Out and About (Sort of): Oysters, Science and Human Behavior by Howard Freedlander

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For two years, the future of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay has drawn the attention of 16 concerned “stakeholders,” as human beings with established viewpoints grappled with how to manage and increase the population of a bivalve that symbolizes the health of the Bay and drives the livelihood of the Eastern Shore’s iconic watermen.

Armed with a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the determined organizational leadership of Dr. Elizabeth North, the stakeholder group, comprising watermen, aquaculture producers, a seafood buyer and representatives of the Oyster Recovery Partnership, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association, Philips Wharf Environmental Center, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the federal government sought a solution that will become public in May.

What’s known today, according to Dr. North, principal investigator for the OysterFutures project and associate professor of fisheries oceanography at Horn Point Lab, is that the quest for consensus in the oyster production arena was successful. As noted, details will follow shortly.

There’s no secret that the relations among watermen, regulators, advocacy groups and scientists have been tense and testy for many years. The watermen, understandably, want to fish for oysters and make a good living devoid of burdensome regulations and scientific data they may not trust.

On the other hand, natural resource managers in the state and federal governments intend to preserve the oysters, decimated over the years by disease, habitat loss and too much fishing pressure.

The backdrop to OysterFutures project was sensitive to say the least. Mistrust was a major impediment. Civil communication, as in any other discussion joined by people with ingrained differing opinions, would be a critical element to what participants hoped would be a favorable resolution.

A few years ago when I interviewed Dr. North for an article in The Star Democrat, I was dubious about the likelihood of a consensus. A week ago, Dr. North addressed my doubts. I’m now hopeful.

She said, “It has been very rewarding and challenging to be part of a process where people came together to find commonality…to find out what people agree on.”

Facilitated by two representatives of the University of Florida Conse4nsus Center, equipped with 25 years of experience working with the commercial fishing industry in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico regions, the process encompassed nine meetings conducted for 10-12 hours in each session at Horn Point Lab. Meetings included a research team, headed by Dr. North and that included natural and social scientists, as well as scientific communicators.

The goal of OysterFutures was to produce regulations and policies that would prove effective in improving the oyster resource, and focused on upgrading performance measures, such as oyster abundance, harvest and habitat in the Choptank and Little Choptank rivers.

What particularly fascinates me is another outcome sought in this project. NSF funded this project not only to produce results—whatever they might be–that could increase the threatened, often precarious oyster population–but also to study the human ecology necessary to grow a thriving industry.

What do I mean?

Simply, NSF and the OysterFutures team were intensely interested in the human relations required among the varied stakeholders to develop a consensus that would alter the economic and environmental viability of oysters.

North said, “We had honest, respectful and constructive dialogue. Each participant brought his or her own tree of truth., and we were able to integrate conflicting points of view into a broader collective understanding.

“The local knowledge of watermen was important. They stuck to their guns; they put forward what they considered honest and insisted that their insights be recognized.”

In some cases, preconceived notions fell by the way side, according to North.

Professor North is convinced that the “human dimension” of the facilitated consensus process could be applied to other natural resource conundrums. She believes it could be effective in driving solutions that might influence decision-makers.

I applaud the National Science Foundation, Dr. North and her colleagues for conjoining the study of human interaction and scientific research in the context of a highly contested environmental issue. It only makes sense.

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.

Out and About (Sort of): Howling at the Moon by Howard Freedlander

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When will this unending winter come to a close? Chatter about an uncontrollable fact of life has become a staple of conversation in 2018.

I cannot remember another time in my life when I’ve focused so much on a season, anxious for it to end. When I’ve voiced my frustration, silly though it might be, I’ve discovered that others agree.

When I’ve talked with friends comfortably ensconced in warmer climes, I’ve applauded their good sense. For the first time, I’ve even entertained a tinge of envy, rhetorically asking myself: why would anyone who could go south for the winter stick around the Mid-Atlantic region and endure ceaselessly cold temperatures?

