Saturday, November 28, 2009

One possibility...

Manu discusses recent issues highlighted in the fight against piracy.

You should read it. Very very well thought out, which is why I link to one of his blogs. I have worked with more foreign-flagged ships in the past 3 months than in the entirety of my career prior, and since 99.9% of all ships in the world are registered and crewed outside the US, comments and opinions from operators on these vessels is essential to understanding the way things really are.

The US has arcane and awkward cabotage laws which keep guys like me working at a salary that is exorbitant by global standards... trade protectionism at its' finest, though it's worth noting that the IT guy in your office probably makes more money than any ship captain. Food for thought.

One comment that Manu made in the above article grabbed my attention:

As for the third element I promised to add, here it is: In my opinion, we must, along with placing security teams on board and a blockade of pirate haven ports, find watertight means of bringing captured pirates to justice. This is all up in the air now. Some are dumped to be prosecuted in Kenya; high profile (read Western) target hijacks result in any captured pirates being taken to those countries for trial. Some have been dumped on Yemen in the past. The coalition does not seem to be able to get its arms around jurisdictional and other such legal issues. These are thorny, we are told.

Just occasionally, I have the ability to actually use the education that I paid so dearly for; I see workable solutions to the problem highlighted above. Jurisdiction is still the principal hangup preventing prosecution of (and in its' paralysis, actively encouraging) piracy.

UNCLOS, the U.N. Convention on the Law Of the Sea, is a massive, toothless document that covers virtually every aspect of maritime commerce and management not covered specifically in other international treaties. It is a deeply flawed document that breezily deals with contentious issues and is bogged down with minutia, but it is a framework. And it is a framework in need of updating, strengthening, and focusing. Much of UNCLOS, which is often called the Law Of The Sea Treaty, focuses on emerging issues from 30 years ago which never really became emergent; such as the framework for regulation on area leases for the collection of manganese nodules from the Abyssal plain. Stuff that is out there, but still doesn't make the news, basically.

The US doesn't love UNCLOS, for good reason. If infringes upon self-management of areas that are proprietorially ours by common agreement- The EEZ, (Exclusive Economic Zone) the 200-mile resource fence, for example. The US lost hugely the first and only time we went to a third party for resolution of an economic dispute involving ocean territory. The Hague Line divides the EEZ of the US and Canada's Atlantic border. Settled in Den Hague, Netherlands, a dispute over the richest fishing grounds (and significant virgin oil deposits, ahem) in the world ended up with Canada receiving 75% of the grounds in dispute, with about 80% of the fishable territory.

So the US has a sore ass after the Hague Line settlement, and a reasonable fear of the loss of self-management of resources. Now, since the American Revolution was fought over the issue of self-management of resources, it would be logical to have little love for long-distance comanagement of non-common resources.

Now, since President Obama is still the subject of a global love-in over his apparent remarkable ability to talk about action without ever taking action, and since he has mentioned a desire to revisit UNCLOS and increase American participation, there is an unprecedented opportunity to add inclusive language in a 2010 addendum to the treaty which gives management of piracy to The Hague, for example, in cases where jurisdiction is unclear. The broad strokes which cover so much material and so little of import could actually serve some widespread use.
All that is necessary now is a little willpower, and a little penmanship. American distrust of handing off of some rights to the people we seceded from in times past must be overcome, and to do so would require extensive delineation of when and where such changes could be applied. Fear of inertia in this matter is a weighty issue. The incremental addition, (even on a purely theoretical level) of an international component of jurisprudence in the American legal paradigm will make talking heads spin and spew green bile. I have no idea if the will exists to even address such issues, let along overcome them, but strict limitations could be introduced in the name of protecting mariners. If such thoughts could be packaged in a 2-minute sound bite, public support might actually exist.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


UPDATE:OK, so I'm a little slow. Upon reflection, by which I mean upon my port captain telling me what I missed, the engineer was desperately trying to get me to go along with his scheme of bribing me to 'buy back' some of the fuel he ordered. This old fashioned bunkering scam, which I have heard of, but have never actually seen, goes like this:

1)The engineer orders 800 tons of heavy fuel oil.
2)I show up with his 800 tons. I pump, say, 775 tons to him.
3). I give him half of the value of the other 25 tons in cash.
4). I blend the leftover 25 tons into my next order, thus saving myself or my employer the cost of 12.5 tons of oil.

