The Life and Times of Jameson Jones – Chapter Five: A Place to Stand by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Sometimes destiny crashes the party and sometimes it just settles in for a quiet fireside chat.

On the eve of his fiftieth birthday—50! Half a century! Jameson shakes his head in utter disbelief—he is sitting on the balcony of “his” farmhouse in a comfortable Adirondack chair, sipping a gin and tonic (“summer in a glass”), watching his first mate—an old-soul vizsla named Kozi—sniffing the grass under the towering old elm that shades the back of the house. The Clinton rodeo is on its second go-round just a few miles down the road. It’s the last weekend of summer: tomorrow Jameson will host his own party down on the patio, recover on Labor Day, and then begin another school year, his fifth in this hallowed place. He shakes his head again, this time because he can’t quite believe his own good fortune.

The screen door bangs as Jameson goes back inside to build another cocktail: a measure-and-a-half of Hendrick’s, a fresh bottle of tonic, a slice of cucumber. Kozi barks once, the signal that he’s ready to come in. Jameson goes downstairs to open the backdoor so he and his canine pal can resettle on the balcony and watch the first fireflies begin their evening pantomime.

The Romans built straight roads, but that was then. This is now. That his own road has meandered to this place is almost more than Jameson can comprehend. Yet here he is, a teacher, a coach, and most of all, a college counselor to another generation of boys. Moreover, he is a trusted colleague and an integral member of a reasonably functional school family complete with all manner of surrogate brothers and sisters, the close-in-age siblings he never knew. But on this evening, he and his co-pilot are feeling reflective at the end of another summer vacation and maybe it’s the slant of September light or maybe it’s just the gin, but whatever it is, Jameson suddenly recalls a phrase from one of his favorite John McPhee stories: looking out over the quiet fields that surround the house—a green oasis amid Washington’s suburban sprawl—he feels he has finally “come into his country.”

His is a quiet, ordered existence. In the morning, he and Kozi walk to work across the fields and along the tree line. In the afternoon, they retrace their steps, maybe stopping to watch a practice or a game or to chat with a friend. As commutes go, this one is king-of-the-hill; Jameson’s car doesn’t have to move all week. The globe that once spun so dizzily has come to rest here.

Jameson doesn’t own a crystal ball, but if he did, he would see in the years to come a couple of record-breaking blizzards; springs full of scented lilacs, peonies, and azalea in bloom; trees in autumnal splendor; more football, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, and baseball games than he can count; nearly fifteen-hundred talented students heading off to college and beyond. He would see a lot of great joy, but some profound sorrow, too, the sorrow cutting deep. He would see a blissful sabbatical: four months at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, two more in a hilltop town in Tuscany. Twenty-two years in all, seventeen of them comfortably ensconced in this old farmhouse—more years in one place and in one house than at any other time of his ever-lengthening life, a peace and stability he has never known.

Archimedes of Syracuse was a Greek mathematician and philosopher, one of antiquity’s greatest minds. Although he did not invent the lever, he explained the principle involved in his work On the Equilibrium of Planes: “Give me a place to stand,” he wrote, “and I will move the earth.” To Jameson, this old farmhouse and this proud school will be his place to stand; this is where he will move the earth.

Or so he thinks.

I’ll be right back.

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

Letter to Editor: Do We Know No Shame?

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In a democracy, there are two kinds of citizens: those who make something happen, and those who let something happen.

Both groups should feel a sense of national shame right now for making, or letting, the events of recent years happen.

First, think about school shootings. According to USA Today, “Since Columbine in 1999, there have been 25 fatal, active school shootings at elementary and high schools in America.” In addition, there have been multiple mass homicides at a college, a nightclub, a country music festival, a church Bible study and multiple other venues. Babies, school children, teachers, young adults and even politicians have been the victims. Why is there no political will to stop this “American carnage?” Shame on us.

Second, think about the toxic partisan politics of recent years.To put it simply, we have a majority party, the Republicans, who are systematically dismantling our democracy, allowing corporations to rape the environment, rigging the system to favor the rich, and punishing the poor. This party still claims to represent a majority of voters, who, by their silence, and lack of urgency, allowed this to happen. Shame on us.

Third, we have a nation which has lost its moral, ethical, religious compass. On our currency is printed: “In God we Trust.” For those who espouse belief in God, do we really follow the moral and ethical precepts of God? Read Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” While you are at it, read Matthew 22:36-40 where Jesus teaches that following God’s law requires loving God, and loving one’s neighbor as oneself.
Shame on us.

Fourth, we have an administration in Washington whose President lies most every day and who burdens middle class and poor people with overwhelming debt. This administration shows no compassion for immigrants. Its foreign policy tactics are to bully others (allies and enemies alike) and to build walls along political borders and between religious and racial groups. Shame on us.

How can we remove this shameful stain on our nation? Citizens need to speak up and cry, “SHAME” on public officials who make or allow these shameful things to happen.

Citizens need to VOTE for candidates, not by their party affiliation, but by their willingness and ability to represent all of the people, guided by a moral and ethical compass, not lust for power or financial gain. If we citizens don’t do this, then “shame on us.”

Rev. Dr. Thomas G. Sinnott
Associated with Kent and Queen Anne’s Indivisible

Op-Ed: A Disease of the Soul by George Merrill

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“I’ll give you the gun when you pry it from my cold dead hands.” This statement has appeared variously over the years. It’s been canonized (no pun intended) in America recently when then president of the NRA, Charlton Heston concluded a fiery speech with this same phrase while he triumphantly raised an old flintlock in his hand high in the air.

The message is clear, but the deeper meaning of it is more hidden and insidious. I have not read or seen any media coverage of conversations about where the passion originates for owning firearms, especially the kind designed exclusively to kill other human beings. They are not for target practice, skeet shooting or for hunting deer or rabbits. The assault weapons are for war and conquest, not for a for a day’s shoot at the gun club. Their primary purpose is to kill an enemy efficiently and quickly.

