Op-Ed: Delmarva Oasis and Frankenfish – Building a Resilient Region by Rob Etgen


The strange fishing season on the Chesapeake this summer has served as another reminder about the importance of Eastern Shore Land Conservancy’s vision for a Delmarva Oasis. This initiative would protect half of our beautiful region for wildlife, farming and continuing the traditions like fishing in the waters of the Wye River. Clearly, fishing is important to me and many of

Marquis Roberts

my strongest relationships have been built by quiet time together in a boat or on a shore or canoeing a river. Some of my fondest fishing memories are with Marquis Roberts – one of my closest friends since we were paired together in Easton’s Big Brothers program in 1994. Back in those early days our favorite outing was a summer evening skiff ride from Bellevue to Benoni Point near Oxford to wrestle with some white perch and stripers while watching a beautiful sunset. But times – and weather – are changing.

As most are aware, it was incredibly wet in this region over the last year. We had so much rain between the springs of 2018 and 2019 that the Chesapeake Bay freshened to a level that freshwater fish species typically locked by salt water into the upper reaches of our rivers suddenly were free to move about the Bay. This summer we have caught our share of perch and a few rockfish, but for the first time our catch has been overwhelmingly dominated by catfish. In one evening of Wye River fishing we caught over 40 lbs. of catfish equally divided between Blue and Channel Cats. The invasive and non-native Blue Catfish is the largest catfish in North America reaching over 100 lbs. – and they eat a lot of everything with potentially serious impacts on Blue Crabs and Menhaden – two species critical to a healthy Bay.

The other fish to benefit from the heavy rains is the Northern Snakehead – another non-native and invasive freshwater fish that is now spreading Bay wide. Like something out of a horror movie, Snakeheads grow large and with big teeth, they feed on anything including small mammals and birds, they can walk across land on their fins and live out of water for up to four days, they lay up to 15,000 eggs several times per year, and their favorite prey is white perch. Yikes!

Extreme precipitation and warming temperatures are also causing changes on land. Since I was a kid the ospreys returned from their southern wintering grounds on my birthday every year – March 12. Over the last decade or so the return date has crept earlier in March and now there is usually at least one spotted in February each year. Many bird species that I record on my annual Christmas and spring songbird counts are staying later in the fall and returning earlier in the spring due to the milder winters.  These changes and many others caused by a warming climate and increasing weather extremes are playing out across our lands and waters with mostly unknown consequences.

With these worrisome changes underway I find great comfort in ESLC’s Delmarva Oasis initiative to help our region adapt to change and even thrive long into the future. In striving to protect half of Delmarva by 2030, our approach is to build out our system of hubs and corridors of wildlife habitat to both protect our water quality and allow plants and animals to migrate and evolve as the climate warms. We also will secure our best farmland for growing our food.

Personally, my plan is to keep learning from observation and robust science, to adapt our conservation strategies quickly, and to get outdoors and enjoy the natural world in old and new ways – including fishing for stripers and whatever other species show up in the Bay. I talked with Marquis the other day about Snakeheads and Blue Cats and we both agreed – delicious!

Rob Etgen
President, Eastern Shore Land Conservancy

“Talk Sense to a Fool and He Calls you Foolish” by Joseph Prud’homme


When the moral perversity of the Hollywood culture-crats is bemoaned by modern liberals, I can’t help but exclaim, in the same way, Dionysus replied to Pentheus in the classic play The Bacchae: wisdom is foolish—most especially to a fool.

How foolish it was to think the very same men who gave us Magic Mike and Bad Moms—obscene filth with degraded trash on nearly every scene—could be paragons of moral virtue. Sleaze is what sleaze does. Only the fool fails to see.

Yet, mugged by recalcitrant reality (to paraphrase Irving Kristol), liberalism’s leading lights now denounce the predations of Harvey Weinstein and similarly sleazy scoundrels. But, I hasten to ask, how can liberals denounce with moral or intellectual consistency the depraved actions of Weinstein and his Hollywood hoodlums yet still praise the vile porn these men push in the malls and cineplexes, from Seattle to Sarasota? They can do so only by becoming even greater fools.

The greatest of fools, in fact.

