Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Ringing in the New Year

DC Sports

What a run in Washington, DC sports.  The Washington Nationals played each deciding, make-or-break, baseball game down to the wire: winning Game 6 to pull ahead of the Houston Astros in what could have been sudden-death; and winning Game 7 on October 30th to cinch the championship.

This follows on the Washington Capitals'  hockey finesse, which in 2018 brought home the Stanley Cup. Washington, DC's insufferable football team, the Redskins, have yet to win a Super Bowl in my lifetime. Outside of the South and Midwest, football seems to have lost its luster, falling from its decades-long pinnacle in the American psyche on account of growing scandals over concussions and other debilitating injuries caused by the sport.

Woke Journalism at the Top 25 Universities

I picked up a copy of the Georgetown Voice, which is Georgetown University's longtime independent student paper. One featured article, "Problems at Home Don't Stay at Home", by Cheyenne Martin, stuck out from editorials on current affairs, and a shame piece on those rent-by-the-minute scooters.
It is a narrative of a student who worries about her loved one in a poorly-managed Tennessee prison.

This voice differs from elite student journalism of just a decade ago; when I first started reading the Georgetown Voice and its establishment cousin, The Hoya. Class, race and gender were not discussed; and if so, at an arm's length detachment. Good journalism back then stuck to the "5 W's", a patient and disinterested observer to world events. A generation of recent college graduates whose early careers have been characterized by socioeconomic struggle, I believe, have forced a reckoning in news rooms.


Sunday, December 15, 2019

Flash: N.C. Man Sentenced in Radioactive Hit Man Plot

Bryan Budi, 28, a North Carolina man, was sentenced on December 13th, 2019 to serve 78 months in prison for attempted possession of radioactive material, with the intent of killing a personal enemy.

From April 22, 2018, to June 1, 2018, Budi attempted to possess radioactive material, and did so with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury to another person. Court documents show that Budi contacted an FBI online covert employee via the internet to purchase a lethal dose of a radioactive substance.  In his communications with the covert employee, Budi expressed his intent to use the radioactive substance to kill an unnamed individual.  Separately, Budi also hired an undecover agent to murder a specified victim.

Digest of Press Release issued by US DOJ. 


Saturday, December 14, 2019

Greta Thunberg's Expedition

Greta Thunberg, 16, made Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Good for her, and I mean it. While Time Magazine and most people, from Brazil to Israel, are focusing on her climate-change advocacy, I’m honing in on her recent maritime accomplishment.

Scandinavians have a good relationship with the oceans. Since Leif Eriksson and his Vikings made a transatlantic voyage, citizens of the Baltic Sea have dominated and improved the maritime arts. Norwegian-born Andrew Furuseth (1854-1938) spearheaded legislation for the benefit of American merchant mariners. Scandinavian merchant ship officers and crew were a common sight in ports around the world. Britain, France, and America had colonies and overseas territories as natural customers for their merchant fleets; Baltic ships sailed not for empire, but for trade. In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl crossed the Pacific Ocean onboard Kon-Tiki, a primitive raft.  Scandinavian mariners have disappeared in the past quarter-century, displaced by ship’s crews from the Philippines and India.
This summer, Greta Thunberg and her father sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in a solar-equipped sailboat. Modern navigation and life safety equipment made her voyage less perilous than her Swedish ancestors. Nevertheless, it is an uncommon feat, which puts her in the realm of modern explorers.  

In the age of low-cost jet travel, crossing the Atlantic Ocean by sea has become a lost art. During the “Atlantic cruising season”, the summer months of placid waves, Cunard Lines alone sails the once-renowned Southampton, UK to New York City route. As late as the 1960’s, a variety of passenger ships crossed the Atlantic, year-round: Pounding through Winter North Atlantic’s 40-foot waves is the exact definition of “buyer beware”, a trip for brave and hearty souls to endure. By sailing for the Mediterranean instead of the North Sea, I have not done a true Winter North Atlantic run. The experience, however, is what put “hair on the chest” of classmates who made container-ship runs to Belgium in the middle of winter.   

Scandinavians Built the Modern Maritime Industry

The Danish conglomerate AP Moller Maersk dominates sectors of shipping ranging from the offshore oil industry to massive container ships. This portfolio includes some American-crewed vessels under its subsidiary Maersk Lines Limited.  Kongsberg, based in Norway, builds training simulators for aspiring ship’s masters and harbor pilots. Norway’s Bergen Marine has built ship’s diesel engines since World War Two, decades before American shipbuilders transitioned from steam to diesel propulsion. Swedish company GAC, a ship husbandry firm, negotiates with beady-eyed port officials around the world on behalf of ship-owners. Germany’s Fassmer builds modern enclosed lifeboats: SS El Faro, an American steamship lost in 2015, did not have this lifesaving equipment. The International Maritime Organization, which has in essence propagated maritime safety regulations since 1913, is based in London. Not quite Scandinavia, but near the North Sea.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Relax, It’s Only a Christmas Party

A five hour flight on Alaska Airlines, and a four hour train ride, felt like a mere minute for me as I closed the books on 2019. I had spent plenty of Autumn evenings and weekends pursuing a list of home renovation projects, and had paperwork to follow up on.

During the sailing days, I had little time or physical presence to carry out handy tasks at home. So I paid contractors and handy people to take care of things in my stead. This earned me a little ridicule onboard the ship, with comments like: “what would you do if the toilet leaked on the ship?”. The implication being that ‘real men’ are inherently able tradesmen.

Now in a shore-based assignment, I assumed that time would be the most abundant asset. I no longer worked overtime and weekends, so I would “pay myself” on the weekends by doing handy jobs on my own. What I did not appreciate is that community roots form on land, and so do social obligations.The fiercely libertarian and independent deep-sea Mariner or hunter-gatherer survivalist makes up just a small fraction of society. The rest rely on each other.

This year, retailer groups bemoaned the short holiday shopping season, as it was already December when Thanksgiving weekend was over. It was Sunday, December 1 when the college co-eds piled on and off the southbound train from Washington,DC to various Virginia universities. I am a bit out of touch with holiday consumerism. I spent the last few Decembers and Christmases with bags packed, ready to go join a ship overseas. I moved bags of midnight snacks, not big-screen TVs. But I do feel the time crunch in the density of ‘holiday’ parties in early December: Civic League, alumni network, work parties ranging from work center, to department, and command level. On a government supply ship, there might be one Christmas party, especially if the ship has a home port. On a working container ship, with crew amalgamated from across the country and the world, good riddance with sentiment- “you’re there to work”.

To those of us in the leisurely class: throw back, relax, enjoy the season, count the blessings.