Einstein and a Hole in the Ground by George Merrill

I am sitting on a beach in Puerto Rico. Watching the waves break, my thoughts rise and fall. They can’t seem to be still. I’ve been reading about Einstein’s beliefs concerning religion and spirituality. He doesn’t believe in a personal God. He feels awe and a profound reverence for the mystery of nature and the workings of the universe. He calls this his religious feeling.

I look up briefly from my Kindle. I see a ghost crab digging a hole in the sand nearby.

The hole is perhaps twice the size of a silver dollar. His eyes appear as black dots affixed to the end of two stalks that extend prominently from his head. He emerges half-way out of the hole and then stops.  He’s eyeing me to see what I will do. I wave my kindle to test him. He shoots down the hole in a flash and is gone. A minute or so later he reemerges. I remain still so as, in a manner of speaking, not to spook the ghost crab. He is not but three feet away from where I sit. I am suddenly at a ringside seat, enthralled, watching first-hand what a ghost crab does during the day.

Unlike the Chesapeake’s bluecrab that scampers sideways on a flat surface, the ghost crab stands up on all 10 legs or if speed is required, just two.  He can move laterally at amazing speeds. He’ll turn on a dime while capable of doing 10mph.

I watch. He emerges from the hole again, assumes this same posture – half in, half out – but this time he makes a lightening quick gesture with the claw that had remained half buried in the hole. In a flash and in one swipe, he tosses out deposits of sand with it. The excavated sand looks round and as it land, like small marbles several inches from the hole. He remains still for a moment – not a twitch – as if perhaps to see what my reaction will be. I am amazed not only by the speed with which he tosses the sand up and out, but by the distance he throws it. The sand pile is tidy. This crab is no rooky. He knows how to throw a fastball and aim it just where he wants it to go

The sun shines on him from behind. He looks delicate, almost diaphanous, and as the sunlight shines through him he appears translucent while glowing a faint yellow. He appears otherworldly, as though he was molded of gelatin. Perhaps his transparency is one reason why he is called a ghost crab. The other is that ghost crabs are typically nocturnal.  I enjoy the good fortune to catch his performance in a rare matinee appearance.

He has captured my complete attention. I sit stone still. I don’t want to miss a thing.

Every forty seconds or so, he goes through this same drill: disappear down the hole, emerge, pitch out the sand he’s accumulated, position himself half in and out and then dart again down into the hole. No doubt about it; he is digging a tunnel efficiently and skillfully, the envy of any convict who ever dreamed of a subterranean escape from his confines.

I find that watching other creatures up close is a kind of otherworldly experience for me, like entering an alternative universe. The exotic ways of other critters, in this case the ghost crab, although he addresses the same needs to live as I must, he goes at it in a way I can only describe as mysterious.

I understand he prefers his big meal at night and goes out to eat most of the time. There no candlelight here. He can see in the dark with eyes that are situated above him that see 360 degrees. He gets the big picture in a flash. It would take me longer.

I know this may sound sexist but the females, when digging their tunnels do not perform their tasks in a workman-like fashion. They’re really messy. The male, as he digs his burrow, leaves the excavated sand in a neat pile on one side of the entrance. The female on the other hand doesn’t care a whit about being tidy and flings sand out in all directions like toddlers playing in a sand box.

However, the maneuvers grow more complex.

It’s not just that the male is more disciplined in his work habits, but his actions are informed by a darker purpose.  He is in fact sending a message to two parties. To would be intruders, his tidy little sandy mound tells them to buzz off. It also informs females that they are welcome to drop in at any time.

I note that the issues of personal privacy and availability to females are of the highest priority to the male ghost crab’s life style. The same selective frame of mind dominates the subject of conversation among crabs just as it governs their work habits in tunneling.

Ghost crabs do communicate by sound but are not great on small talk. They never gather to gossip or just shoot the breeze, like geese. They’re painfully single focused, always agenda driven.

On its right claw the ghost crab has what’s called a Stridulating organ. When the ghost crab strokes this against the bottom of its leg, it emits a squeaking sound.  I’m assuming it’s like the violin, able to produce a variety of notes. The repertoire, however, is severely limited.

Even in the aural communication the male ghost crab has the same agenda that’s reflected in his digging habits; leave me alone; females, excepted.

The ghost crab may be a loner but I suspect he’s also a swinger.

I had been watching him dig and tunnel in and out for about twenty minutes. Then he changed the venue and emerged coming all the way out. He stood still just inches from the entrance. I knew he’s was checking out the landscape. I assume he felt safe to wander from home. Then I saw him take off for a short distance down the beach. To think of a crab as graceful or to describe his short excursion as if it were executed with the sylph-like motions of the ballerina, you might think I’m exaggerating. I am not.

He skittered across uneven sand for a short distance with a fluid- like movement as if none of his appendages ever touched the ground. He stopped and stood still and I could see the little black dots of his eyes, unmoving, but taking everything in. He made a kind of pirouette and took off for a short distance at a forty- five- degree angle from his first direction.  He stopped abruptly maybe ten feet from me.

