Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gas prices

The price of gasoline and other petroleum products has been headed in one direction (up) forever, but lately the curve seems a lot steeper than usual and I think I know why. I know there are a lot of forces like increased demand, unrest in the mideast, natural disasters (to name a few) that affect the price of gas but I think there a couple of other villains that are playing an increasingly important role lately: Big Oil and Speculators.

These two groups have a couple of things in common: rising gas prices make them very, very (I think the term "obscenely" would not be inappropriate) rich; and they thrive in a market that is free of regulations that might regulate their profit-taking in the name of the "common-good". If profits are good (and they are) then unrestricted profits are even better (at least if you are the one making them.) Limiting the regulations to which their business practices are subjected is in their self-interest, and with these groups self-interest is their only interest.

I have theorized in this space before that it is not beneath the dignity of those who make great profit at the expense of the rest of us to do whatever it takes to promote their financial interests even if that means engaging in activity that is of a dubious nature. So my new conspiracy theory is that these two groups, Big Oil and Speculators, have undertaken a strategy to keep gasoline prices as high as possible in an effort to affect the next presidential election in 2012.

Gas prices have a direct effect on the approval rating of the president - when prices go up, his approval goes down. It's true, you can look it up. So by keeping gas prices in an upward spiral between now and election day 2012, they (you know who I mean) can increase the chances of Obama being defeated by someone more sympathetic to their claims that what this country really needs to prosper is a totally free market, devoid of regulations that might impair their profit-taking. As I have said before, these men know how to exploit a situation to their advantage.

So if you are waiting for gas prices to go down, or even level off and stop rising, I say it's not going to happen, at least not until after the election. Even if peace were to break out in the middle-east, and huge new oil reserves were discovered, and there were no natural disasters the price of gas will still go up - because if it goes down the president's approval rating will go up, and that would be bad for Big Oil and Speculators who want to see him defeated. That's what I think, anyway.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hernias, hemorrhoids and high blood pressure

These are signs of aging, and I have them all. I'm 64 years old and I have to sign up for Medicare before my next birthday, but somehow I've never thought of myself as being old. I may think of myself as still being a young man but my body is beginning to find ways to remind me of my advancing age. When I look in the mirror I see someone who looks pretty young (but I can't see the bald spot on the back of my head) but the signs of my bodily decline are apparent.

For starters I'm shorter than I used to be. In my prime I stood about 5'11" tall; at my last physical I measured just a little over 5'8" - so when did I get short?! Happily my weight is about the same so at least I haven't porked up the way some guys do - and I haven't developed "man-boobs" so that's a plus.

The hemorrhoids have been around a while - they're probably my own fault as I used to like to read on the pot so I probably stayed there longer than I needed to and aggravated the situation. They're not especially troublesome so I can tolerate them if they don't get any worse but they still remind me that time marches on and all that kind of stuff.

The hernias are a more recent development and also not too much of a bother. When I first detetected them I thought they might be swollen glands in my groin which kind of worried me because some serious conditions that affect men my age can cause swollen glands (at least that's what my doctor told me a couple of years ago.) So I was somewhat relieved to learn that it's hernias, not some dread disease, causing those bumps and unless I do something to aggravate them they can just be left alone. That sounds to me like a pretty good reason not to do any heavy lifting, which is something I try to avoid anyway, so maybe my hernias are no problem either.

Then there's the medicine thing. It seems like old people all have to take a lot of pills; I'm up to 4 a day - nothing very serious, but still what's going on with my body that I need 4 different kinds of pills to keep everything in balance and working right? The latest addition to the list was for high blood pressure, which has been creeping up for a while. There have been strokes on both sides of my family - not the kind that mercifully kill you quickly but the ones that leave you disabled and dependent on others for your daily care, and that prospect terrifies me. Since high blood pressure is a leading risk factor for stroke I guess one more pill a day is a small price to pay to reduce the risk - I may even make some "life-style" changes like exercising more and eating better to help lower my pressure. But seriously, what's up with all the pills?