Understanding that the month of March is typically a tease in its spectrum of climatic changes—snowstorms and rain—I expected that April would provide a welcome change, an infusion of pleasant, spring weather.

Not so.

Just this past Saturday, April 7, a friend and I dared to watch a Washington Nationals baseball game at Nationals Ballpark against the New York Mets. It seemed unimaginable, but those of us who filled half a stadium were bundled up against 40-degree temperatures. Adding insult to injury, the sun remained AWOL.

Hot chocolate was for sale. It competed with beer as the beverage of choice.

There was more misery.

The Nationals lost its fourth straight game, by one run. And there was one more disturbing occurrence. In one inning, the home plate umpire ejected the Nationals batter and then the manager for arguing a strike call. The Nationals manager was so angry he kicked dirt on home plate and tossed his cap.

Subsequently, the fans busied themselves screaming at the empire and briefly ignoring the cold weather. Ah, sports provide an escape from daily concerns–and unseasonably cold temperatures—in the heat of the moment (excuse my lame pun).

Now, if this were an April Fool’s column, I would suggest that the Russians were somehow responsible for delaying the onset of Spring weather. I would wonder if Russia’s President Putin and gang somehow hacked the weather gods. As you can tell, I’m really grasping for an explanation for a winter that refuses to go away.

Continuing my senseless venting about the weather, I’m anxious to eschew seaters and long-sleeved shirts for a warm-weather wardrobe. Enough is enough.

Lacking any scientific data, I would like to believe that our moods would improve, that we would smile more and resume our neighborhood conversations if the weather improved and offered us a long period of pleasant weather.

Whining about the weather seems meaningless and, yes, comparable to howling at the moon and wasting my time and energy. Yet, I can’t help myself.

It’s time for a change. The thought of 60-70-degree weather gives me hope.

Happy Spring!

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.

Out and About (Sort): Quest for Comity by Howard Freedlander

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We pay professional therapists to listen to us, but we can’t afford the time or effort to listen to others with divergent views.

Two friends in the county have views diametrically opposed to mine. Yet we enjoy a depth of civility and friendship that transcends our polar opposite viewpoints. We refuse to poison our communication with insults and personal attacks.

It seems that civil dialogue or any discourse between those on opposite ends of the political spectrum is rare. Either politics deliberately doesn’t come up in conversation, or the differing persons simply avoid each other. We all know this sad tale; the polarization seems a stubbornly omnipresent fact of life today. It’s a shame.

Maybe it’s overstated. Maybe it’s not. Divisiveness seems entwined these days with the human condition.

Just recently, I spent 90 minutes at lunch with some people whose viewpoints differed greatly from mine. Conversation was difficult at times. Fortunately, each person generally spoke without emotion and recrimination—not entirely, but mostly. A sense of friendship and respect seemed to emerge at the same time as dessert and coffee.

I won’t dwell on the lunch. However, I will talk about “Better Angels,” as reported recently by CBS News. I was dismayed but not surprised by the stark differences of opinions about gun control; the discussion lasted 18 months in Lebanon, Ohio.

What interested me is that this method of overcoming ill will is the same as confronting and overcoming harmful bias. In fact, two members of the “focus group”—one an Iranian-American and the other an evangelical Christian—described how their initially fraught relationship evolved into one of warm friendship. The therapeutic process worked.

What seems new and striking about the discussion and its byproduct of friendship is not a new phenomenon It just stands out due to the bigotry and stridency expressed in our times in some quarters. The abusive language harms our democracy; it consigns compromise and tolerance to the outer reaches of human behavior. Productive discourse seems unfathomable.

In President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, presented on March 4, 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, voiced a yearning for a time when “the mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

In futility, Lincoln hoped for an outcome free of mortal combat and societal schism.

