People Have to Know by Craig Fuller

“People have got to know….”

Up until now, President Richard Nixon’s statement stands as a kind of a low bar on the presidential trust and respect meter. You’ll remember the full quote I’m sure:

“People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook. I’ve earned everything I’ve got.”

I wanted a few days to pass to reflect on this new book out about the Trump White House. I also wanted to read Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside The Trump White House. Well, with the passage of a few days, the impact, at least on me, just grows more troublesome. And, a new bar seems to have been set with the Presidential declaration attesting to being a self-described “…stable genius.” Every time it’s repeated I hear the unspoken phrase, “People have got to know whether or not their President is nuts.”

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, the fact that we have a President who feels compelled to address this issue just a few days short of his first year in office is politically breathtaking. But, what to me is the most extraordinary takeaway from the book is that the President’s own family and staff have created a montage that begs a question like this and a required a direct response to and an all-out concerted attack on the book and its author.

It should be said of this book that it will not go down as an example of high journalistic standards. It is not clear that commentary from one source was actually corroborated with others in a given meeting. But, what must be acknowledged is that all of the major players inside the White House spent some time with an author who invested months listening and probing his sources to gain insights into the internal operations of a White House. Those sources held all the cards. They could have shared stories of sensitive and inspired leadership. That is seemingly decidedly not something even one source tried to advance.

This is certainly not the first nor will it be the last White House filled with highly competitive people. However, individuals with little or no experience for governing seemed not to have turned to their better selves for guidance. They seemed to have elected to engage in a systematic pattern of behavior designed to tear apart their colleagues with the thought that ridding the White House of competing voices would smooth the decision-making process. Oh, along the way, at least initially, there seemed to be no decision making process.

While a President, like the leader of any organization, sets the tone and bears responsibility for the conduct of his team, among a number of concerns described in the book, President Trump seems to have set up a structure incapable of withstanding the pressures of the Presidency.

A book written from contemporaneous notes and interviews conducted over several months cannot just be dismissed. While changes have occurred since the interview process concluded, the damage done by this peeling back of the onion will be long-lasting. How do colleagues trust colleagues? How do current insiders react to anyone taking notes on conversations? What other books will be spawned by this one where another author seeks to outdo this first offering of a look behind the scenes at the White House? Can any future “look inside” fail to focus on dysfunction?

Again, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of viewing the current Administration favorably or unfavorably, we should all pause and reflect on what this book reveals not just about the President but also by those closest to him. Can they advance legislation? Can they manage a crisis? Will they fumble into trouble at home and abroad?

Sadly, my take away is that any and all of these worrisome possibilities are more real now at the end of year one of Trump’s Presidency.

What, in my view, we, the people, have got to know is whether this will get better, for all of our sakes!

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.

Mid-Shore Towns and Traffic: A Counterintuitive Solution for Intersections

From the intersections of Cross Street and Maple Avenue in Chestertown to Harrison and Goldsborough Streets in Easton, small Eastern Shore communities are increasingly confounded with growing automobile congestion in their towns,  particularly at critical traffic intersections.

In fact, many municipalities are facing somewhat of a zero-sum game by trying to keep a healthy traffic flow for drivers at a time when those same downtowns seek more pedestrians and bicyclists to improve their retail sectors and general quality of life.

As a result, the conundrum of how to make a workable intersection remains for most.

That was one of the reasons the Spy initiated a conversation with Chris Velasco and Elizabeth Bowling, co-founders of the urban planning consulting group PLACE, who are currently doing work on the Shore, to see if there were any new solutions in other small towns across the globe that significantly has reduced traffic congestion at these critical crossroads.

As just like the last time the Spy asked PLACE for insights on new thinking for town planning, Chris and Elizabeth not only came up with a unique model to share but an exceedingly successful one from the small village of Poynton (population 15,000) not far from the city of Manchester in England. One of the first towns in the world to install a “double roundel” or double roundabout, the new junction reduces the four-lane approaches to two lanes, allowing pedestrians and bikes to cross quickly, and at the same time eliminate traffic signals. The results, according to town reports, indicate that businesses have seen increased foot traffic, and congestion has been considerably lessened as a result.

And while it was intriguing to hear about this in concept, it was only after one looks at actual video footage of the double roundel that the pure magic of this solution can be seen in real time.

This video is approximately three minutes in length and was produced in partnership with the Easton Economic Development Corporation.  Additional video provided by Martin Cassini. See the full documentary here


Out and About (Sort of): Words Matter by Howard Freedlander

During 2017, I probably wrote roughly 10,000 words in my weekly Talbot Spy column. There were times I was tempted to quote something in entirety, sometimes thinking my words were inadequate to express my thoughts and opinions. However, I always remained committed to my own prose, though frequently including quotations that might be helpful as clarification or amplification.

For this column, I’m yielding almost entirely to another speaker, in this case an Episcopal priest, the Rev. James R. Harlan, rector of the Church of Bethesda-by-the Sea in Palm Beach, Fl. Sitting in the third row during Father Harlan’s Christmas Eve sermon were President and Mrs. Trump. They had been married at this church in 2005.

“In the beginning, in the beginning before and beyond you and me before and beyond this country, and this culture, before and beyond even this planet: in the beginning, the Gospel According to John tells us, was the Word. The Evangelist takes us all the way back, all the way back, to the beginning to put this evening’s celebration in the right context. Back to the beginning where God spoke and there was light. God need only say the word and the world comes into being. That is the power of God’s creativity and love.

