Monday, December 3, 2012


The Redskins were slated to win that game. The Carolina Panthers, a team with a 1-5 record in the football season to date, were going to face the Redskins in their last home game before Election Day. The ‘skins had lost the last two games, and were looking to turn this streak around. But anyone who defied the predictions and put their bets on the Panthers won a potload of cash. Online, one Redskins fan vividly recalled the 2004 election-predicting Redskins game that was not: “In 2004…there were bad calls… they took points off the scoreboard…” (This was the first anomaly after 16 correct election calls, the Redskins lost the game, but Bush won a narrow reelection). This victory for the Panthers was one attributed to the god of the elections; the game was fated to reveal who would win the election: when the Redskins lose, the party controlling the White House changes. Based on this predictor, Romney was going to win this one. Other signs included the unemployment rate (no incumbent since FDR has won with a higher unemployment rate than what it was at his first election) and the incumbent’s job approval rating (no incumbent can win with a rating under 50%-- Obama had 49% at the end of October). But, as 99% of us know, Obama pulled it off. In my circle; our America; the student body of the US Merchant Marine Academy, Romney's loss left us young voters with mixed feelings; and deep philospophical questions. Romney performed well in our America-- This is to say the America that consists of the military, of those making (or envision making) $50,000 per year, and a higher-than-average proportion of Caucasians. This America was Romney's America, and seeing how well he was performing in our America, he was confident in his chances for victory- it will now be a minor legend that he had only prepared a victory speech for Election night in Boston. Just a glimpse into my circle is is the kitchen table on the ship where I spent the three months prior to the election: The 26-year-old son of an Army officer from Virginia concerned about Obama’s relation with the military, and of the income tax rate (“They’re milking me and my girlfriend!”). The 28-year-old libertarian who left California for Nevada because of taxes and restrictions on gun ownership (“ There’s no income tax in Nevada—my mortgage now is what I was paying in taxes in California”). The gold-buying, gun owning 60-something from California who is disturbed by the increased activism of the federal government over his lifetime—and by how his state destroyed itself politically (“The problem is the young sheeple, their colleges, and their shoebox apartments—but you give me hope”). The well-read 50-something moderate from Vermont who thinks the Obama agenda is the wrong track for the country. And, speaking in a whisper… the NPR-listening liberal from DC… That’s the Captain they’re referring to. With so many reasons to vote for Romney, how did he lose? Simply put, Pro-Romney America made up a smaller part of America than it thought it had. It was Romney's lack of connection with the reality of changed voter demographics that cannot be understated. Young (white) voters under 30 went for Romney: Forget the preconceived notions of liberal youth: Romney won with young caucasian voters. That's all and well: In a survey of students at the USMMA, where I attend college, At least 80% of students consider themselves white. (White males make up 73% of the student population). But the prevalence of young caucasians at my college is an anachronism: between 35 and 40% of young voters under 30 are Black or Hispanic. Not to forget our Asian-American young voters. Given that the nationwide median age of presidential election voters is 44, it will become statistically unlikely for a presidential candidate in the future to win an election by the strength of the white vote alone. Despite winning 56% of the young white vote (McCain carried 42% of these voters in 2008), Romney won only 38% of the youth vote overall. ( ) The white vote won't win you the winning ticket anymore: Obama is the first president to be elected without the majority of the white vote. He achieved that distiction in 2008, when McCain won 53% of the white vote. It made news fairly soon after this recent election that Romney won 59% of the white vote, and swept 90% of the white vote in Misissippi and Alabama. Many commentators whose articles I read pointed out that whites in "liberal" states were responsible for re-electing our President. But according to a grid from, Obama won the "white vote" in just seven New England states and Hawaii. States where Obama won the white vote in 2012: Vermont—66.4% Rhode Island—58.9% Massachusetts—55.9% Maine—54.8% Hawaii—53.5% New York—51.9% Connecticut—51.8% New Hampshire—51.3% It's no secret that Romney banked on high voter turnout among whites for his re-election. Indeed, Romney fared as well among white voters as George H.W. Bush did in 1988 when he swept 40 states. The simple truth is that voter demographics have changed, and banking on the white vote for victory is not a solution anymore in a good number of states. Take into account the states Obama won in 2012 with low support among white voters: Virginia-- 34.4% Florida-- 37.4% Nevada-- 37.8% Ohio-- 41.8% New Mexico-- 42.2% (If Romney had won these states, he would be the 45th President of the USA). There is a small tidbit of good news: we don't really live in a Red State vs Blue State America. The divisions are not as stark as the state line: Red Americans live among Blue Americans. They may be neighbors. But the circles we affiliate ourselves with, or are put into, may define our view of what is happening around us. As much as my circle put our belief in the "Big Mo'" Romney was riding after his October 3rd primary; another circle, say, liberal-arts college students, saw an Obama win as inevitable. The results, however, draw into question how integrated our society actually is. If America is really post-racial, how does the vote split so cleanly on ethnic lines, including among young voters? They (mainstream media and intellectia) talk about "multicultural America". How young people of my generation, of different ethnicities, interact seemlessly with each other. Says David Burgos for the industry magazine Ad Age, "Kids and young adults, for example, are more open to diversity in advertising because their world is already majority-minority". This talk of a "multicultural America", a diverse (and politically liberal) Obama-era America, is manifested in local listings of "most diverse elementary schools", parents going out of their way to ensure their children grow up in multicultural environments, and in the diverse crowds at Obama rallies that you see on TV. Perhaps, the mainstream media and intellectia shares the slim worldview that my cicle had. As seen by how the vote split, their view of America is not as wide as it ought to be. "Multicultural America", where racial tension of any degree no longer exists, is relegated to just parts of the country-- frankly, the Northeast. Elsewhere, votes were cast along racial lines. And as the election results turned out, my circle of America, consisting of those who benefit, or think to benefit, from a Romney presidency was not quite as large and encompassing as we had envisioned it to be. With the customability and subjectivity of news sources, credible and not, it became easy this election cycle to hear and see the news you wanted to hear. The danger, of course, is that the world view of members of each camp will devolve further from reality and objectivity. That is if there is nothing to ground a person in the reality of multiple ways of thinking about the world. And what about the young adults today? Between liberal-leaning and conservative-leaning youth how dissimilar are our growing-up experiences and our youth? And what does it take to reconcile these differences? *(

