Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Numbers Are In

Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, reported Thursday that fourth-quarter profit rose 60 percent because of the sale of some assets and higher oil prices.

Net income was $8.47 billion, up from $5.28 billion in the period a year ago.

Sales rose to $107 billion from $75.5 billion despite a fall in oil production.

For the year, profit was a record $31.3 billion, while sales rose 12 percent, to $356 billion.

The numbers are in.
I was waiting for them.

You know, you know you know what's coming. You don't need to know the world anymore than you do. And still when it comes, there is heartbreak. The heart breaks in the truth; in the way things are.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Don't Quote Me On That

"The stars that nature hung in heaven and filled their lamps with everlasting oil give due light to the misled and lonely traveler."
John Milton

"Love cannot endure indifference. It needs to be wanted. Like a lamp it needs to be fed out of the oil of another's heart or its flame burns low."
Henry Ward Beecher

"Forgiveness is the oil of relationships."
Josh McDowell

"The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun."
Ralph Nader

Like This Was Nothing.

Some days you get a small view of life in another home...

WASHINGTON, Pa. (AP) -- A woman in southwestern Pennsylvania locked her 10-year-old grandson in a feces-filled dog crate for about 90 minutes because he told his family he had been spiking their drinks with lamp oil and household cleaner, police said.

Rhonda Lehman, 51, also called Washington County's Mental Health/Mental Retardation office and said if someone wouldn't come for the boy, she would bury him alive in the back yard, police said.

Lehman has custody of the boy, who told police he was lacing the drinks with the oil and a cleaner named ''Bam'' because ''he was angry because he didn't get to go on a trip'' last year, said Washington police Officer James Markley.

It is possible the boy had been spiking the drinks for a while, authorities said. Family members became sick, but were not hospitalized.

On Saturday, the boy was put in a 3-foot-by-4-foot plastic dog cage with only a small metal door for him to look out, Markley said.

Lehman was charged with child endangerment and making terroristic threats.

Police also charged the boy's 24-year-old brother with simple assault and harassment for allegedly punching the youngster.

''When I asked the brother, I said, 'Why would you punch a 10-year-old in the eye?' he said, 'It's better than what I wanted to do to him,''' Markley said.

Markley said the defendants told authorities they don't believe they did anything wrong.

''They were very calm, like this was nothing,'' Markley said.

Ten is 5th grade -- wood shop and fractions -- Schoolastic says,

Your upper elementary-school child is becoming interested in the science of the world around him and about the way things work. Foster an interest in nonfiction with books about dinosaurs, bugs, outer space, volcanoes, and whatever else tickles his mind. Find books with colorful pictures and illustrations matched with simple text. For a more story-based approach to learning, The Magic School Bus explores most science subjects in a mission-based format that will appeal to your school-bus-riding child. Build basic research skills as your child practices "reading to learn."

What does this teach me about oil... well, that it's a poison lying around the house, for one. That toxins are weapons for another. That I should probably have a conversation with the kids about poison, and have the number for poison control close at hand, for another.

One of my favorite people in the world works helping families who are struggling in their daily life -- she says often, we're all struggling.

May that family in PA be safe, may that family be happy, may that family be healthy, may they live in ease.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


A few days ago I wrote about a man suing a defense company for endangering his life and the lives of his colleagues (many of whom are dead) from exposure to toxic waste. Today I cam across a somewhat similar article -- only the workers were scuba divers, and the accused is the Norwegian government.

OSLO, Norway (AP) -- A group of deep sea divers sued the government Monday, saying that working at extreme depths in the early years of Norway's offshore oil boom ruined their health and violated their human rights.

The so-called pioneer divers were sent to extreme, sometimes experimental depths while working on offshore oil installations in the 1970s and 1980s, according to a government commission that studied the case.

It's dark and quiet and lacking of sleep on the couch in my living room this early morning. I'm thinking about responsibility... how responsible are we to each other -- how responsible are we to ourselves... are we responsible for what we do to each other? Gown ups -- employers -- lovers -- cohabitants of earth...

The divers have often been called the forgotten victims of an industry that has made Norway a major oil exporter and one of the world's richest countries.

In his opening remarks, attorney Marius Reikeraas said some of the divers were sent to depths of 1,300 feet as recently as 2002. The safe limit is now set at 590 feet.

Is responsibility really addressed by punitive damages? By shame? When the Exxon case comes to the supreme court the question will be whether or not the court should clear all damages awarded against the company. Does this help or hurt anyone? I think it may simply all live in the realm of the dollar -- the realm through which nothing of real value is addressed.

These are lives. This is the earth. We are pushing ourselves to extremes intolerable to human life.

Maybe these cases are what we need to cripple the industry -- like the smoking industry -- come to think of it, has the smoking industry been crippled at all? Maybe it's a "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." The profits are the spoils and the cause of the danger and the use of people and the land -- so all that we can do is take away profits.

Still, it seems like there must be some other way to deal with ourselves and the land and the place we find ourselves in.

At the risk of sounding entirely heartless and cruel, wouldn't experienced divers know that what they were doing was entirely unsafe? Why did they do it, then? Was it money or excitement? Are we really children to our paternal bosses? Are we really incapable of extricating ourselves from anything we find ourselves in -- a situation by which we are endangered? Not to say that a family crippled by the loss of a father in a job which found oil should not be supported by the company/government which benefited -- certainly they should be. But it feels like something else is being requested -- some implication of blame it really seems to me like we all share...

What are the tools of manipulation? Lies, Bribes, Bullying... Information is withheld. Riches are offered -- be them monetary, physical or psychic...

Months ago I went on a Buddhist retreat based around the prayers and principles of loving kindness meditation. My 5-year-old son says the prayer every night. There are monks in the mountains of Tibet doing the same -- praying for the peace of the world.

May all beings everywhere be safe. May all beings everywhere be happy. May all beings everywhere be healthy. May all beings everywhere live in ease.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Justice Is Blinded 2

I'm going to cheat today.

The article that caught my eye this morning is about a coal company. In my defense, I never do this -- in my other defense, this relates to a post earlier this week that was about oil -- and in my other other defense, coal and oil are inexorably linked, as the use of coal begins to rise based on the threat of oil supplies tightening...

Furthermore, it's about a court case -- and I don't think any discussion of a court case and an energy law stands alone against the backdrop of the Supreme Court, which this spring is slated to hear the damages case against Exxon Mobil for the Valdez crash.

“In West Virginia, there is a proverb that says that everything is political except politics, and that is personal,” said Conni Gratop Lewis, a retired lobbyist. -- The New York Times.

The story comes out of West Virginia, and has to do with a case that was thrown out in November -- a $50 million dollar fraud case against Massey Energy Corp. That judgment was declared on a 3-2 vote. The case is being reopened after photos surfaced of the chief justice and the CEO playing golf.

On Thursday, several plaintiffs in the case — mining companies that say they were driven out of business by Massey — filed a separate motion seeking the disqualification of a second judge in the original majority, Justice Brent D. Benjamin. Justice Benjamin was elected to the court in 2004 with the help of more than $3 million in advertisements and other support from Don L. Blankenship, Massey’s chief executive and Chief Justice Maynard’s dining companion in Monte Carlo.

