Out and About (Sort of): Scattered Thoughts by Howard Freedlander

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About 10 days ago I had the pleasure of driving former Governor Harry Hughes from an Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (I am a board member) gathering outside Chestertown to his home in Denton. Time spent with Harry is always a lesson in Maryland politics as related concisely by one of the prime actors in the second half of the 20th century.

Nearing 91, Gov. Hughes is feeling the ravages of old age. He moves more slowly. His balance is unsteady. All expected in a person’s ninth decade. But when this reserved, gentlemanly political luminary talks, it’s best to keep quiet and learn.

A Caroline County native, Hughes served as a state delegate, state senator, secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and then governor from 1978 to 1986.

I first met Hughes nearly 40 years ago when he ran for governor; he was given little chance to win. He did, with significant help from Baltimore Sun and Evening Sun endorsements two weeks prior to the election. That was a time when an endorsement from a major statewide newspaper meant something—when people paid attention to “mainstream media.” Perhaps they still do. Showing my age, I still assign credibility to the printed word.

As my wife and I rode for about an hour in the car, we learned he loved being Secretary of MDOT because he could get things done, he liked President Bill Clinton, his political career just seemed to take off in a positive direction –and he fondly recalled having his mother as his homeroom teacher for three years at Caroline High School.

What was evident, as it always is when you spend time with Harry Hughes, is his innate modesty and mild manner. He is eminently likable.

In an op-ed piece published Dec. 1, 2016 in The Baltimore Sun by John Frece, a former Maryland State House bureau chief for the Sun and co-author of Gov. Hughes’ autobiography, “My Unexpected Journey,” about Hughes’ 90th birthday party, Frece wrote:

“The most important words that were uttered throughout the evening by a half-dozen speakers were the ones that described the values that this native of the Eastern Shore brought to Maryland’s political life: honesty, integrity, fairness, compassion, humility and restraint. In a word, civility.”

In recent years, a close adviser and friend of Hughes twice has invited me to join him for lunch with the former governor. Once, other former staffers joined the group. I was an interested bystander, noting the affection that these staffers still bore for their former boss. There was good-natured kidding aimed at Harry Hughes, who in turn kindly jabbed back. Meanwhile, people in the restaurant would stop by the table to say hello to the unassuming man from Denton.

While Gov. Hughes and his loyal lieutenants would tell stories about achievements, Harry Hughes would delight in the memories, but never dominated the conversation with anything resembling boastfulness. His willingness during his two terms to focus on Chesapeake Bay pollution–as well as management of the declining rockfish, instituting a controversial moratorium—was one of his shining accomplishments.

Though the tall, handsome former governor shows the ravages of aging, he continues to impress me with his calm, civil demeanor and dedication to environmental issues that still challenge and vex public officials and concerned non-profits.

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In seeking reactions to “The Vietnam War” documentary produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and the two columns that I recently wrote about the remarkable 10-episode series, I spoke with a few Vietnam veterans in the area. I learned that two in particular thought that the documentary failed to portray accurately the North Vietnamese (NVA), specifically their fervent communism that they viciously imposed on villagers in the South to gain their fear-driven loyalty.

A friend and veteran forwarded an article written by a veteran in Georgia that was unyielding in its criticism of the soft way that he believed that the documentary treated the NVA, while acknowledging the duplicity of our political leaders and their unwillingness to unleash full American firepower on our enemy.

With this reaction in mind, I ask readers to submit their unvarnished opinion of the documentary. Did you consider it fair and balanced? Did you consider it skewed and too favorable to the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong?

As I wrote, the Vietnam War still lives on in the minds and hearts of civilians and veterans who lived through the 10-year war and the consequent chaos and divisiveness that gripped our country.

Please give me feedback.

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.

Veterans Misperceived by Howard Freedlander

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This is a story about a questionable narrative about veterans’ mental health in our modern-day America, told in an unusujal 70-minute musical drama. The impact is powerful. The message is mind-changing.

