Tuesday, July 5, 2022

No Eyes


 





What does this photograph say to you? If you came across it with no explanatory text, how would it make you feel?

In the category of overthinking things that probably aren’t all that important, I present this photograph from the Howard County Government social media accounts. If you are savvy to local events you may have figured out it has something to do with their “Coffee with a Cop” program. 

Here’s the tweet:

Come meet face-to-face #HoCoMD w/ #HoCoPolice Community Outreach Officers this coming Thursday, 7/7, 3-5 pm at WLVC Starbucks (5400 Lynx Lane) in #ColumbiaMD to discuss issues, ask ?s & build relationships 1 cup of coffee at a time. For ?s or more info, call 410-313-2207.

I haven’t ever attended such an event, nor am I likely to. But this photo would absolutely not be an enticement. It feels threatening to me. I’m not qualified to analyze it in a professional sense. So here comes my amateur opinion: I think it’s the combination of an entirely masked face at a distance with a very large hand in the foreground that gives a sense of foreboding.

No, it’s more than that. They have no eyes. No eyes to meet your eyes in any meaningful or reassuring way. No eyes for the viewer to assess safety or intent. I thoroughly support mask wearing to prevent the spread of COVID but this photo renders its subject essentially faceless. 

This does not inspire trust. I wouldn’t even feel comfortable accepting that cup of coffee.




Does this photograph make you feel safe? Does it make you want to interact? To engage?

I truly do not know what they were going for here. 








Monday, July 4, 2022

Making It Happen


 

The Boy Scouts clean up your trash. 

This post is for them, and for everyone who is volunteering or has to work today. At some point I learned that, after everyone goes home from the fireworks festivities at the Lakefront, local Boy Scouts move in and clean it all up. Did you know that?

Holy mackerel. Who wants to do that late on the Fourth, possibly in lingering heat and humidity?

I never really thought about what happened after everyone went home. Perhaps I thought everyone thoughtfully cleaned up after themselves?

Yeah, I know. Wishful thinking.

While many of us will be enjoying a day off by heading to the Chrysalis for all-day music offerings and/or the Lakefront for food, fun, and fireworks, there will be folks whose day and night will be all about making those things happen.

Police will direct traffic. There will very likely be a health tent for heat issues and emergencies, staffed with health professionals. Firefighters on standby because of the fireworks? Probably.

Musicians will be there to entertain. Food vendors to provide snacks and drinks. Pyrotechnics professionals to run the fireworks display.

Ooh, I just remembered. Someone probably has to deliver and then pick up all the extra portapotties. 

The staff at Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods will be on duty to ensure a safe and enjoyable festival/concert experience. At the Lakefront employees of Howard County Rec and Parks will be at work doing the same as co-sponsors of the Independence Day event.

Volunteers from Bike HoCo will be staffing a Bike Corral so community members can ride their bikes to the festivities and leave them safely until their return.

Of course the good folks at Howard County General Hospital are at work every day, 24/7. They’ll be hoping to be spared any injury cases from reckless backyard fireworks displays. But they’ll be ready, nonetheless.

How many of these people do we notice on a day like today? Often they are invisible to us, but, this day in Columbia/HoCo wouldn’t happen without them. Spare them a smile, offer your thanks. Stop for a moment to treat them like real human beings. All the fun, the food, the music, the sparkles in the sky, the oohs and ahhs…are because of them.

And, when you finally get home, through the crazy post-fireworks traffic, spare a kind thought for the Boy Scouts, who are picking up your trash.

If there’s anyone I’ve missed, let me know.

UPDATE: reader Debbie Nix pointed out the hard work of the Columbia Association Open Space Crew.

Columbia Association open space team members!! They get the lakefront ready,  empty the trash bins, and do cleanup afterwards as well. Our CA assessment dollars at work!




Sunday, July 3, 2022

Values


 

My college-aged daughter and I were having a chat about the Fourth of July and the concept of patriotism. We agreed that we didn’t feel much like celebrating this year, although, I don’t think it’s the first time.

She said she’d never felt the July 4th was about patriotism. It was about marching bands and fireworks and picnics. That’s it.

I explained that my feelings about patriotism came from my mother, who explained to me that our country was beautiful because it was about democracy: participation and acceptance for all. Unlike in some countries, in the U.S. people could express different opinions, have different religions, come from many different places and be a valuable part of our larger democracy. That all were equal and deserved opportunity and respect. 

