When I’m Away by Jamie Kirkpatrick


When I’m away from Chestertown, I feel like there’s something missing or that I’m missing something. It’s not a sharp pang, more like a tingling sensation, a very mild form of the phantom limb pain experienced by many amputees. Or maybe more like a heartache—the empty feeling one gets when a very dear friend is too-long absent; or the way a sunny day suddenly becomes moody when the clouds roll in; or like the regret one feels when an opportunity is missed and gone forever.

When I’m away from Chestertown, the clocks all seem to run faster. It’s harder to keep up the pace. There’s more traffic, more noise, more stress, more items on the to-do list; less conversation with friends, less starlight, less time for sitting on a friend’s dock watching the river roll by.

When I’m away from Chestertown, I miss my porch, my neighbors, all my friends about town; my Thursday martini nights at the Kitchen and my Saturday rounds of golf at the club. I miss the river, Hebe and her fountain, the farmer’s market, the clock that strikes the hour from the top of Stam’s Hall. I miss Wilmer Park, the ballet of regatta sails and the smooth power of racing shells. I miss a deadrise heading off to work through the early morning riversmoke and the Martha White at graceful sunset anchor.

When I’m away from Chestertown, I miss watching an osprey dive for a fish or a bald eagle soaring overhead. I miss seeing Sultana under sail and the River Packet under a full moon. I miss napping in my hammock, catching the flash of a hummingbird, or picking crabs in the backyard.

When I’m away from Chestertown, I miss my chefs, my bakers, and my bartenders. I miss our writers and photographers, our potters and artists. I miss the downtown shops: the Wine & Cheese Shop, Bookplate, Finishing Touch, Empty Hangers, Gabriella’s, Twigs & Teacups, Welcome Home, Village Shop, Women in Need, Blooming Wild, Dockside Emporium, and She-She; I miss the Garfield, CRYCC, Washington College, and the White Swan. I miss JBK; my wife misses Tiny Tots.

When I’m away from Chestertown, I miss my four-legged pals: Tessa, Daisy, Glenn, Matilda, Dixie, Sweet Potato, Lullaby, Barkley, Millie, Sammie, and Franklin; I miss Keke the bookstore cat.

When I’m away from Chestertown, I miss a happening First Friday and the friends who spontaneously end up on our porch, the buzz surrounding one of our big weekend celebrations—Tea Party and Downrigging—and a quiet Sunday afternoon. I miss artists painting the town. I miss all the parades. (I’m a sucker for parades.)

When I’m away from Chestertown, a part of me remains here and a part of you goes with me. But when I’m in Chestertown, the shoe fits, all harmonies converge, and everything in the universe is as it should be. I’ve never been quite sure whether I found Chestertown or Chestertown found me, but however it happened, I’m glad the match was made. Whether we’re from here or came here, when we’re here, we’re home.

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 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 new collection of essays titled “Musing Right Along” will be released in June. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

The First Hundred Days by David Montgomery


I hate to become predictable, but it is hard to resist commenting on President Trump’s first 100 days on the occasion of his first 100 days. To start, my standard of excellence is not how many new policies a President puts in place but whether he does right with the opportunities he faces. In my moments of wishful thinking, I even imagine congratulating a President for doing nothing because nothing needed to be changed.

Unfortunately, this was not the case for President Trump. He inherited the slowest recovery from recession on record, diminished support for law enforcement, foreign policy that disheartened all who depend on American strength and support, international crises, a Supreme Court vacancy, a broken system of health insurance, regulatory overreach, taxes that were driving corporations to countries that tax smarter, and a monstrous budget deficit.

He also had majorities in the House and Senate, a thoughtful and well-respected Speaker of the House and a Senate Majority leader showing unexpected backbone. This nominally favorable legislative setting raises the curve for grading his accomplishments.

Might as well get the easy ones out of the way. Supreme Court choice: A+. Justice Gorsuch was a pre-eminent Appeals Court Judge and is a man of impeccable professional integrity and character. His judicial philosophy derives from respect for statutory law and the Constitution as written, demonstrated by the fact that out of some 2700 decisions he rendered, only one was overturned. The predictable opposition had only one message: progressives expect Supreme Court justices to make decisions based on their political and social agenda rather than the written law, and Judge Gorsuch adhered to the law. Justice Gorsuch was very clear on that, when he commented that any judge who is happy with the outcome of every case he tries is a bad judge. The law may not always give the victory to the most sympathetic party in the case, and the correct decision may have consequences down the line that the judge abhors, but Justice Gorsuch understands that his job is to understand and apply the law not to create it.

Cabinet: A. My friend Bill Rolle has already written about this in the Spy and said it well. President Trump’s cabinet is the first in a long time chosen entirely on the basis of merit. His appointees are all distinguished leaders, mature, experienced, and proven. Secretary Mattis, Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Sessions, and Administrator Pruitt stand out because they have responsibility for the most critical issues facing the nation and they are doing an absolutely superb job. Taking each in turn, these four have allowed battle field commanders to do their jobs, restored assertiveness in relations with other countries, supported rather than tore down police, and moved knowledgably to review harmful regulations.

