8 Old Fulton Street, Brooklyn New York

Design for You: Thoughts on Architect David Morton by Pamela Heyne

It was always a treat going to dinner at Presqu’ile, the 1820 historic home of Anne Morton Kimberly. Proceeding down the long tree lined drive was a dramatic beginning. Then our cheerful, stylish hostess would greet us, often introducing us to new friends. Sometimes her daughter Babes and Babes’ husband Tom would be guests when they were not traveling. Dinner was usually in the formal dining room, or for more intimate occasions, in a cozy nook off the kitchen.

After dinner we would often sit in the library and continue chatting. A full length portrait of Anne’s son, and Babes’ brother, David Morton graced a wall in an anteroom. The picture showed him standing on a hill, smiling, as he gazed in the distance. David was tall and handsome, resembling his dad, 6’7 Congressman and cabinet official Rogers Morton. David had died in 2003.

I had known David much earlier, long before I moved to the shore and met Anne and Babes. David and I were classmates at Yale School of Architecture. David was a talented and brilliant fellow. I recall a handful of us gathered in his apartment as David explained to us some engineering complexities, and exactly how air conditioning worked! He had a patrician confidence, not surprising since he had spent his teen years at Presqu’ile, attended the Country School, and came from a prominent family. Yet he had a zany side too. His New Haven apartment could only be described as quirky. It sported a black hallway with a giant stuffed toy jolly green giant suspended from the ceiling.

A few years later after graduating from Yale I took a trip to New York with another classmate from New Haven, Tom Welch. We stayed at David’s home in Brooklyn. Its previous incarnation was a toilet seat factory but David was transforming it into a chic series of loft apartments. He had a grand piano in one of the rooms. Leaning next to the piano was a cane. I made conversation about the cane. Turns out it was a gift from Leonard Bernstein.

 8 Old Fulton Street, Brooklyn New York

8 Old Fulton Street, Brooklyn New York

The building was next to the Brooklyn bridge. As we had dinner we gazed out the wide windows as car headlights slipped across the bridge, and the lights of Manhattan glistened on the water. One felt suspended in a kinetic, magical world.

David had a lifelong partner, Tom Cordell, an architect turned artist, of whom Anne was most fond. After David’s death Tom would accompany Anne on trips and was frequent a dinner guest at Presqu’ile. Tom is still alive, and his work is handled by Fischbach Gallery in New York.Anne, who grew up in privilege in Kentucky, had a remarkable openness of mind. Though her husband was a prominent Republican, she hosted a fundraiser at Presqu’ile for Democrat Frank Kratovil and said she “enjoyed her new Democratic friends.”

David grew up in beautiful surroundings and himself created beautiful surroundings. He saw the potential in Brooklyn factory buildings before it was fashionable. Eventually settling in California, he designed homes throughout the US. One of his designs is a spectacular sliver of a house perched on a ridge in Hilo, Hawaii. Now a vacation rental, called “The Falls at Reed’s Island” it is listed in the Frommer guide as one of the “top 15 rooms with a view”.

A few years after David’s death I saw that one of his home designs appeared in Architectural Digest. I took the magazine to Anne and left it with her. She was pleased to see it, but also, really unable to speak. We both realized that a talented person left the earth way too soon.

A while back, on a speaking trip to Chicago, I visited again with old friend Tom Welch. I learned with great sadness that he, a gay man, had been beaten up on the street. In David Morton’s 2003 NYT obituary Tom Cordell was listed as a partner. Now, in Babes’ 2017 obituary, Tom Cordell is listed as a surviving brother-in-law. That little detail said a great deal and pleased me.

Pamela Heyne is head of Heyne Design in Saint Michaels and author of In Julia’s Kitchen, Practical and Convivial Kitchen Design Inspired by Julia Child.

Mid-Shore Culture: Revisiting the President’s Mother with Martha Sexton

Washington College’s Patrick Henry Writing Fellow, Martha Sexton, has built a remarkable career in bringing to light the real lives of this country’s most misunderstood women throughout her distinguished scholarship. With books as diverse as Little Women author Louisa May Alcott to the Hollywood sex symbol Jayne Mansfield, Sexton has used her unique skills to uncover far more realistic, more nuanced, and perhaps a more sympathetic understanding of their motives and character.

During this special week that combines Presidents’ Day, George Washington’s Birthday, and, of course, Washington College’s special convocation celebrating its namesake, it seemed appropriate for the Spy to catch up with Martha, who recently authored a forthcoming biography of the first president’s mother, Mary Bell Washington.

