Out and About (Sort of): Scattered Thoughts by Howard Freedlander

About 10 days ago I had the pleasure of driving former Governor Harry Hughes from an Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (I am a board member) gathering outside Chestertown to his home in Denton. Time spent with Harry is always a lesson in Maryland politics as related concisely by one of the prime actors in the second half of the 20th century.

Nearing 91, Gov. Hughes is feeling the ravages of old age. He moves more slowly. His balance is unsteady. All expected in a person’s ninth decade. But when this reserved, gentlemanly political luminary talks, it’s best to keep quiet and learn.

A Caroline County native, Hughes served as a state delegate, state senator, secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and then governor from 1978 to 1986.

I first met Hughes nearly 40 years ago when he ran for governor; he was given little chance to win. He did, with significant help from Baltimore Sun and Evening Sun endorsements two weeks prior to the election. That was a time when an endorsement from a major statewide newspaper meant something—when people paid attention to “mainstream media.” Perhaps they still do. Showing my age, I still assign credibility to the printed word.

As my wife and I rode for about an hour in the car, we learned he loved being Secretary of MDOT because he could get things done, he liked President Bill Clinton, his political career just seemed to take off in a positive direction –and he fondly recalled having his mother as his homeroom teacher for three years at Caroline High School.

What was evident, as it always is when you spend time with Harry Hughes, is his innate modesty and mild manner. He is eminently likable.

In an op-ed piece published Dec. 1, 2016 in The Baltimore Sun by John Frece, a former Maryland State House bureau chief for the Sun and co-author of Gov. Hughes’ autobiography, “My Unexpected Journey,” about Hughes’ 90th birthday party, Frece wrote:

“The most important words that were uttered throughout the evening by a half-dozen speakers were the ones that described the values that this native of the Eastern Shore brought to Maryland’s political life: honesty, integrity, fairness, compassion, humility and restraint. In a word, civility.”

In recent years, a close adviser and friend of Hughes twice has invited me to join him for lunch with the former governor. Once, other former staffers joined the group. I was an interested bystander, noting the affection that these staffers still bore for their former boss. There was good-natured kidding aimed at Harry Hughes, who in turn kindly jabbed back. Meanwhile, people in the restaurant would stop by the table to say hello to the unassuming man from Denton.

While Gov. Hughes and his loyal lieutenants would tell stories about achievements, Harry Hughes would delight in the memories, but never dominated the conversation with anything resembling boastfulness. His willingness during his two terms to focus on Chesapeake Bay pollution–as well as management of the declining rockfish, instituting a controversial moratorium—was one of his shining accomplishments.

Though the tall, handsome former governor shows the ravages of aging, he continues to impress me with his calm, civil demeanor and dedication to environmental issues that still challenge and vex public officials and concerned non-profits.

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In seeking reactions to “The Vietnam War” documentary produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and the two columns that I recently wrote about the remarkable 10-episode series, I spoke with a few Vietnam veterans in the area. I learned that two in particular thought that the documentary failed to portray accurately the North Vietnamese (NVA), specifically their fervent communism that they viciously imposed on villagers in the South to gain their fear-driven loyalty.

A friend and veteran forwarded an article written by a veteran in Georgia that was unyielding in its criticism of the soft way that he believed that the documentary treated the NVA, while acknowledging the duplicity of our political leaders and their unwillingness to unleash full American firepower on our enemy.

With this reaction in mind, I ask readers to submit their unvarnished opinion of the documentary. Did you consider it fair and balanced? Did you consider it skewed and too favorable to the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong?

As I wrote, the Vietnam War still lives on in the minds and hearts of civilians and veterans who lived through the 10-year war and the consequent chaos and divisiveness that gripped our country.

Please give me feedback.

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.

CFF Preview: Tom Horton and the Rising Sea Levels of Dorchester County

The Chesapeake Film Festival has gone out of their way this year to emphasize the important theme of conservation, and has consequently assembled a first rate collection of the most current documentaries on climate change, sea level rising, and other global warming issues to screen in the last weekend in October in Talbot County.

