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Dad’s Lesson by Al Sikes


My introduction to the affairs of the community came early and from a great teacher–my father. I still have a check he displayed from the Office of the City Clerk of Sikeston, Missouri. The check is for $0.25; he received a quarter every three months as Mayor.

Dad saw his service as “giving back.” And after being defeated in an earlier election for Alderman, when the district he served was changed by a new political map, he did not complain. I suspect, although he didn’t say so directly, that he grew in defeat.

My introduction to politics in school was through the phrases “civic affairs” or “public affairs.” These were the phrases of the day used to describe democracy and at least suggested an understanding engagement between the elected and electors.

As I type, I can hear hard-edged voices saying “Isn’t that quaint?” Most ideologues and partisans have long since concluded that their way is the only way. Today it is not infrequent that narratives of destruction and doom accompany insistence on particular programs or policies or relationships. So, as I hear those voices, I recall by contrast Lincoln’s “appeal to our better angels.” Lincoln was speaking at a time when the Civil War still raged.

There is, of course, a lot to debate about, but yelling at each other is not debate. It is a rank appeal to emotion. And, we live in a time when unstable minds, not infrequently, translate political and religious hatred into guns and bombs.

Unfortunately, TV has converted unreality into “reality shows.” The current beneficiary is Donald Trump and the victim is civility.

There is, of course, no quick fix. Incivility will resist. America is already divided up into teams of combatants competing to see which will survive. When ruinous outcomes shape the political narratives, it can’t be good for the Republic.

What would be good for the Republic is a deeper appreciation of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution–an essential element in the Bill of Rights. It reads: “Reserved Powers. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

While the Amendment deals with federal-state relationships, it implicitly deals with human relations. There is a recognition that if laws are made and enforced closer to where the voters live, the lawmakers will be forced to be more considerate of diverse opinions. Today, in public affairs, we need more consideration.

We know, of course, that there are national circumstances which require federal laws. Defense of country, civil rights, and aviation rules are several that quickly come to mind. When, however, the central government chooses to intrude on domestic affairs that can justly be left to the States, social fractures begin to appear and before long human division takes the shape of a deep river canyon. Better that the Congress and certainly the Supreme Court respect regional differences expressed through the ballot.

When the central government’s power is the hub around which most human affairs revolve, we invite instability and division. The nine justices of the US Supreme Court become outsized figures and the Court, meant to be non-partisan, takes on at least the appearance of partisanship. I have lost count of how many people have voiced disdain for Donald J. Trump, but have said they are voting for him because they don’t want Hillary Clinton to appoint the next Justices.

Additionally, and finally, when the central government controls much of our lives, presidential candidates become magnets for money. The money candidates receive is then used to buy people who poll, script, and package the candidates. Many voters then find a figure like Trump compelling because, regardless of how distasteful his candor, candor is above all else prized.

We should pay more attention to the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. In this moment of sharp division, our Republic would be more resilient if the calls for change had an outlet much closer to where people live and work.

leader who repairs the nation’s political fabric will be a historic figure.

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. 

On Vacation by Jamie Kirkpatrick


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Down in the War Room, the situation is getting tense. Months of intense planning have come down to just a few days now. The General and her senior staff officers all know their jobs; they have planned and practiced and drilled for this moment. They are quietly confident, but still, they know that war is hell and that something could go unexpectedly, dreadfully wrong at the last moment, so they go over the plans again: battle lines, strategic planning, supplies and logistics, personnel. Operations will commence in three days at precisely zero-six-hundred hours. We are going to the beach.

Rehoboth, to be precise. In the Book of Genesis, Issac, son of Abraham, needed water for his flock so he commanded his servants to dig two wells. But when the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with them about the location of these wells, Issac had a third well dug. Everyone seemed satisfied, so Issac called the place Rehoboth saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.”

It may not be quite so biblical these days, but to us, Rehoboth, Delaware is still a place of rest and refreshment. We have rented the same house for several years now and for the first two weeks of August, it is our very own Camelot by the sea. It’s a well-used place with a slightly musty odor, comfortable furniture, five bedrooms, three bathrooms, two refrigerators, and best of all, an airy wrap-around porch, perfect for morning coffee or evening cocktails. It’s also just a short bike ride to the center of town for supplies or to the beach for a day of toes-in-the-sand.

