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

The president of Pittsburg, not Paris

Life on Mars

Life on Mars

There are plenty who embrace space travel and the science that might take us to Mars – in part because a lot of these wannabe astronauts have given up on saving earth – and think space flight to Mars is next up to form colonies.  Any takers?

These self-styled survivalists delude themselves that these other worldly colonies are a good idea because of what Matt Damon’s stranded character did in a sci-fi movie – given the ingenuity of this imagined scientist to stay alive until he could be rescued.

If we do the kitchen table math, to get to the fourth rock from our sun, to Mars, we could travel the 35 million miles in several hundred days if we were going at about 36,000 miles an hour.

But here’s the rub, putting aside how complicated that space mission would be, based on low bidder equipment, when we get there with our landing party, we have to terraform Mars, modify its atmosphere, temperature, topography and ecology so that Mars is habitable.

What makes us think we can or would make Mars livable when we won’t take the time or effort to sustain the planet where we now live – and the only known space rock in the universe where we can live.

You might ask Mr. Donald Trump that question.

The Paris agreement was a break through to address the threat of global climate change.  The objective was for the nations to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) – to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

After all, we are the 2nd greatest carbon emission polluter on the planet.  We are a large part of the “problem.”

It took more than twenty years for nations around the world to agree to an approach, and Mr. Trump preferred instead to join Syria and Nicaragua in dissent from that approach, with a thumb in the eye and thug shove to every other nation who might have believed we were all in this together to save the planet.  Continue reading

A fowl tax

This hen will now cost you $165 to “permit” you to have a chicken coop.

This hen will now cost you $165 to “permit” you to have a chicken coop.

The County is taxing Western Loudoun farm buildings, by the authority of the Commissioner of Revenue, by assessing pole barns for taxes that the County never assessed before this year.

Even among those barns that were assessed previously, farm owners have been confounded by by the amazing leaps in assessed value.

In one case, the increase in assessment was a factor of thirteen times greater, from a $2,000 assessment last year on a 60 year old barn to a $26,000 assessment this year, with the questionable explanation, by the assessor, that the owner of the barn had painted the barn.

Farmers say this arbitrary policy of assessments is hardly reasonable and is fundamentally unfair.

In another setback for farmers in the West, following upon these Assessments, the County, by a new Zoning Ordinance, circulated this past Friday, requires that farmers obtain a permit for each chicken coop that a farmer has or acquires.

This is how the current zoning permit procedure reads.

It is described as the “procedure for obtaining a zoning permit for a coop/shelter for chickens.”

It says, “the property owner shall complete a building and zoning permit application form … that is accompanied by a plat showing the proposed location of the structure with distances to property lines …”

The term, “shall,” makes this requirement mandatory, and not permissive.

The permit fee – apparently mandated for each separate coop – costs $165 each.

The coop is described as a “structure.”

Farmers have asked the Commissioner of Revenue in connection with the increased assessments, to explain exactly what the Commissioner meant by the term “structure.”  The Farmers are of one mind that they got no answer at all.

As for the coops, chickens generally live mostly in small mobile boxes that house or protect them from the elements and from predators.

These coops are not large stationary structures that required a zoning permit or a health department permit in the past.

It is hard to make out a fair rationale, Farmers say, when the County requires permits for chicken coops about the same size as a dog-house but require no permits for a dog house. Continue reading

Memorialize peace

My Dad in the cockpit!

My Dad in the cockpit!

I remember as if it were yesterday my Mom crying, the keening, the ancestral Irish wailing of her mother’s people, a soulful wound disgorged by screams and tears, when she learned my Dad’s brother, Charles, died of internal bleeding.

Years earlier, my uncle Charles had been shot in the chest in World War II in Italy and captured by the Nazis.

Charles was denied a blood transfusion in a Bronx hospital that would have saved his life.

President Woodrow Wilson promised that World War I would be the war to end all wars.  It was not.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in WWII, said, “There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs.”

The “blood it costs” is the lost life of a spouse, sibling, child, relation, close friend, a loved one, leaving survivors bereft, never to know those they loved alive again.

Each of us would likely risk our lives, perhaps without a thought, on impulse, or instinct, for someone we love, to risk our life for one who makes our life whole and meaningful.

