Counter-Culture Bowl and Thoughts on Alabama by Al Sikes

I thoroughly enjoyed the Counter-Culture Bowl last Saturday! Army won by a point.

My Dad and I watched the Army-Navy game together for years. As I recall, during a few of those years, it was the only game in its time slot. Dad had been in the Army. He had been conscripted and undoubtedly found some of the West Point graduates he served under overbearing but he passionately rooted for the cadets.

While the production quality of the game is much more advanced, many of its characteristics are just as Dad and I experienced. There was no hot-dogging then or now—sportsmanship was the honorable way. There was not the incessant chatter about whether some player will, as they say, “play on Sunday.” These young men will be defending their nation each Sunday.

It is hard not to notice the absence of player identity on their jerseys. They are playing for the team. And the service academy gridirons and jerseys are not converted into display spaces for sports brands.

Conference compensation (largely spent on sports facilities) and distribution monopolies, purchased by television networks, have robbed amateur sports of integrity. Schools jockey for league slots based on revenue potential. Geography used to define the Conferences. No more.

Maryland moved to the Midwest league (Big Ten) and my earlier home state team, Missouri, moved from its Midwest moorings to join the Southeastern Conference.

The distribution monopoly (availability on one network only) has resulted in advertising overload. The school tribe must watch the assigned channel and sit through advertising timeouts which interrupt the rhythm of the game.

Dana Jennings, a New York Times reporter, wrote an article headlined: “Sacked by the Media Blitz.” He spent an afternoon watching an NFL game or mainly the advertisements. He came up with a new acronym: ACS (Ad Concussion Syndrome.) He reported that there were well over one hundred ads “spliced into each game.”

Jennings’s bottom line in sport’s event advertising: “male insecurity.” He noted the ad narratives use cars, trucks, beer, erectile dysfunction products, and the like as objects that will help men overcome their insecurity. If they would like to reclaim their insecurity they might check out #MeTo.

Sports provide our cultures most frequent metaphors. We often talk about our life in baseball terms: strike out, singles, home runs, and the like. My assessment is that the fusion of sports with greed has put us behind the eight ball.

Is There a Character Vote

Is there a character vote? Yes, with thanks to Alabamans who just gave us and particularly politicians a vivid reminder.

We could use some character in governing. It is said that most problems elected officials encounter cannot be predicted, making the character dimension, as we assess candidates, especially important. It will not be clear for some time whether incumbent politicians understand the character dimension as something beyond keeping your hands to yourself.

My test of character is, in part, what those with a vote or veto do when reality crowds in on their predispositions. Two examples.

After the Sandy Hook school shooting the lines and arguments regarding gun control hardly changed. High capacity magazines, for example, were said to be protected by the constitution. When children and their teachers are slaughtered by a single shooter using a high capacity magazine, falling back on a badly outdated understanding of the Second Amendment is characterless.

More contemporarily the Party of fiscal discipline seems unconcerned with adding $1 trillion plus to the national debt over the next ten years. Its leadership argues that dynamic scoring, by the Joint Committee on Taxation, of its tax bill does not fully capture the projected growth spurt.

My space and your time do not permit detailing Arthur Laffer’s curve, but to my Republican friends I would just note that Laffer is not Moses.

Reading the papers after the victory in Alabama by Doug Jones reflect many opinions on its meaning. Idealistically, and probably naively, I hope that it might awaken the character dimension in more so-called leaders. America needs real leadership!

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. 

Out and About (Sort of): Tribal Behavior Beckons Healthier Conditions by Howard Freedlander

A few months ago, a friend recommended I read Tribe, a 136-page book written by Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, among other works. This friend, Richard Marks, suggested that Tribe might explain the need for shared sacrifice as our country and community grapple with the treatment of returning war veterans.

As its underlying premise, the book makes the case that our American society lacks cohesiveness. It opines that the accumulation of wealth and material possessions promote a sense of individualism, a selfishness that prevents us from understanding the meaning of a shared mission and genuine concern for others.

Judgements such as Junger ‘s prompt caution and a wariness of over-generalization. Tribes come in all forms, be they families, religious and fraternal groups, sports teams, paramilitary and military units, emergency medical and response teams and close-knit communities, such as the Amish. Often when a professional football player talks, he or she quickly refers to teammates and the importance of a communal spirit that drives people to seek excellence and achieve victory.

Tribal organizations call for cohesiveness, mission focus, concern and caring for others, achievement by all participants—and an overriding one-for-all attitude.
Military units that have fought and endured hardship and death are tribal in the best sense; they operative effectively only if they pull for, and protect each other while striving for the subjugation of the enemy, sometimes requiring the ruthless dismissal of weak and unproductive members.

