Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Forty Days Back

Since Blogger's timestamps are based on the Pacific Coast Time, this will pop in as the last post of 2013. Which it is. As for the momentousness of the occasion, tonight is the end of the whirlwind known as the 2nd Trimester at Kings Point. This year, 2nd trimester began the Monday before Thanksgiving with Sea Project turn-in (for land-lubbers, this is turning in 12 credits' worth of work, which midshipmen have hopefully dedicated 40 hours to each credit). I then found out that my classmates and I had our terms on the "Midshipmen Council" extended until Senior Year. This gave us the task of co-coordinating the Winter Ball, held the weekend prior to the end of classes. I had the joy of watching the whole show come together. Raffle prizes were purchased, decorations went up, the DJ set up, and the soft drinks and finger food set out. Festival of Lights, held at the chapel, featured a healthy turnout for the voluntary activity. The Festival consists of a series of Bible readings, blessings, and words of encouragement, interspersed with choral anthems and Christmastide hymns. New this year was the use of the Jewish altar setting for the first half of the Festival. It was the first time I had seen it, and I was glad to have. My goal for any sit-down formal dinner at Kings Point is to leave room for desert. I was looking forward to the yule log ice cream cake, a Christmas-at-KP staple, but was wholly satisfied with the chocolate cake. It was quite warm in the dining hall, and midshipmen were found in shirt-sleeves. Cigar Night, held after the Christmas Dinner, is less de rigeur than in past decades; its key mission is to allow sons- and daughters- to participate in the tradition their fathers partook in. Many of those who did light up a smoke found themselves in a skittish mood after one cigar; a sign of the times. I was fortunate to not have anything to study for Friday, so I lingered around the patio, and engaged in listening to salty sailor exploits. This was recorded on one midshipman's Go Pro camera. I arrived home on Friday the 20th. My brother and I rented a car, and caught the early part of rush hour, since I had a late class. I was bringing home a crate of items that had accumulated over the past two years- on campus and at sea. Namely, though, the contents of this crate were textbooks and graded papers. As is said, the making of an upperclassman is when he or she views Kings Point as "home". Homesickness will predictably reduce the size of the freshman class by 5 members. Most often, a high school girlfriend/boyfriend is involved. That said, Washington, DC is still my home port, and I replenished my gear, including new running shoes and a black tie. I also attended to housekeeping, including organizing and cataloging the music collection which my brother and I wrote- and still continue to write, though at a slower pace than our Choirschool days. Happy New Year for 2014!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Weekend Commuter Rail Service in DC

This weekend, my hometown of DC will join an elite group of cities offering commuter rail service on weekends. (Among the number are New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago). In the past, as in the pre-Amtrak days, the B&O line did run a couple of Saturday trips to and from Harper’s Ferry from Washington, DC as late as the 1970’s. This would’ve been a fun and low-cost day trip; however, Amtrak consolidated the weekend commuter service with the long distance train, which multiplied the price of a ticket. Now, 40 years later, weekend commuter service is coming back on the Penn Line between Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD. Looking at the schedule, the primary intent is to serve Baltimoreans who want to visit DC. Which is a huge complement to us; saying that we are no longer just a 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday town. The new rail service is one of Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s pet projects, on the planning board since 2007. However, there was no funding until this year’s transportation bill. But it was not a post-recession surplus or economic growth that made the money available for this project, and a light rail in Baltimore City—it was a hike in the gas tax. Of course, suburbanites and rural pols were shocked with the audacious plan, but O’Malley represents the inner-city, and Baltimore City is his base of support (in his 2010 re-election, he carried only the City of Baltimore, and DC’s inner suburbs, while losing some 20 other counties in the state). Only in Maryland, it seems, could a city get the state to pay for an urban light rail; or to subsidize rail passengers who intend on spending money in DC. But indeed, I have wanted this new rail service, and will likely visit Baltimore more often because of it. I feel that many fellow Washingtonians share this view. Yet as I will enjoy the view out the panoramic windows of the railroad car, I’ll remember my gas-guzzler-driving high school and college Marylander friends who helped to pay for my ride to Charm City.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Nerve Center of Atticus Sawatzki's Blog

To write a quick blogpost these days is not typical of me, but I do not want anyone to fear my disappearance from the written world of the internet. I am slightly busy with what we call "Sea Projects", due in a month, and representative of two trimesters of correspondence work at the US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA). But I have the time to knock out a post. Just have to pull up Blogger and start typing.

