Monday, December 31, 2007

That's Entertainment

Two days ago, after spending half the night up with a screaming, in-pain child, this household did something entirely decadent it almost never does -- we all sat around (for kind of a really long time) in our pjs watching Saturday Morning cartoons. If you haven't tried it lately, I highly recommend it...

The best cartoons are on Discovery Kids. In one of our favorites, "The Future is Wild," a group of kids flies through the future, searching through space for a sustainable energy source for earth. Last week they landed somewhere (I haven't quite got the show down yet...) where there were dinosaur-like beasts lumbering around. The kids honed-in on a tremendous energy source and followed their equipment (and a horrible smell) to a gigantic dinosaur graveyard...

This reminded me of a trend I've been noticing lately:
Oil is all over the arts.

Movies, TV, Theater... I think this may be as big a deal as Al Gore winning the Nobel Prize; I really do. It's easy to ignore the news and the world -- but once things move onto the stage and screen, awareness is infiltrated. Connection and communication are never stronger than in the entertainment industry, because nobody has to work at anything... When we are distracted by what we truly enjoy, our bodies take over and our minds open.

Furthermore, it's perfectly possible that no progress can be made without a little fun!

Happy New Year.

Published in The New York Times: December 26, 2007

“There Will Be Blood,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic American nightmare, arrives belching fire and brimstone and damnation to Hell. Set against the backdrop of the Southern California oil boom of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, it tells a story of greed and envy of biblical proportions — reverberating with Old Testament sound and fury and New Testament evangelicalism — which Mr. Anderson has mined from Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel “Oil!” There is no God but money in this oil-rich desert and his messenger is Daniel Plainview, a petroleum speculator played by a monstrous and shattering Daniel Day-Lewis.


★ ‘PUMPGIRL’ This fiercely observed, unsentimental work by the Irish playwright Abbie Spallen alternates the monologues of three downtrodden figures: a female gas station attendant, her oafish lover and his neglected wife. The powerfully acted, bare-bones production emphasizes the staggering force of good storytelling (2:00). Manhattan Theater Club at City Center, Stage II, 131 West 55th Street, (212) 581-1212. (James)


‘TINGS DEY HAPPEN’ An engrossing one-man show about the Fulbright year its author and performer, Dan Hoyle, spent in Nigeria; in the spirit of theatrical journalism, it is at once a travelogue, a cultural survey and a good introductory course in oil politics. But it is the people the audience meets who raise the exercise above a guided tour (1:25). Culture Project, 55 Mercer Street, SoHo, (212) 352-3101. (Hampton)


Published in The New York Times: December 19, 2007

The Hungarian cartoon feature “The District!” is a last-minute shoo-in for the title of 2007’s most original animated film, no small triumph in a year that also included the releases of “Persepolis,” “Ratatouille,” “Beowulf” and “Paprika.”

The movie is a sexually explicit, scabrously funny portrait of multiethnic European urban culture, similar to Ralph Bakshi’s early-1970s adults-only animated movies “Fritz the Cat” and “Heavy Traffic,” but richer and more coherent than either of those. It’s set in contemporary Budapest, where a group of streetwise Hungarian teenagers use a time machine (invented by their school’s resident nerd genius) to travel back to the prehistoric era and bury mammoths beneath what will eventually become their city’s streets.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


I guess I'm looking for a little relief -- the stories are heavy, the narration is heavy, the idea that we are perpetually stuck in the past -- very un-new year-esque, if you ask me.

Today in the Real Estate section of the times is a story about a couple who turned their home into an artist in residence haven.

One of their artists in residence turns oil drums into lace!

In a series Cal Lane calls simply "oil drum tapestries" she makes what was heavy light -- communication created through space, through removal, negative space and the juxtaposition of what is heavy and light, laden and frivolous. What is beautiful. What is possible, even from debris.

She coats tires in powdered sugar, and makes intricate weaving out of dirt. Rust prints -- tomato paste paintings.

Nothing is permanent. Everything can be changed -- everything will change -- will change with the elements and time.

Take a look at her website!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

sesame street - its not easy being green


This week I had two conversations about oil reserves -- one was with a friend who works in the economic sector -- and another who works for Care.

The first said the largest driving force of the price of oil was the situation in Venezuela, a story I've been trying to understand for weeks. Venezuela is producing less and less oil.

A May article from Peak Oil quoted government numbers and said:
The IEA reported that Venezuelan oil production dropped by 40,000 b/d in April to 2.35 million. The transfer of the Orinoco heavy crude projects to government control has increased the uncertainty about the future of Venezuelan production. Last month, Orinoco heavy crude oil enhancing projects supplied only 455,000 bpd -compared to their 630,000 bpd capacity- because of both "nationalization" and compliance with the OPEC production.

My friend said that Chavez was concentrating on the people inside of the country and letting the oil field languish (I don't think he used the word languish...). I said that is a good thing, isn't it? I felt like Shirley Temple. He was talking about the economy of the world.

My friend who works with Care was talking about another country where mining (not oil, it's true) operations were stalled because of money distribution issues. She said, "All that energy is in the ground, not doing anybody any good."

re·serve (r-zûrv)
8. An amount of a mineral, fossil fuel, or other resource known to exist in a particular location and to be exploitable.

Known to be exploitable...
language again.

The Army Reseves
The Federal Reserves
reserved demeanor
reserved table
reserved for you

Future and containment reside in every definition.

Yes, maybe containment is entirely disruptive in the present.
Yes, maybe containment is a way to stop suffering in the present.
Yes, maybe containment is keeping what resides from doing good in the present.

My son was up, screaming, from 1-4.
I'm dizzy, and calling on my own reserves today.

Friday, December 28, 2007

My Resources

I seem to be wanting lately to fuse entirely different trains of thought -- entirely different stories. Partly that's just how I always work in writing -- maybe it's just my own attempt at globalization... of course we all know where that can lead. A definite need for a rollback is on the horizon -- still, I'm going to give it another shot this morning.

Yesterday in Alaska, a superior court judge ruled that Alaska had, indeed, had the right to tell Exxon it didn't accept a plan to build a massive pipeline to support the drilling of an enormous amount of reserves. Exxon and partners hold a lease for the land under which holds 8 trillion to 9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and hundreds of millions of barrels of liquids, both crude oil and natural gas liquids.

The Court did say that Exxon had another shot at trying to figure out a plan, disallowing Alaska's attempt to revoke the lease altogether.

Alaska Pipeline at sunset
Photo by Alaska Stock

Pipelines are big, leak, stay forever...

Okay -- here's the second thing occupying my brain. Yesterday I engaged in a conversation poorly -- and irritated afterwards, I wrote a friend for a little girl power. The issue was sexism, how we respond -- the problem is that any engagement in the conversation feels like a defeat -- as does any avoidance of the conversation...

My friend works for Care, and here was part of her amazing response...

A colleague whose public health work with sex-worker populations challenged me recently to take a position on the Indian government's latest effort to do the right thing for gender equality and public health - rather than criminalizing the sex worker, criminalize the client - what did I think? My head was spinning - of course, criminalizing the client is still reinforcing the notion that selling sex is wrong. But we know that thousands of women don't want it seen as a sin, just a reality stripped away of its deeper meaning. and criminalizing the client is another way of penalizing the sex worker - of threatening her chosen livelihood, and casting her trade as a menace to decent society.

