2021 cruising report

So we’re out here in what is still known by some as the West Indies. More specifically, we’re in the leeward islands of the West Indies, one of the few places in the Caribbean we haven’t hit before on a cruise ship. This is our fourth consecutive trip with Holland America, but our first cruise since cruising restarted and pandemic protocols were implemented. Is it worth the hassle to get aboard this cruise? Are we likely to get covid-19? How have things changed since those pre-pandemic cruises?

In a way, we’ve been on a pandemic cruise before, having taken a JoCo theme cruise on Holland America in March 2020. We had our temperature checked before we were let onto that ship, as covid-19 was just becoming a thing then. We took that cruise despite many good meaning people warning us not too.

It turned out okay with no cases on our ship. We had invested about $6,000 in that cruise and it was hard to flush that money down the drain. In the pandemic era though we bought cruise insurance which we didn’t need. Or maybe we will need it. One rumor going around the MS Rotterdam (our cruise ship) is that if we get Omicron covid-19 cases, we could be detained for up to fourteen days before being off boarded in Fort Lauderdale.

Needless to say, that’s not on our plans. I hope cruise insurance will cover that, but more importantly we have two cats at home and no guarantee our cat/house sitter could stay an extra two weeks in this event. Also, my wife will run out of medications long before the two weeks would be up.

But I can sense it’s a needless worry. Everyone on board presented vaccination certifications to get on the gangway. We also presented recent PCR or antigen tests. Moreover, since this is Holland America, this is basically a cruise ship full of old farts like us. Seniors are a disproportionately vaccinated group. Then there are all these covid-19 protocols on board. With a few exceptions like meal times, you are masked unless outdoors, in your stateroom, or eating. And you are constantly washing hands. The ship has hand washing stations going into the buffet on the Lido deck. You mostly travel only on Holland America excursions and are masked on those too.

Is this too much hassle though to cruise? That’s an individual judgment, but it isn’t for me. Most of the time I am inured to the masking requirements. I don’t need the masks I brought. Holland America provided a number of super comfortable masks for free, masks that will follow me home and probably become my everyday masks. It’s certainly possible that a case or two of covid-19 could develop. But if there is any place on the planet where herd immunity has been achieved, it’s probably on our cruise ship. We’ve pretty much all had booster shots too. That and all the sanitation suggests to me we’d be more likely to get covid-19 from wandering masked inside the local Big Y grocery store than here on this ship.

Other cruise lines though may not be as anal about covid-19 as Holland America, but probably are. Some like Carnival cater to a younger and arguably wilder crowd. Some of these cruise lines have reputations for being wild party ships, where you can find overly intoxicated drunks passed out in the hallways. These sorts probably aren’t beyond ginning up some fake credentials to get on board a cruise ship. So if you have to take a cruise, you may be better with one that caters to oldsters, like Holland America.

Holland America’s Rotterdam, which we are on, is its newest ship. It’s still being broken in, as it had its first paying passengers in October. Walking the promenade, you can still smell the newly varnished wooden rails. Having sailed the Nieuw Amsterdam, the Oosterdam and Westerdam, it’s interesting to observe what has changed. In general, you get pretty much the same experience. For Holland America, the Rotterdam is a large ship, but not nearly the behemoths in the Royal Caribbean fleet. We’ve come to appreciate smaller ships and actually prefer them. We also appreciate an older set of passengers.

You do miss a few things on Holland America, compared to other cruise lines. Norwegian, while having a reputation as a party ship, has fabulous shows. Holland America though has a fabulous variety of musical venues: a blues club, a rock and roll club and a number of piano bars. The quality of the performers is top notch. We are a bit highbrow and prefer Lincoln Center Stage, where a classical quartet performs three 45-minute shows a day, with one being a repeat of an afternoon performance. It doesn’t matter which venue you choose. You can easily move from one venue to the other; they are all quite excellent.

The Rotterdam also has a new stage with all the latest high technology including wall to wall LED displays, making you feel like you are looking at billboards in Times Square. We saw an amazing dance performance on the Main Stage that used all these lights quite effectively. Their main stage is probably state of the art for the cruise industry at the moment. Just don’t expect Broadway musicals or synchronized bungees jumpers falling from the ceilings like we saw twelve years ago on Norwegian.

All cruise lines specialize in picking your pockets, and Holland America has gotten more creative at it since the pandemic. It used to be at dinner you would get a basket of rolls to share with your fellow table mates. Now they give you one. All the menus offer premium choices for extra money, even in main dining. For $75 you can order an enormous steak and $3.95 gets you fresh squeezed orange juice at breakfast. There is still silly towel art on your bed at night, but chocolates on your bed at night are problematic. There is also a new club, Club Orange, which is exclusive which means if you want a private dining area, you got to pay up, part of the “ship within a ship” concept a lot of cruise lines are doing.

Holland America has always served normal portions, unlike the other cruise lines where you can easily pack 4000 calories into a meal. It didn’t matter though because the quality of the food was always outstanding. Gala night though disappointed. The filet mignon was excellent, but there was no baked potato and the meat could not have been more than four ounces. So you had this enormous plate with a tiny steak and a few tiny vegetables. The Lido deck is always available of course, but even there the buffet seemed smaller than on previous cruises. Moreover, there were hours like 9:30 PM when it was completely shut down.

It’s hard to complain too much though. It’s a pleasure to go cruising again, even with a mask on much of the time. It’s a pleasure to travel and a pleasure not to be stuck at home. It’s a pleasure to converse with strangers over shared meals and actually socialize, something this introvert generally avoids.

