Out and About (Sort of): Storms Offer Wake-Up Call by Howard Freedlander

It was nearly impossible during the past few weeks to avoid paying rapt attention to the destruction and disruption of lives caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Many of us knew people in the paths of these two shattering and stunning storms.

I know people whose primary home is in Houston. Fortunately, they were here in Talbot County, in constant touch with loved ones. They patiently responded to expressions of concern from their Eastern Shore friends.

No sooner did Harvey ceased its fury that Irma followed in its path, visiting its devastation upon the Caribbean and Florida. Again, we had friends and family dealing with flooding and power lost to high winds and broken trees.

It would have been too easy, if not foolish, to disregard the possibility of storm surge on our low-lying piece of Planet Earth. It would be equally silly to ignore the impact of global warming in enhancing the intensity of Harvey and Irma. Media reports rightly focused on the dire plight of residents of Houston and other Texan towns and cities, as well as Key West, Miami and other cities in Florida. I suspect that scientists will contribute their analyses at some point.

All of us should pay attention to the human dimension of the recent storms, specifically on the correlation between global warming as caused or aggravated by all of us on earth and the frequency and powerfulness of storms in recent years.

I will refrain from my typical exhortations about global warming and climate change. Instead, I will spend a few paragraphs addressing preemptive steps, long-discussed, to minimize the impact of storms. My source is Brian Ambrette, coastal resilience manager at the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC). For full disclosure, I sit on the ESLC board of directors.

In his frequent electronic newsletter, Ambrette wrote the following, with which I totally agree:

“Why do we wait for tragedy to occur before planning for it? The answer is probably as psychological as it is political and best left to the pundits to debate. To break the disaster-then-prepare cycle, sea level rise is the next clear scenario to consider. A prudent course is to model hurricane flooding with educated assumptions about how much higher the sea will be in future years. Those results can inform zoning and building codes so that the housing stock built today is prepared for the storms of tomorrow. On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the country’s third most vulnerable region to sea level rise, communities are collaborating via the Eastern Shore Climate Adaptation partnership on proactive responsible planning to reduce the cost in lives and dollars of future storms. Likewise, federal leadership must prioritize and fund planning for the next storm, not the last one.”

As I’ve learned about Brian Ambrette and his patient work to encourage communities to adapt before a calamity, he offers a common sense approach to the devastating and destructive impact of storm surge. His words and thoughts are devoid of political recriminations or unproductive denial. This ‘pundit” does not feel so restrained.

If denial of global warming is steeped in politics—however much I question such errant thinking—then I believe that “adaptation” in the form of stronger, realistic building codes might provide a common ground for constructive action and unified agreement.

As Ambrette wrote, “Now Harvey has introduced a new challenge for disaster planners: formerly incomprehensive quantities of rain. With luck, communities will become better prepared for city-swallowing rainstorms thanks to the suffering heaped on millions of Texans (and Floridians).

Media coverage continues to illustrate the resilience of our fellow citizens in Texas and Florida as they seek to recover and reestablish the normalcy of their lives. Tales of neighbors helping neighbors and disaster relief agencies working feverishly to restore power and clear streets and highways of trees, cars and debris are heartwarming and reassuring.

Still, we must confront the ill effects of global warming. And we must prepare now for the next storm, the next disaster, the next life-shattering weather event.

We must adapt today. Tomorrow may be too late. Lives are at stake.

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.

Out and About (Sort of): Filling a Void by Howard Freedlander

You sometimes don’t know what you’re missing until it’s missing. And you grieve as if the “it” is a family member.

And so I felt when Mason’s, a well-known, well-appreciated restaurant on Harrison Street in Easton, closed a few years ago, replaced by a steak house that never seemed too appealing.

Now, Mason’s is returning as part of Easton’s vibrant restaurant mosaic, thanks to Chance Negri, Jeffrey Parker and Jutta Sayles. This new ownership group plans to reopen the doors of Mason’s (yes the name is returning) in late October.

As I confirmed this past weekend, the sale of the building was completed last Friday. A void will be filled. And so will the appetites of customers yearning for return of good, reliable and friendly dining.

More than nine years ago, my youngest daughter and her husband-to-be enjoyed their rehearsal dinner in the outside area of Mason’s. Matt Mason, the conscientious proprietor, abided by the wishes of the young almost-marrieds and served pizzas. Why was this remarkable? Matt didn’t have a pizza oven. It was special evening, one fondly and happily remembered.