The judges don't think there's a problem. They say they remain impartial -- and that the scrutiny is unwarranted. Two weeks ago, Massey settled another suit:

CHARLESTON, W.Va., Jan. 17 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Massey Energy Company (NYSE: MEE) today announced that it has settled a Clean Water Act lawsuit filed in May 2007 on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The $20 million settlement avoids expensive litigation, resolves questions about the company's potential liability and enhances Massey's environmental protection efforts.

I said in the older post that the judgments in these cases were so high, they dwarfed the price of elections... it worse than that -- the profits of these energy companies dwarf the expenditure of governments. Massey alone holds $3 billion in assets -- with sales in the neighborhood of $200 million. Exxon Mobil made 39.5 billion in profits in 2006 -- and that was before the increases in oil prices last year. Annual numbers should post soon for 2007...

It makes me really dizzy. It's one thing not to think of our politicians as justice oriented, but to think of how political our judges are -- it's a level of undermining the authority in this country I simply don't know how to reconcile.

Justice. A justice. Language again -- just the title "justice" trains us from the beginning of our education to expect good from them.

I am thinking this morning -- what if everyone walked around as the personification of their job -- that which they are charged to impart. We could call a teacher "a knowledge," a doctor could be, rather than a healer, "a healing." A poet would have to be called " a truth." Geez I'm glad that's not my title. We argue about the nature of truth all the time...

What can we really expect of each other? What can we really expect from them?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Found Oil

Yesterday it was announced that a massive crude oil deposit was discovered in Argentina.

The article in the Times reported:

"By 2007, all the companies produced 60 million barrels, and this reserve ... represents almost double what they produce," said Chubut Gov. Mario Das Neves in a statement posted on the provincial government Web site.

Buenos Aires-based Pan American reportedly spent $700 million in exploration investments last year. That company is controlled by BP -- the same company that owns the well in Alaska -- I think it's probably time to take a look at the major oil companies. There's a lot of talk about government ownership and stake in oil rights, but I wonder if there aren't a small handful of companies that are simply humoring governments...

What kinds of returns do you expect on a $700 million investment? How small does that make appear the price of an entire election. It makes me feel a little better about my current investment in poetry. Perspective.

Another kicker, according to ABC news, US oil giant AMCO explored the same place to no avail... I'd love to hear the conversations there this morning! Does someone get to say I Told You So? Does someone get fired?

The oil is a relief in Argentina, where growth abounds and energy has been lagging.

I'm picturing a cartoon (I do that sometimes...) -- a cartoon where the world, down on his luck, finds ten bucks in his back pocket. In the next frame he spends it on cigarettes.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Collective Punishment

Today I am thinking about oil as weapon. Oil and gas.

Adel Hana/Associated Press

The Times reported this week:

GAZA — After widespread criticism of its decision to cut off supplies of industrial diesel oil required to run a power station that serves Gaza City and its hospitals, Israel resumed fuel shipments on Tuesday on what it said would be a temporary basis.

The European Union, which pays for the fuel, called the cutoff “collective punishment,” but Israeli officials said they were simply trying to convince Gazans of the need to stop militants from firing rockets into Israeli towns and farms.

Meanwhile in Kenya,

Police officials defended the heavy use of force and said that mobs carrying gasoline had been sighted in Nairobi's business hub on Wednesday. On Thursday a man was surrounded by riot police in the city.

Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

It's cold in the house this morning. I'm frustrated with some of the situations in my life. It is desperate in the world. Power. Need. Explosion and the desire to create -- change, death. I'm grateful it is not desperate here. I wish the world could feel the same. I'm grateful that my children were born to this way of life.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Spicy Tuna

Yesterday, a headline in the Times read, "Warnings Don't Deter Lovers Of Sushi."

For me, the only deterrent that ever veers me away from eating raw tuna is price and the fact that my kids don't like it -- occasionally cold, but that's never much a little warm Saki won't fix... I hadn't read the "warning" article from Wednesday, but felt alarmed enough to do so. It was reported in the food and wine section of the paper -- those sections are funny -- sometimes I wonder if they are trying to lure or bury with the placement of some stories...

"High Mercury Levels Found In Tuna Sushi." Apparently, reporters from the Times went all over Manhattan buying tuna sushi and testing it for mercury. Mercury is not regularly tested for by any government department.

Sushi from 5 of the 20 places had mercury levels so high that the Food and Drug Administration could take legal action to remove the fish from the market.

I've written about this before, but sometimes a topic warrants coming back to. It was the undeterred that intrigued me today...

Coal mining, coal burning, oil refining and oil pollution are all main causes of mercury poison. Last month an article from the Chicago Tribune looked at one plant's excretions into Lake Michigan.

The U.S. Steel mill in Gary and the BP refinery in nearby Whiting rank among the nation's worst factories on health threats to neighbors from water pollution, according to a Tribune analysis of new federal research.

Mercury, lead and other pollutants poured into the Lake Michigan basin by the two industrial giants account for the high health-risk scores tabulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The findings are based on the amount of pollution released by each facility, the toxicity of each chemical released and estimates of the number of people who eat fish caught in nearby waters.

Here's a funny fact I found -- the mercury that spills out of your old thermometer -- you can swallow it and it won't hurt you (if you are in good health to begin with). That form and amount of the metal is hard to absorb, and easy to get rid of. But fish eat fish after fish after fish, and the levels of mercury become concentrated inside of them, permeating their flesh.

People are exposed to methylmercury almost entirely by eating contaminated fish and wildlife that are at the top of aquatic foodchains. The National Research Council, in its 2000 report on the toxicological effects of methylmercury, pointed out that the population at highest risk is the offspring of women who consume large amounts of fish and seafood. The report went on to estimate that more than 60,000 children are born each year at risk for adverse neurodevelopmental effects due to in utero exposure to methylmercury. In its 1997 Mercury Study Report to Congress, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded that mercury also may pose a risk to some adults and wildlife populations that consume large amounts of fish that is contaminated by mercury.

That's from the US Geological website. This from an article in Discover Magazine:

Infants born to mothers contaminated by mercury in Japan’s Minamata Bay in 1956 had profound neurological disabilities including deafness, blindness, mental retardation, and cerebral palsy. In adults, mercury poisoning can cause numbness, stumbling, dementia, and death. “It’s no secret that mercury exposure is highly toxic,” says toxicologist Alan Stern, a contributor to a 2000 National Research Council report on mercury toxicity. But high-level exposures like those at Minamata cannot help scientists determine whether six silver fillings and a weekly tuna-salad sandwich will poison you or an unborn child. “The question is, what are the effects at low levels of exposure?” he says.

Data now suggest effects might occur at levels lower than anyone suspected. Some studies show that children who were exposed to tiny amounts of mercury in utero have slower reflexes, language deficits, and shortened attention spans. In adults, recent studies show a possible link between heart disease and mercury ingested from eating fish. Other groups claim mercury exposure is responsible for Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and the escalating rate of autism.

Fillings??!! Really, it seems like a bunch of the disconnect stems from the fact that we don't really know yet what the effects are. But isn't it one of those things you look around and think -- autism, attention span, cancer, Alzheimer's -- we know these to be growing exponentially...

