Down Here by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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I heard you recently had a pretty good snowfall up there. Down here, it’s a constant 85 degrees, sunny with a light breeze and not a drop of rain or a flake of snow in the forecast.

I hear the government isn’t working too well up there. Down here, they have a new Prime Minister—the alliterative Mia Motley—and everyone thinks she’s doing a fabulous job. She’s tackling big problems like debt relief and little problems like making sure the trash gets picked up in a timely fashion. Everyone down here loves her. Imagine that: loving your elected leader!

Up there, I gather it’s a monochromatic time of year, back-to-back days of black and white photographs tinted with a few subtle shades of grey. Pretty enough with a covering of snow, but down here, it’s year-round full-on technicolor. There are a thousand hues of blue and green in the sea and sky. Moreover, down here, flowers run riot and have exotic names like hibiscus, bougainvillea, and (my wife’s favorite) frangipani. There are as many varieties of palm trees as there are waves lapping on the shore. Houses are pink, green, periwinkle, orange—every town is a fruit salad of color that rouses the senses and makes each street a wondrous kaleidoscope you want to explore.

It smells good down here: curry, spices, fresh fish on the grill, lime, herbs. It doesn’t take long to get dressed down here: a bathing suit, a tee shirt, and flip-flops are all you need. Folks are friendly down here: they always smile and say, “Good morning;” they politely toot their horn to thank you if you pull over to let their speeding car pass you a narrow street; at a restaurant, the stock answer to almost every inquiry and special request is “No problem!” What a concept!

Rum is king down here; always has been. All that cane! You can have some in a punch, with tonic, or just neat. For that matter, you can wander down to a cozy little rum shack on the beach, stick your toes in the sand, and sip a concoction while listening to the whisper of the surf or watching the sun dip into the sea, coloring the clouds from below, billows of red and gold in the evening sky. It’s how life should be but just can’t be: too good to be true.

And that’s the rub: for as sweet and lovely and comfortable as life is down here, I know mine is up there. The grandkids are up there. Our friends are up there. Our house with its friendly little porch is up there. All of those faces and places are up there while we are (at least for a few more days) down here.

Because life doesn’t stop up there when we’re down here. Will the pipes freeze? Who’s going to shovel our walk? Did I remember to pay that bill? Little thoughts, little worries. And then this happened: we got word yesterday that the leader of the band fell and fractured her hip; she’s 94 and she’ll need surgery, and suddenly it’s impossibly hard not to be up there while we’re down here.

All the more reason, I say with no regret:

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

Memoir as Fiction: Vietnam Vet Jim Richardson Remembers a War Through a Novel

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Unlike most authors who have been kind enough to sit down for an interview with the Spy to talk about a new book, Mid-Shore artist Jim Richardson’s recently released novel is almost sold out, is not available on Amazon, nor available at local stores. In fact, if you want to buy a copy (only 50 left in inventory), you’ll need to knock on his door in Claiborne with eighteen dollars in cash to get one or borrow it from a friend.

While the popularity of Middle Blue is indeed extremely comforting to Jim, it’s not without the knowledge that he only ordered 200 to be printed in the first place. His pleasure comes from successfully finding a way to tell his family and friends what it was like as a twenty-one year old drafted into the Vietnam War.

Disinclined to use the more traditional format of writing a memoir, Jim took his wartime experience and channeled it through the experience of three fictional characters who find friendship in the midst of the tragic and surreal last years of America’s attempt to win a war that could not win.

Jim sat down with the Spy to talk about the experience of writing the book (including the book’s illustrations), his goal of sharing his Vietnam experience with loved ones, and the therapeutic value that comes with memories rediscovered and documented.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. As noted, this is book is only available from the author. Jim’s email is designs@atlanticbb.net

 

Keep Your Pants On by George Merrill

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‘Keep your pants on’ we’re exhorted when we become frantic, impatient and agitated. We’re urged to be cool, stay easy with things. The phrase, in addition to being a metaphor, can now be understood literally. An epidemic has been identified among post-modern men; we see droopy drawers everywhere.

It’s shortly after Christmas and near New Year’s Eve. In those weeks, I’ve eaten more than my share and I Know it. When I overeat, it alarms me. Various parts of my body redistribute themselves. In a word, I add volume while changing shape.

