Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas, but you can wish me a Happy Hanukkah too.

     The Christmas season is a great time to visit Manhattan, especially if you have the privilege of not having to pay for a hotel room during the “most wonderful time of year”. While I attended the US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), the Long Island Railroad, a commuter system, is the connection to the excitement, and getting from Kings Point to the train station mean hopping on the county bus or catch a ride with a senior. 

     From the waspy, Gatsby-esque village of Kings Point, one rides down Middle Neck Road, the main drag of the Great Neck peninsula, you might suspect that Great Neck is a devoutly Jewish town. Indeed, most local businesses are closed on Saturdays, the liberty day for freshmen at the USMMA. Italian and Asian restaurants, Baker Hill Tavern, gas stations, and several convenience stores are the only stores open on the Sabbath. Many nationalities of Jews are represented by the synagogues of Great Neck, including Iranian Jews, Greek Jews, Armenian Jews, among others. Catholics at St. Aloysius and parishioners at the local Episcopal and AME parishes were in the Christian minority. During December, menorahs and bunting line shops’ windowsills. So I was kind of disappointed that the town’s signs read “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings”. Even though I should’ve felt included as a gentile, something was missing. It was not the lack of “Merry Christmas”, but the absence of tradition. Modernity and secularism won over the devoutly Jewish town.
Great Neck did not launch a ‘war on Christmas’, but chose to use generic greetings as sterile as ultra-pasteurized milk. Sterile is safe, but lacks flavor and the conviction of accepted risk. Instead of the ideal of inclusive multiculturalism, we got homogeny. One other way modernity obscured intercultural understanding is in the Catholic mass: This year, I attended a Christmas Eve service in Korea, where the pastor recited an age-old Eucharistic prayer, brought back by Pope Benedict XVI, which invoked ancient Jewish leaders Melchisedech and Abraham. Ironically, the prayer had been suppressed during Vatican II, when dialogue with other faiths was encouraged.  

     Sometimes modernity eats its own. Increasing materialism of the Christmas season, since the late 19th century, when Pepsi gave Santa a red coat, created secular symbols associated with Christmas. So why the offense when Christmas is no longer primarily focused on the Nativity scene? Secular Christmas shopping, an offspring from the religiously-motivated charitable acts of Dickensian days, is the cultural norm. To name such behavior “holiday shopping” for “holiday gifts” seems to give a line-item corporate focus, rather than an individual focus, to the shopping season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. What “happy holidays” speaks to me is the thought that, no matter your culture, “people ought to spend and benefit corporate bottom lines”. To embrace Christmas, Hanukkah, or both, is to take back the season from retailers and bring it back to the people. 

     Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Social Justice and the College Campus

I finished college in June, and since travelling overseas for work, have paid less attention to domestic news, and more attention to topics of national security and foreign policy. Something interesting has boiled up on college campuses this year, and I’m glad to have graduated; and to have also attended a ‘school of hard knocks’. Idle hands, not found on the campuses of strictly engineering, science, and technical schools, do lead to trouble. The illiberal faction of the left, afforded with time and resources to pontificate, protests and denies respect to graduation speakers, professors, and guests of honor. They demand that we “check our privilege”, and put a damper on Cinco de Mayo and Halloween festivities with aggressive accusations of cultural appropriation (St. Patrick’s Day and Octoberfest are spared). This is all done with the good intention of Social Justice. But why the guerilla tactics? I read one interview with such a proponent, who stated: “dissent cannot be tolerated because these issues are so important”. There is a more moderate faction which recognizes that the issues being discussed make the comfortable middle class- uncomfortable. But this faction is worth hearing out, since it respects the autonomy of the mind. What do they have to say?

