Reunion Talks

“Encountering A Great White”

By Greg Movsesyan


It was a warm and sunny day in early Fall, 1994.  There was a light offshore wind and the waves were about shoulder-high.  It was a perfect day to surf, so I left my natural food store to my colleagues in the afternoon to get in my first surf session in a week.  That morning I decided I would ride my short (6'7") board, but had forgotten to bring it when I left for the store.  So instead, I took my longer (8'0") board which I always kept at work.


I drove three miles up the Pacific Coast Highway to a spot I'd surfed hundreds of times.  After a half-mile trek through a virgin old-growth forest of spruce, pine, fir, hemlock, and cedar, I came out on a driftwood-lined cove, embracing a 3/4 mile long sandy beach.  The cove is bounded on its south side by a 1600 ft. high mountain that rises steeply and directly out of the ocean.  Spread around the base of the mountain are lava outcroppings and reefs teeming with marine life, and providing a virtual buffet for those higher on the food chain.  Even so, there hadn't been a shark attack in the cove during the forty-five years it had been surfed.

After putting on a 5 ml. wetsuit, I paddled out about 150 yards from the shoreline into the middle of the cove, where the water was about 15 feet deep. The waves had excellent shape and were coming in sets of four or five every five minutes or so.  I was sharing a peak and trading waves with a courteous and able surfer named Rob, a welder from Portland whom I didn't know.  During the lulls between sets, we sat facing the horizon in anticipation of the next waves.  At one point, we saw the rare sight of a huge orca or sea lion breaching with uncommon energy several times about a half mile offshore. 

During the next lull, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a gray form passing under my board on an oblique angle just inches below my feet.  This didn't alarm me at first because I had surfed often in Southern California when large pods of dolphins would pass through the surf zone, sometimes actually riding waves, without ever touching us or creating a sense of danger.  But when this gray form continued to emerge endlessly, I looked over at Rob to say something.  And at that moment, a 19 ft. great white shark surfaced between us and whacked the bottom of Rob's board with its lower jaw. 

The transfer of energy sent Rob flying to the full extent of his 8 ft ankle leash, which tethered him to his board.  But the shark's maneuver, an attempt to damage its prey and get it to sink, had gone completely awry, as the board had become impaled sideways on the the semicircle of teeth in its lower jaw.  Clearly unhappy, and in a stunning display of angular momentum outside of its natural medium, the shark raised its back half straight up in the air and pounded its head on the water until the board was dislodged.

I was completely mesmerized by all this, but instead of being scared, I tried to understand what was going on, uttering my only words during the whole episode.  Softly, to no one in particular, I asked, "What is this?” imagining that it might be the out-of control dolphin we'd seen breaching earlier.  As the shark's tail fluke was waffling eight feet above my head, I realized it would crush me if it were to flop down onto the surface, but I couldn't back-paddle to avoid it in the turbulent water. 

Fortunately, once Rob's board was floating freely the shark dove straight down, leaving only a huge boil on the surface, and both Rob and myself unharmed.  As I began to paddle toward Rob, who was still leashed to his board, both he and his board disappeared instantly before my eyes.  This latest confusion was resolved seconds later when Rob's board, propelled by the potential energy from being submerged, came shooting out the water like a rocket.  And then Rob bobbed to the surface, too.

When the shark dove, it had gotten Rob's leash caught around its tail and was dragging him and the board out to sea, until the leash broke and set them both free for the second time.

Rob swam to his board and climbed on, and we both paddled toward the beach with a compelling sense of urgency.  My mind was actually proceeding on two separate tracks at the time.  One was still trying to make sense of what had just happened. The other was like being on autopilot, focused on maximizing the efficiency of my stroke as I tried to escape a deadly threat. 

Everyone along the beach and in the water had seen the attack, and they were running toward us and chattering as we reached the shoreline.  Rob and I, on the other hand, were in a  state of shock and silence.  Once we were in ankle-deep water, we both turned toward the horizon to be with our own thoughts.  For Rob, it was miraculously coming through the attack unhurt, with only a small tear in his wetsuit where one of the shark's teeth brushed his thigh.  For me it was a unique moment, when I experienced not the social and psychological sum of who I was, but only the thrilling condition of simply being alive. 

It took Rob several weeks, but myself seven months, to get back in the water.  I returned to the exact same spot under similar conditions, paddled out and tried to spook myself, looking for fins in the water, boils on the surface and other signs of danger.  But I failed completely and had an excellent session.  When I reached the beach, I realized that for the first time I felt like I belonged in the ocean, that I wasn't the uninvited guest I had always imagined myself to be.  I had dodged a bullet and surprisingly no longer felt like an alien in the water, which is still the case today. 

It is likely that the shark chose to pass me by and attack Rob because my board was long and narrow, like a fat popsicle stick, while Rob's smaller board was shaped like a marine mammal, somewhat rounded with a blunt nose and a swallow tail.  If this is correct, the perpetually imponderable element of this experience for me will always be that Rob's board was a virtual duplicate of the board I had forgotten to bring with me that morning.





