The Vilisar Times

The life and times of Ronald and Kathleen and our voyages aboard S/V Vilisar, a 34.5-foot wooden Wm-Atkin-designed sailing cutter launched in Victoria, BC, Canada, in 1974. Since we moved aboard in 2001 Vilisar has been to Alaska, British Columbia, California, Mexico, The Galapagos and mainland Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bahía de Caraquéz, Ecuador, Sunday, 19 October 2008

I have been friends with Lenora Ucko for many years since we met while she was living and teaching in Munich, Germany, back in the early 1970s. Subsequently, she went on to teach at various colleges and technical schools in the U.S.A. She has retired from fulltime teaching and research in Anthropology now, but is very active in StoriesWork (

Henry Ucko, her deceased husband, had been a rabbi in Durham, NC. It was there that I have visited her from time to time over the past few years. Kathleen and I in fact did a song recital in Durham while we were staying with Lenora in 2000. As a thank you for the recital, Lenora gave me a bound copy of songs, which had belonged to her husband’s younger brother, Bernhard Ucko.

Henry Ucko’s father was a rabbi in Koenigsberg, East Prussia, once the home of philosopher Emanuel Kant. For centuries it was German, but has been part of Poland since the end of World War II. Henry Ucko, by the time the war came along, had lived and worked in Berlin before becoming a rabbi in his home city. He left it pretty late, but in November 1939 when shortly after the war broke out, he secured passage on a Dutch ship bound for England. Unfortunately, this ship was either torpedoed or collided with a magnetic mine at night and sank in the English Channel. One hundred passengers died. Eventually, Henry, along with other survivors, covered in diesel fuel and oil and clinging to the lifeboats into which they could not climb unaided, were picked up by a British warship and brought to England. He was wearing only a borrowed matelote’s uniform and wrapped in a blanket. Everything he owned went to the bottom.

The British would not allow foreign aliens to stay on; so eventually he found another Dutch ship that carried him and other refugees to The Dominican Republic, where he arrived in early 1940. He set up a synagogue there, but after the War he made it to the U.S.A. and eventually to Durham, North Carolina, where he established a new congregation before finally retiring there.

No other member of Henry Ucko’s family survived the holocaust. But, I want to tell you the story of Henry’s younger brother, Bernhard. He was an opera singer and had settled in Amsterdam to study and perform. There he met and became engaged to a local girl. When the Nazis occupied The Netherlands in 1940, she and her family hid Bernhard in their house. But, after several visits from the Gestapo or the local police, Bernhard became so afraid for the family’s safety that he decided to give himself up and hope for the best. He was taken never heard from again.

Many years after the War, Rabbi Henry Ucko visited his brother’s fiancee in Holland. She had after the War eventually married and raised a family. Over all the years, however, she had kept Bernhard Ucko’s scores and sheet music. She gave them to Henry, the only tangible artefact of his brother’s life. Many years later, Lenora offered me a bound copy of a Brahms Lieder Album. The linen cover shows sign of age and the colour has gone out of it unevenly. On the marbled inside page of front cover, however, is handwritten in ink, “B. Ucko” in a somewhat Gothic and angular German script. I hope perhaps to do one or two of the songs in the recital in Bahía de Caraquéz, Ecuador, on 11 November.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bahía de Caraquéz, Ecuador, Friday, October 17, 2008

I wrote on Wednesday that we had offered to do a Liederabend in Bahía de Caráquez sometime before Christmas and met with Senora Mendoza de Quijeje, the head of Oficina de Cultura for the city. Yesterday we put on somewhat better clothes including long trousers (instead of shorts) and leather shoes (instead of sandals). Our turnout was enough to raise eyebrows and questions amongst other
cruisers and the staff at Puerto Amistad; several Ecuadorians even asked us if we were going to a funeral. But, we were making a courtesy call to the Alcalde (Mayor) or Bahía de Caráquez, Dr. Mendoza.

The meeting only took about ten minutes. But we were met first my Senora Quijeje, taken to Alcalde’s (“el Senor Alcalde”, as she always referred to him) ante-chamber where we offered something to drink while we waited making small-talk in our broken Spanish. Eventually we were ushered into the wood-panelled office where Dr. Mendoza held court. There were other people circulating in and out or sitting along the wall. At one point he interrupted to take a cellphone call. We offered a little explanation of what we were offering and showed him a sample programme. But clearly he already knew everything and had already signed off on the idea. He just wanted to meet us and thank us personally for doing the concert. He also assured us that he would be in the front row when we came to sing. A very nice courtesy call.

So, don’t miss it if you can, as they say.

Ronald Bird, tenor, & Kathleen Bird, piano

Songs by Schubert, Schumann, Strauss and others

Tuesday evening, 11th November 2008 at 1930
in the recital hall of
Banco Central/ Museo de Bahía de Caráquez

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bahía de Caraquéz, Ecuador, Thursday, October 16, 2008

Up betimes to row to "Puerto Amistad" a little earlier then normal this morning in order to be ready for Wacho if and when he arrives with the newly-fabricated and newly-painted fuel tank. First, I walk into town to pick up new hacksaw blades at Chávez’ hardware, and to pick up some money from the ATM at Banca de Pichinga so I can pay various people involved with work on the boat.

The morning is humid and overcast. No breeze yet. The early morning busy-ness of the town is different than later in the day. Early mornings and after dark is when the town really comes to life. We cruisers miss so much of this because mornings are for working on the boat before it gets too hot, and evenings we are back on the boat at around dark. So this morning was an exception. Come to think of it however, last evening was an exception too since we stayed at Puerto Amistad to watch a movie: “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance kid”; hard to believe that this light-hearted, good-hearted and still-watchable cowboy movie came out in 1969, i.e., nearly forty years ago. LBJ was president of the U.S.A. and the war in Vietnam was just hotting up. A lot of water under the bridge since then.

We stayed on in the evening to watch the final so-called “Presidential Debate”. It wasn’t as deathly boring as the last one, but only because McSame was flailing around him with the same unsubstantiated and distorted accusations that he has used in his ad hominem and disgusting TV ads. Obama had clearly decided not to be bated; over and over again he repeated his promise to lower taxes on the middle class, to push for healthcare and do something about the energy equation.
Since on CNN we could see the candidates nearly the whole time, McShame looked during Obama’s active portions like a mooring ball except when he was snorting and clearly irritated by the punches Obama was taking without any visible sign of pain. Obama only jabbed back lightly while making his explanations. fortunately, this time round Obama’s reasoned explanations seemed like oil on troubled waters and they made McClaim look like a loser. At least to me. But, on the other hand, my mind is made up, and the sooner we see Bush, Cheny, McSlime, Post Turtle & Cie. shunted off into dustbins of history the better for the U.S.A. and the rest of the world. Enough, already!

So, with that cleared up, I stroll into town (which is where this blog began). At Chávez’ hardware I talk to Roberto Chávez (addressed as Don Roberto by his staff, I notice). He and his whole family are dual citizens (U.S.A./Ecuador). His children and grandchildren are all in Florida and maybe one day Roberto and his wife will move up there. For the moment they both work in the largest hardware store in town and live over the shop. I pick up three new blades for Wacho so he can cut out the second fuel tank on Vilisar. ($5 for three Sandweg blades, the best Swedish brand).

