Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sludge Dump

I'm tired of listening to myself again -- so today I just offer up a series of things I found this morning.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A federal judge has approved a $7.25 million fine against an Egyptian shipping company that dumped oil sludge at sea, the largest penalty for dumping ever assessed in the Pacific Northwest.
Ocean watchdog groups say illegal dumping may be so widespread that it exceeds the volume of even big oil spills like the Exxon Valdez wreck. Some Coast Guard inspectors suspect a quarter or more of all ships may dump oil overboard.
By WILLIAM McCALL Associated Press Writer

The Ocean Dumping Ban Act of 1988 (Public Law 100-688) marked an end to almost a century of sewage sludge and industrial waste dumping into the ocean. Book Rags

For much of history, the ocean was used generally as a dumping ground for many types of waste such as Garbage, Acid Rain, and Toxins. One area off the coast of New Jersey was used beginning in the 19th centruy as a dumping ground for sewage. This area is now known as the 12-mile dumping ground, and has a large amount of toxic metals. Divers are still advised to avoid the area due to the high level of refuse materials and toxins. Wikipedia

Sludge dumping proceeds despite review
Audrey Hudson
Published 3/23/2002

The federal government is using faulty science to allow itself to dump tons of crude-oillike sludge into the Potomac River and should be stopped immediately, according to a scientific review. However, 48 hours after the report was released Tuesday, the Army Corps of Engineers discharged massive amounts of the smelly sludge through a national park and into the designated National Heritage River near Georgetown Thursday and yesterday, witnesses said.

I find this all pretty fascinating. I also read a government study this morning that said the floor of the ocean rivals the amazon rain forest for number of living species.
Then I found a message board for captains!

  1. I've been seeing more and more reports of prosecution for pumping bilges at sea while by-passing the oily water separator. Recently a Chief Engineer working for a Gretna Louisiana company was sentenced and the company fined. I believe this company was under AMO contract but I'm not positive. Everyone should be extremely careful with this. Insist that your company have an adequately sized and properly functioning OWS. If they don't you must refuse to pump overboard and insist they pump to a shoreside facility ! It's your license and freedom you're risking if you don't.
    I hope the guys in the Gulf of Mexico have cleaned up their act by now. As recently as two years ago I know many crew, supply and anchor boats were routinely pumping engine room bilges directly overboard as they have for many years. It's just a matter of time until the USCG and EPA start closely inspecting the oil record books from the GOM so just don't do it.
    Insist that your company provide you with the proper equipment to do the job legally. It will be you that's flipping burgers for living [after you get out of prison] not the owner or president of the company.
  2. You mean all Chiefs don't have an auditor up their butts with a microscope?? I feel picked on!! Anyway, the Coast Goard says it only takes a 1/2 hour, or so a week to keep track of slops. I know I'll be audited at least twice a year with OCM calibration test and paper trail for disposition. In the last 5 years, customer,ABS, ISO/ISM, Coast Guard audits have averaged 5 a year. If you have Waukeshau bearings and seals or eqv It ain't so bad. injunear
  3. Injunear,
    I'm audited out the ying-yang. What comes on must be accounted for going out and heaven help you if your books don't add up.
    But this strict control isn't the case with all the companies in all areas, they'll give you a wink and a pat on the back when the stuff mysteriously disappears. I have had pressure put on me to make the stuff disappear but when they find out I don't play that game they back off and we get along. You've just got to have some integrity and cojones.
    One of the reasons I left the Gulf of Mexico many years ago was because of the pressure of breaking the law on account of "it's the way we do things". I know it's still going on down there but Lord help them when the hammer comes down. It's going to be hard on all of them.
  4. One of the reasons why I opted for early retirement. Seems many of us are bound for the "Great Egress".

    It appears the only way to defeat all of the rediculous regs imposed on us is to follow them to the tee.

    I remember when going to sea was fun. injunear

  5. Most OWS equipment simply too small. 100% automatic operation a dream, mostly it does require manual supervision emptying of the bilges. With reduced crew and everybody busy filling ISM forms on how nice the OWS is working, calculating the figures for the oil record book that they are absolutely correct, no time to watch this thing for hours slowly emptying the bilges, respective service and maintenance. May inform owners that thing not working, they will put it back on you, but crew all busy with paper work. USCG meanwhile well aware of the magic pipe. I guess they still to learn about some magic portable pump :-) High quality crew even pumped it through the fire mains. Imaginable how the vessel did look like after next deck washing. Must have been a hell of a cleaning job, their excuse they must have sucked it from the sea.

    Ok, we can't land it ashore, for what we got a duly certified incinerator. Fuel very expensive now and owners would not like to waste any fuel with it. Very essential that all water removed from the waste oil. Such would require proper settling tanks where you can take off the oil at different heights. To be frankly, most of these incinerators do not work right once only a little bit water in the waste oil. Under the line, you may need to have 1 man for the bilge separator as well 1 man for the incinerator to have these work properly. Maybe possible in the US Navy, but in commercial shipping not enough manpower left.

    Should come in our mind that this problem does not exist in countries like Brazil, where they do pay the crew for any sludge and use it mainly for the asphalt. Chief engineer has not to be worried about oil going overboard, instead that the crew might add some bunker to the sludge adding some more dollars to their tiny salary. In the US they would charge owners like the waste oil any remains out of any chemical warfare. Same does apply to any garage from vessels. So what they do instead? They dump it 200 nm off the US coast. Too much of a surprise? Crew and their garbage not welcome ashore, dump it on their beach. As oil too easy detected, what about collecting the sewage during a sea passage and emptying the lot at their beach? Let them bath in that as revenge for ISPS :-)

    Sorry, for being sarcastic here. It is too much rubbish now. You are right. The old experienced seafarers now going into retirement. With all these rules, regulations and paper work shipping became some sort of funny farm. Quick training and rapid promotions are no answer to fill the gap. Those simply not ready. It is not only that the old ones leaving, also the young ones rapidly leaving the shipping industry. After 5 years at sea they simply had more than enough from shipping companies. They are even not willing to accept the position as superintendent. They thought they could do everything with seafarers. It somehow looks like things are slowly turning now, many are leaving, going ashore even for less money.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Greased Up

Last night I was talking to one of my very favorite poets -- people. I told him, very briefly, about this project -- told him I was imagining a book of poems called "oil." He started laughing immediately -- and we began to imagine cover art with voluptuous breasts covered in... yes, OIL.

It's dark and rainy and everyone I know is in a crappy mood. A good day for a story about oil-wrestling!

Okay -- so here's a first hand account of a oil-wrestling match in Seattle -- I'm not linking anything today for fear of actually being enlisted to write for Playboy -- which, I have to say, after three years as an adjunct professor, would be hard to pass up.

The girls entered the ring and had baby oil poured onto them and spread over their bodies by the two ring girls, then the match began. They were tentative at first, trying to get used to the unsure footing and being gentle with each other. But as the rounds progressed, with the raucous crowd cheering them on, they went at each other with the fire and energy of a catfight, trying to put moves on each other and take each other down. The action also got a lot wilder as the night went on, with contestants getting each other on all fours, straddling each other, and trying to grab hold of each others' shiny, oily arms, legs, boobs and butts. The ring girls added to the fun by the giving the contestants spankings whenever they came close to the edge of the ring. One ring girl was eventually pulled onto the mat by both wrestlers for a sexy wrestling threesome.


"I just wanted the chance to be greased up, mostly naked, and be pressed up against my homegirl! It sounds like an erotic experience every woman should have the chance to try." The petite, blue-eyed brunette also described herself, for the benefit of the fellas on CV, as "5'3", with blue cat eyes and lickable lips, small boobs but a ghetto booty, and happily single but available to the right man, if he can rock my world in bed."