Striking a different, yet forgiving and conciliatory tone in his second inaugural address delivered in March 1865 just before the end of the wrenching Civil War, Lincoln said:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations. “

Analyzing Lincoln’s second address and the current state of relationships in our fractious nation, Paul Cox, a friend, wrote:

“The second address anticipated the end of the war and the great job of reconciliation – it is generally accepted that Lincoln, the great captain, would have steered the ship of state more successfully through the turbulent post-war years. We cannot know. But we look back from here and see so many issues still unreconciled, wounds still not healed.

“Has it been malice? Has it been a lack of charity? As this world spins around, there are many strong centrifugal forces that would throw us all apart. The act of listening to people with diametrically opposed political views would be one of the first things necessary to assure us being held together.”

Paul arrives at the same conclusion as I did: civility has suffered as those on the opposite ends of the political spectrum adamantly avoid, if not disdain, listening to people whose opinions, though well-thought out, seem anathema to our ears. We won’t and don’t listen. We believe that the search for common ground is meaningless.

The quest for comity is a bumpy, uncomfortable road. It offers risks; we might change our minds. We might respect and even like the person whose opinions are bothersome.

All of us embody “better angels.”

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.

Out and About (Sort of): 3rd Bay Bridge Span Questioned by Howard Freedlander

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Last week I wrote about an engaging concept entitled Delmarva Oasis, which, if it becomes a reality, would convert a large portion of the Delmarva Peninsula into a preserve that retains and enhances the agricultural and environmental goodness of the region we call home. I noted that the prospect of a third Chesapeake Bay Bridge span imposes a certain urgency on converting this concept into a reality.

Up until recently, I favored a third span. For 30 years, I crossed the Bay Bridge to earn a living in Baltimore and Annapolis. I developed a love-hate relationship with the existing two spans, sometimes crossing easily, sometimes with annoying difficulty.

The solution to the increasing congestion and mental damage seemed obvious to me: build an additional span. The May to September “reach the beach” fervor, resulting in year-after-year inconvenience to Eastern Shore residents trying to negotiate Route 50, would be alleviated. All would be right on this side of the Bay.

I have been wrong.

A third span– either aligning with the current bridges or crossing from Baltimore to Kent County or extending from Calvert County to Dorchester County—would simply dump more vacationers on Route 50. Eastern Shore residents would continue to be imprisoned in their homes during the seasonal rush to the Maryland and Delaware beaches.

A bridge spanning the Baltimore Harbor and Kent County may seem logical based on distance and probable expense but destructive to a county with rich farmland and a predominantly agricultural economy and way of life. Kent Countians have fought hard over the years to preserve its rural character, understandably.

So, what’s the solution? Realistically, the political power supporting expansion of the two-span Bay Bridge rests on the Western Shore. This comment is not meant to disparage our fellow Marylanders on the other, well-populated side of the Chesapeake Bay.

The decision to build or not to build is not ours to make.

While we can make noise, we regretfully can do little else. Still, we must persist. Our arguments must carry sufficient force to resonate in the State House and General Assembly.

Were I able to wave a magic wand, I would opt for a rapid transit solution, one that would reduce the traffic on the Shore. I would recommend that a third span, should it be built alongside or even atop the current structures, be devoted solely to rapid transit.

A rapid transit solution not only would reduce cars, crashes, and congestion, it also would mitigate pollution in the air we breathe and the Bay we enjoy.

Would rapid transit be costly? Absolutely. Would it interfere with Americans’ love affair with their vehicles? Absolutely. Would it affect the economic fortunes of small businesses along Route 50? Very likely.

What also is rather obvious is that residents of communities on Kent Island, Grasonville, Wye Mills, Easton and Cambridge would achieve a degree of normality during 16-18 weekends. We may be able to cross Route 50 without blocking out a few hours to shop and do errands. We have been good sports for too long.

While doing some research for this column, I read about the possibility of a third span extending from Cove Point in Calvert County to Crisfield in Somerset County, taking beach traffic onto Route 113, relieving the stress on Routes 50 and 13. This is an intriguing possibility that never occurred to me during my lengthy obsession with the Bay Bridge spans.