I also ask Roberto (in English because he had local customers there) what I should expect to pay for somebody to scrape and paint on the boat. $20-$25 per day. When I said I had somebody who would paint for $10, he said that was a great price if the man did good work.


Of course, I have forgotten the bank card, so have to skip a visit to the bank. Wander down to Cyber Bahía to print out a sample recital programme for the meeting this afternoon with the Alcalde (mayor. The cyber-café isn’t open yet. Frustration all round.

As background, I popped into the culture office at the Municipio (town hall) yesterday afternoon and encountered there Señora Isabel Mendoza de Quijeje, a slightly elderly but refined lady who was sitting next to a younger woman (Sonia Zambrano) at the computer-desk cum reception. It turns out that Señora Mendoza is the head honcho de cultura (honcha?) The room is huge and empty except for the one desk next to the entrance, although there might have been an attached office. It and the whole building has the same dreariness that all public buildings have in poorer countries and sometimes even in rich ones too (I remember the weak, 40-watt lighting in Andrew’s public school in Frankfurt). But, at least, there are no spittoons so omnipresent in China back in the mid-80s when I was there. I explain that my wife and I want to offer to present a public recital (Schubert, Schumann, Strauss, etc.) sometime this Fall. Señora Mendoza responds positively, though in a rather reserved manner. Not surprising, I reckon; how often would she get some Gringo wandering in off the street in shorts and a straw hat and offering to sing Strauss? Probably never up till now. But, we advance (without proff of ability or an audition)to agreeing upon a tentative date (Tuesday, 11 November at 1930 hr.) and a place (the recital hall at the Banco Central/Museo de Bahía de Caraquéz). She even calls over to make sure they still have a piano in good condition. Clearly she is favour of this all, she brightens visibly too when I tell her we are not expecting any money. But she says she still needs to talk to the Alcalde and would I come back today (Thursday) at 1530 to meet with him personally.

Well, that’s been launched. Our programme is ready since we just sang a recital in Dallas. If you can’t change the programme, change the audience.

Through town

The streets are full of pedestrians. A surprisingly large number of young women carrying small babies or toddlers in their arms are on the street. It is rare to see babies in buggies, car-carriers or the like. Babies are carried on somebody’s arm until they can walk. Once they can walk, there is usually another babe in arms arond so small children tag along with Mum by hanging onto her shirttail or purse. No buggies for them either. Maybe there was a baby clinic at the Social Security Centre this morning and that's why there seemed more than a usual number of mothers with babies.

All the little open-air eateries along the Malecón are filled with people getting their desayunos (breakfast). All hearty, though rather starchy comfort food; none of your cornflakes nonsense. Hearty soups, rice, plantain, a piece of fish, fresh tropical juice.

I bump into Manolo, our favourite taxi driver. We banter a bit and I take his picture. He has been suffering from skin cancer recently - on the arm he sticks out the driver-side window all the time. He says it has been responding to treatment, though. He’s in his late forties so skin cancer is no laughing matter. He remains cheerful, however.

Pedi cabs (tricicletos) go by with cargoes or passengers. Today we have the monthly extreme tides and, like every month, the night ferryboat, "Maria Magdalena", is careened on the beach for her monthly bottom-cleaning. I wonder what will become of this old lady when the bridge to San Vincente is completed. If you want to see the new bridge in a computer-graphics, go to This is the town's offical website and there is a picture of the Alcalde too.

Some fish-buyers are waiting with plastic boxes for the panga and dugout fishermen to come in with their catch. The buyers chat amongst themselves and nod as I pass. A slushy-pedicab is standing by to sell drinks to everybody when the fishermen arrive. The owner jumps on the seat of this Pedi cab to have his picture taken.

Back at Puerto Amistad, Wacho and Mario, his helper, show up with the freshly-painted fuel tank. Wacho is suffering from severe sinus pain today. If you can credit it, he is allergic to bananas, a serious issue surely in a country that is the second largest grower of bananas in the world, the largest exporter of the same and where no meal is complete without platenos. His face is swollen and he’s in pain. We agree that the two-part epoxy-tar paint anyway needs a few days to harden before we scratch it up in the re-installation process. Next week sometime then, when he is feeling better. We place the new tank on display behind the bodega. Good advertising for Wacho et alia.

Beauty Queens

While I am writing at a table at Puerto Amistad, some mothers and young girls begin to arrive for a luncheon to honour the various public-school beauty queens. Tomorrow at the Municipio, a teacher named Gissel (pronounced like our Giselle) tells us, there will be a “ Queen of Queens” competition to pick the most beautiful girl of all the public schools.

The girls are delightfully charming and pretty; real ingénues. They come up to look over my shoulder at the pictures I am sorting on the computer screen and then ask to be photographed too. They haven’t even reached puberty yet but already they can strut and pout with the best of them - especially when reminded that they are being photographed. Either the mother or the teacher says, “Modelo! Modelo!”
and the little girls put one foot in front of the other, place one arm akimob on the forward hip and slant one shoulder toward the camera.

It is amazing how eager these kid and their parents are so up for all this stuff. In America nowadays people would be embarrassed to be even remotely connected with such nonsense. Not here! Beauty pageants are a big thing. The zenith was when the Miss World or Miss Universe Competition was staged in Quito a number of years ago. Ecuadorians were in heaven; they still talk about it. Maybe becoming a ‘reina'represents an exit pass from a dull, provincial life. Or at least, the chance to be somebody distinctive. The boys get to become professional basketball aspirants. An American lady with kids in school here told us that girls are not allowed to play sports at school. That’s considered un-ladylike. They can only be cheerleaders. When there is a school band, the boys play the drums and trumpets and the girls get to play only the Glockenspiel or be - wait for it - drum majorettes. I saw a school band practising out on a side street just last week; 8 and 9-year-old boys banging like hell on snare and bass drums or tooting (one note only) into bugles; the 8 or 9-year- old girls were twirling their batons and gyrating their hips in great abandon whilst flashing their underwear. A macho society, for sure.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

THE NEW YORKER, October 13, 2008

(If I were a voter in the USA, this would be my stance. I just couldn't ever have put it as well as this New Yorker editorial.)

Never in living memory has an election been more critical than the one fast approaching—that’s the quadrennial cliché, as expected as the balloons and the bombast. And yet when has it ever felt so urgently true? When have so many Americans had so clear a sense that a Presidency has—at the levels of competence, vision, and integrity—undermined the country and its ideals?

The incumbent Administration has distinguished itself for the ages. The Presidency of George W. Bush is the worst since Reconstruction, so there is no mystery about why the Republican Party—which has held dominion over the executive branch of the federal government for the past eight years and the legislative branch for most of that time—has little desire to defend its record, domestic or foreign. The only speaker at the Convention in St. Paul who uttered more than a sentence or two in support of the President was his wife, Laura. Meanwhile, the nominee, John McCain, played the part of a vaudeville illusionist, asking to be regarded as an apostle of change after years of embracing the essentials of the Bush agenda with ever-increasing ardor.

