Giving Thanks by Nancy Mugele

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My favorite day of the year is Thanksgiving. One of the many reasons I love Thanksgiving is because the actual name of the holiday signifies its importance. Amidst the busyness of each day, and the craziness of the world we live in, it is heartwarming and joyful to pause and acknowledge the gratitude we have for the simple pleasures in our lives.

Although the Thanksgiving holiday comes but once a year, I believe that on each and every day we can give thanks for something in our lives that makes us smile, teaches us something and keeps us young.

This week I spent several days at Princeton attending the Head Mistresses of the East annual conference. Despite the name, which makes me think of head witches, I had an inspiring few days focused on values-based leadership in times of seismic change. I am so grateful to have been able to attend. It was wonderful to renew old friendships, share stories, and meet new friends – all like-minded independent school educators who care deeply about how best to prepare students for a world in which the jobs they may hold one day have not yet been invented. In the U.S. there are currently 1.4 million unfilled jobs in the tech sector. Thus, teaching computer science is a must. We also learned from business leaders that we need to help our students learn the soft skills that employers need to find to create effective work teams.

Employers want to hire people with principled values, courage, empathy and resilience. Schools must intentionally help students find their unique human gifts, foster risk taking and failure, while also producing active listeners. The conference affirmed many of the values we teach at Kent School and is helping me frame my thoughts about a true liberal arts education combined with the social and emotional learning needed to work on global teams in the economy of the future.

My daughter and I were just talking about working in teams last weekend. We had a mother-daughter day in Baltimore (don’t tell her Nashville sister). Jenna is part of a team at UnderArmour and loves her job. She is an integral part of a highly functioning team and as an athlete herself, she thrives on the success of her entire team. Being a team member requires good listening skills, negotiating skills, optimism, and creativity to solve complex problems.

Like working or learning on teams, cooking Thanksgiving dinner is a team effort at our house. I love to cook this dinner, but all five of us have a responsibility, and each must do her or his part to ensure the success of our celebration. Jim is the turkey carver, Jenna is the baker, Kelsy enjoys preparing vegetables, and James keeps the day-long fire going in the fireplace. Most importantly for me, we all have to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade together and see Mr. and Mrs. Claus enter Herald Square before we can even begin cooking!

Writer William Arthur Ward wrote: “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” I am truly grateful for every day of teaching and learning at Kent School and my role brings me great joy. I also believe is it so important for a school to instill gratitude and joy in its students.

As I look ahead to Thanksgiving next week, I am filled with gratitude and excitement. I cannot wait to have a full nest and I know our house will be filled with laughter, love, and laundry. I am sure there will be plenty of wine and all of our traditional Thanksgiving foods, and, the best part is, there are no gifts. Thanksgiving comes and goes so quickly but I will savor each and every noisy moment.

Jim and I are deeply grateful for our family, the Kent School community and the Chestertown community. And, as you gather next week to share your harvest dinner with loved ones and friends, I wish for you a day filled with warmth, love and joy – and lots of pumpkin pie!

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown and a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s.

ShoreRivers: The Shore’s Uncompromising Voice for Clean Rivers by Jeff Horstman and Isabel Junkin Hardesty

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The Eastern Shore’s rivers weave through farmland, forests, marshes and towns on their way to the Chesapeake Bay. Each river is unique, with its own character, but they share in common the fish, crabs, waterfowl and people that depend on them.

Much as these individual rivers ultimately come together as part of the Bay, three great Eastern Shore conservation organizations are uniting. Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, Chester River Association and Sassafras River Association are merging into a single nonprofit, ShoreRivers, Inc., to serve as a leading voice for healthy waterways on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Through science-based advocacy, restoration and education, ShoreRivers will protect and restore Eastern Shore waters that flow into the Chesapeake Bay. We will work collaboratively with our communities, yet maintain an uncompromising voice for clean rivers and the living resources they support.

Our three legacy organizations each have a deep history of working collaboratively to improve the health of the waters in our communities, and that mission will continue. By joining together, we become more than just the sum of our parts – we will be one committed voice with more influence on policy, more capacity to enact programs, and more potential to undertake large restoration projects that directly reduce pollution.

We will need that influence to tackle the major issues affecting our environment. ShoreRivers will now be a statewide leader on conservation issues so that when we travel to Annapolis to meet with elected officials or to testify for legislation, we will have the backing of our 3,500 supporters who care about our waters and our Eastern Shore quality of life.

We will also have increased capacity to implement bigger, better projects. That means expanded work with our agricultural partners, broader funding to encourage innovative technologies that reduce pollution, and region-wide restoration projects that capture polluted runoff before it enters our rivers.

From Kennedyville to Kent Island, from Cambridge to Crumpton, ShoreRivers staff, partners and volunteers will work together across the Eastern Shore. You’ll see us out on the rivers and creeks as well as in farm fields and forests. Our leadership, staff and board of directors are comprised of members of the three legacy organizations.

The main headquarters for ShoreRivers will be in downtown Easton at the Eastern Shore Conservation Center. We will also maintain regional offices in Chestertown and Georgetown, the former offices of the Chester River Association and Sassafras River Association, respectively. And we will heavily rely on watershed advisory boards for each major river to continue our strong local connections.