I met the head of a sex-worker's organization in Peru, who says "I'm a decent hooker" - by which she means, she plies her trade with integrity, respect for herself and her client, and with no shame. Is she exploited? Surely, she is - not only because the system uses her trade as a reason to deny her all sorts of human and civil rights, but also because her very existence is fodder to reinforce the myths about women as sexual playthings which, even if they don't reflect the reality of her, get projected onto her and all women. But on another level, if she stands toe-to-toe with a congressman in demanding decent life insurance, a pension, labor standards, and an end to police brutality for sex workers, isn't she fighting back against that plaything image?

I think the question is the same: if we use what we have, do we still maintain any rights? If our only means to income resides in the body, in the land, in the resources of those things, how do we then fight later for protection -- for respect -- for autonomy to make the decisions about how exactly we are going to allow ourselves to be used?

When we trade what is most intimate in a public arena... shame and regret and pollution... and can we maintain ownership and rights and respect?

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Last night I talked to a scholar who's working to save Sanskrit as a written language. He told me that the conversation in academia is still weather or not Western people can understand any other culture -- the theory of "Orientalism," if I understand correctly, implies that by trying to understand we further subjugate. It's an argument, he said, he finds insulting. "We are spending our lives studying it," he said -- so to say it is impossible... Furthermore, it is simply a distraction from the real linguistic research. The two most renowned journals in the world in this field of research don't publish in Sanskrit, and this man, a Lecturer at Brown, is working with a software company and with the Indian government to put the language into HTML form now. This language, which is the link to a vast culture and literature, is moving toward extinction like the albatross.

But I'm not sure we can -- understand anyone else. We can study, we can read, we can even live with and like and for another, but understanding -- Where does understanding lie? In the head? In memory? In muscle memory?

What caught my eye this morning was a Times story about motorcycles in Laos -- cheap ones, from China:
In Laos, Chinese Motorcycles Change Lives.

For years, getting this prized produce to market meant that someone had to carry a giant basket on a back-breaking, daylong trek down narrow mountain trails cutting through the jungle.

That is changing, thanks in large part to China.

Villagers ride their cheap Chinese motorcycles, which sell for as little as $440, down a dirt road to the markets of Luang Prabang, a charming city of Buddhist temples along the Mekong that draws flocks of foreign tourists. The trip takes one and a half hours.

Motorized transportation is New to them. Imagine.

I've talked some here about what it would mean to roll back transportation -- transportation for travel and connection and time efficiency -- but today I'm trying to imagine what life would look like if I really could not go anywhere farther than I can walk.

Somehow I'm also reminded of a story from a beautiful book by Leah Hager Cohen, "Train Go Sorry." The story is about a deaf child who learns sign language -- I read it a long time ago -- maybe 20 years, actually, but my recollection is that the child was older -- maybe 5 or 8 by the time she/he learned the language. I don't remember if the family resisted or if the language simply wasn't taught where they were -- but at any rate there is a beautiful moment where the child tells a joke. The first joke, and the parents laugh. In this moment there is joy at the future, and also a complete understanding of all that was missing for those people without language -- communication that we take for granted.

Language and transportation -- the connection is easy. What moves, what travels, what connects. These are our only tools for moving through this world connected.

I am constantly reminded of the luxury of the contemplation.

Because I can speak, because I can read, because I can get in a car and drive 20 minutes to dinner. Because I live in this country... I can decide to stop e-mailing for a day or driving -- dabble in restriction. Because it is a game for me -- I have everything I need and, I think it's true, I cannot understand a life where that safety is not present. Innocence, I think -- I can imagine but I cannot understand.

Connection and disconnection seem, again, to be central. Isn't it amazing that we are living in a world where language is being lost and transportation is being discovered... Who would give up transportation? Who would give up communication? Would we really talk about it if we understood what that meant?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

What Leaks

In my town, the gas stations are all full service -- a fact I confess I pretty much like. But I always wonder how the fumes effect the people who stand there all day. I asked the guy who helped me yesterday -- who often helps me -- if the fumes bother him. He said he wouldn't notice if they did. I asked if he ever gets dizzy standing there all day -- he said he wouldn't be surprised. He said when they take the tanks out the whole place smells like gas.

A few years ago, there was a gas leak up the hill from my house. I used to walk the dog around the corner every day, and every day I thought I was going a little crazy. Finally I saw a woman working in the yard, and asked her if she smelled gas. She asked me to call the gas company -- she said she had called 5 times but because it was on public property they weren't taking it very seriously.

Yesterday in Nigeria about 30 people died in a fire -- there was a pipeline spill and people were trying to scoop out their own fuel. The article from the AP says these types of accidents are common.

A few weeks ago my downstairs tenants came home from work and smelled gas. They tried to call me -- I was too deep in work to answer the phone. They called the gas company. It was around 8:00 at night -- and 17 degrees outside. The guy from the gas company came -- he said he could tell what the problem was -- that it wasn't dangerous -- that he was going to leave the gas on because he wasn't worried and it was so bloody cold -- and that he wasn't supposed to. By law, if you know there is a gas leak, you have to turn off the gas. I went to bed wondering if we were going to wake up.

He also said people don't die from gas inhalation. I suppose people die from asphyxiation -- and blowing up. I wondered if Sylvia Plath would have been interested in the distinction. A friend of mine in highschool -- his house blew up from a gas explosion. Twenty years later I still remember what he said the next week -- "I had this really killer [Greatful] Dead collection."

What ensued in my house on the morning after the gas leak was like something out of a bad TV show -- the short end is that after both my plumber and I talked to a total of 5 people from the gas company, I had threaten a little to get them to come back and fix the problem. They changed my meters too, which had been brand new, to cover up for the fact that they were coming twice about the same problem -- apparently they did a lot of work that I didn't pay for -- though I did pay a plumber $500 for doing nothing. They said it happens a lot on cold nights. No one wants to leave people without heat. No one wants to get anyone in trouble. No one was concerned about the house -- my children -- my killer poetry collection.

There are leaks. Leaks we know about and leaks we don't. Our methods of transport and containment are imperfect. Gas leaks, oil leaks, information leaks -- emotion.

We try to contain truth and poverty too -- we try to contain our lives. There are always seams. There are always imposing forces. The idea that what we can't contain can't hurt us -- or that somehow we are stronger than the elements we try to conquer...

nature spills out all the time.

“Although the wind ...”

by Izumi Shikibu

Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.

Translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Luxury Items

I have to say, I will be very glad to go back to my normal way of doing this project -- I feel pretty cut off from the world, in a funny way -- I still haven't talked to my gas station guy, but I hope to today on my way out to dinner... I still did use the Internet a little today -- but only to verify a few things -- not to find anything; it's still cheating, I know.

Even without the Internet, I still like to try to pull in information from different places -- so this morning's log is an experiment -- I hope it works.

First thread --
After yesterday's post, first I thought, that's great, maybe they simply don't put petroleum products into hair care products -- that sounds like a good idea and also a relief. But then I got to thinking that maybe that really does have to do with the choices I've made and the stores I shop in.

So I went to a place I never go to buy cosmetics.
Sure enough, Propylene Glycol and petrolatum are main ingredients in many brands of shampoo.

I'm going to divulge something that rather mortifies me now -- the shampoo I buy is one of the most overpriced things I indulge in. I'm actually a little relieved to find out (as I did yesterday) that this is actually a drug addiction... anyway, this is a figure I should not and normally would not tell anyone.

Okay --
Suave shampoo markets itself as an affordable alternative to salon shampoos. They use petrolium products.
Neutrogena shampoo is a Johnson & Johnson product -- they don't use petroleum products. $.91/oz.
That's 5.35 times the price of the alternative.
I use (probably this is about to change...) Bumble and Bumble shampoo -- after which my head feels totally relaxed and happy.
That's 8.35 times as much.