Ranging from Leonardo DiCaprio to short films on forestry and the fishing, the festival’s curatorial hand has carefully vetted out the the very best in international filmmaking, but it is suspected that the film that will have the most impact locally is case study of rising sea levels in Dorchester County.

The local dream team of filmmaker Sandy Cannon-Brown, photographer David Harp, and environmental author Tom Horton, who were responsible two years ago for the popular Beautiful Swimmers Revisited, a documentary inspired by William W. Warner’s classic book on of the Chesapeake Bay, have now reunited to tell the sobering tale of the disappearing landscape of Dorchester and the possible for the thirteen other Counties.

The Spy caught up with High Tide in Dorchester writer and narrator Tom Horton a week ago at Bullitt House to talk about the film and its mission to send an important warning to the entire Chesapeake Bay region.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about the Chesapeake Film Festival please go here

Better than Baseball by David Montgomery

Although October has been depressingly familiar for Washington baseball fans, it has been just the opposite for political observers. While Congress continues to dither, the President has been moving ahead to reverse the expansion of the Administrative State. And he has done so by using his executive authority to force Congress to do the work assigned to it by the Constitution.

In the case of immigration, the President sent a letter to Congress with a comprehensive plan for strengthening enforcement of immigration laws and screening out those who would be a threat or a burden. And he has been explicit about the message he wants Congress to hear: If you care so much about those who are now in the United States illegally, pass a law to change their status. I do not have the authority to do that on my own. Quite a contrast to President Obama’s “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone. And that’s all I need.”

In the case of Obamacare, the President sent the liberal press all atwitter by terminating subsidies to insurance companies losing money under Obamacare. Again, he sends a message to Congress that they must fix the structural problems in Obamacare and not rely on the public purse to hide them.

Third, his EPA Administrator has declared that the Clean Power Plan put into effect by his predecessor is illegal, because it goes beyond what Congress authorized EPA to do in the Clean Air Act.

In taking these actions, the President is fulfilling what I saw as the most important of his campaign promises, to stop government agencies from issuing regulations that make new laws never passed by Congress. That is, he is challenging and attempting to rein in the Administrative State.

I admire the subtlety in President Trump’s cancellation of subsidies to insurance companies for many reasons. The subsidies make the insurance companies fat and happy and motivate them to work against his goal of reforming ACA. His action shows that the excessive delegation of authority made by Congress in ACA can be used to reduce as well as increase the administrative state. And he tosses the political problems back to Congress in a way that should send the message that Congress cannot avoid political responsibility for legislation by leaving all the details up to bureaucrats.

The critical flaw in the Clean Power Plan that took it to the Supreme Court is its insistence that electric utilities pay others to reduce emissions on their behalf in order to satisfy regulatory requirements. This is contrary to the explicit language in the relevant parts of the Clean Air Act that such requirements be feasible for the regulated companies to meet on their own.

I am known as an advocate of emission trading where appropriate, but only when applied through Constitutional processes in which its suitability for a particular task is examined openly, not by an agency using legal casuistry to require something prohibited by the clear wording of the law.

Likewise, I fully support the goal of open borders for all who qualify to be future citizens, but equally, strongly opposed President Obama’s refusal to enforce a clear requirement of the law – not to mention his willingness to accept the lazy and criminals along with those who support themselves and obey the law.

There are much broader issues at stake here than just these specific abuses of powers delegated by Congress in regard to immigration, environmental regulation, and Obamacare. It is the growing role of unaccountable administrative agencies in creating rules and regulations that go far beyond anything considered or authorized by Congress. Philip Hamburger calls this the “Administrative State” and describes its influence by saying “Americans must live under a dual system of government—one part established by the Constitution and another circumventing it.” The Trump Administration has been trying to rein in the Administrative State since its first day in office through its deregulation initiatives.

First, the Administration and Republicans in Congress are reversing the flood of regulations issued by his predecessors. Economically significant rules are defined as those with an annual cost of $100 million or more, and during the Obama Administration, almost 500 of these regulations with an estimated burden of $890 billion were issued. The burden of regulation accelerated under Obama, but it has been growing since the 1970s. Between 1995 and 2016, Congress passed 4260 public laws but the Executive Branch issued 88,899 new final rules. Since regulations have rarely expired or been repealed, this adds up to a growing cumulative burden. These regulations proliferate – 27 new regulations for every new law – because Congress delegates its legislative responsibilities to administrative agencies, which have proceeded without hindrance beyond what Congress intended.