An important part of our mission is our Waterkeeper program. Waterkeepers are full-time advocates who regularly patrol and monitor their local bodies of water. Including the ShoreRivers merger, there are now 17 Waterkeepers working in the Chesapeake Bay region – 11 in Maryland. Waterkeepers focus on their individual waterbodies, but frequently work together with other “Keepers.” ShoreRivers will have four Riverkeepers: Jeff Horstman is the Miles-Wye Riverkeeper; Emmett Duke is the Sassafras Riverkeeper; Matt Pluta is the Choptank Riverkeeper and Tim Trumbauer is the new Chester Riverkeeper.

Despite encouraging signs of clearer water and more grass beds in recent years, the waterways of the Eastern Shore remain polluted – they are still threatened with excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment runoff. At ShoreRivers, we believe there are real solutions to these threats, and we are committed to developing projects and programs that will improve the health of our waters and keep them robust and beautiful for all of us – now and in the future.

Jeff Horstman is the Miles-Wye Riverkeeper and Executive Director of ShoreRivers and Isabel Junkin Hardesty is the former Chester Riverkeeper and new Regional Director of ShoreRivers.

 

 

For Whom Is CBF Saving the Bay? by Marc Castelli

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On July 5, The Banner published a commentary written by Ms. Alison Prost. who is the Maryland Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Her headline read, Chesapeake Bay Foundation: Oyster story “isn’t that simple”.

Overall the piece exercised some carefully nuanced messaging and was not objective. I understand that it is a commentary and not an article, which would have some basic standards for being factual. It is labelled as a commentary. The readership should take it as the opinion it is. I have to ask; When CBF policy directors and educators go public with “commentaries”, aren’t they responsible to do so with reliable facts, not misleading innuendoes?

I will quote from just a few of the many questionable examples in the piece that will illustrate the missteps.

“…Forced to find oysters far away from their home grounds. That is a good story. It isn’t that simple”

Ms. Prost should have talked to an oysterman, not a CBF computer clicking biologist or administrator. Is Ms. Prost a biologist? She claims the oystermen made up the story. That is strong talk. Ask a local oysterman. True they weren’t forced to go to another area, as in picked up and forced to harvest from the Choptank or Chester River. But they certainly were forced out of the Little Choptank when it was established as a river wide sanctuary. The entire river isn’t being used for the restoration project, so one could ask why oystermen can’t harvest from the many creeks that aren’t part of the largescale planting project (share the river in other words). It’s because they were forced out! And that’s no story. And it is simple.

“Harvest of 84 K bushels-“…a lot of tax dollars were poured into the river in the form of oyster shells-1.5 million bushels between 1990 and 2000”.

To counter that oystermen were forced out, CBF argues that the harvest was great but then declined so oystermen had to move out anyway. It is accurate that the harvest declined, but that doesn’t negate that the sanctuary closure in fact closed the river to oystering. Facts are facts. The sanctuary law forced the end to oystering in the Little Choptank and many other areas. CBF may want you to believe alternate facts, but that boat doesn’t float in the waters on the Chesapeake.

CBF is correct that the harvest declined in the Little Choptank after the 1999 value of 84,000 bushels, but they  did not get the details right. They asserted that the harvest fell due to a failed shell program that yielded no benefits. Some facts might be of use in order to clear the air of hyperbole. The harvest did not collapse immediately after 1999. For the next two seasons it was between 27,000 and 33,000 bushels. Then it declined to below 3,000 and lower later on. But it cannot be blamed on a failed shell program. The multi-year strong harvests were partly due to the record spat set of 1997, and earlier good spat sets, that happened on oyster bars and on shell plantings. These facts on spat sets and harvest are noted in the DNR reports which are available online.  The 1997 spat set grew and drove the harvest for a few years after 1997. The downturn soon after (2002 and beyond) was due to a factor that Ms. Prost chose to ignore. These facts are also on the DNR website. Disease killed oysters at a very fast rate and drove the fishery down in just a couple of years after the record high spat set. This happened during the record 4 year drought of 1999-2002. Mortality rates set a historical high. The shells did not fail. They still attracted spat. The spat simply could not live to market size. MSX and Dermo killed them as they grew. According to CBF’s Prost, a failure in the shell program caused the decline in harvest. Is this a case of the foundation being misinformed or did she deliberately misinterpret the facts to suit her opinion? If the commentaries are factually inaccurate, or worse purposefully misleading, haven’t they betrayed their membership and those who attend their educational seminars, where accuracy is supposed to be paramount, not propaganda?

My last example is; CBF wrote: “Nothing actually improved, not the amount of oysters available to harvest, not the oyster population, not the ecology of the oyster bars.”

This set of opinions is the most serious error that CBF used. Remember that CBF is an environmental/educational organization that teaches our kids about the Bay. Yet their statement counters decades of information on the oyster industry and oysters as an ecological entity. CBF misses some facts. The seafood industry isn’t the only recipient of economic benefits. There are boat manufacturers, mechanics, marinas, fuel suppliers, gear manufacturers, marine electronic suppliers, restaurants, wait staff, local stores where oystermen and their families shop, truck dealers, the list goes on. As these other businesses benefit, it causes an economic multiplier (often assigned a value of 3) such that a dockside value of $10 million to the harvesters, for example, has a benefit in the economy of $30 million. Oddly enough some think that 3 is a low multiplier.