 In traditional Catholic doctrine (dating prior to Vatican II), Social Justice wrongs are highlighted in economic terms: oppression of the poor and defrauding laborers. In a discussion of Miranda rights, one professor informed my class that there are individuals trapped in a cycle of debt caused by court fees. I was unaware of this problem, but I know that there is bipartisan appeal in criminal justice reform. There are conservative arguments for second chances, fiscally responsible sentencing reform, and for the disablement of Kafkaesque government intrusion in the lives of people trying to make good. As for wages, I believe that employers, more than the government, hold the moral responsibility to provide living wages and other collateral benefits when possible. Teens should use the good money to build a financial cushion that will protect them when they move away from home: a Benjamin Franklin kind of wisdom. Some business owners understand that their responsibility for laborers extends beyond the minimums the government allows. I am optimistic for this based on my experience in the Washington, DC area. Both DC and nearby Maryland suburbs raised the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour. The Virginia suburbs did not increase the minimum wage, yet employers voluntarily paid more to keep quality employees. In-and-Out sets their lowest wage at $10 an hour. Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A offer employees the social benefits of having Sunday off. Perhaps it’s human nature to give the less advantaged a deal. The only way I can fathom that executives at wage-scrimping companies can live with themselves is if they mentally dehumanize their ‘associates’ as mere numbers on a spreadsheet. I did a similar manpower exercise in a project management class.  Never forget who’s on the other side of the spreadsheet.

Enough about economic theories: Laffer, Keynes, and John Locke won’t pay working-class bills. People are taking to the street. Enter the New York phenomenon: “Stand for $15”. Low-wage workers in New York are justly fed up with their situation. The aggravation of middle-class commutes are reasons enough for griping, but it’s worse for the poor. Commuter rail is pricey, and low-income earners are literally priced off the road by $8 tolls on tunnels and bridges in New York. They must contend with long and slow subways and bus rides to work. The cost and time of commuting is sunk; and floating shifts as short as two hours are becoming common in retail. Employees tend to put up with this crapshoot, but this is not a tenable situation. Unlike elsewhere in the country, government is not seen as the inherent problem. With a push by the unions SEIU and AFSCME, ‘the proletariats are marching in the street’.  Squares like myself poked at their dancing and chants; and commenters wrote: “Union agitators…”, “Get back to work!”. But one thing going for the protesters was a responsive government. Cynics called this the unholy trinity of DeBlasio, Cuomo, and the President of the United States. (Hence, in 2001, Republican Mayor Giuliani, Governor Pataki and President Bush consisted the holy trinity of New York?) Ideologues like Bill DeBlasio are predictable. He would side wholeheartedly with the workers, consequences be damned. Tactful politicians like Andrew Cuomo (a New Democrat) and his father are sometimes unpredictable, but are well-versed in what to say and what to do. Statistics like the percentage of homeowners or business proprietors play an important role in defining the ‘triggers’ of the electorate. As far as a $15 minimum wage, it was a safe issue. New York has a unique relic that strikes of mid-century liberalism: the wage board. I’ve passed by this office before: it runs from a fine 1950’s sandstone building in downtown Manhattan, adorned with reliefs of working-class white men, who used to dominate the outer boroughs of New York City. Governor Cuomo and the gurus decided to give the protesters ‘everything they wanted’. (When I took Negotiation 101 in project management, I learned to always come to a compromise, never give in fully). Fast food workers would get $15 per hour. 

Neoclassical economics suggests that good compensation relies on a job being one or more of three things: dangerous, undesirable, or unique. Such is the ‘natural order’ of life. First responders and military personnel, of whom I have many friends, were perturbed that burger-flippers would earn the same as themselves. Working-class solidarity is not a simple issue: The real world is interesting and intricate, and filled with tensions concerning self-worth and one’s sense of personal dignity. Some employers engage in what amounts to unethical, if not sinful exploitation of their employees; while others do the right thing. Everyone knows it’s tough to be poor. But it’s worse when trapped in poverty by economic circumstance, with no clear way out. Social Justice, in an economic sense, is to create opportunities to lift oneself out of poverty. Allowing employers to run employees into the ground with commuting costs- just one example- is wrong, Viewing Social Justice in this light makes an individual’s situation succinct as a spreadsheet. Judging Social Justice in terms of race is soft science. It’s messy, as we’ve seen in the news this year.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

In Defense of Columbus Day

     In 2013, I spent Columbus Day at my internship in Portland, Oregon. It was just another working day; no wall decorations, no pot-luck lunch of Italian, Greek, and Polish food, no reminiscing with the descendants of Ellis Island immigrants. In the Pacific Northwest was where I first read in the papers the movement towards supplanting Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. To do so would be one of the first steps to reconcile for 520 years of broken treaties and misunderstandings with the Native Americans. In the Pacific Northwest, little would be missed as Columbus Day, and the white-ethnic identity movement, had not permeated the West Coast.