Jaymes Poling, who spent three tours as part of the elite 82nd Airborne Division, returned to his country having to cope with public perceptions that he and his fellow veterans were damaged goods suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, better known by its ubiquitous acronym, PTSD. He was 17 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He retired as a 26-year-old staff sergeant.

Jaynes Poling and Dominick Farinacci

When Poling returned home, seeking help from the Veterans Administration (VA) to adapt to civilian life after serving three separate years as an infantryman in Afghanistan, he immediately received a diagnosis as a victim of PTSD. Medications followed as dispensed by the well-meaning but misdirected VA.

Two fortuitous things happened to Poling: he met a woman in Cleveland and decided to return to school, and he crossed paths with Dominick Farinacci, a world-class trumpeter and music composer. Along the way, Poling decided that PTSD was misapplied in his case. Instead, he had a more positive self-diagnosis: post-traumatic growth.

Collaborating with Farinacci on an autobiographical music drama, Poling realized that veterans not just of his era but throughout history bring special skills to the civilian world. They had learned about leadership, responsibility for themselves and their fellow soldiers and compassion for the men and women with whom they served in combat.

Through the “Modern Warrior Live, which will come to the Avalon in Easton on Saturday, Nov. 18, Farinacci and Poling hope not only to change perceptions about veterans but develop a connection to the civilian world by telling a dramatic story, backed by gripping music. Perhaps, just perhaps, the public will view veterans as having special talents; the “goods” they carry are in their hearts and minds first-rate value and deserve respect.

To better understand the unusual performance, with my admittedly favorable opinion of veterans and the life-threatening experiences they encountered in combat, I spoke with Poling and Farinacci after talking with Richard Marks and Al Sikes–who not only are financial supporters of the Avalon performance but also two gentlemen known as superb volunteers and leaders in the community.

Farinacci said that during his collaboration with Jaymes Poling he saw “the power of music to build bridges, to develop a pathway to empathy, to change perceptions and create a dialogue between the military and civilians.” He repeatedly characterized poling as “authentic.”

During the production of the show, Poling said, “Sometimes the music didn’t feel right. I had to reevaluate times of my life. I had to sort out my feelings. It was not the fault of the music. The artistic musical interactions helped me hone my thoughts.”

As he discussed his life in combat and on civilian turf, Poling said he was careful. “I don’t want to tell stories that don’t belong to me,” he said. While he mentioned the name of a friend and fellow soldier killed in battle, he had checked with the friend’s mother beforehand.

Both Farinacci and Poling agreed that the message of healing and post-traumatic growth had universal implications. It applies to personal tragedy. Poling pointed to people dealing with cancer. “Why assign labels to the survivors? They have issues that provide them with a different filter on life—and a viewpoint that says ‘root for me,’ Poling said.

In summing up his appraisal of “Modern Warrior Live,” Farinacci said, “It was a 100 percent creative development. It stayed true to Jaymes’ story, with magical moments. There is absolutely no substitute for a person who went through it (war), Jaymes allows us to connect to veterans, to find out ‘what did you do?’’ His voice is authentic.”

By the time that the show comes to Easton, it will have played in New York City and Chicago.

Echoing the sentiment expressed by Poling and a videotaped cameo appearance by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Richard Marks said, “The country has to get there, understanding that PTSD is being treated in the wrong way. The show is cathartic and emotional. The veterans are not damaged goods.”

Marks, who served on submarines in the US. Navy, said he learned “the value of dependence on others and a level of camaraderie.” These lessons learned are applicable to civilian life.

A jazz enthusiastic, Al Sikes spoke about Dominic Farinacci’s “lyrical trumpet’ and the emotion it spawns. “You can tell stories with the horn,” he said. He referred to Poling’s powerful narrative.” He too spoke about the retired staff sergeant’s authenticity.

Though he never served in the military. Sikes said he gained a new appreciation for military members after the September 11, 2001 attacks on our American homeland.