Over time, the shell program improved oyster habitat and the population, though CBF from that comfy office chair said nothing improved. It is an undeniable fact that shelling improved the oyster bottom. This program enhances the spat set. It is another undeniable fact that this shelling created new oysters that added to the population. Fact, this improved the harvest. CBF actually said in their commentary that shelling contributed to the high harvest of 84,000 bushels. But in a following section CBF stated that the harvest was not improved by the program. CBF can’t have it both ways. Shelling helped to such a degree that even though it ended in 2006, in the sanctuary period post 2010 the shelly bottom remaining from the program had such a population on it that it was noted in the DNR report.

There is more. It is a basic fact of oyster ecology that live oysters enhance the ecological diversity of a site. This is in CBF literature also. Yet CBF writes the shell program didn’t improve the ecology of the oyster bars. But, with more oysters on the bar, there is an enhanced ecology. Maybe not to the level of an untouched reef, but the addition of shell and oysters do in fact improve the ecology of the bar. Oysters on public bottom are there at least 3 years until they are harvested. They are filtering and providing other ecological values. There is an unforgiveable amount of misinformation and misdirection in this messaging by CBF. You see, CBF, it isn’t as simple as saying nothing happened. In fact it is just wrong to say so.

As for being costly to tax payers, there are a lot of things supported partially or fully by taxes. The repletion effort was funded by tax dollars but some of those taxes came from the oyster industry itself and from fees paid by oystermen and oyster buyers. The repletion program wasn’t a full subsidy and yet none of this information was in Ms. Prost’s commentary. Having looked at the CBF tax returns for 2016 I discovered that the organization took in $364,000.00 from federated grants and also took in$1.55 million dollars in government grants. That is a lot of money to be sadly reflected in commentary missteps and errors. Maybe that tax payer subsidy needs reviewing. At the least the many CBF members should rethink their membership dues and fees and demand more responsibility.

Here are a few questions that I and many others would like for CBF to answer;

Having a declared goal doesn’t automatically make one an expert. Does having the goal of saving the Bay make CBF unquestionably trustworthy?

Does CBF’s “Save the Bay’ reputation justify its misrepresentation of facts, whether by accident or not?

Who peer reviews CBF’s scientific findings (in house or outside contract)?

Why are we plagued with policy makers expecting to be accepted as experts just because they express opinions in areas to which they have no expertise?

CBF policy directors should refrain from mistake ridden, half-truths and out right falsehoods. Policy statements that should be fact based, but are in reality just opinionated commentaries should not be seized upon as opportunities to air personal gripes and grievances. CBF needs to be beyond reproach and factually reliable. But it fails when its directors cherry pick facts, seek only details that feed their confirmation bias, and cloak themselves in the reputation of being selfless and honest. Members in CBF, River and Conservation Associations should expect more honesty from their chosen groups’ leaders. Members should be more than dues paying “slacktivists”, who trust their associations or foundations to do be more honest. Instead members should be more proactive and demand more accountability from their policy makers.

For whom is CBF “saving” the Bay? From whom is CBF “saving’ the bay? Who will you exclude from the Bay when you have saved it?

Marc Castelli

 

Op-ed: Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar by George Merrill

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Everyone wants to be somebody. Strictly speaking, everyone is a somebody. For a few, however, just being a somebody doesn’t quite do it. They perform spectacular acts that assure they will gain attention. They are typically apprehended or die but not before leaving a legacy, something by which they’ll be remembered. On Halloween this year in New York City one young man left a legacy of heartache.

On Halloween, Sayfullo Saipov, 29, a native of Uzbekistan, drove a van into a bike path in lower Manhattan and killed eight people. He was heard to have shouted “Allahu akbar,” before being shot and apprehended.

Muslim-American lawyer and playwright, Wajhat Ali writes in the New York Times how he himself says these words routinely, as do most Muslims everywhere, as many as a hundred times a day in devotional life. The phrase means “God is greatest,” a term of gratitude, and it’s part of Muslim piety, the way a Christian might say, “Thank you Jesus.”

Before or after any violent act, Ali believes any Muslim shouting Allahu akbar would be profane. I take it that in the broad view of Muslim practice and piety, such a cry would be as profane as Christians calling out “Thank you Jesus” after  bombing Hiroshima. Ali laments how “two simple words so close to our hearts” have so quickly become the code word for terrorist atrocities. As a practicing Muslim, it hurts Ali how witnesses, “hearing Allahu akbar instantly shaped the entire news coverage and the president’s response.”

When a long and rich spiritual tradition is put into the service of hate and arrogance, it brings nothing but violence and suffering. The Christian crusades and the persecution of heretics are cases in point. Shakespeare wrote about this kind of spirituality gone toxic: “Lilies that fester, smell far worse than weeds.”
Ali writes his piece as a plea to Americans not to stereotype the Muslim community for the acts of a fanatical group. As we attempt to do justice, hopefully the spirit of wisdom and discernment will guide us, not the kind of mob mentality that feeds on bigotry and gets votes while it distorts reality.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ken Burns “Vietnam” Disturbing Lessons for our Time by Rob Ketcham

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I was 17 when I signed up for ROTC as a college freshman in 1955. In my immediate family, no one had served in uniform since the Civil War; they were either too old or too young. I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the US Army in 1959. I was obligated to serve for six months. However, I deferred serving in order to go to law school which got me to 1962, and a tour of duty for three years. I finally got my orders in December, 1962. I was now a First Lieutenant, MP corps, and received my first assignment to serve in Paris, France, assigned to the 175th MP Company.

