Out and About (Sort of): What’s Behind The Wall? By Howard Freedlander

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As I viewed the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall a week ago on the grounds of VFW Post 5118 in Easton, I looked at the 58,000 names of men and women killed in Southeast Asia and starkly envisioned in the black background of the haunting tribute the turbulent 1960s.

I spent the rest of the week trying to make sense of a violent decade marked by war abroad and civil upheaval at home.

Allow me to share my thoughts. They might echo yours. They might rankle.

Like others born at the end of World War II, I spent my adolescence and young adulthood in the 1960s. While coping with my own growing pains and angst, I felt buffeted by catastrophic events. The decade was historic for its tragedies, its divisiveness caused by the Vietnam War, fractious race relations, the impact of feminism and a revulsion by some toward academic institutions and the government.

To this day, I cannot understand what begat the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. I wondered then if there were some unconscionable and undetected strain in American culture that led to the extermination of excellence.

I understand that many may disagree with my imposition of “excellence” on these three gentlemen. I stand by my opinion. They were remarkable.

As I traveled through life, I’ve certainly perceived an underlying resentment toward high-achievers, people whose skills and intelligence supersede the attributes of the rest of us. But this is fueled by jealousy. It doesn’t normally engender violence, just disdain.

Back to the wall, so dramatic in its somberness.

My first reaction was one that engulfed me despite my best effort to avoid it: was the Vietnam War worth the loss of 58,000 lives and thousands who were maimed physically and mentally? This nagging question is not intended to besmirch the bravery and patriotism of our troops.

The war, like the decade, was complex. It was meant to contain the spread of communism in Asia. That was a noble objective that placed us in the middle of a civil war between North and South Vietnam. As documented, our political and military leaders lied to American citizens about the inability of the world’s greatest power to change the political equation in Vietnam. As time went on, despite hard-fought victories, we lost mightily on the field of public opinion.

As our troops fought courageously in the jungles and rice paddies of a divided South East Asian nation, back home the nation was engaged in protests staged against the war in cities and major universities. We were a nation at war with itself. While conversation and actions were harsh and disruptive, women, for one, made strides in the business, political and academic worlds.

As I strolled along the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall, I saw what is commonplace at the actual memorial in Washington, DC: flowers and a note left by a veteran in memory of the loss of five fellow soldiers. That’s symbolic of the compassion and healing power of this unusual and poignant tribute to the dead.

Whatever passions were stirred by an immensely unpopular war, the Memorial Wall offers a quiet, contemplative place to pay homage to our nation’s fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard members. It even summons forgiveness on the part of those who mistreated our returning veterans.

Our country’s history comprises many historic decades. Our own lives pass through phases, variously pleasant and unsettling. Last week’s 50th anniversary of the death by gunfire of Robert F. Kennedy at a hotel in Los Angeles, following a campaign victory speech during his quest for the Democratic nomination for president, drew me back to my adolescence and young adulthood in the sizzling 60s.

I recall I was just beginning to like Bobby Kennedy. In contrast to his brother, the president, he seemed so strident and pugnacious. I learned that in many ways he was more passionate and sensitive than his charmingly smooth older brother.

I thought maybe another Kennedy could have become president. It was not to be.

Just two months prior to the killing of Bobby Kennedy, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a giant among civil rights leaders, was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee. He led the rocky and risky crusade for racial equality, fighting forces of discrimination that still exist.

Dr. King’s “I have dream speech” was an unforgettable call for national unity. He strove ceaselessly for racial equality. He awakened the national consciousness. Yet, equality remained elusive. He died pursuing his dream.

When Robert Kennedy was shot on June 5, 1968, dying the following day, I was a young reporter at a community newspaper in Ellicott City in Howard County. Still shaken by the murder of the Rev. King, I was dumbfounded and shocked by the assassination, only two months later, of Sen. Kennedy. I immediately wrote an editorial and submitted it to the editor. He rejected it for reasons I cannot recall. He likely considered it too emotional.

So, here I am 50 years later, writing that editorial. This one is probably more reasoned and mature. After all, what does a new reporter just out of college know about depth?

