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Is cursive an evolutionary dodo?
       Can you sign your name in cursive?
       For much of American history, handwriting was a hallmark of education and character, taught in classrooms as part of the triumvirate of reading, ’riting and ’rithmatic. Students who persevered through eight grades took as much pride in their penmanship as John Hancock, whose graceful cursive on the Declaration of Independence made his name a synonym for signature, as in sign your John Hancock on the dotted line.
      Into the 20th century, handwriting was so foundational a part of the public school curriculum that educators devoted themselves to perfecting a system good for one and all, just as modern educators have with Common Core. From letterforms and linkages standardized in the mid-1800s by bookseller and abolitionist Platt Rogers Spencer — and not so different from many Hancock used — the American cursive handwriting style evolved.
      Spencerian descendants — about whom we’ll have more to say — were so successful that by the mid-20th century, Americans from coast to coast could write — and read — one another’s handwriting, as well as John Hancock’s.
Yet just about then (does Sputnik ring a bell?) states began de-emphasizing handwriting to allow more classroom time for the curriculum we know today as STEM. 
       Does cursive have a future? That’s the question we ask in honor of National Handwriting Day, which falls on January 23, the birthday of the Massachusetts’ patriot John Hancock. No longer can every graduate of our public schools read Hancock’s signature — or, for that matter, the handwritten document itself.
      Can you?
 
A Pillar of Civilization
       Through the four- or five-thousand-year span of recorded history, handwriting has evolved, influenced and reflected every aspect of culture. This art of forming visible, readable characters has evolved in many styles, from cuneiform and hieroglyphics to unconnected block letters to flowing cursive.
      About the time the Egyptians were developing hieroglyphics, Sumerian merchants were codifying their transactions into cuneiform script. Ever since, handwritten documents have recorded births, marriages and deaths but also started and ended wars. They’ve bought and sold land and slaves, and guaranteed — or challenged — our voting rights.
      By about 1500 BCE, the Phoenicians had an alphabet of 22 phonetic symbols. This marvelous invention spread to Greece, Persia, India and Egypt.
      Like any new technology, handwriting brought on tidal waves of change. Socrates feared a written language would destroy memory, according to Anne Trubek, author of The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting. To a degree, he was right; the old oral tradition that gave rise to Homer is obsolete. On the other hand, as French philosopher Jacques Derrida noted, we only know what Socrates thought about anything because someone recorded his ideas.
        In the second century BCE, the Roman Empire conquered Greece, adopting its then 23-letter alphabet. The alphabet spread throughout the Roman empire. More letters were adopted over the centuries until, by the 15th century, the Roman alphabet consisted of 26 letters.
       By then, handwriting had become a specialized skill, practiced by the scribes and monks who saw their livelihood threatened when Gutenberg developed a printing press capable of assembly line-style production of books. Despite their worries, handwriting remained for many centuries the dominant medium for recording and sharing information.
         The Renaissance development of copperplate engraving brought the fanciful flourishes to script writing. This script evolved into the italics from which cursive and basic lowercase letters derive.
        In early America — as in so many cultures over the millennia — handwriting was a skill that could earn a craftsman a living. By the 1700s, master clerks were doing the actual penning of many of our historic documents. The United States Constitution was drafted by James Madison, penned by Jacob Shallus, assistant clerk of the Pennsylvania State Assembly and signed, more or less elegantly, by 56 colonial gentlemen, for whom fine handwriting was a mark of education and cultivation. 
       In 1786, George Fisher published The Instructor, or American Young Man’s Best Companion Containing Spelling, Reading, Writing, and Arithmetick.
         “The capitals must bear the same Proportion one to another,” wrote Fisher. He directed that upstrokes be fine, and downward strokes fuller and blacker. “And when you are in Joining,” he instructed, “take not off the Pen in writing, especially in running or mixed hands.” His words may ring familiar to 60- and 70-somethings who learned Palmer cursive in school. 
        In the mid-18th century Platt Rogers Spencer developed a utilitarian writing system uniting aspects of several popular writing systems. During the late 1880s, the Spencerian method evolved into the Palmer system, which emphasized writing with arm movements rather than with the fingers. With variants, Palmer remained the school standard of penmanship through the 1950s.
        Meanwhile, other technologies were changing the world. As early as 1947, when TIME magazine was already bemoaning the “day of typewriters, shorthand, telephones and Dictaphones,” educators and the media were complaining that schools were neglecting penmanship instruction. In 1955, the Saturday Evening Post pronounced us a “nation of scrawlers.” By the 1980s, some public school students were receiving little or no formal handwriting training.
 