The Vietnam war was getting underway and new MP officers like myself were just starting to be sent to places where integration required the deployment of federal troops like Oxford, Mississippi (where every single jeep windshield was broken and helmets dented by rock-throwing locals as their columns passed under overpasses coming into town); we went mostly to other places like Germany and Korea; a few to Vietnam.

The recently aired Ken Burns documentary, “Vietnam,” offers a valuable take on how the US got involved in Vietnam. In the series, Burns included never seen footage about the French involvement in Indochina and about their failure to appreciate the kind of war that was being fought. Somehow our leaders were equally blinded by the reality of what the U.S. would be up against. Many readers my age will remember that no movie started in a theatre until after the news clips showing the map of Eastern Europe and the Near and Far East with the ever creeping “spread of communism” depicted as the map became redder and redder. The words “communist” and/or “spread of communism” seemed to cause our leaders to lose any ability to reason and to appreciate that not only were we not refighting World War II, but that we were getting caught up in a civil war where we only saw labels, not reality.

We didn’t appreciate (or perceive) that the South Vietnamese leaders—the ones we were supporting— were corrupt and ineffective, quite a combination. In addition, our military leadership—William S. Westmoreland comes to mind—were like the British generals during the American Revolution, ready and willing to fight to the last man even when they were being shot at by farmers and civilian marksman hidden from view rather than in ranks across the battlefield. Burns repeatedly showed the sad footage of the battles and deaths on both sides for hills named by a number, hills that were won, then abandoned, and were the scene of yet another battle to take the same numbered hill at the loss of even more life.

Ken Burns and his co-producer Lynn Novick, deserve much credit for bringing to the screen a period of our recent history that had such an impact on our nation as it evolved following World War II. The use of narrators from the US, South and North Vietnam traced the steps from “advising”, to engagement, to war, to escalation, to a never-ending conflagration and mindless slaughter, until finally, both sides came to realize somehow it all had to end.

The documentary’s endless firefight footage taken from archives of all sides, starting with the French in the “50’s and then with the growing American presence and the larger and larger numbers of Vietnamese soldiers from the south and from the north was informative at one level, but could have used much more careful editing and still made its point about the slaughter.

As the war continued, both Johnson and Nixon engaged in massive escalation of troop strength and material, ordering more and more bombing, then adding the use of napalm and Agent Orange to what was already the use of more ordinance then for all of WWII. It was Secretary Robert McNamara’s obsession with numbers and measurement, so successful in producing and selling Fords, that led to using body counts as a way of measuring success in battle. This fact was well known in the anti-war movement, and it was indeed used to determine how success was gauged. We learn from the film that those in the field started using any dead person as a criteria for “winning” a battle even if the dead were farmers or women or children. It was reported that towards the end of the war in the Mekong Delta some battalions in the 9th Division were faking the numbers in order to validate their operations—one more step removed from reality.

What is particularly striking to me is the mendacity of those Presidents involved, starting with President Kennedy. Just recalling that he lied to the American people in several instances and squandered opportunities to work with Ho Chi Min (who in the early days was a student of American history and of our own successful war against the British) is another unpleasant memory. Kennedy’s advisors, venerated at the time by many—McNamara, Bundy, Westmoreland, and brother Bobby Kennedy, didn’t help matters.

Presidential integrity, which had been part of the makeup of the Roosevelts, of President Hoover, President Truman, and President Eisenhower began to give way to lies and duplicity. Lyndon Johnson, catapulted to the Presidency in 1963 actually looked good as he was getting started as President, but he too got caught up in lying, the body counts, the inhumane bombings, and the seeming willingness to ignore what was right in front of him—that we were supporting the wrong side, the side that was devious, corrupt, and not even backed by the South Vietnamese people. All of this is carefully documented in “Vietnam.”

As Americans began to understand that our leaders had taken us into a war being waged in a far off place with no clear purpose and where our soldiers were dying, in alarming numbers, they became increasingly aroused to find ways to challenge government policy in order to stop the war. Using the same tactics as those who were fighting for civil rights—marches, and generally peaceful demonstrations to show opposition to the war, their voices became insistent and the country and the Congress began to wake up.

The numbers of people in the streets in 1967 were almost beyond belief. I know, I was there with my wife and two young children. I had helped in the planning of the march on October 21, 1967, that started at the Lincoln Memorial and ended at the Pentagon. One night we lit candles to honor those who had died, and marched with the lit candle and the soldier’s name across Memorial Bridge to Arlington Cemetery, the most meaningful gesture I ever participated in. And ultimately, the Congress was forced to listen. When there are enough people in the streets that the White House is protected by City buses parked bumper to bumper, or garbage trucks parked bumper to bumper you know, you’ve got someone’s attention.