One way of thinking -- I can afford not to spread petroleum on my skin. I can afford to decide to use that bit less of oil, too. Health and environment and future are all interwoven in this economic decision/ luxury.

This got me to thinking about the price of doing the right thing. This is not a new question for me -- last year I stood for 2 hours in the old cemetery in Harvard Square with two Cambridge friends discussing the pros and cons of buying local. We were talking about book stores. The thing is, Amazon sells books for dollars less a book. I believe in a local economy -- that it's better for the globe -- I also have limited resources these days (my shampoo is a throw back to the days before I decided to embrace my poetry full-time). Should I say, if I can't afford to buy them locally I can't afford them?

Second thread --
It concerned me in the reading about Nigeria. They are not saying, get out. They are saying, make sure we see the reward. Of course we understand this -- at any level. People should be housed and fed and educated. Still, it's different than the conversation in Alaska -- we live off the whale; please don't kill it. There's a story I can look at when this little Internet ban is lifted -- one thing is that developing nations are asking to be subsidized for not making money by destroying the environment.

Third thread --
I pulled out a book this morning -- in my attempt to stay non computer based -- The Idiots Guide to Understanding Iraq, by Joseph Tragert. It's dated now, written in 2001 -- but it still has some interesting stuff in it.

One is a time line. Gulf Oil Company was the first US company to enter Iraqi oil fields in 1928. That's a pretty long history.

Another is that: "until recently the agricultural sector in Iraq could support the population. The combination of wartime damage to irrigation infrastructure and increased urban population means that Iraq must now import food." Remember, now -- we targeted that irrigation system on purpose.

Another aside -- the produce in the middle east is amazing. I lived briefly on a Kibbutz in Israel farming avocados. Oddly enough, I worked fixing the irrigation system. It took me a good year to eat tomatoes and avocados in the States again -- there they had more flavor and texture. Not shipped, not sprayed, not refrigerated... The way fruit should be. I'm sad to think that for Iraqis this is another casualty of war -- with all they've lost, there is something so fundamental about the experience of senses. Touch. Taste. Smell.

I'm not sure all these threads are really connected the way I'd hoped -- still they feel that way. Money, Land, Choice, Privilege.

After all of that, I kind of wish I'd done something more in tune with the holiday. If you are reading this today -- whatever your faith and circumstance -- I hope your day is warm, with a cookie, some relaxing, a little luxury and love.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Info Rush

This morning's project has taken me 3 times as long as most mornings. I've been getting kind of antsy -- wondering if it was ever going to end.

I think this is a significant issue. How much are we willing to slow down to reconnect? How much have we created lives without room for readjustment? Without time to pay attention...

Also, physical research often entails following ledes that don't pan out. Funny when I find myself using a cliche -- what a great thought -- some gold rush style information search -- me, seated, slumped over shampoo and clothing as I try to sift it through a mesh contraption. The relationship of a search engine to gold pan...

A forty-niner peers into his gold pan on the banks of the American river
link (note: this is from Wikipedia. This is a controlled environment. Don't try this at home...)

It's so handy when I can type in the specific coordinates of what I want to learn on a given morning. I loved that video of the Nigerian women. I was amazed that I could find it given what I'd been talking about the day before. It still took some time -- I watched about 10 videos to find that one -- I wanted that one because of the others I watched too -- I was listening to the bias of the journalist videos, and knew I wanted and "in our own voice" kind of a thing. The Internet made that possible.

Connection -- Disconnection.

That was a long introduction. Here's the tangible thing I learned this morning:

This month, the shower at the gym was renovated. It reopened yesterday, to my relief, and I sat in the whirlpool for a long time. I fantasized the whole time about a hot spring in Greenland...

Oh, and as an aside, I've thought about it again, and I love my yoga pants. Elastic, in general, in fact -- and the introduction of better materials into our way of life: jeans with a little give; pants that don't bag up around the knees, athletic clothes that bend with you, underwear. Yesterday I called these things overly wasteful, but the inventions of fabric have also been really great. I would give them up if I had too -- but I thought I should fix my own thought of yesterday. It's so easy to get carried away and give too much up to enthusiasm...

Anyway, I pulled out my gym-shower bag for the first time in two months.

Now, I'm going to interpret my assignment a little bit -- I am going to use the computer to look up ingredients. Mind you, I tend to buy pretty natural products -- usually I shop at whole foods, though I do get my hair products at the salon.

Firstly, every thing is housed in a heavy plastic case -- this is supposed to keep things from getting wet -- which it is bad at. It does usually keep spills from getting in my gym bag. One of the biggest improvements of plastic is the ability to manipulate moisture.

The Native Americans would seal their baskets with crude oil -- spreading it in the cracks to make the object impermeable. The issue of containing water has got to be one of the oldest -- Grecian urns and shards of Egyptian pottery... If we couldn't hold water, if we couldn't transport it, we would still have to live close enough to water sources that we could carry it to our kitchens. In Maine we had a well in the front yard -- we'd pump and boil the water -- sometimes we had to boil water for baths. We didn't shower every day. Sometimes the well water would be brown -- then we would go to the store and buy some. It wasn't bad -- I'm glad for the experience -- but I'd have to choose this set of conditions now...

It turns out, after spending 45 minutes looking up all of the ingredients of those products I use at the gym, there's no petroleum. I'm surprised. Happily. I did find some anti-bacterial stuff, and some artificial colors --

I did find this out though, and mind you, it's entirely off topic:

THERE IS A MUSCLE RELAXANT IN MY SHAMPOO. Muscle relaxant! Is this why I love to wash my hair so much these days? Why I'm a little loathe not to, even when it's better for my hair? Remind me of the cocaine in Coke days -- I'm really amazed. I wonder if I could shampoo the hip I fell on in the ice Friday...

After giving up on the gym bag, I spent another 45 minutes going through the bathroom. It seems that my attempt to buy all natural products has worked to a great extent. That's a good thing.

Regardless of the fact that everything except one make up jar and one nail polish jar everything is contained in plastic, there were only a few products I found containing petroleum products:

White Petrolatum
white petroleum (IBID)

my favorite lip balm (Kheils)
Nail Polish

actually, I think that's it -- except that most of my makeup doesn't have ingredients -- and I'm sure there's a lot in there. I do have 5 tubes of bacitracin, though -- wonder how old some of them are...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

My Rooms

I'm still stuck on this idea of connection and disconnection. I'm interested in learning more about why and how I do things --

I think it's easy for me (us -- people -- countries -- friends -- consumers) to get entirely out of sync with what's even in my own home. What do I do daily?

There's a complaint of Americans -- of American poets -- of women and of women poets -- that we are too narcissistic as a culture -- I,I,I,I and on that way forever. But I think there's a backlash too -- and as is the case with anything like narcissism the problem is not thinking about the self, it's the size and scale we see that self become. Grandiose and nothing.

By the same token, I'm trying to figure out some bit of my own attachment to this life. There have been, over the last few years all sorts of experiments by authors looking to follow this same line of thought -- someone living off food only from their community -- someone living exactly as the bible says. Because if we don't look at what we do -- if we don't take it out of the norm -- than we can't understand it; even the little bit that we can. I want to have an idea of a Nigerian home and also of my own. A poet said to me last year -- the trick is to really understand our own privilege and learn how to appreciate it and to use it -- not to our own benefit but to everyones.

It's really hard to balance -- there is something out of alignment if we say I have an impact; there is something out of alignment if we say I don't have an impact.

In the pursuit of balance, this morning, I went through and found one thing in every room I love made out of oil and one thing I think is completely wasteful. I did it in the order I generally wake up and start the day --

My room.
I have a ring I love that is inlaid with rubber -- I bought it from a RISD student in a street fair 20 years ago.
Yoga pants.

