Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Slide Rule is Built

If there is no power on the ship, your calculator batteries are dead, and you need to do a thermodynamic calculation to finish repairing the steam turbine, you ought to have a slide rule. Or, a spare calculator. For the last post of the year, I’m diving into the history of how we calculate. At the start of plebe year, midshipmen at KP purchase two calculators for classes- a low-powered, $15, scientific version known as the TI-30, and a TI-84 graphing calculator. Because the TI-84 knows too much, some math tests require that you use the ‘dummy’ scientific calculator. But the $15 handheld device was the thing that put the slide rule out of business. What history the TI-30 has. Launched in 1976 (with LED lamps, less functionalities, and a larger size), it cost $25 in then-dollars, or $103 today. The affordable device opened electronic computing power to a wide audience, and sent slide rules the way of the steam locomotive: at least for the Atari generation. Technology is for the young, and browsing forums, I discovered that, in the 1980’s, experienced slide-rule-toting architects and engineers feared younger professionals who never used the slide rule. (Today, there are still aficionados for hand drawings over digital blueprints, including KP faculty). I got a brief overview on the theory of slide rules from a neighbor in my dormitory. He actually prefers the slide rule, and it got him through high school and into KP. Of course, the slide rule is so quaint that the SAT and ACT don’t mention it on the list of approved calculators. As scientific calculators without power cords, they appear to be permitted. I bet that Mr. Miller brought an electronic calculator just in case the proctor wasn’t in the know. You have to be smart when using the slide rule. You have to count your zeroes, and project a reasonable answer. These are good skills that successful students use. My father has a Pickett Synchroscale model, with leather case, on the shelf at home. With some time on my hands during the winter break, I decided to make one of my own. I printed a template off the internet, and hit the arts-and-crafts store. The store was an intersection of fine arts majors and architects, and I got some interested looks as I built my gizmo. I cut some polystyrene sheets to make a bezel and a slide, and got some clear PVC to make the viewer. I pasted on the template strips, and voila, a slide rule. Perfectly suited for use as a hipster accessory, or as a calculating device. Give some respect to the slide rule: they built America. As for slide rules that still earn their keep, some variants of the slide rule exist for navigational purposes for airline pilots and ship’s mates. These are used to determine distances on scaled drawings. Print a slide rule: How to use a slide rule: List of slide rule makers: Images of the original TI-30:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The birth of Federal Express

On the first night of service in 1973, one pilot euphemistically stated to Fedex founder Fred Smith that the plane would not need to make a second trip that night. FedEx handled 186 packages to 25 cities. Their choice of cities reflected travel time, demand for just-in-time deliveries, and ease of implementation: The small propeller aircraft had to travel to Memphis, TN, and back to its origin before the business day. The first cities to receive service were medium-sized blue-collar cities, rather than larger paperwork cities, like New York and Washington. The implementation of FedEx required mailroom staff to sort out packages by destination. At the time, expediting a package required working with an airfreight broker. The ability to send express packages in bulk, rather than as single items changing hands at multiple airfreight terminals, was a great cost savings. While suburbanization was in full swing, businesses were still concentrated in the city. With the rapid increase of rural factories, and exurban office and industrial parks at the end of the 20th century, FedEx would have required many more trucks just to cover the ground territory. Demand for Fedex's services would grow exponentially as more cities were added. For executives of blue-collar firms, reducing the amount of parts in inventory helped the bottom line. Fedex now represents a nimble operation, which synergistically incorporates related services such as ground shipping, Kinko’s copy and print shop services, and a state-of-the art customs brokerage operation. Because of its focus on industrial shipments- things that can’t be sent by wire, the fax machine and email were not able to put FedEx out of business. These diverse factors, present in 1973, helped to contribute to the nascent FedEx’s growth success. Source:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving Dinner #1: Turkey, Pool, and a Grand Jury

As a plebe, Thanksgiving dinner at the Academy meant getting to the dining hall an hour early to set up the tables and prepare drinks and appetizers for the table. It also means running to the galley on a schedule to pick up the next course, or to replenish a depleted delicacy. As an upperclassmen, Thanksgiving dinner begins when the meal starts, and ends with the departure of the VIPs. As a senior, Thanksgiving dinner begins after class, and continues to the end of the night. That is because dinner is fit in between two social hours: the first is a reception to receive the guests, and the “pub hour” afterwards is an aperitif for the invited guests- including faculty who happen to be alumni- who are still young at heart. After two winning rounds of pool (thanks to having a partner with more experience at the table), there was a mishap with whipped cream- witnessed by spectators including myself. No need to elaborates, but to make sweetness of the situation, I grabbed some eggnog to share- topped with the remainder of the whipped cream bottle. Then the TV was turned on to the news. A rare occurrence after breakfast (when the news remains high-paced and full of drama), and only done for important events. I am not an avid current-events fan, instead preferring big-picture topics like public morals and economic policy. So I was intrigued that a bunch of young men, and women, would want to watch a press conference. The last time was when the President announced action against the ISIS militant group. I was not a fan of former press secretary Jay Carney, so I tended to avoid watching direct coverage from the Press Room of the White House. But in watching this speech, I was more sympathetic to the President than I had been: In contrast to the legislative force which Mr. Obama had in his first two years of the presidential office, Mr. Obama appeared to be a more humble man. He no longer had the House of Representatives, and by this time was predicted to lose the Senate as well. He was a bit aged by a contentious relationship with the House. Tonight, at a press conference beginning at 8:15pm Missouri time, the decision came down from the jury, as read by a civil minister. It was a lengthy talk, detailing the pains with which the jury took to avoid misleading rumors and biases of the media. But about six minutes in, squished between two other sentences, it turned out that Police Officer Darren Wilson was not guilty of any of the five potential charges. I was one of the few to catch it before Fox News posted a banner with this highlight. This was the desired verdict for many in my crowd, as a number had a police officer as a parent, cousin, or a close family friend. Quite nefariously, one person confided to another that it was “A good day to be a white guy”. But that logic is wrong and divisive. Justice is supposed to be colorblind. I was relieved that justice was administered based on all evidence. The same class of person who says that this case was a verdict for the Caucasian race is the same type of person who fears visiting foreign ports. This turkey season, Darren Wilson has a lot to be thankful for. Our front-line police officers’ families appear to be thankful, too.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Daylight Savings Time Bewitched