If you’re not in combat where the passion for having the gun makes sense, in a civilized society this passion seems odd, out of place, as if it’s addressing an unacknowledged need that has been kept hidden and only expressed obliquely.

Is there some driving force about this disturbing trend in gun violence – so far perpetrated exclusively by men or boys – that has not reached the light of day? I suspect there’s a strong possibility that some of the same priapic obsessions that have recently come to light as the sexual abuse epidemic has exposed wealthy and powerful men, also relates to the sense of power and dominance that owning and shooting guns may produce in some gun enthusiasts. Men are three times as likely to possess guns than women, and from all appearances, the ones mostly inclined to use them in mass shootings.

As vigorously as the NRA tries to recruit gun ownership among women, guns remain a guy thing.

Human sexuality has always been a delicate matter to examine openly. Historically women have been more candid than men have and Freud’s revelations, while informing us, rocked society for generations. If human sexuality was a tidy matter, it would not be coming up today in ways that expose how little we have known about it and how our sexuality insinuates itself into all aspects of our lives, not infrequently through violence. In common banter, a man accused of shooting blanks is an insult to his virility. All of the variations in the themes of our sexuality are slowly being recognized and discussed but not all are comfortable in recognizing our discoveries or even talking about them.

What has characterized all the mass shootings is the powerful exercising their power over the powerless. The shooters are all male and each seems seem driven by dark forces of the soul of which they remain unaware. Essentially, having the weapon empowers the shooter. The victims have little if any means of protection. They’re sitting ducks. I suspect such power can be the ultimate aphrodisiac. Although not lethal, the sexual predator demonstrates a similar power by exercising his will over those who, who for a variety of social or professional reasons, cannot resist or fight back.

The mass killer and the sexual predator have this much in common: in addition to being male, a dread of psychological and social impotence and very likely other kinds as well.

I think we are talking here about a disease of the soul that is becoming a national epidemic.

Montaigne, the wise observer of our human condition wrote this four hundred years ago.

“ . . . the diseases of the soul, the greater they are keep themselves more obscure: the most sick are the least sensible of them . . . they must often be dragged into light by an unrelenting and pitiless hand. . . from the caverns and secret recesses of the heart.”

In order to treat diseases, they first have to be identified and then the public alerted and remedial action taken. Our congress may be our best hope right now. Congress has a majority of men with extraordinary social and economic capital who can exercise significant power on behalf of the powerless . . . like our children.

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.

The Danger of Distraction by Craig Fuller

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During a drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge earlier this week, I listened to a good portion of the hearing held by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence with the leaders of our Intelligence Community. Held to focus on the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment of the United States Intelligence Community, it provided one of the few public looks into what are seen as major threats facing our nation. The director of National Intelligence provided an initial statement and the 28-page document is available here [ http://bit.ly/SenIntellCoatsStatement ]. His opening points are below.

After listening to the broadcast, my thoughts turned to the dilemma we face. In a world with real and serious issues, we have a White House in turmoil focused on the latest inside intrigue that, while important in many ways, distracts the leadership of our nation from the important work requiring their full attention.

When it comes to security threats, those who lead the dastardly efforts outlined below DO NOT: tweet; get driven by the news story of the day; turn over their top staff; tolerate people who can’t get security clearances…just to name a few differences.

The truth is that we have a very resilient system of government and things do get done. But, leadership really does count and it is required hourly, daily, every 24 hours. Someone needs to be driving the system and we have very distracted driver!

You can bet our nation’s Intelligence Community is looking for leadership on how to cope with the very daunting list below, as outlined by DNI Coats.

From Dan Coats opening statement:

Competition among countries will increase in the coming year as major powers and regional aggressors exploit complex global trends while adjusting to new priorities in US foreign policy. The risk of interstate conflict, including among great powers, is higher than at any time since the end of the Cold War. The most immediate threats of regional interstate conflict in the next year come from North Korea and from Saudi- Iranian use of proxies in their rivalry. At the same time, the threat of state and nonstate use of weapons of mass destruction will continue to grow.

 

  • Adversaries and malign actors will use all instruments of national power—including information and cyber means—to shape societies and markets, international rules and institutions, and international hot spots to their advantage.
  • China and Russia will seek spheres of influence and to check US appeal and influence in their regions. Meanwhile, US allies’ and partners’ uncertainty about the willingness and capability of the United States to maintain its international commitments may drive them to consider reorienting their policies, particularly regarding trade, away from Washington.
  • Forces for geopolitical order and stability will continue to fray, as will the rules-based international order. New alignments and informal networks—outside traditional power blocs and national governments—will increasingly strain international cooperation.

 

Tension within many countries will rise, and the threat from Sunni violent extremist groups will evolve as they recoup after battlefield losses in the Middle East.

 

  • Slow economic growth and technology-induced disruptions in job markets are fueling populism within advanced industrial countries and the very nationalism that contributes to tension among countries.
  • Developing countries in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa face economic challenges, and many states struggle with reforms to tamp down corruption. Terrorists and criminal groups will continue to exploit weak state capacity in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
  •  Challenges from urbanization and migration will persist, while the effects of air pollution, inadequate water, and climate change on human health and livelihood will become more noticeable. Domestic policy responses to such issues will become more difficult—especially for democracies—as publics become less trusting of authoritative information sources.

 

We can only hope this and the full testimony going into further detail can bring greater focus to the important mission of meeting the national security challenges facing the nation.

Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore with his wife Karen.

The Playroom by George Merrill

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My mind is slowing down. It’s retaining data more selectively. The missions I assign to my mind take longer to complete than before. The whereabouts of a misplaced pen, the glasses I just put down, determining why I went from the den to the living room; although irritating, fortunately these quirks are not crippling. Negotiating life’s basic tasks just takes a little longer, that’s all. And then, of course, living life is all about our use of time, anyway.

