Climate Change Denial by Al Sikes


Denial can be encapsulating—totally so. It, not infrequently, is an emotion that takes over our brain and sometimes destructively. The hard right of the Republican Party is in denial on the subject of climate change. Those who populate that branch regard scientific findings as polemics from the Democratic National Committee. To put it another way, “if Democrats are for it I am against it”—almost regardless of what the “it” is. Democrats often suffer from the same myopia.

I lack the necessary background knowledge to delve deep into the science behind the various and sometimes conflicting claims about the trajectory of our climate. While I have read quite a few articles and essays on the subject, I never pose as an authority.

I am probably more of an authority on the dynamics of people and groups who convert a narrow set of facts into political causes—they are never wrong. To admit being even a little bit in doubt seems tantamount to heresy with punishment to soon follow. Many climate change activists are absolutists. The problem with absolutism is that it fights science—inquiry is no longer needed.

But, to me climate change is personal. Are we insuring the future for our children, grandchildren and their progeny? Are we leaving the earth better off than we found it? Are we meeting our obligation to be better stewards?

Some of my hard-nose friends will say I have gone soft and perhaps that is right. I know that the weather at any given point is a consequence of colliding patterns. Chaos Theory examples often start with the weather.

A study just published in Geology by Michael Toomey of the United States Geological details a survey of sediment cores collected off the coast of Florida. The study suggests that “hurricanes which struck Florida during a cool period 12,000 years ago were more powerful than those during a subsequent time of warming.” This finding is contrary to the oft-stated (and if you state it often enough it becomes fact) conventional wisdom that warming translates into more powerful hurricanes.

But then I come back to the question of insuring the future, after all, many more scientists believe climate change is affected by our carbon emissions than not.  We buy insurance to protect ourselves from all sorts of unpredictable possibilities. The patterns in my life suggest I will not need automobile insurance this year, but I have it. When I was young, I would buy term life insurance even though mortality tables said I was very unlikely to die in the covered period. In fact, caution is probably our most conservative impulse.

So, what kind of insurance premium should we pay as it is clear that engineering a more rapid transition away from carbon-based fuels will carry a large price tag? In the world of insurance, there are actually “catastrophists” who specialize in the mathematical modeling of extreme risks. In our political system, we ultimately decide how much economic disruption we will bear—what insurance price we are willing to pay and how it might be mitigated.

The question does not give way to easy political solutions. Predictions, regardless of how skillfully modeled, are still predictions. Plus, we know that America alone cannot fix anything—the result, complexity squared.

And when there is an honest debate about alternatives, we find that the use of alternative fuels is riven by what else, environmental considerations. Environmentalists fight coal generation under any circumstances but also the nuclear generation which offers the most scalable carbon-fighting alternative.

Ultimately we must do what we are no longer good at doing. We need an honest debate, not overwrought polemics. We need to debate, not just weather change but insurance policies. In short, what environmental and economic policies will fulfill our obligation to protect the future? Or, are we prepared to go uninsured?

Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher, and mathematician argued that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. He said if God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss, whereas they stand to receive infinite gains and avoid infinite losses if they bet on God and are right. Seems to me taking rational steps to lessen our real or even theoretical effects on the weather is a sound wager.

Virginia Election

“Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry,” Northam said. “It’s going to take a doctor to heal our differences. And I’m here to tell you; the doctor is in!”

This comment by Governor-Elect Ralph Northam, a doctor, sums up what America needs. Issue specifics aside political healing is needed, and the Virginia electorate has just sent a strong message.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.

Tuesday’s Blue Wave by Craig Fuller


The pundits will parse and analyze every aspect of this week’s election, especially in our neighboring state of Virginia. There, Democrats from the top of the ticket through state legislative races were swept into office.

While it’s stating the obvious, voters made the difference!

When all the ads were over, and all the rhetoric was set aside, the most remarkable fact about the Virginia election was that the turnout for this gubernatorial election was the highest in 20 years. While both sides brought out more voters, the Democrats in large population areas came out in larger numbers.

