1. The US Postal Service. I probably shouldn’t say this out loud while my taxes are in transit, but they should have arrived at their destination by now. Emphasis on the “should have.” In any case, I’ve just received a Christmas card. It was postmarked on the 20-somethingth of December and delivered to me here on the homestead just in time for Valentine’s Day. Maybe I should award points for it getting here at all based on some of my other recent experiences. Increasingly the expectation that products and services should work as advertised feels like something that’s just too much to hope for.
2. Baltimore. One of the perennial joys of living in the State of Maryland is the unending shitshow that is Baltimore City. In a state with some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, we somehow are home to one of the world’s largest live action shooting ranges. Year after year the legislature pours ever increasing amounts of money into the city, because surely that will fix all the problems. Let’s not get hung up on the fact that when asked, the city government generally doesn’t seem able to tell anyone where the money they’ve already been given went or what improvements were made as a result. For my entire adult life, Baltimore has been governed by increasingly feckless “leaders” whose sole purpose in life seems to be finding new and more ridiculous ways to convince Annapolis to give them mountains of cash. The city government either needs to get its house in order or the state should step in and get the city into line. Allowing it to continue to swallow prodigious amounts of tax dollars without showing even the most marginal of improvements feels downright criminal.
3. Mind reading. It’s worth repeating from time to time that mind reading is not among my many varied talents. If you tell me you want something, I’m going to proceed from the assumption that you know what you want. I’m going to do my best to give it to you – not some version of what you requested, not something with the flavor of your request, but the honest to God thing you asked for to the best of my abilities and within the time allotted. If it turns out what you end up with isn’t what you want, I can promise you that the issue is almost always with the description of the requirements, not with my being way out off the edge of the map somewhere.
1. The driveway. Actually it’s not the whole driveway I find annoying. It’s the twenty feet or so of it that stays shady and snow covered even when temperatures reach on up past 40 degrees. That would also be known as the part that reaches out and trips unsuspecting people that are just trying to walk to the mailbox. If I ever find myself in a position of needing to replace this driveway, it’s a safe assumption that I’ll be taking a hard look at having heating units installed and just being done with shoveling, blowing, or otherwise dealing with snow in any way.
2. The federal budgeting process. As I write this, we are about 30 hours away from what the media calls a “government shutdown.” The reality of it is the lack of an appropriation could result in what might more legitimately be called a partial shutdown, with many portions of the government carrying on as if it’s just another day at the office. Still, though, it occurs to me that as long as I have worked for Sam, the Congress has failed to actually pass a normal budget on time and in regular order. Yes, in fifteen years I’ve never worked a day under what once upon a time was considered the “normal” federal budget process. I’m not saying we can trace all the problems of government back to their failure to do one of the few things that Constitution specifically expects them to do, but it seems like getting that fixed would be a decent enough place to start doing things the right way.
3. Baltimore. A monument to the Star Spangled Banner, the national anthem of our country, was desecrated this week. This act took place, in the very city where Francis Scott Key penned the words of what would become our song. It took place in Baltimore, in a city that should be filled with pride at being the home of the anthem and home to the long ago night in which the flag that inspired Key’s pen flew over embattled Fort McHenry. This is actually the second monument related to Key and the anthem that’s been vandalized in the last six months. There’s no geography on earth I love more than my native state, but gods help us, Baltimore is a cesspit.
Most days I watch the local morning news out of Baltimore. During the week, mostly I’m keeping an ear open for the traffic reports and weather forecast. On the weekends, I imagine it’s just force of habit more than anything else. In any case, I should probably change that habit, because as often as not, Baltimore news just agitates the hell out of me.
Take this morning, for instance – when one report was covering the continuing deterioration of the city’s water system and proposal that rates be increased 9% a year over each of the next 3 years. Municipal water systems are almost the working definition of the kind of services one might expect a city to provide, but of course much of the utility network undergirding Baltimore has been buried for more than a century. That’s long past the time even the most ambitious of engineers would have imagined their work staying in service. If you defer maintenance on such a system long enough all manner of bad things will tend to happen to it. That’s the situation Baltimore is facing.