In comparison, under President Trump agencies have pulled or suspended 860 pending regulations, and the number of economically significant regulations still in process fell to 58.

One of President Trump’s first actions was to require all agencies to re-examine their past regulations and eliminate two existing rules for each new one they issue. His Executive Order also required agencies to reduce the burden of existing regulations by an amount at least as large as the cost of any new regulations. Some of my colleagues in the field of environmental economics complained about this order on the grounds that costs should be weighed against benefits and not be the sole criterion. Although I agree with the principle, I am unconcerned about the application because among the regulations issued under the Obama Administration there are ample to choose from that do no net good.

This is also an area where Congress has done good, by exercising its authority to disapprove regulations and especially those issued by a lame-duck President. Voting under the Congressional Review Act, which limits debate on disapproval resolutions, Congress repealed 14 midnight regulations issued in the last days of the Obama Administration.

These actions are the beginning of an effort, with a clear populist base, to rein in the Administrative State that has grown in power and size for decades. Visible actions to limit and repeal unnecessary regulations only address part of the problem of the Administrative State. Like the iceberg, most of the Administrative State is hidden. Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has called this “regulatory dark matter,” which he defines as “thousands of executive branch and federal agency proclamations and issuances, including guidance documents, memoranda, bulletins, circulars, and letters, that carry practical (if not always technically legally) binding regulatory effect.” None of these show up in the counts of regulations in the Federal Register, and they are subject to none of the public comment and appeal processes that apply to published regulations.

This is also a target of the Administration, and a particularly difficult one since decisions behind these memoranda and guidance letters and individual rulings are not made in open regulatory processes. They are made day to day by permanent bureaucrats buried in agencies and often difficult or impossible for their political superiors to reach and control.

One of the reasons for the expansion of the Administrative State before President Trump was the deference of the courts to decisions of regulatory agencies that did the proper paperwork, no matter how vague the facts or casuistical the legal arguments justifying them.

This is the major uncertainty about whether President Trump will succeed. Courts have already shown a willingness to block his Executive Orders that they never showed to his predecessors. Thus the question is whether courts will defer as readily to an Administration that wants to reduce the Administrative state as to one that wants to expand it. As Philip Hamburger put it “The courts often defer to the executive—both to its interpretations of law and to its fact-finding” and he decries this as depriving those who challenge regulations of due process.

What really matters here is the attitude of 5 Supreme Court justices. Some, like Justice Stephen Breyer, have attitudes toward actions of regulatory agencies that appear to go even further and sound more like admiration than deference. Once again, the key to Making America Great Again may be less in what regulations the President abolishes than in whom he appoints to the Supreme Court.

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

 

Let’s Give God a Break by George Merrill

I would like to write in defense of God. In my opinion we have abused him (or her) shamelessly. It’s high time we give God a break.

Biblical history has its own problems with fake news. “God reigned down burning sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah,” the bible tells us in one epic account. Why? God abhors homosexuality. Lot’s wife became collateral damage: she looked back on the city about to be destroyed. God instructed her not too. She was reduced to a pillar of salt on the spot because she turned around to look. Disobedience? Maybe, but another possible transgression suggested is that she became too interested in what was going on there. In either case the punishments, in my view, did not fit the crimes.

With the advent of modern biblical scholarship and scientific archeology, many of these accounts of divine retribution are believed to be more mythical than historically credible. Historically credible or no, myths make their point and this one and many others like it are that God’s wrath can be savage and spiteful. Much of historic religion has targeted gays and lesbians for just such punishments.

I recall after 9/11, televangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were outspoken about how America’s tolerance of gays, abortion, lesbians and the ACLU caused God to open the gates to the terrorists allowing them to enter and cause this national tragedy to happen. In short, the attacks on 9/11 were God’s judgment against America’s growing liberal agenda.