Cursive Uncommon in ­Common Core 
        Since 2010, to many teens and young graduates of Maryland’s public schools, the swirls and twirls of cursive are as unreadable as ancient Sanskrit.
       Trace it back to Maryland’s adoption that year of Common Core State Standards in reading, English/Language Arts and mathematics, known 
as the Maryland College and Career-Ready Standards. Later, pre-K standards were added. 
       State education standards have been around since the early 1990s, varying from state to state. In 2009, most states, the District of Columbia and a couple of territories voted to develop Common Core State Standards. Maryland was among the first of many states to adopt the new, voluntary standards. 
       Common Core put our nation “one step closer,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation that bankrolled the initiative, “to supporting effective teaching in every classroom, charting a path to college and careers for all students.” 
       Often Common Core pushed cursive aside for keyboarding and computer skills, math and sciences.
 
How Important are ­Connected Letters?
        Does the loss of our common heritage of handwriting matter? Opinions are divided.
        Juli Folk, 37, is reading handwritten Calvert County Census documents for the Center for the Study of the Legacy of Slavery at the Maryland Archives while studying for her masters degree in Library Information Science at the University of Maryland ISchool. 
       Her volunteer project depends on her ability to read cursive in many hands over many decades. “I had fun learning it in elementary school,” she says.
      Yet for today’s students, she’d be happy to see it “offered as an art class. Or teachers could show students what cursive letters look like, then let them learn it on their own.”
      “What matters,” she says, “is that handwriting, whether printed or cursive, is legible.”
      The American Bar Association seems to agree. Printed signatures are just as legal as are cursive — or electronic ones,” according to University of Missouri law professor David English.
       Other benefits may make cursive fit enough to survive the keyboard era.
       Some researchers say learning cursive benefits brain development and fine motor skills in children, leading to improved writing skills and reading comprehension — skills critical across the Common Core. 
        Dr. William R. Klemm, senior professor of neuroscience at Texas A&M, says learning cursive helps train the brain to function more effectively, increasing hand-eye coordination and reading speed. Thus, he concludes that schools that drop cursive are depriving students of an important developmental tool.
        Whatever learning cursive may do for our hands, eyes and brains, losing it certainly cuts us off from our past. A generation illiterate in cursive will be unable to read historic documents, including Grandma’s letters. 
       “Sending a handwritten letter is becoming such an anomaly,” says actor Steve Carell. “My mom is the only one who still writes me letters. There’s something visceral about opening a letter. I see her in handwriting.”
       At the Maryland State Archives, Emily Oland Squires hears complaints from researchers, especially students, struggling to read with cursive. 
       Archives staff tries to bridge the gap by helping research teachers create lesson plans that include both primary source documents written in cursive and their transcriptions. Online transcriptions have been made of many documents pertaining to state and African American history.
        “Still, we ask teachers to let students try to work from the manuscripts before giving them transcriptions,” says Squires. “It helps them learn.”
 
Does Cursive Have a Future?
         Some states have legislated a future for cursive. In 2016, Alabama and Louisiana — not states earning top educational ratings — became the latest of 14 states that now require cursive in school.
        Maryland does not require cursive be taught. 
        “There are currently no standards for cursive,” says Walter Lee, of the office of the Curriculum Coordinator and Instruction at Anne Arundel County Public Schools. “But Maryland created a framework in which cursive does appear.” 
       Lee explains that Maryland decided to include cursive as part of the framework for interpreting the state standards for the Commonwealth of Maryland. “There are no policies governing cursive,” he says, “but there are practices. It is up to local education agencies.”
        In Anne Arundel County, he says “incorporating cursive into reading time during the school day is a school-based decision, meaning that it is up to the principal.”
      In the bigger picture, it may be, as Trubek says, that the decline in our use of handwriting in our daily lives is only the next stage in the evolution of communication. Where we’ll be next, who knows.
        While we wait to see what the next wave of change brings, we might all heed the advice of Benjamin Franklin: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” He did both.
       In honor of National Handwriting Day, pick up a pen or pencil and put it to use.
 