The Republican disaster begins at home. Even before taking into account whatever fantastically expensive plan eventually emerges to help rescue the financial system from Wall Street’s long-running pyramid schemes, the economic and fiscal picture is bleak. During the Bush Administration, the national debt, now approaching ten trillion dollars, has nearly doubled. Next year’s federal budget is projected to run a half-trillion-dollar deficit, a precipitous fall from the seven-hundred-billion-dollar surplus that was projected when Bill Clinton left office. Private-sector job creation has been a sixth of what it was under President Clinton. Five million people have fallen into poverty. The number of Americans without health insurance has grown by seven million, while average premiums have nearly doubled. Meanwhile, the principal domestic achievement of the Bush Administration has been to shift the relative burden of taxation from the rich to the rest. For the top one per cent of us, the Bush tax cuts are worth, on average, about a thousand dollars a week; for the bottom fifth, about a dollar and a half. The unfairness will only increase if the painful, yet necessary, effort to rescue the credit markets ends up preventing the rescue of our health-care system, our environment, and our physical, educational, and industrial infrastructure.

At the same time, a hundred and fifty thousand American troops are in Iraq and thirty-three thousand are in Afghanistan. There is still disagreement about the wisdom of overthrowing Saddam Hussein and his horrific regime, but there is no longer the slightest doubt that the Bush Administration manipulated, bullied, and lied the American public into this war and then mismanaged its prosecution in nearly every aspect. The direct costs, besides an expenditure of more than six hundred billion dollars, have included the loss of more than four thousand Americans, the wounding of thirty thousand, the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis, and the displacement of four and a half million men, women, and children. Only now, after American forces have been fighting for a year longer than they did in the Second World War, is there a glimmer of hope that the conflict in Iraq has entered a stage of fragile stability.

The indirect costs, both of the war in particular and of the Administration’s unilateralist approach to foreign policy in general, have also been immense. The torture of prisoners, authorized at the highest level, has been an ethical and a public-diplomacy catastrophe. At a moment when the global environment, the global economy, and global stability all demand a transition to new sources of energy, the United States has been a global retrograde, wasteful in its consumption and heedless in its policy. Strategically and morally, the Bush Administration has squandered the American capacity to counter the example and the swagger of its rivals. China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other illiberal states have concluded, each in its own way, that democratic principles and human rights need not be components of a stable, prosperous future. At recent meetings of the United Nations, emboldened despots like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran came to town sneering at our predicament and hailing the “end of the American era.”

The election of 2008 is the first in more than half a century in which no incumbent President or Vice-President is on the ballot. There is, however, an incumbent party, and that party has been lucky enough to find itself, apparently against the wishes of its “base,” with a nominee who evidently disliked George W. Bush before it became fashionable to do so. In South Carolina in 2000, Bush crushed John McCain with a sub-rosa primary campaign of such viciousness that McCain lashed out memorably against Bush’s Christian-right allies. So profound was McCain’s anger that in 2004 he flirted with the possibility of joining the Democratic ticket under John Kerry. Bush, who took office as a “compassionate conservative,” governed immediately as a rightist ideologue. During that first term, McCain bolstered his reputation, sometimes deserved, as a “maverick” willing to work with Democrats on such issues as normalizing relations with Vietnam, campaign-finance reform, and immigration reform. He co-sponsored, with John Edwards and Edward Kennedy, a patients’ bill of rights. In 2001 and 2003, he voted against the Bush tax cuts. With John Kerry, he co-sponsored a bill raising auto-fuel efficiency standards and, with Joseph Lieberman, a cap-and-trade regime on carbon emissions. He was one of a minority of Republicans opposed to unlimited drilling for oil and gas off America’s shores.

Since the 2004 election, however, McCain has moved remorselessly rightward in his quest for the Republican nomination. He paid obeisance to Jerry Falwell and preachers of his ilk. He abandoned immigration reform, eventually coming out against his own bill. Most shocking, McCain, who had repeatedly denounced torture under all circumstances, voted in February against a ban on the very techniques of “enhanced interrogation” that he himself once endured in Vietnam—as long as the torturers were civilians employed by the C.I.A.

On almost every issue, McCain and the Democratic Party’s nominee, Barack Obama, speak the generalized language of “reform,” but only Obama has provided a convincing, rational, and fully developed vision. McCain has abandoned his opposition to the Bush-era tax cuts and has taken up the demagogic call—in the midst of recession and Wall Street calamity, with looming crises in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—for more tax cuts. Bush’s expire in 2011. If McCain, as he has proposed, cuts taxes for corporations and estates, the benefits once more would go disproportionately to the wealthy.

In Washington, the craze for pure market triumphalism is over. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson arrived in town (via Goldman Sachs) a Republican, but it seems that he will leave a Democrat. In other words, he has come to see that the abuses that led to the current financial crisis––not least, excessive speculation on borrowed capital––can be fixed only with government regulation and oversight. McCain, who has never evinced much interest in, or knowledge of, economic questions, has had little of substance to say about the crisis. His most notable gesture of concern—a melodramatic call last month to suspend his campaign and postpone the first Presidential debate until the government bailout plan was ready—soon revealed itself as an empty diversionary tactic.

By contrast, Obama has made a serious study of the mechanics and the history of this economic disaster and of the possibilities of stimulating a recovery. Last March, in New York, in a speech notable for its depth, balance, and foresight, he said, “A complete disdain for pay-as-you-go budgeting, coupled with a generally scornful attitude towards oversight and enforcement, allowed far too many to put short-term gain ahead of long-term consequences.” Obama is committed to reforms that value not only the restoration of stability but also the protection of the vast majority of the population, which did not partake of the fruits of the binge years. He has called for greater and more programmatic regulation of the financial system; the creation of a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank, which would help reverse the decay of our roads, bridges, and mass-transit systems, and create millions of jobs; and a major investment in the green-energy sector.

On energy and global warming, Obama offers a set of forceful proposals. He supports a cap-and-trade program to reduce America’s carbon emissions by eighty per cent by 2050—an enormously ambitious goal, but one that many climate scientists say must be met if atmospheric carbon dioxide is to be kept below disastrous levels. Large emitters, like utilities, would acquire carbon allowances, and those which emit less carbon dioxide than their allotment could sell the resulting credits to those which emit more; over time, the available allowances would decline. Significantly, Obama wants to auction off the allowances; this would provide fifteen billion dollars a year for developing alternative-energy sources and creating job-training programs in green technologies. He also wants to raise federal fuel-economy standards and to require that ten per cent of America’s electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2012. Taken together, his proposals represent the most coherent and far-sighted strategy ever offered by a Presidential candidate for reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.

There was once reason to hope that McCain and Obama would have a sensible debate about energy and climate policy. McCain was one of the first Republicans in the Senate to support federal limits on carbon dioxide, and he has touted his own support for a less ambitious cap-and-trade program as evidence of his independence from the White House. But, as polls showed Americans growing jittery about gasoline prices, McCain apparently found it expedient in this area, too, to shift course. He took a dubious idea—lifting the federal moratorium on offshore oil drilling—and placed it at the very center of his campaign. Opening up America’s coastal waters to drilling would have no impact on gasoline prices in the short term, and, even over the long term, the effect, according to a recent analysis by the Department of Energy, would be “insignificant.” Such inconvenient facts, however, are waved away by a campaign that finally found its voice with the slogan “Drill, baby, drill!”

