AMERICA - The Declione of A Democracy
It's another day of hell in the USA. Youthful members of our nation’s future snuffed out by an angry, misguided, sick individual while many of our politicians, who least we forget are adults, display an unsettling and juvenile lack of concern for their constituents by a reluctance to take any gun control, mental health, or school safety action; action that most Americans, except themselves and the NRA, demand. This writing will spend little time addressing the pros/cons of gun control, which is understandably at the forefront of our national consciousness, except for how it relates to the decline of our democracy and speaks to the paramount reason we even discuss the topic; that reason being the plethora of organizations, NRA among them, that have effectively purchased the loyalty of our politicians to the absurd extreme suggested by our president of arming our teachers. Lack of action is typical and symptomatic of the greed on display daily in the halls of government. As an independent with no party affiliation I came to the belief rather early in life that exercising your right to vote has little effect because your vote is meaningless due to the self-serving, compromising, self-indulgent, lying, paid off, mis-users of the public trust serving in government. The noble concept of “doing what is right” has little or no meaning for such people unless there is some personal benefit; some pay-off or financial gain. Such despicable creatures are subject to financial compromise and subscribe to a thinking process motivated by the “what’s in it for me” way of life; the same selfish thinking that motivates criminals and many lawyers. So many politicians carefully cultivate a thought process of “how can I appear to be of public service while taking advantage of those I am supposed to serve”. They become very adept at hiding that agenda through painstakingly crafting what passes for patriotic rhetoric. These politicians are responsible for legislation opposed to forces, both natural and human, destroying our planet and poisoning our water and air, and whose motivations are, in one way or another, economically beneficial to themselves because of “contributions” from a myriad of special interests responsible for purchasing their loyalty. Our current administration, supported by these groups, particularly the NRA and anti-ecofriendly organizations, is flirting with the possibility of nuclear annihilation, has belittled people of color, certain religions, and endorsed white supremacy. This administration led by Donald Trump, whose campaign championed the working class, has “paid off” the rich at the expense of the middle class and poor and embarrasses our nation in the eyes of the rest of the planet because of his lack of knowledge, unsympathetic rhetoric, and a level of arrogance that redefines the word. It is an administration that is led by a person who publicly states he could commit murder in the middle of times square and still get elected. Those are words from our commander and chief; our elected representative of the people of the United States; arguably the most powerful man on planet earth! Words, no matter your agenda or political alignment, that cannot be defended. What a slap in the face to the American voter, and a telling statement attesting to how little our vote really matters to many of our politicians. His administration ignores the undeniable proof of Russian meddling in our democracy while refusing to institute sanctions; sanctions that - surprise, surprise - the bi-partisan house and senate have overwhelmingly approved. It is an administration that presents “alternative facts” as being facts and whose leader protects an acknowledged enemy of democracy, has financial ties to that enemy, and ignores or outright denies irrefutable anti-American behavior perpetrated by that enemy while attacking our own democratic institutions. An administration I can no longer defend, despite some policies to which I agree, and which must be challenged and held accountable for their words and actions. Sadly, it is an administration that I deem to be un-American to the point of traitorous which is supported, no matter the topic, no matter the falsehood, no matter who gets hurt, by a congress with absence of conscience and morals. A congress owned by special interests.
I have come to understand during my years on earth that nothing is black and white but rather a multitude of grays. No matter what side of the aisle you are on, compromise is essential to progress and peace. Even young children can usually be reasoned with and are capable of concession until they mature and learn from adults that compromise is a dirty word; and sadly, many of those maturing children emulate the very belief they despised when they were younger and clearer of thought. According to the 2nd amendment, which I strongly believe, Americans have the right to own arms, but should that right extend to people who are irresponsible, mentally impaired, are suspected of terrorism, have a criminal record, or display aberrant behavior? Should that right permit the sale of offensive weapons such as was used in the Florida school shooting and others equally horrendous? In many states purchasing a firearm is less involved then getting a driving license or a building permit. Why in the name of sanity would anyone object to expanded background checks if there were nothing to hide? I am a gun owner who can find no sane argument supporting the purchase of ANY assault or automatic weapon, or any device converting a weapon into an automatic state. I am a gun owner who cannot understand why a person who is suspected of having terrorist inclinations is able to purchase any gun while being forbidden to fly in an airplane. I cannot comprehend the NRA’s ridiculous justification for unlimited gun ownership by preaching “guns don’t kill, people do”. Yet, our politicians do nothing except take the bribes and perks offered by the institutions effectively buying our government.