Ignoring for the moment that residents of Somerset and Calvert counties might scream foul, I like this potential option. Admittedly, it leaves those of us on the Mid-and-Upper Shore unscathed by a third bay Bridge span; maybe our existing traffic would decrease by directing residents of the District of Columbia metropolitan area to the Lower Shore for their entry to Ocean City and Bethany Beach, Dewey Beach and Rehoboth, DE.

While literally pushing the can (cars) down the road, I remained concerned that rapid transit might be discounted as a viable, albeit expensive, option. Like so many people, I love the independence bestowed by access to my own mode of transportation. Like many other people, I would have to adopt a new mindset.

Just recently, I was at Tampa International Airport and necessarily discovered its people-mover system, SkyConnect. Use of it at first was unsettling. Then, I appreciated its convenience, efficiency and speed; Frequent travelers are accustomed to people movers at Atlanta’s huge airport and other domestic and foreign airports.

If the Eastern Shore of Maryland is going to retain its rural character and host a healthy and vibrant environment, preserving land and values, then it must not be the home of a terminus to a third Bay Bridge span. Unless that span is devoted solely to rapid transit and brings no more cars.

Preservation will entail a stubborn, reasoned resistance to more of the same. It’s worth the fight, difficult though it might be.

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. 

 

 

Out and About (Sort of): Delmarva on the Cusp by Howard Freedlander

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With the looming possibility of serious consideration in the corridors of power in Annapolis of a third Chesapeake Bay Bridge span, the future of the Delmarva Peninsula as a precious slice of geography becomes an urgent subject. It requires a vision, while seemingly improbable, to take shape and grab hold of the minds and hearts of all of us living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia and most of Delaware.

Though not widely known at this point, Delmarva Oasis is a concept discussed most recently in The Spy and other venues by author Tony Hiss to describe a huge conservation effort to protect 50-80 percent of the land of Delmarva. The intent behind protecting this mass of land is to preserve not just the human quality of life but also the millions of species that go unrecognized in our daily comings and goings.

This expansive concept encompasses total conservation, including food production, public access and habitat lands to sustain the basic life conditions of Delmarva. Into this massive transformation of Delmarva, we must include deterrence of the destructive effects of global warming and climate change, appropriate economic and real estate development, the impact of increasing vehicular traffic, the hospitality of the region to waterfowl—and the list can on and on.

At this point, before readers consider this subject as pie-in-the-sky meanderings, I suggest attention be paid to the New Jersey Pine Barrens as an example of conservation of a prized piece of geography. Known as the New Jersey Pinelands National Preserve, it comprises historic villages and berry farms amid vast oak-pine forest, extensive wetlands and a wide range of plants and animals of the Atlantic coastal pine barrens ecoregion. It is protected by state and federal legislation and managed by local, state and federal agencies, as well as the private sector.

Established in November 1978, the Pinelands consists of 1,164,025 acres, all but 24,000 acres of which contain pin-oak forest. The area crosses seven counties and includes all or parts of 56,000 municipalities; the population as of the 2010 census totaled 870,000 people.

The ecological diversity encompasses 580 native species of plants—54 are threatened or endangered. The Pinelands Reserve is home to 299 species of birds, nine fish, 59 reptiles and amphibians and 39 mammals.

Agriculture defines the Delmarva Peninsula. According to a document produced by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC), Delmarva “is the largest contiguous block of productive farmland on the East Coast from Maine to the Carolinas.” This fertile terrain lies within an overnight drive of 60 million or one-third of America’s consumers.

For full disclosure, I am a member of the ESLC board. ESLC has been a catalyst in the preservation of nearly 60,000 acres since 1990.
As Tony Hiss said in his Spy interview, the Delmarva Oasis is an audacious initiative. If it happens, it will bring towns and cities, farmland, marshlands and wilderness under one umbrella of sustained preservation. It will ensure that the Delmarva Peninsula will not be over-developed, as has happened in Middletown, DE, where land use has gone sadly and messily astray.