Our words are perhaps not so awe inspiring, but we know don’t we? We know the power of speech, of words.

Nelson Mandela the great champion of racial equality in South Africa, who was imprisoned for almost three decades for standing up to a government that was repressing and racist and all of that. Nelson Mandela knew the power of words. He said: “It is never my custom to use words lightly. If 27 years in prison have done anything to us it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.

Words matter. The book of Proverbs talks often about the power of words. Proverbs 18, for example says death and life are in the power of the tongue. Words can build up or tear down. Words can speak truth or obfuscate truth. Words convey information, emotion, motivation.

When God created the universe, the book of Genesis tells us God did so by the Word, speaking saying, “Let there be light.” And there was. That word of God, that word through which God loved and lovingly brought this whole world into being, that word became flesh to live among us to live within us, in Jesus Christ. The word of God is more powerful and more transforming than any word you or I could possibly utter. And the gospel according to John tells us that that Word brings light, pure light, light that casts away the darkness of fear and pain. Light that offers the only real possibility of reconciling with enemies, of welcoming strangers, of truly loving one another, of truly knowing ourselves.

Your words and mine too often give voice to and empower the darkness that sometimes seems to loom so large. Your words and mine can have as much destructive and divisive potential as creative and healing potential. But God’s Word, made flesh in Jesus, whose incarnation we celebrate on this holy night, that word is perfect and pure light.

That word is light that casts out darkness and fear. That word creates within and around us love and peace. That word enlightens us to see who we truly are: beloved children of God. And herein lies, I think, the greatest miracle about this light, this light of God’s love. This light that became flesh in Jesus is also within you and me. The light of God’s love and Jesus is at the core of who we truly are. That creative healing light of God’s love is longing to shine forth from within you and from within me to bring light to our lives and to the world.

That light of the love of God in Christ wants to shine through to enlighten our minds to bring peace to our hearts to heal our deepest hurts.

I wonder tonight where is that light of God’s love shining most brightly for you? Don’t get consumed or distracted by the darkness, even though I know that sometimes it seems difficult to ignore. Tonight and tomorrow and on from there, let’s testify, let’s bear witness like John did to the light of God’s love that we know in Jesus Christ. Let’s testify in word and action that no one need feel confined to the darkness. Not you, not me, not any person is beyond the light-filled touch of the word of God and Jesus Christ. Let’s let that light shine in our words and our actions in our love for every human being. Let’s let that light shining through us be our gifts to ourselves, to our families and friends, and to the world this Christmas.”

I can’t pretend to emulate the Rev. Harlan’s scriptural interpretation. As someone, though, who spews thousands of words in this column and so many more in my daily conversations, I am sensitive about the power of words to heal and hurt, care and console, deride and decry and cheer and chide. I’m aware how a simple hello or personal inquiry can allow the recipient to feel better about oneself. I’ve seen where the absence of words—as in disregarding someone by failing to acknowledge the person’s presence—is hurtful.

We’ve all seen how the poisonous nature of words contaminates public discourse. The unfortunate result is a lack of comity and two-way communication. Words of friendship and understanding cease, nullifying the potential for constructive action and results.

Father Harlan deliberately uses the words “light” and “darkness” to connote God’s will to propagate an environment where love and compassion (light) triumph over hate and discord (darkness). Harlan’s point, stated so gracefully within his sermon, is that words are the vehicle for friendship and love, generosity of spirit, expression of grace and, yes, peace and tranquility.

Because all of us are imperfect, insecure human beings, our words often express our personal flaws. As I interpret Father Harlan’s Christmas Eve message, our words matter in our sometimes difficult and divisive lives.

All of us are messengers of goodness and glee, gloom and gracelessness. We can choose.

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.

The Legacy of Fireworks at Washington College Transitions to Sculpture

An artist’s rendering of “Radiant Echo,” the light sculpture to be installed  at Washington College as seen from the green

Former Washington College President Joseph McLain is remembered for many things – but his most enduring legacy may well be the tradition of fireworks displays at the college.

Joseph McLain shares a laugh with students

McLain, a chemistry professor with a lifelong interest in pyrotechnics, attended Washington College as an undergraduate. After college, he served in the World War II chemical corps, working on such projects as an improved hand grenade fuse and underwater cutting torches. After the war, he earned his Ph.D. in chemistry at Johns Hopkins, then returned to Washington College to teach. Over the course of his career, he made the college a center for the study of fireworks, both in the academic community and in the commercial fireworks industry. His work focused, among other things, on improving fireworks ignition systems so as to avoid timing errors, which can be dangerous as well as spoiling the artistic effect of a display. He became the 22nd president of the college in 1973 and served until his death in 1981 — the only alumnus ever to fill the position. McLain was also responsible for establishing the annual Fourth of July fireworks show in Chestertown, which he staged on the Washington College campus.

John Conkling

In 1969, McLain hired one of his former students – John Conkling, also a Hopkins Ph.D. – to join the chemistry faculty at the college. McLain steered Conkling toward the study of pyrotechnics, which resulted in the first federal safety standards for fireworks, jointly created by the two and enacted in 1976 by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission. In 1985, Conkling resigned his full-time teaching position to become Executive Director of the APA – a position he held until 1998. He continued to teach adjunct courses without taking a salary, and hosted the annual Summer Pyrotechnics Seminars at Washington College.