Can anyone please explain the insanity rampant on our planet perpetrated by our partisan politicians who pretend to have the public interest at heart by passing health care legislation which is so lacking they exempt themselves. These same politicians who periodically shut down the government because of disagreements over the national budget but continue to receive paychecks and vote themselves automatic pay raises while retired persons are told there will be no cost of living increase in their Social Security payments because of the government’s absurd claim that there have been no increases in the cost of living! Many of our elected officials continue to display a lack of concern for the welfare of the American people, one of the primary reasons as previously stated being the purchase of their loyalty by the many special interests contributing millions of dollars to further an agenda frequently at odds with stated ideals of democracy.
It has become quite clear that most politicians are more influenced by the millions of dollars from industrial lobbyists - oil, insurance, drug, NRA, to name but a few - then by millions of votes. We are misled into thinking that our democracy depends on our participation; that we and our votes matter; that we have an effect; that because of our participation democracy lives on. The truth is we are no longer living in a democracy because our government is owned and controlled by an endless variety of organizations that understands, to most people and to nearly all politicians, money is God. We even, hypocritically, put God’s name on our currency. Government of the people, by the people and for the people is a sham and the ideals of our founding fathers are tacitly rejected by the disgusting business and political climate so rampant today.
Following the race riots of the 60’s our government realized that something must be done to disarm what was becoming a cultural revolution. Their solution was to make concessions to its people. Concessions like TV’s, cars, houses, i-phones, etc. Things! An observance of non-cable TV programming shows an expenditure of approximately 50% of air time badgering us into buying stuff that no one really needs. Our affluence, yes affluence - even the poorest household most likely has one or more TV sets, i-phones and cars - has helped create an apathy that many are finally becoming aware of, myself included, and are paying an enormous price for our so-called freedom. Freedom that is anything but “FREE”. Freedom that demands both parents secure a full-time job to support their more-than-often meaningless purchases while their children go unsupervised and succumb to an insidious, destructive, all-consuming drug culture that is leaching the creativeness from our society. During the Vietnam war our citizens came to realize that government cared very little about the wishes of its people ultimately causing a period of civil unrest which began to have some positive social effect, and even carries through into some of today’s issues. The Gulf war was not fought for democratic ideals, as stated by our politicians, but for the economic benefits to the oil industry and to an administration's allegiance to that industry. The recent changes to our tax laws allow unprecedented benefits to the wealthiest 10% of our population while paying lip service to those who are desperately in need of tax relief. However, we are substantively ignored while we demand something humane from an inhumane government which blatantly belittles, berates and ostracizes anyone not in agreement with its agenda - anyone with a differing, possibly more effective way of solving a problem - and labels any opposing printed and factually documented information as being fake news.
The argument that you must exercise your civic duty and vote therefore, if necessary, vote for the lessor of two evils, is effectively voting for evil. By so doing you unwittingly vote for people who have a poor sense of civic duty, questionable honor and morality, a warped sense of national pride, and little concern for easing the burdens of humanity. Being a registered independent, and since the current administration’s rise to power, I have changed my thinking. Sad to say, despite having no party affiliation and in recognition of questionable ethics of the opposition party, choosing the lessor of evils would be a vast improvement over what we now have. The recent elections which have unseated very strongly entrenched republican politicians proves that collectively we can indeed make a difference. It is imperative we fight those forces that spend vast sums of money and energy to disrupt that collectivity. It is unconscionable how the republican party, the party of Abraham Lincoln, blindly ignores, and even supports the insane comments emanating from the white house. The party responsible for the elimination of slavery is currently spewing thoughts and statements of hatred and bigotry. History provides descriptive and easily identifiable labels to past eras such as the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, the Age of Enlightenment, etc. We are unbelievably, living in an age of anti-intellectualism, anti-truth, and anti-science. I fear history will label our time “The Dark Ages - Deux”. Oftentimes, the intolerant agenda-driven public responds to such opposing comments with threats of physical harm against anyone with a differing viewpoint, and I cannot help but think that such reactions arise from those very same forces seeking to destroy a democracy built upon the idea of freedom of speech and religion. Forces both internal and foreign have irrefutably been proven to have interfered with our elections in support of a single candidate at the expense of many others. It is not surprising that the president of the United States appears so friendly to those forces in support of him whether the oil industry, NRA or Mr. Putin.