I felt that by having patiently held still and respecting his space I had earned his trust. He felt safe with me. I was enjoying a communion with this creature from a world so close to and yet so far from my own. I felt part of his world as though he were sharing it with me.

Above me four pelicans fly overhead.  They cast shadows between where the ghost crab stands and where I sit. In a sprint, so fast I can barely follow him, he makes for the entrance to his tunnel, darts in and is gone.

I don’t see him reappear.

I go back reading about Einstein. I think I’m getting his point.

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: There is a Straightforward Way to Deal with Mass Shootings by Carl Widell

To prevent mass murders, the United States needs to follow the lead of all other advanced industrial nations; while preserving the rights of hunters, we need to enact common sense laws limiting the sale of combat weapons. David Montgomery’s article on February 23rd, by straying into armchair psychoanalysis, irrelevant constitutional arguments and uninformed enforcement arguments confuse the debate and offers no solutions.

“Compared to 22 other high-income nations, the United States’ gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher,” states Carey Templeton, Associated Press. Gun deaths in the US are 50 times higher than in Britain, ten times higher than Australia, five times higher than France, and six times higher than Sweden. Australia, which has a hunting culture similar to our own, once had a gun death rate similar to ours. In 1996, it enacted strict laws forbidding the sale of automatic combat weapons. Australia’s gun death rate is now ten times lower than the United States. Maryland has enacted similar common-sense gun laws which limit the purchase of combat weapons but allow hunters to enjoy their sport. We need to expand these laws to the entire nation.

David Montgomery wanders off into armchair psychoanalysis and tries to link the mental disfunction of the killer at Stonemason Douglas High School with liberal philosophy, a common tactic of the National Rifle Association. This is ridiculous. The motives of Mr. Cruz are not and will not be known for some time. They are quite different from the motives of the murderers in San Bernardino, Las Vegas, and Orlando. The truth is that our mental health professionals are not at a point where they can reliably predict who will become a mass murderer and who will not. Tying prevention of mass murders to mental health prediction will not prevent more school children from dying.

Common sense gun laws are not a Constitutional issue, as Mr. Montgomery implies. Yes, Americans have the right to bear arms, but the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld laws which limit this right. Thompson submachine guns, as used by Al Capone, were outlawed in 1934, and the law outlawing them was upheld by the Supreme Court in the United States v. Miller in 1939. Maryland’s own gun laws were challenged and upheld by the Supreme Court last November. Common sense laws limiting the purchase of combat weapons are not a Constitutional issue.

Montgomery asserts that better enforcement would lower gun deaths. He is correct on this point, yet he seems unaware that the National Rifle Association, whose views he echoes, has worked quietly to limit enforcement of existing gun laws. The NRA originally opposed national background checks, opposed adding terrorists to the National Criminal Background Check System and has consistently advocated limiting funding to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives which enforces the gun laws. Better enforcement of laws like Maryland’s gun laws would help reduce mass murder, but in Florida, the 19-year-old Cruz was legally able to purchase an AR-15 with no checks at all. In Florida, better enforcement will not stop the killing of school children.

Preventing mass murders from combat weapons is not a mystery. All other industrialized nations have lowered their murder rates by enacting common sense laws limiting the purchase of these weapons. These rifles belong in combat, not in our schools.

Carl Widell is a local businessman. His daughters, Svetlana and Katya, graduated from St. Michaels High School. As a lieutenant, Mr. Widell led Marines in combat who carried the military equivalent of the AR-15 combat rifle.

Letter to Editor: Enough?

“This is not the time to address gun violence,” we were told as the recipients of millions from the NRA tweeted their thoughts and prayers. We have experienced 18 school shootings so far this year, but having the unthinkable become the predictable might mean we have nowhere to move but in a positive direction.

President Trump has revoked 14 executive orders issued during the Obama administration. It may be years before we know whether or not he succeeds in killing the Clean Power Plan, but he has signed a bill blocking background checks for mental illness from being required for gun purchases.

97 percent of us want background checks, and Parkland’s high school students are insisting we “do something.” They’re not just waiting around, either. They’re walking out of schools, meeting with state legislators, and going to Washington. Survivor David Hogg explained, “If we don’t take action, because our politicians won’t, more are going to die.”

Donald Trump Jr., the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank Aleksandr Torshin, and candidate Trump had attended the 2016 annual meeting of the NRA. They reportedly shared “gun-related small talk” as Trump’s candidacy was endorsed. The NRA would contribute over $30 million to the Trump campaign.

Federal Election Commission regulations prohibit foreign nationals from ”directing, dictating, controlling, or indirectly participating in the decision-making process” of our elections. The possible funneling of Russian funds to the Trump campaign through the NRA is worth investigation. Millions have been spent by Russians on hacking our election sites and social media, and Everytown USA has called upon the NRA to “come clean” about its relationship with Russia.

President Trump tweeted, “Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.” His tweets angered survivors. He may have forgotten that his 2019 budget cut funding to states for reporting to the federal database.

