Peder with a D

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Misinterpreting “Isolationist” Sentiment

Posted by Peder on 26 January 2010

A poll of Americans claims most of us want less and less to do with international issues and the affairs of other nations.  That is according to a recent article published in my local paper and written by the McClatchy news service.  It cites a Pew Center report in which about half the respondents agreed with the phrases that America should “mind its own business internationally,” and that as Americans “we should go our own way.”  In 1964, less than 20% of respondents shared this sentiment.  The analysis then went on to describe a new surge in American isolationism, akin to that experienced in the 1920s, spurred by sentiments of the under-30 crowd.  It’s the younger generation, you see, who wants to take its ball and go home.

Eh, hang on a minute there.

I went back and read the actual poll report.  Its focus was on Americans’ perception of their country’s place in the world, and was conducted in preparation for President Obama’s decision to increase troop levels in Afghanistan.  In essence, many Americans feel the USA plays a less important role internationally than it did 10 years ago.  In contrast, China’s importance is growing.  Unfortunately, the article’s author, Rick Montgomery, “buried the lead” by emphasizing American isolationism.  At best, isolationist sentiment is of tertiary importance, superseded by US global influence and the need for increased troops in Afghanistan.

To quote the survey:

The general public and members of the Council on Foreign Relations are apprehensive and uncertain about America’s place in the world. Growing numbers in both groups see the United States playing a less important role globally, while acknowledging the increasing stature of China. And the general public, which is in a decidedly inward-looking frame of mind when it comes to global affairs, is less supportive of increasing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan than are CFR members.

But Mr. Montgomery begins his article with this:

Is it the economy? The blood spilled in Afghanistan and Iraq? A fear of China, or imported diseases?

It must be a mix of all that bothers us, experts suggest, because never in the history of polling have so many Americans said the nation should take care of its own and stay out of other countries’ affairs.

Just when you thought technology and trade had made the globe as small as it could get, talk of a “new isolationism” is spreading.

Now, I’ll acknowledge his analysis is not completely without merit.  The 44% of Americans who responded that the country should “go our own way” and not worry about whether other countries agree can be interpreted as an increasing desire to address issues in a unilateral fashion.  But the report specifically lists that result next to the result of whether the US should “mind its own business” and let others get along on their own.  It seems more Americans are showing an appreciation for a Live and Let Live approach to internationalism:

Live and Let Live

Isolationist?  I’m not convinced.

Consider the responses from the under-30 crowd.  As Mr. Montgomery writes:

Young adults recall no other world than the one in which the U.S. was the sole superpower. But there is a wrinkle in their worldview: While 59 percent of those younger than 30 told Pew that the country should “mind its own business,” only 39 percent said “we should go our own way.”

That's a Bingo!

Young Americans are not isolationists.  They want to be a part of the world.  In fact, the number of passports issued in recent years still surpasses pre-9/11 numbers; it seems more and more Americans are interested in traveling abroad.  But around 60% of those polled want our government to let others do their own thing.  Being international does not mean being intrusive.  A cosmopolitan is not coercive.

Instead of being concerned that America is involved in international affairs, these numbers represent a growing concern over how the United States is involved in international affairs.  It’s not that Americans don’t want to be involved in the world, it’s that fewer and fewer want to be so heavy-handed about it. We’re not eschewing in a new era of isolationism, we’re just tired of being a bully (or being seen as a bully).  Our increasing military involvement overseas – or threat thereof – at the sake of international diplomacy and multinational solutions to international problems makes us the global equivalent to the bully at recess.

The article acknowledges this idea, but gives it only a scant few of its 4,823 words:

“I think people in general think we should be involved in the world, but not in a domineering way,” said [Steven] Kull, author of [the 1999 book] “Misreading the Public: The Myth of a New Isolationism.”

Tsk, tsk.  If I may speak as a member (for about another week) of the under-30 crowd, I think the younger generations cited in this poll are tired of seeing the world through the military lens and would rather engage in the world in a more even, respectful manner.  Even when the task is to share our more honorable values, such as representative democracy and equal rights, using the military muddles the message.


Posted in Internationalism | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Winteress

Posted by Peder on 25 January 2010

Oh weather, you tart!
Rain yesterday, snow today,
Please make up your mind.

The Winteress, originally uploaded by ancientartizen.

(Click on the photo for another cool winter poem.)

