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Friday, 28 May 2010

The Cretan

File:Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling unit  view from the Laney  Chouest.jpg

The last
wave of human
behaviour flashing
up on
the terminal shore
with the light
click and sheen
of plastic
cards touching.

There is no connect-
ion between
the oil spill
and "our way of life",
he said.

File:Deepwater Horizon oil spill - May 24,  2010.jpg

File:RBC Visa UV.jpg

File:Oiled Redish Egret Louisiana May  2010.jpg

Fire on offshore drilling rig Deepshore Horizon as viewed from offshore supply vessel Laney Chouest, 21 April 2010: photo by Richard Sullivan, 2010
Deepwater Horizon oil spill: sunlight illuminating lingering oil slick off Mississippi Delta, 24 May 2010: Terra satellite spectroradiometer image, 2010 (NASA)
RBC Visa card, taken under fluorescent light to show "hidden" Visa Bird: photo by Nebrot, 2010
Oiled reddish egret near water in Grand Isle, La., 20 May 2010: photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick Kelley (U.S. Coast Guard)


Skip Fox said...

Massive creature curls in the Gulf. One spume of sweet crude twenty-miles long, over a half-mile deep. Stunned silence squats over the land, . . . region waiting.

--Sunset, LA

TC said...


Grateful for the view (of death?) from Sunset.

Whew, the pastoral.

The operative line here about "our way of life" came from a radio talk show host.

Some musings of a month or so ago:

I will never forget the transitional passage in Robert Flaherty's Lousiana Story -- his last film, 1948, financed by Standard Oil, nominally with "no strings attached" -- in which the child's myth-world of a bayou swamp-pastoral golden age, barefoot lad and wild critters in lovely daily harmony, is disrupted when the oil surveyors show up; and then soon enough, the drill rigs, the platforms, and History. The invasion is seen as intrusive, acceptable, necessary, and progressive, all at once. A great, confusing, deeply troubling film.

And this just in from Hearst Washington Bureau:

"WASHINGTON. Employees of the federal agency that regulates offshore drilling accepted lunches, football tickets, hunting trips and other gifts from the oil and gas companies they were in charge of policing, according to a report Tuesday by the Interior Department's inspector general."

But I'm sure you know about all this. It's your back yard.

Curtis Roberts said...

Tom: Your reply to Skip anticipated the question I was about to ask: where did the "our way of life" line originate?

I Googled the phrase with respect to the oil spill this morning and found it used a number of times in a number of contexts from a number of points of view, e.g., from disparaging comments highly critical of oil use to Gov. Jindal's plaintive remarks regarding the expected effects of the spill on the "way of life" of Louisiana residents. As your satellite photo shows so clearly, this is very big.

It's difficult to imagine any sane person trying to separate what's happened/happening from our way of life on any level, even in terms of the "active negligence" that allows some people to pursue clearly risky activities without having effective emergency plans.

Supplementing your Hearst report, I was speaking to a friend a couple of days ago whose husband is in the coal business. She told me (not unexpectedly) that many of the people doing federal inspections on the rigs are simply engineers drawn from competitor oil companies who undertake the work for extra pay. Naturally, there's a good deal of reciprocal "signing off" on the work and safety practices of your peers.

Melissa said...

This has disturbed me deeply--I will attempt again to write it.

Melissa said...

"This" meaning the catastrophe, not the poem (for which I'm grateful)



Yes, "whew, the pastoral" -- that photo from satellite, so abstract looking until you realize what's gong on down there. Not only lunches and football tickets, I heard, but sex and drugs (? ? ?). That photo from Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick Kelley tells it all (oiled egret in foreground, freeway/bridge behind it. Even here, this still apparently pastoral corner of things, we depend on our daily "Dr. Drink" (as JVC said, not meaning oil), , , ,


pink-orange in pale blue sky above still
shadowed plane of ridge, sparrow calling
in foreground, sound of waves in channel

possibility of thinking what,
balances word “meaning”

come to the surface in a way,
sentence, also attempt

silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
sunlit white cloud to the left of point

TC said...

No sound of waves in the Loop Current.

We are disturbed.