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pick and Choose

I started writing this blog post in Korea. Since then, I've sailed out to Saipan. And I've gone for two weeks or so without most of the internet, though I've been able to access wikipedia aboard the ship (and spent quite a few hours on that informative website). I have not been around blogging much, but I've been thinking about politics at home. Here are some of my picks and explainations for those choices in the upcoming election in DC. Charter Amendments Expulsion by council on 5/6 vote (or 11 of 13 members) for gross misconduct. I voted Against, since “gross misconduct” does not appear to be defined, at least as presented in the proposed amendment. Although unlikely today, 20 years ago, it might have been a possibility that such an amendment would be used to expel members who “didn’t fit in” with the group. On barring councilmembers convicted of a felony while in office from holding that position again. On barring Mayors convicted of a felony while in office from holding that position again. I am For these amendments. Talk about crooks in government, DC has had its share over the years. Passing such an amendment could make it easier for minor party or independent candidates to take office. Some of the larger names in DC politics have had their share of legal troubles, to mention the least, Marion Barry (he might have been charged with a misdemeanor only, though). Chairman of the Council Phil Mendelson, Democrat He is competent in his current job as chairman of the DC council. While much of the city's political power lies east of downtown, he fares from the Northwest part of the city (where I live). He was elected from within the council to fill in for Kwame Brown, who resigned over the all-too-common-in-DC ethics scandal. At-large Councilmember Mary Brooks Beatty, Republican Her major opponent in this election is Vincent Orange, who has been on and off the DC political scene for at least the past decade. Orange most recently ran in an April 2011 open-ticket special election to fill a vacancy in the city council left by the newly-elected mayor. His major opponents, resulting in a 3-way split of the vote, were Patrick Mara, Republican, and Sekou Biddle, the placeholder and a Democratic candidate. Mara lost by about 1,200 votes (4%) and attributed it to Biddle competing for the same demographic of voters. But Orange was not a shoe-in. He had lost his past three campaigns in the city, but I recall him being quoted in a newspaper saying (this is not verbatim): “I was discouraged, but God told me to run again”. Given Orange’s recent indecisive victory, without a strong third name on the ballot, Beatty might stand a chance in a city where only 2 or 3 Republicans have won elections in the past 40 years. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, Democrat Without him on the DC Council, the City might have looked as bleak and blighted as it did 20 years ago, when he was first elected to this position. Since then, he has raised a family with three children in Georgetown; sadly, he lost his wife to cancer, and then remarried to have a large stepfamily. He has been reported by newspapers such as the DC Examiner and the City Paper as being the most fiscally conservative member of the DC council, and being very enthusiastic about new development projects, including getting a stadium built in the Chinatown area. His district includes downtown DC, and he seems to be a good match for this special duty. He also happens to go to the same barbershop as I do, and works at Patton Boggs, a legal firm just across the avenue from my place. US Senate (Shadow Seat) Nelson Rimensnyder, Republican His view on things? No taxes. That’s right, no federal taxes on DC residents until we get two voting senators and a voting representative. He is running against the incumbent Michael Brown, Democrat. While on an insiders’ tour of the Capitol, my classmates and I got to see what DC’s shadow senators do: When in the Senate chamber, they sit in chairs alongside the wall (without desks), and make comments when welcomed to. It happens that the Rimensnyder family was present at the Congresswoman’s Service Academy Send-off this past June; they have a child attending a Service Academy in the Class of 2016 (didn’t hear which Academy). US Representative G Lee Aikin, Statehood Green Party She hits out some clear points on what she would improve with the DC tax code. From the Washington Post: "My son, District-born, now in special forces, said it best: 'Mom, you have two important things. You are honest and you care." ( State Board of Education At Large Mary Lord Should research more. Ward 2 Jack Jacobson He has no opponent on the ticket.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Chicken Politics