Posted in Haikus | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

I ❤ Running

Posted by Peder on 22 January 2010

What can I say, I am hooked.  Line, sinker, done.  I am a born-again massive fan of running.  Specifically, distance running.

My ShoesI first started running in the summer of 2006 after I got sick of the back pains I was getting from sitting in an office chair all day.  I’ll never forget that first jog … I wasn’t gone 10 minutes – had only gotten into the 2nd song on my iPod, and only covered about 8 blocks in the neighborhood – when I returned to my apartment exhausted and mentally beaten up.  My roommate looked up, surprised, and said, “I thought you were going running?”

“I did!” is all I could muster back.  Man that seems like ages ago; last week alone I logged over 28 miles.

I took up the hobby again in earnest last summer.  As it was before, I have a good friend I can hit the pavement with.  It’s nice to have someone else vested in my fitness, and I enjoy the camaraderie and competition that comes from running with a peer.

Let's run!

I also enjoy listening to music.  Running provides a great time to listen to new albums and/or podcasts, both of which I am a massive fan.  And it just so happens that the general length of an album these days is about that of a good, quick run.  Someone planned this, I’m sure!

Exploring running sites has been an awesome way to discover nature around me as well.  It’s amazing how much beauty we miss when we drive by a stand of trees, but taking the time to jog through them really helps replenish an appreciation.

Then there are races.  Man those are a good time — you and a thousand others taking on a course together.  I swear the adrenaline of competition can really put a spring in your step.  Last Thanksgiving I set my personal best on a 10K track (6.22 miles).  I finished in 51:03 and set my personal best, with an average pace of 8:13 per mile.  Setting a PB is just a great feeling, and I look forward to bettering my time this coming spring!

Update:  Running helps beat cabin fever – a great cure for the winter blues!

Posted in Music, Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Troubles @ Kai En

Posted by Peder on 28 December 2009

During my years in Shanghai I worked at a prominent English school called the Kai En English Training Center (凯恩英语培训中心).  At the time it was a model school in the city and across China.  It exemplified a successful joint venture between domestic and foreign owners, it utilized a highly-effective teaching model which was new in the Chinese market and it had begun to franchise across the city.  When I worked there, two schools operated at full capacity.  As recently as a couple years ago the same could be said of five locations.

But the good times have not lasted.  Pressures from the other language companies (notably English First, I’ve read) and the global recession have cut into Kai En’s profit margins.  The strong management upon which the school and brand grew splintered as the Shanghai-famous Ken Carroll became involved in ChinesePod and Praxis Language.

Unfortunately the bottom fell off Kai En earlier this month, making for a rough holiday season for a beleaguered faculty, administration and support staff.  The company had been under financial duress for some time (perhaps more than a year), but had been able to stay afloat.  Searches for additional investors panned and the ownership closed the doors and fled the country in a matter of days.  All employees were owed some amount of back wages, and the local employees had gone the longest without pay.

Photo: Kai En

Here are the sources I used:

  1. The initial collapse, as captured by Shanghaiist. (Their source at Shanghai Daily is closed to subscribers, but I read it last week and it’s pretty much just the B&W facts on the matter: Owners bailed and took everyone’s money.)
  2. A teacher’s open letter on the situation, also from Shanghaiist
  3. A longer update posted on Shanghaiist. This one is good because it includes commentary from a long-standing teacher, Kris Fedorak. His perspective is particularly illuminating. (Unrelated observation: We must have missed each other in the faculty lounge by mere months.)

This is truly a sad post for me.  My relationships with Kai En, Ken, Brian and Steve were never perfect, but over subsequent years I learned that they had treated me and my colleagues in a respectful, straight-forward manner.  Ken and I had fun conversations about language acquisition theory.  Brian and I debated the merits of pop music as lesson material and whether or not U2 was the greatest band ever.  Steve was part of an historic Chinese New Year’s party that happened to coincide with my 23rd birthday.  In those years the school was a dependable, trustworthy employer with a strong product, loyal students and a prominent position in the Shanghai scene.  It’s sad to see how far this has all fallen.

Here are some pictures I have with other Kai En faculty.

Zach and Angelina were my roommates as well

Cassandra was a Senior Teacher

Phil was a branch manager, here shown with his fiance, Amy

Posted in China | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

New Mixes

Posted by Peder on 7 December 2009

I’ve had some fun lately putting together some new music mixes. What do you think of them?