It has nothing to do with farmers, but something to do with golfers. A Mad Men special feature illustrates the history of Daylight Savings Time in America. Its origin was wartime rationing, where inefficient home boilers consumed coal and oil for heating. After WWII, each state or major city set its schedule for switching to daylight savings time. Which meant confusion during the months of April and October. It was in the 1960’s that daylight savings time would be a state, not local issue, and the start and end dates would be the same nationwide. Residents of Arizona and Hawaii don’t need to bother with clocks. In the southernmost states, air conditioning costs outweigh the reduced lighting costs. Nevada and Florida retain daylight savings time to avoid a 2-hour time difference with neighbors California and Alabama, which both stretch further north. The Atlantic Magazine reported a disruption of sleep cycles, increased heart attacks, exacerbation of sleep disorders, and car accidents in the week after the spring time shift. And I don’t think it’s a big deal. On cargo vessels, clocks advance or are retarded an hour per night, or every other night. Rather than a single change at 2am, advances or delays are made in 20 minute increments at 8pm, 12am, and 4am. This is so that each officer on watch splits the difference. Because the ship’s clocks rely on an electrical frequency of 60 hertz to keep time, a time change is the right time to synchronize the ship’s clock to GPS time. On the fastest ocean liners, clocks advance 90 minutes per night as vessels took the “great circle” route form New York to England and Northern Europe, shortening the distance and time between time zones. Twice a year, the sailor’s, pilot’s and traveler’s daily clock-changing becomes a national affair. Local sunrise and sunset times are determined by longitude and latitude. Longitude determines the sunrise and sunset times, and latitude determines the number of hours of daylight. Last year in November, I was in Portland, Oregon. One gripe was that the evening commute ended in darkness. This is nothing unusual in New York. At the winter solstice (I took note of this last year), “flag retreat” took place 15 minutes after classes ended at 4pm. In the summer, “flag retreat” occurs after 8pm. And, for the record, the sun sets earlier in New York than it does in Washington, DC. In 2007, Daylight Savings Time was extended to almost 8 months of the year. As a result, “Change your clock, check your smoke detector” is no longer the golden rule. Morning commutes in October now take place under darkness. Most famously, Daylight Savings Time now covers Halloween. All my trick-or-treating was done after sundown. Not so for today’s tots, who can finish before pitch black.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Meet the Neighbors

On the US Merchant Marine Academy’s Campus, there are several houses which are not part of the Academy. Two of these, at the top of the hill at 8 and 8A Elmridge Road, are occupied by the Alumni Association. Another house, 305 Steamboat Road, was a recent acquisition. According to, the house was bought in March 2006 for $1.5 million, and has been stricken off the Nassau County’s tax roster. It is now known as “Quarters P”, and is used for senior staff housing. What I found interesting was that the house was built in 1952, after the Academy was founded, but before the property east of Steamboat Road- including what is now the Merchant Marine Museum- became part of the Academy. (It is known as the McNulty Campus, for the name of the Superintendent who worked to acquire the property). These two roads, Steamboat and Eldridge, are still maintained by the Town of Kings Point. That also means an occasional police patrol by the local police department. Their intersection bears a distinctive road sign unique to Kings Point- a green, hanging plaque with an ornamental holder. The final house of note is at 307 Steamboat Road. What this homeowner has in common with the midshipmen of the Academy, well, is a taste for a waterfront view. Perhaps the property will become part of the Academy in the future, and end the idiosyncrasy. One thing going for Mr. Waterfront View is his home value- $5.85 million dollars that the Academy would rather spend on other capital improvements. But the waterfront view comes with a cost. Property tax? $78,221 per year, or $1.33 per $100 assessed: cash that Nassau County would loathe to lose. Back to the pros- in addition to the town cops, and Federal police patrols, there is a 24-hour, year-round security guard at the Academy’s front gate. Drawbacks? Guests need photo ID to visit without an escort. You also need to make sure that your domestic help, and any contractors, are authorized to work in the US. One idea that has come up occasionally is the creation of guest lodging on campus. Until the Maritime Administration closed the Academy’s Continuing Education program (GMATS) in 2012, one wing of the barracks was sectioned off for transient learners. Because of reduced midshipman enrollment, it became feasible in the 1990’s to take one of the seven barracks and turn it into a full-service hotel. This idea never came to pass. Today, with faculty members and adjuncts living hours from their homes- whether it be in New Jersey or Connecticut or West Virginia, the concept of a Bed and Breakfast (B&B) is being floated in casual conversation. With 6 bedrooms, isolation from NIMBY-ist neighbors, and an acre of land, 307 Steamboat is better situated than most other homes in town to become a B&B.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Day to Remember at KP

"I expect to see maximum turnout at morning colors tomorrow at the War Memorial. While you hear this every morning, remember that tomorrow is not an ordinary day. 13 years ago, the Academy was deeply involved in the historic events of 9/11/2001. Midshipman and faculty watched the events unfold firsthand from the War Memorial. In the aftermath, the Academy’s vessels served an important role in shuttling personnel and materials between New Jersey and Lower Manhattan. Two alumni perished that day at the hands of Osama’s henchmen. I remember that day, with the flurry of government helicopters and marshaling of National Guard tanks in my neighborhood, backdropped by smoke from the damaged Pentagon. I am sure that some of you have similar memories as well. So indeed, I encourage you all to come to morning colors tomorrow".