The meetings with students and families were timely, but elicited observations that the high school students sounded like adults, while our president, with a crib sheet, sounded like a high school student – and one that has delivered misstatements at an alarming rate. With a bit of research we know he has not “signed more bills in his first 6 months than any other president,” doesn’t have the “biggest defense budget ever,” and has not given us “the biggest tax cut in U.S. history.”

The numbers are very clear when it comes to school shootings; and while the record number of guns sold in 2016 may have led some of us to believe we’re safer, the frequency of school shootings has increased from an average of 1 per week since 2012 according to Everytown research to 18 so far this year, or 3 per week.

Support for stricter gun laws has hit a 10-year high, and a recent survey has found that only 29 percent of Americans think our president is doing enough to prevent mass shootings. School walk-outs and demonstrations across our nation may have convinced him that doing nothing has become politically untenable.

He has called upon his Department of Justice for proposals to ban bump stocks and improve background checks, but this may be a relatively weak solution. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms sent a letter to Congress in 2013 stating, “Stocks of this kind are not subject to the provisions of federal firearms studies.”

Legislation would be more effective, but the House recently rejected yet another proposal to ban semiautomatic weapons, and prioritized declaring pornography a health risk.

“We should have a national school sit-out, where nobody goes back to school until laws are passed,” David Hogg has suggested.

Donald Trump Jr. “liked” the tweets attacking him and suggesting he was a fabrication of “the mainstream media.”

Another student offered, “That is what we do with things that fail. We change them.” The U.S. has the highest rate of gun ownership in world, and our homicide rate is more than three times higher than in any other developed nation.

President Obama required the checks for mental illness that were revoked by President Trump, and President Obama was recently ranked among our top ten presidents.

That could matter to President Trump, who was ranked at the bottom of the list by the politically diverse group of 170 presidential scholars. He has suggested that the FBI “get back to the basics and make us all proud.” Things might work for everyone if our elected representatives were to take this advice.

Carol Voyles
Talbot County

Firearms and Evil by David Montgomery

School shootings are a moral problem, that cannot be solved by campaigning against firearms. These atrocities must be recognized for what they are – instances of evil that are becoming more common in our secular, individualistic society.

Instead of facing the problem of evil, elected officials and political activists are exploiting mass shootings to push for phony solutions that fit their social agendas. This should infuriate everyone sincerely concerned about the past, present and future victims – and perpetrators.

For example, a bill was introduced in the Maryland Senate (Senate Bill 1062) to criminalize the possession of magazines that allow a firearm to fire more than 10 rounds without reloading. It is already illegal to buy or sell such magazines in Maryland, even though they are readily available in other states and were legal before Governor O’Malley pushed that legislation through. As a result many recreational shooters and hunters already own magazines that hold more than 10 cartridges. They are compatible with a number of rifles and pistols that are legal to purchase in Maryland, and some that are legal to own but may no longer be sold here.

The proposed legislation would make current owners of such magazines subject to as much as 3 years in prison. That is a more disruptive form of gun control than ever before attempted in Maryland, and it would do nothing to prevent mass shootings.

Nibbling away at the Second Amendment is a cause that many progressives support, and setting a precedent for confiscation of parts of firearms from their current owners is high on their list of milestones. The Florida shooting appears to have given those activists an incentive to give it a try.

But criminalizing possession of high-capacity magazines in Maryland cannot possible reduce the likelihood or magnitude of mass shootings – let alone the other ways that evil men find to inflict harm on others. If a young man in Easton or Frederick or Bowie wanted to open fire on a school, it would take him less than two hours to drive to a state where purchase of higher-capacity magazines is perfectly legal. Intending to commit a crime of far greater proportions, he would hardly be deterred by the illegality of possessing it on his way to mass murder.

As many have already pointed out, existing law was quite sufficient to prohibit the Florida shooter from purchasing any firearm, if law enforcement had followed existing rules. That was also the case in many past shootings. But better enforcement and further tightening of restrictions on legal firearms purchases will have little effect as long as an even shorter drive puts a would-be shooter in a neighborhood full of illegal firearms for sale. As terrorist attacks in Europe demonstrate, cars and knives are also effective instruments for killing when firearms not available.

The introduction of bills like Senate Bill 1062 is an outrage not because of their potential effects on law-abiding gun owners, but because it will produce only wasted effort devoted to the wrong questions, no matter how it turns out.

That is because the evil that leads to school shootings is in the individual, and we can see how it arises. All the school shootings were perpetrated by loners, social outcasts, from broken homes, who were subverted by some evil ideology or philosophy. One writer points out that “Shooters have problems at school, family issues, violent behavior, and police encounters. They take medications, lack communication skills and show strange, unpredictable behavior. They indulge in violent video games and send disturbing messages through social media.”

These shooters did not become entranced with killing because they stumbled across a firearm; they searched out a firearm to carry out an evil intention fully formed without any reference to how it would be accomplished.

None of the mass murderers grew up going to church every Sunday with their parents. None had supportive families that showed their love, taught the difference between right and wrong, and brought their children up to believe in a higher power. None attended schools that included moral and spiritual development in their teaching, nor has there been a mass shooting at that type of school.