In The Widow Washington, Sexton pushes back on the sometimes dismissive or derogatory treatment of Mary Washington by many famed biographers of Washington as well as brings to light the simple hard realities that faced elderly widows in the 18th Century.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the College’s C.V. Starr Center Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship please go here.

A Catholic Perspective on Assisted Suicide by David Montgomery

This has been a difficult column to write, and it is even harder when you are third into the debate.   I feel barely competent to write about assisted suicide, but I see no one else stating what I believe needs to be said.  I am a Catholic, I have some education in Catholic moral theology and social ethics, and I am convinced by the reasons that the Catholic Church gives for opposing physician-assisted suicide.  Therefore I will try to state and defend them in this column.

Catholics have frequently participated in this kind of debate by arguing in the same terms as those with whom they disagree.  This is a time-honored tradition, practiced most famously by St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).  It takes the form in this case of showing that physician-assisted suicide does not have the practical advantages cited by proponents and conflicts with values that its supporters espouse.  The practical dangers include likelihood that lethal quantities of prescribed barbiturates will end up on the street, possibilities of insurance fraud or fraudulent acquisition of drugs, and cost to the taxpayer.  The secular value conflicts include inherent discrimination on the basis of age and disability and violation of the rights of family members.  

I am impressed by the practical arguments that suggest this is a deeply flawed bill that could do great harm, but to my mind they do not go anywhere near far enough. What I believe need to be addressed are two other arguments in favor of assisted suicide, one based on a relativistic view of morality and one claiming that there is a “right” to suicide.  The Catholic Church dismisses both these arguments, for good reasons.

The controversy over suicide is a textbook example of the difference between relativism and the recognition of moral absolutes.  Relativism holds that there is no single standard by which an action can be judged good or bad, and such judgments all depend on intentions and circumstances.   In application to whether proposed laws are good or bad, this approach would ask whether the good that might be done outweighs the harm, or vice versa.  I see this point of view almost exclusively in the suicide debate.

The relativist tries to answer the questions: Will the suffering that could be avoided by assisted suicide in some circumstances be greater or less than the suffering likely to be caused by the availability of assisted suicide in other circumstances?  How should the pain caused by a father shooting himself when unable to commit suicide in a less traumatic manner be weighed against the suffering of loved ones who lose a father too soon because of the availability of lethal drugs?  I do not believe there is any satisfactory answer if the question is posed in this way.

As an alternative to this way of thinking, Pope St John Paul II (1920-2005) wrote in The Splendor of Truth that “there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object.”  These acts include  “Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide….”

Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or Hindu, all the great religions agree on the inherent value of every human life.   From this principle all other moral conclusions follow.   For the Christian, respect for life is enhanced by our belief that we are all created in God’s image.

Taking one’s own life or assisting in the intentional act of taking another’s life are denials of the value of the gift of life and rejections of God’s love and mercy.  Suicide amounts to substituting one’s own will for the will of God at the most important possible moment.  Not only does suicide abandon love of self, it is a negation of love for others.  I would add my personal belief that the choice of suicide, if it is made without coercion and with full understanding of what is being done, is the ultimately selfish act, not only for theological reasons but because it inevitably inflicts suffering on those who love the victim.

Catholic, and I suspect all other Christian, bio-ethics recognizes that in the vast majority of cases, dying persons who choose suicide are not making such a choice.  Many, perhaps all, are under such coercion from physical or psychological suffering, guilt for being a burden, or active pressure that they are not fully responsible for their actions. Thus nothing in the statement that suicide is wrong implies any judgment about an individual who makes that choice, but it does make it clear that we must try to prevent suicide in every possible way.  

In particular, the duty of the Christian and society is to provide the loving care for the dying that can make the choice of suicide no longer an issue.  The proper response to descriptions of the suffering of those who wished for assisted suicide is not to vote to make it possible, but to resolve to provide compassionate, loving support whenever a friend or loved one is nearing death so that they will not be compelled to hasten the end.

It is also important to recognize that physical suffering is not a duty or necessity for the dying.  Pope Pius XII (1876-1958) was asked whether it is permissible to administer pain-medication to the dying in sufficient quantities to alleviate suffering, even if is known that the treatment will shorten life.  His answer was “Yes.”

There is much less latitude in Catholic teaching for those who assist in the taking of a life either directly or indirectly.   Again quoting from The Gospel of Life, “To concur with the intention of another person to commit suicide and to help in carrying it out through so-called “assisted suicide” means to cooperate in, and at times to be the actual perpetrator of, an injustice which can never be excused, even if it is requested.”  Even voting for such a law is concurring with the intention to commit suicide and would be considered “co-operation with evil.”

