Friday, July 31, 2009

Maryland's Transportation Projects - Show Me the Money

Ten years ago my wife and I bought our first house. And we did what most people do when they buy a house - we dug gardens and planted lots of pretty annuals. After a few years we started to realize that his was an expensive yearly task. As you know, annuals die after the first frost and they do not return. Therefore, we decided to start buying perennials. Though more expensive, perennials return every year. We realized that we couldn't buy all of the perennials that we wanted right away, so our plan was to buy several per year. Now we have no annuals and lots of perennials. Our costs are high, but without the financial burden of purchasing annuals every year, we will win in the long-term.

In an era of economic recession, it's almost counter-intuitive to think that Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley is running to the Congress with his hat in hand asking for more money. But with our 'just print more money' President, it's not entirely out of the question for O'Malley to do this.

Because of its geography and the inbred culture of being against everything that is proposed, Maryland is burdened with an inadequate transportation system that is the ire of travelers, commuters, and freight haulers alike. Washington D.C. has done an excellent job of investing in its transportation infrastructure and has one of the better integrated subway systems outside of New York.

Baltimore, on the other hand, has the dubious distinction of having a one-line subway (which most people don't even know about) that runs from Owings Mills in the northwest corner of Baltimore County to Baltimore's fleeting business district and on to Johns Hopkins Hospital. If you don't live on this route or work downtown, it's totally useless to you. In addition to that, there is the north-south light rail line that cuts its path through the county and into the city and south to that airport with the overbearingly long name.

To make matters as complicated as possible, transportation officials, politicians, and warring residents made sure that these 2 transportation projects did not have an integrated exchange, despite overlapping near Lexington Market.

In an effort to make Baltimore's public transportation a more viable option for commuters, Governor O'Malley is pushing for the infamous red line, an east-west line that will connect the Woodlawn \ Social Security area on the west side, to the Essex suburbs on the east side, with connections in the downtown business district and running through Fell's Point.

Believe it or not, I am in favor of a more comprehensive public transportation system in the state. I worked downtown and took the subway everyday for 4 years. Despite my run-in's with crazy homeless people and the miscreant middle school kids, it was the most convenient and time-efficient way to get to work. And when we go to Washington D.C. we nearly always take the Metro.

In addition to the red line project in Baltimore, Governor O'Malley is also asking for money for the Purple line in Washington, which will connect Northwest Washington with Northeast Washington, a cross-county suburban transportation line unlike the other lines which run into the city and back out again. There is also the Intercounty Connector (ICC) which is already in the building stage. And finally there is the expansion of I-270, one of the most congested highways in the country.

It appears as if our leaders will be pushing for a light rail line for the red line and most likely a rapid bus plan for the purple line. I understand their desire to get something up and running at the least possible cost, but they seem to be ignoring investments. Just because a transportation project is less expensive and "visible" does not make it better. When you are in Washington, D.C. or New York City, you do not see the subway lines, but they are there and they are great for moving around. Neither disrupt the above ground transportation of the city and neither are unsightly, at least until they get out into the suburbs where they come above ground and become an eyesore.

Instead of making the investment in an unseen subway, O'Malley is pushing for a light rail for the red line, which will carve up the city even further. In addition to being unsightly, the light rail also intersects roadways, creating dangerous situations at crossroads, and the light rail is not as fast. The Baltimore subway moves at about 70 mph above ground, whereas the light rail moves at about 40-50 mph. With a subway line the transportation grid will be able to move people in and out of the city at a much faster and convenient rate.

Moreover, in the Washington suburbs Governor O'Malley is pushing for a rapid bus line for the purple line. After elected officials spend millions of dollars for this rapid bus line, what will we own? Some buses and a road. When the money runs out, what is left? Nothing. Maybe some old buses. If the state invests in a subway you will always have a subway. It's there. No one is going to fill it in with dirt and make it go away. A rapid bus line is not a transportation investment. It's an unproven transportation cost to the state with only short-term benefits. Subways are proven long-term investments with long-term benefits.