There was a time when all that was required of me to see the tips of my shoes was to cast my glance downward. I can do that, but it’s not my shoes I see, anymore. The space between where my eyes are set and my shoes are planted, a terrain once occupied by a firm torso, has been replaced with a more viscous substance I can only call fat. What had once been concave, is now convex. In order to see my shoes, today, I must bend forward some. My pants that historically belted navel high, given my evolving body shape, must now be buckled well below the navel in order to remain up. In the body, matter is neither created nor destroyed, just increased and moved around.

What offends me about my body’s redistribution of its mass is that I must secure my pants with a belt well below my navel, leaving to my shame, an unsightly mass draping over the belt for which no amount of gerrymandering (or sucking up) is able to alter. My roll of fat is visible to all and my drawers appear perilously close to dropping.

I’ve recently had some workers doing carpentry around the house. These are fit young men, at the top of their game, with lean bodies as straight as ramrods. I notice, however, when any one of them has to bend over, it reveals the upper portion of his butt. This phenomenon is common enough to have earned a diagnostic designation: “builder’s butt.” This describes graphically what happens to a man when his pants sit too low at his hips. Bending over to hammer nails or working on a pipe under a sink, his trousers decidedly fail him. His pants reveal the upper regions of those lower ones that pants were once engineered to conceal.

The corpulent old men of my youth, my grandfather and my great uncle, had significant paunches. I remember distinctly my great uncle’s silver belt buckle sitting prominently across the widest circumference of his girth. I thought it was neat. I recall both men’s large middles fondly, as if this was the distinguishing mark of age and wisdom. I don’t recall seeing an offensive overhang, which is the objection I have to my own paunch. Theirs, as I recall, would make mine look like an anthill. I wonder just how were they were able to wear pants buckled high along the upper waist, leaving no trace of an overhang? I would add that neither of them wore suspenders.

It seems to me that straight lean bodies should allow the belt securing one’s pants to ride just about anywhere up or down the torso. But today, even with young bodies, men’s pants rest precariously below the hip. I have concluded this happens not by the physical vicissitudes of aging men, but by a calculated decision of fashion designers.

I realized this while at the voting booth in Easton. While waiting my turn, I was dreamily people-watching. My glance fell on a tall man around my age. He was thin, rangy and well built. What seemed odd was how low his trousers were riding on his hips. Obviously, this did not result from the inability of his torso to accommodate a belt-tightening just about anywhere he chose to secure it. I can only conclude that fashion designers are flooding the market with slacks tailored to make men appear as if their drawers are dropping.

I can’t imagine why. I see no aesthetic advantages to such a design nor even a hint of erotic allure -which dominates most all products of fashion – except maybe handkerchiefs. To say the least, a man with droopy drawers does not present as someone dignified, a desirable sex object, or as someone having any idea of how to meet the public. He is definitely not cool.

Answers to this strange phenomenon may be found in today’s psycho-social climate. The unstable climate seems to be driving all kinds of aberrations. Truth telling has become a lost art today and we’re hesitant to believe anything we hear or see. The transparency we once valued in our relationships to one another has grown opaque with the incessant allegations of “fake.”

Transparency and openness with one another was once considered a social necessity, even a virtue. I wonder whether, while men’s pants don’t reveal all, they reveal just enough to satisfy us that a man is trustworthy; his pants present him as the kind of guy discreet and tasteful enough not to let everything hang out, but sufficiently transparent to assure us he is not hiding anything.

A bit of a stretch perhaps but there you have it. Nothing else I can think of explains it.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

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The Curate Shakespeare “As You Like It” A Zany Spoof! Spy Review by Peter Heck

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Max Hagan, Kathy Jones, and Troy Strootman in The Curate Shakespeare “As You Like It” at the Garfield Center, Jan. 11 – 20, 2019        – Photo by Jane Jewell

What happens when a small amateur theater group tries to put on a version of Shakespeare’s As You Like It with only seven actors? That’s the premise of Don Nigro’s The Curate Shakespeare, opening Friday, Jan. 11 at the Garfield Center. If you’re one of those who read the play in high school and wondered why it was considered a comedy, this version may be what you’ve been waiting for.

Directed by Earl Lewin, and produced by the Shore Shakespeare Company, The Curate Shakespeare is in many ways a logical follow-up to the company’s production of As You Like It – featuring many of the same cast and crew– this past summer. As Lewin remarks in his director’s notes in the playbill, the producers see the play as “a lampoon of their own production.”