So, ever interested in the reopening of a restaurant that provided wonderful memories, excellent food, terrific service and diligent ownership, I met last week with Chance, Jeffrey and Jutta to learn about their plans for 22 South Harrison Street. Like many, I was eager to hear about a new start for a place that once served as a community hub.

Negri and Parker, who have lived in Easton for five years, plan to offer a modern American cuisine. They plan to change the menu four times a year. Chance will serve as the general manager. Jeffrey, a New York-based interior designer, will handle the interior ambience. Jutta will be a frequent presence watching and listening.

Negri, Parker and Sayles all agree they want the new Mason’s (Redux 2017) to become a central fixture in Easton “excellent, fine and relaxed dining,” one that is “warm and welcoming, a “community hub for al organizations.”

In short, the new owners plan to offer an experience that includes a post-church brunch on Sundays, jazz on some evenings and special events.

Aware that the resurrection of Mason’s had created a real stir in the community—emblematic of a small-town environment—Negri said he wants to “live up to the hype.” He is seeking a chef that will “execute what we have envisioned.”

Jutta Sayles envisions Mason’s “delivering fabulous food and a comfortable experience.”

Parker said he looks forward to “seeing people enjoying and experiencing conviviality, warmth and affection every time they dine with us.”

Since the former owner closed Pascal’s Chophouse in the former home of Mason’s, I felt a tinge of sadness for what was a wonderful Easton venue. This former customer always felt comfortable with the menu, the staff and the prices. I always felt secure in Matt Mason’s constant presence in the restaurant; he ran a first-class operation.

As of late October, the void on Harrison Street will no longer exist. It will come alive again, reflecting the tastes and style of Chance Negri, Jeffrey Parker and Jutta Sayles. Old, familiar sandwiches will reappear, albeit with different names and likely different tastes depending on spices and flavorings.

A food connoisseur I am not. My tastes are decidedly basic. But I do like Easton’s varied offerings of restaurants and their expression of their owner’ personalities. Every new or revived eatery improves life in our town, county and region.

The past is just that. The future promises change. The new Mason’s elicits feelings of anticipation and comfort.

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.

 

Out and About (Sort of): Oysters Grow With Patience by Howard Freedlander

After reading a few weeks ago about a Talbot County Council briefing concerning the status of local, primarily government- funded oyster sanctuaries, I was dismayed but not entirely surprised by skepticism over the effectiveness of these regulated limits.I think that the success or lack thereof demands patience as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Baltimore District ((USACE), the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) strive to upgrade the oyster population and water quality.

Watermen and their proponents need to chill out. Trust and then verify, as President Ronald Reagan once said about a newly revived relationship with the Soviet Union.

I’m aware after nearly 41 years on the Eastern Shore of the iconic nature of the oysters and the emotions evoked by this bivalve.

I’m aware that watermen fear for their livelihoods and independence every time government tries to manage a valuable natural resource.

I’m aware that there is deep-seated distrust and frustration on the part of watermen which want no interference, and government and nonprofit agencies and groups who believe that the natural course of events promotes depletion of the beloved oysters.

My stance is clear-cut: allow the restoration of Harris Creek, Little Choptank River and the Tred Avon River to proceed without rancor, political intrusion and delay.

I support Council Member Dirck Bartlett’s enlightened approach. He simply advocates giving the state a chance to restore oyster communities while monitoring the progress.

Watermen have been very effective in voicing their skepticism. They have a voice that should be heard. They are defending their occupations. At the same time, they need to look into the future and ensure the restoration effort is fact-and-science-based. They need to trust the process.

Since 2011, restoration has covered 563 acres of no-harvest sanctuary oyster reefs in Harris Creek, Little Choptank River and Tred Avon River. The cost from 2011-2016 has been $47.61 million.

Concerning Harris Creek, which seems to gain the most attention–and contention–monitoring of the reefs occurs three and six years after initial restoration in concert with pre-set Chesapeake Bay Oyster Metrics criteria. Fall 2015 findings revealed that 100 percent of the reefs seeded in 2012 were considered successful (15 oysters per square meter over 30 percent of the bottom while 50 percent met the higher target of 50 oysters per square meter over 30 percent of the bottom. My source is a document produced by NOAA, USACE, DNR and ORP.