I applaud Marks and Sikes for helping to provide the financial support for a music drama intent on changing the image of a military veteran and bridging the gap between combat soldiers and a civilian world drawn to misconceptions about hardened veterans. Memories of combat and death do not vanish; nor are they necessarily personal aspects that should consign veterans to life with a label. While painful at times, heart-wrenching experiences can and do strengthen a person.

Dominick Farinacci and Jaynes Poling have combined their particular skills and experiences into a production embodying creative energy, musical excellence and pure, personal testimony. The result should capture rapt attention and change misconceptions.

Chesapeake Music Presents Modern Warrior Live on Saturday, November 19 at the Avalon starting at 8:00 pm. For more information on tickets please go here.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Time to Move On by Howard Freedlander

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When I think about the 10-part “The Vietnam War” documentary completed last week on the Public Broadcasting System, I feel overwhelmed with emotion. It preoccupied me.

I wrote last week about my reaction to the first five episodes. I won’t rehash my comments. I was transfixed by the history of a war that proved so divisive and disruptive to our roiling country. Ken Burns and Lynn Novick produced a superbly written, studiously well-balanced and beautifully filmed documentary. The experience watching this often unpleasant history lesson was unlike any other in my life.

So, I will describe my emotions, felt, I suspect, by many others:

I felt admiration and empathy for our American soldiers (all-inclusive usage for the sake of this column). They fought bravely. They fought well. They fought amid often ill-advised strategy developed sometimes by politicians. Roughly 58,000 died against a relentless, highly motivated enemy.

As I listened to the voices of John Musgrave, Roger Harris, Tim O’Brien, Matt Harrison, Bill Erhardt, Hal Kushner, Vincent Okamoto, Ron Ferrizzi and many other veterans, I marveled at their candor, their passion and their sorrow. Their comments reflected the violence, the ambivalence and the pain of the ill-fated Vietnam War.

In response to the equally honest and passionate North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers interviewed for this remarkable documentary, I felt a human understanding of their courage, their longing for family and their mixed feelings about a war that divided and damaged their own country. These men and women fought to win and destroy the South Vietnamese and American troops.

Yet soldiers on both sides wondered: was it worth it? Was the end result a proud one?

Through the lens of this documentary, I viewed again the protests. I viewed again the riots in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and mourned the disorder sowed by the protesters and abetted by the ill-prepared police. In 1968, I despised the objectionable, obnoxious and sometimes destructive behavior of the protesters. Now, I commend their courage, their willingness to rail against a corrupt war. I was disgusted then. I’m more sanguine now–though I still condemn riots that visit destruction upon small businesses and place the police in unenviable positions.

When I learned again, after 50 years, about seasoned veterans taking to the streets to proclaim peace, I walked back my criticism of those who opposed the Vietnam War. These men had felt the sting of buddies killed in action. They had followed stupid orders to rack up body counts. They understood the savagery of war. When some tossed away their medals during a protest at the White House, as portrayed during the documentary, I felt moved by their resistance to the continuation of a war whose purpose they questioned.

As I did when it was reported in the media, I felt repulsed by the My Lai Massacre, which occurred in March 1968. Between 350 and 500 unarmed civilians died in an outburst of inhumanity and moral depravity. Again, as so often happens, I also feel torn. While killing is legal in war, almost second nature, the murder of civilians–who may or may not have harbored the Viet Cong–is wanton human destruction. Anger and frustration over the loss of fellow soldiers can be tough to control; yet indiscriminate killing of noncombatants is intolerable.

I found bothersome but not surprising the continuous lying and deceit by Presidents Lyndon Barnes Johnson and Richard Nixon. Their preoccupation with winning their next elections and avoiding political embarrassment seemingly drove their decision-making. Their concerns about lives lost by their decisions not to unleash strategic bombing or delay peace negotiations were unconscionable.

