Out and About (Sort of): Pause Before Raising Wages by Howard Freedlander

As the Maryland General Assembly addresses legislation proposing a hike in the current minimum wage of $10.10 to $15 an hour, I recommend caution as well as compassion. Like most things in the political arena, a decision aimed at boosting take-home pay and relieving poverty is not simple or straightforward.

Since I wrote last week that I planned to devote this week’s column to examination and analysis of the minimum wage by this non-economist, I’ve read extensive emails sent me by a friend and economist and spoken with business and non-profit executives. A housing specialist also offered input.

I am torn.

Every working person should make enough money to live not impoverished, able to pay expenses. Everyone should feel compensated fairly and valued. Everyone should feel proud of one’s output, unburdened by a supervisor’s unrealistic expectations.

Employers, particularly those who own small businesses or manage social-service non-profits, face a quandary when state government decides to raise the minimum wage. Eager to pay their employees a fair wage, they now may face a mandate. They also must confront simple economics: can they afford to employ as many people at a higher hourly rate and make a desired profit or continue providing services?

If the answer is no, then employers must lay off employees. They may have no other alternative. The result is undesirable: former workers either must find another job or seek unemployment insurance.

Employers might cut benefits. That too is hurtful.

Nonprofits providing necessary services to poor individuals are in a squeeze when compelled to pay higher wages. The needy clients cannot pay higher fees, prompted by higher-paid service-providers.

Having spent considerable time in Annapolis, I well realize that opponents of bills such as ones dealing with mandated minimum wages or benefits always claim that the world will fall apart should legislation viewed as onerous be approved and signed by the governor. I also know that these cries of alarm are sometimes rhetorical devices.

This time around, I suggest that minimum-wage opponents receive a fair hearing. Their voices need to be heard and regarded. Further, I suggest that if the General Assembly find the politics irresistible to increase the minimum wage from $10.10 to $15, it do so in phases.

Private and non-profit sectors need time to adjust to a new wage reality.

And one more thing: I believe that the minimum wage be set differently for, say Baltimore County, than it is for, say, Dorchester County. This is reasonable. The cost of living differs. The volume of business and ability to pay employees is markedly different in Towson than it is in Cambridge.

Leaders of Maryland counties must have a respected voice. Decentralized decision-making may be unreasonable; input, though, is vital.

An unavoidable consequence of raising the minimum wage in a small business typically calls for hiking the hourly rates of those folks earning greater than the existing minimum wage. This is just a reality. Personnel expenses thus continue to rise for a small business owner.

Complexity underscores the minimum wage debate. It’s just so tempting to raise pay and enable people and their families to live more comfortably. To argue otherwise seems so heartless. It seems the right thing to do in a churning economy.

I ask Senate President Mike Miller and Speaker of the House Mike Busch to consider the inevitable byproducts of a compassionate and politically pleasing legislative initiative. I wish I could jump on the bandwagon without any reservation.

I would like to be led by my heart. It’s just not rational.

Before I bring this column to a merciful close, I believe that raising the minimum wage should not be a stand-alone action. The legislature should combine an increase with additional incentives to build affordable and safe housing and provide job training and affordable day care. It simply makes sense if the state wishes to upgrade the income and output of workers in a holistic way.

At the risk of being redundant, I urge readers to pay heed to the Maryland General Assembly. What it does matters.

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 Power of Love by Jamie Kirkpatrick

My wife is one of nine children. Last week, her mother, the tour de force we all called “Dar,” passed away peacefully at 94. It was not unexpected but still a shock. We all thought she would live forever.