Viewing the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall transported me back to a difficult and disruptive decade.

The journey was well worth it.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Politics Aplenty by Howard Freedlander

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Three weeks from today, a primary election will happen in Maryland. Like all elections, the results matter on the local, state and federal levels.

As you travel the Eastern Shore, signs are sprouting wherever you look. It’s growing season for these omnipresent reminders of an upcoming election. And candidates are fishing for votes at public events, sporting smiles, handshakes and easy chatter.

What I find remarkable about this particular political season is the number of women running for office in Talbot County and in the Democratic primary for governor. From what I read and hear, this phenomenon is happening throughout the country.

I couldn’t be happier.

The increased participation in elective politics represents an activism sweeping the country. Many candidates are notable for their lack of prior political experience. And some are military veterans who are dipping their feet into politics.

Maybe it’s a generational shift, but these political newcomers are changing the political landscape, for the better. It’s their turn to seek and take political office. It’s time for new ideas, though sprinkled sometimes with more enthusiasm than pragmatism. Tinges of naiveté come with novices seeking to differentiate themselves from their competitors and incumbents.

I’m no political pollster or analyst. I can only guess about the reasons for the upsurge of activism and interest in serving the public in elected office.

I think our president has stirred the juices of discontent, particularly among women who resent his documented misogyny. Throw in the MeToo movement, and you have the makings of an upsurge in civic and political activity among women. Also, Mr. Trump, who never held political office, won the highest office in the land. That fact is inspirational to those who have avoided political campaigns, except to donate and attend fundraisers.

Non-politicians can and do win.

Some may cynically and mournfully say, including this writer at times, that my generation has had its chance to improve our nation and world, and our results have been distinctly average. The next logical progression is to hand off the baton of leadership to another spirited and motivated generation.

An infusion of new solutions and vibrant enthusiasm might produce changes that my generation failed to implement.

Before my fellow baby-boomers scream heresy and strongly disagree, I suggest we ask ourselves: have we left a better world for our children and grandchildren? I can’t say yes. Maybe readers can.

Crime, climate change, economic inequality, racism and gun violence, among other societal ills, have worsened. Succeeding generations face awesome challenges left them by us. That hurts.

As noted, when I look around the political landscape, I feel optimistic about the future. At least a little bit. Increasing participation by women is particularly heartening. Perhaps in the not too distant future we will have a woman as our governor and our president.

In the next three weeks, I recommend that we pay close attention to our local, state and federal elections, taking the time to attend candidate forums and accept invitations to meet-and-greets in your neighborhoods. If you have the chance, ask the candidate seeking your vote and donation probing questions that concern you, your family and your community.

Don’t hold back. Candidates relish being able to demonstrate their command of a particular subject—and maybe learn about issues that may not have occurred to them.

John Quincy Adams, our sixth president and son of John Adams, our second president and one of our nation’s founders, said,” Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest recollection your vote is never lost.”

Whenever I vote, I feel as if I’m fulfilling the unshakeable faith that my immigrant grandfather placed in American democracy. He treasured the hope implicit in the political process.

So do I. Unpleasing results at times and periodic outcroppings of corruption, while bothersome, fail to deter me.

Despite rampant cynicism, your vote and mine do matter. Our democracy demands participation in the public process. We relinquish this democratic right when we do nothing.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Homage Due by Howard Freedlander

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As I sat comfortably last Wednesday afternoon on a tied up sailboat on the Severn River in Annapolis, riveted by the performance of the U.S. Navy’s famed Blue Angels, premier flight demonstration team, I felt a tinge of sadness. Surprisingly so.

This aerobatic flight team is an annual highlight of the U.S. Naval Academy’s commissioning week. It symbolizes Navy pride and proficiency. It also represents a military profession that requires its officers and enlisted to face the danger and dilemma of war.

Watching the aerial show, amid a chorus of oohs and awes, I thought about the more than 1,000 young, bright and energetic men and women graduating on Friday and facing at least five years of military service in l trouble spots throughout our dangerous and unstable world.