The question now is how does this alluring concept become a hard reality? Not easily, for sure. At least at this embryonic stage, ESLC will lead the charge in determining its feasibility. It will coordinate a slew of partners and funders to determine whether the public and private will exists to undertake such a complex initiative.

As I get older, I focus more and more on the value of legacy. Simply, I constantly think about how to preserve and conserve a quality of life that my family and I have been privileged to enjoy on the Eastern Shore of Maryland for nearly 42 years. I realize that we have a regional citizenship in Delmarva.

Delmarva Oasis will become common nomenclature in the near future. I hope it will capture the imagination and buy-in from government and private funders and partners. I hope it will succeed, realizing that the effort will be long and intricate.

The Delmarva Peninsula is a special place to live, play and pray. It can become a protected region. The Pinelands Reserve exemplifies what’s possible.

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.

Out and About (Sort of): Mindless in Florida by Howard Freedlander

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For three days last week, my friend, Paul Cox, and I watched Grapefruit League spring training in Dunedin and Sarasota, FL, repeating what we had done in the first days of March 2017 at the new Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Fl. In both cases, our three-day immersion enabled us to watch America’s pastime while escaping the unpredictable wintry weather in the mid-Atlantic region.

In Dunedin, which adjoins Clearwater, we experienced a venue far different than the modern ballpark housing the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros in West Palm Beach. When we traveled to Sarasota to watch the Baltimore Orioles play the Toronto Blue Jays at the 8500-seat Ed Smith Stadium, we again found ourselves in a spacious and more comfortable setting than the Blue Jays temporary home in Dunedin.

Of course, the ballpark may make no difference. In two games at the Dunedin Stadium and one at Ed Smith Stadium, the Blue Jays convincingly hammered the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Orioles. So much for size and pizazz.

What got my attention in Dunedin was that most fans seemed to walk from the surrounding community to the ballpark, as we did from our hotel. An asphalt walkway, which likely ran along the right-of-way for a former railroad, was a major route to the stadium.

The community feel was unmistakable. It was as if we were walking to a neighborhood park. It seemed like a throwback to another time, though the 5,500-seat facility was built in 1999, 20 years ago. It once had 6,000 seats.

This cozy ballpark also was remarkable for its fans. We sat amidst Canadians, who naturally would flock to Florida to escape frigid weather colder than we normally experience in the United States. When both national anthems were sung, I heard far more Canadians than Americans singing the words.

On a personal note, I deliberately wanted to watch the Orioles, as I did growing up in Baltimore. In recent years, my allegiance has wavered, as I’ve seen far more Nationals than Orioles games. Perhaps it’s because one of the Nationals’ principal owners is a college friend. Both of my daughters have chided me for what they consider my disloyalty to the Orioles; they have reminded me that one of my guiding principles is loyalty, as often expressed to them.

Turnabout is fair play, I guess. Yet loyalty does not have last a lifetime.

I hope my daughters are satisfied.

As most people know, Florida offers sun, warmth, retires galore and many different American dialects, as well as the English spoken by our North American neighbors. I sense that spring training is a favorite pastime for Florida’s large population of retirees.

I also noted some young families. Perhaps they were retirees’ children and grandchildren. Maybe they live in the neighborhood.
Watching baseball nearly 1,000 miles from Easton has a special attraction. I’ve already mentioned the warmth and lack of fear about an upcoming snowstorm. It’s refreshing too to talk about on-filed action, a good for bad pitcher, a good or bad call by the home plate umpire and even some of the noisy fans sitting nearby.

No politics at the ballpark. Thank goodness.

I mentioned earlier in this column about the difference in the ambience at Dunedin Stadium, compared with the Ballpark at the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, or Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fl. It makes no difference. Baseball compels attention, slow moving that it is.

This is my second spring training column. It’s not very profound. I’ll probably write another one next year.