Why do we do things that are so clearly bad for us? What exactly do we need proved?

But also, where do we go -- what do we eat...

Who what where when why
do we spend our time and is safety really what we are looking for?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Justice is Blinded.

During the height of the cold war, Braxton Berkley -- now Rev. Braxton Berkley -- worked on military planes for Lockheed Martin, one of the biggest defense companies in the country. Berkley, and a few dozen other of his former colleagues have been involved in a law suit claiming toxic waste handled during that job was an extreme health detriment. Yesterday the case was thrown out of the California Supreme Court -- not because of the merits of the case, but

because too many justices had holdings in the oil companies named in the case.

Read an article from the Washington Post and an editorial in the Times if you don't believe me.
ExxonMobil Corp. and Unocal Corp. were the companies named.

"It's not as if they didn't have their day in court," George said. That would be CA Chief Justice Ron George. Ummm...

In October, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear a case against Exxon for the 1989 Valdez oil spill -- that case has to do with the punitive damages awarded against the oil giant.

A federal jury in Alaska awarded $5 billion in punitive damages in 1994. A federal judge later reduced it to $4.5 billion. A U.S. appeals court in December further cut the amount to $2.5 billion.

Exxon Mobil, the largest U.S. company by market capitalization, appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing the $2.5 billion award still was too high. -- Reuters

Exxon is arguing they shouldn't be held responsible for damages because they have already spent billions on clean up.

Backtracking for just a minute, when all the election confusion of 2000 hit, the hardest thing for me was the dawning understanding that the Supreme Court was in fact not the pillar of justice I had always believed it to be. The golf games, the political ties -- I had no idea. Now that same court is going to hear a case with the potential to change the future of judgment against oil companies. Even if there is (and I sure hope there is) a better standard of blind investment for that court, I for one have no faith that they are in any position to be unbiased on such a matter so close to the wallets of the people running this country.

I want to bring in one more story that caught my eye this morning. The AP reports this morning that profits at another major oil company increased 37% in the fourth quarter thanks to the rising price of oil.

All this stuff is swirling around today -- the way it does sometimes when it all feels too big to even want to look at.


How things are governed -- and how things are going to go -- is something we should be talking about more. For the record, reporters who report on these matters, are not allowed to own stocks, or are required to have them in blind trusts.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Kuwait oilwell fire

"Every fire has a personality and requires its own approach."

Indonesian oil well blowout

Sometimes it's just good to see something.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Footprint on the Delta

When hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, there were lots of ideas about what happened to expand the devastation and why -- neglect, indifference, abandon. I learned this morning that a lot of the destruction had to do with that state's oil industry.
while this image is posted on the ABC new site, it's not attributed.

Some mornings I come across an article so good I just want to post it -- offer it up or pretend I wrote it and that I am a reporter for the New York Times instead of a poet with a research project... today is one of those mornings. I even found an article in the London Telegraph which does just (pretends it wrote it) (funnily enough, I found the article after I wrote that first sentence...). ((It's worth noting here that this article is an Associated Press article -- it's stellar reporting, quotes and depth are offered entirely un-bilined. When people begin to get down on the media, they should please remember the amazing work that our reporters do everyday -- not for credit or glamor, but for belief in the job and for public service.))

To start, I didn't know how huge the LA oil industry is (remember, it's my responsibility to be entirely shameless here...)

In oil's heyday 30 years ago, Louisiana's coastal wells pumped 360 million barrels a year, an eighth of what Saudi Arabia ships to the market today.

I didn't know the marsh lands of Louisiana provide natural protection from Hurricanes -- and have been decimated -- in at least some large part by the state's oil industry. Swamp erosion, toxic waste and rerouting of water have all lead to completely overturning the nature of the region.

R. Eugene Turner, an LSU oceanographer, has calculated that every square mile of the delta is bounded on three sides by oil-canal ridges. Turner has spent more than 30 years studying the oil industry's footprint on the delta.

''If the water is blocked from going in, the wetlands on other side is drier for a little longer and also stays flooded longer than it otherwise would be,'' Turner said. ''By drying it, the land oxidizes and dries out; and if it's wetter, it's like leaving a lawn sprinkler on and the plants are going to die.''

I'm thinking, too, about that "oil-rich" distinction which is spreading like wildfire through the news these days ... What if every time there were reporting on LA -- or every time there had been reporting on Katrina it had been preceded by that adjectival clause?

This from a times article from 2005 -- DOCTORED

The Gulf Coast has always been vulnerable to coastal storms, but over the years people have made things worse, particularly in the oil-rich state of Louisiana, where Hurricane Katrina struck yesterday.

Since the 18th century, when French colonial administrators required land claimants to establish ownership by building levees along bayous, streams and rivers, people have been trying to dominate the region's oil-rich landscape and the forces of its nature.

There's a whole site dedicated to "protecting Louisiana's Citizens and Environment from the Effects of Oil Spills."

If you see spilled oil, the law requires you to make two (toll-free) calls:
(1) Call the 24-hour Louisiana Emergency Hazardous Materials Hotline at (877) 925-6595
(2) Call the National Response Center (NRC) at (800) 424-8802

I keep trying to imagine sentences from the web site substituted for Boston or finished with "in Boston" like that kid's game where you finish movie titles with the phrase "in bed..."

· Minimize unauthorized discharges of oil in Boston
· Provide for an effective spill response in Boston
· Compensate the public for damages to the state’s natural resources in Boston
· Assist the public through education, service, and public outreach in Boston

None of that would ever be an issue. We don't have the resources. We also have a lot of power up here, inside of all these brick buildings... for crying out loud one of our countries best senators is standing in the way of wind energy to protect his family's view of the Cape Cod coast!

Money, Power. "Who Owns The Oil." Not the people living in the toxic waste areas -- not in Nigeria and not here. There seems to be no end to the proof of the devastation people cause by their greed and plundering of the earth.

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

Monday, January 21, 2008

Freedom Growing Fruit

From A Speech by Martin Luther King Jr.:

I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about "Where do we go from here," that we honestly face the fact that the Movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?" And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's market place. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. You see, my friends, when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question, "Who owns the oil?" You begin to ask the question, "Who owns the iron ore?" You begin to ask the question, "Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two thirds water?" These are questions that must be asked.

In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.
by June Jordan


honey people murder mercy U.S.A.
the milkland turn to monsters teach
to kill to violate pull down destroy
the weakly freedom growing fruit
from being born


tomorrow yesterday rip rape
exacerbate despoil disfigure
crazy running threat the
deadly thrall
appall belief dispel
the wildlife burn the breast
the onward tongue
the outward hand
deform the normal rainy
riot sunshine shelter wreck
of darkness derogate
delimit blank
explode deprive
assassinate and batten up
like bullets fatten up
the raving greed
reactivate a springtime

death by men by more
than you or I can



They sleep who know a regulated place
or pulse or tide or changing sky
according to some universal
stage direction obvious
like shorewashed shells

we share an afternoon of mourning
in between no next predictable
except for wild reversal hearse rehearsal
bleach the blacklong lunging
ritual of fright insanity and more
deplorable abortion
more and

June Jordan, “In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.” from Directed By Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by The June M. Jordan Literary Trust. Reprinted with the permission of The June M. Jordan Literary Trust,

Source: The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (1997).