I am not very happy with the Secretary of Commerce, I give him a D- in economics, but I don’t think we need a Department of Commerce in the first place. I am ecstatic about Ambassador Haley at the UN. I didn’t think anyone could top Ambassador Bolton but she does, by a mile.

Foreign Policy: A- because nobody can do better than that. In addition to having a Secretary of State who actually puts our national interest first and does not mince words with Russia and others who oppose us, President Trump’s unique combination of tweets and personal relationships seems to be succeeding. He signals his position on global issues very effectively. He appears to have succeeded in gaining some common ground with China on the clear and present danger of North Korea while at the same time vigorously opposing China’s imperial ambitions in the South China Sea. All the worries about his susceptibility to Putin’s charms should have been put to rest by his condemnation of Russia’s role in Syria. That is the right kind of reset.

Candidate Trump’s apparent isolationism was a clear negative to me during the primaries. As President, the challenges that he has faced and no doubt the good advice of Secretaries Mattis and Tillerson seem to have convinced him that American national security requires active, if self-interested, leadership of the free world.

And it is such a refreshing change to have a President who acts when required rather than threatening and then backing down. Note the contrast between meaningless redlines versus cruise missiles to get a message to Assad in Syria. The revelation that it was the battlefield commander who was empowered to decide whether to use the MOAB bomb in Afghanistan showed that he and Secretary Mattis understand delegation and fight to win.

Regulatory Policy: A. President Trump may have been a candidate whom no one gave any chance to win, but he was ready to roll on regulatory overreach. By the time he took the oath of office, the Executive Orders needed to reduce the burden of regulation were all ready to sign. His use of Executive Orders to minimize the burden of regulations is the mirror image of his predecessor’s determination to use Presidential authority to impose regulations where Congress did not act, and differs only in that President Trump is helping rather than hurting the economy. The Republican Congress has assisted greatly in this endeavor by use of the Congressional Review Act to undo some of the most burdensome of the midnight regulations issued just before President Trump took office.

Where executive action cannot undo regulations now in place, as appears to be the case of the Clean Power Plan, Administrator Pruitt is respecting the law and moving aggressively with new regulatory proceedings and legal strategies to make changes. Secretary Tillerson is taking a reasonable approach to agreements we have entered into on climate change, favoring continued participation while retracting unrealistic and tactically unwise commitments made by his predecessors.

Immigration: Overall C, with a range from A to F. I agree with the policies in the Executive Orders issued by President Trump. Every nation has a right to decide who should enter, and it is a serious national security risk to accept inadequately vetted entrants from countries where we know terrorists are being trained to attack the U.S. I am appalled that activist judges would block the President from exercising his fundamental responsibility to protect the country from this risk, but he gets an A for trying.

At the same time, I agree that the first Executive Order was badly drafted and that ICE agents were not properly trained to carry it out. That created temporary inconvenience for a number of travellers and gave President Trump’s critics an opening they exploited immediately. Bad execution hurt the Presidency. F on implementation.

It is a slow process, but facts show that we are making progress in securing our borders to make sure that criminals as well as terrorists are excluded. President Trump is moving as he promised to use the leverage he has available to stop local governments from protecting criminals who are in the country illegally, and I cannot see why “sanctuary cities” should be given any more respect than was the University of Mississippi when President Eisenhower used the power of the Federal government to end segregation. Catch and release has ended, and realistic steps are being taken to have adequate enforcement and judicial resources to expel criminals convicted of serious crimes other than illegal entry.

The President appears to be making progress on his campaign promise about a wall, despite the continued opposition of editorial cartoonists. Given Mexico’s poor governance, which political correctness seems to demand we ignore, I cannot see a better solution to preventing entry of criminals, drugs and terrorists and putting the coyotes and their human trafficking out of business. Where I part company is that I am convinced it is both economically beneficial and consistent with American values to do away with all of our current immigration quotas. After securing the borders so that our immigration policy is enforceable, we should accept every entrant who can demonstrate a clean record, no ties to terrorism, ability to support himself or herself, and willingness to assimilate into a single American identity.

That is the other reason for my low grade. The President, any President, should be explaining that properly vetted immigration is beneficial to the economy and essential to American exceptionalism, not denigrating people based on their national origin. He is too prone to give in to the labor union propaganda that immigrants take away American jobs. Immigration from the Americas is our best hope for sustained economic growth and for growth in the congregations of our churches.

Health care and tax reform: Incomplete. Who knew that the big problem in Congress would be among Republicans rather than across the aisle? What a change in having a President who wants to sit down with opposing factions to work out a deal, rather than sitting in his ivory tower at 1600 Pennsylvania while lesser beings do their messy work. As I write, it appears that despite the dire predictions and my own lecturing of the Freedom Caucus, there is a compromise health care bill coming up, and prospects that the House and Senate will be able to move a tax reform bill thereafter.