That was her meaning of freedom. That’s what was important to her. Those were her core beliefs.

I grew up believing them, too. My journey through adulthood has seen many of those concepts take a beating. That’s not actually the truth of what we have. But I still yearn for it to be true. If we believe in it then we have to work to make it so. Paying it lip service without honestly examining it is just lazy jingoism at best.

 We need to face the truth of who we are in order to work for what is better.

Those are my core values, I guess. I wince when I use the word “values” because for me it has been usurped by people like Anita Bryant: as wholesome as orange juice while spreading a toxic message of hate. You knew when you saw a tirade about values it could mean only one thing: conservative values, evangelical values, the “family values” of the religious Right.

Values were something they used to judge people and hurt people. I wanted nothing to do with that.

I’m raising this now because I’m finally coming to terms with saying the V word out loud. We all have values and they influence what we do every day. I can’t allow one worldview or political party to steal that word or that concept from me. 

As I do research on the candidates in the current election, and especially for the board of education, I realize how important those values are in assessing those who are best qualified to fulfill the mission of their office. 

Yes, the Board of Education race is a nonpartisan race, which means candidates don’t run as representatives of a particular political party. It doesn’t mean the candidates aren’t registered to any political party. And it doesn’t mean the voters must be unaffiliated, either. People chose political parties in large part due to their core values.

It is not a value-less race. 

That would be impossible. Voters are looking for candidates who they feel are competent to do the job, and whose values align with their own. Or at the very least, they can’t be so opposed as to be mutually exclusive of one another.

Asking people to be involved in how we educate our children by choosing members of a board of education means that we accept they will be bringing their core beliefs with them as they vote. In some jurisdictions the community has no voice. Their board is appointed. Someone else has all the say. 

We have a great responsibility, then,  to learn as much as we can about the people who might be in a position to have strong influence over our community’s children and their educational experience. And, after all that, we still need to pay attention after they get elected. We all know that Democracies don’t run on automatic pilot. School boards don’t, either.

So, yes. I’m going to be writing about the Board of Education race. And I won’t be apologizing for my values.


 

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Too Much, Too Many


 

This post is about politics, kind of. It’s probably more about who is informed about local issues and events. 

It all started when I found myself in the waiting room at Jiffy Lube with someone who was having a telephone call about the upcoming election. No one wants to eavesdrop - -  at least I don’t - - but in this case it was unavoidable. I was surprised that the the race for Democratic Central Committee came up.*

Honestly, who sits around talking about the race for Democratic Central Committee? I would  hazard a guess that there are more people actually running for Democratic Central Committee than there are people in Columbia/HoCo who understand and/or truly care about this particular race. 

Okay, I’m joking here, but look:

Here’s one slate:


Here’s the other slate:


Then there are individual candidates running independent of any slate: 

Felix Facchine, Dhruvak Mirani, Collin Sullivan, Rich Corkran, Maureen Evans Arthurs

So, assuming you are a Democrat, you get to vote for twenty of these people. Ideally it should be ten men and ten women and I’d love to know what’s going to happen if the world of policitics ever gets caught up with comprehending what it means to be non-binary.

Today’s challenge: how do you decide which twenty? 

Bigger challenge: what does the Democratic Central Committee even do? From the HCDCC website:

The Howard County Democratic Central Committee (HCDCC) is the county branch of the Maryland Democratic Party. Twenty Central Committee members are elected from three legislative districts to a four year term in the Gubernatorial Primary election.

HCDCC members must be committed to the Democratic Party and to its core values of economic fairness and equal opportunity. They should have active and recent experience in various political activities, have actively worked for or managed campaigns, or perhaps have run for office themselves. HCDCC members must support all Democratic candidates in the General Election.

The HCDCC exists to facilitate the election of local Democrats. Working at the county level, committee members train volunteers to help get out the vote, engage the Democratic community in party building activities, and encourage Democratic voters to turn out on Election Day.

How many people in the general public know this? And how many people will see all those names and just get overwhelmed and not vote in this section at all? Or just fill in boxes at random?

Apologies to those of you who already know this stuff, but, most people probably do not. 

In this election two very different slates have been formed that represent different factions within the local Democratic Party. And slates are kind of like clubs, in that you have to be invited to be in one. This does not mean that the two candidates running independently aren’t necessarily qualified. If simply means that they: 1) weren’t asked to join a slate or 2) were asked but wanted to run independently of that particular slate’s political bent or ideology.

