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Friday, September 18, 2020

The utter inequality of the inequality of wealth

It seems aeons ago since Thomas Picketty's Capital in the 21st Century drew the attention of the world to the stupefying riches snared by the top 1% of the world's people.  

The situation hasn't changed a whit -- indeed, it has become worse.  As the Guardian states, US billionaires have profited hugely from the pandemic, while ordinary working men and women have lost jobs, are getting no income support, and small businesses are closing down.

Many are household names.  Others have fled to their luxury yachts and boltholes in faroff places, including New Zealand.  Some bolster their image by creating foundations -- feel-good moves that benefit something vague like stamping out malaria, but do nothing to help ordinary citizens in this time of great crisis. 

As the story relates, The already vast fortunes of America’s 643 billionaires have soared by an average of 29% since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which has at the same time laid waste to tens of millions of jobs around the world. The richest of the superrich have benefited by $845bn , according to a report by a US progressive thinktank, the Institute for Policy Studies.

The report calculated that 643 billionaires in the US had racked up $845bn (£642bn) in collective wealth gains since 18 March, when lockdowns began across the US and much of the rest of the world. The collective wealth of the billionaire class increased from $2.95tn to $3.8tn. That works out to gains of $141bn a month, or $4.7bn a day. 

Over the same period, more than 197,000 Americans have died from coronavirus and more than 50m Americans have lost their jobs.

Since the start of the pandemic, the wealth of Jeff Bezos has almost doubled, to over 186 billion.  This is because people who are locked down, or afraid of going out, are using Amazon to deliver goods to their doors.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has seen his wealth increase by 84% or $45.9bn to $100.6bn.

Elon Musk, founder and chief executive of electric car company Tesla, has also benefited from the pandemic. His estimated fortune has risen by 274%, to $92bn.

Bill Gates, who has made a vague pledge to give at least half of his fortune to charity and has already pledged a “few billion dollars” to the fight against coronavirus, has seen his estimated fortune grow by 19% to $116bn.

Bernie Sanders and Ilhan Omar, both Democratic senators, have introduced legislation dubbed the “Make Billionaires Pay Act” for a one-off 60% tax on the wealth gains of billionaires between 18 March and the end of the year to help working Americans cover healthcare costs.

Under Sanders’ proposal, Bezos would pay a one-time wealth tax of $42.8bn, and Musk would pay $27.5bn.

Robert Reich, who served as US labour secretary under President Clinton, said “American capitalism is off the rails” and a “wealth tax” was urgently needed to help redress the yawning inequality gap.

“Jeff Bezos could give every Amazon employee $105,000 and still be as rich as he was before the pandemic. If that doesn’t convince you we need a wealth tax, I’m not sure what will.”

As he went on to say, "American capitalism is off the rails."  But not just in America.  The greed of the few has afflicted the entire world.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Extraordinary Story of Survival ... and Leadership

Over the years, Island of the Lost has had some great newspaper and magazine reviews, written by professional reviewers.  That is always very nice, but even better are thoughtful reviews from readers.  This one, which came out yesterday, appealed to me because the reader picked exactly the points I was trying to emphasize in the book.  The Challenge, and the Contrast.  And the ordeal that the castaways went through, at the most basic level of existence.

Reviewed in the United States on September 1, 2020, by Laurie Kelley

Verified Purchase

This is truly a riveting and human story about two terrible shipwrecks really: The Grafton and subsequently, on the same island, the Invercauld. The two stranded parties never met during their time on the islands, but are easily comparable. The Grafton party, under the leadership of Cap. Thomas Musgrave, all survive, thanks to his leadership but also to the incredible teamwork and attitude of the crew. The Invercauld party suffers, and many die, due to the inept leadership of its captain, and its lack of teamwork. Only a lowly seaman shows any spark of leadership. And through their deprivations and sufferings, you learn about leadership: using each individual's skills rightly and to the fullest; the importance of celebrating holidays; keeping a journal; stepping into leadership when the leader (Musgrave) falters (he was prone to deep depression); and the all-important purpose of prayer. It's stunning to watch the evolution of their leadership and teamwork, especially when Raynal creates all the tools needed eventually for the final outcome. Truly extraordinary and superb. This is a page-turning, fantastic read, and powerfully inspiring.