Congress woke up slowly and reluctantly. “Vietnam” really skims over this part of the story with very little mention of any of the goings-on in the Congress and very sketchy footage of the Fulbright hearings. At the outset, and for far too long, the leadership in the House and Senate was almost totally supportive of President Kennedy, President Johnson, President Nixon and President Ford. The establishment was for the war, the American Legion was for the war and both the Republican and Democratic parties were for the war. It took several years for Senators McCarthy and McGovern and Congressman John Anderson to find their voices. There was tacit support for the war as the huge increases in the military budgets were agreed to with little Congressional debate or discussion.
Some Congressional districts located in areas such as those in Rockland and Sullivan County, New York, and Lowell and Lawrence Mass, were anti-war, but very very few congressman took a lead against the war until the protest movement was well underway.
It is depressing to witness on film what happens when the politicians and generals, desperate for a solution to the situation they had created start using napalm, even on populated areas, after already using Agent Orange to defoliate the countryside. It was brutal and senseless. It demonstrates over and over again what happens when diplomacy fails and how war can so easily escalate into an inhuman enterprise of slaughter.

The war gradually staggered toward its end. The bombing didn’t stop. the North Vietnamese continued to send troops south; the South Vietnamese army continued to fight despite the withdrawal of American troops from the war zone. And Henry Kissinger, a holdover from the Johnson years, had successfully jockeyed for a continuing role in the Nixon Administration to determine how to end the war using secret diplomacy with the North Vietnamese leader, Le Duc Tho. The North Vietnamese leader had decided after the spring offensive failed to deliver a decisive blow, coupled with the near-certain re-election of Nixon, that it was time to make a deal. Finally, in 1975 it ended.

Although I did not serve in Vietnam, I came way too close due to the expanding war in Vietnam. When the time came in 1966 for me to get out, after my three years on active duty, my service was extended, and I was reassigned stateside to the 9th Division, a new Division being formed to go to Vietnam. I was assigned as the Company Commander of the 9th MP Company and deployed to Fort Riley KN. It took almost a year to get the division ready, and I learned to speak some Vietnamese.

One evening about three months before deployment I was in the officer’s club with the MP offer who was running the Post Stockade. He informed me how lucky I was to be going to Vietnam. After overcoming my surprise I learned he was serious, and I asked him if he wanted to go in my place if I could get the orders changed since he was regular Army ( I was reserve); he was eager to go. So the next morning I called a couple of my buddies who were in the Office of Personnel Operations at the Pentagon, and I was able to effect the change. The other MP Captain took my company to Vietnam, and I became the Stockade Commander. I was responsible for about 350 prisoners who were in my custody at a stockade built to handle about 150. Many of the young men who ended up in the stockade were just ordinary guys who did not want to go to Vietnam (this was 1967). They came from all over the midwest, and, generally, if they were sent back to their units they would go AWOL again since they figured that life in the stockade was better than going to Vietnam.

The last episode of the Burns documentary brought the reader up to date about how things are in Vietnam since the war ended. My wife Caroline and I spent a couple of weeks biking in Vietnam in 2009 and were there when President Obama was inaugurated. We found the Vietnamese people to be most friendly at all levels, and the children to be very engaging and warm. We were there during Tet (a Vietnamese holiday) and so the kids were out of school. Time after time, when they found out we Americans were coming by on our bikes in our colorful lycra gear and helmets they would line up along the side of the road and hold out their hands: “What’s your name?” “Where’re you from?” They laughed and they smiled when we passed and we exchanged high fives.

The Burns documentary raises serious and current issues that are before the American people today. Should the US be fighting wars that are not authorized by the Congress, such as the sixteen-year war the U.S. is supporting today with men and materials in Afghanistan? Recently, an NYT headline was, “U.S. Military To Conceal Afghan War Statistics.” The article points out that the Afghans know what’s going on, the U.S Military knows what’s going on, “The only people who don’t know what’s going on are the people paying for it.” Shades of Vietnam!

And what is our doctrine for dealing with places as diverse as North Korea, the Middle East, and Niger? It would seem, based on reports coming out of Africa, that there many more soldiers stationed abroad than Congress or the American people know about. One lesson that must be learned from the Ken Burns documentary is that small events can escalate and escalate.

I am grateful for the documentary and what it can teach and remind us. I hope it will contribute to a thoughtful review so that its lessons are assimilated as we struggle to find our way into the 21st century.

Rob Ketcham served as the chief of staff of the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology and staff director of the Fossil and Nuclear Energy Subcommittee during the 1980s and 1990s. Prior to those positions, he was Special Counsel to the House Select Committee on Committees chaired by Richard Bolling (D-MO).  He holds a BA and JD from Washington and Lee University as well as a SG from Harvard University’s Senior Managers in Government Program. He has lived on the Eastern Shore since 1999 with his wife, Caroline.

Choose Kindness by Nancy Mugele

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“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.”

These poignant words written by R. J. Palacio in Wonder resonate deeply with me for three reasons. First, they echo the central tenets of a Kent School education – Integrity, Respect, Responsibility and Friendship. Second, they mirror the Six Pillars of Character Counts – Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring; and Citizenship. And lastly, they have always been words that I live by – especially kindness.