This is the moral case that the Catholic Church makes against assisted abortion.  It is based on natural law and the recognition that  “every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can … come to recognize … the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree.”

Assisted suicide has also been supported as one of the “rights” that are constantly being invented by liberal society.  One of the co-sponsors of the current Maryland bill is quoted as saying “I believe adult American citizens should be entitled to maximum autonomy and personal freedom.  I don’t want a nanny government controlling my body.” A good libertarian statement by, I am ashamed to say, a Republican member of the Maryland Assembly. While I equally detest the nanny government telling me what I can eat or what kind of health insurance I can buy, the good Republican gives a definition of freedom that is just wrong.  

Contrast his notion of freedom to that of Pope St John Paul II: “The commandment ‘You shall not kill’ thus establishes the point of departure for the start of true freedom. It leads us to promote life actively, and to develop particular ways of thinking and acting which serve life. In this way we exercise our responsibility towards the persons entrusted to us and we show, in deeds and in truth, our gratitude to God for the great gift of life.”

The claim that there is a right to suicide confuses freedom to make an arbitrary choice with freedom to choose that which is right and good in light of our natures.  In the Catholic tradition, freedom means being able to set aside compulsions of habit, social pressure, depression, anxiety, fear, pride and all the other influences that drive us to do things we regret, in order to discern and make the choices that lead us toward our greatest good.  It does not mean being able to choose in a morally indifferent way whatever those feelings incline us to do.

So if rights derive from our nature, and respect for life is part of our nature, there can be no such thing as a right to suicide in any form.  Far from recognizing a natural right, any law authorizing assisted suicide would, in the words of the 1980 Vatican Declaration on Euthanasia, “be legalizing a case of suicide-murder, contrary to the fundamental principles of absolute respect for life and of the protection of every innocent life.“

For an account of Catholic teaching on the subject far clearer than what I can write, I recommend the 1980 Declaration on Euthanasia and Pope St John Paul II’s encyclical The Gospel of Life . Or just the Catechism of the Catholic Church Part 3, Section 2, Chapter 2.

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.


Robotic Politics Lead to Alienation and Anger by Al Sikes

Questions persist. Why is America caught in a trap of emotions, unthinking politics, and what seems to be an inexorable erosion of core values?

In a sense, the easiest questions pertain to politics. Let me begin with the corruption of the Republican and Democrat parties. The electorate rejected a thoroughly established Democrat for a Republican who had blown up his Party.

All but two of the candidates in the two primaries were shaped by their respective parties insistent interest groups. Default settings responded to questions about schools or guns or health care or whatever. Robots were displacing jobs in more than the manufacturing and service sectors. Most candidate’s operating systems were programmed.

All but two of the candidates failed to sense a radically restive populace, that while prepared to buy from a robotic clerk had no interest in a programmed president. And even though the two candidates, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, were well outside the normal zone of electability, the one closest to an angry populace won. The losers didn’t understand what happened nor did the thousands who led America’s established institutions. In particular, the news media was surprised and then distraught.

What about core values that have historically been behavioral curbs? In a sense, the breach of values became a proxy for reform. And while so-called progressives will blanch at attaching reform to President Trump, that is exactly what he is, a reformist. He is doing his level best to reshape (reform) decorum, process, and ultimately the relationships between the government and a wide range of constituencies both domestic and foreign.

Trump is, of course, an out-sized figure and a magnet for reporters and pundits. Each day is filled with some new outrage. I was amused to see the New York Times run an article claiming the Wall Street Journal had not been sufficiently anti-Trump. Wall Street Journal reporters and pundits were insufficient only if the New York Times’ hyperventilating is the new baseline.

It is, of course, a monumental task to thoughtfully assess the underlying cultural changes that made Trump’s election possible. I would suggest, however, that assessing seminal changes is not beyond the competence of a variety of on-line and print publications.

Let me begin the early stages of the inquiry with a few questions beginning on the left. Do monopolistic public employee unions and their interests pose a threat to government competence and finances? Is college the only acceptable career beginning? Does identity politics lead to a dead end? Is there a misalignment between the art of the possible and campaign generated expectations?

Turning to the right. Does sacrifice abroad carry any responsibility at home? Do all tax decreases generate offsetting revenue through economic growth? Is there any weapon not protected by the Second Amendment? Is school choice the only answer to America’s education and related jobs problems?

I close holding onto a hard to let go assumption. I remain convinced that persons of integrity, who also exhibit thoughtful leadership talents, retain an electoral advantage. Yet, today’s established parties and their orthodoxies make optimism more difficult.