Except that I don't cheat, I don't lie, and I don't work for anyone who does do those things, it's a clever plan. In the rest of the world, it might even work. It might even be 'the way things are done,' which is usually a way of saying that I am supposed to believe that an illegal or unsafe practice is standard business practice in the foreign trade. Except that this isn't the foreign trade. Anyhow, shame on me for not recognizing one of the most common scams in the merchant marine.

I've experienced the way maritime commerce in theUS works, and I've heard rumors of how it works elsewhere, but I had yet to really experience the scumbag factor until today.

We're discharging a modest parcel of Intermediate Fuel oil, as well as a separate cargo of diesel oil. There were some headaches involved, like getting crewmen to hook up the fuel hoses, and getting the engineer out of bed to sign the paperwork. I was a little annoyed that I lost two hours before we even hooked up a hose. So it goes.
The first chink in the armor comes when one of the crew asks me if I bought the oil myself. No, says I, I'm a sailor like you, I don't own anything but the shoes I'm walking in. Strange question. I thought no more about it.
The ship was an old russian-built bulker, at the end of her service life, or maybe a little beyond that. She was well maintained at one point, but no longer.
It takes me only an hour to get rid of the little bit of black oil. The stuff screamed out of the tanks. I have to honk the ship's horn on our tug to get the guys to switch hoses. I lose another hour there, to a 15-minute job.
The diesel comes off easily, too. Then we're supposed to pass paperwork, and I'm supposed to leave. Except there's no one on deck.
After an hour of waiting, screaming, and throwing bolts at the house on the ship, I pass the buck, and have the ship's agent call the captain. 2 minutes later, the engineer comes out. He refuses to give me the paperwork. "Forget the paperwork," he says. "I give you new paperwork." He is pinching his thumb and forefinger together. No shit, the guy probably wanted to give me a thousand bucks or so for about $50,000 worth of oil. I ignore him. The guy then loses his ability to speak English, mysteriously. I reasonably ask him to be 'a goddam professional here,' and he responds by walking away. I am alone again.
So, I pass the buck again, wait an hour, and phone calls get made, and I hear some shouting, and then the Engineer shows up, sends me the paperwork, and scoots off. I am left to get my last hose back aboard, and the engineer gets the last laugh; he left the diesel hose cracked open, and about a pint of diesel oil sprays across 50 feet of my deck in fine droplets. I get to spend 30 minutes on my hands and knees cleaning up my deck.
I know that most foreign mariners view Americans as gullible and simple, but damn. Really, as my wife pointed out, it's difficult to believe that we tend to be honest, because most of the world is a different way. Still, I can't help but wonder what they're putting in the borscht on that ship. Maybe I was too friendly and accommodating to that ship. Gave too much benefit and not enough doubt. Whatever it was, I don't think that engineer was expecting me to blow up at him.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Someone's Pants are ON FIRE!!!!

OOPS! That's got to be rough!

Whether by hack or by intentional sandbagging, last night a massive data breach allowed a LOT of sensitive data from the Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research, one of the busier producers of climate research in the world, and one of the largest centers of its' type in the UK. What's available shows some bad news- data manipulation and cherrypicking (selective inclusion of data to skew results) of some VERY well-received studies on the subject of global warming. There was also discussion of destruction of data and other material that had been requested in a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request. So we can add fraud in there, too.

Yeah. The alarming studies. The ones that predict we're all going to die? Turns out, there is a lot of paper generated in the process. Now, if this was limited to an isolated paper, that'd be one thing... there's damning evidence of data tampering (publishing bullshit science) on environmental issues. Changing data to create results you want, in other words.