What is Cursive?
       Cursive derives from the Latin word currere, meaning to run. Cursive writing has a more comfortable flow than early Roman square block printing or the more rounded uncial writing of early Latin literature. In handwriting history, forerunners of cursive appear as far back as ancient Roman times. Due to its speed and efficiency, many languages since the ancients have cursive forms. 
       In America, cursive has subtypes such as ligature, in which letters within words are connected with lines. There’s also cursive italic penmanship, which combines joins and pen lifts within words. Looped cursive is the style taught in American schools since the late 1800s. If you learned cursive, it may well have been this style. 
 

 

 

This tale of Olympic-level tragedy earns the gold

       Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie: Suicide Squad) is a far cry from the ice princesses who dominated American media coverage throughout the 1980s and ’90s. The atypical Olympian comes from meager means. Her costumes are gaudy and hand-sewn. She performs to heavy metal instead of Chopin. She shoots guns and goes muddin’ in trucks for fun.
      Tonya’s mother LaVona (Allison Janney: Mom) is an abusive alcoholic who makes a habit of tearing Tonya down. To escape, Tonya marries the first boy who shows an interest, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan: Logan Lucky), who continues the cycle of violence.
       For all that, Tonya is an exceptional skater. She’s the first American to land a triple-axle in competition. She’s got power and height to make her jumps thrilling. But execution isn’t the only point of evaluation. Finding Tonya a poor representative for American skating, judges look for reasons to mark her down.
       Seeking acknowledgement, Tonya tries to make herself into the image to which she aspires. She hides her bruises with makeup and plasters a smile on her face. When her husband suggests a plan to help her win the top spot in American skating, she pays no attention.
       What follows is a tragedy so shaped by stupidity and outlandish behavior that it’s funny. Finally in the spotlight, Tonya learns that infamy isn’t so satisfying as fame.
       Based on the true story of the 1990s’ scandal, I, Tonya is a fierce, hilarious look at Harding and the media circus that made her a star. Director Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hours) shows you the story of her meteoric rise and spectacular fall from the perspectives of each of the principals.
        Narrators are frequently unreliable. Events skew depending on who is telling the story. Characters speak to the camera in interview format or break a scene to let the audience know that they disagree with an interpretation of events. The fascinating technique forces audiences to weigh the information they’re given and decide who to trust.
       The movie is also an indictment of the media and its popular consumption. A media sensation at the beginning of the 24-hour news cycle, she was hounded by tabloid reporters hungry for a scoop. Their sin is shared with the audience that consumed such stories.
       For his predominantly unreliable narrators, Gillespie needed a cast capable of seeming both trustworthy and unhinged — sometimes in the same scene. These actors are gold medal worthy. As the center, Robbie is brilliant, counterbalancing Harding’s tackier aspects with heart-rending vulnerability. This woman desperate for acceptance finds instead differing forms of violent rejection.
       Janney is so snarling and fearsome a mother figure that she could scare Joan Crawford. Making it her mission to show Tonya she’s a disappointment, LaVona throws things at her and pays people to heckle her at competitions.
       You need not remember the ­Harding/Kerrigan scandal to find I, Tonya a winner. 
Prospects: Great Dramedy • R • 120 mins.
 
New this Week
 
12 Strong
       After the Twin Towers fell, America was in shock. As the nation reeled, the army sent a team of Special Forces soldiers into Afghanistan against a warlord. Starting the Bush administration’s War on Terror with extremely limited resources, these soldiers rode into battle on horseback.
       Filled with patriotic imagery and awe for our military prowess, 12 Strong is meant to lift spirits and instill pride. Don’t look for an examination on our motives for the war in this love letter. 
Prospects: Flickering • R • 130 mins. 
 
Den of Thieves
      A band of violent, brilliant bank robbers is embarrassing the police and terrifying the citizens of Los Angeles. To combat them, the LA County Sheriff’s Department empowers an elite unit, no questions asked.
       Meanwhile, the heisters are planning the ultimate job: robbing the Federal Reserve. 
       It’s January, the month studios dump movies that have no chance of making money or earning recognition. This latest by Gerard Butler follows that tradition. 
Prospects: Bleak • R • 140 mins. 
 