If that happens, we will have to give substantial credit to President Trump as well as Speaker Ryan for working effectively with all parts of the Republican Party. It is bad enough that we have an ideologically gridlocked Congress, in which Democrats are driven by the belief that their billionaire progressive contributors will replace them if they compromise in any way.

It would be a disaster if Republicans were also so ideologically divided that they could not govern, but it appears that the President and the Speaker may be providing an example of how apparently irreconcilable factions can be convinced that half a loaf is better than none. And who better than President Trump to wave the half a loaf in the air and brag about getting the whole thing?

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

View from the Write by George Merrill


Over the years I’ve led workshops in writing the personal essay. Recently a participant asked me when I wrote my first essay and what it was like. I had fun recalling the experience and I’d enjoy sharing it.

It was in 1994. The great February ice storm devastated the Eastern Shore where I live. I wrote to make sense to myself of the troubled feelings and muddled thoughts I had about it. I was horrified by the storm’s devastation, but enthralled by its methods. Violence holds its own fascination. The sheer beauty of how ice, when it freezes on tree branches, sparkles and glistens. It’s fragile and exquisitely radiant. It’s amazing how deadly it can become.

I remember it was foggy during the storm. The temperature for several days remained slightly below freezing. Accumulated moisture began forming ice on everything including tree branches. The ice thickened. It glistened and sparkled festively even as it rent trees apart limb by limb while in their death throes, the trees groaned mournfully.

When the storm ended, I came upon a doe. She was dead by a stream near my house. She was crippled, somehow a victim of the storm. She died alone. My wife and I put her in the thicket where I believed she’d lived. We grieved for her. The first essay I ever wrote was about the experience.

The essay proved, by publishers’ standards, to be mawkish, appallingly sentimental and rejected by a magazine so swiftly that it seemed to me I received their notice in the return mail. My writing life began ingloriously.

Writing personal essays often leads to dead-ends. When it does, I’ll try a new path. The paths get strewn with excess verbiage. I sweep much of it away and tighten it up before more verbiage takes it place. I knew that writing was my new vocation in the same way junkies realizes they’re addicted; we can’t stop.

Personal essayists can claim no authority except their own thoughts and feelings. Shaky ground to be sure. I try speaking my heart as honestly as I can. I must write quickly before I obfuscate and render my thoughts unrecognizable by a host of anxious qualifications and addendums designed to impress. Ego is seductive and always a problem. There’s a lot of catch and release in the writing life.

I found that gathering my thoughts can be like snatching frogs before they hop away. Recalling thoughts is tricky, like attempting to remember last night’s dream. However, the personal essay, as its name implies, is at best an account of the writer’s experience and how she or he thinks about it.

Personal essays can be suspect. It’s because the “I,” appears a lot. Essays are almost always written in the first person. It begs the question; is the personal essay only a narcissist’s exercise? I’d say yes and no. E.B. White once wrote that he was “by nature self-absorbed and egoistical.” I know I have a strong streak of that. Personalities like mine fare better in print than in their marriages or parenthood.

My wife and children often tell me I’m too self-absorbed, preoccupied. My wife treats my astral excursions good-naturedly: she’ll say innocently, “And how are they today?” referring to my spacy demeanor. Her quip is all it takes and I’m right back in the room with her. I move fairly easily in and out of the real world. When I write, I alternate between both.

Craft can be taught. The necessary inspiration and fascination for writing are different from craft. They’re elusive, hard to quantify. Both live in our imaginations. Imagination is the locus of the soul. There, inspiration and fascination are born. And, what moves anyone’s soul is infinitely particular although at the deepest level is also universal. This is so because we all share a common humanity.

Lewis Thomas was fascinated by the lives of cells, E.O. Wilson with ants and termites and Emily Dickinson by certain slants of light. Andre Dubus was a gun nut. Writers do best when they write abut what fascinates them.

As a boy, an old Voightlander camera enchanted me. I believe fascination is the divine incitement to wonder, a holy invitation to look deeply into ourselves while also trying to see beyond the horizon.

Photography informed my writing. I’d been avid photographer since boyhood. I had a good eye. I learned later that I preserved my personal experiences as mental images, like cameras record pictures. Writing is not unlike darkroom work. In a camera’s dark chamber, light rays enter to leave their impressions on film like the images of my life are retained in my mind. Processing the film to develop the picture is like my scrutinizing my mental images to find meaning. And like darkroom work putting images into words is equally as uncertain. Both in writing and in classical photography I might spend hours in the dark before I can see anything clearly enough to make sense of it.

The process of writing the personal essay can be heavy. It’s emotionally demanding. There’s always the vulnerability in putting my thoughts on the line or the fear that I may have nothing worthwhile to say. Nevertheless, I’m fascinated with the process.