Indeed, it was Chelsea Clinton’s favorite hack-site, Common Sense Media—a Hollywood-celebrating “review” rag purporting to “improve[e] the media landscape for kids and families”—that suborned moms to see the disgusting skin flick Bad Christmas Moms 2 with their teenage daughters. Yet Chelsea Clinton lionizes the (often quite necessary) #Metoo advocacy ascendant in the cultural zeitgeist.

It’s high time liberals not only decry the sexual perversities of the men who run the Hollywood movie houses, but also decry the very filth these men spew in theatres across the country. To condemn one without the other is to be blind to the toxic culture Hollywood pedals—and the negative consequences the smut they merchandize has on our nation’s moral conscience.

The pop-Media moguls and all the politicos dependent on their ill-gotten cash will no doubt cast me a prude for asserting a tight nexus between the smut these men pander and the vice these ogres live. However, the social science data on mainstream smut is staggering. Social psychologist Ross O’Hara, for example, has documented that highly sexualized content—especially when created or viewed in a mainstream setting and in the normalized context of a close circle of friends—has a powerful impact on one’s sense of propriety and forges sexual scripts in the minds of makers and viewers that heighten risks for aggressive and offensive behavior.

These men on the tops of the Hollywood Hills scarcely do much more than rehash smut upon smut upon smut. That that they should be smutty scumbags themselves only heightens a truism we all used to know, before these Titans of Titillation convinced us otherwise: “monkey see”—your mother, your minister, your teacher knew too well—“monkey do.” Indeed, it was no unctuous preachiness that led St. Paul to instruct all individuals of moral seriousness to “set one’s eyes on higher things.”

Proverbs, moreover, tells us that “doing wrong is like a joke to a fool.” “Oh, it’s all escapist fun; it’s simply raunchy humor”:

The last refuge of a Hollywood porn pusher—and a sexual harasser—or worse. Proverbs, however, also reminds us that “the wise will inherit honor, but fools only get disgrace.”

Better words scarcely have been spoken.

Joseph Prud’homme is a professor at Washington College, and founder of the school’s Institute for the Study of Religion, Politics, and Culture. He lives with his wife and family in Easton, Maryland. 

Op-Ed: The Dumbing Down of Smart Growth will Fail to Preserve MD Landscape by Tom Horton


If you’re not yet worried about Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s abandonment of Smart Growth, you might want to read a new study on how Dumb Growth could cost Frederick County taxpayers some half a billion bucks.

First, a brief Smart Growth primer (which was once available on the Maryland Department of Planning’s website — until the website and department became a joke under Hogan): Smart Growth is the antithesis of sprawl, which is development outside areas planned and built for growth. Sprawl gobbles open space, increases air and water pollution, and costs more in new services than it ever offsets with taxes from new residents.

Sprawl, or Dumb Growth, can work politically, though, at least for a while. You just call it Economic Growth, or just Growth, which sounds fine to many people, especially bankers and developers and pavers and homebuilders — all of whom are good at electing candidates who’ll butter their bread.

That’s the way it worked in Frederick County for several years, until a more progressive slate of county officials took over in 2015 and began toting up the cost of “progress” under the former regime.

An August 2017 report done for Jan Gardner, the county executive, examined developments in the pipeline that will create 21,000 new housing units in the county, adding 50,000 new residents, 10,000 of them school age.

The fiscal bottom line: Taxpayers will fork out $340 million for roads and another $167 million for schools beyond anything that was planned or budgeted for, the county spokesman said.

A number of these developments also lock the county into agreements for up to 25 years, so that even if zoning gets stricter or developer fees are raised, the presently approved growth remains exempt.

The Frederick experience illustrates the perils of poorly planned residential growth, as well as the fallacy of believing it generates enough new revenue in property taxes to outweigh the demands it makes on government services.

This was one of the reasons that Maryland, under Gov. Parris Glendening in the 1990s, became a pioneer in pushing Smart Growth. Martin O’Malley, who preceded Hogan as governor, added teeth to Smart Growth in 2012 with a landmark law sharply limiting new development in areas that are predominantly farm and forest.
That law did not literally usurp traditional county power over land use; rather it dramatically curtailed, across rural landscapes, the use of septic tanks, on which sprawl development depends.

