Thursday, March 29, 2007

Some Healthy Competition

Ever since Lifetime Fitness moved to town, the folks running the Columbia Association's gyms seem to have stepped up their game, offering longer hours, new equipment and other amenities. The latest, according to the Sun, is to bring in some small franchises. At the Columbia Gym, they've opened a Maui Wowi Hawaiian offering smoothies and specialty coffees (and run by Tessa Goldscher, a former event planner in town). Coming to the Supreme Sports Club is a Seattle's Best coffee bar.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Real College

Say what you will but when a institution of higher learning creates a real quad, then you have a campus. Howard Community College opens a new student services center that finishes the frame of that quinessential collegiate outdoor space. All we need now is a Frisbee!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Apology for Slavery

Both Maryland House and Senate have now passed resolutions apologizing for past slavery. Here's what The Post reported today:

"The House broke into applause after delegates approved the resolution, 130 to 6. The Senate passed the same measure unanimously this month. Maryland would become the second state -- after Virginia, earlier this year -- to express regret for slavery if one of the two measures is passed by the other body.

The Maryland resolution says slavery 'fostered a climate of oppression' not just for slaves and their descendants but also for other people of color who moved to Maryland after slavery was abolished and has 'afflicted the citizens of this state down to the present.'

The lack of debate underscored how dramatically the politics of the issue has changed in the past decade.

After a 1998 tour of Africa in which President Bill Clinton expressed regret about the slave trade, he was accused by some conservatives in the United States of pandering to African Americans.

Sen. Nathaniel Exum (D-Prince George's), the bill's sponsor in the Senate, said he was pleased that 'we can come to a recognition that we participated in something that was morally wrong.'

Exum said he hopes that the apology resolution is just the beginning of a discussion about race relations and the steps that need to be taken to address the 'lingering effects' slavery has had on African Americans."

There's plenty of reminders around these parts about the state's past. Columbia Association, for instance, has hired a firm to restore a small stone building once used as slave quarters on an eastern Howard County farm known as Woodlawn. There's talk of tying the $230,000 restoration into the creation of a interpretative walking trail.

Monday, March 26, 2007

And the Other 76 Percent Should Be Careful Too!

Here's a warning from the Howard County police department:

The Howard County Police Department is alerting owners of Honda Civics and Acura Integras
manufactured before 2001 of a recent vehicle theft trend affecting these models. Nearly 24
percent of all vehicles stolen in Howard County this year were one of these two models.

These cars are more vulnerable to theft because models manufactured before 2001 do not offer ignition immobilizer theft-deterrent systems, which require a properly coded ignition key be used for the engine to start. If an improperly coded key or other device is used, the engine’s startingcircuit is disabled.

Also, owners of these types of cars often add after-market equipment, which can be valued in the thousands of dollars. This makes these vehicles even more appealing.
Protecting vehicles with anti-theft devices is a proven way to deter car thieves. Effective devices include steering wheel and column locks, electric security systems, fuel cut off switches, vehicle identification number (VIN) glass etching and GPS recovery systems. Drivers also can
participate in the “Watch Your Car” program, which provides decals for owners to voluntarily
display on their vehicles to alert police that their car is not normally driven between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Civic and Integra owners should park in a locked garage if one is available. If not, police recommend blocking the vehicle in the driveway with another vehicle.

The police department and the Maryland/DC Anti-Car Theft Committee will host a free VIN
etching event April 21 at the Kings Contrivance Village Center in Columbia from 9 a.m. to 1
p.m. Drivers will also be able to enroll in the “Watch Your Car” program at the event. For more
information, visit the police department’s Web site at

Friday, March 23, 2007

Rolling On

Wheelchair track star Tatyana McFadden, 17, continues her campaign to be able to compete fully in state high school sports meets, filing a new lawsuit against Maryland educators, according to the Columbia Flier. She's already won the right to compete along with non-wheelchair athletes and she wants to be able to score points to contribute to her team's success.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


WaPo this morning tells us that 22,000 new jobs are projected to come to Fort Meade (a euphemism for NSA and other secret stuff). That doesn't count the contracting workforce that's likely to follow. County officials said part of that estimate is based on reports The Fort is leasing 540 acres outside of its security fence to developer Trammell Crow Co. to build office and retail space and two golf courses for the installation.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Hangover After The Tax Party?

There seems to be lots of confusion over what to do about the council's decision last year to give the older set a property tax break. One person, according to the Sun, told the council all the second-guessing now showed why tinkering with tax policy during an election season is usually a bad idea.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

We're No. 1

Pop quiz: What's the only Washington area public high school to win a boys basketball championship this year? River Hill, and they move up to No. 5 on the Post's final bb-poll, no easy feat.

Monday, March 19, 2007

"The Cut" Is Closed

Hard to miss the news reports about the state's move to close the maximum security portion of the Jessup prison. Dubbed "the cut" because of the way the railroad tracks cut into the property, the place has proven to be scary indeed over the years. The most hardened of hardened criminals are now far away from here, scattered to other states and institutions throughout Maryland, but plenty of prison-related facilities will remain in the area. Some worry about how family members will locate the transferred inmates.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Environmental Awakening?