Shore excursions are a bit chancy. We’re not stopping in Guadeloupe, which had recent riots caused by crowds of anti-vaxxers. Even here in today’s port of call, St. Martin, the French side was off limits. There was civil unrest there too, this one due to lack of work for younger people. I have a feeling there will be more of this in other destinations before we berth back in Fort Lauderdale in eight days.

Life may be surreally nice on our cruise ship, but it’s hardly representative of most of the world right now.

Traveling in the age of covid (part two)

Time to get this vacation thing on! But boy, it’s sure a hassle. We’re on a cruise out of Fort Lauderdale today and getting on the ship is like running a marathon. It’s also become more expensive. It’s hard to quantify the additional expense as certain things, like WiFi, are now part of the fare. In addition, in the age of covid-19, it’s stupid to not add travel insurance so there’s that, for both the cruise and our flights.

Shore excursion prices look higher too, but there seems little point in booking shore excursions when the itinerary can change. It changed about a week ago, so we’re just going to wait until we get onboard the ship and listen to the lectures before booking shore excursions … and hope they aren’t sold out.

But perhaps the most annoying thing of all is meeting the covid-19 testing requirements. You have to present a negative PCR or Antigen test and it can’t be more than 48 hours old, plus the test must be observed. This meant we had to get a test on Monday and we had to hope we’d get test results back before our cruise departed. CVS Pharmacy says it takes 24-48 hours for test results, but there is no guarantee. My wife got her results back in under a day. We were tested at the same time, so why didn’t I get mine? Was there a snafu?

Before scarfing down a dinner at a Bradley International brew pub last night, I called CVS. I eventually learned that my results simply weren’t available yet. I thought maybe they got lost. They arrived sometime in the middle of the night while we slept peacefully at a Hyatt hotel here. Of course, we both tested negative.

So we’ll be on board our ship. Our hotel was strategically chosen because they offer free shuttles to and from the airport and the cruise port, plus a complementary breakfast. Cruising is still struggling to come back here. It was made harder by Governor Ron DeSantis trying to impose on cruise lines a requirement that they take unvaccinated passengers. It was a pointless exercise designed to prove his street creds among Republicans, because it’s the federal government sets these requirements. Plus cruise lines don’t have to dock in Florida, and having cruises overwhelmed with covid-19 cases taints their brands. Using Florida is just more convenient for them. Until recently, if you wanted a Caribbean cruise you flew to some place like the Bahamas, assuming they would let you in.

The flight to Fort Lauderdale last night was interesting. It was my first time on a plane since the pandemic. It’s always a bit chancy to take an evening flight the day before a cruise, and as we approach winter, snow delays were a possibility. But weirdly all flights out of Bradley International were on time and the flight was extra smooth. Everyone wore masks, but on both the plane and in the terminal I noticed dissenters who think that wearing a mask but not putting it over your nose counts. It doesn’t. I wish police would arrest these scofflaws. Thankfully, there weren’t too many of them.

While wearing masks on a flight is a new thing, I was glad for it. In addition to reducing the likelihood of acquiring or passing on covid-19, they reduce the likelihood of acquiring all sorts of sicknesses. The lady next to me was suffering from some sort of cold. Wearing her mask might keep me from getting whatever she got. So I’m hoping that one result of this is that when the pandemic is over that the masking requirements in airplanes and terminals remains. It’s a sensible precaution and really no bother at all.

More masking is happening in Florida than I expected. People wore masks in the terminal, and outside of it. Here in our hotel people are mostly masked. This could be because Fort Lauderdale is a relatively blue part of Florida. Or it could be that the Delta variant, which knocked Florida for a loop, knocked some sense into a lot of the people here. Curiously Florida now has one of the lowest covid-19 infection rates in the country. This is likely because Delta tore through the state. One effect of all those deaths and hospitalizations is to make the virus harder to transmit.

But we’re ready. With a fresh booster shot coursing through our veins and masks up the wazoo, we’re ready to cruise. Some masking will be needed on the ship, but it will be minimally invasive. The West Indies awaits.

Stay calm and stop doing stupid stuff

Was my last post too alarming? I actually hope it was. But I’m hardly alone thinking the end is nigh for democracy in our country. Thanks to gerrymandering, the number of competitive House districts is now nearly nonexistent. An institute that monitors the health of democracies listed the United States as a backsliding democracy. It’s hard to ignore such blatant signs, as if virtually the whole Republican Party marching in step with Donald Trump was somehow not enough evidence.

At least I can say that the United States is part of a larger trend wherein people decide to trade in messy self-governance for autocrats. We’re hardly the only country with antivaxxers either, as recent demonstrations in Europe show.

But perhaps our institutions are stronger than they appear to be and we’ll weather this somehow. Perhaps at least the Senate will remain in Democratic Party hands after the 2022 election. Perhaps the combination of the so-called Build Back Better bill and the recently enacted American Recovery Act will tame inflation and improve things for ordinary people sufficient so that voters will reward Democratic candidates next year in numbers sufficient to overwhelm voter suppression efforts. Giving in to despair is a pretty good way to ensure the outcome you don’t like.

Meanwhile, I can at least stop doing the stupid stuff. Emotions are more powerful than reason. It’s something Republicans have figured out decades ago and have hammered home to great success. But sometimes it can be counterproductive, such as if it makes you virulently antivax.