With a President who received just under 50% of the popular vote in his own election last year that produced a smaller voter turnout (under 60%) than recent national elections, the message of yesterday seems loud and clear: The White House faces the immediate future without a true governing majority and the likelihood of significant change in the balance of Congress in next year’s elections just increased considerably.

Will this change the way the President approaches his choices going forward? Who knows?

It will inevitably cause current Members of Congress and their prospective challengers to reevaluate their options. Some in Congress may simply decide it is time to retire. The reality today suggests that high voter turnout in November 2018 could turn yesterday’s Blue Wave into next year’s Tsunami unless voters see less divisiveness and more results in Washington.

At least this is my soundbite on the week’s elections.

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

Op-ed: Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar by George Merrill


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.








Collectivity by Jamie Kirkpatrick


Every language has its idiosyncrasies and English is certainly no exception. Try to explain “to,” “too,” and “two” to a Tunisian, or “do,” “due,” and “dew” to someone from Dusseldorf. They’re going out there without their boots…wow! Why should “wood” and “would” sound exactly alike? Should we polish the Polish furniture? What produce does that farm produce? There’s no egg in eggplant or, for that matter, no ham in hamburger. Quicksand works slowly, boxing rings are square, and guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor pigs. Every kid knows that noses run and feet smell. And over here on the Eastern Shore, it’s the season of the rut when a buck does funny things when does are present!

On the other hand, there is a certain quirky richness to English and nowhere is this more apparent than in our descriptors for gatherings of certain animals. Many of these are very familiar—everybody knows that cows gather in herds or that dogs and wolves roam in packs—but some are a bit more eloquent: a pride of lions, a clowder of kittens, a parade of elephants, for example. Some even hit the nail right on the collective animal head: a crash of rhinoceros, a shadow of jaguars, a cackle of hyenas, a bloat of hippopotamuses, a prickle of porcupines (ouch!), a tower of giraffes (duh!), a conspiracy of lemurs (think of their masked faces), a richness of martens (all that fur!), a romp of otters and a barrel of monkeys (all that fun!), an obstinacy of buffalo (I’m not making this up), a sloth of bears (sorry, Landon friends), a labor of moles (all that digging!), a shrewdness of apes, and, of course, everyone’s favorite these days—a congress of baboons!

Fish swim in schools, whales and dolphins patrol in pods, sharks collect in shivers, lobsters form a risk, but oysters must be lazy because they lie in beds all day.

Even our reptile friends get in on the action. Frogs gather in armies, but toads assemble in knots. Salamanders form a maelstrom. Crocodiles bask; cobras quiver.

Birds have wonderful collective nomenclatures: there are the generic flocks of course, but there are also gaggles of geese, skeins of ducks, scolds of jays, murders of crows, bevies of quail, and murmurations of starlings. Want more? How about a stand of flamingos (perfect!) or a cauldron of bats (even more perfect!), a descent of woodpeckers, an exaltation of larks, a parliament of owls, an ostentation of peacocks, a wake of buzzards, and—no offense, Baltimoreans—an unkindness of ravens. (The bard of Charm City, Edgar Allen Poe, would have been proud of that one!) And by the way, if you’re planning a big Thanksgiving feast, don’t forget to order a rafter of turkeys!

But language has never been a static thing; these days, it almost has to reinvent itself every few hours. So here are some ideas for a few new collective nouns: up on Capitol Hill (remember that congress of baboons?), I think I spy a cowering of Republicans while across the aisle, there is a bombast of Democrats; both are closely watched over by a moneybag of lobbyists up in the gallery. Meanwhile, down at the White House, a twitter of Trumpers are fearful of a whispering of leakers while a muckrake of Muellers scrutinize their every move. In another month or two, you can be sure that a split of justices will rule on the matter.

Feel free to write back.

I’ll be right back. (See what I mean?)

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


Jamie Kirkpatrick


Tax Reform Not Perfect but Good for All Americans by David Montgomery


If you only watch channels like CBS or CNN or read the Washington Post, you are no doubt convinced that the Republican tax reform bill announced yesterday has the sole purpose of taking money from the poor and middle class and handing it to businesses and the rich. There is a fundamental error behind that thinking. Tax policy is not just a zero-sum game – changes in tax law can make the pie larger or smaller as well as influencing who gets a bigger slice. And increasing the size of the pie is the whole purpose of the proposed tax reforms.