I started looking for the health effects of baby oil. I couldn't find any -- but we know, of course, that baby oil is a petroleum product. It will seal off all breath in your skin -- at very least.

I may be the last person to know this, but I didn't know that baby oil erodes Latex. As in eats away at condoms in as little as 90 seconds -- again, no links today, sorry. That pretty well freaks me out -- this product that so many of us used to slather all over ourselves for sunning our showers -- as if embalming...

Baby oil is also recommended as a better smelling substitution for googone, removing tape and adhesives.

Years ago, I stopped drinking Coke because I learned that it's used on old cars for rust removal. Sometimes it's just not that hard to infer what shouldn't be in close contact...

In Turkey they wrestle with olive oil! For crying out loud the US is so confused.

oil wrestling

Okay, well, I learned something today. And am even in a little better mood.

Monday, April 28, 2008

My Father's Back Yard

Last week, when I went to Greenpoint I was wandering around -- funny, when I was little my grandmother would barely let me go past the front door. It's gentrifying, but a lot of people are still speaking Polish -- a lot of people still don't speak English. There were a few stores that were selling upscale skin care products -- the likes of which would have sent my grandmother into some sort of fit I can only imagine -- but the bakery is still there, and the restaurant where we had her wake...

I think it's so strange, sometimes, how you find what you are looking for in the oddest ways.

As I turned a corner I found this leaking drum.

How weird is that, given this project, that I would find a leaking drum? It wasn't oil -- it smelled more like solvent. it was all rusted out and there was another one a half a block behind though that one seemed empty, if more corroded.

As I said, I don't think it was oil or anything -- but it worried me in thinking about this place. This place that I loved, that my father ran around in with his friends. Even after it all the disregard for health and hazard is apparent in one hour, in one afternoon.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Strikes Strikes Strikes

Today they are striking in London.

LONDON (AP) -- Oil giant BP PLC on Sunday was closing a pipeline system responsible for delivering almost a third of Britain's North Sea oil production.

Also "in a row over pensions" which is not explained in the AP/Times article, the article by AFP (Agency France Press) or in the article in the Wall Street Journal.


The closing is expected to cost the company about $100 million a day -- and rationing has begun.

Where's Thomas freedman when you need him? Though I bet his new book will cover some of this territory... One problem with the set up of news in this country is that it is really bad at piecing together stories -- giving some sort of overall information, except in circumstances where one reporter rises to the position of leader. Anyway, Friedman, if you are listening, maybe not the best time for a sabbatical!

It would be nice to have some analysis...
I imagine the rise in oil prices is putting pressure on everything -- oil companies are making more money now -- while people are paying more and beginning to feel the crunch.

Ben Stein said the big oil companies are us -- but I'm not sure how many people would really feel that way.

Interesting note -- when you search Google by oil and strike, the majority of the hits are American military strikes in Iraq.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


It turns out, they are striking in Nigeria, too -- at the Exxon-Mobil plant.

It's shell that's being blown up. The BBC article this morning quotes the militants' statement saying,

"Our candid advice to the oil majors is that they should not waste their time repairing any lines, as we will continue to sabotage them."

I am dissatisfied by the reporting. It says the the strikers are protesting wages and conditions. What are the wages? What are the conditions??

In Scotland they are protesting, from what I could gather, the drop in pensions that have resulted from the stock market. I wonder why the reporting is so bad -- I wonder if the unions are blacklisted -- if to get their side of the story is too volatile or if they won't talk to the press.

In 2003 the Times ran an article about a strike in Nigeria. Then,

"The oil workers are demanding more than a year's worth of back pay, including unpaid overtime, expenses and travel allowances. They are also demanding greater autonomy and better financing for the department, which they say is crippled by inefficient government bureaucracy."

Better autonomy and financing for a government department! These were the demands...

The following was:

by Marx in English, May 12th, 1869;

First published: as a leaflet, Address to the National Labour Union of the United States in 1869;
From: the minutes of the General Council meeting, May 11, 1869, as taken by George Eccarius.

Fellow Workmen:

In the initiatory program of our Association we stated:

"It was not the wisdom of the ruling classes, but the heroic resistance to their criminal folly by the working classes of England, that saved the west of Europe from plunging headlong into an infamous crusade for the perpetuation and propagation of slavery on the other side of the Atlantic."

Your turn has now come to stop a war the clearest result of which would be, for an indefinite period, to hurl back the ascendant movement of the working class on both sides of the Atlantic.

We are doing that now, aren't we -- the propagation of slavery...

In Nigeria, the working class must seem bourgois.
What are the conditions? In the villages their drinking water has an oil sheen. What are their work days like? What is their air like? What is their food like? Where do their babies play?

It seems to me that we should know these things. Nigeria is the fourth largest oil source for the US, according to the Energy Information Administration.

When I drive my gas guzzling Cross Country in order that I might protect my children, what are the conditions on which I depend?

Friday, April 25, 2008

In Protest

I'm thinking about two stories today.
The first is from the BBC, with the headline:

Strike to Close Oil Pipeline.

The second from Forbes:

Nigerian Militants Report Another Pipeline Bombing.

They are both pretty straight forward stories. The strike in Scotland could cost BP and estimated 50M pounds a day. Because of the attacks in Nigeria Shell says they may not be able to fill some of their orders.

I guess I'm thinking about different parts of the world. Who has power and who becomes desperate. Employment. Exploitation.

"A Unite spokeswoman said: "Unite believes that it is legitimate to comment that Ineos are responsible for the current pension plan being valued about £40m below what the value would have been had the full value of the fund been transferred in 2005.""

"The group says it is fighting to force the federal government to direct more oil industry revenues to the region, which remains deeply poor despite four decades of oil production in the area."

There's something in the juxtaposition of plight --
like language, protest can teach us about climate -- about circumstances and lives.

I'm thinking that it must be so desperate in Nigeria -- that people attack and pollute and destroy their own land and bodies in order to try to enact change. One of the things that they are fighting for is to be employed -- of course, once one is employed they can strike...
I'm thinking about the colors of the protesters, and access to power.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

My Father

Yesterday I had to call my father in order to remember the house number and directions to the house he grew up in.

Before I told him why I called, he told me he was coming from the doctor. He might have cancer. He might not.

There is a pocket on his bladder. One test showed one thing, the other another. The doctor said why don't we wait three months then test again -- the chart said that was my father's idea. Ugh. Time for a new doctor.

The doctor said it was probably from smoking 30 years ago. I said -- or the oil. He said, no, the doctor said in most people we think it's smoking. Most people didn't grow up on top of the largest oil spill in the country. Most people don't die from quitting smoking 30 year ago.

He said -- but this isn't why you called.
I said, actually, I think it is.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My Sense of Smell

When I stepped off the train in Green Point today, I expected the smell to be overwhelming. It wasn't. Ten minutes later, when I felt my asthma acting up, I thought it was psychosomatic. A few minutes after that, the wind changed -- or I turned a corner or something, and the smell was strong. And I thought, oh yes, that's it. I remember that smell. It smells a little like rot and a little like heat. It's not as bad as it used to be -- because I only walked through it in small pockets, where it used to be heavy and around -- all the time.

Yes, I remember.

And it smelled like home.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Today I have less time than even this crazy week allows. Of course, today I am intrigued. Again, I think I can only bring up a topic I will have to begin with tomorrow...