Lest I seem too forgiving of the North Vietnamese, I learned about the increasingly influential impact of communism on leadership in Hanoi. The more palatable nationalistic actions and philosophy of Ho Ching Minh fell
victims to darker forces. Le Duan, the powerful leader who surpassed Uncle Ho in planning military operations, sent thousands and thousands of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers to their deaths during Tet and a post-Tet offensive.

Unlike Ho Ching Minh, Le Duan harbored no warm feelings about America. He was hell-bent on conquering the South and sending the Americans home to a country also divided by social, political and cultural conflict. I bemoaned too the immorality of our fervent and violent enemy.

The American evacuation of Saigon was ugly and messy, as was the war. We turned our backs on people who trusted us. It was tough to watch our abandonment of former friends. Due to Watergate and his resignation, Nixon could not fulfill his promise to help South Vietnam from being overrun. Then, Congress decided, maybe understandably so, to authorize no more money to South Vietnam. It was heart-wrenching to watch the results of our inaction.

“The Vietnam War” documentary ended on a redemptive note, showing some veterans returning to Vietnam and connecting with former adversaries. The history the 10 episodes so exquisitely purveyed filled me with dread and distress; at the same time, I felt enormous pride in our troops, who persevered on unfamiliar terrain littered with bad decisions: take that hill, give up that hill and then retake it.

The 10th and final episode devoted a segment to the Vietnam Memorial built in 1982 in Washington, DC. It too was racked by controversy over its stark, black granite design. Nothing was easy about this war. Some of the splendid veterans who spoke frequently during the documentary testified to the healing effect of this powerful monument containing the names of 58,000 dead American soldiers.

“The Vietnam War” documentary portrayed a troubled 10-year war fought by our country, gradually riven by socioeconomic and cultural conflict. I feel and believe that some of these rending fissures still remain and haunt our fragile nation, caused ironically by engagement in a civil war in Southwest Asia.

Time to move on–armed with memories of a difficult decade.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Storms Offer Wake-Up Call by Howard Freedlander

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It was nearly impossible during the past few weeks to avoid paying rapt attention to the destruction and disruption of lives caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Many of us knew people in the paths of these two shattering and stunning storms.

I know people whose primary home is in Houston. Fortunately, they were here in Talbot County, in constant touch with loved ones. They patiently responded to expressions of concern from their Eastern Shore friends.

No sooner did Harvey ceased its fury that Irma followed in its path, visiting its devastation upon the Caribbean and Florida. Again, we had friends and family dealing with flooding and power lost to high winds and broken trees.

It would have been too easy, if not foolish, to disregard the possibility of storm surge on our low-lying piece of Planet Earth. It would be equally silly to ignore the impact of global warming in enhancing the intensity of Harvey and Irma. Media reports rightly focused on the dire plight of residents of Houston and other Texan towns and cities, as well as Key West, Miami and other cities in Florida. I suspect that scientists will contribute their analyses at some point.

All of us should pay attention to the human dimension of the recent storms, specifically on the correlation between global warming as caused or aggravated by all of us on earth and the frequency and powerfulness of storms in recent years.

I will refrain from my typical exhortations about global warming and climate change. Instead, I will spend a few paragraphs addressing preemptive steps, long-discussed, to minimize the impact of storms. My source is Brian Ambrette, coastal resilience manager at the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC). For full disclosure, I sit on the ESLC board of directors.

In his frequent electronic newsletter, Ambrette wrote the following, with which I totally agree:

“Why do we wait for tragedy to occur before planning for it? The answer is probably as psychological as it is political and best left to the pundits to debate. To break the disaster-then-prepare cycle, sea level rise is the next clear scenario to consider. A prudent course is to model hurricane flooding with educated assumptions about how much higher the sea will be in future years. Those results can inform zoning and building codes so that the housing stock built today is prepared for the storms of tomorrow. On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the country’s third most vulnerable region to sea level rise, communities are collaborating via the Eastern Shore Climate Adaptation partnership on proactive responsible planning to reduce the cost in lives and dollars of future storms. Likewise, federal leadership must prioritize and fund planning for the next storm, not the last one.”