I started this mix after seeing the movie. It’s a collection of the best of what I listened to in the fall of 2009. Links go to the song’s Last.FM page.

  1. The Born Ruffians – I Need a Life
  2. The Avett Brothers – Kick Drum Heart
  3. Cloud Cult – Journey of the Featherless
  4. The Envy Corps – Rhinemaidens
  5. The Tough Alliance – Something Special
  6. Glas Vegas – Go Square Go
  7. The Magnetic Fields – California Girls
  8. David Byrne and Brian Eno – Strange Overtones
  9. My Morning Jacket – Dancefloors
  10. The Last Shadow Puppets – Age of the Understatement
  11. The Dodos – Fables
  12. Julian Casablancas – 4 Chords of the Apocalypse

Update: I replaced songs 6 and 7 with Raphael Saadiq’s Never Give You Up and Elbow’s An Audience with the Pope, respectively. No knock on the previous songs, I just like the inclusion of these artists.

Slow Ride to the Digital Age
I started this mix a couple years ago when a friend asked for some recommendations for low-fi and downtempo electronic music. I’ve recently updated it.

  1. Radiohead – Palo Alto
  2. The Notwist – Pick Up the Phone
  3. Lali Puna – Bi-Pet
  4. Yazoo (or Yaz) – Mr Blue
  5. Datarock – Computer Camp Love
  6. The Notwist – One With the Freaks
  7. Hot Chip – The Warning
  8. Imogen Heap – Hide and Seek
  9. Q Lazzarus – Goodbye Horses
  10. The xx – Islands
  11. Boards of Canada – Dayvan Cowboy
  12. Air – Alone in Kyoto

Posted in Music, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

In Which an Old-Fashioned Writer Praises New Media

Posted by Peder on 16 August 2009

Local columnist Garrison Keillor had another witty, pertinent opinion published in today’s paper. It rambles a bit more than some of his other pieces, but the salient takeaway is that new media, the blogosphere, has liberated the opinions of Americans by democratizing its publication and broadcast. Unfortunately he lays the groundwork for those who would argue the value of this populist movement when he contends that people use e-mail to share well reasoned opinions, and that the world would be better off without professional journalists.  But he brings his point home about two-thirds through the article when he comments on the factors that have left newspapers open to competition and casts luminous support of the independent American writer.  Ultimately Mr. Keillor is a writer who is first and foremost an advocate of his craft.  That he muses here on social and technological current events is merely a backdrop for that advocacy.

I’ve rebroadcast the article in its entirety below, but to get started I suggest you press play on the music file below (hosted by SoundCloud).

You know it’s going to be a difficult day when you wake up with “Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera, Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera” going around and around in your head and it won’t stop. You know that probably you should not tackle health care reform today, though brainlessness has not stopped other people from weighing in on it.

Here are mobs of flannel-mouthed robots denouncing Socialist Gummint Takeover as Medicare goes rolling along rather tidily and the private schemes resemble railroads of the early 19th century, when each line decided its own gauge and each stationmaster decided what time it is. Anyone who has tried to coax authorization for payment from Federated Amalgamated Health knows that, for incomprehensible standards and voluminous rules and implacable bureaucrats, the health insurance industry carries on where the Italian postal service left off. But don’t mind me, I’m a man with a viral song in my head and I should go soak it.

The goons who go to town hall meetings and shout down the congressmen are museum pieces. They can shout until the bats fall off the rafters, but if you really want to know about health insurance, you just look around on the Internet and it’s all there and more. The president gave a good solid tutorial on the subject back in June to the AMA, and you can still find it at YouTube. When you come to choose between him and the goons, you don’t have to think too hard.

This is the beauty of new media: It isn’t so transitory as newspapers and TV. Good stuff sticks around and people e-mail it to friends and slowly it floods the country.

What the new media age also means is that there won’t be newspapers to send reporters to cover the next war, but there will be 6 million teenage girls blogging about their plans for the weekend. There will be no TV networks to put on dramas in which actors in costume strut and orate and gesticulate, but you can see home video of dogs and anybody’s high school graduation anywhere in America. We will be a nation of unpaid freelance journalists and memoirists. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

It comes too late for Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton. In the new media age, there would not be a Watergate or a Monica Lewinsky. The president could conspire to break the law or canoodle with anybody within arm’s reach and likely there would be nobody in the forest to hear that particular tree fall. And that would be just fine. All we got from those enormous Old Media events, frankly, was entertainment. They were no more enlightening than a Harold Robbins novel.