Largely because of the legacy of McLain and Conkling, fireworks displays have become a tradition at Washington College, welcoming students back to campus in the fall and celebrating graduation and other occasions such as the inauguration of current president Kurt Landgraf. Residents near the college often come out to see the shows, which are visible and audible from a wide area of the town.

Chestertown also had a history of fireworks before McLain, most notably with the Kent Manufacturing plant, which, beginning in 1941, produced defense materiel for World War II and then added fireworks to its line after the war. After his return to Chestertown, McLain became a partner in the business, along with founder Tony Fabrizi, whom he had met during his time in the service. That venture came to an end when a fire and explosion destroyed the plant in 1954. But McLain continued to work with the pyrotechnics industry, with a special interest in safety standards.

Now, to create a more permanent monument to McLain, Conkling and their pyrotechnics work, McLain’s daughter Lynn McLain, is raising funds for “Radiant  Echo,” an innovative art installation planned for the atrium of the Toll Science Center at the college. Intended to serve as an enduring art piece for the college and the town of Chestertown, “Radant Echo,” designed by Flux Studio of Baltimore, will be a three- dimensional grid of LED fixtures suspended in the 3-story atrium. The fixtures, which will hang to within 14 feet of the floor, will flash and flicker in emulation of a fireworks display, with chrome spheres suspended within the field to reflect and amplify the lights. According to a prospectus for the program, “As with fireworks, spectators will know that something will happen, but they won’t know exactly what, or exactly when.”

An artist’s rendering of”Radiant Echo” as seen from inside the atrium

The prospectus adds, “The choreography of the sculpture will draw from both the chemical behavior of fireworks and the phenomenal experience of observing them, contrasting familiar aerial exploding with inward collapsing at the atomic scale.” It will be programmed to operate in two states, depending on the time of day. Its default, resting state will feature short bursts of light at the outer edges of the sculpture, a “momentary flickering at the corner of one’s eye that vanishes almost as soon as it appears.” In its nighttime, or active, state, the tentative flickerings will “crescendo and then explode, piercing the darkness and dissolving into a cascading shower of light. At times the whole sculpture will erupt in a cacophony of explosions, recalling the grand finale of a fireworks show.” The displays will be visible from the campus green outside Toll Science Center and from Washington well as to those inside the building.

“Radiant Echo” will also have an educational function. Glenn Shrum, who designed the sculpture, plans to teach an interdisciplinary workshop while the piece is being installed. Also, college faculty will be able to use the sculpture in their classes on physics, chemistry, psychology, computer programming, and art. And as part of its installation, there will be a symposium on fireworks drawing on many different disciplines. There will also be a public honoring of Dr. Conkling and his wife Sandy.

Lynn McLain said on Jan. 7 that she hopes fundraising for the project will be completed within the year. Installation of the project is expected to take 14 to 16 months, she said. The final contacts for the construction of the project are in process.

To help promote the project, Lynn McLain has written an illustrated coffee-table book, For the Love of Fireworks, published in 2017. Proceeds from the book will help to fund the creation of “Radiant Echo.” The book is full of fascinating detail and would make a great gift. The book explores the history and cultural associations of fireworks, and includes a series of trivia questions such as when fireworks were invented, where the largest fireworks display on record took place, components used in their manufacture, and so forth. For the Love of Fireworks is available online at $56.99 or from Barnes and Noble and other online booksellers.  Or buy the book, hard or softcover, directly from author McLain at .   The price is the same and a direct purchase, McLain said, will result in a larger contribution to the project.

Fundraising is underway to cover the estimated $250,000 cost of building and installing “Raidant Echo.” McLain said on Jan 7 that the campaign had raised just over $100,000. To contribute to the effort, contact Lynn McLain at 410-778-4515 or  You can also contribute through the Washington College Office of Advancement at 410-778-7801. Checks can be made out to the Washington College Office of Advancement, with “Atrium Sculpture Project” in the memo line. The address is Washington College Office of Advancement,  300 Washington Ave.,  Chestertown MD 21620.

And then look forward to fabulous firework displays on Washington College campus, both real and simulated via Radiant Echo.




The Best and Worst of 2017 by David Montgomery

It was about one year ago, just after President Trump’s inauguration, that I wrote my first column for the Spy. That makes me think this the right time to reflect on the year, and I propose to do so by making a list of the best and worst of 2017. Doing so also allows me to put my marker down on topics I regret not having had time to write about at more length.

Except for the ones that I put in first place, I will list what I consider the 10 best or worst of 2017 in no particular order.

1. Since it is most recent, I start with tax reform. Passage of major tax reform legislation by both Houses of Congress is an historic event, and up to the last vote I still did not believe it would happen. Even so, this particular instance of tax reform just barely makes it into my top 10, because so many opportunities to do far better were lost.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) gives barely one-tenth of the income growth that the original proposal by Speaker Ryan and Chairman Brady would have achieved. As debates went on, parts of the bill that would have broadened the tax base and eliminated special treatment were dropped, and as that happened the revenue increases needed to fund broad rate reductions went away. Special interests used specious arguments to preserve their tax breaks, and in particular killed proposals to tax imports and exempt exports that would have raised revenue and stopped offshoring. Because these sources of revenue were thrown out, key incentives for investment had to be made temporary and thus almost useless.