Nancy Pelosi is already complaining that the reduction in the corporate income tax rate from 35% to 20% is the largest reduction ever made in corporate taxes. She does not mention that the 35% rate American businesses now pay is the highest of any developed country, and the 20% rate will put us back into the middle of the pack. But what she and the other Progressives try to conceal is that tax reform will eliminate the incentive that American businesses now have to move their assets, factories and patents overseas, giving jobs and tax revenue to other countries and eliminating them here.

The corporate rate reduction is the most important part of the proposal for encouraging investment in the United States, and without it tax reform would be meaningless. In addition, the proposal will reverse the incentives that have caused American corporations to leave their foreign earnings on the books of their overseas branches in order to avoid taxes. In an arcane section at the end, the proposal will put a one-time tax on all past earnings held overseas, just as if they had been brought back. Thereafter, U.S. companies will be able to bring those earnings back for investment or dividends in the United States without paying taxes, thus freeing up more funds for investment here.

Finally, high corporate taxes have motivated many companies to register patents overseas and charge themselves high royalties that go to their foreign affiliates that pay little or no tax. The proposal will put a 20% additional tax on payments to foreign affiliates to eliminate the possibility of sheltering income from patents and other intangible assets. That provision is not as strong or effective as the abandoned border tax adjustment, but it will be a help to keep R&D at home.

The result of this reform of business taxation is not just higher profits for those companies. It will help everyone who owns shares of U.S. businesses in their 401(k) retirement funds, not just wealthy executives. Possibly more important to businesses on the Eastern Shore, tax reform will also limit to 25% the maximum tax rate that must be paid by owners of small businesses on the earnings of their C or S corporations that flow through to their personal taxes.

The effects of these changes in business taxation have been grossly misrepresented by the opponents of tax reform. The loudest claim by left-wing economists is that the proposals are “just another example of the discredited trickle-down theory.” Contrary to every principle they teach, these progressive true-believers speak as if heavy taxes have no effect on wages or job growth. They also have an odd reading of history. In the past eight years, we have seen an explosion of regulation and higher and higher taxes on business – and still, wage and job growth are stalled. Seems to me that pretty much proves the trickle-down theory – tax and regulate businesses to death and wages and job opportunities will fall. Relieve business of taxes and regulation and wages and job opportunities will grow.

Independent studies of the effects of the Ways and Means proposal show how this would work. First of all, all income groups will benefit from the personal tax reductions. Poorer working people will pay no tax, and every income group will pay less. With the increased standard deduction, most families will no longer need to itemize deductions, and this means more than saving time and money on tax preparation.

There is a great deal of self-interested and deceptive agitation against limiting deductions of state and local income taxes and mortgage interest. These deductions mean a lot to real estate agents and mortgage brokers who get more business from the subsidy to home purchases and to state and local governments that get less pushback against tax increases because they are tax deductible. And most of the increased revenue that would come from limiting these deductions will be paid by those in the highest income groups. With the increased standard deduction and personal exemptions, these deductions become meaningless because the standard deduction is a bigger benefit to most low and middle-income taxpayers. So this is not taking money out of the pockets of the middle class, it is fixing a subsidy to the rich. According to the Tax Foundation, 88% of the benefit of the state and local tax deduction goes to taxpayers with incomes over $100,000. Even the Treasury Department has labeled the deduction a perverse subsidy to the rich.

The Tax Foundation also estimates that the specific reforms just announced by the Ways and Means Committee will increase U.S. employment by about 1 million jobs after 10 years of increased economic growth, increase wages by 3.1%, and make middle-income families better off by about $2500 annually.

Maryland fared even better, with an increase of over 18,000 jobs and increased income for a middle-income family of $3,250. The proposed set of tax reforms are a rare example of a policy that is good for all Americans. Not perfect: keeping the border adjustment, reducing personal taxes on investment income further, and making expensing of all investment permanent would have given about three times the benefits, but good enough to deserve bipartisan support.