When our children were growing up, my husband and I told them over and over again that nice people go further in life, and to always be kind because you never know what a person might be dealing with at any given time. I still remember, with pride and fondness, that our children always seemed to make friends each academic year with new members of their class which meant Jim and I also made new friends. Kindness means being a true friend and also doing for others with no expectation of anything in return.

I promised my school community that I would write if I learned of a school with a specific need in light of the devastating hurricanes experienced in September in Houston, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. I had been waiting to hear from my friend Liz Morrison, the Head of School of Antilles School serving 500 students in PreK – Grade 12 on St. Thomas and St. John since I first contacted her on September 5 as Hurricane Irma was approaching. I finally heard from her last week.

In her own words: “St. Thomas and the Territory experienced two category five hurricanes in two weeks last month. Consequently, 90 percent of the island of St. Thomas is still without power and running water, and many have lost their homes and their livelihood. Antilles School, one of the few independent schools in the territory and the only one on St. Thomas, needed to reopen as quickly as possible for the health of the children and their families and to aid in the relief efforts.

“This came at an extreme financial cost to the institution and yet gave the children of the island normalcy and much needed educational continuity. In the wake of the hurricanes many of our families are unable to meet their financial obligations to the School, and yet we have allowed these students to continue their education. We continue to admit local students from public schools as their schools have yet to reopen. I would love to share the stories of three of these families.

“One of our second graders lost her father while he was protecting his family during Hurricane Irma. Adding to their difficulties, her mother’s employer downsized six months ago and she is unemployed. Antilles has been a safe haven for the family – a place where the child has friends and adults to help her process this tragedy. Keeping this student at school, keeping the family clothed and fed, are one of our top priorities.

“A new student in sixth grade whose school is still closed as a result of the hurricanes shared at the end of his first day that he believes “dreams do come true” because he was able to come to Antilles. Three weeks after this young man’s arrival at Antilles he is smiling, engaged in his studies, and is excited to come to school every day. His mother says, “It’s the first time he has ever said he has had a good day at school.” Giving this student, whose family could not afford the tuition, an Antilles education is a life-changing experience for him.

“One of our 11th graders who has been at Antilles since Kindergarten, was forced to move into a shelter after his home was destroyed in the hurricanes. Meeting his academic obligations while he is living in a gymnasium with more than 100 people, and eating FEMA rations is an incredible challenge. Yet he is, and he continues to do so with grace and poise.”

Liz’s story is so compelling, heartbreaking and, yet, also hopeful. She has lost 1/3 of her student population because their families have lost homes and jobs (75% of Antilles families work in the tourism industry). Liz has had to lay off teachers and cannot pay the school’s bills. The school really needs funding to remain open and continue to be a place of comfort, security and yes, joy, for its students.

Tonight Kent School is holding its annual Empty Bowls event. Empty Bowls is an international project to fight hunger, personalized by artists and art organizations on a community level. While admission is free and open to the public, guests may enjoy a variety of homemade soups and breads with the purchase of a student-made ceramic bowl. Each bowl is $10.

In the spirit of Auggie Pullman, the main character in Wonder, who asked us all to choose kindness, the opening of the movie Wonder this month, and Thanksgiving, Kent School has decided to use tonight’s Empty Bowls event to raise funds for both the Kent County Food Pantry and Antilles School. We BELIEVE deeply in supporting our local community as well as being able to extend our reach to a far-away friend in need. If you are inclined to help personally I can put you directly in touch with Liz or you can donate online. Please join us at Kent School this evening at 6 p.m. at our Empty Bowls event where you can enjoy a bowl of soup before heading to First Friday.

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown and a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s.

From South of Left Field: Meandering by Jimmie Galbreath

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Have you ever had a pause in your life where the sense of self and place in society fades away? A time when a vague sense of hopelessness hangs in the air like a dense fog? The conviction that something is terribly wrong. Yes, this does have to do with Las Vegas, but only because for me it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I have had a long break filled with meandering thoughts, roaming back and forth between memories of beliefs long past and recently past. Recalling the fading of confidence in my government while watching my draft number (280) being drawn long ago when Vietnam meant so much more than now. Prepared to serve, afraid of dying, and lacking any real, believable reason to die for. A journey from the confidence and faith left from the 50’s to the cynical view left behind by Vietnam and Watergate. The resurgence of faith and pride when Reagan was elected, to the sickening view looking back over two decades of his Republican economic formula which created a slow, sure decay of our overall standard of living due to growing income inequality.

What have we become? The respect Americans once held from people overseas has been dwindling now for quite some time, for nearly my entire life. A family member traveling outside the country has claimed to be Canadian to avoid the strange looks and embarrassing questions. Questions about us as a people. Why do we act like we do? Why do we believe what we believe?

From out there, others see a people who claim a moral superiority, but at the same time seem almost eager to kill just about anyone. We have become a people of greed rather than charity. We don’t value each other enough to provide basic security from want or disease. We don’t value each other enough to try to stop mass shootings; not even when they include our children. Our leaders who, like it or not, reflect who we are, display a self-absorbed and cruel world view. Bloodshed, starvation, and disease barely get a shrug even when it is here at home. There is no lack of self-righteous talk about not enough money to support each other but there is no lack of money to support a military that spans the globe killing nearly everywhere it goes. Murder from the sky. Wars, deployments, and strikes that, like Vietnam, just somehow doesn’t pass the smell test of critical thought. Creating enemies and corpses, both ours and theirs with no really robust reason beyond the fact we can do it. Don’t ask the other peoples if they would want to be an American. They may still want to come here, but I doubt they want to be like us. They likely have a stronger sense of community and a deeper desire to support each other.