I too am sick of living life behind a mask, but not stupid enough to go around unmasked in potentially dangerous situations. So I’m likely to still be around if the Apocalypse happens. It’s unlikely many of these antivaxxers will be. In the interim I can hope that maybe sufficient numbers of us same people will wrest control of our politics again. It’s lately led me into dark places like suggesting we encourage antivaxxers.

There is good news out there, if you look for it. Antivaxxers are a virulent minority. Most of the rest of us are sensible enough to get vaccinated. A couple of weeks ago I got a booster shot. I got Moderna shots, but for a booster I chose Pfizer. I read that Moderna recipients might get a slightly higher boost from a different messenger RNA type shot.

This vaccination business is a long slog, but it’s helping reduce covid-19’s mortality rate. Bloomberg has been tracking this stuff. Worldwide, 7.73 billion vaccine doses have been administered. 451 million doses have been administered in the United States. 1.45 million doses were administered just last week. Now anyone who had a shot more than six months ago can get a booster. In addition, children as young as five can now get a vaccine. About sixty percent of Americans are fully vaccinated and 10.6 million of us have gotten a booster vaccine dose too. All this is very encouraging and suggests that we’re beating this thing.

All this happened of course during a period of major civil unrest and protest. Americans don’t like to be told what to do, but most of us understand vaccination is both in our self-interest and in the national interest. Most of the hesitant will reluctantly get vaccinated if life becomes too difficult for them otherwise.

By President Biden pushing mandatory vaccinations where possible he is also slowly turning the pandemic into an endemic disease. We’re likely to get at least one more wave this winter, as one is underway in much of Europe. But the disease is becoming less lethal simply because more of us are vaccinated. With my latest booster shot, there is probably a better than even chance that even if exposed to the virus, I won’t develop any symptoms. If I do it’s very unlikely I will require hospitalization and with no other chronic health conditions (unlike Colin Powell), it’s extremely unlikely to kill me.

This was my thinking a couple of months ago when we booked a cruise in the midst of a summer spike. I anticipated a booster, but also likely falling infections by the time we took our cruise which starts in eight days. Cases will likely be on the rise again by then, but by being on a cruise where everyone is vaccinated and tested, and who wear masks in most public spaces on the cruise, and by our likelihood to ward off any infection being pretty high due to the booster, it’s more than reasonably safe, much safer than our last cruise at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Most of the time we will use cloth or paper masks, but we’ll also carry an N95 mask for use when we are in crowds in airports and in Florida. I can still sit on the promenade deck unmasked, enjoy the open oceans and read in a deck chair. I can also do this on our balcony. And I can enjoy the company of amiable strangers over meals with little likelihood of infection. It’s not a zero risk vacation, but by remaining with a tested crowd and donning masks when needed, I can enjoy life with people again, at least for the duration of the cruise.

Antivaxxers have repeatedly ignored government recommendations at the cost of many lives. They did this under the illusion they were exercising freedom, when it’s impossible to be free if you are dead. The State of New Hampshire’s motto is Live Free or Die. By ignoring the government and the medical establishing, for antivaxxers it’s increasingly live free and die. For me and most of the rest of us, it’s live with some reasonable constraints on our freedom and you can be reasonably free to enjoy life and not die.

Sensible people realize that medical science is imperfect. Novel viruses like this coronavirus variant take a while to be understood and for sensible mitigation strategies to be figured out. You simply do the best you can with the best information out there, which will come from people who do this as a profession. Follow their guidance as the pandemic evolves. Don’t do the stupid stuff. Listen to your head, not your heart when it comes to something as fundamental as staying alive.

If you are sane like me, it’s a completely reasonable and sane way to get through this and to be around for what comes next.

Tomorrow’s unfortunate news today

I can see the future! Obviously I’ve made lots of predictions over the years and many of them turned out wrong. And while I can’t say exactly when and how things will happen in the future, I can see the future of the United States easily enough over the next decade or so. Most likely, so can you. And it’s pretty depressing.

You can see it too if you are paying attention. Republicans have given up on democracy. They actually gave up on it decades ago, but they knew the only way to get rid of it was to make it a long term project. And they have. For forty years or so they’ve been chipping away at it and they are likely to win at the project, at least in the short term. One things which is clear: if you think things are crazy now, just wait. It’s going to get much, much crazier.

And so much of this is preventable. It requires two erstwhile Democratic senators, Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) to do something they don’t want to do: change Senate filibuster rules so national voting rules can change. Of course, Republicans won’t allow it. Why on earth would they ever vote against the self-interest of their own party?

The most modest proposal by Manchin would simply require all states to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department on their voting rules. This would presumably strip states of the ability to offer fewer polling sites in black and minority neighborhoods. House Democrats want to outlaw partisan gerrymandering, at least in federal elections. But in any event, it’s a dead idea. Even if Manchin agrees to amend filibuster rules in this case, Sinema has expressed no interest. So we’re going into the 2022 and 2024 elections with gerrymandering cranked up to an 11 in Republican states. This means Republicans are almost guaranteed to win back the House in 2022.

It’s abundantly clear that most Americans don’t really care about democracy. For decades Republicans have been stripping most civics classes from school curriculum, so it’s more than possible these now adult voters have only a hazy idea of what democracy is about anyhow. Gerrymandering and voter suppression have been going on for decades, distributing power disproportionately, and it’s left voters unmoved. What they do care about is gas prices and they will hold politicians in power accountable if they get too high. This largely explains Joe Biden’s tanking approval ratings.