 Perusing the instantaneous source of knowledge and brain-numbingness that is the internet, I have come across many dead blogs. Ones with insightful posts, and a sudden end; others, a quick decline, as if a feeling of guilt overcomes the negligent blogger before he or she give up his or her virtual ghost. Others, oh, they have such a great beginning, but only two posts were written before abandonment. And mine should not be one of them, though I seem to spend an awful lot of time between posts these days. So what am I doing today? An impromptu speech; a thank-you to my dedicated readers; and to the spike in readership that occurs when I choose a "hot" keyword for my post. (The most recent spike was written in reaction to my surprise at the "Excessive Profits Board" that President FDR had proposed).

At one time, my blog had founding principles: 1. To shake up the concept of the "news room"- aka citizen reporting 2. Provide a hyper-local news source for my close-knit middle school (St. Thomas Choirschool, NY) and high school (St. Anselm's Abbey School, DC) This was back in 2007, when Facebook had just opened to high school students- and, as high school freshmen, it felt like going to a party without a chaperone. People wanted to read about each other, and they turned to this blog to hear of the day's communal happenings. We also have to remember that smartphones were a novelty at the time, and it was easier to check into my blog (through RSS feed, or by clicking on "Favorites") than it was to enter Facebook, which required a username and password. Communications evolves at a steady pace, and, by Senior year, "everyone" had a smartphone with a Facebook app- and this allowed for 'spontaneous combustion'. In 2007, your status was: "Atticus Sawatzki is (fill in the blank)". In 2011, my graduation year, your status post could consist of that day's personal news. (Ditto with Twitter). Again, people want to read about each other; and Facebook was the medium where you could read about all your friends- daily, including Sundays; a media euphony. The last holdouts gave in and got a Facebook account, giving our class 100% attendance on the internet site. (The number of active users in my high school class has declined some since then).

 So now, my blog had earned the charm of print media. Near-daily posts, loved in 2008, were no longer necessary, since you could read 'all about it' on Facebook. So you could say Mr. Zuckerberg killed that aspect of this blog. So the natural inclination was to write longer and more thoughtful pieces- at a less frequent pace. 2011 was my plebe year at USMMA, and I had learned the message of "don't stick out". So only a few classmates knew about my blog- and YouTube channel. But in fact, there had been two plebe bloggers before me: one in the Class of 2013; she wrote thoughtfully of the emotional context of plebe life and a classmate, Jeff, who entertained the young men of the Academy. Both had the support of a sport's team: Softball and Lacrosse, respectively, and were therefore buffered from peculiar attention. Now the Class of 2014, through a friend, found access to my Youtube channel, which I had set on "Private" mode to avoid the publicity. So then I had to relearn the "Don't Copy my Bloggy" rap to satiate the sophomores. Then they went out to sea, and that was the last of it.

 Essentially, during those four years of high school, I had satisfied the founding principles. But it was also a greater force than my blog-- Facebook- which took the baton, and let me re-purpose this treasured piece of internet real estate called Atticus Sawatzki's Blog. For those of you waiting for my Blog Book- the print edition- I'm working on edits. I'll admit here that I'm a little shy about the cynical tone that resonates through some of those early posts.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Where am I now?

This latest journey started with a taxi ride to the edge of the world- somewhere outside Tampa, Florida. My first impression was a grimy one: the ship, at the time, was unloading coal, with a portion of it coating the ship's deck and the surroundings in general. but the next several cargoes were cleaner, and the unloading operators more precise in their work. The short trips this vessel makes have all been in the Gulf Coast. At first, I thought that she, at 32 years of age, was past her deep-ocean days, (most US foreign-running ships are under 25 years of age, on account of subsidy program rules) , but she plans to go back to the deep blue- next year at the age of 33. in these past two weeks, we have taken her from Tampa to north of New Orleans, to Port Arthur,TX, and back to Florida. We were north of New Orleans, by some 40 miles. It was empty land, asides from a Catholic Church, and the bustle of river barge docks along the Mississippi. Other ports of call have been at vast industrial sites, located out of sight and out of mind from the towns. So this latest port, in Jacksonville, proved to be the greatest surprise. Within walking distance was a Kangaroo gas station and convenience store, as well as two bait shops and Chowder Ted's, a local restaurant. Being familiar with taking a 20 minute taxi ride from port to civilization (in the US or overseas, it's usually 20 minutes), the proximity of land-based trading posts was almost as good as the time I spent last year docked in Baltimore's Inner Harbor ( the Canton neighborhood, which still retains some of the blue-collar feel, despite ongoing gentrification) Having sailed for both the private and public sector, my impression is that MSC- Military Sealift Command- "the haze gray shipping company", chooses the best ports for morale and recreation.Think Saipan or Honolulu. Out there,it was usually a short ride to an Internet cafe, where I could watch youtube videos and blog extensively (as well as watch every development in the 2012 Presidential race- sent in my Ballot from Saipan.) Longer blog posts are more appropriate for writing on a laptop.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Bag Tax Game