Still, corralling enough votes to pass the legislation was up there with the greatest of legislative miracles. As a measure of how hard it was, the last reform of comparable magnitude occurred during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

2. Another top 10 item has to be hearing the President use the phrase “Islamic terrorism” to describe the threat that we face. I am always cheered when accurate descriptions replace euphemisms. More importantly, there is no way we can protect ourselves at home or hope to win abroad if we refuse to admit who our opponents are and ignore the important clues their religion gives us about what motivates them and how they will conduct their campaign against us.

3. While efforts at tax reform have dominated the news, the Trump Administration has been making quiet but immense progress on regulatory reform. I am convinced that regulatory reform is the primary cause of rapid increases in employment and investment as well as rising stock market prices since the election. An estimate that I agree with puts the cumulative cost of government regulation at about 10% of GDP. In 2017 federal agencies issued only 3 new regulations while starting the process of eliminating 67 existing regulations. In addition, 1,579 regulations planned under President Obama have been delayed or withdrawn. That clearly belongs in any list of the 10 best. Regulatory reforms in 2017 saved over $500 million per year, while the Obama Administration is estimated to have imposed as much as $15 billion in costs during its last 8 months.

4. The changes that President Trump and Secretary Mattis made in rules of engagement for our warfighters in the Middle East are serious candidates in my mind for the best event of 2017. Freeing commanders and troops in the field from micromanagement by the White House and Pentagon lawyers has made possible in less than a year the reconquest of 95% of the territory that President Obama ceded to ISIS.

5. Just to show the list really is not in any order, Tucker Carlson comes to mind next. I had not watched him regularly until the night President Trump announced that he would name Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Watching Tucker Carlson give the demonstrators against Gorsuch enough rope to hang themselves with their incoherence and mindless repetition of memorized slogans was a delight. I have continued to find him a light in dark places.

6. Once again, mass killings by terrorists, madmen and racists made the news. But horror and evil also provide some with the opportunity to demonstrate heroic virtues. Stories emerged from the horrific events about teachers and other armed and unarmed citizens, as well as police, who ran toward the knives, gunshots and careening vehicles to save others. They are among the best of 2017.

7. Hard to decide whether this is a best or worst, but watching Hillary’s self-destruction by means of whining and fingerpointing had to be among the most amusing events of the year. I look forward every day to reading about her new additions to the list of people and events that are to blame for her losing the election.

8. In the same vein, I have greatly enjoyed watching left-wing agitators and their enablers in the news business deal with the revelation that they have been protecting and lionizing sexual predators in the film, news and politics industries.

9. I hope the Franciscans who manage the Roman Catholic role in the Status Quo in Jerusalem will forgive me for my delight at President Trump’s intention to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. I see it as another dose of realism in foreign policy and recognition that Israel’s security requires maintaining control of the territories it conquered after being invaded by its neighbors in 1967.

10. By a wide margin, the most important event of the year, with the most salutary long term consequences for liberty and justice, has to be the appointment of Justice Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. May God bless and strengthen him.

Now for the worst (or dumbest)

1. The Republican debacle in dealing with Obamacare was infuriating and discouraging. After repeatedly voting in favor of very specific legislation to abolish Obamacare during the years when their votes did not matter, once they were in power Republicans in the House and Senate could not come close to agreeing on fundamental changes. In the end holdouts killed even modest reforms.

2. Republican failures in Congress were mirrored in the Washington Nationals annual post-season collapse – another example of how those in Washington DC can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory every time.

3. For most disgusting of 2017, I nominate Kathy Griffin, followed closely by Chelsea Handler, Amy Schumer and the other foul mouthed, alt-left celebrities who escalated their fantasies about doing in the President until even their sycophants in the media were repulsed by their bad taste.

4. There is a depressing similarity in the worst events of 2017. The boycott of the inauguration by Democratic Members of Congress will be remembered as a new low in respect for American institutions and tacit approval of the violence and destruction that those who could not accept Donald Trump as President inflicted on the nation’s capital.

5. It will be hard for me to forget all the ways in which division and hostility were made worse in 2017: sports figures kneeling during the National Anthem, protestors and politicians toppling statues and writing half the country out of our historical memory, and other insulting exhibitions of disrespect by small and uninformed groups of activists for the rest of us and for our national and regional symbols. I thought that only happened in communist countries and third-world dictatorships.

6. The constant barrage in the mainstream media of condemnations of the President. My choice for the worst example is an evening news segment during the peak period of revelations about sexual predators. It had a 10 second report on latest accusations against Matt Lauer, then used the next 5 minutes to repeat unsubstantiated accusations against the President. But I am sure that is a piker compared to programs I missed.

7. I would mention Snowflakes among the most annoying aspects of 2017, but at least they provide humor in YouTube skits about safe spaces and hiring millennials. The increasingly prevalent notion that the purpose of higher education is to make students feel good about themselves and to protect them from being upset by ideas they don’t like is, on the other hand, just plain infuriating. I remember being challenged to think and argue about ideas by hearing both sides of issues, but it seems that searching for truth has been replaced by wallowing in feelings.

8. Celebrities and politicians continue to support Black Lives Matter and other racist demagoguery inciting violence against police and rioting in the very communities where the people they ostensibly care about live. Not new in 2017, but not improving either.

9. Armed alt-left terrorists calling themselves Antifa appeared in 2017 to silence conservatives. They moved into towns and campuses where even moderately conservative events or speakers were scheduled, beat up those attending and shut down the events. We once knew this as the tactic of the brown-shirts of Fascism, but it is condoned by college administrations and local politicians who cancel events and refuse to protect their targets.