Phantom Thread
       Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is London’s most famous ­couturier. He and sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) have run the city’s fashion scene for years, dressing starlets to royals. 
       Reynolds has a reputation with women outside of dressmaking. He cycles through them, abandoning them as soon as they fail to inspire him. His newest muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps), refuses and creates a new set of standards. 
      Director Paul Thomas Anderson adores twisting social norms and playing with power dynamics. The rumored final film in Day-Lewis’ storied career, The Phantom Thread promises to be a triumph. 
Prospects: Bright • R • 130 mins.

The season is already underway

      It’s starting now. The yellow perch run is on the way, with the white perch run right behind it. Despite our wildly unpredictable weather this time of year, Maryland’s 2018 fishing season is opening up — whether you’re ready or not.
      Hardier practitioners will reap the first and richest bounties, as always, so don’t be misled by freezing temperatures. The fish may hesitate during periods of extreme cold but not for long. Temperature is not the primary element affecting the coming and going of fish. They’re also driven by the increasing sunlight, lunar phases, tidal flows and the inexorable changes in their bodies. Females are already swelled to bursting from the copious quantities of roe they are producing. Males are overflowing with milt.
       Staging areas are the right places to target, the deeper water up in the tributaries where the schools of fish will build up awaiting whatever secret signal their senses need to start for the headwaters to spawn. Yellow perch prefer 45- to 55-degree water for reproducing. Improbable as it seems, on a sunny, 60-degree day, the shallows of a tributary can easily reach those temperatures, though Bay waters may remain in the 30s.
       If nothing else, it’s the time to break out your spring perch fishing tackle and get it ready for action. Light lines need replacing more frequently than heavier tests, so check yours. If they appear chalky, stiff or in any way suspicious, replace them now. Four- to six-pound test is the way to go this time of year. Each spool refill at a local sports store costs $3 to $4.
        A seven-foot, medium-weight spin rod is adequate for pan fishing. However, maybe this spring is time to invest in a six- to six-and-a-half-foot light- or ultra-light-action rod matched with one of the many 1000-series spin reels. It is far more satisfying to use tackle matched to the fish, and casting the lightweight lures and baits you’ll be using will be far easier. Your accuracy will be vastly improved, and light bites will be far more detectable.
       The best terminal setup is a pair of shad darts about 18 inches below a small weighted casting bobber. You can tip the darts with grass shrimp, minnow, bloodworms, earthworms, butter worms or any combination. 
       You’ll also need some warm clothes: hip waders or high boots if you’re a bank angler, some warm wool gloves (fingerless are best) and a few hand warmers, just in case. If using minnows for bait, don’t forget a small bait net. Nothing will numb your hands faster than having to plunge them repeatedly into your live bucket for baits.
        A five-gallon pail remains the best general tackle container: bait bucket, fish holder and sometime seat for when the bite may be slow. A thermos full of hot beverage can also go a long way to making the cold more bearable.
       Yellow perch must be at least nine inches in length — a 14-incher is a citation — and the possession limit is 10 fish per day. They, like white perch, are best prepared cleaned, rolled in panko crumbs and fried in hot peanut or corn oil until golden brown. Many devotees insist that yellow perch are better than whites, though that argument could be endless.

Fish Finder

Yellow perch are moving up into the tributaries. During the last cold snap, stalwart anglers made some holes through the ice in the upper Magothy and caught a number of yellows and not just a few whites. Spawning is definitely happening, though small males of both species are always the first on station. Pickerel are also up there in the tribs. Their spawn is imminent. Don’t ignore crappie either, as they too are schooling and becoming active in fresher water.
 
Hunting Seasons
Wild turkey: Jan. 18-20
Duck: thru Jan. 27
Ruffed grouse: thru Jan. 31
Whitetail and Sika deer, bow season: thru Jan. 31
Canada goose: thru Feb. 3
Snow goose: thru Feb. 3
Rabbit: thru Feb. 28
Squirrel: thru Feb. 28
http://dnr.maryland.gov/huntersguide/Documents/Hunting_Seasons_Calendar.pdf
 