One of my favorite John Cheever stories is the tale of The Worm in the Apple. It’s about a family (the Crutchmans) who are all so outwardly happy and loving that the narrator assumes there must be a worm hiding in their apple. He searches through all the nooks and crannies of their lives, lifts every little tea doily looking for the telltale dust bunny that would prove that not all was as spotless as it seemed, but try as he might, he isn’t able to find the worm in their apple. Along the way, however, he does uncover some sad chapters in the Crutchman’s otherwise merry saga but in every instance, the family is able to swallow each bitter pill like an elixir that only makes them stronger. They cross every bridge in their lives with truthfulness and grace and in the end, the narrator is forced to grudgingly admit that there really is no worm in the Crutchman’s apple.

Well, the fictional Crutchmans have a lot in common with the real-life Conleys and Dar was their indisputable and vital matriarch. Her original nine children produced twelve grandchildren and that generation swelled the family with eighteen great grandchildren. If you add the spouses to the mix—I currently count fifteen “outlaws”—that brings the total number of diners at the family table to fifty-three. (If you’re checking my math—and you should!—one of the original nine offspring passed away in 2015.) And now the place at the head of the table is empty.

Dar was twice married. Her first marriage lasted thirty years and produced those original nine children. Her second marriage lasted twenty years and gave all her grandchildren and great grandchildren someone to hold dear and remember as a grandfather.

Dar was elegant, entertaining, and energetic, traits she passed down the family tree. With such a titanic and lively crew to manage, she also needed to be both a boss and a drill sergeant, more DNA she contributed to the family gene pool. She was a devout Catholic with a sustaining faith that contained a firm moral center but she was also able to find enough latitude and flexibility in her belief to accommodate the changing times. She was also a devout Republican (a bit less so of late!) but thankfully broadminded enough to tolerate a modicum of Democrat dissent from a few of us. She loved all the family shenanigans and chaos and insisted on a dance-or-go-to-bed philosophy that still permeates every family gathering; I can testify to its power because the Conleys have kept me up way past my bedtime on many an occasion.

Which brings up an interesting dichotomy within the family circle. I’ve come to understand that the Conleys and their offspring need each other like yin needs yang; without one, the other would be incomplete. Together, the Conleys make a whole that is far greater than the sum of their individual parts. At the same time, they are inclusive to a fault even though at times the family circus can become a bit overwhelming to the uninitiated. I’m speaking from my outlaw perspective when I confess this, but I admit that as the years pass, what seemed absolutely loco at first now seems almost—almost!—normal. When it gets too crazy, I just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Dar fell and fractured her hip last Sunday. Knowing the risk involved, she underwent surgery to repair the break and the next day, when she asked her physical therapist if she would still be able to do her Michael Jackson moonwalk, we dared to hope. But broken bones and major surgery took their toll on her frail ninety-four year-old body and she took her last breath later that afternoon. Dar left this world the same way she inhabited it: beautifully, gracefully.

Dar was a shining star to her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Everyone adored her. She was our mentor, model, and guide—a gifted natural teacher who taught all of us—inlaws and outlaws both—a million different life lessons. The most powerful one she taught me was the power of love.

Now she can dance until dawn if she wants to; she never, ever has to go to bed.

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” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

Goose Tales by George Merrill

Geese, like many boaters and tourists who show up on the Shore, are seasonal visitors. The arrival of geese in the fall is like the invasion of college kids on Maryland beaches during spring break; they’re everywhere. Geese gather in droves in the creeks, golf courses, and weekenders’ lawns, huddling feather to feather. They stay for the winters and then leave.

Whether arriving, taking off, or just floating around, geese make an extraordinary ruckus. One night in the fall some years ago, while anchored on the Wye River near Shaw Bay, a huge colony of geese settled in the water near us. I was unable to hear what my wife was saying across the cockpit for the din that the geese were making. Geese generate a thunderous volume because they all talk at once the way anxious people do. Why so much to say I have no idea, unless, perhaps, as frequent fliers, they’re relieved to be settled in and enjoy telling each other stories of where they’ve been, the ups and downs of their flight south and who they’d bumped into along the way. I heard a lot of stories that night, and although I couldn’t understand a word – a honk, more accurately – I didn’t sleep a wink for the din.