10. In 2017, 125 police officers were killed in the line of duty, 8 in documented ambush attacks. That is my choice for the worst news of 2017.

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.

Mid-Shore Arts: Elizabeth Casqueiro and her Superheroes

Needless to say, every artist has their own particular journey that leads them to produce their distinctive work, but it’s hard to imagine better circumstances that prepared Talbot County-based Elizabeth Casqueiro for a second life as a painter.

An architect by training, a senior management executive at the World Bank by vocation, Elizabeth led the bank’s building division with the enviable task of working with world-class architects on the design and construction of dozens of buildings throughout the world. But when she hit mandatory retirement at 62, she didn’t think twice about returning to her real passion for drawing and painting.

From that moment on, Elizabeth has used her studios in Washington and at the Davis Street Art Center and Easton to create landscapes that reconnect her childhood superhero comic book style impressions of the United States when growing up Portugal and now the American she has become through the use of form and color.

The Spy had a chance to spend a few minutes with Elizabeth at the Davis Street a few months ago before a major art opening and Europe to get a better sense of what this vision means.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. The Academy Art Museum will be having an exhibit of Elizabeth Casqueiro’s work in April. For more information about Elizabeth’s art please go here. In Chestertown, she is represented by Massoni Gallery


Out and About (Sort of): “Start spreading the news… New York, New York” by Howard Freedlander

Frank Sinatra’s iconic Grammy Award-winning song rang in my ears during a three-day Christmas visit to a place where “I wanna wake up in a city, that doesn’t sleep And you find I’m king of the hill, top of the heap.”

There’s no place like it, where mobs of people somehow coexist, where there’s constant gridlock, yet it’s exciting, tiring, enervating, aggravating and exhilarating. All at the same time.

Police presence, naturally enough, was notable and noticeable, human and metallic as in many police cars parked conspicuously and inconveniently at midtown intersections.

And, yes, it was dreadfully cold, but so what? We were in New York City during Christmas.

We enjoyed a birthday lunch at the American Girl Doll Store in Rockefeller Center for my five-year-old granddaughter, amid an amazing and head-spinning merchandising and marketing experience…My granddaughter Lizzie seemed to soak it all in and remained relatively calm. Her seven-year-old brother seemed oblivious, playing with Legos purchased to keep him occupied while his sister was queen of the heap.

We had dinner with my college roommate, with whom I reconnected about seven years ago, at the historic Algonquin Hotel, a well-known literary hangout in the 1920s. Still, the friendship connection is real. We both see things we like about each other. Our political views are remarkably similar.

Our visit to the Downton Abbey exhibit, sponsored by Viking Cruises, was simply wonderful, helping us retain a link to an unforgettable TV series, once which shone a spotlight on British aristocracy during a time in the early part of the 20th century when the landed gentry was facing extreme changes in their lives and lifestyles. Life as lords of the manor was becoming frayed and fractured by lack of sufficient money, sometimes requiring marriages to wealthy American women. World War I brought socioeconomic changes to Britain. While class distinctions were still real, they were facing serious, unavoidable societal challenges.

A 30-block walk one day to Zabar’s on the West Side was energizing despite the bracingly cold temperatures and well worth it for enjoyment of the delicious offerings at this well-known and  well-appreciated specialty food store.

A visit to NYC forces you to leave your comfort zone and enjoy the delight and detriment of one of the world’s largest and most diverse cities. Its charm and frenetic outpouring of activities cannot be matched. Coming home to the Eastern Shore provides a return to normalcy as measured by a slower pace, more humane streetscape and a pervasive calm.

My mother was born in Lower Manhattan, the child of immigrants trying to find their way in a new and strange country. She never lost her love for New York and its zesty and palpitating lifestyle. She always treasured an urban environment.

I find myself in a nostalgic twilight zone in New York, trying to imagine my grandparents’ lives in the tenements of Lower Manhattan, surrounded by other immigrants adjusting to lives thousands of miles away from East European programs. I try to imagine the difficulty of learning a new language, not to speak of strange customs and expectations. I try to imagine finding a job and climbing the ladder of success. Were my grandparents riven with anxiety? Or were they just determined to succeed in a strange new world, obstacles be damned?

I think about assimilation, the overriding desire to fit in, to claim their piece of the American Dream, to create a huge physical and mental space between the new and old worlds.

New York still invites innovation, ambition, determination, and imagination. It pulsates with activity, daring residents to claim a niche and work hard to succeed and grow in a dramatically competitive environment. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for everyone.

New York is not America, nor vice versa. It does not identify our nation; it’s a throbbing piece of real estate and human endeavor. It’s a magnet for short-long-term visitors and devotees. But it’s not the sole source of knowledge and know-how. It’s not the only barometer of business, cultural, academic, literary, medical and social achievement.

I like visiting New York City. I also like going home. I marvel at a huge city that works and flourishes. It’s s a world-class urban venue. It possesses a magic that can be copied, but not duplicated. It also invites you to go home and compare your life in a less hectic but still stimulating part of our diverse country.

I feel drawn to return to NYC. But not too soon.

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.