As my thought processes slow down, I’ve grown more interested in just how my mind performs for me, in the way we pay greater heed to our dwindling resources than we did before when they were plentiful.

As I was searching my mind for ideas the other day, I drew blanks. This happens regularly. The process always leads me to wonder about the creative process itself and how it works. I think people associate creativity with the arts or sciences but I believe the phenomenon is universal – a part of our humanity – and it appears in varying degrees in all of us. The laborer is creative, as is the salesmen, the politician, the artist, the clergyman and of course, writers. Then there’s the stay-at-home mom whose capacity for creativity is tested every minute. With a house full of kids, all of whom require strategic interventions of one kind or another, mom’s creativity is stretched to the max. Children, however, have the greatest capacity for creativity. They are the least likely of any of us to place constraints on their imagination. Kids love to just let it rip.

Of all our spiritual attributes, creativity is the most arbitrary. It doesn’t do well when forced.

My potentially creative imagination invariably bombs if I go at it full bore and try to squeeze it for some immediate project. In my experience creativity is activated the way seeds grow. First you plant them, let them be for a while, until you see something emerge. The fruits of creativity arise from imagination and surface only at their own pace.

Take creativity as it’s demonstrated in the biblical book of Genesis; the creation narrative proceeds ex-nihilo; it comes from out of nowhere, from nothing. God seems matter of fact about his momentous achievements of creating a universe but most of us would greet such special creative moments with ecstatic expressions like, ‘Eureka,’ or ‘Hot damn.’

In 1950, the legendary science-fiction writer and author of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, wrote “The Veldt.” In it he describes a playroom “with television monitors lining each wall and the ceiling. Walking into such an environment, a child could shout: River Nile! Sphinx! Pyramids! And they would appear, surrounding him, in full color, full sound and why not? Glorious warm scents and smells and odors . . . All this came to me in a few seconds.”

Whimsical? Kid’s stuff? Absolutely. He’d had that vision in his mind’s eye since he was a small child. As an adult, it all came back to him in a flash, “in a few seconds.”

Augmented reality has long sounded like a wild futuristic concept. I read recently in the New York Times that Augmented Reality is here to stay and The Times is offering it on line. AR is all about superimposing computer-generated images on top of our view of reality, thus creating a composite view that augments the real world. In effect, excepting for smells, this describes Bradbury’s playroom to a T. And I bet smells will soon be on the way.

This is one among many instances of our mind’s capacity for the kind of imagining that reaches well beyond exigencies of time and place to see into a reality that has not reached its moment in history. In Bradbury’s case I would say his Playroom vision was a byproduct of wonder. Our minds have an insatiable appetite for awe and wonder. They feed on it.

There are people whose imaginations have the capacity for a special kind of creativity. They are able cut through the illusions which imprison us and see clearly into the future. They, too have visions of wonder, but their kind is more about hope. There are three biblical prophets I immediately think of who shared a similar vision pertaining to the future of the Jewish people. I read it also as a vision of our destiny as a human family. The prophetic proclamations are introduced with the phrase: “In the last days” meaning these proclamations are to come about at a future time. It is a vision of the way the human family will ultimately live together, but only after time.

Especially today, in the climate of war mongering and national arrogance, this prophetic chapter from Isaiah I find simply stunning.

“And many people shall go and say, come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

Similar visions appear written in the prophetic books of Joel and Micah, as if the idea captured the minds of the ancient world which was as contentious and war-torn as ours is today.

The bronze sculpture “Let Us Beat Our Swords into Ploughshares,” created by Soviet artist Evgeny Vuchetich, was presented to the United Nations on December 4th 1959 by the Government of the USSR. The sculpture, depicting the figure of a man holding a hammer aloft in one hand and a sword in the other. It’s an inspiring work of art.

This remarkable vision of hope still lives in our human consciousness after first appearing around 800BC. That’s a long time ago.

Do you suppose as Bradbury once imagined his ‘Playroom’ as a young boy, and saw it realized as an adult, and that Isiah’s vision, conceived early in the life of the human family will be realized “in the last days? “The vision is now indelibly planted in human consciousness. Generation after generation the vision keeps reappearing. It may not be realized yet, but neither after all this time has it gone away.

I believe it will have its day when the right time is here.

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.

End the Debate, Get Serious by Al Sikes

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Planes were turned into bombs! New York and Washington were under attack. These facts and the gruesome aftermath awakened America and its intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

As various post-9/11 inquiries made clear, our intelligence and law enforcement agencies had, to be charitable, misinterpreted signals that an attack was in preparation. In the aftermath of the attacks, with new found resolve and highly focused action plans, America was again safe although not invulnerable.

Periodically questions are asked about both internal and external threats. Often the heads of various executive agencies and legislative committees speak of the hundreds of threats that were discovered and blocked. It is said the details of the intelligence and police work have to remain undisclosed because methods and sources need to be protected. Fair enough.

I wonder how many potential domestic shootings have been blocked. All we know is not nearly enough.

Now, we can all concede that stopping a lone actor is very difficult; witness the suicide bombings that bedevil both police and military around the world. This complexity alone means that all of our intelligence and law enforcement resources must act in intense concentration and coordination if school, workplace and public gathering attacks are to be minimized.

One thing is certain, the next attack is only a week or so away and those who survive will indicate shock that such an egregious act was possible in their community. And then law enforcement and the press will begin to connect the dots and it will quickly become apparent that the shooting or vehicle or knife attack could have been foreseen or at the very least, suspected.

In the Florida shooting case, the New York Times reported: “Almost immediately after Mr. Cruz turned up at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday and, the authorities said, killed 17 people with a semiautomatic rifle, the disconnected shards of a difficult life began to come together. Students and neighbors traded stories of their experiences with him and wondered if anything could have been done.