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Future Is

The Discovery Channel put out a series called "Addicted To Oil." I'm posting a bit of it here. Thomas Friedman is the reporter on the piece -- he is a hero of mine. The series works hard to look at what can be done and what can be changed.

William McDonough is an architect working for sustainable construction. Everything should go back into the earth or back into the factory for reuse. He makes bricks out of earth and biodegradable chairs. We need to eliminate waste, he says. He says,

"We have to find a way to speak about the future in the present tense."

Yesterday I said there are moments when the future feels foregone. I don't think this statement is that different... Where is the connection between the present and the future -- how do the two collapse and become one... I said the future is impending -- but when he says "present," there is power in the statement -- hope. What we do now effects the future. We can act as the future is what we want it to be. That the changes we have not yet been able to create are possible -- and we can act as if that future is just as inevitable.

Addicted to Oil - Part 5 of 5

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Last week, a cargo ship "The Ice Prince" sunk in the English Channel. This week, residents are waiting for the oil slick to wash ashore.

The ship sunk in a heavy storm and all 20 crew members were rescued dramatically (in the dark by helicopter). It's eerie to look back through the BBC headlines –

Cargo ship rolls in stormy waters
Tow plan for stricken cargo ship
Stricken ship at risk of sinking
Abandoned ship sinks to sea bed

It's almost nostalgic, isn't it -- to look back at our own naivete before understanding... Now 313 tons of oil are sitting at the bottom of the sea, as if in a giant time release capsule.

I'm intrigued right now with the weight of impending misfortune. I guess it started yesterday with the polar bears -- that it could be that in 50 years polar bears will be extinct and we will look at yesterday as the defining moment.

Waiting. Knowing. Looking clearly at the change that separates the knowing from the not knowing. From the possible to the impending.

Friday, January 18, 2008

White on Washington

Sometimes, it's very hard to get the straight story.

This from the International Herald Tribune:

The directors of two Interior Department agencies said Thursday they're confident oil and gas exploration in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska can proceed without threatening polar bears that depend on the sea ice.

The officials appeared before a House special committee on global warming that is examining why the department is postponing a decision on whether to further protect the bear, at the same time it is proceeding with oil lease sales in the Alaska sea.

Just to repeat; a house committee hearing examining why the department is postponing a decision on whether or not to deem the polar bear endangered. It's kind of amazing -- a whole hearing on Capitol Hill examining delay...

The reason for the timing question is that the oil lease is up for market February 6. One would have to imagine that if the polar bear is deemed endangered, you have to be really careful not to kill them. This would be an important thing to avoid if you were going to drill for oil up in Alaska... if drilling for oil endangers polar bears...

A bunch of protesters went to the meeting dressed in polar bear suits.

image from a video clip on MNBC.

I want a polar bear suit!
I always wanted a polar bear suit -- I really wanted to be like Nastassia Kinsky in Hotel New Hampshire, when she walks around in a bear suit all the time. In fact, there's a really big writers meeting in New York in two weeks -- I'm feeling a little nauseous about the whole thing, and would feel MUCH better surrounding in white fur...

Sorry, I was talking about the polar bears --
I wrote about this before -- a week or so ago. But now it's a different thing -- I'm intrigued by the pressure of this.

An editorial in the San Jose Mercury news says:

Conveniently for the oil-centric Bush administration, the postponement allowed just enough time to go ahead with the Feb. 6 sale of oil leases in the Chukchi Sea northwest of Alaska, a prime polar bear habitat. But oil drilling could put further stress on a polar bear population whose future is already in doubt.

The reason there is this strange house committee meeting -- the reason I'm thinking about all of this today -- it has to do with communication. Who stays silent when and why are of enormous importance to how things get done.

The issues of oil are so thick and crude in Washington it is impossible to believe that any decision could get made to change our direction...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

My Attack

A French court ruled Wednesday that the company Total was partly liable for the oil spill their cargo was witness to. The issue was simply that the ship used, The Erika, was in horrible disrepair, and Total employed it anyway. December 12, 1999, the Cargo ship broke in two, spilling roughly 20,000 tons of oil.

This from the original reporting back in 2000:

France is still investigating what happened to the Erika. A preliminary report issued last week found that the spill had probably been caused by a rusty bulkhead. At first the crew, all citizens of India, were detained. But they have since been absolved of blame and released.

The criticism has focused instead on the French company TotalFina for hiring the Maltese-registered boat. Investigators found that at least one other oil company, Shell, had rejected the boat as unseaworthy.

The case appears groundbreaking in the pursuit of broadening responsibility in the case of such disasters. According to today's story:

Edward Bran, a lawyer who specializes in international environmental law, said that under international oil pollution conventions, claims usually are not permitted against parties other than the ship owners unless it can be proved that the damage stemmed from acts of omission.

So, I assume, you could never lie or cheat -- but now you have to do due diligence. That's a big shift. I'm thinking about the things that I check -- I would look at a school bus my kids were going on for a field trip; I would look at a dialyses machine my mother was pouring her blood through -- we check when the cargo is precious -- when the result of failure would be devastating. So Companies must now consider oil precious and environmental disaster personal harm...

... The court also recognized the principle of ecological harm “resulting from an attack on the environment.”

I'm intrigued by this last line. The principle of ecological harm resulting from an attack on the environment. Isn't that what we are doing every day? With our products and our travel and our habits? Don't get me wrong, I think the ruling is terrific, and it certainly seems like they are making environmental strides in Europe we likely will never reach -- but it's a little scary too.

And accidents do... clearly there was gross negligence in this case, but do we really know what we are partaking in? It's aggressive language. Maybe it's true -- I am not passive when I take a plastic bag or wear nylon... in the decisions that I make I am attacking the environment. That is a hostile way to think about this world.

While I want to live in a world where oil spills are taken seriously, and the environment is treated as a victim of our lives, I don't know if I can breathe or heal or help inside the life of a lanuguage of attack...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Paint The Town Green

I used to be an interior house painter. Well, maybe that's true -- and an exaggeration at the same time. I used to paint houses -- it was my summer job for a number of years -- and I think I did it after college for a while too.

I was the youngest on the crew -- I was probably 17 when I started -- maybe younger. We painted with oil-based and Latex paints. We used oil-based mainly for woodwork -- which, as we were painting primarily in Cambridge and Brookline, in big old houses, some of which were on the historic register, there was a lot of.

Because I was the youngest, and also the least experienced, I did a lot of the sanding. So much so that I usually couldn't shower when we were prepping a job -- my hands were so raw and red that I had to wear tape and gloves all the time. I also painted the insides of closets. It's funny the things you do that you don't really think about...

The inside of a closet is a good place to learn, as no one is going to look carefully for inconsistencies of weight and line. I would end the day in a closet kind of high and nauseous -- often having forgotten to take breaks, so entranced by the task -- and the chemicals -- at hand.

Oil-based paints -- they work better, spread better, have richer tone and quality. I imagine they are used far less frequently than they were then -- two decades ago.

