Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dear Cownose Stingrays: Prepare to DIE.

My first screw-you from Chesapeake stingrays was in 2003 when I was wading from a late-night barbecue back to the boat and stepped on enough big rays that I was knocked off balance.

And now these bastards are posing a dire threat to my precious Bay. From Bay Journal:
"And they can have voracious appetites. Cownose rays are, after all, relatively large. Adult males average about 35 inches in width and weigh about 26 pounds. At one aquaculture project ... a school of cownose rays ate 60,000 oysters in a single night."
60,000!! Those sons of bitches are taking my beloved oysters and destroying the Bay as they go. (Watch this video about the importance of oysters to the health of the Bay). And they're killing the Bay grasses as well:
“If a school of rays come in, the area looks like a bomb field ... There are craters everywhere, and we can see large mats of uprooted grass floating around.”
The problem is that no one wants to eat these beasts. Would you order "Cownose Stingray" from a restaurant menu? People have been trying to develop a local fishery and market for these terrible-tasting monsters to no success. I've heard cownose ray smells noxious when cooked and are bloody as hell when brought onto a boat.

So I'm going to do my small part to improve the health of the Chesapeake: Me and my friends are going to kill as many cownose rays as possible with a bow-and-arrow during my annual sailing trip. The plan is to tie a fishing line and rod to the end of an arrow. We'll then be on the lookout for rays schooling up the Chesapeake a la Captain Quint in Jaws. As soon as one is spotted, we shoot. I plan to try and eat the meat, but if it tastes as terrible as they say, I have no problem killing them and throwing them back as crab food.

This is the moral thing to do. It's not like we're gonna go out and kill spotted owls or spear rockfish.

(Photo credit)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Anarchists 1886: Throwing Bombs at Police. Anarchists 2009: Vegan Cookies, Yoga & Nap Time.

Man oh man, how far we've come. I heard reports in the media that during this year's IMF protests an anarchist group took a break to have vegan cookies and naptime. I googled "vegan cookies anarchist naps" and sure enough and several others confirmed it:
Saturday April 25

West End Neighborhood Library (1101 24th St NW)
Nap time, yoga, and vegan milk and cookies provided by the SDAC. This will give us time to rest up and re-energize after a long day on the barricades. Saturday Night is going to be fun, get rest, you’ll need it!
I can't make fun too hard because I used to be involved in anti-globalization protests back in the 1990s in my more sophomoric days, but man, this is just one more sign of the type of luxury and stability we enjoy in rich countries. Thank god anarchists pose no real threat and do not partake in any real anarchic actions like a long time ago (ok, to be fair, they did break some windows and use some spray paint).

Imagine the vegan-cookie-nappers compared to the anarchists who took part in the Haymarket Riot in Chicago in the late 1800s. Those anarchists threw bombs at police which resulted in a massive riot and four anarchists being put to DEATH. That's when the USA had REAL strife, REAL depressions, and REAL anarchists. Consider that right now our "worst recession since the Great Depression", by most extreme estimates, will last THREE years. Hoo boy! During the Haymarket Affair, they were going through a depression that lasted TWENTY-THREE FUCKING YEARS.

Life is good these days.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Today is Robin Knox-Johnston Day. Here's to Saltwater in Yer Blood.

Today I honor my number one sailing hero, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. On this day, 40 years ago, Knox-Johnston completed a non-stop, solo circumnavigation of the planet by sailboat -- the first man to do so -- winning the Golden Globe Race in 1969. (Here's his wiki page).

To put that in perspective for non-sailors, even in 2009, only around 300 people have sailed non-stop alone around the world while many multiple thousands have reached the peak of Everest.

After a year at sea, and no radio contact with race HQ for several months, Knox-Johnston was thought to be lost and they were preparing his obituary. Then, out of nowhere, he just showed up in England -- the only race competitor to actually finish the race. He won 5,000 British Pounds as the winner of the race, but donated it to the family of another competitor, Donald Crowhurst, who had committed suicide at sea during the race. The picture above is so great because it shows Knox-Johnston still on board, enjoying his first beer in a year as he sailed up the Thames. What a damn good feeling that must have been.

I met Knox-Johnston two years ago after he'd completed another solo round-the-world race at age 68. Sixty-eight years old! Here's a picture of me and him on that day:

He was spry as hell and I loved the fact that his yacht was the only one in the race sponsored by a brand of whisky. I caught him partaking in some of the free product given to him by the sponsor:

If you haven't read Voyage for Madmen about the race in 1968, and you still call yourself a sailor, I'm not sure I can respect you until you go to Amazon right now and buy it. That book is hands down the best sailing race story ever written.

Why does someone partake in such a feat? Why do people even sail? It's often slow, wet, cold, and takes lots of work. What's the point? One of Knox-Johnston's competitors in the 1968 race, Bernard Moitessier, put it best: "You do not ask a tame seagull why it needs to disappear from time to time toward the open sea. It goes, that's all."


