Wednesday, June 16, 2010

In lieu of oil, please send flowers.

A field of flowers south of Salem, NJ today. (photo by me)
NEW ORLEANS – BP began burning oil siphoned from a ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday as part of its plans to more than triple the amount of crude it can stop from reaching the sea, the company said. BP said oil and gas siphoned from the well first reached a semi-submersible drilling rig on the surface of the Gulf around 1 a.m.
Once that gas reaches the rig, it will be mixed with compressed air, shot down a specialized boom made by
Schlumberger Ltd. and ignited at sea. It's the first time this particular burner has been deployed in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP officials previously said they believed the burner system could incinerate anywhere from 210,000 gallons of oil to 420,000 gallons of oil daily once it's fully operational. Work to optimize the new system was still ongoing, and the company did not say how much oil it has burned so far
Is burning the oil a great idea, or just the last-ditch effort from a company that has run out of ideas? What's next? Do they set the entire Gulf of Mexico on fire and burn-off the leaked oil? Maybe it's on the drawing board?
I saw the president's speech last night. Mostly, by accident, because the Phillies are playing like Little Leaguer's and my thumb started working the remote. "Oh hey, the president is on!"
He started with a recap of what happened, and if one listens between the lines, this accident is setting up to be the worst event in recent history. An eco-system is at risk, as well as jobs, a way of life and a recovery process that is going to sink the country deeper into debt at a time when we can least afford it. Don't for a minute think that BP is picking up the tab. It's nice to talk about, but let's be realistic.
What I heard was a lot of tough talk and another new bureaucratic body designed to oversee this mess - or what he termed as an "independent party" to distribute the money that BP said they are going to give the financially injured people in the affected area.
Then, he started in on the oil industry and how dependent we are on them. He said something about today being the first day of our oil independence, or something like that. He wants our best minds to work on ways to get us off the oil standard, citing wind and solar energy as possible solutions. I remember candidate John Kerry proposing just such an effort 6 years ago, and as I watched the speech, I pictured Kerry in his living room shaking his head. Kerry is a bright guy, but lacked the charisma to be elected in our TV-minded electorate.
It reminded me of the way we over-react to situations that are bad and have always been bad. Someone's ax is gored and some legislation is passed (like Megan's Law) or some social program designed to prevent something that has always been a problem.
Although, if it takes something like this to finally get the government to pull the trigger on what we call "alternative energy," then so be it. It takes a car accident to get a drunk driver to reform, a heart attack to get people to start treating their bodies right and a house fire to get them to install smoke detectors.
Maybe we can use human nature to help us - for once.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

If 12 was 10 and 6 was 9.

The news coming out of big colleges lately is that many of them are jumping from one athletic conference to another for ... anyone ... money. That's right. Texas is staying put, however, Of course, it's not love of conference or tradition or anything as sappy as that. The good folks at Fox TV are paying the Longhorns somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million per year while still allowing Texas to form its own, all-Longhorn network, an option it probably wouldn't have in the Pac-10... Sweet deal.
I find it odd that the same NCAA that puts schools on probation because they may have paid a student-athlete's rent or bought him a nice dinner could sanction the school making a financial deal with a TV network. It's OK for the school to make the money but not OK for the students.
Not all of the players are going to sign big NFL contracts. Some are actually attending school for an education, and it might be nice to have a decent meal once in a while that you don't have to pay for.
Maybe they can arrange for some of that $20 million to go for improved cafeteria service?
You know that the interests of the NCAA and the conference isn't pure either. How else to explain the fact that the PAC-10 just invited Texas and Oklahoma to join. For you non-sports fans, the "PAC" stands for Pacific. I think even the non-geography students in the crowd know that Texas and Oklahoma are a little east of the Pacific Ocean.
There are a lot of conferences, and they have names like the Big-10, Big-12, Pac-10 and Atlantic 10. They're big on tens. They're big on Big too. A lot of conference names start with Big, as though bigger is better. Strangely, the Big-12 has ten teams and the Big 10 has twelve. But why quibble? These people are college graduates, aren't they?
They wouldn't like it if Alabama's Mark Ingram had formed The Mark Ingram Network and charged people $4 a month to watch streaming videos of all his games. He isn't allowed to earn any money playing for schools that earn millions from his efforts. I suppose the schools think that the education they're providing makes up for the money? That may be true, but smart kids get scholarships too, and they have jobs after school and parents and friends who send them money. When you're an athlete they're called benefactors. When you're a student they're called 'people I borrow money from.'
It reminds me of a concert I attended recently, where alcohol was prohibited on the grounds and the parking area, but you were able to purchase as much as you wanted once you got into the amphitheater. It was only OK when the people in charge were making money off it.
I'll bet the people running the amphitheater are college graduates too.

Monday, June 14, 2010

We are what we buy.