Significant numbers advocating for this vengeful God have traditionally been associated with the Republicans who share their party’s contempt for liberals and their agenda. This has created a delicate situation now since the Republicans hold not only the house and senate, but the executive branch as well. Conservatives are more cautious about calling the disasters God’s retribution since Republicans are now in the driver’s seat and for the most part are setting the national agenda.

Rush Limbaugh, a loyal pundit of the right, got God off the hook this time by handling the recent hurricane tragedies this way. He just couldn’t help but blaming somebody.

“There is a desire to advance this climate change agenda, and hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do it … All you need is to create the fear and panic accompanied by talk that climate change is causing hurricanes to become more frequent and bigger and more dangerous, and you create the panic, and it’s mission accomplished, agenda advanced.”

He seems to me to be saying that anyone even talking about the reality of destructive hurricanes makes the storms bigger and more frequent. He gives climate change talk the same power that God possesses; during the creation God only had to say ‘Let there be light”, and it was everywhere.

Televangelist Jim Bakker was determined to keep God active in the retribution mode and stated that “this flood is from God.” Why? To punish Houston’s former mayor for attempting to subpoena ministers’ sermons. Wouldn’t you wonder what the mayor knew about Texas clergy that God preferred to keep classified?

Pastor Kevin Swanson asserts that Irma’s path could have been altered had the Supreme Court only decided that abortion and gay marriage were illegal. God didn’t move the hearts of the Supreme Court in a timely manner. The pastor suggests that, the whole mess happened because God dropped the ball and didn’t act sooner. It doesn’t make God any less retributive but God is now also accused of not staying on top of things.

Ann Coulter, not averse to speaking her mind, interestingly wasn’t sure hurricane Harvey was God’s way of punishing Houston although she tweeted that the explanation was “more credible than attributing [natural disasters] to ‘climate change.’ ” I think she was uneasy attributing the hurricanes to God outright but she did so in a disingenuous way.

James Dobson of Focus on the Family fame, while describing the Sandy Hook shootings as God’s punishment for tolerating gay marriage and abortion, was curiously silent on the recent storms. He championed God’s wrath in the past. I wonder why he remained silent on the matter? Too busy with family business, I suppose.

Pat Robertson also did not comment directly on God’s role in the recent storms, but spoke to it obliquely. Robertson saw the hand of God in the Haiti and San Fernando earthquakes and suggested that the political pressures America puts on Israel, causes natural disasters. My guess is that he’s soft on Israel because Jesus was born there. He also warned that gay tourists at Disney World could cause a meteor strike. So much for star of wonder, star of night.

Michael Brown, a member of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board, cautioned that, “we must be very careful before we make divine pronouncements about hurricanes and other natural disasters.” He praised Houston for having stood bravely against the rising tide of LGBT activism concluding with this observation: “Why would God single out Houston for judgment?” One preacher suggested that Houston got it big time because they elected a lesbian as their mayor.

God gets portrayed as having sex on his mind all the time. I think those who champion his vengeful acts are the ones obsessed with sex and I would add, violence.

What are we to make of all this?

Four things come to mind.

One, we are still adolescent children in gaining a wholesome understanding of human sexuality. Secondly, nature, for all our scientific advances, remains mysterious and unpredictable. We try controlling it, but we can’t.

I don’t think we’ve grasped the reality that we are a global community and we have responsibility for each other, not to punish, but to heal. Finally, we keep trying to draft God into our causes, like selective service once called us up to serve in the military. We require of God that he do our bidding. It is very hard to grow into the knowledge that we’re made in God’s image when we keep trying to make God into our own. We fashion him in our own image, and unfortunately, not with our more endearing qualities: deceit, manipulation, coercion and violence. And for all that, would you believe, that at the end of the day God doesn’t punish sinners, but forgives, loves and welcomes them into his arms. Now that’s the real miracle.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord”

Thank God for that.

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.

Fire: So Unrelenting by Craig Fuller

Anguish and heartbreak descend upon those caught in natural disasters. To be sure, they have visited too many, too often this year. There is no hierarchy when it comes to anguish and heartbreak, no one disaster worse or less severe than the next. There is only anguish and heartbreak.