On a day like today, Memorial Day, we pay homage and gratitude to our nation’s service-members who died in combat. They rest in military and civilian cemeteries throughout the world.

I think about a friend here in Talbot County who last saw his father, at the age of three, before his dad lost his life on the Normandy Beach code-named “Omaha Beach” in June 1944 during World War II.

I think about a young officer against whom I played lacrosse when we both attended college. Grandson of the renowned World War I general, John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, Dickie Pershing was killed in Vietnam on February 17, 1968. I knew Dickie Pershing by reputation.

I think about my wife’s uncle, an enlisted soldier during World War II. He earned a Silver Star, the military’s third highest personal decoration for valor in combat. He survived the war. Like many in what is called the “The Greatest Generation,” he spoke very little about his combat service in Europe.

I think about military monuments, both modest and grandiose, including the Vietnam Wall and Korean War memorial, among others, in Washington, DC, and seek to understand the gravity of what they represent. They are constant reminders that war has fatal consequences.

They are built on the flesh and blood of thousands and thousands of mostly young men and women who return home only in spirit and memories. These monuments compel us to pay attention and reverence.

I dare say that I would be remiss if I spoke only about Americans who didn’t return. Their strong, resilient families deserve recognition too on Memorial Day. Between bites of hamburgers and sips of beer, we should focus too on the families of the dead– going back to the Revolutionary War– who suffered mightily when a loved one was killed in combat.

I think about the excruciating pain felt by mothers, fathers, wives and children and sisters and brothers who sit around the family table and know and feel the emptiness of a chair. The family narrative changes as memories and tears flood the conversation. This heartfelt loss lingers.

I never imagined that the impressive Blue Angels would stimulate a stream of sadness. Maybe advancing age prompts more reflection about the constant threat of war and loss of young lives.

We live in a country that respects those willing to face combat and its dire consequences. Communities throughout our country proudly display the American flag on Memorial Day and honor and memorialize our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard members who didn’t come home.

To friends and family who will grieve today, God bless you. You are not alone.

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

Out and About (Sort of): “Honest and Fearless” by Howard Freedlander

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More than a week ago, I attended a commencement at the University of Pennsylvania, my alma mater. The speaker was Andrea Mitchell, longtime NBC broadcaster and dogged reporter. We graduated 51 years ago from Penn, though I didn’t know her. We’ve since become friends.

She’s chief foreign affairs correspondent and hosts “the noontime Andrea Mitchell Reports” at NBC.

Though painfully aware that journalism, a profession I once practiced joyfully here on Eastern Shore, often comes under attack, I strongly believe our democracy depends on a free, unfettered press.

Repeatedly over the years, I’ve seen how the media—print and electronic—have uncovered corruption that would have gone on un- detected and unwisely tolerated. What comes readily to mind is the rampant sexual abuse propagated by Catholic priests and covered up for years by the Diocese of Boston. Of course, this awful story of abuse and power was the subject of the well-acclaimed movie, “Spotlight.”

Another recent movie, “The Post,” chronicled the courageous coverage of the Watergate cover-up by the Nixon administration. Katherine Graham, the publisher, and her editors faced incredible pressure to forgo publishing a story that addressed corruption at the highest level of government. Fortunately, they didn’t buckle under to threats and lawsuits.

And in recent months, the New York Times and the New Yorker magazine disclosed sexual abuse and harassment in the entertainment and media worlds.

Again, silence had been the rule for the victims; they found a credible voice through the media.

It’s too easy, though sometimes true, to attack journalism as a vehicle for sensationalism and increased readership and viewership. It’s too easy for some at the highest levels of the federal government to characterize substantive and critical news coverage as “fake news.” It’s a strategy intended to intimidate journalists, to still their voices.

It’s a form of bullying, democracy and freedom of press be damned.

In her well-presented and extremely serious remarks, Andrea Mitchell quoted the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who once said, “You are entitled to your opinion; you are not entitled to your own facts.’