From the Seattle Coffeehouse in Gwangyang, Republic of Korea: If I ask a Southerner at the USMMA about Chick-fil-A, he or she will often rave about the crispy chicken sandwich the restaurant serves up. If I ask someone from the Northeast, a blank stare is likely, the same way that you'll catch me with if you ask me about Jack-in-the-Box (never been there). The chicken establishment's sole presence in DC is a new food truck and a limited selection at the Catholic University's food court. To get a Metro-rail accessible chicken fix, take the orange line to Ballston Commons Mall, or the blue line to Crystal City; both across the Potomac River in Arlington County, VA. Based on what I've seen in the news and on comments forums on those news articles, I'm not expecting a Chick-fil-A in DC anytime soon. To date, there has been a correlation between conservative-controlled districts and the existence of Chick-fil-A. Especially in the DC area. For example, in Maryland, its presence is minimal in DC's suburbs; yet there is one every few miles along I-95 in the Northeast part of the state; and there's a whole line of 'em down State Route 2. Easier to see, take a map, paint red each county with a conservative-controlled government (conserva-Dems included), add the state's two Republican congressmen, and locate the Chick-fil-A's. It'd be a peculiar business strategy if the company intentionally expanded this way, but Chick-fil-A is now breaking new ground up north, but not without resistance by elected officials. In Boston, according the the DC Examiner, Mayor Thomas Manino had tried to block Chick-fil-A from opening shop, but had no legal ground. In Chicago, the mayor raised a storm as well. Says Mayor Rahm Emanuel: "Chick fil A's values are not Chicago values". I wonder what the Chamber of Commerces of Boston and Chicago think. And the same news from DC's mayorial bullpen: "Gray, a Democrat, referred to the company's product as "hate chicken" in a tweet on Friday. His statement... followed similar statements by mayors in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco that the company was not welcome" (AP). (Don't make me feel bad, Vincent). But, from the DC Examiner, "Robert Turner, president of D.C. Log Cabin Republicans, provided his thoughts on the matter to Yeas & Nays. He sees no issue with enjoying a spicy chicken sandwich and also supporting the right of two men or women to walk down the aisle together. "No problem at all," he said. "At the end of the day, if one looks deeply at the companies one patronizes -- eating at Chick-fil-A, shopping on Amazon, ordering a Coke with your meal -- you'll find a multitude of issues where you and that company disagree." And in New York City, Chick-fil-A is noticeably absent, except for a small presence in the NYU cafeteria. I wouldn't expect a branch to open in the East Village, but a Chick-fil-A would blend into one of Great Neck's storefronts. And the Subway sub shop would see some competition for midshipmens' dollars.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

See you later!

Tomorrow, starting at 6am, I'm headed off to Korea to start "sea year". Actually, it will be a continuation, since I had some experience on a reserve fleet ship in Baltimore-- experience in things like what clothes to bing to work, and why dinner is served at 4pm when the ship is in port (so the cook works a normal 7am to 4pm shift). My relation with a prepositioned ship in Korea-- South Korea-- started as a suggestion about 1 week ago, and the plans were finalized on Friday. Flight to Detroit from JFK, then JFK to Seoul. Found that there is a direct rail link between the two airports in Seoul I will be shuffling between-- Incheon and Gimpo. From Gimpo, I'm headed to Yeosu. It's a 45 minute flight, and the town is 2 hours by bus from the larger port city of Busan (where many a Kings Pointers made memories). I'm sure I entertained and inspired some of the new plebes with the news of where I'm going-- 365 days from now, you can be going to Asia, too! Just don't fail out, don't quit, either. And dear CTO or his petty officer of company (x), could you muster the plebes somewhere other than main deck-- where I want to roll my rolling chair loaded with suitcases and bags from my room to the elevator to the locker room on zero-deck? Put all my belongings in bags-- those which I will be picking up in November when I get back to the Academy are placed in a locker room on zero-deck; and the items I need for sea, into two suitcases or a backpack. A little foresight is needed, since it's going to be October or November when I return. Some items go to my brother. Registered for the November 6 election, changed my computer password, and called the cab. I will be travelling and working with a classmate, whom I will get to know better. And, if things go as expected, we'll have sea stories and you'll have blog posts to read (pending on the availability of internet on the ship-- there's got to be!)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

How much does it cost to be a Midshipman?

My Dad would say that life in the Navy for a young single man was this: you could get your paycheck, blow it in town, and come back broke to a roof over your head, and four meals per day. (Taco Bell did not invent the fourth , nighttime, meal-- the Navy did). I never agreed that this blog was purely polite dinner conversation, so I decided to discover if this held true for midshipmen at the USMMA. Mids and Cadets at the other four service academies start receiving a stipend on day 0. In fact, all Midshipmen at the USNA are paid the same rate- it's just that the seniors have a lot fewer deductions than the fourth class. At the USMMA, a real neat and motivational promotional video ( ) notes that you receive pay while at sea. In fact, it's quoted by the first class that the stipend received from sea year minus midshipmen fees paid each trimester add to a positive sum for you. (I'm waiting for my check to arrive from my week on a ship in Baltimore, but I trust it will). That figure assumes that you won't spend all of your cash in Bangkok. So what must you do to live off your stipend? Limit snacking-- comissary food (free meals) is to be consumed only at designated mealtimes, in the dining hall, or a box meal if on a team trip, on watch, or while in the infirmary. Having commissary food or utensils in your room will make you eligible for Extra Duty hours. 6 hours of work is a lot to pay for that banana. Have a restricted social life-- I'd say that there are likeminded midshipmen who would enjoy on-campus, free, activities while their classmates splurge in the city-- but I fear that you're one of few! That was also a pun. Midshipmen on restriction go weeks without going out on the town-- but I'd recommend you not put yourself on restriction to make for fiscal discipline. Videogames are a good investment. $60 will buy you weekends worth of entertainment, and, if it's the right game, you'll have plenty of friends to play with. World of Warcraft, Modern Warfare, and Halo are popular. You could also take a knack for reading or aimless cruising of the internet, but be ready for nicknames. Use the "free" laundry service-- no, it's not free, but you paid for it in your midshipmen fees. Drop off one day, pick up the next, except for Sundays. Just be sure you have a pair of PT clothes for the day your laundry's gone. Resist the temptation to buy things you don't need- you'll be tossing a lot of it before going to sea, anyway. Your entire room just won't fit into two suitcases. Yes, I've bought things I regret paying for, but my case is very mild: I've heard of a classmate buying an "unneeded" I-phone. Be athletic- or rather, "sportif", a word borrowed from the French. Sticking to a workout routine, taking extended jogs on weekends, or having an affinity for shooting hoops will take up some idle time that you might otherwise be spending cash during. Also, you might feel enough self-esteem that you have no need to prove yourself as a party-hardy. No one insisted that my next door neighbor stay out past midnight-- after all, he was the star swimmer. Eat meals on campus-- resist the urge to order out. $10 saved by having a meal at the commissary rather than ordering, once per week, adds up to some change. It's okay to "be full" when your pals order over the phone. Got to go to dinner at the chow hall before it closes.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A bit technical, a bit nostalgic: 4th Class No More.