While I dismissed skepticism and counseled patience at the outset of this column, I strongly believe that questioning government programs, including this oyster restoration project, is healthy. After all, $47.6 is real money and a significant investment in local tributaries. What I oppose are arguments based on emotion and misinformation.

A free-for-all without any resource management and control would be destructive and counterproductive. I find rumors of poaching on the restored reefs particularly disturbing stepped up law enforcement by Maryland Natural Resources is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, restoration efforts would be severely compromised.

The Chesapeake Bay oyster symbolizes the health and productivity of this vital estuary. The livelihoods of watermen and their families depend not only on the harvest of the blue crab and rock fish but the long-suffering oyster population. The oyster restoration program represents a serious attempt to revive a once-flourishing industry, short of a moratorium.

Increased water quality is a necessary byproduct.

Espousing the belief that watermen and government leaders should give the seeding project a chance to succeed by producing fact-based results, Dirck Bartlett has sounded a clarion call for patience and trust. He’s right on target.

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.

 

 

Out and About (Sort of): Too Many Generals? By Howard Freedlander

In recent weeks I’ve read articles and op-ed pieces about the prominence in the Trump White House of three generals. Gen. John Kelly, chief of staff; Gen. Jim Mattis, secretary of defense and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, national security advisor. The question raised is whether the presence of these gentleman undermines the long-held and well-respected tradition in our country of civilian rule over the military.

In other words, is our nation threatened by a potential military coup due to the high-level positions held by these generals (two of whom, Kelly and Mattis, are retired)?

Do these military officers exercise too much influence over policy development and execution?

Before I offer my opinion, I should state that my favorite room in the Maryland State House in Annapolis is the Old Senate Chamber, where General George Washington resigned his commission, thus illustrating and exemplifying the primacy of civilian rule over the military establishment. It was not a mere gesture. It was purposeful on the part of a man blessed with abundant common sense and love of country. He understood that democracy demanded civilian jurisdiction over the armed services—though this civilian governance could and would often over nearly 240 years rankle wartime commanders bothered by interference considered ill-informed by uniformed individuals.

Now reading a book describing President Harry Truman’s firing of General Douglas McArthur during the Korean War, I feel even more strongly about the civilian-military relationship in our nation. It was a messy but necessary divorce.

Back to our current state of affairs and the supposedly influential generals mentioned in the lead paragraph. I see no danger of the militarization of the top rungs of Trump Administration. I see no threat or degradation of our long-established tradition of civilian control. My reasons follow.

These three gentlemen are exceedingly competent and intelligent people who have long occupied positions of responsibility.

In today’s foreign policy environment, involving numerous conflicts and flare-ups across our earth, military leaders like Kelly, Mattis and McMaster have become fluent not only in warfare but diplomatic maneuvers. They have not sat in a metaphorical foxhole sheltered from complex international issues and debate.

Anybody who has served in combat and experienced death and destruction on the battlefield is typically reluctant to enter another fray. Simply, concern by some that generals situated in high-level civilian positions are trigger-happy warriors is plainly mistaken. Gen. Kelly lost a son in Iraqi combat.

Since World War II, retired generals have played significant roles in national security roles, to the benefit of American citizens. General George Marshall served as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense during the Cold War. He was widely respected, if not revered in some quarters, for his competence, steadiness and integrity. More recently,

General Colin Powell served as National Security Advisor under President George H.W. Bush and then as Secretary of State under President George Bush. He too was exceptional.

While I realize that Kelly, Mattis and McMaster have gained media attention because three is a larger number than one, and they are serving an erratic, undisciplined president, they are gifted individuals who view public service as a noble, sometimes treacherous undertaking. They provide much-needed stability and orderly thinking at a time when both are in short supply in the current White House.

One final reason: Generals Kelly and Mattis are retired, fully deserving of being full-fledged citizens able and willing to serve their country in suits and ties, bringing a wealth of experience and wisdom. Lt. Gen. McMaster is still on active duty; he’s been willing to serve in a civilian capacity while putting his military career on hold.

I feel totally comfortable with both the number and quality of generals in the Trump Administration. They are qualified and capable. They are learning that political and bureaucratic combat is difficult and demanding. They realize that recommendations they make (or don’t) have far-reaching consequences.