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.

Out and About (Sort of): Eloquent Fighter by Howard Freedlander

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He was a nobody, simply viewed as chattel. He wasn’t content. He willed himself to become a somebody, armed with keen intelligence and steely resolve.

Even when he became known and revered, he still faced threats of being consigned to nothingness, to serving others involuntarily.

He escaped his country of origin, living in a country where friends raised sufficient money for him to become permanently free of the suffocating and dehumanizing restraints of slavery.

Of course, I’m describing Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey), whose 200th birthday was celebrated February 14, 2018. This anniversary was celebrated widely throughout the country two weeks ago.

I joined more than a 100 people as a living history interpreter and storyteller, Bill Grimmette, portrayed the 77-year-old Douglass on Feb. 12 at the Academy Art Museum in Easton. It was moving and thought-provoking. As intended.

Talbot County’s native son and former slave, who spent time as a young boy at Wye House on Bruff’s Island Road, came alive in Grimmette’s superb and nuanced performance. Douglass’ wisdom, determination, eloquence and humor permeated the room for an hour.

As is well known, Douglass became an accomplished and renowned writer, orator and abolitionist. He achieved even more prominence as a trusted confidant of President Abraham Lincoln. He provided a voice of conscience about the terror of slavery to a president during our nation’s regrettable Civil War. He successfully urged Lincoln to prod Confederate forces to treat captured black Union soldiers as prisoners of war, not mutilate and kill them. He threatened to stop recruiting African-American troops into the Union army if President Lincoln didn’t speak out against the treatment of black prisoners.

Convinced early of his self-worth despite treatment as a “nobody.” he experienced some lucky breaks–though they must be judged in the context of being mentally and emotionally repressed in an often violent, bigoted environment. Some examples of fortunate circumstances that came Douglass’ way were:

He leaves Wye House to become a slave to Hugh and Sophia Auld in Baltimore. At first, Sophia treats him well, teaching him to read. When her husband Hugh instructs his wife to stop educating Frederick, explaining that education can implant subversive ideas, Douglass learns the importance of knowledge. He also understands the utter necessity to escape slavery.

When he does decide to escape, he receives advice to pretend he is a sailor while sailing to his freedom. He understood he had to hide his slave status to become an ex-slave. He knew he had to flee the relentless slave-catchers.

He eventually went to England, becoming a popular speaker and unrepentant abolitionist. He gained his freedom, his manumission, through financial support from his British. Ironically, he had to travel abroad to gain his precious and legal freedom in his home country.

As Douglass became famous, courted by American political leaders, he never forgot his roots. He remained an unabashed advocate for civil rights. I suspect that he was discouraged by the regressive practices of Jim Crow. After Reconstruction, blacks faced stifling discrimination, often subtle but destructive nonetheless. Separate but (supposedly) equal education epitomizes Jim Crow at its cruelest.

I must admit I love learning history through historical actors, as I have done for years during periodic visits to Williamsburg, VA. I’ve gained invaluable insight into George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Madison—and slaves seeking freedom. Bill Grimmette gave me and others a view into the magnetic personality of Frederick Douglass.

Though Douglass wasn’t one of our nation’s founders, he gave voice and emotion to the stain of slavery. The founders had ignored this scourge, approving a U.S. Constitution that papered over an explosive subject.

One of Talbot County’s own became a national treasure.

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.

Out and About (Sort of): “First Draft of History’ by Howard Freedlander

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The gripping movie, The Post, described and portrayed a historic time in American history in terms of pitting national security against freedom of the press. It did so in a fast-paced presentation of a courageous newspaper run by a publisher still tentative in her decisions, and a president determined to block publication of reports that described a war that had few moorings in truth.

Based upon the fraught publication of the highly classified “Pentagon Papers,” the much-heralded movie portrays a precedent-setting battle between a major newspaper and the White House. As one of the characters in the movies said, media coverages of daily news—whether local, state, national and international—represents the “first draft of history.” This initial documentation, later interpreted by historians, can be a sloppy one.