So these are part of a long list of things that remind me every day that I may not be growing up but I am most certainly growing older, and I have reached an age that is not only past my prime but is indicated by a slow but inevitable decline in health and vitality. My health is still very good - almost excellent, in fact - and I think I am blessed with good genes for longevity as both of my parents lived into their eighties (but my dad had that stroke)so I am not complaining or worrying about my imminent demise. I am not a young man anymore, and I am most definitely OK with that. But still, if only I had known as a young man what I know now...

Oh, I almost forgot - there has been one major change for the better as a result of getting older (well that plus modern medicine.) I have worn glasses - really thick glasses - ever since I was a little boy. A little over two years ago I had surgery to remove cataracts from both eyes and now my distant vision is better than 20/20! I have to wear reading glasses (and for another $2500, not covered by insurance, they could have fixed that too)) but for everything more than an arm's length away I can see perfectly without glasses - this is truly a miracle of modern medicine!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Am I still a sailor?

I have been a sailor most of my life. And by "sailor" I mean someone who ventures out on the water in boats propelled by the wind; being a sailor implies being on a sailboat as opposed to a powerboat (aka "stinkpot"). To sail is to be in harmony with the elements, to harness the forces of nature to propel the boat through the water without any other means of propulsion. Sailing is quiet and the experience can range from relaxing to exhilerating depending on the conditions; it does not require the burning of fossil fuels. Sailing is boating at its best.

For the last several years I have had a powerboat, but I have always thought this to be a temporary condition and I have always considered myself still to be a sailor. Now that the new boating season is drawing near I have begun my annual ritual of looking at sailboat ads and visiting boatyards thinking that this might be the year I jettison my powerboat and return to sail. There is even more incentive than ever this year due to the astronomic price of gasoline which my current boat gulps in obscene quantities. Plus my engine needs some work done to the tune of several hundred dollars before I can start the new season. There are lots of good reasons to make my move, and I have seen several boats that interest me - a couple of them are actually pretty affordable, probably not a whole lot more than the repair bill on my current boat will come to. Everything seems to point to this being a perfect time to go back to sail. So the question is, why haven't I made the move?

I've given this question a lot of thought lately, mostly while I'm looking at pictures of sailboats that I would love to own and wondering why I don't contact the seller for more information. And tonight while I was looking at a very pretty boat that's listed at a price I could probably afford I began to understand the answer, and it is this: I really love the boat I have now. It is in all important respects the perfect boat for me at this stage of my life. Yes, it's a stinkpot (just ask the LL Bean kayaking class I inadvertantly enveloped in blue smoke a couple of years ago) but she's just right for what I want to do on the water these days.

Most of my "boating" in recent years has consisted of sitting on the mooring, relaxing, reading and enjoying the sun and salt air, and when I do cast off the mooring pennant it's usually for a casual cruise around the mooring field or maybe a short ride around the local islands or up a nearby river, sightseeing, looking at the seals and osprey, just chillin'. Because I have a powerboat I can go where I want, when I want, so in the (unlikely) event I want to go to Portland or Boothbay or some other similarly distant port it doesn't have to be a weekend-long journey - a cruise there for lunch and back is completely within my capability. Sure, there are trade-offs - noise, gas fumes, expense of gassing up - but I've decided that for me the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

So am I still a "sailor"? Philosphically I think I am - from a purely romanticized point of view I will always regard sailing as superior to powerboating in every way. But from a practical point of view I've crossed over. To me, just being on the water is paramount, and honestly the convenience afforded by having a powerboat makes my time on the water easier and more enjoyable. So I guess I regard myself as a "sailor" in the same sense as anyone in the Navy is called a "sailor" regardless of the type of vessel they may sail on. But if you want to be a purist and say I am not a "sailor", I am a "boater" that's OK. As long as I can get out on the water I really don't care what labels we apply.