I’m an old media guy and I love newspapers, but they were brought down by a long period of gluttonous profits when they were run as monopolies by large, phlegmatic, semiliterate men who endowed schools of journalism that labored mightily to stamp out any style or originality and to create a cadre of reliable transcribers. That was their role, crushing writers and rolling them into cookie dough. Nobody who compares newspaper writing to the swashbuckling world of blogging can have any doubt where the future lies. Bloggers are writers who’ve been liberated from editors, and some of them take you back to the thrilling days of frontier journalism, before the colleges squashed the profession.

The Internet is a powerful tide that is washing away some enormous castles and releasing a lovely sense of independence and playfulness in the American people. Millions of people have discovered the joys of seeing yourself in print — your own words! the unique essence of yourself, your stories, your jokes, your own peculiar take on the world — out there where anybody can see it! Wowser.

Unfortunately, nobody is earning a dime from this. So much work, so little pay. It’s tragic.

But one door closes and a window opens. The health care industry is wide open and there’s a need for writers. Old people are lonely, old people want to be listened to and their stories written down, old people need entertainment. That’s why I am opposed to the current health care reform bill — there is nothing in there for creative therapy and the artistic fulfillment of the sick and elderly. A humorist in every hospital ward. Laughter is the best medicine. Sick people need distraction. When you wake up in the morning with “Guantanamera” going around in your head, you forget about your troubles except for that one.

P.S. – I’ve previously offered my support of Mr. Keillor in a bad haiku.

Posted in Communication, General Tech-ishness | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

50,000th Page View

Posted by Peder on 29 July 2009

I caught word of a local jazz trio playing last night in Minneapolis so I thought I’d check out their sound on their MySpace page.  (It’s good.)  When the page opened it said I was the 50,000th person to see the page.

50000th Viewer

Thinking there was a mistake I reloaded the page.  Sure enough, 50,000+1.

50001st Viewer, On Reload

I wonder if I win anything?

Posted in Music, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Gunshots in Punta Gorda

Posted by Peder on 22 July 2009

I wasn’t sleeping well anyway so the racket didn’t wake me up. In fact, among the various crashes, loud noises and blaring car stereos along Main St. this particular rumble wasn’t really that loud. But it was distinctive. Something had crashed into the metal garage-style security door that the shop owner rolls down each night to close off the main entrance to his store. Some glass shattered. I rolled over and peeked my head up to look out the second story window behind my bed that looked out onto the street. I picked my glasses off the night stand. Footsteps hurried as a gunshot rang out. Two figures came flying by my frame of reference as another shot rang out. They were running left to right. Near the right (south) side of my building one of them ducked between it and the building next door presumably disappearing into the yard behind our house and the store beneath us. The other runner kept running down the street. A police officer appeared next to the left as he followed the two young men who had just past. He carried a small pistol in his right hand. As he approached the point were the two had split up, he gave a wary glance into the small alleyway but ultimately continued down the street.

Moments passed. They may have been minutes. By this point the other guy sleeping the room, Harry, was awake and watching the scene unfold with me. He had been woken by the gunshots. A police car came in from the right side, lights spinning but without a siren. Didn’t seem like he had seen that second runner. A police officer appeared from the left. He looked an awful lot like the first cop that gave chase, but by reappearing so quickly where he did, he must have circled the block awfully quickly. Maybe he found a little alleyway too. In any case, he hadn’t seen either of the two men he was chasing. (The houses and shops in this area of town are packed relatively close together, but the fences don’t always match or completely encircle each property. Meanwhile there are a bunch of trees and houses, and half-built and half-fallen down buildings. There are a lot of places to hide.) By this point the two new officers had gotten out of their car and joined the first officer on the street directly under my window. One carried a shotgun and the other had a pistol. They split up to search.

As it turns out, I would be the first person to find one of the burglars. I stepped out of my room to check the locks on the front and back doors. There’s a large balcony/veranda surrounding the house which is accessed by these two doors and the stairs to one section extend down to near where the first man ran. As I approached the front door I saw him. I stopped dead in my tracks. He was lying on the cement floor staring out toward the street through the pillars of the railing. Hardly more than the top of his head would be visible from the street, but I saw all of him. He was watching the officer patrolling the lot across the way. I quickly went back into my room and told Harry what I saw. We decided to flick the bedroom lights on and off to get the cop’s attention. Meanwhile I snuck back toward the front door and yelled in my loudest, deepest voice, “GET OUTTA HERE! JUST GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!!”

