Martians On The Bozman-Neavitt Road by George Merrill

I often walked on the Bozman-Nevitt road. It’s located near my home in Talbot County. Sometimes I’ll see a SWAT team picking up roadside debris. What, I’ve thought to myself, if this SWAT contingent were Martians and they were here, like intergalactic archeologists, sifting through and examining the remains that Eastern Shore inhabitants left behind them every day. Because walking can get boring, sometimes you have to find ways to entertain yourself. So, I began to imagine further that these Martians were seeking to learn more about us from our typical roadside debris. They wanted to know just what we earthlings here on the Shore were like and how we lived our lives. What, indeed, would Martians think from what they found discarded along the Bozman-Neavitt road?

I assumed the Martians would see the same stuff that I would normally pass by in the course of any week’s walk. What I see looks something like this. First, of course, there are the cars and trucks coming and going constantly, but also, as a result, I see lots of road kill. Squirrels and turtles seem to take the hardest hits, next possums and snakes and finally tiny little wooly bears and a variety of insects. Since they are all flat when I see them, identifying each creature poses significant challenges, and especially, I imagine, for Martians.

Beer cans are everywhere along the road; Bud, Miller, Coors, but only a few of them are ‛lite.’ Of the larger objects, beer cans outnumber all others by far. Next come soda cans and bottles, motor oil containers and lots of empty cigarette packs, both for filtered and non-filtered. I saw one pouch of Red Man chewing tobacco. There were always plastic cups around, some clear, others colored in various sizes as well as the Styrofoam coffee cups with Hardees and McDonalds written in cheerful colors on the side. Next to one fast food wrapper, I once saw a small plastic toy, ‛Buzz,’ the astronaut from ‛Toy Story.’ He apparently landed in Bozman from one of Easton’s fast food chains, unharmed. There was an occasional drinking straw lying here and there. Straws always look unused. Once I saw a discarded refrigerator.

Along the road one sees shredded napkins everywhere. There’s always a compliment of unused ketchup packets lying about. Why, a Martian might wonder, do earthlings take so many of of them, but don’t actually use them? Hose clamps and broken bolts cover the roadside like ants, along with unraveled music tapes that look, from a distance, like a snake pit or heaps of worms. Car antennae are an occasional sight. Of my one-time sightings, it included seeing a five-dollar bill and an empty box for condoms. They were some distance from each other.

From such a random sampling of artifacts, what is a clueless Martian to make of our Eastern Shore civilization? There are certain inevitable conclusions. One is that folks here love their cars and trucks and probably spend more than half their lives driving them somewhere. And if you’re insect or animal it’s worth your life to travel any road. I think the Martians would also have noticed that Eastern Shore drivers are remarkably friendly; they never hesitate to extend greetings to pedestrians from their cars even if the pedestrians happen to look unusual: I assume Martians would look pretty weird but I suspect they’d still earn that index finger Shore drivers raise from the steering wheel, extending a friendly salutation to any pedestrian.

Roadside findings make it clear that Shore dwellers are not weight conscious. They eat voluminous amounts of fast food and make no pretense of cutting calories by drinking “lite” sodas. It’s a plain Coke or industrial strength beer. For Shore dwellers, it’s industrial strength all the way. Although Martians may see evidence of an advanced civilization, however, the extent and variety of our cast-off artifacts on roads reveals some serious problems we have with waste disposal. But that’s easy for Martians to say: I imagine they can just vaporize whatever they want to get rid of. Martians probably concluded that we threw away that refrigerator I saw because it couldn’t keep beer cold, anymore.

Martians may have trouble making sense of the random objects they find. Statistical analysis could help. By looking at raw numbers, for example, the sum of the individual objects that the Martians found daily along the road, the Martians could pose some interesting hypotheses about the habits of Eastern Shore life. The days final tally of observed junk would suggest that, no matter what our laws profess, we still drink and drive a lot. We care less about chewing tobacco, using ketchup or having sex than we do about driving our cars or trucks, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, eating fast foods and keeping our engines well lubricated. It would be interesting to see what the Martians might conclude if they landed instead in Washington, D.C.

As I returned to earth, and watched the SWAT team caring for our community by their unselfish service, I wondered what my fictitious Martians might think of them and what they’re about. I pretended that I was talking with one. I asked the Martian what he thought the SWAT team was. ” That’s easy. Those are the mature adults, the caring ones of the human species. You can spot them anywhere; they’re the ones always cleaning up after somebody else’s mess.”

