John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: April, 2016

The Big U’s Sad Saga

The SS United States, affectionately called, the Big U, by her fans – once a proud greyhound of the North Atlantic – has been reduced to a semi-homeless derelict since her retirement. This supreme queen of the American merchant marine, the Big U still holds the Blue Riband as the fastest liner ever to cross the North Atlantic.


But that was over sixty-years ago. In 1969, the ship arrived at Newport News shipyard for her annual overhaul, but United States Lines, her operator, chose instead to face reality that the Big U was no longer profitable, could not compete with modern jets and removed her from service. The first move was to neighboring Norfolk where stewardship passed to several companies who removed various artifacts and equipment from the ship.


In 1977, the first manifestation of what would become an endless fascination of “what if” ideas for the Big U began with an ill-fated proposal to convert her into a hotel and casino to operate at Atlantic City, NJ. Similar schemes began to appear the following year when the actual owner, the United States Navy declared the ship surplus, unfit for further service and returned the Big U to the Maritime Administration (MARAD) for disposal.


A group led by a chap, Richard Hadley, bought the ship for $5 million hoping to re-vitalize her as a time share cruise ship. MARAD insured the loan but Hadley’s group fell on hard times. In a desperate attempt to raise money they auctioned off the remaining fittings and furniture including her four 60,000-pound propellers. (By good fortune, all four have been preserved.) Despite such deplorable actions, the group’s financing still failed. In 1992, MARAD seized the vessel and put her up for auction. During this period, the Big U wore out her welcome in Norfolk and was towed to Pier 84 in South Philadelphia.


Next up, Fred Mayer and Edward Cantor of Marmara Marine Inc. (a subsidiary of a Turkish shipping family,) purchased the Big U for $2.6 million. This group had the vessel towed first to Turkey and then to the Ukraine once the Turks found a sea of asbestos lining her innards. Even the Turks wouldn’t remove that stuff but the Ukrainians did also removing the steam turbine engines at the Sevastopol Shipyard in 1993-94.


After the Big U returned under tow to Pier 84, Mr. Cantor became sole owner for the grand sum of $6 million. His dream of returning the Big U to Trans-Atlantic service died with his passing in 2003, but Norwegian Cruise Lines then a subsidiary of the Malaysian gambling conglomerate, Genting Group, purchased the ship with plans to operate her in cruise service between the West Coast and Hawaii. The clock kept ticking, technical reviews and surveys were made and nothing happened although ownership was transferred to Star Cruises, another Genting subsidiary in 2009. In March 2010 reports surfaced that they were seeking bids to have the Big U scrapped.




Standing in their way was the SS United States Conservancy, a nonprofit organization, led by a granddaughter of the Big U’s creator, William Francis Gibbs. The Conservancy, that had struggled to preserve the ship for many years, temporarily stopped this action and, in 2010, managed to purchase the hulk thanks to a local philanthropist, H.F. Lenfest. New grand plans were made to create a “multi-purpose waterfront complex” on the Delaware River with the Big U as the centerpiece, but this too failed to materialize and by late last year, the Conservatory seemed to finally exhaust their ability to keep up the $60,000 monthly charge needed to keep the Big U at her Philadelphia berth.


Enter Crystal Cruises (another Genting subsidiary) in January, 2016 with a proposal to transform the Big U from a mid-20th Century liner that once accommodated 2,000 passengers in three classes into an 800-guest, 400-suite, single class luxury palace. Crystal proposed a total reconstruction that would transform the Big U into the finest 64-year old liner afloat. Crystal commissioned another feasibility study during which Crystal committed to paying the monthly nut.


Genting’s endless fascination with this ship is beyond rational explanation. Olivind Mathisen, a cruise ship expert commented: “Many people have tried this before…They talk about a price of $750 million. For that money they could build a brand new SS United States and not have to deal with all the old stuff. I don’t think it’s very viable from a business point of view.”


Truer words cannot be spoken. An ending for this sad saga is way over-do. It is time to take off the rose-colored glasses and once and for all put down the Big U, a good and loyal friend who has been abused far too long and should be put her out of her misery.




Top of the Ninth

My dear friend, Judy Jones, brilliantly summed up what our septuagenarian perspective should be for dealing with modern problems. Judy wisely noted, “Face it, this crap is hardly worth our concern. After all, we’re in the top of the ninth.”


I chose not to pursue Ms. Judy about the virtual box score of her remark: What’s the score, how many out, players on base, etc. I choose a tie score, none out, nobody on base and a shot at extra innings. That’s my version.


In many ways getting old sucks but Ms. Judy’s perspective provides a unique take on the foibles and follies that we observe as the freak parade passes by. Two relatively new floats have been added to the latest version of this parade: “microaggression” and “safe space.”