I comment on the tragedy surrounding the fires in California perhaps because they impact me more directly.

I am from California.

I have made frequent visits to the California wine country since 1971.

I have family and friends living in the Napa and Sonoma areas.

I have lost a house to a fire.

Oh, and I was there when these fires started last Sunday night.

We just finished dinner during our fourth and final night of a tour through the Napa Valley as part of a celebration of a good friend’s birthday. I had a camera with me and a member of the wait staff suggested I go outside and take a picture of the fires. It was 10:00 PM local time in Yountville, California with 50 mile per hour winds wiping the fire across the ridge of nearby mountains. Twelve hours later we would be airborne in our aircraft headed back home, but those twelve hours were long and draining.

While never in imminent danger, the uncertainty as one fire became two and then six was stressful, to say the least. Power failed at one of the Napa Valley’s finest hotels. The hotel had generators, but soon they failed. Cellphone service began to fail in what a day or so later we learned was failure caused by the destruction from the fire of over 80 cellphone towers.

Inexplicably, through most of the early morning hours on Monday, the internet worked and I found a site to monitor fire emergency radio transmissions. However, being informed didn’t reduce anxiety as repeatedly dispatchers would say, “…we have no resources to send to that address.” And, this was when “that address” had been reported as a structure on fire.

While lacking resources, the first responders never lost their cool professionalism. Dispatchers guided firefighters to where they were needed most. They reminded that the first priority was protecting the lives of citizens and their own lives.

Sitting in the middle of the Napa Valley proved to be the safest place to be. At one point, there were some 30 fires reported. When we departed and even as I write this many of the fires have containment defined as “zero.” The anguish and heartbreak continue!

As bad as the reports look some three days after the fires started, it will get worse. Probably, it will get much worse.

Fire simply destroys everything in its path. It came suddenly upon the Valley. It was dark. People were asleep. There were no “forecasts” warning of tides or rainfalls. Fire just lit up the sky and overran everything in its path.

Anyone who spends time with the winemaking community in the Napa and Sonoma areas knows of their total commitment to caring for the earth, the crops, the harvest and for each other. These communities are filled with some of the finest people I’ve ever met. I am certain they will band together and rebuild even though there will be a long and painful process ahead.

While our group of ten people are safely back on this side of the country and for that we are very grateful, our hearts and prayers are with old friends and new as they face the challenges of the future.


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

Taming the Monster at St. Mark’s for Fifty Years with Dr. Bill Wharton

There are very few examples of a partnership that has lasted 50 years where one partner speaks of the other as a “monster.” But that’s what Dr. Bill Wharton says about the St. Mark’s United Methodist Church’s 1962 Tellers organ that he has worked to master since he arrived in Easton as the Church’s principal organist in 1967.

In Bill’s case, however, the use of the word monster is one of great affection and respect. In his interview with the Spy to celebrate his fifth decade not only playing the organ there but also a lifetime career in teaching music on the Mid-Shore, the Centerville native talks about harnessing the power that comes with this colossal instrument with its 2,437 wood and model pipes.

By his own admission, Bill does not put himself in the 1st tier of organists but is extremely grateful that he studied with some of them. The first being Clarence Waters, his college organ tutor and mentor at Trinity College. And it was through his relationship with Waters that he gained access to the famed Marcel Dupré in Paris, considered one of the finest organists of the 20th century.

Bill also talks about the exceptional spiritual connection that music provides a church and its congregation, as well as his personal experiences of sensing the divine when witnessing the masters perform in the World’s great cathedrals.

In celebration of Bill’s 50th anniversary, St. Mark’s has commissioned a unique composition that will be performed by Bill in late November one of a series of official acknowledgments by the Church of how valuable his service has been to the music on the Mid-Shore.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about St. Mark’s and its music programs please go here.

To Kneel or Stand by Al Sikes

We have been, for several weeks, greeted each morning by news of which athletes at what game refused to stand during the National Anthem. Most recently the Vice President, Mike Pence, decided to make the body’s posture an even more fractious political stance. It was as if he said, “If you disagree with President Trump and me, you should knell.”

