The disposable planet – and its people

jonflan-blueearth - 1As a people, we are suffering the twin insanities of our Chief Executive, Mr. Donald Trump, who has insisted on pursuing two separate paths that promise to destroy our planet and ourselves.

First, our “Commander in Chief”, and another mad world leader from Korea, improvised a bullying chest-beating duet of world-shattering war threats, from the slippery edge of an existential precipice, promising to hurl nuclear fire upon the world, and to kill countless innocents.

Second, our “Chief Executive,” Mr. Trump, belittled every other nation in the world and refused to honor a hard fought international agreement on climate change that the United States had signed.  Mr. Trump also dismantled air and water safeguards and denied that humans have in any way caused the planet to heat from fossil fuel emissions.

Each of us is a furnace of life, warmed within a sheaf of skin, at 98 degrees Fahrenheit, with a strong will to survive.

But too many of us defer to leaders, trusting them to do what’s best for us and the world’s survival when we now know they are doing nothing of the sort.

Our leaders take the corporate contributions of fossil fuel predators and vote their way, insisting that we not trust our senses that that’s what they are doing, even as they do it at the cost of our health and safety and survival.  In the bargain, they stall cleaner, safer renewable energy sources. Continue reading


20727825_10211469112177129_2338922944344859283_nHistory teaches us what happens when you don’t resist hate groups including Nazis.

Especially those who conduct torch marches and carry clubs in the streets of a university town – screaming insults against blacks and Jews – striking out and clubbing those who object to their intolerance – one supremacist even running over and through a crowd, killing one young lady simply crossing the street.

We saw the courage of the counter demonstrators who objected to these Nazis and these people, both young and old, these protesters, they are American heroes – for standing up to hate, and doing so in the best tradition of what is America.

It is heartwarming that in Virginia, our Governor and Democrats across the Commonwealth recoiled at the acts of the white supremacists.

It’s chilling and gravely disappointing, however, that Mr. Donald Trump and local Republicans failed to criticize the supremacists, thus giving aid and comfort to this pathogen in the body politic – brought to life by the intolerance of the man who would be our Chief Executive – who followed in lock step by Republican office holders.

Now our nation on the “morning after,” on Sunday, scans the reaction of other nation states, and is seen before the world, and rightly perceived, as a nation with its ugly underbelly exposed.

Each of us who knows what we were and can be again as a nation and a people.

We have a sad and depressed dread after Charlottesville at how, in such a short time, chaos and violence have supplanted the rule of law in this nation, and how this Administration and its lack of values and thuggish manner has brought us to this low point.


The Democratic Convention, 1984

The Democratic Convention, 1984

In 1984, I was running for Congress, was the Democratic nominee for Virginia’s 10th Congressional district, and found myself standing on the floor of the Democratic convention in San Francisco, just as New York Governor Mario Cuomo challenged the convention and the nation to get on with the business of the American people.

We are in about the same position today – although the late Governor Cuomo might find it’s much worse were he with us – given the bluffing, bravado, dissembling, firing, misconduct, lying, intolerance, war mongering and congressional grid lock – that’s paralyzed the public’s business.

The Republican Caucus in the Senate and the House are not working to solve our problems; they are creating problems, spending most of the congressional session since the election bowing and scraping before the demands of their wealthy contributing patrons at the expense of the many hard working men and women they ignore.

Governor Cuomo said in 1984 that Republicans believe our nation “should settle for taking care of the strong and hope that economic ambition and charity will do the rest,” so that “what falls from the table will be enough for the middle class and those who are trying desperately to work their way into the middle class.”

Callous indifference toward the many has been the hallmark of this Republican Caucus.

Front and center is the “health care” effort that so far proposes to give massive funds – in the form of tax breaks for the rich – offset by cutting the needed funds for health care for millions of the sick and dying.

No question, Republicans treat Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as a foolish notion, that the meek shall ever inherit the earth.