I've been wondering, if given the two choices, which is the more economical choice for the grocery consumer: A bag tax or a sales tax on groceries? Of course, a bag tax (or bag fee, as some newspapers put it) is avoidable-- just bring your own bag. So the following exercise is for those who don't want to change their behaviors: -I had the opportunity to test this idea when I went Chinese-grocery shopping in Fairfax, Virginia with Mother. Fairfax does not have a bag tax, and the State of Virginia charges a 2.5% tax on groceries, so of the $52.00 grocery bill, $1.30 went to the Governor's pot. And we got 12 plastic bags from the trip. -In the City of Washington, DC, there is no sales tax on groceries (soft drinks aside), but grocery bags (paper and plastic) are taxed at a nickel each. So 12 bags would cost 60 cents in all. --Thus, if the choice ever came up between implementing a grocery tax and a bag tax, go with the 5-cent bag tax. However, there are some cities that have chosen to be more "progressive" with the bag tax. At 10 cents per bag, as Los Angeles charges for paper bags*, a sales tax on groceries could be a better option for those refusing to part with their disposable grocery bags. The bag tax vs. grocery tax argument is pertinent in DC because our bag tax is applied only at food sellers, many of which fall under the tax-free grocery category. Therefore, your Neiman Marcus bag is still tax-free. (The purpose of the bag tax was to cut down on plastic bag litter; and grocery bags were the main culprits). The number of plastic bags you receive from a grocer is determined by the volume of the material; or weight, if double-bagging is concerned. Thus $2 of Ramen noodles can fill one plastic bag before $200 of caviar does (yes-- I once saw $50 small jars of caviar being sold on the shelf of Safeway in Georgetown, DC). In my example, we had a "well mixed" selection of groceries. Back to Fairfax, Virginia. Currently, the State doesn't allow cities to have a bag tax. If the green light was given, politically competitive Fairfax seems unlikely to start a bag tax. However, some politicians in Arlington, VA (across the river from DC) wish to start a bag tax on top of the existing grocery tax. Some of my readers may think that I'm talking about "crazy and radical ideas". In much of the country, talk of a "bag tax" is a moot and foreign subject. ("Seriously, that's the way the coastal people do things?") So what do I do in DC? Many of the groceries in DC offer "bag credits", that is, you get a nickel off your grocery bill for each of your own bags you use (CVS, Trader Joes', Whole Foods). By reusing one bag at the grocery store, and getting one new bag, I can continue to expand my 'stack' of plastic and paper bags at no cost, same as always. And if don't need more bags, then I can enjoy that nickel off the grocery bill. Thanks for reading. *Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gernot-wagner/la-plastic-bag-ban_b_1580707.html

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bits and Bytes are Silver; Paper is Gold

Until now, my blog has only existed in digital format, a series of 1's and 0's on a drive somewhere in California (or wherever Google keeps its data servers). But over the past few months, I've been looking for ways to make a hard copy of this blog, which has covered the past half-decade of my life. I wanted a back-up, lest in some parallel universe Google should fail me, and hundreds of thousands of other bloggers, perhaps by an act of God (electromagnetic solar storms, for example). I looked at some of the blog-to-book sites. They'll "slurp" your blog and put it in a coffee-table type book. But this would be no quick fix- If I was going to shell out $19.99, then I'd want to do a decent job with the editing and formatting. Something that could be on my family's own kitchen table. That editing task could be formidable... But by fortune and chance, I came across Blogbooker . It's a free service, supported by donations. And it's fairly simple to use. To me, it's that type of discovery that gives you a thrill-- (just like how I found Youtube for the first time some years back). The result? A complete PDF. Not just that, but it auto-assembles a Table of Contents based on chronology. I chose oldest to newest. The book is an utilitarian product; with a PDF creating/editing program, I'll be able to jazz up the cover, write a dedication, and so forth. I know that question will be asked: can I get a copy of the book? Sure! Email me at atticussawatzki (at.) gmail (dot.) com. In like spirit, I'm offering this as a free service. Check out blogbooker at www.blogbooker.com

