“Bankers aren’t inherently dishonest people , it’s banking culture that makes them that way?” The New World Order.

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In the news today is a Senate Report on the manipulation of commodities markets by big banks:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/senate-report-says-banks-gained-unfair-advantages-in-commodity-markets-1416434539

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/20/us-commodities-banks-goldman-hearing-idUSKCN0J40AA20141120

http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/11/19/senate-report-criticizes-goldman-and-jpmorgan-over-their-roles-in-commodities-market/?_r=0

A couple of excerpts from these articles:

“The Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase assumed a role of such significance in the commodities markets that it became possible for the banks to influence the prices that consumers pay while also securing inside information about the markets that could be used by their own traders.”

“A U.S. Senate report on commodity-market activities at big Wall Street banks accuses the firms of being so powerful they were able to influence prices, gain trading advantages and put the broader financial system at risk by entering volatile businesses such as uranium trading and coal production.”

“If you like what Wall Street did for the housing market, you’ll love what Wall Street is doing for commodities,” said committee Chair Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, in his opening remarks. …Goldman’s ability to influence any portion of the price for a key component of the industrial economy is simply unacceptable.”

So… after tanking the world economy in 2008 and 2009 …. getting caught manipulating Libor rates, and world currency, etc etc etc … is it any surprise at all?  No. Big Banks will do what ever is tolerable in their culture and affords a financial reward…….And the rewards are still obviously far greater than any possible punishment.

In any one single year there are more than enough “scandals” to keep journalists and regulators gainfully employed. http://www.forbes.com/sites/halahtouryalai/2012/12/27/10-biggest-banking-scandals-of-2012/

And we see how our elected law makers intend to continue to respond to it all: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/17/wall-street-deregulation_n_5838718.html

“One deregulation bill, H.R. 5405, would exempt a significant swath of the market for derivatives — the complex financial products at the heart of the 2008 meltdown — from Dodd-Frank’s new trading rules.”

“The latter legislation would give banks a way around the Volcker Rule, a ban on their speculating in the securities markets with taxpayer backing. It would weaken rules on bank ownership of collateralized loan obligations, a type of derivative that is dominated by big banks and that pools together many loans into one security. Weakening the rules would make it easier for banks to make big speculative bets with these derivatives and thereby get around the Volcker Rule.”

“H.R. 5461 would also allow banks to charge more in upfront fees when they issue a mortgage while still qualifying for special treatment under the government’s “qualified mortgage” rules.”

It goes on and on… do you think things will change if you just let them “police themselves”? http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/05/13/3437195/bank-ceo-pay-performance/ “what Cannon’s numbers reveal is that the link between job performance and pay is broken at the top echelons of the corporate banking world. The new analysis adds to a large body of evidence that CEO pay rules are failing to provide a meaningful curb on the corrupting tendencies of corporate compensation committees. CEOs routinely cheat the performance incentives their pay boards set up, and as a practical matter these supposed bonuses are essentially guaranteed even if the company misses targets. Worse, getting busted for fraud or bailed out by the feds or fired doesn’t put much of a dent in a CEO’s take-home pay. And taxpayers subsidize a substantial portion of this system because payments in the form of stock are tax deductible. In the shadow of this broken system, the ratio of CEO earnings to worker earnings has skyrocketed to 273-to-1 across the whole economy, and over 1,000-to-1 in some sectors.”

Why should they change on their own? “The ability of CEOs at the largest banks to essentially charge rent regardless of job performance also has consequences for the financial industry itself, the Wall Street Journal notes. Citigroup, one of the nation’s largest firms, would likely be more valuable if it were broken up into several separate financial services companies. “But the current system,” the Journal says, “gives Michael Corbat, the CEO, and this team, a powerful reason to retain the status quo: their pay.” In that sense, the breakdown in the pay-for-performance system is helping to maintain the dangerously high concentration of American banking assets and exposes the economy to a greater risk of catastrophe.”

So.. what is the deal with “Banksters”?  http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/bankers-take-hippocratic-oath/  “What makes people dishonest? Being a banker helps. That’s according to new research from three Swiss economists published in Nature Wednesday. From scandals like LIBOR to excessive executive compensation, our society often chalks up misbehavior in the financial industry to “business culture.” But as the authors write, there’s been no scientific proof for that rather nebulous condemnation. Until now. …

“Making Sen$e has reported on related research from the University of California at Berkeley showing that wealth encourages unethical behavior. That’s even the case when it’s performative wealth — holding a cash advantage in a game of monopoly, for example. The saliency of that wealthy identity makes people behave worse.”