The contrast between the candidates is even sharper with respect to the third branch of government. A tense equipoise currently prevails among the Justices of the Supreme Court, where four hard-core conservatives face off against four moderate liberals. Anthony M. Kennedy is the swing vote, determining the outcome of case after case.

McCain cites Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, two reliable conservatives, as models for his own prospective appointments. If he means what he says, and if he replaces even one moderate on the current Supreme Court, then Roe v. Wade will be reversed, and states will again be allowed to impose absolute bans on abortion. McCain’s views have hardened on this issue. In 1999, he said he opposed overturning Roe; by 2006, he was saying that its demise “wouldn’t bother me any”; by 2008, he no longer supported adding rape and incest as exceptions to his party’s platform opposing abortion.

But scrapping Roe—which, after all, would leave states as free to permit abortion as to criminalize it—would be just the beginning. Given the ideological agenda that the existing conservative bloc has pursued, it’s safe to predict that affirmative action of all kinds would likely be outlawed by a McCain Court. Efforts to expand executive power, which, in recent years, certain Justices have nobly tried to resist, would likely increase. Barriers between church and state would fall; executions would soar; legal checks on corporate power would wither—all with just one new conservative nominee on the Court. And the next President is likely to make three appointments.

Obama, who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, voted against confirming not only Roberts and Alito but also several unqualified lower-court nominees. As an Illinois state senator, he won the support of prosecutors and police organizations for new protections against convicting the innocent in capital cases. While McCain voted to continue to deny habeas-corpus rights to detainees, perpetuating the Bush Administration’s regime of state-sponsored extra-legal detention, Obama took the opposite side, pushing to restore the right of all U.S.-held prisoners to a hearing. The judicial future would be safe in his care.

In the shorthand of political commentary, the Iraq war seems to leave McCain and Obama roughly even. Opposing it before the invasion, Obama had the prescience to warn of a costly and indefinite occupation and rising anti-American radicalism around the world; supporting it, McCain foresaw none of this. More recently, in early 2007 McCain risked his Presidential prospects on the proposition that five additional combat brigades could salvage a war that by then appeared hopeless. Obama, along with most of the country, had decided that it was time to cut American losses. Neither candidate’s calculations on Iraq have been as cheaply political as McCain’s repeated assertion that Obama values his career over his country; both men based their positions, right or wrong, on judgment and principle.

President Bush’s successor will inherit two wars and the realities of limited resources, flagging popular will, and the dwindling possibilities of what can be achieved by American power. McCain’s views on these subjects range from the simplistic to the unknown. In Iraq, he seeks “victory”—a word that General David Petraeus refuses to use, and one that fundamentally misrepresents the messy, open-ended nature of the conflict. As for Afghanistan, on the rare occasions when McCain mentions it he implies that the surge can be transferred directly from Iraq, which suggests that his grasp of counterinsurgency is not as firm as he insisted it was during the first Presidential debate. McCain always displays more faith in force than interest in its strategic consequences. Unlike Obama, McCain has no political strategy for either war, only the dubious hope that greater security will allow things to work out. Obama has long warned of deterioration along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and has a considered grasp of its vital importance. His strategy for both Afghanistan and Iraq shows an understanding of the role that internal politics, economics, corruption, and regional diplomacy play in wars where there is no battlefield victory.

Unimaginably painful personal experience taught McCain that war is above all a test of honor: maintain the will to fight on, be prepared to risk everything, and you will prevail. Asked during the first debate to outline “the lessons of Iraq,” McCain said, “I think the lessons of Iraq are very clear: that you cannot have a failed strategy that will then cause you to nearly lose a conflict.” A soldier’s answer––but a statesman must have a broader view of war and peace. The years ahead will demand not only determination but also diplomacy, flexibility, patience, judiciousness, and intellectual engagement. These are no more McCain’s strong suit than the current President’s. Obama, for his part, seems to know that more will be required than willpower and force to extract some advantage from the wreckage of the Bush years.

Obama is also better suited for the task of renewing the bedrock foundations of American influence. An American restoration in foreign affairs will require a commitment not only to international coöperation but also to international institutions that can address global warming, the dislocations of what will likely be a deepening global economic crisis, disease epidemics, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and other, more traditional security challenges. Many of the Cold War-era vehicles for engagement and negotiation—the United Nations, the World Bank, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—are moribund, tattered, or outdated. Obama has the generational outlook that will be required to revive or reinvent these compacts. He would be the first postwar American President unencumbered by the legacies of either Munich or Vietnam.

The next President must also restore American moral credibility. Closing Guantánamo, banning all torture, and ending the Iraq war as responsibly as possible will provide a start, but only that. The modern Presidency is as much a vehicle for communication as for decision-making, and the relevant audiences are global. Obama has inspired many Americans in part because he holds up a mirror to their own idealism. His election would do no less—and likely more—overseas.

What most distinguishes the candidates, however, is character—and here, contrary to conventional wisdom, Obama is clearly the stronger of the two. Not long ago, Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, said, “This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.” The view that this election is about personalities leaves out policy, complexity, and accountability. Even so, there’s some truth in what Davis said––but it hardly points to the conclusion that he intended.

Echoing Obama, McCain has made “change” one of his campaign mantras. But the change he has actually provided has been in himself, and it is not just a matter of altering his positions. A willingness to pander and even lie has come to define his Presidential campaign and its televised advertisements. A contemptuous duplicity, a meanness, has entered his talk on the stump—so much so that it seems obvious that, in the drive for victory, he is willing to replicate some of the same underhanded methods that defeated him eight years ago in South Carolina.

Perhaps nothing revealed McCain’s cynicism more than his choice of Sarah Palin, the former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, who had been governor of that state for twenty-one months, as the Republican nominee for Vice-President. In the interviews she has given since her nomination, she has had difficulty uttering coherent unscripted responses about the most basic issues of the day. We are watching a candidate for Vice-President cram for her ongoing exam in elementary domestic and foreign policy. This is funny as a Tina Fey routine on “Saturday Night Live,” but as a vision of the political future it’s deeply unsettling. Palin has no business being the backup to a President of any age, much less to one who is seventy-two and in imperfect health. In choosing her, McCain committed an act of breathtaking heedlessness and irresponsibility. Obama’s choice, Joe Biden, is not without imperfections. His tongue sometimes runs in advance of his mind, providing his own fodder for late-night comedians, but there is no comparison with Palin. His deep experience in foreign affairs, the judiciary, and social policy makes him an assuring and complementary partner for Obama.

The longer the campaign goes on, the more the issues of personality and character have reflected badly on McCain. Unless appearances are very deceiving, he is impulsive, impatient, self-dramatizing, erratic, and a compulsive risk-taker. These qualities may have contributed to his usefulness as a “maverick” senator. But in a President they would be a menace.

By contrast, Obama’s transformative message is accompanied by a sense of pragmatic calm. A tropism for unity is an essential part of his character and of his campaign. It is part of what allowed him to overcome a Democratic opponent who entered the race with tremendous advantages. It is what helped him forge a political career relying both on the liberals of Hyde Park and on the political regulars of downtown Chicago. His policy preferences are distinctly liberal, but he is determined to speak to a broad range of Americans who do not necessarily share his every value or opinion. For some who oppose him, his equanimity even under the ugliest attack seems like hauteur; for some who support him, his reluctance to counterattack in the same vein seems like self-defeating detachment. Yet it is Obama’s temperament—and not McCain’s—that seems appropriate for the office both men seek and for the volatile and dangerous era in which we live. Those who dismiss his centeredness as self-centeredness or his composure as indifference are as wrong as those who mistook Eisenhower’s stolidity for denseness or Lincoln’s humor for lack of seriousness.

