In the way

Fred Lonas, taking stock of his supplies, before a long ride.

Fred Lonas, taking stock of his supplies, before a long ride.

“The Tour de France is very popular in Europe,” David Milburn said, “but here in the United States a biker pedaling alongside the road is considered ‘a nuisance.’”

Too many get mad at bicyclists, ride up on the biker’s rear wheel, flash lights, hit the steering wheel, and honk, furious that the biker is “in the way.”

Frederick Lonas lived in Purcellville, and rode his bike all over the area. Then he moved with his wife to Grants Pass, Oregon. But he still rode his bike every day. It kept him fit. No question it was energy efficient.

“In his early 70s, Fred rode his bike back from Grants Pass to Virginia to visit family and friends,” said David.

“Fred said the part of his cross-country trip that concerned him,” according to David, “was those mid-west logging trucks; it’s because they don’t give a shit. That’s what Fred said.”

What does it take for a car or truck to watch out, and go slow for 40 seconds, to give a three foot berth, before speeding off? Too few appreciate that life has a speed limit.

“Fred was in the insurance industry, at Mutual of Omaha, and studied risk,” said David, “and when he lived here in Purcellville, I’d often see him on the bike trail. He’d always have on his orange yellow vest. He wore flip flops with socks over them, as his bike shoes. He kept a steady pace, about 10 miles an hour, slower than mine, but, when I saw him at Starbuck’s, I’d always say, so everyone could hear, how he passed me. Fred enjoyed my kind obeisance.”

“We’d sit around at Starbuck’s, Fred wearing his riding shorts, one leg over the arm of the chair,” said David, “and he’d hold forth on all manner of issues, discussing everything you could imagine with Mark Levit, myself, and whomever came over. Then, coffee and conversation done, Fred would ride back from Leesburg to Purcellville on his bike.”

“Fred was last here a few weeks ago, he was 75 this trip,” said David, “he was getting ready to ride back to Grants Pass in Oregon from Leesburg. That’s a ride of more than 2,500 miles.”

Before he set out for Oregon, Fred said, “I’m so proud that my granddaughter painted my nails. I’m keeping them just as they are until I get back to Oregon, to show ‘grandma.’”

“Fred would stop along the way, observe the sights, stay at hostels,” said David, “so some days he’d make 50 miles, other days about 100.”

But on July 11, 2015, driving through Stutsman County, North Dakota, having biked about 1,500 miles, and traveling West on N.D. Highway 46, 10 miles short of US Highway 281, at about 6:35 pm, Fred was overlooked.

A 2007 400 horsepower Freightliner, weighing about 18,000 pounds, with a Reinauer flatbed trailer, struck Fred riding his bike on the far right of the westbound lane.

Fred was thrown into a ditch. The impact had to be bone crushing, instantaneous and unimaginable pain. Fred was likely dead before he hit the dirt. He was wearing a helmet, and his brightly colored vest, but that Freightliner driver didn’t give a shit.

Mark found the clipping in the Jamestown Sun, walked up to people in Starbuck’s who knew Fred, and asked, “Did you hear?” No one had.

“He was an amazing guy,” David said.

Drivers around here begrudge bikers that fraction of a minute delay they “endure” to pass a biker “in the way.”

Well, Fred’s no longer “in the way” because another driver didn’t care enough.

Drone on

droneAs a kid, I was really taken by Sputnik, a shiny Soviet satellite that circled the earth, and then I was captivated by anything having to do with the American astronauts, crossing the airless dark void, leaving earth behind, to walk on the moon.

I was equally fascinated, however, by the lower stratospheric aerodynamic marvels of Igor Sikorsky who made the most amazing helicopters – the most massive heavier-than-air machines that hovered like humming birds.

In May, on my birthday, I became the proud owner of a remote control quadcopter, the Phantom, more popularly known as “a drone,” of course, quite smaller than the tiniest Sikorsky helicopter, but amazing in its own way, hovering at eye level right in front of you, brushing your hair back with the surprising force of its spinning rotors, carrying a photographic payload that takes high-def pictures, when the drone shoots straight up at impressive speeds to a 1,000 feet and higher.