The Pentagon Papers detailed faulty and deceptive decisions about a divisive war that ripped apart our country. It remained undercover for a reason.

Daniel Ellsberg, a Defense Department military analyst, was a hero to many, a menace to others. He covertly removed the Pentagon Papers from the Pentagon, initiating a constitutional crisis.

The movie’s plot line was also about assumption of huge responsibility by a woman, Katherine “Kay” Graham, who had never been encouraged to believe she could be a business leader. She lacked confidence at first, patronized by men and highly respected by women…

Ironically, women’s issues were bubbling to the surface at the time., Kay Graham epitomized the struggle, as well as small but significant victories. She became a role model, as captured by a scene in the Supreme Court building during the hearing about the legality of publishing the Pentagon Papers.

Steven Spielberg, a renowned director, is a genius in telling history in a remarkably accurate and dramatic way. He is an accomplished storyteller, using an exacting camera, superb script and world-class cast to seek and achieve commercial and artistic success. Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln, Bridge of Spies and Schindler’s List are among his best works for this viewer.

The gutsy publication of the Pentagon Papers came amidst the conversion of the family-owned Washington Post into a public corporation dominated by men obsessed with the possible degradation of value (stock price) spurred by a constitutional crisis over the strength of the First Amendment. Kay Graham overcame the “bankers’” objections.

Tom Hanks was an aggressive, ambitious, take- no prisoners Ben Bradlee, the Post’s combative executive editor. Meryl Streep portrayed a tentative, frightened and insecure Kay Graham who grew mightily into her role as a publisher imbued with class and steely determination. Her presence on the screen evolved as her confidence increased.

For full disclosure, I read Mrs. Graham’s Pulitzer-prize winning autobiography, Personal History, some years ago and came away impressed with her startling candor. She was easy to admire and respect.

To state the obvious, Hanks and Streep are premier actors whose range of cinema characters is astounding. They never fail to capture the essence of their roles and an audience’s rapt attention.

The news operation as portrayed in the movie resonated with tension, creativity and single-minded attention to news gathering and dissemination. The newsroom wreaked of an unquenchable thirst and hunger for newsworthy information; the “budget” meetings (selecting top stories) accurately portrayed competition between string-willed editors and the press and composition rooms (still using lead type) reflected deadline pressure.

Scenes in the movie brought me back to my newspaper days when I often stood by the presses to await my paper, particularly if I thought it was a good one. It was exciting watching an inanimate printing press produce a living document that could affect readers’ lives and connect a community.

The movie absolutely captivated me. Did it portray Nixon as a manipulative and vengeful president prone to misrepresentation? Yes. Was Ben Bradlee careless and ruthless, determined to situate the Post as comparable to the New York Times? Yes. He was reckless, driven to impose his will on the Post.

Some might draw parallels between Nixon and Donald Trump in light of their views of the media and the First Amendment. Nixon was paranoid, insecure and intelligent. Certainly, our current president has similar traits, lacking, however, Nixon’s keen intelligence and in-depth curiosity.

Freedom of the press remains a battleground, unfortunately,

Evident creative flaws in the movie were not readily apparent to me. One obvious criticism of the content might be the lack of appreciation of the government’s argument against the release of stolen classified documents that showed the Vietnam War to be rife with the deception that resulted in the loss of 58,000 American lives.

The movie posited the use of stolen documents was justified by the light placed upon corrupt government decisions. That might be so, but that can become troublesome, leading to Edward Snowden’s release of classified documents/codes to Wikileaks regarding because he disagreed with U.S. foreign policy.

Arrogance was present on both sides, the Post and the White House, during the Pentagon Papers episode. Though former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and probably Richard Nixon knew that success in Vietnam was wildly exaggerated, they didn’t want to admit failure. And though Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee knew they were on thin legal ice, they proceeded in the name of the First Amendment.