Now where did I leave off? Just a quick summary-- I felt that this most recent trimester was the most rigorous of the three. No easy B+'s- the grade needed to score an Academic Star . My GPA this trimester was weighed around B. As a mentor suggested last trimester, I had built up enough of a lead earlier in the year that I could still maintain a Star status for the year overall. I knew of In a brief personal journal entry, I noted this past exam week as "The Crucible", since it would determine if I had a choice of engineering majors (The cutoff for two programs is near 2.8, a B- average). So no big blog post that week. 24 hours after completing my last exam, I was on a Reserve Fleet ship, the SS Wright, in Baltimore MD. Aboard the ship, us USMMA students entertained the staff and leaders of the Maritime Administration from just an hour south in DC; represented the future of American maritime potential aboard the museum ship NS Savannah (and became one of few midshipmen to work aboard a (formerly) nuclear vessel); represented the Academy during Fleet Week in the city (Navy mids and Coast Guard cadets were present as well); and finally, worked on modular refrigerator units that were being placed onto the ship. And we spent some time after work in the evenings cruising the city in plainclothes. On that note, it was to benefit that one upperclassman had brought his car to the ship. My older Academymates enjoyed $1 specials on National Bohemian (Natty Boh)-- but not the driver, mind us; we enjoyed baseball on the big screen at Candie Maries (at Fleet and Milton), and I enjoyed playing some ping-pong. We didn't know how much fun and enjoyable-- and economical-- an American port could be. We expressed some shipboard courtesy- Catch the crew after the meal if you have a question about work. And some courtesy among our own: Do not discuss the Regiment outside of campus-- that includes casual remarks about our promotion on June 19 (after 2012's graduation) to midshipmen-one-class-higher. Indeed, talking about "class rate" is viewed taboo like talking about social class in America. (It seems to me, though, that Band Company is just slightly different. Class rate is paid attention to with detail over there- The Regiment, which includes Class rate, seems to be a big pride in that Company than in the other companies). While at sea, we have the same title- Cadet. We often work side by side. So class rate just is a tad less relevant while at sea--- although, I must note, sea experience does count. Onboard the SS Wright, there were us newbies-- landlubbers, perhaps, with single digit count of days at sea. Our driver was a year higher than us, and had over 200 days at sea- on ships that left port! The rising senior on board had somewhere near 300 days. And that term "Rising firstie/ second/ third class" was a new creation by us, since we had to recognize that the incoming fourth class (Class of 2016) haven't been to sea yet; and that our shoulder boards needed to be restriped. The person in charge, the port engineer, is a 1975 Academy grad, and never heard that term used before. Always room for something new. The taboo of "class rate" is drawn to the spotlight: As a practical matter, I left campus dressed down slightly. I had dry cleaned my official liberty attire- summer whites- and put it away in my suitcase so that it would be fresh for when I needed to entertain official visitors from the Maritime Administration onboard my ship. Others left in civilian clothes for personal reasons, such as to mark the end of fourth class year. Apparently, according to the new commandant, this is a second class privilege that had slid to the third class over time. It's true. I checked the thick book of midshipmen regulations (over 200 pages). But why did second and third class priveleges merged over time? The oldest regulations were written when midshipmen spent nearly all of third class year at sea. This has changed since the 1960's, where two "splits" in each of 2nd and 3rd class year alternate semesters (now trimesters) at sea. But what happened is that A split spends 2 trimesters as third class, B split spends 2 trimesters ans second class. (Part of the reason for this was to better Kings Point winter athletics- B split students spend all 4 winters at the Academy-- the other component was to keep students from the "drudgery" of 6 straight trimesters). So is it really fair for half the class to have better culmulative priveleges than the other half? The other large change is a revamping of liberty policy. The new first class had already gotten creative with 4th class liberty. Noting that most disciplinary problems on liberty occured after dark on Saturday nights, liberty was granted all weekend, as typical for upperclassmen, with the exception of 9pm to 9am on Saturday night. The most adventurous 4th class would have to hang tight until after midnight bed check before heading back out to the City. Previously, we had rotated between weeks of liberty from 2pm until midnight and weeks of no liberty because someone "messed up" the previous weekend. The new strategy (which I had actually suggested months before as a way to raise plebe morale for those who had no intention to participate in nightlife) worked. It worked so well that it came into use for the third class, to combat their own occassional rowdiness on the 3:19am train. (But we were not the most rowdy, though, as the New York Post never mentioned us in why the Long Island Railroad increased police presence on that train. This was a culture change for the third class, who were accustomed to overnight liberty evey weekend. But the 3:19am train would also literally become a thing of memory only. Effective the weekend before Memorial Day, the 3:19am, train was now the 3:04am train. It had been the 3:19am train long enough that recent graduates talk about the memories from that train. Perhaps the change in departure time, it is rumored, was to break us up into two groups- those who came back to Penn Station early, and those who tried to cut it close. Perhaps it was to drive some nightlifers back into town for another hour of cash spending. The Commandant reports that liberty policy will indeed change. Overnight liberty will be granted on a pass system (a system which had existed before the familiar system, which he calls a "free-for-all"). Fourth class will have the fewest (That would be, according to the old rule book, 3 for the second and third trimester, including holiday weekends). Currently, first class are entitled to seven- about one for every other weekend. Policy regarding extra liberty passes for high GPA's will be formalized. While our first go-to guy to take these weekends was the Class of 2012's valedictorian, who certainly enjoyed the privelege as a plebe, his successor doubted that the program actually existed-- doubting that talk on the parent's page reflected reality. For my roommate one recent weekend, this doubt was overruled by the Commissioned Officer on the basis that mothers are right!