I started with an article on Bloomberg -- The Supreme Court refused to hear a case in which Exxon was trying to get rid of MORE punitive damages. Another case. More billions. Okay, you start to see why Exxon doesn't just pay them -- because they must be in them all the time! Wish list for the day: a complete list of court cases against Exxon and salaries paid to Exxon lawyers.

Here's the paragraph from that article that caught my eye:

Exxon Mobil, the world's largest oil company, argued unsuccessfully that jurors improperly penalized the company for potential medical problems suffered by workers at the site.

The trial ``became a referendum on whether Exxon Mobil should be punished for the alleged risk of health problems it may have imposed on individuals not before the court,'' Exxon's lawyer, Walter Dellinger, argued in the appeal.

To repeat:
"the alleged risk of health problems that may have been imposed"

This I'm intrigued by. The same is being said for Ecuador. The same for Greenpoint. All over, I'm sure, but these are the stories that have my attention right now.

The alleged carcinogenic effect of oil fumes leaks.

I want to figure out how you prove it -- how do you link cancer to a carcinogen? How do you isolate carcinogens? If there are any oncologists out there who would be willing to talk to me, let me know.

As I've said before, both of my grandparents died of lung cancer -- they lived for 60 years on top of that oil spill in Brooklyn. They smoked, too -- we always assumed that that was the source of the illness.

Proof. What constitutes proof... probability, possibility...

Despite the lack of connection I managed on the pesticide front, I am going to start here tomorrow. I've already got the articles, I just don't have the time to read them. I'm going to Greenpoint tomorrow, actually -- so maybe I can even post up some pictures soon. The first in a series of pilgrimages...

And what difference does it make anyway...
my grandparents are dead; grandma's best friend Elsie died of lung cancer too -- a long long time ago. She used to make boxes and bowls out of knit together old Christmas cards and she taught my Rummy 500, which I now play all the time with my son.
It matters because it is still going on all the time.
It matters because someone else's father is growing up on a spill as we speak.

It matters because Exxon is the largest oil company in the world (according to Bloomberg), and if we don't ask them to be responsible in this crucial time in history -- who possibly can help anything...

Monday, April 21, 2008

In The News

I used to practice perspective exercises -- I looked like I was staring out the window. Sometimes I would -- I would focus on the glass, then on the screen, then out the window. There are forsythia out there today. Back and forth and back. You have to look at the layers. You have to understand they are all part of the same sight -- you have to think about what you are looking through -- what you have to look through to see what you want to see...

For a while, I read and wrote about individual oil spills. I'm sure I will again. Today, the numbers strike me, though.

Kennebec Journal (April 19):

Andrews responds to an average of 170 spills a year (including gasoline, oil and chlorine). Some are only a gallon or two, but most are much larger, home heating oil spills, he said.

So far this year, 252 spills have been handled by DEP's Augusta regional office, where Andrews is based. Two dozen such specialists respond to spills throughout Maine.

All (April 17):

Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) of Nigeria, has said it is intensifying efforts to clean up oil spills on a section of its 16-inch Nun River - Kolo Creek trunkline that passes through Aguobiri community in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.

The company said this in a statement made available to yesterday, adding that the facility, which evacuates crude oil from Nun River Flow station to Bonny, via the Trans Niger Pipeline system, was the target of 19 separate sabotage attacks in 2007.

The Wall Street Journal (April 19):

By its own admission, Petroecuador has since made an environmental mess in the Amazon, with some 1,000 oil spills in the past five years alone.

LA Times (April 2):

The state Fish and Game Department and the EPA are investigating alleged violations of environmental and safety laws. At the January hearing, county officials said the Fire Department has responded at least 400 times to oil spills and gas leaks at Greka since the energy company opened for business in 1999.

Those spills have sent more than 450,000 gallons of thick crude and polluted waters into creeks and soil, officials said. EPA regulators are supervising cleanups of spills or leaks at three Greka sites since Jan. 1, Wise said.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Some days many different things sort of float around, and I have no idea why they are the things that interest me, or how they will ever come together...

1. Yesterday; or maybe a few days ago now, there was a sign in the CVS window for milk. $3.79. That day, it was exactly the same as the price of gas.

2. Today I read an op-ed column in The Times -- it said this is how it supposed to go -- steady upward pressure so that we change gradually. Economically, it explained, the price of oil is inelastic -- as in, it has to take a lot of pressure to get us to do anything really different.

This from the Forbes "Investipedia" web site:
The degree to which a demand or supply curve reacts to a change in price is the curve's elasticity. Elasticity varies among products because some products may be more essential to the consumer. Products that are necessities are more insensitive to price changes because consumers would continue buying these products despite price increases.

3. I just had a conversation in my English class about elasticity. Around the same time as I noticed that milk and oil were both hovering near $4/gallon, I noticed the price of cigarettes. $5 a pack -- for a generic pack inside of a carton. $5.50, it turns out. I was alarmed. How on earth can students afford to smoke? I asked them how much it would have to cost for them to stop -- I suggested that my tactic to use cheap books could be aiding their reckless behavior. I know, I know -- I used to smoke too.

They said they would go without food.



I wrote a while ago about the elderly, choosing between food and medication and heat. The price of oil is not inelastic because it is tied so firmly to our way of life. I worry that many kids -- not just college age ones -- will be going without milk soon; or already are.

I think it has something to do with relationships. To what is important and why. What nourishes us. What are we willing to give away not to see out of our routine -- our of our day as we imagined it -- out of our life... what is essential? What is necessary?
What would you give up?

Food; Shelter; Love; Avoidance of Pain.

Somebody told me I was necessary once. That may have been the last time we spoke.

My children.

The rest is luxury...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

What You Can See

Well, today I'm thinking a lot about what you can't see.

I have, in small pieces, for the past two days been trying to track down information about oil in pesticides. I can't really find anything that makes any sense or that seems credible. I saw some abstracts I would like to read -- and maybe I should go to the library. I can't decide if it's comforting or annoying to know that there are actually limitations to the internet...

So... I'm still working on it. In the meantime I've been a little less ambitious because that's where my time has been going. What you can't see...

My mother used to live on Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. She used to live a lot of places... But this one was my favorite. The sand is white and the water is green and clear and warm.

Usually, when we see pictures of an oil spill, it is in the Atlantic or the Pacific ocean -- choppy and dark and a slightly darker patch that could also vaguely be a cloud or needs to be outlined in red to really see at all.

Last week there was an oil spill in Jamaica. In the photo, a huge mass of thick black hangs in a perfectly clear sea. Clear water, light sand -- somehow this shows me something.

There is so much in life we can't see -- it's there, moving toward and encompassing and spreading. Sometimes we just have to see it.


photo on Radio

Friday, April 18, 2008

Glad We Could Help

MOSCOW (Reuters) - One billion dollars is no longer enough to gain entry to Russia's rich list.

Ten billionaires failed to make Forbes magazine's annual list of the 100 richest Russians that is led by those who built their fortunes on the country's metals resources.

Oleg Deripaska, who controls aluminum producer United Company RUSAL among a host of infrastructure, energy and financial assets, tops the latest Forbes list with a fortune of $28.6 billion -- $11.8 billion more than he was worth last year.

Deripaska replaces Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich, who drops to third. The two are split by Alexei Mordashov, majority owner of Severstal , Russia's largest steel maker.

"After the bankruptcy of YUKOS and the strengthening of the state's position in the energy sector, you can count on one hand the number of oil and gas billionaires," Maxim Kashulinsky, editor of Forbes' Russian edition, said in a statement to accompany the launch of the May edition.

"The main fortunes are concentrated now in metallurgy, finance and property."

Mordashov was the biggest gainer among Russia's richest, adding $12.4 billion to more than double his fortune to $24.5 billion.