Still with me? How many people do we think are informed about just the amount I’ve stated so far? 

These two slates have very different goals. For them this race is a kind of battle for the soul of the local Democratic Party. I’m not going to go into that at length here (although I certainly could in a future post if people clamored for it) but I have a gut feeling that most of the people who will be voting in this election will not be familiar with any of this.

Yes, I know that’s what door knocking is for. Not everyone answers the door, you know.

I joked with the telephone caller at Jiffy Lube that many people are still going online asking if there will be fireworks for the Fourth of July even though information about this has been all over the internet for weeks. And how many people put their trash out on a slide week even though slide weeks are widely publicized and have been happening for years?

So how is a race that many people don’t truly comprehend with over forty candidates going to play out? I suspect that one particular slate coming through intact is highly unlikely. So we’ll end up with a Democratic Central Committee made of of an assortment of strong minded people who may feel ideologically incompatible with each other. Kind of like putting a bunch of cats and dogs in a sack.

Maybe that’s a good thing? Maybe local Dems will have to work through what separates them in order to fulfill the mission of their office?

I just don’t know. 



*Nothing confidential was related in this phone call, in case you were concerned. 

Friday, July 1, 2022

A Day Without Whiteness

 


I have led a deprived life. 

It’s not what you think. Not a lack of money or opportunity. From birth onward I have lived in so many primarily white worlds: neighborhoods, schools, even in some workplaces. And, the older I get, the more I realize that those who are white lose so much in our isolation.

I sometimes think that if the rest of my life were a total immersion experience of living with, working with, learning with Black peers and neighbors, it probably wouldn’t be enough to make up for what I have missed. I’m serious here. I have tried to imagine what it would be like to live in a world where everyone around me was Black: from movie stars and multi-millionaires to bank managers and coworkers and best friends. I truly believe that there is so much that I could learn from that. There are so many ways our communities and our country would benefit from truly being interconnected with people who are different than we are.

To be clear, I don’t think that such an experience would necessarily be comfortable for me. I think it would challenge a lot of assumptions I didn’t know I had. I’m not talking about some kind of a fantasy field trip to the Land of Blackness that is sugar coated for white people. I’m talking about real life, 24-7, where my whiteness would mean absolutely nothing.

During the last school redistricting debacle, there seemed to be this undercurrent of sentiment that the “white” schools were by default better schools and so the Black students and families were by default inferior and wanted to come take what the white people had. The assumption was that the benefits would be all for the Black (and Brown) students, and that the end result would diminish educational experiences for the white students.

I sometimes thought that if someone could put a monetary price tag on the benefits accrued by white students who learned in fully integrated schools, those same detractors would do an about-face. They’d be rallying at board meetings in matching t-shirts to get their kids into to “racial immersion model school” so it would look good on a college transcript. For now, their minds are closed to the very real things their children are missing by existing in bubbles of white affluence.

A while back I touched on this when responding to a video entitled “A Love Letter to Black America.” (“Face Value” November 28, 2020)

These are the faces and bodies and hearts and lives I do not know because I was raised in an almost entirely white suburban world. The children did not go to my schools and the families did not live in my neighborhood. I did not see them in shops or restaurants unless we went “downtown.” While I was not indoctrinated to believe that people who looked like this were in any way inferior, the truth of my life was that they were “other”. They might as well have been foreign.

Though I have lived in several other places in the US since then, by and large my existence has always been inside a cocoon of whiteness, reinforced by the history of redlining which keeps Black people away from “white” neighbors and out of “white” schools. Even in Howard County, considered to be inspirational for its diversity, we continue to wallow in a privileged system of separation. Talking about it makes people angry. Trying to take action creates whole new fight-back groups against it.

Here is what I saw when I watched this video: all the people who have never been in my life because of systemic racism. Love, beauty, wisdom, strength, humor, commitment shine from these people and my life has been bereft of their value and humanity. My life, and so many lives, are less because of this. Many people seem to think that attempts to address racial inequity are purely about “getting something for Blacks”. And yes, we absolutely should be facilitating what is owed. No doubt about that in my mind.

But I don’t think that we (as whites) truly comprehend how much we lose and are stunted by persisting in an unnaturally white world. Even if we’re not fighting to keep it that way. Even if we are merely content to exist within the status quo.