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Op-Ed: Where are CBF and CCA? By Marc Castelli

The Baltimore Sun reported on a 4.1-million gallons sewage spill into the Jones Falls on Monday the 16th of April. It stated that heavy rains inundated the sewer system. Baltimore is consistently the worst offender of raw sewage pouring into the Bay. That is to the tune of millions of gallons of raw sewage. Yet no one from either of the self-proclaimed Bay’s apex environmental groups raises the alarm about Baltimore’s sewage problem. If you aren’t aware of where all that sewage ends up let me tell you. It simply ends up in the Chesapeake Bay.

For two organizations that constantly crow about their stewardship of the Bay and its resources, it seems odd that when such a serious water quality issue like raw sewage arises, they are strangely silent. Apparently, it is much easier for the Bay’s “watchdogs” to go after the low hanging fruit of the commercial fishery. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Coastal Conservation Association are just not visible when it comes to the constant threat that Baltimore’s ongoing inability to handle large rain fall amounts resulting in urban runoff and sewage overflows. Granted these spills happen at an alarmingly frequent pace but to not be heard about them reeks of a jaded attitude towards such serious issues.

Past president of the Maryland Waterman’s Association, Larry Simns and current president, Robert T. Brown, declared the MWA’s environmental concerns should be about wastewater management problems. If you pause to consider this, it will be easy to understand why a commercial fishery would be concerned about sewage in the waters from which it makes it’s living. Water quality is after all what we all are most concerned about. MWA does not have anywhere near the financial assets that both CBF and CCA could use to help ameliorate the issue of Baltimore’s repeated sewage overflows.

Let me give you a short history about the oyster industry and Baltimore’s sewage system. In the early parts of the last century, Maryland’s oyster industry was threatened by a cholera outbreak. You may ask how do oysters and cholera get together to sicken and kill people? Raw, untreated sewage is the answer. Baltimore did not always have a sewage system. It’s waste usually ran down the streets along with all of the garbage directly into Baltimore harbor waters and nearby tributaries. Somewhat like today. Oysters harvested in and near these waters were routinely shipped cold all over the U.S. to places like St. Louis, and Chicago among other cities. Maryland oysters were considered by aficionados to be the zenith of shellfish. That is until people started to get sick, and in some instances died.

Maryland oyster shucking house owners went to Baltimore and flatly told them the city was responsible and that if the city did not install sewers and a waste water system that Maryland would not only be responsible for widespread diseases like cholera but the state would stand to lose millions of dollars in profits and revenues. The sewer system that is currently in place dates back more than 100 years according to the Baltimore Sun.

The article goes on to state that the system is currently being up graded to prevent such releases of sewage into the waters of tributaries and the Bay. For the 25 or so years I have been involved in Bay issues I can only say I have been hearing such claims and they are not at all reassuring.

I just spent ten days working alongside watermen from the upper Bay doing what we call, “ghost potting”. Translated, it means retrieving derelict and lost crab pots. This work was done just outside of the Baltimore harbor at the mouths of the Gunpowder and Little Gunpowder Rivers. It was funded by MDOT and managed by the Oyster Recovery Partnership. The purpose was to mitigate wetland issues that will arise from the Route 40 bridges reconstruction over the two tributaries. Can you imagine what would happen to one of Maryland’s most iconic tourist draws if people started to put two and two together to conclude that crabs caught in that area are living in sewage-tainted waters? Go one step further and wonder what sport and tourist anglers would think if they realized the fish caught in the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay were having to swim in such waters? The folks that go swimming off the public beach at Miami Beach, where closures after such heavy rains are a common event, might also want to be concerned.

According to the Sun information about health concerns as a result of such overflows may be found here. Is there any reason why that information is not available from the CBF or CCA?

It has been nearly a week and yet no word from either organization. So again, I ask…Where are the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Coastal Conservation Association when such sewage overflows occur. Just because this happens, every time it rains hard on Baltimore does not mean that these well-funded organizations should not constantly be raising the alarm and pointing out the need for Baltimore to lead the way in its own wastewater management.

Marc Castelli is a artist and photographer living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. His work is focused on watermen, lobstermen, their workboats, America’s Cup racers and their yachts, and the extended families that race their log canoes of the
Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore.

Barbara and Millie by Al and Marty Sikes

Admiration quickly comes to mind. Barbara Bush was a singular personality and much loved by the public. Inside the walls of the White House, I suspect she was given a wide berth. Her mind was quick and razor sharp and always protective of her husband.

My role in President George H. W. Bush’s administration resulted in periodic visits to the White House, but I was well outside of the day-to-day intrigue. But I have one enjoyable memory best told by my wife, Marty.

We were at the White House for a State Reception for the President of Hungary, Arpad Goncz. As we were going through the receiving line, the President pulled me aside to visit with Hungary’s leader as I was leaving the next day on a diplomatic trip that included Hungary.