In Montgomery and Frederick Counties there is now a war brewing about expanding Interstate 270. Most will argue that expanding the highway will further destroy the environment and only encourage more urban sprawl. My argument is that the Washington D.C. area is growing like crazy. What do you plan on doing with all of those people that want to move there? Not everyone wants to live in a 1200 unit high-rise condominium next to a subway line.

Officials can concentrate the growth in certain areas, but the area is growing and without updating the infrastructure, transportation will only get worse. Encouraging people to use the bus will not improve the situation. However, including an extension of the red line in the expansion project up to the northwest part of the county will certainly encourage more ridership and reduce highway congestion.

These projects cost a lot of money, billions of dollars, in fact. But our elected officials need to look at long-term solutions and consider them investments. They need to avoid the short-sighted money-saving ideas. Instead of planting the annuals, let's plant the perennials. In 50 years, Martin O'Malley will only be a nightmare from the past to my generation, but if the proper investments are made in transportation, in 50 years we will still have a efficient functioning subway system that will make us proud.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

More Funny

An elderly man suffered a massive heart attack. The family drove wildly to get him to the emergency room.

After what seemed like a very long wait, the ER Doctor appeared, wearing his scrubs and a long face. Sadly, he said, "I'm afraid he is brain-dead, but his heart is still beating."

"Oh, dear God," cried his wife, her hands clasped against her cheeks with shock!

"We've never had a Democrat in the family before!"

Birthday List

I was looking at the calendar and realized we are almost to August. And as you may remember - my birthday is in August, which means you are probably struggling to figure out that perfect gift to get me. Without further ado, here is a short list of some things that you can pick out for me.

1) ZZ Top Keys (been on the list for several years now!)
2) Ferrari 599
3) Martin O'Malley's resignation
4) 12" Sliding Compound Laser Guided Miter Saw
5) Apple Mac Pro
6) 60' Sea Ray Sundancer
7) French Toast
8) 40' x 25' 3-Story gabled single peak addition to my home
9) Season tickets for the Ravens
10) Jordana Brewster
11) Winnebago Outlook
12) South Carolina beachfront home
13) An alligator
14) Oak display cabinet with glass doors
15) 43-inch Pioneer Elite PRO-920HD
16) Vera Wang Serta Beyond Comfort Eurotop mattress
17) iPhone with lifetime prepaid plan
18) 2 week vacation in St. Thomas
19) Jack Daniel's Single Barrel whiskey
20) Restored 1973 Corvette Stingray with t-tops

Joke Time

Thanks to one of my coworkers for this one:

A guy was traveling through Mexico on vacation when, lo and behold, he lost his wallet and all identification. Cutting his trip short, he attempted to make his way home, but was stopped by the Customs Agent at the Tijuana border.
'May I see your identification, please?' asked the agent.
'I'm sorry, but I lost my wallet,' replied the guy.
'Sure, buddy, I hear that every day. No ID, no crossing the border,' said the agent.
'But I can prove that I'm an American!' he exclaimed. 'I have a picture of President Obama tattooed on one butt cheek and a picture of Vice-President Biden on the other.
'This I gotta see,' replied the agent..
With that, the man dropped his pants and bent over in front of the agent.
'By golly, you're right!' exclaimed the agent. 'Go on home to Maryland .
'Thanks!' he said. 'But how did you know I was from Maryland ?
The agent replied, 'I recognized the picture of Governor O'Malley in the middle.'

Monday, July 27, 2009

Speed Cameras in Carroll County?

It appears that the two liberal Republicans that sit on the Carroll County Commission are tilting further to the left.

An article in The Eldersburg Eagle stated that left-of-center Julia Gouge and Dean Minnich said that they would be in favor of speed cameras. They pretend to believe that it would be used within schools zones to help reduce speeds of travelers. However, we all know that the real intention of the speed cameras is to generate revenue.

And, to boot, the speed cameras would be allowed within a 1/2 mile radius of a school. This puts much of the county in the zone for allowable speed cameras, especially in the towns of Eldersburg/Sykesville, Taneytown, Westminster, and Hampstead\Manchester.

Right-wing Michael Zimmer stated that speed cameras "stink. It's nothing but a money grab and a power grab." And I agree with him.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

11 Days in December

The Battle of the Bulge is considered by many historians as one of the biggest battles of Europe during World War II. Hitler had hoped that it would be the turning point of the war after months of being driven back across France following the D-Day invasion. The battle raged for nearly two weeks during Christmas 1944.