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

State Government: Virginia’s Lonely Liberal

On election night, 2013, I was working an internship in Portland Oregon. I finished dinner and washed the dishes in my attic apartment, pulled up my laptop, and streamed the news from DC. In neighboring Virginia, elections were being held for the governorship, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and the locally-elected House of Delegates. A special election in January would decide control of the State Senate. My prediction for Virginia was that the Democrats would take the Lieutenant Governor’s seat: the GOP picked a weak candidate during its convention. With a law-and-order platform, the GOP’s Obenshain would take the Attorney General’s seat for a sixth consecutive term. The Governorship could go either way: Cucinelli (R) was marred by a gifts scandal (which also consumed the incumbent Republican governor), hard right social views, and the government shutdown. McAuliffe (D) was viewed as a party hack who became a millionaire from big government programs, the troubled Obamacare rollout, off-year disadvantage, and Virginia’s decades-long history of voting against the party occupying the White House. The Democrats won the top two offices: Obenshain lived to see another day--- at the end of the night, he lead by 163 votes of 1 million cast. In the House of Delegates, the GOP kept its large majority: in addition, several districts in the DC suburbs, with margins of less than 1%, fell into the GOP’s pot, giving the party its largest share of the House in state history. In January, all the dust was settled. Obenshain (R) lost in the recount. Lynwood Lewis, and Democrats, won that crucial State Senate seat with 11 of 20,000 votes, after a recount. (I rooted for the Republican, a maritime professional, in that race). Democrats held the three statewide jobs, both US Senate Seats, and the State Senate. Akin to its Federal counterpart, the US House, the Virginia House of Delegates was branded by commentators as reactionary, and irrelevant to the new, diverse, and tolerant Virginia. To use their good fortune, the Democratic majority in the State Senate changed chamber rules to allow a change in leadership during the legislative session. The GOP was a bit irked about that. During the 60-day 2014 legislative session, the Democrats in the State Senate and the Republicans of the House of Delegates were able to pass bills. As long as they could secure one or two Democratic votes in the State Senate, the House leadership could pursue a center-right agenda. The question was, “Will Terry McAuliffe go along with it?” Since the 1990’s, when the GOP took control of the House of Delegates for the first time since Reconstruction, it was pretty common for split government to solve the State’s problems. July 1 was the drop-dead date that a budget had to be passed by. While finalizing the budget in June, Republicans and enough Democrats agreed that Medicaid expansion was dead for this year; however, the Senate’s Democratic leader wouldn’t allow a vote. Tension ran high in state government, and among Virginia’s citizens, businesspeople, and observers. During this time, I was serving as a Cadet aboard the SS Cape May, a reserve ship berthed in Norfolk, VA. Indeed, this showdown was on the list of concerns of my mentors. The inability for the Senate to vote on the bill changed around June 11th. A Senate Democrat, Phil Puckett, suddenly resigned from office, citing his wish to allow his daughter to accept a judgeship. (Conflict-of-interest precedent keeps State Senators from having family serve in a State judicial role). Mr. Puckett himself eyed a new job in the Tobacco Commissioner’s office, created this year in no small part by Republicans. With the resignation, the Senate majority went to the Republicans. Using the same Senate rules the Democrats had passed five months before, the GOP triggered a turnover in leadership positions. I checked the State GOP’s website for joyous words about regaining their State Senate majority after five months in the wilderness. But the State GOP was mum about the ‘good news’. What went on between Mr. Puckett and State Republican leaders behind closed doors is unknown, if it did happen. The FBI is looking into it right now. When the news broke, Mr. Puckett was immediately labeled as selling out his (former) needy constituents; breaking the backs of the poor. I would not want to be him right now. The State Senate reconvened, and passed the budget without Medicaid, and with a rider to keep Governor McAuliffe from attempting to expand Medicaid without legislative approval. The legislature, both Democratic and GOP, already knew that McAuliffe wasn’t a business-as-usual type of Democrat. He had vetoed bipartisan gun legislation affirming a State Court’s decision. When it was too late for the state legislature to override a veto, McAuliffe vetoed a bipartisan exemption from boater education for older and experienced boaters. He vetoed an ethics bill regarding the Governor’s office (though he imposed on himself an executive order with the same concept). In the same train of action, McAuliffe held out for several days as the July 1 deadline drew closer, feeling the temperature of the State’s constituents. But the functioning of State Government is a different matter than whether one must take a 6-hour boater safety course: a slight but palatable shift in opinion occurred. McAuliffe, not the GOP-controlled legislature, was being seen obstructive. McAuliffe struck the rider with a line-item veto, then passed the budget. He made it clear to his base of supporters- inner-city residents of Norfolk and Richmond; and the upscale liberals of Arlington- that he was under duress by a ‘hostile’ legislature. In keeping with old tradition, the Virginia Legislature is a part-time job. Asides from special sessions, legislators serve no more than sixty days in even years and forty-five days in odd years. The odd-year meetings were a fairly recent addition. During their absence from the State capitol in Richmond, the newly-empowered Republicans put their legislative specialists on the job, making sure that the new governor doesn’t overstep his authority in the meanwhile. Before January comes around, there are elections to be fought and won. Just today, Ben Chafin, a Republican, won Mr. Puckett’s empty seat. Indeed, this election was not about the issues, from Medicaid to taxation, within the rural district; but which party should hold two branches of state government. In November, there is a U.S. Senate race. The incumbent Warner (D) is an entrepreneur who helped found Nextel with my fellow St. Anselm’s alumnus from the Class of ‘62, won by a large margin in 2008. He is running against Ed Gillespie (R), a political consultant who wrote Gingrich’s Contract with America of 1994. In the moderate and diverse 10th US Congressional District race, Republican Barbara Comstock, currently holding an upscale, swing-voting House of Delegates district inside of DC’s beltway, is attempting to make inroads with the less-affluent immigrant communities. To that regard, there are a few faux pas in her voting record; namely, about voting for questioning suspects about their immigration status, and charging for interpreter’s services in court. Democrat John Foust, a supporter of Medicaid expansion, has a problem of his own. His wife’s medical practice doesn’t accept Medicaid cases. Entering office 8 months ago in a Democratic sweep of the top three offices, Governor Terry McAuliffe probably didn't anticipate how one part-time state senator could thwart his hope for a progressive agenda. At the moment, he is Virginia's lonely liberal.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ports you won't visit again as an American cadet