Some of the stories fell within the bands of typical teenage mischief-making. But others — including a comment on YouTube Mr. Cruz may have posted last year saying he wished to be “a professional school shooter” — were considerably more troubling. The comment, left under the name “nikolas cruz,” was reported to the F.B.I. by someone who did not know Mr. Cruz, and the agency said on Thursday that it had been unable to determine who had posted it.”

My guess is that if the YouTube post had been made by a person with a Middle Eastern name and the stated intention was to plant a bomb, the FBI would have located the person who made the post.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, predictable arguments underscored how feckless our leaders have become. The lack of better gun control was cited as the problem. Mental illness was a close second. We can agree that if the shooter had been weaponless or stable this would not have occurred. We are, of course, constitutionally barred from emptying America of guns. And, taking signs of mental illness as sufficient evidence to put people into protective custody would fail on both legal and operational fronts.

After the shooting President Trump said several things, but this sentence captured, perhaps, a thin thread of hope: “Later this month, I will be meeting with the nation’s governors and attorneys general where making our schools and our children safer will be our top priority. It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference, we must actually make that difference.”
So what should the public expect—a show of concern without a plan or the intention of concentrated and coordinated work? Or worse, another in a long line of debating moments about guns and mental health? Or just perhaps, the kind of resolve that followed September 11, 2001—an action plan?

America has top flight intelligence resources. They can, if intensely focused, predict and act. But without top rank intelligence, no plan will succeed.

It is hard for me to imagine a more important goal than securing our nation and its schools, churches, workplaces and public gathering spots. It is not acceptable for these all too frequent events to be relegated to debates and calls for prayer. American intelligence and law enforcement agencies can be smart and must be.

And if they need better information on gun ownership, then those that seek to block such access should not hold public office. Social media activists can undoubtedly shine an intense light on the blockers.

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. 

Letter to the Editor: On Guns

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Let’s look at the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

What does it mean? What was Madison’s intent? The first phrase suggests the founders were talking about a state-regulated militia ensuring security of that state. The second phrase, most often quoted by gun-rights folks, sounds like a right to bear arms given to individuals.

In United States v. Cruikshank (1876), the Supreme Court ruled that “The right [of individuals] to bear arms is not granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence” and limited the scope of the Second Amendment’s protections to the federal government.

That ruling has morphed, via other rulings over the years, e.g. U.S. v. Miller (1939), D.C. v. Heller (2008), McDonald v Chicago (2010), to Caetano v. Massachusetts (2016), where the court reiterated (Wikipedia):
“its earlier rulings that “the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding” and that its protection is not limited to “only those weapons useful in warfare”

The U. S. Supreme Court’s latest interpretation is that any individual can own/possess any kind of weapon(s) which would be “bearable” (e.g. rifles, grenades, home-made bombs, chemical, biological, nuclear) and does not place restrictions of any kind (age, mental capacity, criminal background) on weapon ownership.
What did our founders envision? Could they have imagined that a “mentally-challenged” individual with a weapon of mass destruction (modern assault rifle) could murder scores of people in a short period before authorities could stop him? I submit that this was not what they had in mind.

In practice, states put their own restrictions on the broader interpretation of the Supreme Court. But even here there are no standards state-to-state which common sense should dictate. Each state, then, has the right to create its own standard so long as it complies with the broad outline of the Federal government.

What is the practical result?

Our lawmakers are mainly concerned with keeping their jobs. They keep their jobs by expressing the collective will of their constituents, the vast majority of whom are gun owners. Part of their income (or campaign funding) is contributed by the gun lobby, particularly the National Rifle Association. The gun lobby, in maintaining their mission and relevance, wants no restrictions on gun ownership. Some of their policies, mantras, and propaganda statements are:

1) The more guns we have, the better/safer our society will be.

2) Democrats want to take your guns away. Banning assault rifles is only the first step in that process.

3) Don’t blame the gun. The gun is not the problem. It’s the bad person who misuses the gun who is the problem.
The gun lobby, and their shills (especially GOP members), after every mass shooting, say “Now is not the time to talk about gun control. This is grieving time. We can talk about gun control later when everybody is done grieving and we can address the situation without emotions getting in the way.”

These folks are counting on the fact that people have short memories, that next week the news cycles will return to the latest controversy involving Trump and his dysfunctional enablers.

But here is the problem with blaming people rather than the gun. When we say “Oh, there were warning signs that that particular murderer was likely to start shooting people, how can we realistically know? Where is the line between mental stability and mental instability? Aren’t we all a little crazy? And could someone who is considered mentally stable today become mentally unstable tomorrow? Who could predict the point where someone’s dark thoughts become dark actions? It seems an intractable problem to me.

What is not an intractable problem, though, is the ready availability of the weapon. If the mentally disabled person has no access to a weapon of mass destruction (AR-15 with multiple high-capacity magazines) wouldn’t it be less likely that he could do mass damage?

At the very least we should:

1) Reconstitute the ban on assault rifles and their high capacity magazines.

2) Require criminal and mental background checks for all gun purchases.

3) Close gun show loopholes which allow purchase of any kind of weapon (from a dealer or private person) with almost no checks or regulations in play.

4) Outlaw bump-stocks which easily convert semi-automatic rifles to full automatic.

A better long term solution is to vote out of office our representatives who put their personal objectives ahead of the safety of our children and fellow citizens.

Bob Moores
Chestertown

In Support of a Third Bay Bridge Span by Samuel Shoge

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Talk of a third span crossing the Chesapeake Bay into Kent County has rightfully stoked concern among local residents. The surrounding landscape could change in significant ways if a span makes its way to the county, requiring massive upgrades to the surrounding infrastructure and exponentially increasing the number of cars and trucks on local roads.

Most see this change as detrimental and a threat to Kent County’s way of life.

Would a third span really be such a bad thing, however?