This brought back memories of the oil spill forty years ago that washed up hundreds of oil soaked birds on Bolinas Beach and in the lagoon. An unforgettable pathos of nature, created by homo sapiens so called.


yep, that image of oiled red egret flapping in front of freeway bridge . . . . sticks in the mind (here), how much oil was it, I wonder, loosed in that 1970 spill? Must pale in comparison to what's going on now. . . .

TC said...

Yes, A. too was remarking, a major difference of scale.

A pretty bad but pretty much localized spill, on the one hand; and on the other, a tremendous spill, beyond calculation...who really knows what is happening in the Loop Current right now?

And then I was thinking: if you were a bird that would never fly again because you were dipped in oil, what difference would the scale of the disaster make?

It would still be happening to YOU.

~otto~ said...

It seems "our way of life" in America is and oil spill. Thanks for this poem, Tom.

Curtis Roberts said...

And, as I expect you all know by now, it gets worse and worse and worse. Old friends came over tonight. He's a former geothermal engineer who knows about accidents of this sort first-hand and it was a discouraging conversation on a number of levels, including his account of a prior oil spill that he said took place off the Mexican coast a number of years ago that was under-reported and persisted for a prolonged period -- about 9 months. This person is politically "connected" in some very interesting ways and I believe the things he says. Nothing is more tragic or discouraging than the unfolding of the actual events related to the spill, but the general run of journalism that we're currently receiving runs at least second.

TC said...

My partner, who actually has the courage to look at the newspapers, has passed on discouraging reports re. the maneuverings of politicians to "position" themselves vis-a-vis the spill. One should not be surprised, of course, but still, give us a break.

The drill-baby-drill mentality has always struck me as indicative of the terminal death wish of the species. I realize there are people who still believe oil is black gold. But still, give us a break.

I have not owned a motor vehicle since 1969. I have never owned a credit card.

If the whole thing would just stop spinning for a moment, I think I'd ask to get off. Now.

TC said...

Oh and before I forget, the reason for the title of this post: that talk show host also said, "I'm sick of hearing about the oil spill. Everything anybody says about the oil spill is just stupid."

This gets close to the paradox of Epimenides the Cretan, who is supposed to have said All Cretans are liars.

If he told the truth, then his statement was a lie, and so he didn't tell the truth; if he lied, then his statement was true, but he did not lie.

Of course what Epimenides really meant, if indeed he really said that, is: All OTHER Cretans (i.e. not including me) are liars.

That's always the way, isn't it?

What the talk show host really meant, then, was: Everything anybody EXCEPT ME says about the oil spill is just stupid.

Epimenides is supposed to have fallen asleep in a cave as a boy, and not awakened for 57 years. Believe that one and the next thing you'll be told is that the oil spill has no connection with "our way of life".

By the way, Epimenides must have benefitted greatly by that long nap. He lived 299 years. Right.

(That bit about the motor vehicle was the truth, though. It was a '53 Chevy pickup truck. Powder blue. I left it on a dirt road, awaiting enquiries. Finally somebody said, "Is that truck yours, man?" "No," I said. "It WAS mine. It's yours now." Then I took a 57 year nap. Since awaking, I have not slept for 217 years.)



Thanks for all such recollections of Epimenides and his long nap. And your '53 Chevy pickup -- left on some street on the Mesa? And further thoughts on the oil spill (can people really be listening to that talk show host? Meanwhile, Johnny & I are going to the Giants game today -- maybe they can sweep the Diamond Backs. . . .

TC said...

Steve, yes, it was on the Mesa -- Nymph Road, near Cherry.

Maybe Big Panda will go yard for Johnny.



Ah, no Big Panda went 0 for 5, left 6 runners on base. But he showed lots of style, and some real hustle. And what a game it turned out to be ! --- Giants scored 2 in the bottom of the first, DBacks tied it in top of 2nd, 2-2 until wheels fell off in top 7th (Affeldt walked 3, after Uribe throwing error), so it was 4-2 until solo HR in the 8th (Aubrey Huff) made it 4-3, but DBacks got it back in the 9th (5-3), but w/ 2 outs Giants came back to tie it, win it in the 10th. 3 game sweet, they've won 5 of last 6.

TC said...

Hey, lucky guys. A fantastic memory for Johnny (and for Johnny's dad too).