Unfortunately, greed seems to be a required prerequisite to becoming one of our politicians. A prerequisite recognized and preyed upon by special interests and proven enemys of democracy. In deference to our present national focus resulting from the events in Florida on Valentine’s Day, 2018 let us consider only one of those special interest organizations, the NRA. The NRA offers an absurd argument used by the gun lobby to sell their belief of unlimited gun ownership; that we must have guns to protect us from a corrupt government. For God’s sake use your brains, assuming you possess them. Our government has nuclear weapons, tanks, rocket launchers, aircraft carriers, stealth bombers and fighters, night vision googles etc. How is a meager collection of personal weapons, no matter how extensive, going to protect from that kind of arsenal? Consider this; our government has proven on many occasions that it is very willing to turn on its own citizens. For just one example, think about Kent State University, where students were killed by the Ohio National Guard because they had a differing viewpoint and threw stones at men in riot gear and armed with assault weapons.
Armed revolution can never be successful in this age of hi-tec weaponry monopolized by governments. Additionally, the erroneous belief that participation in our election process is a viable one that really matters may have the opposite effect of contributing to voter apathy. Voter participation polls would seem to support this premise. Recent events, including, but not limited to, the Russian intervention in our elections would be one example disproving that our votes are sacrosanct. Just as alarming, and just as un-American, is the influence of the many special interests which have effectively purchased our democracy and points to the greed inherent in many of our publicly elected government officials.
Recent figures show supporting facts illustrating that it is not the American voter who controls our elections and politicians, but the myriad special interest lobbyists. A brief survey of recent NRA political contributions is frightening. Witness the following facts: according to FORTUNE the NRA spent $11,438,118.00 in 2016 to support Donald Trump, and another $19,756,346.00 to directly oppose Hillary Clinton; over $31 million dollars spent on a single presidential race to benefit a single candidate friendly to the NRA! Russia may have spent more! Additionally, according to THE CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS and THE NEW YORK TIMES, the NRA contributed the following top 10 (only!) amounts to the following politicians throughout their political lives.
Senator John McCain (R, AZ) – $7.74 million
Senator Richard Burr (R, NC) – $6.99 million
Senator Roy Blunt (R, MO) - $4.55 million
Senator Thom Tillis (R. NC) - $4.42 million
Senator Cory Gardner (R, CO) - $3.88 million
Representative French Hill (R, AR) - $1.09 Million
Representative Ken Buck (R, CO) - $800,544.00
Representative David Young (R, IA) - $707,662.00
Representative Mike Simpson (R, ID) - $385,731.00
Representative Greg Gianforte (R, MT) - $344.630.00
Not enough disgustingness? Consider this publicly available information; the NRA and its allies (firearms industry and Gun Owners of America) have collectively contributed just under $81 million to house, senate and presidential races since 2000! Imagine the contributions and perks that are effectively hidden and not subject to public scrutiny! Add to the above figures the hundreds of millions of dollars contributed by the oil, pharmaceutical, and insurance industries – to mention just the most powerful – and it becomes clear that we do not live in a democracy, despite the honorable and humane sounding verbiage contained in the democratic documents that define the birth of this nation. To further illustrate, the auto insurance industry collects premiums from us yearly and then bills us when we have an accident requiring the use of that prepaid insurance. This absurd business practice would not be possible without political backing resulting directly from contributions. Nor would the pharmaceutical industry be able to charge $600.00+ for a 4 ml vial (about 50 drops) that contains only 10% of actual medication without political support purchased through contributions and/or other more secretive means we are not privy to. An automobile powered by compressed air is being produced in Europe. Unbelievably, that auto technology is not for sale in the USA. What special interest group might be behind that decision? Let us label it correctly, it is bribery and allows our politicians to grow wealthy following election.
The few figures presented above are staggering and beg the question; How can our votes compete with the vast sums of money being stuffed into the pockets of our elected representatives by these various, I would suggest, un-American interests? The only truly effective way is by a collective effort at the voting polls. This is the one, perhaps only means of effectively combating the Russian and special interest influences on our democracy. I believe that every human being intuitively knows at a very early age when he or she is doing something ethically and/or morally questionable until they grow and learn how to falsely justify doing what is wrong and re-label it as being correct (alternative facts!). We must vote this cancer out of our political body, out of our culture. We must keep voting them out until the message registers, if ever, that their job is to represent the American people, not special interests, not Russia, not private industry, not self. No politician should be beholden to any entity other than to the voters. To do otherwise invites and encourages corruption.