For the past three years, our army has consisted of as many as four generations of soldiers, a battalion of aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws, plus numerous camp-flowers, sidekicks, and friends. The number may vary from day-to-day, but there are always enough of us to put up a good fight. We each have our own assigned duties: cooking, grilling, KP in the mess hall; delivery of copious quantities of operational supplies to the beach; lunch runs, ice runs, beer runs, and more ice runs for R&R.

The rhythm of our time at the beach hardly ever varies. Because our army really does march on its stomach, most of the planning revolves around food. Croissants from Lingos in the morning, steak-and-cheese sandwiches from Louis’ at lunch, and for dinner a rotating feast that includes (of course) crabs one night, ribs another, burgers and dogs yet another, fresh corn and tomatoes every night, mac and cheese or pizza for the kids, and always plenty of wine and beer for the adult troops.

Like any army, we pray for good weather. One rainy day is acceptable every once in a while, two in a row gets dicey, three for more is a recipe for disaster (thankfully, not usually on the menu). In case of rain, there are a few options (Funland, the book store, board games, the rope hammock on the porch), but nothing can ever take the place of another sunny day on the beach, a circle of chairs in the sand, and the grandkids with their pails and shovels or better yet, quietly napping under the umbrella.

By the end of our two weeks, we’re exhausted. I know that must seem strange, but I think it’s the beach’s way of saying, “Time’s up; retreat; see you next year.” After all, if vacations lasted forever, there would be no vacations.

Muse on that!

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

Chesapeake College Profiles: Stan the Man and the Future of EMS Training


Almost every day of the school year, Stan, a man of middle age, shows signs of life threatening conditions that need immediate emergency care. Some days he suffers from a major heart attack, other days a stroke, or being involved in a serious car accident,  but in all these cases he he is in mortal danger as a team of students at Chesapeake College’s Emergency Medical Services degree program work to save his life.

Most of the time, Stan survives these brief near-death experiences but he does not make it easy for his caregivers. The $100,000 plus electronic dummy can manifest literally hundreds of symptoms including blocked breathing, bleeding, chronic sweating, skin discoloration, or acute abdominal pain by simply feeding options into Stan’s personal computer terminal.

The daily trials and tribulations of Stan, along with his six other highly advanced dummy colleagues, at Chesapeake College isn’t simply a updated version of the old board game of “Operation.”  This million dollar plus investment in the training of EMS personnel for the Eastern Shore has thrusted the Wye Mills community college into one of the most sophisticated in the country.

In his Spy interview, Chesapeake College’s Jon Longest, talks about how Stan is used in training and the career outlook for EMS.

This video is approximately six minutes in length 

Angels Come in Different Sizes and Colors by George Merrill


I’ve been in a funk, lately. The state of our troubled nation and the world’s turmoil were getting to me. It was either lighten up or drive myself crazy. I went on line looking for hope or some vision of kindness to lighten my troubled spirit. I hit the jackpot. I found a site called “Kindness Blog.”

“Kindness Blog’s team,” the site stated, “ share media featuring kindness in all its varied forms. From the simplest acts of charity to grand life-changing gestures of kindness.”

For starters there were forty-five heartwarming stories, each accompanied by a photographic image. I read about half of the stories. There had to be thousands more. There is indeed goodness out there and plenty of it. With all the madness going on in my world, I had forgotten that it’s there.

As I read, I felt lighter.

The blog’s stories are inspirational vignettes rather than morality tales. I find the stories hopeful and more authentic for that reason. No one is trying to prove anything. The contributors are simply sharing an ancient truth in a modern world where it’s still a hard sell: it is better to give than to receive. In the giving there’s a lot of getting, but that’s not the prime motivator as I saw it. It seemed to me as if a feeling of gratitude was the driving force to their actions. As it is with all grateful people, they wanted to share their own sense of being blessed with others. Gratitude inspires generosity, a desire to give back.

One woman in London, the blog reported, writes anonymous letters. She leaves them for strangers to find. The letters are a gentle reminder to the stranger of their essential goodness and that it’s OK to have faults and not be perfect. She writes that how in sharing our vulnerabilities we learn to love on another. She leaves no name or address. It’s enough for her that the letters are found. She’s sent one hundred fifty letters to date.