Voters also have no patience. They expect everything to be done yesterday. Biden is doing a remarkable job moving legislation through a highly partisan Congress with tiny margins, but they don’t care. They are fixated on prices at the pump. Climate change? They don’t care. Climate change is an existential crisis but they are just trying to get through the day. There is plenty of evidence that voters are already ignoring plenty that Democrats have done for them, like temporary child care tax credits. They don’t see these things; they only see the price of gas at the pump.

Regardless, voting matters little if the results can be easily overturned. These red states are putting partisan hacks in charge of their election systems and are allowing state legislatures to overturn results if they don’t like the results. It’s the sort of election Vladimir Putin would approve of, and it’s coming to the USA. For sure though it will be in place in 2024 when narrowly red states like Georgia simply won’t let its voters have a say if their voters vote for a Democratic president. The state board of electors will assign them to the Republican candidate anyhow.

Once Republicans are in charge, adhering to the rule of law will seem quaint. Trump proved skilled at manipulating the Justice Department. In a future Trump or Republican presidency, the rule of law won’t mean much. In the unlikely event the Supreme Court rules against the administration, that won’t mean much either. President Andrew Jackson’s Trail of Tears was a direct result of openly defying the Supreme Court on the matter of relocating native Americans. Jackson realized the court’s authority could not be backed up by force. It depends entirely on the integrity of the president, who will have none.

So expect it: law enforcement will become partisan and selective. The president will ignore decisions he doesn’t like. The president will issue executive orders that violate the law and the constitution. With the Congress in Republican hands, and likely to stay there through a corrupt election process, rule of law and justice just become moot. The president does what he wants and we effectively have a Congress that merely salutes the president. It’s coming.

Of course there will be resistance. There will be inevitable court challenges, huge marches and demonstrations, etc. And because they can, law enforcement will get very heavy handed. Not just the National Guard but the entire U.S. military will be used to enforce martial law. And it won’t end there. Inevitably there will be pogroms and systemic retribution and persecution. Anyone who ever spoke up against Republicans will be targets, and you can bet they will include Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden and plenty of others. At some point they will probably come for me too.

It’s coming, it’s coming. It’s all so clear and obvious. But it’s not clear to senators Sinema and Manchin, even though this behavior is entirely predictable. They just prefer to live life with blinders on. History will be extremely unkind to them, if it can be written at all. Like so-called Critical Race Theory, the victors won’t allow it and at some point will make truth illegal.

I wish this weren’t going to happen, but I don’t see how it will be stopped. God help us. If you are a praying person, it’s time to pray. And if you’re not, it’s a good reason to pray anyhow because there simply isn’t the political will to do what much be done to save the republic.

It’s time for Democrats to encourage Republicans to be anti-vaxxers

I’ve reluctantly concluded that it’s in our national interest to encourage Republicans not to get vaccinated. Really, those of us who care about a true representative democracy and civil rights for all should be giving gobs of money to Facebook and right wing sites to make sure they keep reinforcing anti-vax messages.

It’s cruel, it’s crazy but it’s also what Republican “leaders” have been doing to their own supporters since the covid-19 outbreak began. They judged the cost the cost of killing off so many of their supporters justified the larger goal: to wrest political control and to ensure a future Fascist States of America. And true to form, the sheeple that form the basis of their party followed along, dying disproportionately, needlessly and pointlessly of covid-19.

Yes, this left a lot of grieving family members and orphans. My new suggestion for us Democrats to encourage them would leave more of the same. But desperate times call for desperate measures. If working with Republican “leadership” we can kill off enough of their voters, then maybe our coming democracy crisis can be averted.

Implicit in the idea of democracy is that the voters are well informed. It’s clear that Republican voters are not as they are largely only getting one perspective. The switches in their minds that allows critical thinking has been turned off, and appears to be permanently turned off. Most of these Republicans who get covid-19 and survive it don’t seem to regret their foolish behavior. It’s clear they have no problem at all passing on this disease in the name of “freedom”, and are highly offended at the mere idea of masking up in public places. They are already public health menaces. They are already threatening the lives of the rest of us. And they’ve been at it for nearly two years now.

Democrats have a basic humanitarian instinct built in. That’s true with me. Of course I hoped Republicans would avail themselves of highly effective vaccines for covid-19 that were available for free. I hate to see anyone suffer because I’m not a sadist, and that includes those whose political views I find repugnant.

For Republicans though, sadism is the whole point. Freedom equals sadism. Gaining disproportionate political power is justified by all means necessary, legal, illegal or immoral. “Owning the libs” is the oxygen that seems to keep them alive. They can’t wait to have a fascist state. Many of them are looking forward to civil war and looking forward to hanging a lot of people like me at the earliest opportunity that their future fascist state allows.

Given these indisputable facts, maybe by me and people like me simply encouraging their own proclivities to kill their own kind by promoting counterproductive disease management policies is something of a kindness. It’s a kindness to me, as I have some hope of surviving their obvious hopes of genocide. If there has to be genocide, let them do it to themselves.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Right now a global climate change summit is wrapping up in Glasgow, Scotland. With a Democratic administration, we are making substantial commitments to address our disproportionate share of carbon and methane emissions. It’s clear though that a future Republican administration, much like the unlamented Trump Administration, would simply ignore the issue, if not fan its fames. The effects of the climate crisis are crystal clear. Republicans in power would do everything possible to make it worse.