Maintenance, of course, takes money and that’s one of those things that Baltimore never seems to have. It’s one of those pesky consequences of making policy decisions that chase your tax base out of the city and into the county. But this morning, the story focused on a “local activist” who opposed this “vicious rate increase” even while admitting that he knew the system needed upgrades almost city-wide.
I suppose my real question is, if the those who use the water – the people and businesses served by the municipal water system – aren’t responsible for paying to keep the system running, who is he proposing foot the bill? For some reason I’m catching the scent of another Baltimore City boondoggle the cost of which the city is going to try to pass along to the more than 5 million Marylanders who don’t use the city’s water. I’m also more than a little curious as to how I can tap into that alternate payment source if they day ever comes when I need to replace my well.
I mean if water is a right and should be provided for “free,” someone else should pay for it… or maybe that’s only true as long as the cash flows one way: from everywhere else in the state towards the Inner Harbor.
1. Hard right. Since Mr. Trump has bailed out of the primary debate this week as part of his ongoing “strained relationship” with Fox News, I’ve been quite literally stunned with the number of times I’ve run across posts labeling Fox a part of the “left wing media establishment.” I get my news from a lot of sources, both domestic and international, and thinking of FNC as a lefty mouthpiece just boggles the mind. See, that’s the real problem with the current Republican party. If you’re not in lockstep on abortion, marriage equality, and Jesus, well there’s just no room in the party for you. Sorry gang, but I’m going to call bullshit on that. I’m a Republican the same way Reagan was a Republican. The same way Goldwater was a Republican. The same way Eisenhower was a Republican. What I’m not is a fanatic who assumes mine is the One True Way. I’m a Republican. We use to be a “big tent” party and we could be again, if only we the rest of us have the personal courage to stand up and tell the dogmatic hardliners to GTFO. Otherwise we might as well fold the tent and go on back to the house, because the days of expecting a platform of “be like me or else” winning at the national level are profoundly numbered.
2. Underutilization. There’s not many jobs I’d consider myself too proud to do. From slopping barns, to stacking hay, flipping burgers, dropping fries, parking cars, accounting for tarps and body bags, ordering hundreds of thousands of tons of ice, or managing 1000-person events. I’ve done all of them and too many more to bother listing. The point isn’t that I’m too proud to do any of these things. The point is that it makes absolutely no economic sense for me to some of them. There’s always an opportunity cost that no one takes into account. Because I’m schlepping buckets of rock salt, that means there are five or six other things that aren’t getting done in a timely manner – things that generally tend to require thought, analysis, and problem solving. With half a career’s worth of experience behind me, my services don’t come cheap. The all-in “fully burdened” cost of having me on the clock is something approaching $100 an hour. Whether that money is spent on turning ice into water or on making sure the uber-boss gets the information he wants is decided by someone else. I’ll go where and do what I’m told, but I’ll always wonder why we so rarely seem to take the time to match the skill set with the person instead of just grabbing the nearest body and making it fit.
3. Cities. Watching the news out of Baltimore all week and wondering how in seven hells they’ve managed to spend an entire week tinkering around with their plows and not give every street at least a courtesy pass with one of their trucks. Yes, cities are densely packed and often streets are narrow, but still. Come on. You’ve had a week to give everyone at least a fighting chance at getting out of their frozen prison. I live in a subdivision in what might charitably be called an out of the way location. By Sunday evening we’d had enough of a route cut that someone with 4-wheel drive could safely navigate out to our principle access road. By Monday night it was largely down to blacktop. I’m simply perplexed that a major American city – especially one prone to snow in the winter – has this much trouble figuring out what to do. I avoid Baltimore as much as humanly possible, but in this case I’m throughly annoyed by a city government that seems largely made up by the gang that can’t shoot straight.
1. Drink your Ovaltine. I had a meeting last week. That’s not unusual in that the bulk of my professional life is spent getting ready for, attending, or recovering from meetings. This one was special though, because we had a 4-star general spend twenty minutes telling us to eat right, exercise, and get eight hours of sleep a night. A full general. Eat your veggies and get lots of sleep. I have a hard time imagining Eisenhower or MacArthur or Patton spending so much time ensuring their people enjoyed a nice kale salad and got tucked in at night. So do me a favor out there and remember to drink your Ovaltine so you can grow up big and strong.