Those clamoring for action to prevent future mass shootings seem unable to recognize this. When they take a break from blaming firearms, the liberal media repeat that “the red flags were all there” to identify the Florida shooter, and then call for law enforcement to take preventative measures, advocate more social programs for disturbed youth, and demand tighter surveillance of social media. Unfortunately, all of those suggestions amount to looking for a very small needle in a very large haystack of disturbed youth who would be turned up by such profiling.

In all this, the fingerprint of liberal society becomes clear. The shooters are but one or two in a far larger number who fit the profile of an isolated and disturbed youth, yet most remain relatively harmless. All of them are nonetheless damaged by growing up without bonds of love or trust in anything good that is greater than themselves. Thus they become prey to the external evil of neo-Nazi and similar creeds and the internal evil of wishing for their own death accompanied by the deaths of others for whom they can feel no empathy.

Many of us see this as a logical consequence of liberal society. All around, liberalism is driving faith out of the public square and inculcating in its place a belief that nothing matters but an individual’s desires and feelings. Society is then not a community in which stable and permanent relationships (earthly and heavenly) give meaning to life but a place where isolated individuals pursue their own satisfaction.

For those children lacking a permanent community and belief in a power greater than themselves, the social group in school or neighborhood may seem a solution. But that simply makes the pain and isolation of being excluded from such an apparent source of meaning more intense. And exclusion does occur, because none of the members of the group see it as a community, but rather a playground for their own desires.

No wonder some succumb to a sense of loneliness so great that they only desire to kill and die. Firearms do not create that feeling, nor would some minor annoyances in obtaining firearms be sufficient to deter the very few who do become killers.

There are communities within this liberal realm of radical individualism that do provide the kind of upbringing and hope that give a child a reason to do good and avoid evil. They are almost all centered around churches, and despite all the attempts of liberalism to marginalize faith-based communities, they are saving their children from the evils of nihilism and despair. That is why it is worth continuing the battle to restore a core of faith to American democracy. And it is the only proven way to save as many as possible from the fate of the victims and the shooter in Florida.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

Breaking Takes by Al Sikes

Collusion with the Russians

Social and not infrequently anti-social media have created a cyclonic wind of opinion. It is almost amusing when otherwise clear-eyed people add their names to Russian-created content as they post, forward and retweet. There was a great deal of collusion with the Russians, but it was mainly unwitting.

Speaking of unwitting. Calls for government regulation of social media now populate an assortment of media. First, and of fundamental importance, our constitution guarantees free speech, not just accurate speech. Our only recourse is discernment provoked by skepticism.

Trump and Russia

One of our President’s overarching problems is frequent repetition of an ill-informed view regardless of those pesky things called facts. There is a lot of fake stuff around, a fair amount of which is embedded in the President’s twitter feed.

The origin of the expression “cry wolf” comes from one of Aesop’s Fables, The Boy Who Cried Wolf. We all remember the young shepherd amusing himself by calling for help, saying a wolf is threatening his flock when nothing is really happening. Mr. President, you should understand the ultimate risk of devaluing your statements.

Stooge Warning

The only thing worse than blather from politicians on mass shootings is the fact that the media keeps giving them a platform. Surely there are people around with more insight than NRA stooges or those who think gun control alone will solve this societal sickness. Perhaps the press might turn to those that helped start Facebook, Amazon, and Google. Ask them about data capture and analysis plus how to build a relevant database and what information we lack that is needed that might lead to timely actions.

Then you might turn to attorneys who are informed about protective custody laws. Ask them what the public can do when the evidence points to a threatening person who has not yet committed a crime.

Leadership

The one encouraging sign in the aftermath of the Florida shooting has been taken by the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The students are organizing a March 24 march for Washington, D.C. and other cities to call for stricter gun control legislation.

I am certain they will make good use of social media. I also hope they will call for more than gun control. While gun laws need to be changed, a much more comprehensive approach can result in a dramatic reduction of these tragedies.

And since older people get tongue-tied talking about video games that glamorize violence and desensitize killing, perhaps the students can speak persuasively to those who create the games.

Commodity Presidents

We have just finished celebrating another Presidents Day. Let’s see, were we celebrating Lincoln or Buchanan or Washington or maybe Harrison. In our quest for a long weekend, we have commoditized presidents with few if any references to the extraordinary and principled leadership of George Washington (February 22, 1732) and Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809) who we used to recognize on the days of their birth.

Wonder what else we can we do to neuter history?

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. 

An Open Letter to Superintendent Griffith by Patrick Firth

Dear Dr. Griffith,

My name is Patrick Firth and I am a proud product of TCPS’ Class of 2013. Though I did not attend TCPS for elementary school, I don’t believe I could have received a better middle and high school education from anywhere else in Talbot County other than Easton Middle School and Easton High School. I am proud to call myself a Warrior but today, I am hurting and I am scared. I worry that one day I will wake up to learn a Talbot County school has fallen victim to gun violence much like Columbine, Sandy Hook, and, most recently, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, have. I truly hope that TCPS never joins the history books as yet another location of a horrific school shooting. Dr. Griffith, with the incredible amount of love and dedication that you put into making our school system the best in Maryland, I am confident that, especially in a county with a history and culture of gun ownership, this is a nightmare scenario that has also crossed your mind in recent times.