So it’s imperative that we kill a lot of Republican voters prior to the 2022 and 2024 elections. The easiest and most benign way to do so is simply to encourage them to double down on their own stupidity. Let’s taunt them even. “So many of you so-called Republicans are secretly getting the covid shot! You are hypocrites! You should not allow any of your neighbors to get anywhere near a CVS Pharmacy. You should demand the local CVS and Walgreens withdraw all covid-19 vaccinate shots, and the same is true with your hospitals and physicians offices! It should not happen. Form militias to make sure it can’t happen!” It’s likely this would play right into their playbook, and their “leadership” would approve. To the extent possible, we want to clear the voting roles of these people, which is possible if they die painful deaths from a wholly preventable disease. Clearly this will help them feel as if they are owning the libs … any of them who are left anyhow.

All this feels deeply wrong to me, and goes against all my humanitarian principles. But it seems to be necessary and this is the most benign way possible to do it: by simply reinforcing their own prejudices.

So I guess make it so.

Nantucket

When you are married, unless you are a traveling salesman you don’t tend to travel alone. But on rare occasions I do travel alone.

Today I spent my second day traveling alone in Nantucket, a spit of land about twenty miles long off Cape Cod. My wife has a gaggle of far flung girlfriends taking over our house this weekend. Traveling to Nantucket seemed better than dealing with the noise and lack of privacy I’d have to endure. It was that and I’ve always wanted to go to Nantucket. I doubted I could coax my wife to visit it, so why not?

Nantucket Harbor Area
Nantucket Harbor Area

Martha’s Vineyard is probably the more famous spit of land off Cape Cod. I’ve been to Martha’s Vineyard but once was enough, perhaps for life. But except for Woods Hole and Falmouth, Cape Cod was largely unknown to me. This visit marks my first time I’ve to the arm of the cape. To get to Nantucket you need a ferry, and most of them go out of Hyannis, on the south end of Cape Cod.

It wasn’t just wanderlust that took me to Nantucket. I come from a family of ten. Perhaps to feel better for having a large family, my father read us Cheaper by the Dozen as children. The book relates the large Gilbreth family of the early 20th century. The patriarch, Frank, made a lot of money in the emerging field of motion study. He helped businesses find ways to accomplish manual labor more efficiently, which allowed him to prosper while having a dozen children. In the book, the family’s lengthy summer vacations to Nantucket took up a chapter or two. The family holed up near the beach at a house with two adjoining lighthouses they called The Shoe.

The Shoe still exists! I rented a bike today to see the island, and one of my first stops was Hulbert Avenue where the two lighthouses, renamed by Frank as Mic and Cyc can still be found. The lighthouses were sold to the Gilbreths and moved inland. The two light houses plus the main house were affectionately called The Shoe for Old Mother Hubbard who had too many children. The Gilbreth house has likely been rebuilt since the late 1910s and 1920s when the Gilbreths were summer visitors. The neighborhood feels upper middle class.

“The Shoe”

Since I only had two nights, I had to be selective. The guy at the bike rental shop warned me that I could not bike both sides of the island in a day, so I chose the eastern side of the island. I imagined Nantucket to be more rural and less populated than Martha’s Vineyard. It is certainly harder to get to, and a very pricey place to live. Getting to and from the island will cost you at least $50 or so. If you want to bring a car back and forth, it’s over $300. Known mostly for its summer tourists, in November, the main city at the harbor feels 75% shut down. I was lucky to be able to rent any bike, as only one bike shop remained open. Fortunately, it was only two blocks from my B&B.

For being a very new island, Nantucket has quite a bit of history. It only emerged from the ocean about five thousand years ago, after the last glacial melt. This suggests it won’t endure very long. Given our climate change crisis, it may be mostly underwater in fifty years. Naturally, Native American tribes beat the Europeans there.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Nantucket gained fame as the home of whaling. Until the discovery of petroleum, whale oil was in large demand and most of it was refined in Nantucket. Fleets from Nantucket traveled the world’s oceans and brought back the whale oil to Nantucket.

It was about the time the Gilbreth’s found the island that it found a new mission: a summer destination for well moneyed tourists, many of whom like the Gilbreths built houses. Its isolation allowed its citizens to become surprisingly progressive. There was a large Quaker community here, and people who felt exploited often came to Nantucket because no one particularly cared if you were not white.

Brant Point Lighthouse and Harbor
Brant Point Lighthouse and Harbor

Some of the earliest women in American politics came from Nantucket. Nantucket generated one of the first accredited female physicians in the 19th century. Psychologically, you feel away from it all on the island. Except for the few that arrive by plane, getting to the island or off of it involves a ferry. You can still take the old fashioned steamboat ferries, but I arrived on one of the high-speed ferries that shortens the commute to an hour each way versus two and a quarter hours for the steamboat ferry.

November turned out to be a good time to visit. While the days are short, you don’t have to fight traffic although downtown it was still hard to find a parking space. With temperatures in the fifties and abundant sunshine, biking was a pleasure. The island has many bike trails that I followed out to the town of Siasconset on the southeast side of the island. There I encountered the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in many years. Looking out to sea, I realized a seal was surreptitiously looking back at me from time to time.

Beach near Siasconset
Beach near Siasconset

Like Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket today feels largely like a place for the wealthy to live or get away to. But it feels less busy than the vineyard. As on Martha’s Vineyard there are plenty of ordinary people, mostly engaged in commerce, that somehow get by in spite of the high cost of living. I paid $60 for dinner for very good chicken curry with naan and desert. To live here must mean a lot of additional expenses going to and from the island. The high cost of living is explained in part by the costs of getting goods to the island. The Steamship Authority carries a lot of loaded semis to and from the island. I watched them queue up this afternoon from an observation post on the top of the Nantucket Whale Museum.