Publisher Notes: The Spy in 2018

Waiting for the Stage William Caton Woodville (National Gallery of Art). Forwarded by Spy Agent Glass

For almost nine years now, I have made it a practice to insulate the Chestertown Spy and Talbot Spy from any comparison to other print or online publications. In simple terms, this has meant that I have never participated in any professional association nor have I been a subscriber to the Star Democrat and Kent County News.

Like any act of innovation, it is not in the creator’s best interest to compare one’s new enterprise to models that are not direct competition. From its earliest beginning in the spring of 2009, The Spy was developing an entirely different news source targeted at community education first and foremost. It also began as a “no-profit” turned non-profit business that aimed at successful sustainability rather than return on investment.

All of that has worked in our favor as we recently completed eight years of operation. Unlike countless other start-ups, particularly in small communities throughout the country, the Spy has been able to grow in its reach (one million plus hits a year) while maintaining the trust of our readers and the confidence of our sponsors.

But like every other curious person in the world, I couldn’t help but wonder about the “other guys.” And last November I broke these vows of separation in two ways: 1) I attended a conference devoted to independent local online newspapers and 2) took out subscriptions for Chesapeake Publishing’s local papers.

In Chicago, over 150 publications and their representatives gathered for four days to discuss best practices and new trends in this growing field. And it was heartening to hear in some ways that not one these other online ventures had found on a sustainable business concept like the Spy model.

The other trend was that very few of these newspapers moved beyond their primary focus of covering local government issues.  In most cases, there was no attempt to include local arts and culture, or there were only token steps to publish press releases related to these subjects. And few, if any, had taken advantage of multimedia like original content video, which has been the Spy’s primary tool since we began with now close to 2,000 videos online.

In the case of both the Star Democrat and the Kent County News, my response is only one of respect for these “newspapers of record.” Unlike the Spy, these printed news sources must take on the responsibility, and the expense, of covering such local topics as crime, sports, weather, legal notices, and obituaries, all of which is not in the Spy portfolio.  It was a relief to note the unique difference between the Spy and these legacy papers, and the complementary nature the Spy plays to their hard work.

And so the Spy starts the new year with a renewed confidence but also profound gratitude to its writers, columnists, poets, and the kind and thoughtful support from the Spy’s fiscal agent, the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, as well as the Spy’s talented and generous board of advisors for making it the success it has become.

Beyond our investment in technology, the Spy has been particularly proud of the extraordinary trust our 100,000 readers a year have in these two online news sources. In the midst of what might be one of the most challenging times for public discourse and the public’s trust in news in our country’s history, every week the Spy has become a safe harbor for serious and thought-provoking perspectives. I am indebted to our remarkably distinguished columnists and friends Howard Freedlander, Craig Fuller, Jimmie Galbreath, Jamie Kirkpatrick, Mary McCoy, George Merrill, David Montgomery, Nancy Mugele, Al Sikes, and Amy Steward for sharing their very different points of view with the community. Likewise, we are grateful to our readers willing to engage in civilized debate in response to those opinions by offering up their comments.

As publisher, it would have been impossible to fulfill our mission last year without the generous contributions of our writers and volunteer editors. Those include Jane Jewell and Peter Heck in their coverage of Kent County, Jenn Martella for Talbot County, Jean Sanders for maintaining our high quality of design and our Facebook presence, the marketing strategic support of Bill Rolle and Mary Kramer, and Neoma Rohman and Derek Beck for website support. We are also indebted to our content partners, the Delmarva Review, Capital News Service, the Bay Journal, Maryland Reporter and Talbot Historical Society for their invaluable service to our region.

One of the reasons that the Spy has maintained its existence for eight years is to keep the organization financially nimble and free of debt. One way we accomplish this is that neither the Spies nor our parent, the Community Newspaper Project Fund, have any full-time employees, including this publisher. Instead, we offer modest stipends for our writers and greatly benefit from the volunteer support of others.

We will continue that tradition in 2018 with a few changes in editorial priorities and staffing.

To emphasize our commitment to public affairs, we have renamed our Occurrences section just that to reflect the Spy’s coverage of local issues facing the community rather than the need to produce daily headlines. While we suspect that most of our readers understand this subtle but significant difference, it helps to reinforce our mission to educate the community through “long-form” coverage of timely issues.

This year Jenn Martella will take on a managing editor role for the Spy. Jenn created the Spy’s popular Habitat section for Chestertown and Talbot County, and we have asked her to extend that coverage to include our culture and arts as well as direct the Spy’s ongoing sponsorship/ad program from Mary who is leaving the Spy after six years of very committed service to our mission.

2018 will also be the first year that the Spy will have an annual giving campaign to encourage our readers to donate what they might to keep the Spy solvent. While we are committed to maintaining the newspapers free to every member of the community, like every nonprofit organization, we must also find an easy way for those who appreciate our role on the Eastern Shore to support the Spy on a monthly or yearly basis.

Lastly, pundits are predicting 2018 to be a gruelling time in American politics as the country faces a Congressional election in November. It is unlikely the Mid-Shore will avoid this environment as challengers continue to sign up to oppose Congressman Andy Harris for the 1st Congressional District race from both parties. Once again, the Spy is determined to be a safe harbor for debate and will be making this race a public affairs priority over the next eleven months. We look forward to working with all political parties to ensure constructive dialogue in what might be one of the most critical elections in our country’s history.

Dave Wheelan
Publisher and Executive Editor



Scenarios for 2018 by Craig Fuller

Time for predictions. But, how often are they accurate?

The weekend shows were full of pundits offering predictions, but how useful are they for planning our future?