11 Days in December, Christmas at the Bulge, 1944 is a collection of stories about different units and how they spent Christmas, from fighting in the trenches, to hiding in farm houses, to being behind enemy lines and under heavy fire. I picked up this book at Barnes and Noble in the discounted books section. I think it was only $5.00.

The battles main characters are Generals Patton, Eisenhower, and Bradley from the American side, and the bitter and uncooperative General Montgomery from British front. Montgomery was displeased that he was pushed aside as commander of Allied forces in favor of Eisenhower and made it a point to prove that he was right. Unfortunately for him and his own history, Eisenhower was celebrated as the brilliant general who guided the Allies in Europe to victory.

The stories in this book are mostly unconnected though interesting. It is certainly a different perspective of the war than most history readers are used to reading. The book was short, only 224 pages. Perhaps if I had a greater knowledge of the Battle of the Bulge I could have had a greater appreciation for this book. Instead, I often felt disconnected and eager to get to the end of the book and onto my next book.

If you are looking for something that is not tried and true, you may find this book interesting. If you're looking for deeper stories about World War II that are non-traditional in nature, then this book may be for you.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

It Comes in Tens

I am sad to report the death of my brother-in-law's father. He passed away the other day after a couple of years battling some medical problems. Sadly he went downhill fast in the last couple of months. In addition to my brother-in-law and his wife, I know that my niece and nephew are sad for their Poppy. He will be missed.

Within the past couple months my childhood friend lost his grandmother and uncle and his grandfather passed away last year. It's been a tough year for his family. But on the positive side of that they are celebrating the birth of a new baby - well new within the past couple of months.

And think about all of the notable people that have passed away:

David Carradine - actor, was it suicide or murder? I think it was a ninja.
Ed McMahon - MC for the Tonight Show, host of Star Search, and spokesperson for Publisher's Clearing House.
Karl Malden - actor - I didn't even know he was still alive, but I think he was a great actor I loved On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire. My father and I once got into an argument. He said that Walter Mathau was the American Express guy. He never admitted he was wrong.
Michael Jackson - I think you've heard enough about him that you don't need me to go off on nut.
Farrah Fawcett - remember the lyrics from The Fall Guy when Lee Majors sings, "I've been seen with Farrah."?
Robert McNamara - former Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War and former president of Ford Motor Company. If you've never seen The Fog of War - this is one of the best documentaries I've ever watched.
Billy Mays - best TV pitchman in years. His pitches always started with the uber-enthusiastic "Billy Mays here!" Some people found him annoying. I loved him!
Dom DeLuise - better known as Captain Chaos, this guy lived a lot longer than I thought he would. I will forever remember him for his Cannonball Run movies.
Steve McNair - the quarterback from the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens. Sadly, this goes back to be careful who you hang with. You hook up with a nut and these kinds of things can happen.
Walter Conkrite - the most trusted man in America, the voice of CBS news for many years. He was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War setting the pace for many journalists to become editorialists and still call it news.
Les Lye - you probably don't recognize the name, but I bet you've heard the expression, "I heard that!" made famous as the chef on You Can't Do That On Television.
Fred Travelina - I don't know the guy, but my coworker says he was a famous game-show celebrity guest, sort of like one of those famous celebrity panels for VH1 by people who are famous because they are on celebrity panels on VH1.

I know death is a natural part of the circle of life, but hopefully we can go for a while without any more deaths.

Book Review - Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

In a conversation with one of my friends I mentioned that I wanted to read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, which I previously reviewed. This friend said she had the book and would lend it to me. When she brought it to me she also brought Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris and she also brought Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. I have yet to read Blink, but it's on my list.

I packed both books for my trip to the beach, but for some reason packed them separately and my wife left the bookbag with her magazines and books and Blink behind on the livingroom floor when we left for the beach. But it was my fault that we left it behind.