Abramovich, in third place, is worth $24.3 billion.

Another steel baron, Novolipetsk Steel owner Vladimir Lisin, is fourth with a fortune of $23.9 billion.

Forbes said in a statement that Russia's richest 100 people had a combined fortune of $522 billion -- 3.8 times more than the total when Forbes first published a Russian list in 2004.

Russia now has 50 more billionaires than a year ago -- 110 compared with 60. This year $1.1 billion was required to break into the top 100, compared with $660 million a year ago.

Another reason for the increase in dollar billionaires, Forbes said, was the fall in the value of the U.S. currency.

(Reporting by Robin Paxton; Editing by Andrew Hurst)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

My Kitchen

I grew up with gardens -- for a while my mom had a whole acre of a garden in Maine and we would pick the corn and eat it right of the stalk -- sweet and crisp it didn't need to be cooked. Fresh food is like that. It tastes better -- sweeter -- as if the essence of food were remembered. I also worked for a time on an avocado farm -- I couldn't eat them for a long time after that. Food that goes through our system tastes institutionalized...

Time is a little short this week -- so an idea that I would usually spend an hour looking into will have to survive for the time being as a question...

An article in the Times today covers a little movement of "kitchen gardeners" -- and an organization, "Kitchen Gardeners International" that promotes the idea that we would save a lot of oil and money while promoting health and taste if we grew all our own food at home.

“We’re trying to reframe the backyard in terms of global sustainability, without losing any of the fun,” said Mr. Doiron, who manages to make a living from donations to his nonprofit and a fellowship from the Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute. He sees his audience as “people out there who are concerned about peak oil, or the gardening gastronomes who want the freshest food possible,” he said. “Or the people who joined a C.S.A.” — a community-supported agriculture project — “last year, and this year are thinking, you know what? I can do some of this myself.”

It's really bloody hard -- just for the record. My mother spent hours a day gardening. picking off bugs and pulling up weeds... the cycles of the seasons and the taming of the root cellar...
I went to the Kitchen Gardeners International website and this:

"What few people grasp is the connection between oil and the food supply. Put simply, the food and farm economies of industrialized countries run on the stuff. Oil and its derivatives are used to power farm equipment, to create synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, to run food processing equipment, and to transport food from field to fork, a journey of 1500 miles for the average forkful.

It has been estimated that our highly-industrialized food system in the US requires 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to create 1 calorie of food energy. Needless to say, that equation just doesn't compute in the long run."

At this moment I'm most interested in the idea that pesticides are made with oil. While there are lots of things of interest to follow up on, I guess I have been thinking about this. I don't wash my food well enough -- I often cheap out when it comes to organic -- not because I don't believe it's important; simply because of the expense.

A quick search found an entire website dedicated to disputing claims made about oil and the use of oil in pesticides is one of the things they dispute. They don't seem to have anything more behind them by anything else.

I will start here tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Free Ride

The lovely thing about our country is that you can love an institution and also protest it.

I would like to protest a headline today -- written, I would assume, by the NYTimes -- and a lede written by the AP:

Iraq's Financial Free Ride May End

Published: April 15, 2008

Filed at 5:33 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Iraq's financial free ride may be over.

Those damned Iraqi's -- they've really been making out like bandits over there. It's so their fault I can't afford to fill up my Volvo!

I've been trying to find some numbers on the state of the personal economy in Iraq -- I can't find much that's very satisfying. According to the State Department and CIA websites, the average income is $3,000 a year.

They have power for about 3 hours a day -- and there isn't enough power to run the hospitals. In the first war we bombed the hell out of their infrastructures and have never rebuilt them.

I found an amazing photo assignment from 2003 from Time Magazine -- it's really beautiful.

And it makes me ill to think that this is the message we are going to disseminate now that we need to withdraw. Free Ride. Yes, they didn't pay for it. Yes, they got taken somewhere.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

No News is Good News

I was reading this story this morning -- and I kept waiting for the news... there doesn't really seem to be any. But it's a good story, none the less.

There are, in fact, biologists and chemists working to create fabrics, materials, glues and fillers that are made out of alternatives to oil.

Harnessing Biology, and Avoiding Oil, for Chemical Goods.

"'As petroleum prices go up and climate change becomes a serious concern, the economy will have no choice but to switch to a chemical base derived from plant materials,' said Dr. Richard Gross, director of the Center for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing of Macromolecules at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn."

Dupont is a leader -- I think that's sort of ironic -- and gives me a little bit of a bad feeling -- as in, well, we've been giving you toxic products for years, but now that that's confirmed we have the technology to make a new generation...

"The chemical industry is beginning to make that transition, at least for a few products. One success story is a method developed by Du Pont, with Genencor, to ferment corn sugar into a substance called propanediol. Using propanediol as a starting point, DuPont has created a new polymer it calls Cerenol, which it substitutes for petroleum-sourced ingredients in products like auto paints."

In a way it's a relief; there was an article I read earlier that said we were going to need to go back to wearing more and more animal fur -- somehow it sounded like a lot of carnage. This non-news offers a glimpse into the realm of a future generation of products.

On the other hand, and maybe it's just the moon, I have to wonder what we will concoct next.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Over Time

So this morning I'm looking at 3 different articles in the Times -- all about Mexico, and a situation that appears to be brewing there.


Mexican Leftist Leader Wants Oil Debate
filed at 9:30 last night

Mexico: Leftists Take Over Congress in Protest Against Oil Plan
news brief, yesterday

Mexico Proposes Limited Overhaul of State Oil Monopoly
April 10

I'm interested in a few different things -- ranging, of course, from language to the new world order...

First off, I'm interested in the word "leftist;" what does that word mean?
  • believing in or supporting tenets of the political left
  • collectivist: a person who belongs to the political left
  • (

Wikipedia says:

"Over time it became clear that there was something to the left even of that "left": the precursors of socialism and communism. The original left, and their radical or republican descendants, had stood for a certain abstract equality of rights, but this emerging socialist left stood for a more radical notion of equality: in its more extreme forms, for an absolute leveling of wealth and a willingness to use the power of the state to achieve that postulated "equality". The traditional right views civilized society as existing primarily to defend property rights."

I was wondering when that shift took place... over time. Glad that's cleared up.
I've been more and more interested in how people write with bias without even noticing it -- without even meaning to -- of course there are times when we mean to persuade -- but more often we are persuaded ourselves by our own interior voices...

Okay, so back to the headlines. The socialists have taken over congress. Well that's alarming.
In the beginning of the first article it sounds like a filibuster to me:

"Legislators from Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party and two minor parties have camped out around the clock in both chambers of Mexico's Congress to block discussions on the bill. Congressional leaders have said they might look for a new place to conduct legislative business."

Somewhere else... can't you hear Dick Cheny now, okay guys, we could go over the Library of Congress -- they have a nice big table and a coffee maker...

In the brief it sounds slightly more forceful:

"Left-wing legislators shut down both houses of Congress and vowed to continue their sit-in indefinitely to protest a government plan to revamp the country’s state-run oil monopoly."

I'm interested that there is forceful debate -- and to see a government that seems to have some control over itself in terms of different parties, ideas and conversations having the power to have themselves heard. A sit-in shut down congress! Here here!

As always, I'm interested in the language -- Vow, Revamp, Monopoly.

Vow is forceful and sounds rhetoric like; Revamp sounds like a positive, not major fix-up, monopoly is bad. Who looks how because of this language...

The issue is that Mexico is running out of oil. Furthermore they lack the advanced capabilities they need to keep looking and drilling, as the easy oil options dry up. The constitution of the country says that the industry must be owned and operated by the government. The 'revamp' entails partnering with private companies -- to share equipment, risk, knowledge... of course, then you have to share the profits.

