Monday, May 31, 2010

It was a Sunday for relaxing some and taking a load off once we got to the beach.

We had all the requisite stuff - our swimsuits, towels, sunscreen, snacks, beach umbrella guaranteed to give us SPF 100 protection, sand castle building materials in the giant beach bucket, beach ball, and our car to get us there.

Just a jaunt out to the shore for a day, but it was colored by what was going on in the Gulf.

Not that I wasn't expecting it, but it reared its ugly head in so many ways, from the sign we saw in front of a gift shop on Fort Pickens Road that said THE ONLY OIL ALLOWED ON OUR BEACHES IS COPPERTONE to the loads of BP gas stations we encountered along Alabama's shoreline roads to the headline of a local paper in Fairhope, Alabama, that proclaimed that the fishing for Alabama commercial fishers was better than ever despite the spew from 5000 feet under. The change in the air was subtle, but it was there.

Between sudden thunderstorms, including a rip-roaring one we drove through on I-10 just to get to Florida, we enjoyed three hours of fun in the surf at Fort Pickens with the help of our pal Edie's senior pass to all the state and national parks. The remains of the fort now lie within the string of islands known as the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and they sit on the eastern edge of Santa Rosa Island surrounded by gorgeous white sand and some beautifully clear waters, in which we saw some minnows and another bunch of fellow beach frolickers saw a school of manta rays passing through. Just a perfect beach day. Not a boom in sight where we were (which didn't mean there weren't any...), and we got out before some more storm clouds rolled in and opened up on us, passing some roped-off shorebird nesting areas on the way back out of the island.

The drive back through Perdido Key had us passing our first BP gas station of the trip, which we booed and hissed at as we passed. There'd been a lot of idly malicious chatter through the day's travels about how best to deal with BP and its greedy executives, and the reaction to that first station was initial relief at seeing nobody at the pumps, then a little banter between me and my husband:

"Let's go over there and only use their bathroom."

"...and miss," I added.

"Oooh, I never thought about that before," Dan said wonderingly.

"If we get caught? 'Oh, that? You'll have to clean that up.' "

" 'That's not what you think it is, that turd on the floor. It's really a tar ball.' "

"Wait! Don't tell them that. Then they'll never clean it up!"

I lost count after I took note of seven BP stations all the way from Orange Beach to Gulf Shores to Fairhope to where Highway 98 meets I-10. When we got home late Sunday night, I looked up, out of curiosity, how many gas stations sell BP gas (hint: it isn't just the ones labeled BP) and was faced with the sobering fact that a boycott of all BP stations won't hit the corporation much.
So, BP drills a well, produces the oil, it then goes to a BP pipeline, to a BP refinery, into a BP truck, and then to BP stations? That's just not the way the supply works. As a matter of fact, historically BP has passed on production facilities to other partners in the production investment, although that has changed a bit since buying Amoco and some of the bigger finds in the GOM.

By not buying gas from a BP station, all you would be doing is making keeping the guy who runs the BP station from feeding his family.... At a cost, the guy is changing his signs to Shell because of the BP aura. The gas, minus some additives particular to certain producers, all comes from the same black pot.
All I'm left with is a futile shaking of my fists in the face of this greed and our dependence on fossil fuels...and a hope that eventually the British will be suing BP just for dragging their nationality through the crude.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

I can't beat the enormity and the insanity of the oil disaster news, rumors, misdirections, and other bits and pieces folks are trying to piece together into a whole that doesn't make a lick of sense even after one has made some sense of it. What I can do is the same thing I've always had to do, ever since 9/11: filter, filter, filter.

Twitter is out for an as-yet-undetermined-end-of-it hiatus for the foreseeable future - it's like mainlining the Macondo Prospect's spew directly into my brain, and I can't handle such a relentless barrage of mental toxicity. I don't watch much TV to begin with - recent problems with our TV remote and the inadequacy of universal remotes in its replacement have made that harder - and I can't handle more than a few minutes of the Spillcam, anyhow (neither can my computer- at least some machines can be trusted), so no worries there. I get the Times-Picayune at my doorstep screaming the latest headlines, but I don't read those articles much anymore, and I still don't link to on this blog, as I think their idiotic non-moderation of comments on the articles there and Advance Internet's non-user-friendly design and interface demeans the work of many good journalists who are working hard on the dead-tree editions of the paper.

So what have I got, really?