Tribal groups exclude others, maybe rightfully so, but also perhaps detrimentally so by failing to allow people unfamiliar with the culture of, say, military combat units to understand and empathize. Criticism of those not in the tribe only perpetuates isolation.

On the other hand, families and communities must treat returning veterans (substitute cancer victims or those struck by mental or physical trauma) with respect, support, and compassion. Jobs are one type of outreach. Listening is another.

Junger’s main point is just that: returning war veterans require more than gratitude (though that’s important too), but sincere recognition of them as people who seek to reenter the civilian world and want to be regarded as human beings with strengths and talents. They are not to be pitied and perceived as victims.

Bemoaning the lack of accountability on the part of Wall Street executives whose actions contributed to the Great Recession in 2008-9 and the condemnation of

Bowe Bergdahl for deserting his military unit in Afghanistan and placing others in mortal danger as they searched for him, Junger wrote: “Bergdahl put a large number of people at risk and may have caused the deaths of up to six soldiers. But in purely objective terms, he caused his country far less harm than the financial collapse of 2008, when bankers gambled trillions of dollars of taxpayer money on blatantly fraudulent mortgages. These crimes were committed while hundreds of thousands of Americans were fighting and dying overseas. Almost 9 million people lost their jobs during the financial crisis, 5 million families lost their money, and the unemployment rate doubled to around 10 percent.”

Junger’s point is a valid one. Tribal instincts in the financial industry may have centered on greed—without any legal consequence. Bergdahl violated the tenets of military cohesion by abandoning his unit, consequently placing soldiers at risk and possibly death. Bergdahl was court-martialed, as he should have been. Walls Street executives were not. Unjust resolution in Junger’s opinion.

I’m not prepared to promote the notion that a culture of selfishness and brazen behavior permeates the financial industry. Nor did Junger go that far, at least not explicitly. An argument for a culture of compassion, morality, and fairness can be made, however.

Junger arrives at a conclusion that makes sense. “Acing in a tribal way simply means being willing to make a substantive sacrifice for your community—be that your neighborhood, your workplace, or your entire country. Obviously, you don’t need to be a Navy SEAL in order to do that.”

Junger’s Tribe promotes human decency, moral behavior, a sense of solidarity and shared sacrifice. His thesis resonates in a society he portrays as disjointed and individualistic.

We can do more for our returning veterans. We can do more for our neighbors. We can escape our self-imposed enclaves, at least temporarily, to support those in need.

Tribes are expandable.

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.

 

Letter to Editor: Beware of Unintended Consequences of Talbot County Comp Plan Amendment

I write as a concerned citizen who is in favor of extending sewer lines to Neavitt and Bozman (and other Western villages), but who is very worried about the unintended consequences for development and future subdivision, particularly because of the way Bill 1378 is drafted.

My perspective is that of a retired real estate developer with 40 years of experience in Maryland and other jurisdictions. For over 100 years, sewer lines have been installed in most every jurisdiction in America for the primary purpose of extending and encouraging development and subdivision. The conventional wisdom is right—sewer lines spur new building.

Every developer, broker, and promoter looks to properties newly served—or about to be served—by sewer to find the new opportunities to build. And they typically hire sophisticated land-use lawyers to parse every clause of every relevant regulation, build arguments based on implications and inferences, identify every constraint that was omitted even inadvertently—all to the end of finding ways to build. This includes convincing sometimes-pliable politicians to subsequently modify zoning or other regulations—since, after all, the land now is sewered and development ought not be constrained. This of course is why so many citizens are rightly concerned about Bill 1378 and Resolution 250.

Amending the Comp Plan to permit exceptions for sewer hookups in Tier IV lands will, to some extent, trigger just such a phenomenon even here in rural Talbot County (maybe especially here in Talbot County, given our desirable waterfront property). Tier IV was held out to the public as “Resource Protection Areas…identified for preservation.” The whole schema of Tier Maps is a smart growth program, and I assure you the public believes—and was led to believe– that Tier IV lands would not be sewered, notwithstanding that the words of the Comp Plan are not so explicit.

I do understand that State law presently requires that certain properties be afforded the right to hookup to passing sewer lines in certain circumstances, and therefore, that running a sewer line to Neavitt mandates a change to the Comp Plan.