Once, in late spring, I woke in the middle of the night to the honking of a solitary goose in the creek in front of my house. I’m used to sounds that gaggles of geese make. It’s odd hearing only one. I felt melancholy listening to the goose. I couldn’t get back to sleep, but not because of the noise–the honking wasn’t intrusive– but for the suggestion of what this plaintive voice might portend.

In spring, I’m expecting nature’s new arrivals. This goose must have been around the Bay since the fall, anyway. I doubt it was a recent arrival. To hear the honking of only one goose when I know that he or she, only a month ago, was surrounded by the convivial chatter of friends and relatives, inclines me to think the worst: perhaps its spouse died or for health reasons the goose wasn’t up to making the long trip north. For this goose, spring was not a beginning, but an end.

There are gains and losses in the seasons of life. I think of the retirees who come to the Shore to live out their days in the gentle ambience of tidewater country. In my community, most of the people are of riper years, most over fifty-five.   The days of contentment endure for a while but then there’s the inevitable time of illness and death. One survives to live out by themselves the dream they once shared together.

Not far from my home just off the Bozman-Neavitt Road, a couple I knew once named their home, Final Decision. The name was inscribed on a plaque attached to a covered well housing that stood by the road. The home is still there, the well housing too, but the name has disappeared.

Final Decision was a word play on the husband’s profession – he had been a judge – and that this was the last move the couple planned to make. In short, like many here, they came to live out their lives on the Shore. The husband died and the wife stayed on in the house.  After some years she became disabled with age and her family saw the necessity of moving her to a facility providing regular care. After she left, the sign began losing letters, falling off one by one, until, when I last saw the sign, the remaining letters read, ‘indecision.’  Life decisions we make are rarely final; they’re tentative. The final decision is made elsewhere.

I considered another possible scenario to account for the solitary bird’s presence. Indeed, like Henry David Thoreau, the goose may have been making a statement. He’d had it with the noise, the crowded skies, congestion on the creeks, geese everywhere flapping and fussing, and spending long hours in the air. Like Thoreau, the goose found his own Walden Pond, on the creek in front of my house.

For man and goose, alike, there are tradeoffs to be managed. While it’s comforting knowing someone’s nearby it’s also important to have time and space to be still and alone. To be assured of the comforts and safety that companionship and society provide, most species congregate together in one way or another. For our part, we build and inhabit homes around the tranquil coves we love, sail the open waters that beckon us, and drop our hooks in the silent creeks and rivers that promise us a night’s safe anchorage. But we also insist upon having conveniences nearby like shopping malls with big boxes We profane the very pristine nest we sought for refuge, the place where we sought gentle space, where we could engage in the discernment that solitude brings, and where that soft, downy texture of stillness can be heard, the stillness that cradles the soul like soft pillows sooth sleepy heads.

After a month or so I never saw the goose again. Who knows where he’d gone. But I like to think that he went on searching for that perfect time which includes discovering the uncommon place for which many of us longed and found a while we lived on the Shore.

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.

 

Up River by Craig Fuller

Ever wonder what boating enthusiasts do when there is snow on the ground? Well, we plan future cruises. And, while getting “there” is always at least half the fun, another goodly percentage goes to the time spent planning.

With this in mind, I recently found myself among some seasoned cruisers who gathered in the middle of winter to discuss where it might be fun cruise this coming boating season. We talked of boats and cruises past and some new, or newly redone, places we want to visit.

Chestertown Marina

Emerging from the intense review of options, I decided that the Ranger Tug and I needed to head up the Chester River to historic Chestertown this year and visit what I knew to be a 300-year-old working port. My focus was such that I decided a drive north to see the new Chestertown Marina would be a strong element in my own cruise planning process.

While I knew the Town was refurbishing the marina, what I discovered was a virtually new and beautiful facility. The transformation since my last visit over a year ago was beyond anything I could have imagined.