Rich or poor, Owensville ­Primary Care turns no one away

Over $10,000. That’s what the average American spent for health care in 2016, and up is where that number is heading.
     “My wife’s health insurance jumped 38.9 percent,” laments a friend recently retired. “My pension is disappearing.”
     Across the age spectrum, you hear endless variationa of the same story.
Last year, 11.9 percent of Anne Arundel County residents couldn’t afford to see a doctor, according to the county’s Report Card of Community Health Indicators. Seventeen percent didn’t have a primary care physician.
     In a culture where health and wealth are inextricably linked, Owensville Primary Care is a haven. It welcomes all with these words: This Health Center serves all patients regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.
     It is an oddly placed haven.
     If you wanted to show off southern Anne Arundel County’s pastoral ideal, you couldn’t do better than take a drive down Owensville Road, the east-west link between Rt. 2 and Galesville. Amid imposing white homes set back on yards rolling into farm fields, the modernistic stucco building might, if noticed, raise a question. 
     Its placement tells a truer story of Southern Maryland life than the scenery. It’s a story in many ways little changed since Owensville Primary Care was founded in 1974 to, in CEO Sylvia Jennings’ words, “address the needs of a very low-income, rural, minority population that did not have access to health care.”
     Over four decades, Jennings has seen need persist and — for many of those years — overseen Owensville Primary Care’s ability to deliver care regardless of race, age or income.
      “We pledge to provide quality health care to our entire, diverse community at a responsible cost,” Jennings says. “That’s our mission.”
     Since the Affordable Care Act was passed, that pledge has included helping people, patients or not, find qualified health care programs. Nowadays, people losing their subsidies are welcome for advice and alternatives.
 
A Melting Pot
     In the utilitarian waiting room, you find yourself in a microcosm of the larger Southern Anne Arundel County community, where homes — and with them wealth — run the full range from mansions to shanties. Here, your neighbors — black and white, young and old, more and less affluent — visit as they wait. You might find — as I did on this day — a kid sucking a lollipop. Two elderly women, black and white. A tattooed hipster with an ear gauge in his lobe. A workingman in an Orioles cap. Yourself.

Owensville Primary Care outgoing CEO Sylvia Jennings, retiring after more than 20 years.

       Owensville Primary Care has become, over the years, an American melting pot. 
     “I came in one morning to find a Jaguar in the parking lot next to a jalopy,” says Jennings, the white-topped dynamo who for two decades has been CEO of this federally qualified Community Health Center, one of 16 in Maryland and some 1,400 nationwide.
      The numbers support the impression of diversity. Of October’s 1,156 patient visits, 38 percent were paid by commercial insurance, 32 percent by Medicare and 28 percent by Medicaid, with two percent self-paid.
 
Walking Into a Nightmare
       Jennings, 82 and days from retirement, works behind the scenes, in an office stocked with tall jars of Hershey’s Kisses. Jolly, direct and demanding, she does not want a visit to her sanctum to feel like “a walk down the hall to the principal.”
      For the office she is now dismantling has been the scene of many hard decisions.
      “I walked into a nightmare,” Jennings recalls.
      In 1981, the well-intentioned, six-year-old South County Family Health had descended into bankruptcy. With $1.5 million owed, court administrators threatened to “nail doors shut and walk away,” Jennings remembers. That’s when she joined the board, deputized by her boss, Virginia Clagett, then South County’s councilwoman.
      Paying off that debt took eight years.
      A second round of troubles in the mid 1990s brought Jennings back on the board to captain “a sinking ship.” First she laughed at entreaties; finally she accepted. That was 1997. She spent the next two years cleaning up the mess.
 
The Team
      Jennings has been the force that kept Owensville Primary Care on track.
      But hers is not the face you’re likely to know if you happen to be one of its 3,400 patients, from birth to geriatrics. 
      First you meet the reception crew, who, Jennings says and experience proves, are “welcoming and treat you not as a stranger but as a friend.” 

photo by Wayne Bierbaum

Back, doctors Thomas Sheesley, Jonathan Hennessee and Wayne Bierbaum. Front, nurse practitioner Nancy Bryan, behavioral health director Dr. Jana Raup and physicians assistant Ann Hendon.

photo by Wayne Bierbaum

Rebecca Woolwine, Judy Bracken, Amber Snay and Billie Aisquith in back row. Keri Mahan and Brittany Galloway, seated.