Actually I couldn’t see the guy any more which spooked me further. I went back to the home owner’s bedroom to wake him. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t up already with all the noise, but it turned out I needed to give him a pretty good shake to get him up. He was sleeping a lot better than I had been.

“Jerry,” I said, “we have a situation. There were gunshots, I think there was a robbery next door and one of the guys in on the front veranda.”

He got right up and walked toward the front door. He picked up the machete he kept by the front door.

“That’s what this is for,” he remarked.

He picked it up and walked right up to the window that looked onto the veranda. The window where I had first seen the man. Turns out he had moved to right underneath the window such that you had be standing right next to it to see him.

“Get the f*** off my porch,” demanded Jerry.

“There are guys shooting at me,” said the intruder, who turned out to be a young man around 18-20 years old.

“I don’t care,” responded Jerry, “go tell that cop down there.”

So the boy stood up, raised his hands and told the officer he was coming down. I followed out onto the balcony and saw him kneeling while the cop put handcuffs on him.

The other officers returned and they interrogated the boy. They brought him back to the police station which was only a block away. Then they returned and continued the search for the other suspect in our backyard, presumably based on info from the first guy. Yikes. The three of us watched from various points on the veranda for another 20 minutes or so, but that was the last of the action. Couple of flashlight beams here and there, a random dog barking, and eventually the police car carrying a couple officers back to the neighborhoods behind us said the search was still on, but I’m not sure how it ended. I hope they caught the other runner.

This would be spooky enough in isolation, but unfortunately there’s been an increasing number of recent burglaries. A few weeks back a tour operator managed by a friend was broken into. They lost a laptop and cash. On Monday some other friends’ house was robbed as the two were out to dinner around 8pm. That was spooky because the assailants came in through the front door which is very exposed to the street. At 8pm. Word on the street was there were a lot of robberies that night. A helicopter with a large search light was even brought in to comb the area. And just today that very same Harry I mentioned was assaulted by a masked teenager who threatened like he had a gun in his belt while Harry was teaching a classroom full of summer camp kids learning about the environment. That happened about 15 miles out of town in one of the many Mayan villages nearby. It’s safe to say crime is on the rise in Punta Gorda.

Unfortunately the cops can’t seem to do anything about it. Of course, watching the way they handled any of these situations would lead you to believe they really don’t know what they’re doing — or don’t care. The refrigerator in that tour operator was left open by the burglars, but the cops didn’t even go near it as they dusted the office for finger prints. The case on my friend’s house is hung up because the officers don’t know how to fill out some of the reports that need to be filed. The case is being transferred to a precinct in the capital city for that very reason and none of us are holding our breath for it to be resolved. And even though the cops have three eyewitnesses to the incident that required two rounds to be fired from a gun, none of us have been asked to give a report.

Welcome to Punta Gorda, the wild wild South of Belize. Come armed.

Posted in Belize | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Sapodilla Cayes, the String of Pearls and Swimming with Whale Sharks

Posted by Peder on 19 June 2009

Last week I went on a dive trip to the Sapodilla Cayes (Hunting Caye) with some friends. A late night, nearly last minute decision that lead to one of the coolest experiences of my life. (Similar to my decision to move to Shanghai.)

Dive Prep

Dive Prep

Our first dive was to be an easier affair and a chance for us to re-acclimate ourselves with diving. There were a few divers who hadn’t been in the water in a while. Not me though, I recently got certified. I saw a very large green moray eel and a spiny lobster on the dive. There was also a section of rock with large coral colonies that had fallen off during the recent earthquake (7.3 mW off Bay Islands, Honduras, June 2009). I swam in a couple crevices and regained some proficiency with my buoyancy.

When we came in from the dive we cleaned up and immediately started on some dinner that our host was making. It wasn’t just for us. An upscale time-share group called Tradewinds had moored two large catamarans off the caye and brought about 20 guests onto the island. Our host had a weekly contract with them to provide a few dinners and a presentation on wildlife around the reef, and provided us our opportunity to dive. Because our departure from shore had been delayed a bit and because of the length of our afternoon dive, we had precious little time to get the four courses ready for the guests. Everyone helped prepare the dinner. Meanwhile, we prepared for our night dive.


