Dissension by Al Sikes

Proverbs 16:28: “A perverse man speaks dissension.”

Leonardo da Vinci: “As every divided Kingdom falls, so every mind divided between many studies confounds and saps itself.”

Solomon and da Vinci’s words are wise. It is not, however, necessary to retreat to centuries-old biblical verses or genius commentary.

Division is a daily headline. It often shows up in business or sports stories. Thousands of words are used to assess an organization’s uniting purpose and management—conclusions are expressed in terms of culture, morale, or chemistry.

Yet, our nation’s most important enterprise — governance — fails on any measure of effort to achieve unity. We optimists must fall back on the brilliance of the constitutional framework of separation of powers across branches. Yet, we all know that intense and intractable division among government leaders is debilitating.

Today we have a President whose attacks are berating and endless. No wonder he has no true allies and frequently falls back on his daughter and son-in-law for White House duties. He is even unwilling to give his latest Chief-of-Staff a permanent title. We don’t have an emergency at the border; we have an emergency in the White House.

The Constitution’s most expansive delegation of power was to Congress. Today they are incapable of timely budgeting and appropriating and frequently are so mired in heavily fertilized muck they cannot even keep the government open.

The dysfunction in the White House and Congress results in the federal courts being clogged with cases to sort out the constitutionality of Executive actions without Congressional approval. The centrality of the courts has become so pronounced that politicians fight to near fatal results over who gets confirmed.

America is often characterized as exceptional; indeed it has been. Today it has exceptional assets — our Constitution, for example; but a nation so emotionally wrought that it can’t operate successfully is not exceptional. If America were a sports team, it would be well down in the rankings and much of the blame would be attributed to player morale and poor locker room chemistry.

This is not, of course, the only time government division has undermined “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Our nation’s founders were unified on some things and deeply divided on others. We fought a civil war. Franklin Delano Roosevelt became so exasperated by the Supreme Court he tried to pack it with more justices.

Yet, our nation today faces unique and complex challenges. Let me give brief voice to one. The centrality of network computing threatens people, infrastructure they rely on, and their governments in untold ways. America’s history recalls that it has been protected by oceans and its military. Today, however, critically important networks can be seized, interrupted, and manipulated by a handful of clever people with ill-intent. China, for one, is organizing its computing assets to stifle dissent, steal secrets and incrementally compromise the networks of other countries.

Network computing, as the hub of a business or government enterprise, is capital intensive and artificial intelligence (AI) superiority is fed by large-scale data. Autocracies well led, that capture and utilize global computing assets, are a threat. Perhaps a clever politician can come up with a three word slogan to draw attention to this menacing reality facing the world’s democracies.

Freedom is a wonderful gift, but we should keep in mind an exchange with Benjamin Franklin, who after the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a Republic or Monarchy?” Franklin replied: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

A Republic is “a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their representatives”. America is at an emotional boiling point. The domestic and foreign sources of emotional heat are not going to turn down the temperature. Regardless of your partisan pre-disposition, vote for candidates who talk unity and have shown they will “walk the talk”.

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): Must Be Preserved by Howard Freedlander

Does anyone care about American history?

This is a fraught question. The better query is: do people care enough to ensure that Colonial Williamsburg survives dwindling attendance, massive debt and too-hefty raids on the endowment?

When I say “better,” I’m showing my own bias toward a place—actually a museum and special experience—that is peerless in our country. I’m not discounting heavy history tomes or museums scattered throughout our country that capture parts of our national heritage.

Whenever my wife and I spend time immersed in a past that spawned our founding fathers, I feel as if I’m returning to school and paying attention this time around to the words, the lessons, the architecture and the culture.

The picture isn’t always pretty.

Amid the stories about the towering figures who roamed the streets and frequented the pubs, the subjugation of African-Americans has drawn scant concern or compassion.

During our short stay last week, I listened to interpreters portraying Martha Washington and Colonel George Washington and enjoyed modern-day musicians playing and singing pieces treasured by slaves as they painfully coped with bondage.

