Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Homeward Bound

Well after a day of off-gassing nitrogen at my folks place in Dunedin, I’m packing Jack into his suitcase and heading back home up north. I also forgot to mention that I swam next to a 400 lb. Goliath Grouper on one of the reef dives. (Representative picture at left-although that one is probably only about 250-300 lbs.) Moreover, I confirmed my long-held suspicion that I am quite fond of wreck diving and I plan on doing a whole lot more of it over this summer. There’s something about watching the lines of a sunken ship materialize out of the depths as you descend the anchor line that sets my heart singing and blood racing. Diving is a Zen experience in general, but wreck diving requires a total mind/body focus which doesn’t leave any room for ruminating over any of the petty shit that tends to crowd the mind on a day to day basis. Three days of such diving has partly restored my sense of equilibrium which has been absent since Becky passed on in January.

As rewarding as it has been watching Jack grow, daily life the last four months has been hard. Certainly my threshold for other people’s bullshit is pretty low. People complain about so much petty nonsense and think that their troubles are insurmountable. It’s hard for me to find sympathy. Why do people constantly focus on what they lack rather than appreciate what they have? Who knows? Questions like that are beyond me. I guess at the end of the day suffering is personal and relative to one’s experiences. All I know is that diving helps me to put life and death and all of the rest of it into perspective. It has quite literally saved me from going insane on several occasions.

My next trip is a shallow wreck dive of the coast of Long Island on Sunday, July 1, 2007. Offers of babysitting are welcome. If anyone is interested in getting involved with diving and is interested in meeting other divers, I recommend getting in on this dive or visiting my friends at the Ocean Blue Divers meet-up. You can find details about the dive there. In general a fun bunch of folks. There's an Ocean Blue happy hour this Thursday 5/31 on the Lower East Side. Anyone interested in going should shoot me an e-mail. Peace.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The USCG Cutter Duane

Greeting from sunny Key Largo. This morning was the most challenging dive of the trip, a quick visit to the coast guard cutter USS Duane. (Representative picture at left). The Duane is a 329-foot cutter that was decommissioned on August 1st, 1985, as the oldest active U.S. military vessel. The ship was intentionally sunk in November of 1987 to create an artificial reef. The Duane lies outside of the reef line and can have a ripping current as it did today. Because of its deep depth and strong currents the Duane is generally considered a dive for advanced divers with wreck-diving experience, which I don't really have. Nevertheless I survived with my gear and person intact. There was a scary moment when I was ascending the anchor line and turned my head across the current. My regulator promptly filled with water and I got a belly-full of vintage Gulf Stream. I was able to clear it fairly quickly so no harm done.

Many consider the Duane to be the perfect wreck dive. Before sinking, the ship's hatches were opened and the holds pumped full of water to sink the ship. The Duane sits upright on the sandy bottom at 120 feet. Visibility today was around 50-60 feet-not great, but not too bad either. There are a number of swim-throughs and overhead environments, but I played it pretty safe and stuck to the exterior hull on the starboard side in order to get out of the way of the aforementioned current. For those of you who have never dived a wreck in a bad current the closest approximation I can give is if you imagine what a flag feels like while attached to a flag-pole in a strong wind. That is basically the position a diver takes as he or she descends (and ascends) the anchor line which is affixed to the top of the wreck. Once you descend the line you still have to stay on the leeward side of the ship, lest the current blow you off the wreck and somewhere in the general direction of Fort Lauderdale. I had limited bottom time because I was on air, but the wreck is beautiful and full of barracuda.

I won’t bore you all with descriptions of the shallow reef dives I’ve done in the last few days; suffice it to say that the Florida reef system possesses an abundant variety of marine life. Highlights from this trip include three nurse sharks (one in motion above the reef), an eagle-ray, sting ray, plenty of barracuda, lobster, parrotfish and all varieties of tropicals. All in all a good trip. It will make diving in the quarry feel like swimming in the bathtub.

Dive Report

Yesterday’s dive on the Spiegel grove was very interesting, if somewhat brief. I was diving on air while my two buddies were on Nitrox, although they were diving an air profile. The result of this was that our bottom time was limited to my bottom time, although they absorbed less nitrogen into their bloodstream by virtue of their breathing a mixed gas. Total bottom time for this dice was about 30 minutes. Max depth was 103 feet, although we pretty much stayed between 70-80 feet. Air consumption is quite rapid at that depth so I was watching my SPG pretty carefully. The ship is in excellent condition and is sitting upright on the bottom. Visibility was only about 30-40 feet and the current was a bit strong but nothing like last year. We explored from the wheelhouse toward the bow on the port side and then briefly crossed over the top of the superstructure which is about 85 feet across. A ship the size of the Spiegel Grove requires at least 10 dives to see, more if you’re interested in penetrating the wreck which wasn’t on our agenda. There is something about shipwreck diving which blows reef diving out of the water, so to speak.