Now, any good plan requires some knowledge of the backstory. And, who better to learn from than the mayor of Chestertown, his honor, Chris Cerino, who responded to an email by saying, “just give me a call anytime!”

While the commitment to rebuild the marina was launched before Mayor Cerino took office, this is one elected official who made a promise to see the marina totally redone and it is clearly a promise kept! Having taken office in 2014, he shared with me that “there is not a single square-yard we left untouched.” And, to think that back in 2011 people actually planned to sell the marina to build condos!

It took a good deal of financial finesse along the way. No single grant could fund the project, but a series of grants were applied for that made the initial work possible. Then, to the credit of the community, private donors stepped up to raise money needed to complete the project thanks to their funds and matching monies. By the way, a little help is still needed. [Link: http://chestertownmarina.com/marina-fundraising/ ]

One look at the new marina tells anyone that the good people have Chestertown have given all who enjoy cruising a fine new destination. And, as the mayor happily points out, “a beautiful historic town is a short walk away for all who visit.” There is no doubt that the mayor, along with the local shops and restaurants, welcome visitors.

Surely a number of slips will be leased for the season, but groups of up to 15 or 20 boats should be able to be accommodated, at least this year. And, there is a commitment to work with any captain who wants to spend some time in Chestertown.

So, a bit of snow on the ground will not prevent those who enjoy boating from getting excited about that next cruise….even if it is still several weeks away.

For more information on the Chestertown Marina please go here

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.

In God We Trust by Al Sikes

Mostly I avoid reading columns, which makes me especially appreciative of the feedback I receive from my scribbling. Yet, there was a time when I was an avid reader of political commentary; now, most pundits wear team jerseys and are predictable.

David Brooks is one columnist I continue to read. When he was first with the New York Times he was thought of as their symbolic conservative writer. Yet, several years ago when I would send a link to a Brooks’ column to certain Republican friends they treated me like a heretic. They wanted a cheerleader, not a thoughtful person trying to make some sense of the world.

Continuing with my heresy, I invite you to read a recent Brook’s column which I believe reveals persistent and troubling truths.

I served in both the Reagan and GHW Bush administrations and not infrequently found myself among true believers to whom capitalism, regardless of how practiced, was right and true. Their church was the corporation and hyper-profit seeking was a righteous act if it inured to the monetary benefit of the sole legitimate claimant—the shareholder. Morality, in their view, was either maximizing short-term stock value or best left to the confessional.

While Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), I became a not infrequent target of an entertainment industry that argued that any FCC influence on content was wrong. Attacks reached their loudest when I commented negatively on Fox’s “Married With Children” and took actions against Howard Stern’s morning radio show. If you are unfamiliar with those shows, Google will quickly lead you to critiques.

A hands-off stance was supported by “hard market conservatives” on the right and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the left. The ACLU took an absolutist view of the protection of “free speech”—speech was their flag regardless of its content.

Program content alone, almost regardless of how degrading, will not alter civilization nor will a hyper-concentration on profit. But, both are telling and damaging symptoms of the collapse of societal norms—norms that said “don’t go there.”

Norms must have reciprocal power; business leaders must honor an invisible line or the outliers will prey on the acceptable and norms will change. I don’t know when the perverse, maximize profit at all cost tipping point was reached, but reached it was. Maximizing profits, regardless of societal costs, in too many industries became the price exacted to be among the most competitive enterprises. Indeed, for most business leaders societal cost calculators were preempted by rate-of-return calculators.

In the past I have written about enduring truths. In my view it is those truths that provide civilization’s ballast. If there are no eternal truths—well, you can finish the sentence.

Eternal truths overcame economic advantage and political inertia to rid America of the heinous practice of enslaving people for economic exploitation. While there were many religious figures that contorted scriptures to apologize for slavery, the Quakers, in particular, were animated by the divine truth; it overwhelmed hypocrisies from the pulpit.