I started reading DYFCD on Friday, our first day there. And in 3 days I was done. The book is a collection of funny essays about growing up with his family in North Carolina. Much of the book ties back to an opportunity they once had at buying a vacation property on the Outer Banks.
We all have quirky families and we all know that we are the only normal one in the family. I'm sure my brother and sister say the same thing, even though I know I'm the only normal one. (hi guys!) This is a book that totally espouses that theory. You will read this book and start thinking about your own family and how you could write your own book.

The book is very funny and very much fits with my style of humor. And for those of you that don't know (because I didn't), David Sedaris is gay. I kept thinking that some of the things that he was doing were a bit odd - until I figured this out. One situation is when he was a kid making another kid sit naked on his lap as punishment for losing a card game. Once I figured this out I thought it was funny. Yes, I'm a little slow.

Having read this book I'm ready to read more of his books. In fact, I have several friends pushing his books on me in addition to my wife's cousin. And to think - 3 months ago I had never even heard of this guy.

I recommend this book - especially if you have an open mind.

Vacation Wrap-Up

I honestly took my vacation at the worst possible time. If I would have known 6 months ago when we booked the place that it would be during the busiest month of the year, we may have changed our plans. My project at work is in full-speed and everyone has been working overtime trying to get the new corrugators and conglomerators online. I have worked 50+ hours each week for the past few weeks, which yes, I know many people do that all the time.

One of the things to suffer from this increased workload is my writing. so here are some unrelated items from the vacation that I thought were humorous.

We took a bay-cruise on that pirate ship that you can see from the Route 50 bridge. I think it was about $20 per person and it lasted an hour. This tour is totally for kids and it is like a long water ride. You WILL get wet. I won't spoil any of the fun. However, I noticed on the map that was painted on the deck that they misspelled Government. It is spelled 'Goverment'. I had mixed feelings about this. Obviously I was disappointed that the artist couldn't spell, but I was also happy that a Baltimore City school graduate was able to get a job outside of producing Stop Snitching videos.

The Haunted House on the boardwalk made some changes. I'm not sure what it is, but this place has been there my entire life, and my father says it's been there for as long as he can remember as he went there as a kid, too, but we always feel obligated to go in. It's $3 per person and I usually take my nephew and daughter in, while my son stands outside with trepidation and curiosity. Every year he says he's going in and every year he chickens out. This year he killed the chicken.

I took him in and about 14 inches into the ride he buried his head into my arm and covered his ears. I think this was part of his plan - physically be on the ride and say he was on it. Then if he lived he may go through again. And that's what he did.

On the final day he went with my daughter and my wife. This time he kept his eyes open. He still says it's too scary.

But as I was saying, there were a couple of changes on the ride. Usually the upgrades consisted of adding more day-glow green and orange paint. However, there were a couple of new 'scary' exhibitions and all of the items were functional this year, a big plus compared to last year.

I tend to take a lot of pictures on vacation, though not as many as my friend Duckman would take. This year I took about 400 pictures. My wife thinks I'm crazy and that I take the pictures of the dumbest things, but then I show her something like this and she thinks it's cool. Wouldn't you just love some candy from the Candy Kitchen right now? My new favorite candy? Chocolate-covered Nutter Butters. OMG!!! Fortunately there's a Candy Kitchen every 25 feet in Ocean City - it's required by law.

If my son could have his way - the ideal vacation would be to get to Ocean City as early as possible, go fishing, then go to bed, and when you wake up - go fishing. We went fishing 5 times during the week (which was not nearly enough times for him) and the only thing we caught was seaweed and other people's lost tackle. My optimistic nephew got a few bites from some really really big fish. What's sort of funny - on the way down and on the back every pond, creek, river, puddle, lake, stream, or storm drain we pass - "Can we go fishing there?!!!!!" It drives me nuts. "Yeah, sure. One day."

Much to my wife's chagrin, my daughter started laughing when she saw this sign. So I took a picture of it. "Why do you encourage him?", she said as she was disciplining her.