For so many of us, our worlds are unnaturally white. We may without conscious thought seek to protect ourself in a bubble of whiteness. And that bubble breeds more generations who seek to protect the bubble. It’s just more comfortable. But it’s an inferior, deprived, cramped, weakened existence. 

What a ridiculous thing to fight to protect.


Thursday, June 30, 2022

Thoughts, Sermons, and Votes


 

Is it possible that we have arrived once more at the time of year when locals are campaigning for votes as though their lives depended on it?

No, I don’t mean the Maryland primary election. 

Today, June 30th, begins the voting period for the annual Howard County Magazine 2022 Readers Choice Contest.



You are invited to vote daily in the following categories:

HEALTH & WELLNESS

SHOPPING

RECREATION

PERSONALITIES

OUT & ABOUT

FOOD & DRINK

As you may have figured out, this contest is a click-fest. It is a way of showing which businesses or local figures can muster the kind of loyalty entailed in signing in and clicking daily. For businesses, winning this can be a big deal. It looks great on one’s promotional materials.

As for bloggers, well…

There was a time that winning this meant a lot to me. I suppose I thought that it would carry more clout than it actually does. In the long run, it didn’t necessarily open more doors for me or cause hocolocal notables to show me any more respect. 

It was simply a fun thing to win, and I was grateful.

This year you have three choices in the Blogger Category:

  • Scott E
  • Village Green/Town² 
  • Howard County Progress Report
I find it odd and just plain stupid that The Merriweather Post is not included. I also don’t remember a nomination period this year, because, if I had noted that omission, I would have submitted it for consideration. It belongs on this list every bit as much as the others. (Also: happy to see Howard County Progress Report in this list.)

Here’s the deal: Scott E Blog doesn’t exist anymore nor does its writer even reside in Howard County. Details like these don’t seem to matter to Howard Magazine, however. They kept putting up HoCoRising for the award for several years after it ceased to exist. Not that HoCoRising wasn’t a great blog, but…c’mon. We should be voting on blogs that still exist, shouldn’t we?

Just a thought, not a sermon.

At any rate, if you like local polls, now is the time for you to jump in and vote, vote, vote from now through July 14th. You don’t have to have a Baltimore Sun subscription to enter, and you don’t need to vote in all categories. Put a little reminder on your calendar or your phone. (Do people tie a string around their fingers anymore?)  If polls are not your thing, that’s fine, too.

Just promise me you’ll try to stop by here every morning and see what’s up. That’s the most important thing. Not because it improves my numbers, but because your presence adds to the conversation here.

And that is a sermon, I guess,

The really-o, truly-o election is the Maryland State Primary on July 19. I trust you already have that on your calendar.




Wednesday, June 29, 2022

I Told You So


 

I knew it would come to no good. And I was right.

In November of 2015 I wrote about the dangerous precedent  set by the introduction of on-street parking spaces in front of the Metropolitan building in Downtown Columbia.

Parallel parking. There are multiple parallel parking spaces in front of the shops at the Metropolitan. How can they do this? No one in Columbia knows how to parallel park. They've just taken it off of the drivers exam, for heaven's sake. Granted, there's only a handful of spaces, but somebody needs to take a stand now before this gets out of hand.

Last night my daughter and I headed over to Mod Pizza for dinner and were flummoxed by the sight of a car double parked with its flashers on, parallel to the parking lane. We waited for a moment to see if it might move out of politeness. 

Nope.

As we passed by on our way to the parking garage we noticed two things. The car was completely empty, windows rolled down, almost as though the occupants had been “raptured” while in the act of looking for a parking space. But the pièce de resistance was the fact that it sat blocking a generously sized curbside parking space. 

These folks left the car in the middle of the road rather than attempt parallel parking. And now no one else could have that space as long as they were there.

What did I tell you? I knew this could only mean disaster. Columbians aren’t ready for the challenges of urban living.

Of course both today’s post and the original one are largely tongue in cheek. We parked in the garage, which added only a few extra steps to our trip. We enjoyed a delicious outdoor meal with pizzas made just the way we wanted them. The added bonus was the gorgeous weather and a good bit of people watching - - especially children playing on the big yellow sculpture out front.

But, for heaven’s sake, who double parks in front of an empty parking space???

If they haven’t put parallel parking back on the driver’s exam, maybe they should.