The funky thing here is that this info comes through internet security sites, not science. Either this means that this was a hoax (which appears unlikely at this point), or the Green Machine is attempting damage control. In the meanwhile, the technical nature of the datasets available will require time for digestion and analysis.

And, as many things so, this supports my own position that we're nowhere near being able to predictably model environmental phenomena more complex than the 5 day weather forecast.

Note that I used the term 'position' as opposed to 'hypothesis.' You see, hypotheses require data to be tested, and no data exists wherein climate datacan be reliably predicted. So I have more than a hypothesis. I have a position. One that can be tested. I challenge anyone to bring me an environmental model that works and can be tested with 0.5 reliability using a simple one-tailed t-test, the most simple and forgiving statistical test there is.
Until that shining day, here I am, saying that maybe in 20 years, we'll be able to make an educated guess as to what's going on in the world. In the meanwhile, continue to mistrust authority, especially when the the scientific majority relies on ad hominem attacks rather than debate to discuss an issue.

To me, this has little to do with science, and everything to do with the horrific results of politicization of virtually anything. Science, medicine, ethics, whatever. The same people who gave us eugenics, social Darwinism and the other bastard children of science are at work again. Last time, it was 'only' minorities and the handicapped who suffered when smart people used fake science to fool the not-so-smart. Who's going to be on the shit end of the stick here?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I am a bad person/...yes, they ARE a girl's best friend

So, I'm starting off by admitting that I'm a bad person. A bad influence on my wife.

My wife belongs to an evangelical religious sect who believes that I ('the filthy papist,' as I am charmingly referred to by pastor and friends in church) am a soldier of the Antichrist.
So far as I am aware, I am not. I am, however, pretty well versed in the dogma of my faith. And I am not one to shy away from confrontation... except with my wife. We don't hotly debate our religious differences. Her friends, though, are open game, once they open up with their insane born-in-a-barn-in-the-midwest theology. I try to play nice, but I defend myself. Sort of a cat and also-cat game.

Now, since my wife's church has some pretty strange ideas about what's what, I have to do some soft-shoe in the matter of respecting her beliefs. She keeps the kosher laws, and is supposed to not wear jewelry, bother with her hair, and dress demurely, which, I understand, means like a frumpy hippy.
I've really made an effort to be supportive, to not undermine her efforts.
BUT... things went a little too far recently. She and I are both a little tired of being picked on just because I, insanely enough, am not in love with the words of Martin Luther or King James. Not that I have much of a beef with the portion of their followers who don't wish me dead or dream of me coming down with leprosy. I'm just tired of the folks who act like their church is a cult, and I am the hold-out who won't drink the kool-aid and convert. So, when my wife has to suffer for being married to, well, me, I revert to a deeper game. No more play.

Anyhow, I fired back. I stopped being neutral. And there I crossed the line between good person/bad person: I bought my wife something inappropriate. Something shiny. Sparkly. That wasn't made of sackcloth OR ashes.
If you read the title of this post, you know where this is going. I bought my wife a diamond pendent necklace, and just in case there was a change in plans about me coming home for Christmas, I gave it to her early. And she liked it.
So, while I hope that I haven't contributed to a religious crisis in my wife's life, I do hope that this will get her friends' knickers in a twist. Not that my wife wears it to church or anything, but it's sure to cause troubling thoughts in my wife, and just maybe drive a nail into the cult's coffin.
I realize that I'm playing with fire.

Friday, November 20, 2009

bring out the gimp!

Before I left for work earlier this week, I took a rare opportunity to take a walk with an old friend. An old girlfriend, to be precise. My first girlfriend, to be exact. We still talk. I don't give a flying rat's patoot about my past, but for whatever reason, we stay in touch. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife approves. Apparently it satisfies her that I can be sentimental under the right circumstances.

Anyways, we went for a walk on the beach, and as we were walking down from street level to beach level, small talk ensued.