I am a gun owner myself. Personally, I think my family owns enough guns to field that militia our founding fathers were talking about in the Second Amendment! That said, it’s time to recognize the fact that enough is enough. There is no need for a person, and if we cannot agree to that term, at least a child, to have access to high-powered weapons, such as the AR-15. President Reagan once said in a cabinet meeting, “if not us, who? If not now, when?” I think that quote is more relevant today than it ever has been before. This should not be a politically divisive subject. Though my TCPS education drilled math into me, surely we don’t measure the value of our second amendment rights in units of dead schoolchildren? Neither I, nor any other political leader of either party is an advocate for fully banning all guns – the second amendment clearly endows that right to Americans. But the second amendment also clearly includes the phrase, “well-regulated.” How can this be so controversial?

Dr. Griffith, we need to do something. We need to do something now and we cannot just angrily post to Facebook about it until we forget. An ongoing Washington Post analysis has found that more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. That figure, which comes from a review of online archives, state and federal enrollment figures and news stories, is a conservative calculation and does not include dozens of suicides, accidents and after-school assaults that have also exposed youths to gunfire. In fact, I’m certain that number has gone up due to the fact that as I write this letter, schools in Stark County, Ohio are under lockdown as a 7th grader has just shot himself inside Jackson Memorial Middle School. Easton High School had a bomb scare just about a month ago and, though it may simply be a tangential event, it is a stark reminder that just because we are a small town, we are not immune to this nation-wide epidemic of gun violence.

I am writing to you, Dr. Griffith, because you are our county’s educational leader. Your voice, your knowledge, and your compassion for Talbot County’s future generations turns peoples’ heads and shapes children’s minds. I’m asking you and to support and encourage, should individual students and faculty desire, the 17-minute student and teacher walkout that is planned for March 14, 2018. In addition, on April 20, 2018, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting, there will be a day-long walkout that students and faculty should be encouraged, and excused from class, to participate in to protest congressional inaction – inaction that is literally killing our children. Most importantly, however, given Talbot County’s proximity to our nation’s capital, I strongly encourage you to publicize, excuse, and perhaps even facilitate, students’ and faculty’s voluntary participation in the March 24, 2018 planned protest in Washington, D.C. alongside survivors of the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. I realize allowing students to skip three days of class may seem difficult from a logistical standpoint. However, not only could this action potentially save lives, consider what an incredible civics lesson it would be. Some of my greatest memories at Easton High School come from my membership in Junior State of America. One of the core lessons my experiences through that club taught me was that while the Constitution begins with, “We the People,” that only matters when we uphold our duty to, “Be the People.” It is my hope that, under your leadership, TCPS will continue teaching their students to ‘be the people’ and encourage students to use their voice and stand up for their rights.

Finally, to any student who may potentially be reading this, regardless of what action Talbot County Public Schools decides to take on this issue, I plead with you not to accept the explanations from people in power that a student’s upbringing or mental capacity is the core reason for mass shootings in our schools. Do not let individuals with a special interest in the sales of high-powered weaponry, like certain members of Congress, for example, convince you this is a cultural problem with our misguided or morally corrupt generation. Heavily-researched, evidence-based findings from the American Psychiatric Association state that mass shootings by people with a serious mental illness represent less than 1% of all yearly gun-related homicides. Additionally, only 3% of all violent crimes are committed by people with a serious mental illness and when those crimes are examined in detail, an even smaller percentage of them are found to have even involved firearms. From 2007 to 2013, less than 1% of all firearm purchase denials due to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System were based off mental health record submissions. The FBI’s study of active shooters during this time period, on the other hand, demonstrated an increasing trend of mass shootings. While mental illness is a legitimate public health issue, it is both illogical and dangerous to label it as the reason for gun violence in America and pursue that rationale legislatively. As the same report from the American Psychiatric Association notes, a law aimed at a population responsible for 3% of the issue will result in an extremely low yield and be ineffective.

Assigning blame to people who suffer from mental illnesses, whom by the way, as it isn’t discussed enough, are often high-functioning, active, and productive members of society, will only perpetuate myths of a correlation between gun violence and mental illness, further stigmatize an already taboo societal issue, and push individuals who would otherwise feel confident finally seeking help back into the shadows. As intelligent, hardworking, and passionate TCPS students and graduates, our incredible educators taught us to respect and accept fact-based research when presented with it and disregard meritless, unsubstantiated anecdotal evidence or heresay. Just as we no longer accept that the Sun orbits the Earth, we can no longer accept that mental illness or a student’s upbringing is the core reason for gun violence – it is clearly the access to high-powered guns.