Subic Bay, Philippines A vestige of our colonialist days, the United States’ Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines remained active until the 1990’s. Before the days of the “21st Century Sailor”, an initiative that started after the embarrassing proceedings of Tailhook 1991, the nearby town of Olongapo catered to sailors’ rest and recreational needs. “Hunkey Dory”- nightlife like that in the 1986 movie “Top Gun”- could be found, as well as shopping and local culture tailored to the Americans’ tastes. The following website maintains a list of the hundreds of establishments that sailors patronized. With it, old salts and former sailors can recall memories of a different Navy. ( Australia In the days before Asia became an exporter, and when Mainland China was Red China to the Western World, Australia relied on American ships to deliver the goods from their trade partner and defense ally across the Pacific Ocean. American ships headed to Australia could take advantage of cabotage-protected ports of call in Hawaii, Micronesia, Guam and the American Samoa. As Asia began to make goods in quality equivalent to the US, trade shifted towards the East. A handful of ships still call on Australia, and the continent is a wonderful port-of-call for cadets lucky enough to be on that trade route. Kaoshiung, Taiwan Taiwan, an island nation once estranged from its communist neighbor, the People’s Republic of China, found its biggest trade partners in Japan… and the United States. In its younger and poorer days, the US sent foreign aid and armament to Chiang Kai-Shek’s land. Taiwan’s emergence as an economic powerhouse led to the end of foreign aid for the nation; and the establishment of trade with mainland China meant that fewer goods had to be imported from the United States. Despite this, an occasional American vessel will hail in Taiwan: just less frequently than before. Durban and Cape Town, South Africa Just over 20 years ago, South Africa had a trade problem. After surrounding nations gained independence from British, French, Portuguese, or Dutch in the 1960’s, these nations established boycotts against South Africa because of its apartheid policies. But the nation was an American ally, and much trade between the US and South Africa was conducted on American ships. In the latter half of apartheid, South Africa and East Asia began significant trade (which was possible when the African nation gave East Asian nationals ‘white status’). Since then, ships from the world plied the trade route across the Indian Ocean. Despite open trade with the US, apartheid still posed a moral dilemma for Americans. I recall one teacher- then a cadet- and his boss, a black engineer, wanted to go to a bar together. But because of apartheid, this was not possible, so they drank on the pier. In another case, a Polish ship’s officer sought to shop at the ‘colored’ store, for the better prices. But again, apartheid reared its ugly head. Deep-Six In an effort to improve the health of the oceans and reduce marine debris, the UN’s maritime arm known as the International Maritime Organization passed amendments to the MARPOL (Marine Pollution) treaty, which took effect in 2013, before my second sailing trimester. Whereas in the past, anything other than plastic could be thrown into the deep ocean, the new policy prohibits tossing anything but food and animal carcasses into the deep. During my first sailing trimester, it was a common cadet job to throw garbage overboard: preferably farther, and with a bigger splash than the other cadet (it was a contest). Today, garbage is compacted and kept onboard or incinerated. If dumping trash overboard still happens occasionally, it is something that is not discussed in the company of maritime professionals. Hawaii? In 2010, Senator John McCain of Arizona introduced legislation to end the Jones Act as we know it. If the Jones Act were ended, foreign vessels could take over the lucrative ocean trade between the West Coast and Hawaii. I acknowledge McCain’s heroism as a Naval Aviator and prisoner of war during the conflict in Vietnam; but I am not too surprised by his view of the Jones Act. McCain spent his Navy career as a “Line Officer”, on the path to becoming a Rear Admiral responsible for the Navy’s fighter jets. Logistics was not his specialty. Throughout his Navy career, from Annapolis to flight squadrons to Washington, support for the aircraft carriers he travelled on- from fueling to ammunition to food- was brought by Naval Auxiliary ships crewed with sailors and junior officers. Today, the same ships are crewed by civilian merchant mariners- at a cost savings to the Navy.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Changes at Sea, 1970- now