Operating in our currently politically divisive and poisonous environment, the media, according to Mitchell, must be “honest and fearless.” It cannot allow itself to be submissive to shallow, constant threats and bombast by a president who brittles easily at criticism.

At the same time, journalists must “demand more of ourselves, not jump to conclusions and avoid hyperbole,” Mitchell said.

“We provide a reality check, a barrier to distortion. We are not the enemy of the people,” Mitchell said.

While defending the profession she has pursued beginning as a freshman staff member at the University of Pennsylvania’s radio station, Mitchell offered three life lessons (as every commencement speaker must do) to the thousands of graduates seated in front of her at historic Franklin Field in West Philadelphia:

Be curious
Be open-minded
Be engaged

She mostly avoided lofty rhetoric so often voiced at occasions such as the Penn commencement, when speakers urge graduates (most of them anxious to get on with their lives and enjoy a post-event lunch with family and friends) to chase their dreams, follow their passions, endure failure in their lives and bounce back.

As a journalist, Andrea Mitchell has taken her natural curiosity to all corners of the world. She’s understood that a good journalist studiously works to block out pre-conceptions and approach a story with a mind able to absorb a flood of facts and present them accurately and objectively. And being engaged requires an ability to listen, learn and take positive action as the students at the Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, FL did after a terrible tragedy killed 17 students.

I’ve listened over the years at Penn commencements to politicians, entertainers, poets, corporate leaders and non-profit visionaries. Sometimes, I’ve struggled to remain attentive and forswear my iPhone. May 14, 2018 was different.

Andrea Mitchell’s message resonated among alumni as well as newly-minted graduates. A free press guarantees a strong, resilient democracy.
Dreams belong to the young. Life’s lessons belong to all of us.

Engagement never ceases.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Comeback and Setback by Howard Freedlander

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Good news came about two weeks ago with the announcement that aerial scientific surveys showed a 27 percent increase in acreage of underwater grasses in the Chesapeake Bay. Why does this matter when some folks at this time of year might wish they had less grass to cut on their property?

Bay grasses are a barometer of health for the estuary that we love and cherish. They need sunlight to survive. When the water is dark and gloomy with algae blooms or sediment, they struggle to exist. Dependent on clean water, the grasses also help clean it up. They absorb nutrients that sustain algae blooms and filter out sediment.

At the risk of simplifying the significance of abundant Submerged Underwater Vegetation (SUV), I suggest that an environment featuring healthy grasses provides a better, healthier home for oysters, crabs and other species by offering food and habitat. They also impede erosion.

The most recent report produced by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science estimates that bay grasses now exceed 100,000 acres. The goal of the bay restoration project is to grow grasses on 180,000 acres of bottom.

Why does this somewhat esoteric information please me?

One, controversial and gutsy actions by government officials have contributed to a healthier Chesapeake Bay. Republican Governor Robert L. Ehrlich successfully promoted a “flush tax,” which over the past 13 years has provided funding for the enhancement of existing sewage treatment plants and construction of state-of-art ones. Consequently, water quality has improved.

The ‘rain tax” imposed by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley forced local jurisdictions to update their stormwater systems to filter out pollutants. And, yes, water quality has improved.

Two, property owners and farmers in the Bay watershed began using best practices in terms of limiting or eliminating the use of fertilizer. Farmer established buffers along rivers and streams.

Three (my last point, though there are more related to land use), policymakers and citizens began to pay attention to scientific research produced by Horn Point Lab in Cambridge, the Chesapeake Biological Lab in Solomons Island and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester, VA and to persistent advocacy by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Policy and politics aligned. Concern for, and about the Chesapeake Bay preoccupied government leaders, scientists, advocacy groups and the recreational and commercial users of the Bay.

A recent editorial in the Baltimore Sun opined that “not every voter likes every regulation and fee, of course, but it’s clear a majority favors clean water and an upgraded Chesapeake Bay. And Marylanders understand that such improvements don’t happen by accident, they happen because of the little sacrifices we are willing to make from paying a little more for sewer service to “smart growth” limits on land development, and, yes, a tax to clean up stormwater runoff.”