The musical performance was somber and poignant. The songs were freighted with messages of a sad acquiescence to lives controlled by slave owners. Colonial Williamsburg celebrated its 40th anniversary of paying tribute to the city’s black residents.

Impressed with her high social standing, Martha was a 27-year-old widow when she met a young colonel in the Virginia Militia, in Williamsburg. He had fought for the British in the French and Indian War. They married in 1759, catapulting Washington from an ordinary planter at Mt. Vernon in Fairfax County, VA to a large and wealthy landowner.

Having inherited 17,000 acres from her deceased husband, Daniel Parke Custis, Martha was determined that her second husband become a competent farmer. Throughout the interpretation, Martha always referred to the future Revolutionary War commanding officer and president as “the colonel.”

When in Williamsburg, the audience always must remember the time period in which the interpreter is performing. Though I don’t recall the specific year in which Martha was talking, it preceded the war. She spoke disapprovingly of her son Jack’s poor academic record in college and his heated interest in Eleanor Calvert, who was a member of the prominent Calvert family in Maryland. To no avail, Martha and the colonel tried to distract Jack’s love interest, at least for a time.

What’s particularly fascinating about the interaction with the interpreters comes when they go “out of character” and take any and all questions, whether they relate to colonial or modern-day matters. In response to my question about Martha’s experience as the first First Lady, the interpreter left no doubt that Mrs. Washington much disliked the role in which she was placed for eight years. She did like life better in Philadelphia than she did in New York, site of the country’s first capital.

Colonel George Washington (aka Ron Carnegie)

Portraying George Washington in 1775, the interpreter, deliberately humorless and ponderous, spoke in great detail about his farming activities. He criticized the Boston Tea Party. Instead he thought that colonial planters simply shouldn’t sell their goods to England as protest against British tyranny. When I asked Colonel Washington about his military experience during the French and Indian War, he spoke disparagingly about the arrogant attitude exhibited by British officers toward American officers.

Out of character, Washington’s interpreter said that General Washington, though stoic and many-layered, did have a sense of humor. He also was prone to discount friends and associates who “betrayed” him, not necessarily personally but policy-wise.

These interactions with what Colonial Williamsburg’s “nation builders” captivate me. Not just performers but historians, the interpreters provide invaluable insight into historic figures.

It’s no secret that the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is facing severe financial challenge. In an interview in late June 2018 in the Daily Press, a newspaper covering Hampton, Newport News and Gloucester, Mitchell Reiss, the CEO (and former president of Washington College), said, ‘We are starting to save the foundation.’

In 2017, the foundation withdrew $68 million, a whopping 9.8 percent from unrestricted endowment funds. In 2018, the foundation was slated to withdraw $58 million, or 8.3 percent. Typically, nonprofits withdraw no more than 5 percent from endowment. Reiss said the foundation was seeking a 6 percent withdrawal.

As of the Daily Press interview, the foundation’s debt was $300 million.

In 2017, Colonial Williamsburg cut 71 positions and outsourced 262 jobs to four outside vendors. The foundation has 2,100 employees.
Fundraising is strong. In 2017, new gifts and pledges jumped 8.5 percent from $44.9 million in 2016 to $48.7 million, according to the Daily Press article.

Colonial Williamsburg is a gem. The importance of our colonial history is undeniable. Williamsburg was a training ground for Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Madison and George Washington, the men who gave birth to our country and established our constitutional government.

My wife and I cherish the priceless value of Colonial Williamsburg. It must remain a part of our historic landscape. For financial reasons, it must operate differently and prudently. And that’s happening. while competing with attractions and visitor experiences that have no historic significance, such as its neighbor, Busch Gardens.

Fun is fine. Mixed with some education, it’s better. Colonial Williamsburg is my fancy.

