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.

Out and About (Sort of): Howling at the Moon by Howard Freedlander

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When will this unending winter come to a close? Chatter about an uncontrollable fact of life has become a staple of conversation in 2018.

I cannot remember another time in my life when I’ve focused so much on a season, anxious for it to end. When I’ve voiced my frustration, silly though it might be, I’ve discovered that others agree.

When I’ve talked with friends comfortably ensconced in warmer climes, I’ve applauded their good sense. For the first time, I’ve even entertained a tinge of envy, rhetorically asking myself: why would anyone who could go south for the winter stick around the Mid-Atlantic region and endure ceaselessly cold temperatures?

Understanding that the month of March is typically a tease in its spectrum of climatic changes—snowstorms and rain—I expected that April would provide a welcome change, an infusion of pleasant, spring weather.

Not so.

Just this past Saturday, April 7, a friend and I dared to watch a Washington Nationals baseball game at Nationals Ballpark against the New York Mets. It seemed unimaginable, but those of us who filled half a stadium were bundled up against 40-degree temperatures. Adding insult to injury, the sun remained AWOL.

Hot chocolate was for sale. It competed with beer as the beverage of choice.

There was more misery.

The Nationals lost its fourth straight game, by one run. And there was one more disturbing occurrence. In one inning, the home plate umpire ejected the Nationals batter and then the manager for arguing a strike call. The Nationals manager was so angry he kicked dirt on home plate and tossed his cap.

Subsequently, the fans busied themselves screaming at the empire and briefly ignoring the cold weather. Ah, sports provide an escape from daily concerns–and unseasonably cold temperatures—in the heat of the moment (excuse my lame pun).

Now, if this were an April Fool’s column, I would suggest that the Russians were somehow responsible for delaying the onset of Spring weather. I would wonder if Russia’s President Putin and gang somehow hacked the weather gods. As you can tell, I’m really grasping for an explanation for a winter that refuses to go away.

Continuing my senseless venting about the weather, I’m anxious to eschew seaters and long-sleeved shirts for a warm-weather wardrobe. Enough is enough.

Lacking any scientific data, I would like to believe that our moods would improve, that we would smile more and resume our neighborhood conversations if the weather improved and offered us a long period of pleasant weather.

Whining about the weather seems meaningless and, yes, comparable to howling at the moon and wasting my time and energy. Yet, I can’t help myself.

It’s time for a change. The thought of 60-70-degree weather gives me hope.

Happy Spring!

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): Quest for Comity by Howard Freedlander

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We pay professional therapists to listen to us, but we can’t afford the time or effort to listen to others with divergent views.

Two friends in the county have views diametrically opposed to mine. Yet we enjoy a depth of civility and friendship that transcends our polar opposite viewpoints. We refuse to poison our communication with insults and personal attacks.

It seems that civil dialogue or any discourse between those on opposite ends of the political spectrum is rare. Either politics deliberately doesn’t come up in conversation, or the differing persons simply avoid each other. We all know this sad tale; the polarization seems a stubbornly omnipresent fact of life today. It’s a shame.

Maybe it’s overstated. Maybe it’s not. Divisiveness seems entwined these days with the human condition.

Just recently, I spent 90 minutes at lunch with some people whose viewpoints differed greatly from mine. Conversation was difficult at times. Fortunately, each person generally spoke without emotion and recrimination—not entirely, but mostly. A sense of friendship and respect seemed to emerge at the same time as dessert and coffee.

I won’t dwell on the lunch. However, I will talk about “Better Angels,” as reported recently by CBS News. I was dismayed but not surprised by the stark differences of opinions about gun control; the discussion lasted 18 months in Lebanon, Ohio.

What interested me is that this method of overcoming ill will is the same as confronting and overcoming harmful bias. In fact, two members of the “focus group”—one an Iranian-American and the other an evangelical Christian—described how their initially fraught relationship evolved into one of warm friendship. The therapeutic process worked.

What seems new and striking about the discussion and its byproduct of friendship is not a new phenomenon It just stands out due to the bigotry and stridency expressed in our times in some quarters. The abusive language harms our democracy; it consigns compromise and tolerance to the outer reaches of human behavior. Productive discourse seems unfathomable.

In President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, presented on March 4, 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, voiced a yearning for a time when “the mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

In futility, Lincoln hoped for an outcome free of mortal combat and societal schism.

Striking a different, yet forgiving and conciliatory tone in his second inaugural address delivered in March 1865 just before the end of the wrenching Civil War, Lincoln said:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations. “

Analyzing Lincoln’s second address and the current state of relationships in our fractious nation, Paul Cox, a friend, wrote:

“The second address anticipated the end of the war and the great job of reconciliation – it is generally accepted that Lincoln, the great captain, would have steered the ship of state more successfully through the turbulent post-war years. We cannot know. But we look back from here and see so many issues still unreconciled, wounds still not healed.

