Friday, July 31, 2009

Cash for Clunkers = Junk

I'm rather amused by the "Cash for Clunkers," or Car Allowance Rebate
System (CARS) program. It's already out of money, and representatives
from Michigan (on both sides of the aisle) are lobbying hard for more
funding. In case you are not familiar with this gem of an idea, CARS
provides consumers with vouchers worth thousands of dollars towards
the purchase of a new, more fuel efficient, car. It sounds good in
theory, right? Get the gas-guzzlers off the road, stimulate new car
sales, give the downtrodden American people a new toy, etc. But, like
most "incentive" programs, scratch beneath the surface and you will
find that this program is only designed to benefit one group: new car
manufacturers and dealers.

Basically, the program encourages consumers who have paid off their
car loans (because one must hold the title "free and clear" to
qualify) to hand over their perfectly functional vehicles (CARS
requires trade-ins to be in "drivable condition") for less than their
market value (trade-in value on the old car is limited to its scrap
value, since all "clunkers" must be destroyed). In return the consumer
gets to assume a new debt on a depreciating asset. Just what we should
all be doing in a down economy.

Then there's the "environmental" argument. CARS will help clean up the
air, and force American consumers to adopt greener transportation
technology. Well, there's a little phrase, popular in
conservation-minded circles, that goes "reduce, reuse, recycle." Note
that nowhere in this phrase are the words "buy new." Truth is, it's
far better for the environment to extend the life of manufactured
products. By scrapping all the trade-in vehicles, CARS is robbing the
marketplace of valuable used vehicles and components. This wastes
resources (just think of how much energy and raw materials are used in
the production of new cars), and robs consumers of affordable product.

And finally, what about all those small businesses who buy, sell and
repair used vehicles? There's an entire industry, called the
automotive aftermarket, which relies on used cars and car parts for
its bread and butter. The aftermarket industry employs thousands of
people, and is supported by a massive supply chain that includes
manufacturing and re-manufacturing, shipping and distribution and
retail infrastructure. Should all these businesses, and their
employees, wither on the vine so that the Big Three and their dealer
networks can blunder onward?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Old Chub: The Not-So-Silver Bullet

Some of you are already familiar with my writings on Old Chub Scottish Style Ale. If not, you may wish to read an earlier piece published by Gone magazine under an erroneous byline (due to the editor's inability to figure out WordPress).

Regardless, the legend of the Chub lives on aboard Kaleviopoeg, a 40' sloop (that's a single-masted sailboat for those who don't know) notorious for its role in off-shore adventures (see SpinSheet pg. 52). Before embarking upon this year's "Sailing Adventure" the skipper suggested an audition for potential new crew by way of a leisurely Sunday afternoon sailing excursion. Seeing as I have a proven track record aboard said vessel, my presence was requested to assist with the "evaluation" process.

As I packed my gear that morning I went down the list of required items: sailing gloves? check; sunglasses and hat? check; sunblock? check; water? check; beer? hmm. Captain Danger, or Cap'n D as we call him, usually lays in a 40-day supply of his favorite thirst-quencher, Coors Light. However it's always wise to bring a little something extra, so that one does not impede upon the captain's provisions...might need to stop at the liquor mart on the way.

Londontown Wine & Spirits, conveniently located a stone's throw from Edgewater, MD's famous Londontown Marina, is a well-appointed package store. They carry all the usual brands of swill, along with a fair selection of micro-brews. Nonetheless, I was quite surprised to find four six-packs of Old Chub lurking under a thick layer of dust on the middle shelf of the "American Exotics" section.

You want to test the mettle of your crew? Arrrgh! The Chub will separate the men from the boys, I chuckled to myself as I pulled out a sixer.

At the register, the cashier inspected my purchase with genuine wonder.

"I didn't know we sold this," she mused. "In fact, I don't think we've ever sold any of it. Is it any good?"

"Umm. Well...I wouldn't go that far," I said, coyly. "I'm not sure how your distributor got you to stock this stuff, but I wouldn't renew your order, if you know what I mean."

She gave me a grim, but appreciative, nod, and completed the transaction.

Ten minutes later we boarded Kalevipoeg, Chub wrapped in a brown paper bag and stashed deep in my backpack. As the skipper introduced the crew I gave them all the once-over to determine who should go first.

We cast off, and were soon under sail. Once things settled down, the captain handed up some cold Coors Light with sandwiches, and I seized the opportunity to slip down the hatch to the galley. Furtively, I extracted the six-pack from my bag and lifted the lid on the ice chest.

"What have you got there lassie?" queried Cap'n D.

"Well, it wouldn't be an audition without some Old Chub," I replied.

"Oh! The Chub! That's a fine idea," he agreed. "Why don't you put some of that right on top, where people can get to it."

We shared a mischievous grin, and arranged the cans in an appealing display. Sure enough, just as we finished, one of the new guys (we'll call him "Phil") climbed down the companionway.

"What have we got here?" Phil asked, peering at the cans, glistening atop a cascade of ice cubes.

"Oh, just some Old Chub that Blanche, here, was kind enough to bring," offered Cap'n D. "If you're nice to her, she just might share!"

Phil turned to me with a big grin. "Really? I can have one?"

"Why sure! I brought them for everyone, but you might want to let them cool down a bit," I said.

He nodded in agreement, and we all went top-side to wait until the magic moment when the Chub reached the perfect temperature.

Forty minutes later Phil had an icy can of Chub in his mitts. He was giddy with excitement and flush with gratitude as he took his first sip. We all stared at him in expectation.

"Umm. Not bad," Phil said cautiously.

"You know you have to finish that," intoned Cap'n D.

"Oh, I fully intend to," Phil replied, as he took another brave swig from the can.