      Many, like office manager Billie Aisquith, have been here as long as Jennings. Increasingly, they are “cross-trained in multiple functions,” like Vickie Payne, who is also a fire department EMT just certified as a medical assistant through Anne Arundel Community College’s online program.
       “When they expand their skills, they expand their incomes,” Jennings says.
       Next, you enter into the hands of nurses — among them nurse supervisor Vanessa Greenwell, Owensville Primary’s longest serving staffer at over 30 years — who’ll take your weight and height, blood pressure, temperature and blood oxygen readings.
       They turn you over to health care providers, who range from doctors to nurse practitioner Nancy Bryan, retired from the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps, to physician assistant Ann Hendon.
       At 28 years in, chief medical officer Wayne Bierbaum calls his egalitarian work at Owensville Primary “what I’ve wanted to do since I decided to go into medicine: helping people manage in difficult circumstances.”
       Doctors Jonathan Hennessee and Thomas Sheesley are National Health Service Corps Scholars, who repay their medical education by working in communities with limited access to care, in their cases for a term of five years.
      Behavioral Health Director Jana Raup or Licensed Clinical Social Worker Jen Thornton offer counseling and therapy.
 
Right People for the Job
       From the bottom up and top down, salaries are a priority with Jennings, who brings her medical experience as a nurse along with administrative experience alongside a state legislator.
      “I really focused on getting people a decent wage,” she said. “Even then, $7 an hour for nurses was ridiculous.”
        “The money wasn’t there so it was a long process,” says Sharon Widemann, Jennings’ long-time colleague and now successor as CEO.
      Nowadays, Jennings calls “our salaries very competitive,” good enough to draw expertise from outside South County. 
       “Young physicians fresh out of school are paid a very good entry-level wage that appreciates the fact that family-care physicians are difficult to recruit,” she notes. 
      For five years, Jennings and Widemann, who came on in 1994 as an accountant, “got our hands dirty with work to make sure we had the right hiring.”
        Computerization brought the next challenge. 
      “When IT hit us all with electronic records, we were able to draw the best staff among community health centers, who are doing wonders for our record keeping,” Widemann says.
 
Finding Wherewithal
      Every step took money. 
      Community health centers are backed by tax dollars. Owensville Primary Care has a $4 million budget, with federal funding of about $1.5 million, supplemented by fees for service, donations from citizens and small government grants for targeted programs.
       Federal and private funding supported the construction of the building back in 1976, enabling Owensville Primary to move out of the old Owensville primary school. The building was county property until 2002, when it was surplussed to Owensville Primary. That same year, a state grant of $200,000 and a loan from the county paid for renovation. Later grants paid for better parking. This year, the behavioral health center moved into its own remodeled space, replacing the old post office that shared space with Owensville Primary.
      Grants enabled growth in services. In 2013 federal monies brought on behavioral health case managers, certified application counselors for Affordable Care and expanded Medicare, plus two more physicians. 
      A brand-new grant supports response to the opioid addiction crisis with mental health, public awareness and Narcan training.
      From Jennings’ years with Clagett as both councilwoman and delegate, she understood the levers of government. 
     “She has kept us in the minds of politicians who help our cause,” says chief medical officer Wayne Bierbaum.
      Jennings retires with Owensville Primary Care “in the black.” But not without a touch of uncertainty. Federal funding for community health centers expired September 30, and Congress has yet to reauthorize it.
 
‘A’ For Accountabiliity
     Recovery from a troubled past has made accountability part of each day’s work.
     “We hold ourselves accountable with committees for quality care, insurance and improvement,” Widemann says. “Once a month, a group of clinical and administrative staff review incidents and look at how our patients are doing. If one provider is doing a great job, we see how to share those best practices.”
     Patients have two ways to rate their satisfactions, and a sign on the reception desk invites complaints if you’ve waited more than 20 minutes to be seen. Quality measures are posted on the front door and the website.
      Accountability is one of the hallmarks of Jennings’ tenure, according to Bierbaum who has worked beside her the whole time.
     “Our goals have been continually strengthened through her vision of what we should become, so that everyone knows that we stand for service delivered with compassion, accountability and professionalism, always trying to do better in our mission,” he says.
     On January 2, Jennings passed on title and responsibility to Widemann. She leaves with satisfaction, relief and confidence, in a transition that, she promises, “will be seamless.” Preparing Widemann to continue the mission has been Jennings’ final achievement. 
     That, and revisiting 22 years of history, paper, electronic and human. 
     Amid the sorting, preserving and trashing, there was reflecting.
     Jennings already had reached retirement age when she was persuaded to come to the rescue of Owensville Primary Care.
     “I thought I’d do it a couple years and get it straightened out,” she recalls. 
      But day after day, year after year, she returned.
      “What I do every day of my life is so satisfying that it has allowed me to work till 82,” she says.
 