The role of women In the sailing ship days of lore, the Captain’s wife was the only women on board. Far from idle, she was the nurse to officers on board. Mrs. Mary Patten was one such wife, who cared for her sick husband while helping the remaining officers with celestial navigation. She had a Liberty ship named in her honor, as well as the USMMA’s health clinic. Later on, as voyages shortened, and captains left their wives at home, the women aboard were passengers. Acknowledging the salacious desires of young deckhands and grease-monkeys, only officers (who presumably had manners) were permitted to talk with passengers. In the days before insurance liability and port security, local women were often invited onboard during the extended ports of call. Many sailors found wives this way, and these “port brides” were often interracial marriages in an age when it was rare. Today, women are found in all positions aboard ship, in the Steward and Deck departments. It was a struggle to tear down the masculine wall: though the Coast Guard had no restrictions on licensing women for sea, the USMMA was the first Maritime School in the US to admit women to a “licensing” major, beginning in 1974. The other schools would join by 1981. Even more remarkable is the entrance of women into the Engine Department. (But old barriers linger: Most women engineering graduates of the USMMA still pursue alternatives such as military service or government work ashore). Today, all deck officers are proficient in terrestrial and celestial navigation before graduating maritime school or getting a license. Food on board: predictable today. Dry staples garnished with local meat and vegetables. Hasn’t been lacking since World War Two. For food safety purposes, shipping companies plan to stock enough fresh food for a roundtrip voyage. Non-perishable milk cartons are taken for the trip. The steward knows better though, and he or she will ensure that fresh vegetables are brought onboard overseas. Today, the Coast Guard requires 2300 calories. Since last year, these calories must be part of a well-balanced diet, thus formally ending the long-gone days of bread-and-water rations as a punishment. Eating the dog Out of respect for the host, it is obligatory that you have a bite of what is offered, even when it is man’s best friend. “I’d never pay for it, though”, said one captain. Today, ports stays are shorter, so there is less interaction with locals. And those locals who interact with crewmembers, such as the port agent, understand American cultural norms: dogs are friends, not food. On my trip to Korea, lamb skewers were a staple, but the dogs remained no more than pets. More to Come Later...

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Unconquerable Crown

If you were looking for the synonym for a good time, it’s found with the exclamation: “PREAK-NESS!”. Preakness, for my classmates, started with travel plans for getting to Baltimore. Because of parking limitations, only Seniors can keep cars on campus. But enough seats were found, including some in an RV. Baltimore promised a cheaper, less stuffy night on the town; and the neighborhood bars provided opportunity for young, white working-class Baltimorean ladies to meet the collegiate, yet salty, types. Preakness occurred on Saturday. In high school, some of the “cool” kids went to Preakness. What it was to them was beach week- without the local NIMBY (not in my backyard) types looking to shut down the party. Saturday was the race day. It was a day for casual button-down attire (unbuttoned shirts skirted the shirt-and-shoes requirement). Among the festivities, California Chrome won the second race of the Triple Crown at 6:10 betting odds. (A friend took home $160 off a $100 bet for the horse). When Belmont approached, there was pretty good hype about the dwindling sport. I’m not a horse fan, but I paid attention. And there are of course some who see horse racing as an outdated practice, where these pampered horses mask a bleak, invisible world we’d rather not see. But California Chrome, the horse with potential, was easy to make comparisons to legendary race horses of lore. I remarked about the similarity between the legendary Seabiscuit (though never a Triple Crown winner) and the horse in question, California Chrome. On the first note, neither horse was supposed to be a winner. Seabiscuit was too small. Chrome wasn’t of good pedigree. They were bought from the bargain bin. And both horses were photogenic, and both liked to sleep a lot. But, as has happened 12 times since 1978, a hyped horse, twice winner, is tripped up by the extra ¼ mile of the Belmont racetrack. Through a special military member deal with the racetrack, a number of Kings Point midshipmen were able to attend the race- rather, event- where history could be made. I was pre-scheduled with a swanky event in downtown Manhattan with the Port Engineers of New York during the start time of 6:52pm. For those at Belmont, and those watching on TV, there were several hours of hype before the marquee event. In three minutes, it was over. After California Chrome came in two horse-lengths short, it was time to move on with life. Because of the way the spur track was designed, the special racetrack train station couldn’t handle the crowd. After an hour to two of human gridlock, the MTA fixed the problem with shuttle buses to the main transfer point some 10 minutes away. Also happening in New York that night was a Rangers’ hockey playoff game. Yes, I remember, because it was standing-room only, with heavy police presence, heading back to Kings Point. That was when I found out that I hadn’t missed history. In 1978, the last year that a horse, Affirmed, won the three races (Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont), Gerald Ford was President, Vermont voted Republican, and the drinking age at Belmont, in New York, was 18. While they might card for drinks today, they still turn a blind eye to some things at the race track: I have a classmate who grew up in Baltimore near the racetrack. In high school, he netted a small profit on the horses. “18 to bet on the horses? I don’t know about that”. It is of note that the Triple Crown was conquered in 1973 and 1977 as well.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Rationalizing the GOP's Kamizake on the Minimum Wage