The second dive of the day was on another wreck, the Benwood. During WWII the order was given to merchant ships to cruise without navigation lights to make them a less attractive target to German U-Boats. While this strategy protected the ships against U-Boats, it failed to protect them against other merchant ships who were also running with their lights off. The Benwood collided with another merchant vessel in 1942 while it was cruising from Tampa to Norfolk Virginia. Desperate to save the sinking ship, the Captain of the Benwood deliberately ran her aground in shallow water off Key Largo, where she proceeded to sink. Several years later, deeming her a hazard to navigation, the Army Core of Engineers blew up what was left of the ship, creating a pleasant dive site chock full of marine life and remnants of the superstructure sitting in about 30-40 feet of water. There are many hooks and holes in the old wreck which harbor a variety of lobsters, moray eels and parrotfish. A picture of the Benwood wreck is to the left. All in all a very pleasant dive. I’ll post about my other two dives from yesterday when I get back from diving the Duane this morning.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Dive Report

Key Largo update: I went on the Molasses reef dive yesterday. The seas were rough, as reported, but out of a boat of 18 people only three people got sick and everyone completed both dives. Highlights included seeing a couple of huge sting-rays and numerous barracuda and lobster. Several people caught sight of the dreaded Moray eel, but I must have missed him. The dives were long-almost an hour-because maximum depth was about 27 feet. They were good practice dives for my assault on the Spiegel Grove this morning, (picture at left) which lies at a depth ranging from 65 feet at the wheelhouse to 130’ at the sand. According to another boat captain there was no current to speak of yesterday, but seas were 5-8 feet. Today is going to be a long day as I have 2 dives on the Grove this morning followed by two reef dives this afternoon. Lots of nitrogen loading in my immediate future. A report will follow.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Mother Nature is a Bitch

Hello all, here’s a Key Largo update. Raging seas, 20-30 knot winds and thunderstorms have been keeping our intrepid band of divers tied to the dock since yesterday. The scheduled afternoon dive yesterday and the morning dive today were both canceled because of 6-9 foot swells in the Atlantic. That kind of rocking will make even the most intrepid of seafarers weak in the knees and feeding the colorful fish over the rail. In lieu of diving, all 23 members of the group took a 2.5 hour ride to Key West yesterday to have dinner at the Conch Republic. It was a lot of driving for a piece of Grouper, although the raw bar selections were tasty.

Never one to take things lying down, me and four other members of our group went and booked a reef dive for this afternoon, weather be damned. Only time and our inner ears will tell whether we’d have been better off sitting by the pool drinking margaritas. The problem with diving on a 30 foot reef in this kind of weather is that the sea surge is probably as bad on the bottom as the top which presents a set of challenges relative to buoyancy not experienced on an average dive. Visibility is said to be a mere 30 feet; pretty weak by Caribbean standards, a limitless vista compared to what the north Atlantic mud-hole divers are used to. Assuming I can still focus on a computer screen when I get off the boat I’ll give you a complete review of the experience. A picture of molasses reef, where I'll be diving this afternoon, is at the upper left.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

It's Five O'Clock Somewhere

Hi kids. The Patriot is taking off to Florida on Thursday for some well deserved R&R. I plan on recreating my dive on the sunken troop transport Spiegel Grove, (hopefully without coming as close to death as last year-see my posting at, and doing some easy reef dives to look at the abundant marine life and coral. The 120-mile Florida Keys island chain is home to North America's only living-coral barrier reef which runsthe length of the archipelago about five miles offshore. The reefs are famous for their abundance of fish, from schools of blue-striped grunts to green moray eels, sharks and Goliath Grouper and everything inbetween. The U.S. government established the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to protect the reefs. Their site is worth a visit.

Seas are said to be rough this weekso I packed plenty of Dramamine. I’m dropping Jack off with my folks in Tampa and then humping across Alligator Alley at 4am in time to be at the dock at mile marker 100 by 12pm for a reef dive. The sacrifices we make for our leisure pursuits. I feel like I haven’t slept in four months. I also haven’t breathed through a regulator since last August so I’m thinking of taking it easy for the first two dives until I get my undersea legs back. I’m meeting 21 other divers from the New York area and we’re all staying at the same hotel so it should be a good time. I enjoy the Keys, which is kind of perverse because they are pretty touristy. Not quite Jersey Shore touristy, but near enough. Miami is only an hour away.