Kids Rooms.
Baby Alive.

Sample packets from Kiehls.

Garbage bags.
Zip lock bags.

Office (my dining room).
Plastic bags that allow my journal to be sold in bookstores. (ack)
Disposable mechanical pencils.

Living Room.
My slippers. They have really heavy soles and I wear them everyday.
Plant holders.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


My thing for today, though -- lest I mess up my timing...

Tired Of Hearing My Own Voice

Friday I was tired of listening to my own voice.

This happens to me sometimes. Sometimes it happens to me for years on end -- and then I speak nearly inaudibly and carry my camera everywhere I go. I got tired of reading news, too -- tired of communication, I think -- Words and the way we use them. Always trying to convince and sway... Not fact. Not touch.

As it happens, it's pretty good timing -- I'm on my own for the next week. As a single mother of two it's quite hard to be quiet as much as one might like -- I grew up in the middle of nowhere, alone a lot -- sometimes even the car noises outside are slightly overbearing. I've been looking forward to this time...

I have been trying to figure out how I wanted to deal with the project during my quiet time. I thought about taking a full out break (not just the break from oil spills I have already had to work to adhere to...), but the assignment I set was everyday for a year. I'm good with assignments -- I think parameters are very important. In college I was assigned a ten-hour still-life drawing. I don't think the teacher really thought we'd do it; But I wanted to see what would happen. There is a richness, a depth and a type of seeing that comes from sticking with a thing. Vision and knowledge change. I love that experience -- and I don't think it can be reached without consistency. When attention is broken, new ideas begin to come -- new experiences and priorities... it's no way to forge...

But I do want to unplug -- at least a bit.

SO: for the next week I am going to ban all research. I'm going to learn something new about oil every day the old-fashioned way. In J-school, I had a prof who was an old Chicago Tribune reporter -- he used to say that when he was a cub they weren't allowed to use the telephone -- because what could you possibly learn or trust without looking someone in the eye...

I wonder how many less people we look in the eye on a daily basis then we did 10 years ago. It's funny, this combination -- disconnecting for connection -- or connecting to disconnection. This has to have an impact on how we behave -- how we treat each other... I'm remembering that famous sociology study about how people will administer pain to someone they can't see -- but find it harder when they get closer.

Distances collapse these days, in this new society of travel and globalization and the internet -- but distances grow, too -- as we are in contact with so many people we don't know or maybe even care to. What do we say -- to whom -- how... We have dinner and talk on the phone. We talk on the phone and type on the computer. Insulation. Isolation. Protection. "We text message our feelings" a poet writes...

So I find myself... disconnecting for connection? Connecting to disconnection? Physicality. Patience.

One of the first things on my list of to-dos is to go talk to the guy who owns the gas station I go to -- see what he has to tell me about oil.

That and go get some (tuna) sushi.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Not A Poem

Maybe it's the season -- but I'm still thinking about things that are missing. I'm still missing ...

Yesterday there was a "huge" explosion and fire at an oil jetty in Nigeria. I read about it on Peak Oil, which lead to an un-bilined article in Afriquenligne which reported:

Lagos, Nigeria - A huge explosion triggered by a dawn fire Wednesday rocked a jetty operated by the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) at Okrika in South-eastern Rivers state, partially destroying the facility and some vessels that were being loaded with crude oil , and leaving several people injured, the police said.

Rivers state Police Commissioner Felix Ogbaudu told journalists the cause of the fire had not been ascertained.

The story wasn't covered in the Times -- or the London Times, the BBC, The Guardian or NPR.

The Associated Press also didn't have the story -- but there was a really disturbing article (if taken in this context) on Monday, two days before the fire:

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) -- Nigeria's main militant group Monday urged all armed factions in the restive southern oil heartland to unite and cripple Africa's biggest petroleum industry.

Now, I have no idea if these stories are related. Again, from silence comes lack of grounding. Is Nigeria on the brink of civil war? Does this matter to me? Should it? Does it matter to the global landscape of oil? According to numbers on the Energy Information Administration site, Nigeria is the 5th largest oil importer to the US. In October we imported 1,184,000 barrels of oil a day from the country. The issue in Nigeria seems to be, again, that oil money is not making its way anywhere near the people of the land it is drilled from.

Almost exactly a year ago a pipeline explosion in Lagos killed 250 people and was widely reported.

Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters

That is one of the most beautiful/moving/all telling news photographs I have ever seen. Akintunde Akinleye, thank you.

Information and communication are proven, over and over, to be the only real source of change -- of responsibility, relationship, understanding. How news judgments are made effects the overall story -- effects history.

So, again, what are we missing? If we don't follow the daily, if we are in touch only with disasters and events, are we really connected at all?
If no one died in Nigeria yesterday, and therefore it is not a story, yet a civil war is brewing and no one hears -- is information conveyance served? If every day, everyone in America heard about the daily lives of the people in the lands where the oil came from would it make any difference?

One problem with the news is that often history and flow become lost to the moment. A series of things may happen over time, and if we experience them as singular, it becomes impossible to put them into context or explore their meaning. Not unlike a photograph -- a singular image. But the difference between the singular image and the singular news story is that the image strives to capture a whole. A small news story makes no such attempt. Necessarily it must not -- singular facts have to be its only purpose.

This is why we need art. The real communication is not transmitted in the news -- and while we need to know the news in order to understand the contexts in which we live, real communication is felt deeper, understood in the moment of connection like a touch. Maybe it is touch I am missing...

Last summer, NPR ran a story on a poet from Lagos, Aj Dagga Tolar.

He writes, in an excerpt from the title poem of his book, "This Country is Not a Poem:"

Who cares
For the poetry of our existence
The way they care for poetry
Leaving us every moment with metaphors
To feel not at all the failing of poetry

This country
Dare you to ask
"Have you seen dead bodies before?"
Answer with another ask
"Are there not dead bodies everywhere?"

Stuff enough to make more poems
Who cares to hear
Lagos is a poem, not a place
Ajegunle is a poem, not a place
Cannot sit to hear this poem

SUNG in Yoruba:
Kile ni wa gbo
Kile ni wa wo
Ara mo ri ri
Kilo oju ori leko ri
Kile ni wa gbo
Kile ni wa wo

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Owing to Bad Oxygen

The General Theological Seminary in Manhattan is going green.

The seminary was founded in 1817 and is a New York city landmark. The Seminary is undergoing all sorts of renovations, and one of them will be to dig a geothermal well in the parking lot. There's an article about it in the Real Estate section of the Times. I know, I really have to read some other papers...

“When we’re able to disconnect our two boilers that run off gas and oil, we’re able to eliminate 1,400 tons of carbon emissions” in a year, said Dennis Frawley, project manager for redevelopment of the campus.

Geothermal heating systems, I've been attempting to vaguely understand this morning, draw on the core heat of the earth for both heat and cooling systems. There is an entire city in Iceland, Reykjavik, that runs on this type of energy. I'm thinking at least a pilgrimage is in order -- to see the Northern lights and swim in a hot spring. I knew when I said I wanted to move to Greenland I meant Iceland. (Language! One of the earliest propaganda campaigns is still working.)

The master plan for the seminary is “green.” The idea is to install geothermal wells for all 19 buildings.

“There’s no other way to go; it was the right thing to do for the earth,” said Dean Ewing, who is renovating his historic Tennessee homestead in a similarly environmentally conscious manner. “The economic payoff in energy savings won’t come for more than a decade, but it’s worth it.”

