You're out on the water on a beautiful afternoon, and the sun is shining and the breezes are blowing and everything's just as nice as it can be aboard the pleasure craft Uncle Sam until you notice that your feet are wet.
Not wet like "a bit of water splashed over the sides from the last wave you jumped" -- you're used to that kind of wet. Besides, that's why boat shoes were invented, so you don't go slipping and sliding all over the deck every time there's a little moisture aboard.
This isn't that, though. This isn't that kind of wet. This is more like "there's a hole in the bottom of the boat" wet, which is why it's not just the soles of your boat shoes that are wet, but the sides, too, and pretty soon the tops. There's at least an inch of water sloshing around the deck now, and with every passing minute there's more of it. The Uncle Sam is taking on water, and you and your friends had better do something about it.
Except that you and your friends can't quite agree on what to do.
"Bail!" you're thinking, and you go below deck to look for buckets.
"And pump!" you're thinking, and you try to remember where you stored the pump and the extension cord.
But not everyone aboard the Uncle Sam is thinking the same way you're thinking. Over on the starboard side, they think buckets are an overreaction. They think pumps interfere with the natural flow of the ocean. (The folks on the starboard side also made sure they grabbed most of the life jackets as soon as they came aboard. Maybe that's why they're not nearly as worried as you are.)
Instead of buckets, they'd rather use teaspoons. Instead of pumps, they insist on using thimbles. Eventually you compromise: water cups, and soda straws. It might not be enough, you fret. But it's all you can get the folks on the starboard side to agree to.
The Uncle Sam, meanwhile, is riding lower in the water all the time. Your boat shoes are completely submerged, and the splash line has climbed to your ankles, and then to your shins. You scoop your cups and you dip your straws -- scoop and dip, dip and scoop.
From time to time, you think you're making progress; you sense the water line going down, if only by fractions of an inch. Other times, you're convinced you're making no headway at all; your "progress" is nothing more than water shifting from one side of the boat to the other and then back again, as you rock from side to side with the waves.
You're still afloat -- but for how long? The water is creeping up past your knees now. If you're ever going to get the Uncle Sam back to shore, back to dry land, you'll need to do more. But the folks on the starboard side won't hear of it.
"We bailed already!" they argue. "We pumped already! We knew it wouldn't work when you first suggested it! So what's the point of doing it again?"
What you suggested, of course, wasn't water cups and soda straws; it was actual buckets, and actual pumps. Actual buckets and actual pumps might have done the job. But water cups and soda straws...?
The folks on the starboard side don't care. They seem perfectly happy to sit there aboard the Uncle Sam, waist-deep in water, a while longer. November of 2012 seems about right.
Did we mention that they grabbed most of the life jackets?
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.