As I pray in church for peace and political wisdom, I express thanks for the likes of Generals Kelly, Mattis and McMaster. Their fellow Americans are fortunate they are still serving and serving well.

George Washington might cringe a bit at the prominence of the three generals. Upon reflection, he would understand their invaluable contributions to a nation in need.

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. 

Out and About (Sort of): Laughter is Helpful by Howard Freedlander

Have you taken time to laugh at life and yourself?

This question may seem absurd in light of hate-filled violence in Charlottesville, VA and elsewhere and the ugly racist and anti-Semitic words that often accompany sickening demonstrations of bigotry.

But, harking back to the humor-filled sermons a few weeks ago of Rev. Susan Sparks, senior pastor at the Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and chaplain-in-residence at Chautauqua during a visit there in early August by my wife and me, I am convinced that laughter might be a powerful antidote to the chaos engulfing us in our divided nation.

Be prepared, readers, for a heavy reliance on words written by Rev. Sparks in her book, “Laugh Your Way to Grace.” They are far more effective than mine

“When we laugh, we take our eyes off ourselves and our problems, even if only for a brief moment. It’s in that brief moment that we are freed of our daily worries, that we become lightened—in mood and in spirit. And like a great helium balloon, we rise up and float above the concerns of our world below.

“Think about how much we worry about the things that growl outside our tent. It’s funny really. The fact is, it doesn’t matter how much we do or how many problems we solve or what we overcome in this lifetime, the size of our funeral will always depend solely on the weather. If only we would laugh a little bit, we might smarten up.”

For sake of reference, Sparks was and still is (at times) a stand-up comedian and former trial lawyer. She became a religious leader after practicing law, serving up comedy and spending two years traveling overseas and domestically before answering the call to become a Baptist pastor.

For full disclosure, I like to laugh but don’t do it enough. Though retired, I live a busy life as a very serious volunteer board member for a few non-profits, as an obsessive alumnus of my university and as a concerned grandparent worried about what the future holds for the following generations.

So, if I truly took Sparks’ advice, I would laugh at myself two mornings a week as I struggle to cope with the demands of a 22-year-old trainer at a gym that I have frequented since I retired in May 2011. In fact, this earnest young man and I do laugh, as I try to alleviate my discomfort (not that bad) by talking incessantly—and asking him if I can go home early.

If I further took Sparks’ guidance to laugh, I would have questioned my sanity last Thursday when I volunteered to take my nearly 17-year-old grandson on a campus tour of St. Mary’s College of Maryland in St, Mary’s City in southern Maryland. I tried hard, at my oldest daughter’s direction, to avoid hovering over my grandson and asking too many questions, as is my wont. I laughed later at my restraint. It was tough being laid back and allowing my grandson to claim space as an aspiring college student.

“Laughter is a source of creativity Studies have shown that the mind associates more broadly, connects more easily, and sees more solutions when people laugh. We find jokes or comments funny because they juxtapose seemingly unrelated things or ideas. And that’s creativity: putting things together in a unique way. When we think creatively, we are more productive and more readily able to solve problems.”

Like most people these days, I read newspapers and watch TV news and want to weep. I listen to our president and want to scream for a better moral outcome. I watch scenes or, at least, the aftermath of domestic and foreign terror, and I seek answers to unexplainable behavior.

Our nation and our world seem devoid of humor. Unless you are a comedian and make your living in the world of sarcasm and cynicism. Yes, this humor is funny—at someone’s expense.

At this risk of climbing my own shaky pulpit and sounding a clarion call for a quest to find a common ground with those with whom we strongly disagree, I do wonder if laughter might provide a conduit for friendship, fellowship- and civil discourse. I’m not suggesting we form a circle, link arms and tell jokes. That seems forced and insincere. Instead, I am suggesting we might parry a disagreeable point of view with humor and goodwill.

Easier said than done, right?

This is a good point to end this column by quoting again from Rev. Sparks’ book: “Like a good roll of duct tape, humor bonds us to each other. It strengthens us as a community, and it allows us to transcend our differences and our barriers. When we laugh with someone—whether it is a stranger, a friend, a lover or an enemy—our worlds overlap for a tiny, but significant moment. It is then that defenses are lowered, ideas and feelings are shared, and the best in each other gleams forth.”