As I visited with the Presidents, the line stopped as Marty was face-to-face with Barbara. And now my co-writer continues:

When I realized that I was going to be visiting with Mrs. Bush, I was quickly thinking, what we will visit about! Fortunately, a few days prior to this evening, Al and I had been watching the start of the 1990 World Series game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Oakland Athletics. Mrs. Bush was sitting with the owner of the Reds, Marge Schott, who was known for her controversial behavior. We watched Barbara Bush throw out the first pitch.

As we shook hands, I told Mrs. Bush that Al and I had watched her pitch at the opening game of the World Series. She laughed and then said to me: “You know, of course, they first asked George, but he couldn’t do it, so they asked me. It was actually quite interesting because Marge Schott wanted me to take her dog, Schottzie, with me to the pitcher’s mound and I didn’t want to. Mrs. Schott had been drinking and was very insistent and starting to cause a bit of a scene when I finally thought to tell her, I am so sorry Marge, but I just can’t because Millie (the Bush’s dog – famous for the book Mrs. Bush wrote) loves to watch baseball and is watching the game and will be very jealous.”

Mrs. Bush was so easy to visit with; she put me completely at ease, and I smile every time I tell this story. As we are all aware, she was a very special person – very real and down-to-earth and someone everyone could admire.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

A Chesapeake Portrait, Painted by Almost a Thousand Words by Tom Horton

Photo by Dave Harp

Combing the beach, I stoop to pick up an essay for my upcoming college nature writing class. It’s a reddish, roundish pebble, tumbling in the clear lapping waves during a campout to the vanished community of Holland Island.

For a couple of centuries, before erosion forced Holland’s people to the mainland, my pebble was a brick, proud and sturdy and eminently useful in its uniform rectangularity for stacking when constructing a home’s foundation with precise edges and level tops.

Made by humans, who have the corner on corners as no other species, the brick has been reshaped by nature, which embraces the rounded, the curved and the meandering, from spiral galaxies and loopy marsh creeks to the shells of whelks.

The brick/pebble thus becomes distilled and refined to a rich essential — to an image — the straight versus the curved, the human versus the natural.

This gives my fledgling essayists a useful lens. Later in the semester we’ll look at farm drainage ditches versus swamps, the former doing one thing very well — whisking rainwater from cropland; the latter doing no one thing spectacularly — just nurturing life in diversity unknown to the ditch and the cornrow.

They may expand their view further, to the pavement and the curb, the gutter and the storm drain, versus the woody debris and leaf duff of the forest floor; they may ponder which of those landscapes, during a downpour, a trout in a stream would most like living next to.

A photograph may be worth a thousand words, but a good word image is worth a hard drive’s worth of photos. Word imagery is especially important when you are writing to explain a six-state, 64,000-square-mile, Atlantic-to-Susquehanna ecosystem like the Chesapeake Bay. Here are a few of the images I’ve found useful over the decades:

The Skinny Bay

From Havre de Grace, MD, to Virginia Beach, the Bay’s about a million feet long — and up to 100,000 feet wide. Yet the average depth is around 21 feet. So many implications flow from that.

Large as it looks, the estuary has scant water to dilute runoff from Cooperstown, NY, to Altoona, PA, to Lynchburg, VA, so how we use the land matters big time for water quality.
This essential shallowness also means that light penetrates to the bottom copiously, growing lush habitats of seagrasses, which support waterfowl and waterfowl hunting cultures and soft-crabbing.

It means that wind pushes water around so easily that it is often more important, ecologically, than the tides. It also also dictates the classic “deadrise” designs of skipjacks and other watermen’s crafts, evolved to make their living in skinny water.

Wet

The Chesapeake ecosystem for most of time is widely understood to have been green, with forests covering most of its watershed. But thanks to the scientific detective work of people like Grace Brush of Johns Hopkins University, we now comprehend how much of the landscape was also wet, dammed and ponded by millions of beavers.

Brush’s work, now in book form — Decoding the Deep Sediments, available from Maryland Sea Grant — shows how prevalent the pollens of aquatic plants are in sediment cores that allow us to look back through what was washing into the Bay in centuries past.

Green and wet. Why does it matter so much? Because that landscape fostered the healthiest Chesapeake, the landscapes we should most try to emulate and restore.

Ask yourself, WWBD — what would beavers do?

Edges

Edges are inherently interesting: the gradations of color and texture that artists employ to draw the eye to the glorious intersections of the seasons, adorned by the great migrations of fish and fowl they trigger.

Life loves an edge. Hunters who prowl the seams where forest meets field know this, as do fishermen who troll the dropoffs from shallows to channels, as do blue herons and egrets, nesting eagles and beachcombers (I prefer “proggers,” the waterman’s term for them).