But would you do it for a nation-state hell-bent on exploiting the resources or citizens of another nation?  Continue reading

Lost children found

Victoria and Virginia Quintana – taken to Argentina - 2010

Victoria and Virginia Quintana – taken to Argentina – 2010

Lovettsville’s Tony Quintana has been living a waking nightmare ever since his wife took his two daughters, Victoria (born 2006) and Virginia (born 2008), to Argentina, and refused to return them to the United States, despite a local state-side court order awarding Tony custody.

The young girls were taken from Loudoun county and America in January 2010, seven and a half years ago.

Tony feared this might be the last time he’d ever see his daughters.

After a quest worthy of Homer’s Odysseus, however, when it seemed like he’d lost his girls forever, Tony saw his daughters pass through customs at Dulles and swept them up in his arms.

It was a stunning moment, last Tuesday, laden with unimaginable emotion, realizing a moment Tony longed for, that many thought improbable, and quite beyond Tony’s grasp, until it finally happened, when a miracle emerged from the unending mist of uncertainty, and his girls were with him at long last.

This Dickensian tragedy of a Dad separated from his daughters, taken to another nation-state occurs more often than you might imagine. Continue reading

Being a mom is a job

Mom_Rusty_rocking_chair_v2Teddy Roosevelt once said that a Mom’s “career is more worthy of honor and more useful to the community than the career of any man …”

Too bad we don’t treat our Moms that way.

My Mom raised two boys.  My younger brother, by three years, was Charlie.  When Charlie came home and my Mom put him in my lap with my legs dangling over the side of the couch, and said, she’d gotten my brother from the hospital, I asked, “When does he go back.”

I found out he wasn’t going back and my Mom spent her time clothing and washing and cleaning and feeding and walking and reading and entertaining and teaching and getting us to school.

We lived at 143rd and Willis Avenue in the South Bronx and my Dad was the Superintendent of our building after he returned from service in World War II.  My brother and I never knew what we didn’t have.  But it must have been challenging for this young post war couple.

Our society is high on child-rearing but doesn’t fairly judge the worth of Moms who raise children.

Not then nor now.

Moms who are college educated pay a “mommy tax” of more than a million dollars in lost income when they have a child, according to Ann Crittenden, who wrote “The Price of Motherhood,” about “why the most important job in the world is still the least valued.” Continue reading

Words matter

Supervisor Ron Meyer

Supervisor Ron Meyer

George Orwell, author of “1984,” made the point that language has the power in politics to mask the truth and mislead the public.

In “1984,” in his novel, he coined the phrase “Newspeak,” referring to the abuse of language by the government.

In Loudoun County, we have long had a “transition” area in the County’s Comprehensive Plan, serving as a buffer between western Loudoun (rural) and eastern Loudoun (suburban).

Every Members of the Board of Supervisors knows what that means.

In a recent County study, inviting us to “envision” the future, we were told there is a “market” demand to add 50,000 residential units to our already over-crowded County.

Citizens have said loud and clear – we do not want 50,000 more units – not in the West or the East or the Transition area,

When the “vision” statement for the “new and improved” comprehensive plan was considered by the Board of Supervisors last week, a majority of the Board favored myopia, narrowing the County’s “vision,” and kicking the County’s long-held land use policy of “transition” to the curb.

Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) feigned a misunderstanding of the English language when he said, “As far as saying something’s a transition setting, I’m not sure what that means in the English language.”

If Mr. Meyer suffered a language lapse, he could have consulted a dictionary.

Merriam Webster says a “transition” is the “passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another.”

Loudoun’s “transition” area is a “passage” from suburban development through mixed development to rural development.

Mr. Meyer understood perfectly what and where the transition area was when, as a Board candidate in 2015, he answered the Chamber’s questionnaire, faulting the Comprehensive Plan, including the Transition area, under review and subject to revision now.

Mr. Meyer said, “Current planning does not reflect community realities in this [transition] area and it will be vital to better plan the transportation network and land use polices to ‘fill in the gap’ in a smart and responsible way between suburban areas in Ashburn and Leesburg in this small corner of the Transition Area (underscoring supplied).”