Outgoing CEO Sylvia Jennings, left, and her successor, Sharon Widemann.

      Now, 20 years in, she allows herself to be “very personally pleased with myself for the job I have done here. Some people will call me smug, but you have to have some personal reward. I’m not talking about money but about feeling I have contributed something to my neighbors and friends.”
      Widemann’s mission is continuing a success she helped create.
     “We have a very fully equipped and functioning federal community health center, a strong executive staff, strong providers and a growing behavioral health component,” the new CEO says.
      Her plan is to reach into the community to bring affordable health care to people still unserved. Growing the behavioral health unit is a particular goal.
      She steps comfortably into Jennings’ big shoes.
     “We’re not a one-woman show anymore,” Widemann says. “We’re a team effort. Plus, I know where Sylvia lives.”

Intrigue at the highest levels in politics, journalism and gender

      In 1971, a secret study exposing the futility of the Vietnam War was leaked to the New York Times. Printing it reveals decades of deception. The Pentagon Papers, as the explosive revelations were known, shook the American people’s trust in their government and infuriated the Nixon administration.
      Nixon sued. The Times was barred from further revelations while the Supreme Court deliberated on the paper’s First Amendment rights to print.
That’s the true backstory of the lively political drama The Post.
       With the Times silenced, papers around the world await the decision.
Except The Washington Post, whose executive editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks: The Circle), wants to break the silence, raising his paper’s national prestige.
      Standing in his way is the Post’s owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep: Florence Foster Jenkins), a Washington socialite close with LBJ and Bob McNamara.   Graham is in fact struggling to keep her paper alive and to be taken seriously in a man’s world. If she prints the Pentagon Papers and the Supreme Court rules against the Times, she can lose her paper. If she doesn’t, she risks irrelevancy.
       Their conflict adds another layer of drama to a newspaper movie that is both thrilling and, in the current political climate, timely.
       The Post manages to be two very interesting movies in one. Bradlee and his dogged quest to print the Pentagon Papers plays out like a political thriller and prequel to All the President’s Men. Graham’s is the timely story about a woman finding her place in the working world and asserting herself as the men at the table dismiss her.
      Hanks makes Bradlee a man guided by his principles and both driven and driving to get the scoop. His half of the movie is filled with research and breathless phone calls.
         Graham’s half of the story is more nuanced. Streep is excellent as a woman used to being unobtrusive. She gossips with the ladies at her parties rather than talking politics with the men. She allows herself to be cowed by the panel of men who are supposed to advise her. In framing Streep in her scenes, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (The BFG) has a man looming above or crowding into her frame, making her seem small and pressed.
       The Post is a bit heavy-handed due to director Steven Spielberg, who can never resist making his point in the most obvious way and repeating it. Speeches about how hard it is to be a woman in a changing society are back-to-back. A shot of Graham walking past every female stereotype is so groan-inducing that you may need to resist the urge to throw popcorn at the screen.
       Still, The Post is a welcome reminder about the role the press plays in keeping the executive branch honest — and about women finding new ways to embrace power in the face of male domination. 
Good Drama • PG-13 • 115 mins.
 
New this Week
 
The Commuter 
       Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) follows a mundane routine. So he’s surprised to be pulled into a conspiracy on his daily train commute. Following the instructions of a mysterious woman on the train (Vera Farmiga), he’s told, or people will die and he’ll be blamed. 
         On a speeding train with no way to signal for help, he must try to outwit whoever is attempting to ruin his life. 
      Neeson has made an odd turn late in his career, from dramatic actor to action movie hero. The Commuter looks to be one of those typical action flicks, featuring him growling menacingly and quickly walking with purpose through small spaces.
       If you’re a fan of Neeson’s particular set of skills, this film should be fairly thrilling. Setting the movie on a train keeps the action claustrophobic and the tension high. If you’re looking for a well-thought out plot, however, you may be disappointed.
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 104 mins.
 
Paddington 2
       Now an official member of the Brown family, Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) is a bear on a mission. He wants to buy a spectacular present for his aunt’s 100th birthday. He works many odd jobs to earn enough money to buy something wonderful, only to have his money stolen.
        Paddington and the Brown family must work together to find the thief and save Aunt Lucy’s birthday surprise.
      This sequel to the surprisingly loveable Paddington movie promises more delight. Brimming with recognizable British character actors and cuddly critters, Paddington 2 should be fun for young and old alike.
Prospects: Bright • PG • 103 mins. 
 