      We can thank Richard Nixon for Columbus Day becoming a paid federal holiday in 1971, the reason being his own re-election fears. In 1968, his second time running for President, Nixon won by a small margin in a late-breaking election with twists-and-turns that took the life of Robert Kennedy. Identity politics was Nixon’s strategy that helped him win some southern states in 1968 he had lost in 1960; for 1972, he was expanding the strategy to traditionally Democratic-voting Catholics.

     Why would Christopher Columbus become the second person in America’s history to have the honor of a Federal holiday? Columbus was a man whose claim to fame is being the first well-groomed European to discover America: It is theorized that the Vikings arrived in Newfoundland several centuries before Columbus. Although not his intention, Columbus’ ‘discovery’ of America enabled generations of Spanish purveyors to strong-arm natives, and use and brutalize slaves, in their pursuit of Eldorado and the valley of gold. Even in 1971, this ought to have been enough ‘dirty laundry’ to name the proposed Federal holiday after another explorer. The answer is that the holiday should be named “Knights of Columbus” Day. Speaking on behalf of the largely Catholic white-ethnic population, it was this large and once-influential Catholic men’s organization that pushed for the holiday. America was no longer an Anglo-Saxon Protestant nation, and what better way to signify this than to elevate the status of local and parochial Christopher Columbus parades to federal recognition?

     Now that Christopher Columbus held the status of a Founding Father, based on historical bias that elevated his perceived importance, there was interest and opposition in creating the thirteenth Federal holiday: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, in January. In some southern states, the proposed holiday ‘conflicted’ with a holiday commemorating Confederate leaders Stonewall Jackson and General Robert E. Lee. Staten Island’s Congressional Representative, a strong supporter for Columbus Day, flat out rejected MLK Day as one holiday too many. Over opposition, MLK Day became a holiday.

     Since that time, there have been proposals to make our roster of Federal holidays more inclusive. Proposals include the aforementioned Indigenous People’s Day; Lunar New Year; a Latino Day; Jewish and Islamic holy days, and even a day for Harvey Milk.  Just as America becomes more pluralistic, we’ve run out of opportunities to create more three-day weekends. Hard-charging American managers would be reluctant to have more than one paid Monday or Friday off in a month. Bringing awareness of minority groups and causes into the national conscious requires another approach, and re-naming Federal holidays has limited potential. My advice? Enjoy Columbus Day, and if you see fit, give a disclaimer to friends, explaining the forgotten historical context of the holiday.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Last Weekend

     Recently, I went on a Saturday jog through one of Monmouth County, New Jersey’s leafy neighborhoods. This is “Leave it to Beaver” America, a pleasant suburb away from the perceived crime of the city and the ticky-tacky of exurban living. This is the America that our military defends, and the birthplace of its officer corps. Of the 18 members of my Modern American History class at the Academy, where all graduates are commissioned, 17 came from suburbs or small towns- I was the outlier. It was a Saturday, and some residents were going to synagogue. There was also a yard sale. This Saturday morning experience was coupled by the realization that the weekend could be my last for several months.

     You see, a ship operates round-the-clock, seven days per week. While sailing aboard as a cadet, I needed weekends in order to complete ‘sea projects’, or correspondence courses for the Academy. Commercial ships operate on the thinnest of manning margins. As a permanent crew member, your presence is required every day: in port, you can have up to sixteen consecutive hours off the ship, and no more. On commercial ships, “you go to sea to work”. Or to say it nicely, “work prevents boredom”. If two mates were to become too ill or injured to stand a bridge watch, the remaining mate and the captain would be pulling two six-hour shifts per day, with six hours to sleep. Government ships carry a larger crew that can cover manning gaps, allowing for realistic contingencies for illness and injury, and for crewmembers to take weekend passes when the ship is in port. For mates and engineering officers, I heard that 32 hours is the length of a weekend pass; depending on their job and manpower needs, other crewmembers can clock out on Friday afternoon and come back on Monday morning.

     Fortunately, by union contract or custom, many ocean-going American shipping companies have avoided designating seafaring mates and engineers as salary employees: this clarifies the weekly work schedule, and allows for overtime. While seafarers are exempt from the 40-hour workweek law, union standards helped make “time-and-a-half” an expected custom in the merchant fleet. With time-and-a-half, a 56-hour workweek effectively doubles earnings from a 40-hour workweek. 