“… on Wall Street, where bankers, Ariely has found in his experiments, cheat by about twice as much as other people around the country. Again, that’s not because they’re bad people, said Ariely, but because their work involves, as Paul Solman described it, “things that are easier than cash to rationalize stealing, like extra shares of stock via the backdating of stock options, say.”

So what to do? Well …. Obviously something different than what we are today. NOTHING is not the answer (as so many American’s did so this election cycle).

SUPPORT BANKING REFORM – get big banks out of commodities markets. Bring back Glass-Steagall, or at least a lot of it. http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/banking/glass-steagall-act-explained/

BREAK UP BIG BANKS – They have gotten too-big-to-fail, and too-big-to-prosecute. They are running amok and rough-shod over our economies and societies. The more they misbehave and garner all these ill-gotten gains, the more powerful they become.

REPEAL THE CITIZENS UNITED RULING – Law makers need to work for citizens, not for those with the deepest pockets, as it is today. http://www.democracyisforpeople.org/ The travesty of the Supreme Court “Citizens United” ruling has made all this MUCH WORSE!

It’s a start but its also very true: good men

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Sure things are not great for a majority of American’s — so the answer is… make it worse?

Long time no post. I’ve been busy with real life 🙂 — and now something completely rant-able has occurred. What the heck I say ????

OK Sure — Obama suffers from a public “competency” crisis, he’s let the “opposition” define national dialogue and has wet noodle responses, he’s succumbed to obstructionism and is using his only tool – executive orders to get things done: He’s playing whack-a-mole instead of developing and pushing through comprehensive legislation — been there done that I suppose — the “do nothing” Congress certainly won’t play ball. However, in spite of all this:

1. The stock market is at an all time high. 2. Corporate profits and cash balances are at an all time high. 3. Unemployment is improving.  4. Inflation is in check.  5. Housing market is recovering. 6. Interest rates are low. 7. We are actively battling terrorism overseas, but are not in full war deployment/occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. 8. The Federal Budget deficit is shrinking and we have a more active economy. But YES, the majority of American’s are being left out of the recession’s recovery.

So… for that., we commit suicide? We flush the whole country down the toilet and hand over the keys to a political party of even worse corporate and industrial puppets that will do nothing but perpetuate our oligarchy even faster? Give it all up to those who will almost certainly be sure to repeat the disasters of 2008/2009? Will they provide support and cover for companies that ship jobs overseas, collude with each other to suppress wage growth and benefits except for executives (which goes the other way — BIG time) , will they strive to drive corporate taxes to zero and protect things like oil subsidies? Get rid of environmental protections, essentially sell the soul of the country? I suppose …. why not? It’s been great for the top 1-2% income earners in the U.S. who have been the sole beneficiaries of the post recession recovery. Their campaign contributions and lobbying efforts pay off. But what about the other 99%?

5 Billion dollars spent on an election… huge sums of “dark money” that Citizen’s United enabled will surely provide a great R.O.I. at the expense of a majority of Americans. The only bright spots came from ballot measures that show support for exactly the OPPOSITE of the platform of the imminently controlling Republican Party. Gun control, increases in minimum wage, increased spending on education, and progressive liberal ballot measures nearly all PASSED with big majority votes! What the heck?  Sure I understand completely — the bottom 98+ percent of us Americans are not benefiting from the economic recovery. Unemployment – at face value of the statistic looks good, there are lots of people who stopped actively looking for work, and many others “underemployed” in dead end low wage jobs far below their skills and capabilities (real “unemployment is 12-18%?). Wages are flat, healthcare, food, education costs continue to climb. Obamacare was a bungled roll-out with mixed results (even though millions more people are now insured, which overall is a GOOD THING)… so what the heck?

Was it that the Democrats, and Obama in particular, that did not do ENOUGH to fix the bleak outlook for most people — or the obstructionism of the Republicans to MAKE SURE people would be miserable enough to vote for change? I think the latter.

So to vote in those that will make these things worse?  What are the repercussions? The dark side is rallying….. and the drums are beating. Build the Keystone Oil Pipeline, reduce/eliminate air quality regulations for coal, repeal Obama-care (OK sure it still needs tweaking), reduce/eliminate financial reforms….. is this really the agenda the U.S. really needs? It’s OLD OIL economy — it’s destructive to the environment, and our health. It’s grasping at what used to work and ignoring the downsides which may be HUGE (if 97% of Climate Scientists are right, there will be BILLIONS in losses to make up for due to climate change). Letting big banks run rough-shod on the rest of us is sure to cause yet another melt down; if it isn’t mortgages it’ll be corn or wheat futures, or national currency, LIBOR rates, or some other crazy bundled derivative get rich quick gambling Ponzi scheme that will, in the end, bite everyone but the bank executives who are “too big to prosecute”.