There is a new VISA commercial with a huge tie-in to Disney's "Toy Story" movie, complete with requisite Disney VISA card. In the ad, a group of the Toy Story gang are running around a store. Buzz Lightyear's action figure is selected by a kid and the happy character watches the kid embrace the toy Lightyear. Throughout the ad, it's tough to tell whether it's an ad for Disney or VISA. I suppose that's the point of cross-marketing.
The thing that struck me as I watched the ad was, why do we get so upset when advertising targets kids the way they do with other products; but we don't say anything when kids are used to sell a product. A happy kid with a toy is a happy kid, even though it winds up costing the parent a hefty 22% service charge. Just don't target fatty foods to kids by marketing Happy Meals. We have determined that to be bad.

I'm seeing more ads than usual for Father's Day this year. Maybe I missed something, but suddenly, the gifts that they are peddling are upscale electronics that would cost the kids between $500 and $1,000. Stuff like LCD televisions, iPad's, laptop computers, gaming consoles and other gadgets that the folks at Best Buy or Radio Shack would be happy to sell you - for dear old dad. It's nice to know that the Father's Day people have stepped up their marketing campaign to equal that of the Mother's Day holiday. The prime message is: Love has a dollar value. But how to pay for it all?

Don't forget to use your Disney VISA card.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Word of the day: Vuvuzela

I'm never sure what is supposed to go in this space. Sometimes I have a coherent thought that spews out onto the page rather easily. Sometimes the page is left open for hours until I can string together 500 words that make both grammatical and logical sense. It ain't always easy, gang. Today, I think I'll just spew at random, if you please.
The oil is still gushing out of that pipe in the Gulf of Mexico. You've seen it, right? The incredible thing to me is that the oil has enough built-up pressure to continue to leak out of the pipe without being pumped. That's amazing to me. It would have been great if they could just turn off a pump, but the earth is spitting it out at a pretty nice pace. I'd think that the earth would be interested in keeping it in, since it's a form of slow suicide. It is barely being collected faster than it is coming out, and it will be until Tuesday before another effort is made to stop it. The mind boggles at what effect over 100 million gallons of oil (10 times the Exxon-Valdez spill) can have in a confined and sensitive space like the Gulf. I think there are things we aren't being told because there is something environmentally devastating going on down there.

SALT LAKE CITY – Emergency workers believe they have stopped a 21,000-gallon oil leak from reaching the environmentally sensitive Great Salt Lake, one of the West's most important inland water bodies for migratory birds that use it as a place to rest, eat and breed.
But the spill has taken a toll on wildlife at area creeks and ponds, coating about 300 birds with oil and possibly threatening an endangered fish.
The leak began Friday night when an underground Chevron Corp. pipeline in the mountains near the University of Utah broke. The breach sent oil into a creek that flows through neighborhoods, into a popular Salt Lake City park, and ultimately into the Jordan River, which flows into the Great Salt Lake.
Let that be a lesson. If you're going to dump 21,000 gallons of oil into a lake, do it when 100,000,000 gallons are being dumped into the Gulf of Mexico. That's called a diversion tactic, folks.
Some great (and near-great) events are heavily tied-into alcohol consumption. Often, I wonder how popular some things would be if we couldn't tote alcohol in or consume it legally in public. We are, of course, encouraged to "drink responsibly," but if we stopped to think about it for a minute (and we will) ones responsibility is the first thing to go when we start drinking, so being responsible would be deemed impossible after a couple of drinks.
One such event is this World Cup soccer tournament that is going on somewhere in the world. People around the world love soccer, but here in America it is hard to embrace sitting through 3 hours of a sporting event to have it end in a tie. I can't conjure up any emotion over almost losing. And the noise. There's something about golf, tennis and baseball that is both competitive and tranquil. People don't spend the entire time screaming in your ear or blowing horns. ALERT: Word of the day. I'd guess that companies who make vuvuzela's (Vuvuzela's R Us, Vuzuvela Depot, Vuvuzela Hut - they're out there) see their business skyrocket every couple of years, then lay off their entire staff because, well - how many vuvuzelas does the world need? I'm guessing there's a tie-in between the vuvuzelas and alcohol.
And now, a few sobering words from U.S. Representative Jim Matheson, (D-UTAH) on Chevron's response to the oil spill in Utah:
"I would say they are responding very aggressively to it. I think they know there is a heightened concern among people in this country about oil spills," Matheson said. "I think they understand it's in their best interest to do everything they can to fix this as soon as possible."
Really? Do they? What are the consequences of not cleaning it up as soon as possible? Would we stop using their product? Sure, like that'll happen. And yes, we are concerned (even heightened concern) about oil spills. I'm not sure there ever has not been. I can't wait until "Oil Spill Awareness Day" so that we can all be reminded of the consequences of dumping a toxic chemical on animals, onto beaches and into our water supply.
I forgot.