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A fair share: deckhand labor rights

September 9, 2014

National Fisherman recently published an article I wrote on labor law in the commercial fishing industry in their September 2014 issue. The legal rights outlined in the piece not only apply to deckhands in the fishing industry but to all seamen working from US ports of call.

photoCommercial fishing is a brutal industry. Whether in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico or the North Atlantic, sleep deprivation, harsh conditions and strained muscles are routine. Those of us dealing with the ferocity of the job are usually in it for more than just the love of the fishing life. There’s got to be a financial reward that comes with getting beat up for a living. The last thing a deckhand should have to worry about is getting their wallet beat up by captains looking to improve their own bottom line.

There is no shortage of stories of deckhands getting ripped off by captains: shares lower than agreed to, inflated expenses and manipulated costs As a greenhorn, I got on the wrong boat for three weeks, got zapped by faulty wiring numerous times, and never got paid — that is, until I showed up to the skipper’s house nearly a year later, more than 1,000 miles away, and demanded my pay. He gave me 500 bucks and told me if I wanted more I’d have to take him to court. There also are many cases of deckhands making spurious claims against skippers for both pay and injury.

While we hear these stories of skippers and deckhands getting the better of each other, one thing is clear: Too few have a solid grasp of what rights deckhands on commercial fishing vessels have under federal law.


Closet Cleaning Part 2: Bordering Hell

September 9, 2014

Silvia Plath once noted, “[n]othing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.” If this is the case, I have amassed quite the stinky pile. For a little end-of-summer cleaning, I’m freshening up my closet (aka hard drive), mixing metaphors and  posting a few stories I like but for which I have yet to find suitable homes.

Photo by  Jonathan McIntoshThe U.S.-Mexico border; for many it can be hell. It where the national sins of both the United States and Mexico combine to create an ever-increasing mass of displaced people, broken families and death. The political border, built on blood and dollars, is guarded on the U.S. side with more than a billion dollars of militarized manpower and surveillance equipment.

Every day more than $800 million dollars in goods and services are legally exchanged across the border. Every day between $20 and $68 million of illicit drugs—mostly marijuana—enter the U.S. from Mexico, and an unquantified, yet large, amount of handguns and assault rifles legally purchased in the U.S. are shipped to Mexico. Every day people working in the U.S. send roughly $68 million to their families in Mexico. And, every day around 2,000 people are detained by the Border Patrol for crossing the vast and varied expanse from Tijuana to Matamoros without papers—only to be sent back to Mexico where they will more than likely attempt the trek again.

“The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta (is an open wound) where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country—a border culture,” wrote Gloria Anzaldúa in her landmark book Borderlands/La Frontera. Many claim the bi-national land as their familial home for generations, starting with the indigenous peoples, then to mestizo, Chicanos and finally to whites who have been settling the region for the past 150 years.

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Closet Cleaning Part 1: The Lucky Ticket

September 9, 2014

Silvia Plath once noted, “[n]othing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.” If this is the case, I have amassed quite the stinky pile. For a little end-of-summer cleaning, I’m freshening up my closet (aka hard drive), mixing metaphors and  posting a few stories I like but for which I have yet to find suitable homes.

She had been down on her luck for so long that she began to appreciate what she did have: a roof over her head for the time being, a family to take her in if that changed, a strong mind and a healthy body. She began to understand what the old women at the rural church she had attended as a child said three times every Sunday, “Count your blessings.” Those women believed that their pious, humble lives of country poverty would be rewarded tenfold by God when they entered the gates of heaven.

Now she was in the city. She waited tables three nights a week, just enough to cover rent. She would also go on a few dates a month for a free night out. It’s not that she was a fan of chivalry or wanted to be dependent on any man, but a night of free food and drinks was available with a little flirting, so why not take advantage? Of course, she was looking for her kicks too. A good lay could be quite the anti-depressant.

Sometimes she longed for her life to be as simple as just making rent, but it wasn’t. She was two deep breaths from going ape-shit on a manager at Bank of America earlier that day. She reminisced the event as she sat in the small backyard of the house she shared with a few other people. She sipped on a bottle of sparkling water. She had joined the belief that bottled water was extravagant, wasteful and a symbol of a decadent and shortsighted society, but the tap didn’t provide bubbles and lime essence.

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The key to IFC’s success, a teenager’s quest for boobs

July 8, 2014


While bored in New York City on a chilly winter night I decided to venture out and see a movie at the IFC Center in the West Village. Of all the cinematic offerings in NYC, I specifically wanted to go there because I had significant influence on the economic conditions that allowed IFC to acquire the historic Waverly Theater in the early 2000’s. My claim of great influence on the media outlet formerly-known-as Independent Film Channel is less self-aggrandizing than it is a comment on the ridiculousness of the Nielsen rating system in the 1990’s that allowed a horny teenager like myself the viewing power of tens of thousands.