Once you’ve assembled this flying machine, requiring that you have actually read the instructions, it soon becomes clear that the average drone is light enough by weight that you have to become adroit at yaw (think rudder control or angular velocity), roll (left-right) and pitch (front/back) to surf the slightest wind pressing against your light weight drone. (You can study my early efforts on YouTube – 1st – https://youtu.be/_YnZmJmnb-4, and 2nd – https://youtu.be/WF0ga_iYaM8 ).

In January of this year, there was a big flap about how the White House radar, intended to detect flying objects like planes and missiles, missed entirely a drone like my own that crashed into a tree on the South Lawn about 3 AM. What I find entirely credible is that the owner of the drone said he lost control of it – and lost control of his privacy in the bargain. For good reason, the tyro drone operator was not charged with any crime. Continue reading

To save a mocking bird!

mockingbirdAtticus Finch was the champion of a black man’s rights in Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a story instructing one and all to be tolerant and have courage in the face of racial discrimination; it was later made into an academy award winning blockbuster with the renowned actor, Gregory Peck, playing the young lawyer, Atticus.

Harper Lee wrote another book about Atticus Finch, as an elder, when he’s 72, called. “Go Set a Watchman,” and the novel has been kept secret since the 1950s.

Only now is it being released.

I’m very clear, after seeing the book reviews, that I’m not ever “gonna” read the new version of the elder Atticus in “Watchman.”

In this new version, Atticus is a confessed racist who attended KKK rallies.

I know enough about that kind of unreconstructed southern segregationist – as I presume is fictionalized in Lee’s “Watchman” – that I don’t need to read it.

After all, the significance of the title, “to kill a mocking bird,” is that it means to kill innocence, and to denigrate Atticus in this successor novel is the same thing.

While Atticus may have been a conflated creation of Harper Lee’s imagination, I know that there really did exist men and women like the Atticus of “Mockingbird,” who showed courage in the face of racial intolerance.

The nation needs such vision now, a standard, an uplifting idea, to focus the scattered energy of our people, by which we may measure how and whether we are moving forward.

The nation is hurting but there have been southern winds of reform that are significant and encouraging because they represent change.

Aristotle taught that “spoken words” are symbols of “affections in the soul.”

There are of course many other means of expression that are symbols revelatory of the soul.

We live in a symbol system in the South of flags, place names, statues, and more that are inherent in the regional culture that reflect grave disaffection in a collective soul and perpetuate the wrongly learned values of rebellion, intolerance, segregation, slavery and hate.

This ante-bellum “arrangement” may well suit those in an enduring “rebellion” but not those who are the objects of intolerance. Continue reading

The Fourth of July

flagfourthThe 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, gathering family and friends close, eating and drinking all kinds of delights, laughing, talking, hugging, sharing pleasant thoughts, and capping it all with cloud-brushing, soaring multicolored flashes of fireworks, lighting the night sky with the oohs and aahs of crowds across the nation.

It’s a holiday from work in a ritual that celebrates our best qualities as a people.

It evokes the language of the declaration hammered out in a hot Philadelphia Hall, striking and revising the words of Thomas Jefferson with phrases refined to define who we were and what we were undertaking.

We should reflect upon the sentiments of this grand occasion, and how we may fulfill them today – in our day and time.

We declared that “all men are created equal,” and we’ve struggled to perfect that sentiment ever since, and we’ve made great strides, but like all great and historic undertakings, there remains more to be done – and now is the time to do it. Continue reading

Replace that Confederate statue!

“I may not get there with you,” Martin Luther King.

“I may not get there with you,” Martin Luther King.

In 1908, there was a statue erected of a confederate soldier, rifle drawn, standing vigil before the Loudoun County courthouse, as if an armed sentry demanding that any person approaching the court must first seek permission to proceed any further.

No one asks why this statue was not erected sooner than 40 years after the Civil War.

No one is curious why the citizens didn’t forge a statue of a Union and Confederate soldier standing side by side, at peace, weapons at rest, given that Loudoun County had civil war combatants on both sides of that divisive struggle.

It’s because this statue was never intended to bring us together.

Consider the historical context in Virginia after the Civil War.

In 1868, a Richmond editorial praised the KKK for “not permit[ting] the people of the South to become the victims of negro rule.”

Even the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting Black men the right to vote, did not prove an effective remedy.