Generally, the anthem divide is racial and began with Black Lives Matter protesting police killings of black men. As the initial reason for the protest has morphed, it is hard to know whether the current expressions are driven by heartfelt belief or politics.

In church each Sunday, the spiritual leader leads his or her congregation in both personal and global prayer. This past Sunday the theme of the global prayer was for the families of the Las Vegas shooting victims. The theme of the sermon at Christ Church in Easton, Maryland, was the divine guidance to honor God, not our chosen gods.

The Las Vegas shooting featured a white shooter who had concluded that he was a god and for reasons obscure would kill as many as his weaponry would allow. A man humbled by an understanding of the evil within us and connected with forgiveness and redemption would not have sprayed bullets on concert-goers or anybody else.

The theme of evil within us and opportunity for redemption is the sacred text of the two most important spiritual hymns we sing. And you certainly do not have to attend church to have listened or sung either song. They, at least tonally, are a part of our culture. I suspect after the Star Spangled Banner and America they are the two most familiar songs. The songs: The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Amazing Grace.

The Battle Hymn of the Republic was written by Julia Ward Howe at the outset of the Civil War. She reflected: “I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, ‘I must get up and write these verses down, lest I fall asleep again and forget them.’ So, with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.”

Howe’s song is woven into our culture. The lyrics of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” appeared in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermons and speeches, most notably in his speech “How Long, Not Long” from the steps of the Alabama State Capitol building on March 25, 1965, after the 3rd Selma March, and in his final sermon “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, delivered in Memphis, Tennessee on the evening of April 3, 1968, the night before his assassination. In fact, the latter sermon, King’s last public words, ends with the initial lyrics of The Battle Hymn of the Republic: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Amazing Grace was written by John Newton. He had been a soldier and then a slave trader and redemptively, a pastor. The first two verses reflect his humility and his understanding of the gift of grace.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Music for many of us, no for most of us, is often our translation key—an emotional expression of what we have come to believe. I stand for our National Anthem, and I do that recognizing that our collective use of weaponry has not always been warranted whether in police shootings or global wars. But, I also understand that for the overwhelming majority of people our anthem is an iconic expression of national unity—“out of many one.”

The President and Vice President look for opportunities to express their faith in Jesus Christ. They should, in His spirit as captured by John Newton, strive for a more graceful presence. It would indeed be a “sweet sound.” A contrary sound suggests exploitation whether by athletes or elected officials.

Historical material sourced from Wikipedia

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. 

Veterans Misperceived by Howard Freedlander

This is a story about a questionable narrative about veterans’ mental health in our modern-day America, told in an unusujal 70-minute musical drama. The impact is powerful. The message is mind-changing.

Jaymes Poling, who spent three tours as part of the elite 82nd Airborne Division, returned to his country having to cope with public perceptions that he and his fellow veterans were damaged goods suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, better known by its ubiquitous acronym, PTSD. He was 17 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He retired as a 26-year-old staff sergeant.

Jaynes Poling and Dominick Farinacci

When Poling returned home, seeking help from the Veterans Administration (VA) to adapt to civilian life after serving three separate years as an infantryman in Afghanistan, he immediately received a diagnosis as a victim of PTSD. Medications followed as dispensed by the well-meaning but misdirected VA.

Two fortuitous things happened to Poling: he met a woman in Cleveland and decided to return to school, and he crossed paths with Dominick Farinacci, a world-class trumpeter and music composer. Along the way, Poling decided that PTSD was misapplied in his case. Instead, he had a more positive self-diagnosis: post-traumatic growth.

Collaborating with Farinacci on an autobiographical music drama, Poling realized that veterans not just of his era but throughout history bring special skills to the civilian world. They had learned about leadership, responsibility for themselves and their fellow soldiers and compassion for the men and women with whom they served in combat.

Through the “Modern Warrior Live, which will come to the Avalon in Easton on Saturday, Nov. 18, Farinacci and Poling hope not only to change perceptions about veterans but develop a connection to the civilian world by telling a dramatic story, backed by gripping music. Perhaps, just perhaps, the public will view veterans as having special talents; the “goods” they carry are in their hearts and minds first-rate value and deserve respect.