Sunset on the Caye

Sundown was a beautiful vision on the caye. Looking west where paradise eventually reconnected with land, the sun touched down on the Caribbean lagoon with a bath of reds and oranges, magentas and yellows. Once the sun was below the horizon we were ready to look for the “String of Pearls” phenomenon. This is one of the more rare sites for any diver to encounter. In select few places around the globe around the time of the full moon, if one were to venture onto the water in the period after sunset and before the moonrise, they would see one of the most peculiar displays of bioluminescence on this Earth. Once we were underwater and accounted for, we gathered together and shut off our lights. Slowly and all around us, new young star constellations began appearing in the water. Some were close, and some were far away. After just a few minutes the water was transformed into a young Milky Way galaxy as thousands of small lights surrounded us. But these three-dimensional constellations were actually small critters. (Here’s one explanation I found for it.) The effect was amazing. The lights seemed to cascade down – newer dots lit below older ones – as the whole array appeared to move upward. It was difficult to tell if the upward movement was real or just a visual effect caused by the wriggling shimmer of the light bearers, but seeing this behavior – this String of Pearls – was awe inspiring, utterly poetic in an underwater universe.

The String of Pearls wasn’t the only amazing visual that evening. Water, or perhaps saltwater, is inherently phosphorescent and small air bubbles produced by regulators, fin kicks or a hand being swept side to side produces small, glowing orbs which you can watch float to the surface. Light from our flashlights attracted small one-inch worms ranging in color from tan to blue which would swirl around in our light beams. Benign as they were, those little creatures were spooky in their voracious swimming and we had fun moving our lights onto each others’ arms to bring the swarming masses ever closer to our dive buddies.

That evening, when the diving was done we sat down to enjoy some of the dinner we helped prepare and shared our stories with some of the Tradewinds guests. We relaxed and enjoyed a peaceful night on a tropical paradise. I slept outside in a hammock that night and had a wonderfully restful night.

Let's go diving!

Let's go diving!

It’s a good thing I got a good meal and an even better rest because the next day would prove to be one of the most memorable days of my life. We planned to make one dive that morning and then head back to town around midday. After a breakfast of eggs, bacon and homemade tortillas we got our gear ready and headed back to the reef.

Lime Caye Wall (link, scroll down to “Sapodilla Cayes”) was a fantastic dive site. About 20 feet below the surface was the reef, full of corals, trigger fish, parrot fish and small to medium snappers. As you swam to the east the reef wall dropped around 100 feet as the continental shelf started to drop into the open ocean. Two of the divers immediately took off down that wall with their cameras. Of their various photos, one of my favorites was a video of a green moray eel who was sharing a small cave with a spiny lobster. (Seen below.) The rest of us stayed closer to the top of the wall, but as far as we ever were from the other two, we could always see their bubble streams. Visibility must have been over 100 feet.

Actually I didn’t really stay on top of the reef wall the whole time. I was anxious to see the side of the wall so I swam down along side of it. That’s where some of the larger fish were hanging out. I swam over a coral head through the middle of a school of dog snapper and explored under some of the ridges in the wall. Meanwhile off to my left was the open ocean – any matter of creature could have been out in that blue abyss, including the largest fish in the world.

My depth gauge was apparently malfunctioning. My whole time along the wall it never recorded a depth lower than 25 feet, though our dive master said we were closer to 60’. Around the midway point of the dive my equipment had another malfunction. My secondary second stage – affectionately referred to as “the octopus” and used as an emergency air supply if a buddy runs out of air or if the primary mouthpiece malfunctions – began to “free flow,” uncontrollably spewing air upward. The dive master and I both looked at it underwater, and after exhausting the PADI-approved techniques as well as the “hit it until it behaves” broken TV technique, we agreed the only solution was to hold it mouthpiece-down through the rest of the dive, as if I was navigating with an underwater compass. That stopped most of the leak, though it continued to expunge air whenever I exhaled. As a result, the deeper portion of my dive was over, as I stayed closer to the surface so as not to run through my remaining air at too fast a clip.

Due to the lost air from the octopus free-flow, I had to end my dive earlier than the rest of the group. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with the dive’s result. It was a beautiful location and it was my last dive in the foreseeable future. To have it shortened by malfunctioning gear was a bit hard to take. So fun is diving that anything that takes it away from you equates to a major buzzkill.