Let’s examine microaggression first. This is what Wikepedia says about this phenomenon:


Microaggression is a term coined by psychiatrist and Harvard University professor Chester M. Pierce in 1970 to describe insults and dismissals he regularly witnessed non-black Americans inflict on African Americans. In 1973,MIT economist Mary Rowe extended the term to include similar aggressions directed at women, and those of different abilities, religions, etc. She also used a different term, that of “micro-inequities,” in order to include injurious behavior that did not seem “aggressive,” but possibly stemming from what we now call unconscious bias, and from negligence and even “innocent ignorance.” Eventually, the term came to encompass the casual degradation of any socially marginalized group, such as the poor and the disabled.


Confused? Alright, let’s see an example. The following letter appeared in “The Ethicist” feature of The New York Times Magazine on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016:


I am a transgender man who is regularly mistaken for a woman

in public places. When my partner and I go out to eat, the waiter

will often refer to us as “ladies.”…I wonder if I have an obligation

to my fellow transgender and gender nonconforming citizens to

prevent future microaggression by educating the people I

encounter on gender neutral language.


The writer is certain the waiter’s solicitations were microaggressions. Using this logic so would be, “Did you lose weight?”, “You look nice today.” and even, “Have a nice day.”


Next up; “safe space,” and the violation thereof. Joseph R. Reisert, a columnist with Central Maine provided an interesting explanation being…Not simply the idea of being free from fear of physical harm, safe spaces promise a further dimension of safety – an environment in which one need never fear being insulted, demeaned or made to feel unwelcome, an environment in which one is perfectly at home.


This concept is not only real and considered legitimate, it is actively promulgated on college campuses. Exhibit A: Emory University.


Jim Wagner, the president of this school is actively investigating who had the utter nerve and intent to deliberately chalk on steps, walls and sidewalks at various locations across the campus the following disturbing message: Trump 2016.


His investigation follows demonstrations by students who claim their “safe space” was violated by these awful messages. President Wagner noted, “…students viewed the messages as intimidation and they voiced ‘genuine concern and pain’ as a result.”


The horror; oh my God, the horror!


This insanity is not unique to Emory. Yale students claimed a similar violation over a controversy surrounding Halloween costumes and Northwestern students condemned the fourth annual Burlesque show being held this month as part of the school sanctioned “sex week.” They objected that the casting decisions were not diverse enough, that they marginalized experiences and destroyed some performer’s safe space.


Thankfully, other events scheduled for sex week like “Reclaiming Pornography One Orgasm at a Time” and “Bad Ass MCs and Big Booty Beauties: A Panel on Women, Sexuality and Hip Hop,” did not raised such concerns and went forward.


Perhaps rising sea levels will eventually put an end to all of this nonsense. In any event, I’m kind of glad not to be back in the 4th or 5th Inning being forced to deal with these head shakers while all the time just trying to make a buck and keep above the rising tide.




On Second Thought

Never underestimate the power of The New York Times! The lead story, left-hand column – above the fold for April 6th edition began with this accusatory headline:


De Blasio Postpones Work on Crucial Water Tunnel


Jim Dwyer, a senior reporter and columnist came out swinging noting right off the bat, “…de Blasio has postponed work to finish New York’s third water tunnel…regarded as essential to the survival of the city if either of two existing, and now aged, tunnels should fail.”


Dwyer noted that while most of this monumental tunnel had been completed under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; two deep shafts must still be dug to provide water to five million people living in Brooklyn and Queens. Before leaving office, Bloomberg included $336 million in the city’s 2013 capital budget to complete this work by 2021. Sometime after taking office on January 1, 2014, the de Blasio administration quietly erased this item from the budget. This action remained under the radar until noted in a 2015 report written by William Pfang, “a consulting engineer with the city’s water finance authority.”


“Asked at a City Council hearing last month (March, 2016) when the tunnel would be working, Emily Lloyd, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, said, ‘My guess is that we’re talking mid-20s.”


De Blasio’s crowd first tried to blame Bloomberg for the delay only to withdraw that accusation in favor of this rather odd explanation, “…it had been a matter of setting its own priorities and addressing the cost of state and federal mandates.”


Another spokesman, James Roberts, added more mumbo – jumbo about keeping water rates affordable: “You’ve got real people who need to pay real bills and we try to be conscious of that. Certainly, the mayor’s office has been very conscious of that.”