The Curate Shakespeare “As You Like It” at the Garfield Center – Photo by Jane Jewell

The play came about when a professional acting company commissioned Nigro to write a version of As You Like It that could be performed by seven actors. Nigro, who has written over 400 plays, several inspired in some way by Shakespeare’s works, took the challenge as an opportunity to riff on the original, combining the Bard’s work with his own satiric take. It’s sort of a “Murphy’s Law” version of Shakespeare’s play – whatever can go wrong, does, usually in the funniest possible way. Originally produced in Terre Haute, Indiana by Indiana State University Summerstock in 1976, it has gone on to become a cult classic. Lewin, whose original dramas (most recently Hitched)  have a nice blend of comedy and realism, is an ideal director for this high-spirited spoof of actors and community theater.

The play’s subtitle, “the record of one company’s attempt to perform the play by William Shakespeare,” is a good overview of what happens in the play. We see the actors, led by a rather dotty minister, bumble through a performance, complaining and fighting, blowing lines, mispronouncing characters’ names, and every now and then managing to deliver something like what the Bard intended. There’s considerable fun to be had with the props, the costumes and a lot of the stage business – and with snide comments on the actual play they’re trying to put on. 

The Curate Shakespeare “As You Like It” at the Garfield Center – Photo by Jane Jewell

In an introductory scene, we learn that the company is about to go onstage before an apparently empty house – one cast member questions whether it’s even worth trying to do the play, while the minister who leads the troupe says there may be someone out there in the dark theater. In addition to not knowing whether there’s anyone watching, they are way short of the number of actors the script calls for – one cast member has died, another hasn’t bothered to show up, another has lost the ability to remember her lines. The minister says they can make do by doubling up on the parts and switching a few roles. Reluctantly, the cast agrees that the show must go on – there may be somebody watching, after all.

The play more or less follows the actual plot of As You Like It, which plot is right there –behind and between all the shenanigans. The original story of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” involves a group of aristocrats caught up in political intrigue and lovers’ triangles, They flee to the forest of Arden, where they mingle with country folk, adopt various disguises, and end up with quarrels mended and lovers re-united. With its aristocrats, young lovers, country bumpkins, a jester, and a cross-dressing heroine, it is in many ways a prototypical Shakespearean comedy. There’s a succinct summary of the play at the back of the playbill, for those who want to follow the action. It’s enjoyable and helpful reading for audience members before the play or during intermission. 

L-R seated: Christine Kinlock, Avra Sullivan, standing: Chris Rogers, Max Hagan, seated: Troy Strootman seated) in The Curate Shakespeare “As You Like It” at the Garfield Center – Photo by Jane Jewell

Chris Rogers, one of the founders of Shore Shakespeare and a regular in Lewin’s original productions, plays the Curate — and “all the old men” in the play. The character’s unshakeable optimism is severely tested by all the major and minor disasters on- and off-stage, and Rogers makes the most of the comic potential of the part. 

Kathy Jones takes the role of Rosalind, who acts as a chorus – setting the scenes, playing and singing the play’s songs, and commenting on the play. It’s a great part, and Jones delivers a winning performance. Rosalind was originally supposed to play the lead character, also named Rosalind, but Rosalind just can’t remember her lines so another actress is brought in at the last minute to take the part.  Most recently seen as Audrey (the carnivorous plant) in Tred Avon’s Little Shop of Horrors, Jones is showing herself to be one of the most versatile performers in the region. She says in her playbill bio that she’s recently retired, giving her even more time for the theater — good news for local theater lovers!

Chris Rogers and Avra Sullivan, co-founders of Shore Shakespeare in 2012. Rogers plays the minister and “all the old men”.  Sullivan plays four characters–Cecilia, Aliena, Phoebe, and Snake. – Photo by Jane Jewell

Avra Sullivan is the co-founder of Shore Shakespeare and was the stage manager of their production of As You Like It. Here she plays Celia, one of the better actors in the amateur troupe, and something of a prima donna. The character’s role is complicated by a rocky backstage romance with one of her fellow actors — which keeps breaking out in their performance.  Fortunately, their on-stage friends and lovers’ spats more or less fit into Shakespeare’s plot.  Sullivan also plays three other characters.  