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): Hostile Takeover by Squirrels by Howard Freedlander

For years I would hear stories about the annoying damage done by deer to crops and gardens throughout Talbot County. I would listen and then gloat to myself that no such thing could happen in Easton.

While I may be right, we have other destructive animals. Squirrels have asserted themselves in my neighborhood, as I learned during a hearty email exchange among my neighbors. The chatter amused me, but then my life has been unafflicted similarly by the ever-present rodents.

As a local columnist, I was intensely interested in this riveting neighborhood news. I couldn’t ignore it, though it was far from earthshaking, albeit obviously irritating to those feeling the effect of the squirrels’ attack. Our neighborhood was under siege—or so it seemed from the animated email thread.

In deference to my neighbors, I will not identify them by name. Instead, I will refer to them in the innocuous fashion of Homeowner #1, etc. They deserve their privacy in the face of non-discriminating rodents that roam our wonderful neighborhood, unafraid of public censure.

Let’s begin on this exciting journey of in-town inconvenience:

Homeowner #1: Dear friends and neighbors,

I took my car to Hertrich yesterday since a red light warned me that my air bag was malfunctioning. The mechanic showed me that rodents (probably squirrels) had chewed through wiring, which made it seem like there was a malfunction. They also had chewed on covering inside of hood. The mechanic suggested that I put mothballs in recesses of the engine, which I have done. I purchased the kind that come in little packets. It was an expensive lesson- $300 +.
Free moth ball placement lessons upon request!

Homeowner #2 Thanks a lot. Interesting information. However, now, the squirrels will be after our cars. They’ve already eaten through two of our propane hoses to our grill.

Homeowner #3: They chew up our plastic watering cans and hose handles too! And, eat my tomatoes. I have a BB gun, but can’t use it very well, and besides, it would only add a little excitement to the squirrels’ lives, not deter them from their evil activities.

Homeowner #4: I gave up on growing tomatoes. They picked the vines clean.

Homeowner #5: Yikes! I would happily participate in a moth ball placement seminar. They chewed on our phone lines. The one year we grew tomatoes, they would eat half, leave the other half on our mailbox, and would then laugh at us….

Homeowner #6: All I know is that every October when they sit on our finely carved Halloween jack-o-lanterns snacking freely, they are looking me directly in the eye and mocking my very existence. Curse you, squirrels!

Homeowner #7: Hi neighbors, It seems we all have something in common! SQUIRRELS! I actually have quite a few stories similar to what have already been shared … including wires severed, tomato plants being carried away right before my eyes, and the like. But I’ll share the story when a few years back a squirrel/squirrels managed to eat a hole right into the front roof closed-off space above my porch. They were pretty sneaky and quiet at first … then as “love” hit the air, the noisy and wild chasing began. Or maybe I have it wrong, and the screeching, romping and carrying on was fighting for territorial rights. All I knew was it had to STOP! And I needed to fix/shut that little squirrel door! So a live trap was arranged with an open face peanut butter sandwich each day for 13 days … 13 squirrels were carefully caught and given a home far, far away :~)

Homeowner #8: We have had a horrible time with those darn squirrels. There is a picture up at Easton ford because they found the largest squirrel nest they have ever seen. It was under the hood of my car behind the headlight. We drove all the way to Hilton Head with a family of stowaway squirrels. They had pulled old paint rags, twigs, leaves, and newspaper into the engine of my car. Who knew squirrels like to read the newspaper.? Anyway I feel for you ours was also an expensive repair. They are such a nuisance!

Well, folks, you can’t make up these stories, as the saying goes. While we should be happy that deer don’t roam the streets of Easton, squirrels more than punch their weight. My neighbors’ comments can vouch for that.

After reading these squirrelly tales, I suspect my attitude will change toward these ubiquitous rodents. I simply won’t trust them again.

As one neighbor wrote, “They are looking me directly in the eye and mocking my very existence.” Good-humored hyperbole? Maybe not.

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.

Mid-Shore Arts: The Church Hill Theatre at 35 Years Old with Nina Sharp

A quick check of Wikipedia shows a very limited response to the query term, “Church Hill, Maryland.” In fact, with the exception of a summary of the 2010 census, which shows that about 500 people live in the town, and that Church Hill has four buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, there’s not much there.

But it does have one thing that very few places have, and that’s the beloved and successful Church Hill Theatre (CHT).