IMHO the National Party Democrats blew it.  I voted for Green Party, Independent candidates, Democrats when I had no choice, and a moderate Republican. They failed to show the public how much things have improved since 2008/2009, taking credit where credit is due, and how it can get even better; and what we as Citizens can do about anything by voting. They failed to make the population aware, to know or want there to be a governing body that has the best interests of citizens at heart, and not just big business, and how changing the demographics of Congress can help that along.

I saw a statistic that said only 12% of voters under the age of 30 showed up at the polls. Even taken into account the normal swings in voting trends;  it’s nearly an historic low. Less than 40% of the U.S. electorate voted. That says something. Have we given up as a country? Are we worn down disenfranchised victims or have the bad guys just won this round?

BangHeadHere

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Wading into sacred waters – how do we talk about the things that matter the most sometimes?

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Take a look at the picture above, read it, and think about it. Does it strike any chords? Is it funny? It touches on a couple of hot topics – child discipline (and spanking) and fire arms control. It ended up on my Facebook feed page today and it evoked some strong emotions from me. I guess it was supposed to be a joke. I’m sorry but the humor is lost on me, I guess because I hated getting beaten as a kid, and also think we need more gun control in the U.S..

I voiced my opinions to the original poster and we got into an interesting debate. Is spanking child abuse? Is it effective? Are kids today more “out of control, less disciplined, less respectful, more self entitled than ever” because they aren’t spanked enough? I guess this debate is nothing new:  http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/discipline/spanking/spanking-discipline-debate/

But recent studies suggest spanking does more harm than good:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/22/opinion/mackenzie-spanking-effects/

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1983895,00.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/22/spanking-increased-aggression-study_n_4143886.html

Lots of people say that “I was spanked as a kid and towed the line, and am fine today” , but these studies suggest that someone might be “more fine” if they weren’t spanked and other forms of discipline could have been used. If kids are screwed up today it could be that:

1.) Poverty and unemployment makes home-lives more unstable and less healthy

2.) Racial and class bias and the effects of the above have decimated some communities, making whole neighborhoods unhealthy places for kids to grow up.

3.) Parents blame teachers and peers instead of themselves for their kids behaviors. They don’t know how to set good examples.

4.) Does “affluenza” really exist? Rich kids on the other end of the spectrum have no empathy, respect, or sympathy for others?

5.) It’s becoming more and more expensive to get a good education, public schools and budgets are hammered, and it’s just one more place that kids can’t find good examples on how to behave?

So, are we wading into too sensitive, or too private of a topic to discuss any of it? Lot’s of folks chimed into this Facebook debate with “it isn’t anyone’s business if they spank their kids”. Maybe so — but if indeed as these studies suggest, aggression begets aggression — and that it becomes everyone’s problem in public, not just contained in the home, is it worth a public discussion? I say yes, as well as talking about gun control. And is this posting really just “a joke”?

It’s sad that we can’t pick up the paper, or read the news and not see that there is another shooting in a school, shopping mall, place of business, etc in the U.S. Something like ~11,000 of us a year die by the gun through murder, suicide or accident per year. A lot of the victims are innocent bystanders or loved ones – and it all seems so senseless. John’s Hopkins University did a comprehensive study that showed that people who own guns are more than 20 times more likely to hurt themselves, a loved one, or have the weapon used against them, than to ever use it in self defense. Is all this killing really worth it? And why can’t we discuss it all in ways that will ever help?

May be I do take it all too seriously 😦 …

 

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Bluewater Handbook; Mario, Phil, Cassidy and Snoozer

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Burlington, Vermont on a calm day. Mount Mansfield in the background to the east.

I lived near Burlington, Vermont for nearly 20 years. One of the big draws for me was not only the new job, and the hiking, biking and skiing; but also – “The Lake”.  Lake Champlain is 125 miles long north to south, 14 miles across at it’s greatest width and 122 feet down at it’s deepest. It’s western shore is New York territory, northern reaches are in Canada, and the eastern brim skirts nearly half the length of Vermont. It dumps into a canal system that has been used since colonial times and flows through the birthplace of the U.S. Navy in Whitehall, NY. Funny how that is, the birthplace of the U.S. Navy being 200 miles inland, but that’s another story.