Christina Kinlock, who took the role of Rosalind in Shore Shakespeare’s As You Like It, plays Audrey – who gets cast as Rosalind in this play! (The confusion of names is part of the fun of this production.) At first, the character panics at having her role changed. Then, realizing she’s gotten one of the star parts, she starts to put on airs. Kinlock does a nice job conveying the range of emotions, both in her nominal role and in the Shakespearean part she plays. 

Troy Strootman, as Amiens, also reprises the character he played in the Shore Shakespeare play, Oliver — a sinister young aristocrat. He also takes on the role of Silvius, a country bumpkin in the comic subplot, with a perfect (and totally un-Shakespearean) hillbilly accent. Like most of the other actors, he’s obviously having fun — and it’s contagious. One of the central points of the play comes in his unsuccessful attempts (in the character of Jacques)  to deliver the play’s most famous speech, “All the world’s a stage.” And, of course, massacres it.

Brian McGunigal is another Shore Shakespeare regular. He played Jacques in Shore Shakespeare’s production of  As You Like It last summer.  This time, he is cast as a clown, a depressed clown. He plays the role in a resigned deadpan, as if his character knows that he has to get through his scenes but has no intention of being funny or energetic or cheerful.  What’s the point? Life is hard.  No friends. Nobody loves him, not even himself.  A subtle and very effective performance, 

Avra Sullivan, Christine Kinlock, Brian McGunigle, and a sliver of Chris Rogers in The Curate Shakespeare “As You Like It” at the Garfield Center – Photo by Jane Jewell

Max Hagan, making his debut with Shore Shakespeare, takes the role of William, who plays the romantic lead in the play. A graduate of Sewanee with a Theater Arts major, he most recently appeared as Leslie in The Hostage at Church Hill Theatre. He does a nice job portraying an earnest young actor who hasn’t quite figured out the nuances of performance.  He keeps on trooping along even though the play is falling apart around him.  Hagan has a good voice and joins troubadour Rosalind in several songs.

Barbi Bedell did her usual stellar work on the costumes for this production — an amusing juxtaposition of realism and deliberately amateurish period costumes for the play within the play. The set, designed by Lewin, is quite clever, with a view of “backstage” and various props and bits of furniture, some obviously–and purposefully-humorous and amateurish. And a special tip of the hat goes to Greg Minahan, who arranged the choreography and wrote original music for the various songs in Shakespeare’s play.  The simple melodies and lovely harmonies of the songs felt right for the Shakespearian era.

Troy Strootman, Kathy Jones, Max Hagan.   The Curate Shakespeare “As You Like It” at the Garfield Center – Photo by Jane Jewell

All told, this is a fun production of an affectionate — but wickedly pointed — spoof of community theater and its inhabitants, particularly for anyone with a passing familiarity with Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The Elizabethan language of the play within the play and some of the nuances of the relationships between characters may make the play a bit challenging for younger audiences. It may be a bit sophisticated for the elementary-school set, who may find it boring. But there is also enough slapstick and funny parts to keep most children satisfied.  It will depend on the specific child whether this play is a good introduction to Shakespeare or just another boring evening watching “adult” stuff when they could be playing video games. Older theater-goers should have a grand time — especially if they take a moment to read the synopsis of Shakespeare’s play before the curtain goes up. 

The Curate Shakespeare opens Friday, Jan. 11 and runs through Jan. 20. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. General admission is $15; call the box office at 410-810-2060 or email boxoffice@garfieldcenter.org for reservations.

Photo Gallery by Jane Jewell with the help of the cast, crew, and costumers of “The Curate Shakespeare”

Max Hagan and Brian McGunigle in The Curate Shakespeare “As You Like It” at the Garfield Center – Photo by Jane Jewell

Kathy Jones as Rosalind, Troubadour, and Greek Chorus – The Curate Shakespeare “As You Like It” at the Garfield Center – Photo by Jane Jewell

Christine Kinlock and Chris Rogers in The Curate Shakespeare “As You Like It” at the Garfield Center – Photo by Jane Jewell

Kathy Jones and Brian McGunigle in The Curate Shakespeare “As You Like It” at the Garfield Center – Photo by Jane Jewell

The Curate Shakespeare “As You Like It” at the Garfield Center – Photo by Jane Jewell

 

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In the Name of Beauty by Al Sikes

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Several different phenomena are used to explain delightful winter temperatures. All I know for certain is that this winter has featured some wonderful opportunities for hiking or biking or just walking along our beautiful pathways.