Their Darwinian default is that the fittest survive and there is no exception for the fragile or vulnerable, not the ill, the disabled, more generally, not any one deemed “unfit.” Continue reading

A nation on the mend?

capitaldawn - 1Our Chief Executive, Mr. Donald Trump, and the Republican Caucus, headed up by Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan, have run together as only the worst pairing in a three-legged race could.

Mr. Trump strikes out at his “partners” while the 3-legged race is in progress, hurling slanders and trash talk at his “trusted” aides and Senate “allies.”

The undignified and repeated bashing of various public and elected officials follows closely on Mr. Trump having earlier extolled the same persons in the most oleaginous phrasing.

Many suffer cognitive whiplash if they take Mr. Trump’s twitterings seriously.

Our unseemly Senate debate in the Republican Caucus has gone on for months weighing how much we’ll pay for war and a wall and reducing taxes for the rich at the expense of providing affordable health care to millions of Americans who will be ill or die without the care.

James Madison, in Federalist 49, cautioned that we need to be wary of a government composed of three departments, designed to check and balance each other, if ever two of those three Departments become dominated by the same faction.

Madison referenced Thomas Jefferson’s concerns that “the weaker departments of power” be able to withstand “the invasions of the stronger” and, if two Departments become so strong and unified, Jefferson insisted we must convene to alter or correct our constitution.

If the people are “the only legitimate fountain of power,” then such an encroachment requires “an appeal to the people themselves …”

Madison conceded that “every appeal to the people … carr[ies] an implication of some defect in the government.” Continue reading

A natural hero – Anne Larson

Anne Larson – a surprised honoree

Anne Larson – a surprised honoree

Among the wonderful encomiums lavished on Anne Larson this past Saturday was that, if it weren’t for Anne, the entire gathering couldn’t meet in her old Taylorstown frame shop to honor her because many years earlier the Army Corps of Engineers had wanted to submerge the area under 81 feet of water; Anne firmly resolved to fight the effort and to achieve what few thought possible.  But Anne would be the first to tell you, she didn’t do it alone.  No one could.

The Catoctin Creek originates in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western Loudoun County, flows northeasterly through the Piedmont, hugs the area around Taylorstown, finally emptying in the Potomac north of Leesburg.

Catoctin Creek snakes along under the Taylorstown Road en route to the Potomac

Catoctin Creek snakes along under the Taylorstown Road en route to the Potomac

Emerson once wrote, “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.”

Judging from the gathering, not only does Anne inspire and lead others, she found fertile ground in the community in the mid-1970s to form a far-flung ensemble of concerned and quite talented friends and neighbors who, together, made a dramatic difference, after a hard fought campaign, of defeating the Army Corps of Engineers.

This should give heart to anyone who seeks to resist a poorly conceived public policy.

In mid-1974, the Fairfax County Water Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided that Catoctin Creek was a prime candidate for a dam and reservoir to impound water for a 7-day supply for the Washington, DC area during drought periods.

The plan was to flood more than 3,000 acres of Loudoun County, including Taylorstown, and part of Waterford.

In opposition, the community fought to establish the Catoctin Creek as “scenic,” have Taylorstown added to the National Register, and amend Virginia’s eminent domain statute so that another jurisdiction, DC in this case, would be barred from “taking” land or water to create a dam or reservoir.

In the end, this plan of action enjoyed wide support among regional and local papers and an array of public officials, stopping the Army Corps of Engineer dead in its watery tracks.

Friends and neighbors gather to honor Anne (right, foreground)

Friends and neighbors gather to honor Anne (right, foreground)

Anne has since made her participation in the Catoctin Creek Scenic River Advisory Committee her personal mission, to resist inimical intrusions on the creek, to protect game birds and stream dwellers, and to encourage tree and bush planting, so that there is a “riparian buffer” to guard against erosion and to provide food and habitat for wildlife.

David Ward, a prominent hydrology expert, and Advisory Committee Member, gave a demonstration at the Creek focused on how and why you measure flow and the health of any Creek.

The rate of flow of a stream or creek plainly relates to water supply management, pollution control, irrigation, flood control, energy generation, and industrial uses.