I’ve lived near the ocean my entire life until I moved there. My father was a submariner, in the U.S. Navy and we were stationed all over the east and west coasts of the country, including a couple years in Hawaii. One of the things he taught us to do and to love was to sail. We would rent boats from the base special services and spend days out on the water with packed lunches, a cooler and it seemed like, never really a plan. I was so intrigued by a boat with no motor, and how you could get the thing to glide into the wind, and well as fall away from it. The aero and hydrodynamics are quite interesting, albeit a bit of a mystery to me until I studied physics in college. No matter, it was a kid’s dream to jump off the stern with one end of a spare main-sheet in one one hand and the other affixed to a cleat on the transom; to float still until all the slack was pulled tight and “wham!” you were lifted with such power, you could body surf behind the boat as my Dad smiled and laughed. I guess I didn’t really care much about how it worked I was just to busy having fun.

When my father became estranged from our family I hung on to those memories like a Teddy Bear. Funny the lessons that parents teach you, both how and what to do; and what you’d also like to never do. Leaving my family is certainly one of the things I’d never want to do. But that’s is also another story for another time. The bottom line is that I never fell out of love with sailing. I put myself through a two year technical school working under age at a restaurant, a farm nursery, a grocery store and at a lumber yard. I decided that I liked chemistry and finished an Associates Degree in Chemical Engineering technology.  That’s where the company I work for found me, and I was hired to be a technician at a manufacturing and development facility in Essex Junction, Vermont.

From there I saved my money, went to night school, and finally took an educational leave of absence to finish a B.S. in Chemistry and the University of Vermont. It was there that I dove into the academia and lore of sailing in a big way. When I was not studying for a quantum physics exam, I’d relax by reading books by Hereschoff, Skene,  Knox-Johnston, Toghill and others and nurtured an appreciation for traditional boat, yacht design and technology. I read the obligatory Chapman’s, but also books on building techniques, navigation, cruising, and sailing in weather. Being a woodworker I was fascinated with older plank on timber, lapstrake and strip wood hulls and decks, but also studied modern techniques like cold-molding, steel, aluminum and the ubiquitous fiberglass construction. Modern designs that combined some or all of it produced beautiful masterpieces of eye-catching seaworthiness and grace. At one point I ordered plans to build two boats, a small one design day sailer and a 30 foot double ended cutter. I was pumped to get back to work, make money and put in a couple thousand man-hours building my dreams.

“Flying Scot” one-design on a spinnaker reach.

Alas, the realities of work, a girlfriend and other interests seemed to take over, a great marriage, four fantastic kids later and I still have those plans squirreled away in my desk from 30 years ago. I take them out once in a while, and as my old boss used to say “I marvel at the intent”. I recently took a forlorn look at the nearly 50 books I have on sailing and boating on my shelves and found one that is of sentimental value to me. It’s called “The Bluewater Handbook, A Guide to Cruising Seamanship”, by Steve and Linda Dashew, 1983. On the first page beyond the cover is a handwritten note that says simply, “Thanks, from Mario, Phil, Cassidy and Snoozer”. I smile.

You see there is still more of the story here. Even though I didn’t build my dream boats, I found the time to buy a couple and have some awesome adventures on Lake Champlain. There was first a 19 foot “Flying Scot”. It’s a one design by Gordon K.”Sandy” Douglass. It was a “big little boat”. It had an open cockpit like a Lightning and seated up eight as long as you weren’t planning on tacking often (hah!). We tried to keep it under 4 people and two was optimum. It was low to the water, but wide, had a flat bottom, retractable centerboard and rounded chines. From her website: ” The Scot is a low-displacement design (she sits shallow in water) and she has a flat, tapered shape in the stern which allows her to plane. This means she will come out of the water and is not limited to her waterline hull-speed. With over 200 square feet of sail area, she has the “engine” to move well in any wind speed. Get her on a beam-reach with 15 knots of wind, and experience the thrill of a lifetime”. Indeed it was fast. It would point well into the wind for such a flat bottomed boat and plane nicely on a reach. Put up the spinnaker and you were in for a ride! We used it many times to sail on “The Lake” and it brought me to many of the 80 islands that Champlain had to offer.

Gaggle of Canada Geese on the wing.

My second boat was a little bigger. It was a C&C 25 – sloop rigged. It had a cabin, a head, a little sink, and a berth up in the bow. It came with a good outfit of sails too, since she had been both raced and used to cruise. It was also fast and I remember being in pretend races with the ubiquitous cookie cutter Pearson 26’s that I seemed to always beat, especially into the wind. Of course they didn’t know I was racing, so that may have something to do with it, but it was fun to imagine. I loved taking that boat out by myself. I’d stand up on the transom and lean against the back-stays, and control the tiller with my bare foot. After I had my course set and sails trimmed I could sail for miles like that. In a bit of wind on a reach it’d be like riding a horse, the bow splitting the backs of waves, the sleek hull knifing through the black undulations, a nice foam and slick left on the leeward side, diving and porpoising along the surface, it felt like a rocking horse. It was a wonder I was never thrown, but as most sailors know, unless you’ve lashed the tiller and sheets tight the boat will likely turn into the wind and slack if captain-less , hopefully not being pushed sideways fast enough for a good swimmer to catch up.  I never had to test that thankfully.