The coolest thing I found was in an article about the original groundbreaking of one of the seminary's buildings. An article from the Times, published on January 26, 1884, the paper reported:

Assistant Bishop Potter, remarking that any ecclesiastical occasion like the present was incomplete without the presence of a foreign Bishop, introduced Bishop Scarborough of New Jersey, who believed that architecture had a great effect upon men and upon students. He also believed that when students felt their lecture was dull it was owing to bad oxygen...

Okay -- now once we get past the fun thinking of New Jersey as foreign, or simply being able to access articles on-line from 1884, it's so great that these are the people digging geothermal wells in the middle of Manhattan nearly 200 years later.

And the last line made my day. Owing to bad oxygen... What if all of our feeling of dullness in regards to what we take in is owing to bad oxygen? What if we could fix the air, one room and one building at a time? What if, then, not only would the air be clean and food be more reasonably priced, but our interactions, too, would take on a new luster? Isn't it a thought -- anything in our lives lacking in intensity, force or brilliance, suddenly, with that new air, could take on saturation and sensory life...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Perfect Storm

Well, I set out looking for a laugh today. And then I just thought I should check the Times...

I came across a story on the front page of the World Business section that ties together a lot of things I've been looking at for the last few weeks.

World Food Supply Is Shrinking, U.N. Agency Warns

The story cites the effects of global warming on crop production, increased fuel prices and demand surges (one has to imagine ethanol accounts for part of this) as combined causes of the crisis. Wheat prices, it says, are up 52 percent from a year ago. Transportation prices are going up, reserves are down and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is warning that people aren't going to be able to get food.

“We’re concerned that we are facing the perfect storm for the world’s hungry,” said Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Program, in a telephone interview. She said that her agency’s food procurement costs had gone up 50 percent in the last five years and that some poor people were being “priced out of the food market.”

Priced out of the food market. According to the Word Food Programme, another UN organization, a child dies of hunger every 5 seconds. 10 million people a year from hunger and hunger related illnesses. I am not learning these numbers -- in fact, I'm hearing Sally Struthers' voice with an 80s montage as I write.

The problem with a project like this is it gets so big so quickly. All the different situations begin to come together, begin to overwhelm and overshadow... How do we internalize the numbers? What is the way to let information and circumstances both travel through us, into understanding and action and not push us into apathy, cynicism or enuii?

But that's how life feels too, sometimes, doesn't it -- especially at this time of year. My son was up with nightmares and a head cold at 3 am. Ice is coating the sidewalk and the stairs. I can't seem to listen to a Christmas song without thinking of an oil coated seal.

There are 14 days left of this year. I'm taking a break from spills until 2008. And I offer the following video - it made me laugh.

motor oil

I set out looking for a laugh today...

Monday, December 17, 2007

News To Me

The question of why some things make into the news and some don't has been on my mind a lot for the past few days. Maybe it's because I've been feeling the need to filter daily things out -- maybe it's the fact that I've been snowed in -- or maybe it's simply this project.

On December 9, there was a major oil spill off the coast of North Korea. 2.8 million gallons of crude oil. December 12 another off in the North Sea off Norway. 21,750 barrels. 913,500 gallons, if I'm right -- there are 42 gallons for crude oil in a barrel.

Full disclosure, I once made a reporting error to the multiple of 10 on the front page of a business journal which has lead me to dread my own publishing of numbers... At any rate, it sounds like a little less than a third of the size. The spill in North Korea also went directly to land, and the effects were extremely dramatic -- devastating.

I'm interested, though, in what gets reported and what doesn't.

The North Korean spill was covered in a big spread in the Times -- as it should have been, no question. The thing is, I can't find the Norway story farther east than the BBC. Yesterday I was trying to follow up a story from UPI and couldn't find it in the American press. Same today -- though not really today; I read about both these spills when they happened, and have been waiting to follow up, and trying to think about what I've learned from them. That's part of the thing with news -- what makes a big news day -- what gets covered may solely depend on what happened that day in history. This really is no different from any other communication -- what presses depends on what's happening. Something is always biggest.

This weekend an article on DOT Earth discussed a bit of why stories become big stories, and how a little of the decision making goes into coverage there. Yesterday on this log, someone commented in reference to yesterday's entry that Iran not taking our currency didn't sound like much news at all, lots of countries don't. I'm not sure that I buy that, only because it's Iran, and nothing could possibly be irrelevant there now, it seems to me -- but I 'm in really unfamiliar territory.

I actually think there should be a page on the Times -- or even a part of a page -- dedicated to oil spills -- to covering oil spills every day. The idea that familiarity breeds disinterest is very dangerous -- it allows readers to not follow things -- to not understand scope and dailiness. An article in the Times earlier this year discussed Exxon's image makeover with stockholders. The article referred to "spill reduction" as one of their achievements. Let's just repeat that for a minute -- spill reduction is an achievement.

Again -- our language gives us away. I had no idea that oil was spilling all over the earth at every moment. I'm glad to know that. It makes me feel differently about leaving the lights on in rooms I'm not in. What we want to know -- what we need to know -- what we should know... The relationship between the daily and what is news -- think new -- is really interesting. For me, I'm finding, there are enormous things that are news to me...

Reporting decisions are no different than any other human decisions -- what is remembered, passed on, focused on is all a matter of timing, significance and scale. We can't do everything at once -- it's true. But important things are getting lost.

Oil spill in Statfjord, North Sea (Norwegian Coastal Administration)
The oil spill (marked in red) is Norway's second largest ever

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Unreliable Currency

Yesterday I came across a story from December 8, that was published by The United Press International (UPI) reporting Iran would no longer accept US dollars for oil. link

Iranian Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari was quoted as saying Saturday that because "the dollar is no longer a reliable currency," his country would no longer accept it in oil sales, RIA Novosti reported.

I can't substantiate the article. I've been trying for an hour. I found it because I was trying to follow up on a story that the Pope had called for a world-wide automobile buying boycott. That story was widely reported -- by nobody reliable, and I decided it was probably completely made up.

The piece about Iran is small, 145 words including the dateline.
I've found the information repeated on lesser news sources, but they, no doubt, simply read the same article and repeated the information. I trust UPI enough to think it's probably true -- I don't trust them enough to call it true. And I have no idea what it means.

It could just be noise, or it could be a war gong, right? In any event, it doesn't sound good. If true, it certainly means tension is continuing to build between US and Iran -- that the dollar is being put up for question probably means someone is trying to egg on the powers that be here -- their version of sanctions, I suppose -- or maybe their way of raising our prices without the political ramifications of raising oil prices, if we need to pay more by money exchanges in the billions of dollars; but that is completely speculation. The alternative to that reading is that Iranian ministers truly believe the dollar is going to collapse in the very near future -- which seems more unlikely.

Rules of reporting: Whenever you come across something reported only once it is suspect. Whenever you come across something repeated verbatim or wild-fire fashion it's suspect. Whenever you come across something specifically not reported, it's also suspect. Just as in anything else, the less you know the less grounded a situation is.

Communication is scary and lack of communication is scary. The currency of connection. Unreliable at best -- better to look someone in the eye over breakfast -- give them a hug.

What does seem clear is that War doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

The woman I stood behind in the post office line yesterday -- two of her kids were in Iraq, one had recently returned. Her daughter-in-law, standing next to hear with a heavy leather Marine Corps bomber jacket, had finished her time in the service. Another
daughter was looking at a deployment in 2008.