It was hard for a teenage boy in the mid-1990’s to set his eyes on the disrobed female form. My childhood home in rural Connecticut didn’t have dial-up Internet until 1999, so I would have to wait until my later teenage years to discover online porn. My family’s cable plan didn’t include premium—uncensored—cable stations, but it did include the newly founded Independent Film Channel. The channel didn’t fit my tastes of sports, action movies and sophomoric comedy so I largely paid it no mind.

Then one day while flipping through the channels I stumbled upon Walkabout, a 1971 film by Nicolas Roeg about two white kids stranded in the Australian Outback who were helped by an Aboriginal youth on his coming-of-age walkabout. I had read the book of the same title by James Vance Marshall in seventh grade, so the film sparked my interest. Then with no lead up, the protagonist, a teenage girl played by British actress Jenny Agutter, is shown swimming naked in a remote water hole exposing all that she was born with. The scene was far from sexual, but for a small-town teenager from a church-going family, all female nudity was sexual.

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A jagged pill: authoritarian environmentalists and democratic pillagers

April 29, 2014

Sea Lions on Buoy #4Four bald eagles flew playfully with each other in the sun’s last rays before the 11 p.m. dusk. Their wings flapped quickly as they chirped in a high-pitched juvenile manner. It struck me as odd that the powerful predator emblemized as the national bird had such a disarming tweet, and not the fierce screech normally associated with birds of prey. In many places in Alaska bald eagles are more common than seagulls. Yet for most in the United States, the sighting of a bald eagle is an once-in-a-lifetime experience, if at all. Protecting these stunning, mostly unseen, creatures makes sense to most because they taken on an unreal—unicorn-esque—status.

“Goddamn glorified vultures,” said my former captain as he saw me admiring the birds. One swooped down and snatched a small pink salmon out of the water with its talons. “Thief! It’s a goddamn thief! Stealing dollars out of my pocket!” he hollered in a husky tenor.

A teenaged crewmate laughed and told me they’re the best trap bait for minks and martins. I gave a look of disgust, that egged him on and he delved into stories of blasting raptors with shotguns. Nonetheless fur—wild fur—subsidizes more than a few incomes in Alaska—not to mention generous government programs that many who perceive our northern most state as a libertarian bastion conveniently overlook.

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Bread, fish and scarcity

April 5, 2013


Somewhere off the Alaskan Peninsula, in the barren 525-mile expanse that separates Kodiak from Dutch Harbor, I realized that we would soon run out of milk and bread. Being in such a remote location we would not soon be able to resupply on these basic provisions. As the boat cook, it was my job to plan and keep track of our food supplies, I hadn’t realized when I stocked up in the tiny village of Sand Point just how long we would be out and just how much milk and bread the crew would consume.

I alerted the captain and the crew that we had about two days of milk left and four days of bread if we continued consuming as we had been. I suggested that we should slow down eating and drinking these staples to make them last longer, but this turned out not to be the case.

In the face of scarcity the crew started drinking more milk and eating more bread than before. It was as if, and likely was, that the realization this “resource” would soon be wiped out, pushed the crew to “get theirs” or risk being left with nothing. I too found myself eating more peanut butter and honey sandwiches than before, with the thought, these guys are eating so much if I don’t snag an extra sandwich here and there I might not get anything.

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The absurd cool of assault weapons

February 22, 2013

10364166_lAs the debate over a renewed assault weapons ban seems to be taking a back burner for more politically feasible gun control measures, I find myself debating with myself why I actually find ARs, AKs and the like so attractive. I have long been a gun-liking lefty. My fondness for firearms of the tactical variety likely has more to do with my Americaness, than any well reasoned argument I’ve concocted. For as long as I can remember I’ve been bombarded with violently-cool images of tactical weapons in action.

Guns are cool. Like many cool things they are completely unnecessary for the vast majority. Having played with a few AR-15s over the years, I can say—with guilty indulgence—they are one of the coolest weapons on the market, a coolness that is just as much form as it is function. Capable of handling military-grade armor-penetrating 5.56×45mm NATO rounds—designed for mass bleeding, tissue fragmentation and death—while firing at 200 rounds per minutes with an effective range of 400 yards-plus. All with a military-chic M4-M16 aesthetic built of aluminum alloys and cutting-edge polymers.

They’d actually be great weapons to use in the violent removal of a tyrant for most of them can be easily converted into fully automatic carbines. Yet at this point guns would be counterproductive in the removal of the last bastions of tyranny in the United States, and the citizenry with the most private arms often have the worst politics.

I’ve said these instruments of death are cool but with full understanding that cool is often absurd.

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