The Bay, with around 11,000 miles of tidal edges, is at the heart of the heart of this phenomenon. That includes the overwhelming preference of humans to also locate along the edge, drawn by everything from places to discharge waste, cool their power plants and hoist drinks to the sunset.

The search for peaceful co-existence between humans and the rest of edge-loving nature is a fundamental tension that runs through much of my writing.

Ecosystem Services

If you would be popularly read, avoid such terms, but not what they include. Consider the oyster. The revelation in recent decades of their immense values in filtering and cleansing Bay waters has fundamentally changed the way we regard them — not only as a tasty food and commerce by the bushel, but also as sanctuaries for the health of the Bay.

Some scientists say it’s likely that the reefs, built by oysters to form undisturbed, undredged, untonged communities, are at least as valuable for habitat as for their filtration.

And One Last Favorite: Horseshoe Crabs

These marvelous animals are living fossils for whom the rise and fall of dinosaurs was just a short span in the species’ history. When they scrabble onto remote beaches in May and June, with nothing else in the scene but the full moon gleaming on their bronze-colored shells from above, sand and the lapping of saltwater below — that’s as close as you will ever get to traveling back in time half a billion years.

Tom Horton has written about Chesapeake Bay for more than 40 years, including eight books. He lives in Salisbury, where he is also a professor of Environmental Studies at Salisbury University. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Bay Journal.

Remembering Barbara Bush by Craig Fuller

Early in February 1985, when I accepted the position as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush, I had some idea of what I was getting myself into. On the official side, we had the entire second term of the Reagan/Bush Administration to complete. On the political side, we had a presidential campaign organization to build and an election to win in 1988.

What I did not fully comprehend was that I was also being invited into a family lead by Barbara Bush.

The opportunity to serve the Vice President was a high honor. The privilege of being invited to be so close to the Bush family would be an extraordinary life-long experience.

While sad to see her leave us, it is remarkable to hear so many people from around the world express their profound affection for Barbara Bush. She touched many lives in exceptionally positive ways during her 92 years.

While I had a close-up view for only a fraction of those years, the impact certainly never left me. She was honest, frank, funny and never for a loss when asked her opinion. These are traits extraordinarily valuable when you are trying to get through a presidential campaign.

Soon after accepting the position as her husband’s chief of staff, I asked if we could have lunch. While I didn’t know her well, I knew there was no way to go through the next four years without a strong bond.

We had a delightful lunch, and she said she had two requests. First, she knew that she would have to do events and travel during the course of the four years; but, she said, she really wanted to be able to end her day with her husband if at all possible. Second, she suggested she probably would do anything asked of her, but she did want to understand why.

Pretty remarkable!

I told her I had two requests. First, having been around the White House for four years, I knew how people liked to present themselves as carrying an important message from someone. I asked that if she ever had anything she wanted to share or communicate that she do it directly and indicated I would try to do the same. We both agreed that “messengers” usually get it wrong anyway. We were together a great deal, and I think we both lived up to this commitment without exception which was extraordinarily valuable.

My second request was that she help me understand who the really close friends were since I was being bombarded by calls wishing me well from people explaining that they were the closest of friends to the Bush family. She said she would help and offered to share their private Christmas card list which she suggested would give me a good place to start. A couple of days later the list arrived and I realized the extent of the challenge….there were hundreds of names on the list.

We traveled throughout the world and the country together. I observed how beloved she was wherever we landed. There truly were close friendships everywhere we went in the world. While she never had the formal title of Ambassador, I know of no finer Ambassador our nation has ever had whether she was greeting people at a residence or traveling to world capitals.

My last opportunity to spend time with her occurred a few months ago in Kennebunkport when, with Karen, I attended a small event for the Bush Library. For a few moments we sat alone with the President and Mrs. Bush in their home, and I shared how enjoyable it was to be with them in a place that had so many wonderful memories. Without missing a beat, she said, “and some that were not so wonderful as well!” She still got that last word!

I know her family wants us to celebrate her life and what a life it was!

I count myself fortunate to have been a part of it for a time.

Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore with his wife Karen.

The Snake in the Internet Garden by David Montgomery

A major purpose of a liberal education, harking back to Greece and Rome, was once to prepare the student for the duties of citizenship. I am reminded of this by a recent news report of new digital techniques for creating fake news, in this case by manipulating the image of a person’s face to make it talk and say the words that another is speaking. President Trump confessing to numerous made up love affairs, or Speaker Pelosi condemning Planned Parenthood, for example. The dangers that the reporter cited included national security, political dirty tricks and in particular deceptions in social media.

I have to confess that my reaction was that anyone who believes what they read in social media deserves to be deceived, and the more I considered it, the more I liked that thought.