To better understand the unusual performance, with my admittedly favorable opinion of veterans and the life-threatening experiences they encountered in combat, I spoke with Poling and Farinacci after talking with Richard Marks and Al Sikes–who not only are financial supporters of the Avalon performance but also two gentlemen known as superb volunteers and leaders in the community.

Farinacci said that during his collaboration with Jaymes Poling he saw “the power of music to build bridges, to develop a pathway to empathy, to change perceptions and create a dialogue between the military and civilians.” He repeatedly characterized poling as “authentic.”

During the production of the show, Poling said, “Sometimes the music didn’t feel right. I had to reevaluate times of my life. I had to sort out my feelings. It was not the fault of the music. The artistic musical interactions helped me hone my thoughts.”

As he discussed his life in combat and on civilian turf, Poling said he was careful. “I don’t want to tell stories that don’t belong to me,” he said. While he mentioned the name of a friend and fellow soldier killed in battle, he had checked with the friend’s mother beforehand.

Both Farinacci and Poling agreed that the message of healing and post-traumatic growth had universal implications. It applies to personal tragedy. Poling pointed to people dealing with cancer. “Why assign labels to the survivors? They have issues that provide them with a different filter on life—and a viewpoint that says ‘root for me,’ Poling said.

In summing up his appraisal of “Modern Warrior Live,” Farinacci said, “It was a 100 percent creative development. It stayed true to Jaymes’ story, with magical moments. There is absolutely no substitute for a person who went through it (war), Jaymes allows us to connect to veterans, to find out ‘what did you do?’’ His voice is authentic.”

By the time that the show comes to Easton, it will have played in New York City and Chicago.

Echoing the sentiment expressed by Poling and a videotaped cameo appearance by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Richard Marks said, “The country has to get there, understanding that PTSD is being treated in the wrong way. The show is cathartic and emotional. The veterans are not damaged goods.”

Marks, who served on submarines in the US. Navy, said he learned “the value of dependence on others and a level of camaraderie.” These lessons learned are applicable to civilian life.

A jazz enthusiastic, Al Sikes spoke about Dominic Farinacci’s “lyrical trumpet’ and the emotion it spawns. “You can tell stories with the horn,” he said. He referred to Poling’s powerful narrative.” He too spoke about the retired staff sergeant’s authenticity.

Though he never served in the military. Sikes said he gained a new appreciation for military members after the September 11, 2001 attacks on our American homeland.

I applaud Marks and Sikes for helping to provide the financial support for a music drama intent on changing the image of a military veteran and bridging the gap between combat soldiers and a civilian world drawn to misconceptions about hardened veterans. Memories of combat and death do not vanish; nor are they necessarily personal aspects that should consign veterans to life with a label. While painful at times, heart-wrenching experiences can and do strengthen a person.

Dominick Farinacci and Jaynes Poling have combined their particular skills and experiences into a production embodying creative energy, musical excellence and pure, personal testimony. The result should capture rapt attention and change misconceptions.

Chesapeake Music Presents Modern Warrior Live on Saturday, November 18 at the Avalon starting at 8:00 pm. For more information on tickets please go 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. 

Spy Eye: Looking Back at Habitat for Humanity Choptank at Twenty-Five

There was an exceptional and historical moment at the Easton Volunteer Fire Department’s meeting hall last Tuesday evening. A distinguished group of founding board members and volunteers of Habitat for Humanity Choptank gathered for an hour-long forum, moderated by Spy columnist and Habitat volunteer George Merrill, to talk about the organization’s extraordinary twenty-five years in building homes in both Talbot and Dorchester Counties for

This conversation was part of a much larger celebration that Habitat was sponsoring to mark the occasion when hundreds of volunteers and donors met to enjoy barbecue and fellowship to celebrate this extraordinary community achievement.

Founders and volunteers Ed Colaprete, Michelle Friend, Jo Merrill, Larry Neviaser, Phyllis Rambo and Winslow Womack, traded memories and anecdotes about the early years, recounting the challenges and successes of the organization after a quarter of a century of service to the community.