Dr. Griffith, thank you for the opportunity to raise this important issue with you. I believe you are and always have been a fantastic educator, principal, superintendent, and community leader. You have consistently stood up and advocated for what is best for your students and I hope that you will do the same here. Please use your position of power and influence within the Talbot County Public School system to encourage and help facilitate student and faculty participation in the upcoming, nation-wide demonstrations of our first amendment rights. Fellow TCPS students, I likewise encourage you to stand up, walk out, and be heard. Consider this crucial moment in your lives as a civics test in school. Make your educators, friends, and family proud by doing due academic diligence through researching and learning about this issue and then taking the test: “if not us, then who and if not now, then when?” It may only be a two-question test, but your answers could save lives.

Patrick Firth graduated from Easton High School and now a legislative assistant at Michael Best Strategies in Washington, D.C. 

Out and About (Sort of): Retirement—Too Soon? By Howard Freedlander

I read with interest recently The Star Democrat article about Judge William Hugh Adkins III’s retirement, particularly his thoughts about having to retire as a Talbot County District Court judge at age 70. I would opine that, if possible, he would have ruled against the state-mandated decision.

He also said he would miss the clerk’s staff. He said in the interview that ‘that (working with his staff) is probably the one thing I miss the most.’ He retired on Nov. 9, 2017. His 70th birthday was the next day.

Two weeks ago, a county friend asked me about my nearly seven-year retirement, prompting my normal response that I am engrossed by my non-profit board participation and university alumni activities. That’s my hobby, along with writing this earthshaking column. I told him I do not fish or hunt or garden or boat or play golf or paint landscapes or cook or build furniture or do crossword puzzles.

This friend said he had read that there is a direct nexus between longevity and social connectivity: you live longer if you have constant human contact. Human relations provide lifeblood; without constant contact, you can die too early.

Depression brought on by loneliness is a killer. Studies have confirmed this assertion.

Familiar with studies about living longer through multiple human relationships, I suggested to my friend that being alone gardening, for example, might provide life-extending happiness to an introvert. He seemed surprised since he and others know that I am a card-carrying extrovert.

Introverts have a crying need to be alone while understanding that some human contact is nourishing and necessary. It would seem logical to me that solitary activities offer life-giving sustenance to people with hobbies that involve no more than one person.

Now, I realize that all of us are amalgams of outgoing and introverted personalities. We fill our needs differently and, I hope, happily.

When I retired, I dreaded the idea of being alone for hours on end. Like Judge Adkins, I missed the human interaction implicit in my job. I worried about the onset of depression. I worried about being useful. I worried about being a burden to my working wife, daughters and former associates. Though I love to read, I can’t do it for hours on end. Some people can.

Now, my days are filled with activity and conversation, sometimes too much so. Depression is a distant concern.

Back to Judge Hugh Adkins. The judicial age limit of 70 is arbitrary, based on a different theory before modern medicine and sensible life choices changed the once debilitating aging process. I recall some years ago speaking with a just-retired airline pilot for a major airline, who complained bitterly about having to stop doing what he loved doing and presumably did well. At the time, the retirement age for commercial pilots was 60; it now is 65.

Adkins’ argument, as stated in the newspaper article, is even stronger and more logical when you realize that retired district and circuit court judges continue to have busy schedules; if they wish; they serve in other county courts experiencing case overloads. They are not comparable to substitute teachers (no offense intended); they are still expected to render justice in a competent and unimpeachable manner—while 70 and older.

And they are entirely capable of doing so.

An age limit of 70 for Maryland’s judges seems foolhardy to me. It ignores the mental acuity and deep experience of our judges. It should be raised.

A good friend serves on the federal District Court. He is 70, with no compulsion to retire.

When I worked especially hard (though it was mostly fun) in 2016-2017 as class president and reunion co-chair of my 50th college reunion, I was surprised by how many fundraising calls I made to classmates at their offices. They seemed only remotely interested in my life as a retiree. They were fully engaged in their legal, corporate and real estate development careers. Our conversations were short and sweet They were busy earing a paycheck.

So, what have I learned since I retired nearly seven years ago?

Your skills and brain are still sharp at 65 or 70 or 65. Names may be harder to remember. At times, thoughts may be more challenging to complete. Thanks to modern medicine and healthy lifestyle, one’s numerical age matters less than it did in days of yore.

Your need, however, for human contact has no age limit, maybe less so for introverts. Loneliness can lead to depression, as often stated by experts.

I love retirement. I love my non-profit and university alumni engagement. I love glorifying my age, not bemoaning it.

And it’s fun to travel outside the constraints of a prescribed vacation—and also spend time with grandchildren who like designated babysitters and constant encouragers.

As for human contact, I’ve got plenty. I even enjoy some quiet time. But not too much.

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.

Op-Ed: A Disease of the Soul by George Merrill

“I’ll give you the gun when you pry it from my cold dead hands.” This statement has appeared variously over the years. It’s been canonized (no pun intended) in America recently when then president of the NRA, Charlton Heston concluded a fiery speech with this same phrase while he triumphantly raised an old flintlock in his hand high in the air.

The message is clear, but the deeper meaning of it is more hidden and insidious. I have not read or seen any media coverage of conversations about where the passion originates for owning firearms, especially the kind designed exclusively to kill other human beings. They are not for target practice, skeet shooting or for hunting deer or rabbits. The assault weapons are for war and conquest, not for a for a day’s shoot at the gun club. Their primary purpose is to kill an enemy efficiently and quickly.