Built in the 1920s as the town’s community center, the building became the home of the Church Hill Theatre in 1982, some thirty-five years ago. That was reason enough for the Spy to want to know more about the CHT. It seemed rather remarkable that a community theatre company could survive that long in a town of 500 which rests some fifteen miles from the next town over.

But in talking to the Theatre’s executive manager Nina Sharp the other day, it turns out the CHT is not only surviving but actually thriving. With five major theatre productions a year, two youth educational programs, as well as ongoing partnerships with Chesapeake College, Gunston School, and the Home Educators of the Eastern Shore, Church Hill is very much alive and well.

That’s not to say CHT doesn’t have its challenges with owning a building that needs a great deal of love and care, but as Nina suggests in our chat, all signs look good for another thirty five years.

This video is approximately minutes in length. For more information about the Church Hill Theatre, please go here.

Take Heart by George Merrill

Cynics say that positive thinking in the Trump era is equivalent to being in denial or suffering a psychiatric condition called magic thinking. Take heart, it’s not so.

The trick I’ve learned is not to read the papers or visit any other media for at least two hours after rising; the longer the better. Then I have an untroubled look at the sunrise, listening to the early birds flitting about while I savor that first cup of coffee. With an untroubled mind I can think about just how I want to go about my day.

Another strategy to maintain equanimity is to think contextually, that is, keep an eye on the big picture. Beauty is often revealed by its surrounding space, as Anne Morrow Lindbergh once observed about the shells she saw on a beach.

February is a case in point.

I’ve always regarded February as a blah month – cold and wet and dreary. But, taking the long look I now see it differently. Consider this: February 14th is Valentines Day. February 17th is Random Acts of Kindness Day. It’s also American Heart Month as well as Black History Month. The only downer is that February includes Presidents’ Day. Recently it’s felt more like a wake than a celebration. Still, my challenge is to remain positive, look for the silver lining in the darkest cloud, and don’t resort to keeping my head in the sand.

Valentines Day was especially rewarding this year because I remembered it on my own. I was the first to initiate a congratulatory kiss and tell my wife I loved her. I know she welcomed it, but I saw fleeting skepticism in her eyes. She may have been surprised that I remembered. She made the attached card for me.

February 17th is Random Acts of Kindness Day. Then I was still on holiday in Puerto Rico. Like many privileged Yankees I stay at a resort where some of the heart-rending poverty remains invisible. In many ways it’s an alternative universe, and if I ever had any illusions about inequality, being on the streets of Humacao as well as on the streets of our own capitol, they are quickly dispelled.

When I first arrived, I had occasion to leave the resort to buy supplies in Humacao. At a light I was approached, one after the other, by no less that four indigent men. Each held a plastic cup in his hand.

Their appearance betrayed desperate need. As each approached, I realized I only had twenties in my wallet and had made no provision for this. As they moved their cups in my direction I shrugged my shoulders and they passed me. The men betrayed no apparent anger or judgment. I believe I saw in their eyes a silent resignation, the blank stare of hopelessness. Having heard of a man in New York who did this, I elected to be sure next time when I left the house I’d be prepared to give each a dollar. This probably made no difference in their plight, but out of guilt and compassion I felt a need to at least act, to take their plight seriously enough to acknowledge it. Each time I gave, I had an odd feeling. I think it reduced that sense of guilt that goes with privilege, but the other feeling seemed different. As we momentarily looked each other in the eye I noticed I felt less alienated and more aware. This was a stranger whom I met only once and probably would never see again. The feeling was faintly reminiscent of a sense of belonging, that both of us were connected in a fundamental way – children of God. Moments like this make me appreciate the exercise of compassion – and the organizational commitment – that Julie Lowe and the volunteers of the Talbot Interfaith Shelter have created. Random acts of kindness are good as far as they go. Compassionate acts inspired by committed and accountable people is goodness at it’s best.

During February we celebrate Black History month, usually emphsizing the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. Like Gandhi, Dr. King showed the world a more excellent way. I continue to be awed by the care and planning that the early civil right activists practiced. It was as disciplined as boot camp, giving as much thought and respect to adversaries as to advocates. The movement was one example of not only the power of goodness and personal sacrifice to reach the human heart, but to also change oppressive social structures. Social revolutions are notoriously bloody. The civil rights movement had casualties – King himself – but his life and mission changed the world in a remarkably bloodless way.

February is also American Heart Month. Our hearts are our most loyal supporters and our closest friends. We can’t live without one. They have an awesome responsibility and even when they suffer malfunctions, with the right treatment, they keep on truckin’. Try this on for size: In a seventy-two year life span, a heart beats approximately 2,800,000,000 times. Of our other organic functions, our breath comes in behind the heart but still at a whopping 530,156,808 breaths. In times of erotic excitement and especially during presidential campaigns both numbers may increase substantially.