Now that I’ve written about a comeback, I must address a setback. The Trump Administration’s decision to award guest worker visas by a lottery system, instead of first-come, first-served, threaten the economic viability of crab-packing houses in Dorchester County. In a recent interview with National Public Radio (NPR), Harry Phillips, owner of Russell Hall Seafood in Fishing Creek in Dorchester County, said this about the shortage of H-2B workers:

“Well, we have 50 visas every year, and probably 42 of those are crab-pickers, and we have a couple of guys that help us on the docks, unload the crabs and steam the crabs. But without these workers, we are literally out of business as far as doing any business with crab meat. We tried everything to hire Americans, advertising right now, as we speak, in the papers, and not one person has applied. So a lot of people are going to be touched by this as far as being of work or receiving a lesser income. It’s kind of like a domino effect. It just trickles all through the community—the stores, the railway. So, many, many hundreds of people are going to be affected without these crab pickers.”

According to NPR’s Michel Martin, Congressman Andy Harris said that immigration officials have announced they will approve 15,000 new guest worker visas. This news didn’t console Harry Phillips. The visas will be awarded by lottery and cover a whole wide range of workers, including those who pick apples, peaches and strawberries.

I’m unhappy that Congressman Harris and Senators Cardin and Van Hollen have not done more to alleviate this crisis. For years, the determined, feisty and effective Sen. Barbara Mikulski successfully fought for guest worker visas. Crab houses stayed in business. People had jobs. Maryland crabmeat was sold throughout the United States. Seasonal workers did jobs that Americans didn’t, as Phillips said in his NPR interview.

I implore Harris, Cardin and Van Hollen to keep crab houses in business. It’s a Maryland enterprise that warrants a full political press.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Justice Be Served by Howard Freedlander

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This is tough to write. Since it seems like piling on.

But justice and fairness must rule.

Nearly three years ago, Bishop Heather Cook, suffragan (#2) bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Baltimore, was sentenced to seven years in prison for killing a bicyclist in Baltimore while she was texting and driving drunk. She caused inestimable harm to the victim’s family, robbing a wife of a husband and two children of a father—two days after Christmas in 2014.

Why does this case matter to us on the Eastern Shore?

Because Heather Cook once served in the Diocese of Easton. Because she was involved in a drunken driving accident in 2010 in Caroline County. Because both Episcopal dioceses seemingly chose to overlook the Rev. Cook’s signs of alcoholism.

Because a 41-year-old father and husband are dead, unnecessarily so.

Bishop Cook is now seeking early release to spend the rest of her seven-year sentence on home detention. It seems inconceivable she has the chutzpah to file such a request.

The victim’s family will have a large say as to whether Heather Cook spends the rest of her sentence at home. As it should.

The Palermo family cannot seek early release from grief and suffering. It is scarred forever.

When I wrote three years ago about Bishop Cook’s killing of a bicyclist and being charged with manslaughter, drunken driving, driving while texting and leaving the scene of the accident, I thought about her apparent unwillingness to face her previous signs of alcohol-induced misbehavior. I faulted the Easton Diocese for failing to take stronger action after the Caroline County accident. I faulted the Diocese of Baltimore for failing to investigate Heather Cook’s history of drinking. And I faulted the church for its lax attitude toward priests facing addiction problems.

Guilt for inattention was pervasive.

At Christ Church in Easton, an Episcopal church, I listen almost weekly to the constant call for forgiveness. I read scripture at services and listen to sermons proclaiming that God’s will demands sympathy, even for those who defy human compassion.

When I wrote a few years ago about the Cook case, I summoned a smidgeon of sympathy for Heather Cook. I recognized the severity of alcohol addiction. I understood the excruciating pain in claiming an addiction and taking responsibility for it, deciding to extract the addiction from one’s life and soul and going about setting a different agenda and approach to stress.

Life without addiction is liberating—but not without a fight, not without a burning desire to live free of substance abuse and not without strong support from family and friends.

From what I have read, Heather Cook has shown no remorse for her crime. For me, that implies she has not acknowledged her alcoholism and its ability to destroy lives. Has 2-1/2 years in prison given her personal insight that clarifies for her the reason for her crime and the disabling nature of her addiction?