One day in late summer I took a little party of CoOp students from work for a sail. Being a recent college grad, I jumped at the chance to socialize ;). There was Lori, a student from Louisiana, Clara from New Mexico and a young man from California named Quang.  I thought it’d be fun to teach them to sail as none had ever been and well, I thought Lori  from Louisiana was pretty darn cute. It was a nice sunny early afternoon, and was warm by Vermont standards, probably in the 70’s. We left Mallett’s Bay where I moored my boat and had a great little jaunt northwest towards an area called the “gut” where an old railroad causeway  sliced through the head of the bay and provided protection from the broad-lake (main body of the Lake). It was about 12 miles to Plattsburgh, NY as the crow flies from there and we were working into the wind and tacking in that direction. We stopped for a bit near the gut and even had a grilled meal and a beer while anchored near the piles of rocks that made up the railroad bed.

Some fun in the sun. Lori on a windsurfer being towed and Quang up in the bosun’s chair.

We weighed anchor after lunch, and had time, so we decided to make our way into the broad-lake and dash around in the waves a bit. I took advantage of the deep water sans rocks and other hazards and long stretches of open lake to let the “kids” try their hand at guiding the boat, tacking, reaching and changing sails. We even got to run the main halyard through the spinnaker pole and use it as a rope swing for a little swimming. All the while I kept my eye to the west, as that is where the weather comes from . We started the day with clear skies and it was just beginning to cloud up a little, the wind was picking up. We played around on a southwesterly reach, with the genoa and a couple reefs in the main as the wind grew. Off to the west, above the Adirondacks, I was starting to see alto-cumulus and alto-stratus clouds, and way over by Plattsburgh the white caps were starting to poke up on the lake.  Definitely some unstable air heading our way.

I’d been out here in the stink before, even by myself. But I didn’t like how fast the clouds were moving, and I’ve never flipped a boat – and didn’t want to, especially with my swabbies on board,  so we decided to head back east towards Mallett’s Bay. We left the reefs in the main, and switched the genny for a 110 which was the smallest headsail I had. I saw what ever motorboats were about, all pick up and race back to where they felt safe.  By the time we got within a mile of the gut the main sail was down and stowed, and we were surfing the waves due east at 14 knots with just the headsail with a generous luft in the profile. I was amazed at how well that boat took to the short, steep 5, 6, 7, and then 8-10 foot waves. That one little sail was providing all the lift and momentum we needed to not come crashing down into the trough of each watery hill. It was blowing a freaking gale. If it were the ocean, and the wave-lengths were the long rollers that you’d meet out there, it would be maybe no big deal at that wave height, but it couldn’t have been 15 feet peak to peak in this chop. We were all back in the cockpit to provide some counter-balance as well, and while my guests were white knuckling the stanchions and life-lines; I could hear the rudder ripping through the water and feel the vibrations in the tiller caused by the speed. It was 30, 40 or 50 mph gusts if it was 10,  but maybe because I’d been exuding some level of confidence my crew was calm and actually enjoying the ride, and no one was getting sick. This was actually pretty damn fun!

Things can get rough on the Lake.

We were both excited and a little relieved when we saw the gut in the distance, and in awe of what the water looked like between the boat and our destination – it was like God decided to shake the water like a snow globe while simultaneously hitting us with a God-sized wind turbine.  The waves were everywhere as far as you could see, however once past the cause-way they should moderate and we’d just have fast ride home. I was laser focused on our track and really pleased that it looked like we could surf to the opening we needed to get to when I spotted something a little strange.  Every couple of seconds, in the distance, between the peaks of of waves, were a pair, no,  two pairs of hands waving… waving frantically.

I pointed out what I saw to my young crew and they verified the sighting. A half mile away were two people trying to get our attention, and struggling to stay on top of what ever they were standing on. I let the boat fall a few degrees downwind and made a beeline for them. We were moving so fast, that it wasn’t long before we could see what was going on. In fornt of us, thrashing in the waves – up the backside of one, down the face of another – were two people, two dogs, and a capsized boat that couldn’t have been more than 10 or 12 feet long. It was a Sears Gamefisher, a fiberglass boat that looks a lot like a Boston Whaler, but it was so small! It also had a huge engine mounted to the transom, it must have been a 40 horse power by the size of it, and it was weighing down the upside down stern in a way that made the boat bobbly and unwieldy. The two dogs were in a panic trying to get on the boat, and being knocked off, and the young couple was trying desperately to save themselves, and their dogs.