For those animal lovers who rated this book only one or two stars... apparently they have never felt true hunger. I have while on expeditions, where the hunger grips you so badly, down to your cells, you want to eat anything--a wrapping paper, a dribble of honey, a leaf... even my guide's arm, I joked. And that was only for a week. I cannot imagine it daily, over a year! The seals were killed in droves, just as orcas would do when they were hungry. Druett had to include this to show the extreme conditions they battled. The same people who critiqued the explicit killing scenes didn't mention the horrid and explicit suffering the men experienced battling scurvy. Nature cannot be appreciated, understood or respected from your armchair. Hunger and the food chain are part of nature. So kudos to Joan Druett for a spectacular book, that puts a human side to suffering together as a team, and shows that many facets of leadership.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Mystic Maritime Gallery closed

A sad day is here

As a casualty of the COVID-19 crisis and the weakening marine art market, Mystic Seaport Museum has made the difficult decision to close the Maritime Art Gallery.

The Gallery was founded by Rudolph Schaefer III in 1979 as a business venture to support Museum operations and to provide a venue to nurture the careers of emerging artists in the contemporary maritime art field. Many of the leading artists at work today got their start at the Gallery. It has also enabled a deep relationship between the Museum and the American Society of Marine Artists.
This was particularly so for my husband, Ron Druett, who was a proud member of the Society.   Mystic Maritime Gallery was a home-from-home for him, his greatest favorite -- and justly so, because the Gallery featured 50+ Druett artworks, many in the prestigious International, which was juried, with strict standards for entry.
His first showing was in 1988, at the 9th International, with a painting of a whaleship joining the American fleet at Lahaina, on Maui, in Hawaii.

Then there was an evocative scene of the whaleship Tiger at dawn, which was shown not just at the 1989 Internationa, but also in an America and the Sea exhibition.

Whaleships were a feature of the time because Mystic Seaport had published a woman's journal I had edited (and which is held at the Museum Library), called She Was a Sister Sailor, the Whaling Journals of Mary Brewster.  Other kinds of shipping were equally interesting, such as the bark Louisa Craig, which had been prominent in the trans-Tasman trade.

Other water scenes intrigued him, a specialty being his dinghy series.

There was also a stunning scene of the famous Otor-ii Gate at low tide, with people walking about the iconic structure, inspired in part by the crowd scenes of L. S. Lowry.

And so the years rolled on, culminating in his entry for the 29th International, Butler's Flat Light, which is located at the entrance of New Bedford Harbor.

Unfortunately, the Gallery has faced declining sales in recent years as art-buying trends have shifted and the demand for maritime art declined. The economic upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Museum to review all aspects of its business operations with a focus on sustainability. Therefore, after a great deal of deliberation, Mystic Seaport Museum has decided to close the Maritime Gallery.
A sad day for all lovers of maritime art. 
Ron Druett, c. Robert Shaefer Jr.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Beautiful book acquired after nearly 400 years of trying

A collector who quite justifiably lusted after this truly lovely "Friendship Book" has acquired it at last ... a long, long time after his death.

As The Guardian reports, almost 400 years after Augustus the Younger tried and failed to buy the “extraordinary” Das Große Stammbuch – a “friendship book” signed by some of the most powerful figures of 17th-century Europe – for the library he was building in Wolfenbüttel, Germany, it has finally landed on his shelves.

Duke Augustus, a German member of the House of Welf who died in 1666 aged 87, was instrumental in collecting some of the hundreds of thousands of books that form the Herzog August Bibliothek, one of the world’s oldest libraries, which is named after him.
In 1648, he set out to acquire a book that had belonged to Philipp Hainhofer, a German merchant and diplomat from Augsburg. As he travelled from court to court, Hainhofer would ask dignitaries to paint in his album amicorum, or friendship book, also known as a stammbuchThere are around 25,000 historic friendship books recorded around the world, but Hainhofer’s Große Stammbuch is considered the most impressive, containing signatures by European figures including Cosimo De’ Medici, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II and Christian IV, the king of Denmark and Norway. Each individual would commission an artist to create a painting accompanying their signatures. There are around 100 drawings in the book, which took more than 50 years to compile.
When Hainhofer, who helped set up the Herzog August library, died in 1647, Duke August tried to acquire the book for his library but was unsuccessful.