It seems not. Horrifying.

When Heather Cook prays to God and confesses her sins of commission and omission, I pray she talks honestly about addiction and apologizes for the death of Thomas Palermo. I pray she will leave prison—whenever that might be—determined to spread the gospel of self-awareness, candor about human flaws and a new-found addiction to sobriety.

I may be “wishin and hopin,” to borrow the lyrics of the old Dionne Warwick song.

At some point, Heather Cook will get a second chance, but not yet. She should treasure it and pray for a life dedicated to service to others, one unburdened by dependence on alcohol.

Justice calls for a longer term in prison—and evidence of soul-felt honesty and remorse about vehicular murder.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Leftovers and Fake News by Howard Freedlander

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After recovering from jet lag after the Bordeaux river cruise described in last week’s column, I thought I would write about some things that didn’t fit into my original piece.

Writers strike a theme and stick with it. They, however, get second chances.

I will discuss fake news as well, unrelated to the French expedition and equally irrelevant to the current usage of the term as voiced often by our beleaguered president, who is constantly upset by the mainstream media. Confused? Stick with me, and I’ll explain in later paragraphs.

As my mental fog and fatigue diminished somewhat last week, I realized I omitted some possibly interesting tidbits of information about our Viking voyage. I must state again: I am not on the Viking payroll despite appearances that might suggest otherwise.

Several staff members aboard our ship were Bulgarian and spoke more than passable English.  Why is the Balkan nation of Bulgaria the source of some Viking employees, as my wife and I have now learned during two Viking cruises? I don’t know. My guess is the pay and the opportunity to improve a command of English. Though hours are long and passengers demanding, the work conditions are comfortable. Passengers are mostly appreciative. The hospitality industry provides a way to see the world.

Cleanliness seemed next to Godliness. One day I saw something that I haven’t seen in many years: the woman who led the cleaning crew was on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor. I say this admiringly; I also wondered why she didn’t use a mop. I hesitate to make this observation for fear of seeming judgmental of sometimes unpleasant jobs. I simply marveled at the perfectionism—and painfully recalled my days in basic military training performing some tedious, even odious tasks.

Fellow guests were nearly unanimously friendly, though many formed, as human nature dictates, their own social groups. Commonly heard throughout the cruise while sitting alone was: “May I join you?” The answer was always a gracious “yes.” Solitude was permissible; camaraderie was encouraged.

Traveling by plane in modern times is a terrible, grueling experience, perhaps alleviated somewhat by first-class or business-class seating. A traveler has to focus on the destination and cope with erratic scheduling conditions over which one has no control—except stay home, I guess.

If I never have to travel again through John F. Kennedy International Airport, I will be a happy guy from the humane Town of Easton. Though Dulles International Airport in Sterling, VA seems distant and entails driving on the horrendous Washington beltway, it now strikes me as a welcome alternative to the JFK International mess. My apologies to New Yorkers who appreciate chaos and tolerate constant brusqueness.

Another image remains etched in my tourist memory—and that is the initially jarring sight of heavily armed soldiers standing in front of the historic Bordeaux Cathedral on a Sunday morning. While I realize that terrorism is a constant and nagging reality, particularly in France, I wondered ruefully about the presumed sanctity and security of a Catholic church in a lovely French city.

The well-used promenade along the Garonne River was blocked by concrete barriers from any vehicular access; memory of the recent personal destruction by a truck in Nice, France justifies this protective measure.

Real world concerns are not far from the surface of a trip organized to avoid the unpleasant aspects of life in a European city and provide a fantasy experience. Life intervenes.

Back home on the right bank of the Chesapeake Bay (excuse the allusion to the French geographical reference points), l attended last Friday evening the sixth annual Chesapeake Champion award ceremony organized by Horn Point Lab in Cambridge. The recipient was Jerry Harris, a gentleman and avowed conservationist who lives in the Church Creek area of Dorchester County.