Sears Gamefisher

We were moving towards them quickly, and had to think fast. I called out to the crew to gather as many of the spare sheets we were playing with earlier and get them cleated to the stern. We were going to throw a couple of lifelines as we came upon them, and get them to safety. Everyone on our boat had on a life vest, and it was just incredible to me how calm everyone was. We were bearing down hard when a gust of wind came from the west and pushed on our hull and headsail, we were sliding a bit sideways now and falling away from our intended target. 30, 20 and now 10 yards away….. “Quang! Get up on the windward bulwark and ready to throw those lines!”…. 5 yards, closing in  … “now!” Quang tossed with all his might but the howling air had other ideas, the sheets lie in a tangle back on the deck. We slid past the turtled little boat and it’s frantic passengers, our sail cracked back to life and we sped away down wind.

Now came the hard part. We drew the jib-sheet tight as I turned the boat into the wind. The waves pounded the starboard side as the spray and water washed over us, but she turned, with authority. We were now on a windward tack heading west and towards our prey, and were moving fast. I dropped the little outboard emergency motor into the water from the transom and started it up, while Lori manned the tiller, with Quang and Clara gathering up the lines were going to use for the rescue. The bow lifted as we climbed each wave and the little 12 horse motor dug in. Between the motor and that little headsail we could get her pointed close to the wind and not get blown sideways off course. We would crash down the backside of each wave and the motor would rev in protest as it cavitated and left the water. But since the waves were so short it wasn’t long before we were climbing and the prop dug in. We were all as far back in the cockpit as we could be to reduce the pitchpoling and rocking. And were just looking at each other, again with an amazing sense of clamness  and confidence that is just hard to describe. Either everyone felt like they knew what we were doing, and what we had to do — and knew we could do it, or we were just in shock. This was after all, their first time in a sailboat!

Lake Champlain –  Burlington, Vermont looking west during a flood stage gale.

Between the 180 degree turn and the sideways motion of the boat we were too far away from the Gamefisher to throw our lines to we headed up wind to make another pass. One more hard tack and jibe and we were off heading down wind again. We headed straight for them this time and had the idea that as we got close, we’d dump the headsail and let the wind on the hull provide all the momentum we needed to make it to our target. 50, 40, 30 yards. I could see Mario and Phil, and their staunch faces, wide eyes and panic. They had their dogs, Cassidy and Snoozer up on the capsized hull with them this time, pinned down between their legs as they were kneeling, and then on all fours as a wave lifted them. I’d use the slick that our boat was creating down wind to help steady their situation and approach from the windward side, and this time, 10 yards, 5 yards — “Now Quang! Throw the lines!” — Phil was able to snatch one out of the air as it passed over his head.

We were heading close to them and still had the motor going. The last thing I wanted to do was ram them so I turned the boat broadside so that the port beam leaned towards them. Quang, Lori and Clara all sprang to action, leaning over the lifelines and grabbing at any hand, foot, shoulder, paw, scruff of the neck they could reach. The boat listed to port as we made contact and began pulling our new passengers aboard. The hull scraped against theirs and we were all yelling to be careful to not get pinned between them. Waves were coming over the starboard side now, as we pushed up against the capsized skiff. My boat groaned and leaned hard against theirs as Phil, Mario, and the two retrievers scrambled and clawed on board.  The little skiff’s bow was underwater as my boat pushed and I could see the stern and motor lift out of the water as we fought in the waves. To my surprise, and disappointment, I saw 2 life-jackets spring out from under that little boat and get torn away by the wind and drift way.

Blue lips, white faces, sullen eyes, soaked and half drowned, my little crew that could huddled our new passengers into the cabin out of the wind. The temperature must have dropped 25 degrees and it felt like lower with the wind chill. I asked them to pull out our spare sails and wrap our guests in them to prevent hypothermia. I could hear Phil yelling from below “please try to save my brother’s boat!” I was a bit incredulous over this but looked around and saw the thing flopping around in the waves just to the north east of us. It wouldn’t be that hard to fall that way and try to get a line on it so we headed that way. With the earlier practice we knew how to approach the boat and use our slick to get a line on the u bolt that poked through the bow and cinched the line to two cleats on our stern, I then jibed more easterly and we headed to the opening in the gut and calmer waters.