As I’ve learned about Brian Ambrette and his patient work to encourage communities to adapt before a calamity, he offers a common sense approach to the devastating and destructive impact of storm surge. His words and thoughts are devoid of political recriminations or unproductive denial. This ‘pundit” does not feel so restrained.

If denial of global warming is steeped in politics—however much I question such errant thinking—then I believe that “adaptation” in the form of stronger, realistic building codes might provide a common ground for constructive action and unified agreement.

As Ambrette wrote, “Now Harvey has introduced a new challenge for disaster planners: formerly incomprehensive quantities of rain. With luck, communities will become better prepared for city-swallowing rainstorms thanks to the suffering heaped on millions of Texans (and Floridians).

Media coverage continues to illustrate the resilience of our fellow citizens in Texas and Florida as they seek to recover and reestablish the normalcy of their lives. Tales of neighbors helping neighbors and disaster relief agencies working feverishly to restore power and clear streets and highways of trees, cars and debris are heartwarming and reassuring.

Still, we must confront the ill effects of global warming. And we must prepare now for the next storm, the next disaster, the next life-shattering weather event.

We must adapt today. Tomorrow may be too late. Lives are at stake.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Too Many Generals? By Howard Freedlander

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In recent weeks I’ve read articles and op-ed pieces about the prominence in the Trump White House of three generals. Gen. John Kelly, chief of staff; Gen. Jim Mattis, secretary of defense and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, national security advisor. The question raised is whether the presence of these gentleman undermines the long-held and well-respected tradition in our country of civilian rule over the military.

In other words, is our nation threatened by a potential military coup due to the high-level positions held by these generals (two of whom, Kelly and Mattis, are retired)?

Do these military officers exercise too much influence over policy development and execution?

Before I offer my opinion, I should state that my favorite room in the Maryland State House in Annapolis is the Old Senate Chamber, where General George Washington resigned his commission, thus illustrating and exemplifying the primacy of civilian rule over the military establishment. It was not a mere gesture. It was purposeful on the part of a man blessed with abundant common sense and love of country. He understood that democracy demanded civilian jurisdiction over the armed services—though this civilian governance could and would often over nearly 240 years rankle wartime commanders bothered by interference considered ill-informed by uniformed individuals.

Now reading a book describing President Harry Truman’s firing of General Douglas McArthur during the Korean War, I feel even more strongly about the civilian-military relationship in our nation. It was a messy but necessary divorce.

Back to our current state of affairs and the supposedly influential generals mentioned in the lead paragraph. I see no danger of the militarization of the top rungs of Trump Administration. I see no threat or degradation of our long-established tradition of civilian control. My reasons follow.

These three gentlemen are exceedingly competent and intelligent people who have long occupied positions of responsibility.

In today’s foreign policy environment, involving numerous conflicts and flare-ups across our earth, military leaders like Kelly, Mattis and McMaster have become fluent not only in warfare but diplomatic maneuvers. They have not sat in a metaphorical foxhole sheltered from complex international issues and debate.

Anybody who has served in combat and experienced death and destruction on the battlefield is typically reluctant to enter another fray. Simply, concern by some that generals situated in high-level civilian positions are trigger-happy warriors is plainly mistaken. Gen. Kelly lost a son in Iraqi combat.

Since World War II, retired generals have played significant roles in national security roles, to the benefit of American citizens. General George Marshall served as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense during the Cold War. He was widely respected, if not revered in some quarters, for his competence, steadiness, and integrity. More recently,

More recently, General Colin Powell served as National Security Advisor under President George H.W. Bush and then as Secretary of State under President George Bush. He too was exceptional.