We as a people were naive in our world view coming out of World War II, although we were learning fast. Sadly our education in this sphere came to a halt as we basked in our power and a sense that we were the best of peoples, with the best of governments, the best of businesses, the best of technologies and the best educational systems. A fair bit of that was true, but time has a way of passing and people and governments that are open to learning can change. Today we are reduced to being a military leader only, with a fair bit of wealth and little else. We are far more feared than admired. Most of the world changed and improved. We cling to a sense of superiority, a flag and turned inward believing we are better the “them.”

This place I meandered into finally is the realization that the current government was elected by us all; either by direct vote or indifferent negligence. In the end, the paint brush they wield stains us all equally. Our blood splattered nation, poor schools, and inhumane policies reflected in the recent deliberate sabotage of ACA and the effort to reduce food and medical support for poorer Americans is the lens every one of us is viewed through by the rest of the world. It is time we own this. If we don’t like this picture, then change it.

Assume responsibility for all Americans. The basis for the formation of a government is collective protection. We collectively support police and fire departments. We collectively support a military and judicial system. We collectively seek to provide education and provide emergency services to each other. Are we then content to see the poor suffer and die untreated?

The path to where we are today was laid out and paved by both the Democratic and Republican parties. These two wealth funded organizations have herded and manipulated us all for over 100 years. The tools and power of propaganda they wield remain effective only as long as we waste our time listening to them. If we continue to listen to them our life circumstances will continue to decline. They will smother us with bogey men like frightened children and lead us by the nose further and further down the path of decline. The path to greatness is paved by people working together toward a humane society. There is no real choice for me when confronted by either fellow citizen being armed and dispatched to kill foreigners or being trained and supplied to aid a suffering family here. Honor our servicemen and women by only sending them to die for real, concrete causes. Reserve more of our wealth to better our lives.

Countries like Australia reacted to mass killings by changing gun laws and the result was a considerable drop in mass killings and gun violence. Their police don’t face anything like the quantity and firepower our police do. Here over 1,000 citizens a year die under the guns of our own law enforcement. Faced by an increasingly well-armed general population with repeated demonstrations of a willingness to ambush police and kill unarmed citizens in our schools and streets this isn’t surprising. Honor our police by removing this threat so that we can trust them not to kill out of undue fear.

We cannot regain a real voice in America if we continue to play with the Democratic and Republican parties. They do not have our interests at heart; rather they seek to support their sources of money. Trying to reform them from within is agreeing to play their game by their rules on their courts. The end result will be their victory and our continued loss to the powers of wealth.

A Revolution is needed, but rather than waiting until our situation degenerates to large-scale violence in response to growing poverty, I recommend that Independents and disaffected Democrats and Republicans begin registering en mass with The Green party. A large influx of active voters would remake this organization’s leadership in short order. The tentacles of wealthy influence there are weak or nonexistent.
Having meandered from a youthful Republican, to an indifferent Independent, to an older Democrat, to being an active Independent, it is clear to me that a new Political Party of power is needed. I am changing my registration. What are you doing?

Jimmie Galbreath is a retired Engineer originally from a small family owned dairy farm in Jefferson County, MS. He earned a B.S in Petroleum Engineering from MS State University, accumulating 20 years Nuclear experience at Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station and Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Station. Along the way he worked as a roustabout on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, served 3 years active service as a Quartermaster Officer in the US Army, Supervised brick kilns first in MS than in Atlanta GA and whatever else it took to skin the cat. He now lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

First, Do No Harm, Dr. Harris by Katherine Maynard

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Congressman Andy Harris and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan recently visited my town of Chestertown.

Rep. Andy Harris

I suppose we should be grateful that Dr. Harris actually deigned to come to our neck of the woods. After all, he hasn’t held an in-person town hall since March, and he was silent during his October recess. But, alas, he did not come to talk to us.

Instead, according to his Twitter feed, Harris was using this opportunity to show Speaker Ryan “how we do business on the Eastern Shore” and, more importantly, to have a photo-op promoting the latest Republican tax scam.

Dr. Harris’ theory, like the one promoted by rest of the Republican Party, contends that enormous tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy will stimulate economic growth to help all of us.

This is a lie. We have seen income inequality balloon since the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan first touted this myth. Since then, the large gap between CEOs’ salaries and what their average worker takes home has increased exponentially.

In Maryland, these Harris-Ryan tax proposals give 62% of the tax breaks to millionaires—who make up only 0 .7% of the state’s population. That amounts to an average tax cut of $149,000 per millionaire (or 7.5% of their income). Meanwhile, the 37.7 % of Marylanders earning less that $45,000 a year would get a tiny tax cut of just $190 per year, or 0.8 percent of their income (Indivisible.org).