The law in recent years has begun to make a difference, and a major reason was the vigilance and “jawboning” of the Department of Planning, combined with the assistance it provided to counties in complying.

That threatens to unravel under Hogan, who announced in August to the Maryland Association of Counties that “Plan Maryland,” as O’Malley’s version of Smart Growth was called, “is off the books.” He was putting land use “back into the hands of local authorities,” Hogan said to applause.

The governor has also made it easier to develop using septic tanks again and given Cecil County a pass on complying with the 2012 anti-sprawl law.

He has not overtly tried to repeal the law itself, but in addition to Cecil, at least three more of Maryland’s 23 counties — Wicomico, Allegany and Queen Anne’s — have adopted plans or are pushing developments counter to the law.

But nothing is stopping any county whose citizens want to grow smartly. Charles County in Southern Maryland is a shining example after a six-year campaign to overturn a ruinous development plan.

As of 2016, Charles finalized a plan that stopped an estimated 339 major subdivisions on septic across 88,000 acres of open space. It also stopped about 123 new subdivisions in watersheds designated high water quality.

The new plan finally protects Mattawoman Creek, one of the Chesapeake’s best fish habitats; saves an estimated $2 billion on new roads; and cuts projected population growth in the next 30 years from 75,000 to 37,000.

Several Maryland counties have excellent compliance with the anti-sprawl law, while several others remain a mixed bag. For information on your county, contact 1000 Friends of Maryland, a statewide environmental land use group.

Rating Gov. Hogan environmentally is complicated by the reality that he is a tree hugger compared with national Republicans and the Trump administration, which set the lowest of bars.

He’s been good by any measure in important areas like Program Open Space, the state’s premier land preservation effort, and in aspects of air quality, such as greenhouse gas reductions. His transportation programs, though, remain far too road-improvement oriented, as opposed to pushing mass transit and mobility.

His environmental secretary, Ben Grumbles, gets high marks from environmentalists. His natural resources secretary, Mark Belton, might be good if nastier Hogan appointees would butt out of managing Bay fisheries.

The governor got a “needs improvement” grade on his 2017 report card from the Maryland League of Conservation voters; that’s the next to lowest of five ratings the group gives.

Hogan remains popular and has a good shot at re-election in 2018. But if the housing economy picks up, I fear a return to major sprawl development. In his re-election bid, the governor will face tougher questions about Smart Growth than he’s gotten so far.

Tom Horton has written about Chesapeake Bay for more than 40 years, including eight books. He lives in Salisbury, where he is also a professor of Environmental Studies at Salisbury University. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Bay Journal.

Op-Ed: Hogan Rolls back Septic Laws; Paves the Way for Dumb Growth by Tom Horton


Critics claiming Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s rollback of modern septic tank requirements will modestly increase Bay pollution are misguided.
It’ll be a lot worse than they think.

Hogan’s administration is opening the gate not only for more-polluting septic systems, but for a lot more of them — for a return to the sprawl development that Maryland has spent most of the last 20 years trying to channel into smarter, cleaner growth.

A little background: Most of the 465,000 septic tanks that serve Maryland homes not hooked to sewage treatment plants are one step up from outhouses and cesspools. They remove bacteria, but not the nitrogen, from wastes flowing to groundwater, streams and rivers, and ultimately to the Bay, where it degrades aquatic life.

The newest septics remove twice as much nitrogen, but not nearly as much as do Maryland’s rapidly upgrading sewage treatment plants. Last month, Hogan’s Department of the Environment said the state will no longer require nitrogen-removing septics, except on lots close to the water. This will make it cheaper for developers to build in rural landscapes.

The ties between septic tanks and the countryside are widely underappreciated. State health laws have long served as a crude substitute for more protective rural zoning, which bar development on significant acreages where soils were too soggy, too sloped, too rocky to pass “percolation” tests required to site septic tanks.

“Without septic, you don’t have sprawl,” says Richard Hall, who was Maryland’s secretary of state planning for eight years under Gov. Martin O’Malley, Hogan’s predecessor.