It’s important not to hide shoddy journalism behind the veil of the freedom of the press; fortunately, that was not the case here.

Spielberg’s direction focuses on historic authenticity while ensuring the drama is commercially appealing, even spellbinding. He’s one of the best.

Eating popcorn almost seems disrespectful. Spielberg gains and keeps your rapt attention.

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.

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

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For many of us, the drama and dysfunction in our nation’s Capital are often captivating, comparable to a soap opera that grows increasingly more alarming in each daily episode. That won’t change, at least for another three years.

To glimpse a smidgeon of sanity and periodic good governance, I recommend that readers pay close attention to the 2018 General Assembly, now in its seventh of 90 days. Allow me to explain why I offer this antidote to the utter craziness and absurdity in Washington, DC.

First, the Maryland legislature must address the windfall, possibly millions of dollars, that will come the state’s way due to the recently enacted federal tax reform. This is a bad-news-good-news scenario: Marylanders will lose the ability to deduct local and state taxes up to $10,000—for example, state and local income, sales, real estate or property taxes. Hence, the state is expecting a windfall from the collection of dollars that previously had been deductible.

If for only this reason, all Marylanders should pay attention to this year’s legislative session. It’s your money and mine that will be the subject of lengthy discussion. And this will occur in an election year. Politics is always the backdrop in Annapolis. For this session, it will dominate the deliberations.

From what I’ve read, Gov. Larry Hogan is designing a proposal that may recommend returning the money to taxpayers. Democrats are leery. They are concerned about potential federal cuts to social programs, such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers low-income youth and may run out of money in April.

So, the windfall will be double-edged. While a bipartisan solution would be ideal, such an expectation may seem fanciful in an election year. The popular Gov. Hogan is seeking re-election; Democrats are loath to provide the governor bragging rights for a proposal that seems simple and equitable—returning money to taxpayers who will have to spend more due to federal tax reform—without examining the downside of distributing money that may be needed to plug holes created by spending cuts in Washington.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the legislature plans to gather a group of tax experts to analyze the new federal tax law. He also predicted this year’s 436th session will be particularly “contentious…this tax plan to going to cause us a fit,,,I ask for God’s help.”

Another reason that Marylanders should pay attention this year to the state legislature provides entertaining political theater. Gov., Hogan has proved to be a skillful politician appealing not only to Republicans but Democrats and Independents alike. Senator Mike Miller, who has served more than 30 years as president of the State Senate, is a canny, shrewd politician who has been a thorn in the side of Democrat and Republican governors. His House of Delegates counterpart, Speaker Mike Busch, too is a fervent Democrat who leads a body of legislators more liberal than those in the State Senate.

Will election-year politics rear its head in the 2018 General Assembly? You betcha. It won’t take long. With the infusion of a windfall of money due to federal tax reform opposed and derided by Democrats, discussion will be lively and hyper-partisan. I hope, amid the inevitable uproar, that taxpayers will benefit from sound and wise decisions.

Gov. Hogan will need to get personally involved in finding an equitable solution to the tax bite to be felt by Maryland citizens. While partisanship will be a major undercurrent, pocketbook politics should drive both parties. Miller and Busch need to protect their flank too.

Before the session ends in April, the legislature must address what many women legislators, staffers and lobbyists consider so abhorrent, and that is engrained sexual harassment in Annapolis. As is true in Congress, no longer can sexual misconduct be tolerated, viewed as permissible in a culture that has not taken allegations of sexual harassment as seriously as it should. More credible reporting, oversight and punishment are undeniably necessary.

I mentioned at the outside that a focus on the current legislative session might be a relief from the circus-like environment in Washington. More correctly, the Maryland General Assembly, though hyper-partisan, typically offers solutions easier to enact than down the road in Washington with more immediate and apparent impact.

Follow the money. Millions of dollars in new money can be a curse.

Sen. Miller solicited God’s help. I hope that common sense, flavored by omnipresent politics, will play a role.

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.