     Young people like myself are inexperienced, overconfident, and irresponsible with money. Yet there are certain advantages of youth: agility, freedom from familial responsibility, having little to lose financially, and- this one is from Albert Einstein- time for compounding interest. The manifestations of the opportunities of youth change over time; they include going West in the 1800’s; searching for Yukon Gold in 1900; joining the military; trekking around the globe with just a passport in hand; and working at a Silicon Valley start-up for stock options and an air mattress in the office. While I will find new seafarers with previous life experience on the same boat as myself, I couldn’t miss out on optimal timing. After graduation, I had the opportunity to “settle down” and get an 8-to-4 office job. But it was too soon…and I had the rest of my life ahead of me. So what did I do? Go to sea.  

Thursday, August 27, 2015

In Choir, the Best of Two Worlds

I have been involved in choral music since I was seven. For fifteen years, I have been singing, writing, and collaborating music. My time at the Saint Thomas Choir School in New York, for four years of middle school, was influential in my development as a part-time musician, influenced by classmates, teachers; and choirmasters, who were also mentors and talent-finders. 

Two of Saint Thomas’ legends in liturgical music, Dr. Gerre Hancock and Dr. John Scott, now rest in peace. Gerre Hancock’s departure as Choirmaster in 2004 was planned well in advanced, and I knew that my first year at Saint Thomas would be his last. He would move back to Texas with his wife, Judith, after 34 years with Saint Thomas, and continue teaching music at the University of Texas for seven years.  Dr. John Scott departed his earthly vocation of choirmaster at Saint Thomas suddenly one Wednesday ago, after an acclaimed tour in Europe as a performing organist. What I am writing here is not so much purely a memorial to Dr. Scott, but a recollection from the choir stall of having sung under two choirmasters at St. Thomas. 

In September 2005, the boys of Saint Thomas Choir School rehearsed with John Scott for the first time in his new role as choirmaster at Saint Thomas. He had come from a similar duty at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, and we choirboys wondered why a Brit had come across the Atlantic Ocean to rehearse us. He was a bit befuddled about how U.S. Customs treated his century-old piano. Coming from the quintessential formality of English high culture, Dr. Scott took the effort to familiarize himself with American norms. Two centuries of independence from Great Britain gave rise to differences in vocabulary and culture, even hairstyle.  In Britain, punks have short hair, and no choirboy over there would have a buzzcut. He learned quickly that buzzcuts are synonymous with clean-cut here in the States.

What has amazed me is how great institutes of learning retain their prized educators and staff. As Choirmaster of Saint Thomas for his last ten years, his endurance follows in the good tradition of long-tenured choirmasters and headmasters. So has the time passed that life has come full circle. A friend and classmate of mine interviewed with Dr. Scott for one of the men’s voices in the choir this year. The men of the choir, who fill the lower voices, are truly professionals. They find time for rehearsals and choral services at St. Thomas between other prominent gigs in New York City. To get grade-school boys, with mixed levels of experience, but with recognized potential, to sing at such a caliber is a significant accomplishment. Gerre Hancock knew the traditional laid-back American demeanor of childhood. Rehearsals with him had interludes where he would make one of his signature piano improvisations, and a few jokes.  Dr. Hancock used his talent to develop the choir to its full potential. To him, the success of the boys of the choir in mastering challenging works of music was recognition enough for each choirboy. As a bonus, each choirboy got a ‘rank’, which was determined by seniority first, and then individual accomplishment. 

Dr. Scott understood that developing individual talent within the choir is an evolution: a choirboy could achieve full potential in the four or five years that the choirmaster had with him. What Dr. Scott accomplished with choirboys who began under his tenure was incredible, indeed; and the fruits of this effort became evident as members of the eighth-grade Class of 2009 and 2010 achieved distinction in solo and marquee performances throughout New York.  There was a risk that he assumed: attention to top choral achievers could affect the morale of other choirboys. The largest culprit to maximizing the potential of a choirboy is middle-school biology: the awkwardness of voice cracks in seventh and eighth grades. When that happens, the choirboy fades gracefully into the sunset. But for the other average choirboys, would lack of attention cause hard feelings? The answer is that Dr. Scott gave attention to all, even when it was discreet. Reports one member of the Class of 2008, “Dr. Scott really did care about me”. The tangible results of this effort was one-on-one voice lessons for all, and an MVP list to recognize personal accomplishments commensurate with one’s ability.