Historically, in the absence of protective rural zoning, septic perc tests steered development toward prime farm soils and bigger lots — toward the suburban sprawl that’s well-documented to increase air pollution through more driving; raise taxes as counties extend services; and gobble up an average eight times as much land per household than do homes connected to sewers.

So with Maryland looking at a projected increase of 1 million people and 500,000 households by 2040, one of the biggest questions for the environment and for quality of life is this: How many will be on sewers, how many on septic?

Minimizing septic tanks seemed the logical answer to Hall and his boss, O’Malley. In 2012, they crafted a widely accepted law that dramatically limited development on septic tanks wherever the landscape was “predominantly agriculture and forest.” About the same time, O’Malley required all new septics to remove nitrogen, making sprawl development more expensive, but also less polluting.

Some rural counties chafed, most notably Cecil in northern Maryland. They submitted for state planning’s review a zoning map that essentially said “in your face” to restrictions on septic-based development on farms and forestland. A county planning official compared then-Secretary Hall to Adolf Hitler.

The septic “tier mapping law” as it is known, left ultimate land use power with the counties; but it gave Hall’s Department of State Planning, and the MDE broad latitude to pressure counties into compliance, even to hold up development if it was contrary to the law’s anti-sprawl intent.

Hogan has quietly reversed all of this. Letters sent to Cecil County from both his environment and planning departments say, in effect, the county can go its own way.
The signals from the state are clear, not just to Cecil, but to Calvert, Queen Anne’s and other rural counties under growth pressure. They need no longer fear state intervention against sprawl. Smart growth is out; dumb growth is back.

The majority of Maryland counties have largely complied with the new law’s requirement that “Tier Four” lands, those where farms and forests predominate, allow only minor development on septic, which is to say only limited development.
But there’s little now to keep them from backsliding, and you can bet that’s not going to be lost on the development community, a powerful political force at the county level everywhere.

State planners these days “pay more attention to the casual Fridays dress code” than they do to Smart Growth laws, says longtime land use advocate Dru Schmidt-Perkins, head of 1000 Friends of Maryland.

“The message to the counties is, ‘Do what you want’,” Hall says of his old department.

Fifty thousand new septic systems would be prevented from being installed in rural landscapes, the O’Malley administration calculated when its 2012 law went into effect. No one should expect that now. We can’t know yet how many will be built, but we know most won’t have to control nitrogen.

Hogan might have helped developers without harming the environment if he had looked at why less polluting septic tanks cost so much — $10,000 to $15,000 apiece.

I’ve seen them done well for half that, by Rich Piluk, a sanitarian in Anne Arundel county. I had one installed myself. But apparently only a few big companies met the state’s requirements for certification and accountability. It’s been suggested counties could set up their own septic management districts to lower costs.

But it’s easier to tout Maryland as “open for business,” with talk of “getting the state off your backs.” With policies that reach well beyond gutting septic restrictions — such as shifting transportation money from mass transit to more roads — Hogan seems determined to defeat the “war on rural Maryland” that his supporters claim O’Malley waged. “Victory” for them means a return to sprawl development.

Tom Horton has written about Chesapeake Bay for more than 40 years, including eight books. He lives in Salisbury, where he is also a professor of Environmental Studies at Salisbury University.

Op-Ed: Aleppo – The Reality Show and Its Next Season by Tom Timberman


Contemplating the Middle East writ large or even its component countries tends to be a short-lived experience for most Americans. We inwardly shudder at the inexplicability of these places and the “rationality” of their populations’ suicidal urges. We remember our 8 years in Iraq and the heavy US human and financial costs paid (4500 KIA, 33,000 WIA, $1.1 trillion), and the absence of “success”. And since 2011, the Syrian Civil War complicated by the presence of various vicious groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda etc who kill and destroy ostensibly for religious and ethnic reason, defies our minds. Some authorities say easy sex, power and lots of money are also involved and that is understandable.

In Syria, it’s a case of a dictator desperate to remain in power who is willing to kill some 500,000 of his own people and destroy their economy and much of their cultural and historic heritage, to do so. After Ukraine, Russia saw an opportunity to expand its influence in the Middle East, demonstrate its intimidating military prowess and restore the glory of the Soviet Empire. Assad and Putin’s motivations are not difficult to grasp.