Nowadays, almost every politician who thinks about running for President arranges to become an author. Obama’s books are different: he wrote them. “The Audacity of Hope” (2006) is a set of policy disquisitions loosely structured around an account of his freshman year in the United States Senate. Though a campaign manifesto of sorts, it is superior to that genre’s usual blowsy pastiche of ghostwritten speeches. But it is Obama’s first book, “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance” (1995), that offers an unprecedented glimpse into the mind and heart of a potential President. Obama began writing it in his early thirties, before he was a candidate for anything. Not since Theodore Roosevelt has an American politician this close to the pinnacle of power produced such a sustained, highly personal work of literary merit before being definitively swept up by the tides of political ambition.

A Presidential election is not the awarding of a Pulitzer Prize: we elect a politician and, we hope, a statesman, not an author. But Obama’s first book is valuable in the way that it reveals his fundamental attitudes of mind and spirit. “Dreams from My Father” is an illuminating memoir not only in the substance of Obama’s own peculiarly American story but also in the qualities he brings to the telling: a formidable intelligence, emotional empathy, self-reflection, balance, and a remarkable ability to see life and the world through the eyes of people very different from himself. In common with nearly all other senators and governors of his generation, Obama does not count military service as part of his biography. But his life has been full of tests—personal, spiritual, racial, political—that bear on his preparation for great responsibility.

It is perfectly legitimate to call attention, as McCain has done, to Obama’s lack of conventional national and international policymaking experience. We, too, wish he had more of it. But office-holding is not the only kind of experience relevant to the task of leading a wildly variegated nation. Obama’s immersion in diverse human environments (Hawaii’s racial rainbow, Chicago’s racial cauldron, countercultural New York, middle-class Kansas, predominantly Muslim Indonesia), his years of organizing among the poor, his taste of corporate law and his grounding in public-interest and constitutional law—these, too, are experiences. And his books show that he has wrung from them every drop of insight and breadth of perspective they contained.

The exhaustingly, sometimes infuriatingly long campaign of 2008 (and 2007) has had at least one virtue: it has demonstrated that Obama’s intelligence and steady temperament are not just figments of the writer’s craft. He has made mistakes, to be sure. (His failure to accept McCain’s imaginative proposal for a series of unmediated joint appearances was among them.) But, on the whole, his campaign has been marked by patience, planning, discipline, organization, technological proficiency, and strategic astuteness. Obama has often looked two or three moves ahead, relatively impervious to the permanent hysteria of the hourly news cycle and the cable-news shouters. And when crisis has struck, as it did when the divisive antics of his ex-pastor threatened to bring down his campaign, he has proved equal to the moment, rescuing himself with a speech that not only drew the poison but also demonstrated a profound respect for the electorate. Although his opponents have tried to attack him as a man of “mere” words, Obama has returned eloquence to its essential place in American politics. The choice between experience and eloquence is a false one––something that Lincoln, out of office after a single term in Congress, proved in his own campaign of political and national renewal. Obama’s “mere” speeches on everything from the economy and foreign affairs to race have been at the center of his campaign and its success; if he wins, his eloquence will be central to his ability to govern.

We cannot expect one man to heal every wound, to solve every major crisis of policy. So much of the Presidency, as they say, is a matter of waking up in the morning and trying to drink from a fire hydrant. In the quiet of the Oval Office, the noise of immediate demands can be deafening. And yet Obama has precisely the temperament to shut out the noise when necessary and concentrate on the essential. The election of Obama—a man of mixed ethnicity, at once comfortable in the world and utterly representative of twenty-first-century America—would, at a stroke, reverse our country’s image abroad and refresh its spirit at home. His ascendance to the Presidency would be a symbolic culmination of the civil- and voting-rights acts of the nineteen-sixties and the century-long struggles for equality that preceded them. It could not help but say something encouraging, even exhilarating, about the country, about its dedication to tolerance and inclusiveness, about its fidelity, after all, to the values it proclaims in its textbooks. At a moment of economic calamity, international perplexity, political failure, and battered morale, America needs both uplift and realism, both change and steadiness. It needs a leader temperamentally, intellectually, and emotionally attuned to the complexities of our troubled globe. That leader’s name is Barack Obama.

—The Editors

Bahía de Caráquez, Ecuador, Saturday, 11 October 2008

For those of you watching your portfolios head down the drain, this is a reminder that there may be other ways of looking at statistics.

If, for example, you had purchased $1,000 of shares in Delta Airlines one year ago, you would of course have only $49.00 today. If you had purchased $1,000 of shares in AIG one year ago, you have about $33.00 today. If you purchased $1,000 of shares in Lehman Brothers one year ago, you would have $0.00 today. Not good, we can agree.

On the other hand, if you had purchased $1,000 worth of beer a year ago, drunk all the beer, then turned in the aluminium cans for a recycling refund, you would have received $214.00. Based upon the above, the best current investment plan is to drink heavily & recycle. It is called the 401-Keg.

A recent study also determined that, almost unbelievably, the average American walks about 900 miles a year, while another study found that Americans drink on the average 22 gallons of alcohol a year. That means that Americans are getting about 41 miles to the gallon!

Makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Our galley stove is in fact a Magic Chef three-burner stove/oven that was probably installed shortly before Vilisar was launched in Victoria back in 1974. Although the pilot light would work, we never trusted the oven and did all our cooking and baking stovetop. Recently, the front burner had pretty much stooped working and one of the back burners didn’t put out much flame either. Except for the enamel front and the inside of the largely unused oven, the whole cooking top was rusting and unsightly. It was time for something new.

For those of you not familiar with boats, there are basic rules of cruising life established I believe by Queen Elizabeth I in the time of Sir Walter Raleigh requiring that any remedial step taken on a boat require at a minimum six prior steps, that your boat become effectively disabled during the process, that the vessel be completely unable to manoeuvre for the duration and that your living quarters are turned into a squalid mess until the tools are finally put away everything is put back together. This usually takes eight steps and many weeks. I offer these insights for those who think cruising in a sailboat is in any way romantic. Last week we removed the starboard fuel tank. We decided therefore to refurbish or replace the galley stove. The connection is not so obvious: the stove looked like hell anyway and, to get at the fuel-tank mounts we had to get behind the stove.

Since Wacho, mechanico in general, was unable to find anyone locally at first who could refurbish the cooker, we had pretty much decided upon a concinetta (a Chinese-made table-top cooker). Fortunately, a repairman showed up at Wacho’s to say that he could totally refurbish our galley stove, including replacing all the propane burners and leads, replacing any of the corroded and rusted metal bits and spray painting the back. The guy lives with his wife and seven boys out in the barrio of Franca at the edge of Leonidias Plaza. He looked a right thug, to be frank, and I should not like to meet him in a dark alley. I could also not understand anything but the bare minimum of his extremely rapid and rather inarticulate local dialect. I never did understand his name, for example. But he said he would do the work this week and one of his boys, Jonathan, would help him All this for $45! I hesitated for two nanoseconds. You go, man! He was nowhere near as threatening as he looked, either. He was in fact as mild as a lamb. Ab it shy, in fact. He did all the work in Wacho’s work yard, kneeling or squatting in the sun for a long day.