The following is from an article that ran in the Times 20 years ago:

U.S. Gulf Policy: Hostage to the Iranians?
By Elaine Sciolino
Published: September 6, 1987

REAGAN Administration officials deny suggestions by critics that their new involvement in the Persian Gulf has locked the United States into an open-ended policy, driven by conflicting goals and a changing military commitment. But they have given no indication of a long-term strategy for reducing the American Navy presence there, which has more than tripled since March.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Below Cost

I stood in line at the post office yesterday for about 25 minutes. It was the kind of line that usually evokes nervous fits and swearing. This line was very calm, though -- the woman holding it up was sending 13 Christmas boxes to her children in Iraq. It's always a gift when a room full of people become kind to each other...

How does a box get from Arlington Massachusetts to Iraq? Planes trains and automobiles... and a lot of gasoline -- a lot of it diesel fuel.

Today I learned that in India, refineries are selling diesel fuel below cost. For me, this story originated in a blog in the Wall Street Journal, which lead to a blog on Bloomberg and a story in the LA Times.

Below cost.

Meanwhile, back in the US, diesel prices reached an all time high last month. All Time. According to the LA Times, The average U.S. price for a gallon of diesel reached $3.42 last Monday, nearly 80 cents higher than a year earlier, according to the Energy Department's weekly survey of filling stations. At a Shell station in Santa Ana, diesel was selling for $4.13 a gallon.

Diesel fuels almost all shipping, all trucking and all farm equipment in this country. This means prices are about to go up -- sharply -- in all areas of the consumer economy as soon as the increase in fuel prices trickle down. But as much as prices are going up, the situation in India has to mean they are still at a false low.

Below cost.

Why does anyone take less than they need in exchange for what they have to offer? In India, the low price of gas is balancing out an inflated worth of the rupee -- so that the strength of the economy outweighs the the refinery losses.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend in Harvard Square a few days ago... Personally, we take less than what we need because of what we find attractive. We are fueled by desire and greed ... maybe the idealism to believe that with the strength we gain now we can fix it all in the near future. We bank on the riches of the future to make up for the deficits of now.

But the only ways for a truly strong now -- in the economy in India or the friendships and intimacies of daily life -- are based on truth of commodity, exchange and value.

Friday, December 14, 2007

My Coal Mine

It's interesting to me, this idea of how language travels and becomes distorted and also weaves itself into our collective consciousness...

Last night I came across the following quote:

"The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming," said [NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally], who as a teenager hauled coal. "Now as a sign of climate warming, the canary has died. It is time to start getting out of the coal mines." link and link

It's a startling image -- there's something in the coupling of the huge icebergs with the tiny birds. The friendship -- the death -- the alarms.


So I started a little mining project of my own. Lonnie Thompson, a renowned scientist specializing in high-altitude ice, might have coined the phrase in a 2004 interview with National Geographic.

Glaciers serve as the canaries in the coal mine. I grew up in West Virginia, where coal mining was an important part of the state's economy. Coal miners would take canaries down in a cage. If the canary died, they would get out of the mine, because it meant methane gas was building up in the system. link

He said he thought the glaciers could be gone by 2020. It's a great article, and one of the few I've read that gives credit to the resiliency and drive of humans when forced to change.

Back to this canary image, though -- as poets, we become adept at listening to the little nagging voices in the back of our heads that say, something is a little off here. Something in this vehicle of communication is not translating for me.

Coal miners have been phasing out canaries for the last 20 years in favor of the more humane electric robot version. Miners were said to be sad at the loss of life with them -- the whistling, the singing, the companionship.

A glacier is huge and cold. It is not something that sings to us while we do the difficult work of living -- however beautiful. Mostly, though, we have not taken it with us as an alarm. It was here before us. It symbolizes more, perhaps, life before us.

Then I came across another article, still on National Geographic:

Asthma is increasing among Americans of all incomes and races. But inner-city children are truly the canaries in the coal mine for this disease, aggravated by emissions from the combustion of coal, gasoline and diesel fuels, among other factors (see below). I'd dread the summer a lot less if I didn't live in New York City, which has the country's highest asthma mortality rate. So would the residents of Harlem, Williamsburg and the South Bronx -- low-income, minority communities with the highest asthma death rates in this city. link

It's not that I am not alarmed by the glaciers... but children win. Children and the fact that these people are small and defenseless, so more apt to conform to the metaphor. Furthermore it is clear again and again that while the long term outcome of our state of affairs absolutely effects us all, the people suffering most until we are forced to change are not the people with the money and the power -- not in Nigeria, not in New York.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fabric Of Our Lives

I'm not sure what I would have said, yesterday, if someone had asked me what clothes are made of.

Of course, wool comes from lambs, silk -- worms, cotton -- cotton plants. This I know, and have witnessed production in one form or another from each method. My step-mother had a spinning wheel when I was little, and taught me how to use it -- it's very meditative work, spinning -- the thread passes along your fingers and you pedal the wheel with your foot in a rhythm that takes over. I even managed to take wool from sheep, make thread from the wool and knit a scarf. I like the slogan: "Cotton, the fabric of our lives;" the idealism in ads can be comforting...

Oil. It never occurred to me that synthetic fibers are made out of oil.
DuPont invented nylon. In 1934 -- they wanted to replace silk, which had become expensive after the second world war.

Last year, a group called "peak oil meet up" went for a wilderness trek and this is what they came across:

All of the best fabrics for survival are made from oil except wool.

After Stone passed around her favorite oil-based fabrics while reciting military information on each one, I thought it was time to inform her why all of us had taken this course in the first place.

At the beginning of the class Stone asked each of us why we came and what we hoped to get out of the experience, but none of us mentioned Peak Oil. Now I described to Stone that most of the group was with NYC Peak Oil Meet-Up, that the world was about to start running out of oil, and that we all envisioned a time coming (soon) where there would be fewer amenities and the skills she was teaching might play a critical role. Stone was shaking her head up and down rigorously in agreement, but she had never heard the term "Peak Oil" before.

"Oh!" she exclaimed in amazement, "When you said you were with 'something-oil' I'm thinking what interest group is this?"

"Just think, no polyester, no nylon; it'll have to be ALL WOOL Barb!" I said half in jest. Wool and wool-blends will likely be the best (and only?) materials to wear for the outdoors, along with leathers and other animal skins, as oil-derived fabrics skyrocket in price. (read the story)

This year at Barney's a recycled canvas shopping tote is selling for $1,065. I'm not sure what this has to do with much, except this is where the search began this morning -- an article in the Times Styles and Fashion section about green goods for Christmas.

Small bit of irony:
One of the first uses of plastic in the late 1800s was as a replacement for ivory in billiard balls. Another item in the Barney's catalogue is a bracelet made out of thawed out fossilized woolly mammoth bones. It sells for $14,000 and the proceeds go to support native peoples in Alaska.

I figured that learning 365 things about oil would weave all sorts of threads...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bodies of Power

Five years ago a group of women in Nigeria shut down an oil refinery by threatening to take off their clothes.

"Our weapon is our nakedness," Helen Odeworitse, a leader of 600 women who peacefully seized control of an oil terminal in Escravos, Nigeria, told the Associated Press. Odeworitse and other women held 700 western oil workers hostage and shut down a facility that exports half a million barrels of oil a day. link
(also, the search originated from a roundup in the oil drum)

Their complaint was simple -- the villagers were extremely poor, the oil companies were very rich -- people working for the oil refineries were treated better than everyone else. The women demanded that ChevronTexaco employ some of their sons and invest in the community.

There, women taking off their clothes is a traditional shaming gesture. Can you imagine? Here there is certainly some power in that action, but it's a little different... though maybe there is a sameness in that the subject of women's bodies is always political if men are in charge.