In early April, I wrote a lengthy article about Harris in “The Star Democrat,” describing his commitment to wildlife habitat restoration and education. He’s a person who wants to protect our little piece of paradise, investing his own money in converting 580 acres on the Honga River and Chesapeake Bay into waterfowl habitat and marshland preservation. He wants to set an example for other property owners.

In commenting upon receipt of the award about my article and another one written about him and his achievements, he modestly referred to the coverage as “fake news.” He further drove the point home by telling the crowd that his dogs showed their appreciation for the words used to describe their owner in a dog’s inimitable fashion. I hope my words are suitably expressive.

So, I somehow have conflated additional information about a river cruise in southwest France with a dog’s response to an owner’s self-deprecating opinion of journalism focused solely on him.

My river cruise stories have run their course. Jerry Harris deserves commendation for his focus on conservation and education.

As for his dogs and their reaction to “fake news,” I grant them freedom of canine expression.

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

 

Out and About (Sort of): Tough Duty… by Howard Freedlander

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But someone has to do it, so the cliche goes concerning a totally pleasant experience that seems almost surreal. So, ten days in Bordeaux and its surrounding vineyard-stocked countryside was truly wonderful and enriching. Relaxing, too.

For eight days, my wife and I were happy, passive passengers on a Viking long ship as it cruised the Garonne, Gironde and Dordogne rivers in southwest France, with numerous excursions led by experienced and knowledgeable guides. If wine were not the main subject, then food dominated the dialogue.

Street scene in Bordeaux

We spent two extra days in Bordeaux after the cruise with our 17-year-old grandson, who has been spending a high school year abroad in Toulouse. He kindly took a train from his adopted city to enable us to see Bordeaux through the eyes and reactions of a young man who has been immersed in French culture for eight months. We also appreciated his command of the language. Dealing with merchants and waiters was much easier due to our grandson.

The 185 passengers on the Viking Forseti included people from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and Mexicans. Our fellow Americans hailed from Iowa, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington state, Minnesota, Oklahoma and New York State, among other states. We met no other Marylanders.

This was our second Viking journey. Many others also were repeat customers.

Food market in Bordeaux

As noted, wine and food underscored the major focus of this trip. I do not drink the former but enjoy the latter. At one point, in the village of St. Emilion, surrounded by lush fields of vineyards, the guide said that wine was religion in that area. St. Emilion even had its own saint of wine. It may seem far-fetched to this Diet Coke-devotee—but not so much when you realize that the growing of grapes and the production drive the economy in the Bordeaux region and burnish its well-cultivated worldwide reputation.

>According to the ship’s program director, 23 bottles of Bordeaux wine are sold every second in this world. That’s impressive.

We learned that during World War II, the Nazis, who occupied France, enjoyed the wine, shipping barrels back to Germany. The French Resistance, intent on protecting its culture and beloved wine, often served the dregs to the rapacious Germans. And, so the story goes, French resistance fighters would board trains to German and spill the barrels of wine.

The Germans could occupy France but not destroy the wine—without paying a price for their greed.

As we traveled the wide rivers, we were struck by its muddiness and lack of boat and ship traffic. The Gironde, an estuary, leads to the Atlantic Ocean. Countervailing wave action, interacting with the soft soil, apparently create the muddy appearance. I could not find an answer to the solitude of the rivers—so very different from our Eastern Shore waterways, including the estuary that is the Chesapeake Bay.

Speaking of soil, I learned that wine-growing grapes depend on the soil, rain, sun, temperatures, strong and deep roots—and no fertilizer. I learned that the best wines emanate from vines that are at least 10-years-old, if not more. Laborers comprise Spaniards, Portuguese and students. Vineyards and wine production have been in the hands of some families for hundreds of years. In one area, pebbles are part of the “terroir” (soil and climate), producing heat for the vines at night.

Water mirror park along the Bordeaux riverfront

Bordeaux is a port city. In recent years, it has experienced a surge of development, spurred by a revival of the waterfront, marked by parks and constant activity. A speedy train now can reach Paris in two hours; hence, commuter travel has increased considerably. It also has hiked property values spurred by relocated Parisians, a reality scorned, we were told, by Bordelaise.