It should be difficult to deceive a thoughtful person about anything that matters. Scam artists exploit the greed of their victims as much as their gullibility. Trolls exploit the prejudices and hatreds of their audiences. Bloggers and politicians trust the intellectual laziness of their listeners to get away with contradicting themselves and perpetuating falsehoods that could be checked by looking up a single citation. The anonymity of the internet tempts many to pretend to be something they are not, for innocent or not so innocent purposes.

On the demand side, supposed friends and co-workers believe accusations that they see quoted in blogs or news services. In the grand tradition of gossip, neighbors read and start to believe the most outrageous inventions about their neighbors and their children.

There is nothing new about vulnerability to deception. The serpent tricked Eve, Jacob deceived his father to obtain the blessing intended for his brother Esau, and Iago convinced Othello that his wife was unfaithful. It did not take digital image manipulations and the internet to create opportunities for liars and deceivers.

Technology may raise the stakes, allow more people to be deceived at once and require more vigilance, but the remedy is still the same: “Trust but verify.”

That is where we get back to liberal education. There was also a time when education served to build character, and also to recognize character in others. Learning to read fiction well fosters an ability to recognize what is in character and what is not in character for a person in a story. Indeed, a large part of the craft of an author is to create and communicate character in such a way that the reader is able to see and understand why the figures in the story act as they do. It also fosters a critical sense of “that’s not right, ” recognition that some story lines are simply out of character.

The ability to assess character should thus serve as a check on gossip and on false news. The sense that “that is not what he or she would say” is usually a good guide.

Of course, there are times in novels and in real life that someone does something out of character, either more noble or more base than those who knew them would expect. Here is where verify comes in. If no one verifies stories, the liars will win. Even a few who are willing to check, if they are themselves gatekeepers of information, may be sufficient to break the train of re-tweeted falsehoods. If the story stands up – eyewitnesses, documentary evidence, forensic examination – then the improbable may be true.

The character of the observer matters, too. One virtue that seems lacking in this time of instant communication is prudence – in this case, prudence takes the form of “think before you type.” It may not be the original deception that matters, but the extent to which a deception is accepted as truth and instantly re-tweeted, leading to the outcome that no later correction can possibly reach all those whose opinion of a person, product or institution was warped.

The greater harm may come from the imprudence of those who observe the deception and fail to verify before trusting and acting on an unexpected claim. This reaction could be to repeat a harmful falsehood, or fall prey to an offer that is too good to be true. Charity is another helpful virtue, not to believe the worst of someone or something that was trusted for good reason, until proofs are checked. So is Temperance, to avoid being taken in by something that appeals to greed or other vices.

Logic and rhetoric were also topics in the classical and liberal curriculum that appear to be greatly neglected today. According to Aristotle, there are 13 fallacies commonly used in rhetoric. Some involve deceptive use of language — Accent, Amphiboly, Equivocation, Composition, Division, and Figure of Speech, and others are arguments that appear valid but are not — Accident, Affirming the Consequent, In a Certain Respect and Simply, Ignorance of Refutation, Begging the Question, False Cause, and Many Questions. At a guess, 95% of what politicians and politically motivated commentators say falls in one of these 13 categories.

Aristotle pre-dates digital manipulation by a good 24 centuries, and his analysis of fallacies was motivated by the speakers and politicians of his day, who stood on pedestals in the center of cities and were heard and believed by all the citizens. Not quite as large a census, but still immediate and universal coverage.

His purpose, as should be the purpose of our educational system, was to produce students who could recognize instantly a fallacious argument and state for themselves a correct manner of reasoning. That skill is not developed by indoctrinating students in the political correctness of the day, or by suppressing disagreement and debate in the interest of creating safe spaces. “Trigger alerts” do not develop critical habits of mind or argument.

The greatest danger of digital manipulation appears to be for those who have come to depend on their internet sources of tweets, blogs, and discussion groups where no observation that might trigger them to think will ever appear. Trust in these social groups appears to have taken the place of critical thought and reflection. Internet communication becomes a true Garden of Eden for snowflakes, to mix an irresistible metaphor. Maybe a few bites of the snake in these gardens will lead to a healthy distrust – and even exploration of the world outside those who agree on everything.

If all else fails, the proliferation of technology for deception might just produce its own Darwinian remedy – the recognition that there are no safe spaces in the internet. If it is impossible to tell what is true or false in blogs or news channels or social media, their users will get the message and start to use more traditional methods of obtaining and verifying information. That would not be a bad thing.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy.  He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America. David and his wife, Esther, live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

Out and About (Sort of): Oysters, Science and Human Behavior by Howard Freedlander

For two years, the future of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay has drawn the attention of 16 concerned “stakeholders,” as human beings with established viewpoints grappled with how to manage and increase the population of a bivalve that symbolizes the health of the Bay and drives the livelihood of the Eastern Shore’s iconic watermen.