After the rest of the group surfaced we headed back to the island. En route the captain saw a congregation of birds over the open sea. As we approached we also saw the “boil” that indicates tuna feeding. According to the more experienced naturalists on board these were telltale signs of whale sharks feeding and we maneuvered the boat closer to look for the fins that would confirm their presence.

Whale Shark

Whale Shark

I was told to put on my mask and fins in anticipation of finding the gentle giants. Once they were confirmed we immediately dropped into the water. I entered on the port side of the boat looking past the bow and immediately saw a whale shark vertical in the water. To the right was another animal in a horizontal position. When I came up for air I yelled, “There’s two of them!” Someone else yelled, “There’s a third!” When I went back under I looked to the starboard side of the boat to see the additional shark. I was amazed. The water was littered with chum – the bits of baitfish that had been shred by the sharks and tuna. Both bonita and the larger yellow fin were present. I spent a minute or so sitting under water, surfacing for air and watching the mêlée in front of me. I looked down. Below me was only unfettered blue, streaked by the occasional tuna tens of meters below. Light streaked upward from some unknown horizon point in the depths. As I would later think about the experience, I was surprised by my lack of fear for swimming in the open ocean next to a feeding frenzy. Adrenaline was coursing through my veins.

At one point one of the sharks started swimming toward the stern of the boat on the opposite side of the boat from me. I shadowed it from the port side and eventually found myself behind the boat with the beast a mere ten feet from me. For one reason or another it made a hard, right hand turn and aimed itself directly at my position. I froze. What should I do, I wondered. I decided I wasn’t going to move, I was going to let the animal dictate the situation. So I went up for one more breath and re-submerged my face in the water in the classic “dead man’s” float. The whale shark – a juvenile at around 20 feet in length – swam toward me. I could see its small beady eyes fix their gaze on me. And then I remained motionless as it coolly swam directly underneath me. I was paralyzed in excitement. As its head passed underneath I reached out my right hand and grazed the top inch of its dorsal fin as it passed. I touched the whale shark!!

Say "Cheese!"

Say "Cheese!"

I gave a light kick so as to get out of the way of the animal’s massive tail fin which I hoped wouldn’t hit me. The animal must have been diving because we missed each other as I remained on the surface. I popped up and screamed my excitement to the group. Two of them had been nearly as close themselves. Neither had touched an animal, which is the appropriate protocol around these passive creatures. In fact, it’s illegal to touch them and molestation of the animals can come with a BZ$10,000 fine. But as I explained, the animal swam toward me and I simple extended a hand to see how close it truly was to me. (Diving masks magnify underwater visuals and it can often be difficult to accurately gauge size and distance below the surface.)

The Beast Approaches!

The Beast Approaches!

I swam over toward the rest of the group on the starboard side of the boat. As I looked back at my whale shark I saw a silhouette of a more traditional shark in the distance. Swimming at a depth of perhaps 15-20 meters, it had a rounded body around 10-12 feet long, an extended top pectoral fin and it was swimming away from me. In later conversations, others would speculate it was a lemon shark, though it could have also been one of the more common reef sharks found in the area. The other two whale sharks were still off the starboard side of the boat and I joined my companions to watch them. Immediately off to our right we saw a large manta ray gently gyrating its wings through the water about a meter below the surface. What a menagerie!

As the feeding frenzy moved away from us we boarded the boat and recounted what we had seen. We then waited about 20 minutes and set out for another swim with the pelagic predators. The second time we entered the water we only swam with one whale shark, but it was a true behemoth and was clearly a full-grown adult. It was hard to say whether that was the fourth animal we had seen or part of the original three, as it had been hard to track each animal as the bait ball dissipated and moved away from us. I used my fins and a freestyle swim stroke to come up to the animal at an approximate 7 o’clock position a few meters off its tail. It was swimming fast and quickly eluded us. But it was of little matter … the experience was set. We swam with whale sharks!

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Epic Music During a Post Office Showdown

Posted by Peder on 12 June 2009

Post Office Showdown

The strip includes the caveat, That song (“Fight Without Honor or Humanity”) — like “Ride of the Valkyries” — improves *any* situation.  Which is true. 🙂

Can’t remember the songs? Here are some memorable performances of each.

Happy Friday everyone!

Fight Without Honor or Humanity

Flight of the Valkyries (turn your volume up)

Original comic published here.

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