As the civil war was winding down the United States government added to our currency the phrase, “In God We Trust.” Today, as images of opulence flit through the minds of those in charge, too often their deity is the currency.

In a diverse country, religious and scriptural differences are organic. Yet, for over 200 years in America we have woven a beautiful fabric from common threads—threads informed by sacred texts and estimable philosophers.

When everybody’s sense of truth becomes truth, nothing will endure. An absence of truth is fertile soil for the predator and autocrat and they don’t care about truth.

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. 

 

We need Stamina for the Presidential Election by Maria Wood

Editor’s Note: We are very pleased to welcome Maria Wood as a new contributor to the Spy.

With the onset of the 2020 election cycle and Elizabeth Warren’s ebullient entry into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, the world of political punditry has been filled with commentary about the sexist backlash she will face and the unfair standards women are held to in political races and the broader professional world.

I have long been a supporter of Warren’s, and while I am excited about her candidacy, I am already exhausted by the endless hot takes on the Oh! So! Exciting! prospect of a girl campaigning for the job of leader of the free world. The serious candidacy of a woman seems to inevitably bring out the David Attenborough in much of the national conversation, regardless of the serious female candidates we have already seen and the many women who will undoubtedly join the race this year.

Victoria Claflin Woodhull, who was the first woman to run for President in 1872. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

I’m even more exhausted because questions about whether a woman can get a fair shot in American presidential politics are still so pertinent. We still need to continually underline the impossible standards to which the American power structure—and the American electorate—hold women, and the many unfair hurdles female candidates must clear to be taken seriously.

Warren is an eminently reasonable candidate for the presidency in this election cycle. She is a successful, high-profile, popular Senator in her second term, with both expertise and charisma. She knows the Constitution, she understands how government is supposed to work, and she has enormous fund-raising capacity. All of this is overshadowed by constant analysis of A Woman’s Chances and A Woman’s Strategy, by debate over whether criticism is warranted or stems from overt or implicit misogyny, and by gratuitous comparisons with the ghosts of other female candidates past, present, and future.

The most infuriating thing about the pieces that have already appeared and the many more that will be written over the next two years is that they will remain relevant. Candidates, spokespeople, and their supporters and detractors alike will have to respond to questions about “electability,” “likeability,” “relatability,” (is there even such a thing as a woman you’d want to grab a beer with?) as well as competence, trustworthiness, and warmth (or the lack thereof), along with a host of other gendered topics that will sometimes arise in the form of sympathetic questions and sometimes as bare-knuckled accusations.

As a woman, Warren will need to be perfect, and even if she is, she will face unending sexist criticisms. She will be distrusted: she’ll be called deceitful, duplicitous, and dishonest. She will be considered unlikable: cold, aloof, elitist, boring. She’ll be accused of “lecturing,” “haranguing,” and thinking she’s smarter than voters. She’ll also be accused of not being serious enough. When she laughs she’ll be frivolous, or inauthentic, or both.

She’ll be deemed incompetent. She’ll be accused of having lived in an ivory tower, and the claim will be made that she doesn’t know how the “real world” works. Her motherly and grandmotherly qualities will be discussed. Her emotional stability will be questioned. If she is sure of herself and speaks forcefully, she will be called angry. If she sheds a tear or lets her voice quaver, she’ll be painted as too emotional, even hysterical. On the other hand, if she doesn’t show emotion, she’ll be too detached, and that is when we’ll hear that she’s “cold” and “aloof.”

There will be less disguised and even proud misogyny. We’ll hear about whether she’s pretty, whether she dresses well, whether her makeup and hair are good. We’ll discuss whether she’s capable of being tough enough to handle macho adversaries like Putin and Kim Jong-Un.

Questions will be raised about whether she is too ambitious, whether she shouldn’t be satisfied as a Senator. Some of these debates will be confusing, because it’s not an unreasonable question, and not necessarily gendered: Good senatorial skills do not necessarily coincide with good presidential skills. Issues of temperament and competence and experience are crucial to any presidential candidacy. But, we will not be able to conscientiously consider these questions without first considering their gendered qualities.