Today I read a line in the New York Times which took me back to all of this -- in sort of an alarming way:

The Gaia’s list of green features is inspirational: solar panels, low-emission paints, adhesives and sealants; certified sustainably harvested wood; recycled-content carpets; recycled tiles and stone; low-energy windows; tubular skylights; a chemical-free landscape of native plants.

Cars have emissions. Trucks -- planes -- Paint?!

Here's a quote from an environmental site, which sites as its source the EPA.

House paint is quite a cocktail of chemicals, and these chemicals become a permanent resident in your home once spread all over your walls. That strong and pungent odour is a perfect example of what's being added to your indoor air. These chemicals, called volatile organic compounds (VOC) continue to be released into your home long after the initial smell has disappeared.

VOC fumes can cause headaches, dizziness, as well as irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. Combine paint fumes with all the other chemicals in your home (cleansers, air fresheners, bath & beauty products, pesticides and more), and you can have indoor air that is 2 to 5 times more polluted with organic compounds than outdoor air.

Turns out, the time in the summer when all the college students are home painting houses has its own name -- "peak painting and smog season." According to the Air Quality Management District, an office of the government,

Emissions from the application of architectural and industrial maintenance coatings during the summer months, typically known as the peak painting and smog season, are estimated to be more than 38 tons each day.

The good news is there are new paints being formulated. There are hotels in San Francisco that use them. And today, I don't feel so bad about letting the paint peel unattended on the front of my house... although I do have a little fear there is some lead paint up there, which is now falling to the ground and leaching into the soil...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

For The Birds

A new study is looking at long-term effects of oil spills, as monitored through birds.

"Seagull blood shows promise for monitoring pollutants from oil spills," according to a new study from the American Chemical Society. Following seagulls months and years after oil spills, a group of scientists is marking the rise in pollutants in the birds' blood. Among other things, these pollutants (Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) are known to cause cancer and damage DNA. I dont' think I knew DNA could be damaged...

While oil spills quickly kill large numbers of seabirds and other animals, scientists do not fully understand the non-lethal biological effects of these spills, the Spanish researchers say.

The article in the ACM journal opened with that canary in a coal mine metaphor, again. Since I first wrote about that phrase last fall, I've seen it come up over and over again. Language travels through society like birds -- flocking and gathering and crying through the air.

This new study is crucial, of course. We look at things in such a short term perspective, we forget to look out, into the future and the past for understanding.

At the same time, while I think this will certainly prove an important study, there seems something so off with the way we look at and talk about these things. The birds -- the birds are not dying to show us when we are killing ourselves... we are killing the birds!

Cormorant oiled in the Exxon valdez spill-photo courtesy Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council
Photo from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council.

When the Cosco Busa cargo ship spilled 58,000 gallons of oil off San Francisco bay two months ago, within a week over 1,500 birds were dead or dying from the effects. While I have been familiar with photos of oil covered birds for decades, I didn't really know what the actual effects were -- I guess I thought the birds would then suffocate. I still imagine that's part of it -- but more. They lose their waterproofing. (Another irony...) They become incapable of faring cold and water. Listen to rescue workers discuss the scene on NPR here.

It is an overwhelming disconnect -- this one between us and the life -- the earth life -- we are part of. The overwhelming disconnect. As ever, when I feel that drowning in the person-ness we live in, I turn to poems.

Eagle Poem

by Joy Harjo

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadly growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

Joy Harjo, “Eagle Poem” from In Mad Love and War. Copyright �© 1990 by Joy Harjo. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.
From the Poetry Foundation Website.

Monday, January 14, 2008

My Lava Lamp

It's a snow day here -- and regardless of the fact that the herbs in the front yard were still green yesterday -- after the 70 degree days had melted the small buildup around them -- it feels like all is right with the winter this moment.

Some memory emerges of moments lost in themselves...

Some days don't mix with politics or money or pollution. Some days move in and out of themselves, traveling slowly and grazing the various wonders of culture, entertainment and now...

Dear Yahoo!:
What is the "lava" made of in a lava lamp?
San Francisco, California
LinkDear David:
Believe it or not, the stuff inside lava lamps is a trade secret, not unlike McDonald's special sauce. Could they be one and the same? Probably not. But here are a few leads:

Our noncommercial Lava Lamp category features four -- count'em four -- invaluable web sites on the topic, including a helpful site called The Lava Lamp Conspiracy that links to an intriguing little document offering the specifics on the first Lava Lamp patent by David George Smith of England.

The two fluids listed on the patent are water and a "solidified globule of mineral oil, paraffin and a dye as well as paraffin wax or petroleum jell, preferably Ondina 17 with a light paraffin, carbontetrachoride, a dye and the paraffin wax or petroleum jelly." So there you have it -- Mr Smith's Original Recipe.

If you're trying to make your own lava lamp, a friendly science teacher named Sean suggests Benzyl alcohol (probably around 150 - 250 ml) mixed in a 4.8% salt water solution (48 g per liter). To get the right color in the Benzyl alcohol, "find an oil-soluble marker (Magic Marker?) and break it open. Carefully remove the felt ink-soaked thing (technical talk; sorry) and place it in a small bowl with the benzyl alcohol."

But remember to wear gloves, David. Some of these chemicals are fairly dodgy.

Lava Lamp

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Backwards: at or towards the back or rear. in a manner or order or direction the reverse of normal.

I looked up the definition of this common word this morning because I wanted to try to get at the relationship between actual movement and the nature of movement. I guess I need to pull out the OED, but at least this is a start -- in any event, the idea of powering things with coal seems "backward" in both regards.

An administrative judge on Friday affirmed a controversial permit granted to Longleaf Energy Associates LLC for a coal-fired power plant in southwestern Georgia, the first to be approved in the state in 20 years.

This from Energy Law 360 -- which, it turns out, costs $3,000 a year after the first trial week -- so it's only headlines from here on out.

The language of the story --

The Energy Law headline reads:
Ga. Judge OKs First Coal-Fired Plant Permit In 20 Yrs.

The headline in the article in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution reads:
Environmentalists Lose Bid To Stop Coal Plant.

Language -- Energy Law puts the issue in context -- history -- they put it into the legal realm with the word permit.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution puts the emphasis on the negative -- they get the environmental issue right up front.

The thing about headlines is -- they are often misleading -- they are almost never written by reporters, and it is their job to get you to read the story, not to report the story. Still they can often give away a lot about emphasis and goal.

This from the legal abstract:

That granting this petition will prevent waste, avoid the drilling of unnecessary wells, promote orderly development and protect coequal and correlative rights of all owners in the Mobley Creek Field.

Coal. I sort of try to imagine the pollution of Dickens' streets magnified to the level they would be given our daily energy requirements now. In the last few days I've been noticing a cropping up of stories about nuclear energy plants. It's scary -- there would be the hope that we would move forward with our new understandings about global -- environmental and resource -- energy consumption. What if that's not where we are headed at all?

We go back to what is known -- places, objects, people -- what we know how to do, where we know we can find fuel and power. We go back despite the dangers -- despite the known effects. What is known is always less scary than the abyss of the future we can't fathom or recreate.


