lose. Spend your money.

That's the job of merchandising, after all. To get you to part with your hard-earned money. There's no law against that. And it's also true that there may be a few sugar-free, relatively chemical-free choices in the "Freestyle" machine. But something about this sign just got my goat: spend more money, quite possibly undermine your health. But you won't be boring.

A foot-note, albeit an important one. We loved pie five and we'll definitely being going back. We liked our pizzas and the service was excellent.




Friday, June 24, 2016

An Unusual Guest

In the aftermath of the recent storm, neighbors have been reaching out to neighbors with help in the recovery process. The Facebook page, Western Howard County Shares, has been instrumental in providing useful information. Yesterday the admin Vicky Cutroneo posted:

If you need help, or can offer help due to storm, please comment here. I have received a few messages from people concerned about elderly relatives they can't get a hold of due to power outages, etc, or who may need help with blocked driveways and such. If you are a tree service business, feel free to post your services here too.

Ms. Cutroneo herself was presented with a bit of a post-storm challenge when a rather unusual object turned up near her house.

It's ours.

Yay!! I will drop her off, she will be so happy. Might need to watch Netflix for a few days to help recover.

Surprised she only went as far as your woods. With that wind, she could have ended up in Glenelg!!

Just throw it into the yard. Hopefully another twister won't blow her away any time soon. Thanks!

How crazy would this have been had it been a goat?!

The S family are missing an 8ft pizza slice. Anyone?

Oh I wish there was an 8 foot pizza slice in my woods.

She's headed home. Toto, there's no place like home.

J, your wingless swan is coming home!
This is a light-hearted example of what neighbors in Western HoCo have been doing to help each other out after Tuesday's tornado.
In all seriousness, there has been widespread damage to both trees and property. Storm damage hasn't been limited to the Western part of the county, of course, but that is where it has been most severe.
I spend most of my time in Columbia proper. I tend to think of places like Glenelg and Lisbon as being "out there" someplace, far from my familiar haunts. It's often too easy to slip from "out there" to thinking of those residents as "other". I've hear people say, "out there in those rural areas" in a way that means, "they're different than we are."
Pigeon-holing people according to differences is far too easy and somehow takes away our feeling of obligation to each other as fellow-creatures. We may feel like a large county, but we are not so large that we can't look out for one another.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Whatever Floats

It's raining. And raining. I'm thinking about the power of the storm Tuesday afternoon, and about the rushing waters* in Ellicott City. Then I wonder about what long-term progress has been made to help residents and businesses in Old Ellicott City deal with chronic flooding. And I think about how much polluted stormwater runoff that storm generated that headed directly into the Chesapeake Bay.

It reminds me of the old joke:

Hey farmer, when you gonna fix that leakin’ roof?

Well, stranger, when it’s a-rainin’, it’s too wet to fix it; and when it’s dry, it’s just as good as any man’s house.

Still, all of this is merely a prelude to this question: what about the Columbia Patuxent Rotary Boat Float? (Yes, I went from rain to storm to rushing waters to run off to boats.) Have I missed it? Are they having it this year? I've never been, but every year I tell myself this this will be the year to go down and experience this uniquely Columbian event.

Did I put it off too long? Has it ceased to exist? Is it one of those things I just assumed would go on forever and still be there when I finally decided to go? I don't know, and a quick Google search was no help. In the meantime, here's some YouTube footage from 2013 featuring well-known local emcee extraordinaire (and Rotary member) Dave Bittner.

Maybe I'll just go play with boats in the bathtub.


Update: I have learned that the Boat Float is no more. I wish I had taken the opportunity to see it. That's the price of putting things off and taking things for granted.

*Scroll down on the County Executive's Facebook page for two short video clips of Ellicott City during the storm.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Where Were You?

Howard County had a visit from Mayhem yesterday. A confirmed tornado  touched down in Western HoCo as a part of a violent thunderstorm yesterday afternoon. Great news: no known injuries or deaths. Bad news: significant property damage, downed trees, power outages.

Where were you when the call came to take shelter? I was at an appointment at an office on the first floor of a heavily-built concrete building in Columbia. We could hear the storm but it didn't sound all that severe from where I was. A quick review of social media shows residents weathering the storm:
  • At Home Depot
  • In their basement
  • At the Mall
  • In a stairwell at HoCo Rec and Parks
  • Having an indoor sing-along at Girl Scout Camp
  • Face down in the auditorium at Howard High School
  • Stuck in traffic on the way to get gas
  • In a car on the way to pick up a child at camp
We sometimes joke about how many notifications we get when a storm is imminent. I don't know if there's any correlation whatsoever, but the fact is the nobody got hurt yesterday. Might just be dumb luck. Still, a reason to be thankful.

Information on the County response to the storm can be found here. Info specific to Western Howard County is here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Partisan Politics and Human Nature

I have made much in this space about how the Board of Education race is a nonpartisan race and should be respected as one. Not everyone agrees. Probably the nicest thing someone has said is that I am deluded, if that tells you anything.

I do understand that this year's presidential election puts horrific pressure on local races because of the negative influence of the Republican candidate. Trump's patently racist statements, which stir up fear and anger as a way of solidifying support for his candidacy, are more than unappealing. They are proof positive that he is downright dangerous as a motivator of the worst kind of behavior.

For some this has translated into a deep desire to know where local BOE candidates stand on Trump and his message. And, if this is what is most important to them, they have every right to ask those questions.

As for me, I haven't seen any convincing proof that any of the BOE candidates are of the same stripe as Trump. If I had I would have mentioned it here. It isn't that this issue doesn't matter to me. I simply haven't seen anything of this nature that alarms me. And I also don't believe that this is the only lens through which we should be evaluating Board of Education candidates.

I have read multiple think pieces on how politicians can't work across the aisle any more, going back eight years or more. Writers lament a lack of bipartisan cooperation. They recall leaders who could get things done through cooperation and finding consensus. We all look around ourselves and denounce partisan gridlock.

But what are we doing to change that?

A bunch of amazing people worked together to make change in the Howard County Schools. They lobbied for better legislation in Annapolis. They campaigned for better board of education candidates, and their work helped to bring forward better choices for the general election. And they chose to work together despite party differences, because they were united by a cause that was bigger than party affiliation.

A highly developed sense of partisan purity may make people inside your political bubble feel secure. But it does nothing to make change. A friend of mine said recently,

I actually have made more female friends in Howard County than I have ever had before, but I had to let go of the liberal superiority in the process.

Liberal superiority. Conservative superiority. "We know we are right!" "Never compromise!" "The other side is the devil!"

How's that working for you?

You can argue til the cows come home that you'll never let down your guard against the foe, but that argument won't change this truth of human nature: positive, lasting change doesn't come from the throw-down and the show-down. It comes from small steps, careful listening, and well-considered risks. It comes from compromise and willingness and stepping out of one's comfort zone.

I am not interested in people of either party whose idea of political discourse is gleefully throwing darts at the other side. If you take delight in watching the other guy squirm, that's all the delight you're going to get. It will not bring progress or improvement of any kind.

And when it comes to the BOE race, while you are busy throwing darts, there's a third "party" that stands to benefit: the ones who want things to remain exactly as they are. If Howard County voters can be distracted by a partisan "shootout at the OK corral", they'll take their eyes off of our shared community goal for better schools for our children.

If that happens, we all lose.