The Burger King near the end of the Boardwalk is no more. In its place is Davey Jones' Locker. Fortunately it's not full of old sweaty socks, but it's not full of customers either. I suspect it will be something else next year. But you can't miss this brightly painted red and yellow building. It totally fits in with the Ciudad Océano that the town has become. Or is it Smoking City? I'm not sure what it is, but it seems like Ocean City has a disproportionate number of smokers. Ugh. If it weren't for the tacky shops you'd think you were in France with all the cigarette smoke.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Vacation - People Watching

Nothing is more entertaining than people watching. It makes you feel better about yourself. How many times do you see someone walk by and you think to yourself, 'What the hell???' You know that you are less crazy than the average person you see.

I spent a good portion of my time on the boardwalk people watching. Unbeknownst to them, or maybe they knew quite well, that I was taking their pictures. Here are some of my favorites. Note that some of the pictures are slightly blury and some are crooked. This is because I was taking many photos while holding the camera at waist level so as to not draw attention to myself.
I wonder if these 2 guys are listening to the same song. I also wonder if they share the same sports bras.

This girl couldn't afford a bus ticket, so she got a ride on this dude's skateboard. He didn't mind because you only live once (zoom in on her lower belly).

Next summer I'm traveling to Eastern Europe and getting a job that allows me to wear a bad costume and play piano on the boardwalk.

I once tried Rogaine and didn't have much success. So I cut a purple plastic ball in half and wore that instead. And since I couldn't afford shades I got some cheap sunglasses. Now this kid comes along and steals my style!

A friend of mine said I was mean for taking pictures of fat people, but she still thought it was funny. Mostly because she's mean, too. If I ever look like this can someone shove my face into the Big Mac? Please!

I think this woman escaped from the Disney Prison. Though you have to give her credit - she has a nice Nikon with a zoom lens.

Here's a guy I caught hand-painting his bus on a side street on the bay-side. Or maybe he's vandalizing the bus by painting a really straight black line down the side.

What's up with people smoking salvia? I told me wife I was going into this store to buy more salvia and another young dude was walking in and turned to me and said, "Dude, the shit's cheap in here!"

Finally, why else do you go to the beach? To look at girls with big boobs in bathing suits, right? Well, here you go:

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Filling Senate Vacancies

I'm interrupting this string of blog posts about my vacation to comment on a post by Maryland House of Delegates member Saqib Ali on his blog.

Saqib Ali, if you don't know, once commented on my blog about me listing him as one of the 10 Democrats in the state that needs to be kicked out of office. I do not have any disdain for Delegate Ali, I just do not agree with his politics. Nor do I condone his violation of Wikipedia policy of updating articles about yourself, which he has done regularly. It is a well-written biography and advertisement, but that's not why I'm talking today.

Delegate Ali recently wrote House Bill #369: Special Elections for US Senate Vacancies Act. As the law currently reads, when a Senator leaves office either to appointment to a another office or by some other situation, the Governor of the state appoints his or her replacement until the next election cycle. Clearly, the Governor is going to appoint someone that he or she wants in office and politics being politics, you know there is some kind of kick-back, back-door shenanigans going on. We already saw this in Illinois when Governor Rod Blagojevich offered Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder. The seat was eventually given to totally incompetent former Illinois State's Attorney General Roland Burris.

Delegate Ali's new law would mandate a special election called by the Governor of Maryland should a U.S. Senator from Maryland vacate his or her seat. I totally agree with this part of the bill. I do not agree with interim appointments as they, the appointee, usually end up getting elected in the next election cycle anyway without having to properly go through normal election channels to gain recognition, raise election capital, and gain the acceptance and trust of the people. Instead, the Governor picks the candidate of his or her liking, someone who will agree with him and push his agenda on a national level, then the candidate gains favor with the Congress and can easily attract funds for reelection. The intention of this bill is right-on. Congratulations, Delegate Ali, for submitting this part of the bill.

Unfortunately, Delegate Ali also included a provision that would not allow the bill to go into effect until January 2015, many years (hopefully) after we kick O'Malley out of office. The reason Delegate Ali gives for the inclusion of this provision is "so as not to seem to impugn the the integrity of our current Governor."

As if the Governor had any integrity. This totally leaves O'Malley a blank check to appoint a new Senator of his liking should Ben Cardin or Babs Mikulski suddenly decide to leave office mid-election cycle (if we could only be so lucky). Why is the thought of impugning the integrity of Governor being placed above the will of the people? The real intention of this provision is to protect the rapport of the Democratic legislators and their Governor when they vote to approve this bill. Imagine the pissing match O'Malley would have with the Democrats in the General Assembly that voted for this bill without the provision. I think it would make for great headlines!