Armed with a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the determined organizational leadership of Dr. Elizabeth North, the stakeholder group, comprising watermen, aquaculture producers, a seafood buyer and representatives of the Oyster Recovery Partnership, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association, Philips Wharf Environmental Center, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the federal government sought a solution that will become public in May.

What’s known today, according to Dr. North, principal investigator for the OysterFutures project and associate professor of fisheries oceanography at Horn Point Lab, is that the quest for consensus in the oyster production arena was successful. As noted, details will follow shortly.

There’s no secret that the relations among watermen, regulators, advocacy groups and scientists have been tense and testy for many years. The watermen, understandably, want to fish for oysters and make a good living devoid of burdensome regulations and scientific data they may not trust.

On the other hand, natural resource managers in the state and federal governments intend to preserve the oysters, decimated over the years by disease, habitat loss and too much fishing pressure.

The backdrop to OysterFutures project was sensitive to say the least. Mistrust was a major impediment. Civil communication, as in any other discussion joined by people with ingrained differing opinions, would be a critical element to what participants hoped would be a favorable resolution.

A few years ago when I interviewed Dr. North for an article in The Star Democrat, I was dubious about the likelihood of a consensus. A week ago, Dr. North addressed my doubts. I’m now hopeful.

She said, “It has been very rewarding and challenging to be part of a process where people came together to find commonality…to find out what people agree on.”

Facilitated by two representatives of the University of Florida Conse4nsus Center, equipped with 25 years of experience working with the commercial fishing industry in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico regions, the process encompassed nine meetings conducted for 10-12 hours in each session at Horn Point Lab. Meetings included a research team, headed by Dr. North and that included natural and social scientists, as well as scientific communicators.

The goal of OysterFutures was to produce regulations and policies that would prove effective in improving the oyster resource, and focused on upgrading performance measures, such as oyster abundance, harvest and habitat in the Choptank and Little Choptank rivers.

What particularly fascinates me is another outcome sought in this project. NSF funded this project not only to produce results—whatever they might be–that could increase the threatened, often precarious oyster population–but also to study the human ecology necessary to grow a thriving industry.

What do I mean?

Simply, NSF and the OysterFutures team were intensely interested in the human relations required among the varied stakeholders to develop a consensus that would alter the economic and environmental viability of oysters.

North said, “We had honest, respectful and constructive dialogue. Each participant brought his or her own tree of truth., and we were able to integrate conflicting points of view into a broader collective understanding.

“The local knowledge of watermen was important. They stuck to their guns; they put forward what they considered honest and insisted that their insights be recognized.”

In some cases, preconceived notions fell by the way side, according to North.

Professor North is convinced that the “human dimension” of the facilitated consensus process could be applied to other natural resource conundrums. She believes it could be effective in driving solutions that might influence decision-makers.

I applaud the National Science Foundation, Dr. North and her colleagues for conjoining the study of human interaction and scientific research in the context of a highly contested environmental issue. It only makes sense.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

After the West Wing by George Merrill

My wife and I watch old movies on TV. We also watch reruns of some TV series. It’s nice not having to endure commercials. One night recently we elected to watch West Wing, a popular TV series that we enjoyed years ago. One of the perks of aging and its memory deficits is that when viewing an old movie or TV series we’ve seen, even when reading a book, I’d read years ago, it seems like a brand-new experience.

The series ran during the George W. Bush era. The country became enthralled with The West Wing. My wife, Jo, was an uncompromising West Wing junkie. Wednesday night became a kind of secular Sabbath during which time all normal activities were shelved to honor the latest episode. In fact, one year, when I proposed we go out for dinner on Wednesday, my birthday, she said we couldn’t; it was West Wing night.

The West Wing, first shown in 1999, was an instant success. Critiquing it, Atlantic Magazine rated it as one of the best TV series to date. It was skillfully written, and heart-fused, with characters easy to identify with, whose bantering with each other included generous portions of sparkling repartee. Watching it was fun and informative. The series’ political leaning was liberal idealism. However, the narrative played out less as party promotion than an examination of the complexities of governing during that era.

We settled in and watched two of the episodes. Inexplicably half way into the second one, I felt close to tears. It so surprised me that I dared not look at my wife lest she think I was either losing it or a sentimental old fool . . . or both.

I didn’t understand my reaction; what nerve had the revisiting of West Wing touched?