While I realize that Kelly, Mattis, and McMaster have gained media attention because three is a larger number than one, and they are serving an erratic, undisciplined president, they are gifted individuals who view public service as a noble, sometimes treacherous undertaking. They provide much-needed stability and orderly thinking at a time when both are in short supply in the current White House.

One final reason: Generals Kelly and Mattis are retired, fully deserving of being full-fledged citizens able and willing to serve their country in suits and ties, bringing a wealth of experience and wisdom. Lt. Gen. McMaster is still on active duty; he’s been willing to serve in a civilian capacity while putting his military career on hold.

I feel totally comfortable with both the number and quality of generals in the Trump Administration. They are qualified and capable. They are learning that political and bureaucratic combat is difficult and demanding. They realize that recommendations they make (or don’t) have far-reaching consequences.

As I pray in church for peace and political wisdom, I express thanks for the likes of Generals Kelly, Mattis, and McMaster. Their fellow Americans are fortunate they are still serving and serving well.

George Washington might cringe a bit at the prominence of the three generals. Upon reflection, he would understand their invaluable contributions to a nation in need.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Crab and Gabfest Could Come to an End by Howard Freedlander

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For 41 years the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake has been a must-attend event in Crisfield for state politicians and people who like to be around them. The seafood, of course, is a draw, as long as you don’t mind eating crabs and clams under tents on black asphalt that radiates heat.

This iconic event attracts public officials and wannabees from throughout the state of Maryland; it’s become a rite of passage every summer. Temperatures invariably are hot, humid and horrid. Still, politicians and their backers flock to this most distant point on the Lower Eastern Shore.

Why I am writing about the Tawes crab and clam picnic when it receives more than ample media coverage?

My answer is simple, if not alarming. The town of Crisfield may cease to exist as we know it. The annual gathering may have to move upland.

A study produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists identified 167 communities in 13 coastal states that by 2025 will confront chronic rain surges, defined as when high tides flood 10 percent or more of a community’s usable, non-wetland area at least 26 times a year. Twenty-two of these communities are in our state, mostly on the Eastern Shore.

According to this study, Crisfield will face continual flooding of more than half its land area within about 20 years.

In a recent story on Channel 7 in Washington, DC, the reporter interviewed two women, one of whom runs the passenger ferries from Crisfield to Smith Island. She sounded downright pessimistic about the future of her business. Her dialect revealed that she was a Crisfield native who was envisioning not only the possible demise of her business but the severe disruption of her quality of life.

With this sort of rain-inundated future looming over Crisfield and other similar communities, real estate values could plummet. Residents could scatter to higher ground—and new lives.

As inevitable as coastal flooding appears to scientists and many others concerned about climate change and global warming, adaptation remains a viable, if not imperative response. With financial support state and federal agencies, communities have begun mapping flood plains, directing new development to less vulnerable areas and building buffers to minimize the imminent destruction and force of a surging ocean.

Armed with government funding, communities are taking an open-eyed approach to the impending danger of destructive flooding. They understand the impact on business development and real estate.

As I’ve written before, denial is not an option.

The Eastern Shore of Maryland is a special place. Opportunities exist now to adapt and prepare for a future that can and will change the character of a place like Crisfield. For example, as shown on the Channel 7 broadcast, a waterfront condominium building in Crisfield sits on concrete pilings—that’s just plain smart, while long-existing crab processing buildings face the water with no protection.

Though politicians and their supporters can go elsewhere for food, chatter and visibility, a 41-year-old tradition is worth retaining in Crisfield in mid-July every year. I hope that local civic and political leadership is plotting a future that somehow mitigates the impact of disabling flooding.

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Like many throughout our nation, I pray for U.S. Senator John McCain as he battles a pernicious brain cancer. He’s a tough guy who withstood five years of imprisonment and torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese during the Viet Nam War. He’s engaged in many political battles in our nation’s contentious Capitol.

I met Senator McCain once just prior to his speaking several years ago at my alma mater’s graduation ceremony. We exchanged very few words—though I was willing to talk more. Perhaps he was preoccupied. Perhaps I should have left him alone.