Which brings me back to my exhaustion. Isn’t it time for Americans to put aside these ridiculous questions, and stop wondering whether we can be led by a woman? It is, of course, but we aren’t there yet, so we need to keep having these conversations, continuing to examine our words and our motives, because it is really important that we elect the most qualified and the most temperamentally suited candidate to the highest office in the land, regardless of gender. The stakes are too high to settle for anything less just because we are afraid to disrupt our antiquated national hierarchies.

Maria Wood returned to academic life in 2014, after a two-decade career in the music business, earning a BA in American Studies and a Certificate in Ethnomusicology from Smith College in 2018. Most recently, she served as Deputy Campaign Manager for Jesse Colvin for Congress.

Cecil Circuit Court Judge William Davis Talks Justice on the Eve of MLK Day

If there is a good example of what Martin Luther King Jr. was hoping for in America, it might be found with Cecil County Circuit Court Judge William W. Davis Jr. The product of a mostly white high school in Delaware, followed by a primarily black college experience at Morehouse College in Atlanta, and now as the first elected black judge in a county that is made up of 90% white residents, Davis understands first hand the importance of diversity, as well as how America has changed since Dr. King poetically asked that Americans be judged by the quality of their character and not the color of their skin.

Davis also understands the importance of fair justice.  And while he is the first to admit that the American legal system has a long way to go before “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream,” he faithfully believes that he and his fellow judges in Cecil County are making that a reality on the Upper Shore.

As the judge prepares his remarks for his keynote address at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast in Rock Hall next week, the Spy ran up to Elkton last week to talk to him between his court cases, about MLK, his thoughts on young people in the African-American community, and the mighty stream of justice in Maryland.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For information on the Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast please go here.

 

 

Out and About (Sort of): Look to Annapolis by Howard Freedlander

About this time every year, I suggest that readers pay attention to the deliberations of the annual 90-day session of the Maryland General Assembly. It may not be as dramatic and absurd as the goings-on of the U.S. Congress and our deeply flawed White House occupant—but, nonetheless, its impact is easily felt from Oakland in Western Maryland to Crisfield on the Lower Eastern Shore.

I must admit that state government may be the last refuge for consistently significant legislative initiatives that often draw bipartisan agreement and even a degree of comity among state senators and delegates who are as diverse as Maryland, with its urban and rural enclaves and varied political viewpoints. So, pay heed to the state’s 439th General Assembly, now nearly a week-old.

Before I offer my take on the critical issues facing our 188 legislators, which includes 60 new members, I must express my prayers to Sen. Mike Miller, an Annapolis legend who has served more than three decades as president of the Maryland State Senate. Diagnosed with an advanced form of prostate cancer, Miller, a wily master of the legislative process and political cunning, will continue to preside over the 47-person State Senate while undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

As a prostate cancer survivor, I have some inkling of Miller’s fraught medical prospects. Because his cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland, the gentleman from Southern Maryland lacks the option for surgery or radiation, the normal choices for those of us whose prostate cancer had not metastasized. As he said last week, Miller will be in good hands at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Many of us on the Eastern Shore with serious diagnoses of many types feel fortunate that one of the greatest hospitals in the world is roughly 90 minutes away. It is an invaluable safety net.

To keep this week’s column to a manageable length, I will focus on two issues that particularly interest me, If the spirit moves me, I may seek readers’ tolerance and write a follow-up next week.

Republican Governor Larry Hogan will try to persuade the Democratic General Assembly to debate how to draw up Maryland’s congressional districts in a fair way. Our state’s gerrymandered districts are a farce.

Democrats are awaiting a decision by the U.S, Supreme Court to uphold or negate a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals that the boundaries drawn for the 6th Congressional District are unconstitutional.