First, I believe the County would be well served if it took additional time (1) to improve Bill 1378 as described in the next paragraph; (2) to determine how much sewer capacity will be committed to undeveloped building lots already platted along the sewer line, plus those that can be subdivided under existing regulation (many of which cannot be built upon today because they do not perc); and (3) to gather similar information concerning lines likely to be run to villages other than Neavitt and Bozman. Those other lines are only notional at this point and have not been carefully studied as regards impact on Tier IV properties–yet a Comp Plan Amendment enacted now will authorize connections on those Tier IV lots as well, no take-backs

As regards the language of the Comp Plan Amendment, I believe it is essential to add Recitals to Bill 1378 which stress with unmistakable emphasis that extending sewer lines to the villages is not intended to trump or subordinate the primary goals of the Comp Plan—to provide “a high quality of life and rural conservation.” It must be unambiguous that neither the Amendment nor Resolution 250 are to be interpreted in any manner to encourage or permit development or subdivision beyond that otherwise permitted as of the date of enactment.

(Councilwoman Price’s very brief amendment #3 to Resolution 250 along these same lines is spot on—except that, in its brevity it is completely lost among the drafters’ lengthy recitals of the many benefits of sewer. And the point is even more important to be made in Bill 1378 itself, and not just as part of Resolution 250.)

Dan Watson
Easton

Phubbing by George Merrill

Two of our children and four of our grandchildren joined us for Thanksgiving. The grandchildren, girls, range 17 years on down. Early in the day everyone winds up in the den. Most like to watch the Thanksgiving parade and, later in the day (why I have no idea) the dog show and so the room can get packed. The den’s not that big.

I’d been in the kitchen paring vegetables and after finishing up I walked into the den. Except for my wife and me, both our children and the four grandchildren were in the den – three girls and their Dad were on the sofa; Mom and one grandchild sat in chairs. The television was on. Ostensibly everyone was watching the parade or, in a perfect world, would have been.

Three of the grandchildren were texting. One was playing a video game on her iPhone and Mom and Dad were either texting or getting text messages. As for the television screen, it may as well have been blank. As for the audio part, it could just as soon have been the sound of the one clapping.

In the interests of full disclosure I confess I’m a Luddite and while I love my family, I find this behavior abominable. There’s no other word for it . . . well, maybe one and I learned of it only recently. It’s called phubbing and it is reaching epidemic proportions. The word is a conflation of phone and snubbing. It refers to individuals interacting with their iPhone (or other devices) rather than engaging with the human beings that they may happen to be with.

Phubbing is addictive. More and more and more people find it hard to resist. This is a serious. The phubbers have the frightening potential to transform us from homo sapiens, the typically gregarious social animals that we are, into hyped up phubbees, zoned out on the latest news blip, phone call or text message. All it takes is a tiny electronic blip or hum and we’re hooked.

Only last week The Washington Post reported studies about the many couples that are straining to maintain their love for each other while struggling with the allure of their androids and iPhones. This is not fake news, either. Researchers at Baylor University surveyed over 140 people and found that “almost half had been ‘phubbed’ by their partners, that is snubbed in favor of checking social media, news or texts on their iPhones.”

The managing editor of The Week Magazine, Theunis Bates, confesses to being caught up in the seductions of the electronic media and says he has been both a phubber and phubbee so he knows first hand the stresses involved.

Even should a phone not be in use, psychologists claim its presence alone in the middle of the table in the restaurant may cause interpersonal problems. Studies reveal that “simply leaving the phone out while dining . . . can interfere with your connection to your dining partner – perhaps because their eyes keep flicking toward the device eager for new alerts, suggesting that a piece of technology is more interesting than you are.”

Soon a kind of pavlovian response develops for compulsive iPhone users. Just by tapping a screen they are immediately rewarded with an “always updating streams of photos from family and friends, and tweets from the president.” Information varies widely and may include reports of the latest sexual abuse allegations being leveled at high-end capitalists, movie stars, clergyman and congressman. For the less discriminating phubbers there’s always a Trumpian rant or an endearing image of a friend’s new cat.

There’s mounting evidence that the rewards that this constant stream of data affords us are similar to the rush recreational drugs provide. Our electronic devices can turn us into addicts. As of 2015 there were an estimated two billion smartphone users with the number expected to rise by twelve percent in the next year.

Statistics are sobering. The average smartphone user checks in about eighty times a day either on Facebook, instagram feed or web links. I did however consult Google (I was alone when I did) to find out how many cell phone users there are worldwide. I want to emphasize here that it was my initiative to make the contact and only in the service of fact-finding. I want the record clear that I’m not addicted. I enjoy constitutional immunity.