The album went became privately owned and was withdrawn from the public domain. It was even considered to be lost, until it resurfaced at a London auction in 1931. But 373 years after Duke August made his first attempt to buy it, the book has finally made its way to the shelves of the Herzog August Bibliothek, after it was offered to Sotheby’s for private sale last year. Researchers at the auction house uncovered its connection to the library, and arranged a private sale for around €2.8m (£2.5m).
Sotheby’s called Das Große Stammbuch “extraordinary” and said it was one of the most important examples of a friendship book. “No other work of art better reflects the deeply challenging political tensions that were being navigated in Europe at this time,” the auction house said.
Björn Thümler, minister for science and culture in Niedersachsen, which is home to the library, called the acquisition “a sensation and a stroke of luck for the preservation of cultural assets in Germany”.
Herzog August director Peter Burschel said the acquisition, financed by bodies including the Cultural Foundation of the Federal States (Kulturstiftung der Länder), was the most important the library had made since it bought the medieval manuscript Gospels of Henry the Lion at auction in 1983 for £8.1m.
“It provides unparalleled insights into the early modern political culture of trade and commerce in art,” said Burschel of the book, adding that the library is planning exhibitions of the manuscript to make it accessible to the public.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

A particularly nasty side-issue of slavery in America

Did runaway slaves who arrived in New Bedford, Massachusetts, find a haven?  Or was there something even more terrible ahead?

This a horrifying story of one young runaway who escaped from one hell to find himself in another -- at the mercy of a sadistic, psychopathic whaling captain.

From Rambles reviews:

In the Wake of Madness, subtitled "The Murderous Voyage of the Whaleship Sharon," is Joan Druett's precise recounting and analysis of a dreadful murder -- and the equally horrific events leading up to it -- in the South Pacific in 1842.

In this engrossing story, readers will learn a great deal about whaling and the nautical culture that ranged from the shipyards of New England to the whaling grounds in the southern seas. There is also a great deal of biographical information on the vile Capt. Howes Norris -- who, although the victim of the murder in question, was by no means blameless for the deed -- as well as his hodgepodge crew.

There is, indeed, madness in the story, as well as mutiny, desertion, abuse, dismal luck, a bit of heroism in the immediate aftermath of the killing -- one sailor's efforts to retake the Sharon from the killers who tried to leave the rest of the crew adrift in small whaling boats is a saga all by itself -- and a great deal of duplicity and obfuscation in the longterm report and investigation of the crime. Drawing on news accounts, letters and journals from the time, Druett assembles a complete, complex tale that has eluded historians for nearly two centuries.

Anyone who enjoys Moby Dick will be interested to learn that author Herman Melville was himself at sea on a similar ship at the same time as the Sharon met its fate. Druett weaves so much history into her narrative, it's easy to see where Melville found his own inspiration for writing.

Druett is a consistent source of fascinating history from the sea. Highly readable and educational, In the Wake of Madness is a gripping story that will satisfy students of that era and any fans of nautical lore.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Micronesian castaways rescued after writing SOS in the sand

The New Zealand Herald reports that three Micronesian sailors have been rescued from tiny Pikelot atoll, after running out of fuel and directions.

Three men have been rescued from a tiny Pacific island after writing a giant SOS sign in the sand that was spotted from above, authorities say.
The men had been missing in the Micronesia archipelago for nearly three days when their distress signal was spotted on Sunday on uninhabited Pikelot Island by searchers on Australian and US aircraft, the Australian defence department said on Monday.
The men had apparently set out from Pulawat atoll in a 7-metre boat on July 30 and had intended to travel about 43km to Pulap atoll when they sailed off course and ran out of fuel, the department said.
Three men stand the beach on Pikelot Island in the Federated States of Micronesia. Photo / AP
Three men stand the beach on Pikelot Island in the Federated States of Micronesia. Photo / AP
Searchers in Guam asked for Australian help.  HMAS Canberra, which was returning to Australia from exercises in Hawaii, diverted to the area and joined forces with US searchers from Guam.
The men were found about 190km from where they had set out.
"I am proud of the response and professionalism of all on board as we fulfill our obligation to contribute to the safety of life at sea wherever we are in the world," said the Canberra's commanding officer, Captain Terry Morrison, in a statement.