Wacho himself supervised the project and did the spray painting. He also did the running around in his truck to a welding shop to get tinplate bent and some replacement parts handmade. It was a warm sunny, tropical day and nobody had any lunch. I was fading fast even though I had no real work to do except go along to pay for the paint, the nuts and bolts, the welder/bender, etc.

The replacement bits were fashioned by hand out of galvanised sheet metal. It was just like shop class back in school. Like ‘Amigo Felix’, our tank welder, I think the other welder and bender (called ‘El Columbiano’ though he was by no means a Columbian) was pleased to be able to fashion a whole object and not just do the run-of-the-mill, mend-and-make-do projects that he usually gets. He whistled and sang the whole time. Wacho selected this second welder because he also had a large metal bender (not strong enough for bending tank steel tanks but certainly strong enough for our tinplate).

Late this afternoon the galley stove was re-installed and tested aboard Vilisar – with the repairman on board, I might add (it’s kind of like making every parachutist pack his own chute; if we were going to blow up I wanted him on hand). The stovetop works, the oven works and everything is just fine. Tonight we plan to have fried-egg sandwiches and tomorrow the first onboard espresso in nearly a week. Hurrah!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

By Dean Baker - October 6, 2008, 4:55PM

Tom Frank has written a great book that should help drive more nails into the coffin of the conservative movement. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that he doesn't quite put the stake through the heart, which is really what we have to do with this monster.
The problem is that Tom still accepts too much conservative rhetoric at face value. Conservatives do not dislike government or want small government. They just dislike government policies that are designed to help the bulk of the population. They want the government to redistribute income upward and they are happy to have a government that is as big as necessary to accomplish this task. The stuff about small government and leaving things to the market is just pretty rhetoric they use to fool the kids (i.e. us).

It sounds much better to say, "I want to get the government off people's backs" than "I want the government to make the rich even richer." But the latter is the real story of conservatism.

I'll give a few quick examples. Pfizer, Merck and the other major drug companies are extremely profitable because the government will arrest people who sell drugs for which the government has awarded these companies patent monopolies. This requires really big powerful government. The government threatens people with jail for selling a product (drugs) in a competitive market.

Of course, patents serve a purpose. They provide an incentive to innovate. But we can find much more efficient mechanisms to support innovation that won't make these companies rich and require as much government intervention. But the conservatives aren't interested in small government and market efficiency, they want to keep Pfizer, Merck and the rest of Big Pharma profitable.

The same story applies to copyrights in software and recorded music and movies. Isn't it big government when people are tracked in their homes and dorm rooms and face legal action for downloading material off the web? Again, we can find less intrusive ways to support software development and the production of creative work, but the conservatives are interested in making Microsoft and Time-Warner rich, not small government.

The recent reform of the bankruptcy law provides another example of conservatives supporting big government. Part of being a good businessperson is knowing how to assess credit risk. If banks lent money to people who turned out to be bad credit risks, then they are supposed to suffer the consequences. Banks that are bad judges of credit risks go out of business.

But, conservatives did not want to leave the big banks to the mercy of the market. (I'm not talking about last week's $700 billion bailout here.) The conservatives said that if the banks made mistakes and lent money to people who couldn't pay it back, then the big government would step in and help beat it out of them. The new bankruptcy law gives the government a far more active role as a bill collector than the old law, but the "small government" conservatives had no problem with this expansion of government power.

We will be at a serious disadvantage in confronting conservatives until we stop accepting their rhetoric at face value. They are not about small government; they are not about the market. They are perfectly fine with a big powerful government that intervenes in the market all the time. They just don't want a government (big or small) that intervenes on behalf of the middle class and poor.

We have to fight this battle on turf of our choosing, if we let the right pick the terms of the debate, we lose.
Bahía de Caráquez, Ecuador, Monday, October 06, 2008

Ideally we should like to be heading out to The Marquesas at this very moment. But, two things give us pause. First, we are waiting to hear if Canadian friends are going to fly down and travel overland with us to Peru and Bolivia, and second, our fuel tanks are rusting and corroded inside, which causes our fuel filters to clog up at a rapid rate. At $50 per change-of-filters, that can add up. Not to mention that if you don’t change the filters frequently the engine is starved of fuel and loses power. In other words, this is important and we have begun to replace both steel tanks.

Viewed correctly, this should be an interesting way of getting to know another side of Ecuador. And it is. The downside is that at present I have a case of estomacho turistico, which works rather to exhaust and depress me and to take the fun out of bouncing around on bad country roads in the mechanic’s hard-sprung truck.

Getting the first fuel tank out has been a daylong, messy job, which fortunately the mechanic and his helper did as there is no way I could have handled it. The job is part conceptual thinking, part handiness with tools and mostly grunt-work. We simultaneously pull our ancient and rusting propane galley stove to get at the tank mounts. Renovating this old stove with new gas-innards and a paint job has been on our list of improvements for some time. It should cost under $100 while a new galley stove – admittedly a spiffy, stainless-steel cooker from West Marine - costs over $1,200. Under advice, we have abandoned our idea of trashing the old cooker and installing a concinetta, a table-top propane stove, the propane gas guy said that, since the tubing etc. are of very poor metal, the stovetop is not likely to stand up to the marine environment.

With all this work going on, the cabin is currently dirty and messy, we can’t make coffee in the morning and, at present, since our batteries had already been run down and ruined while we were gone for six months, we don’t even have electric lights. This can be depressing at times. Add in the stomach bug, which has now claimed Kathleen as well, and coffee withdrawal symptoms (headaches and lassitude) and you can perhaps understand.

Looking on the bright side however, we have really competent local guys to help us at a price which we could never have afforded in Canada or the U.S.A. Some ex-pats have told me that I overpay the mechanic at $8/hr; in Long Beach a couple of years ago, though, we paid $85/hour! “Wacho”, the mechanic, is in general control of the process of tank replacement. I actually only pay him the hourly wage for the direct work he does on or for the boat. He pays his helpers out of that. He just throws in the running around for free and drags me along to pay for the supplies, put gas in his truck, generally keep him company and to get to know the locals. This is fun. He lines up good craftsmen and workers and saves me a lot of time, wasted energy and frustration having to go up the local learning curve on my own. That has to be worth something.

A good example is our fuel tanks project. The whole issue of new tanks is fraught because one cruising boat, S/V Nine of Cups” had a terrible experience with a firm in Manta. The welding was bad and despite claims to the contrary the tank had never been pressure-tested. There were over thirty leaks; some of the holes actually whistled when put under pressure! Wacho, however, swears by “Amigo Felix”, a local welder, and I have a lot of confidence in Wacho. So, once inspection of our cut-open, old tank led to the conclusion that it’s would not be practicable to renovate it, we three drove on Saturday in Wacho’s truck to Manta. Wacho’s son, George (15, a high-school pupil) and Wacho’s helper, Mario (21, and a father of two kids aged 4 and 2!) were along in the open back to help with the lifting and grunt work.