This letter to the editor attempts to provide additional perspective to the current dialogue regarding a third span by briefly outlining local and macro-economic trends that are affecting Kent County’s economy and, in turn, its future.

Local Trends

Prior to discussing the merits of a third span coming through Kent County, it is important to understand the county’s current demographic trends.

  • Least populated county in Maryland with 19,730 residents
  • Population has shrunk -2.3% from the 2010 Census
  • Lowest K-12 public school enrollment in Maryland at 1,891 (projected to decrease through 2026)
  • Third oldest county in Maryland by median age: 45.6 (preceded by Talbot and Worcester)

Macro-Economic Trends

Demographic trends point to continued decline in Kent County. What is currently happening in Kent County is affecting most small, rural counties across the United States. U.S. Census data shows that from 2010 through 2014, U.S. counties with less than 100,000 residents combined to lose more businesses than they created. Kent County is no exception.

In 2015, Kent County had 619 business establishments, down from 728 in 2005

Rural counties have seen their portion of economic recovery steadily decrease over time during economic recoveries. In the chart below, compiled by the Economic Innovation Group by analyzing Census data, counties with less than 100,000 residents created a third of the nation’s new businesses on net from 1992-1996. During the most recent economic recovery, these same counties did not even register.

In a Brookings Institution report, the United States’ 100 largest metro areas recovered all of the jobs they lost in the Great Recession and added an additional 6 million jobs, whereas the rest of the country combined added only 300,000 jobs over its pre-recession peak.

What is contributing to massive decreases in business establishments in rural areas? In a Washington Post article, Manuel Adelino, an economist at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, describes it as this: “Capital chases high-growth ideas, and high-growth ideas tend to be concentrated in areas of highly educated and highly skilled workforce. This suggests that the lack of new business formation in rural America may lead to widening gaps in income and employment.”

Why a Third Span Likely Won’t Result in Devastating Sprawl

As the business establishment landscape in the U.S. has shifted, so has traditional development patterns. 300 retailers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and nearly 7,000 stores closed nationwide in 2017, beating a record of 6,163 closures in 2008 during the height of the financial crisis. By 2022, many analysts estimate that 1 out of every 4 malls in the U.S. will close as consumer tastes change and more consumers turn to convenience of online shopping.

Companies are also ditching the suburban office park. Real estate advisory firm Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, published a report on the state of office parks around the country and concluded that 14-22% of the suburban inventory faced a degree of risk in becoming obsolete.

On the residential front, McMansions, once the standard bearer for suburban expansion, are not faring well post Great Recession. Classified as homes built between 2001 and 2007 and averaging 3,000 to 5,000 sq. ft., McMansions are not attractive to homebuyers today and an analysis conducted by Trulia shows the amount buyers are willing to pay for McMansions over other homes has fallen 26 percent in the past four years, despite a recovering housing market.

Millennials, the largest age group in the U.S. at 75 million strong, have fundamentally changed the way America pursues development. They crave transit oriented mixed-use development where they can walk to work and be near bars and restaurants, preferably locally owned rather than corporate chains like Ruby Tuesday and Chili’s (companies that are quickly losing market share to new, hip fast-casual restaurants). This increasingly popular style of development adopts many Smart Growth oriented principles and is very complimentary to the County’s existing towns.

We Already Have a Clear and Defined Precedent

Do we deny that Queen Anne’s County is rural? We don’t because despite the Bay Bridge landing in Queen Anne’s and Route 50 passing through the heart of Talbot, Dorchester, and Wicomico counties, suburban expansion has mostly been confined to small portions of each county. Kent Island has captured most of the suburban expansion in QA and represents 24% of the county’s population yet accounts for only 8% of the county’s land area.

Town % County Population % County Land Area
Easton 44% 4%
Cambridge 38% 2%
Salisbury 32% 3.5%
Chestertown 25% 1%

 

What is clear is that primarily one town in the county that Route 50 passes through captures the bulk of the population and economic growth while only accounting for a very small percentage of the county’s land area, leaving the rest of the county practically unaffected regarding suburban expansion. Just look at Crumpton, Ingleside, Wye Mills, Cordova, Hurlock, and Vienna. Hardly sprawling places.

Furthermore, Route 301 cuts through the eastern portion of Kent County and has extremely limited development around it despite being a major corridor.

What makes a third span landing in Kent  somewhat different than the Bay Bridge in Queen Anne’s is that the largest population center in Maryland—Baltimore—will be directly connected to the smallest. The aforementioned logic still applies. Frederick and Frederick County reinforce the argument of one town capturing the bulk of population and economic growth. Frederick is near Washington, D.C. and its population has grown significantly—32% since 2000. Despite rapid growth and its proximity to D.C., Frederick represents 28% of the population yet is only 3.5% of the overall land area in Frederick County. The County has an excellent and well preserved agricultural heritage and its wineries and agritourism industry is lauded. Furthermore, Frederick consistently ranks among one of the best places to live in the U.S.

We Can Control How the Landscape Develops

The thought that a third span coming to Kent County will result in unmitigated sprawl is not grounded in any fact, just assumptions. What concerned citizens assumptions don’t consider is the County’s ability to govern land use through the Land Use Ordinance and Comprehensive Plan. Detailed in the Land Use Ordinance is everything that is and is not permitted in the county by land use classification. Property rights are strongly protected, preventing certain development from occurring near residential neighborhoods or on productive soils.

The Land Use Ordinance and Comprehensive Plan are interpreted by the Planning Commission and enforced by the Planning and Zoning Department. Within these documents are also design guidelines for development to follow (e.g. placing parking lots in the rear of the building, establishing setbacks, and determining how dense certain areas can be). The Planning Commission and Planning and Zoning Department have the tools necessary to shape how any development occurs.