 

St. Paul once said that we discover our strengths through weakness. I am a total electronic klutz, hopelessly inept with any electronic device. When trying to figure which icon to tap to retrieve a call or get weather, I behave like the centipede that gets flummoxed trying to decide which leg to put down first. I am not at all seduced by the lure of electronic beeps and buzzes. Actually I’ll frequently leave my iPhone at home because I find it intrusive and get irritated when I start messing with it. Being an electronic klutz has delivered me from the hand of the marketers and the snare of the phubber. The downside is that I’m often clueless as to what’s going on in the world that day. Hey, as I see it, maybe that’s not a bad thing. Most of it is demoralizing, anyway.

As with other addictive behaviors, confessional stories of personal struggles with phubbing are beginning to emerge, ironically, many on social media. Heather Wilhelm from the National Review writes to alert us as to what is happening: “Who among us hasn’t looked up at least once, smartphone in hand, slightly dazed, only to discover that precious bundles of minutes and hours have somehow slithered by, lost to all eternity, usually in exchange for no discernable enlightenment at all.”

In a more sober reflection I think that phubbing today does have an ominous side. It’s as if we in the post-modern era were like ten year olds who found a shiny nickel-plated revolver in the attic. We’re enthralled with its glittering properties, but have no idea how destructive it can be to ourselves or to those around us.

Phubbing may compromise our ability to be attentive, either to our environment or to each other. We’d literally become scatterbrained.

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.

 

Trigger Warning: Christmas Should Be Remembered by Al Sikes

Trigger Warning: This column is about Christmas, not Holidays. If you are likely to be offended by Merry Christmas, read no further.

To those Trumpians who sense I am going to embrace his pugilistic insistence on Merry Christmas, you will be likewise offended. Trump’s personal behavior is antithetical to his stated belief.

Christmas was declared a national holiday in 1870. Calendar dates become Federal Holidays to recognize iconic figures (Presidents), or sacrifice (veterans), or national independence, or a transcendent figure. A nation’s ultimate health and continuity turns on not just what is recognized as important, but also an understanding of its meaning. Too often today polls and interviews show that many have little or no understanding of why they get a day off.

Importantly, we celebrate Christmas spirit. What is its source? Capitalism? Advertising? Or the word Holiday, which for most means a day off from work. Symbols and marketing aside, failure to understand Christmas diminishes us.

It is argued by some that greeting a person with Merry Christmas risks offending non-believers Yet, only a thoughtless person is not offended daily by cultural and related commercial excess. When a nation becomes unmoored from its history, yes even myths, it’s citizens become victims of unrestraint. Freedom becomes more theoretical than real as exploiting appetites replace serving needs.

Most who do not believe in the biblical Christ nonetheless acknowledge and welcome his message of love and sacrifice for his principles. Plus, our nation enjoys the inspirations that resulted in the American Red Cross, Young Men’s Christian Association, Habitat For Humanity, The Salvation Army, and tens of thousands of organizations and churches that educate and care for humanity.

So, please forgive me if I offend you. Forgiveness is central to Christmas, and I don’t want any of us to forget why it is celebrated.

Have a Merry Christmas!

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. 

Out and About (Sort of): No Ordinary Wall, No Ordinary Support by Howard Freedlander

How does the arrival on May 31, 2018, of a three-fifths replica of the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall relate to a program to provide basic, urgent support to Mid-Shore veterans?

While the Mid Shore Recovering Veterans Group (MSRVG) provides funds for such things as dental treatment, food, disability access, clothing, rent, wheelchair repair, auto maintenance, license tags, heating oil and residential plumbing, a group of Vietnam veterans is working to welcome the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, from May 31 to June 6.

Both groups have a similar mission; to care for, and about veterans. That would seem an obvious conclusion when viewing the good deeds of MSRVG, founded in 2011 and led by Royce Ball of Easton. It has helped 122 veterans in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties. The Vietnam Wall replica, containing the names of 58,215 men and women killed during the war, also will serve the veterans of that conflict by enabling them not only to honor the memories of buddies, but to feel the appreciation of the communities that often treated returning Vietnam veterans poorly and abusively roughly 50 years ago.

Fighting in a controversial and unpopular war, soldiers came home to an unwelcoming country. They deserved better. They did not develop ill-advised policies and poorly conceived strategies. They simply served. Just as citizens from every part of our nation have done since the Revolutionary War.

The Mid Shore now can say thanks to our veterans. It will mean much.