Hogan has recommended the creation of a nonpartisan commission that would oversee redistricting, beginning after the 2020 Census. I think the idea is a good and necessary one

I feel particularly strongly after the recent election in our 1st Congressional District here on the Shore and parts of Baltimore and Harford counties. I watched with dismay as Jesse Colvin, a Democrat, waged an energetic campaign against incumbent Representative Andy Harris, a Republican who has held the office since 2010—when the district was drawn to create a safe seat for a Republican while redesigning the 6th District in Western Maryland to make it more favorable for a Democrat.

Despite an all-out effort by Colvin, a first-time candidate who brought Republicans and Independents into his camp (not enough) and raised more money than Harris, he lost by 22 percentage points. Harris has a hold on the 1st District. As he said, he didn’t create a district favorable to him or any other conservative Republican; the Democrats did.

When a district is gerrymandered, no longer fairly representing voters at both ends of the political scale, democracy suffers. In the 1st Congressional District, for example, Democratic voters feel they are unrepresented by Andy Harris, who needs only to cater the needs of those who gave him a commanding victory. That is not to say that Harris would not help a Democratic constituent with personal concern, i.e. a passport or Social Security claim. The perception is that he feels no need to seek goodwill from Democrats.

Let’s take this one step further. Call it realpolitik. When Rep. Harris considers a congressional bill or regulatory action, he need not adopt a centrist position that would satisfy both Republicans and Democrats. He can vote with the ultra-conservative wing of his party, because he fears no retribution. Not when you win an election by double-digit percentage points.

Political observers of both stripes bemoan gerrymandering. They believe, as I do, that Congress is stuck in an uncompromising quagmire because senators and representatives represent extremes. The middle is increasingly unpopulated. Ignoring for the moment that members of Congress ideally represent the country’s interest, I realize that political science, as many of us studied in college, is based mostly in fantasyland.

Re-election is the primary goal. Maybe once in awhile the greater good becomes the primary objective, but not often.

I said nine paragraphs ago I would write about two subjects. As you can see, gerrymandering and its nefarious implications drew my passionate attention.  I will write next week about the minimum wage, which the General Assembling is considering raising from $10.10 to $15 an hour. An economist friend has provided me a reasoned analysis. I just need more time to digest it.

I hope that the General Assembly will think beyond parochial concerns and determine that a nonpartisan commission for the redistricting of congressional district makes sense for all voters. Currently, 21 states have some form of a non-partisan or bipartisan redistricting commission.

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.

 

Memoir as Fiction: Vietnam Vet Jim Richardson Remembers a War Through a Novel

Unlike most authors who have been kind enough to sit down for an interview with the Spy to talk about a new book, Mid-Shore artist Jim Richardson’s recently released novel is almost sold out, is not available on Amazon, nor available at local stores. In fact, if you want to buy a copy (only 50 left in inventory), you’ll need to knock on his door in Claiborne with eighteen dollars in cash to get one or borrow it from a friend.

While the popularity of Middle Blue is indeed extremely comforting to Jim, it’s not without the knowledge that he only ordered 200 to be printed in the first place. His pleasure comes from successfully finding a way to tell his family and friends what it was like as a twenty-one year old drafted into the Vietnam War.

Disinclined to use the more traditional format of writing a memoir, Jim took his wartime experience and channeled it through the experience of three fictional characters who find friendship in the midst of the tragic and surreal last years of America’s attempt to win a war that could not win.

Jim sat down with the Spy to talk about the experience of writing the book (including the book’s illustrations), his goal of sharing his Vietnam experience with loved ones, and the therapeutic value that comes with memories rediscovered and documented.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. As noted, this is book is only available from the author. Jim’s email is designs@atlanticbb.net

 

Keep Your Pants On by George Merrill

‘Keep your pants on’ we’re exhorted when we become frantic, impatient and agitated. We’re urged to be cool, stay easy with things. The phrase, in addition to being a metaphor, can now be understood literally. An epidemic has been identified among post-modern men; we see droopy drawers everywhere.