When I threw in the towel concerning my son's reading material the other day, I got that Eyewitness Book on oil that he was so keen on. Not only did it come with a nifty clip art CD-ROM, it also came with this poster that immediately went up on his wall:

Yep, it's all about all the ways in which oil has enhanced our lives throughout history, and how it continues to do so.

There's a stunning picture in the book of a family with all their worldly possessions in their front yard - looks like moving-in or moving-out day for such a white, upper-middle-class bunch - and the picture points out all the ways in which oil contributes to the materials and the makings of darn near everything out there. Which simultaneously makes one wonder at the enormity of what our technological prowess has gotten us into and makes one quake at the thought of how our lives could change without the miracles fossil fuels have brought us. And I wish it were as funny as this....but considering the circumstances, we've got to start considering our options.

BP needs to be sued out of existence, for one.

More time and effort needs to be given over to the research, development, and implementation of alternative energy sources and materials - and to the proper maintenance of it all. And a lot of that is going to come with better education systems that recognize and value that ingenuity.

It's time to also research and implement more environmentally friendly and effective ways of cleaning up after BP's mess - and, considering the scope of this problem, it could well develop into an economic boon in its own right for Louisiana. Money does still talk, but we need to get it talking in the right ways.

Get going on wetland restoration as well, while we're at it.

I unfortunately can't make it to this protest, but it looks like many others will. Let your numbers show how much this matters to you. And be careful out there.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Buttered, the GMA reporter said. Buttered...

...but for Philippe Cousteau, it's anything but a culinary metaphor in the waters outside Venice, LA. It's a nightmare mix of oil and Corexit.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Via Suspect Device came this link to these photos, which are indeed horrifying and heartbreaking beyond rage, beyond grief, almost beyond words. But this one jumped out at me right off:

It's on Grand Isle, the beaches of which have been closed due to the oil inundating its shores. This family is at one of those beaches, surrounded by water - and they can't go in.

My son has been asking me about certain plot points in the production of Geauxjira he viewed with me shortly after I first posted it on this wasn't enough that he kept humming the theme music for days after he'd watched the homemade flick. His inquiring mind wants to know.

"Mom, why was Geauxjira a giant crawfish?"

"He took that shape, honey."

"Is it because crawfish are dying in the Gulf?"

"Actually, no, the crawfish haven't been affected yet. It's mostly the shrimp, the oysters, and the fish in the Gulf so far."

"Why was there even a Geauxjira, Mom?"

"It was created by the oil blowout. It's a creature that's supposed to remind us it's not nice to mess with Mother Nature."

"Why'd they have to kill it, Mom?"

"Because sometimes you try to reason with something, some entity, some creature, some organization, that's hurting other people and destroying stuff, and it becomes clear that the thing you're trying to reason with is acting beyond reason. Then, if you still haven't figured out what's motivating its actions, there's no other option but to kill it."

"Oh, boy, I guess they had to do that, huh, Mom?"

"Yes, they did."

Got to admit - explaining a movie is fairly simple.

Explaining to our children why we can no longer swim in the Gulf, though? Not as easy, but it will have to be done.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Just can't get this song out of my mind now...

...especially since we still don't know what's what in the Gulf.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Near the end of the week from hell I endured, the little guy was found to have contracted a case of head lice.

Between pesticide shampooing the kid's head, then carefully combing out the leftover nits, then washing anything and everything that his head came into contact with in the washing machine and bug spray-bombing anything else that didn't fit in the machine, then calling up my husband and laughing hysterically over the phone to him so that I wouldn't cry over the icing on the crap cake that the past week had turned out to be, well, we needed to get out of the house the next day - or I certainly did. So we headed to the local bookshop, where I found this great book for the kiddo that we've been slowly reading through since, as it's beautifully illustrated with chapters, and there's so much to see and read in it.

Who is Minn? She's a traveler and a mother, an escape artist and a hunter of fish. She finds treasure all up and down the big river while getting into and out of more scrapes than most people have in their lifetimes. She survives levee breaches, floods, strange currents and tides, and, with only three of her little legs to help her through it all, she makes it all the way down the big river from its source where she was born. It's been a fun one to read aloud to the little guy at bedtimes.

A few days ago, the kiddo asked me in the car if I knew what a cylinder lock was and how it worked. "Where's this coming from?" I asked. It was then that I learned he'd been picking up the following tome and reading it whenever he had a spare moment in class:

You have to see it just for the mammoths. What do mammoths have to do with machinery? You just haven't lived until you've seen a picture of a mammoth reaching for a peanut inside an MRI cylinder in order to show how the machine works. And that's just for starters...