In my pursuit of definition this morning, I came across a site where a guy recorded Led Zepplin's "Stairway to Heaven" in both directions. You can listen at
I'd always heard about this, but never heard... very strange... I swear language and information have a life of their own...

“If there’s a bustle in you hedgerow, don’t be alarmed, now, it’s just a spring clean for the May queen. Yes there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run there’s still time to change the road your on.”

Oh here’s to my sweet Satan. The one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is Satan. He’ll give those with him a 666, there was a little toolshed where he made us suffer, sad Satan.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Near Misses

There are all these numbers I would like to see that do not exist. How many gallons of oil are being transported at any given time. How many boats, trains, trucks are carrying oil, and how much, at this very moment. How many gallons of oil spill a day all over the world. I think about these numbers sometimes -- their size a vast implication.

I never thought about near misses until this morning.

Oil Barge Strikes SF Bay Bridge in Fog

Published: January 11, 2008

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (AP) -- A barge carrying oil struck a bridge in the San Francisco Bay, but there were no immediate reports of oil spilling into the bay, authorities said.

An article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer attempted to track some near misses a few years ago, reporting:

About once a month, a large ship somewhere along the West Coast runs into trouble because of an equipment problem or mechanical failure, according to the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force.

In Washington and Oregon, recent history is full of oil spills and incidents that could have resulted in a spill, according to state records.

In March, a cargo ship in Anchorage lost power for three hours and nearly ran aground carrying 450,000 gallons of fuel.

This latest fog-crash in San Francisco comes in the wake of several close calls in the two years since the Selendang Ayu spilled over 300,000 gallons of fuel in Unalaska Island’s Skan Bay, according to a press release by Pacific

In California, the Los Angeles/ Long Beach Harbor Safety Commission tracks near misses in the Bay Area.

A reportable ‘Near Miss’ is an incident in which a pilot, master or other person in charge of navigating a vessel, successfully takes action of a ‘non-routine nature’ to avoid a collision with another vessel, structure, or aid to navigation, or grounding of the vessel, or damage to the environment.

I don't know -- sometimes a near miss can help you think a little clearly about something you are doing that is dangerous -- not wearing a seat belt, carrying too many groceries, being impatient, tipsy, distracted, greedy... you get the adrenaline rush when you see clearly the horrific reality that almost was. A mess. An inconvenience. A tragedy.

But the idea that those worlds are traveling around us all the time -- not due to our own failings as human beings -- of heart and mind and luck -- but simply by the nature of the world we have constructed... kind of scary.

Keywords from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute:
Dynamic risk; Drift grounding; Oil spill; Prevention; Prioritisation; Decision support

Kind of marvelous, too. Here's another number that doesn't exist -- How many oil spills didn't happen yesterday?

Friday, January 11, 2008

We Don't Need Another Hero

Yesterday, Vladimir Putin gave hero awards to three scientists who planted a Russian flag under the ice at the North Pole.

There's a land squabble, and the award was granted in part simply for supporting the country's claim to the land, which may rest over as much as 25% of the worlds untapped oil. The AP story said:

The issue has become more urgent with growing evidence that global warming is shrinking polar ice -- opening up resource development and new shipping lanes.

Some days, the irony of the world needs no comment.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Natural Attenuation

In 1979 there was an oil spill in Minnesota. 1.7 million liters of crude oil spilled. Unfortunately, the same pipeline, which runs from Alberta to Chicago, had another spill in November. Oddly enough, in 1979 I was at a small Montessori school in Maine, and right around then I remember the country trying to go metric. That plan failed, and as a result I don't really know the size of that spill -- barrels or gallons would register to me, but I don't want to look at the conversion. This is in part because I just attempted to read the start of about 100 pages of scientific abstracts and have already killed all my pre-coffee abilities.

Anyway, scientists started studying the site in 1983, and have been following the long-term effects of oil spills through the site over all this time. There was a story on NPR at the end of November. Here's the official website for the project.

One of the things they found was that oil eating bacteria naturally grew up around the spill.

I love this.

They found that the natural microbial population that feeds on the oil prospered. The organisms immediately started consuming the oil and regenerated, causing a bloom, what scientists call natural attenuation.

That we -- we, now, meaning all things living -- adapt to where we are and the environment to find our nourishment is one part. The sheer beauty and resourcefulness of life is astounding -- refreshing and hope offering.

I went to a poetry reading last night that offered that kind of glimpse into reality -- as if to say, all this you spend all your time thinking about -- spills and greed and consumerism -- all this is big on one level, and very small on another. Where we as a globe will move to is bigger than any of these issues -- driven by forces larger... even as we insert our power onto nature it will have it's way, in time.

On the other hand, there seems another story about nature that also seems human -- that everything that happens will spawn what consumes it ...

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Not Just Alaska.

So, it's not just Alaska...

Published: January 8, 2008

Environmental groups sued the Shell Oil Company and several of its affiliates, claiming that the oil giant has for years released pollutants from its suburban Houston refinery that are well above state and federal limits. In the federal lawsuit, the Sierra Club and Environment Texas claim that the excess air pollutants, including the toxic chemicals benzene and 1,3-butadiene, are a violation of the federal Clean Air Act.

Two things occur to me:
the first is that the toxins released by our proximity to and reliance on fossil fuel no doubt exceed anything we can imagine or can currently measure.
the second is that we are very hung up on blame in this country, and that without some other means of understanding it is impossible to imagine human progress.

Two more things occur to me:
this is the same as in everything we do -- talk, travel, buy, desire, raise our children, kiss.
unless we can change somehow, without blaming other people, there is no hope for new growth, for progress, for breathing freely.

Another poet friend is very interested in the idea of what is new, and often writes about it and posts quotes about it on his blog -- as in, can we invent, can there be anything new --

Ring In The New

"... one might imagine the good New growing naturally out of the good Old, without the need for polemic or theory..." - T.S.Eliot

The conversation revolves aroung poetics, but why not oil -- maybe the question is the same of politics or science or industry...

Ted Hughes, writing from Boston in 1959, on American poets:

"... you have to take into account the way their whole life is condensed on the superficialities of the moment. Relation to a changing past ... they are without, and get no pleasure from contemplating it." And, "[autobiography] is the only subject matter really left to Americans. The only thing an American really has to himself, & really belongs to, is his family. Never a locality, or a community, or an organisation of ideas, or a private imagination"

Maybe it would be refreshing to imagine this all an American dilemma -- that the only reason I see it all as human nature is because I am an American. Maybe then the rest of the world could save us... humans elsewhere... who own their own breath...

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Vehicles 2

I think I must still be on vacation -- I'm coming up with the most off topic stories this week -- though that really was the idea -- that through the varied nature of all of this I might find some sort of larger information...

Monday, one group of writers settled their part of the writers strike out in LA. The AP reports this morning:

The United Artists deal could begin to drive a wedge between the producers alliance and independent production companies that want to get their writers back on the job, said Daniel J.B. Mitchell, a professor of management and public policy at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Other companies could follow United Artists' lead and reach side deals with the guild to continue production while the strike endures, then sign on for whatever terms the alliance eventually reaches with writers, Mitchell said.