Faced with a slew of ‘retirements’ forced on by changing voices in the Class of 2007 and 2008, John Scott had other ways to develop the musical talent of students who were once star choirboys. One such way was his keen interest in evaluating, and performing, student compositions of music. This unspoken program had started under Dr. Gerre Hancock, a recognized choral composer who embraced expressionism in his compositions. He was an improvising organist, composer, and choirmaster; who as I recall, in his final year, mentored Hank Rosenthal in music composition. Dr. Scott, who was also a composer in traditional-style choral works, expanded this informal program, and, with the confidence of his expertise, allowed the choir to sing some student compositions.  Among members of the Class of 2005 and later, who had experience with Dr. Scott, there is a disk jockey, several performing musicians and singers, and composers. (Class sizes average seven students per year). As long as you had the courage to embrace your talent, Dr. Scott would be there to point you in the right direction.

Dr. Scott was a man wholly dedicated to his work as a liturgical musician. He was a fan of Dietrich Buxtehude and J.S. Bach, German Baroque organists and composers. He was a renowned organist, and his performances of fanfares and voluntaries would draw a crowd of choirboys to the organ console. He was a composer. He was an ambassador to the best England had to offer, in hors d’oevres and tea. He was, first and foremost, a conductor and choirmaster. In this role, he developed untapped talent from each member of the choir. He was convincing and personable: he was the face of public relations during a campaign to raise funds for the renovation of the century-old Grand Organ at Saint Thomas. His mainstay phrase was: “to the Glory of God”- “Ad Maiorem Dei Gloria”. Dr. John Scott’s legacy lives on with the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys as it moves forward through this challenging time. “Dedication and Professionalism”; “A Great Star”; a “Most Accomplished Musician”. These are words that my friends from Saint Thomas Choir School used to describe Dr. John Scott in the days after he left the world. His legacy lives in the musical performances of Saint Thomas Choir School alumni, in their compositions, and in our memories.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Is there a Frat House of the Sea?

(This post is a continuation of my previous post)

As members of a forgotten industry, one thing civilian seafarers in the US lack is a social support network within the industry. Divorce is unsurprisingly common, yet the trial of separation brings other couples remarkably closer. This begins with the understanding of your loved one's career. The strongest relationships between Kings Point men tend to be those with women who grew up in a military or seafaring household. It often involves 'tying the knot' in marriage years earlier than landlocked peers- how many 23-year old college graduates do you know whom are engaged or married?

On commercial ships, the level of communication with loved ones is governed by the munificence of shipping companies. Some older ships in the US fleet lack email or radio-telegraph service for crew members; their family members live in "river city"- reduced communications- between port calls. In the go-go nature of modern shipping, few shipping companies (Matson Lines being a notable exception) host welcome-home events, or other recognition for spouses and family members.

Since the US Government is the largest employer of civilian mariners, there are shared experiences  for the hundreds of 20-something's who "man the victory fleet" each summer and fall, as engineers, mates, and stewards' utilitymen. Questions we didn't think about as cadets, college students, or short-order cooks now find answers from voices of experience, or the Delphi method (8 people can't be unanimously wrong). These issues include powers-of-attorney and choosing an insurance plan. Currently, there is no comprehensive website to address these questions related to civilian life at sea, though GCaptain comes close. My second week of work sent me to New Jersey, where I and the other maritime college graduates, who have up-to-date training, joined the newbies in basic safety classes. This gave us engineers and mates an opportunity to guide the others through the ropes of life-rafts and such. Time between exercises gave the chance for the group of us engineers to hypothesize about hefty situations requiring our professional consideration: one example is the "leaky oil pipe" jury-rigged to send oily water overboard of the ship. This is a practice strictly banned in commercial shipping, and discouraged by our environmentally friendly allies. Would we notify the Inspector General, or would we join the culture of complicity?

While mates receive significant department-specific classroom instruction before reporting to a ship, engineers like myself will receive on-the-job instruction. In international terminology, I'll be an "Officer in Charge of an Engineering Watch". It has dawned on me that I could be on a ship next week. I have a short list of items to take care of at home this weekend. Other than those tasks, my bags are packed and I'm ready to go.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ready for sea, for real

I have gotten the feeling that I've been away from the blogosphere for too long- two weeks, to be exact. During this time, I started my job as an engineer- official title is Third Assistant Engineer- with America's largest employer of civilian seafarers- the US Government.