Monday, May 14, 2012

USMMA 2016: Packing List

Some members of the Class of 2016 may well have come across this blog. Most of you are graduating from high school, and partying responsibly to help ease the fear of the unknown that you will be entering to on July 5th. Before we take away your hair, your civilan clothes, and your identity (for a few weeks only, though), I'd like to say a few things: Your Drill Instructors are my classmates. No need to be afraid of them. You're going to be insufficient/be a failure, and you may live for two weeks wondering if your DI can get you kicked out of the Academy for not marching right. Hydration is the key. Drink lots of water. No need to be "that guy" who passes out from the heat. July 4th is not a "party night", unfortunately. Not for your Indoc team, either. You, and us, need to appear looking sharp and alert at 8am. I will be your EMT. You'll see me at morning PT, at sick call, and at health and wellness before you fly to your racks. You'll like us, since we don't yell and scream. Use the medical service as much as you need, but remember, you'll have a nickname if you're a frequent flyer. Your DI's will come up with a name for you, too. You might have heard that some injuries/ ailments cause you to be set back into the class of 2017. An injury that will keep you on the sidelines for less than week (sprains, etc) are no cause of concern. And here are a few items that they did not tell you to pack, but you should: Stamps+ Envelope (bring extras for your platoon mates) Paper Journal, with a "boring" cover. Lighter Flashlight + Batteries Mouthwash Alarm Clock- you will need one on the last few days of Indoc Cash for the NEX Shirt stays, if you can find them Welcome Aboard! From everyone who's not a Drill Instructor, we're very happy to see you! (Because when you see a Plebe, you ain't a plebe anymore).

Monday, April 30, 2012

You can call me Midshipman Sawatzki now.

I guess it's been long enough since I last posted that Blogger changed the format on their page. So as I get used to the new format, I'd like to mention that the USMMA Class of 2015 has been Recognized. What does that mean? It means that we're not plebes anymore--sort of. We still do the necessary plebe jobs, like cleaning stations and table-serving. But there are so many things that plebes do that are demmed "not essential to the functioning of the Regiment". Things like squaring corners, walking 6 inches from the wall or curb while outside or in the barracks. Carry bags by handle, rather than using shoulder straps. "Legally" being able to be friends with upperclassmen; and no more saluting firstclassmen (at least until Commissioning in June). Collar insignia is worn. We now have perpetual "rack in"-- being able to keep our doors closed most of the day. But we are apparently the Class to get Recognized the latest in the year, at least since the Class of 1958. By the end of plebedom, the "plebe attitude" was already wearing off. That comes with the third trimester and coming back from Spring Break, and is a sign to the Firstclassmen that the plebes need to be Recognized soon, before they start acting like they own the place. So Recognition was a satisfying ending to what has been a prolonged plebe life. We passed our last plebe knowledge test on Wednesday evening, 4/18. On Friday morning, the Battallion Commander let us continue on talking in the hallway before falling in for formation. Then--he reminded us that we were still plebes, and we did some PT for it. That evening, we had a flag hunt and rifle PT. We were then informed that we had passed our last Recognition step. We had finished plebedom! Afterwards, we were encouraged to watch movies and stay up as late as we wanted to. At 10pm, the Seniors gave us a "fake recognition"-- muster in the auditorium in Recognition gear. We got to the auditorium to find it empty. I made a point to get to bed ASAP, since I knew what was going to happen the next day. On Saturday, 4/21, we were called out on line ar 4:30am. Boiler suits, PT gear and running shoes. This was the day-- Recognition at last. We did a lot of pushups and situps on the "grassy knoll", as well as some teamwork excersizes: tandem push-ups and a tunnel crawl. Then the Seniors called us in to the auditorium to remind us to play safe. On the agenda was pulling the biggest pickup truck up the hill. It would have been easy if the driver wouldn't have tapped the brakes every so often. "Almost hazing", one of my companymates uttered. But for one day, it was okay. What would it mean to join a frat without some mild pranks? Then there was a mud pit, log PT,"running of the plebes" and finally,we got to ring the Memorial bell as a symbol of Recognition. A speech by the Regimental Commander, who reminded us of all the pains us as a class had caused him: "I gave you liberty against the advice of your training officers". We were Recognized now, but we were cold and muddy. Once we had stripped off the mud-encrusted boiler suits and disposed of the mud-ruined shoes and socks, we washed off with a nice, cold shower and proceeded to breakfast in running suits, rather than khakis, again, a Recognition privilege.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Recognition Season-- but is it for us?