Laughter might not heal all wounds. It can, however, reduce the pain.

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.

Out and About (Sort of): Change is Inevitable and Difficult by Howard Freedlander

In the late afternoon on Wednesday, August 9, I went to the Safeway store in Easton to buy lemons and limes for a modest dinner party at our home. It seemed that gloom overhang the store.

I listened to a “management type” whom I had never seen before say to a longtime employee, “Nice to meet you, but I’m sorry it’s under these conditions.” You frequently hear that comment at a funeral home or hospital. Something didn’t seem right.

When I arrived home, I opined to my wife that I thought that this store, a mainstay in central Easton for nearly five decades, was about to close. I predicted we soon would read about the unfortunate demise of this simple, even ordinary Safeway store. And so we did the next day. It is too close in September.

Sometimes you don’t want to be right.

The closing of this store was inevitable, despite its advantageous location. New, progressive grocery stores, filled with far greater selections of food, better marketed with more flair, are now commonplace and pervasive in Talbot County. Safeway could no longer compete.

For reasons unknown to this unsophisticated consumer, the corporate honchos at Safeway had decided not to invest in this store. I suspect it could not do anything but find another location for a larger store similar to the one on Kent Island and throughout the country, something it tried and failed to do some years ago. After all, Safeway is a savvy operation accustomed to competing with the best and most progressive grocery emporiums.

In this case, Safeway was content with operating a mediocre store, watching it wither and die. What a shame for our community.

Situated conveniently at the intersection of Washington and Bay streets, with ample parking, it was within walking distance for both Easton residents and workers. Of course, it wasn’t fancy. Its offerings were limited. The term “gourmet” did not apply to this store. Its employees were loyal and helpful. It had an “old shoe” quality about it. You knew what you were going to get. Your expectations were, well, suitably realistic–low.

While I might sound critical, I also felt comfortable in this ordinary store. It didn’t intimidate me as others did. I didn’t have to call my wife in desperation and seek further guidance about the requested brand. I even knew what I was doing sometimes. My own expectations of myself were low.

Change is difficult, even when you know it’s approaching quickly. The end always arrives with a thump.

So, what will happen with this property? Will a specialized store like Trader Joe’s claim it? Will it become a medical facility? Will a non-profit eager to expand view this location, with its good-sized parking lot, as ideal for acquisition?

I hope it doesn’t sit long without a new use.

On a human level, I hope the Safeway employees find new work homes. They worked hard to keep afloat a sinking ship. Lack of investment by the corporate tier and increased competition spelled the end of a nearly 50-year tradition in Easton.

I will train myself to become accustomed to another local grocery store. Lord knows I will have ample selection.

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.

Out and About (Sort of): Chautauqua…continued by Howard Freedlander

If you recall yesterday from the outset of this serious and somber column, bereft of notable humor, I noted the prevalence of culture. One night we attended a ballet performance and the next a symphony presentation by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. A very unsophisticated performing arts lover, as I believe I’ve stated in a previous column, I understand ballet as well as I understand nuclear physics. Yet, “An Evening of Pas de Deux (dancing by two) was magnificent. I just can’t explain why.

Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra

The seamless blending and melding of different instruments under the leadership of a gifted conductor simply confounds my senses–and confirms my lack of musical ability. My reference point, farfetched though it might be, is a professional football team playing at its best when all the parts seem to come together as one powerful masterpiece.

As I think about vacations past, I confess that seven days in Chautauqua compare to no others spent escaping the daily drumbeat of life. I laughed more in seven days than during the past seven years. I attended six consecutive religious services, inspired by a Baptist minister who talked about deep spiritual subjects with a sense of humor that demanded attention and laughter.

Rev. Susan Sparks

Again, I harken back to the delightful musings and message of the Rev. Susan Sparks.

Elvis is not dead. Just ask his followers in more than 500 fan clubs, she alerted us. Sightings abound.

Jesus is not dead if his followers believe in his teachings, Sparks said. And according to this former trial lawyer and stand- up comic turned a Baptist minister on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, Jesus liked to laugh. Hard to believe; he just seemed so serious and driven, blessedly so. Susan Sparks’ source is the Gnostic Gospels of Thomas, which cites several times ‘and the Savior laughed.’