Towing that 12 foot sea anchor turned out to be fruitless.  It took half a dozen waves and lots of line tension, but that u bolt on the bow pulled right through the hull and adrift it went. I told Phil I wasn’t going to risk anyone’s life to try to save it, and through the gut we went, surfing like a rocket to the east. Beyond the causeway life was much easier. We got our guests warmed up an talking, and shared hugs and smiles. I could see my little CoOp crew beaming with pride, as they knew what they had just done.  Save for a couple of trips around the mooring buoy before we could catch it, the rest of pretty uneventful. A phone call from the marina brought our hapless rescue-ees a ride home, and they left grateful and happy to be alive.

The causeway at the head of Mallett’s Bay.

I can’t remember what the rest of us did after that. I think after the adrenaline subsided we all decided to go home and take stock in what just happened, the swabbies being glad to have terra firma under foot :). I showered them all with adulation and appreciation and made sure they knew how amazing they were. A month or so later I got a knock on my door and visit from Mario and Phil. I guess we had exchanged addresses and phone numbers on that fateful day. Mario was a beautiful girl with chestnut hair and glowing brown eyes with fleks of hazel. Phil was a nice looking young guy with half a beard and the Vermont crunchy look of the day, in wool pants and flannel. The handed me a package and thanked me again. I was glad to help, and glad to see them. Cassidy and Snoozer were in the car with their heads poking out of the window and they looked no worse for the wear. I walked over for a pat and a lick.

That was the last I ever saw of them. Phil said that someone had found his brother’s boat on the shore of their property the next day. He didn’t say what shape it was in, but I imagine being beat up against the rocks in that wind didn’t help it much. As I look at my copy of the “Bluewater Handbook” I feel like maybe we did something good, my Dad and I. Even though he has gone through 3 wives, and survived them all, and is now in his late 70’s, mind riddled with dementia from fifty years of binge drinking, I know that Mario and Phil don’t mind what he had taught me so many years ago. I think about it as well. He’s a couple thousand miles away, and I can’t bring myself to have a full father and son relationship with him, and have self-limiting love;  but I know that inside every person, there is something good. Remember the good parts.

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Happy Hanukkah and our Countdown to Christmas, Festivus, Kwanzaa, ….. the winter solstice, etc. Relish the time.

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Here we are again! Wow. Time really does fly. Whether you practice any religion or not it’s pretty much impossible to escape Christmas in the U.S.. Our commercial enterprises make sure of that. And yep, every year it seems to get here earlier, Why is that? Well not only is there pressure to start your shopping earlier, and do your civic duty as a good consumer, but most of us feel that the passage of time is just accelerating as well.

There is a psychology and a relative-temporal explanation to that. I think of it a couple of different ways and have read a few explanations. The primary two I subscribe to are:

1. The 1/X phenomenon. If X were your age, one calendar year is a smaller and smaller portion of your entire life as you get older. Relatively speaking, if you could remember, year one was 100% of your life and you have nothing to compare it to temporally.  It seemed to take forever, because in the scheme of things, it did. It took the entirety of your existence for a year to pass. Year two was a little different, you might get a sense as to what rhythm or cadence a year might take to pass, but it’s still only 50% of your life. By age 30, a year is one thirtieth of your life and those years begin to race by like you are standing still.

2. The “smell the roses” phenomenon. I have read some research that suggests that those who get into a predictable and comfortable groove, even though they may be busy, are pretty much running on auto-pilot. When you do this, years can pass where you just don’t have many notable and life changing experiences. It’s easy to just jog along and never veer from the beaten path to experience something really new and exciting. Time seems to pass you by when this happens. You turn around and look back and ask yourself “What did I do?, and – How did I get here?”

If you want to slow down the clock, and live a richer, more fulfilling life that is more than just time going by here are my suggestions (it has worked for me!):

Challenge yourself – push the envelope, get out of your comfort zone! Take that skydiving lesson, or learn to salsa dance! Go see some concerts, take a class, pick up a new hobby, develop a new relationship or improve an old one, build a tree house, take a trip with your kids, dump that old job and get a new one! Find something that pushes your buttons and just go try it!

Take the time to appreciate the little stuff – yep, stop and smell the roses. Especially if you planted them. Find something you really enjoy and take the time to relish it. Take the time to ask your friends about themselves, have a conversation with an elderly neighbor, listen to your kids and see what their imaginations have to share with you. Lay in bed on a Sunday afternoon with your spouse and talk about your dreams. Make the time to do these things.