There are no mountains on Nantucket, and it is less forested than Martha’s Vineyard. But after biking more than twenty miles of biking today, I discovered I spent a lot of calories getting up gently rising bluffs of compressed coral. You can find what looks like many multi-million dollar estates, not just on bluffs by the sea, but further inland.

In town, you get a picture perfect vision of New England island life: cobblestone and bricked streets, long wharves, Cape Cod houses, picturesque streets with eateries, boutique shops, B&Bs and rental units, most pretty close to the beach.

So Nantucket certainly does feel unique and special. That it’s hard to get to is part of its allure. You don’t go to Nantucket on a whim, at least not unless you have a sizeable bank account. The mainland is just barely visible, and only on clear days. In most directions if you look out there is nothing to see between you and Europe.

If I lived long enough, I’d enjoy spending a decade or so on Nantucket. Meanwhile, I feel privileged to have come here, however briefly.

Dogmatism is our enemy

Dogma in the broad sense is any belief held with unquestionable certainty.

Wikipedia

America is being strangled by dogmatism. Happy yet?

We’re awash with dogmatism and thanks largely to social media and more specifically Facebook, most of us are living in a dogmatic virtual reality. So dogmatism was driven in part by the dogma of capitalism: that the capitalism is always good and the private sector’s innovations like social media should go unquestioned.

But when you look at what’s wrong here in America and in most of the world, the root issue is dogma. It’s killing us. It’s not just dogmatic capitalism, it’s the dogma in most religions and most of our political parties. Right now dogma is consuming the Republican Party. That’s the thing about dogma. If you accept a dogma, by definition you don’t have to search for the answers: they are already there. It’s right and just for you to “make it so” regardless of the cost.

Dogma shuts the mind behind a steel door. And the inside room is designed to be so super comfy you never have to leave. If you need entertainment, there is the large screen TV that watches you all day parroting the message of 1984. Big Brother knows best. You can delegate all thinking to him. Your role is to sing his praises and when needed fight to the death to make sure we are always at war with Eastasia.

What really upsets the dogmatic is when people question their dogma. The response is to not allow it to be questioned. America has never been a racist country so simply prohibit its teaching in principally southern states. Abortion is the taking of life so simply don’t allow it, even though a zygote is not even technically alive and can’t even become an embryo without a uterus attached. The world is a messy place, but we can at least pretend it’s not a messy place by simply refusing to accept reality. With enough dogma, reality is irrelevant. You make your dogma that which everyone must do and this dogma becomes reality.

Pluralism is the idea that we are a bunch of people with different perspectives so we have to work together cooperatively as best we can. Dogmatism is fundamentally opposed to pluralism. That we know how dogmatic regimes all ends up though does not seem to be enough to stop these dogmatists from requiring everyone to be dogmatic just like us. When dogmatism directs a state, it becomes tyranny. So not surprisingly, the dogmatic are rushing to create tyranny. Only in tyranny where they get their way can they find peace.

It’s just that no tyranny lasts forever. Hitler’s didn’t last much more than ten years and killed tens of millions of us. Ditto with Stalin’s tyrannical reign, and arguably he killed a lot more than Hitler. But the champ of them all was probably Mao Zedong. Somewhere between 15 and 55 million people died in China as a result of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. As so it has gone time after time for millennia. So we can predict with almost absolute certainty that if the dogmatists in the Republican Party get their way, it will happen here too.

The irony of course is the United States was founded specifically as a response to repeated lessons learned in Europe and elsewhere. Our founding fathers learned firsthand why it’s a really bad idea to merge church and state, or to have a king. We set up a republican form of government specifically to keep from happening exactly what the Republican Party now seems eager to create. Through pluralism we would not find peace exactly, but we would create a government that could peacefully work through differences between various factions. It obviously went awry during the Civil War, but the Union eventually prevailed. Now Republicans want to create a new civil war, and seem to be chomping at the bit to get it started.

So far at least they are trying to do it through cooption, rather than overt violence. If you can seize the powers of government through technically legal but dubious means, you can make it so. It’s been a project Republicans have been working at for decades that is now coming to fruition. They’ve packed our courts with conservatives. Through gerrymandering and voter suppression, they are giving themselves grossly disproportionate minority control of government. Now they are working hard to ensure they never have to relinquish power. They are giving state legislatures the power to overrule to voters choice and putting in partisan election officials to ensure that the ballots are stuffed so they can’t possibly lose. Once they control all three branches of government, with no constraints on their power, they simply take charge forever. Law that says otherwise is only meaningful if someone will actually enforce it.

Realizing all of this, I suggested that maybe we don’t want to save the republic. These states are run by dogmatists and they won’t see reason. It would be better to let them go and let the rest of us states that do believe in pluralism retain a functioning government that actually represents the will of the people. It’s unclear though whether these rebel states would be satisfied. Their goal seems to be about power and control, and they appear all too willing to institute fascism in blue states simply to “own the libs”. Somehow, fascism will Make America Great Again.

Few of these red states, in an honest election, would actually vote to secede. Alabama and Mississippi might but not even Texas would in an honest election. Leaders in these states seem to sense this which is why they want to preclude its possibility by wresting control from a democratic process. God help us.

The news from Newport News

My blogging has been delayed by an overdue family reunion. Months in the planning, all but one of my siblings and most of our spouses met in southern Virginia, our first get together since my father’s funeral in 2016.