It has become clear simply by reading and listening to the news which cancer causers need to go, regardless of party affiliation, and it behooves us to help them out the door. My non-voting stance has been changed by the insane maneuverings of our elected officials. We MUST vote. It’s the only acceptable way to fix the multitude of injustices that have gradually crept into our political system since the Vietnam war and is attributable, in large part, to voter apathy. Years ago, issues were not so diametrically in opposition, and it could be argued that for a while voting made little difference. Such is no longer the case. We have allowed our nation to be given over to incredibly wealthy, powerful and destructive forces driven by the wrong beliefs – beliefs diametrically opposed to doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do. Beliefs in direct opposition to the very concept of democracy. Collectively we can take back control of our government through social non-violent revolution by entering the voting booths and pulling a lever. This revolution has already begun and is evidenced in the few elections that have taken place during the past several months and by the increasing number of elected officials who have become so disgusted with our political ineffectiveness they are withdrawing from political life. When Donald Trump was elected to the presidency I thought it could be a refreshing change because he did not represent the status quo. At times he sounded a breath of fresh air that has long been dormant if not dead in our government officials. Having no political debts was a good thing and he was not a politician; another good thing. Draining the swamp really sounded positive but it soon became evident that the swamp continued to fill to the point of overflowing. As with most politicians, he lied to us. In a relatively short period of time this individual promising change and concern for the working class crashed and burned! The experiment failed, and we are paying for that failure.
I shudder to think about the effect of the insane rhetoric spewing from this administration if allowed to continue its reign of bigotry, hatred, and nepotism. It is unconscionable that so many administrative appointments of people to high profile government positions are family and business associates having no political awareness and no properly vetted security clearance. And congress does nothing! The senate and house MUST immediately change hands. And it must keep changing hands, party allegiance aside, until the word is understood by anyone who aspires to a political office that you have been elected to serve, not to grow wealthy and powerful. To serve, not to sit in a comfortable chair growing rich for the rest of your political life doing little or nothing to improve the human condition. I would suggest, not having the figures, that well over 50% of the world’s population works in some capacity helpful to human beings, many for little or no financial reward. Teachers, nurses, doctors, first-responders, volunteers – the list goes on and on – yet, despite this mass of helping hands the human condition continues to worsen. I have several friends who devoted most of their lives pursuing peace, brotherhood and philanthropic endeavors, but despite many such efforts globally, conditions worsen daily. If proof of that fact is needed, read a newspaper. We have become anesthetized to the rampant violence prevalent daily in the world.
I sicken from the vileness I am witness to on our beloved planet perpetrated by those who are sworn to serve. WE MUST VOTE. WE MUST VOTE BY CONSCIENCE, NOT AGENDA, FOR WHAT IS RIGHT AND GOOD AND FOR WHAT IMPROVES THE HUMAN CONDITION. The 2nd world war was arguably the only justifiable armed conflict because it had clearly defined issues of right and wrong, the same anti-humane issues being expressed by our current administration. We cannot continue to put the future of our planet into the hands of some of the basest examples of humanity. We must do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do. Vote those politicians out of office who are not serving the public's interest, humanity's interest, the planet's interest. Negate the powerful influences of those forces intent on destroying our democracy. Go to the polls and rid our society of the cancer that is metastasizing at a frightening pace. Take back our democracy.
As the emerging composer advances and acquires skill in handling the four basic elements of music – melody, harmony, rhythm and form - he/she invariably finds that the more elusive and sophisticated of the four is perhaps the last; form, of which development is a large part. Some styles of music use predominantly a single element (rap-rhythm; chant-melody, etc.) while others use varying combinations of all 4 aspects. Serious students of composition eventually become drawn to “the masters” because of their command and use of those 4 elements in general, and form in particular. From a harmonic standpoint the jazz musician has an advantage because of exposure to excellent chord structure and inventive chord progressions, and he/she becomes a composer of sorts because of the use of improvisation as a developmental device. But, after a time, students begin looking for other ways to develop a composition and begin experimenting with unusual scales, time signatures, rhythmic combinations and permutations, clusters, and unique chord patterns and voicings, etc., eventually concentrating on developmental techniques, which are limited only by the creativity of the composer.
The tremendous advances in computer and MIDI technology afford today’s composer many possibilities undreamt of just a few years ago. Think of what Mozart would have been able to accomplish (as if he didn’t accomplish enough) if he had the technological advantages that are available today. The dangerous side of the coin is that same technology very often hides poor training and faulty technique. Often the emerging student spurns the study of what came before as being a waste of time and fails to become grounded in the fundamentals of good craftsmanship as shown by the brilliant composers of the past. In the “pop” medium, the lack of craftsmanship is very often of little consequence because the intended audience is of the lowest common denominator; much like a McDonald’s hamburger is to the culinary world.
