Monthly Archives: May 2010

More Oil In The Gulf

We’ve been watching the relentless coverage of the Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico with a mixture of anger and fear.  Media coverage, depending on what other shiny objects have caught the editors’ eye, has been a mixture of annoyance, ferocious ignorance and the usual gotcha clips passing as reporting. 

Not being one to side with BP, at least the CEO is trying to be as clear as he can be with the media.  Sure, he’s well rehearsed and you can hear the lawyers in his head yelling “shut up!” but that is expected. 

Any media outlet that expects anything more than a well-crafted statement has obviously not done their homework.  CEO’s do not become CEO’s because they fire from the lip, so don’t expect Tony Hayward to spontaneously break down in a hail of tears and confess to a multitude of corporate sins just because he’s on TV.  Even an unguided missile like Ross Perot knew enough to clam up at the right time.  Give him 90 seconds a day to read his statement, then move on.  There’s no story.

Wall to Wall on the seabed camera:  Watching a talking head trying to explain what we’re seeing on that undersea camera is about as useful as a professional skateboarder explaining how to make cornbread:  There’s no context, no content and no explanation of what we are really seeing, because the anchor is, at best, a meat puppet.  One approximate quote will do:  “We’ve noticed the stuff spewing out of the holes is now brown and murky.  Is that the drilling mud Professor?”  Wisely, the professor in question answered “It probably is, but I don’t know where they are in the process, Rick…” 

No kidding, you don’t know.  Nobody does, as BP isn’t being particularly forthcoming with the play-by-play, so the chair warmers make it up as they go, faces flushed with this hour’s mock outrage furrowing their brows.  If the media gave a rodent’s secondary sexual characteristic about informing their viewers, they would get an actual underwater blowout preventer in the studio and give us some context of what we’re seeing. 

A lazy propsman could rig one up out of PVC pipe in an afternoon after a trip to Home Depot.  I know two guys from television days who could probably engineer a working blowout preventer valve with a stick welder, some Sched 40 pipe and a couple of blocks of styrofoam that would tell us more about what we’re seeing on screen in 30 seconds than any two weeks of makeup clad mouthpieces babbling endlessly could ever hope to explain.  Why?  Because the meat puppets have no clue what they see, how it works at even the vaguest level, or even have an appreciation of the astounding level of difficulty involved in any of the operations.  This is our source for news.

However, when the media tries, they can get some work done.  President Obama shows up on a beach in Louisiana for a walkabout and magically 400 cleanup workers appear mopping up the crude goo.  There weren’t any the day, or weeks, before, but somehow BP managed to reallocate some of their 20,000 workers grimly involved in cleaning up the Gulf, to make sure a stretch of beach is looking good. 

The telling shot was CNN’s Anderson Cooper getting the real hook:  The workers were hired the day before and told to not speak to media, or have their asses fired.  The whole workforce was bussed in from a staging area to do a dog and pony show at $12 an hour.

To simplify for the hard of thinking:  It’s Bullshiite Theatre by BP and the US Government is buying seats by the busload. 

Now is the time for someone (that would be Prez O) to grab some folks by the neck and offer them a couple of years in a Federal facility or get the damn thing fixed by Monday. 

Forty days is about thirty days too long.  Fix it.

Oil In The Gulf

We’ve been following the oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico for a couple of weeks now, watching to see if the lights are coming on in peoples’ minds.  So far, no:  Just as dim as ever.

The reason we’re watching for signs of life is that we’re not sure people actually understand this technology and the inherent risks that come with drilling holes in the planet to suck out the hydrocarbons. 

The first risk is that the crude is almost always under a lot of pressure.  Think for a moment, you’ve got several hundreds of meters of heavy rock sitting on top of the oil deposit, as well as several hundred meters of sea water pushing down on the rock.  The crude is squeezed into layers of porous rock. 

Perhaps a mental construct is in order, with the caveat of Do Not Do This For Real. Ever. 

Consider an aerosol can of WD-40, the iconic blue, white and red spray can of lubrication goodness that you have under the sink, or in the garage.    What you’re doing at a very elemental level is drilling a hole in the side of an aerosol can of WD-40 when you drill for oil.  The scale is different, but not much more.   

You know intuitively that if you ever did try it, there would be stuff everywhere, shooting out all over the place and the little red straw would roll under the sofa.  You know you’ll get hosed from head to heel with WD-40 and if things went very badly, there is a likelihood you might even burst into flames, especially if you were near a source of ignition.  Which explains all the safety technology associated with drilling for oil on a commercial scale.

At best, oil drilling is risky, even on dry land.  At sea, be it the Gulf of Mexico, or the Hibernia field, the risk is a few orders of magnitude higher and the technology even more complex.