When confronted with a jumble of impenetrable puzzles or a problem with multiple moving parts, it’s easier to break them apart and focus on a single element and learn enough to proceed.

In terms of the Middle East, Aleppo, Syria’s former largest city is an excellent starting point.

Aleppo: The Reality Show

The death, destruction and human experience in Aleppo have become the narrative and image for the entire Middle East. Daily we see and hear grieving fathers holding their dead children and screaming at the pain of a lost son or daughter; we see brave men digging through the rubble to rescue or remove the survivors or more often, the dead. We learn how many cluster bombs were dropped, hospitals and schools in ruins and always the mounting daily toll. We are exposed to the doctors, nurses and support staff who chose to remain at great risk, but in declining numbers, to care for the victims. And always, we’re told there is little food or potable water or safe shelter.
This in microcosm, is the reality of lives across the Middle East, albeit to different degrees with idiosyncratic back stories and different adjectives and adverbs describing the people involved. However, the human emotions, suffering and lost history, memories and faded futures are all much the same.

If you think Chicago instead of Aleppo and imagine its residents – Americans – subjected to this same level of misery amid the ruins of the city’s landmarks, we come closer to understanding what is happening to people like us, except people who unfortunately live in Aleppo, not Chestertown or Easton.

Aleppo’s Next Season

Aleppo, as was Berlin, is now divided between East (regime controlled) and West (insurgents). The current devastation from the air, will likely soon add another more dangerous dimension: ground and tank attack. Large Syrian army forces and armor with their Russian advisors surround the city (10/16). How this situation will unfold is unknown, though it promises more civilian suffering and distress. It took 45 years after the final assault, for Berlin to emerge united and whole. And, for Aleppo?

Tom Timberman is an expert on military policy and now lives on the Eastern Shore. Among his many assignments with the US Department of State, he has headed a provincial reconstruction team, embedded within a combat brigade in Iraq. He has also helped implement a new counterterrorism strategy in South East Asia as Senior Advisor for South Asia in the Office of Coordinator for Counterterrorism.


Op-Ed: Spoils System Back on Md.’s Marijuana Licensing by Barry Rascovar


Maybe Donald Trump is right: The system is rigged. For proof, look at how interest groups are feverishly trying to “rig” Maryland’s choice of authorized marijuana growers and processorsThe Black Legislative Caucus wants to “rig” the selection procedure so that people of color get their share (and more) of the lucrative payoff from legalized pot-growing, despite their lack of high rankings in the objective selection process.

Others recently got the system “rigged” in a way that denies licenses to a few top-ranked growers who were chosen on merit. Instead, lesser-rated groups in politically sensitive geographic areas were awarded this rich financial prize.

Picking the best, most qualified growers gave way to political “rigging” of the system.

So much for the commission’s carefully planned “double-blind” selection procedure designed to remove political favoritism and eliminate any hint of subjective bias.

Guarding against tainted results

This well-established, scientific method works beautifully in drug-testing and picking the most skilled musicians for the Baltimore Symphony. So why not use this proven way to guard against tainted results in the state’s effort to find the best and most capable cannabis growers and processors?

Silly idea. An honest evaluation of the applicants proved too much for state politicians and lobbyists. Their favored applicants failed to make the cut.

Suddenly, criticism rained down on the medical marijuana commission. The cry went out: Bring back Maryland’s spoils system.

“This is a good modern-day civil rights fight,” said Del. Cheryl Glenn, who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus.

Well. . . that’s a stretch.

It’s an effort to ensure that already financially well-off minorities get a slice of the action – regardless of their capabilities for handling the growing, processing and distribution of medical marijuana.

After all, this is expected to be a national multi-billion-dollar business.

To heck with selecting the most qualified cannabis growers. What Maryland needs is some good old favoritism!

Merit selection process

The commission tried its best to keep politics out of its decision-making. It came up with a way of choosing winning applicants that was devoid of political pressure and influence-peddling – a double-blind ranking system conducted by an outside group.

Applicants’ names, and their investors’ names, were removed from proposals so the rankings would be based entirely on merit.