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 Writing on the Wall by Jamie Kirkpatrick

In Chapter 5 of the Book of Daniel—so the story goes—Belshazzar, last ruler of the Babylonian Empire, throws a great feast to celebrate his victory over the Israelites and his army’s destruction of the First Temple. During the feast, he drinks from vessels looted from that temple and as he sips, a mysterious hand appears, writing these words on a wall of Belshazzar’s palace: “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.” For those of you who don’t happen to speak Aramaic, that translates to “Numbered, numbered, weighed, divided,” a phrase interpreted by the prophet Daniel to mean that God has judged Belshazzar and doomed his empire. As a result, ever since that ghostly hand appeared, the phrase “the writing on the wall” has always prophesied failure, doom, and destruction.

Fast forward to our time and another wall—one immortalized by the poet Robert Frost. One of his most beloved poems, “Mending Wall,” begins with these words: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” In simple blank verse, Frost recounts the annual task of two neighbors rebuilding an old stone wall that has always separated their property. At one time, the wall may have served a useful purpose by keeping the neighbor’s cows out of Frost’s orchard. Those cows are long gone (“He is all pine and I am apple orchard”) so to Frost, the old divide is no longer necessary. But his neighbor believes differently; to him, it’s a simple equation, an adage inherited from his father: “Good fences make good neighbors.” As a result, on a chilly morning every spring, on they go: two aging neighbors, limping along, stacking stones to repair an old wall that no longer serves any real purpose. To Frost, the old wall is nothing more than a neighborly habitual task—a crumbling remnant of a bygone era, a waste of time, an old-fashioned folly. But to the man across the wall, it still serves a useful purpose if only because “good fences make good neighbors.”

Frost knew that any wall is an imperfect barrier. Every spring, he and his neighbor would meet on the appointed day to repair what winter and hunters had undone. Nature conspired against the wall by causing frozen ground-swells to topple boulders, making gaps “where even two can pass abreast;” as for those pesky hunters, they did even more of the dirty work, rooting out rabbits and removing stones “to please the yelping dogs.” Frost knew in his bones that this annual chore—lifting and restacking stones to rebuild an old and useless wall—was a Sisyphean task, but every year, he did it anyway. Why? I guess only to please a neighbor who remained stuck in that deep old rut that stubbornly clung to the tired hand-me-down that “good fences make good neighbors.”

So what should we make of the wall that everyone is currently talking about; the one that shut down our government for more than a month; the one that is needed to resolve a supposed “national emergency” that apparently never needed to happen in the first place? I wonder if there will there be any prophetic writing on that wall. I wonder if perhaps we shouldn’t be asking ourselves the same question that Frost poetically pondered to himself: “Before I built a wall, I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out.”

“Mending Wall” concludes with two clean lines: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall/That wants it down.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” was released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

Green New Deal: An Economist’s Perspective by David Montgomery

One of the newest and one of the oldest radicals in the U.S. Congress, Alexandra Octavio-Cortez and Ed Markey, unveiled a so-called “Green New Deal (GND)” in resolutions they filed in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The rhetoric and expansiveness of the revolution they propose makes their proposal more of a manifesto that a resolution. The areas of public policy that they address include climate change, workplace regulation, universal healthcare, and guaranteed income. More troubling, the manifesto also envisions radical changes in governance, elevating the politics of identity and victimization to the guiding principle of American government.

Since I am an economist and have tried to quantify the impacts of most major energy and environmental policies over the past 40 years, friends have asked how I would go about trying to assess the potential costs and economic impacts of the GND, in particular its determination to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions within 10 years.

Despite the ability of creative analysts to put a number on almost anything, I think that it is impossible to make a reasonable estimate of the cost of the Green New Deal in its envisioned time frame of 10 years using any kind of existing economic model. There are three reasons why this is so:

Having excluded nuclear power, it is impossible to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years without drastic reductions in the availability and reliability of energy

The commitment of the GND to government planning and regulation guarantees that existing economic models will grossly underestimate the cost of achieving its goals

The vision of using climate and other policies to achieve radical redistribution of income and political power will cause changes far outside the data and experience on which models are based.

Economic models are systems of equations and constraints. If one of them is used to estimate the cost of an internally contradictory program, it will simply report that the equations cannot be solved.

