Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Debating with the magic

Kintala is still sitting on the hard, though the chances seem pretty good that she will be back floating
sometime within the next 48 to 72 hours. Even so, it is a perfect morning to sit in the cockpit, sip hot coffee, and gaze out at the open waters of Tampa Bay laying just off her elevated stern. The stray fishing boat leaves a track on the ripples while a few cruisers (and sadly one derelict) sit quietly in the anchorage. There is just a hint of the magic brushing the shore along with the gentle splashing of the waves. After a long and (sometimes) difficult summer it is a good reminder, this is why we came this way. And yet...

The view of the Manatee River from the cockpit on the hard.

The magic has a different feel to it this morning. Instead of calling me away to places natural and quiet, where wisdom resides and the best of what it means to be alive and aware can be strengthened, it chastises me for running from the maelstrom lurking just over the horizon. For the plan is to have Kintala well on the way to, if not in, the Abaco Islands by January 20th . There she will remain  for much of the following 100 days. By then we will have some idea of just how bad this new regime will be.

Perhaps it will turn out to be just more of the same; elitist, corrupt, and basically incompetent. That seems to be about the best we can do in America. We have been stumbling along thus for most of my adult life and have managed to hang on. There also seems to be a reasonable chance that this new regime will be such a spectacular failure that no one will have to do anything but watch as they throw themselves off a cliff.

Maybe, after the 100 days, we will return to a nation much like it was in the late 60s and early 70s; divided, torn, stumbling, but finding its way out of an interminable and useless war, and shedding the worst abuses of a powerful apartheid police state. The US of A emerged from those days bruised and scarred, but a better people and a more just nation than it had been when men, who had won medals fighting the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini, were lynched by the White Supremacists of the KKK. We also learned that no nation can be great when the air can't be breathed nor the water safely drunk; where the land is strip mined to mud and all the trees turned into lumber.

That understanding came at a brutal national cost. Many were killed and many more wounded in the one-sided battles of police v marchers or the National Guard v students. In addition to the violent government responses, terrorists weighed in. Churches were bombed and burned and civil rights workers were murdered. The government eventually, and reluctantly, bowed to the will of the protesters. The war was ended, civil rights laws were passed, a few of the terrorists were rounded up, tried, and jailed. (The police and the National Guard never were held to account.)

Personal costs were high as well. I was an anti-war and civil rights protester. My Dad had been a cadet at West Point when young, served in Korea and, well, wasn't the most inclusive man I have ever known. I left home at 19, returning only for visits that were often tense. As the years went by we learned to work our way around that history, but the mine field was always there. My Dad has been gone a little over a year now but I fear, if he were whole and hale today, we would find ourselves on opposite sides still. The battle over civil rights and ending a war set the stage for a relationship between a Father and a Son that lasted a lifetime.

So the magic comes with a bit of an edge this morning. The disciplines of the magic- wisdom, compassion, understanding, careful thought and an even more careful response - are best learned and honed in those quiet places. But where they are needed most is in the midst of the maelstrom, when power corrupts, runs wild, and threatens everything of value that lies in the path between itself and domination. Ducking and running is like spending hours mastering your part of a concerto, then not showing up for the concert.

Yet the magic is suggestive, not insistent, or vindictive. We plan to sail to the Islands for a while because that is part of the way we live now, and American politics has little to do with it. Other parts of the way we live include living light and mobile, ignoring consumerism in all of its forms, traveling, and getting to know people who are not exactly like us. It is also a lifestyle that goes easy on burning energy and extracting limited resources from the planet only to throw them into a garbage pile in a few weeks or months. It is one that a large number of my fellow Americans don't get, don't want, and don't care about.  Indeed, they don't seem to care about a lot of things I think important.

And maybe this new regime is more a reflection of that than anything else.

Still, the opposition is taking shape. Protesters are already in the streets, alliances are being formed, underground and sanctuary movements are coalescing, rapid responses to the inevitable government brutality are being considered and practiced, and communications are being established to counter the propaganda war. But a middle aged white guy living on a sailboat doesn't matter that much, and there may even be some wisdom to be found in sitting this one out. It is entirely possible that the incoming regime is exactly what should be expected when an empire has run its course, when (to butcher a phrase) failure is not only an option, it is the only option. Trying to stick a cork into the Titanic might have been heroic, but the ship was already damaged beyond repair.

Taking to a lifeboat was a much wiser choice.


Donald Strong said...

Thanks. Regards, Don

John Aubrey said...

Give it up, mate! You need to turn this blog over to Deb, and keep it as a useful sailing, fixing, photo site. Nobody gives a rat’s arse about your political views. Your sanctimonious carping about treading gently o’er the earth after you dedicated your career in commercial aviation to burning as many irreplaceable dead dinosaurs as possible is laughable. Give her the keys and start your own site where you can rant to your heart’s content. Kind regards.

TJ said...

Obviously you care, otherwise you would not have bothered to make a comment. Instead you would have just gone about your life knowing that there are a lot of people who disagree with you, me included.

You do have a point about my career in aviation, though not all of it was spent in the corporate world. My favorite job was that of an air ambulance pilot, and I'm really not important enough to take the blame for the US supporting private automobiles and aviation as the chosen “mass transit” systems over (say) buses and railroads. I can't do anything about the history of transportation in the US, or that some of the jobs I did in the past were in the corporate world. Well, other than dramatically changing my lifestyle to be more responsible and, occasionally, writing about that change in this little blog. Clearly such thoughts bother you so, just a clearly, you should probably find things to read that cater to your needs better.