An intimate feeling of being connected to others occurs occasionally. I find out – typically long after some essay had been published – that in reading an essay, someone saw something new in it that was familiar to them, or recognized something familiar in what was new. When that happens, I feel useful.

I tell my workshop participants that when their first essay is published they’ll feel a little like scientists who’ve launched a rocket into space. They’re always hoping but never sure just where it will land or whether there’s anyone out there who will ever see it.

With all the uncertainties, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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.

Op-Ed: A Healthy Dilemma By Fletcher Hall


Congress will not enact a new healthcare act at this time. The wheels of Congress grind very slowly; however, the legislative process has begun, and the horse-trading has been significant and vicious. As evidenced by the withdrawal of the proposed Trump health plan, the Republicans proved that their party’s schism is really harmful to their own political agenda.

Having watched the committee hearings in the House of Representatives, I am convinced it is dangerous to have anyone in Congress attempting to create a national healthcare plan. If they cannot understand and clearly explain the legislation, how can the American public?

My observations about the government’s involvement in the healthcare industry are that they should have no, or a very limited, role in the provision of medical care. Perhaps it should be limited to some oversight responsibilities to keep the industry on a level playing field and drug costs at a reasonable level.

For the first twenty years of life, my healthcare connection was that I saw the doctor who delivered me until I was out of college. Services were paid for by cash or check, with no third-party intervention. Having grown up in a rural area on the Eastern Shore, there were many stories of doctors taking eggs, chickens, and vegetables instead of cash for payment of medical services. Even my uncle accepted this method of payment for his services. But, progress and the march of time makes such stories simply memories of the past. And so it should be.

Medicine today, while still being a healing art, is partially governed by time and money. It is a given that the advances made in the field of medicine and the provision of healthcare services have been amazing and profound; however, government intervention in the delivery of healthcare has become so detrimental that it has made many advances in medical care unaffordable.

Since it will now remain a program “captured” by Congress, healthcare remains to be fixed. The capacity to make the long-needed changes is best left to the private sector. The president should appointment a national commission to identify the essential components and best practices of the provision of healthcare. This commission would then make their findings available to Congress for their consideration. Better yet, the conclusions of the commission could be adopted as a set of national standards for the provision of healthcare services throughout the United States.

The provision of healthcare services surely affects all Americans from cradle to grave. As the elderly population of America continues to grow, so to does the necessity of providing quality, affordable medical services. Rather than complicate healthcare services, now is the time to simplify service delivery and patient care.

America can do better. It now appears that the Trump administration and Congress are again attempting to address this issue. The current administration needs to have solutions enacted before the 2018 mid-year elections. Be careful what you promise—even when Congress is controlled by your own party. The Freedom Caucus can take a wrecking ball to almost any legislation with which they disagree.

The United States remains the preeminent provider of healthcare in the world. Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical System are primary examples of institutions providing cutting edge medical services. Baltimore is indeed fortunate to have these institutions and the prominent doctors drawn to this area by such medical facilities.

Medical care in this country is in flux. It can be improved, but the government and the private sector must identify their roles in the vast system of health services.

Each has a role to play. The private sector has opportunities to make significant changes and improvements and should speak up before the government forces changes that are either not desirable or even more onerous than those imposed at the present time.

Op-Ed: Even Individuals Can Help Save the Bay


As someone who grew up in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to the United States Environmental Protection Agency deeply concern me. Revoking the Bay’s federal funds would not only undermine years of progress, but would devastate communities within the watershed as well.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is home to nearly 20 million people across six states and Washington, D.C. The beloved Maryland blue crab and Virginia oyster support thriving fisheries thanks to the efforts that have been made to clean the Bay over the past decades. The Chesapeake Bay supports precious ecosystems, a thriving economy, and a way of life. Anyone who grew up on the coast knows what it’s like to meet up with old friends at a local oyster roast or to crack into the first “Jimmy” of the season. Unfortunately, with the proposed budget cuts, this way of life may become a luxury of the past.

One of the major problems contributing to the Chesapeake Bay’s health is runoff from farms, gardens, and lawns. Runoff includes excess sediments, nutrients, and chemicals that otherwise would not be introduced to the Bay. For clarification, I’m not blaming anyone in particular or suggesting that we more heavily regulate the sources of runoff to the Bay. As the granddaughter of a farmer and a resident of a small town in rural Virginia, I will always support the men and women who devote their lives to serving their community through farming. What I am suggesting is that each resident of the Chesapeake Bay watershed take it upon themselves to help alleviate the problem of runoff to the Bay.

But what can you, an individual, do to help “Save the Bay”? The answer is probably easier than you think and it’s something you can do in your own back yard (and front yard too!). Better management of your soil, yes—dirt, can make an impact on the Bay’s health. If everyone took it upon themselves to better manage their lawns and gardens, and even farms, we could make a big impact. Individuals can make a positive change in the Bay through conservation tillage, reduced or more targeted use of fertilizers and pesticides, and managing plant species to help reduce runoff.