Studying the masters reveals how they solved the melding of the four elements of music, with emphasis on the mastery of developmental techniques. The use of established and proven methods such as augmentation, diminution, inversion, retrograde, mirroring, key expansion and relationships, etc., must be studied. The key to that study is analysis. For example, an analytical study of Bach’s “ART OF THE FUGUE” is an endless task as it may represent the absolute pinnacle of the development of tonality and makes use of every technique mentioned above, and then some. By studying the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, and Schoenberg……etc., one discovers how these exceptional minds approached and solved the various techniques that go in to the creation of a masterful work of art. Schoenberg’s development and use of the 12-tone system may be one of the most revolutionary concepts since tonality. The dodecaphonic system can provide a wealth of raw material. However, the composer must be cautious with the use of that material because sometimes the “system” becomes more important then the sound – which is often the case with young 12 tone enthusiasts. Ultimately the compositional decisions must address the subjective statement “does it sound good”. I recall an experienced composer who proudly showed his latest work for voice and piano. The entire composition was a succession of diminished 7th chords which, because he was so focused on the system (serial 12 tone technique) he failed to see the “forest for the trees”. It is possible to combine elements of various systems and methods PROVIDING THE RESULT SOUNDS GOOD (at least to the composer) and fills a creative adventure-ness. As an example, it is very possible to utilize atonality and 12 tone techniques and disguise them so they do not sound mechanical and contrived. Obviously, these statements are not restricted to any specific system.
I try to let the music itself dictate where it will go – even if I restrict my material to a particular system or specific element. My “TROMBONE QUARTET” is highly modal but uses 12 tone elements (which may or may not be perceived by the casual listener). My cantata “LAMENT” also falls into this category; however, both of those compositions are completely divergent in the way the material is presented. Polyphonic techniques are very adaptable for use with 12 tone elements as a developmental tool. You can hear the above referenced compositions at www.pasqualejspino.com
Every composer desires an audience and tries to impress his listeners, and the more he/she writes the more sophisticated and knowledgeable becomes his intended audience. Throughout the history of music performance, many brilliant composers were criticized by their listeners because the material they presented was beyond the “limited” knowledge and experience of that very audience – the composer, in effect, is forcing his audience to grow with him/her. The audience, on the other hand, resists change and is very often most comfortable with what has been. Evidence the criticism that many of the great composers were subject to upon the premier of one or more works (Stravinsky’s RITE OF SPRING being a classic example). Therefore, we are hesitant to be one of those who ostracize a future genius. As a result, we are equally hesitant to criticize much of what should be criticized as being simply poor writing.
When I first heard Anton Webern’s “FIVE PIECES FOR ORCHESTRA” I was astounded. I just could not believe what I had just heard. I had similar reactions upon first hearing so many other works too numerous to mention here. All of those compositions have influenced what I am and what I am becoming, as should be the case with any serious student of composition.
In order to justify the construction of a composition, the composer MUST posses a very diverse knowledge-base from which to draw material. The more a person writes the more they study; the more they study the more they write; and the more they study and write the more they grow – unfortunately, many times, amidst criticism - which should not be a deterrent. If a composition student is well founded in the fundamentals practiced by so many of those who have gone before, he or she will better be able to justify a break with tradition.
In my many years on planet Earth I have come to believe in certain characteristics concerning humanity that are less then flattering. These traits are in direct opposition to some of the human race’s most lofty achievements as evidenced by the likes of our many artists, composers, musicians, philosophers, designers, teachers, etc., just to mention the most obvious. The greatness of our species is offset by ignorance and selfishness having a diminishing, if not neutralizing, consequence upon those fabulous achievements.
I would assume – not having any hard statistics – the majority of our world-wide collective effort is aimed, either directly or indirectly, toward the improvement of the human condition. Professions which include teachers, medical personnel, civil servants, as well as the many volunteers, etc, - are intended specifically to provide knowledge, medical and bureaucratic assistance to people in need of help, yet throughout history, despite all of that physically tangible effort, our species’ plight on earth has continually and progressively deteriorated. When adding the overabundance of agencies providing spiritual, psychological, and emotional benefits, our deteriorating human condition becomes even more puzzling. One would assume that there are many destructive counter-forces, and/or, the lofty mission statements of the professions and agencies previously mentioned somehow become distorted – tainted if you will – by a forgetfulness of purpose and a misguidance of mission as well as a preoccupation with the “self”. A math teacher, for example, who becomes intolerant of a struggling student wishing to participate in sports or music and actually ends up, most likely unintentionally but effectively, punishing the student for his or her more rounded interests; a medical technician or health service specialist who becomes annoyed with a patient’s questions and is insensitive to that individual’s lack of knowledge or fear of an unknown or previously inexperienced procedure; the motor vehicle agency clerk so stressed through an uncaring superior and a “thankless” job that he/she adopts a belligerent demeanor to the very people he/she is employed to assist; the bureaucrat who thinks like a bureaucrat and not like a human being; these are all prime examples of how our culture is failing to fulfill the stated mission of being helpful to the populace.