I'm interested in the word "monopoly." It's such a bad word to us capitalists -- connotes all sorts of unhealthy controls -- price fixing, lawlessness, power. But when I think about the balance -- of governments V. the 5 major oil companies -- it's the companies feel like the monopoly to me, with government owned industries serving a very important role in keeping the big companies and big countries out of regional assets and resources -- those which are consistently plundered to the detriment of local peoples when Chevron et al are given the opportunities. So the use of the word "monopoly" here is very loaded. I have offered my opinion here, which I do more than I'm comfortable with, but it seems that kind of forum -- but the use of "monopoly" by the AP writer of today's article make clear their own bias -- or the bias of the paper, or the sources on the story.

Here's the thing. Mexico has a lot of oil. They are important to the US, and oil is important to them.

When you learn how to write a hard news article, they basically teach you this: very few people are going to read the whole thing. You write the lead in such a way that no one has to read further -- you get all 5 W's (who what when where and why) right in the first sentence (or two) so that the first paragraph functions as a brief itself. Then the information comes in from the top down -- most important first and then next then next -- so that the information at the end is the least imperative. This is important, because very few readers will get that far, so you can't put anything they need down there. I think about this as I write here all the time -- I often put the most important things at the end... I often wonder (especially days like today when I go on and on) if anybody gets there...

Here is the third paragraph in today's story:

"Oil production in Mexico, one of the top suppliers to the United States, is declining, and reform advocates say Pemex needs outside resources to explore for more reserves."

Here's the third to last paragraph:

"Lopez Obrador said the bill aims to privatize Pemex, allowing Mexico's oil revenues -- which now account for nearly 40 percent of the national budget -- to go to private and foreign companies."

Umm... to repeat what is folded in and left for last... oil revenues account for nearly 40 percent of the Mexican national budget. And they are running out of oil. And they have to decide at what cost are they willing to sign up for sharing their future with the big oil companies.

Russia, Venezuela, Mexico...

-- socialism v. capitalism -- capitalism won, didn't it already...

I taught a poem last week. It was an Orpheus poem -- retold in the voice of a husband who had brought his wife back from the mental hospital. The end is different, say the students; the author has rewritten the myth... but what if not, I argue. What if Orpheus just hasn't turned around yet...

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Slides Tops Sends Slides Falls Shoots Push Drops Fall Soar Raises Climbs Climbs Soars Surges Surges Surmounts Falls Dips Slips Tops

Far Above The Ceiling

The following are all from headlines in the New York Times. Except for the last semi-heroic couplet, they are in descending order from today to 2004.

Oil Slides Below $110 as Dollar Gains on G7 Talk
Crude Oil Tops $112 a Barrel
Tight Inventories Send Oil Prices Higher
Oil Slides to $105 as Iraq Tensions Calm
In Reversal, Oil and Gold Fall Sharply
Oil Shoots Higher
Supply Fears Push Oil to Triple Digits
Oil Price Drops Sharply
Oil Prices Fall From Triple-Digit Highs
Gas Prices Soar
Record Price Of Oil Raises New Worries
Crude Oil Price Climbs to Another Record
Oil Climbs, And Stocks Do Likewise
As Oil Soars, Natural Gas Is a Bargain
Oil at Another Record, Surging Above $93
Oil Surges $3.36, Closing Above $90
Can a Plucky U.S. Economy Surmount $80 Oil?
At OPEC, Some Worry As Oil Prices Start Falling
Oil Contract Dips Briefly Below $60 a Barrel
Oil Prices Slip As Speculators Start to Retreat
Just Another Day in the Pit as Oil Tops $52
Oil Above $46 and Far Above OPEC's Ceiling

High-Priced Oil Adds Volatility To Global Scramble for Power
2007 May Be Gone, but the Volatility of the Markets Carries On

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Chuck Asay Slate

Today at Slate Magazine the cartoon series of the day is about oil.
Go and flip through them and there are all of these political cartoon about oil --
Like this one. Two people are lying in a hospital bed, bandaged head to toe and the caption reads, "but it was fuel efficient." The Headline in the paper on the table says, "Congress Wants Car Makers... More Fuel Efficient..."

As it happens, I have been thinking about this all week. I drive a big car. I drive a Volvo XC. Big, heavy, and with a big tank.

Right now it costs about $65 to fill up every week -- and I don't drive very much. I feel bad about the gas mileage.

So for my fun this morning I've been fishing around on Kelly's Blue Book and Crash Photo sites.

I honestly think gas prices may double in the time I thought this car would last. The article on Kelly's Blue Book about the Toyota Prius says, "long term costs associated with the car are unknown."

I bought it for safety -- furthermore, it's my second Volvo, I've been in a series of accidents, and I really think that the car has protected my children and I from a fair amount of damage. Once I got hit from behind -- hard -- by a minivan. I was 7 months pregnant with an toddler in the back and we were fine.

Volvo 240 Accident
the way the crumple zone works is that the car folds up around the passengers, protecting them in a metal cage.

Not all cars act like that.

I've been thinking about trading it in...

I think I'll wait.

Friday, April 11, 2008


This morning I came across a video --

It's a clip of an oil rig apparently completely sinking into the ocean.
You can see it -- it's some home video -- and then it is narrated in Japanese -- I think. There's an American version and the reporting is simply horrible. The reporter says they don't know why it happened -- then starts to call it an attack -- it's vague and inciting and confusing and unclear -- she says at some point, "alarmingly close to the coast of Connecticut..." The strangest thing about the video is that, while I can find countess versions of the video on search engines everywhere -- I can't find a single news story about the incident anywhere.

Not anywhere.

Not in Google, Google News, The Times The Herald Tribune -- not the AP. It would appear to me it could very well be a hoax -- a real-live internet hoax... go figure! Or an underreported blown up oil rig... hmm... I was going to post it -- before I kept going. I don't want to continue it any further.

The trouble with photography is that it seems indisputable. That has been an issue since the very beginning of photography -- regardless of the amazing thing we can concoct now, people have always been intrigued by, drawn to, wary of, falling for -- fake outs. And photography looks so real...

William H. Mumler (Boston):
Moses A. Dow, Editor of Waverley Magazine, with the Spirit of Mabel Warren.
Albumen print carte de visite, circa 1871

I came across a website analyzing news photos from Reuters to pick up on seeming incongruities and falsified situations.

Digitally manipulated images
Stages Scenes
Photographers moving objects within "documentary" work
Giving False captions

I don't want to link anything today because it all seems pretty suspect to me.
We can find so much so easily these days -- but it's good to remember that you have to check up on everything, all the time.

Just to make sure I learned on real thing -- I also note an article by Bloomberg, which is a new source I entirely trust.

The headline reads:
Thaw Exposes Greenland's Oil

for this story I have a quote, but no comment:

"Given the icy conditions, oil production may cost as much as $US46 per barrel, according to Oil and Gas Journal. While exploration is complicated by icebergs as tall as 15-storey buildings, global warming is helping.

Outside the Disko Bay area off the west coast, there were on average 180 ice-free days a year between 2000 and 2005, up from a 25-year average of 150 days, said Leif Toudal Pedersen, a spokesman at Denmark's Meteorological Institute.

''If the ice in west Greenland continues to melt as dramatically as it has been doing in the past few years, then the cost of producing a barrel of oil will be closer to $20 than $50,'' Nielsen said."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Record Indicates Problems

A friend complained a bit to me last week that she couldn't follow the project -- it's too all over the place for her -- too many unconnected or disconnected or distinct pieces...