Well managed soil can help reduce runoff by absorbing rainfall like a sponge. There is less pore space to “soak up” the water when soil is compacted. However, when the soil is rich with plant material and open pores, rain can infiltrate the ground and runoff is reduced. Another soil management approach is to never leave a field or a garden fallow. Empty fields expose the soil to erosion from wind and rain, which eventually enters the Chesapeake Bay. To reduce your input of sediments and other pollutants, make sure to plant cover crops for all seasons. A simple, but important soil management method, is to only fertilize your soil if absolutely needed. Cutting down on fertilizer application will help alleviate the input of nutrients to the Bay. A potential alternative to fertilizers is making your own compost.

When people across the entire watershed implement these management practices there can be great cumulative effects on the Chesapeake Bay’s health and prosperity. Better yet, individual action will not only help the Bay, but can help sustain a way of life.

Morgan Rudd is first year graduate student at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

Why Wait for Hundred Days When Ninety Will Do? By Al Sikes


Arbitrary, for sure, but a measure nonetheless—the first one hundred days. How has Trump done? I am getting out ahead of the story as his hundredth day will be April 29th.

Bear with me briefly, as I just attached a wider angle lens.

Turkey just had an election, narrowly and controversially approving constitutional changes that give its President much more power. The changes were pushed by Recep Erdogan, the current President, who was almost ousted in a coup several months ago. The changes were supported by only 51% of voters and the Erdogan government censored much of the opposition campaign.

America doesn’t do coups nor censor opposition parties. And it is almost impossible to change the constitution, which is one reason our fights over who sits on the Supreme Court are so hard fought. So as we assess the President, we should also grade ourselves and our political institutions. Presidents do not win an election or govern in a vacuum.

First, Trump. He would want to be first; nothing seems to move without a Trump context. Too bad.

At the fifty day mark, I would have given Trump an F, today a C minus. He is beginning to have a better feel for the job and whose advice is sound. Contrary to hard core opponents, he seems capable of learning. Plus, he has pivoted more of his attention to international initiatives where the President has more discretion, and his staff and cabinet support is better. Plus, he needed at least the appearance of short-term successes before going back to the Congress on domestic issues. And believe me, in international affairs, final judgments on short-term actions are long in coming.

The Congress, facing deadlines on financial affairs, gets an incomplete. The Congress is always difficult to lead and a hundred day assessment would be unduly arbitrary. I should point out, however, that the Senate Minority Leader, Democrat Chuck Schumer, gave the Republicans a gift in forcing them to rescind minority rights to achieve confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch. The Republican majority in order to pass any test must now be more purposeful and cohesive.

If I were grading the majority in the House of Representatives, they would get an F. Theresa May, Britain’s Prime Minister just called a snap election for members of Parliament. Too bad that political tool cannot be used here.

The news media would get the same grade as Trump, a C-minus. In the last week, it has been more likely to cover policy; a good thing. It is still, however, too consumed with Trump as a personality, outlier, and entertainer. Hopefully, certain media will quit spilling ink by the barrel on him and indirectly his supporters. It does them no credit and fertilizes his “fake news” assaults. Hopefully, Trump will someday acknowledge, indeed appreciate, that the media does not exist to make his life easier and shouldn’t. Fat chance.

The free speech guarantee in our Constitution is sacred. The news media should work every day to live up to its corresponding obligations. When the coverage of any person or event is predictable, the publication is not serving the public interest. There is too much predictability in the coverage of Trump.

The political parties. Owls can pivot their head 270 degrees. They are said to be wise. At this moment America suffers from stiff necks that can barely pivot from their intenseness as they double down on the orthodoxies of their bases that led to their rejection last year. Lacking internal knowledge on what turnaround strategies might be in the works, I’ll be charitable and give each a D.

Let me close by commenting briefly on us—those who support candidates and vote in elections. It is said that we get the government we deserve. In the 21st Century, this is not necessarily true.

United States politics are now gerrymandered, underwritten by concentrations of wealth, distorted by entertainment posing as news and given scant attention by a distracted culture. But, signs of life are encouraging. Members of Congress and especially Republicans are being tested at town hall meetings; in a republic that is a good thing. So, to the public that is fighting stiff head winds, I would give a B minus.

America needs renewal. Are there any reformers who can also lead? If so, it is not too early to prepare for 2020 when the hard left and right need to be defeated by hard realities.


Writing, for me, is mostly enjoyable and particularly when inspiration happens. Certainly, the Trump phenomenon has provided plenty. But, having a weekly deadline (mostly self-imposed) has sometimes turned pleasure into work. So, with thanks to the Editors with whom I work, my column will, in the future, be stirred by particular interests, not the calendar.