Curtis Roberts said...

Thank you for explaining the title The Cretan. I meant to ask about it and forgot (as I had forgotten about Epimenides). You might be right about the species’ terminal death wish expressed in drill-baby-drill, but I’m not so sure; I think it means different things in different degrees to different people and, like so many marketing catch-phrases, its useful life was of limited, and now expired, duration. The last 48 hour period, however, watching and listening to the passive voice ducks, feints, bobs and weaves of everybody (politicians and businesspeople) who annexed to themselves the principal Deepwater Horizon benefits , without, apparently, assuming any responsibility to deal with its failure, has me, as our feckless (at best) president would say , enraged and heartbroken, emotions that I feel are less inconsistent with my job description and role in this matter than they are with his. This is all anyone I spent time with this weekend was talking about and it’s been unusual, to say the least, to read articles in left-wing publications like The Nation and right-wing ones like The Weekly Standard so closely allied in view. One funny thing about Epimenides, however. Next weekend, we’re attending our college reunion. This morning, before reading your comment, I engaged in the ritual of pulling yearbooks down from the bookcase and opened to a photograph of two students I knew in conversation with a philosophy professor I also studied with (the course was Pre-Socratic Philosophy and it was extremely enjoyable). They were standing in front of a blackboard upon which was written “Epimenides”. I’m not sure what’s become of the two students, but the professor, who was a sort of handsome, charismatic German guy, later became involved in major Larouche-ite mystery activities and now shows up under (I swear to God) a half-fictional name (the surname is made up) on CNBC as a major arbitrageur based in Hong Kong. Mutabilitie, indeed.

TC said...


Whatever "free trade" used to mean, something tells me that what's left of it must be based in Hong Kong.

A friend whose father, a Chinese Christian minister, has just passed away at ninety, now has the duty of attending memorials in his father's honour all over the globe.

This weekend he's bound to Sao Paulo, and remarked that he has to buy a visa for the trip, a hundred-and-some dollars. "It's turnabout," he said. "The US charges Brazilians that much for an entry visa, so, tit for tat. But Hong Kong doesn't charge Brazilians for entry visas, so Brazil doesn't charge visitors from Hong Kong. Hong Kong would prefer the business traffic to the visa charge. They look at the bigger picture."

About the spill, Curtis, I fear that looking at this as a technical glitch incurred in an otherwise plausible endeavour is a partial view. No matter how appealing projects may look in computer models, the overwhelming failure capacity of human error, inattention and (above all) the corner-cutting that inevitably enters the bottom-line equation (we've got to extract that quota or bust), make for risks that are never quite anticipated. The idea that the application of proper mechanics to the present situation could be a "solution" strikes me as naive. You can't swim back up Niagara Falls. This is a society based on a secular religion of which the deity is called The Economy, and from that blind worship flow, and will continue to flow, any and every violation of the planet that can be imagined; as well as some that as yet can't. A "philosophy" of Extraction will always leave out everything but the short-term interests of a very small sector of the human population, which would insist on living very comfortable lives while the rest of the human race, not to mention all other species and the earth itself, go to hell in a handbasket, thank you very much.

My friend the minister's son and I debated this. He said, in response to my suggestion that the only real "solution" would be for everybody to get out of their cars right now, that if that happened, a catastrophic Depression would ensue.

But having been living through a catastrophic Depression for the past two and a half years, I found it hard to envision that as anything but the status quo.

Of course this may be a myopic view. But who has anybody's eyes to look out through but their own, however faulty?

Curtis Roberts said...

"You can't swim back up Niagara Falls".

"[T]he overwhelming failure capacity of human error, inattention and (above all) the corner-cutting that inevitably enters the bottom-line equation (we've got to extract that quota or bust), make for risks that are never quite anticipated".

"will always leave out everything but the short-term interests of a very small sector of the human population, which would insist on living very comfortable lives while the rest of the human race, not to mention all other species and the earth itself, go to hell in a handbasket."

I don't think these statements are myopic.

I wonder who gets to cash the last check?

TC said...


Well, I was going to say: there's always going to be somebody with a better mousetrap. Even (especially?) when the mouse is that elusive last check.

But that would be making light of an all too serious situation.