We chose what turned out to be a beautiful but eclectic rental house on the James River near Spring Grove, Virginia. This manor house was built in 1885 and is part of a larger Baptist Edge Christian Camp. Most of us were not aware of its rules, which included no alcohol with the threat of immediate eviction if we imbibed on the campus. It didn’t stop us from drinking several bottles of wine while we were there, but we were discreet enough to put the empty bottles in our cars for disposal off campus. The alcohol prohibition seemed quite odd, as if these Christians were unaware that Jesus drank wine at the Last Supper. Also, we found wine glasses in the cupboard.

Manor House at Edge Christian Camp
Manor House at Edge Christian Camp

The house itself was in need of a lot of maintenance but was certainly functional and included a large kitchen, dining room, parlor and a large enclosed deck with lots of tables for playing cards. It was a mini Tara and scratched whatever itch I had to live on a plantation for a while. It stands on a bluff overlooking the James River and was so far off the beaten path that Hooterville would have been a major metropolis. The closest town of Surry was a 20 minute drive away. You had to drive many a poorly marked back road that turned into an unpaved stretch, then take a “road” around a tree to get on the campus.

James River
James River

The Tidewater area of Virginia is pretty amazing. It sits at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. The James River is just one of three major rivers that flow into the area. (These include the York and Rappahannock rivers.) Most rivers tend to be pretty narrow, but it’s hard to find a stretch of these rivers less than a mile across. So if you are a boater, it’s an ideal location to live as there are waterways everywhere as well as access to the Atlantic Ocean if you want to go that far. It’s also likely to be severely impacted by climate change. Sea levels are already rising, making my sister’s house in Poquoson a likely future casualty. Fortunately, she expects to move from the area within a few years to higher ground.

Jamestown - Scotland Ferry
Jamestown – Scotland Ferry

There’s a lot of history to be found in the area. One of the first places we visited was Jamestown, right across the river from us, accessed by the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry which runs every half hour. Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in North America. Settled by venture capitalists in England, it was never financially successful. Early colonists died of hunger, disease and malnutrition. But it endured, which makes it historically significant. Technically though the first European settlement in North America happened in St. Augustine, Florida. It just took a couple of hundred years for the title to pass from the Spanish to Great Britain and then to the United States.

Jamestown
Jamestown

One of the areas downsides is its traffic. It took us more than an hour to get to any site from our house. The dearth of bridges across the James and York rivers make traveling tedious, as did the frequent traffic congestion. Williamsburg, Newport News, Yorktown and Hampton are all on a peninsula between the York and James Rivers, further limiting mobility. The Colonial Parkway at least makes for a scenic road to get between places. After Jamestown, we took it to tour Yorktown.

As you should recall, the Revolutionary War ended at Yorktown. A French fleet bollixed up the British fleet by keeping it from getting out of the Chesapeake Bay. A combination of our soldiers and French soldiers laid siege to Cornwallis’s forces there, who eventually surrendered. I came back two days later to tour the actual battlefields, where the earthen berms created by our forces still exist.

Yorktown battlefield
Yorktown battlefield

With just three full days and many family obligations, plus the long commutes to and from our house, touring was limited. But we did manage a tour of the Norfolk shipyards, which documents the huge size of the U.S. Navy. The area though is rife with other government institutions, including Army and Air Force bases, and a NASA research facility at Langley Air Force Base where my sister leads a team of spaceflight researchers. We also took in the Virginia Air and Space Science Center, and was given a guided tour by my brother in law. He has excellent credentials as he used to be the manager for the International Space Station.

Apollo 12 command module
Apollo 12 command module

So it was a great albeit somewhat short reunion, made longer by the hour-plus hour drives each way from our home in Massachusetts and the usual traffic woes between them. A “bomb cyclone” that hit New England even affected us as its winds whipped up the waters, making for a loud night of gale force winds locally that kept us from getting much sleep.

The Hampton Roads area though is worth more extended visits. It’s one of these areas of the country that should be visited much more than it is and would be quite an interesting and exciting area to live.

Speculations on the future of digital “currencies”

So my $88.31 or so that I was paid in BitCoin on July 1st is now valued at $174.20, according to BlockFi, where it still sits because I’ve been too lazy to sell it and turn it into U.S. dollars. Looks like my natural lethargy worked in my favor as if I had sold it for on August 2nd, when I last blogged on this topic, it was worth $109.71. I’d be out the $64.49 in extra value it has accumulated since then. If the “currency” continues to rise as it has since I acquired it on July 1st, I’ll get a 666% return on investment and it will be worth $587.95 on July 1st, 2022.

The people who study this stuff think that maybe one BitCoin will hit $100,000 soon, perhaps because it looks like a BitCoin futures electronic trading fund (ETF) will soon be approved by regulators. Anyhow, the guys I follow on YouTube are still all agog on digital currencies. Graham Stephan is upping it to five percent of his portfolio.

Should I do the same? With our portfolio hovering close to $2M, that would be $100,000. No, I don’t think so. But since I have only $174 of digital currency at risk, I see no harm in keeping the BitCoin I have to see how it does as a speculative asset. It will be interesting to track it at yearly intervals.

These digital “currencies” are clearly becoming a new market, like it or not. Lots of people like me continue to feel largely baffled by these virtual currencies. It’s easier to get behind them though when you consider that most currencies are like BitCoin: virtual. That’s true of the U.S. dollar because it’s a fiat currency.

In my last post on this topic, I lamented that there were no assets behind these “currencies”, unless you count the value of the electricity that it took to “mine” one of these “coins”. The U.S. is now the largest miner of digital currencies, and most of it is occurring in Texas where electricity is cheap, at least until there is another winter storm that knocks out most of its power grid. Since most of this power comes from non-renewable sources, owning currencies that are energy intensive to mine, like BitCoin, should come with a carbon tax. Maybe that would deflate its surreal valuation.

