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.