So discovering all kinds of things through these kid-oriented books has been great - but then I started to notice some convergences happening that I wasn't all too comfortable with.

See, we've gotten to the point where Minn is sitting in the rain, in the dark, murky Mississippi just outside of New Orleans, knowing instinctively that she'll end up in somebody's soup if she come to shore there. I almost don't want to finish the book, 'cause I know it ends in the Gulf, which is currently not being too kind to turtles. I want to go back to the '50's, when Holling Clancy Holling wrote, illustrated, and published his book, and tell him to head Minn off at Natchez and end the book there. I find myself getting so afraid for that feisty turtle...

Then, the little guy, flipping through The New Way Things Work, called me over excitedly to show me the illustration of how an oil rig worked. Thankfully, no mammoths were involved or oiled in any way in the illustration, which gave me some relief...and the workings of it were pretty cool. I learned a lot after I calmed myself down a little. But just when I think I'm out of the muck, the kid greets me after school and tells me of his latest book find in school this week:

I just can't escape any of this. Not one bit of it.

After all this, if my son doesn't come up with some way of weaning us off our dependence on fossil fuels, or of cleaning up our environment as a result of our dependence on fossil fuels, I'm gonna be kinda disappointed.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Where is the Who Dat Boom when we need it most?
As we made our movie, thousands of barrels of oil leaked every day on the Gulf of Mexico's floor, causing the biggest environmental disaster in our lifetime. Moreover, we're terrified about the ramifications the oil will have on our economy and lives. In making a parody there is a danger of giving the impression that we find this calamity to be funny. In fact, the opposite is true. We're angry and frightened about the uncertain impact of this disaster. Here is the movie.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Things have devolved even more for me as far as the oil disaster in the Gulf goes.

I keep feeling, every day, as though words are inadequate to describe the slow death of so much - the cause of which is flowing out of the Macondo Prospect well that was opened up by BP and its engineers, who blithely decided not to plan for the worst and are scrambling trying to cover their asses now that their pants have been blown off. As a WWOZ DJ said on the radio yesterday, this spew isn't only going to threaten our waters off the coast here - it could threaten all of the Gulf and even the Atlantic Ocean if it gets as far as the Gulf stream - but, as it turns out, the reality below the surface could well be even worse, if BP could get the dollar signs out of their eyes and let the Pelican mission scientists tell us exactly how bad this is.

We're mostly powerless, hopeless. All we can do is get relief to the fishermen & women whose way of life has just died, and try to work the surface, 'cause we can't easily get at the nightmare under the sea.

I know this full song isn't about the oil companies, but the part I heard from the Gulf Aid concert broadcast fit the situation just fine:
and the next time
that i saw you
you were larger than life
you came and you conquered
you were doing alright
you had an army
of suits behind you
and all you had to be was willing
and i said i still
make a pretty good living
you must make a killing
a killing

Saturday, May 15, 2010

I took a break out of life in the crazy trenches this past week to take a good friend to the mikvah - in Houston. Six hours driving there, a few hours in town, then six hours driving back the same day. Thank goodness there were two of us.

Why schlep to Houston? There's currently no mikvah open to people becoming Jews by choice in New Orleans, and there hasn't been since Beth Israel's building in Lakeview flooded out. Want to convert to Judaism here, but don't want to become a Lubavitcher Hasid? Your conversion studies and your beit din session will be here, but your immersion in a mikvah will be happening elsewhere. If you don't have much money, flying in to Houston for just that purpose gets to be an expensive proposition, so...road trip!

I was amazed that I hadn't completely forgotten how to get to my old neighborhood. We used to live not too far from the United Orthodox Synagogues' building, or from my Jewish day school, which was a hop, skip, and a jump away from UOS, where the mikvah facilities were - but it had been over 20 years since I had last seen Meyerland or Westbury. And I'd been grateful to leave it all, and yet... surprisingly... not. In retrospect, twelve child formative years in southwest Houston had given way to a few aimless years in the northeastern part of the country, punctuated by nearly eleven adult formative years spent in New Orleans, where I hope I'll remain for a long, long time, but who knows? At this rate, my fifties'll be spent somewhere in Georgia...but I'm getting off the point, which is that the move from Houston in the middle of my high school years set a pattern for me that resonates to this day: how permanent an entity is home, really? When you finally make peace with your home, and find a better place within it, only to be yanked out of it due to circumstances beyond your control, how do you keep that peace with you? I'd never had much of a desire to go back to the old neighborhoods, and yet - here I was. Helping a friend. And whatever memory I had of the way we used to go to get off I-10 on the way back from visiting my grandparents in Tennessee was still in working order.