Two weeks ago, I started with a week of orientation in Norfolk. Lodging, food stipend, commuter bus and friends ( two classmates from the USMMA) were provided. By starting work at 6:30am, the can-do attitude of seafarers protected is from rush-hour traffic. One old salt remembered when all the per employment and new hire business was taken care of in one day. A sign of our times, a total of one hour was allotted to payroll and benefits, with many more hours given to human relations presentations discussing how we ought to be treating each other already. Between work, commuting, an afternoon workout, and fine dining during Norfolk's restaurant week.

One thing about this job is that it hasn't been a lonely beginning. For whatever reason, about a quarter of my class answered the call to "man the victory fleet". They will be coming in "flights" that start every two weeks, and their numbers will grow through the summer. Some tangible benefits of this job include extended port visits, safe working conditions in a managed-stress environment, camaraderie and commiseration, a 56- hour workweek (compared to 84 hour workweeks required by some American ship companies), a preferred union card after 3 years, should one decide to take shipping jobs from a union hall. One final benefit is transportation provided during "shore leave" in port. I remember on a coal ship I sailed as a cadet on, the freshly graduated engineer was shocked that it cost $50 to get to and from the closest strip mall by taxi. "That is the industry", remarked the wise chief mate.

On a per- hour basis, the pay is lower than what one could find on a commercial ship. Yet there is little fretting, because of the little perks, and the old saying, "money isn't everything". Taking a job "manning the fleet" is a lifestyle choice.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Pioneers, Oh Pioneers

When I think of patriotism, I conjure up memories of Reagan-era glories such as Rambo, the Battleships Iowa and New Jersey, tractors, Top Gun and Full Metal Jacket. I also think of hot dogs and the traditional family, with an overweight Dad with a suntanned neck. 

I do not forget the real patriots:  the daughters of pilgrims, the sons of Ellis Island, and the brides of World War Two. There is no more American story than one’s ancestors looking for religious freedom in the 1700’s; or arriving on the streets of New York in the 1890’s, penniless but ambitious and willing to work hard; nor the brides of Europe arriving home with ordinary soldiers who defeated the Axis in 1945.  This is a beautiful story, encompassing the narrative of (Caucasian) America.  In remembrance of our ancestors who embodied masculinity and the risk-taking of new ideas, it is due patriotism to “use government policy to incentivize work” (a.k.a., cut welfare), in conjunction with “letting the bull loose”, to recreate the Gilded Age that created the American Dream in the minds of our great-grandfathers. 

As I walked with my family in Washington, DC to the Fireworks on the National Mall on the Fourth of July, I saw many young Americans sporting attire boasting of American pride. Seeing the first several groups, I suspected that they were southern frat boys and sorority girls: Washington, DC is still the gateway to the South, where country music plays at large gatherings that include suburbanites, and talk of “open season” is not just a figure of speech. But it became clear to me that these Chubbie shorts-wearing, boat-shoe sporting, patriotic tank-top bearing, Oakley-popping peers represented a greater demographic than I had imagined.   
Here is some background: Facebook counted 26 million profiles bearing rainbow flags- enough, upon rough estimate, to represent one in seven Facebook profiles in the US. In addition to those “out and proud” about their sentiment on gay marriage, there must be many quiet allies who choose to appear neutral on the issue. I had reason to believe that a number of those young people I saw dressed like “Born in the USA” patriots…must support gay marriage. 

Smart and wonky conservatives sense something in the air. Editorialists and targeted papers, such as the Washington Examiner, have been poking holes in the presumption that the liberal consensus among young people is permanent. They have pointed to cases where young people have been more enthusiastic than their older counterparts in supporting Republican newcomers like Ed Gillespie and Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia, or Republican Patrick Mara’s base of support in DC’s shoebox-condo neighborhoods. (Perchance, Gillespie and Mara are moderate and liberal, respectively, on bedroom issues). With young voters, Republican luminaries accept that no news is good news: many young people are apathetic about politics or are registered Independent- an opportunity for party growth. They look at young people and their love for disruptive technology like Apple’s I-Phones or Uber, and their impatience with government interventions like liquor license moratoria. Furthermore, they don’t like being un-employed or under-employed, and have an aversion from joining unions (Chicken or Egg?), instead, preferring to “compete on the open marketplace under a new relationship with their employer, where individual initiative is rewarded”. That phrase- originally a talking point in the Washington Examiner- slipped into my subconscious and got me in trouble with a relative last Thanksgiving. To these editorialists, the app-using, uber-riding, condo-living, “millennial” young people; who are mostly pro-gay marriage, but delightfully queasy on abortion and undecided on immigration; are patriots who are looking for direction from the fatherly hand of the Grand Old Party, with reasonable accommodation for their support of gay marriage. 