Take control of your calendar – Some of us are generous (with our time) to a fault. Set aside some “me-time” even if it’s before anyone gets out of bed or late when everyone else is sleeping, De-commit to the extra bake sale, PTO meeting, sports booster club. Focus on win-win situations whereby you can do something you love and participate in a community or work related activity at the same time. If that doesn’t work out, find a place to hide and read a book, or paint, woodwork, knit, write music, play the piano, or just watch birds.

Reinforce the positive, and minimize the negative – dump that so called friend that is an emotional vampire, sucking the life out of you with their negativity and “misery loves company” attitude. Find a way to spend more time with those who’s company and companionship you truly enjoy, and who’s philosophy of life you might align with better. It’s easy to fall in the trap of thinking you have to tolerate extreme negativity in order to help someone (especially if it’s family). Helping someone very often comes in the form of simply showing or coaching a friend help themselves. Pick your battles too.

Get some exercise! – Even if it’s just a walk around the block a few times a week, the benefits of exercise are tremendous, especially as we get older. If you can combine it with social events (cycling with friends, etc.) or a trip to a new place, even better!

Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, what ever you celebrate this time of year, get out of your groove, slow it down, and use the holiday as a reason to experience life in a way that you’ll want to remember. For me, it’s a heck of a lot more than just shopping and eating. It’s a time to reflect on the year and make the adjustments that are necessary to feel like I haven’t wasted my time here on earth. If you are religious, take in all the positive lessons and hopeful sentiments that they are a celebration of. It can also be a time for you to be a positive change agent in other people’s lives – to make yourself happy, such that you have happiness and love to give to others. Sounds corny, but these are truly the best holiday gifts of all.

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Grateful in all the cliche’ ways.

thanksgiving-2012-historyI’ve been thinking about this for nearly two weeks. Thanksgiving. What does this holiday mean to me? For me, and for those that are fortunate, it means family, friends, food, maybe a little football, a parade on TV, and some time away from work. It’s a time to show each other how thankful we are – for each other, and to reflect on the richness of our lives and the lessons we have learned. It’s a time for gratitude; for relatives young and old, for old friends and new friends, and for those that we have simply let into our lives  It’s fine to say “have a great day!” at the grocery store and actually mean it. It feels good. It’s about spreading a feeling that we all mean something to each other in ways that count.

In my fifties, I am grateful for my life experiences. Lessons are sometimes hard, but if you let them teach you, you come out the other end stronger, and a more thankful person. About this time last year I lost a parent to cancer. She lived thousands of miles away, and one of my siblings spent a week or two dealing with the sad state that had become her life in it’s final weeks. I was in night school and waited for the end of the semester before I flew out to relieve her of her care giving duties. The doctors and hospice care had been obtuse about my mother’s condition, and they could not tell me what I needed to know.

I got there as soon as I could on a cold, early December afternoon. My mother was not angry, nor bitter, in spite of a body wracked with disease, bloated with steroids, and numbed by morphine, she remained in good spirits. Her twin and younger sister were at her bedside, and when I walked into the hospice room, I saw the calendar on the wall – each day before my arrival checked off in grease pencil, my name in big bold letters written on today’s date.

I was thankful for the welcome, and during that week I learned what it is to be strong, yet humble in those last days of her life. Nothing else in my life mattered, it was all suspended for a short while. We were able to talk, and have a meal together – a Thanksgiving of sorts. We laughed a little and joked about her condition, my cousin and I also spent hours by her bedside reminiscing as best we could. She and I shared one last sunset together as I moved her bed towards the window. We watched the birds at the feeder that her sisters put up outside, and held each others hands. In the end, she died peacefully and with dignity. It was as good as it could possibly be. Her last words to me were “Things turned out better than I thought didn’t they?” I said “Yes Mom, they are awesome.” I laid my head down on her chest like a child as she feel asleep,  to not wake up again.

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africa17The U.S. has a population of citizens that is “food insecure” on par with Africa when viewed based on what you would expect versus per capita GDP (a measurement of standard of living), and is way off the chart compared to other industrialized countries.

Even if you fitted the curve correctly in the chart labelled “The Link Between Income and Affording Food” (should not be a straight line) , the U.S. has incredible food insecurity levels. What the “per capita” GDP does not show, is the huge disparity in how all the benefits of generating all that wealth and productivity is distributed between rich and poor, which is really what drives the curve in the U.S.. The working class is getting less and less and the rich are getting more and more. In spite of what what people may believe, the U.S. spends less on social programs like food stamps than about 80% of other industrialized countries.

http://www.project.org/info.php?recordID=468

There are lots of other myths associated with our social programs as well.

http://feedingamerica.org/how-we-fight-hunger/programs-and-services/public-assistance-programs/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program/snap-myths-realities.aspx

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