Damn near everything was different. The physical synagogue buildings looked the same, and the general look of the neighborhoods surrounding them was there, but I couldn't put my finger on it right off until I looked at the apartments that were sitting atop what had once been empty fields, and the storage facility that dwarfed what had once been a familiar turnoff for the day school. "The walls!" I said to my friend. "The fences! It's all very enclosed. God forbid the surrounding neighborhood encroach on those shuls' properties..."

For me, you can't go home again is very true. I knew deep down that my old neighborhood was no longer much of a refuge, but this trip confirmed it. Everything's bigger than ever in Houston and keeps increasing in size...but it's also not as free.

Guess I got out when the getting was good.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The divine - and now, the late - Lena Horne doing a song that popped up on the radio this morning in tribute to her artistry:

One big tipoff that the Macondo Prospect well in the Gulf was probably doomed from the start? It shares a name with the fictional town created by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude. So much promise, so many hopes and dreams, all dashed by man's greed and incompetence, leaving destruction, death, and emptiness behind as their lasting legacies - that is the fate both Macondos share.

Feeling worse than ever about the oil disaster, especially after I saw the interview of Deepwater Horizon worker and explosion survivor Chris Choy on the PBS NewsHour last night. Listening to the radio this morning and hearing the news that BP had suspended their attempts to cap the biggest leak with the condome, along with the interviews of Venice, LA fishermen who have no other course at the moment but to accept relief supplies, watch their bills pile up, and go work for BP sticking booms in the waters had me switching stations and taking in some of Ms Horne doing "My Blue Heaven" and then coyly playing 'round with a Beatles White Album track.

Thanks for that, Lena, wherever you are.

This blog fully endorses Billy Sothern's Digit-A-Day plan to help deal with the helplessness we're all feeling about what's doing in the Gulf, in lieu of any possible payments BP could make to all of us who are breathing in some of the traces of hydrogen sulfide fumes when the wind blows the air from the Gulf in juuuust right.

The abovementioned plan also applies to those who would do fatal harm to hardworking musicians like Brandon Franklin, good people who are trying to keep local music traditions alive into the next generation.

Friday, May 07, 2010

I was told I was stacking, and that it would kill me if I let it.

Oil disaster at the bottom.
The little guy's recent bad behavior at school atop it.
The suggestion by his teacher that he be tested for ADD/ADHD.
The fact that he wasn't put in to play in his first baseball game of the year.
A nice chat with the school social worker, at which point I became a basket case.

It got to be too much for me, all the things that my son was going through that were causing such major anxiety in me. I felt like a failure. I felt like I was going to tear that poor social worker's head off, and I was grateful for his calming demeanor and for the opportunity to chat with him.

I'd give anything and everything to either start this week over or go back and spend it in a hidey hole someplace, but that's just not possible. I need to get with my health care professional who specializes in helping with folks' sanity and possibly get on something else, as I haven't had a crazy-in-the-head-and-outside-myself episode like that for a long while. The school social worker said that the body can develop a tolerance to what I'm taking, and I'm probably already long past that. Helloooo, placebo effect.

The bright side? At least we are past the point where any effective medications for treatment of depression do things to your body like prevent you from going to the bathroom, as Mike Wallace said about early depression meds in this panel discussion.

Until the retooling of the serotonin to my brain, this is pretty much where I am:

Oh, and people? Just 'cause I'm out of my mind doesn't mean you can all be a buncha slackers.

Big thanks to the yaller blogger for the link to the nifty oil disaster counter that's now in my sidebar. Yes, this is still happening. Via one of Maitri's links, a nifty BBC article tells the story thus far of the spewer from down under the Gulf, noting that the oil has already reached Louisiana's Chandeleur Islands, a wildlife refuge here. Check this post of hers for how the containment dome is supposed to work (really, though, I pictured something like this). Keep in mind it's only going on one of the sources of leakage - we won't be out of the gunk yet if it does work.

This would be the perfect time for a timely and bitingly satirical Suspect Device comic - except the Gambit has decided to can Greg Peters' bimonthly visual commentaries, ostensibly for business reasons. Register your protest of that sorry state of affairs through writing and emailing Gambit Communications, the addresses of which can be found through Loki's post here. He's also set up a Facebook page in support of SD, which you can join here.