If you’re not in combat where the passion for having the gun makes sense, in a civilized society this passion seems odd, out of place, as if it’s addressing an unacknowledged need that has been kept hidden and only expressed obliquely.

Is there some driving force about this disturbing trend in gun violence – so far perpetrated exclusively by men or boys – that has not reached the light of day? I suspect there’s a strong possibility that some of the same priapic obsessions that have recently come to light as the sexual abuse epidemic has exposed wealthy and powerful men, also relates to the sense of power and dominance that owning and shooting guns may produce in some gun enthusiasts. Men are three times as likely to possess guns than women, and from all appearances, the ones mostly inclined to use them in mass shootings.

As vigorously as the NRA tries to recruit gun ownership among women, guns remain a guy thing.

Human sexuality has always been a delicate matter to examine openly. Historically women have been more candid than men have and Freud’s revelations, while informing us, rocked society for generations. If human sexuality was a tidy matter, it would not be coming up today in ways that expose how little we have known about it and how our sexuality insinuates itself into all aspects of our lives, not infrequently through violence. In common banter, a man accused of shooting blanks is an insult to his virility. All of the variations in the themes of our sexuality are slowly being recognized and discussed but not all are comfortable in recognizing our discoveries or even talking about them.

What has characterized all the mass shootings is the powerful exercising their power over the powerless. The shooters are all male and each seems seem driven by dark forces of the soul of which they remain unaware. Essentially, having the weapon empowers the shooter. The victims have little if any means of protection. They’re sitting ducks. I suspect such power can be the ultimate aphrodisiac. Although not lethal, the sexual predator demonstrates a similar power by exercising his will over those who, who for a variety of social or professional reasons, cannot resist or fight back.

The mass killer and the sexual predator have this much in common: in addition to being male, a dread of psychological and social impotence and very likely other kinds as well.

I think we are talking here about a disease of the soul that is becoming a national epidemic.

Montaigne, the wise observer of our human condition wrote this four hundred years ago.

“ . . . the diseases of the soul, the greater they are keep themselves more obscure: the most sick are the least sensible of them . . . they must often be dragged into light by an unrelenting and pitiless hand. . . from the caverns and secret recesses of the heart.”

In order to treat diseases, they first have to be identified and then the public alerted and remedial action taken. Our congress may be our best hope right now. Congress has a majority of men with extraordinary social and economic capital who can exercise significant power on behalf of the powerless . . . like our children.

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.

The Danger of Distraction by Craig Fuller

During a drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge earlier this week, I listened to a good portion of the hearing held by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence with the leaders of our Intelligence Community. Held to focus on the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment of the United States Intelligence Community, it provided one of the few public looks into what are seen as major threats facing our nation. The director of National Intelligence provided an initial statement and the 28-page document is available here [ http://bit.ly/SenIntellCoatsStatement ]. His opening points are below.

After listening to the broadcast, my thoughts turned to the dilemma we face. In a world with real and serious issues, we have a White House in turmoil focused on the latest inside intrigue that, while important in many ways, distracts the leadership of our nation from the important work requiring their full attention.

When it comes to security threats, those who lead the dastardly efforts outlined below DO NOT: tweet; get driven by the news story of the day; turn over their top staff; tolerate people who can’t get security clearances…just to name a few differences.

The truth is that we have a very resilient system of government and things do get done. But, leadership really does count and it is required hourly, daily, every 24 hours. Someone needs to be driving the system and we have very distracted driver!

You can bet our nation’s Intelligence Community is looking for leadership on how to cope with the very daunting list below, as outlined by DNI Coats.

From Dan Coats opening statement:

Competition among countries will increase in the coming year as major powers and regional aggressors exploit complex global trends while adjusting to new priorities in US foreign policy. The risk of interstate conflict, including among great powers, is higher than at any time since the end of the Cold War. The most immediate threats of regional interstate conflict in the next year come from North Korea and from Saudi- Iranian use of proxies in their rivalry. At the same time, the threat of state and nonstate use of weapons of mass destruction will continue to grow.

 

  • Adversaries and malign actors will use all instruments of national power—including information and cyber means—to shape societies and markets, international rules and institutions, and international hot spots to their advantage.
  • China and Russia will seek spheres of influence and to check US appeal and influence in their regions. Meanwhile, US allies’ and partners’ uncertainty about the willingness and capability of the United States to maintain its international commitments may drive them to consider reorienting their policies, particularly regarding trade, away from Washington.
  • Forces for geopolitical order and stability will continue to fray, as will the rules-based international order. New alignments and informal networks—outside traditional power blocs and national governments—will increasingly strain international cooperation.

 

Tension within many countries will rise, and the threat from Sunni violent extremist groups will evolve as they recoup after battlefield losses in the Middle East.