Steel stockist & welding shop

First, we visit a steel stockist to select two sheets of 3mm rolled steel plate. At $107.40 & 12% sales tax, these were a little cheaper than anticipated. Loading up, we then move on to a nearby metalworking shop where they have big bending presses that can put the right crimps into the sheets. Because they know Felix and Wacho, they agree to interrupt their current work to cut the sheet for us in the right size using a hand-torch. We then moved to the hydraulic bending presses to put the straight-line crimps in the steel plates. These presses give clean bend-lines, which in turn cuts down on the amount of welding needed at the next stage. (I add this information since, if you are like me, you have never seen a steel tank made). Our one still-unused plate of steel (for the second tank when it comes to be made) plus the now cut and crimped pieces for the first tank are all placed in the back of the truck along with some steel bar that Amigo Felix needs for another project back home.

Machining & parts

All the shops and workshops you need are near the bus station in Manta. It’s a real beehive of industry, but all at a very small scale. It also pays to go there with a guide like Wacho and/or Felix. Not only do they know where the good ones are, you get to chat with the owners and craftsmen while they are working on your items. Everywhere I look lining the streets, there is a welder or a bicycle repairman, a carpenter or a car mechanic, a car parts outlet or some other specialty retailer for some trade (welding supplies; fasteners; electricals; electronics; paints/coatings; etc.; etc.; etc.). If necessary, a craftsmen darts around the corner to get a part or bring in another specialist. The two independents are used to working with each other and they settle up later by trading services or in cash. Our machinist needs some small welding done, for example. His neighbour, in this case his cousin or brother-in-law, brings his flame from around the corner and does the job in about one minute. Their badly-lit workshops (not infrequently with jury-rigged wire attachments to the overhead power lines!) are basically store fronts about the size of a small or medium garage. During the day they do at least half of their work in the street. At night around 1830 they pull the steel shutter down when they leave. Maybe they even live upstairs in cramped apartments over the workshop with their wives and children. You almost never see a woman in this district except that she peeps out through the curtains from her upstairs purdah.

There are of course some bigger and more professionally-run workshops, such as the bending shop we visited earlier that works on trucks and heavy equipment, or “El Bruho”, a big machine shop doing most of its work for the Manta fishing fleet. But a large part of “industrial Manta” is comprised of these little one or two-man efforts, with craftsmen who probably have no paper certification; Wacho actually has proper journeyman’s papers as a mechanic, but he like these men also grew up working in father’s business from the age of nine or ten. And, as in all poor countries (I don’t really like the term “Third World countries” as it feels rather patronising) where money is scant and materials are hard to come, these guys can turn sow’s ears into silk purses. They understand flexibility, creativeness and customer satisfaction. Absent any meaningful paper qualifications (we use them in industrialised countries to have portable and recognisable reliability both for employers and customers), you need either personal local knowledge of the local scene so you will know which craftsman is good, honest and reliable. Or, you need a guide. In my opinion, that is frequently Wacho’s biggest contribution to our projects besides of course the direct work he does on Vilisar. And, because he himself is skilled, honest and reliable, he tends to want to work with others of this kind. As we used to say in banking, “First-class managers hire first-class subordinates; second-class managers hire third-class subordinates”.

We also visit nearby “El Amigo”, a specialty hardware and parts store that specialises in O-rings (to confuse students of the language, they are called “orringes” in Spanish!); we need four, diesel fuel-tolerant gasket rings for the ¼-inch steel ‘cookies’ of about 4 or 5-inches in diameter that we had picked up off the scrap heap back at the steel stockists. With these, the O-rings and stainless-steel screws (also from “El Amigo”), we head just around the corner to one of the small machine shops consisting of three lathes and two drill presses.
While we watch and wait, the lad turns the ugly steel ‘cookies’ into shiny caps and backing rings. These are destined to become inspection ports, the steel ring to be welded to the inside of the tank, the flat piece being the outer cover and all to be held in place with the screws and bolts and made leak-proof with the O-ring gaskets. Down the road this will allow us to inspect and clean the bottom of the tanks periodically.

Leaving town with all our errands completed, we stop along the way for the five of us to eat lunch. My stomach has been acting up badly for the last few days and I am on some medication. So I stick to chicken soup. The four guys, however, pile into the almuerzos (set lunch) with a will and even ask for extra rice (the main staple here in Ecuador, not potatoes). Man! Those plates were clean! Any mother would have been proud.

By 1600, two hours later, we are back in Bahía, unloading the steel and agreeing next steps with Amigo Felix. He says he would be starting to work on Sunday afternoon following church (he is a born-again Christian, and elder, I think, at Iglésia Jesús la Roca; he never misses Sunday services and meets for prayer and Bible study during the week). If you have a small shop or workshop, and especially if it is family-owned, you work seven days a week to make ends meet. A business in Ecuador has to be fairly big for there to be regulated hours, and weekends (Saturday afternoon and Sunday) and medical benefits, etc. Or, likely, to pay taxes, as well. We’re talking the cash economy here.

When I drop in on Felix on Sunday afternoon, he is already at work and has the main body of the tank “basted” together with welds and is getting ready to put in the baffles, place the plumbing (i.e., taps, pipes and hoses) and inspection port and then to weld on the top. I decide not to distract him; give the guy a chance to present a good finished product. We have already agreed that Wacho and I will be present at the pressure testing (80 psi for 24 hours, I think Wacho said).

Some boat problems are just a colossal pain in the derriere. But, looked at correctly, it is a chance to learn more about the boat and about the country.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Bahía de Caraquéz, Ecuador, Thursday, October 02, 2008

Monday, “Wacho” Moreiera and his helper Mario came out to the boat to address the issue of our fuel tanks. We had already decided that the tanks had to come out; something is clogging up fuel filters at a far-too-rapid rate. The question is whether they can be re-conditioned and re-installed, or whether we have to make new ones.

Wacho started with the bigger tank. We carry about 75 US Gallons of fuel in two tanks of differing size. The port tank is somewhat smaller to allow space for the inboard exhaust pipe. As far as I know both tanks are as old as the boat (35 years). According to Nigel Calder in his famous electrical and mechanical how-to book for cruisers, steel tanks are quite good but have a useful life of only about ten years. So, thirty-five years is pretty good. The trick seems to be to keep them full of diesel fuel to prevent rusting and crud build-up at the bottom.

The tanks must have been built into the engine compartment before the boat was decked over or at least before the engine was installed. They are heavily made (1/8-inch steel) and attached to structural portions of the boat, five points for each tank. Wacho was convinced he could get the tanks out without removing the Lister engine. And he did, in the end. It just that it took eight hours, much of which he spent lying behind the engine and trapped behind the half-extracted fuel tanks. Some wood had to be chiselled away behind the galley stove, which of course meant removing the stove itself and some ceramic tiles first. (This was all right since we have decided either to rejuvenate the old RV stove or replace it with a 4-burner cocinetta, a table-top propane affair popular in Latin America and perhaps to find new tiles.) The steel attaching lugs (tags)had to be cut away using a hack saw and a lot of prying and jiggling to finally get the damned tank through the engine-room bulkhead and into the cabin. But, as it was, the tank left scars and we even had to remove some wood moldings as well just ot get the etra few milimetres of space. Fortunately there was no need to remove the sliding hatchcover! It was relative childsplay to hand it up through the companionway hatch and onto the deck, where Carlos, from Puerto Amistad came by and toted it ashore for us along with the galley cooker. The cabin was of course a mess with greasy foot and fingerprints everywhere; the two guys, especially Wacho who had done most of the heavy work, were exhausted and covered head to toe in grease. But the first and larger tank was out!