But, there is a very unfortunate blemish, litter. Bottles, cans, fast food containers, discarded household goods—the list seems endless. Litter is a fact of life. Living with it shouldn’t be.

Warnings and fines and admonitions seem to make little difference. Talbot County law, for example, states: “It shall be the duty of every person as owner, occupant, lessee or agent in charge of land lying within the unincorporated areas of the County, …………, not to allow litter to be deposited or to accumulate, either temporarily or permanently, on such lands…………….” And we have all seen those signs that promise $1,000 fines for anybody caught littering. If law enforcement regularly penalizes either litterers or those that allow it to accumulate on their rights-of-way I am unaware of it.

Recently I became aware of actions in a county not too far from ours. Harford County has an active local program including Adopt-a-Road. Its web site claims that the Adopt-a-Road initiative has accomplished the following: “Total Signed Contracts: 145; Road Miles Serviced: 800; Pounds of Solid Waste Collected: 72,575; Pounds of Recyclables Collected: 18,600 pounds.” There is a State program called Adopt-a-Highway that includes Talbot and Kent counties (a few signs are evident) but when I asked about local government involvement in Talbot I was told there was none.

Many of us have been involved in pickup litter efforts. I am always amazed at how much is picked up and how quickly litter begins to show up along those same rights-of-way. Can you imagine our museums with their exhibits of the images we value allowing litter to despoil the galleries?

And I am convinced litter begets litter. Threatening signs don’t seem to curb littering—what about clear evidence that our neighbors value the natural beauty that has drawn many of us to the Eastern Shore. I think it would have persuasive effect.

As 2019 begins and a new county council and commissioners take office in Kent and Talbot County, please add an active litter program to the priorities. I feel confident that a mix of public and private initiative can allow natural beauty the showcase it has chosen.

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

Delmarva Review: Man-Hours by Holly Painter

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“Take heart that in Detroit
Every three seconds
A car is born.” – C.K. Stead

It takes 6720 man-hours
to make a baby, give or take.

The catch is

it must be the same man
and that man a woman.

We cannot specialize.
We cannot automate.
We cannot use assembly lines
or lean production techniques
to accelerate the timeline.

We cannot do anything.
She must do it all.

Her body assembles the baby
step-by-step, though her brain
does not know how.

She builds a heart in only 18 days.
She constructs the intestinal tract,
starting with the anus, of course.

She engineers a custom machine:
designed at random within certain
parameters and built in the dark.

At 6720 hours, the deadline looms
and she always delivers.

Holly Painter holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Canterbury and teaches writing and literature at the University of Vermont. She is the author of the poetry collection Excerpts from a Natural History (Titus Books, 2015). In addition to Delmarva Review, her work has appeared in numerous literary journals in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, Singapore, and the U.K.

Delmarva Review is a literary publication of national scope, with strong regional roots. In its eleventh year, the nonprofit journal discovers compelling new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from authors within the region and beyond. It is supported by individual contributions, sales, and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For information and copies, visit: www.DelmarvaReview.org.

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Trump, Mattis and Syria by David Montgomery

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President Trump’s apparently spur-of-the-moment decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and its aftermath have stirred up a storm of criticism from all political directions. Whether U.S. troops belong in Syria is debatable, but the manner in which President Trump made and announced his decision to withdraw is very troubling. His subsequent order to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan is even more worrisome, because there U.S. forces are clearly accomplishing important objectives.

Our friends in the Middle East, including the Kurds and Israel, were directly affected and taken by surprise. Our commitment to contain Iranian and Russian influence in the region – and other foes in other regions — was made questionable. The Secretary of Defense resigned in protest. And, for good or ill, in recent days the President’s intentions have become even less clear.

Secretary Mattis’s resignation in protest of President Trump’s surprise announcement followed the departures of General Kelly as chief of staff and Nikki Haley as UN ambassador. Respect for those three (plus Ambassador Bolton who remains) was the main reason that Republicans like me had confidence in the national security policy of the Trump Administration.

My first reaction was that President Trump’s gullibility in dealing with the Turkish dictator left our national security policy in shambles. Not, to repeat, because withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria is necessarily a bad decision, but because of the way President Trump appeared to ignore our allies’ interests, strategic consequences and his own advisors’ recommendations.