Stories abound of Vietnam veterans being called “baby killers,” even spat upon. I’ve heard tales of veterans flying into West Coast airports and hurrying to a restroom to change from their uniforms into civilian clothes. What a shame, what a blemish on our country for its outrageous behavior toward folks who supposedly erred by doing one thing wrong—serving their country!

The MSRVG warrants due recognition. Distributions totaled $21,687.84, not including scholarships, in 2016. Donations amounted t0 $33,292.50 in 2016, marked by significant contributions from the Vietnam Veterans of America, the Queenstown American Legion Post 296, the Kent Island American Legion Post 278 and the Easton Rotary Club.

Veterans served by MSRVG represent the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Air National Guard, Army National Guard, Merchant Marine and the Army Air Corps (World War II). Military service was performed in Vietnam, Korea, the Middle East, Europe, Kosovo, Alaska, Guantanamo Bay and the Philippines.

Through Royce Ball, MSRVG has representation on the Mental Health Association of the Eastern Shore and the Homeless Roundtable, managed by the Mid Shore Behavioral Health.

When the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall comes to Easton at VFW Post 518 (355 Glebe Road), one Vietnam veteran will be particularly pleased. Kenley Timms, whom I’ve known for a number of years, came up with the idea to bring the three-fifths replica to Easton after seeing it in Timonium in Baltimore County at a commemoration of the Vietnam War sponsored by Maryland Public Television. Timms has worked hard and long over the years to increase the visibility of the Vietnam War in Talbot County and promote recognition of the service performed by county residents in Southeast Asia.

For seven days, 24 hours a day, the traveling wall will be open to the public. I suspect it will draw thousands and thousands of people who will want to find names of family members and friends and pay homage to them. I think that people will find this starkly poignant wall, with nearly 60,000 names, a powerful reminder of a war that ripped apart our nation and generated fierce protests.

And the wall will provide a place for healing. That will be its crucial purpose.

The Mid Shore Recovering Veterans Group helps those with serious needs live comfortably. Our veterans are not forgotten. The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall will help promote understanding of a divisive war and place undivided attention on soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and Coast Guard members for their service.

A community is stronger when it pulls together to help those in need, to support its veterans, to honor the sacrifice and to understand invisible, painful wounds that last a lifetime.

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.

From South of Left Field: Trajectory – Be the Message by Jimmie Galbreath

Life, governments, societies, and organizations are all moving constantly along a trajectory. People have trajectories too. Since the only constant is change, we have no choice but to follow some kind of evolving path. Like the shark, we must remain in motion to live.

Much has been made of voting to ‘send a message.’ I have a question for the reader. Given a choice would you rather cast a single vote as a message or actually be the message yourself every day?

Not marching all over the place carrying signs, not writing innumerable emails and letters, not making phone calls or canvassing. Make yourself the message around the clock by making occasional single acts which combined with many others can become an irresistible force in politics. No worries about tear gas, police violence or arrest. It doesn’t take much time out of your life and calls for only a slight effort on voting day and a little attention in between. Write only when you wish and march only if inspired.

This path has not been followed in over one hundred years. It is a new experience, and it would scare the bejesus out of Washington and all the lap dogs that populate it. It isn’t illegal, in fact, it is what the Founding Fathers envisioned so long ago.

I am tired of living on the political treadmill that has been created by the politicians to wear us out and divert us. The very fact that so many of us want to be heard and yet feel that we aren’t important is telling us something. Stop thinking about it and just listen to your gut reactions. If you share my feelings of despair, anger, and disgust and find yourselves seized by a sense of helplessness, then we are together.

Our government is made of two parties that, like the laws they vote on, have so woven the turds with the tulips that it seems nothing generally desirable ever makes it into law. The issues thrown out by these parties are an artful balance that keeps us focused on just one thing because we have been conditioned to believe that only one thing can ever be done at a time. Since when are we so mentally deficient that we can’t see a larger picture? Why would any of us choose to believe that? Are we really completely satisfied with a sound bite or a meme? Have we been trained that well? I don’t believe it!

The growing anger and activism by both ends of the imaginary line the politicians play on reflect the gut sense that we are being betrayed. Let me say again, the IMAGINARY line. Right wing and left wing. Who decided this? The desire to have a path for going up the ladder isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘left’ anything. The desire to have a way to support our children going to college or training a marketable skill isn’t a right or left thing. Improving our safety by replacing desperation with hope isn’t a right or left thing. Who else feels manipulated? Who actually trusts a politician? I stepped outside my world for a moment and realized that I didn’t trust them, yet I listened to them and voted for them. I felt foolish.

How many of you have ever picked a candidate before they appeared in front of you in a primary? Who picked them? Why were they picked?