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): Lacrosse and Easter Revive the Soul and Spirit by Howard Freedlander


On the day before Easter, as overcast conditions yielded to sunshine, I went with a friend and our two grandsons to watch a lacrosse game between Army and Navy at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. The ancient rivalry between our nation’s two best-known military academies is always thrilling—featuring an equal amount of skill and emotion.

For me, the game of lacrosse fascinates and delights me. I began playing when I was 10-years-old in a Baltimore neighborhood where I’ve often said that had I played any sport other than lacrosse, I would have had no friends. Lacrosse reigned supreme in the community of Mt. Washington.

Funded by Native Americans in what is now Canada as early as the 17th century, according to Wikipedia, “traditional lacrosse games were sometimes major events that could last several days. As many as 100 to 1,000 men from opposing villages or tribes would participate.

The games were played in open plains located between the two villages, and the goals could range from 500 yards to 6 miles.”

Fortunately, the American version consumes less distance and stamina.

I played lacrosse through high school and college and even one year in Manchester, England. I loved the sport. My performance was uneven, at least from my current perspective.

Like most team sports containing a degree of controlled violence and disciplined execution, lacrosse offered me a strong sense of teamwork and camaraderie, physical conditioning and mind-numbing preparation. The desire to win was all-consuming. The sting of loss was unnerving.

Now 71-years-old, I watch modern lacrosse with great delight. I marvel at the skill level of today’s lacrosse athletes and their physical capabilities. By the latter, I must confess that 50 years ago at my university we were required only to report to practice able to run and survive a demanding game. But we spent no time in a gym training our muscles and bodies to perform better than we could have imagined. I regret that vacuum.

Back to the Army-Navy lacrosse game that past Saturday. Scoring seven goals in the second half, after being down by three at one point, the Navy midshipmen battled back to win 10-6 before a number of Army fans, including my friend, a West Point graduate. Not surprisingly, Naval Academy supporters were ecstatic.

Though I wore an Army uniform for more than 30 years as a member of U.S. Army Reserve and the Maryland Army National Guard, I am always torn when watching these two superior military academies face each other in athletic battle. The U.S. Naval Academy feels like a hometown school, generating loyalty and interest.

While pleased to watch Navy win, I had hoped to see an Army team whose record this year would have predicted a different result.

For me, the Army-Navy lacrosse contest felt like the outset of spring, a renewal of spirit at time when flowers and trees blossom and the sound of lawn mowers fill the air. On the day before Easter, it seemed appropriate to watch a game that stressed athletic excellence, self-discipline and good sportsmanship.

For me, the experience was uplifting, particularly when I could share it with my six-year-old grandson. Maybe he will continue the legacy of lacrosse played by his grandfather and mother.

As I sat in church on Sunday, buoyed by my experience as a spectator and grandfather the day before at a game that is becoming increasingly more popular throughout our country, I took solace and comfort in the resurrection of spirit represented by Easter. I think back at times that were difficult and disheartening. I feel thankful that the grace and goodness of God enabled me to face and tame personal demons and overcome health problems.

We often seek personal and spiritual renewal, sometimes more purposefully and urgently than watching a lacrosse game and remembering moments of youthful exuberance and athletic competition.

A sports stadium provides an escape from everyday worries. A church can compel honest self-examination. They both renew the soul.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

ISIS, Christianity, and Easter by David Montgomery


It was a beautiful Easter Sunday on the Eastern Shore.  We attended church, greeted friends, and celebrated the resurrection of Our Lord in peace and freedom.  It was also a good time to remember that for many of our brethren in the church universal, attending an Easter service was an act requiring deep faith and true courage.   Christians are the most persecuted people of faith around the world, with persecution against Christians reported in 102 countries, according to the Pew Research Center .

Open Doors estimates that more than 7,000 Christians were killed for faith-related reasons worldwide in 2015.  That is almost double the number in 2014, and more than triple the 2100 martyred in 2015.  These numbers do not include the countries where persecution is worst, North Korea, Syria and Iraq, because no accurate records exist.  To fill that gap, a report to the State Department by the Knights of Columbus states that “The Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, many of whose flock lived on the Nineveh plain or in Syria, reports that 500 people were killed by ISIS during its takeover of Mosul and the surrounding region. In Syria, where the organization Aid to the Church in Need has reported on mass graves of Christians, Patriarch Younan estimates the number of Christians “targeted and killed by Islamic terrorist bands” at more than 1,000.

Melkite Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart of Aleppo estimates the number of Christians kidnapped and/or killed in his city as in the hundreds, with as many as “thousands” killed throughout Syria.“

The Islamic State (ISIS) is explicit in its intention to destroy Christianity by killing Christians who will not convert to Islam and making slaves of Christian women.  IS did so repeatedly during its takeover of the Nineveh Plain in Iraq.  Likewise in Syria, ISIS has decimated Christian communities.  After surviving for 2000 years since the Apostle Philip brought the gospel to Asia Minor, Christianity is rapidly disappearing in the Middle East.