It’s shortly after Christmas and near New Year’s Eve. In those weeks, I’ve eaten more than my share and I Know it. When I overeat, it alarms me. Various parts of my body redistribute themselves. In a word, I add volume while changing shape.

There was a time when all that was required of me to see the tips of my shoes was to cast my glance downward. I can do that, but it’s not my shoes I see, anymore. The space between where my eyes are set and my shoes are planted, a terrain once occupied by a firm torso, has been replaced with a more viscous substance I can only call fat. What had once been concave, is now convex. In order to see my shoes, today, I must bend forward some. My pants that historically belted navel high, given my evolving body shape, must now be buckled well below the navel in order to remain up. In the body, matter is neither created nor destroyed, just increased and moved around.

What offends me about my body’s redistribution of its mass is that I must secure my pants with a belt well below my navel, leaving to my shame, an unsightly mass draping over the belt for which no amount of gerrymandering (or sucking up) is able to alter. My roll of fat is visible to all and my drawers appear perilously close to dropping.

I’ve recently had some workers doing carpentry around the house. These are fit young men, at the top of their game, with lean bodies as straight as ramrods. I notice, however, when any one of them has to bend over, it reveals the upper portion of his butt. This phenomenon is common enough to have earned a diagnostic designation: “builder’s butt.” This describes graphically what happens to a man when his pants sit too low at his hips. Bending over to hammer nails or working on a pipe under a sink, his trousers decidedly fail him. His pants reveal the upper regions of those lower ones that pants were once engineered to conceal.

The corpulent old men of my youth, my grandfather and my great uncle, had significant paunches. I remember distinctly my great uncle’s silver belt buckle sitting prominently across the widest circumference of his girth. I thought it was neat. I recall both men’s large middles fondly, as if this was the distinguishing mark of age and wisdom. I don’t recall seeing an offensive overhang, which is the objection I have to my own paunch. Theirs, as I recall, would make mine look like an anthill. I wonder just how were they were able to wear pants buckled high along the upper waist, leaving no trace of an overhang? I would add that neither of them wore suspenders.

It seems to me that straight lean bodies should allow the belt securing one’s pants to ride just about anywhere up or down the torso. But today, even with young bodies, men’s pants rest precariously below the hip. I have concluded this happens not by the physical vicissitudes of aging men, but by a calculated decision of fashion designers.

I realized this while at the voting booth in Easton. While waiting my turn, I was dreamily people-watching. My glance fell on a tall man around my age. He was thin, rangy and well built. What seemed odd was how low his trousers were riding on his hips. Obviously, this did not result from the inability of his torso to accommodate a belt-tightening just about anywhere he chose to secure it. I can only conclude that fashion designers are flooding the market with slacks tailored to make men appear as if their drawers are dropping.

I can’t imagine why. I see no aesthetic advantages to such a design nor even a hint of erotic allure -which dominates most all products of fashion – except maybe handkerchiefs. To say the least, a man with droopy drawers does not present as someone dignified, a desirable sex object, or as someone having any idea of how to meet the public. He is definitely not cool.

Answers to this strange phenomenon may be found in today’s psycho-social climate. The unstable climate seems to be driving all kinds of aberrations. Truth telling has become a lost art today and we’re hesitant to believe anything we hear or see. The transparency we once valued in our relationships to one another has grown opaque with the incessant allegations of “fake.”

Transparency and openness with one another was once considered a social necessity, even a virtue. I wonder whether, while men’s pants don’t reveal all, they reveal just enough to satisfy us that a man is trustworthy; his pants present him as the kind of guy discreet and tasteful enough not to let everything hang out, but sufficiently transparent to assure us he is not hiding anything.

A bit of a stretch perhaps but there you have it. Nothing else I can think of explains it.

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.

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