This brings us finally to February 20th, which is Presidents Day this year. It’s usually a celebration, but this year I think confusion abounds in the White House and President Trump seems angry all the time about one thing or another. I haven’t found this President’s Day as festive as last year when President Obama was in office. He was fun, articulate, with a sense of humor, even self-deprecating humor – “I’m the guy with the big ears,” he’d say. President Obama seemed to really care for us, as though he held in his heart the people he was elected to serve.

Oops! See, I’ve done it, dumping on Trump again, right into the negativity I’m encouraging us to rise above. Well, getting back on task I count as a blessing that Vladimir Putin didn’t become our 45th President.

Take heart, friends. Count your blessings, however modest. It promotes warm hearts and fewer visits to your cardiologist.

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.

Mid-Shore Arts: Ben Simons Takes the Helm at the Academy Art Museum

For Ben Simons, the road to the Eastern Shore and his appointment as the new director of the Academy Art Museum is almost a lesson in geography. Raised by diplomats who served in a variety of iron curtain countries in the 1980s, including places like Romania, Russia, and Poland, it was through this somewhat exotic childhood that Ben first connected with museums and the unique role those institutions play in culture. But it would turn out to be the island of Nantucket where Simons first embraced the world of museum management as a career.

For close to fifteen years, Ben and his wife, the artist Alison Cooley, made that remote community off the shores of Massachusetts their home which allowed them both to pursue their real interests. While Alison focused on her art, Ben became the chief curator and senior management member of Nantucket Historical Association’s highly regarded Whaling Museum. And it was at this institution that he began to connect the dots between literature, history, art, and education.

In the Spy’s first interview with Ben, he talks about his background, his passion for art, and some of the new initiatives he’s already started at the Academy, including doubling down on its educational programs, the redesign of the AAM website, reinstituting the very popular Craft Show this fall, and finally preparing for the Museum’s 60th birthday in 2018. Not bad for four months on the job.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the Academy Art Museum please go here

Out and About (Sort of): Togetherness amid Tragedy by Howard Freedlander

On Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017, I escaped the pre-game hoopla for a memorial service at American Legion Post #70 in Easton to pay homage to the “Four Chaplains” who died as the U.S.A.T. Dorchester sunk in the frigid North Atlantic waters off the coast of Greenland.

The story about the Four Chaplains, though well known, poignantly underscores cherished values of faith, unity, courage and selflessness. Little wonder that this touching tale continues to resonate.

Carrying 902 servicemen, merchant seamen and civilian workers, the 5,649-ton vessel, once a luxury coast liner converted into an Army transport ship, the Dorchester was steaming from Newfoundland to an American base in Greenland. Officers knew that German U-boats were a constant threat; several ships had already been struck and sunk by German torpedoes.

And so that too was the Dorchester’s unfortunate fate.

Hit about 1 a.m. on the starboard side, amid ship, far below the waterline, this packed transport ship took on water, rapidly sinking in less than 20 minutes. The icy seas became a grave for 672 men in the wee hours of Feb. 3, 1943.

Panic consumed the ship as men jumped from the ship into rafts, some capsizing due to overcrowding. Death was a stark reality.

Lt. George L, Fox (Methodist), Lt. Alexander D. Goode (Jewish), Lt. John P. Washington (Roman Catholic) and Lt. Clark V. Poling (Dutch Reformed) became heroes by offering prayers, a sense of calm and help for those seeking the safety of lifeboats. They distributed life jackets to men trying to escape a doomed ship.

At this point, the chaplains did something remarkable: they removed their own life jackets and gave them to the men. Then, as the ship went down, the four chaplains linked arms, according to survivors, and offered prayers

Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 7.52.56 AMA prayer read in the stillness of the American Legion spoke beautifully about the “unity that transcends all our differences and makes us one in loyalty to our country and our fellow men and to you, our God…may we remain faithful to the spirit of our Four Chaplains who, having learned to live and serve together, in death were not divided.”

This story has many overriding themes, all tied to the best in us. Crises have a way of doing that. Tragedy begets goodness, in most instances.

The four chaplains cared nothing about the religious preferences of the men whom they helped. Differences in liturgy and faith were irrelevant. What did matter to them were their faith in God; their lives belonged to a higher power, one that superseded the calamities and tragedies imposed by war.