The Republicans in congress are repeating the tired argument that, despite the rate of inflation since 2007, any increase in the minimum wage would derail the economic recovery. To their credit, though, the Congressional Budget Office reported that many jobs could disappear at Obama’s desired $10.10 minimum wage. Indeed, job shops like coupon processing centers; and fast food outlets, which rely on lots of low-cost labor, would be hurt if their labor costs increased by 39% (not including the Health Care mandate)- the proposed change in the minimum wage. Tell me a business that has a 40% profit margin, and I’ll like to be in it. This is the math that many small and medium business owners and managers face. It is these owners and managers who make campaign contributions and attend local GOP dinners. They are also the ones who show up at the voting booth. Yes, since the days of Abe Lincoln, the GOP has always been the party of business owners and professionals. Now what about the working-class voters who supposedly replaced the liberal professionals in the GOP? Not as large as a problem as the media makes it out to be. The majority of the minimum wage and working-class workers are in thrall to the Democratic Party already. Seeing the results from the 2012 Presidential Election, the majority of those making less than $30,000 per year (or $15 per hour) rejected the candidate who derided the 47%. The common theme is that working class whites vote Republican because of social issues and cultural concerns, against their economic self-interest. But this is not entirely true, since Bubba might say: “The illegal immigrants are taking our jobs”. Or, the pest exterminator’s apprentice, who is worried that the EPA will increase their paperwork burden. Anyhow, the Democrats believe that they have a winning message in wanting to raise the minimum wage. Or, on the flip side, make the GOP look like a bunch of bitter, stingy grinches. To the middle class Republican voting base, making $30,000 per year, but not yet a manager or owner, $7.25 versus $10 per hour is semantics. Perhaps, even, they are worried that they will lose a pay raise, as wages are redistributed downwards in businesses with tight margins. To others, it becomes a matter of perception of the GOP: Do you feel that your party cares about the working poor? Yes or No? Then there is the Texas “miracle” and California “nightmare”. To the Right, anything California is doing is self-destructive. To this element, teaching “gay” in the schools, powerful teachers’ unions, lax enforcement of immigration laws, and a $10 .10 per hour minimum wage (in “lockstep” with Obama-Pelosi-Reid) all contribute to the Golden State’s malaise. But Texas has written a different story over the past 20 years. After putting “that liberal” Ann Richards out of office in 1994, The Bush-Perry model of social and fiscal conservatism has led to booming business, better public colleges, and millions of proud Texans. If it works (that is, keep the GOP in office), then don’t change it. For working-class Republican voters, the reasons for “voting against one’s economic interests” are simpler- guns and religion: Mistrust of the “gimmick”: After all, the party of Pelosi wants to take away your “assault” rifles while at the same time give murderers a free pass from the electric chair. Or there is a religious element: The San Francisco “devil incarnate” promises a pay raise, but only if I vote for secularism in the public sphere and for abortion on demand. As Jesus resisted temptation, so must I. This made it clear to me why some Republicans really hate “RINOs”- that is, fiscal conservatives with socially liberal leanings. One meme read: “Moderates… they’re more…electable?”, interlaced with sad photos of Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney. If the GOP were to be taken over by anything less than a firm stand on social issues, then Bubba has little incentive to vote Republican. Enter West Virginia. Bucking the southern trend, the Democratic Party still wins the white working class vote. There may be some union influence- particularly among coal workers- but it’s that the Democrats there know what the voters want. While recent Democrats running for the presidency have lost by ever increasing margins in that state. (Yes, Bill Clinton carried it twice), local Democrats have been able to paint themselves not as gun-grabbers or elite secularists, but as “for the working man”. The risk for them is the “D” next to their name. So they don’t attend the Party Conventions, put a bullet through Cap-and-Trade, and attack Obama in their campaign ads with as much zeal as a conservative Republican. With a candidate who is pro-gun, moderately pro-life, opposes the Welfare Queens, and talks about “securing the (southern) border”, Bubba can be sold on liberal economics. As for this year’s elections, each state has a different dynamic. In Massachusetts, Connecticut and Oregon, a redo of the close Governor elections in 2010. In Maryland and New York, rural conservatives versus urban liberals, with suburbanites breaking a tie. In Virginia, the GOP wants to reestablish their 1990’s-era mandate by winning a statewide election for the first time since 2009, despite nail-biter races in 2013 (McAuliffe (D), didn’t break 50%...Obenshain (R) for AG, 163 ballots short of 2 million cast… GOP control of the State Senate, 11 ballots shy). In the more liberal states, social issues have been decided, and the minimum wage has already been raised. The question for GOP candidates in these liberal states is if the recalcitrance of Southern, Western, and rural republicans will tarnish their otherwise credible campaigns.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Birthday Weekend

I started a countdown to my birthday 2 weeks prior. Then, on April 14, I switched to counting the hours. I actually went to bed before midnight on April 17 full adult. Unlike some of my peers, I felt no need to indulge in excess amounts of alcohol, since it will always be there. And after all, it was the Holy Triduum leading up to Easter, and excess celebration went against the principles of fasting and abstinence. Upon the request of my mother, I spent the weekend at home in DC. Despite the importance of the holiday, I still had homework to do; though our History teacher released us early to enjoy our weekend. The work doesn't stop- except for the periods between trimesters. Took the Tripper Bus: traffic was fairly light for a Friday afternoon. I suppose had I left earlier, I could've been in some traffic. At home was a feast to end the solemnities of Good Friday. (It was 10pm). The next day, we went to Phillip's Seafood for their lunchtime buffet. The venerable local chain started on the Southwest Waterfront in DC some years ago. However, due to redevelopment plans, the two-story restaurant with the big waterfront patio has to close at the end of the month. So it would be the second and last time that I would enjoy that patio view on that nice day. It seemed as if some of the staff had headed for new pastures. Fortunately, there is much demand for experienced restaurant staff in DC. Afterwards, to help with digestion, we took a walk through the Tidal Basin. The majority of the trees had blossomed the week previous; however, the newer replacement trees were in full bloom, and these specimens attracted much attention from tourists of all around the world. A walk eastward on the National Mall took us to the Shakespeare Library, to the east of the U.S. Capitol. For a nice day, the National Mall was much less crowded than Central Park. There was space for recreational activities like Frisbee. In the evening, I attended St. Paul K Street's Easter Vigil Mass. It was an exciting, almost theatric experience that brought in the Easter season. "Alleluia, Christ the Lord is Risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia". One tradition I didn't remember was that many parishioners brought their own hand bells- whether it be dinner bells, or thimble bells. And the racket couldn't be more harmonious. The next morning, I returned to Kings Point. Four-hour bus rides are good for napping, or getting homework done. Some of the mundane privileges granted to 21 year-olds: Can be licensed as Merchant Marine Officer- yes, this is what King's Point is about. I had a Filipino Chief Engineer who was licensed at 19, but had to sail as a crewmember for two years. He got to visit the USSR. Allowed to work as interstate bus or truck driver Can order cigarettes by US mail (I have no use for tar sticks, though...) Minimum age to serve in a House of Delegates in many states (In DC, 18 is the age you can be elected to city council)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Coin In, Coin Out