“Has it been malice? Has it been a lack of charity? As this world spins around, there are many strong centrifugal forces that would throw us all apart. The act of listening to people with diametrically opposed political views would be one of the first things necessary to assure us being held together.”

Paul arrives at the same conclusion as I did: civility has suffered as those on the opposite ends of the political spectrum adamantly avoid, if not disdain, listening to people whose opinions, though well-thought out, seem anathema to our ears. We won’t and don’t listen. We believe that the search for common ground is meaningless.

The quest for comity is a bumpy, uncomfortable road. It offers risks; we might change our minds. We might respect and even like the person whose opinions are bothersome.

All of us embody “better angels.”

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): 3rd Bay Bridge Span Questioned by Howard Freedlander

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Last week I wrote about an engaging concept entitled Delmarva Oasis, which, if it becomes a reality, would convert a large portion of the Delmarva Peninsula into a preserve that retains and enhances the agricultural and environmental goodness of the region we call home. I noted that the prospect of a third Chesapeake Bay Bridge span imposes a certain urgency on converting this concept into a reality.

Up until recently, I favored a third span. For 30 years, I crossed the Bay Bridge to earn a living in Baltimore and Annapolis. I developed a love-hate relationship with the existing two spans, sometimes crossing easily, sometimes with annoying difficulty.

The solution to the increasing congestion and mental damage seemed obvious to me: build an additional span. The May to September “reach the beach” fervor, resulting in year-after-year inconvenience to Eastern Shore residents trying to negotiate Route 50, would be alleviated. All would be right on this side of the Bay.

I have been wrong.

A third span– either aligning with the current bridges or crossing from Baltimore to Kent County or extending from Calvert County to Dorchester County—would simply dump more vacationers on Route 50. Eastern Shore residents would continue to be imprisoned in their homes during the seasonal rush to the Maryland and Delaware beaches.

A bridge spanning the Baltimore Harbor and Kent County may seem logical based on distance and probable expense but destructive to a county with rich farmland and a predominantly agricultural economy and way of life. Kent Countians have fought hard over the years to preserve its rural character, understandably.

So, what’s the solution? Realistically, the political power supporting expansion of the two-span Bay Bridge rests on the Western Shore. This comment is not meant to disparage our fellow Marylanders on the other, well-populated side of the Chesapeake Bay.

The decision to build or not to build is not ours to make.

While we can make noise, we regretfully can do little else. Still, we must persist. Our arguments must carry sufficient force to resonate in the State House and General Assembly.

Were I able to wave a magic wand, I would opt for a rapid transit solution, one that would reduce the traffic on the Shore. I would recommend that a third span, should it be built alongside or even atop the current structures, be devoted solely to rapid transit.

A rapid transit solution not only would reduce cars, crashes, and congestion, it also would mitigate pollution in the air we breathe and the Bay we enjoy.

Would rapid transit be costly? Absolutely. Would it interfere with Americans’ love affair with their vehicles? Absolutely. Would it affect the economic fortunes of small businesses along Route 50? Very likely.

What also is rather obvious is that residents of communities on Kent Island, Grasonville, Wye Mills, Easton and Cambridge would achieve a degree of normality during 16-18 weekends. We may be able to cross Route 50 without blocking out a few hours to shop and do errands. We have been good sports for too long.

While doing some research for this column, I read about the possibility of a third span extending from Cove Point in Calvert County to Crisfield in Somerset County, taking beach traffic onto Route 113, relieving the stress on Routes 50 and 13. This is an intriguing possibility that never occurred to me during my lengthy obsession with the Bay Bridge spans.

Ignoring for the moment that residents of Somerset and Calvert counties might scream foul, I like this potential option. Admittedly, it leaves those of us on the Mid-and-Upper Shore unscathed by a third bay Bridge span; maybe our existing traffic would decrease by directing residents of the District of Columbia metropolitan area to the Lower Shore for their entry to Ocean City and Bethany Beach, Dewey Beach and Rehoboth, DE.

While literally pushing the can (cars) down the road, I remained concerned that rapid transit might be discounted as a viable, albeit expensive, option. Like so many people, I love the independence bestowed by access to my own mode of transportation. Like many other people, I would have to adopt a new mindset.

Just recently, I was at Tampa International Airport and necessarily discovered its people-mover system, SkyConnect. Use of it at first was unsettling. Then, I appreciated its convenience, efficiency and speed; Frequent travelers are accustomed to people movers at Atlanta’s huge airport and other domestic and foreign airports.

If the Eastern Shore of Maryland is going to retain its rural character and host a healthy and vibrant environment, preserving land and values, then it must not be the home of a terminus to a third Bay Bridge span. Unless that span is devoted solely to rapid transit and brings no more cars.

Preservation will entail a stubborn, reasoned resistance to more of the same. It’s worth the fight, difficult though it might be.

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.