I’ve been contemplating bringing my laptop since the internet is a major hobby of mine and I worry that I’ll be lost without it, but I probably won’t, although I would like to blog the dives…we’ll see. So what I’m trying to say is that the Patriot may or may not be on hiatus until after Memorial Day, depending on how badly I feel like lugging my Toshiba around the airport(s). I hope you all have a nice holiday.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Finishing Up The Krishna Thing

So what lesson is to be taken from the rise and fall of the Hare Krishna religious experience in the 1980s? Beware of self-identified gurus with firearms and drinking problems? Perhaps it is a tad more complicated than that. Today’s Hare Krisna movement is decidedly more staid and respectable than it was a couple of decades ago. Whereas devotees formerly were discouraged from maintaining ties with the outside world, including their own families, Hare Krishnas today mix and mingle like anyone else and don robes and Sanskrit names only while at temple for services. And speaking of the temples it is not unusual today to see young people in jeans and t-shirts worship alongside middle-aged white men in saffron robes and Indian immigrants in flowing saris. ISKCON communities also now offer premarital counseling, participate in interfaith activities, run social service programs, and offer babysitting--just the kind of institutionalization early converts were fleeing-but totally in line with what a fundamentalist Christian church might offer to its congregants. This change was due in no small part to a massive exodus by adherents in the wake of the scandals in LA and New Vrindiban which paved the way for a reformist movement and allowed it to gain traction. At the same time, things like yoga, vegetarianism, chanting, and concepts like karma and reincarnation became more mainstream and accepted by American society so that the Krishnas seem no stranger today than Tibetan Buddhists.

Maybe the bigger lesson is that investing absolute spiritual power in an imperfectly realized guru is a clear path to excess and abuse, not to mention the fact that requiring celibacy as a condition for initiation seemingly always leads to some sort of trouble. Maybe the Krishnas should borrow more from the Buddhists with their history of mind to mind transmission, and less from the Catholics with their rigid hierarchies. Verifiable spiritual attainment should be a prerequisite for any teaching position within any religion, lest we, as men, fall prey to our baser instincts.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Guru Trouble

Once Prabhupada realized that he was physically unable to manage the affairs of the worldwide movement on a day-to-day basis he appointed 11 senior disciples to leadership positions. This proved problematic. The individuals appointed who joined the Krishnas in the early days were not the most stable folks around in the late 1960s. The core of the early movement was a motley assortment of genuine truth-seekers as well as a variety of drug dealers and counter-culture types who had serious issues with living the way Prabhupada prescribed. Alcohol and drug use were fairly common and mental abuse and intimidation of followers was the rule rather than the exception. The appointed diciples immediately set out to consolidate their power at the expense of the devotees.

Perhaps the best example of a guru gone bad is that of Keith Ham, aka Kirtanananda. Kirtanananda was one of Prabhupada’s earliest diciples and was formerly a student of religious studues at NYU. Upon Prabhupada's death in 1977, Kirtanananda was one of the 11 gurus selected to initiate disciples. Most of Monkey on a Stick is taken up with an in depth analysis of Kirtanananda’s excesses and the effect he had on the world-wide movement, but his transgressions were not unique.

In 1968, Kirtanananda signed a 99-year lease on 130 acres of land in West Virginia, which was the beginning of what Prabhupada called New Vrindavan. In 1990, the US federal government indicted Kirtanananda on five counts of racketeering, six counts of mail fraud, and conspiracy to murder two of his opponents in the Hare Krishna movement. The government claimed that he illegally amassed a profit of more than $10.5 million over four years through copywrite infringement (remember those stickers of snoopy ‘Are we Having Fun Yet?’ you bought in concert parking lots in the 1980s?-All Krishna related). It also charged that he ordered the killings because the victims threatened to reveal that he sexually abused minors. In 1996, before Kirtanananda’s retrial was completed, he pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison but was released in June 2004 due to failing health.
From what I’ve read, Kirtananda was a total sociopath who controled every aspect of his follower’s behavior. He also controled a vast network of sanrkirtan teams who fanned out across the country and ran fundraising scams at airports and sporting events.