Our political system like our stock market is rigged to favor the elite class and restrain us. We can play at them but the game is rigged to favor the upper class. Occasionally someone breaks the ceiling, but it happens less and less. Does this image ring true to you? If these words paint a picture that feels true then what do we do with it? How can it be changed?

The laws and actions that fill the news can be changed. Every tax, every law, every regulation can be changed or reserved by those who have votes in Congress. Even the way the weaving of turds and tulips is done can be prevented by new laws. Our problem as common citizens is that we don’t have an organization free of control by the upper class to listen to us. The biggest problem is that we have been taught to wait on ‘the party’ to put up a candidate. We have been taught to wait on a leader to step forward. Don’t look to any other organizations outside the Republican or Democratic parties to respond to us no matter how they actually don’t respond to us. Do you feel they respond to you?

A new trajectory requires a new organization. Both parties today are dealing with ‘progressive’ movements that garnered the support of people screaming for something new. Both groups of ‘new’ voters rose like a newly formed and young army, and both are bleeding out their energy and focus by assaulting the existing organizations head-on. I don’t believe reforming these parties will yield results. They belong to the upper class, they are supported by the upper class, and they have a long, long history of going against the common voter on behalf of the upper class. It is sad to say we can’t outvote them with dollars. Income inequality is making sure of that. We can however out vote them. It is our only real power.

We need to deny these parties the only thing we have that they cannot do without. Votes. Find another party and join it. Join it in large numbers and use your votes within the party to select the new leaders that will step forward. Organize where the elite class has not established itself, then deny them entry. Don’t be put off by the quality of the old candidates because they can be replaced by new leaders who will follow the votes or arise from the new organization.

Find a party and be the message by not belonging to the old parties. Be dedicated to the new and don’t support the old. Remain firm in the new party and vote for it wherever you can. A large shift in registration and voting will drive change. Courage and focus by us all can shake Washington to the very ground. Don’t allow yourselves to be limited by just one issue. Hold a wider vision and reject anyone who says you can’t get more than one thing at a time. Be the message. Be the change.

Jimmie Galbreath is a retired Engineer originally from a small family owned dairy farm in Jefferson County, MS. He earned a B.S in Petroleum Engineering from MS State University, accumulating 20 years Nuclear experience at Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station and Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Station. Along the way he worked as a roustabout on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, served 3 years active service as a Quartermaster Officer in the US Army, Supervised brick kilns first in MS than in Atlanta GA and whatever else it took to skin the cat. He now lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

In a Sightless World by George Merrill

  • I have an inner light. So do you. You’ll notice it mostly when everything else darkens.

I don’t recall exactly what age I was, but there was a period as a child when I was tucked into bed before I felt ready to go. I entertained myself by closing my eyes and pressing on my eyelids.

I’d place finger pressure on my closed lids. One or two cheerio-shaped images appeared and they orbited through this interior universe. They changed colors the way the Northern Lights paint illuminated colors across the blackness of night. The colors went softly to magenta. Then they streaked yellow and finally to muddy brown – the way streams look after rainfalls. Surprisingly, the cheerio-shaped images were colored the same light tan as they look in a cereal bowl at breakfast. The background colors remained soft pastel as they slowly morphed from one color to another. This visual display that entertained me long enough so that after several minutes I was ready to sleep.

I was feeling festive the other day and found myself counting my blessings. It’s seasonally appropriate. I was surprised and pleased that I came up with as many blessings as I did. I’ll mention two that are for most of us so ordinary as not to worth mentioning. I can see and I can hear. And seeing is a joy.

The mid-Atlantic fall season reminds me of the soft pastel colors of my childhood’s bedtime adventure. In Vermont, where we go to visit children, fall colors seem almost garish, deeply saturated, stunning in their own way, but different from the Shore. It’s the difference between brilliant oil paintings and softer pastels I’ve seen, each relishing color, but rendered in different moods.

I read a moving essay by the acclaimed poet and Vermont essayist, Edward Hoagland. He, at eighty, lost his sight and writes about what it’s been like for him learning to live in a sightless world. He is an author of books that he can no longer read. There’s cruelty in being deprived of the functional organs of our creativity; Beethoven, who for deafness, never heard his great symphony performed and had to be turned around to receive the applause of an adoring audience that he could not hear.

Unlike my childhood adventure in which I chose to invite my inner lights to glow, Hoagland had no choice. I could always return to see the day. Hoagland cannot.

“Blindness is enveloping,” Hoagland writes. “It’s beyond belief to step outside and see so little, just a milky haze.”