2. Our big thing. Our grandparents went from riding horses to riding rockets. Our parents built the internet. So far what our generation has done is develop faster and faster methods of sharing pictures of cats with everyone you’ve ever known. No cure for cancer. No flying cars. Just incremental improvements on stuff that’s been around since we were kids. Where’s our big thing? What is it we’re supposed to be doing to leave our mark on the world? I’m as clueless as everyone else I guess, but someone needs to figure this mess out and get working on it.
3. Only when it’s convenient. There are a slew of stories in the press this week about the meteoric rise in Baltimore’s murder rate this month. An AP story weeps that “Now West Baltimore residents worry they’ve been abandoned by the officers they once accused of harassing them.” Well shut my mouth. You treated officers like dirt, sued, and badmouthed them at every turn and suddenly the community is surprised to learn the blue line between civilization and chaos is a little more thin than they realized. I appreciate their efforts to have it both ways – to have a deep and active police presence banging heads and taking down criminals but not the “low level” criminals who are “members of the community.” Sorry folks, it’s a binary system. The law is the law – felonies or civil violations – and when you break that law you recognize that there could be consequences for your actions. For decades parts of Baltimore thought they’d be better off without law and order. Well gang, next time let’s go ahead and remember to be careful what we ask for… because unintended consequences can be a real mother.
1. Sticks and stones. I might be part of the last generation that grew up learning that sticks and stones would break our bones, but names would never hurt us. We’re also perhaps the last generation that will get to use the work “thug” to refer to a violent criminal. It’s not a surprise. When we live in a world where everyone wants to get through life without their sensibilities or little feelings being hurt, there’s not much hope. Personally, I refuse to be afraid of or intimidated by mere words… not even the one’s Carlin couldn’t say on television. I can’t help but think we’d all be better off if we’d collectively grow a thicker skin and spend a little last time being “offended” by every little thing that doesn’t fit in nicely with our own worldview.
2. Reorganization. I’ve been with my employer now for a little more than 12 years. In that time I’ve lived through six major reorganizations. Those are just the ones that impacted me directly. I’ve probably seen at least twice or three times that number happen. Of course there’s nothing wrong with changing things up to make yourself more efficient and effective. That’s good business. It’s just that when you do it on average every other year there’s no way in hell you’re making those decisions based on consistently assembled data… and when the next guy finds something he doesn’t like, we’ll just go ahead and shuffle the chairs again and see how everything shakes out. I’d never claim to have the right answers, but I do know that throwing darts and hoping for the best is rarely a management best practice.
3. Accusations. If your default answer to a different viewpoint on why things got batshit crazy in Baltimore is “you’re a racist,” it may be time to realize that other viewpoints may be legitimate – even if you don’t happen to personally agree with it. If that’s the only argument you can bring to the table, we’re well past the point of having a reasonable discussion. When that’s your answer to an honest, probing question, it’s safe to consider our conversation at an end. You don’t have anything to tell me that I need to hear.
Having lived in Memphis, I though I’d seen some of the worst behavior I could expect out of a city. But no, Baltimore has gone and set the bar far, far higher (lower?) than anything I experienced on the banks of the Big Muddy.
Senior city leaders appear to be absent. The Baltimore Police Department has clearly been instructed to be non-confrontational and do as little as possible to protect life and property – I’m assuming the powers that be have some misguided notion that the rioters will just wear themselves down, everyone will go home, and tomorrow will be sunshine and puppy dogs. The fact that those officers are resisting the urge to bang heads while bricks and bottles fly at their heads is a huge statement about their professionalism. Under the same circumstances I wouldn’t be so disciplined.
After four hours of mob rule, the governor did finally declare a state of emergency and activate the National Guard, but that’s not an “instant on” solution. It’s too little, too late and now night is falling.