Mr. Meyer’s shoddy mimicry of Orwell’s “Newspeak” sought to eliminate “transition” to compromise any thought or memory of the policy that has preserved and protected the County’s special character.

Nor did Mr. Meyer stop with his faux misapprehension of what “transition” meant.

Mr. Meyer swelled with intolerant and disrespectful humor, when he said, “What is the transition setting, does that have to do with someone’s gender identity?’” Continue reading

Let them eat pizza

PizzaOur children may have been eating more fruit and vegetables, grown healthier and thinned down some in school the last several years because of the School Lunch Program.

If they did, it is likely because a bi-partisan Congress and the USDA put in place back in 2012 some more rigorous standards to encourage nutrition and to fight childhood obesity.

These regulations required more whole grains, a wider variety of fruits and vegetables, and less sodium and meat in the school lunch regimen.

The National School Lunch program is a federally assisted meals program that operates in public and nonprofit private schools and residential childcare institutions.  The meals are nutritionally balanced, low cost or free.  This is not a recent idea.  Harry Truman signed the National School Lunch Act in 1946.

It was hoped that feeding children would fight poverty and reduce disease.  For, without good food, our children get diet-related diseases, and they don’t learn so well.

There is serious concern in the schools and among parents of children attending school in Loudoun County and across the nation that the current more rigorous school diet is not going to remain so healthy under the current Administration.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) lightened and diluted the school regulations as they apply to nutritional standards this past Monday.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, the former Governor of Georgia, announced an interim rule to provide “regulatory flexibility” for the National School Lunch Program. Continue reading

Science marches on – challenging chaos and supersistion

Tami Carlow and Kristen Swanson at the rainy Science March

Tami Carlow and Kristen Swanson at the rainy Science March

Tami Carlow said, “Rain will not stop Kristen Swanson and I from marching for Science in Washington, D.C.”

Tami is a gardener with undergraduate and graduate degrees in biology, concentrating in entomology.  “Ever since I was little, I was fascinated by insects.”  Tami has published papers on the flightless weevil (Eisonyx Crassipes) and parasitic wasps on the backs of dragon flies.  Little wonder that she was a taxonomist, studying weevils at the Natural History museum in DC.  Also little wonder that she would join the Science March on Washington this past Saturday.

 

 

Science March on Washington

Science March on Washington

Kristen K. Swanson, of Lovettsville, is an artist but her technique requires some craft at science.  Kristen takes a soft lump of stoneware clay, thrown on a potter’s wheel (if not made from clay slabs), shapes the clay by hand, paints or “carves” designs on the clay body, and fires the clay twice, the second time at 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit.  Kristen received her Bachelor of fine Arts in Ceramic Art in 1998 from the Virginia Commonwealth University.

Tami and Kristen joined thousands in Washington DC on Earth Day and many others in 600 cities on 6 continents including research scientists in Antarctica.

There are many instances to insist on science as your guide this year.  The Science March itself was inspired by the Women’s March, and has been characterized by the slogan, “There is no Planet B.” Continue reading

Killing innocents

Jail_barsWe struggle with the question of how to kill those convicted of killing others.

Arkansas apparently is struggling to win the indoor record for killing the most on death row in the shortest period of time, 8 persons in 10 days.

Some people on death row are saved by the bell.

Eight men on death row in Arkansas have been saved by midazolam – at least for awhile.

The current death cocktail requires that the person be put asleep with midazolam so that he is not awake when two other drugs suffocate and kill him.

So what’s the hold up?

Midazolam doesn’t always work.

A federal judge, Kristine Baker, wrote an 101 page decision concerned that the drug doesn’t work, thus stopping the executions.

Our society is in a bad place when we talk about how we kill inmates instead of whether we should at all.

Arkansas is so anxious to kill they intend to appeal the judge’s ruling.

There are plenty of good reasons not to execute anyone.

The best reason is that the so-called judicial system doesn’t get it right; it convicts innocents.

Damien Echols was convicted as a teenager in Arkansas with two friends for murdering three boys.  They suspected he was part of a satanic cult.  He spent about two decades on death row waiting for his execution.  DNA proved he did not commit the crime.

Some people believe that if Virginia had better-paid criminal defense lawyers with more administrative and investigative resources, it would have a better criminal justice system.

That’s just not the case. Continue reading