18 June 2010

Bloody Sunday and Oily Tuesday

Yesterday one of the four remote control thingies for our TV broke and the channel it was on happened to be showing the US Congressional Committee investigating the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

One thing that struck me was the language they used. First that they kept talking about an oil "spill", but in my dialect "spill" refers to a liquid that falls out of a vessel and on to the ground (or into the sea).

This is not a "spill"; I would have thought it is what is sometimes referred to as a "gusher". The oil is not falling to the earth: it is gushing out of the ground at a pressure that seems to be beyond human power to stop.

The other thing that struck me was the number of members of the committee who referred to "British Petroleum". Now I know their purpose is fact-finding and they have just started, but it is not reassuring when the members of the committee seem not to have done their homework, and don't even know the name of the company whose acts and omissions and negligence they are supposed to be investigating. Or perhaps they were being disingenuous, and grandstanding, as politicians do, and attempting to create the impression that the blame lies in another country, though if they really want to gain more political mileage, perhaps they should refer to it as "Anglo-Iranian", which was also one of the company's earlier names, and thus associate it with a country that Americans love to hate even more than they love to hate Britain.

But two can play at that game: a week or two earlier, when it appeared that BP's shares had lost several xillion[1], Sky News was accusing US President Obama of being cruel to British pensioners because he blamed BP for the mess, and demanded that they clean it up. Apparently British pension funds are heavily invested in BP. But so, apparently, are American pension funds. And after all, BP did make the mess.

There was more weird stuff emerging from the congressional committee. One member of the committee objected to the setting up of a compensation fund, and referred to it as a "shake-down", and a by-passing of the legal system. I thought he was out of order, until I heard the other politicians on the committee displaying their ignorance, showing that if they couldn't get simple facts (like the name of the company) right, they were unlikely to be able to make good judgements on the more complex aspects of the case.

And the day before there was another news item about a report on "Bloody Sunday" in 1972, when British soldiers shot protesters in Northern Ireland. That inquiry cost 200 xillion, and took 38 years to produce. About half the 200 xillion went in lawyers fees.

Before that there had been an inquiry by politicians, which was a whitewash.

So you can have ignorant politicians running inquiries, or you can have expensive lawyers. Perthaps setting up a compensation fund could avoid both, but no doubt it will have expensive bureaucrats to administer it, who will award themselves more in bonuses than any of the victims will receive in compensation.

Incidentally, I think the same number of people died on Bloody Sunday as on Oily Tuesday.

But news of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon was hidden for a while. It was buried under reports of the inconvenience to travellers caused by a volcano in Iceland.

To crown it all, there were reports that other oil companies wanted compensation from BP for the losses they might suffer as a result of a ban on deep-water drilling. That takes the cake, it really does. It's got even more chutzpah than the Uruguay footballer Suarez's offside dive at the World Cup match on Wednesday night, which got the South African goalie sent off. It's utterly shameless, yet they don't seem to be at all embarrassed by it. If anyone is tempted to feel the slightest bit sorry for them, read this: Nigeria's agony dwarfs the Gulf oil spill. The US and Europe ignore it | The Observer:
The Deepwater Horizon disaster caused headlines around the world, yet the people who live in the Niger delta have had to live with environmental catastrophes for decades
The way I see it, God put that oil there for our grandchildren, who might have the technology to exploit it without making an unholy mess. But we are determined to use up all the resources of the planet in our generation. Our attitude is like of the Durban town councillor back in the 1850s who declared, "Why should we think of posterity? What has posterity ever done for us?"

And I think one of the best comments is from Father Ted. I urge you to read The Gulf Of Mexico Catastrophe: When Toxins Intoxicate Us | Fr. Ted’s Blog:
I cannot contribute in any meaningful way to what should be done to stop the oil gushing from the well, nor to how to clean up the environmental cataclysm. And while it is easy to point the accusing finger (or some other finger) at BP or the government, it seems to me the situation was really brought about by us the American consumers and investors. I am not an investor, but I am a consumer and enjoy a lifestyle based in cheap oil. It is way past time for us to change our attitudes towards lifestyle entitlements.


Xillion - a large amount of money. It refers to -illion preceded by m-, b-, tr- or several other letter combinations and basically means a lot -- of dollars, pounds, Euros, Rand or whatever. Though if it it refers to Zimbabwe dollars it should probably be xxxillions. It's for those of us who lack calculating minds and are never sure of the difference between a milliard, a billion and a trillion.

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