I watched an episode that involved the issue of a presidential pardon and the pressure capital punishment opponents were putting on the White House to grant a pardon to a convicted murderer on death row. It was a no win. If President Jed Bartlett did not pardon the man accused of three murders, he would earn the wrath of the victims’ survivors along with those holding the almost universal sense of justice that lives latent in all of us: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. That the state should take a life at all became a part of the agonizing that President Bartlett struggled with as he considered what his responsibility was as a human being as well as the president.

I remember thinking as Bartlett processed his thoughts with a priest – it’s clear the priest did not advocate capital punishment – how I would handle such a morally complex issue considering all the factors involved. In the end, Bartlett acted by not intervening and the execution took place as scheduled on a Monday morning. The scene was a portrait of a powerful man, a decent one with a sense of compassion and enormous responsibility having to make a horrible decision. It was eminently human and very tragic.

I was drawn into what was good drama while at the same time experiencing for myself what some committed public servants in government must struggle with. The burden of power is responsibility.

For all its liberal leanings, both sides of controversial issues of the day were debated, issues like the environment, refugees, education, race relations and gay rights, offering a balanced view of what the country was grappling with.

I realized what had moved me so: I was seeing a political world as I wished it were today. Perhaps I was mourning a world that never really existed.

In the way, The West Wing is presented, the cabinet and White House staff, although they frequently clash, like and trust each other. We see aspects of their humanity as it gets provoked by defeats or buoyed in victories. There are genuine bonds of affection among the principles who guide the country’s destiny. They take their jobs seriously and enjoy governing. They are professional. The characters are cast as genuinely interested in the people, and in serving the country. They function as a team.

If it is true that the art and entertainment of any era reflect the popular mood, this may not be good news.

I note with concern that after West Wing, two other government series were introduced on TV and have enjoyed significant popularity. One is called “Scandal,” the other, “House of Cards.” I watched most of both.

They create a very sinister portrait of the workings of politics and government, in America and in Britain. Both series savor of that forbidden allure that only evil can provide us. While I avowedly disdain such evil, I confess that I watched many episodes glued fast to the tube. It was like watching a boa constrictor swallowing a live pig; I found it as fascinating as it was repulsive. Contract killings, performed in the shadows serve the ends of Crisis Management Consultant and lover to the president, Olivia Pope, and her band of creepy associates. Those same bloody means served the very charming and unscrupulous American President, Francis Underwood (FU) or his conniving British Prime Minister counterpart, Francis Urquhart (FU) in the British and American versions of House of Cards.

The extent to which the murderous cut throat plotting dominates these series, it places them in another moral universe compared with The West Wing.

I find it no small irony that House of Cards and Scandal reflect today’s political atmosphere, a very different one prevailing at the time when The West Wing viewed, even considering the controversy surrounding the Bush presidency.

The political TV series following The West Wing make no attempt to credit government, its appointees or its elected officials with anything near having a vision or working from a set of ideals. They act from total expediency. They inhabit an amoral world where no holds are barred and the task is to win while destroying enemies.

At the time of the West Wing series, gun legislation and immigration were on the table. Today, refugees the world over are changing the face of nations. I’ve wondered if it may be immigrants that will help America reclaim its soul, the way African–Americans began restoring the soul of white America. Or will it be our young people who restore it?

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

A New Boat and a Fine Wine by Craig Fuller

Among the personal passions accompanying me from the West to Washington nearly 40 years ago were boating and wine (not necessarily together). Perhaps it’s the elongated winter (as Howard Freedlander elegantly described here recently; but, it most certainly is due to a new boat in our family that I’ve had an increased focus on the beginning of a new boating season. Recently it struck me that my focus reminds me of what happens in the wine country with the harvesting of grapes for fine wine.

As with the harvesting of grapes, one works for weeks and months preparing for a moment that turns out largely dependent upon the weather. Is it too cold, too windy, too wet are all questions asked about placing boats in the water as well as picking grapes from the vine. Then, in both cases, once a decision is made all sorts of things are set in motion.

Ranger Tug Tranquility

The added focus this year, for me, around a new boating season on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, is a new boat. And, it really is not just a new boat, it is a new chapter in my boating life. From early on in California, I sailed. First with my uncle and cousins in Newport Beach followed by sailing in San Francisco Bay during high school, and later as crew for Wednesday night racing out of Marina del Rey while I was in college. It wasn’t long after arriving in the Washington, D.C. area in 1981 that I was sailing on the Chesapeake Bay, a magnificent and magical body of water.

Late last year, as I looked ahead to a new boating season, I knew it was time for something different and the idea of a small trawler entered my head only to develop into a full-blown notion that it was time for more creature comfort on the water while moving at about the same speed. Upon landing on a bold, if not fully developed, plan to find a vessel that met a standard my neighbor described as room for six at cocktail time, four for dinner and sleeps two, I discovered the world of Ranger Tugs.