There are a number of movement apologists who attempt to pass off Kirtanananda’s excesses as an aberration and indeed the Swami was thrown out of ISKCON in the late1980s when the reform movement was gathering momentum. However, Kirtanananda wasn’t the only swami with an exaggerated sense of his own importance. Another swami, Hansadutta das (Hans Kary) had his own run-ins with the law. For shits and giggles Swami Hansadutta enjoyed taking fistfuls of vicodan, drinking liquor and driving around downtown LA in his SUV shooting up plate glass windows with his machine gun. At the time he was arrested Hansadutta was carrying nearly eight thousand dollars cash as well as a small arsenal of firearms (see picture at left). After spending a small fortune on legal fees the swami was let go with probation. His explanation to the judge: "If you have all kinds of drugs, alcohol and women, won't you go crazy too"?

According to his web-site, “Hansadutta das is famous amongst the devotees for his ecstatic kirtans.” There is no mention of his gunplay and drinking.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hare Krishna

I recently finished reading a book on the Hare Krishna movement that came out in the late 1980s called Monkey on a Stick (subtitled Murder, Madness and the Hare Krishna Movement). The book traces the history of the fundamentalist Hindu sect from its heady early days in the late 1960s, to the late 1980s when the movement was devastated by scandals including the possession of illegal guns, drug-running and child abuse at the New Vrindaban Krishna community in West Virginia.

This is one of 2 postings on the Hare Krishnas. The first will explain something of the history and philosophy of the movement while the second will be an analysis of how it all went so horribly wrong after the death of the movement's founder in 1977.

I have always been fascinated by the Krishnas because the essence of what they teach is so similar to fundamentalist Christianity, albeit without the saffron robes and vegetarian food, that it would seem to me to be completely unappealing to the counter-culture types that form the basis of its followers. Most initiated practitioners live according to strict rules taking vows to abstain from all forms of recreational drugs and intoxicants (including caffeine), from eating meat, fish and eggs, from gambling, and from all sexual relations except for purposes of procreation within marriage. For non-initiates how many of these rules to follow is left to one's own discretion, but these four 'regulative principles' remain as a standard. How this differs from main line fundamentalist protestantism is beyond me. Most Hindu Indians view the Hare Krishna movement with amusement and as a strictly American phenomenon, but the movement is based within Hinduism and takes a fundamentalist stance toward events in the Vedas and the Bhagavad-Gita, the text upon which the movement is based. The philosophy of the Krishnas can be summarized as follows (from the ISKCON web site):

“The Vedic scriptures state that spiritual life begins when one inquires into the nature of the absolute truth, the Supreme Godhead. Gaudiya Vaisnavas are monotheists and know the personality of Godhead as Krishna, the All-attractive. But it is also recognised that the Supreme has unlimited names such as Rama, Buddha, Vishnu, Jehovah, Allah, etc. The ultimate goal of Gaudiya Vaisnavism is to develop a loving relationship with the Supreme Godhead. The congregational chanting of the maha-mantra, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, as promoted by Sri Caitanya, is accepted by the Vedas as the most effective means of self-purification in this age. The Vedas describe the mantra as a prayer to the Lord, "Please Lord, engage me in Your service".

The movement began in the United States when a 69 year old Hindu renunciant named Abhay Charan De Bhaktivedanta (the title Swami Prabhupada was given later by his followers) showed up in the United States in 1966, knowing no one with 49 rupees in his pocket (“Not even enough spending money for one day”). He was by all accounts a charismatic teacher who immediately attracted numerous disciples on the lower east side of New York where the movement’s first temple was founded. The movement experienced rapid growth from 1966 to 1968, where temples were established in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Montreal, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The problems began to arise when Prabhupada elevated a group of his most senior disciples to leadership positions where they immediately started plotting against each other and became drunk on their power. The next posting will discuss the financial structure of the Krishnas and how they justified dealing heroin and coke for the benefit of Lord Krishna.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Alternative Education

So I have been thinking about alternative educational programs for Jack. The two that come to mind immediately are Steiner’s Waldorf School and the Montessori system. Montessori schools are easier to find but there are some important differences between that system and the Waldorf which make the Waldorf ultimately more attractive, at least if one is looking to raise a creative and artistically developed child as I am.

I’m planning a future posting on the fascinating life and spiritual genius of Rudolph Steiner, so some of the basics of the Waldorf philosophy (named from a lecture Steiner gave to employees of the Waldorf Tobacco Company in Germany in 1919) may seem somewhat vague to the reader but whatever.

In early education based on the Waldorf philosophy, play is viewed as the work of the young child and the magic of fantasy is an integral part of how the teacher works with the child. The teacher incorporates storytelling and fantasy into the curriculum.
In Montessori there is a feeling that because young children have difficulty distinguishing between reality and fantasy, fantasy should be postponed until the child is firmly grounded in reality. The tasks and activities the children do are reality oriented.