 

  • Slow economic growth and technology-induced disruptions in job markets are fueling populism within advanced industrial countries and the very nationalism that contributes to tension among countries.
  • Developing countries in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa face economic challenges, and many states struggle with reforms to tamp down corruption. Terrorists and criminal groups will continue to exploit weak state capacity in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
  •  Challenges from urbanization and migration will persist, while the effects of air pollution, inadequate water, and climate change on human health and livelihood will become more noticeable. Domestic policy responses to such issues will become more difficult—especially for democracies—as publics become less trusting of authoritative information sources.

 

We can only hope this and the full testimony going into further detail can bring greater focus to the important mission of meeting the national security challenges facing the nation.

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 Playroom by George Merrill

My mind is slowing down. It’s retaining data more selectively. The missions I assign to my mind take longer to complete than before. The whereabouts of a misplaced pen, the glasses I just put down, determining why I went from the den to the living room; although irritating, fortunately these quirks are not crippling. Negotiating life’s basic tasks just takes a little longer, that’s all. And then, of course, living life is all about our use of time, anyway.

As my thought processes slow down, I’ve grown more interested in just how my mind performs for me, in the way we pay greater heed to our dwindling resources than we did before when they were plentiful.

As I was searching my mind for ideas the other day, I drew blanks. This happens regularly. The process always leads me to wonder about the creative process itself and how it works. I think people associate creativity with the arts or sciences but I believe the phenomenon is universal – a part of our humanity – and it appears in varying degrees in all of us. The laborer is creative, as is the salesmen, the politician, the artist, the clergyman and of course, writers. Then there’s the stay-at-home mom whose capacity for creativity is tested every minute. With a house full of kids, all of whom require strategic interventions of one kind or another, mom’s creativity is stretched to the max. Children, however, have the greatest capacity for creativity. They are the least likely of any of us to place constraints on their imagination. Kids love to just let it rip.

Of all our spiritual attributes, creativity is the most arbitrary. It doesn’t do well when forced.

My potentially creative imagination invariably bombs if I go at it full bore and try to squeeze it for some immediate project. In my experience creativity is activated the way seeds grow. First you plant them, let them be for a while, until you see something emerge. The fruits of creativity arise from imagination and surface only at their own pace.

Take creativity as it’s demonstrated in the biblical book of Genesis; the creation narrative proceeds ex-nihilo; it comes from out of nowhere, from nothing. God seems matter of fact about his momentous achievements of creating a universe but most of us would greet such special creative moments with ecstatic expressions like, ‘Eureka,’ or ‘Hot damn.’

In 1950, the legendary science-fiction writer and author of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, wrote “The Veldt.” In it he describes a playroom “with television monitors lining each wall and the ceiling. Walking into such an environment, a child could shout: River Nile! Sphinx! Pyramids! And they would appear, surrounding him, in full color, full sound and why not? Glorious warm scents and smells and odors . . . All this came to me in a few seconds.”

Whimsical? Kid’s stuff? Absolutely. He’d had that vision in his mind’s eye since he was a small child. As an adult, it all came back to him in a flash, “in a few seconds.”

Augmented reality has long sounded like a wild futuristic concept. I read recently in the New York Times that Augmented Reality is here to stay and The Times is offering it on line. AR is all about superimposing computer-generated images on top of our view of reality, thus creating a composite view that augments the real world. In effect, excepting for smells, this describes Bradbury’s playroom to a T. And I bet smells will soon be on the way.

This is one among many instances of our mind’s capacity for the kind of imagining that reaches well beyond exigencies of time and place to see into a reality that has not reached its moment in history. In Bradbury’s case I would say his Playroom vision was a byproduct of wonder. Our minds have an insatiable appetite for awe and wonder. They feed on it.

There are people whose imaginations have the capacity for a special kind of creativity. They are able cut through the illusions which imprison us and see clearly into the future. They, too have visions of wonder, but their kind is more about hope. There are three biblical prophets I immediately think of who shared a similar vision pertaining to the future of the Jewish people. I read it also as a vision of our destiny as a human family. The prophetic proclamations are introduced with the phrase: “In the last days” meaning these proclamations are to come about at a future time. It is a vision of the way the human family will ultimately live together, but only after time.

Especially today, in the climate of war mongering and national arrogance, this prophetic chapter from Isaiah I find simply stunning.

“And many people shall go and say, come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

Similar visions appear written in the prophetic books of Joel and Micah, as if the idea captured the minds of the ancient world which was as contentious and war-torn as ours is today.

The bronze sculpture “Let Us Beat Our Swords into Ploughshares,” created by Soviet artist Evgeny Vuchetich, was presented to the United Nations on December 4th 1959 by the Government of the USSR. The sculpture, depicting the figure of a man holding a hammer aloft in one hand and a sword in the other. It’s an inspiring work of art.

This remarkable vision of hope still lives in our human consciousness after first appearing around 800BC. That’s a long time ago.

Do you suppose as Bradbury once imagined his ‘Playroom’ as a young boy, and saw it realized as an adult, and that Isiah’s vision, conceived early in the life of the human family will be realized “in the last days? “The vision is now indelibly planted in human consciousness. Generation after generation the vision keeps reappearing. It may not be realized yet, but neither after all this time has it gone away.

I believe it will have its day when the right time is here.

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.