Yearly Archives: 2017

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

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