Waldorf has an interesting approach to using toys to educate. In Waldorf, the value of toys is that theyhelp children to re-enact experiences from life as they actually happen. The less finished ( more suggestive) a toy may be the greater its educational value since it sparks the imagination. Toys in the Waldorf kindergarten may be rounds of wood, seashells, lengths of colored silk or cotton for costuming or house building, soft cloth dolls, all with a minimum of detail which allow for open-ended play to stimulate the imagination. Contrast this with the Montessori view that it is a mistake for children to amuse themselves with toys because children are not really interested in toys for long without the real intellectual interest of associating them with sizes and numbers.

Waldorf also stresses the socialization of the child as extremely important, ant to that end the classroom is structured with the teacher modeling good social behavior with children, joining together in activities, singing or games which assist in developing group consciousness, and by helping children humanistically work through disagreements. Montessori, in contrast places a high value on the child’s individual capacity for choice and children are free to move about the classroom at will and the day is not divided between work periods and rest or play periods.
Both Waldorf and Montessori accept the fact that a child naturally longs for rhythm and order in his world but they deal with it in quite different ways; Montessori classrooms have an emphasis on reality to free a child from his fantasies where the Waldorf classroom enhances the child’s world of fantasy and imagination because play on the surface leads to development underneath.

Personally, I appreciate the less ego-centric approach of Waldorf and the fact that it values consensus, communication and imagination over a more structured approach to learning. I also like the fact that ideally, a Waldorf teacher stays with a group of children for years, and is thereby able to adapt the learning process to an individual child’s particular talents. Ok, enough for now.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Mission Far From Accomplished

I’m a little concerned that the administration is going to be able to turn Bush’s veto of the Iraq war funding bill into political hay for the Republicans. CNN is reporting the story of the veto as a defeat for the democrats and their “fractured caucus”. Even after everything the mainstream news media has learned about the Republicans willingness to outright lie to push their agenda over the last six years, they still dutifully report the White House talking points as if they were news. It is astounding that the media is focusing on some imaginary disunity among the democrats rather than roundly thrashing the president for his failures in Iraq on the fourth anniversary of the Mission Accomplished photo-op. Well, that’s the news media, I suppose. Corporate to the end and more concerned about access than journalistic integrity.

As for the Democrats, in anticipation of Bush's veto they began crafting a new bill, which strips the troop withdrawal language and adds a series of benchmarks that would measure the progress of the Iraqi government. The bill at this juncture subjects the administration to zero consequences if the benchmarks aren’t met. A senior Republican lawmaker has suggested a possible way to bridge the gap -- calling for troops to be withdrawn if the benchmarks aren't met but allowing the president to waive that requirement if he chooses. If Pelosi, as member of a majority party in the House accepts that kind of nonsense then she should resign. The will of the people was clearly expressed last November. Now would be a good time to ratchet up the pressure on Bush by holding hearings on the lies that were told to Congress to get them to authorize the war in the first place.

We must not forget that people are DYING in Iraq because of this ill conceived neo-con misadventure. There is no exit strategy and there no appreciable chance that the situation will improve any time soon. Its time to cut and run baby, before we run out of space in Arlington.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

International Workers' Day

May 1st, International Workers' Day, commemorates the historic struggle of working people throughout the world, and is recognized in every country except the United States, Canada, and South Africa. This despite the fact that the holiday began in the 1880s in the United States, with the fight for an eight-hour work day and also as a commemoration of the Haymarket Riots in Chicago. After the bombing in Chicago, which many believe was instigated by the police in order to disrupt the burgeoning labor movement, police ransacked the homes and offices of suspected radicals, and hundreds were arrested without charge. Anarchists in particular were harassed, and eight of Chicago's most active were charged with conspiracy to. A kangaroo court found all eight guilty, despite a lack of evidence connecting any of them to the bomb, and they were sentenced to death. Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolf Fischer, and George Engel were hanged on November 11, 1887. Louis Lingg committed suicide in prison, The remaining three were finally pardoned in 1893. How little the government’s tactics have changed in the last century. Today, try to remember all those brave souls who died at the hands of the government to try and bring us a better life, especially the anarchists and members of the IWW. Perhaps some direct action at your job site today would be an appropriate way to commerate the holiday. Not that I'm advocating anything illegal, of course. Be creative.


Here’s another little time waster web destination: The site is an anonymous internet confession board and people post some mighty odd things here. Upon reading some of this stuff one could be excused for thinking that human beings are all a bunch of insecure sexual freaks. Anyway, some confessions are a little warped (but to each their own) and some of them some of you may find bit offensive, but there's also some definite gems. Have fun, but be forewarned, it can become quite addictive.