That a piece of technology failed is not surprising; it’s made by humans and that comes under the heading of “Shit Happens”.  We try our best and are as diligent and as wise as we can be, but there are still things that happen with technology that we can’t predict.

What is infuriating are two factoids:  One, the US Federal Government let BP punch a hole in the side of the can of WD-40 without any of the commonly used safety technology in place.  To say that the lack of action or enforcement is near-criminal is pretty close to spot-on accurate.  Plus, oil companies are limited in liability to the first $75 million only.  You get one guess as to who picks up the next $75 million in a clean-up tab?  (Hint:  It ain’t Dick Cheney) 

Second, the three fart-catchers for BP (the distributor) TransOcean (the driller) and Haliburton (the well servicing company) who spent the better part of two hours pointing at each other as the responsible party in front of a Senate committee.  The three could be re-categorized as the three monkeys of See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Evil. 

Yes, there will be lawsuits and yes, each one of those companies will be dragged into court at some time in the next five years, but not one of the companies said so much as a mumbled sorry for trashing a few hundred miles of the Gulf coast for generations to come.  That much oil being spilled, even with the most intense clean up possible, will be gurgling up for the next fifty years. 

That’s the nature of crude oil.  It doesn’t go away and it doesn’t mix with water unless you fill the Gulf of Mexico with balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and whisk briskly.  Add five million pounds of chopped garlic and you have a fine vinaigrette, but that won’t bring back the fishery.

Chewing Gum For The Eyes

Sundays are a bit of Television wasteland.  You want what was called “chewing gum for the eyes” and thank you Frank Lloyd Wright for the appropriate quote:  No content beyond basic laugh, giggle and the occasional “omg!”  When you spark up the box and want to veg out for a few hours you are not looking for intellectual challenges, or shows that make you want to commit mayhem. 

Depending on your point of view, our media is either the precursor of where our society is heading, or, it is a fearsomely accurate mirror that shows us as we truly are.  Being enlightened cynics, we vote for the reflection of the current state of society.  Like all mirrors, including the fun house variety, what shows up, isn’t always what we want to see.

Shows like Party Mamas on Slice give us a frightening insight into what is considered acceptable parenting.  Two synopsis should suffice.  A girl wants a Sweet 16 and by the time the show is over, there’s a live elephant, a thousand guests and several dozen costumed dancers.   Mom spends, by my estimate only, upwards of $50,000 for a Sweet 16.  In another episode, one kid (he’s 13) wants skydivers, race car drivers and Ultimate Fighters for his Bar Mitzvah.  Dad, winning the Type-A Award, makes sure that almost all of it happens.  Price?  Again a guesstimate, around $50 Large.

Now, good for the parents that they can afford the tab:  No issue there.

But the offspring?  Not only do they have no idea of what things cost, but they don’t care.  They want it.  They want it now.  If it isn’t what they want, they sulk, cry and whine.  Meanwhile the parent units hijack what would be considered modest, but minor events in a youths’ life and add their own self-absorbed grandstanding and design sense of the absurd in thick, tacky layers over the whole proceedings. 

Which, in many ways, parallels the anecdotal stories of the so-called Helicopter Parents endlessly hovering over their issue as they negotiate the first tentative steps of adulthood.  There are plenty of stories about fretful parents attending Junior’s first job interview to ensure the company does the right thing.  Further stories of Mom/Dad hassling the college Dean because the vile Professor is making precious Jared/Melinda do homework and actually research their papers.  I mean, how dare they actually give our child a B.  That will hurt their GPA and their children will never get into (Name of Famous School Here) in the MBA program.

A colleague at work has volunteered to coach a house league soccer team for 11 year olds.  It’s a recreational league, non-touring, non-competitive league.  It’s for fun for the kids.  Last night was the first practice.  There is no assistant coach, no manager, no parents offering to help drive, or even just give a hand from time to time.  The league has a problem with a shortage of coaches, so my colleague is coaching two teams. 

But there are parents who are willing to criticize the drills, the practice, the organization, the uniforms, the time dedicated to their particular child, the condition of the field and the distance between the goals.  There are parents quite willing to loudly complain about the weather and for that matter the shoelaces of the other players.

My colleague, fortunately, has good hearing.  Every time someone opens their mouth to complain, he asks if they would like to help out with the organizing, coaching and logistics in a polite stage-whisper that could probably be heard in another area code. 

Oddly enough, by the end of practice, most of the Helicopter Parents had shut their traps.  The children?  They had fun, learned a few things about soccer and got to run around outside for an hour or so.  My colleague is still the sole coach, manager and logistician.  None of the Helicopter Parents have stepped up to help.

None of which is particularly surprising.