Big Boats

IMG_0202Freeport, Bahamas is a significant port.  No surprise there — presumably, that’s how Freeport got its name in the first place.  It’s very close to the American mainland, and a convenient stopping point for ships coming and going to the U.S. of A.

During our recent visit to Freeport we had the opportunity to take a boat trip past the port, thanks to our gracious hosts the Bahamians, and therefore got to see some of the larger ships up close.  What’s interesting to me, as a dry landed Midwesterner, is the many different kinds of big boats you see around the Freeport port.  Tankers, tugs, and tenders, construction boats and unloading boats — each with its own special design related to its specific function in making the port work.

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Unfair Pitch

I think Hillary Clinton can be criticized for a lot of things, but one criticism is particularly unfair — that she becomes “shrill” when she raises her voice during moments of stress, like during the early part of last night’s debate with rival Bernie Sanders.

hillary-angryI agree with people who contend that “shrill,” “grating,” “braying,” “tone it down,” and similar terms are code words for sexist notions.  And when people start talking about things like Hillary Clinton’s “pitch” or “tone” or “volume,” they’re really communicating that they don’t think women should speak up and be heard, whether they intend to convey that message or not.  It hearkens back to Victorian times when women were viewed as delicate flowers who couldn’t undertake vigorous physical activity and shouldn’t venture their opinions about politics and other subjects that should be reserved for a male-dominated society.  It’s antiquated thinking, and comments about the volume of female politician voices are a byproduct of it.

No one criticizes the likes of Donald Trump or Chris Christie or any other male politician for yelling on the stump; it’s pretty commonplace at a noisy political rally where you are trying to be heard in a large room filled with people.  At debates, male speakers often increase their volume and talk over their foes.  Telling female politicians they can’t yell under the same circumstances puts them at an unfair disadvantage.  If we tolerate booming volume from male speakers, we can tolerate it from the female side, too.

So yell away, Hillary Clinton!  I may not agree with your positions on the issues, but I’ll defend to the death your ability to voice them as loudly as you please.

The Never-Ending Surge In Gun Sales

The American economy isn’t going gangbusters, but at least one area — gun sales — is an apparent exception to the overall economic malaise.

According to data released by the FBI, firearm background check requests, which are a kind of rough proxy for gun sales, keep setting records.  December, 2015 was the first month ever where more than 3 million background checks were performed, and for the year 2015 more than 23 million checks were performed.  Guns seem to be a popular holiday gift, because every year background checks spike during the holiday period — but this year the surge is continuing past the holidays.  The FBI reported doing more than 2.5 million background checks in January, 2016, which is the ninth month in a row that background checks have set a monthly record.

somervilleguns-thumb-520x292-81559It’s not clear why people are buying so many guns, but one theory is that gun owners fear that President Obama will take unilateral action to hurt their gun rights.  There’s statistical support for that notion, because President Obama’s years in office have been record-breaking for firearms entering the market according to statistics maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.  Whereas 40 million new guns entered the markets during the 8-year presidencies of President Clinton and President George W. Bush, 68 million guns entered the market during the first five years of the Obama Administration.  The key test for whether the “Obama effect” is the real motivator of gun sales will come, of course, when the President leaves office in a few months and a new President moves into the Oval Office.

Who is buying the guns?  Surveys indicate that the number of households that own firearms is either flat or trending downward, and that the surge is coming from existing gun owners who are simply buying more guns.  According to those surveys, the average number of firearms in households owning guns increased from 4.1 guns in 1994 to 8.1 guns in 2013.  And, because that number is an average, that means there are a lot of American households that own more than eight guns.

In short, we live in a country where many of our neighbors have assembled large arsenals and seemingly are always ready to buy more guns.  I’d say our citizenry is ready for the Zombie Apocalypse or an attempted invasion by the Russkies, but it doesn’t exactly make me feel more safe walking around on an average day among a population where some people are armed to the teeth.