One writer, Gina Ryder, discovered ways to feed her soul. She says, “The general hopelessness about relationships and life I previously felt was like a sickness in my soul. Daily random acts of kindness are a remedy.”

Another woman sparked a beautiful chain reaction of good will; she picked up the next person’s tab at a McDonald’s drive through. Some 250 cars followed suit.

An African-American minister, Shun Abram, confronted a KKK protester calmly, strongly, and peacefully.

In Pakistan, Muslims form a human chain to protect Christians during a mass.

One image showed a small child in a white KKK robe with the characteristic cone shaped hat. She stands directly in front of a policeman in riot gear. She is placing her hand on one officer’s shield the way curious children idly poke at things they’ve never seen before. Even in the midst of our ugly world affairs, there are moments of pure innocence and tenderness. I found that image particularly moving as I could see both the KKK child and the riot police were not” bad.” Both were victims enmeshed in a larger systemic trap, like moths in a spider web.

The stories of generosity of spirit and tenderness go on and on.

A few who acted with kindness were well heeled. One man committed himself to give a thousand dollars for the rest of his life to those able to make changes for the better in the world. He’s spent millions over several years. Most, however, seem like ordinary folk who felt moved to tell the world that they have discovered something life-giving in performing acts of kindness.

While writing this essay, I saw this on Facebook. An African-American woman wrote it:

“I noticed a State Trooper on the side of the road with his trunk up. I never saw him, just the car. I pulled up to the car and cracked my window, hands clearly visible. I saw a white trooper come from the side of the car. I said good morning and asked if he was okay and needed help. He smiled and replied no ma’am that he was cleaning his windows. He showed the bottle and towels to me and I told him he had the good stuff. He chuckled and asked if I minded if he cleaned mine too. Then an elderly white couple stopped by and asked if they could have theirs done also. He cleaned theirs, too. The lady offered to pay him and he said no, just say a prayer for me…so we did. Right along Rt. 46 in the wee hours of the morning parked beside the road for EVERYONE to see, we all linked hands and had prayer. White hands, black hands, officer hands, young hands, and old hands…gave glory like never before. Couldn’t ask for a better way to start my day.”

If I was skeptical about the existence of angels before, I’m a believer now.

Been touched by an angel recently? Tell us about it!

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.

Spy Eye: It’s all Happening at the Kent County Fair in Two Minutes


It seems that a rural county fair is a perfect match for toddlers. With farm animals that are approachable, carnival rides that are not too scary, and the right amount of good old American food, young children (and their parents) find, as the Spy witnessed yesterday, an ideal summer break.

Located off of Tolchester Beach Road, the annual fair sponsored by Kent Ag Center brings together these elements while also highlighting the achievements for 4-H members through a variety of projects from the farming of perfect produce to photography.

The Spy tried to capture a few of these special moments yesterday just before the crowds descended on the fairgrounds.

This video is approximately two minutes in length.  The Kent County Fair ends today so catch it when you can. 

Mid-Shore Law Enforcement: Police-Involved Shootings, Deadly Force, and the 21 Feet Rule


It is hard not to think about your local police force after the nation has experienced such horrific violence found in Baton Rouge, Dallas, and Minnesota over the last few weeks.

While the Mid-Shore seems like a far distance from those more urban center tragedies, the reality is that police-involved shootings and the use of deadly force are not reserved for major cities. Nor do local police forces feel immune to the new reality of cop assassinations. Whether it be rural or urban, law enforcement is this country has become more complex and arduous as racial tensions increase in the aftermath of these acts of senseless violence.

It was under these sad circumstances that the Spy asked to interview Talbot County Sheriff Joe Gamble to talk about the impact these events have had on his officers, and understand more clearly the policy, training, and tools that local law enforcement must use during these dangerous and unpredictable times.

Beyond our sobering discussion of current events, it was also extraordinarily helpful for Sheriff Gamble to weigh in on these subjects given that fact that in his previous position with the Maryland State Police he had personally investigated over 150 police-related shootings in Maryland when serving as a homicide detective.