Before the Iraq War in 2003, there were about 1 million Christians in Iraq out of a population of 25 million. By September 2014, only 300,000 Christians remained in the country.   Many were killed or driven out by ISIS, but the Moslem-dominated government of Iraq has itself allowed brutal repression and actively stolen the houses and property of Christians.

Likewise, in Syria Christians have been devastated by civil war and IS persecution.   Islamic State militants have ensured that large swaths of the country have now become “Christian-free zones.”

It is not just the Middle East.  According to the Guardian newspaper, “persecution increased in 24 countries last year, with Kenya, Sudan, Eritrea and Nigeria entering the top 10 of its country-by-country league table. North Korea has headed the list for the past 13 years; up to 70,000 Christians are held in gulags, with tens of thousands of people banished, arrested, tortured and/or killed,” repeating Emperor Nero’s persecution of Christians for refusing to worship the insane leader of the state.

The story goes on and on, with documented killings of Christians for practicing their faith in dozens of countries and restrictions on the ability of our brethren to practice their faith in more than half the world.  From the abduction of 270 Nigerian schoolgirls, the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya, the killing of 147 people on a university campus in Kenya to the Palm Sunday bombing of the Coptic Church in Egypt, it goes on.   Yet there is practically a news blackout on such widespread persecution of Christians, especially when it is perpetrated by Moslem governments in addition to the obvious jihadis.

Commentators and politicians warn us not to characterize these atrocities as a battle of civilizations. They claim that many Christians suffer because of living in failed states where violence is endemic, which is true.  Boko Haram comes to mind.  Yet there is clearly organized persecution in Moslem countries that singles out Christians. Or, they say, it is just due to sectarian violence in which the U.S. has no national interest.  All these excuses cover up the explicit and undeniable intention of Islamic terrorists to establish a global Caliphate in which all Christians will be subject to Islamic law and Moslem domination, if they are even allowed options other than conversion or death.    

There also seems to be collective amnesia about the fact that this is not the first time we have faced this threat.  Our brethren who are dying for their faith show us what we could be facing here and now but for the Catholic heroes who turned the tide in a 300-year struggle between Christian Europe and the Moslem Ottoman Empire, a struggle that Moslem forces were on the verge of winning several times.  Their names included the Knights of Malta, Pope Saint Pius V, Juan Carlos of Austria, and King Jan III Sobieski of Poland.

In the 16th Century, Christendom was fractured as the Reformation split Catholic from Protestant states, and states of different Protestant sects fought each other.  Not only that, but the Venetians and others closest to the Moslem invaders were so intoxicated with the money they could make doing business with Islam that they discounted any possibility of war.

Islam saw its opportunity to reconquer the territory it lost after the victory of Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732.  The Ottoman Empire was the center of Islamic power in the 16th century, and its goal was to bring all of Europe as well as the Levant under Ottoman control and sharia law.

By 1560 the Ottomans controlled Africa all the way to Tunisia.  With its fortresses manned by an order of Crusader Knights, Malta remained the lone bastion in the Mediterranean.  In March 1560 a Turkish armada of 193 vessels and some 20,000 to 40,000 soldiers sailed from Constantinople.  Malta had a total of 9,000 defenders including 500 Knights Hospitallers, who became known as the Knights of Malta.  Turkish forces besieged the island from May until September, but the Knights held out and, aided by a relief force from Spain, drove the Turks away on September 11, 1565.  The last of the Crusader Knights won their last battle.

The Ottoman fleet returned to Turkey, but 6 years later launched an even more massive assault on Christian Europe.   On October 7, 1571 the fleet of the Catholic League, lead by the charismatic 24-year-old Don Juan of Austria defeated the Turkish fleet that was sailing to capture Cyprus and then continue to Rome.

Pope Saint Pius V (1504-1572) was in some ways like Pope Francis, in that he was austere and dedicated to reforming the Vatican bureaucracy and religious orders, educating laymen, and caring for the poor.  But he was also a traditionalist and a consummate diplomat, who brought together the forces of the papal states, Venice, Genoa, the Savoyards, Spain and Sicily to form the Holy League.  After the massacre of the inhabitants of Famagusta by the Ottoman troops to which they surrendered, Pope Pius appointed young Don Juan to lead his fleet.

The Ottoman fleet held 328 ships, 208 of which were galleys, 77,000 fighting men and sailors, and 50,000 Christian slaves manning the galleys.   The Catholic League had 206 galleys, 40,000 free Christian oarsmen and sailors, and 28,000 soldiers.  Don Juan attacked when he sighted the Ottoman fleet, and putting a wedge of heavy gunships in front of his fleet, he inflicted significant damage before the Ottoman fleet could engage.  The battle then turned into a ship-to-ship melee, and appeared to be going against the Holy League on its left flank until the wind changed and pinned the Ottoman fleet against the shoals.  The slaves in the galleys revolted, and the Ottomans abandoned their ships.  In the middle, the commander of the papal galleys rammed the Ottoman flagship, and Catholic forces stormed the flagship and killed the Turkish commander.  With victories in the center and left, the Holy League fleet turned on the remaining Ottoman ships and drove them off.