And if you think $190 is better than nothing, consider the Republican plan to gut Medicaid, Medicare, and student aid programs to pay for these massive tax breaks for the wealthy. This makes the rest of us even poorer by saddling families with medical bills and private student loans — just to survive. $190 won’t cover a doctor visit, let alone your child’s education.

Dr. Harris wants to use Chestertown as the poster child for his GOP budget plan. He obviously isn’t paying attention to us, because if he were, he would know that his vote for the GOP budget plan does great harm to both the Eastern Shore Medical Center and Washington College, the two largest employers in Kent County.

Harris’ budget vote guts Medicaid, which is only way that rural hospitals like ESMC can stay open. When people cannot afford health insurance, they use the hospital as their only means of getting health care.  Often, they cannot pay the hospital, whose debt rises, leading to increased costs to those who are insured. In other words, our hospital, already struggling, could go broke and close. Without it, people in Chestertown would be forced to drive 45 minutes or more to reach the nearest emergency room. People in more remote areas in Kent County would have to drive even further. Such a move will, quite literally, put our lives at risk.

Harris and the GOP’s budget would cut or eliminate many of the financial aid programs that enable students to attend college—including Washington College in Chestertown. 19% of Washington College’s students receive Pell Grants (on the chopping block) which make college affordable to low income families. Another 9% earn money through federal work study (to be cut nearly in half). Without this crucial aid, college will be simply out of reach for many.

What’s more, by putting these two employers at risk, Harris is draining Chestertown dry, just to give a huge cash bonus to corporations.

In a final irony, Dr. Harris, who claims to be a “fiscal conservative,” finds no problem voting for a budget that increases the deficit by trillions of dollars to pay for this so-called tax reform. It seems that he’s only tight-fisted when it comes to helping us. He voted against aid for Hurricane Harvey victims because it was “irresponsible”! And if you thought Dr. Harris would do better on aid that is desperately needed by his own constituents, you’d be wrong. In 2012, he voted against aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy, denying help to his own constituents on the Eastern Shore. (And although he is a doctor, he also thinks spending on healthcare is irresponsible—at our expense: on Trumpcare/AHCA, he voted to take away coverage from roughly 900 people in Kent County.)

Dr. Harris, a doctor of medicine, once took the Hippocratic oath to “do no harm.” As a politician, he’s doing harm every day, voting against our interests at every turn.

 

 

Double Devotion by Nancy Mugele

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A poem comes looking for me rather than I hunting after it. —Richard Wilbur

Last week several concurrent events made me think a lot about one of my favorite subjects – you guessed it. Poetry. Richard Wilbur, poet laureate and two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet known for lyrical elegance written in classical form, died. He was 96. One of the preeminent poets of the past century, his work maintained traditionalism in an expressive genre where he was sometimes criticized for his formalism. “Richard Wilbur reminded us of the enduring power of tradition: that poems about the natural world and about love, written in classical, traditional rhyme and meter, would continue to matter going forward into the future,” said Robert Casper, who leads the Library of Congress’s Poetry and Literature Center.

In my humble opinion, no one does poems about the natural world better than Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver, whose new collection, Devotions, was published last week. Devotions is her personal selection of her best work spanning more than five decades. I could not wait to purchase it and I am still pouring over its pages. Don’t tell Jim but I bought two copies, one for my office so I can read it during DEARS (Drop Everything And Read Silently) time at Kent School and one for evenings and weekends at home. Maybe I will gift one copy eventually but for now, I love having it at my fingertips wherever I am!

I believe that when Mary Oliver wrote pay attention, be astonished, and tell about it. She was speaking to me. She also noted attention is the beginning of devotion. Mary Oliver’s collection with its inspiring book title and Richard Wilbur’s loyalty to traditionalism, have made me reflect on my devotions this week. Defined by Dictionary.com as love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause, I am sure you know already that my family is, first and foremost, my single most important devotion.  Yet, this past year, through my attention, I have discovered that Kent School is a close second. I am so fortunate that my life’s work has brought me to this incredible learning community in Chestertown where I am fortunate to have realized double devotion. And, when I can combine my two devotions – family and Kent School, it is truly poetic for me.

Sunday, I did just that. I had the privilege to watch poetry in motion at Kent School’s Osprey Triathlon. Individual racers and teams participated in biking, kayaking (under less than optimal conditions – I believe there was a small craft advisory!) and running. I was so proud of my husband and daughter who each placed third in their age groups in their very first triathlon, but I was even more grateful that they came out to support me and my School. At each event, perseverance and resiliency were exhibited by the racers and I stood in awe of the physical strength of their bodies as well as their hearts and minds, all moving gracefully with keen focus. The participants believed in themselves and believed in supporting Kent School. It was humbling and inspiring.

Throughout the morning I kept thinking about the first two lines of Mary Oliver’s poem Don’t Hesitate:

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,

don’t hesitate. Give in to it.

The Osprey Triathlon was joyful and none of the participants hesitated for a second – especially if they had a good transition team! Not sure I qualified as that for Team Mugele but you will have to ask Jim and Jenna.

In my constant role as resident cheerleader and encourager, I am feeling empowered this week by poets everywhere, and especially Mary Oliver, to take time to observe the world around me in its purest details, wonder about its magnificence and its significance, and write it down. And also, to celebrate, wholeheartedly, my double devotion.

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown and a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s