It is always a pleasure to watch Wacho at work. He never hesitates; he never stops until he either gets the job done or he collapses from trying; he is knowledgeable and; hardworking. What more can one ask of a marine mechanic? I did think he was about to give up yesterday a couple of times, though.

Thursday, 02 October 2008

This morning Wacho was back admittedly looking a little pale and exhausted from the strenuous work of yesterday. Mario, his helper, and I carried the galley stove and the fuel tank out to Wacho’s blue, Russian-built stake-truck, and drove off to Leonidis Plaza, the neighbouring village where Felix’s open-air welding shop is located (a metal sign above the gate says “Amigo Felix”). I had met him before for a quick welding job last year and, although like most welding shops his place is dusty and dirty, he seemed to know what he is doing. Wacho, in any case, swears by him.

The outside of the tank still looks good, the welding lines very neat and clean. There is some sort of plastic-like coating on the inboard side and the remainder is painted black. Could it be Stockholm tar? Then, after complimenting whoever had built the tanks in the first place those thirty-five years ago, Felix spent an hour with the cutting torch to cut the end off the big tank. Nice neat lines all done freehand. It took only about two minutes for the three of us to assess that the corrosion and rust on the bottom inside were too far advanced to save the tank. Felix thinks it would soon corrode through.

So, the conversation immediately turned to making new ones. Wacho and I had already decided that we could still get the second and smaller tank out of the boat and that we could possibly use the empty space behind and above the engine where the house batteries had once been situated to fit in a new, third tank. We left it that everyone would show up at Puerto Amistad to measure the new tank space this morning.

My night was quite strange since I seem to have picked up estomacho turistico. This combined with the diet that Kathleen and I have been following made me feel very weak and nauseous. On top of that, we stayed up until 2230 to watch the ‘debate’ between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin. By the time we had rowed out to the boat in a strong ebbing current, I was shaking from the exertion and from the cold (Puerto Amistad is pretty draughty). Kathleen piled a couple fleece blankets on me and finally got warmed up enough to stop shaking uncontrollably and to get some sleep. Awoke feeling very übernächtigt. What I need is a coffee but at present we have no cooking facilities on board and, as it turns out, no drinking water either.

Wacho, Mario and I walked around the town looking to find a cocinetta, a 2-4-burner table top propane cooker. We have never trusted the oven on our RV oven aboard Vilisar, and used it only for storing pots and pans. We do all our cooking on the three-burner stovetop. The old cooker is in pretty bad shape and one of the burners no longer functions. The guy Wacho thought could re-condition the apparatus is no longer in town, it appears. A new, 4-burner cocinetta costs between $35 and $60, depending on the bells and whistles (e.g., trim and electrical sparking, etc.) I measured the cocinettas we saw at the various appliance stores but of course, in my misery last night and this morning, I forgot to measure the space on the boat. Oh, well.

Had agreed to meet Felix and Wacho this morning at 0900 to measure the space behind the engine for an additional fuel tank. But I have now decided just to stick with the two existing ones. Since there was no measuring to do, we set out in Wacho’s stake truck to buy ¼-inch steel plate and to see if a local guy could do the bending on the equipment he has. No deal in both cases. Consequently, we are off in the morning at 0700 to Puerto Viejo, the provincial capital, to buy and bend.

The stockist here in town says what we are wanting will cost $130 a sheet (I estimate 3’x6’, but I’m not sure). Assuming we need two sheets to replace the two existing tanks, that is not too bad. Need to get Felix to make me an estimate for his fabricating and welding work. I also need to talk to him about how to coat the outside to we don’t get any rust in the engine room. The inside will be bare acer negra (black steel) and Felix told me to keep the tank filled up.

Although I don’t feel great again this morning, I am glad we are moving forward on this project. Again, thank goodness for Wacho!!!!

Also had a talk last night with Joe Bayne, the marine electrician who is ordering the new Bosch batteries for us (4x6-volt deep cycle batteries to double our storage capacity, and one 12-volt starting battery; the 6-volt items cost about $135 each). We decided to postpone the purchase of batteries for a couple of months so “our cash resources are not overly stressed” (a polite way of saying things, right?) No problem. Anyway, Joe will have eventually have to get into the engine room and check things over once all these fuel tanks have been pulled out and reinstalled; when you look in there now, all you see is wires hanging down crazily. The two existing Motorex (Columbian) Series 30 batteries we bought two years ago (at $130 each through Puerto Amistad) are pretty much dead. This happened while we were away; no explanation. The starting battery (also a Motorex Series 30) can still be used to start and for some electrical needs on board for the moment if we are careful. Fortunately, we invested in a number of low-draw, LED cabin lights while we were in the U.S.A. These are coming into their own now.

Now, if we can just get a cooker installed, we can have espresso café in the morning.

My camera battery is dead or I would add original photos.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

THE REAGAN QUESTION: Are You Better Off Now Than You Were Eight Years Ago?
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador, 02 October 2008

In his closing remarks during the final presidential debate of 1980, Ronald Reagan famously asked the American people: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"

The table below updates Reagan's question by comparing the state of the economy in 2000 and 2008. 25 indicators of economic well-being and economic performance are compared to find that 23 of the 25 indicators are worse in 2008 than they were in 2000.

Economic Indicator 2000 2008

Unemployment rate: 4.0% 6.1%

Inflation rate: 3.3% 5.4%
Job Growth (preceding 8 years)

Total nonfarm employment: 21.4% 4.3%
Private sector employment: 23.6% 3.6%
Manufacturing employment: 2.9% -22.2%

Employment rate (% of population)
All, age 16 and older: 64.4% 62.6%
Men, age 16 and older: 71.9% 69.1%
Women, age 16 and older: 57.5% 56.5%

Real wage growth (preceding 8 yrs): 8.2% 1.8%

Minimum wage (July 2008$): $6.58 $6.55

Family income:
Median, 2007$: $61,083 $61,355
Growth (preceding 8 yrs): 14.7% 0.4%

Rate (% of population): 11.3% 12.5%
People in poverty (mio): 31.6 37.3

Uninsured (health insurance):
Rate (% of population): 14.0% 15.3%
People w/o insurance(mio): 38.7 45.7

Personal savings (% disposable income): 2.3% 0.6%
College tuition (average per year, 2007$):
Private four-year college: $19,337 $23,712
Public four-year college: $4,221 $6,185

Gasoline (gallon, 2008$): $2.03 $4.09

GDP growth (preceding 8 years):34.2% 19.6%

Productivity growth (preceding 8 years): 15.9% 21.9%

Trade balance (% of GDP): -3.9% -5.1%
Federal debt (% of GDP): 57.3% 65.5%
Net foreign debt (% of GDP): 13.6% 17.9%

This information was prepared by CEPR Center for Economic Policy Review, Washington-based think tank. The authors were John Schmitt and Hye Jin Rho. The full report can be accessed at I apologise that I was not able to create a tidy table for these figures. Haven't figured out how to do that yet on blogger.