Racial segregation appeared and persisted. A white dominated political system established itself throughout Virginia. From 1880 to 1930, mobs in Virginia executed seventy blacks.

In 1890, a local Hamilton contingent of blacks formed the Loudoun County Emancipation Association “to work for the betterment of the race – educationally, morally and materially.”

In 1896, the Supreme Court shored up segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson pronouncing that “separate” was just fine for Blacks.

In 1902, the hateful Klan was summoned back into service. Thomas Dixon, Jr., a fiction writer, favoring white supremacy, told the nation that the Klan was an heroic force. The Virginia Constitution was amended to limit the voting rights of Blacks, by requiring screened interviews in order to vote and imposing a poll tax. The number of black voters in Virginia declined from 147,000 in 1902 to less than 10,000 by 1904. Continue reading

Tywanza!

tywanza“You don’t have to do this,” said Tywanza Sanders, 26.

That’s what Tywanza said in a Charleston, South Carolina Church.

A 21-year-old man, Dylann Roof, holding a gun, didn’t believe that.

Looking at Tywanza, a black man, standing before him in a church at a Bible study meeting, Dylann said, it was a “fact” that “black men are raping our women and taking over the country.”

The rich residue of bigotry and violence, accumulated over the history of our young country, makes for a deathly brew.

It began with rivulets, formed into rivers, a soulless flood, coursing through our nation’s veins, its institutions, and the minds and hearts of America.

Early vestiges of its source occurred when founding fathers failed to condemn slavery in our Declaration of Independence.

When we wrote our Constitution, we embraced slavery, making men chattels and partial persons.

Even now when discrimination is outlawed, it is still widely practiced, with a wink and a nod, and finds ease and comfort in the oleaginous political rhetoric of our most unworthy leaders. Continue reading

The “black flower” of civilized society

A row of cells at the model penitentiary in Philadelphia (photo by John P. Flannery)

A row of cells at the model penitentiary in Philadelphia (photo by John P. Flannery)

Prisons are factories of crime where the convicted, with little hope of returning to “civilized” society, decide to make their way outside the law when they’re released.

The prison conditions don’t help – the cliques, mob tanks and gang corridors prompt violence and abuse between inmates. There are “correction” officers ignoring and even facilitating illegal drugs, consensual sex, rape, torture, and escape; these “law” officers are “instructing” the inmates how the world “really” works. When a prisoner is ill, the institution often fails to provide critical medical attention. Cruel, yes, but not unusual. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, we have some 40 doctors and 14 psychiatrists to care for about 30,000 prisoners.

When I was a NY federal prosecutor, we investigated and prosecuted prison corruption, wiring inmates and guards we “turned,” but there’s hardly a prison or jail in America to this day that could come up “clean” if carefully scrutinized.

Perhaps what’s worse is that we openly allow and encourage prison wardens to confine prisoners to solitary for indefinite periods. Continue reading

When is a wage rate a moral offense?

minimumWageDelegate Dave LaRock, from Loudoun County, one of the wealthiest Counties in America, opposes setting any minimum wage rate to pay employees, and, more than that, he also wants to compromise an employee’s right to work for more pay and benefits by reducing even further any effective way to bargain with his employer.

Delegate LaRock’s recent op-ed begs the question what measly rate of pay is too low a rate for the Delegate – so that we are not endorsing some variant of the old South’s peculiar institution?

We have resisted past predatory practices by employers – forcing children to work in sweat shops, and working employees for so many hours they dropped from exhaustion.

We’ve also had to regulate employers too willing to short change workers, to take advantage of their desperation, increase their profits while causing the workers’ misery, by denying them a decent wage.

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII admonished employers that “workers are not to be treated as slaves.” He decried how it was “shameful and inhumane … to use men as things for gain and to put no more value on them than what they are worth in muscle and energy.”

Pope Leo said, “the rich and employers must remember that no laws, either human or divine, permit them for their own profit to oppress the needy and the wretched or to seek gain from another’s want.” Continue reading

Gaming the crowded Loudoun elections

prefVotingThe candidates seeking countywide offices in Loudoun have been elbowing for political advantage for weeks and months.

The field is not yet set but, it appears, we’re going to have more than two candidates for several county wide offices and this favors split voting and an uncertain outcome that may not represent what most voters really want.