For a number of reasons, some relevant and some irrelevant, I took time to reflect before expressing that opinion. I am now somewhat hopeful about how our allies will be affected, as announcements of an extended schedule and conditions for withdrawal have appeared. The strategic implications of what many characterized as repeating President Obama’s pusillanimous retreat from confrontation will likely depend on how the ongoing discussions turn out.

To me, the greatest tragedy is the continuing attrition of the President’s once outstanding national security team. I am not only troubled by Trump’s apparent ability to alienate his best people. I am even more disappointed by those resigned.

I see four key questions in assessing where things stand today:

What could a continued U.S. military involvement in Syria accomplish?
In what other ways will we support Israel and the Kurds?
How can Iranian influence in Syria be countered?
How competent a national security team will the President assemble?

There is no certainty about what will happen in Syria whether the U.S. leaves or stays. In the short run, an unconditional and immediate pullout would leave the Kurds vulnerable to a Turkish attack. The Kurds have, like Poland, retained a national identity despite having their territory taken over by larger countries. They stood up against Saddam Hussein in Iraq and have been our only unambiguous allies in the Syrian conflict. Unfortunately for the Kurds, Turkey has always wanted their oil-rich territory. U.S. troops in Syria have interposed themselves between the Kurds and Turkish forces and protected the Kurds from Turkey.

I consulted friends with national security backgrounds to understand the risks of a continued presence in Syria, such as Turkish attacks on U.S. forces embedded with Kurdish forces or trip-wire confrontations with Russia that would escalate U.S. involvement, There are serious uncertainties about whether the aid that U.S. troops give to non-Islamic democratic forces opposing Assad can make any difference in the long run to how Syria is governed, and whether that U.S. aid is simply lengthening the humanitarian crisis by delaying the inevitable victory of Assad’s regime.

Our only unambiguous national interest seems to be to prevent Iran from expanding its influence or taking over territory in Syria. That, it appears, might be accomplished at least as well by supporting Israel’s less constrained operations against Iranian assets in Syria and preparing U.S. forces remaining in the region to counter Iran.

Israel’s reaction to President Trump’s announcement has been interesting. Initial headlines in Israel lamented “Israel left with false Russian promises, volatile U.S. president.” Then within a week, Israel mounted an extensive aerial attack on Iranian weapons depots in Syria. According to Haaretz, “The alleged Israeli strike may have been in pursuit of some specific military goal … but it has a broader political context. Israel is signaling that Israel sees itself as free to continue attacking targets in Syria, when necessary.”

There does appear to be more to the story. Ambassador Bolton, the National Security Advisor, has been visiting Israel. It was reported over the weekend that he said “U.S. troops will not leave northeastern Syria until IS militants are defeated and American-allied Kurdish fighters are protected.” Israeli sources reported that Netanyahu had spoken to Trump and asked that any withdrawal be gradual, and Bolton confirmed “that there is no timetable for the pull-out of American forces, but insisted it’s not an unlimited commitment.” Sources also reported that the U.S. has promised continued intelligence and operational support to Israel in confronting Iran in Syria.

In all this, Bolton appears to be walking back the immediate and unconditional withdrawal implied by the first reports on the call between Trump and Erdogan. That did not please Turkey, which claims that the Erdogan never promised to protect the Kurds in Syria and that Bolton was not speaking for the Administration. On Tuesday January 8th Bolton met with his Turkish counterpart and they “identified further issues for dialogue.”

Other reports suggest that Erdogan may also have committed to more than he wants to do. According to Reuters, President Trump asked “If we withdraw our soldiers, can you clean up ISIS?'” When Erdogan stated that he could, Trump took him up on the offer saying “Then you do it.”

To do more than push back our allies the Kurds, Turkey will have to expand its operations over a far larger territory than it expected to attack, and runs the risk of engaging with the Damascus government’s troops and even Russians in order to get to the pocket that ISIS still controls. It is not clear that Erdogan’s staff are any happier than Trump’s. Diplomats often cringe when heads of state talk to each other about anything but the weather, and this seems to be a case in point.