I have found it necessary on many occasions to remind an impatient or annoyed clerk, medical technician, or official of their purpose to provide help and assistance and that they are, instead, being an impediment to that end. Many times such people are overworked, or stressed by uncaring or equally overworked and over-stressed superiors, or focused on personal difficulties and consequently lose sight of the reason for being employed in the first place – the reason for their existence! Oftentimes people settle for a less than desirable position while searching for the ultimate lifestyle of wealth and pleasure; a life resplendent with possessions. Less and less effort for more and more reward seems to be the mantra for such thinking. Perhaps the Beatles had it right when they stated in one of their songs “Life is what’s happening while you’re making other plans”.
The concept of prioritizing has become unpopular, particularly with our younger generation; a generation that often subscribes to the above “more for less” lifestyle; a generation, particularly in America, provided with many pleasures and niceties by parents who oftentimes are compensating for a lack of physical attention while pursuing their quest for the accumulation of “things”, and therefore create a impediment to more meaningful endeavors. They are in effect teaching their children to be like them resulting in a generation that has received the label of “the cornucopia children”; a generation wanting an immediacy of result without the expenditure of effort to achieve that result. It is a generation that possesses a frightening, non-thinking approach to life; a generation that thinks nothing of consuming a can of chemicals in order to cut calories while at the same time eating a fast food hamburger laced with fat, growth hormones, preservatives, artificial coloring and who knows what else. It is a generation that truly (or comfortably) believes in what the ad agencies tell them. They believe that the processed food they eat is good for them because the advertisement says it is. Thinking otherwise, about the plausibility that the “good for you” statements are outright lies, is an unnecessary expenditure of energy.
It becomes understandable, rather explainable, how a person who is raised in poverty and bombarded with the social pressures to surround themselves with possessions which are counterproductive if not totally meaningless - the newest fad electronic gizmo, the latest fashion statement - can turn to less then legal methods to obtain that to which they feel entitled. Once that thinking secures itself in a person’s mind the next step is easily taken. Violence becomes an acceptable way of attaining that which is endlessly broadcast via every imaginable media outlet. Madison Avenue attempts, many times successfully, to make us desire that which we don’t need or even want. A mild example is that of a friend who I recently helped relocate. His clothes closet was filled to bursting with suits, almost to the point of being a suit rack in a clothing store. Through continued association with each other I realized that, for some reason, he had to have a suit newly purchased for any and every social event he was to attend. Most of his suits were worn for one single occasion! This seems to be a rather inappropriate pursuit in a world where too many humans go to bed unfed, unclean and unloved. A world that sees more millionaires and billionaires per capita then ever before in human history also sees more suffering and poverty then ever before in human history. How many cars, suits, houses, and televisions can a person use before, if ever, they come to realize that their fortunate existence endows them with a responsibility to help others help themselves? Yes…to help themselves! What happened to the Peace Corps? It seems to have fallen out of favor. What happened to the concept that giving a fish to a hungry person feeds them a meal, whereby giving a fishing rod and the knowledge to use it feeds a family forever.
Most folks are not in a position to effect any meaningful change on a large scale. But change does not have to be on a large scale. Many small changes can be more effective than a single large change. I am reminded of an incident I once came upon, weather true or not, concerning a Chinese fishing village which saw occupation by Japan during the 2nd world war. The Japanese navy used the harbor as a base for their warships. Of course the Chinese fisherman could do nothing – or could they? These humble fisherman devised a plan whereby every fishing trip, every boat, everyday, would deposit a load or rocks and rubble at a certain location in the main channel. Over a long period of time they effectively raised the bottom of the channel to a depth which prevented the warships from passing through without running aground.
We in the United States often react to disasters with generous contributions of money, food and clothing. Undoubtedly these donations are intended to be helpful while at the same time giving the donor the sense of being of assistance. It is easy to contribute money and supplies that we have in abundance and at the same time, in the giving, eases our collective consciences. Unfortunately, in many other world locations, our donations which are intended to ease pain and suffering, have little or no effect. Too often the money and supplies never reach the victims due to the corrupt distribution network controlled by greedy and selfish bureaucrats who are concerned with one thing – stuffing their pockets as much as possible. But…..our national conscience is clear! We have done our part to assist those poor victims. Better yet, our government can now claim its right to make demands of those foreign bureaucrats for “considerations” as repayment, usually taking the form of military or economic perks. Ron Suskind in his book THE WAY OF THE WORLD observes that we, as a nation, no longer function in the world community from the posture of doing something because it is the right thing to do. Although some allegations in Suskind’s book are subject to argument our national derailment of doing things because they are ethically and morally the correct thing to do is an embarrassment. It is no wonder a youngster asks his parents how much they will pay him when asked to cut the lawn. Therein is a perfect example of the trickle-down effect of our national thinking. What happened to the standard whereby cutting the lawn is the correct thing to do, not only because the parents asked, but because it is proper and expected as a family member to be helpful to the collective. Of more concern, such practice has fostered a global anti-Americanism whereby many of the world’s nations take delight in watching us struggle and fail – a sort of “they get what they deserve” attitude. We are giving fishes instead of nets and then demanding some kind of return payment. How is this practice noble? How is this practice a source of pride? How is this Humane?