Triumphs like this, learned years later, are subject more to history and less to the beauty of the moment. Five years later Nigeria is in great upheaval -- and much protest is not non-violent -- as I'm sure is not the reaction from the oil companies. In May an American-owned Chevron plant was shut down by protesters -- armed with sticks and machetes.

I'm picturing all of this -- sticks and machetes and naked breasts. Oil giants. Arms v. arms.

Old news. What we are taking and from whom...
So I think, this morning, as I turn on the lights, turn on the stove, get ready to warm up the car -- about women in Nigeria.

My oil, my country, my children's lives.
Their sons, their bodies, their lack of power.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Going, Going...

The question about peak oil is pretty simple. Oil is a finite resource. Our demand continues to increase. Eventually, it stands to reason, we are going to run out. After that, we will look back and know on exactly what day in history all the oil fields in the world produced the most oil.

We seem to be right around the peak of oil extraction -- the US, it seems, topped out in the 1970s. Drillers have recently found new ways to get oil from wells already deemed unproductive -- these methods are sort of like blowing air into the bottom of a glass to free the dust. Because of this US production has gone up of late -- kind of like finding $20 in your back pocket -- except it's billions of barrels of oil.

There are debates about how much the world has in reserve. There are debates about how much oil is left to be found.

It seems to me these are all just questions of semantics and procrastination. Some things simply end. We may try to stall or change our relationship with oil -- but we are merely diverting ourselves from moving on.

Read more Signe Wilkinson

Calculation request of the morning -- how long would it take for us to use it all, given our current rates of increase of consumption, if we suddenly found the entire core of the earth was filled with oil?

I have also have been wondering where the pockets in the earth go -- when they are void of what filled them.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Gullibility Is In The Air

We can find people to tell us whatever we want to hear. That's always the case -- in love, in science, in war. Trying to decipher global warming is not really that far off, is it, from trying to determine whether or not love exists or poetry matters... we are all just trying to figure out what ground we are walking on, and where to take the next step.

Last week (December 5, to be exact) the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial entitled
"The Science of Gore's Nobel."

Through the course of the article, Holman W. Jenkins Jr., a member of the WSJ editorial board, questions the validity of the concept of global warming and asserts that the entire thing is politics and money.

It may seem strange that scientists would participate in such a phenomenon. It shouldn't. Scientists are human; they do not wait for proof; many devote their professional lives to seeking evidence for hypotheses (especially well-funded hypotheses) they've chosen to believe.

A response was printing on Yahoo News and reprinted in one of the oil energy blogs I've been following:

The bar for Wall Street Journal editorials, in the journalistic equivalent of limbo dancing, keeps dropping. In a piece titled, "The Science of Gore's Nobel " (UPDATE: Open access link), Holman W. Jenkins Jr. of the WSJ ed board, manages to slander the media, Al Gore, the Nobel Committee, and all climate scientists -- without offering any facts to back up the attacks:

Yesterday I said I would be looking into peak oil this week, and I will -- but I think it's important at this point to think about rhetoric for a minute. For myself -- I'm having trouble at this point finding reliable sources when it comes down to some of the greater issues. In part because our country is so conservative, the debates are often taking place in the non-regulated arena of the Internet -- where there is little accountability and often even less respect. It is a relief to me that I know so many people, as it turns out, working in the fields of science and energy -- they allow me the benefit of their knowledge coupled with a personal trust of friendship it is hard to come by in the greater arena.

Really, all we do is trust the people around us to share what they know. We have ideas about who we will trust based on our experience -- and ways that we trust and don't. I trust Keegan to pick my kids up at school if I'm in a car accident -- I trust my father to send me $10 bucks if I need it -- I trust others to forgive or care about me from a distance...

I know that the Wall Street Journal's editorial board is known for its conservative and often inflammatory nature.

I trust the Wall Street Journal's reporting. I've read a lot of their stories, studied some of their mistakes in grad school, know they have tremendous firewalls between their editorial boards and their journalists and their advertisers.

The government doesn't allow us these same safeguards, and the attack on the media is one of the strongest allies in the war against the freedom of information in this country. There are problems with our media to be sure, but seek out good reporters and reporting institutions and you will find the points of entry of most of the major debates we are having.

There are people who say global warming doesn't exist.
There are people who say the debate about peak oil is silly too.

Did you ever hear the joke where someone says -- gullible isn't in the dictionary? In high school I looked it up. Really. (It's in there, by the way.) Maybe that's why I became a reporter -- to trust facts. Maybe that's why I became a poet -- there are no facts.

At any rate -- there are warmer and warmer falls.
At any rate love is not all...
At any rate, there are poems.


by Randall Mann

the relationship between
� � � blackbird and fencepost, between
the cow and its egret, the field
� � � and wildflowers overrunning the field—
so little depends upon their trust.

� � � Here, in God we trust
to keep our cash and thoughts in line—
� � � in the sky, an unexplained white line
could be the first of many omens.
� � � But this is no country for omens,

the line as chalky as the moon,
� � � bleak and useless as the moon
now rising like a breath of cold air . . .
� � � There is gullibility in the air.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

7 cents a gallon

Today I learned that some countries are selling gas for 7 cents a gallon.

7 cents.

Sounds like breaking into the candy store, doesn't it? I'd put my kids straight in the car and drive them to San Francisco tomorrow. I'm dying for them to see Big Sur -- I have some best friends out there -- The Golden Gate Bridge...

For a number of years, a number of years ago now, my mother lived on Tortola, a very small British Virgin Island near Saint John. Gas was really expensive there. I don't really remember how much, I couldn't even drive when we started our annual camping trips there -- but I want to say 4$ a gallon at a time when it was a little over a dollar here. Don't quote me on that; the point is, it was a whole lot more. I remember at the time being rather shocked. It didn't matter that much -- the whole island is about 14 miles long and bumpy hills you avoid driving on anyway. Best to sit at the beach all day drinking Pina Coladas.

But it did register then that there was something off about US gas prices. That other countries were making decisions about taxes that changed how their citizens thought about their personal relationship to oil and gas. Ever since then I've thought we should be paying a lot more for gas in this country.

The article I learned about the 7 cent gas prices from was in the NYTimes, on the front page of the World Economy section. It had an entirely different point -- having to do with leading exporting countries -- I intend to spend next week focusing on the issue of Peak Oil.

But 7 cents a gallon. Again, what do we value -- what do we give import to by our language and by our pricing. We as people, on this earth. I'm not sure that $3 a gallon isn't the same thing exactly. Were it really to cost $20 a gallon to run a car, we would do things differently. We would buy tandem bikes, we would slow down our lives enough to take the bus to work...

"Oil-Rich Nations Use More Energy, Cutting Exports"
is the headline.

When I first talked about the media use of "oil-rich," I imagined what news stories look like if we transfered out the implied value of money and replaced it with some other value -- "kindness-rich," "soil-rich," "butterfly-rich."

But maybe it's the reverse; maybe our adjectives need to take a real look at the decisions we are making: "dying albatross-rich," "toxin-rich," "entitlement-rich" "squander-rich."

Saturday, December 8, 2007


I decided when I started this project that I had to follow my interests of the morning, wherever they led. Today, they led me into a debate about men and women, and how conversations transpire around politics in this strange arena of language and the language of the media and the blog...

Yesterday, I got another tip from my friend in Texas. He sent some blogs to take a look at. (Incidentally, he posted a funny piece yesterday about rats in space -- he worked for NASA for a long time...) He pointed out the blog at the Times, where the editorial board posts added info, personal accounts etc.

Yesterday they ran a piece about Bush's response to the energy bill -- they pointed out that while Bush is not in favor of this bill, as governor of Texas he passed a similar bill -- which, among other things, encouraged Texas to be one of the leading growth areas for wind energy.