What GND calls renewable energy (which excludes nuclear and large scale hydro) now comprises under 10% of U.S. energy supply. Replacing 90% of electric generating capacity, gasoline and diesel fuel, and all natural gas with wind and solar, which are all that is left, is literally impossible. There is no way to store enough energy to maintain supply when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining, and diverting enough land to produce biofuels would drastically reduce food supply.

Even if it were possible, diverting enough resources to replacing the existing energy capital stock with renewable assets would reduce our ability to produce consumption goods. This is exactly what happened in the investment-driven 5-year plans of Chairman Mao and Stalin, starving their people along the way. Thus achieving, rather than just imagining, zero emissions would require a combination of starvation, blackouts, and rationing.

The costs of starvation, blackouts and rationing are literally impossible for economic models to capture. Some models, which impose realistic constraints on how rapidly new technologies can be introduced, would simply report that there is no solution to their equations. Others, that allow for extreme changes in consumption of energy and other goods, would give misleadingly optimistic answers about how consumers will substitute purchases of clothing and bicycles for energy. Rationing would be indistinguishable from an extremely high carbon tax, and mortality from lack of energy or food would be ignored except for the effect of a smaller labor force on GDP.

The commitment to central planning and government regulation that pervades the GND would make matters even worse. Case studies that compare specific regulatory approaches to market incentives like carbon taxes, studies have found that assuming that optimal market-based policies are used leads to gross underestimates of costs. For example, studies published in leading journals find that fuel economy standards cost 6 to 10 times more than a carbon tax designed to achieve the same reductions in CO2 emissions.

Since economic models are basically computer programs, they require a very precise description of the policies being modeled. Just like typing an email address, a small error in that specification can be fatal. The GND is vague about specific policies, and achieving its climate goals alone would require a regulatory net covering every decision about energy use and supply. We have collected mountains of data on energy since the 1970s, but still fall far short of the ability to calculate the total cost of retrofits to improve energy efficiency in every building in the country or modifications of all manufacturing processes to reduce emissions.

In the absence of specific details of the policies to be implemented and extensive data on affected economic sectors, models default to assuming that government is omniscient and adopts policies that achieve the same result as a perfect market. That leads inevitably to gross underestimation of the cost of universal government planning envisioned by the GND.

And energy policy is the subject on which we probably have the most information. Other areas of life that the GND would affect include intrusive workplace regulations, free health care, guaranteed income regardless of effort or ability and other proposals that radically change incentives for consumption, investment and labor supply. Modeling the cost of these changes is orders of magnitude harder than energy.

The vision of governance found in the GND compounds the problem. The GND resolutions introduced in Congress establish that the primary goal of GND is income redistribution and transfer of power to what it labels “frontline and vulnerable communities.’’ The beneficiaries of this enshrinement of the politics of identity and victimization as a new form of governance are to include “indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.” In other words, if you are a healthy white male between 18 and 65 earning a decent living, do not apply.

Not only are policies to be designed to redistribute income toward these groups: they are to be designed by “democratic and participatory processes that are inclusive of and led by frontline and vulnerable communities and workers to plan, implement, and administer the Green New Deal mobilization.” Sounds like the Great Cultural Revolution to me.

What this implies is not just that the GND would implement regulatory approaches with costs far higher than economic models can capture. It implies that climate, health care, labor and other regulations will be designed not just to correct specific concerns, but to achieve income redistribution and empowerment of favored constituencies.

The empirical evidence that the result cannot be modeled adequately is overwhelming. Environmental justice movements have multiplied the cost of achieving California’s climate goals, by demanding inefficient choices and compensation payments in every new initiative. Developing countries demands for compensation and environmentalists objections to cost-effective ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions have hamstrung global climate negotiations.

Economic models are neither designed for nor capable of being modified to capture the effects of changes in underlying political institutions and property rights. Historical examples can give some idea of the magnitude of harm that might be brought about: Venezuela under Chavez, Argentina under Peron, or Zimbabwe under Mugabe come to mind. Only in retrospect has it been possible to calculate the cost of socialism to the people of those countries.