Early in a plebe's career, he or she is convinced that their class is going to be the next black cloud class. There was one in 1959, and another in 1968. What that means is that the plebe class isn't recognized, that is, gain all the priveleges of a midshipman (note that we accepted all the responsibilities of a midshipman back in September), until third class year. But as the USAFA and USMA have been recognized in the past 3 weeks; and Navy plebes got a few new priveleges, we're getting a little concerned about our own recognition. Things were going well before spring break. We passed our 7th of 10 plebe knowledge test as a class right before exam week, and we finished our mural on "zero deck", a major privelege and step towards recognition, which, during Indoc, I never could have imagine being a part of. But the plebe comes to realize that recognition will come eventually. By March 1, we knew it was coming soon. Our recongition steps were being rushed, as if there was a deadline. No more than six, then five, more weeks of plebedom. Then after spring break, our plebe train seemed to have derailed.

By October, we had learned that there are reasons that plebes get recognized as surely as the flowers bloom in spring:

The first class gets anxious about licensing exams, and having finished their resume building, have no interest in chansing plebes anymore. As a matter of integrity, you recognize 'em and give them all the priveleges they the plebes had started to take when they came back from spring break (doors closed during the day, unauthorized food buying and order out, talking in the passageways, not running outdoors, etc).

The Third class gets a little fratty after getting back from sea, and by playing on the same sports teams with plebes. By that, they start skylarking--"fraternize"-- with plebes. And the 3/c realizes that the 2/c will become a different breed- "petty firstclassmen", in just six weeks. The 2/c will start becoming responsible in general, so they'll look to the hopefully recognized plebes to be friends with. And there are good and bad reasons to "frat". First off, it's a good means to pass tips to the underclass for going to sea. Next trimester, the 4/c becomes the 3/c. We take charge of marching plebes around during Indoc, and we go to sea. Once you recognize the plebes, 4/c can frat safely with 2/c and 3/c. So there won't be any more talk of a certain 3/c being too "friendly" with a plebe.

Yet, sometimes, flowers don't bloom.

Our new Commandant, an anti-excessive/underage-drinking zealot (not a bad thing?) from the Naval Academy, where that culture of no tolerance to that sort of thing has been going on for a decade now, met with KP's unofficially laxer, rather European, attitude towards having a "good time". It may have not been luck. Administrators must have been concerned with the ever-increasing count of midshipmen receiving alcohol hits.
There is no one reason for this increase. Midnight musters on Saturday nights were introduced, and that revealed some plebe revelers. Some of the upperclassmen were reliving their plebe days through stories we brought back; certainly, not more than a few wanted to stop the stories from coming in, even if it could keep a few plebes from alcohol hits from increasingly more vigilant senior classes. Plebes who had a "good time" had been spared from the maximum penalty, which was saved for the 1/c and 2/c who did the same; and it didn't seem to some to be a big deal.

So the Commandant comes in and lays down the law. Across the board minimum of 10 weeks restriction and 100 extra duty hours for that kind of case. The subjective "Do not, Do not embarrass the Academy" has been replaced by the new Navy standard of "No underage drinking; if you're old enough, you stop after three drinks". Quite Clear. Plebes are responsible for each other, and by accepting that responsibility for your classmates, three plebe alcohol hits under the Commadant's watch, and recognition is out the window. But you can't change a culture overnight; especially if it's St. Paddie's Day. Altough the hit count remains unofficial, our class did it. We're the black cloud-- black out-- class of 2015.

Black cloud? That's another word for recognition. It means that you're class is done with the plebe system. Plebes for life. Close your door, listen to music. Yet our firstclassmen were quick to assure us that a speedy recognition is still possible. When we have completed all the steps (which could happen by the original deadline that we felt that they aiming for), the seniors would ask the Commandant to reverse his decision. In the meantime, we would have 'earned' recognition; and that is enough to get a bit of respect and a set of privileges.

I think we can get our train back on track.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Joys of Third Trimester, 4/c Year

Still a month until third trimester, but the Plebes are starting to dream about what it brings...

Military IDs are issued: A significant number of setbacks occur after 2nd trimester. Many of these setbacks into the next graduating year occur for academic reasons (typically after failing 2 classes in one Academic Year); and for plebe midshipmen who have not been cleared for sea duty, this means taking 8 months away from the Academy and repeating the trimester. As I understand, people on setback time do not drill with the Navy Reserve; 4/c/plebes and 3/c midshipmen are able to quit the Academy without occurring a military obligation. No good can happen with "valid" military IDs held by full-fledged civilians floating around. For this reason, it seems, the Academy does not issue our Naval Reservist IDs until third trimester.