Its value is based purely on supply and demand. Which makes me wonder if these currencies are the latest version of a Ponzi scheme and I now own a tiny fraction of an electronic tulip. If it’s a Ponzi scheme, you want to sell your crypto before the market collapses.

What perhaps can be said is that this new “market” is still getting established and time will tell if it’s got legs. But on the other hand, BitCoin has been around since 2009. It’s hard to see it collapsing altogether, if only because so many people have vested wealth in it, and won’t want to lose their investment in it. These “currencies” though are so easy to create that clearly not all them will survive.

I do think that these “currencies” that more closely imitate real currencies are likelier to survive. A lot of work is going into creating versions of these “currencies” that act as currencies. For example, you can buy so-called stable coins whose value is tied to currencies like the U.S. dollar.

These stable coins are generally underwritten by private insurers. Governments are thinking of putting banking-like regulations on companies offering these stable coins, emulating FDIC-like protections. It will be interesting and confidence building if governments but their good faith and credit behind these stable coins by essentially underwriting them. By doing so though they tend to undermine the foundation by which digital currencies were unleashed: to detach themselves from the shackles of traditional currencies. It’s unclear why these “currencies” based on stable coins should be preferred to currencies already in circulation.

I wonder if there will be a Black Tuesday for these currencies. Black Tuesday was the event that kicked off the Great Depression. One of the lessons from Black Tuesday was we needed to keep banks from collapsing, so we formed the FDIC. Because of their decentralized nature though, there’s nothing to prevent a Black Tuesday for crypto, and no organization to prevent it or from happening again.

What’s more likely in my mind is that the block-chain technology rather than these “currencies” will prove to be where its true value lies. Nonfungible tokens, for example, offer proof of ownership and transfer, and work on block-chain technology pioneered by “currencies” like BitCoin. If the goal is to do away with traditional banking, these miners may be onto something. I’m much more skeptical that they can succeed in creating currencies that will be as ubiquitous and fluid as traditional currencies like the dollar.

Waitress vs. Moulin Rouge

We saw two shows during our recent trip to New York City. It was good to enjoy Broadway again, albeit behind a mask. The two shows, both musicals, could hardly be more different. One, Moulin Rouge, won the award for best musical. The other, Waitress, has run sporadically on Broadway since 2016.

Given that Moulin Rouge won best musical, the choice would seem to be obvious. Waitress was nominated for best musical in 2016, but lost. If you were to judge a musical by audience enthusiasm, Moulin Rouge would be the clear choice. It’s relatively new, although it opened on Broadway in 2019 and abruptly closed when the pandemic started. There was a buzz outside the theater as we tried to get in. The lady next to me in row U was hopping with excitement, and she was hardly alone. The dancing was amazing. The songs were familiar and plentiful. The sets and staging were lavish. At the end, people were actually dancing in the aisles. That and the inflated ticket prices should make this an easy call.

We saw Waitress at a Wednesday matinee. It’s based on the 2007 indie film of the same name that was something of a cult hit. Its star, Sara Bareilles, was also the musical’s songwriter and lyricist. There was virtually no dancing, and the sets were rather plain. Perhaps the most interesting item on its set were two arrays of pie plates that went from the stage floor to the top of the curtain.

Moulin Rouge had the virtue of being familiar and comfortable. If you saw the movie, there were virtually no changes except for adding more songs: there was a lot of time to fill. The movie was a surprise hit, fusing modern music with late 19th century Paris. So if you liked the movie, it should be hard not to like the musical. Just don’t expect Ewan McGreggor or Nichole Kidman in the lead parts. In the movie you got Jim Broadbent as Zeigler. Danny Burnstein does a pretty good job as Zeigler, and brings a slightly manic and mischievous energy to the part.

In Waitress, unless you are a Sara Bareilles fan, the music should be unfamiliar and original. Any new music in Moulin Rouge simply wraps the popular tunes you already know. In Moulin Rouge, part of the tension is between the haves and the have nots. In Waitress, the focus is on ordinary people. There is no character like the Duke to loath although lead character Jenna’s husband comes close. In Moulin Rouge, the focus is on love; in Waitress the focus is on good people generally in bad relationships and the mistakes they make. For most of the show the star Jenna is having an affair with her gynecologist.

In the movie Moulin Rouge, Kidman and McGreggor bring a unique energy to their relationship. Sadly, it did not translate well on this Broadway stage. I tried hard to suspend disbelief, but for all the dancing and singing, the characters felt largely emotionally empty. Seeing it on stage made me realize that its plot is just piffle and comes off as extremely unconvincing.

On the other hand, the relationships in Waitress, however dysfunctional, seem grounded in real life and are wholly plausible. So many of us have walked these parts: waitress or waiter, short order cook, frequent diner patron … just ordinary folk. Unless you lived a very privileged life, Waitress is much more relatable. Moreover, at least with the cast I saw, the characters were easy to identify with and the energy on stage between the cast seemed real.

So the result surprised me. I was so excited to see Moulin Rouge as I really enjoyed the movie. The inflated ticket prices we paid and its best musical status made it feel like a sure bet, but it disappointed. Ultimately, it was a lot of glitz and spectacle, but missed the human element.

Waitress, on the other hand, was engaging, endearing, full of life’s complexities, musically enthralling and felt both real and meaningful.

So my take: skip Moulin Rouge‘s high ticket prices and go see a story that’s going to move you instead: Waitress.