I argued, after nodding sympathetically, that that is the whole point. Scope, Discovery, Exploration... there is not one story I am looking to understand -- but really trying to get some picture of the world -- and some picture of a year, as well.

All this to say, if you are squeamish about tangents, today might not be the day for you to read...

The AP reports this morning, "Oil Spill Pilot's Record Indicates Problems."

"WASHINGTON (AP) — The pilot who steered a container ship into the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge last fall, causing a huge oil spill, had a drunken driving conviction and a history of alcohol abuse and took numerous prescription drugs that could have impaired him, federal investigators said Wednesday."

This stood out to me for a couple of reasons -- for one thing, it does appear that the Vadez crash lived in this realm. The Captain in that crash had a history of alcoholism, left his post, slurred -- he had numerous DUI's etc...

So if that's what happened in San Francisco, it's important to know.

On the other hand, the article goes on to list ailments and medications -- and I'm not so sure what to think. We do as a culture have a tendency to impale a person on his own record after his demise:

"The pilot, Capt. John Cota, had regularly received waivers allowing him to hold on to his federal mariner’s license despite illnesses including glaucoma, depression, kidney stones, migraines, pancreatitis and, most recently, sleep apnea, according to testimony at a hearing of the National Transportation Safety Board."

I don't know -- it seems to me that the problem is in something about who captains a ship. Maybe it's a clash what used to be the culture and what is now at stake -- on the one hand, should depression really be cause for not being able to work? On the other hand, one wouldn't be able to do some jobs that we are accustomed to think of with much more weight. Astronaut. Pilot. Surgeon. There are some jobs for which we do require deeper levels of -- purity? cleanliness? freedom from ailments? -- from their practitioners...

"“I wouldn’t want anyone taking those medicines and having to make decisions in a safety-sensitive position,” the witness, Dr. Robert Bourgeois, said on the last day of a two-day hearing on the accident on Nov. 7."

Okay, so let's figure out who's steering these ships! Let's say -- each of these tankers holds the potential for national disaster, and let's make sure we are being responsible -- for the ships, for the companies, for the crew -- let's make very clear what's at stake.

Each of these tankers holds the potential for national disaster.

If we change the way we think -- does it help?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Feel Good

The other day I was in a really good mood. It was because... A friend asked why -- I was thinking of going to Ecuador. I'm thinking about the project taking on a few of the stories inside of it, head on. Ecuador. I was a little gitty.
The problem with reporters is that sometimes you get like that -- excited by bad news.
My friend said, "good news doesn't do it?"
No. Some of it is adrenaline and excitement -- but there's a good side to that -- when you find a story that hasn't been covered -- break a piece of really bad news -- the potential for you to do good as a reporter is much, much higher. To draw light to -- understanding -- improvement.
Good news stories only make people feel good.

Sometimes you just want to feel good.

Photo: Chinstrap penguin portrait
Photograph by Ralph Lee Hopkins
National Geographic

David Llewellyn, MP
Minister for Primary Industries and Water
Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Oil Spill Survivor Outlives Average Life Expectancy

A Little penguin rescued during the Iron Baron oil spill incident over a decade ago, has gone on to live for more than double the average life expectancy for the species, Primary Industries and Water Minister David Llewellyn said today.

Mr Llewellyn said although the Little penguin died earlier this year, its survival for almost 13 years after the major oil spill highlighted the value of the rehabilitation effort following the oil spill.

Mr Llewellyn said earlier this year local school students retrieved the band fitted to the penguin which enabled Department of Primary Industries and Water wildlife staff to trace the penguin’s history.

“It should be incredibly satisfying for everyone who played a part in the rehabilitation effort after the oil spill to know of the longevity of some of the species that they assisted,” Mr Llewellyn said.

“The details from the band and DPIW records show that this Little penguin was one that was covered in oil when it was brought in as an 800 gram adult male.

“Following cleaning and rehabilitation he was released on July 26 1995 at Low Head weighing 960 grams.

“In the following 12 and a half years he appears to have remained in the local area with his body being found only seven kilometres from where he was released,” Mr Llewellyn said.

DPIW Wildlife and Marine Conservation Section Head Rosemary Gales said the Little penguin was already an adult when it was rescued and so was certainly older than 13 when it died.

“On average in the wild Little penguins are estimated to live about 6.5 years, so this one has certainly far exceeded the average life expectancy for the species,” Mr Llewellyn said.

“It is an incredibly valuable record to get as it highlights that the massive wildlife rehabilitation efforts that are put in after oil spills can certainly be effective in reducing the impacts of a spill.”

Rehabilitation Manager at the oil spill site Mark Holdsworth said over 100 volunteers assisted the efforts to clean, feed and house around 2000 Little penguins at the time.

“The survival of this penguin for so long will be greeted with a sense of pride from our team of penguin carers,” Mr Holdsworth said.

“This also provides us with a sense of confidence that if an unfortunate accident like this were to occur again, we can do something positive to help restore an important part of the environment.”

Dr Gales said research undertaken, after the oil spill at the mouth of the Tamar River on July 10 1995, estimated that between 10,000 and 20,000 penguins were killed as a result of the oil spill.

“Unless treated, even small amounts of oil on the plumage of seabirds can result in their death – either through drowning, hypothermia or acute toxicity,” Dr Gales said.

“Rehabilitation of oiled seabirds can reverse the immediate physical effects of oiling.

“However the discovery of this little penguin has highlighted the real value of these rehabilitation efforts by showing how long they can continue to survive if they are given the opportunity,” Dr Gales said.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Ann Sexton wrote in a love/death poem called "The Truth the Dead Know," "in another country, people die..." -- sometime the war feels so far away, while death itself looms thick and heavy. I have small children, so I don't tend toward the news very much -- the news, even NPR is so concentrated on deaths ... but sometimes it is important to see it again. I came across this AP video this morning.

The headline reads "Fighting Erupts in a Critical Iraqi Oil City."

Oil. I also notice in this video language I'm sure is still out there which I haven't noticed in a long time -- note Dana Perino says that insurgence have "infested" the area. This is part of a large base of language that was systematically employed during the first Gulf War to liken Iraqi people to insects. (I did my undergraduate thesis on this language in 1992.)

I found this video first on an amazing news search engine I just discovered,

The Truth the Dead Know
by Anne Sexton

For my mother, born March 1902, died March 1959
and my father, born February 1900, died June 1959

Gone, I say and walk from church,
refusing the stiff procession to the grave,
letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.
It is June. I am tired of being brave.

We drive to the Cape. I cultivate
myself where the sun gutters from the sky,
where the sea swings in like an iron gate
and we touch. In another country people die.

My darling, the wind falls in like stones
from the whitehearted water and when we touch
we enter touch entirely. No one's alone.
Men kill for this, or for as much.

And what of the dead? They lie without shoes
in their stone boats. They are more like stone
than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse
to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone.

Fighting Erupts in Critical Iraqi Oil City

Monday, April 7, 2008

More Fight, Less Fuel

Just now I've been reading the "Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on DoD Energy Strategy, subtitled, "More Fight Less Fuel."

The thing goes on and on -- 150 and lots of fancy seals. It's a little dry...

Finding #3: The Department lacks the strategy, policies, metrics, information or governance structure to properly manage its energy risks.

"There is currently no unifying vision, strategy, metrics or governance structure with enterprise-wide energy in its portfolio. DoD efforts to manage energy are limited to complying with executive orders, legislation and regulations ..."