“That’s What They Offered”

This morning I asked a very close friend — a lifelong, dyed in the wool Democratic voter — if Hillary Clinton had said anything interesting in last night’s New Hampshire town hall event on CNN.  She grimaced and said that when Anderson Cooper had asked whether Clinton regretted being paid $675,000 to give speeches to Goldman Sachs during the time period between her service as Secretary of State and her decision to run for President, Clinton said no — and when Cooper followed up by asking whether she had to be paid that much money, Clinton said:  “Well, I don’t know . . . that’s what they offered.”

Ooof.

160203221242-nh-town-hall-bernie-clinton-split-large-169Look, I recognize that this is one of those issues that we’re not going to agree on.  Hillary Clinton supporters will say that this is just another effort by Hillary Haters to tar Clinton on an issue when everyone who has served in an important public office makes a lot of money giving speeches, and anyway Clinton couldn’t possibly be corrupted by making $675,000 for giving three speeches.  If you’re a Hillary supporter, you believe Clinton when she says precisely that, and can’t understand others who don’t take her word for it.  (I should note. though, that Clinton’s later statement that the financial folks aren’t giving her a lot of money since she officially declared for President has been vigorously challenged by some journalists.)

But consider, please, what a terrible message Clinton’s rationalization sends.  Basically, it’s saying that everyone who engages in “public service” cashes in and, in her case, gets paid more for making three speeches than many people make over a 20-year career and far more than most Americans have saved for their retirements.  You can say that it doesn’t change your position on the issues, or give the people who paid that $675,000 special access, or make you any more likely to agree with what they have to say if you ultimately make it to the Oval Office, but such statements are very difficult for the ordinary voter to accept.  To most of us, $675,000 is a hell of a lot of money.

And how can you possibly complain about the corrupting nature of campaign finance laws, where issues organizations that technically aren’t affiliated with your campaign can contribute toward commercials that provide support for your candidacy or attack your opponents, when you’ve taken $675,000 that is paid to you, personally, for giving three speeches?  Ask most people what is worse — a direct payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the ultimate candidate, or indirect support through advertisements — and I’d bet that the majority say the direct approach is far more troubling.

But more damning still is the phrasing that Hillary Clinton used in her answer:  “that’s what they offered.”  It makes you wonder whether Goldman Sachs could have paid any amount that would have given Clinton pause.  $1 million?  $2 million?  $5 million?  It sounds like Hillary Clinton is allowing Goldman Sachs to define her ethical boundaries — which, unfortunately, seems to suggest that she doesn’t have much in the way of ethical boundaries in the first place.

As I said, I’m sure that Hillary Clinton’s supporters will pooh-pooh her answer and the amount she was paid for giving the speeches as another trumped-up tempest in a teapot.  They will accuse critics of being hypocrites.  But I think the Wall Street speech issue, and Clinton’s response to it, neatly capsulizes a much more significant, disturbing issue about the crushing presence of money in politics.  It’s a big reason why Bernie Sanders is vastly outperforming inside-the-Beltway expectations.

The New X-Files

The X-Files is back for a brief run on prime time television.  I’m glad it’s here, because once I watched a new episode I realized that I had really missed my heady, weekly dose of sprawling, remotely plausible governmental conspiracy theories.

They’ve consciously set up the new X-Files episodes to connect as much as possible to the old series.  So we’ve got the same famously eerie whistling opening, with Mulder’s and Scully’s old ID badges, and the old characters like by-the-book-except-when-he-isn’t Skinner and, at the end of the premier episode . . . the Cigarette Smoking Man, who now needs to puff on those cancer sticks through a disgusting hole his esophagus.

xf_sc7_0067rjw_hires2And Mulder and Scully really haven’t changed much, either.  They still call each other “Mulder” and “Scully,” for one, even though they’ve had a romance and had a child they put up for adoption and wistfully dream about.  (There’s a plot line for you!)  Mulder still is willing to check out just about any speculation about any far-fetched plot, and for all of her doctor-trained skepticism and demands for proof, Scully will inevitably be drawn into Mulder’s weird, dark, but ultimately hopeful world.