John McCain is a fervent patriot and outstanding public servant. He will continue to fight to survive.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Bemused Brits Unfazed by July 4th by Howard Freedlander

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Ever wonder what our British friends think about our celebration of July 4th as we gather for cookouts with family and friends, watch fireworks with great delight and wear patriotic clothes?

What I don’t wonder about is whether current residents of the Mother Country feel embarrassed about the defeat of British forces during the Revolutionary War. I suspect they don’t care a whit. What happened more than 240 years ago when our rebellious young nation rose up in angry protest against what it considered repressive treatment by its British rulers is all in the past.

My not very extensive search for insight to the British viewpoint on American frivolity on the fourth day of July led me to a reservoir of good humor (or should I say “humour?”).

Vigilant about injecting politics into this week’s column, I will only say that the Brits must be having a field day in applying their wry, sometimes biting commentary about the ridiculous behavior of our cartoonish president. Okay, readers, I will move on; I vented, moderately.

As I combed through a maze of internet writings, I happened upon Redux / Suffolk Scribblings and found a mother lode of humor entitled “5 Reasons why the British should celebrate 4th July.” I will summarize them:

  • “It was our idea.” The thinking goes like this: Thomas Paine, born in Thetford, England, wrote “Common Sense” only two years after arriving in the United States, it was an early book promoting colonial America’s independence. John Adams, one of our founders, heaped great praise on the book.
  • “We got to keep Canada.” Though I said I would not delve into our nation’s messy, dysfunctional politics, I must say that Great Britain is far better off at this time in history with our civilized neighbor to the north than our divisive, poorly functioning states.
  • By paying attention to other colonies after granting independence to its bumptious American cousins, Britain could focus on India—and enjoy its culinary delights such as curry.
  • July 4th is the only day in the calendar year that Americans pronounce correctly. “For 364 days in the year, our American cousins say April Sixth or February Eleventh. It is only on this special day that the date is pronounced correctly: the fourth of July. “
  • Perhaps the most important and substantive reason (my sarcasm) is the retention of cricket as a singular possession of the British, regardless of the popularity of baseball in the United States. Bemoaning the domination by Australia, India, the West Indies and South Africa in cricket, the writer muses: “Can you imagine how dominant the US would be if all 400 plus million people loved the game?”

To turn serious, I find that the most significant expression of British acknowledgement of our July 4th celebration occurred on July 4, 1940. In an incredibly effective and eloquent speech before the British parliament, Prime Minister Winston Churchill goaded President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to leave the sidelines of war waged by Nazi Germany and join Great Britain in fighting this menace. Specifically, Churchill succeeded in persuading Roosevelt to approve the Lend Lease program involving vitally needed warships.

What Churchill said was masterful. He told the world, including the reluctant United States, that England would stand resolutely committed to defending democracy against a rapidly spreading despotism.

“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender, and even if, which I don’t for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s name, the new world, with all power and might, steps forth to the rescue and liberation of the old.”

So, ironically and strategically, Churchill rallied his countrymen on America’s Independence Day—but, most importantly, pushed the United States into a conflict it no longer could ignore. Churchill understood that the Free World was in desperate jeopardy. This crusade required dependence by allied countries on each other to preserve freedom.

Surrounded by good cheer, good food, and glorious fireworks, the Fourth of July has a moral underpinning to it. Winston Churchill understood that link and persuaded President Roosevelt to give renewed attention to American responsibility.

Happy Fourth, USA and Great Britain!

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

Out and About (Sort of): After 103 days of Chaos, It’s Personal by Howard Freedlander

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Though 100 days is an arbitrary standard to judge the accomplishments and competence of a new U.S. President, I think it’s fair to judge a man who claimed he would amass significant achievements in his first 100 days in office.