Furthermore, dense, sprawling development is becoming increasingly difficult to build outside of areas serviced by municipal water and sewer infrastructure, especially in Maryland where strict environmental laws need to be followed. In addition, because of proximity to so many environmentally sensitive waterways, several state agencies—such as the Critical Area Commission—weigh in on development projects, further constraining development and increasing permitting costs and time.

Most notable, large, big-box retailers are already prohibited in Kent County according to the Kent County Land Use Ordinance which caps retail establishments at 60,000 sq. ft.

Store Average Size (sq. ft.)
Walmart Supercenter 179,000
Target 135,000
Kohl’s 70,000

 

Why Technology Likely Won’t Save Us…In the Near Term

With advancement in electric and driverless car technology and development of advanced transportation systems like Hyperloop, surely, we don’t need a third span…right?

Government cannot and should not be in the business of speculating when technologies will become widely available and delay projects on the anticipated arrival of said technology. For decades, we have been “five years away” from developing nuclear fusion power plants to power humanity with cheap, 100% renewable energy. For decades, we have been “near the rollout” of flying cars. By now, we should have colonies on the moon according to the predictions of scientists during the space race. Instead, we haven’t been to the moon in 5 decades.

Self-driving cars stand to revolutionize transportation, but we cannot put faith in technology that is still in development to address immediate concerns and problems.

Why Kent County Needs a Third Span

A third span is highly unlikely to result in county-wide sprawl because contemporary development patterns are finally starting to shift away from dated suburban models. Furthermore, there is precedent regarding what a highway passing through a rural Eastern Shore County does to the surrounding landscape. Most growth is limited to one region or town within the county, preserving much of the rest of the county’s rural landscape.

Rather than using Kent Island, Easton, and Cambridge as justifications to oppose a third span to Kent County, we can use them as models to guide how we accommodate growth and development. Encourage mixed-use development that ties into established towns and villages, build where water and sewer infrastructure is already established, incorporate Smart Growth principles in the design of new buildings and communities, and prohibit development on the county’s most productive soils. We can do all of these things because as a local jurisdiction, we have the power to do so through planning commissions, planning and zoning departments, land use ordinances, and comprehensive plans.

Kent County could benefit from a third span in many ways and I argue the County NEEDS this bridge. Our current demographic state does not bode well for our schools, businesses, nor residents in the long term. Whereas there are bright spots (expansion of Dixon, hospital in Chestertown to remain open, marina revitalization), continued demographic and legislative trends could detrimentally impact the county.

Ask any employer in the county what their number one issue is and 9 out of 10 will likely say “finding and hiring good workers.”

With the county population shrinking, the K-12 enrollment declining, and the median age rising, where are our businesses going to find workers?

Other challenges Kent County will likely face include:

  • Providing rural healthcare is becoming increasingly difficult. Keeping the hospital open in Chestertown was a great victory but expect to have this conversation again soon. In the meantime, dozens of rural hospitals in communities that look just like Kent County are closing nationwide as expenses mount and populations continue to drop.
  • Kirwan Commission could fundamentally change the way schools are funded, penalizing jurisdictions that have small enrollments. With teacher pay lower than Western Shore counties and aging facilities, receiving less support from the State would be devastating.
  • The data clearly shows that rural areas, including Kent County, have lost business establishments and no longer recover at the same rate as urban areas. This trend has gotten so bad that after the next economic downturn, or even before, whatever jobs or businesses are lost in these areas will likely not come back.

With all the very real challenges to be faced, are we really going to let our misguided fear of some development—development that could bring jobs, residents, and an increased tax base—scare us?

Samuel Shoge
Chestertown

 

Clam Dredging: A Rebuttal to ShoreRivers by Marc Castelli

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I am responding to the op-ed on clam dredging by Mr. Horstman. A reply is necessary because there were many missing and mishandled facts, to the point that it was beyond opinion and became erroneously misleading, which is a concern.

Beginning with some broad concepts, it is easy to take pot shots at an industry that few have ever taken the time to study and physically witness. Criticism outside the realm of actual knowledge becomes noise. But the public often responds quite well to noise, marching to it and cheering. So, while you have the freedom of speech to say what you want, there is a responsibility when speaking as an executive director to have facts for the public you are addressing. The reader likely looks to you, in your position, as an authority on the subject, but in fact, you are not sharing the whole story about clamming.

This is common in op-ed pieces: people set themselves up as an expert, but they aren’t. More often than not you end up misleading your membership with hysterical hyperbole. Why are simple facts about how the clam fishery interacts with the environment and natural resources so hard to find in the media? Is it because you, one of the Bay’s environmental “guardians” offer misinformed comments that will try to sway public opinion against clamming? Many of that industry’s best speakers are busy trying to make a living on the water and keep up with the pace of changes forced on it by outside pressures. Simply put they just do not have the time to respond to misleading op-ed pieces. I do.

I’m concerned that Mr. Horstman has never spent the day on a clam dredge asking questions of the very people he apparently wants to do away with. There is much to learn about clamming yet he hasn’t done the needed homework. Confirmation bias is not a healthy lifestyle. I will address the many issues in his latest op-ed on clamming. The quotes will be in their entirety. The italics are my words.

Photo by Marc Castelli

Hydraulic dredging for clams in our rivers is on the rise. This is accurate but carries the tone in his op-ed of a “problem,” as if clamming has increased upon a depressed population. Yet, dredging is on the rise because clam populations have risen significantly. A healthy harvest is supported by a healthy population. Many of us have witnessed the damage this practice causes. What damage? There are no specific details, only opinion. Who witnessed it? Where? This is noise. I hear the cheers and footsteps.

Clamming licenses in Maryland sharply increased over the past few years from just 8 in 2013 to over 30 in 2016, perhaps signifying a modest comeback of the softshell clam and reflecting the increasing popularity of clams as crabbing bait. There are numerous problems with Mr. Horstman’s “expertise” here. It is true that licenses have increased and this is due to an increase in clams. But he mentions a modest comeback. In fact, it is significant. He mentions soft shell clams, but in fact, razor clams have also increased. He links the increase in licenses to soft shell clams, but it is also due to razor clams. He mentions an increasing popularity of razor clams as crab bait, but in fact, they have been popular as crab bait for years.