In the past year, a local convenience store in town installed two quarter-pusher machines. The lure of trading one quarter for a handful is always an attraction; but the real draw is the possibility of pushing over a $20 bill-- or a phone card. I first tried this machine with the intent of winning a $20 bill. I didn’t get it, so I stayed away from the electronic bandit, until I came back yesterday with a strategy- win in the short term, then get out. While waiting for the train, I tried it, getting ahead by $1.25 before setting for a $.50 win. In the evening, I sought to repeat my success. No luck (or “outlet for skill”) on either of the two machines: I was $3.00 in the hole. So I decided that the machines were rigged for the house, and I would stay away from those quarter-pushers- unless I was the “house”. But what states allow these quarter-pushers, anyway? On many issues, from raw milk, to first-cousin marriage, to lane-splitting by cyclists, you can find an illustrated map demonstrating state laws. No such map exists for the legality of quarter-pushers (coin-in, coin out). I quickly discovered the reason: the legality of such machines is regulated by states, counties, and down to the town level. At one time, they were prevalent in the resort towns on the Mid-Atlantic shore (Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Coney Island, New York). Laws and enforcement have changes. So have the profit motives: States with casinos were most likely to ban common businesses from operating the machines. As a result, some of the more ‘puritan’ states view it more favorably than the pro-gambling states. In more than one case, I read that, even if you have a vending permit for the machine, you could still be running afoul of state law. What did I discover when trying to make a map of my own? The easiest way to determine legality was by reading news articles regarding confiscations of quarter pushers. News articles were most prevalent in Arizona, California, and West Virginia. In many cases, I discovered that the machines flew under the radar, until the local sheriff’s office received a handful of complaints. Because of the localized nature of these laws, the makers and dealers of these machines do not post information (lest they become liable for a customer’s machine being confiscated); instead, asking customers to do their own research. State/ Legality Kansas- Not legal anymore California- No Florida- Iffy; some local sheriffs consider it a game of chance, not skill. Alabama- Not clear-See Code Section 13A-12-76, Bonafide Coin-Operated Amusement Machines. Ohio- Not clear- See Section 2915.01, Gambling Definitions. Wisconsin- Has tolerated establishments operating up to 5 of these machines. Arizona- No Oregon- No Texas- No, but tolerated by some county Sheriffs. Indiana- No South Dakota- No Tennessee- No Missouri- Contradictory laws Minnesota- No West Virginia- Not anymore North Carolina- No Georgia- See Title 48, Section 48-17-1 Virginia- 1992 decision by State ABC allows machines in bars, equipped with both a skill stop and shooter. Did not find a more up-to-date decision. New York- Not allowed in New York City; operating 1-2 machines does not constitute intent of “advancing unlawful gambling) Penal Code, 228.35 So if our local convenience store happens to be running afoul of Nassau County law, at least they won’t be charged with running a gambling ring. In most cases of enforcement, the penalty is simply confiscation of the machines. And, reading online forums, some owners of the machines are willing to play this cat-and-mouse game. Why? The machines are so darn profitable.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Loan: Think about it.

Yes, it's been 6 weeks since my last post. I am aware of that. In the meanwhile, February came and went, all 28 days. Of much discussion as of late in the USMMA conversation sphere is "The Loan". The travelling salesmen- or, representatives,- from USAA will be on campus this month to give loans. With USAA, it's do-or-don't. Your next opportunity to borrow from this bank is in November. So USMMA Juniors should be giving some thought to their financial side. And why does this matter? USAA and Navy Federal allows a select group of 20-year-olds to borrow $32,000 at a low interest rate. (1.25% at Navy Federal, and 0.75% at USAA). There is a rhyme and reason for this: When Mids and Cadets at the other Service Academies graduate, they incur moving and living expenses for their first "duty station" before their junior officer pay begins. This is where "Career Starter Loan" gets its name. How can the interest rate be so low? Because of the service requirement at four of the Academies, and at USMMA, the maritime employment requirement. Also, graduates entering the armed forces who take the loan are registered for an "allotment deduction", insuring that USAA or Navy Federal gets their payments on time. While USAA has the lower rate, Nsvy Federal allows Mids take the loan on-demand after starting Junior year. You walk in, and identify yourself on a short form. Signature loan; it takes less than a week to clear. Another benefit to some is that Navy Federal has brick-and-mortar locations around the world (Guam, Japan, Bahrain, anyone?), and most Mids use Navy Federal as their primary bank (credit union). For the large strata of students who live between above the Pell Grant cutoff and comfortable living, there are immediate benefits to taking the loan. This includes plane tickets home for major holidays, the ability to purchase a car, and the ability to stop worrying about being short on cash. While plebe year is the most expensive year fee-wise, Senior year is where the expenses add up: Class ring-- an essential for Deck majors to knock on doors when they choose to work shoreside; Ring Dance, and Graduation Weekend*. From anecdotal evidence, a majority of Mids take the loan in order to finance Senior year. High school job money stretches only so far. * Parental generosity maximizes at this point. It usually declines hereafter. That said, there is no stipulation on how a midshipman spends the loan money. I have crafted itineraries that blow $30,000 in a 3-day weekend (Hint: first-class flight to Europe, party there on Saturday Evening; then fly to Bangkok, and do the same on Sunday evening; then fly back to New York, washed-up with empty pockets, a modern-day prodigal son). That scenario aside, I was informed by one Senior to budget at least $150 per week for going out on weekends. I took that advice with a grain of salt. Others take the loan to invest: For the Class of 2014, stocks were a good option; for this year's Junior Class, a safe option is to arbitrage the low-interest loan with higher-paying long-term CD's.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Bob McDonnell's Last Day