The discussions caused me to reflect on something I learned about long ago from a large global corporation that found the best way to prepare for events in the future was decidedly NOT to try and predict the future. Rather, they examined the major factors that would influence the future and developed scenarios.

Of course, books have been written about scenario planning, but for me, it has always meant charting alternative paths forward based on assumptions one makes around key factors shaping our society. Sounds simple and it comes with one important advantage – if you pay attention to what happens with the key factors you considered at the start, over time you will refine your thinking about the most likely scenario. The company – Shell – that really focused on this, wanted to make sure they were ready for all of the most likely scenarios that could affect their business, then they watched over time to refine what they determined to be the most likely situations they would confront during a planning period.

With so many variables in today’s world, the chance of a single prediction being correct in twelve months seems slim. So, maybe looking at key factors and developing a few scenarios might be useful.

This can be a participatory process where you get to decide the factors to look at and which ones are most important. You also get to decide the movement or direction of change most likely to be encountered.

Here are mine:

The economy – we are still in recovery. In fact, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, we’re entering the 102nd month of economic recovery. The average post-World War II recovery has lasted 58 months! So, will the economy continue to strengthen, or will it begin to decline?

The political climate – many of us around Washington will say we have never seen it this bad, but there are many around the country who suggest it is about time we shake things up. So, will the President work more collaboratively with Congress, or continue on the path he established during this first year in office?

Congress – while holding their approval scores well below the President’s own record low scores, the Congress did manage to pass a Tax Reform measure. Will this action to advance a legislative priority show them the way forward and should we expect a more productive legislative agenda in 2018?

Engagement – in off-year election cycles where there is not a presidential race, voter turnout is generally lower, and the election is usually viewed as a referendum on the incumbent President with the party out of power normally picking up some seats in the House and, at times, the Senate. Just over a year ago, about 1/3rd of registered voters voted for President Trump, and 1/3rd voted for his opponent, Hillary Clinton. There was 1/3rd of eligible voters who did not vote. In this upcoming election, the question is who will be more motivated to send a message…those who voted for President Trump or those who voted against him or not at all?

International conflict – sadly, we’ve grown all too accustomed to world conflict involving Americans. There seems to be an almost growing acceptance that this is the way it will be. That said, a dramatic rise in tensions where Americans are involved would most likely cause strong reactions at home and abroad. Perhaps the most important question is whether we come out of any serious event stronger or weaker than when we entered. In the context of our scenario planning, what is more likely – do we see our nation as stronger or weaker at the end of 2018?

What-Matters-Most Factor – I keep observing more and more people who seek and find relevant and meaningful activities in more and more creative ways. Time was when, if you had a passion for flying, it was hard to have time for boating and camping. But, now there are places where you can do “all of the above.” And, if travel is a challenge, you can go online and participate in thousands of forums for just about every and any interest someone could have. And, in communities, the churches, museums, schools and community centers offer programs that are of interest to more and more people. Maybe it’s the holidays or living in a smaller community, but family, friends and neighbors, just seem more important than the national media and our nation’s elected officials to many more people. So, when you think about the future, do you think that family and local concerns along with personal interests are going to matter more or less as we go forward?

Well, we could come up with more factors if we wished, but this should get us started on some scenarios.

Here’s my take….

The high expectations for current leadership scenario – this requires one to believe we can keep an already historically long period of economic growth going through 2018 and actually, we don’t really break the record until 2019. You would need, I think, to see a bit more collaboration between the President and Congress and even among the leadership in Congress to advance a national agenda. And, if the President and Republican party are to avoid a major political upset, more than a third of the voters are going to have to be motivated to turn out to vote for Trump-backed Republicans. Retaining control of Congress is pretty fundamental to having the ability to advance the agenda set by Trump through his first term. All of the above would be threatened by a major international upheaval; thus, I think this scenario requires the acceptance of tensions without the occurrence of a calamity. Lastly, if people are turning more inward, the leaders in Washington are going to have to look and sound relevant to more Americans.

The expectation of major change scenario – while seldom things are as good as some would wish or as bad as some see them, there are serious factors that could lead to a very difficult 2018. First, the economy could finally falter. A major stock market reset or crash would sharply change people’s expectation for continued prosperity. A more collaborative President seems less likely and the combative relationship with Congress seems more likely in an expectation of change scenario. It could also be argued that the leaders in Congress have less reason to get along and more reason to try and fight out their differences in the November elections, yielding little legislative activity for the year. A power shift in the House of Representatives and/or the United States Senate would send shock waves through the body politic. These changes actually sweep far more people out and then new ones in than the change of leadership at the White House. With or without a change, post-November 2018 will mark a point of major positioning for the next national election in 2020 making it very difficult to advance new initiatives. Voters seeking and getting a change in 2018 will arguably be highly motivated to continue the sweep right through 2020.

Is there a scenario in between? Well, there is, but as they say, “it’s complicated.” The economy and stock markets seem to have adjusted to the vagaries of Washington, thus insulating economic growth from some of the political machinations. And, consumers seem to remain optimistic which bodes well for economic growth, or at least not a serious downturn. While political upheaval feels very possible, it would be wrong to dismiss the angst many in the nation have for the ways of Washington. While even supporters may take exception with the way the President goes about governing, they remain perplexed that those holding national elected office just do not understand the voters’ concerns. Betting that some kind of legislative deadlock will turn out well for anyone seems foolish.