By the way, Deb is my primary editor. Nothing goes up on the blog that she hasn't reviewed and approved. In fact she suggested that I rewrite this last several times before it went public, which was probably a good thing. If this revision bothered you so, the original draft would likely have given you a stroke.

Deb said...


I'm sorry that this post didn't meet your expectations. This blog is a journal of our lives, mostly for us and our family, that happens to also benefit some others who read it. We have no sponsors and, as a result, have no obligation to write anything to anyone's exacting standards. Contrary to the bulk of posts, our lives do not consist entirely of sailing, boat maintenance, and cruising. Politics were a large part of why we left in the first place, and continue to be a large part of why we are still out here. Regarding our "sanctimonious carping about treading gently o’er the earth", after making our livelihood in aviation, one can only make positive changes in one's life when one becomes aware of the need to do so. After finding sailing, we sold everything, and now live as lightly on the planet as is possible for us. We can't save the earth alone, but we're doing the best we can in our little corner of the world. Take it or leave it.

Donald Strong said...

TJ: Working here by the fire on Sunday morning. Love your blog, am a sailor but don’t have quite your umpfh; am Just a weekend and vacation sailor.
Saw Jon Aubrey's message. I endorse your response. Nice touch with his pretty ugly sentiment.

A couple of observations. Fossil fuels for aviation, transportation more broadly, and for general energy generation have brought us to where we are now. For over 200 years, fossil fuels have been a tremendous upside for humanity. Coal first with the industrial revolution, then oil gave us the breakaway 20th century; oil is part-and-parcel of our wonderful lives.

Within the past generation or so, we have come to understand the downsides of fossil fuels, mainly in terms of pollution, but also in terms of geopolitical chaos, wars, and the strive of entangling alliances that George Washington warned us to avoid. On the pollution side, anthropogenic global warming and ocean acidification have escalating human costs and greater costs for the other species on the planet. I work with anthropogenic global warming and ocean acidification and know first hand their costs and that they are happening now; they are ramped up processes that will become worse. They represent a massive moral burden for our children and later descendants that we can diminish as a function of how rapidly we quit fossil fuels. As well, of course, particulate air pollution continues to be a very grave threat to humanity and other species. While we in Europe and NA have greatly decreased particulate air pollution at home with strong environmental standards, those in Asia, where we have outsourced much of our particulate air pollution, are suffering mightily. I work in China and know this first hand.

Today, humanity faces the massive task of weaning itself off of fossil fuels ASAP. Fortunately we are racing ahead technically and in practice with renewable energy. We have increasing contributions from wind, solar and boutique renewable power sources, we are rapidly increasing the ability of the grid and new battery tech to store and distribute energy efficiently. We are getting closer and closer to one of the biggest challenges, economically doable liquid fuels from renewable power, hydrocarbons made by combining CO from oxidized CO2 and split water. While we have big, big challenges, at the same time we have lots of real achievements, and perhaps most importantly, objective optimism to push us forward practically.

Warm regards, Don

TJ said...


Thank you for the informative comment, it is always good to hear what those on the front lines of any issue have to say.

We don't get many negative comments which, when I think about it, is kind of a surprise. I am not a person of faith. I am of the opinion that all of human kind's religions are nothing more than a very young species first, feeble attempts at understanding; clearly the stories and myths of a child's self-centered view. At best they are a starting place from which to evolve something closer to the truth. I have a similar take on all economic and political systems. A truly just and functioning society would have about as much in common with what we have (so far) managed as a toddler's crayon scribbling have with a Rembrandt or a Picasso. Yet we have never seen a Rembrandt or a Picasso, so many think our scribbling is pretty good stuff. Suggesting it is pretty lame will draw a comment or two. Suggesting we have to do better to survive will draw some comments as well.

There are people who claim that men really are dominate over women, that white people deserve privileges denied everyone else, that the earth was created to be exploited by (white) humans to the point of self destruction, and that gay people are indulging in some special kind of evil. Saying I disagree isn't really accurate, I can't even get my head around actually thinking that way. The moral universe they claim to inhabit is one of utter chaos and delusion, a complete mystery to me. I doubt many of them drop by very often or stay very long, but them being offended by something I say is pretty much a given.

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

I recall reading a fascinating book on flight. I only understood about half of it, but one thing I recall is that a Boeing 747 is the most efficient transportation machine--on a passenger mile basis--on the planet. (Book predates the big Airbus.) I think it's not so much that we fly that's the problem, but we've gotten used to traveling almost everywhere, and almost at a whim.

TJ said...

Jeffrey, the big plus to aviation has always been that it saves travel time; its main draw in the corporate world and the reason there is an air ambulance service. And there is an argument to be made that air transport, as a whole, is a pretty efficient. To fly from NY to LA takes a plane and roughly 2 miles of runway at both ends. A train ride would take the train and roughly 2800 miles of track. (And a couple of days as opposed to a few hours.) From what I can find passenger miles per gallon is nearly identical for airlines and trains. I would guess the infrastructure costs between 2 airports and 2800 miles of track would favor the airliner.

Like you inferred the issue isn't so much flying, but in lifestyle choices. For the reality is every gallon of fuel burned is a gallon gone, and roughly 20 pounds of CO2 added to the atmosphere. So, when I did a 4 hour round trip to fly a rich guy off to a ski resort for the weekend in the Citation, I dumped roughly 15,440 pounds (7.72 tons) of pollutants into the air, most of it roughly 8 miles high. Multiply that by thousands of trips per day. Is that good, bad, or doesn't matter? We really need to know the right answer to that question.