Similar to oysters, clams are a vital filter feeder and a key component in the ecological food chain. While it is true that soft clams are filter feeders it is not correct about razor clams which are deposit feeders. Unlike oysters that live many years, even over 10, clams are short-lived and are difficult to “save” over time.

Historically the clam population has been decimated by overharvesting and disease. Not quite correct as the softshell clam industry was booming for many years since the 1950’s. Harvest was vigorous and the population didn’t decline from that. The steep decline in the late 1900’s to early 2000’s was due to the widespread and virulent disease, clam neoplasia, not overharvesting. High water temperatures have also depressed the softshell clam populations and caused die-offs at times, as the clam in Maryland is at the southern limit of its range.

Without a DNR management plan, the clam population is now at risk of another serious population downturn. Mr. Horstman offers no meaningful information for this claim, no evidence on the linkage between the clam stocks and the lack of a clam management plan, and no data about the imminent loss of clams. He states the population is NOW at risk. Data, please? In fact, the populations naturally vary, decreasing and increasing over time. Harvest numbers will reflect that. But to link a natural decrease to a lack of a clam management plan is nothing more than biased overreaching to sway the public. A discussion of the current clam management plan can be found further on in this piece. Downturns are related to many natural conditions already mentioned, including predation that can wipe clean many clam areas.

Clams are not like oysters – they do not live long. The soft shell clam reproduces twice a year.

Today’s clam population mirror those of oysters, resting at about 1% of historic levels. This is just hype. No one knows for certain what the clam population was or is. The oft-repeated 1% claim for oysters is not a set-in-stone statistic either. It is based on many unsupported assumptions. Linking clams with the oyster plight is a ploy. The marching continues.

The practice of harvesting clams with a hydraulic dredge is akin to underwater strip mining. While it is an aggressive form of harvesting it is not strip mining. Mr. Horstman’s linking the two just serves to heighten the hysteria he is trying to create.

He goes on further to claim that, high-velocity jets of water strip away the river bottom. No, they don’t. To strip away means that the river bottom no longer exists. High-velocity jets of water will actually crush the shells of clams. What right minded clammer would be so destructive? Clam rigs fluidize the bottom dislodging clams which will float and then be carried onto the conveyor belt. Much of the larger grain sediment (sand, grit, pebbles, for example) that is stirred up actually falls through the chain of the belt back to the bottom within seconds. Clamming is not a high-speed process. The boat and dredge move very slowly ahead. Pump and boat engines usually run a little more than idle. Too much power to either will destroy the rig’s pump and crush the clams. If Mr. Horstman knew better he could say that as the boat moves, large amounts of sediment dislodged by the dredge can actually settle back onto the river bottom, leaving a shallow depression. But then I doubt that he has ever actually been on a clam dredge. I have and have spent many an hour nursing a backache from picking clams from the conveyor. It is long, repetitive back-breaking work with few if any breaks. Reading, asking questions of everyone concerned and hands-on experience with first-hand observations is how I have learned the little I do know about clams.

He goes on to claim that a clam dredge will leave a trench that can be two feet deep and three feet wide. It is obvious he did not talk with a clammer. First off, he describes the path of a clam dredge that will dig down two feet and be three feet wide as a trench. He leaves the reader with the notion that a dredge digs a trench and does not replace sediment along the dredge’s path. But as stated above, sediment partially refills the affected area. Most clam bottom is not suitable for dredges that are three feet wide, some dredge heads are 18 inches in width. While there are 36-inch dredges, such pieces of equipment are suitable for sandy bottom only. Not all clam bottom is sandy.

He claims, the action of the dredge causes major damage to the river floor. That is an exaggeration and is not accurate. The bottom does not sustain major damage. Instead, it is emulsified, but then the sediment quickly resettles. Benthic organisms then recolonize the bottom. The river floor is not “gone” or “dead” after clamming. Clams can even come back and in some instances are thicker. Who would know this? A clammer would be able to see this. The first-hand empirical knowledge of a waterman is vast.

He asserts that dredging causes irreversible damage to submerged aquatic vegetation(SAV). Yes, grasses will be uprooted, but this is why clamming is prohibited in SAV beds. Safeguards are in place. Additionally, clam rigs don’t work well in grass beds. The grass not only clogs the belt but the intake as well and takes too much time to clear away the grasses in order to pick the clams from the belt. Officials in his position should not use op-ed opportunities to misinform the public. Executive directors should value opportunities to factually inform the public, not raise the temperature on these issues. Facts are stubborn creatures. They do not go away.

He does state factually, that sediment plumes are visible from clammers. Yes, there are sediment plumes. Depending on the type of bottom, the plumes will not stay suspended for any great length of time. But, has he ever spent the time to watch just how long such a plume remains suspended in the water column?

Mr. Horstman states that according to multiple studies, hydraulic dredging is catastrophic to SAV beds and that the sediment plumes kill oyster spat in surrounding areas. SAV beds are seriously impacted IF a dredge goes in them, but designated SAV beds are legally off limits to clamming and as stated above clammers avoid clogging their rigs with grass. Additionally, note that SAV has increased over the past few years during which clamming has also increased, significantly. The two can co-exist. In fact, long-term trends in SAV (available online) show no linkage with clam harvest levels. As for oyster spat mortality, there is no definition of “surrounding areas”, leading the reader to think that spat in a large area is killed by clamming. In fact, a study was done to determine limits on clamming found that impacts on oysters occurred up to 75 feet away from the dredge. Maryland decided to create 150 ft. setbacks from oyster beds. That is actually twice the distance noted in the study. But, in reality, there is even a greater safeguard. The boundary line of an oyster bar is from where the 150 ft. is measured. The actual oyster bar population is within the boundary of the bar such that the oyster population is likely hundreds of feet more away. If a clammer is found to have an oyster on his boat, he is ticketed and faces a huge fine. Very crafty writing Mr. Horstman: sparse on facts, but a lot of noise.