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



The Slow Work of God by George Merrill


“Above all,” writes the famous paleontologist and Jesuit priest, Teilhard de Chardin, “trust in the slow work of God.” He continues, “ . . . it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time.” At eighty-three, I’m learning to trust the slow work of time, which is, I’m sure, the slow work of God.

It’s autumn on the Shore, harvest season. I, too, am well into the harvest time of my own life. In my mind I frequently survey the landscape where I once sowed, the Island I was born on, and the various landscapes through which I’ve passed since. I see some things are gone, others have changed, and a few brought to fruition. My landscape has widened. The world of my youth was an insular one and now, with time, it’s become a global one.

Fall heralds the end of one season and begins another. It’s a time of transformation and for me, heightened awareness. I first see transformation in falling leaves and vibrant colors, but also in the autumn light. It assumes a softer character, so different than the garish light of mid-summer. On the edges of significant changes, I become more alert, as I might while driving through unknown terrain. Having arrived at the harvest time of my life, I return occasionally to the fields where I’ve sown.

Even with fall’s beauty radiating everywhere, I must confess I also feel tinges of melancholy, or is it nostalgia? I’m not sure.

I suspect that melancholy is the deepening awareness of my own vanishing history that grows more dim with the passage of time. There’s magical energy associated with the “firsts” of our lives. The excitement diminishes with time: the thrill of the first bicycle (it was a second-hand refurbished one as the war was on and few were made); the smell of my first new car; my first puppy named Pete who died of distemper; the first trip to the Statue of Liberty where I walked up the spiral staircase to see the harbor from its crown; there was my first love. There was the first photograph I took, developed the negatives and made the prints.

As a teen I was a lifeguard on the beaches of Staten Island. I once rescued someone. It was the only time and I recall it vividly. The slow work of God, sixty-seven years in this instance.

Growing up on the Island, the ethnic and racial differences were not as obvious as they are today. I knew no Asian kids in school, only one African-American and no Hispanics except once when, as a lifeguard, I rescued a little girl. It was my first hand introduction to how vulnerable and lonely being a stranger in the land can be.

The surf is gentle on Island beaches and bathers have to walk some distance to get in deeper water. It’s a safe place.

One day a thin and frail looking woman (in those days I would have said a foreigner) came over to the observation chair and got my attention by tapping me on the foot. I could see she was frightened and she pointed out to the water and muttered something – I think now it was in Spanish – I couldn’t understand. She beckoned me frantically to follow her to the water line. She pointed to a little girl who was out some distance, but not yet over her head. I could see the girl was standing. The water, however, was up to her chin. She was frozen with panic, afraid to move. I took large strides into the water, put my arm around her waist and walked her toward the shore. She clung to me and I could feel her shivering with fear. As we made our way to the shoreline, I felt a surge of protective compassion for her even though I knew nothing about her and was sure she was not really in much danger. The mother rushed over, put her arms around her, and looked at me in a way that said she was grateful, but, I suspect, also feeling awkward that she couldn’t tell me since she spoke no English.

In retrospect I believe I read the scene accurately. The mother and her child could speak no English. My guess now is they were Hispanic. After I returned to the beach I felt an overwhelming sadness. What must it be like to be in trouble in a strange place that you know no one? What can you do when you are afraid, but cannot speak the language of the people around you? I can only imagine how acutely vulnerable she felt and how hard it must have been for her to trust anyone. She didn’t speak the language, which would only have marginalized her more.

I often took the ferry from Staten Island to Manhattan, passing the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island hundreds of times on the way. Both fascinated me. I saw them as the symbols of what America aspired to be, namely, a nation ennobled by offering hospitality to the stranger, a sanctuary for the tired and the poor.

Once I was a stranger.

A few years ago I took an elderly woman to a hospital while I was in Puerto Rico. She’d fallen and had lost considerable blood. She was diabetic and hadn’t eaten for hours. I spoke no Spanish. The halls were filled with patients milling about. I didn’t know where to go where to take my concerns. Doctors and nurses didn’t wear identifying uniforms. I asked some people where to register, where to go. They shrugged their shoulders in a kindly way, but indicated they spoke no English.