This video is approximately twenty-four minutes in length

Young Writers Shine in Chestertown at Dixon Summer Center for Creative Writing


National Book Award writer Flannery O’Connor once said that writing is an act of discovery and that good writers, opening a window to the creative process, are often surprised by how their own story develops and where it might take them. But how does a writer begin this journey?

Last week I was privileged to meet and discuss the creative process with young writers attending the Dixon Summer Center for Creative Writing held at Washington College.

The Summer Center, now in its fifth year, hosted eight seven through tenth grade Maryland writers. During the week-long workshop, mentored by Annelle Tumminello, students worked daily to hone their craft through “Socratic seminars on poetry, arguments and using Cynthia Voight’s novel Homecoming as a literary model to discuss.

Like writing a story, I had no idea how my visit would develop and what I might discover there. After all, the group is young, have not entered the knockabout world of high school yet and, not to discount their limited life experience, I wondered how they would interpret their feelings and observations of life with what could be considered a chronological handicap.

There was no handicapping needed here. These young writers knew the fundamentals and spoke eloquently about what the writing seminars meant to them.

I could have stayed for days talking with these young writers. And learned from them. Enthusiasm is one thing—no shortage there—but practicing a craft requiring a complex skill-set (grammar, structure, tone) is another and can leave many enthusiasts sitting (or writing) lazily at the gate to their adventure lacking the tools to express their wonderment.

Each one of the young writers I interviewed had a strong, defined take on their craft. They “talked shop” like young architects describing the structural reasons for Doric columns.  Shy, but confident they discussed their workshop experience with Tumminello and how it applied directly to their own writing.

“Seminars are like seed-beds; we scatter ideas and nurture the ones that grow.  First, we examine the what and why of a piece: what does it mean; what is the author’s purpose in saying it that way; how does it affect our view of life?  Then we analyze the how: what techniques does the author use that we respond to and how can we do that in our own writing?  Then we leave seminar for the writing lab and do it, incorporating techniques and responding to texts in our own writing.  So workshops allow us to explore a text as writers, yes, and also as humans, Tumminello says.

We look forward to reading more of these aspiring writers!

The following video includes Lauren Bentley, Hannah Davis, Michael Mullaney, Aubrey Clarke and Julia Bentley.

Anne Cameron, Ananya Chand, and Cameil Nelson were also in attendance, and their work may be read in the attached pdf of the student work portfolio.

The Dixon Summer Center for Creative Writing is sponsored by Dixon Valve and Coupling, Maryland State Department of Education and Washington College.

Portfolio: 16StudPub

It’s Broke, Fix It by Al Sikes


The headlines from the latest polls: Trump unqualified; Clinton untrustworthy. Translated: the major political Parties are broken. The Republican and Democrat parties are now so tightly controlled by their political bases that they have ceased to serve affiliated realists, much less independents, and the results are tearing at America’s social and political fabric.

Broke is broke. When a business no longer works, it either goes out of business or the model is significantly changed. In 1930 the corporate elite list, the Dow Industrials, added Eastman Kodak. It was dropped in 2004 and went into bankruptcy in 2011. Kodak is not alone; today’s Dow companies look nothing like those in its earlier days even though the companies, when added to the Dow, were wealthy and strong. The newest major political party is the Republican one and it was formed in 1856.

Political parties and their leaders are inventively self-protective. They have locked up national presidential debates. For a third party’s candidate to make the stage he/she must poll 15%. States are their co-conspirators. State election laws require huge volumes of signatures, for example, in order for a new Party to qualify for the ballot.

Almost the only time we hear of a new Party possibility is in the run-up to a Presidential election and then, because it would take an enormous amount of money to launch a new Party presidential bid, we only hear about potential candidates that are wealthy, a celebrity, or both. The name this cycle was Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire and former Mayor of New York City. He declined. He was elected Mayor as a Republican, even though they constitute just over ten percent of eligible voters in New York.  Better the long odds of being elected Mayor as a Republican than trying to start a national third party as the campaign countdown begins.

If the political process is to be opened up it will require leadership, a clear and compelling message, and time. The time to start building a new Party is now, not in 2019.

In the Republican Party there are a lot of disaffected leaders; many are problem solving Governors. Interestingly, they are where poll after poll report the majority of voters stand. The question is whether there are any center-right entrepreneurs. Are there any Lincoln’s, whose election in 1860 catapulted the new Republican party over the Whig one? Lincoln had previously been a Whig.