Four random items caught our eye in the Columbia Flier: A front page story on a man who wants the Columbia Association to allow golf carts and other electric conveyances on the bike paths. Diane Brown's profile of 80-year-old Tina Cole, a longtime Columbian who walks everywhere and moved here because she bought into the village concept and the fact that you could live close to schools and shopping. And finally two news briefs. One about council member Calvin Ball's proposal to expand county property tax credit for residents who install energy-saving devices in their homes. The other about Ken Ulman's environmental commission to recommend "green" initiatives---this run by Columbian Joshua Feldmark.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Taxing Questions

Some folks in Annapolis say they want to close an interesting tax loophole: Some big companies avoid paying real estate fees when they sell property by structuring the deal so that they never exchange the deed to the land. Instead, they merely sell a controlling stake in the firm that owns the property. Since no deed changes hands there is no recordation or transfer fees to pay. In 2002, according to the Sun, Rouse Co. used this method to sell 11 shopping centers in Columbia to a New York firm, depriving Howard of about $2 million in tax revenues. Opponents of closing the loophole say it will hurt lots of real estate types who use these transactions in the normal course of developing subdivisions and such. Some company buys the land and then sells controlling interest to a builder to build the houses. If they had to pay a tax on each transaction, they would be paying transfer fees twice (on the purchase of the land and the transfer to the builder)--and passing the cost on to you-know-who. Or, the Sun implies, taking their development to West Virginia, where the business climate is more favorable.

There's lots of fodder for debate in this one. What could $2 million buy? Here's the superintendent's budget request this year for elementary school resource people....

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Power to the PowerPoint People

We had to chuckle about a line in this Sun conversation with Ken Ulman, in which he shakes his head about constituents who pull out their laptops and give him their PowerPoint presentations. Meanwhile, there was this intriguing item in one of the Towson papers about papa Ulman changing firms to be closer to his home here in Howard.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Hell-o.....This is....

Much of the attention in Annapolis this time of year is what legislation passes in the General Assembly. Here's a brief Post item about a bill that failed to limit those campaign season robo-calls that make tele-marketers look like paragons of restraint.

Monday, March 12, 2007

March Madness

We at Columbia Talk are pretty much in the tank for the Terps. But our high school b-ballers did the new town proud. Atholton girls won their first state title, and River Hill boys beat B-CC.

Friday, March 9, 2007

More Places To Spend Our Money

It was sad to see Create-A-Hobby depart the mall; Columbia Talk was a longtime Warhammer, toy train, coin collecting customer. Now comes news that a Hollister will fill its space. It'll be interesting to see if the new store will have the same staying power as the old one. From the folks who brought you Abercombie & Fitch, Hollister is for the "trendy" teenager who likes the surfer look, always a fickle bunch. The chain recently posted a 9 percent monthly decline in same-store sales. Also coming to the Mall: clothier White House/Black Market, shoe place Clark's, another athletic footwear store called Footaction, and a Wetzel Pretel. Ann Taylor is getting a facelift.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

On Language

Readings today's Howard Extra cover story on a move by local real estate companies to chase listings from the various immigrant communities in our midst is further proof of how potent a force our diversity is becoming. Anyone who takes a drive down Route 40 cannot help but miss the signs in Korean. Or take a look at the growing collection of multi-cultural books and other fare at our libraries. Here's a sample of what you'll find in the childrens' collection...

Subject:korean language materials
Call No:J(Kor)398.2A
Found:Ba (2)

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Dr. Leffler, Killed in Crash....

Sad day at Columbia Talk where we learn that our family pediatrician was killed in a head-on collision. Allan Leffler was a gentle, calming soul who helped us through some early medical issues and always eased our anxieties. The first time I met him he walked in to the examination room in those sandals of his and I instantly felt a connection. Rest in peace doc.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

But Ossifer....

Howard County police officer gets into his cruiser and promptly smacks into a trailer at a police station. He's charged with driving while intoxicated, according to a Sun account...oops. It can happen to anyone. Here's some phone numbers to get help.
Drugs and Alcohol

410-313-6202 - Addiction Services Center
410-663-1922 - Alcoholics Anonymous
410-832-7094 - Al-Anon and Alateen

Monday, March 5, 2007

What Goes Up Might Not Be Filled

Demand for Howard County's office space appears to be waning some. Vacancy rates have been ticking up for a couple years (they now stand at 12.1 percent in Columbia/Ellicott City, according to a recent report) and more than 600,000 square feet of space is under construction, which could push the rate up further.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Tax Relief For The Elderly?

Lots of discussion underway in Annapolis about how to deal with seniors and taxes, according to the Flier. We're still a county of young families---but as the county grows, so does the senior population. Here's some census data.
People QuickFacts Howard County Maryland
Population definition and source info Population, 2005 estimate 269,4575,600,388
Population, percent change, April 1, 2000 to July 1 definition and source info Population, percent change, April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2005 8.7%5.7%
Population definition and source info Population, 2000 247,8425,296,486
Persons under 5 years old, percent definition and source info Persons under 5 years old, percent, 2005 6.7%6.8%
Persons under 18 years old, percent definition and source info Persons under 18 years old, percent, 2005 26.8%25.1%
Persons 65 years old and over, percent definition and source info Persons 65 years old and over, percent, 2005 8.6%11.5%

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Who Says N. Va. Has A Monopoly On The Geeks?

CompUSA is closing 126 stores nationwide, including all its outlets in Northern Virginia, Rockville and Gaithersburg. In fact, the only location left in the Washington area is our very own Columbia store---and farther north they are leaving the Towson one alone, too. Hey, what can I say, apparently we love our (tech) toys around here.