Their arms linked in unity on a rapidly sinking ship, Reverend Fox, Rabbi Goode, Father Washington and Reverend Poling exemplified ultimate selflessness and uncommon courage amid chaos and certain death. They remained loyal to each other—and their devotion to the desperate men fighting for their lives on a dark, freezing night.

As the U.S.A.T. Dorchester sank, these four young clergymen raised themselves in the eyes and hearts of the survivors who watched in disbelief and admiration from their lifeboats.

Were this a thankfully short sermon, instead of a weekly column, I would tie the overarching themes of sacrifice, faith, unity and courage to our everyday lives. I would stand on my imaginary soapbox and plead for the application of these enduring values to our body politic.

But I won’t. It’s not necessary. It would seem preachy, maybe even a bit pompous.

The “Four Chaplains” story stands on its own human and spiritual foundation. Its lessons are clear to any of us who believe that goodness and grace mark our lives. In a communal tragedy—such as 9/11—we pull together and amass our collective strength and empathy, at least briefly.

As organized mayhem and tasty nachos awaited me, during our national paean to sports and physical dominance called the Super Bowl, I took a welcome, early afternoon respite to pay tribute to four men who died 74 years ago in the icy North
Atlantic waters during World War II. They were heroes of the highest order.

Their story is a powerful one. Their story touches your soul.

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.

Carbon Taxes, Tax Reform and Reduced Regulation by David Montgomery

The carbon tax has re-entered the political scene with a visit to the White House by a group of former Republican official last Wednesday. Their proposal, endorsed by Senator Van Hollen, would impose a $40 per ton of carbon tax and distribute the proceeds by sending a quarterly check to every American. Perhaps unnoticed by Senator Van Hollen, their proposal included repeal of all existing regulations made unnecessary by the carbon tax.

I agree with all of them about the need for a carbon tax.

First, what is a carbon tax? It is a tax on the carbon content of oil, natural gas, and coal, collected from their producers or importers. Coal contains about twice as much carbon as natural gas, and oil is in between so that the tax promotes switching to cleaner fuels and energy conservation. The carbon tax will show up in energy costs for consumers. A $40 per ton carbon tax is the equivalent of a gasoline tax increase of 36 cents per gallon and would also apply to natural gas, heating oil, propane and electricity generated from any of those fuels.

Why do some Republicans and Democrats like a carbon tax? For me, the reason is that the carbon tax is far less intrusive than regulations put in place over the past eight years to limit carbon dioxide emissions. It will impose far less cost on the economy and American families than the current regulations, and it will motivate free market solutions and innovation to find less costly alternatives to oil, natural gas, and coal, fuels that we cannot now do without.

Even though I am skeptical of the disasters predicted by climate activists and President Obama, there are solid scientific and economic reasons that justify looking for cost-effective ways to reduce the risks that climate change might pose. Studies from a wide variety of institutions with no common ideology agree that the carbon tax will have much lower cost and put less drag on the economy than current regulations and those that might be put in place by future administrations. Unfortunately, a carbon tax doesn’t hide its cost the way that regulations and subsidies do, nor does it give politicians the opportunity to direct benefits to the particular interests they serve like the current inefficient package of regulations and subsidies. I think that is a good thing, but it is a political handicap.

Nevertheless, I disagree in several ways with this specific proposal.

$40 per ton is too high and letting the tax increase forever is too much. Even the Obama Administration found that that the damage to the United States from carbon dioxide emissions was no more than $10 per ton. A tax at $40 per ton clearly fails the test of having costs greater than benefits. The Republican proponents of the $40 per ton tax cited the Paris Agreement, in which President Obama promised to reduce U.S. emissions to 26% – 28% below 2005 levels by 2025, as justification for that large a tax. But the numbers in the Paris Agreement, to which President Obama unilaterally committed the U.S. last year, were an arbitrary political choice, backed by no cost-benefit analysis and were a bad deal for the U.S. President Trump intends to change that deal, and he is right.

President Obama’s Paris commitments were a bad deal because more than 50% of carbon dioxide emissions that will be released in the next century will come from China and India, and their commitment in Paris was that they would start thinking about reducing emissions some time after 2030. It is bad geopolitical strategy to commit ourselves to take actions that require comparable action by others, when our counterparts have indicated no willingness to match us. Nor will fulfilling our Paris commitments do noticeable good for the world.

By the time our Paris commitments made any difference to the rate of increase in global temperature, those who now face risks of natural disasters and weather that might be made worse by climate change will have died of old age. We would do better to spend our resources now delivering aid directly to those people, not through their almost universally corrupt governments, and to do so in ways that are effective in reducing their vulnerability now as well as far in the future.