More is at stake here than just the fate of the Kurds and Iran’s prospects in Syria. Trump’s initial announcement of immediate withdrawal seems to have led some adversaries to believe that he is returning to the isolationist populism that appeared at times during his presidential campaign. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that statements from the Chinese military have become more provocative in the weeks since he announced withdrawal from Syria.

All of this points to how important it is that the President rely on his national security team. Until now, the Trump Administration demonstrated a welcome reversal of President Obama’s policy of vacillation, weakness and unwillingness to lead. As I discussed in previous columns, the Trump Administration continually and consistently ratcheted up sanctions against Russia and took direct military action against Russian troops and contractors in Syria. It also restarted joint military exercises with the Eastern European countries facing Putin’s expansionist ambitions, confronted North Korea with threats of force, and revised the ludicrously restrictive rules of engagement that had frustrated and endangered U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. It gave regional commanders freedom to design and execute their own battle plans and put the Pentagon under the management of tested military leaders.

It would tragic if the President’s snap decision about U.S. troops in Syria undid this progress and tempted adversaries to believe he would back off from confrontation as his predecessor did.

National Security Advisor Bolton appears to be getting somewhere in mitigating the damage from Trump’s off-the-cuff decision, but it remains unclear what authority he has been given to set new terms for withdrawal. This is the point at which the President needs to listen to and stand behind his national security team.

For the future, it is critically important that Pompeo, Bolton and the new Secretary of Defense find ways both to give advice and to be informed of decisions. The White House Chief of Staff should have the job of making sure that such two-way communication takes place. This should not be an impossible task. And the new Secretary of Defense has to partner with Pompeo and Bolton, not be someone who will pursue an independent agenda.

In this context, Secretary Mattis’s resignation puzzles me. There is no suggestion that the President requested his resignation. He still had an important job to do in shaping national security policy, no matter how great the immediate frustrations of dealing with this President. The changing signals being sent from the Administration about timing and conditions for withdrawal suggest that even now policy is moving in the direction he preferred.

One other aspect of the President’s sudden announcement might have been intolerable to a Marine general. Many of the U.S. fighters in Syria are special operations forces working closely the Kurds and other democratic forces against ISIS. Military men and women compete to get into special operations units, train intensively, and are motivated by a desire to do exactly what they doing in Syria. They are winning at this time, and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory infuriates every professional.

Though I am sure that Secretary Mattis did not want to be seen as sending that message to people he had sent downrange, Marines don’t just quit. He had to feel an obligation to his men and women in uniform and to his country to keep on trying to point the President in the right direction. What could override that duty remains a troubling mystery.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy.  He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America,   David and his wife Esther live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

 

The Road of Photographer Constance Stuart Larrabee: A Conversation with Author Peter Elliott

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For those who remember Constance Stuart Larrabee, particularly those living on the Mid-Shore, it will always be gratifying to know that at the very end of her life Constance knew there was a high degree of attention paid to her photography.

While the native South African had been living on the Mid-Shore for more than forty years, she was intentionally reserved on talking about her work as a documentary photographer in the years before marrying a former military attache, Colonel Sterling Loop Larrabee, in 1949. If locals knew anything about Larrabee, it was for her reputation as a successful breeder of Norwich Terriers, not as South Africa’s first female World War Two correspondent. She clearly preferred it that way for reasons still not entirely known.

It was only when she was seventy that a close friend, Ed Maxcy, convinced her to share her portfolio of images from her visits to rural South African villages, the war, the streets of Johannesburg and, later, Tangier Island on the Chesapeake Bay. She began working with such distinguished institutions such as the Corcoran Gallery, Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Yale’s Center for British Art, Washington’s National Museum of Women in the Arts, as well as our own Washington College and Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, through much of the eighties and early nineties on several well received exhibitions. All of which gave Larrabee the certain knowledge that her lifetime contribution to photography had been well-noted before she died in 2000.

But for those who have never heard her name, or seen her stunning images, there is good news to be had. Almost twenty years after her passing, fellow South African and author Peter Elliott has just completed a new biography of Larrabee after two years of extensive research.

Elliott, retiring to the South of France after a distinguished career as a London-based corporate attorney, began his new vocation as a writer on history and art, and had stumbled on Larrabee’s war photography while researching South Africa’s role in World War II.

Awed by their composition and warmth, Peter has meticulously tracked down every one of Constance’s documentary projects as well as applied a critical appraisal of her work, including a few myths she created along the way on her technique, in the newly released Constances: One Road to Take: The Life and Photography of Constance Stuart Larrabee published by Cantaloup Press.