In some elections, split voting occurs by Machiavellian design, introducing a bogus candidate (or candidates), as a misdirection, to split the opposition in favor of a candidate who can’t win otherwise.

In Loudoun, this election cycle, we have more than two candidates, it appears by chance, in two countywide races – (1) to become Chair of the Board of Supervisors, and (2) to become our next Sheriff.

The Republicans chose lawyer and party activist, Charlie King, as their Republican nominee for Chair, and the Democrats chose a professional and community leader, Phyllis Randall, as their nominee. This is where the process, however, gets complicated. Republican Supervisor Shawn Williams challenged Mr. King for the Republican nomination for Chair, then Shawn withdrew because of embarrassing personal and seemingly disqualifying disclosures. That said and done, Shawn has now taken a U-turn, and decided to make a run as an Independent. Among the Dems, a former Democratic nominee, who lost in the election four years ago, Tom Bellanca, has decided he wants to run again, and, having sat out the Democratic nominating process, he’s running as an Independent.

In the Sheriff’s race, the Republicans chose the incumbent Sheriff, Mike Chapman, over a vigorous Republican Challenger, Mr. Eric Noble. Brian Allman, a law enforcement officer, filed to become the Democrats’ nominee. But there’s more. When Mr. Noble lost his party’s nomination, former Sheriff Steve Simpson, who was a Noble supporter, announced he’d run himself as an independent.

How does a voter game the choices, four seeking the Chair, three wanting to be Sheriff, and select the persons in the races most representative of what Loudoun needs? Continue reading

A nation of suspects – that’s no worthy memorial

towersburningWhen we enter any public building, however responsible, respectable or harmless we are, we are likely to be patted down – like a criminal.

We are presumed to be suspect since 9-11, an unworthy memorial for those who died that day.

I was a congressional chief of staff, working in the Cannon House Office Building, when 9-11 occurred.

Police, Fire and rescue workers, and many citizens ran to help others, risking their lungs and their lives, some dying to save persons that they did not know.

Most members of Congress, in contrast, went to ground, and were not found until the all-clear signal.

Members of Congress told the nation it was safe to fly, while they stayed put in Washington.

Some Members of Congress thought to deny access to government buildings, defying Thomas Jefferson’s admonition that a government closed to the public was no democracy.

Some Members talked about dropping nuclear weapons on foreign nation-states – although they weren’t certain which ones.

Congress spoke with gusto about our freedoms as they rushed to crush them in the ironically named Patriot Act. The Benedict Arnold Bill would have been a more fitting name for betraying every person’s right to be free of suspicion. The wrongly named Patriot Act allowed warrantless searches of our information and lately we’ve learned how extensive this intrusion by NSA into our privacy was. Congress nevertheless has been debating in recent days whether to extend these invasive practices.
On the evening that Congress took up the Patriot Act, unable to stomach the debate, I went for a run before the vote, making my way from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. It was dark. I found a candle lit vigil by the reflecting pool, and stopped to hear ordinary citizens, arranged in a circle of life, discussing, in respectful muted voices, the terror but also the bravery of American men and women on that fateful day.
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Their love of the nation, the honor they bestowed on others, the hope they represented for the nation stood in stark contrast to their Congress at work, not that far away, voting that very evening to suspect every one of these good people and every other American.

We had a chance to come together after the terrible events on 9-11, to harness the can-do feeling and courage of our citizens, also to join hands across the oceans with nations around the world.

We forged instead a separation that divides our house at home and abroad.

Even now, we have to debate whether to take the Patriot Act off life support.

Even now, we war in Iraq.

This nation must set a new course in memory of who we were before 9-11.

We are all in this together, working toward that more perfect union, but so very imperfectly, and we can’t presume there’s anything exceptional about this nation if it won’t treat our neighbors better at home and abroad.

I attended a High School reunion at a Jesuit School in the Bronx, and, having nothing to do while waiting, studied a mural, of persons ministering to the young, the sick, and the old.

These are the Christian values that our pols speak about but disregard in their workaday quotidian practices.

Whether we honestly hold these values, by religious belief or political or ethical philosophy, it is the path, by which we may put an end to our inward-turning, self-centered dystopic culture of fear making us all suspects instead of citizens in the land we once proudly described as the land of the free and a home for the brave.