It’s personal to me. We have a president prone to empty hyperbole on a constant basis, uttering statements with scant connection to reality. We’re asked to tolerate these outrageous comments, which, of course, turn out to be sorely lacking in fact or even a scintilla of due diligence.

His staunch supporters—and there are many–will simply claim that I simply dislike Donald Trump and cannot stop grieving the results of the Presidential election. This assertion would be partially true; I find the President’s bombastic, bragging style repugnant, while I respect the election result.

It’s personal. I feel embarrassed and ashamed of our current White House occupant. His credibility sabotages his lame efforts to function effectively in a government built on checks and balances.

On April 18, Trump claimed that no president had accomplished more in 90 days—and then rushed around last week to achieve something momentous. Of course, he didn’t just talk; he issued a one-page tax plan that favors the rich and provides scant assistance to the people who elected him. It strikes me as silly that Trump’s plan, subject to extensive congressional review and readjustment, would represent constructive action on the part of the Trump Administration.

While Trump has signed 24 executive orders, 22 presidential memorandums, and 20 proclamations, he has scored no significant legislative victory. His attempt to torpedo the Affordable Care Act fell victim to Republican dysfunction. His executive orders to ban entry certain Muslim-majority countries have been blocked in the courts.

It’s personal. We have a president skilled in bombast and tweets. We lack someone able and willing to do his homework before commenting on domestic and foreign affairs. He’s capable of shallow observations, such as expressing support of Fox News Commentator Bill O’Reilly, who shortly afterward was fired for a pattern of sexual harassment. It must have been consoling to have Donald Trump’s blessing. Trump, again acting without thinking, called the president of Turkey to congratulate him on constitutional changes that solidified increasingly repressive autocratic behavior.

Now, let’s be fair to Mr. Trump. His appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court was a good one; even Democrats concerned about the naming of a clone of Justice Antonin Scalia had to acknowledge Gorsuch’s professional and academic credentials. Elections have their consequences; appointment to the Supreme Court is one of them, though even more so than any time in history by divisive politics.

I’m still on my fairness kick. Trump’s attack on Syrian aircraft after an unspeakable chemical attack on its own people was the right thing to do. While I applauded President Obama’s rational, drama-free decision-making, he missed a chance to use U.S. power after a Syrian chemical attack in 2013.

Perhaps because of my military background, I believe that the appointments of generals like H.R. McMaster as director of the National Security Council, Jim Mathis as Secretary of Defense and John Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security were worthy ones. My experience is that general officers are often more circumspect about ordering troops into combat, having seen death first-hand in foreign battle, than are their civilian counterparts who often have not experienced the terror of war.

I’ve heard recently that the White House is operating more efficiently, less subject to internecine fights and back-stabbing brought on by a President who supposedly likes chaos as a way of centering attention on him. While pleased that adults driven more by the nobility of public service seem to be controlling White House staff deliberations, I am less sanguine about President Trump’s ability to listen, absorb and think thoroughly and rationally about critical decisions.

It’s personal. Trump lacks credibility in telling the truth and not engaging in hyperbolic baloney. He seems little interested in details, particularly when they are complicated and not easily explained on cable TV. His ethical antennae are stunted. I was amused to read a few weeks ago that his son Don Jr. was troubled by the chaos and criticism of the White House, for fear these journalistic observations would harm the Trump brand. While it’s common for family members to defend the Oval Office occupant, particularly when he is under constant siege, the connection to the family business is usually not a consideration.

Like others, I will continue to pray for the best but expect the worse on the part of a President whose abominable actions during the Republican and General elections continue to define our nation’s poorly qualified leader.

We can hope that he will choose love of country over love of himself.

It’s personal to me. In every other president in my lifetime, I would find something redemptive, even a bit likable.

I’m at a complete loss to like or respect a person whose brand bespeaks self-centeredness and scant sense of personal accountability.

As of today, we have 1,357 days left in the Trump presidency. It’s a gruesome prospect.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Lacrosse and Easter Revive the Soul and Spirit by Howard Freedlander

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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.