I felt desperate and lost.

“You don’t speak Spanish?” a short plump woman asked me. She had a lovely smile. I told her my dilemma. She oriented me to the hospital procedures, identified a doctor and even asked me where I’d parked. “The police will take your car if it’s in the wrong place,” she warned me. “It’ll be hard to get back.” Unlike the little Spanish girl of my Island epic, I could in this instance – with almost tears in my eyes –communicate my gratitude to her in a language she understood.

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


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


“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.

Reflections on Downrigging by Jamie Kirkpatrick


The tall ships have come and gone. Sultana sits in her home berth like a forlorn child whose best friends have all just gone home after the birthday party. Her mast is stepped, her sails securely stowed for winter. Another sailing season has come and gone.

Chestertown’s first Downrigging Weekend took place in 2001 with only two ships in port: our very own Sultana and the Pride of Baltimore visiting from across the Bay. This year, I counted more than 25 vessels of all shapes and sizes; I guess good ideas grow as quickly as summer grass. While Downrigging Weekend is surely a celebration of graceful tall ships, small wooden boats lovingly built or restored, and all things nautical, it’s also a celebration of who we are: our history, our river, our town. We love it here and Downrigging is our gift to ourselves.

The weekend officially started on Wednesday with the arrival of the first tall ship. (This year, that honor went to the Kalmar Nykel out of Wilmington). However, to be honest, my personal version of Downrigging Weekend began a day or two before when I first looked down river toward Devil’s Reach, then drove out to Quaker Neck Landing hoping to catch a glimpse of that first incoming topsail. By Thursday morning, I was in Wilmer Park cataloging the ships as they sailed in: Lynx (out of Nantucket), Pride of Baltimore, Lady Maryland, Sigsbee, and the Muriel Eileen (a restored Chesapeake buy boat). Sultana flew back upriver from her afternoon sail to join the party and suddenly I was a kid again, transported back in time, wondering what it must have been like for my seven-times-great grandfather when he dared to cross the Atlantic in 1760 on a ship like one of these. (Good thing there wasn’t a wall back then! I mean, after all, none of us—or at least no one I know—walked over here. But I digress…)

On Friday morning there were a few last-minute arrivals to welcome. In the afternoon, two of my mates and I headed down to the deck of the Fish Whistle to watch the maritime parade over a beer or two. It was good to see the Marina a) dry and b) buzzing with people marveling at our living display of nautical history. That’s the way the marina supposed to be—dry and lively—right?

By the time the spotlights blazed on Friday night, it was hard not to swoon at the sight of the assembled fleet. The controlled chaos of rigging and lines, the towering crow’s nests, all the pulpits and bows with their finely carved figureheads—it was a spectacular evening show often enhanced by a generous captain’s measure of grog. Fireworks added plenty of excitement to the festivities and this year’s grand finale awed the crowd on land and out on the river.

Saturday’s sails were another delight—a silent nautical ballet of canvas, wind, and light. (Well, maybe not quite silent; all the rata-tat-tat of that toy PT boat is a silly distraction.) I got in an early round of golf out at the club and the sight of all the tall ships on a downriver parade behind the 15th green provided a magnificent backdrop to golf on a bluebird day. Back in town, there was plenty of good music and food to add fuel to the celebration.

Sunday’s change of weather did little to dampen the town’s spirits. Weather is, after all, part and parcel of the magic of sailing; not every day can be sunny with a light southwesterly breeze. But there was also a certain bittersweet quality to Downrigging Sunday: the show was winding down, weekend visitors were heading home, crews were preparing to depart for distant ports (Lynx is on her way to her winter home in St. Petersburg, Florida for example), and as for those of us who remain in port, we knew in our bones that colder weather is a comin’. I guess we’ve learned to take our collective cue from the tall ships sailing away and set about some personal down rigging of our own: we begin to repair and stow our own gear for the few months before we all go sailing again in the spring.

See you at Tea Party.

I’ll be right back.

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