 A Quarter Century of Competition

By Bryan Dunlap



* Quarter Century: from 1982 through 2008.


* Competition: An area of law that I practiced in NYC for those years. In the US, this

type of law is usually called “Antitrust.” I’ll call it “Competition,” which is what the rest of

the world calls it.



* The core idea is competition between businesses. In theory -- and often in

practice -- when people buy and sell, it’s better if there is competition between sellers

(and, sometimes, between buyers). The main reason is that a competitive market

does a good job of providing buyers -- usually thought of as individual Mom-and-Pop

consumers -- with higher quality and lower price.


* By contrast, if sellers get rid of competition, prices tend to go up and quality and

availability tend to go down.



* Note that competition law is a branch of torts, an area of law which provides negative

guidance -- that is, what will happen to you if you do certain things that you aren’t

supposed to do.


* There are two specific ways that it’s illegal to mess with competition, as set out in the

Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 -- and developed since in later statutes and extensive

case-law. First, a single business can become so powerful that it’s able to raise

prices and squeeze out competition. That’s called monopolization. Think Microsoft (or

at least what Microsoft used to be). Second, two or more separate businesses can

mimic monopoly power by acting in a co-ordinated way to raise prices and eliminate

competition. That’s called conspiracy in restraint of trade (a familiar kind of this is price

fixing. Think OPEC. We’ll come back to OPEC in a minute.



* Competition law isn’t about fairness or honesty in business. Other laws punish unfair

business practices, fraud, and so forth. But as far as competition law is concerned,

it’s OK if businesses lie and cheat and steal and take advantage of superior size or

cleverness. They just aren’t allowed to impair competition beyond a certain point.



* YES. Conspiring and monopolizing have deep roots in human nature. They are

almost as natural to business as breathing is to a person.


* That’s not just my idea. Adam Smith, in 1776, published a pithy quote about business

conspiracies: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment

and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some

contrivance to raise prices.” He could have said something similar about the tendency

of big, powerful businesses to get rid of their rivals any way they can. And not just in

the U.S. Anticompetitive behavior is global... wherever people are buying and selling.


* So, if anticompetitive behavior is so natural, how can the law possibly control it?

That’s a long-standing problem with no easy solution.


* Adam Smith also had something to say about it: “It is impossible indeed to prevent

such meetings by any law which either could be executed or would be consistent with

liberty and justice.”


* Well, Adam Smith hasn’t proved to be 100% accurate. Today, lawsuits and public

prosecutions do a pretty good job of discouraging the worst conspiracies -- and the

most damaging instances of monopolization.



* Key point to bear in mind: Markets change over time. Which means (1) that

specific threats to competition change over time; and (2) that enforcement has to

adapt to meet those threats. –


-- Long before we were born: 1832: Steamboat owners’ conspiracy -- “In October

1832, the Stevens [family] joined with other leading operators to form the Hudson River

Steamboat Association, which led to an agreement that all the best boats would charge

three dollars, meals extra [for the NYC-Albany run]. Although independent operators

regularly caused fare wars by offering cheaper service, the association was able to

maintain the three-dollar fare for most of the 1830s.” Solution? None, at the time.


-- Before we were born: late 19th century: Concentration of market power in

railroad and oil “trusts” -- essential technology (rail transport) and essential resources

(coal and oil). In 1899, for instance, John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil coordinated 70

companies and 23 refineries controlling 84% of the crude oil refined in the US. Solution:

break up Standard Oil into competing companies.


-- When we were in our thirties: 1970s: alleged monopolization by IBM and AT&T


-- Key technology (mainframe computers) and key communications medium (local and

long-distance land line phone service). Solution: break AT&T into smaller units, and

force IBM to allow more leeway to competitors.


-- Today: Monopolies in software and microprocessors. Conspiracies by makers

of products such as LCD screens and vitamins; providers of air cargo transport and

credit-card services. Objectives: to raise or stabilize competitors’ prices. Solution:

fine the companies and imprison some of their executives. (Yes, there can be criminal

penalties for competition-law violations.)






For instance, if widget makers in Japan decide all agree to raise the price

for the widgets they make, is that a problem for U.S. law? What if all the widgets

are all sold in Japan? What if some of the widgets are exported to the U.S. via a

distributor in Singapore? What if the widgets are sold directly to U.S. customers?

What if the widgets are just one component in a more complex finished product

that’s sold in the U.S.? Does it matter whether the finished-product maker is

located in the U.S. or abroad? For another instance, there’s OPEC, a government-sponsored price-fixing conspiracy -- celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, coincidentally. Shouldn’t

OPEC members be liable for violating U.S. competition law? In theory, yes.