Uh oh, fast forward one day to April 7th to Dwyer’s follow-up piece:


Mayor Adding $305 Million to Speed Work on Critical Water Tunnel


As if by magic, within hours of The Times reporting de Blasio’s removal of the money needed to finish the tunnel, the money was back! Gee whiz, it turns out the mayor was misunderstood. He explained, “There are times when my team does not do a good job of explaining something.”


Dwyer noted, finding the money in less than 24 hours was the easy part. “Far more awkward was the struggle by him and his aides to argue that they had never flagged in their support for the tunnel project…”


As proof of his commitment, de Blasio emphasized $52 million had been added to the budget this year to design and acquire property for the shafts. This amount plus the $305 million that reappeared raises the total amount available to $357 million.


Rather than admit error or worse, that they deliberately removed the money in the first place for one of their own pet progressive projects, they mumbled, they bumbled and they fumbled excuses and explanations contradicting themselves. De Blasio noted that he would accelerate Bloomberg’s’ schedule by beginning work in 2020.


Isn’t that just special!  I wonder what comrade mayor is currently smoking? Remember that Bloomberg estimated the project would be completed in 2021. By starting work in 2020 it would seem that Ms. Lloyd’s prediction of a mid-20s completion is more realistic than the mayor’s.


Sarcastically, Dwyer summed up this circus noting: “The real reason the $336 million was pulled, Mr. de Blasio said was that ‘we didn’t think that the estimate was accurate.’


“Now the $336 million has been replaced – with $357 million.”


Not bad, but as the late Mike Quill once remarked about another mayor: Comrade Mayor Bill de Blasio is a man who can speak out of both sides of his mouth and whistle at that same time.


Can’t Make This Up

Item one: As you know, following the mass shooting by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife in San Bernardino, Apple refused to crack the code that prevented the FBI from gaining access to the contents of his 5C iPhone. The FBI filed suit in Federal District Court to order Apple’s compliance with this action. Simultaneously, the FBI sought an outside party who had the ability to help the agency gain access to the device. In fact, such a third party did come forward and once they successfully demonstrated the ability to override this smart phones encryption feature the FBI returned to court to withdraw the suit.


Subsequently, The New York Times reported Apple is scrambling to determine how the unnamed third party overrode their safeguards. Normally, when faced with a similar challenge, Apple’s security engineers would use the hacked device to reverse engineer the problem to re-create what the hackers did to break through its security. Unfortunately for Apple, the FBI has no interest in ever turning over Farook’s iPhone.


As this story continued to develop, it’s been reported that shares in Sun Corp., a Japanese maker of pinball-style games have been soaring after reports leaked that one of its subsidiaries, Cellebrite Mobile Synchronization, cracked the code. Reports state that the FBI was already a client of this Israeli based mobile forensic firm prior to this event.


The FBI isn’t the only law enforcement group frustrated by Apple’s iPhone security. William Bratton, commissioner of the New York Police Department has stated that his department has many iPhones in custody that can’t be opened. The FBI has decided not to be shy in helping fellow police forces. In a statement issued on April 1, they stated: “The FBI will of course consider any tool that might be helpful to our partners.”


April’s fool Apple. Funny how things went upside down on this modern problem and this is only the beginning of this story.



This second item is from Geoff Jones: The US Public Health Service, (USPHS) failed to get a good start on the Zikka disease. A lab made it known to the USPHS that they found a way to reset the offending species the of male mosquito’s genetics so that all of its offspring inherit the same damaged genetic code leading to the extinction of the species in short order. However, the FDA and the Dept of Agriculture both have reason to believe that it is their exclusive domains to diddle with such things.


Whichever one has grabbed the brass ring operates under some regulation that they cannot engage in any activity that hurts animals. That means they can only hurt insects that bite and the male mosquito doesn’t bite. Therefore the USPHS cannot follow through on this approach making this another government, “Catch 22.” S.N.A.F.U. seems to be the appropriate label for this one.



Lastly, Boundary Dam Power Station, a newly built $1.1 billion Canadian clean coal electrical plant is not performing as expected, has suffered multiple shut downs, faces unresolved problems with core technologies, faces tens of millions in repairs and faces soaring costs. The plant uses a complicated process that first removes soot and ash then chemically removes carbon dioxide from the exhaust. This process seemed to work well enough on small demonstration projects but this major plant is facing complications not previously encountered that allows too great a percentage of carbon dioxide to escape.


Further, this process is such a voracious consumer of electricity that 20 % of the plant’s 150 megawatt capacity is gobbled up by this process and another 10% or more is needed to compress the carbon dioxide making the cost to produce power excessive. So far the power plant is unable to create the claim as advertised of a clean environment at a reasonable cost.


Bonsoir mon ami with this mess, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Perhaps now you’ll begin to understand why Barack Obama’s hair turned gray.