(More blogs who're also marking April 22 as RKJ Day).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Despite Three Pretty Ladies and Two Hounds, I Caught No Fish

All my conceivable good luck charms were in place for opening day of rockfish season on the Chesapeake but despite my best efforts, I couldn't catch even one god damn rockfish.

What's it take to get the kind of fish I got last year? Do I have to rub my balls on the lures or something?

I got chartreuse parachute lures and decent rods. And as they say on the Bay, "if it ain't chartreuse, it ain't no use."

And man, rockfish received and A+ from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for 2008 -- the only parameter to get such a good score, making them near as plentiful as during Captain John Smith's voyage of 1608.

What's WRONG with me? Yea, maybe it's me. Maybe it's the fact that I only tow 2 rods. Maybe it's because my sailboat is too fast -- six to seven knots.

Anyway, below are my good luck charms on opening day. My lovely wife and two hounds:

Ms. Jessica did not complain that we got no fish, despite me getting her hopes up beforehand:

Rachel took the waves and wind tougher than some men I've seen. A good crew, overall:

Monday, April 13, 2009

It's True: Carp Taste Like Pond Scum

My trouble is I don't believe most warnings and advice. This puts me in a position of experimenting way too much; 88% of the time I discover that other people's warnings were indeed true.

And this applies to carp. Everything you've heard about eating carp is true. Ok, it's not the worst meat in the world -- especially masked under a slathering of south-Indian (dot, not a feather) curry gravy -- but it's not a fish I would eat again. The expression you are what you eat couldn't be truer: carp are vegetarians who eat algae, ie, pond scum, and that's exactly how they taste. Stay clear.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Chennai Haircut: Oil-Slicked, Head-Slappity Goodness

I've cut my own hair for sixteen years so I only pay others to cut it when I'm abroad and the hair is getting so long that it itches my scalp or my mustache is spending more time in my nostrils than on my lip. That's why I paid two dollars to an Indian street barber for a shave, but my dome also received a mild beating and an application of something that burned the skin and smelled like urinal cake.

The hair salon was labeled "gents only" and was on a dusty hot strip with stores selling all kinds of stuff -- car tires, plumbing parts, fried food. Classic Indian street scene with mangy dogs and people dodging traffic; rickshaws nearly getting crushed by huge buses blowing black smoke; stray cows looking bored and nearly causing accidents; a few women in bright colorful saris; and most of all, noise -- lots of noise and commotion.

Most Indians speak English but these barbers did not. Luckily it's not hard to figure out what a man who looks like a balding Grizzly Adams requires when he's standing in a barbershop. I sat down and grabbed the clippers, indicating which attachments were required, and they went to work.

After my head and beard were nearly shaved, they asked if I wanted a massage. Now, I must tell you, I am one of the few people that hates nearly all types of massage; I just don't want some stranger digging and pushing around in my skin. But in this case, I thought the outcome could provide some good story fodder. I was not let down in that regard.

He reached for a worn-out box with mystical artwork and a picture of some bearded guru, pulled out a tube of reddish oil and began smearing it on my freshly-shaved head. As soon as the grease hit my scalp, it started to burn like fire -- I mean REALLY burn, and it was dripping toward my eyes and neck and into my ear holes.

So here I am, sitting in this barber's chair -- already an odd situation that's happened to me maybe thrice in the past 1.5 decades -- and this man's rough hands are fingering this unknown reddish oil onto my head and it burns like a mix between gasoline and bee stings. It's at this point that I realize that he has not washed off the thousands of small stray hairs that were all over my scalp and are now part of this goopy burny crap that's now dripped as far as my collar and smells like urinal cake or burning car freshener.

But I let it continue because it was so god damn surreal. I didn't even know how to resist at that point. I squinted my eyes shut tighter to prevent blindness.

Four minutes of this went on when he stopped rubbing on my scalp and just starts slapping my head with both hands. I mean REALLY slapping it -- like nailing my cranium with loud slaps, open-palmed. It actually hurt. But again, it was so strange that I just let it continue, my eyes and scalp burning -- in fact, everything above the neck was in some degree of pain.

This slapping continued for about two full minutes. Then he grabbed a dry towel and started to wipe off the mess. I indicated that I needed some soap to wash but he had to run down the street to buy a packet of soap from another store! Typical. I had to wait with this gunk all over my noggin for him to return.

Luckily, he let me bend over a filthy sink that looked like it had been dragged out of a dumpster. I washed off and walked back to the hotel. I think the endorphins caused me to get high so I felt decent by that time.

I'm back in the USA and everything is so orderly and clean. Orderliness and cleanliness are luxuries we take for granted. It's good to be home.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Visiting Delhi, India? Consider Your Tolerance for Beggar Children (Including Babies)

India’s poverty is not so different from other places I’ve been like Peru, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar or Indonesia -- it’s just amplified by a few hundred million people.

