Wednesday, January 28, 2015


This is a more introspective post than usual so apologies if you're here for Howard County politics, whiskers on kittens or updates on my ballerina.

I had a moment this morning where I was angry at myself and wished I was not here. And then I thought, But the hubby & the ballerina need you.

I'm useful.

That actually made me feel worse. Yes, having a sense of purpose is good. But just feeling like someone needs you to make sure the bills are paid, the fridge is stocked and the heat is on isn't always a purpose.

I've said before that I seem to be a professional patient. I had tried to leave that behind. But my blood pressure is up and my psoriasis is making itself known. That makes me grumpy and frustrated. No question that I think "Better living through chemistry" - but feeling like I spend my time in doctors' offices seems "un"-purposeful. My elementary school-aged daughter has gone to her pediatrician twice in the last two years - for her annual checkup. At least she doesn't have my immune system!

I'm OK - don't worry about me. Just a gloomy January getting me down. I'm more annoyed that I ate too much at lunch and I'm still uncomfortably full.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Bumper sticker politics

On Wednesday, I found a parking space out of the snow and pulled in next to a truck. I could see one sticker on the cab, which was a Confederate Stars & Bars flag with the words "Second Amendment Supporter" (or maybe "Rights"). The conflation of the Confederacy with gun rights seemed pretty bad to me, until I saw the one below it.

"A million people went to Obama's inauguration. 14 missed work."

Although a Republican at the time, who had voted for John McCain in the primary, I did end up voting for Barack Obama. McCain's choice of Sarah Palin had initially, for a few minutes, struck me as an interesting running mate. Once I heard a few things from her, I was quickly turned off and very disappointed in McCain for kowtowing to the religious right of the Republican party. Also, I believe Joe Biden as our Vice President provided much foreign policy expertise, as well as numerous comedic moments.

I was and continue to be disgusted by the assumption that everyone who supports our first African-American President is a lazy welfare recipient. (Am I reading too much into it?) The other narrative that could be supported is that the eight years of the Bush administration had caused a recession. (I believe the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999, under Clinton, had a lot to do with it.) But I think that's giving this guy way too much credit.

The people I know who went to the inauguration were NOT on welfare. They did have jobs. They do have jobs. They are a diverse group of people. I did not go because I was probably working on a press release for 3rd quarter financials. It was also freezing and I hate dealing with crowds during DC events.

When I returned to my car after shopping, the guy was getting something out of his truck. He was one of the guys clearing snow from the parking lot.

I wish I could have said something, but I was a fraidy-cat. (Although he could have had a gun on him...). And I probably couldn't get him to change his mind by reminding him that Fox News viewers are the dumbest of all TV viewers (actually people who don't watch TV did better in this study than Fox viewers).

Listen, I don't have the Choose Civility bumper sticker. I view driving as a sport, so I don't think I should be hypocritical by having it. But those two bumper stickers struck me as hate speech and I can't get them out of my mind. People are choosing to be hateful and support a narrative that suits them despite being a lie.

I guess that's American exceptionalism.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Bully for You

Watching The Imitation Game on Sunday, one scene stood out for me. No, not solving the Enigma code, not the immense size of the machine, not even the jitters Turing suffered as a result of the chemical castration punishment.

It was the scene where a young, maybe teenaged, Turing is buried under floorboards by his classmates. He's essentially in a coffin. His predators NAIL him in there and proceed to stamp or jump on the floorboards. He fights for a little while, banging on the boards, but then he overcomes his fear. He lies still and stops giving them the power.

Alan Turing: "Do you know why people like violence? It is because it feels good. Humans find violence deeply satisfying. But remove the satisfaction, and the act becomes... hollow."

I can still recall how the cicada cycle of 1987 affected me. A younger kid chased me around the playground holding a cicada. It was horrible. But I played into his hands and everybody laughed.

Not that we shouldn't stop our attempts to end bullying, but we, and I speak as a parent of a tween girl, need to encourage kids how to react.

Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" encourages that attitude of not caring - not giving into others' desire to feel better about themselves by taking someone down a notch. My daughter initially thought this song was about calling attention to your backside, but I told her that I love this song, because it's really about turning the other cheek (Sorry, I can't resist!!).

But the song I really love by Ms. Swift is "Blank Space." Because she acknowledges that her dating life has been pretty public, her ex-boyfriends think she's crazy and she's a risk. Obviously, being a famous singer, she is going to be subject to gossip and pointed fingers. But laughing at herself makes her more in control of the narrative. (Full disclosure: I love Taylor's Scottish Fold kitties and that she carries them around NYC with her. I'd do it with Disney if I could.) Choosing to own your foibles can disarm your detractors as well as make it boring for them to target you - the "hollowness" of Turing's statement.

Bullying is not just a kid problem. I've worked for several bullies. Other parents, especially moms, can bully each other - "You haven't signed up little Billy for walking lessons? He's going to be behind the other one year olds in his class. But I guess that's your prerogative." I'm sure I'm guilty of bullying - my husband might call it manipulating, but it is a form of bullying. There are several people I know that I'd consider bullies, but they are in a position of power that tacitly approves it.

As in the case of the free-range parents discussed on Facebook yesterday, we as parents need to provide our children with tools for life. Teaching them how to cross the street safely is as important as dealing with adversity in its many forms. There will always be dominant personalities that assert power over others, whether in the workplace or in religious matters. It might not be physical but emotional and psychological bullying are everpresent.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Being Involved

I don't really like this title, but that's what this post is about.