I wound up at this report through a link on an AP article.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Think you're being gouged by Big Oil? U.S. troops in Iraq are paying almost as much as Americans back home, despite burning fuel at staggering rates in a war to stabilize a country known for its oil reserves.Military units pay an average of $3.23 a gallon for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, some $88 a day per service member in Iraq, according to an Associated Press review and interviews with defense officials. A penny or two increase in the price of fuel can add millions of dollars to U.S. costs.

The article goes on to say:

"Overall, the military consumes about 1.2 million barrels, or more than 50 million gallons of fuel, each month in Iraq at an average $127.68 a barrel. That works out to about $153 million a month.

Historically, these figures are astounding. In World War II, the average fuel consumption per soldier or Marine was about 1.67 gallons a day; in Iraq, it's 27.3 gallons, according to briefing slides prepared by a Pentagon task force established to review consumption."

The article is careful to say that this is a drop in the bucket compared to world oil consumption...
They have to say that? The American Military is consuming so much oil fighting in Iraq it is important to note they are not disrupting world energy flow...

"More Fight Less Fuel."
more fuel more fight
more fuel less fight
less fight less fuel

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Charlton Heston, Epic Film Star, Dies at 83 -- NY Times

Like the chariot race and the bearded prophet Moses, Heston will be best remembered for several indelible cinematic moments: playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with Orson Welles in the oil fields in "Touch of Evil," his rant at the end of "Planet of the Apes" when he sees the destruction of the Statue of Liberty, his discovery that "Soylent Green is people!" in the sci-fi hit "Soylent Green" and the dead Spanish hero on his steed in "El Cid." -- LA Times

Charlton Heston on Global Climate Change

Saturday, April 5, 2008


Sometimes it's news that something is going along as scheduled.

WASHINGTON (AP)-- The Energy Department said Friday it would continue putting oil into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve even as crude oil prices remain above $100 a barrel.

It's sort of interesting to read this story -- it sounds like the Bush administration has been put in a position of having to defend their own continued acquisition of oil -- a stockpile practice begun after the oil embargo of the 70s, designed to buffer any economic havoc wreaked by rising oil prices.

As in now... so some in Washington are complaining that it's not a good time to be putting oil away.

"The administration's policy of diverting oil into the government reserve at a time of high prices has been criticized by some congressional Democrats. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., has urged a suspension of deliveries to the reserve.

''Not only are taxpayers being fleeced by paying that much for oil, but the effect of taking valuable oil, like sweet crude oil, off the market has a disproportionate effect on oil prices,'' Dorgan has argued.

Energy Department officials have countered that the amount of oil being put into the reserve is too small to affect the oil markets, which globally consume 86 million barrels of oil a day."

I don't know -- an oil reserve seems like a good idea.

"Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes advocated the stockpiling of emergency crude oil in 1944. President Truman's Minerals Policy Commission proposed a strategic oil supply in 1952. President Eisenhower suggested an oil reserve after the 1956 Suez Crisis. The Cabinet Task Force on Oil Import Control recommended a similar reserve in 1970." DOE Website.

Continuing to save now also seems like a good idea.

The last time the reserves were used was after Hurricane Katrina, when US oil production fell sharply due to the storm.

What is it about us -- and I say this, not entirely sure who "us" is -- what is it about us that makes us feel so immune -- makes us so set in the idea that instant gratification outweighs the future? Getting elected or getting in the way of an election or trying to hold up the landslide of the future with two hands?

If anything seems clear now, it seems clear that things are going to get worse.

On the other hand, it's always important to follow the money -- here's a press release from November on the DOE website:

Washington, DC - The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today awarded contracts to Shell Trading Company, Sunoco Logistics, and BP North America for exchange of 12.3 million barrels of royalty oil produced from the Gulf Coast for crude oil meeting the requirements of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). Deliveries are expected to begin in January at a modest rate of approximately 70,000 barrels per day for a period of six months. The offers are in response to the Department's solicitation issued last month and represented the highest value of specification-grade oil for the Reserve.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Previously Pristine

The reason that a lot of these issues aren't well suited to the major media is because they unfold over long periods of time -- and while the dramatic information is often staggering, daily news is based on the new and on the changing in time of a course of events.

Okay -- so this morning I came across a really big story -- a really little story about a really big story.

Report Says Chevron Owes Billions for Ecuadorean Pollution

It's a Reuters article in the Times business section. And in a lawsuit that began in the early 1990s, there has just been a bit of amazing "independent expert" testimony. (I put that phrase in quotes not to cast doubt on it -- simply to say that I am not making the claim. I don't know enough to -- and Chevron is claiming bias. I tend to believe that it is the report is both independent and expert -- for what it's worth.)

"An independent environmental expert told a court in Ecuador that the oil company Chevron should pay $7 billion to $16 billion in compensation for environmental damage in the country."

According to a 2005 column in the Times:

"The company is accused of dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste, over a period of 20 years, into the soil and water of a previously pristine section of the Amazon rain forest.

According to a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of some 30,000 impoverished residents of the rain forest, this massive, long-term pollution has ruined portions of the jungle, contaminated drinking water, sickened livestock, driven off wildlife and threatened the very survival of the indigenous tribes, which have been plagued with serious illnesses, including a variety of cancers."

From the ChevronToxico activist website

It's kind of hard to get a lot of information on the situation -- I read about 5 articles this morning -- primarily from the Times and spanning the last 28 years. I read parts of a 20 page piece from the above mentioned website -- while it was pretty well written, it's very hard to decipher what you read on activist websites -- just as it is hard to read company websites. When people write with an agenda it is difficult to determine the truth of the matter.

Trick photography and tampering aside, the beauty of photography is that it simply offers observations. (Of course, that statement is extremely loaded... and I could and have gone off on that subject for hours -- but let's just say for the sake of argument it's true enough for now.)

Sara Dalton The New York Times

On the Chevron website there is a press release from last November -- a court in California dismissed claims against the company that the toxic waste had caused cancer -- the dismisal was based on the statute of limitations.

Who flaunts that?

Five years ago the Times ran an article about the suit which started this way:

"When René Arévalo draws water from his well, it is brown and gummy, requiring him to run it through a makeshift filtering system outside his wood-plank home in the jungle outside this town.

Like thousands of other people here, he suspects the water was fouled by the waste an American oil company dumped across miles of Amazonia in its 20 years of operations. After all, he and his five children live across from a separation plant once operated by a Texaco affiliate, their house built on a mound of dirt that covered a pit where wastewater was dumped.

"If you dig here just a meter deep, you hit oil," Mr. Arévalo said, moments after probing into the dirt outside his house to show visitors the gooey slime. "The water is contaminated, very contaminated. But we drink it. What else can we do?"

Now, about 30,000 people affected by the waste are hoping that a lawsuit, accusing ChevronTexaco of dumping 18.5 billion gallons of waste into open, unlined pits, will lead to a full-scale cleanup. This week, the California-based company, an energy giant created in 2001 when Chevron merged with Texaco, went on trial here in a case that, if successful for the plaintiffs, could establish a new way for American companies to be held accountable for environmental degradation in foreign countries."

Or the opposite -- on has to suppose...

When I was much younger -- maybe 15 years ago -- I told a therapist that I was beginning to get a little obsessed with having to prove things. She said that was fine -- as long as I didn't make a career out of it... I said... ummm... I am a documentary photographer.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

My Day

Last night I went to an amazing event put on by the Poetry Society of America -- one of those poetry readings you tell people about and remember forever:

Wednesday, April 2nd
panel 4:00pm, reading 6:30pm
Boston, MA

Two events showcasing the range of distinctive voices in contemporary African-American poetry. With Elizabeth Alexander, Toi Derricotte, Cornelius Eady, Nikki Giovanni, Major Jackson, Yusef Komunyakaa, Dawn Lundy Martin, Carl Phillips, Quincy Troupe, Sonia Sanchez, and Afaa Michael Weaver. Hosted by the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University and co-sponsored by Boston Review and Cave Canem.