Neither is every Chubbie-wearing bro a member of the College Republicans. (They are the group whose 2013 report shocked the Party leadership’s assumptions about young adults).  You can be patriotic, and staunchly liberal. The thirty-something financial analyst who licks his chops about putting a true conservative on the Supreme Court to reverse a punch-list of 5-4 decisions, has no higher moral ground than the twenty-something arts major bemoaning the democratically elected Republican leadership of Capitol Hill. Better, ask this question: do your liberal friends love to participate in flag burnings? No.  John F. Kennedy, a so-called Cold War Liberal, had this to say in his Profiles in Courage:

“If by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people-their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties-someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal", then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal.”

Kennedy may have identified himself as a liberal for that era; yet it is hard to deny him his status as a true American patriot. Despite the media narrative, it’s important to remember that we are not divided as ‘red states’ and ‘blue states’; but the shared experiences of rural, suburban , or urban life, with regional variations, unites communities across state lines and the two great continental mountain ranges, the Appalachians and the Rockies. We are one nation under Oakleys, Chubbies, and Vineyard Vines.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Tiki, Travels, and Taking a Job

Last Saturday, I graduated from the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY with a degree in Marine Engineering and Shipyard Management, as well as an Engineering Officer's License for ships of any size.The Saturday commencement was a capstone to three days of event, and late nights spent wishing farewells, rather than studying for a test. My greatest personal accomplishment was winning the Seabulk Tanker prize, earning a pair of binoculars and my name on a plaque in the Marine Transportation building, or Bowditch Hall.  

In addition to the pomp and circumstance, I had to make logistics happen to "leave no trace" upon my departure, asides from my name in Bowditch Hall. Since I had my own room for the last half of Senior Year at the Academy, I never felt that I had too much "stuff". Because Washington, DC, my home, is within driving distance of Kings Point, NY, I kept items that my farther-traveling classmates left behind: things like home accessories, Academy gym gear, class notes, and textbooks. This past week, I have been going through the plastic tubs to determine what I actually ought to keep with me for the future, what will stay at home, and what can be sent to Goodwill. The weekend came as a conclusion to this routine, and Mom treated me to lunch at a restaurant in the local Chinatown known as "Eat First". I couldn't help but notice the drink menu. It was a near facsimile of a 1960's tiki menu I had saved on my computer. Many of the drink names evoked a particular island, Oriental destination, or means of getting there: "Lava Mountain" for Hawaii, "Singapore Sling", "Mai Tai" for Polynesia, and "Navy Grog" are a few of the example.  That was a throwback, as well as an appetizer for my future career.

During my Sea Year at the Academy, I had the fortune to visit a handful of island ports: Saipan, Guam and Hawaii, all associated with the United States. Saipan was where I had spent considerable time among the locals, and got to try the local cuisine.
As for the Orient, I visited a small town in Korea, where the gastronomical specialty was meat roasted on a stick, accompanied by kimchee.  This was pretty similar to the Philippine-inspired dishes found in Saipan consisting of roast meat with rice or noodles. Indigenous dishes consisted of fish and roots. Of course, a proper tiki menu could be found at the major resorts that catered to tourists, most of whom traveled five hours by air from Japan and Taiwan. To better appeal to American tastes, tiki restaurants often used Chinese food to supplement a Polynesian menu. Tiki torches and lei are much more appealing to tourists than acknowledging the realities of working-class life in the Marianas.

"Eat First" in DC is not the only Chinese restaurant with an inclination for tropical drinks. The more upscale Elena's near Kings Point, NY does this as well, and I am sure that many other Asian restaurants keep a tropical theme, as well.  You can order a tropical drink and fantasize about the tranquility of tropical islands and the exoticism of the Orient. Sailors young and old have been, or will go, to these far-flung locales.
The difference between today and Tiki's heyday fifty years ago is the ease of travel by airplane, and the resorts that cater to travelers' material pleasures. So-called exotic islands are no longer the sole domain of sailors on merchant ships and the Navy's Seventh Fleet, or Marines who stormed the beaches during World War Two. The mystique is less mystifying.