What is more important? The reputation and rapport of the current gang of motley politicians, or the allowing the people of Maryland to choose which Senator will represent them in the United States Senate?

Unfortunately for Maryland, Delegate Ali is making that decision for us.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Vacation - Day 1

With all of this talk of billions of dollars in stimulus money being spent across the nation and throughout Maryland, I decided that I wanted to do a hand's-on week-long investigation of the economic recovery in the state of Maryland, if, in fact, there is one. Therefore, I dragged my family kicking and screaming to the Dundalk of the east coast - Ocean City, Maryland.

It helped that we had off on Friday July 3rd as the Federal observation of the 4th of July. Most Americans celebrate the 4th of July as a reason to get drunk and grill meat and light illegal fireworks that were purchased in Pennsylvania - not that most Americans need too many reasons to participate in these activities. Heck, some even know the real premise of the date - the celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This year we celebrated 223 years as a free nation.

To get a early start on my investigation we decided to get up at 4am on the 3rd, finish packing the gas-guzzling SUV and throw the kids (literally) into the car and take-off. We hit the road at 5:13, 13 minutes behind schedule.

We were not sure how traffic was going to be. The weekend of the 4th is always the busiest (one of the busiest) weekends of the year. Since we were off on Friday, were people leaving Thursday night? Or Friday morning? Or Friday afternoon? Were the week-long renters still going down on Saturday morning? To hedge our bets we figured the beach traffic would either be heavy or light. And we were right!

We passed Arundel Mills Mall around 5:45 and were surprised to see no police activity in the mall parking lot. By 6am we were nearing Annapolis and passed an odd looking accident. A pick-up truck was smashed up on the roof, windshield, and left-front quarter-panel, blocking the left left of I-97. In response were an ambulance, a fire truck, a police car, and 3 small orange cones safely placed six inches apart 3 feet from the rear of the firetruck.

We arrived at the Bay Bridge at 6:15am and crossed with ease, though I was surprised how many people were already on the road. We continued along U.S. Route 50 through Queenstown, Easton, Cambridge, and Vienna. Though never stuck in a traffic jam, traffic was fairly heavy.

One observation I made was the number of people traveling in the east-bound direction that were of Hispanic decent. My wife suspected that they were going to work. I suspected that most Mexicans don't take folding beach chairs and coolers to work, so I think they were going to Ocean City. What became an initial observation evolved into a game. Every vehicle we passed we would check out the occupants to find out their nationality. Surprisingly, a high minority of them were Hispanic. And a minority of them were high.

Our original plan was to roll into Salisbury and stop at the Burger King. However, my sister-in-law called and asked if we were okay because she heard about an accident near the bridge and everyone within a 5 mile radius died. We assured her it was not us unless heaven had 4 lanes of traffic and miles of cornfields. She also informed us that traffic was very heavy all down Route 50, so I think we were just ahead of the masses. We abandoned our BK breakfast plan quicker than O'Malley abandoned his promise to replace members of the Public Service Commission with qualified individuals. Plan B - press on.

About 30 minutes left in the journey the kids all crashed. Figures. We finally rolled into Ocean City at 8:05am, just as most of the drunks were heading to bed. We made a quick stop at Layton's and got a dozen and a half donuts.

It was at this point that I started noticing tags on many of the buildings. For those that don't speak the street lingo like me, a tag is graffiti indicating your gang association. One message that I saw a lot was "El futuro es hoy." This is Spanish for: "The future is now." Sort of frightening, but considering that we passed most of former residents of Nuevo Leon, I should not be surprised. To top it off I saw an Ocean City DPW truck removing the vintage sign into the city and replacing it with, "Bienvenida a Océano Ciudad."

This is going to be a longer investigation than I anticipated.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Where's Eludius?

Just wanted everyone to know that I'm in the middle of a 2 week investigative reporting job. So you won't see anything from me until about July 13th. But stay tuned!!!
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