The men were found in good condition, and an Australian military helicopter was able to land on the beach and give them food and water. A Micronesian patrol vessel was due to pick them up.
SOS is an internationally recognised distress signal that originates from Morse code.
As an addendum, I was surprised that the three seamen lost their way, as Micronesians are famous traditional navigators.  To read an excellent book about their prowess, I recommend Thomas Gladwin's East is a Big Bird: Navigation and Logic on Puluwat AtollAn oldie but a goodie.  And a great pity that the ancient art of navigation has been lost.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Whisky Galore

It is now your chance to buy a bottle -- or a full cargo -- of well-aged Scotch whisky from a famous shipwreck.

According to Forbes, it is called "sunken scotch."  Well, that is the name given to any fine whisky that has been retrieved from a sunken ship.

But this lot is a particularly famous one.  The wreck is that of SS Politician, which ran aground in the Outer Hebrides in 1941, bringing a final interruption to its voyage to Jamaica.  And on board were 28,000 bottles of whisky.

This led to all kinds of mayhem.  Salvage is considered a crime, allied to the ancient sport of "wrecking," where ships were lured onto the rocks by raiders with lanterns.  This, however, was no deterrent to the local islanders, who did their utmost to plunder the wreck once the official government crews had given up and gone away.  

Not only was there bickering in the ranks of the Scotch-hunters, but Scottish excise officers joined the rabble, no duty or tax having been paid on the cargo.  It was a truly wonderful scene, which provided much fodder for author Compton MacKenzie.  He described it with relish in his novel Whisky Galore, which in 1949 was turned into a very funny movie, which did so well that another has been made, starring  the quaintly named Sean Biggerstaff.

If you would fancy having a bottle from this famous wreck in your booze cupboard, be prepared to pay 20,000 pounds within the next six days, because after that the auction will close.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Constant Wonder

Island of the Lost, which contrasts the outcomes of two shipwrecks on Auckland Island in 1864, is proving very popular right now.  Indeed, it is a bestseller in the sea stories genre, particularly in America and Canada.  But still it was a surprise to be invited to talk on the Constant Wonder program, hosted by Marcus Smith on BYU radio. 

And it proved to be a great pleasure, too.  Marcus is an affable, eloquent, and perceptive host, whose questions were remarkably thoughtful.  

He was very interested in the relative sizes of the two castaway groups.  The party where all survived comprised only five -- the captain, Thomas Musgrave, the supercargo, Francois Raynal, and three seamen -- while the other party, where only three lived to tell the tale, originally numbered nineteen.  One would have thought that the small number of the Musgrave party would have had a harder time of it, with so much to do to keep them housed, warm, fed, and clothed.  Between them, they built a sturdy hut complete with furniture, formed hunting parties for food, cooked in a well-made hearth, kept the place clean, made soap, dug tanning pits for curing sealion leather, built a forge, burnt charcoal for fuel, and then built a getaway boat.  And in the evenings they taught each other their skills and languages, as well as reading the Bible.

The nineteen who struggled ashore from the other ship managed absolutely nothing like that.  Indeed, they had the advantage of finding an abandoned whaling settlement, complete with ruins of a house, and a garden.  But instead of trying to keep together as a functioning group, they went their own way ... and starved.  There may have been murders, and there was at least one instance of cannibalism.  

So the greater number did not help.

Today, can we take any lessons from this contrast in leadership and unity?  Well, that is up to the reader to decide.

You can listen to me chatting with Marcus Smith here.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Castaway to be evicted from island paradise

His name is Mauro Morandi, and he has been living on a little Italian island ever since his Pacific-bound catamaran came to grief there, in 1989.

Luckily for him, the island is not at all like Auckland Island, the sub-Antarctic epitome of bleakness where the castaways of the Grafton and the Invercauld suffered awful privations in 1864.

Instead, it was so wonderful that he opted to stay of his own free will, looking after the wildlife, clearing walking tracks, and giving visitors guided tours of his little paradise.

Now, unfortunately, he is about to be evicted, despite the efforts of a New Zealand businessman to help him out in his quandary.