Pedestrian shopping areas in Bordeaux contribute to the vibrancy of the city. These urban spaces, mostly untouched by cars, create a livable and pleasant way to shop and congregate. Really refreshing.

Traveling under the hospitable and friendly umbrella of Viking River Cruises is an unbeatable experience for us. Only 190 passengers fill the long ship. Food and service are superb. Intense training in customer service is obvious. This is not a promotional flack piece for Viking—just testimony from a very satisfied customer.

One last but important point: the weather was warm and comfortable. We had to travel to France to find 80-degree weather. My gosh did it feel different than home.

We’re glad we traveled to southwest France. We’re very happy to be home. Back to life on our own.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Oysters, Science and Human Behavior by Howard Freedlander

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For two years, the future of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay has drawn the attention of 16 concerned “stakeholders,” as human beings with established viewpoints grappled with how to manage and increase the population of a bivalve that symbolizes the health of the Bay and drives the livelihood of the Eastern Shore’s iconic watermen.

Armed with a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the determined organizational leadership of Dr. Elizabeth North, the stakeholder group, comprising watermen, aquaculture producers, a seafood buyer and representatives of the Oyster Recovery Partnership, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association, Philips Wharf Environmental Center, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the federal government sought a solution that will become public in May.

What’s known today, according to Dr. North, principal investigator for the OysterFutures project and associate professor of fisheries oceanography at Horn Point Lab, is that the quest for consensus in the oyster production arena was successful. As noted, details will follow shortly.

There’s no secret that the relations among watermen, regulators, advocacy groups and scientists have been tense and testy for many years. The watermen, understandably, want to fish for oysters and make a good living devoid of burdensome regulations and scientific data they may not trust.

On the other hand, natural resource managers in the state and federal governments intend to preserve the oysters, decimated over the years by disease, habitat loss and too much fishing pressure.

The backdrop to OysterFutures project was sensitive to say the least. Mistrust was a major impediment. Civil communication, as in any other discussion joined by people with ingrained differing opinions, would be a critical element to what participants hoped would be a favorable resolution.

A few years ago when I interviewed Dr. North for an article in The Star Democrat, I was dubious about the likelihood of a consensus. A week ago, Dr. North addressed my doubts. I’m now hopeful.

She said, “It has been very rewarding and challenging to be part of a process where people came together to find commonality…to find out what people agree on.”

Facilitated by two representatives of the University of Florida Conse4nsus Center, equipped with 25 years of experience working with the commercial fishing industry in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico regions, the process encompassed nine meetings conducted for 10-12 hours in each session at Horn Point Lab. Meetings included a research team, headed by Dr. North and that included natural and social scientists, as well as scientific communicators.

The goal of OysterFutures was to produce regulations and policies that would prove effective in improving the oyster resource, and focused on upgrading performance measures, such as oyster abundance, harvest and habitat in the Choptank and Little Choptank rivers.

What particularly fascinates me is another outcome sought in this project. NSF funded this project not only to produce results—whatever they might be–that could increase the threatened, often precarious oyster population–but also to study the human ecology necessary to grow a thriving industry.

What do I mean?

Simply, NSF and the OysterFutures team were intensely interested in the human relations required among the varied stakeholders to develop a consensus that would alter the economic and environmental viability of oysters.

North said, “We had honest, respectful and constructive dialogue. Each participant brought his or her own tree of truth., and we were able to integrate conflicting points of view into a broader collective understanding.

“The local knowledge of watermen was important. They stuck to their guns; they put forward what they considered honest and insisted that their insights be recognized.”

In some cases, preconceived notions fell by the way side, according to North.

Professor North is convinced that the “human dimension” of the facilitated consensus process could be applied to other natural resource conundrums. She believes it could be effective in driving solutions that might influence decision-makers.

I applaud the National Science Foundation, Dr. North and her colleagues for conjoining the study of human interaction and scientific research in the context of a highly contested environmental issue. It only makes sense.

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