So, which path looks plausible. For me, as we enter 2018, it is one of slow economic expansion and greater antipathy towards policy makers in Washington. It’s a path where party politics in Washington will grow less relevant to more voters who will in turn hand a President an even smaller governing majority than he has now within the Republican party. Throughout this, I do believe people will look more inward and more locally for meaningful and fulfilling engagements. Whether the future then brings disengagement or a renaissance of sorts will be something to examine a year from now.

Watch the signals along the way to see if your favored scenario is becoming more likely or less likely!

Above all, have a Happy and Healthy New Year!!

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.

Starting Over by George Merrill

In my first attempts to write a personal essay appropriate to the New Year, I fell into a trap. As most of you know about writers, their first drafts are awful. That’s’ why it takes so many rewrites to get it to work and if not, at least get it representative of what an author truly feels – not just some attempt at posturing.

I began with a theme in mind. The theme was “starting over.” I thought the new year is one kind of ‘starting over’ and starting over is also an old Buddhist teaching about how we can skillfully deal with our efforts to, well, start over. It specifically refers to deepening our spirituality simply by learning how to not quit in discouragement, but to just start over.

The teaching guides me in ways to gain the riches of the spirit and self-control by minimizing aspects of my life that work against it. This always requires a change in how I normally go about things. Typically – and New Year’s Eve is one good example – after the first drink, I will swear to either give up something or to embark on some new discipline. The giving up invariably involves certain foods and uses of alcohol or tobacco; chocolate is a big one as is resolving to abstain from certain disagreeable habits like flipping the bird at pokey drivers creeping down the St. Michaels Road. Having only two lanes makes such people really irritating. Vowing to exercise regularly is another frequent resolution.

New Year’s resolutions don’t last. There’s good reasons for that. They’re not undertaken for substantial reasons, or to say it differently, they are undertaken for egoistic motives. Just why I choose to forswear some particular food or drink, or even undertake to change other habits is frequently driven by negative motives rather than an aspiration to more noble estates. Topping the list is a desire to lose weight and look good. ‘Because I am fat’ becomes an issue of pride more often than it is a concern for good health. In fact, I’d offer the thought that most New Year’s Eve resolutions I’ve undertaken are to prove something to myself. I long to prove that I possess strength of character and resolute will. I am not, as I secretly fear, a wuss or wimp. I have character, determination.

I will own that there are people who by sheer force of will can alter their undesirable traits, but I would not want to live with them. I notice they remarry a lot. Maybe they don’t smoke or drink or eat fatty foods, run every morning and drink ten glasses of water daily but the very undesirable character traits that led them into bad habits in the first place, remain. They’re not overindulging anymore, they’re self-righteous and know everything, instead.

But back to my problem in writing an essay appropriate to the new year.

As I started writing, I began thinking about the year as I’ve experienced it since last January. The trap: I just grew more and more angry. In a snit, I typed away furiously about how we’re being jerked around by a flood of mindless tweets with which the White House floods America’s cyberspace; I thought of a federal judge charged with pedophilia whose Christian constituents defended him by comparing him to Joseph, the father of the Holy Family. After all, Joseph dated Mary, Jesus mother and Mary was well Joseph’s junior. So, what’s the problem? It’s beyond crazy, that’s the problem.

And then I remembered the president of a Christian College who encouraged his students to carry a concealed weapon so they might be prepared to shoot Muslims. I felt as though I was flying over the cuckoos’ nest. Felt, hell, I was flying over a cuckoos’ nest.

At lunch, I mentioned to my wife, Jo, how worked up I’d been while writing. As I told her she assumed a look, like I’ve seen on the faces of those who’d just eaten a bad oyster.

“What?” I said defensively.

“Why rehash what everyone knows anyway? Is there something helpful, something different instead that you can say that might help us live through this with some dignity and hope?”
So much for St’ Paul’s admonitions that wives defer to their husbands. It’s a new ball game.

That’s just what the last year has been instructing us, instructing me. It is a new ball game.
My challenge is to hold still to the ideal that how we play the game is as important or more so than winning. The trap I fell into was identifying with the aggressor. Ranting against the absurdities of this administration is simply doing the same thing as I claim to be denouncing. I’m just firing off another round of mindless tweets.

In situations where people have been treated abusively or contemptuously, there is a tendency to assume the vicious qualities of the perpetrators. In short, I want to unleash on others, what they have, or I imagine they have, visited on me. It’s one variation on revenge.

Starting over is a significant discipline in Buddhist spirituality. It recognizes the deep desire to do something good, be something worthwhile, but invariably to slip back into old habits. It’s discouraging. The tendency is to be self-critical, and feel inept in meeting the challenge. If we slip often enough, eventually we just quit.

I want to start over again this next year by attempting to be as wise as a serpent, but gentle as a dove. I mean by that looking directly at the evils and absurdities that surround me daily, but with a clear eye and gentle spirit. And if I get riled up and want to go on a new rant, just remember to go back and start over. I then keep my focus on what’s important for me to be about and not remain stuck and focused on the provocateurs.

There’s a phrase that I’ve known for years. One part is from psalm 37. The latter part I don’t know but together they make the point beautifully:
“Fret not for the evil doer, lest thou be moved to do evil.”
May we all gain the grace to live wisely and courageously in the coming year. And, if we slip and fall into old ways, let’s just start over.

Blessings in the New Year.

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.