The Sultan lost 170 of his 208 galleys and 12,000 Christian slaves were freed.  The Ottoman navy was gone, ending the threat by sea.  But the threat by land remained.

On September 11 and 12, 1683 King Jan III Sobieski of Poland broke the Ottoman siege of Vienna, and the 300-year struggle between Christendom and the Moslem invaders was ended.  The Turkish invasion was again aided by fighting between Catholics and Protestants in the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire, leaving few troops to defend against the Turks.  Prior to the battle, Grand Vizier Ali Mustafa’s army of 150,000 had fought its way from the Bosporus and only Vienna stood between him and his goal of Rome.  The city of Vienna, defended by 15,000, refused his promise to leave the city unharmed if its citizens would convert to Islam, and the siege began on July 14.   

During the Turkish buildup for this invasion, Pope Innocent XI brokered a mutual defense treaty between the Hapsburg Empire and Poland.  As it happened, the Turks attacked Vienna and King Jan III Sobieski of Poland honored his obligations.  He commanded the combined army of about 70,000 troops against an Ottoman Army twice his size.  The defenders of Vienna were starved and exhausted, and Sobieski attacked immediately on arriving at Kahlenberg Mountain.  The battle was ended by the largest cavalry charge in history, when the Polish Winged Hussars (heavy lancers) routed the Turks.  Europe remained free of the Moslem threat for over 300 years.

Many lessons come from this history: the meaning of 9/11 to Islamic terrorists, the constant impetus in Islam to reconquer Europe and the Mediterranean, the inability of the West to unify against its greatest threat, the blindness caused by pursuit of business with despots, the role of the Church in holding an adequate alliance together, and the remarkable victories of faithful men.

The history of Christendom is not just a history of martyrs, of whom there are more every day. It is also the history of heroes who defended and saved Western Civilization. As well as praying for the intercession of the new martyrs, let us pray that such heroes will continue to step forward and protect us.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

That Amazing Song by Jamie Kirkpatrick


Way back in 1970, Judy Collins released an album (remember albums?) titled “Whales and Nightingales.” One of the last tracks on that album was a little known piece of plainsong written by an English clergyman named John Newton. Before he took to the cloth, Newton had been pressed into service in the Royal Navy and subsequently became an officer on a civilian vessel (The Greyhound) engaged in the slave trade. He was a notoriously profane man, popular with his shipmates because he loved writing ditties that mocked the captains under whom he served. But in 1748, the Greyhound was caught in a fierce storm and foundered off the coast of Ireland; fearing for his life, Newton called out to God to save him, the inception of a profound spiritual conversion. A few years later, he gave up slaving to study Christian theology. He was ordained in 1764.

Newton, aided by poet William Cowper, transformed his penchant for writing ditties into one for writing hymns. To illustrate his New Year’s Day sermon in 1773, Newton (likely with Cowper’s help) published several verses of a poem without any accompanying music, perhaps intended to be simply chanted by the congregation. Never particularly popular in England the poem was associated with a variety of different melodies until 1835 when it finally settled on a tune known as “New Britain.” It was called “Amazing Grace.”

“Amazing Grace” is a hymn about redemption, forgiveness, salvation, and hope. It is now sung or performed more than ten million times a year. While Judy Collins’ version on “Whales and Nightingales” popularized “Amazing Grace” as a folk song, its roots quickly spread to every imaginable genre of vocal and instrumental music: country and western, rhythm and blues, gospel, classical, even pop. When a bagpiper in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards first heard Collins’ rendition, he knew the tune would fit his melodramatic instrument like a glove.

In good times and bad, “Amazing Grace” has found a deep and abiding place in the soundtrack of our lives. In “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Tom sings three verses (two by Newton and one added by author Harriet Beecher Stowe that was passed down through the African American spiritual chain). Civil War soldiers knew all-to-well about the many “dangers, foils, and snares” of the third verse.  It became an anthem of both the Civil Rights movement and the Anti-War movement in the Vietnam era. Played on the pipes, “Amazing Grace” became the common mournful dirge for the police, firefighters, and first responders who gave their lives in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. It still pays tribute to many soldiers killed in battle. In 2015, President Obama soulfully and spontaneously performed the song at his eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, the slain pastor of the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Secular and sacred, “Amazing Grace” touches our hearts in mysterious ways. It’s a song that transcends any one religion and appeals to all faiths, Christians and non-Christians alike. It heals us, restores us, inspires us, and lifts us up when we need it most. It’s impossible to say whether it’s the melody or the lyrics that resonate so deeply within; maybe it’s the song’s acknowledgment of our common longing for grace or its promise of the joy and peace to come.

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound!”

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”