But here's what interests me:

''It's the same kind of problem as, let's say, OPEC. You have a group of people that has a common interest in having a common front, where they want to keep oil prices up,'' Mitchell said. ''There's always somebody who says, `You guys keep oil prices up, and I'll sell more than my quota. You do the heavy lifting, and I'll just reap the reward.'''

I'm very interested in how language and ideas travel around the country. Trends of language build in the public arena -- the media and the lexicon of now; that momentum quickly translates into awareness and power.

A metaphor is a vehicle of understanding -- and in order to employ one, not only does understanding and history have to come from its source, but it has to translate instantly into depth for the audience.

It's the same kind of problem as, let's say, Opec...

As if to imply the public is more aware of the situation in the middle east than the situation in Hollywood. I think it's amazing that the oil industry is being used as a metaphor for the entertainment industry.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Sow's Ear

I guess I knew there were farm beauty pageants -- or at least I used to know. I grew up in some pretty rural places -- still, I'm pretty sure I never saw or imagined true pig primping.

From today's Times:

As Jamie Brozman was sizing up her heifer last week, her main objective was to de-emphasize the animal's bulging shoulders by giving her coat a closer shave.

''It's really an art form, like sculpting,'' said Brozman, from the Just Enuff Angus farm in Nazareth. She spoke over the din of electric hair clippers and blow dryers that resembled distant cousins of wet-dry vacuums.


After the hogs are bathed, an oil-based gloss is applied to make their coats shiny, he said.

''You're not trying to hide something -- you just want to make them look as good as you can,'' McConaughey said. ''It's like these beauty products that are sold to the ladies.'

A make up artist chat room I stumbled upon said that oil-based products last longer and cover better. Which makes sense -- except that they completely bock your pours and one would have to imagine asphyxiate your skin.

In Ancient Egypt, according to a random, uncorroborated website, oil-based eye make up was used by both men and women -- both for appearance and for prevention of eye infection -- apparently common there and then.

I also did not know that mineral oil is petroleum based. This is disturbing to me. When I was younger I used to go to Miami Beach with my cousin -- she would cover her whole body in mineral oil and tan all week. Mineral oil smells like vacation to me -- though I have to say, those trips were filled with tantrums and jellyfish, so maybe just as well to throw it out.

I didn't mean to be talking about make up -- I meant to be talking about pigs -- silk purse sows ear all that -- how bizarre to imagine a room full of overall-clad farmers smearing oil all over a pig to make it shiny.

But it's all the same, isn't it -- it's like we want to laminate everyone and everything -- preserve, shine... with breathing being not quite so high on the list.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

White on White

I always wanted a Siberian Husky. There's something about an animal covered in enormous white fluff that seems to bring some bit of serenity into the otherwise colorful chaos of daily life. Come to think of it, my favorite painting is "White on White," by Malevich -- the 1918 painting which is simply one white square juxtaposed on another. Respite, quiet, escape.

This morning I watched quite a lovely little video (at 5 a.m.) of a polar bear eating a seal. Blood, blubber, howling -- unfortunately I was hungry when it started -- now breakfast will have to wait a little longer.

What struck me immediately was how practical all of that white fluff is... not only warmth but camouflage. Seeing it in stark contrast to the red blood and the dark seal made this apparent -- I had never thought about it before.

Published: September 8, 2007

WASHINGTON, Sept. 7 — Two-thirds of the world’s polar bears will disappear by 2050, even under moderate projections for shrinking summer sea ice caused by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, government scientists reported on Friday.

The report goes on to say that polar bears will likely disappear from Alaska entirely -- Alaska is currently home to about a fifth of the world's polar bear population. It appears that the government is currently working to determine whether or not Polar Bears should be put on the endangered species list.

Today, the times ran an op-ed piece by the Alaskan governor saying that this was unnecessary at this time.

Today the AP reported:

The federal Minerals Management Service gave final approval to oil and natural gas development off Alaska’s northwest shore, drawing condemnation from environmental groups. The agency said it would hold a lease sale Feb. 6 in Anchorage for bidding on nearly 46,000 square miles of outer continental shelf lands in the Chukchi Sea.

Of course, because of the nature of the news and the newspapers, these articles run in entirely different sections, with different weight and focus. It is impossible to connect them in any sort of a daily way. Connection. Disconnection. Concealing.

Photo: Baby polar bear in snow
National Geographic

The land up for lease connects Alaska and Russia. Global -- as in the globe that I used to have in my room -- as in the globe that my children have in their room. I used to put my hand on the raised maps -- as if I could touch the world.

And this morning I wonder, if before they are gone, polar bears will adapt and begin to exhibit black spots on their fur to help them better fit in with their changing landscape.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

My Water Bottle

Just yesterday I was walking with a friend through a sporting good store, looking for her panacea in a black hoodie, and as we passed the metal water bottles, I said, "the only thing about this project that I'm doing is that it's making me a little nutty -- last week I bought my kids these bottles -- I'm getting paranoid about our plastic ones."

Today, a reporter/ mommy writer for the New York Times seems to have read my mind, and offered me my very own article! It's always a big relief -- to find a reporter who is actually obsessing over the same question looping over and over in your mind, who then goes out and does all the work for you. And if they have the resources of a newspaper behind them, and that newspaper, all the better!

Published: January 5, 2008

I HAVE the usual New Year’s resolutions — exercise more, lose weight, be a nicer person. I also hope to find out if I am inadvertently poisoning my children...

Tugend, in complete accordance with my own family, has been both trying to cut down on waste and to keep a handy supply of water available to herself and her kids... but as the stories of oil-based plastics leaching toxins have been gaining momentum, it seems to be harder and harder to know if that's really such a good idea.

The Minnesota Daily reported last year:
About three years ago a researcher at Case Western Reserve University noticed an increase in genetic defects in mice when she cleaned their polycarbonate cages with a harsh detergent. The polycarbonate leached a chemical called bisphenol A, a known component of the material, and supposedly caused chromosomal defects in the lab mice.

I recommend today's Times article highly, though basically I didn't learn anything new -- but in part because I've been following this story for a while. I noticed in October that Patagonia had stopped selling Naglene -- that concerned me a lot. Canada's largest outdoor equipment chain also pulled plastic water bottles.

You can start feeling a little nutty too -- while I just invested in metal bottles, they are replacing 6 plastic ones I bought just 6 months ago when I vowed to stop buying disposable water bottles -- a change which has significantly changed my recycling, my car cleanliness, and maybe saving me about $50 a month. The issue with these bottles has to do with a hormone mimicing chemical. Tugend writes:

Environmental groups and some scientists have raised concern that such plastic can leach bisphenol A, an endocrine-disrupting chemical. It is a big enough issue that last year, the National Toxicology Program Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction convened a 12-member expert panel to examine studies related to the chemical.

Sometimes it feels like a trend -- jumping from one thought to the next without any hard and fast answers. At the same time, sometimes it seems like we avoid an awful lot for convenience sake, and keeping things the same as they've been.

What does seem water-clear, is that the further we look carefully at the oil in our daily lives, the more questions, concerns, risks and toxins seem to leach out...