The Talbot Spy was there to share some of those precious memories.

This video is approximately nine minutes in length. For more information about Habitat for Humanity Choptank please go here

No Forwarding Address by George Merrill

In my last column I mentioned having grown interested in writing letters, real letters not email. In part, the idea was born by a book I read about one woman’s discovery in writing letters to people who’ve influenced her life. What she wrote impressed me.

One of the advantages of being an octogenarian is the long view of life that the years provide. I have both the time and the perspective to recall a rich repository of people who have been significant to me. To intentionally think about those people and what they meant to me is not, as you might expect, just going over the same old turf again. There are new discoveries. The recollections reveal new and startling aspects of how I have been influenced by others. Intentionally pondering the meaning of old relationships is filled with meaning and at oftentimes, surprises.

I’m thinking particularly about a recent letter I wrote – the second one I wrote with an intention to communicate gratitude for what she meant for me. I sent the letter to Maureen.

She was a colleague of whom I was always fond, but at the time I hadn’t realized just what it was about Maureen that drew me to her. We worked together thirty-five years ago. She had that ineffable characteristic gentle people possess: an unassuming presence that brings grace to whatever they’re about. In some ways she seemed to be able impute life even to things as inanimate as a small pile of stones.

Maureen had been a nun in a cloistered community. After years of discernment, she discovered she was being called to a new ministry. She received training and served both as a hospital chaplain and a pastoral counselor.

Occasionally she would lead small groups in meditations. She’d craft small objects as aids to the meditations she’d lead. There was one I remember. From one point of view it was wholly unremarkable. My memory of it – were talking some twenty to twenty-five years ago– is admittedly sketchy. My mind’s eye recollects a pile of small stones, placed on a dish. A candle was placed on the mound.  It seemed to me at that moment that the stones became like some ancient monument to a holy site. Some spiritual awakening had occurred and a small mound of stones had been erected to memorialize it. There is no material monument left by Maureen’s meditation except the picture in my mind and while the details are hazy, the feeling of awe, a sense of the holy is not.

As fuzzy as the image remains in my mind, and that I don’t even recall the particular subject of the meditation, the impression remains and the feeling I have about it is undeniable. She had the gift to bring a spiritual awareness to the things to which she gave her attention, significance that, of themselves, they didn’t possess. She didn’t teach the stones to talk. She invited them to communicate a mystical presence by the intentions she invested in them as she assembled them for the meditation rite.

I’ve sometimes thought of specific places like Lourdes or the Mount of Olives as holy places. I’m beginning to believe that by itself a place is not holy – what makes it holy is the time, the place and the people converging on it at a particular instant. All the circumstances at a particular moment conspire to create an experience that transcends time and place to reveal a new reality, as if by being present with open hearts a small window in the firmament of heaven is thrown open, revealing something of the eternity beyond it.

I will not know what Maureen may think of the letter or even if she will see her graces the way I describe them. I’m not sure she will recollect our common history in the same way as I have. I have seen that happen in families eager to share reminiscences only to discover that one may see particular moments very differently from others. Is it then possible that our experiences with each other may not be as significant when we all see the moment in the same way? We all have our town take. Our shared history with each other is indeed mixed. Few of us will ever know the full impact we have had on another. It may remain hidden for years as if under a small mound of stones.

Sending the letter became my way of reconnecting and celebrating what others have meant to me. Beginning to write the letters I find the hardest part. At first I have only a person’s image in my mind’s eye or some associated objects. Soon a feeling follows. It’s hard to put into words. For a while I’ll draw a blank, but soon recollections begin to take shape and the words come to express my gratitude.

There’s a Christian teaching called the ‘communion of saints.’ It’s stated this way: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight . . .” When I was a boy, I imagined that I was surrounded by all my relatives who’d died, gone to heaven and they hovered around me, invisible, rooting for me like Casper the friendly ghost. They were my celestial guardians. My youthful understanding of the communion of saints did not survive my seminary education, intact. One thing changed: I believe that those witnesses compassing about me now include many of the living. And I can send them letters, unlike friendly ghosts or even saints that we assume reside in heaven but never leave forwarding addresses.

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.