He further claims that while there are regulations aimed at prohibiting hydraulic dredging in SAV beds, some dredging is allowed in and near oyster sanctuaries. He obviously chooses to be ignorant and to keep his readers ignorant of the setback distances and regulations mentioned above that protect oysters and oyster bars, including those in sanctuaries. Why?

He goes on to say, additionally, it is getting more and more difficult to determine where SAV beds are located as they continually change and many large SAV beds are not mapped at all, leaving them vulnerable to this destructive practice. Hidden in his message is actually the need to better manage SAV beds. Nothing wrong with that. Maybe his association could let go of some of the many thousands of dollars they have and fund a state survey of SAV beds. What he barely conceals is that he wants clamming prohibited.

Horstman states that hydraulic harvesting is currently allowed year-round and the practice is increasing without any assessment of the growing environmental damage it’s causing. Day after day these hydraulic machines scour, scrape and gouge the river bottoms, producing thousands of pounds of sediment pollution. What a picture he has painted with these adjectives. He is sadly mistaken in portraying the clam industry as being in operation day after day. It is only for 6 days a week (Mon.-Sat.), weather and market permitting, from May 14 to Nov. 1 they get to start at sunrise and have to put the clams out by no later than 3 in the afternoon to avoid unhealthy spoilage and no later than 1 hour after sunset from Nov. 1 to May 14. This is a market-driven industry and the winter months do not see a consistent market for soft shells. I have already discussed the fact that while there is a plume, much of the dislodged sediment actually settles back to the affected areas. Does Mr. Horstman know that a strong blow, lasting for days will suspend silt over huge areas of rivers, far more than clamming will? That resuspended silt came from the land (not clamming). Most associations such as the newly formed one he is the executive officer of, have projects already in place to investigate and mitigate land sources of silt. Perhaps a more vigorous pursuit of those would be more productive than these op-eds.

We think, he states, it’s time to develop a clear management plan for this valuable species, taking into consideration clam populations, their immense value to the ecosystem, the residual damage of hydraulic harvest and the views of all stakeholders. What damage? He doesn’t cite details. SAV damage is regulated already by the closing of SAV areas where no hydraulic harvesting is allowed, and oyster bars are separated from clamming. There has been a successful clam management plan in existence for many decades. There is a boogeyman under the bed. Noise, cheers, and marching.

Clams today, he says, represents a tiny portion of the Bay’s seafood harvest. He doesn’t even speak to the immense value of clams for crab bait. He missed discussing a major importance of clamming. I’m sure he is an excellently skilled director, but he has much to learn about clamming. As the demand for clams increases, we should answer some important questions before clam dredging grows into an even larger problem. I have to wonder if he knows the differences between soft clams, piss clams, hard clams, white clams, mannose and razor clams? Warning – it is partly a trick question. These are just the market clams that live in the Bay and the tributaries. All together clams represent a huge economic value chain that runs from many of Maryland’s fishing communities out through the state. Instead of recognizing this value, and the safeguards that lessen various issues, clamming is by definition, according to Mr. Horstman, a “problem” from the get-go. I think the problem is unsubstantiated comments and open bias when good judgment, data, and reason should prevail.

Our rivers are virtually choking from sediment. How is that possible when we have been reading for the past year or so that water quality is the best it has been in years? Watermen can see it firsthand. I guess it is hard to see such things from behind a computer in an office.

Our rivers are already listed by the EPA as impaired for sediment pollution, among other pollutants. Is he claiming clam dredging is responsible for the sediment overload and other pollutants? Try checking land-based sources of sediment.

Our rivers are virtually choking from sediment. So, the first question we might ask is: Should we continue to allow hydraulic dredging in impaired rivers when we know it causes catastrophic SAV damage and creates large areas of sediment pollution capable of killing oyster spat and all the underwater life it chokes out? The second question might become: Are there better ways to protect our natural resources, to benefit all stakeholders while ensuring a healthy and sustainable clam population? When these policy and executive directors have doubts about the issues they always trot out the same old tired arguments and go over the top with their hyperbole. Where are the factual components of their arguments? You can’t have a discussion with someone who just wants to set the world on fire all the time. He talks about a sustainable clam population but he never even hints at a sustainable fishery. By all appearances, his goal is to put an end to clamming. Also, where is “all” the underwater life that gets choked out? All? That’s total. There is no data in his piece that any gets choked out.

The most confusing statement is his conclusion. Our rivers belong to all of us. The current hydraulic practices hurt more of us than they help. Bizarre to say the least. Who is “us” in his mind? Sounds like it is people opposed to clamming. His piece clearly casts clammers as the enemy and not part of “us”, but in fact, the Bay belongs to them too. They are part of us.

He encourages action for the benefit of all of the stakeholders. What action does he want his readers to consider? I would hope that self-educating from many different angles would be part of that process. But here he is minimizing and marginalizing the incredible economic benefits that are woven all through the value chain that is Maryland’s commercial fishery. The word resource has never in my years of researching Bay resources been used to describe sea nettles. Yes, they have a part in the ecosystem but no one wants to interact with or protect them. That fact alone tells you that the words, natural resource, implies human need and interaction. I can only assume that Mr. Horstman does not eat crab or clams and would like for others to follow his example.

Make your own mind up after doing the research. Do not just got to websites that confirm your bias. Question your assumptions, try to find the facts for the larger picture. It is never as simple as Mr. Horstman would have you believe.

Marc Castelli is an award winning painter and photographer of the Chesapeake Bay and those who work on the water.