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Random Shorts

Master of the Universe - A Sea Story

It was another magical day. The sky and sea were a deep blue, the wave crests a crisp white. So perfect was it that he unthinkingly volunteered to furl the topgallant.
He leaped onto the main ratlines and headed up. At the foretop he pulled himself onto the topmast ratlines and in no time was at the crosstrees, where the topgallant ratlines started. These, the uppermost ratlines, were truly the stuff of nightmares. Narrow and far from taught, they twisted and swayed in a very alarming fashion. Fortunately, he had only a step or two before he could get his foot on the lowered yard's foot ropes and his arm around the yard itself.
With the foot rope securely trapped under his arches and his hips pressed against the yard, he paused to admire the world around him. The ship so far below, slicing through the blue sea. The sails billowing white. The islands, green and brown. The wind. The sun. His mouth was dry and his breathing a little ragged but for that moment he truly felt himself a Master of the Universe.
He leaned forward, his legs rising toward the horizontal, and reached way out to grab canvas. He felt the sail fill beneath him and in less than a second he was lying on the billowing sail, head and face down, and sliding forward.There was nothing he could grab but the sail itself. Nobody on deck could see his predicament. His stomach felt as if someone were jamming a broom handle into it. He wondered if he might possibly bounce off the lower sails as he fell and land in the water. He wondered just how much it was going to hurt when he hit the deck.
The sail collapsed as suddenly as it had filled. His stomach landed on the yard and his frantic feet found the foot rope. Following several shuddering breaths, he reached forward to grab canvas. Even Masters of the Universe have bad moments.

True National Greatness

Early in 1961, I was in Panama with a dozen other North American teenage students. At the time, the Panamanians were very busy protesting the manner in which the United States operated the canal. It was part of a series of demonstrations, some violent, some not, that went on for years.
Being sixteen or seventeen, we found it impossible to resist the call of a real spectacle so, after morning classes, four or five of us (including our token Canadian) headed off to join some local, teenage friends at the protest. About fifteen minutes after our arrival, our Panamanian friends announced that it was hot, that their throats were sore and that it was time to get a beer (they insisted on paying).
During this rest stop, our hosts insisted that their objective was better jobs for the Panamanians (especially management positions) and more rent for the canal. The very last thing they wanted was for the United States to go home. Indeed, they not only disliked the Russian mariners they'd met but feared them and their government. To paraphrase one of them, "Americans sometimes do very irritating things, but they also worry about what people think of them and, therefore, it's possible to embarrass them. The Russians don't care; they just do what they want and shoot you if you complain."
For the next fifty plus years, as a United States naval officer and then as an active participant in American capitalism, the conviction that the most powerful nation on earth was so great that it could recognize something greater than itself and allow itself to be embarrassed into doing the right thing was a source of great pride to me.
Today, however, I wonder. Do "We the People" care in the slightest about "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind" or are we determined to follow the path of the Russians, and the Romans?

The Beat of the Algorithms

I used to dance to the music of the spheres;
I now cringe at the beat of the algorithms.

The Big Bang

A point.
A point has no width and no length,
A point has no taste or smell or color,
A point has no mass and contains no energy,
A point is a mathematical abstraction.
Yet, it is said that the Universe,
All that is, has been or could be,
Was created when a point exploded into life
And created reality.

The Elegant Magic of The Roach

Life is filled with the magical - the incredible flight of the skilled gymnast, the mystical transformations that occur within double entry bookkeeping, the wondrous power of the roach.
Thanks to the roach, a flat sheet of fabric morphs into an airfoil which not only harnesses the wind but enables the boat to advance into that same wind. And all without a single pass of a magic wand.