It turned out, though, that none of the applications submitted by minority-controlled companies ranked high enough to gain a cultivation license. That’s when impartiality and merit-selection went out the window.

Attorney General Brian Frosh, in an incredibly two-faced action, contradicted his own assistant attorney general and other higher-ups in his agency, who had concluded the commission could not legally tilt the playing field.

Frosh rallied to the side of the Black Caucus. Gov. Larry Hogan expressed concern, too. Word came down from on high: Work something out.

Oh, well, so much for a color-blind government that allows only the best-qualified cannabis cultivators and processors to ply their trade in Maryland.

Gift-wrapped permits

The commission quickly buckled under the pressure.

In August, the panel stripped two winning companies of their licenses not because they had done something wrong but because one commissioner argued there wasn’t enough “geographic diversity” among authorized growers.

Lower-scoring applicants with more politically acceptable locations were gift-wrapped these valuable permits.

Not surprisingly, the disqualified applicants are threatening to sue. More litigation is inevitable.

If the Black Caucus succeeds in pulling the licenses of other applicants for the sake of diversity – or gets the entire process re-started – we’ll have enough legal action to set back the cause of medicinal marijuana for a long time.

Yet while minority groups fight for a bigger slice of the cannabis windfall, sick and terminally ill patients in excruciating pain are denied the relief cannabis might provide.

No one seems agitated about that. Mammon rules the day.

It’s a royal mess.

Politicians get involved

Years ago, attempts in Maryland to “rig” the system sent a vice president into shameful exile and a governor and several county executives to prison. The quest for money can be a corrupting influence.

So it is with legalizing medical marijuana – at least in Maryland.

Choosing the people who will grow marijuana plants and turn them into safe medicinal products is serious business. It seemed to make sense to pick them based purely on expertise and merit.

But not to the b’hoys in Annapolis.

So now politicians have their hands in the action. The result could be lengthy delays and a more expansive and pliable process that allows Maryland’s spoils system to work its magic.

Is an impartial, unbiased selection system about to be manipulated for the benefit of lesser-qualified applicants who have friends in high places?

You don’t need to be Donald Trump to answer that question.

The Remains of Our Days by George Merrill


As a young assistant priest in a New York City church, I visited many of our parish’s elderly and shut-ins. I liked visiting. Many of my contemporary clergy didn’t. They were impatient with the inclinations of the elderly to balk at change, ruminate about health, talk about who died while fussing about changes in the churches décor or services.

I can say honestly I didn’t feel impatient. I had developed a knack for nudging the conversation in the direction of the “old days,” and how life was for these elderly in the days before my time. It was like history coming alive before me, as if I was back there. Elderly parishioners welcomed my enquiries and many of the tales I heard were spellbinding. It was a win-win.

The wheel of Karma turns. As those folks were then, so I am now. I balk at some changes and am regularly saddened by the people I’ve known who have died. I am, however, as curious about my own past as I had been about those of my parishioners in the city sixty years ago.

The experience of exploring one’s life is exciting in the way rummaging through attics can be, where over the years, all kinds of things were put away to gather dust until circumstances conspired to encourage our return to the attic. There, we rediscover what we’d long forgotten but see it with fresh eyes.

I found an old family photograph, recently. It shows the front parlor and the adjoining room in my grandparents’ home where, during my boyhood, we’d celebrate Thanksgiving. The rooms were small.

The photograph was taken long before I was born, maybe near the turn of the century. It was a grand old house located on Richmond Terrace on Staten Island, a once fashionable residential area along the Kill Van Kull, the water boundary between Staten Island and New Jersey.

I remember the house as always filled with smoke – from my grandfather’s and my uncles’ pipes and cigars – along with the lingering smell of Yardley lavender perfume that my grandmothers and great aunts wore with their holiday finery. The collective aroma became for me a kind of tribal scent by which I knew I was home among my own native kin.

In the room, bric-a-brac, knickknacks, gewgaws, photographs, odds and ends of every description covered the surfaces of mantels, tables, a china cabinet, and even the floor. There, two cuspidors sat prominently on either side of a table in the middle of one room.