What interested me was not the hypocrisy or the impact. What interested me was the course of comments that ensued:

35 comments so far...

  • 1.

    George Bush flip flopping? Oh, PLEASE. He has always favored big oil, big business, tax cuts for his donors, friends, and family. He doesn’t give a damn about the average American AT ALL. My definition of a Moron is a Republican making under $500,000.00/yr. Why would anyone making less vote for this clown?
    Bush is a traitor, liar, criminal, and fool. What we need is a DOJ that will pursue a full investigation of this Administration. Bush belongs in Gitmo. Forever.

    — Posted by PJ

  • 2.

    PJ: Please, tone down the rhetoric. Yes, we need accountability. Yes, it’s no surprise that Bush is opposed to a progressive energy bill. But it’s difficult to dispel the myth of histrionic liberals when one goes flying off the handle, and it’s hard to argue that Gitmo needs to be shuttered when you’re insisting that the President should be sent there. Thanks.

    — Posted by Mike

The Times blog comments largely turned into a debate defending one side and then the other of the perceived over reaction of PJ -- who may or may not have been a woman (though it kind of sounded like a she to me...).

I'm interested in the male -- female interaction in publishing, writing, politics, public.

A recent discussion on Harriet, The National Poetry Foundation blog, seemed to me to go in the same direction. One commenter noted that blog comments by women are less likely to be answered than those of men. There is an article in the most recent issue of the Chicago Review about women in publishing, which pointed out that while some things have gotten better, the landscape is still extremely biased.

The word histrionics comes from the same root as hysterectomy -- hystera -- the Greek word for womb.

Furthermore, the notion of the "emotional woman" seems to be in clear opposition to the controlled, patronizing and formally exacting form of Mike's post.

More than the singular of this post, I think it implies a swell of rhetoric I imagine will funnel into full cyclone this year. It is important that we remember language is often inserted into public conversation quite deliberately.

Is the weakness of the democratic party somehow related to the weakness of the woman -- is the weakness of the woman the off-spring of her womb?

Is it a coincidence that this language is working its way into the general lexicon in a year that is the first a woman has a decent shot at the presidency?

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Price of Tortillas

Yesterday the house voted to increase goals for fuel efficiency. This is the bill that many are hoping will help reduce dependence on foreign oil and reduce the emissions of greenhouse gasses.

Last week I learned a little bit about ethanol. I noted then that corn is a very difficult crop to grow in terms of land and water resources. But there is another issue: Corn is a food staple for much of the world; if prices sky rocket, the foundation of many diets, largely in rural and less developed areas of the world could suffer enormously. According to a report from the International Monetary Fund corn prices have roughly doubled over the past two years. Corn is the third most important food crop in the world after wheat and rice.

In June, China banned the use of corn for ethanol production for exactly that reason.

The Washington Post reported in March:
In recent months, soaring corn prices, sparked by demand from ethanol plants, have doubled the price of tortillas, a staple food. Tens of thousands of Mexico City's poor recently protested this "ethanol tax" in the streets.

There's a cool little article on "How Stuff Works" that does the math to show you'd need to plant a half an acre of corn to drive your car from Los Angeles to New York. It's just kind of clever and funny, but it's also like that experiment of how many Oreos would I have to stack to get to the moon. It offers a visual for an otherwise intangible number.

I also learned that corn always has an even number of rows. Nature is so amazing. The way it harmonizes and creates and breathes.

This descending god is associated with the corn worship:

Descending god from Dzibanché, Quintana Roo

It's almost, learning all of this stuff, like it doesn't quite feel like "learning" so much as hearing, because none of it feels new -- just piecing together a huge puzzle. It's a cliche, of course, but apt. You can't look at a half of a nose or the side of a tree and have any concept of what it all looks like put together. The problem with the puzzle as metaphor is that it implies control, predictability, some sort of end.

This morning, off the coast of Korea, an oil tanker spilled 66,000 barrels of crude oil.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Never Look Back

Yesterday, the man who discovered oil in Alaska died. Robert O. Anderson was 90 years old.

“Never look back in this business,” Mr. Anderson said. “If you do, you’ll lose your nerve.”

I suppose that's how one lives with one's self... never looking back; Another thing I'm not very good at. One of my favorite plays in high school was "In The Matter of Robert J. Oppenheimer," which details the demise of Oppenheimer after he invented the A-bomb. He said he really thought he was going to end war with his discovery -- that no one would ever actually use it because it was such a destructive force.

I believed him in high school. I've always been a fan of the conflicted genius... but now I just think people need to change their own realities after they get swept up in power. It's awful when you have to look at yourself of that moment. In what furnace was thy brain? Responsibility is hard enough to face in a lunch box or in a bedroom -- I can only imagine staring in the hurt morning at all of humanity.

Anderson warned about global warming, and along with buying and selling half of Aspen and at one point Brazil he founded and supported much environmental research and philanthropy. His ranch comprised more than a million acres.

The oil well Anderson found "has produced billions of barrels of crude and accounts for a fifth of domestic oil production" His company was eventually sold to BP. That's the company that shut down for a while last year after major pipeline leaks lead to a big spill. This morning at 3 a.m. a Times reporter filed a story that Alaska is suing BP in civil court for damages over that spill.

Roughly 85 percent of the state's general fund comes directly from oil company income taxes.

Does it work that way? The risk -- don't we take that on ourselves when we choose this life, this proximity to toxicity... I don't know what it takes or who is strong enough not to take what they see -- what they want -- what they know is wrong to take. And most people I know will want it to be clean in the end -- sanitized without leaks and mistakes and greed.

THE TYGER (from Songs Of Experience)

By William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Hell of a Dilemma

Yesterday, the Times business section had a really beautiful little documentary called "A Dilemma In The Arctic."

The piece looks at the Inupiat Eskimos living in Barrow, Alaska, right on the edge of a new proposed site for a Shell Oil exploration site. Well, I've heard of off-shore drilling projects. I even followed some of the debate in congress a few years ago (was that last year, or 10 years ago?). I didn't know that there were still freezers filled with food all caught by hand, by family. Whale, caribou, shark.

Damon Winter/The New York Times

The Inpuiat and environmental groups like the Sierra Club are trying to block the drilling, citing dangers to the animals and to the environment.

At its peak of production, Arctic Refuge oil could supply perhaps one percent of America's energy needs at any given time — not enough to put a dent in our dependence on foreign oil. Sierra Club document.

The Times video is compelling, filled with beautiful photographs and music native to the area.

In it they reproduce and audio of the "use of seismic air guns," which often run 24 hours a day during the exploration for new oil reserves. The sound is like low cannon fire in the distance -- like the sounds you hear in the background of a report from Iraq.

For one thing, there is an endangered whale species at risk. The drilling is scheduled during their migration through the area. The Eskimos rely on the meat from the whales to live. Two endangered lives on the brink.

"It's a hell of a dilemma," says the Edward S. Itta, North Slope Borough mayor. "It's a way of life versus an opposing value." Even as he says it, the film's mournful music seems like a drum beat behind some ironic character out of Shakespeare -- the underlying unspoken, of course, we answer to no one.

BP oil shut down part of it's production in the area earlier this year after pipelines were leaking, a problem they've been having for the past few years. The Times reported in May, Internal company documents released at a hearing led by Mr. Stupak last week suggested that budget cuts by BP had put pressure on managers to ignore corrosion prevention at North Slope pipelines.

Shell internal documents say research shows Eskimos can live for one to two years without whale meat in case of a catastrophic oil spill.

I didn't know there were still people living off the land in this country.