I have been having a crisis of poetic faith of late -- and there is nothing to give you back faith in a process than to see one after the other incredible poet read their work. The beauty in the room last night was staggering, and it felt like an honor to be alive.

Yesterday I went to my favorite spin class. It's with this young extreme sports guy who is always having us close our eyes and imagine a mountain or a river or a certain kind of air. This class, he was on a geese kick. He told us about how geese follow their elders because the elders remember the way.

I thought of that last night because so often the voices in poetry and society these days that we listen to are the young ones -- but if we follow our elders... there are stories of hope and redemption and progress and love to be had.

Yesterday I read an article in the, poet Jorie Graham talked about her new book, "Sea Change," which deals with issues of the earth and of climate:

DW: This collection feels as if it ties the connection between the past and the unknown future into a state of teetering present—yet you weave hope throughout. Would you consider yourself a hopeful person? Do you have faith in the future?

JG: In the short run I cannot but hope, I wouldn’t have written this if I were hopeless. I think artists have a large responsibility at present—that of awakening the imagination of a deep future. If humans have to be asked to make sacrifices for people they do not even know will be alive—sacrifices the results of which will not be evident, if at all, except four or five generations hence, then we are going to have to help awaken an imagination of that “deep” future, in order that people feel “connected” to it in their willingness to act. After all people are going to be asked to radically alter their lives--for their whole lives-- in order that their kind and their world might remain. I happen to feel one can reawaken that sensation of an “unimaginably” far off horizon. We are so collapsed-down now into a buzzing noisy here-and-now, an era of instant gratification, decimated attention-span, that it is going to take some work to help people “see” in their mind’s “eye” that far off horizon many generations beyond their own time, a time towards which they are going to have to try to take a leap of faith—and a leap which involves deep sacrifice at that. But I wouldn’t be making the effort to answer you in this way, at length, or to write such a book, if I did not believe we still had that chance. A real chance. And that art could be in service of that goal.

Spin guy also told us that in the pack, a goose can fly 71 percent farther than he can alone.

So today I will surround myself with poetry -- keep it like a warm coat --
and hope that the real future is the integration -- of poetry and journalism -- of loss and love -- or language and feeling. That if the poets and the poems can -- we too can move to a place of truth -- of balance.

Cornelius Eady read last night.

Crows in a Strong Wind

by Cornelius Eady

Off go the crows from the roof.
The crows can’t hold on.
They might as well
Be perched on an oil slick.

Such an awkward dance,
These gentlemen
In their spottled-black coats.
Such a tipsy dance,

As if they didn’t know where they were.
Such a humorous dance,
As they try to set things right,
As the wind reduces them.

Such a sorrowful dance.
How embarrassing is love
When it goes wrong

In front of everyone.

Cornelius Eady, “Crows in a Strong Wind” from Victims of the Latest Dance Craze (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1997). Copyright © 1985 by Cornelius Eady. Used with the permission of the author.

Source: Victims of the Latest Dance Craze (1997).
And the Poetry Foundation website.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

My Follow Through

Last night a friend asked if how I choose the stories I write about -- if I really look for them in the morning. I do -- I'm fascinated by the subconscious and the sleepy and the unfolding of my own interest. Some mornings it's really hard though --
I've been looking for an hour again.

On the good news front, the Federal Government has stepped in on the Greka situation I talked about a few days ago. They will clean up then sue the company for reimbursement. The spill is horrible, and the concern is that the spill is on its way to federal waters.

A few weeks ago Andrew Revkin wrote a fascinating blog on DOT Earth (NYTimes) about the state of media and the covering of global climate change and politics.

But here's what catches my eye. An article from a small paper in Danbury CT.

The article starts out talking about how people can't pay their heat bills this year. Well, that was to be expected. Some clients are behind thousands of dollars in oil bills, and seniors are adding oil to their list of trade offs as they balance the importance of medication and food...

"On Monday, before appearing at the news conference, Mitchell said a senior citizen stopped by his office and asked to have only 100 gallons of oil delivered to his home.

'If we had filled his tank, that cost would have taken his whole Social Security check,' [said John Mitchell, who started Mitchell Fuel Co. South Windsor 50 years ago.]"

Okay -- all of this we knew. What's interesting, though, is what is folded into this article:

"Meehan [ president of the Portland-based home heating oil company] and a group of fuel dealers appeared at the state Capitol on Monday with U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., to support federal legislation that aims to remove the speculation in the energy futures market. An Energy Department official this month said market speculation on energy prices may have added as much as 10 percent to crude oil costs."

There has been lots of talk that the current increase in oil prices is based largely on speculation -- on fear and guesses that the supply of oil will be tightening soon. And when that happens people buy and trade on the belief that the price of the futures will also go up. I was actually an economic reporter -- and studied this stuff in grad school -- but that was a long time ago, so I'm sorry if I've somehow oversimplified this into nonexistence...

At any rate, the bill proposes that people who buy oil have to take possession of the oil: You can't trade on the price increase -- you have to want the goods.

"[Mitchell] said there have been difficult years, such as the oil shortage during the 1970s.

"But never have I seen conditions that have so flaunted the reality of what is supply and demand and the pricing of this product," he said."

It's an interesting thought. I can't imagine that would ever happen -- what the bill suggests is overturning the American stock market system -- but interesting, none the less.

What is real -- what is physical -- what is tangible. Doesn't it seem like so often our lives revolve around some idea -- some structured system of what we believe the future is going to look like? Don't we so often get caught up in some reality that if we settled down would have little bearing on the physical world we live in?

What if we did that with everything in our lives -- insisted on truth -- on evidence -- on follow through...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Singled Out

WASHINGTON (AP) — Big Oil is once again being called on the carpet. Senior executives of the five largest U.S. oil companies were to appear before a congressional committee Tuesday where they were likely to find frustrated lawmakers in no mood for small talk.

This article was filed an hour ago.
First off, I love tenses. Here, the future is not certain. "Were to appear." Because it will have happened (or not) by the time this article is read by most, but hasn't yet, and can't be counted on. My children were to have gotten up. My class was to have been taught. It's a little dizzying, too, isn't it. The sun was to have arisen... And refreshing -- the polar bears were to become extinct... It lends the option of reading in the present tense what didn't happen... also the reality that whatever we think could be wrong.

Anyway --

The oil companies are being called in to defend their government subsidies.

"The lawmakers were scheduled to hear from top executives of Exxon Mobil Corp., Shell Oil Co., BP America Inc., Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips, which together earned about $123 billion last year because of soaring oil and gasoline prices.

Markey, chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, said he wants to know why, with such profits, the oil industry is steadfastly fighting to keep $18 billion in tax breaks, stretched over 10 years."

Industry leaders say the tax breaks are needed to continue exploration and development. Also, of course, it is said implied that the price of gas will skyrocket if the breaks are lifted...

I always believed that -- that gas prices stayed low because of subsidies. But what if that's not true -- what if gas prices in this country are low because that's the nature of supply and demand -- we have a really big country, and people have to cover a lot of distances -- if the price of gas were a lot higher maybe there would have been a push for public transportation years ago. Just as the technology for the 100 mpg car exists -- and the electric car...

Maybe it's not the pocket change billions the oil companies are fighting for, but keeping the money out of the research of alternative fuels...

It's all speculation. I'm feeling speculative today.

In the article, Bush says that oil companies shouldn't be singled out.
Bush says he'll veto the bill whatever the outcome.