She's a sharp cookie, my friend. A medical professional. Before we stepped foot on the sand, she casually says "So you're still limping, huh?"
I prefer to think of it as the rolling gait of the professional sailor, but yeah, I have a little gimp. She noticed. I had it when we were dating, back when we were both underclassmen in high school. On bad days I had my little rolling walk.
As always, rather than make her uncomfortable, I shrug it off. "Yup. It's permanent now." And the conversation moves on.
Truth is, I don't normally feel any pain in my hip anymore. Last night, when I was out on deck in the cold and pouring rain all night, I felt it, yes. I felt uncomfortable enough to notice it. I'm pretty sure that it didn't effect my gait, however. I just walk like there's a swell hitting us on the beam. Of course, last night, there was. We were swaying like a cradle. But the other day, I'm pretty sure that the beach wasn't moving. And I'm pretty sure that if I worked at it, I wouldn't have walked like I had a rock in my shoe. But why work at it? I'm as vain as anyone else, but I'm probably lazier than some. I can't be bothered to walk differently, and if I did, I'd probably feel like I had a stick up my ass. Besides, at this point, as far as I can tell, if it would be comfortable for me to walk like everyone else, I would. It's just that most folks look to me like they're trying to clench a $100 between their butt cheeks without losing it down a pant cuff when they walk.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

...with fricken laser beams!

The US navy is using dolphins and sea lions to patrol the waters of the largest sub base on the West coast. You can read about it here.

You know, at first blush, this seems hilarious, but how much of a difference is there between setting some German shepherds loose and putting Flipper out there? At the end of the day, they're all service animals.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

time's almost up

The last 12 hours before leaving for sea totally suck. There are moments, even hours, that are wonderful, and all the sweeter for the awareness that they're 'last' moments for a little while.

But mostly, it's pretty rotten. Maybe, in this type of instance, I'm a 'glass half empty' sort of guy. Saying goodbye to my parents, brothers, sister, nieces, nephews, and then, ultimately, to my own family, is, strangely not the worst part. The most difficult thing is the lag between when thoughts are colored by the unhappy realization of the high cost of doing what I do, and the time when thoughts are influenced in a happier fashion by images of new horizons, of seeing friends from work, and of practicing the only thing in this world that I am actually professionally competent at doing... and of the sea, of course. Being there.
In the meanwhile, life goes on. My wife is at work, my boy at school, and I am running errands like crazy, last minute stuff to keep things simple, I pray, in the month ahead. Eventually we'll come together for dinner, homework, and bedtime, and my wife and I will talk all night, and not talk, as we always do. Eventually we doze off, and shortly after, maybe an hour, my alarm will go off, and I'll jump in the shower, dress and reheat leftovers. After that, it's a matter of one last kiss, a couple of sad sighs, and I'll be in my truck to race south, praying that the roads are clear so that I can get through New York traffic before the commute starts. A few hours later, and the drive is done, and either a van or a boat ride follows to bring me back to work.
Somewhere between planting my ass behind the wheel of my truck and hitting the Rhode Island border, I'll perk up. I won't be all that thrilled, but I won't be looking at the world through shit-colored glasses as I did the night before. Thoughts of the days ahead won't have a bitter tinge, and neither will the memories of the night before. The sting comes out with time. When I am past New York, I begin to whistle, even. The hard part is behind me. The next part is hard in its' own right, but doesn't taste like ashes in the mouth, and the feeling of dread passes. I liken it to being hit on the head repeatedly with a hammer; it just feels so GOOD when it stops.
But, in the meanwhile, I am getting ahead of myself. I need to get through one more long watch first.

Monday, November 16, 2009

inder the unffluence

My wife surprised me with a caipirinha tonight. For those of you not in the know, a caipirinha (pronounced kai-per-een-ya) is a powerful brazilian cocktail made up of muddled (squished) limes, sugar, and cachaca (pronounced "KA-sha-sa"), Brazilian cane sugar liquor). It is so choice. It is very, very nice. It is teh strong. Muito forte, as the Mrs. says. I am reeling after one, but then again, one caipirinha is served in a pint glass. Honestly, it's good. I'm a scotch snob, and I say that scotch isn't even capable of holding a good caipirinha's bag.