One particular form of redistribution that would be likely under any policies designed to drive greenhouse gas emissions to zero over a single decade is the bankruptcy of most businesses that now own the capital equipment used to generate and distribute electricity, produce and refine petroleum, or deliver natural gas.

Getting to zero emissions in just 10 years would require shutting down all fossil-fueled power plants, oil refineries, and oil and gas production, and emptying natural gas pipelines and distribution systems. These assets would become valueless, bankruptcies would spread the loss to lenders as well as shareholders, and the financial system would suffer a major shock.

Those bankruptcies would certainly achieve some of the leveling goals of the GND, by destroying the savings and assets of every lender and equity investor in non-renewable energy. Based on the ratio of energy to total domestic investment, that would be destruction of at least 6% of the wealth of the country. The shock would likely be comparable to the recent financial crisis, as financial institutions revised their balance sheets and restricted credit, individual investors retrenched due to their reduced assets, and courts were swamped with bankruptcy filings.

Someone once said that some arguments are best refuted by a good laugh. That was my first reaction on reading descriptions of the GND. Any effort to quantify its costs would have to invent concrete programs to achieve the largely ideological goals of the GND. The harm likely to be done by the GND would greatly exceed any estimates that might be made of the cost of sensible programs. Making those estimates would only give credibility to a program that is at best a flight of fancy and more likely subversive of every institution that has supported the unprecedented prosperity of the United States.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy.  He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America,   David and his wife Esther live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

Current Affairs by George Merrill

Getting a charge out of life? If not you should be. Believe it or not, we’re being buzzed all the time and from the most unlikely sources.

We have known for a long time that man and beast alike exude energy fields. Whatever thoughts and feelings either one entertains, although not expressed openly, issue forth invisibly like radiation permeates the air or like our breath escapes from our mouths. In fact, we influence our surrounding environment depending on our attitudes. Perhaps this accounts for why, when meeting someone for the first time, we might feel a deep kinship or even a strong antipathy, but couldn’t say exactly why.

The matter, as the saying goes, gets more complicated.

More recently science has been exploring this mystical kind of communion that also occurs in the plant world. Plants and flowers think and feel. Our world’s vegetation is as intuitive as sentient beings are. If your flowers or plants are drooping lately, it may not be about water or lack of sunlight; you may want to check what’s been on your mind. Your attitude and those negative vibes you’ve been harboring could be doing your plants in.

Cleve Backster is America’s foremost expert on the science of lie detectors. He teaches police agencies on their use. He made a remarkable discovery that changed his life and the way science understands the world of vegetation. By attaching electrodes to a plant, he was able to document that plants issue electric currents not only when physically assaulted, but also to any intent to harm them we might have in mind. He demonstrated how, when he conceived of the idea of burning a plant leaf to see its reaction, his thoughts alone caused the plant alarm. It elicited an electronic response similar to how a human would react when sensing danger. Plants read our thoughts. When near people who love plants, plants thrive. These electrical fields seem to be our universal connectors.

Backster’s initial discovery has been controversial among scientists. However, more data is gathering exponentially. The theory has become compelling enough that the Department of Defense is investigating what potential the phenomena might suggest for the military. The Russian government is also taking a hard look at ESP to find ways to “speak to seeds” to make them happy so they grow vigorously. Mind control is being investigated by Russians and Americans; strange to think how plants and flowers might become the signature weapons of the future. Indeed, it is a mind-blowing thought to consider how flower power may inspire the mother of all weaponry. It is also a sad commentary that the marvelous discoveries of science that can bring us closer to others, even heal us, are quickly examined for their capacity for
annihilating foes.

Still, I find Backster’s discovery promising from a happier point of view. It illustrates the depths of primal interconnections that comprise all life on the planet. It’s about getting a charge out of life.

A soft-spoken Ph.D. from Japan, Ken Hashimoto studies the habits of plants. He is the managing director and the chief of research at Fuji Electronic Industries. Intrigued by Backster’s work, he tried a related but different experiment. He contrived a device to transcribe the energy charges he elicited from a cactus onto a graph. Then he designed a way to transpose the tracings of the graph to convert them into sounds thus, literally, giving a voice to the cactus. It didn’t go right at first, which, is the way of all great discoveries; we learn as much from our failures as our successes.