I offer three areas of reform from which a clear and compelling message could be shaped. In each case, the incumbent parties are conflicted and cannot be expected to bring true reform.

The tax code is an embarrassment; but, those constituencies that enjoy its favor are strong. The tax advantaged line up with the established Parties and they make deals to service their interest groups.

Elementary and secondary education, where a child’s opportunity often begins, has become monopolized by bureaucrats and unions. Many public schools now teach children whose parents cannot afford to send them to a private school. In city after city the only path to schools that are competitively strong is private or choosing to home school. Choice in public education is a critical need.

Finally, our nation needs healing leaders, yet polarization is thick and the bases of the two dominant Parties demonize the other. The bases are the problem; their litmus tests have become absolute. When all compromise is fought, politics inevitably becomes divisive.

When the Whigs became hopelessly conflicted over the issue of slavery the abolitionists created the Republican Party and Lincoln took it to the White House. The conflict today is between the hard edged ideologues (on the left and right) and the realists. There is a constituency for a new Party and today’s social media tools would make its formation much less complex and costly than a generation ago.

I will now narrow my comments to the Republican Party, but much the same could be said of the Democrats. Today, right of center voters are alienated by the hard right. The hard right is where today’s political power is concentrated and it sees government as the enemy unless it can be used to block social change. The realists in the party, who want to reform government, are called moderates (not a term of endearment).

It is time for new leadership in public affairs. It is time for political entrepreneurship. It is time to break up the duopoly.  One thing that can be guaranteed, the leader who repairs the nation’s political fabric will be a historic figure.

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. 

On a Swing by Jamie Kirkpatrick


Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 7.54.01 AMWe found our porch swing in Galena. It was old, the paint was chipped, and some of the slats were suspiciously spongy, but when my wife laid eyes on it, it was love at first sight. I balked but not for long. The next day I went back to Galena and brought it home as a surprise. It has held pride of place on the front porch ever since.

Like the rest of us, our swing has aged a bit in the last 4+ years. We had to replace all those suspiciously spongy slats. We milled, painted, and installed new ones a couple of months ago and figured we were out of the woods for a while. That was before two large men (OK, one was me) decided to give the swing a road test on a first Friday and heard a loud CRACK. The next morning we saw what we heard. One of the bottom horizontal ribs was dangling and the perpendicular stabilizer was split. I called the doctor.

The doctor (played in this episode by our neighbor Tom) is a highly skilled carpenter who can fix anything. He made a house call and delivered the bad news: maybe it was time to replace the swing. “Can’t you repair it?” my wife pleaded. He could, but repair might cost as much as we originally paid. “Sure you want to do that?” the swing doctor asked. I looked at my wife, then sighed and opened my wallet.

Some things in life are measured by cost and some aren’t. Those that aren’t are measured on another scale: nostalgia, comfort, or some other highly irrational but nevertheless important criteria known only to the user. That is the scale our swing now occupies. It’s just a shabby piece of porch furniture that keeps hanging on well beyond its time, but the comfort of retaining it makes the cost of replacing it prohibitive. I know it’s not a rational equation, but admit it: we all practice that kind of mathematics from time-to-time.

We live in the age of recycling and it has become fashionable to retain, repurpose, and reuse items that are past their prime. That’s a good thing. Every Friday, the blue Infinity recycling wagon stops in front of our house and all those wine bottles and beer cans get a new lease on life. (Soon enough, I suspect, medical science will enable us to do this kind of recycling with human beings but where we will put all these reused souls, God only knows.)

There are, of course, some things in life that have a limited shelf life, like the cottage cheese in our refrigerator which has been known to become a science experiment gone dreadfully wrong or those bell-bottom jeans hanging in the closet that just aren’t ever coming back into style no matter how hard we try. They’re one-and-done so get over it. But otherwise, there likely is some kind of elliptical orbit that applies to human history and we are doomed to repeat our failures if we don’t learn from our mistakes. (Here, I could make the leap to the current Presidential race, but I won’t.) I guess the point is repair or repurpose what you can and replace the rest.

Back to our swing: soon its underpinnings will be good as new; the rest will retain the shabby chic veneer that lets my wife swing to her heart’s content.


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