Anyhow, the alcohol is taking the sting off of my need to pack a bag for my journey starting about 30 minutes into Wednesday, whereupon I travel back to the urban desert of Philadelphia, an entire city which, to be fair, looks like God took a shit on a parking garage.
But I digress, or perhaps regress. I'm heading back to work, and I'm bummed. I'm excited to earn a paycheck, of course, but beyond that, I'm again leaving all I hold dear.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

that's nice...

Big day today. I finally took a handgun safety course, which is the first step in getting the Massachusetts Class A, (Concealed Carry) handgun permit. The class was great, but the range time was excellent. Nice low-key range, where I shot a nice .22 semiauto and a classic .38 revolver w/4-inch barrel, pretty much the Mark-1 handgun for police up until the last few years.

Now, I'll say this: I have limited handgun experience. I'm a damn good shot with a rifle, and almost as proficient with a shotgun, but handguns have always been difficult for me. Today, however, I actually received some training and a critique with the handguns that made a big difference- I outshot everyone but the instructor, and that was certainly a surprise. The .38 felt like it was part of my hand. Excellent.
Next step is to get in touch with my local police department and yet again subject myself to another background check. Seems like everything in my life requires those things.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

it tolls for, but not me.

Tim Colton, a longtime voice of the maritime industry, updated some already-ugly news about my former employer. You can read it here.

My only reason for mentioning this here is that I really really hope that Mr. Colton soon reports a change in progress. My former employer did what no other company has been able to do, and got ahead in an industry which has, thanks to the greed of the US congress, been largely offshored in the past 20 years. I hope very much that a Hail Mary is in the future for my friends who're sticking it out in the offshore oil industry.

In the meanwhile, I am tearing through my vacation like a cheesecake slice through the innards of a lactose intolerant individual. Lots of fun being had, and I've got another week to go.

BTB, is anyone else shocked and horrified at the cost of Legos? I just bought 2 sets for my boy the other day. $130. No shit. I used to have 2 6-gallon buckets full of lego blocks, and I am 100% certain that both of those, and the buckets themselves, didn't cost HALF of what I paid the other day.
In what I swear is an unrelated addendum, if you are reading this, and we are related by blood, I want to focus more on the Joy of the holiday season this year, so expect crap presents.
I still have to fill his damn stocking.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Why must thou torment me so, grandma?

Somehow, she's there. The stone-faced old lady at the grocery store.

Whether it's a shop n' save in the ruins of Philadelphia, or here on Boston's South Shore, where everyone talks wicked good, there's an old lady who is apparently assigned to shadow me and make my grocery-shopping experience a little more difficult. Whether it's staring benignly and waiting politely while I'm in the particular part of the frozen cooler (with her cart just close enough that I have to physically pick mine up at the back so that I can open the cooler door without hitting my cart, 'cus God forbid she gives me enough room to roll 6 inches forward), or silently staring holes in my head while I am seeking my particular bagel package of choice, somehow, she's there. And then, when I'm at the checkout, one of, say 10 that is open, the woman is there, right behind me, staring. Again. Always just 1/2 inch outside my personal bubble, with her cart too close to me ass, or my leg, or whatever, she's there, waiting, pushing. She never speaks, even if I do, but she's there, poker face on.

As always, I escape to my truck, and, hands shaking from something indefinable (rage, fear, ennui?) I vow to bring a bag of ball bearings and drop 'em behind me next time, so that I can buy some time and shop in peace. Sensible shoes or not, it ought to work.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

home again.

Once again, dear friends, I'm home. Got some serious bidness to handle, and, I pray, some not-so-serious too. If this vacation is as dreary as the last one was, I will light myself on fire.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Plane passenger accidentally activates ejection seat - and survives

SOUTH AFRICA- A civilian passenger in an air force display plane accidentally activated the ejector seat while reaching for something to steady himself during a mid-air manoeuvre.

You can read the rest here.

That's fantastic. The US needs to take the lead and put ejection seats like this in our transport helicopters. Preferably the ones that are used to carry journalists.