Understanding that most people seek and value proof, Sparks called for faith and belief. She also suggested that Christ may appear in unexpected places, such as in a homeless person or “seeing the face of Christ in a person before seeing the color of the skin.”

Last Thursday afternoon I listened to nearly 45 minutes of 50 Jewish jokes told rapidly and expertly by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. Jewish humor, according to Telushkin, focuses on mothers, food, money, argumentativeness, and anti-Semitism, among other easy marks. I thought about the tradition of Jewish humor as embodied in Jackie Mason, Rodney Dangerfield, and Jack Benny.

I thought about my own upbringing. I laugh now about my Jewish mother. Life with her wasn’t always funny, except in retrospect. Her no-nonsense resoluteness could drive her sons crazy.

Chautauqua

Rabbi Telushkin told a story about three elderly Jewish women conversing on a bench in Miami bragging about their sons’ utter devotion to them. For the sake of space, I will go immediately to the punchline. After hearing her two friends boast about their beloved sons, the third woman exclaimed that her son visits a therapist three times a week, at $300 an hour–and talks almost primarily about his mother. Rather easy to appreciate that punchline.

I suspect that Jewish humor strikes universal chords. Mothers are convenient targets of humor.

This week’s theme at Chautauqua is “Fear.” I’m glad that I fell upon “comedy and the human condition. I wouldn’t travel more than seven hours, past Pittsburgh and Erie, PA. to become immersed in fear. That’s going too far.

The first part of this column can be found here.

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. 

 

Out and About (Sort of): Chautauqua by Howard Freedlander

The humor was dark, spiritual, political, ethnic, race-related and provocative–all aimed at tickling the funny bone and cheering the soul with laughter for a week in the unusual community of Chautauqua, NY.

“Comedy and the Human Condition” was the theme of week 6 in a summer venue known for 143 years as a religious, cultural and academic community filled primarily with mostly small Victorian houses oriented to the lovely and peaceful Lake Chautauqua. Though I’ve heard for years about this quirky place in western New York State, not far from Erie, PA, I didn’t really understand the overriding need for total immersion in lectures focused entirely on the subject at hand.

I quickly learned the rules of the Chautauqua Way.

Rev. Susan Sparks

The tone was set early on, on the first Sunday, July 30 at the week’s opening religious service when the chaplain-in-residence for week 6, the Rev. Susan Sparks, senior pastor at the Madison Avenue Baptist Church in Manhattan, NY, introduced at least a thousand of us to her special mix of spirituality and humor. Her sermons were pitch-perfect. What we all learned, I think, was that the message of hope and faith and joy and love and compassion resonates more effectively when leavened by humor.

Prior to becoming an ordained minister, this Charlotte, NC native was a trial lawyer and stand-up comic. One of her sermons drew a parallel between the King as in Jesus Christ and the other king, Elvis Presley.

Are you kidding me, coupling Christ and Elvis, the king of rock? Yes, according to Pastor Sparks.

Just as his fervent followers, unwilling to give up the ghost, believe Elvis is still alive and set to return any time now, Christians should too consider that Christ is alive and ever-present in our hearts when we act with grace and decency. While I sound preachy and sophomoric, Susan did not. After all, she knew how to blend the serious and comic. She liked Elvis too, appealing to her southern roots and fondness for a legend that keeps growing.

W. Kamau Bell

A self-described “motorcycle chick,” the cowboy-boot wearing pastor captivated her audience every morning. It seemed that her Chautauqua congregation smiled and listened whenever she spoke. She was truly an effective messenger of God.

My mind rarely wandered. That was unusual. Laughter fuels attention. So I discovered sitting continuously on a hard bench, without the requisite seat cushions borne by the wise Chautauquans. We happily sacrificed comfort for nourishment of our souls–sounds like a rookie’s rationalization. New-found friends brought us seat cushions. An act deserving of “Alleluia!”

As I listened and laughed at the political humor of the Capitol Steps, the angry, cynical humor of Lewis Black, the ethnic, Jewish humor of

The Capitol Steps

Rabbis Bob Alper and Joseph Telushkin, the sly, boundary-breaking humor of David Steinberg and the poignant and powerful humor of W. Kamau Bell, I learned that humor can compel you to think differently, ignore your worries, appreciate life’s absurdities, laugh at yourself and provide a wider lens into our nation’s flaws, follies and frailties, as well as our own personal idiosyncrasies.