We are in the midst of a presidential campaign featuring two candidates who are an embarrassment to the human race and represent anything other then “do it because it is the right thing to do” way of thinking. Whichever of the two manages to get elected the result will be business as usual thereby conforming to the total reversal of our nation’s ethics as stated by our founders. Consider that one candidate has been proven to be dishonest and controlling while the other shows a frightening level of instability as evidenced by unbelievably offensive statements. How can we elevate either of the candidates to our nations (the worlds?) highest office? My non vote is a expression of a complete lack of faith in the current political system and I would appeal to your duty as an American to express your discontent by likewise refraining from casting a vote and freely offering your reasoning - that the political system is broken and the current candidates are not able execute or even suggest a fix. No candidate is able to fix the mess we are in unless we first change our national purpose back to doing the right thing because it is the right and proper thing to do – regardless of the outcome.
GETTING UNDER WAY: A FIRST ATTEMPT - (1968)
by Captain Pasquale Spino
The following is a recounting of my very first experience sailing my own 17 foot daysailor in 1968
on the Cooper River located in Camden County, Southern NJ.
The Cooper River is a tributary of the Delaware River in southwestern New Jersey in the United States. The confluence of the Cooper River with the Delaware River is in Camden. The Cooper River serves as a border between Cherry Hill and Haddon Township, Haddonfield Borough, and Lawnside Borough. The Cooper River (known upstream near Haddonfield as Cooper's Creek) was named after the Cooper family, who were some of the first European settlers in the area of Camden County, New Jersey. This tributary of the Delaware River is 16 miles (25.7 km) long measuring from its headwater in Gibbsboro (it is notable that the Northern Branch begins in Voorhees Township). The Cooper River Watershed is 40 sq mi (103.6 km²), and includes the tributaries Chandlers Run, Millard Creek, Nicholson Branch, the North Branch, and Tindale Run (the last two being the most significant). Although historically a tidal river (the most severe tide reportedly reached Kings Highway), all present tidal influence stops at the Kaighn Avenue Bridge, in Camden, where it is impounded. – from Wikipedia
As a boy my fascination with boats and their environment would surface each summer during the family’s annual two week vacation in Wildwood, NJ. Minutes after settling into our rental I would make a bee-line for the docks to gawk at the fishing fleet and daydream about a life aboard sailing ships. Thinking back I now realize that, since those carefree days, the desire to sail was always present, a mostly subconscious part of me just waiting to surface whenever the opportunity arose. I recognized that a sailboat represented an absolute synthesis of form, function and aesthetics to a degree unknown elsewhere in anything crafted by the hand of man. This vision manifested itself in my love of model ship building, which continues to this day.
Purchasing a sailboat was difficult for me – philosophically. My first generation Italian father, being raised during the great depression, was a very practical man. He had to be; it was a matter of survival. However, my seemingly self-gratifying study of music was justifiable in his mind because of the potential for monetary gain. His experience as a part time musician helped with efforts to provide for the family during difficult times. Even though he often admitted to being happy on an emotional level when performing at a wedding or a dance with his big band and, later, the smaller combo, it was the paycheck at the end of the night that made the effort worthwhile. If there were other benefits to be had, such as, of all things, enjoyment, so much the better.
Although he was proud of my knowledge and accomplishments as a musician he was not really pleased with my focus on composition – after all, it was a very impractical branch of music study. In consideration of his background and resultant mindset it is understandable why he might perceive my purchase of a sailboat to be frivolous, if not downright laughable in a world where security and stability were to be placed at the highest level of importance. However, when I saw him lying in the hospital following a heart attack, with tubes connecting him to machines which breathed for him and mechanically rid his body of waste, I made my decision. Frivolous or not, the human mind, my mind, needed more. It needed something that communicated on a non verbal level, much like the act of composing music for which I studied and trained.