I’ve spent large portion of my life reveling in the joys of sight. I’ve been enthralled by the marvelous textures shadow and highlight creates and the panoply of colors in changing landscapes. I’ve been an avid photographer since nineteen forty-seven. I’ve been writing for over twenty years and been practicing both arts with my eyes. Hoagland’s story disturbs me. With so great a loss, how does he cope, I wonder? How would I cope? I want to know where that well is from which he draws his strength? He still engages in his life with curiosity and wonder while continuing, without self-pity, to come to terms with a sightless world.

There’s a line is his essay that might suggest what that is: “Like Plato’s cave, your brain consists of memories flickering on the wall. The phenomenologies of sight [for Hoagland] are now memories . . . you can’t size up a new visage, yet the grottoes in your head have more to plumb, if your sight was lost midlife or later. You can go caving.”

Like the ancient caves of Lascaux, the walls of our memories are inscribed with the story of our lives. Now settled in the cave’s shadows, Hoagland sees his own stories written on the walls. He can revisit them. He goes caving.

I understand this to mean that while mourning the loss of seeing new vistas, he returns to the old ones and finds in them mystery and meaning.

The events of our lives once lived and inscribed on the walls of our soul’s memory, when reviewed in the here and now, often reveal so much of what we’d overlooked. Memories like that sparkle like diamonds when held up to an inner light. Turned slowly and deliberately they reveal many more facets than we ever thought were there when we first took hold of them. They become, as jewelers say about the finest diamonds: “of the first water.”

We possess an inner light. For some it’s a spark. It’s waiting to be kindled. For others it’s more like a flickering flame that appears in their eyes, the way I’ve heard compassionate and loving people described. Hoagland, I believe, through his poems and essays, illuminated the natural world in ways that helped us to see more deeply into a world he is no more privileged to see.

As I conclude this essay the sun is near setting and the late afternoon light illuminates the oaks in soft orange colors reminiscent of Dutch painters.

I wonder what new sights Hoagland is seeing with his inner light. His inner light will illuminate with new light, the familiar scenes of his life.

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: The Dumbing Down of Smart Growth will Fail to Preserve MD Landscape by Tom Horton

If you’re not yet worried about Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s abandonment of Smart Growth, you might want to read a new study on how Dumb Growth could cost Frederick County taxpayers some half a billion bucks.

First, a brief Smart Growth primer (which was once available on the Maryland Department of Planning’s website — until the website and department became a joke under Hogan): Smart Growth is the antithesis of sprawl, which is development outside areas planned and built for growth. Sprawl gobbles open space, increases air and water pollution, and costs more in new services than it ever offsets with taxes from new residents.

Sprawl, or Dumb Growth, can work politically, though, at least for a while. You just call it Economic Growth, or just Growth, which sounds fine to many people, especially bankers and developers and pavers and homebuilders — all of whom are good at electing candidates who’ll butter their bread.

That’s the way it worked in Frederick County for several years, until a more progressive slate of county officials took over in 2015 and began toting up the cost of “progress” under the former regime.

An August 2017 report done for Jan Gardner, the county executive, examined developments in the pipeline that will create 21,000 new housing units in the county, adding 50,000 new residents, 10,000 of them school age.

The fiscal bottom line: Taxpayers will fork out $340 million for roads and another $167 million for schools beyond anything that was planned or budgeted for, the county spokesman said.

A number of these developments also lock the county into agreements for up to 25 years, so that even if zoning gets stricter or developer fees are raised, the presently approved growth remains exempt.

The Frederick experience illustrates the perils of poorly planned residential growth, as well as the fallacy of believing it generates enough new revenue in property taxes to outweigh the demands it makes on government services.

This was one of the reasons that Maryland, under Gov. Parris Glendening in the 1990s, became a pioneer in pushing Smart Growth. Martin O’Malley, who preceded Hogan as governor, added teeth to Smart Growth in 2012 with a landmark law sharply limiting new development in areas that are predominantly farm and forest.
That law did not literally usurp traditional county power over land use; rather it dramatically curtailed, across rural landscapes, the use of septic tanks, on which sprawl development depends.

The law in recent years has begun to make a difference, and a major reason was the vigilance and “jawboning” of the Department of Planning, combined with the assistance it provided to counties in complying.

That threatens to unravel under Hogan, who announced in August to the Maryland Association of Counties that “Plan Maryland,” as O’Malley’s version of Smart Growth was called, “is off the books.” He was putting land use “back into the hands of local authorities,” Hogan said to applause.