India is SO much more than its poor. I partly agree with those who say movies like Slumdog Millionaire pander to Western stereotypes of India. There's a huge middle class and judging by the way they work and produce, their economy may overtake us one day. Plus, the existence of poor people in every visible direction is a constant reminder to the middle class what could happen if they fail. Maybe this is why they work so hard and have such ambition. But the extreme poor still exist here, and it's so raw and unavoidable, especially in a city where I’ve mostly taken doorless rickshaws -- the beggars come right up while you're waiting in traffic.

Everyone should experience being approached by a child beggar at least once in life. I doubt it builds character, but it’s a reminder of how much worse millions of people have it. You must face it.

Homeless beggar children act the same way in every country I’ve seen since 10 years ago in Peru. They don’t budge after you try and shoo them away -- just standing holding their hand out for money and pointing toward their mouths. Really tests the nerves and even the most callous asshole will have his heartstrings affected.

The hard part is the way they stand and stare with those eyes, and me having to repeatedly say no, then pretending to ignore the tragedy a few feet below my face. For adult beggars, at least they get the message quick and move on. Homeless children are different, and damn persistent -- like any kid who really really wants something.

At the Delhi train station platform I saw something rougher than I’d seen elsewhere. I was sitting reading a book when I felt small hands on my bald head. I figured it was a beggar child, so I glanced up to see two six-year-old girls holding their hands out for money. I tried to brush them off, but as usual, they persisted. That’s when I looked up to see that one of the girls was holding a tiny dirty baby -- maybe 10 months old -- whom they had trained to make the same hand motion toward its small mouth for food. Holy God.

If you give them money, in five minutes, you will have 10 more children asking for 10 more handouts. It’s exponential and doesn’t help anyway.

On the way back from the station at night, we passed hundreds of homeless men sleeping on the sidewalk -- so many you’d have to step over one every three feet. Life is lived a little closer to the bone over here.

I have no experience in poverty alleviation, but my trite opinion on this heavy issue is that there are at least two things that could help the poor of India: more industry and less fucking.

On the first point, simply put, I am FOR child labor and "sweat shops" in poor countries. Let me offer a photo I took during the business section of my trip to back this point. This was taken three stories up on a feed mill that was being built in rural India. You can see the young boy on the left holding a small dish used to hold concrete for his uncle or father. The boy is probably seven years old:

What is wrong with this in a country where thousands of children beg on the street and dig through filthy trash piles for recyclables? For people in the West, "child labor" is something you're supposed to be aghast at without much thought, but I wonder how many have seen the real alternatives to their perceptions of kids working. This construction site employed hundreds of poor Indians to do paid work. Granted, it's often dangerous work: for example, they use those turbans as substitutes for helmets. This is often the best option to begging on the street or train platforms in India. The choices many children have are FAR WORSE than being employed in projects like this or in some factory assembling cell phones or sneakers. This is something that the NY Times has eloquently said in the past -- and I agree 100%.

The other (less realistic) solution is for Indians to stop breeding so damn fast. In India, we were never asked, "Do you have kids?" -- always, "How many kids do you have?" Because, of course, it would be INCONCEIVABLE for a married couple not to have multiple kids.

Anyway, that's my assessment of the situation.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Jain Bird Hospital/Anti-Euthanasia Center in Delhi

Yesterday I went to the Jain temple and bird hospital in Delhi, India. Jains are extreme pacifists. They eat no animals, believe every living creature has a soul, and the monks and nuns sweep the ground in front of them as they walk to prevent stepping on and killing insects.

Many living creatures in Delhi are mangled to some degree or other -- even the people. The streets have no shortage of limping dogs with open sores, skinny cows and horses, and a few grubby beggar children.

So the Jains have an entire hospital devoted to caring for the injured and infected birds -- mostly pigeons. We walked into the clinic to many odd paintings depicting the various dangers that befall the birds of India:

The walls were lined with stacked cages of injured pigeons, some with bird-sized casts on their wings. Many of these animals were in TERRIBLE shape -- shivering in small cages, or with pus-filled infections. See, this is the problem with religion: they are so driven by their dogma that no animal should be killed, that they do not see the obvious ethical problem of allowing suffering animals to go on living without the benefit of euthanasia. Even PETA euthanizes suffering animals.

I won't post pictures of the worst-looking birds, but here are a few we saw at this weird place. All in all, there were thousands of (mostly) pigeons at this place. They told us that they receive about 150 hurt birds a day:

Pigeon with a bandage on its wing:

The only peahen at the Center. They said some kids had thrown stones and broke its wing:

There were lots of pigeons with wing bandages:

A view from the roof of the Jain bird hospital. They release hundreds of recovered birds per day:

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