Lost in the insanity of our recent news on news on more news riches was progress on state Senate Bill 240...
Since 2007, the retired employees and the local board have petitioned the state to help pay for the teachers’ health coverage and to address other legacy issues. The results have been spotty. State lawmakers, led by state Sen. Ed Murray of New Orleans, got state funding for 25 percent of the health benefits for two years. That money supplemented 25 percent paid by the board each year. Last year, however, the board got no help. The retired employees have had to pay the difference, which averages about $670 a month right now.
This year, Murray introduced Senate Bill 240, which carves out $6 million from the Orleans Parish public education property tax millage and dedicates it to all legacy issues. The bill is supported by the local board and many education reform advocates. It won’t cover all the retired employees’ health insurance costs, but with the local board’s share it should cover about half — putting the employees back where they were before last year’s cuts.
The Senate Education Committee unanimously approved SB 240 last week. It now awaits action by the full Senate, and it must still clear the House.
BUT...and there's pretty much always a would be nice if we could all be sure that the money wasn't going to contractors overcharging the hell out of the schools for work and repairs that should cost nowhere near what the OPSD is being charged.

I'm gonna go line up the arrows and get my head back on.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The current dollar amount for the payout of reparations by an oil company for environmental damage to this country was set shortly after the Exxon Valdez oiled up part of Alaska's shores. There's now a move in Congress to get that amount increased, due to the fact that it represents small change for the company that is ultimately responsible for the latest - and largest - oil disaster yet.

The following info came through the email today:
The bill number is S. 3305, the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act. There's no equivalent House bill yet. It's been sent to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which David Vitter sits on. So call his office at (202) 224-4623, state your name and that you're a constituent, ask to speak to the staffer who works on environmental issues, and then here are your talking points:

-BP's liability for economic damages is currently capped at $75 million
-The annual retail sales of Louisiana's seafood industry total over $1.8 billion at minimum
-The cap is too low and BP is responsible for these damages
-BP can afford to pay since their 2010 Q1 profit alone was $5.6 billion
-Senate Bill 3305 addresses this problem by increasing the cap to $10 billion
-Please cosponsor the legislation and encourage the Senate Environment committee to bring it to the floor for a full vote
Yes, I know it's Diaper Dave and his group to whom this has been handed. Yes, I know BP will try to get themselves grandfathered out of it. But this should be done to help keep the drilling from becoming just another rickety Rube Goldbergian enterprise. Because, like it or not, we do still need the fossil fuels - and while we are working on extracting them safely and responsibly, we can also work on reducing our dependence on them.

Update, 5:00 PM: From Maitri, in the comments to this post on Humid City:
Just so you know, the amazing, modern marvels of engineering that are Transocean drilling rigs are, like the Titanic, far from reckless or Rube-Goldbergian (we’ve really got to stop using this term for a while). It’s such a cool, awe-inspiring experience to be on one of those rigs. But, also like the Titanic, the failure of a crucial safety mechanism brought the whole thing down and sent millions of gallons into the sea.
My apologies for the Rube Goldberg description.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The above is one of the reasons why I carry a camera at all times.

So here we are. In distressing straits once again.

Things have piled up so much for me lately, personally and information-wise, that I'm off my Twitter addiction for a while. I can't take the streaming of all the ways in which we are getting screwed over by our own dependence on oil
and by our governments' enabling of the corporations. I do applaud the other folks who are in constant tweetage, sharing the latest about the oil disaster and, for some folks, their own experiences with the nonstarting cleanup efforts. I personally get so full of the ways in which our abilities to combat this thing are sorely inadequate compared to the magnitude of what was unleashed by the faulty blowout preventers that it gets me into a deep funk.

The only things that have cheered me a little concerning this terrible mess are:

- the prospect of using this stuff called Maximum Oil Pickup (MOP) to absorb the oil. It needs to be applied by a special MOP cannon, apparently, which instantly had me thinking of this:

- Jon Stewart's take on the whole thing. I do have to admit that some things do go down much easier with a beer or two...or three...or filling up a F&%!-It Bucket with liqueur and dunking one's head into it repeatedly.

Otherwise, I recommend going to Dambala's, Jeffrey's, Oyster's, Maitri's, or Greg P's for your oil disaster commentary and updates for the time being. If you've got any other useful sources, comments, whatevah, let me know.

In the meantime, I'm going to take my own advice and take life as it comes.

Update, 3:01 PM: And then there's this (via Coozan Pat). Assessing risks just sucks. thing at a time, one thing at a time...