The Catoctin Creek flows freely under a bridge near the Taylorstown store and some outdoor enthusiasts care to know if the water is moving fast enough with deep enough channels to put a canoe in the water.

David used a technique called the “one-orange method” to measure the rate of flow.  But David didn’t use an orange.  He preferred to use a yellow rubber ducky.

David Ward leads a demonstration on creek flow

David Ward leads a demonstration on creek flow

With the orange method, you submerge the orange to the bottom of the stream at the deepest vertical location you can find (and reach), and release the orange.  You see how long it takes for the orange to travel 16 feet down stream, and the calculation is simply the ratio of distance divided by time yielding the rate of flow.  You ordinarily repeat this several times to get a reliable estimate.

But David replaced the orange with a phalanx of yellow rubber ducks.




David Ward waits to make the measure of flow in the Creek

David Ward waits to make the measure of flow in the Creek

“I find that youngsters and adults alike have more fun with little yellow ducks,” said David, “so, we’re replacing the oranges to the same effect.  I’d say the rough estimate of the flow we’re observing for this demonstration today is about 2 feet a second, pretty quick.  But this exercise is less about measurement and more about understanding the principle, how we measure flow.”

Even in the shadow of an impending rainstorm, the flow was free of eddies, slack water or noticeable turbulence.

Another indication of the health of a stream, David showed, was what small creatures are able to live and thrive in the waters.  At a glance, David reached into the Creek and picked up a cray fish to show the signs of a lively Catoctin Creek.  Of course, there is a more formal technique – .


Advisory Committee Co-Chairs David Nelson and Bruce Johnson kept secret the special awards they arranged for Anne.



Advisory Committee Co-Chairs David Nelson and Bruce Johnson

Advisory Committee Co-Chairs David Nelson and Bruce Johnson

They planned to honor Anne secretly for what she had done so publicly.





An amazing amusing illustration to honor Anne Larson – by Mike Caplanis

An amazing amusing illustration to honor Anne Larson – by Mike Caplanis

Judy Ross presented Anne with an amazing amusing satirical illustration, a caricature of Anne, as “Empress for a day,” and the assembled friends and neighbors lifted champagne glasses to toast Anne.







The festivities concluded with a champagne toast

The festivities concluded with a champagne toast

“This surely was a surprise,” Anne said.

Farm free Loudoun

featherbed-barn - 1Loudoun’s Todd Morrison has invited farmers and neighbors “to discuss and share news about the free exercise of traditional agriculture in Loudoun County.  In particular, it has been brought to our attention,” Todd said, “that Loudoun County has started to increase valuations and apply assessments …”

Todd said, “This seems to have been extended to requiring zoning permits with a $165 fee for chicken coops, and even fencing.”

The Loudoun County Assessors taxing farmers in Western Loudoun and not gradually, the assessments go from zero last year (2016) to tens of thousands of dollars on pole barns this year (2017), farmers never assessed for taxes before.

They are not sweeping up all farmers.  It may take 5 years to get them all.  They are not sure who all the farmers are.  But they’ve already come down on the first fifth of the farming community this year.  Many families purchase an aerial flyover view of their farm or homestead.  The tax assessor has been getting the same aerial pictures, received in the office of the Commissioner of the Revenue, Robert S. Wertz Jr.  The Commissioner’s Office is using those pictures to identify buildings on farms and assessing the farms for tax purposes.

The County Commissioner apparently can’t find all the farmers from the air.  The County Commissioner therefore asked the Loudoun County Farm Bureau, Inc., in a meeting to identify who all the farmers are that he couldn’t find.  The Farm Bureau said no way.

Todd makes it clear why farmers and citizens are concerned, “This is detrimental to the future of traditional farming and local food production in Loudoun County.” Continue reading

On age

Aging (Painting by John P. Flannery)

Aging (Painting by John P. Flannery)

Tom said, “I’ve been wondering, though … how did I manage to get so old so young … I don’t feel like I’m pushing 70.”

We perceive old age as an act of stealth that surprises us suddenly though we had plenty of time to see it coming, hungered after age when young, but reproach its inevitable arrival, when it arrives bearing the unwelcome sobriquet, “old.”