Phil grimaced and set his beverage on the counter. "I'm going to have to drink that one a little more slowly, I think. It's awfully strong."

We nodded gravely, and gave him a look that let him know he wasn't off the hook.

"I'll just take it up with me and keep working on it," Phil assured us.

"Well, that's the test of a true sailor," Cap'n D stated resolutely. "The crew member who finishes his Old Chub. Yes, indeed."

About an hour later the wind picked up, and we were heeled over with the sails close-hauled. Our speed over ground was close to seven knots, and Phil was at the helm. He seemed to have forgotten all about his Old Chub. Unfortunately for him there are only four spaces in the cup holder on the binnacle, meaning one cannot leave a drink idle for long without someone asking about its status.

"Uh, Phil? I know you're driving and all, but what's going on with the Old Chub?" I implored. "Surely you don't mean to tell us that you don't like it?"

"Well, if someone will take the wheel I can try to finish it off," he said, still game for the experiment. "It is very good."

No one believed him, but Cap'n D's son, Evan, was more than happy to drive so that Phil could finish his beer. Phil took another slug of the Chub, and winced as he swallowed.

"Ok. You win. It's not very good. In fact, it's bloody awful," Phil conceded. "Can I pour it out now?"

I sighed. "I suppose you can, but it might well cost you your berth to Block Island."

Phil looked around, shrugged and tipped the can toward the drain. "I give up, nothing is worth drinking this swill. You people are crazy!"

"Arrrrgh, if you be suffering from the grog, you can't possibly stand the watches," growled Cap'n D.

"That's right! 12 hours on, 4 hours off. It's a grueling pace we keep aboard Kalevipoeg," I agreed.

Cap'n D and I shared a look of mirth, as Phil shook his head in a combination of confusion and disgust, and climbed back up the companionway. Needless to say, we never heard from Phil again.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dr. No and the Sunken Sunglasses (or Where There's a Will, There's a Way)

The other day, while loitering at Edgewater, MD's famous Londontown Marina, I witnessed an amusing spectacle. One of the slip holders, a skipper we refer to as "Dr. No," was anxiously pacing his deck, and peering down at the murky waters of Glebe Bay.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"I lost my $500 sunglasses over the side a minute ago. They just flew off my head and went in over there somewhere," he explained, looking hapless and pointing to a spot in the murk just to the left of where he was standing.

While Dr. No despaired over his glasses, Rosie, his fair (and incredibly tolerant) love interest, voiced her desire to "wrap up" for the day. The couple had just returned from a pleasant day sail on the lovely Chesapeake Bay, and Rosie, not being much for the great outdoors, was ready to head back to civilization and spend a quiet evening with the good doctor.

Little did she realize Dr. No does not give up that easily.

"Rosie! Hand me the net with the telescoping handle!" he ordered. "I bet if I drag it along the bottom I'll be able to scoop them up in no time."

"Do you think they sank right away, or could the current have carried them off?" I asked.

"Hmm. Good point. I hope not. Let's give it a try," he said, and dipped the net in as far as it would go. Sadly the handle was not long enough, and the net didn't reach the bottom.

"Damn it! I'm going to have to jump in," Dr. No proclaimed.

"Mike, this is foolish. I'll just buy you a new pair!" said Rosie, growing more impatient by the minute.

Dr. No, ignoring his gentle companion, began to strip down to his shorts. I turned away for a moment, and heard a splash as he went over the side.

"Oh! It's cold! And I can't reach the bottom," he sputtered, arms flailing as he attempted to tread water.

"Well, yeah. Your boat draws almost seven feet, so I assume the depth is somewhere around eight or nine..." I offered by way of explanation. Rosie and I exchanged a look.

"Good point. Maybe if I use the net now, I'll be able to get them...Rosie! Hand me the net again!"

Rosie, looking downright perturbed at this point, thrust the net over the side.

Dr. No began methodically dragging it back and forth across the bottom. Scrosh, scrosh, scrosh went the net, coming up empty each time.

Just then I noticed a sinister looking disturbance on the water, indicating a school of fish being pursued (and eaten) by a much larger fish, or fishes. The school was heading right for the fearless doctor, but he was so intent on his netting that he had no idea.

"Uh, Mike? There seems to be some activity coming your way," I warned.

Just as he turned to look, a large fin cut through the surface, sending smaller fish skittering in all directions with much flipping and splashing.

"What?! Oh shit!" he cried.

"Really Mike, this is insanity! Can we just go home now?" Rosie pleaded.

"No, no, not yet! I'm going to try to dive for them," Dr. No insisted. "Keep an eye on that activity for me, will you?" he said to me.

He flung the net back on board, raised his arms over his head and took a big gulp of air before submerging. A few seconds later he bobbed back up empty handed. The school of fish were moving away, but a quick look at Rosie's face was proof positive that Dr. No was far from safe.

Undaunted by Rosie's scowl, Dr. No continued to dive for the glasses, coming up at least three more times with nothing.

"Mike! Can we please give up this nonsense, and go home!" Rosie demanded.

"Hold on...just one more try, and then I promise we can leave," he said with conviction.

Dr. No took a big swallow of air, pumped his arms and legs to propell himself out of the water, and dove with all his might for the muddy bottom. He stayed down for awhile. Rosie and I exchanged looks of concern. Suddenly our hero shot to the surface with a triumphant grin...but no sunglasses.

"I touched them! I touched them! I know where they are!" he shouted with glee. "Come on, Rosie. This time I know I'll get them."

Rosie, recognizing the futility of arguing when he was this close to victory, resigned herself for the inevitable.

Once again Dr. No took a lungful of air and dove for the bottom. He emerged moments later with a big grin, clutching his sunglasses.