When Dr. Hashimoto conducted the experiment initially it hadn’t yielded the anticipated electric charge he expected from the cactus. He went over his procedures scrupulously, but couldn’t account for the lack of response. Coincidentally, Mrs. Hashimoto was a sophisticated botanist and always elicited high-charged responses from most any vegetation when in its presence. When Dr. Hashimoto conducted the experiment again, this time in Mrs. Hashimoto’s loving presence, the cactus responded positively with electronic charges. When the charges were converted to graph readings, and from the tracings of the graph readings into sounds, guess what? The sounds were eerily reminiscent of Mrs. Hashimoto’s affectionate voice. My guess is that the good doctor was a brilliant scientist in conceiving the experiment, but his wife, a more feeling person, had the bed side manner to make it work. It takes heart to make even high-tech challenges succeed. Seems like when we’re trying to communicate cross species, we won’t get anywhere without putting our hearts into it.

I think maintaining an open heart influences how we can speak effectively to others of our own species.

We are currently experiencing a time when the world has grown adversarial; there’s increasing violence and anger; we are engaged in building walls, not bridges – some walls in the literal sense, others racial barriers. We face unchallenged economic inequality. Religious voices have grown more strident. These are disconnects, many politically designed to divide and alienate us one from another. It’s hopeful to think that science is revealing new ways in which we are intimately connected, not only to others, but to all the creation with which we share space. Science, once regarded as indifferent and even suspicious of our spiritual aspirations, has now joined poets, painters, artists, mystics, visionaries, and humanitarians in satisfying that age old yearning our hearts never fully relinquish – that atavistic desire to give a voice to the earth, to glory in the creation . . . and delight in the deep mystery of our being.

Failing to get a charge out of life? Stop! Smell and listen, and then touch the flowers. They’re holding messages for us.

Wow – A Rare Northern Shrike Visits Pickering Creek

Northern Shrike at Pickering Creek as photographed by Wayne Bell

Birders have been flocking to Pickering Creek Audubon Center over the last couple of weeks to spot a rare bird. A first year Northern Shrike was first spotted by Dr. Wayne Bell on January 29.

Bell, an experienced birder, first observed the Northern Shrike while conducting periodic monitoring of bird species at Pickering Creek. As he scanned the area with his spotting scope from one of the wetland observation platforms, he got his first look at the bird perched in saplings before it flew across the recently restored wetlands. After returning to the parking lot, he located the bird again and observed it on and off again for a half hour – alternating between perching on exposed branches and diving into the underbrush. At this time, he was able to take a picture of the bird through his spotting scope.

The Northern Shrike is rarely found on the Eastern Shore. The bird breeds in the far northern reaches of Canada and northern Alaska. During the winter months, it migrates into the northern parts of the United States. However, it is rare to find it south of the New York-Pennsylvania state line.

The Shrike is a mostly gray songbird with a narrow black mask, black tail with white outer feathers, and black wings with a small white patch. It’s most notable feature, however, is the sharply hooked tip on its stout bill. They use this hawk-like bill to capture and snap the neck of prey, consisting largely of small mammals or other birds. Since they lack talons, the Northern Shrike will then impale the captured prey on a thorn to hold it in place while feeding.

After spotting the bird, Dr. Bell shared his sighting with other birders in the area through the Talbot County Bird Club rare bird hotline. He also reported it using eBird, a national database developed by Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology to capture bird sightings used by birders throughout the world. Once reported through eBird, the sighting was identified as a state rarity on reports shared with these birders.

By the next day, birders throughout the state were visiting Pickering Creek to see this unique bird. Most were rewarded with views of the bird as it perched high on exposed branches of sweet gums, sometimes near the parking lot, other times between the two wetland observation platforms. A review of eBird reports shows that over 70 birders added the Northern Shrike to their bird list. One birder came as far as Frostburg, MD, and another made the trip from North Carolina.