The fireplace was black wrought iron. On its mantelpiece, among various vases and statuettes, sat a clock with two horses on top bearing the triumphal figures of what I guessed were conquistadores. The table in the middle of the room was also filled with photographs and I saw the black ivory elephant that had been there when I was a boy. The figurine had an elegantly smooth sheen and I could never pass it by without touching it.

Walls were papered in various floral designs, crown moldings edged the upper walls and on the ceiling in the middle of the sitting room, a chandelier hung from a round plaster floret adorned with sculpted flower buds. The chandelier had three fogged glass shades in which gas flames once burned. I saw the Morris chair I eventually inherited. In this photograph, a lace doily had been draped over the back.

Seeing the picture now, I realize that in my lifetime I witnessed the remains of the Victorian era. I was enchanted with its extravagant décor, its insatiable appetite for collectibles and the intimate spaces in which people, despite limited room, maintained careful distances from each other.

The Victorian code of conduct served to manage family secrets. My widowed great aunt had the “handyman” living with her in her Victorian home next door to my grandmothers. It never occurred to me until I was in my fifties just how in those days certain personal “arrangements,” while considered abhorrent, were nevertheless quietly accommodated, and never discussed.

I adored my Great Uncle John. He was a retired New York City policeman and a bachelor. He was considered “course.” My mother liked him, too, although she occasionally complained how he liked putting his hand on her rump. That Uncle John dated Margaret – an Irish Catholic – with whom he went to bars, shocked his Methodist sisters. It was scandalous enough that Margaret was Catholic, but to add insult to injury she was also Irish. The Methodists of the family were staunchly abstemious, terminally Protestant and defiantly waspish. I never saw Margaret at family affairs, but only occasionally with Uncle John. I liked her. She was salty.

My mother resented Grandma Merrill. Years ago, when having my father’s family for Thanksgiving, Grandma Merrill spent half of Thanksgiving day instructing my mother just how the turkey should be prepared. My mother remained civil, but the invisible walls of distance were erected.

Today, at holiday gatherings, families take a minimalist view of dress codes. Come as you are is in vogue. Flip-flops and tank tops will do. Back then, I recall with fondness that when my relatives arrived for the day, everyone was dressed to the nines. Men donned suits, vests, ties, topcoats, and wore fedoras and the women came in hats, white gloves and flowered dresses. There was an implied respect in the way that even relatives, who were certainly familiar with each other, still chose to meet looking their best. Keeping up appearances is not a bad thing. It lends dignity to an occasion.

Photographs remind us of the people and places that formed our identity. They are formed partly by our sense of place and more particularly by the personalities of the people who occupied those places. In one sense we are formed like onions, less organized by a center than consisting of layers of memories that remain with us until the remains of our days.

Seeing an old yellowed photograph brings them back.

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.

Op-Ed: The Promises They Keep by Carl Widell


A surprising fact – U.S. presidents keep most of their campaign promises. People don’t believe this; when promises are made, many feel “it’s just a politician talking.”

But it’s a mistake to disregard campaign promises. From President Wilson through President Bush over 75% of the promises made on the campaign trail were kept. (see Ezra Klein, ”Presidents keep their campaign promises.“ The Washington Post, January 20, 2012.) PolitiFact has tracked all of President Obama’s campaign promises and found he has delivered on 70% of them.

The press, the candidate’s committed supporters, and major donors all pressure presidents to keep their promises. Clinton, with her many published briefings, leaves little doubt of her plans, and will no doubt be held to them. Trump is more elusive, but he cannot expect his supporters to forget what he has said in his speeches. Just look at the trouble he has had trying to ‘soften’ his immigration policy. He promised over and over again he would “ship the illegal Mexicans out.” When he later proposed a way to re-register illegal immigrants, his supporters cried “Amnesty,” and he has had to backtrack.

John McCain and Mitch McConnell have argued that the separation of powers in the Constitution will prevent Trump from doing many of the things he has promised. This may not be true. Eric Posner, a Chicago Law School professor, has examined whether Trump could actually carry out his policies and concluded that he could. With Congress’ assent, George Bush and Barak Obama have expanded presidential powers over the past fifteen years. Posner concludes that Trump could use these expanded powers to push through the majority of his policies.