The idea of giving the revenues from a carbon tax directly to the people has many merits, including making sure it does not just go for frivolous spending. But it is not the best use of the revenues. First, Senator Van Hollen and other advocates of that approach err when they claim it will offset all the burden of the carbon tax. That is impossible. The government can return the out of pocket cost of the carbon tax by returning every dollar collected, but that will not reverse the drag on the economy that comes from replacing cheap with expensive energy. The problem with all taxes is that they create harm to the economy beyond the money they take from people’s pockets, by misallocating resources and reducing incentives to work and produce.

But some taxes are worse than others, and the best use of the revenue collected by a carbon tax would be to eliminate taxes that do far more harm. And right now there is an opportunity to make that trade that we have not seen since the 1980s.

After Obamacare, the highest priority of the Republican Congressional Leadership and the President is to enact comprehensive tax reform, which we have not seen since the Reagan Administration. President Trump has promised that action will begin in the next few weeks. A carbon tax could play a critical role in making tax reform possible and even more effective.

It is much more beneficial to use a carbon tax to fund tax reform than the rebate plan, which gives up economic benefits for political appeal. There is a cost to reducing emissions – it entails a shift to energy sources that cost more creating drag on the economy that slows wage growth and cuts into investment returns. And the carbon tax doesn’t raise enough money to cover these added costs. Using the revenue to reduce other burdensome taxes gives a Double Dividend – it not only gets the money back in the form of reduced taxes but it eliminates the disincentives for work and investment created by the current tax law. That leads to higher wage growth and better investment returns and a double dividend.

The Blueprint for Fundamental Tax Reform proposed by Speaker Ryan Chairman Brady of the House Ways and Means Committee attacks the most growth-killing taxes as well as eliminating paperwork and unfair preferences. The non-partisan Tax Foundation concluded that the Blueprint will give almost 10% higher GDP, create 1.7 million jobs and raise after-tax income for all classes of taxpayers by over 8%.

Since the Democrats have stonewalled every action by the Trump Administration, no matter what the merits, getting tax reform through requires using the Budget Reconciliation bill. This only requires 51 votes in the Senate, but the measure must be 1. relevant to the budget, which tax reform is, and 2. budget-neutral over the next ten years. To be budget-neutral, the plan only cuts taxes as much as possible without increasing the deficit. The carbon tax would make it possible to cut tax rates for individuals and businesses even further, or could overcome the revenue-draining effects of the inevitable carve-outs and exemptions for special interests. Or the carbon tax could provide a substitute for some of the provisions of the Blueprint that raise revenue if they prove too unpopular.

But none of this matters unless we roll back the badly designed and overly burdensome regulations and subsidies that have accumulated over the years. The greatest increase in regulatory burden took place during the Obama Administration, but the list of costly and ineffective regulations goes further back and further west. The Bush Administration gave us mandates and subsidies for renewables and California holds the country hostage with its ability to set fuel economy standards.

Quite literally, the power of a carbon tax to unleash market forces to find least cost solutions and stimulate innovation is neutralized by regulations that mandate particular actions to reduce emissions whether they make economic sense or not. Here is a short list of what has to go if the carbon tax is to be fully effective: the Clean Power Plan regulating electric utilities, the recent tightening of Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards that will make new cars more and more expensive, the Renewable Fuel Standards that enrich only the ethanol lobby and require more ethanol in gasoline than engines can safely burn; and tax subsidies for renewable energy that hide its cost in the income tax rather than revealing it in electricity bills. That is a partial list of Federal regulations, but it is not enough. California was given authority to set its own fuel economy standards by President Obama, and that must also be pre-empted to relieve the burden on auto manufacturers that will otherwise be shared nationwide. Likewise, Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standards that force utilities to pay for excessively costly solar and wind installations must be pre-empted, if these sources are to compete on a level playing field created by the carbon tax. And there are others at the state and Federal level.

But eliminating regulations and subsidies is the hardest step. They are supported by an unholy alliance between the environmental activists and politicians who prefer government intrusion and the industries that benefit from it. I hope Senator Van Hollen is ready to break the mold and go along with this part of the proposal he endorsed, but I suspect he will change his mind when he realizes that the carbon tax will do away with the regulations and subsidies he loves so much.

So I do hope the White House listens to and sensibly modifies the proposal from moderate Republicans. The proposal fits and would advance their priorities for regulatory and tax reform. It is the most free market way to address the potential risks of climate change. But will only achieve all this as an inseparable package – carbon tax, tax reform, and rollback of regulations. There will be little benefit from a carbon tax if the money is given away and regulation remains.