According to eBird, a Northern Shrike was last sighted at Pickering Creek in 2005, when it showed up in mid-February and stayed around for about a month. The closely related Loggerhead Shrike can be found throughout the southern half of the United States. While its range does not extend to the Eastern Shore, it sometimes makes a rare appearance. It was last seen at Pickering Creek in 2011, where it generated similar interest from birders throughout the region. The Loggerhead Shrike can be distinguished from the Northern Shrike by its thicker black mask, whiter breast, and smaller size.

Pickering Creek Audubon Center is open for the public to enjoy nature daily from dawn to dusk. There is no admission to enjoy the Center’s trails this February. There is no admission from March to December either. To learn more about Pickering Creek Audubon Center, visit its website at http://pickering.audubon.org. To learn more about the Talbot County Bird Club or subscribe to the rare bird hotline, send an email to talbotbirdclub@gmail.com.

Mid-Shore Food: Chesapeake Harvest Goes Online with Jordan Lloyd

Chesapeake Harvest, which has been incubated by the Easton Economic Development Corporation for the last several years, started out focused on preparing Eastern Shore farmers to expand their market reach by training them with best practices and food safety guidelines required for larger markets.

But from the very beginning, Chesapeake Harvest was also eager to help those farmers with marketing and sales strategies to satisfy not only wholesale demands, but develop creative new ways to open up retail and institutional opportunities.

One of those new opportunities has been the development of Chesapeake’s online farmers’ market. With the leadership of advisory board member Jordan Lloyd, his wife, Alice, Chesapeake Harvest’s Elizabeth Beggins, and EEDC director Tracy Ward, the team switched on their website a year ago to test the waters of this entirely new way to bring local food to local family tables.

Last week, the Spy sat down with Jordan at the Bullitt House in Easton to talk about this new program and its future.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about Chesapeake Harvest and to access their website please go here.

 

Ignominy by Craig Fuller

Time was when individuals seeking leadership positions carefully considered how events in their past might impact their quest for public office.

To witness the circumstances in Virginia where individuals are coping with differing but troubling past behaviors, caused me to wonder who is to judge anymore? In the era of Trump, just what is unacceptable? And, what standards now exist to determine what we will accept or reject when it comes to a person’s past?

My first instinct was to ponder what in the world those who ran for public office were thinking. Did they just assume some elements of their past would not surface? Or, did they think that it no long matters what surfaces?

It used to be that if there was something untoward in one’s past, the election process would surface the issues. Candidates even retained investigators to determine if there might be anything in their own past that would cause concern. Always thought this was smart since while something might not be disqualifying, being surprised and reacting poorly could damage a campaign….or, as it turns out, a sitting governor.

I wondered where the challengers were with their opposition research and where the media was with their laser like focus on the misdeeds of those seeking election to public office. How could three statewide candidates be elected only to be subject to virtually simultaneous calls for resignation?

No matter where one stands on any one elected leader, no one should want to be surprised by questionable deeds from the past. Candidates should be more transparent…as in providing tax returns. The media should probe carefully but aggressively; because, here’s the thing, the decision now about what is acceptable and unacceptable is now up to the individual voter. That voter must make a determination with the facts and that determination is far better made before the election than after with nothing other than public humiliation or the next election to correct a wrong call.

While I, for one, no longer can tell just what normative behavior is, ignominy – public shame, humiliation and embarrassment – after someone is elected serves no one well. We need to demand openness and transparency. While it is unlikely we will find the individual without an embarrassment in their past, knowing about it and judging how an individual learned from it must be part of the calculation going into selecting our leaders.

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.

Delmarva Review: Entropy by Adam Tamashasky

Entropy

I don’t know that much about entropy
except that I don’t call my brother much anymore.
Holidays and birthdays, ours and our kids’,
but the bonds weaken over time.
It’s enough now to leave a voicemail.
Our lives, like leaves, have branched apart,
though a thin root keeps us, briefly, in touch.
But I see these October leaves around my feet now,
and I can’t tell which ones grew up together.