But there’s a hitch: Sovereign immunity. U.S. courts generally won’t take cases

against foreign sovereign states. So, despite the obvious economic harm that

OPEC causes in the U.S., it’s not likely that we’ll see it’s members hauled up on

antitrust charges here in the U.S.


* There’s a lot more to say about the theory of competition, as well as its real-life

application. But, for now, let’s just say that, because markets are so much a part of our

lives -- and because competition (or lack of it) is such a pervasive element in markets -

- it’s easy to find competitive implications almost everywhere.



Some Thoughts From Uncle Walter

or “Been Everywhere?”

(As prepared by Ted Burrowes for our Leonia High School Class of 1960

50th reunion, October 23, 2010)


Probably several of you remember our senior play, the eminently forgettable “January Thaw”. But I suspect I am the only one who remembers that I played the inconspicuous part of Uncle Walter:


“I'm 86 years old, maybe 88. Been here, been there, been everywhere” were my opening lines.


Well, as Ted Burrowes, I am not 86 or 88, but at 68 I am closing in on 86 and 88, and while I have been quite a few places and done quite a few things, I cannot begin to claim to have “been everywhere.”


Back in the early '90's I read a book entitled Engines of Creation by Eric Drexler that looked at the fascinating and at that time very new field of nanotechnology. One of the most thought provoking ideas for me was a projection that within perhaps a few decades, bioengineering on the nano scale might permit human life spans of 200-300 years. Sometime you might reflect on how you would rearrange the priorities and activities of your life if you could suddenly look forward to another 150 years of healthy productive life. And it might also be interesting to ponder how you would have spent the last 50 years had you known in 1960 that you might live to be 200.


But here in 2010 and at age 68, I do not believe that I am going to get much closer to the status of “been everywhere.” So it seems to me worthwhile to reflect briefly on just where I want to have been by the time I am 86 or 88, if I even get that far. And I do not entertain this reflection in any morbid frame of reference but more along the lines of the familiar adage that “today is the first day of the rest of your life.”


In what directions, then, do I want to expend my mental and physical energies that will bring me the most satisfaction both at the time and when looked at in the rear-view mirror of life? My view of this has been evolving over the last 4 years or so as I have gotten more and more used to being retired. Surely I want to keep physically active in ways that will allow me to remain mentally alert and able to live reasonably independently. But for me, physical activity in and of itself is not a consuming passion. Rather I am coming to the point of view that the most essential, enduring and edifying thing I can do is to strive to distinguish myself by my deeds, my words, and my underlying character. It is not easy work because it calls on me to step outside of myself - to see how others see me, to see where my actual self is at odds with my values and even my own current perception of who I actually am. It requires a kind of humility that in no way denigrates my inherent value as a unique self but sees that self in a more honest light. It requires a kind of courage that does not seek to face life threatening circumstances or perform feats of strength and agility, but that is ready to look at uncomfortable truths and live with ongoing moral ambiguity.

I believe that such striving will help to develop the kind of person that others in my life, both young and old, can admire, cherish and want to spend time with. Such regard will come, not because I present myself as accomplished or smart or well qualified to do this or say that, but because I draw attention to what is best in those around me and demonstrate by my life a genuine regard for them in spite of the shortcomings we each have. At 86 I think I will be a much happier person and be much more connected to those I care about if I set about, at age 68, setting myself aside.


Another way to approach describing what I want to do as I move forward in my life is from the language of spirituality and faith; to say that I hope to do a better job than I have yet done in aligning myself to the purpose of life. Well, that could quickly become a charged topic! After all, religion is right up there with politics as being a subject that can often be divisive. But I think the spiritual values and behavioral attributes I am seeking to develop are in fact ones that most often bridge divides rather than create them. They are not dogmatic nor are they the province of any one religion or way of life. Neither are they sanctimonious nor do they promote a 'me-you' or 'we-they' dichotomy. They are, after all, the familiar virtues such as humility, truthfulness, patience, kindness, courage, trustworthiness, moderation, integrity, generosity, and friendliness. They affirm the unity of all humankind and are reflected in the many variations of The Golden Rule.


One definition of old age that has long appealed to me is that one is old when one is no longer growing in some way. In particular it sets in when one stops trying to do things that either one has not tried before or that are not in one's normal comfort zone. This brings me back to courage – I want the courage to be willing to look a bit foolish, to admit to a weakness, to ask for some help, or to have others watch me not succeed at something. Furthermore, a path of spiritual growth is not dependent on physical health or stamina. I think I can continue to grow even in (or might I say especially in) the face of diminishing capacity in other areas of my life. Which is to say that it seems to me that there need be no end to a journey of building a deeper character and therefore no need to reach a stagnant old age.


And so as I think back to where I was 50 years ago, review with you in our conversations this weekend where we each have been in the 50 years since, and anticipate whatever time I have still ahead of me, I invite you to join me in considering just what really does count in this life, and what brings the deepest and most enduring satisfaction, and then in striving in the days ahead to focus our attention and energies accordingly.