These days, there are online forums for any fascination, and so I became a full-fledged member of TugNuts, the online forum for those with an interest in Ranger Tugs and Cutwater boats. I learned just how much people enjoyed these boats whether they were aboard for a day, a week, a month or, for some, living aboard.

The quest for a vessel did not take me far. A dealer that specializes in these boats is in nearby Grasonville, Maryland. After looking at the previously owned boats and envying the brand new ones, I found the perfect answer in a briefly owned 2017 Ranger Tug.

Tranquility, as I named her, entered the water on March 30th. After a superb orientation – the Garmin system rivals any aircraft avionics package I’ve used – she and I headed out on a windy and occasionally rainy day for Trippe Creek and her new home. Yes, for me the 2018 boating season has begun. But, on that cold and wet day, I was warm, dry and comfortable at the helm. Foul weather gear was onboard but not a consideration during my four-hour cruise.

So, a new chapter has begun. In our climate on and around the Chesapeake Bay, being in a warm, dry place makes for a longer boating season than I would otherwise enjoy while sailing. Of course, sailing is where I started and I no doubt will always enjoy it; but, this new experience is one I am going to savor. It is like harvesting grapes from a new vineyard where you know what you’ve enjoyed in the past is still available, but the anticipation of what lies ahead is very exciting.

So, if you see the Ranger Tug Tranquility on the water or at a marina, stop and visit. And, for guests and for the captain in the evening, there will always be some wine onboard in the refrigerator…did I mention it comes with a refrigerator?

Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore with his wife Karen.

Is article is also a podcast. Listen to it here.

What Price Privacy? By Al Sikes

It was the beginning, 1994. I was in Dallas for a meeting of magazine editors and publishers and met with Jim Clark who was raising capital for a company called Netscape.

Clark had recruited the technology group headed by Marc Andreessen at the University of Illinois. Andreessen and colleagues had invented the first web browser, and Clark was eager to have “content companies” publish on what was then referred to as the World Wide Web.

My job as President of New Media for the Hearst Corporation aligned with what Clark was doing. I was working on digital expressions of what Hearst did so well in the traditional media world.

Hearst invested in Netscape, achieved a very high return on that investment and became a leading “traditional media” company offering digital content.

Netscape had a short-lived run before being bought by AOL. Netscape depended on users purchasing the right to use its browser. Microsoft launched its own browser and, feeling threatened by Netscape, gave it away. Free won, Microsoft blew up Netscape’s business model.

1994 foretold the future of the Internet. In one sense, the unfolding realities in 1994 paralleled George Orwell’s novel 1984. But the developments of 1994 pointed to dominance by a business oligarchy, while Orwell pointed toward an all-pervasive controlling government.

In 1994 newspapers and magazines sold ink on paper for dollars. Today, Facebook and Google sell information, entertainment and social connection for personal information that they convert to targeted advertising inventory.

If I were to write a book, looking back, the title might well be The Seduction of Free. Free search, social connectivity, customer reviews, shipping.

The founders of Google, Facebook, and Amazon, saw the future and with copious amounts of capital delivered it. Each did what it did very well. Now the seduction is over and the morning after is not without regrets.

Rather than speculate about or repeat the lessons of others, my source will be me. One slice of life we all share is health concerns. I have researched cataracts, lower back pain, knee replacement and orthotics over the last few years. Google has a more complete profile of my health concerns than my doctors.

In this Faustian bargain, Google and its peer companies deliver. To use a marketing term: we find ourselves in a sticky relationship. Businesses love sticky relationships–repeat customers are the best. How many of you are leaving your Facebook friends?

Pre-1994 I was in the regulation business (so to speak) as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. This experience compels me to be wary about regulating Google, Facebook, and Amazon. On the other hand, we should understand what is being asked of us and how the information is used. And we should not be deceived or beaten down by pages of small font legalese.

Each company has brilliant designers of customer user interfaces. Put them to work on an interface that reveals the offer to us and presents options. The number of words used should not exceed one hundred and must be in at least 14 point type.

Also, each company has brilliant chief financial officers. Put them to work on assessing the market value of their unfettered use of our information. Convert this market value into an offer that allows each prospective user to make a choice. The choice: what price privacy—information or dollars.

And finally, the Congress should in one hundred words or less tell the two antitrust agencies that they would like to see a proposal to update our unfair competition laws. Facebook, Amazon, and Google (now Alphabet) began when venture capital was flowing, raising money in public markets was relatively easy and when the steady erosion of privacy was opaque. Scale and network effects now enjoyed by the big three give them an almost unassailable dominance. Dominance inevitably leads to excess.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.