It follows that we should pay close attention to promises made on the campaign trail. For example, both candidates promise large projects to create jobs. Trump talks of a trillion dollar program to repair highways, bridges and public transportation, something the American Society of Civil Engineers feels we sorely need. Economists agree that Trump’s program will create jobs, but worry that he has no plans to pay for it. Instead he proposes the largest tax cut the U.S. has ever seen with the largest cuts going to the wealthy. Together these programs could put us in $10 trillion of debt (according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget). Clinton also proposes a large infrastructure plan and she also plans a large tax cut, but only on the middle class. Both of these measures will create jobs. She pays for these plans by increasing taxes on the wealthy to levels seen in the 1990s. Clinton maintains that because all of her programs are paid for they stand a good chance of getting through Congress (the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says her programs will cost $250 billion over 10 years).

Trump promises to cut back our commitments to our European allies (NATO), to our Asian allies (ASEAN) and encourage them to create their own nuclear arsenals. Clinton has worked to decrease the number of nuclear bombs both the U.S. and with other nuclear powers, such as Russia and Pakistan. As a voter, think whether you want to live in a world with more nuclear weapons or fewer.

Trump promises to renegotiate our trade deals with most of our partners. To get better deals he will threaten to raise tariffs which will almost certainly result in tariffs raised against the U.S. Many economists predict these types of trade wares will lead to a world wide depression. As a voter, do you want to live in a world of trade wars or with stable, growing trade relationships?

In short, the press, the voters and the desire to get re-elected will put tremendous pressure on the next president to live up to what he or she promised. Take a close look before you vote. What you see might be exactly what you get.

Carl Widell ll is a Princeton graduate, a former Marine Corps aviator, and an active Democrat. He is the former chair of the Democratic Central Committee in Talbot County.

Letter to Editor: Thinking Big Does Not Necessarily Include Another Bay Bridge, by Rob Etgen


While it is admirable to hear the Governor’s concerns about traffic at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, an announcement focusing on a shiny new bridge lacks any real discussion about cost, impact on communities, and the understanding that a sprawling flood of people, traffic, and pavement can detract from rural Maryland.

There is a large and growing body of evidence and near consensus that our conventional approach of solving traffic congestion by increasing roadway capacity is ineffective over the long term. The most immediate example that comes to my mind is Route 1 in Delaware – an expensive, new north south highway in Delaware that was over capacity starting with the day it opened. Concurrent with the highway construction was massive amounts of sprawl housing in southern New Castle County, which immediately overwhelmed the new infrastructure.

We are long overdue for a more modern approach to transportation planning – one that emphasizes mass transit and other forward thinking measures that make the most out of the infrastructure we have, and emphasizes land use decisions that decrease auto dependence and increase transportation choices. What about expanded bus services with a stronger backbone service from Baltimore and Washington to Ocean City, stopping in key population centers and complementary service from rural areas to the backbone stops? Or public-private partnerships such as a high-speed ferry option? And should an eventual new Bridge be built, what about revisiting passenger rail (which used to exist on the Shore)?

With declining gas tax revenues, changing living preferences for millennials, and a warming planet caused in part by our poor transportation habits, the time is now for fresh thinking.

Fresh thinking on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge situation could also include ideas such as setting up telecommuting centers in our Eastern Shore small towns, and work policies such that State and Federal employees could work from the Shore on peak traffic days or even more often, in turn saving fuel, pollution, and traffic while also stimulating the vibrancy of our towns. Implementing new tolling technologies and policies which do away with the toll booths, increasing rates during peak use periods and decreasing rates for high occupancy vehicles is yet another direction that could be explored for considerably less money.

These ideas and many others can be done now and for very little cost relative to a new Bay Bridge.

Spending $5 million to study the environmental impacts of a new Bay Bridge feels like fiddling while Rome burns. Let’s talk about the things we can do today to relieve congestion immediately, then think about what might be needed to manage cross Bay travel demand over the long term, and only thereafter consider whether a new bridge is worth its considerable financial and environmental cost.

Rob Etgen
Executive Director
Eastern Shore Land Conservancy

Eastern Shore Land Conservancy is a regional nonprofit organization that has worked to advance strategic land conservation and sound land use planning on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

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