One caution to political satire, long a staple in our raucous country, came in the voice of Kelly Carlin, a radio comic and moderator and daughter of at the late comedian George Carlin, who pushed the limits of humor by disparaging nearly everything and everybody. She wondered aloud whether political satire weakens our national institutions by shooting holes into and shredding our elected leaders and government agencies. The mistrust sowed and the cynicism generated can be injurious and harmful to the institutions that depend on public support–and trust.

Lake Chautauqua

Maybe it’s too late to resurrect respect for our government leaders. A gruesome prospect. Hope sustains me. Kelly Carlin subtlety betrayed her paternal legacy by questioning but not chastising the impact of mean-spirited humor.

At the risk of seeming self-righteous, I too laugh at satire, particularly if aimed at both ends of the political spectrum. The Capitol Steps are particularly adept. One of their funniest musical routines last week targeted “The Supremes” as a riff on the aging members of the Supreme Court, underscored by a musical rendition of “Staying Alive.”

It was hilarious and apt. And inoffensive to this senior citizen.

Back to Chautauqua, a place that encourages introspection and civil discourse. It’s not a resort, though located on a centerpiece lake. There are too few restaurants. There is not a bar on the premises, maybe due to its religious origin. I say this as a non-drinker. The major hotel, the Athenaeum, is worn, with no pizzazz; our ceiling leaked after some but not significant rain. Few cars are allowed on the property.

And, besides the omnipresent porches on the small, charming houses are the equally pervasive hydrangea plants. They are attractive, but not stunningly so. They remind me of enlarged, colorful mushrooms. They exude colorful freshness. They seem perfect for tradition-laden Chautauqua.

Did I say quirky?

Part Two continued here

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.

Out and About (Sort of): Mind the Gap by Howard Freedlander

Nearly two weeks ago I listened to a sermon at Christ Church, Easton incorporating “mind the gap” as a metaphor for encouraging parishioners to close the ever-increasing distance between our secular behavior and spiritual beliefs. Anyone who has traveled the London Underground rapid transit system has repeatedly heard these words as a caution to watch the space between the landing platform and the train as you climb on and off.

Frankly, my mind wandered as the priest delivered his message in tones too soft for my worsening hearing capacity. Nonetheless, I focused on the purely British admonition and created my own mental picture of American values and actions. Thoughts about morality, the rule of law, ethics and human empathy occupied my mind as I ceased to listen very intently to the eloquent words emanating from the pulpit.

A few months ago I attended an Eagle Scout of Honor ceremony for a young neighbor whose diligent efforts earned him more badges than necessary to become an Eagle Scout. The event, held in the parish hall of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Easton, was simple and wholesome. Long aware that achievement of Eagle Scout status is a notable honor, I was struck by the number of former Eagle Scouts, middle-age and older, who attended the ceremony to support a new member of this select group.

In our often cynical nation, concepts like service to others, honor, character, love of country and honesty may seem old-fashioned and out-of-step with daily life in a country defined increasingly more frequently by divisive behavior and abusive discourse.

I thought about my young neighbor’s Eagle Scout ceremony, as he was surrounded by family, friends, and mentors, as I read about President Trump’s remarks last week at the Boy Scout Jamboree. He illustrated again his total disregard for the presidency and 40,000 young people who had spent days learning about what binds, not divides us.

What a shameful performance by our shameless president!

On an occasion when Trump should have used the moral power of his office to motivate young people to pursue truth and compassion, he used his platform for political purposes. He castigated the media, as he does on nearly a daily basis. So much for respect for the freedom of the press. He slammed the Justice Department for not investigating the alleged “crimes” of Hillary Clinton, his opponent in the race for president. So much for good sportsmanship—particularly since Trump won—and respect for the democratic process.

Trump even told 40,000 children about a New York cocktail party attended by the “hottest people in New York and a friend who made a ton of money in real estate. So much for discretion and judgment.

John McLaughlin, a former deputy director of the CIA and an acting director in 2004 and now a teacher at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, wrote in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post:

“The real power of the American presidency lies in its ability to inspire—especially young people who are in awe of the office, its majesty, history, and symbolism. There was no inspiration here (jamboree speech), only mockery, spin, and manipulation.”