Friday, May 3, 2013

At sea again

I am not typically one to leave readers dangling, but it appears that I went to sea again without letting you all know. It is my second sea voyage, and there are a few things I intend to do differently: Sea projects- basically correspondence courses- work on the drawings early, so that there is time to add details later. Solitude of the seas- last voyage, my ship had some Internet access- as long as it was Fox or MSNBC news; or a .org/ . Gov site, you were good to go. I stated in touch with the world, but spent a lot of time for the satellite connection to load. This voyage, there is no Internet- I am in port in Corpus Christi right now. The ship, however, receives news headlines, and text-based email service is available. I have been, and will be, soon, enjoying the conveniences of modern life, asides from an Internet connection. Shore leave- this is what you call getting off the ship in port. My last ship would typically stay in port for a week or more (government cargo). But on a commercial ship, port stays are shorter- usually under 36 hours for a tank ship( which is longer than the 12 hours container ships average in port.) - and there is often work to be done- port stays are the business of making money on cargo. Delivering the product. So shore leave is lived to the fullest, whether it is the evening in Malta or an afternoon in Amsterdam. Writing this from my phone. What a surprise it was to have the Internet at my fingertips again!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Historical Preservation and Chicago's Judge of History

It has come to my attention that the University of Chicago plans to demolish a childhood home of Ronald Reagan to build a parking garage. As a kid, my Dad would take the family off the main road, up winding and dirt roads to former Presidents' houses, usually a log cabin with a flagpost and a sign (a la President Buchanan). So that's why I took a little bit more than a cursory glance at the issue. While it makes for a sensational headline that Obama intends to clear Reagan's house out of the way for his own Presidential library, this is absolute fiction. But Reagan's house may be short lived. It just feels a little uncharacteristic that a University like U. Chicago would contemplate tearing down this tasteful looking building, especially since gentrification and adaptive reuse are in vogue. And when the building is gone, perhaps there will be a 4-by-6 inch plaque reading “On this site…”, and maybe a little flower garden. Some would say that the inconsideration given to this century-old building is because Reagan’s politics were incongruent with Chicago machine politics. Although the machine may have had beef with the Gipper, it’s a fact of history that he won the hearts of the majority of voters in states with granola, bookish reputations (I mean this with positive connotations), like Oregon and Vermont (In fact, Minnesota is the only state Reagan did not win). And who in academia is to judge history? After putting disgraced Vice President (and former Maryland Governor) Spiro Agnew’s painting back up on the statehouse wall in 1995, then- Governor Parris Glendening, once a school teacher, stated: "It is not up to us to alter history. This is not an Orwellian future where history can change. We learn from history, warts and all." But in Chicago, there probably is nothing to do with politics; rather, Reagan’s childhood apartment is a low-rise building that can be knocked down with a few swings of the wrecking ball. Profit can be maximized by building a high-rise parking lot. Universities are businesses, too. Throughout my childhood, I watched as my neighborhood university, George Washington University (GWU), buy townhouses and build large buildings. Some townhouses they preserved; others were demolished to make way for premium-rate dormitory towers. In the most recent case, GWU had a hand in the construction of a 12-story commercial office and luxury apartment building. One might call this mission drift, but the University had the interest of students in mind: the Whole Foods in the basement provides students’ kitchens with organic food on days when the farmer’s market across the street is not open. As for the University of Chicago and Reagan, the city government of Chicago is standing on the sidelines, allowing laissez-faire to take the day. Perhaps it’s just my DC bias to find tearing down buildings as unusual. DC is the city where just about every building is defended fiercely by the Preservation Board. Not particularly Reagan’s values. So maybe it’s an expected end for the home of a pro-market advocate. Then again… “You don't know what you got till it's gone They paved paradise to put up a parking lot” Reference: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1995-04-14/news/1995104008_1_agnew-glendening-portrait