The first episode allowed us to catch up on our two heroes, learn that they’ve lost touch and gone their separate ways, and see how the ever-present UFO conspiracy can bring them back together and return them to their highest and best use of investigating the X-files.  And as Mulder rattled off some rapid-fire conspiracy theory about how the Roswell crash is still being kept secret after all these years by shadowy government figures and greedy corporate types who want to hide the news that there is free energy for all, you couldn’t help but be struck about how our current world — with its drones and ever-present surveillance cameras, routine monitoring of everyday activities, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, government bailouts of huge corporations, secret collection of data about world leader cell phones, and allegations of conspiracies and cover ups about virtually everything — fits neatly and seamlessly into the paranoid X-Files world view.

By the time of the second episode, with Mulder and Scully investigating a creepy doctor who experimented on his own kids and used alien DNA to give them supernatural powers, the show was back in full stride, as if it never left.  (I haven’t watched the third episode yet, so don’t spoil it for me.)  These days, who doesn’t want watch to a suspenseful TV show that features soulless evildoers dying horrible deaths because sound vibrations caused by their own kids have caused them to bleed out from their ears and their eyes?

Welcome back, guys!  Now, get to work, will you?

 

On The Edge Of Slumber

I woke up at 3 a.m. to go to the bathroom.  (Hey, I’m a guy in his late 50s.  It happens.)  When I came back to bed I knew the next few moments would be the acid test — either I would promptly drift back into blissful sleep, or I’d start thinking about something and deal with an unwanted period of tossing and turning.

fotolia_42638075_full-moon2Unfortunately, it was the latter.  For me, the wakefulness always seems to start with a single concrete thought — whether it be about work, or a family issue, or something else — that acts to drive away the possibility of sleep.  Just as I feel as if I am on the edge of slumber, another point will arise, and suddenly I’m getting up because I remember something and need to leave myself a reminder for when I will get up for good.

The experts will tell you that sleep occurs when the conscious mind goes dormant and the unconscious mind takes over.  But how do you encourage that hard-working conscious mind that you needed to help you stumble to the bathroom in the dark to let go, already?

This morning, I really felt the battle between the two parts of the brain, with the conscious mind and its structured ideas trying to remain in control and the subconscious mind always lurking beneath, ready to pounce as soon as the conscious mind lets its guard down.  It’s an interesting, if frustrating, phenomenon, and when it happens I try to slow my breathing, gradually clear my mind of everything, and let those dreamlike notions that are cavorting out on the periphery to come on down to center stage.  Sometimes, if the conscious mind is really persistent, I’ll try to think of some obviously surreal situation that is like a dream.  If it works, as it did this time, the effect is instantaneous, and the next thing I know it’s 5:30 and time to begin the morning.

I’d prefer to sleep like a log every night, but I’m convinced that it’s just not possible for people with busy lives.  When those wakeful nights hit, you have to have a technique for dealing with it and letting you get back to the shuteye that we all need.

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Here’s another weirdness about Iowa.  In 6 of the 1,681 precincts that caucused last night, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders ended up in a tie and flipped a coin to decide who should get a delegate.  It’s not exactly a rational way to pick a President, is it?

bigstock-coin-flip-5807921But it gets even weirder, because Hillary Clinton won all six of the coin tosses.  What are the odds of winning six coin tosses in a row?  As simple mathematics would reveal, and as several newspapers have reported, Clinton had exactly a one-in-64 chance — or 1.6 percent — of winning all six flips.  Most of us could never dream of winning even two of three coin flips in a row, much less a half dozen.

What kind of coin were they using for these flips, anyway?  Was it of the two-headed variety, or improperly weighted, or did Sanders’ minions fall for the old heads I win, tails you lose trick?

Hillary Clinton may not have fared as well as she wanted in the Iowa caucuses, but she sure lucked out in the coin toss category.  She probably should have bought a PowerBall ticket.