Recognition: What is it like to be an upperclassmen? 4/c gets to find out when Recognition comes. This event happens after specific plebe missions are completed: spirit missions for the seniors celebrating 300, 200, and 100 nights left at the Academy; community service and high school visits to represent the Academy; passing 10 Plebe Knowledge Tests as a class (we've finished 6; it seems as if we are being fast-tracked right now: read on). After Recognition, 4/c gets most upperclasss privileges, including "rack in", or sleeping during the day; media privileges and order-in at all times, wearing backpacks, and being able to walk casually in Regimental areas. 4/c after Recognition still have to do cleaning stations and stand a hefty number of watchstations, but it's good to be recognized. There is a theory that plebes are recognized before open house in April (thus we are being rushed through Plebe Knowledge Tests), to raise morale and to show visitors that the plebes they saw back in August have moved on to a higher status.

Practical Sea Courses: For plebes who have been given a hard courseload in second trimester, ready-to-go-to-sea classes can be a relief for engineer students who have sizzled their minds with electrical engineering. There is also the excitement of preparing to ship out; like planning a vacation (but sea year is not a vacation), it's exciting to go through the administrative steps, one at a time, on the way to sea in June or October. (I'm scheduled to ship out in July).

Superplebes: Setback coming from third trimester are already recognized. I wouldn't imagine that they would room with unrecognized plebes (because of their immense privileges). One thing to note is that recognized 4/c wear collar insignia on campus, where unrecognized plebes do not. Third trimester is the first time that plebes don't formally greet everyone with collar insignia. Superplebes are your classmates.

Class Rates Liberty: Liberty policy is the same for 4/c from September to June, though third trimester 4/c are ensured three overnight liberties; whereas none are granted (they must be earned) in 1st or 2nd trimester (although we have our long weekends such as Columbus Weekend and MLK Weekend).

Return of the A splitters: 2/c and 3c who set out to sea in October will be returning later this month. People say that some are ready to "fraternize" with us, which they can't do until we're recognized. And they expect us to be recognized once they step off the boat. So that's a second reason, on top of making us cheerful for open house, why recognitition always seems to happen sooner than May.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Glitz, Glamor, Salt, Reasonable Profits Board

Hot topic around the Academy, SONY is making a picture about the "Maersk Alabama", the ship which in April 2009 was taken by pirates in the Mediterranean. Several midshipmen from the USMMA found out about the casting call in New York directed to "all merchant mariners". Although sea time (which the USMMA upperclassmen have) is recommended, at least two Plebes have been pre-screened and approved for the casting call. Word came through the vine that one of the directors wanted USMMA midshipmen participation in the casting. Although midshipmen from the USMMA and cadets from the other Maritime Academies regularly sail on US-flagged ships, including the Maersk Alabama, I'm not sure if any cadets were on board the ship at the time. SONY is casting mariners for authenticity (can you make a Hollywood actor look salty?), and their ability to provide knowledge to the filming crew and star actors, Tom Hanks included. Filming will be in Morocco this Spring.

Midshipmen who have received call-backs from the casting agent will get a long weekend to go to the casting call, and have a little time to relax in the City.

A link to the announcement of the casting call sent to the Alumni Foundation, which trickled down to midshipmen in 4th Company:

And an USMMA grad's take on being selected as a prime candidate for the role of 2nd Mate for the casting call:

It seems like the movie industry has come a long way in attentiveness to settings since they regularly featured skyscrapers in downtown DC (non-existent). Don't have a list of those movies which commit that venial sin, but Seth MacFarlene's cartoon sitcom "American Dad", based in Langley, VA, shows silhouettes of skyscrapers in rooftop scenes downtown.

And a little talk:
There's a soundbite going around Facebook about six members of Congress wanting to set up a presidential-appointed "reasonable profits board" for oil and gas companies to determine a reasonable profit, and tax everything- up to a rate of 100%- above that amount. Sounds like an FDR Plan from 1942. It seems as if the disbelief is aimed towards the "reasonable profits" quote, not the concept of having companies pay taxes on oil extracted (or shrinking R+D and "depletion" tax benefits).
With loosening of total state control over business, Cubans are embracing the capitalist spirit.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Gentle Slide Towards Recognition

A Happy New Year to our readers!

Draft: Editing not complete.

I was at my desk yesterday cleaning out and reorganizing folders I use for class when three firstclassmen midshipmen officers entered the room, talking. I shot up to attention, before being put at ease so that I could continue on with my business. The two were talking about rearranging the standard arrangement of room furniture for third- and fourth-class rooms, and were going to give their recommendations to the higher-ups- the commissioned officers. They were just chatting to each other; the people who look at plebes with stern faces and tell us to "get on our face"- do pushups- were concerned with finer details like room design. It was easiest to use a plebe's room, since there would be less items lying around on top of the drawers in the room. Ideally, there would be nothing on top pf the drawer or dresser in a plebe room.

Wondering whether two drawers that looked the same size were actually the same size, they measured my roommate's drawer under the desk, and the one inside the wardrobe. They were not the same size; one is two nches deeper than the other. They tried moving the dresser from in front of the window to under the desk, beside the already-present drawer. In moving the dresser, they uncovered alternative bedding- a sleeping bag. "He's got to hide that better", remarked the Company Commander. (Only firstclassmen are authorized to leave out unauthorized bedding during the day).

If they had heard what sounds like cans moving around inside a drawer (the one under the desk is a personal drawer), they might have instincitvely asked:
"What's that rolling around in there?" They know what plebes keep in personal drawers, in addition to leisure reading material, office supplies, extra uniform supplies, and socks and shirts folded the way laundry service folds- rather than the "proper" way: there might be snacks, Red Bull, bottled Frappucinos, headphones, "civilian" clothes.