The governor has also made it easier to develop using septic tanks again and given Cecil County a pass on complying with the 2012 anti-sprawl law.

He has not overtly tried to repeal the law itself, but in addition to Cecil, at least three more of Maryland’s 23 counties — Wicomico, Allegany and Queen Anne’s — have adopted plans or are pushing developments counter to the law.

But nothing is stopping any county whose citizens want to grow smartly. Charles County in Southern Maryland is a shining example after a six-year campaign to overturn a ruinous development plan.

As of 2016, Charles finalized a plan that stopped an estimated 339 major subdivisions on septic across 88,000 acres of open space. It also stopped about 123 new subdivisions in watersheds designated high water quality.

The new plan finally protects Mattawoman Creek, one of the Chesapeake’s best fish habitats; saves an estimated $2 billion on new roads; and cuts projected population growth in the next 30 years from 75,000 to 37,000.

Several Maryland counties have excellent compliance with the anti-sprawl law, while several others remain a mixed bag. For information on your county, contact 1000 Friends of Maryland, a statewide environmental land use group.

Rating Gov. Hogan environmentally is complicated by the reality that he is a tree hugger compared with national Republicans and the Trump administration, which set the lowest of bars.

He’s been good by any measure in important areas like Program Open Space, the state’s premier land preservation effort, and in aspects of air quality, such as greenhouse gas reductions. His transportation programs, though, remain far too road-improvement oriented, as opposed to pushing mass transit and mobility.

His environmental secretary, Ben Grumbles, gets high marks from environmentalists. His natural resources secretary, Mark Belton, might be good if nastier Hogan appointees would butt out of managing Bay fisheries.

The governor got a “needs improvement” grade on his 2017 report card from the Maryland League of Conservation voters; that’s the next to lowest of five ratings the group gives.

Hogan remains popular and has a good shot at re-election in 2018. But if the housing economy picks up, I fear a return to major sprawl development. In his re-election bid, the governor will face tougher questions about Smart Growth than he’s gotten so far.

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.

Facebook: On the Edge by Al Sikes

My Facebook experience began in February of 2016 just ahead of the publication of my book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow. I was looking for promotional channels.

As I have watched Facebook’s evolving position as a major news source and for some, the only news source, what began for me as a publicity option has become an object of more interest.

Since at one point I was involved in communication’s regulation I get questions like, “should the Federal Communications Commission be regulating it?”; I always say no and note the comprehensive shield of the First Amendment. This is just one more instance of a commercial offering that will ultimately be shaped by the cultural force of its users.

Facebook now recognizes it is a magnet for bad actors. A recent Wall Street Journal article noted it is using artificial intelligence to screen for terrorist postings. Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of global policy management commented, “A beheading is easier to enforce than hate speech. Certain policies are easier to enforce than others.”

Brian Fishman, lead policy manager for counterterrorism at Facebook, commented: “One of the dangers there is that we’re dealing with a nimble set of organizations that frequently change the way that they behave……We need to keep training our machines so that they stay current.”

Facebook’s core business is in relationships. It is the star of a sub-set of businesses known as social media. So while machine learning can filter out the egregious, it will take talented people to create a relationship sensitive news service of any consequence. Politics today is not very social and is especially harmful when Russians trick the political tribes into becoming propaganda partners. The Russian elite recognized that Facebook was a news medium before Zuckerberg would acknowledge that fact.

Facebook has a market value of $531 billion and an annual cash flow over $16 billion. Financially it is positioned to be a powerful force. So where does Mark Zuckerberg direct his energies? Is he interested in what is a more complicated stage in his rapidly evolving business? He, after all, has the controlling interest in Facebook.

Zuckerberg is said to be interested in running for President. He has a far more consequential opportunity. Facebook can use artificial intelligence to discern shared concerns and interests that both cross and bridge ideological differences and use the findings to shape a news service that is truly “fair, balanced and unafraid.” But, and this is crucial; it will take probing and discerning reporters and editors, not just machines, to succeed.

New York to Des Moines

While on the subject of news let me betray my Midwestern sensibilities.

My first trip to New York City, where I eventually lived, was in 1970. It seemed like I was in the center of the news universe. I can recall the CBS building, the home of Walter Cronkite. I remember walking past the residence of Time magazine, an important source of my news at the time.
Today Time magazine, indeed all the Time Inc. magazines, will soon have a new owner, Meredith. It is headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa and its brands are a strong presence in the home and family categories.

Meredith’s headquarters building is adorned by a giant spade sculpture. Not a bad symbol. Advice to Mark Zuckerberg, good journalism requires a lot of spade work.

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.