Friday, January 4, 2008

Ali Baba's Wife

By this means Marjaneh found that her master ‘Ali Baba had admitted thirty-eight robbers into his house, and that this pretended oil-merchant was their captain. She made what haste she could to fill her oil-pot, and returned into her kitchen, where, as soon as she had lighted her lamp, she took a great kettle, went again to the oil-jar, filled the kettle, set it on a large wood fire, and as soon as it boiled, went and poured enough into every jar to stifle and destroy the robber within.
Stories from the Thousand and One Nights. The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Today I've been looking for articles about boiling in oil as a form of torture and of the death penalty. I assume that it works because the boiling temperature of oil is very high -- coupled with its adherence to the skin and blocking of pours.

I'm interested in the old stories about oil too -- the use of oil as weapon -- but also the importance in cooking and lighting -- I guess it's not so different -- the sight of the oil truck lumbering from house to house -- from the image of a oil merchant traveling with barrels big enough to fit thieves.

In the story of Ali Baba is targeted because he stole from the thieves -- he found their treasure trove and took some of the wealth for themselves. I read that in Iraq, American Servicemen are referred to by the slang term, "Ali Babas."

One thing I've noticed is that it is much easier to find current reliable information -- I guess when it comes to history, books are still the place to go. That's kind of comforting, and kind of worrisome -- I think it probably means a lot of history is going to be lost.

It's crazy the things that are on the web. For one thing, an ex-military guy paid some Navy Seals to waterboard him on video, so that people could really see what it was. I couldn't watch. Also, there's a video of a Malaysian martial arts ritual where people wash their hands in boiling oil. I couldn't watch that, either -- I guess maybe I'm a little sensitive today.

A woman in South Mississippi killed her husband last year by (allegedly) pouring boiling oil over him while he slept.
Sanders is accused of pouring two or three quarts of boiling cooking oil on her husband, Sherman, on July 28. She fled with her two children in a white Pontiac Grand Prix, Garber said. Attorney Brian Alexander was appointed to represent Sanders on Thursday. Alexander also worked on the James Boswell capital murder case in 2005. He said Friday he believes his client will be acquitted when she has her day in court.
"When all of the facts are brought forth, it will be clear that Edna Mae's behavior was justified in light of the circumstances," he said. "She only acted in a way any reasonable, prudent person would have acted under similar circumstances." Link
When Marjaneh saw him depart, she went to bed, satisfied and pleased to have succeeded so well in saving her master and family.

I'm sort of interested, too, in the idea of the weapons of the women revolving around their home duties -- lighting the lamp -- cooking. We use what we have, I suppose -- what we have access to.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Boundaries 2

I'm still thinking about boundaries -- about where they exist and don't.

The Oil Drum reported,
Today, someone in the NYMEX pit session paid $100 a barrel for front month crude oil.

That just means the price didn't stay there, but it got there. Big Deal (as in it is -- as in, it's no.)
The article on Bloomberg said:

``This is the culmination of everything that we talked about last year,'' said John Kilduff, vice president of risk management at MF Global Ltd. in New York. ``Various geopolitical problems have deteriorated overnight, in particular Nigeria and Pakistan. Commodities, and in particular oil, have become safe havens in a dangerous world.''
Nigeria, The Middle East, Venezuela... And: Prices rose 2.9 percent last week partly because of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's former prime minister. Pakistan borders Iran, which holds the world's second- biggest oil reserves, and is located along the Arabian Sea, where tankers travel before entering the Persian Gulf.

These things between us -- between here and there, you and me, up and down -- I'm much more interested in the way we travel over, and yet these markers seem to hold some undeniable psychological weight. It's not at all unlike New Year's day itself, really -- here we are, it's all the same as it was yesterday...

Passage over Water

by Robert Duncan

We have gone out in boats upon the sea at night,
lost, and the vast waters close traps of fear about us.
The boats are driven apart, and we are alone at last
under the incalculable sky, listless, diseased with stars.

Let the oars be idle, my love, and forget at this time
our love like a knife between us
defining the boundaries that we can never cross
nor destroy as we drift into the heart of our dream,
cutting the silence, slyly, the bitter rain in our mouths
and the dark wound closed in behind us.

Forget depth-bombs, death and promises we made,
gardens laid waste, and, over the wastelands westward,
the rooms where we had come together bombd.

But even as we leave, your love turns back. I feel
your absence like the ringing of bells silenced. And salt
over your eyes and the scales of salt between us. Now,
you pass with ease into the destructive world.
There is a dry crash of cement. The light fails,
falls into the ruins of cities upon the distant shore
and within the indestructible night I am alone.

to the Poetry Foundation Archive
Robert Duncan, “Passage over Water” from Selected Poems. Copyright 1950 by Robert Duncan. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

My Crimes

This from the New York Times
October 28, 1852

"Accidents by burning fluid" have come to be household words, and yet the use of the fluid is not, probably, at all diminished. Indeed, it would be very un-American to cease using an article because it would be abused. It is only old women who advocate the abolition of guns, and very silly men who insist on banishing calomel, antimony, and the lancet because they have been shamefully abused. If guns are safety, if the lancet has hurt anybody, send the phelebotomist back to school until he can tell where it is needed and how to manage it. Such is the doctrine of our day, and we hold the same regard to burning fluid which has already slain its thousands ... Oil. Yes, oil..."


The article goes on to talk about household safety and the pros and cons of candles...

One thing I love about these old articles is that the author don't struggle at all under the confines of modern journalism. The author makes no mistake of authority, and sarcasm and directives abound. It feels both quaint and refreshing to read them now. There is not the pretension so labored over now that the reporter should be an objective viewer. Keeping the "I" out of the narration of journalism is the base of our system of "fair and accurate" reporting -- but it is now understood that this is an impossible feat for a person to perform.

Yesterday I bought a little reprinted book by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti,
"Poetry As Insurgent Art."

"I am signaling you through the flames," "The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it." "Write living newspapers,"" "Your poems must be more than want ads for broken hearts" - in other words, to paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, to write mere "love poetry" in such times is "almost a crime."

I took this project off line starting today because I couldn't hear my own voice -- I was getting self-conscious, and concerned with readers -- lovers, mothers, strangers read these words with varying degrees of interest and discern. On the other hand, I am very much missing the conversation this morning... the log, like the letter, allows for a relief from the issue of author stance and readership, as both are naturally built in to the medium.

How does one person do anything of import? The poets and the reporters of before had no doubt of their importance -- they did not live inside of a globalized world -- they did not live inside of the slick that is our waters now -- or even a woman's body. This is nothing at all more than a log of learning and exploration.

Here we are. Here I am.
I am writing love poems.
I am burning oil.
I'm not sure I know how to be anything else.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year

In grad school one of my professors asked me in the middle of workshop, what are you afraid of? My answer then is the same as now -- something about self-consciousness v. audacity -- or love v. hate of the voice in the writing... This connection/disconnection dilemma is on my mind a lot right now.

I'm going to take this project off-line for a week -- just for a little grounding. I'm going to keep it going, though -- and I'll post them all at the end of the week. For those of you who have been reading, thank you so much, and I hope that you will read again next week!

I asked the same friend once, what happens if I deconstruct myself -- who will I be on the other side? He said that maybe I wasn't who I thought I was...

My favorite thing about New Years is that it feels like a little bit of a reset button.

Happy Happy New Year.