A plebe's collection of food and snacks grow soon after the end of Indoc: it starts off with Power Bars and Gatorade (less sugary than the drink staple Powerade served in Delano!) The belief that health and wellness checks (the only time personal drawers can get inspected) will result in Class Twos being issued (up to six weeeks of restriction for "Failure to Comply with Direct Order" to follow the Plebe rules) keeps a plebe from keeping even those "unauthorized" granola bars in his or her room. If a package with food comes in the mail, it is to be handed over to the guardianship of the MIDN Company Training Officer, the firstclassman who deals with plebes specifically. The CTO gets tired of playing rationeer with the grub, and hands the responsibility of being custodian of plebe grub to "team leaders", thirdclassmen who were just plebes a few months back themselves. They know the real deal: keep it in a personal drawer.

There is that first liberty, and the plebe might come back with some grub. If you can't share it all, keep it. There hasn't been a health and wellness check yet. Then Cookie Cafe starts up, and the mothers who run the close-to-weekly cookie event insist "I couldn't bear to tell (Johnny's) mother that I couldn't take some to go". What a good alibi for being found with cookies in your drawer! Oh-- and if you want to eat the grub, you better wait til you can close your door at 10pm.

But in fact, it took a certain plebe two trips (that were observed by midshipmen officers) to the NEX to buy unauthorized food and drink in a boiler suit, with buttons popped, before being put on the mast list (the list that tells you that you need to see the Company Officer to explain yourself). It was then we learned that having unauthoried food and gear in our personal drawers wasn't such a crime.
By November, Plebes are participating in team sports and other activities in full swing; and sometimes it's just not possible to make it to breakfast or dinner. Enter food and vending privileges. These are also doled out as payment or reward to Plebes who give up an hour or two to do something for the Regiment, such as helping set up or take down table or counting pushups for the Fitness Test. Upperclassmen also take classes too, and are worried more about their own GPA than whether or not that bag of chips you have on your desk was authorized or not.

But then, what is a health and wellness check, and do they ever happen?
Yesterday, one company had a health and wellness check. 4th Company, but in time, all the companies should be checked. Although most rooms would undoubtedly pass without problem, there are possibly life-altering consequences (it's that serious) if something is found. By something we are not talking about Twinkies or even tobacco, but liquor mostly- and evidence of illegal substances. With the only penalty possible being instant expulsion, you've got to be moronic to even consider using that stuff: this sentiment rings through the Regiment. But liquor-- it appears on Midshipmen spirit T-Shirts, is use is humorized in morale emails, and, by George, the upperclassmen even drink it (in moderation) on liberty! What if a midshipman actually had a bottle of the real thing wrapped in a shower towel?

Because possibly ending someone's career isn't a laughing matter, the search has got to be done "right". Two Company Officers, and a series of high-ranking midshimen officers, proceeded through the main deck of the Regiment (transiting via companies except through zero deck- the basement level- is not permitted by underclassmen) towards the company that was getting inspected. Turns out, the COs only looked into firstclassmen rooms. In their minds, perhaps, the firstclassmen should be the ones to set an example for the plebes. For plebes, it is a good feeling that our police are policed.

Being 21 or not is irrelevant on campus*: no midshipman is permitted to have a hard drink on campus, unless you're a firstclassman at the pub or a formal event in the Officers' Club. Being under 21 just gives the investigating CO a few more words to say to the penitent. Interestingly, although plebes are more likely to get written up for having that stuff on campus, the first class has the most to lose: commissions have been lost to bad choices. If any midshipman needs to act like an officer, it is the first class. And they have the privelege of going out any day of the week, unlike the rest of us! There is more understanding of a Plebe making that kind of mistake: Ocassionally, a plebe does become curious about "that kind of thing"--in uniform. Often, they are good kids who never even got close to the cooler in high school, but New York presented too big a temptation. Make that mistake early, do the time- Class I for bringing discredit upon the Academy- (6 to 12 weeks restriction, plus up to 100 Extra Duty- community service- hours), and don't do it again. That was your one chance for exploring bacchannalism, by the way.

I'll note it here that CO's "pick on" second and firstclassmen the way that firstclassmen have plebes. To CO's, it seems, all eyes are already on Plebes, and thirdclassmen are already accountable for the actions of two plebes at any given time.

So keeping that sparkling water in my personal drawer on the down-low, I trudge on as a plebe looking forward to that Recognition day--probably before May- that we win, for almost finitude, some upperclass priveleges.

*Maybe at many colleges it's only enforced in Freshman dorms, but, having lived in a class rates environment, I find it hard to understand the rational of hard drink privileges in the dorm set merely by being 21 (State colleges usually have that requirement for on-campus dorms), rather than setting it as a class privelege- say, a Sophomore- or Junior- year onset privelege. RA's at some colleges have floor maps showing which rooms are "wet rooms" and which ones are not- some require both roommates to be 21, some do noe. One of my high school classmates happens to live in a "wet room"- though his roommate is 21, he is an observant Muslim, and doesn't associate- buy, sell, or drink- with that stuff. On that note, I don't even see the need to allow that stuff in the dormitory. Allowing it just encourages its use; no need to mention how trying to age-restrict in the dorms is a complete joke: a closed door, no loud music, and a less-than-nosy RA is all it takes to "express one's adulthood" by chugging away in a less-than-mature manner.