Proud Mary 
       Hitwoman Mary (Taraji P. Henson) is the go-to assassin for the biggest crime family in Boston. Then a hit goes awry. Will she take on the whole of the Boston mob to protect a boy she barely knows?
     Taraji P. Henson is one of the most charismatic actresses working today, so it’s wonderful to see her lead an action movie. Styling and plot follow Pam Grier’s blaxploitation classics, featuring powerful no-nonsense women fighting for good. If the plot is weak, Henson’s charm and talent are strong.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 89 mins.

When the cold really sets in, the hardy angler goes fishing

      Bitter cold is not enough to describe the single-digit temperatures that descended on Chesapeake Country in late December and early January.
     In Erie, Pennsylvania, where I grew up, this is what winter is like. This year the small city broke into the news (yet again) for not only low temperatures but also record Christmas snows: over five feet in four days. Weather like that is one of the reasons I moved to Maryland some 50 years ago. But for people thereabouts, it’s no big deal.
      Anglers in that neck of the woods simply make the transition to hard-water fishing. They are quite content to continue the pursuit of yellow perch, walleye, crappie, sunfish, pickerel and Northern pike throughout the winter.
     To do so, they equip themselves with ice augers, snow shovels, pop-up ice tents or small shacks on snow skids, space heaters, some tip-ups or ice rods, a slotted ice spoon for keeping the fish holes clear and some minnows or a handful of grubs or butter worms for bait. 
     Our recent temperatures have been low long enough to create safe ice (four inches or more) on many Maryland freshwater impoundments. Exclude brackish tributaries as the salt content lowers the freezing levels and the tidal currents make ice unsafe.
     Deep Creek, Smithville, Tuckahoe, Unicorn, Urieville and Waterford are among the hundred or so constructed lakes scattered throughout the state. Always keep in mind that sufficient ice is the essential requirement for safe angling. Check with Maryland Department of Natural Resources (www.almanac.com/content/ice-thickness-safety-chart) to be sure that the waters you’re interested in fishing are considered safe. 
     The basic equipment is simple, though, like my home-state ice-fishers, you can dress it up all you want. A boring auger, powered or manual, is a real help in making an ice-fishing hole, but I often used a steel spud or wrecking bar for chipping out access to the depths. Attach a rope to the bar and wrap the end around your arm so that when you break through the ice the tool doesn’t slip from your grasp and go shooting down to the bottom. 
     It is also a great advantage to have fished your chosen waters before they ice up, especially as you will have an idea of where the deeper areas lie. You’ll need at least eight feet of water to have a chance at getting fish. Avoid the areas, no matter how attractive, near any outflow as the moving water creates dangerous and unpredictable ice thicknesses. 
     An inverted five-gallon bucket with some kind of cushion makes a satisfactory seat, and a pop-up tent will break the wind — if you don’t mind cutting a hole in its floor. Space heaters can be a comfort if you are careful with the exhaust gases, always providing adequate ventilation.
    Small 18- to 24-inch rods (with appropriate reels) adapted for kids during the regular season are what you need for ice fishing. For bait, use small minnows, worms, grubs and similar trout baits, both real and synthetic. Add shad darts as an additional attractant. Small jigs and spoons will also work. Hooks up to No. 2 work well. You’ll only need a split shot or two for weight to get down near the bottom.
     Storing caught fish is simple. Dropping them outside on the ice freezes them up quickly. They are then easily handled and carried home in your bucket. The fish will generally resume activity as they thaw, so make allowances on the way to the cleaning table.

My Favorite Stories of 2017

Together, we read a lot of stories over the course of a year. Many of them give you a moment’s insight or delight. Others tell you just what you need to know. Some stay in your mind, even after all those words have come between you and them all that time ago. So I can still recount stories we ran four, 14 or 24 years ago.
    Before I close the book on 2017 (yes, I really do have a large, heavy book labeled “2017 • Vol. XXV,” I like to reflect on what we’ve done in the 52 issues of our 25th volume.
    Following the pattern of this Best of the Bay edition, I’m awarding them categorical bests.


Best Bay Weekly Cover of 2016

Get Ready for the Great American Eclipse: Aug. 17