As The Guardian reports,  Morandi, “Italy’s Robinson Crusoe”, who was originally from the Emilia-Romagna city of Modena, stumbled across Budelli, an island off Sardinia famous for its pink-sanded beach, in 1989 after his catamaran broke down on the way to the South Pacific. In a fortuitous twist of fate, he discovered that the island’s caretaker was about to retire, and so he abandoned the sailing trip, sold his boat and took over the role.

Since then, Morandi, whose home is a former second world war shelter overlooking a bay, has got to know every rock, tree and animal species of the rugged islet.

Now he faces being turfed out by the end of the year as authorities move ahead with plans to turn the island into what is described as an environmental observatory.
“I’m so used to living in the middle of nature,” he told the Guardian by phone. “What would I do back in Modena? Play cards and go to bars like other people in their 80s? Give over!”
He added: “The thought of going back to live in a society that treats nature badly is very distressing. Nature needs to be loved and respected.”
For years Morandi has guarded the island, part of the Maddalena archipelago, trouble-free, clearing its paths, keeping its beaches pristine and teaching summer day-trippers about its ecosystem.
But his role came under threat when the private company that owned the island went bankrupt. Plans to sell it in 2013 to Malcolm Harte, a businessman from New Zealand who pledged to keep Morandi on as caretaker, were thwarted amid protests and an intervention by the Italian government, with a Sardinian judge ruling in 2016 that the island be put back into public hands. 
Budelli is now managed by La Maddalena national park authorities, who now plan to reclaim Morandi’s home and evict him by the end of the year.
Morandi is yet to be officially informed, so it must have been a horrible shock when the journalist from the Guardian phoned with the terrible news.
“I don’t have a home anywhere else,” he said. “I understand that they need to do works on the island and that I wouldn’t be able to stay while this is happening, but I would like to know if I could return afterwards and be the island’s guard.”
When the first hints of his eviction first emerged in 2017, a petition to keep him on the island was signed by thousands of people.
According to reports in the local press on Tuesday, the expulsion now looks inevitable. Authorities claim alterations were made to Morandi’s home over the years without permission.

Sunset from the island.
 Sunset from the island. Photograph: Mauro Morandi/Instagram

The last time Morandi left Budelli was in 2018, to visit his children in Modena. Food is delivered to him by boat from the main island of Maddalena, and a homemade solar system powers his lights, fridge and internet connection.
During winter, when there are no visitors, he spends his days collecting firewood, reading and sleeping.
But having eschewed modern life for many years, he now factors Instagram in to his daily routine.
“I spend a lot of time on Instagram,” said Morandi, whose account has more than 50,000 followers. “I have to improve the photos, upload them and reply to comments.”
Morandi said he hasn’t suffered from a cold in all the time he has lived on Budelli. Although he worries about the coronavirus pandemic in Italy, especially as his family live in one of the worst-affected regions, self-isolation has obviously not been a problem.
“But I notice now that people are losing the fear and going back to behaving in the same way as before, because human beings quickly forget,” he said.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Welcome summer from McBooks Press and Quarterdeck

Historical Fiction | Healthy Living | NY State | Sports

Welcome Summer!

Highlights from the Summer 2020 issue: 
J. D. Davies
Britannia's Victorian Royal Navy comes alive in the Dawlish Chronicles
The Royal George
Roy and Lesley Adkins chronicle the sinking of the Royal Navy's greatest warship
Richard Bolitho's Clerk
Kydd's Devon and Cornwall by Kathy Stockwin

News and reviews from the worlds of nautical fiction, naval history, historical fiction, and marine art 
Download your free copy of the award-winning e-magazine    QUARTERDECK 

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Read the Quarterdeck Summer 2020 issue
The McBooks list of nautical fiction includes perennial best-selling series such as The Kydd Sea Adventures by Julian Stockwin; The Bolitho novels by Alexander Kent; The Lord Ramage novels by Dudley Pope; and The Alan Lewrie Naval Adventures by Dewey Lambdin. With the addition of Richard Woodman's Nathaniel Drinkwater novels from Sheridan Houseand Pineapple Press novelist Robert Macomber's Honor Series of American Navy thrillers, Globe Pequot and McBooks now offer the most illustrious list of naval fiction available anywhere.

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