Through the wonders of technology, the Spy interviewed Peter via Skype from his home in Languedoc, France to talk about Constance, her photography, and the lasting legacy of her work.

This video is approximately twenty-eight minutes in length. Constance: One Road to Take: The Life and Photography of Constance Stuart Larrabee can be purchased at the Book Plate in Chestertown or on Amazon here.

 

 

Out and About (Sort 0f): Southern Migration by Howard Freedlander

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They travel south by car, car train, recreational van and plane. They travel alone. They seek warmth and comfort as rewards for lives spent working and rearing families. They are intent on escaping cold weather, snow and ice.

Some view Florida as ideal. Some don’t. Some prefer South Carolina. Some seek Caribbean islands or the southwest. They nestle down either in second homes or rental units (or RVs).

They consider the Eastern Shore their home base. Yet, they have roots and friends in their winter communities. They seem content. They don’t look back, except at weather maps to confirm their winter choices.

Of course, I am describing snowbirds who flock annually and mainly to southeastern United States. They make no notable noise as they leave their primary residences. They welcome friends to visit them and vacate, albeit briefly, the winter “up north” and its sometimes miserable weather.

Like actual birds, snowbirds from a geographic area in fact do flock to the same town or even the same housing community, as I’ve learned. Call it a nest, an oversized one, where the human birds savor familiarity as well as pleasant temperatures.

Simply, longtime friends spend all year together. I’d like to think that transitional visitors would make new friends, and maybe they do. Common bonds provide the glue that brings and keeps friends together, regardless of the locale.

Does it sound like tribal instincts? It feels that way to this home-bird.

Readers may wonder why I care enough about the snowbirds to spend so many words on them? Who gives a darn? Life isn’t static.

In my retirement career as a non-profit volunteer and status as a full time, all-weather Shore resident, I miss the snowbirds. Yes, I admit it. They sometimes call into meetings. They sometimes fly in for medical appointments—and then vanish again. Conversations that I would like to have with them are consigned to emails, texts and mobile phone calls.

Now, I’m not complaining. I’m just observing an annual anthropological phenomenon. A passage, as it were. Movement can define life.

Did I say I’m a bit jealous, particularly during snowstorms and accumulation of annoying ice? Easy to discern, I bet.

The term “snowbird” became commonly used in 1979, though used first in 1923 to describe seasonal workers who went south for the winter.

In recent years, when I have visited Florida, I’ve noticed a large number of Canadians. Understandably so. I can’t imagine enduring freezing temperatures when you have the option to spend four to six months in Florida.

Last year, when a friend, Paul Cox, and I traveled to Dunedin, FL, near Clearwater and Tampa, we watched the Toronto Blue Jays play thrice, including once in Sarasota against the Orioles. In the latter instance, I was struck by how much louder was the Canadian anthem than our Star-Spangled Banner, as sung by fans in the stands. Those north of the border have staked their claim in Florida, mining it for a respite and recreation.

Supposedly, Canadians comprise the largest percent of winter visitors in Florida.

Two years ago, as Paul and I watched the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros play in a brand new shared ballpark in West Palm Beach, including a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, I was amazed how many retirees wore team jerseys. Gray hair and paunches around the middle don’t hide a childlike enthusiasm for baseball.

Hometown loyalties are alive and well, however much money one has spent relocating to the complex state of Florida. You can’t forget your roots, right? Sports generate lasting loyalty.

Retirees are an economic development force in Florida. That’s been true for at least 100 years. According to the Aging and Research Center of Broward County (Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood), senior citizens’ spending power is $135 billion, $15 billion more than residents 49 and younger.

Unless Florida sinks underwater, it still will be an irresistible draw. Miami must cope with surges of water caused principally by global warming.

This trend has grown with the retirement of the baby-boomers, born between 1946 and 1964. I missed the outset by a year. Nonetheless, I still qualify, I think, at least by association with my younger wife.

The snowbird migration began for some in December, even earlier. They are settled by now in their comfortable nests. Friends are nearby. Life is good. Temperatures are pleasant. Snow and ice are in the rear view mirror.

Keep in touch, my friends the snowbirds. Do not send pictures. Try not to gloat about awful weather back here.

Godspeed.

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.