All of us, from the president to columnists to religious leaders to scouts, must “mind the gap.” We must seek to bridge the gap between selfish, boorish behavior and innate decency to others. For political, civic, political, educational, athletic and religious leaders, the obligation to navigate the “gap” in a way that provides a powerful example to young people not only is a necessary responsibility but a relentless obligation.

I wrote last week about U.S. Senator John McCain and his current battle against brain cancer. He traveled last week to Washington to participate in Senate votes on an effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. (ACA). What gained my attention and admiration was not his vote to defeat a bill to rewrite the ACA but his speech after voting yes to consider new health care protection for Americans.

I won’t repeat his words. They underscored a message that contravenes the polarity that characterizes Congress and elective bodies throughout the country: we can accomplish more in collaboration than in political isolation. He also talked about civility; hurtful words damage relationships and curtail progress. He acknowledged that his comments in the past often proved destructive and unproductive.

The gap can be actual or figurative. If we view Scout beliefs in honor, honesty and human compassion as instructive and universal, not childish and Pablum, then maybe we can create better human discourse and behavior.

It would be helpful if President Trump led the way. He won’t, and he can’t. I wish it were not the case. His moral and emotional compasses have no direction.

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.

Out and About (Sort of): Crab and Gabfest Could Come to an End by Howard Freedlander

For 41 years the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake has been a must-attend event in Crisfield for state politicians and people who like to be around them. The seafood, of course, is a draw, as long as you don’t mind eating crabs and clams under tents on black asphalt that radiates heat.

This iconic event attracts public officials and wannabees from throughout the state of Maryland; it’s become a rite of passage every summer. Temperatures invariably are hot, humid and horrid. Still, politicians and their backers flock to this most distant point on the Lower Eastern Shore.

Why I am writing about the Tawes crab and clam picnic when it receives more than ample media coverage?

My answer is simple, if not alarming. The town of Crisfield may cease to exist as we know it. The annual gathering may have to move upland.

A study produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists identified 167 communities in 13 coastal states that by 2025 will confront chronic rain surges, defined as when high tides flood 10 percent or more of a community’s usable, non-wetland area at least 26 times a year. Twenty-two of these communities are in our state, mostly on the Eastern Shore.

According to this study, Crisfield will face continual flooding of more than half its land area within about 20 years.

In a recent story on Channel 7 in Washington, DC, the reporter interviewed two women, one of whom runs the passenger ferries from Crisfield to Smith Island. She sounded downright pessimistic about the future of her business. Her dialect revealed that she was a Crisfield native who was envisioning not only the possible demise of her business but the severe disruption of her quality of life.

With this sort of rain-inundated future looming over Crisfield and other similar communities, real estate values could plummet. Residents could scatter to higher ground—and new lives.

As inevitable as coastal flooding appears to scientists and many others concerned about climate change and global warming, adaptation remains a viable, if not imperative response. With financial support state and federal agencies, communities have begun mapping flood plains, directing new development to less vulnerable areas and building buffers to minimize the imminent destruction and force of a surging ocean.

Armed with government funding, communities are taking an open-eyed approach to the impending danger of destructive flooding. They understand the impact on business development and real estate.

As I’ve written before, denial is not an option.

The Eastern Shore of Maryland is a special place. Opportunities exist now to adapt and prepare for a future that can and will change the character of a place like Crisfield. For example, as shown on the Channel 7 broadcast, a waterfront condominium building in Crisfield sits on concrete pilings—that’s just plain smart, while long-existing crab processing buildings face the water with no protection.

Though politicians and their supporters can go elsewhere for food, chatter and visibility, a 41-year-old tradition is worth retaining in Crisfield in mid-July every year. I hope that local civic and political leadership is plotting a future that somehow mitigates the impact of disabling flooding.

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Like many throughout our nation, I pray for U.S. Senator John McCain as he battles a pernicious brain cancer. He’s a tough guy who withstood five years of imprisonment and torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese during the Viet Nam War. He’s engaged in many political battles in our nation’s contentious Capitol.

I met Senator McCain once just prior to his speaking several years ago at my alma mater’s graduation ceremony. We exchanged very few words—though I was willing to talk more. Perhaps he was preoccupied. Perhaps I should have left him alone.

John McCain is a fervent patriot and outstanding public servant. He will continue to fight to survive.

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.