Over the past year, I've become more involved in Columbia Association and Howard County. I hesitate to call it "politics" per se, but I'm sure that's what many would categorize it as. Obviously, being Field Director for my friend Tom Coale qualifies as pure politics. But I've gotten to know a lot more about issues in Columbia & the county so I've spent more time reading & interacting with my elected officials.

Back in 2009, I applied to be part of the CA Information Technology Advisory Committee. CA has many such committees dealing with sports, aquatics, seniors and the Art Center. Well, at the beginning of 2014 or the end of 2013 (it's been a blur), we had our first meeting. For 2014, we've had a couple of meetings that acquainted us with the current state of IT systems and ongoing plans. But now we've decided on our plan of action and are more "official."

With that in mind, I decided to attend my own village board meeting. Town Center is lucky to have its headquarters in a beautiful spot, Historic Oakland. When I say lucky, I mean mixed blessing, actually. Putting in an elevator to become more ADA compliant is super expensive. (And cool note - in the wedding pictures on the Oakland website, there's a gay wedding! Yay for including that in pics!)

Last night's meeting also included a presentation from Andy Stack, the former chair of the CA Board, regarding the past year's accomplishments and the upcoming goals. Milton Matthews, the new President of CA, also attended. He took a bunch of notes on questions from the Board members, which gives me the sense that he will follow through on resolving them.

Mr. Stack also highlighted what CA has done for Town Center in particular for the past year. Little egg on his face - he included Outdoor Pools as an accomplishment, but we don't have any outdoor pools. One can argue that we now have the pool at Haven on the Lake, but that's indoor and pretty pricey to access. That leads me to the pool at the Metropolitan, which kind of annoys me. Why aren't these new residents being encouraged to join CA and use the existing pools? I'm sure one of my friends could elaborate on that reasoning.

Fairway Hills Golf Club was also listed as an accomplishment for Town Center. Huh? Granted, I've only played the back nine a couple of times (I think golf should be 13 holes, 18 is WAY too long for this girl), but I'm pretty sure Fairway Hills spans Dorsey's Search and Wilde Lake. Plus, I lived on the 18th fairway and I lived in Dorsey then...

One Board Member asked about Inner Arbor and whether they had asked for money. Mr. Stack said No, but another person in the room said "Yet" in a certain tone...Wait, isn't Symphony Woods CA land? Wouldn't it make sense for CA to spend some money on its own land? Hmmm...

After the CA presentation, the Bridge Columbia leaders asked for the Town Center board to support their proposals for the replacement of the pedestrian bridge across Rt. 29. I was slightly familiar with this grassroots organization, but I have some more color around it now. Given our increasing traffic in Town Center, this bridge looks reasonable to alleviate some problems.

I needed to leave around 8, but things had become a little more informal by then. The Board members wanted to know why I was there! And then they encouraged me to run for Village Board in April. Another hmm...


Monday, January 12, 2015

Baby, It's Cold Outside

I got yelled at today. It was 10:35 AM in the Columbia Athletic Club parking lot. No, I wasn't driving. (Full disclosure: I do drive offensively...)

When I woke up and found out schools were in a two-hour delay, I thought, Oh well, my ankle's hurting and I shouldn't take that class I've missed for 3 weeks. Looking for excuses.

I got the kiddo off to school & drove helter-skelter to the gym. But I was still giving myself an excuse - given the January resolvers, I wouldn't be able to find a space.

Oh, shoot, I found a space but kinda far away from the door. And it's POURING icy rain. And I have a rule that I bring my umbrella into the gym in my bag so it stays dry. Because my hair before exercising does not require protection.

So I jogged. I dodged the raindrops. I avoided the snow. As I ran, a woman yelled at me - it's raining, it's slippery.

I heard her but I thought - I'm in control. I'm looking where I step, but I need to get somewhere. I've assessed the risk and I'm taking it. careful out there, my friends!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Chump Change at HCPSS

Howard County may be allowing a brain drain to occur & I'm perplexed as to the reason. Yes, our new County Executive, Allan Kittleman, has asked that county leaders trim 5% of their budgets to deal with a shortfall of $14 million. Fine.

While reading Tom's post regarding the loss of experienced teachers & staff and Julia's post, something struck me regarding these numbers.

This deal is projected to cover approximately 600 teachers and staff and potentially save $9 million. OVER FIVE YEARS. Based on the FY 2015 Budget of $758.8 million, that's roughly 0.2%. These positions are not disappearing though...less experienced, less expensive people still have to be hired.

Which leads me to my next point - if our experienced teachers leave, there is a lack of mentorship that can occur on the job.

For example, if several Instructional Team lead teachers leave one elementary school, that puts a lot more stress on the administration and the less-experienced teachers left behind. There's no question that a 25 year old teacher can be just as good as a 37 year old teacher, don't misread me.  But that 37 year old teacher may have insight about that 5th grader because she taught her as a 1st grader.

These type of buyouts usually detract from institutional knowledge. Yes, it requires more people to step up, but I believe the majority of teachers and staff at HCPSS have been doing that already.  And yes, buyouts happen in the corporate world but at 15 years? Who's even been at their corporate job for 15 years in this day & age? Tenure in the corporate world is not exactly comparable to government work.

But for less than even one percent of their annual operating budget? Yes, there are some people that complain about the "junket" to China that cost under $10,000 in total. I'm not one of them. This wasted study seems like a rounding error rather than an in-depth look at holding down operating costs.

Try again, HCPSS.