On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama did something that no Democratic presidential candidate did in 44 years- carry the state of Virginia. And he carried it by 6 points. Also that day, Mark Warner (D) was elected to the US Senate, replacing the retiring John Warner (R), no family relationship. Two years prior, Jim Webb (D) beat the incumbent Senator George Allen (R), and his infamous "macaca" statement, by less than 1 point. So in 2009, it came to many as a surprise that Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell held a commanding lead in polls leading up to the November 3 election. His baggage was a 1989 thesis from Pat Buchannan's Liberty University, in which he outlined a 15-point plan on how the GOP could pursue a socially conservative agenda through economic legislation. But he was able to downplay the thesis, and the "Bob's for Job's" slogan won out. That night, he won 58% of the vote, supported by the traditional Republican strongholds, the swing counties of DC's outer suburbs, and even Democrat-leaning Fairfax, a diverse county of a million residents. The margin of victory and the depth of the victory, transcending racial and cultural lines, attracted nationwide attention. He immediately became a potential VP pick. In 2011, Republicans gained effective control of the State Senate, giving the GOP control of government in Virginia. With this power came responsibility and liability; and anything that the GOP passed in the 2012 and 2013 sessions became a potential projectile for Democrats to use in the 2013 elections. Bob McDonnell kept on doing well in the polls. Campaigning as "Northern Virginia's Own", he came off as business friendly (tort reform, lower taxes), and concerned about the degradation of the quality of life caused by traffic jams in DC's ever-growing suburbs. I've heard numerous references to McDonnell's "Boy Scout" image. That is, until last year, when the Star Scientific scandal came out. It made for a juicy story involving under-the-table loans and a Rolex watch. Furthermore, there is evidence that McDonnell went to Florida and promoted the enhancement product- doing the job of s salesman- while elected to be leading the State of Virginia. Whether laws were broken will be decided this year by a federal inquiry. For "Main Street" Republicans, the scandal came at the worst time. The Republican Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli,now nominated as candidate for Governor in a fire-breathing party convention, was tied to the scandal. Had the news broke before the Convention, "RINO" (a term the hard right uses to insult centrist Republicans) Bill Bolling might have gotten the nomination, and been able to compete as a "Virginian" against the "Yankee"- Terry McAuliffe with shady business ties. I was a bit surprised that Cucinnelli led now-Governor McAuliffe (D) until his ties to the scandal broke out. Virginians could tolerate Ken's hard-core social views over Terry's revolving-door business practices; but with the scandal, both candidates were in the same boat, and all Ken could stand by was his social views. I watched the news throughout the election season as business groups and independent educational researchers reluctantly endorsed Cucinnelli's plans. I watched as Cucinnelli reached out to minority communities, including the a council of Hispanic business leaders and the Muslim community. This outreach actively countered the claim that the GOP was becoming the "old white man's party". In the end, Virginia didn't want either Cucinelli or McAuliffe; the Libertarian, Robert Sarvis, carried 7% of the vote, McAuliffe 47%, and Cucinelli 45%. E.W. Jackson, the firebreathing minister nominated by the GOP Convention for Lieutenant Governor, flopped by 11 points. Mark Obenshain, running for Attorney General, and the most traditional brand of the Republicans in the race, lost by 163 votes out of 1 million cast, and was the "last Republican standing", as it took a month before he stopped the recount, and conceded to Democrat Mark Herring, now the first Democratic Attorney General in 20 years. Some on the hard right would say Cucinelli closed the gap after doubling down on the Tea Party rhetoric once Obamacare started on Oct. 1. As for nominating by party convention, the state GOP has no intention on changing to a ballot primary. Today, two open State Senate seats will determine control of the State Senate until 2015. These seats are drawing national attention, as it will determine which party has the "mandate" in Virginia. If the Republicans win one of these seats, Governor McAuliffe could appear to be an obstructionist if he repeatedly uses the veto. If Democrats win both seats, the Republican super-majority in the House could appear to be a "hillbilly revival meeting"- as Rep. Peter King once said about Newt Gingrich's Republican Party- impeding "progress". An election has been held on one of those Senate seats, in Norfolk, but this is another close election that is headed to recount. The next election is in Northern Virginia, where a Democrat, a hard-right Republican, and an Independent Republican seek to create a three-way race for the seat last held by a Democrat.