Being a rather focused individual, preparation for my first sail on “Respite” became all consuming. I had never been on the water before except for two or three times of no real consequence. Therefore, I read. And then read some more. I read everything I could get my hands on that was remotely relevant to sailing. I quickly consumed all related materials in two libraries. I then re-read all that I had already read several times over. I couldn’t absorb the information quickly enough. Finally, the long awaited day arrived when I took delivery of my sleek little craft. My very first action was to clean and wax her – three times. With the trailer and boat in the back yard I and my 12 year old son practiced rigging her until I felt we could accomplish the task without looking like complete idiots.
After a time I tired of reading. Tack, angle of heel, center of gravity, jibe, center of effort, lateral resistance, bail - BAIL?! Wait a minute, this could be dangerous. Read some more in an attempt to reduce the danger. Get my son to read. Suggest to my wife that she read, after all, I might just need some help.
Finally, after some weeks of procrastination, I thought, “enough reading, enough thinking, let’s go sailing.” My son felt that it was about time and was beginning to believe, along with the neighbors, that the little boat in the back yard was a lawn ornament, or a planter. We hitched up the trailer and drove to a small, shallow little river near Philadelphia in Southern NJ where there were many other similar, albeit a bit smaller, boats. Surely this is a place we wouldn’t get into any trouble.
Upon our arrival we drew much unwanted attention and I was uneasy with the admiring crowd. However, my new boat looked beautiful and I was rather full of myself. Ken and I stepped the mast, rigged the shrouds, bent on the main, launched and shoved off. The resulting look of amazement on my son’s face when the main was sheeted in, with the sail catching the wind and the boat silently yet powerfully in motion, was worth all the reading, expense and frustration of the past several months.
About sixty seconds later, when I announced that the centerboard was stuck in its storage trunk, and the boat would not respond to the helm, his look of amazement quickly metamorphosed into one of concern, and worry. Unknown to me until that moment was the fact that the centerboard was defective and had expanded inside of its storage trunk. There was no way it was ever going to drop down out of its snug housing as the boat continued to make leeway.
“You better start the motor, dad,” a statement for which I was truly grateful because it afforded an immediate, effective and simple solution to the problem. I opened the fuel line and choke and pulled on the starter cord. Nothing happened! I pulled again, and again with the same negative result. I should note that following this event, that outboard motor never failed to start – ever; for as long as it was in my possession.
It was just about this time that the bow made contact with some rocks on the opposite shore. We had been making leeway, slowly being pushed by the light wind. Thankfully, there was no damage, except to my pride. However, the boat continued to bounce along to leeward, the sail luffing, me tugging, and my son’s face displaying a variety of expressions that I had not seen before.
I jumped over the side, primarily out of embarrassment caused by the glaring elderly gentleman who was placidly seated in a lawn chair engrossed in a book until disturbed by my latest maneuver, and pushed the boat away from the shore and back into the river just as an official looking launch pulled alongside. A rather salty individual informed me in no uncertain terms that, except for the club launch, outboard motors were not permitted on the river. I explained my dilemma and that the motor was necessary in order to get back to the launching ramp. He responded that he would be happy to tow RESPITE to the ramp. TOW!? Heaven forbid. In keeping with centuries of nautical tradition surely I should be able to extricate myself from this difficulty.
It was at this point I noticed the route 130 bridge to leeward, clearance about 4 feet, fast approaching. My choices were three: 1) remove the main, unstep the mast, slide under the bridge and slip into the marsh on the other side; 2) paddle the half mile or so back to the launching ramp with one extremely short paddle - against the wind and current; 3) accept the offer of a tow. There are times when pride and nautical tradition must of necessity give way to common sense.
Upon securing my approval the old salt deftly twisted, bent and otherwise rearranged a 1/2 inch line into an unbelievably intricate knot that formed a loop and passed it over to me. I secured the line to my deck cleat and we were unceremoniously towed back to the launching ramp, which by now, was overflowing with curious onlookers, some of who were the very same people admiring my beautiful, gleaming boat earlier in the day.
During the 35 minute drive home my son and I had little to say to each other. I was embarrassed, he was embarrassed. We were both disappointed. How could we think of going sailing around the world when we couldn’t even sail around a “bathtub” successfully? All of the anticipation of the previous weeks, the hours of preparation, the brief moment of euphoria when the sail filled with wind, followed by disappointment and embarrassment made the silence uncomfortable, to say the least.
Just as we were entering our driveway my son softened the tension by asking: “Dad, when are we going sailing again?” Now, if only I could come up with a simple, effective way of convincing my wife to approve the purchase of that 25 footer I’ve had my eye on.