Pete said, at his 71st Birthday, “I’m 35 in Centigrade.”

We are sensitive to society’s easy inclination to disparage the elderly – so we are loathe to admit how old we are.  We fear the scorn of people who held our younger selves in esteem.

Amy said, “My birthday’s next week, I feel increasingly penalized for being an aging woman.”

Our worship of youth makes us especially unforgiving toward women of any age but also men who have grown longer in the tooth.

Our society has in recent years grown harsher in its disrespect of differences including those who are older than they thought they’d ever be.

It’s hard to explain the psychology of something so natural that many yet find mystifying when it presents itself.

Nor has what we know about age changed much since the days of Rome when Seneca and Cicero reported their observations.

The stoic, Seneca, said it was not that life was too short, it was that too much of life was wasted with a “toilsome devotion to tasks that are useless.”

Cicero said, “No lapse of time, however long, once it had slipped away, could solace or soothe a foolish old age.”

Cicero, speaking through the experience of an 84-year-old Roman statesman, Cato, described age as “an easy and happy state.”

It requires a certain attitude, however, working around the transition from a life with the force of strength to a life with the strength of mind.  Continue reading

Independence at risk

indepencencehallThe Fourth of July is a pageant celebrating our independence from an Imperial nation that denied us self-rule, dignity and freedom.

It’s a time of marching bands, waving flags, capped with cloud-brushing, soaring multicolored flashes of fireworks, lighting the night sky, to the sound of oohs and aahs from crowds across the nation.

It evokes the language of the declaration hammered out in a hot Philadelphia Hall, striking and revising the words of Thomas Jefferson, setting forth who we believed we were as a nation aborning.

We must reflect upon the sentiments of that grand occasion, and how we may fulfill those worthy sentiments today when our independence is at risk from within and from without, by a foreign nation state, Russia, that usurped this nation’s independence when it interfered in our elections to install the current Chief Executive.

When we declared our independence, we said we believed that we are all “created equal.” We have struggled since to perfect that sentiment, but of late, persons of color, muslims and women are hardly treated as “equal.” Continue reading

How we treat our own

Coal miners crawl in mines no taller than a table top

Coal miners crawl in mines no taller than a table top

The standard of civilization is how we treat our own.

By that standard, we are increasingly uncivilized.

We can track our decline in our national disregard for human rights, in our xenophobia, the cry to build walls, our inclination to war, to betray nation states who have long been our allies, and our indifference to the plight of the living young, the disabled, the poor, the ill and the aged.

We stand ready to betray the trust to preserve and protect natural resources, historic monuments, and public lands.

We exploit hard working Americans struggling to make ends meet.

Let us choose one group of workers, hard done by the false political myths we tell, and repeat, who are at a focal point, in national discussions about energy, safety and health care.

On a recent public access TV show, I was asked, when promoting renewable energy sources including solar and wind, whether, “I cared about the miners I would put out of work – if we continued to push these renewable energy sources?”

The question is a little like asking, “How did our forebears feel when farriers were put out of work because more and more the model T replaced the thoroughbred horse?”

Nor is there any way we can close the door to renewables.

If anyone thinks renewables are a fad, then they’re a fad like the internet. Continue reading

What dads do

My Dad – John P. Flannery

My Dad – John P. Flannery

A Bronx Irish Catholic symbolically becomes an adult at confirmation when a Bishop slaps (lightly) the boy’s cheek to signal that life can have hard knocks.

While I may have learned a great deal from the Dominican Nuns and the Jesuits, it was my Dad who taught my brother Charlie and I how to navigate life and death.

My Dad operated on the instruction found in Proverbs (22:6), “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

When I was about 5 years old, another kid attacked me in the first landing of our fourth floor tenement apartment.

When I told my Dad, he got down on his knees on the linoleum and said I should punch his hands, left-right-left, first one, then the other, correcting my pug moves until I said, “This is fine Dad but when are you going to take care of Johnny?”

My father said, “You have to fight your own battles.” Continue reading