I’ve taught my daughters so many lessons—
how to hold my hand across the street,
how to hold on to me in the deep end—
but now I wish I’d offered better lessons:
what their sisters’ hands in theirs can feel like,
how not to let go during the fall.

Maryland poet Adam Tamashasky teaches at American University. One of his poems in Delmarva Review was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His poetry has also appeared in Cold Mountain Review, The Innisfree Poetry Journal, and 491 Magazine. He grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and went to the University of Dayton for his undergraduate degree and to American University for his MFA.

Delmarva Review is a literary journal of national scope, with regional roots. The nonprofit review discovers and prints compelling new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from authors within the region and beyond. It is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Visit: DelmarvaReview.org. Order copies at Amazon.com.

Out and About (Sort of): Hope for Journalism by Howard Freedlander

Last week I promised to continue the conversation about reversing the sad decline of local news and its detrimental effect on democracy as measured by informed citizen participation.

In recent years I’ve become a devotee of digital media, such as state-level websites like Maryland Matters and Maryland Reporter. They allow me to get my daily fix of Annapolis politics. The former offers original articles written by experienced staff journalists, while the latter typically has one staff-written article and an aggregation of stories from print publications throughout Maryland.

Both of these nonprofit electronic publications are funded primarily by foundations keenly interested and invested in the need for professional coverage of local and state government. They also fundraise through periodic appeals. Subscriptions cost nothing.

To put my money where my convictions are, I happily donate to one of the publications noted above. I remain somewhat bemused to observe how journalists-turned editors-turned business-owners unabashedly seek donations from readers, understanding, I believe, that donors cannot be allowed to influence the news product.

Closer to home, the Chestertown Spy and Talbot Spy, another nonprofit digital medium, has a business model that differs from Maryland Matters and Maryland Reporter. It carries local sponsorship advertising. It too offers free subscriptions. Last year, its ninth in existence, the Spy conducted a successful fundraising appeal.

Though I don’t pretend to be able to justify the feasibility of one business model over another, the common thread seems to be an infusion of privately-raised money. This similarity seems rooted in a commitment by donors—comprising wealthy owners, foundations, individuals and joint-venture entrepreneurs—to sustainment of information-gathering vehicles that preserve a democracy dependent on public accountability and oversight.

Traditional newspapers and magazines continue to rely on paid advertising and subscriptions.

I further suggest that communities on the brink of losing a valuable local newspaper coalesce to raise money to ensure the future of a community asset. While I realize that every community, large and small, has pressing social needs, I believe that the local newspaper provides an invaluable service to residents; it’s a bulwark against the diminution of democracy.

Like a local utility, a newspaper or website fuels and sustains the health of a community. Residents have a vessel into which they can pour their concerns and opinions.

To take the analogy to a local utility one step further, I would go so far to say that local journalism produces a form of “renewable energy” on the part of its readers. The democratic process works best when citizens become engaged in local matters based upon what they read and hear.

In an opinion piece written recently by Megan McArdle in The Washington Post, she wrote,” Journalism isn’t going away, exactly. There are business models that work, largely two: funding by donors or wealthy owners willing to operate at a loss, or subscriptions. But those models can’t support all the journalism now being done.

“The number of donors doesn’t magically increase just because more are needed. And subscription models have limits, because most people can only afford a few at a time.”

Pointing to the ability of digital media to produce an outlet that doesn’t require printing presses and large amounts of newsprint, McArdle wrote, “Once a digital article has been written, an increasing readership costs the publisher almost nothing; in economist-speak, the marginal cost is near zero.”

I must add a caveat to what might appear to be this column’s bias for digital media. My day is incomplete without feeling compelled to hold and read actual newspapers. But I’m paying increasing attention to digital news sources on my ever-present iPhone.

I’m just an unrepentant news junkie.

Like most everything else we do in our capitalistic society, we must pay for print and digital journalism, whether through subscriptions or donations, if we think it’s important to our lives and democracy.

We have choices.

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.

 

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