I love Maryland. I sacrificed to get back to my home state to build a life with my feet firmly planted on my native soil. Tonight though, I am embarrassed that the Old Line is being seen around the world as a state that let its major city burn. I’m embarrassed at the behavior of my fellow citizens. I’m embarrassed by our elected leaders who wanted to “give the protestors room” to destroy things. And I’m embarrassed that we don’t have the fortitude or political will to put down these rioters using every tool in our arsenal. If they’re not going to respect the rule of law, at least let the bastards fear the consequences of that disrespect.
This isn’t generally a self-help kind of blog, but I thought it might be a good idea to pass along some ideas to the “people” of Baltimore who decided destroying cars, breaking windows, setting trash cans on fire, and throwing rocks at the police was a good way to communicate their message to the rest of the world. First off, nothing derails your credibility as a “peaceful protest” faster than going on a violent and destructive rampage. It’s generally considered bad form and all but guarantees that people who might otherwise be sympathetic will end up taking a dim view of whatever it is that you’re about.
Second, everyone from Baltimore’s mayor to the local newscasters took great pains to tell us all that “95%” of the protestors were peaceful. That might be true and if it is, why didn’t that 95% overwhelm the 5% who were violent with sheer weight of numbers? A little self policing within the group would go a long way towards preventing the actual police from stepping in and handling things the Western District Way. Unless, of course, what you really want from all of this is for the police to start banging heads in order to justify more criminal behavior.
Admittedly, I’m not a march or shout kind of protestor. I tend to register my displeasure with people and situations at the ballot box or cash register. It simply has never occurred to me that going to downtown Elkton and smashing the windows out of someone’s car would be a more effective means of getting my point across. Maybe I’ll give that a try next time. All I’d need to do is find 19 other people to stand by and be peaceful and that would make my shitty behavior A-OK on the eyes of the mayor and media, no?
Today we celebrate the 200th anniversary of American victory at the Battle of Baltimore. At dawn on September 14th, 1814 a 30×42 foot flag was raised over the embattled Ft. McHenry. After 25 hours of bombardment by a numerically superior British force the American Army held it’s position, securing the entrance to Baltimore’s harbor and denying the British invaders a second major victory following their sack of Washington.
At seeing this massive flag flying over the fort’s battlements, a Maryland lawyer, Francis Scott Key, was so moved that he noted his thoughts in the form of a poem – Defence of Fort M’Henry – that would serve as the lyrical basis for America’s national anthem.
If the American Revolution gave birth to our republic, the War of 1812 – and the Battle of Baltimore – confirmed that the new nation would be preserved and not restored to the dominion of a far away monarch.
I’ve had the opportunity twice in the last few days to drive through East Baltimore. Usually I try to keep it to the interstates and give the city a wide berth, but sometimes getting right down in it is unavoidable. Since I was there, I couldn’t help but look around a bit… and what I saw was night and day. On one hand, Johns Hopkins seems to be in a constant state of construction, buying up the rotting and decayed properties around it and expanding in every direction. Fifty years from now, they may have single handedly cleaned up that section of the city. That might well be the hospital’s greatest contribution to the state.
N. Patterson Park Ave, 1700 blk – (C) Charm City Vacancy
On the other hand, the drive into Druid Hill Park and the Maryland Zoo is a bit like taking a tour of Kosovo circa 1999. With what looked like bombed out and burned down houses and buildings outnumbering active residences and businesses on nearly every block, well, one wonders if it would’t be better to draw some lessons from Detroit and move in with bulldozers, level the ground, and start again. I generally ignore local Baltimore politics because it tends to be so ridiculous, but it seems that what we were seeing yesterday is the working definition of a failed city. Surely there’s a better approach to managing a state’s largest urban area than letting it collapse under its own weight. It’s a stark reminder of what happens when people stop caring about their surroundings and when local government throws up its hands and opts to hope for the best instead of actually doing anything.
There are some truly incredible examples of late Victorian architecture hiding in plain site down there, but they’ve been well and truly overwhelmed by the decay around them. Most are likely too far gone to do anything more than salvage the bits and pieces in advance of the wrecking ball. It’s a shame, really. Baltimore use to be one of America’s great cities. Now, once you’re outside the designated tourist zones or the neighborhoods that have tenaciously hung on or the ones that have been revived, it looks more like a war zone than a first world city.