BP taking orders from U.S. Government

President Obama says the U.S. government is fully engaged in the oil spill crisis, and has taken charge of the cleanup and effort to plug the leak. The government should be leaning on BP to hold it accountable, something it had not done in the months, no, years leading up to the accident.  While the fixes have yet to yield any success, the Obama administration can take credit for BP drilling a second relief well and for stopping the top kill insanity of shooting mud, golf balls and old tires down the damaged blowout preventer, which did nothing but dirty the waters even more.   And it is important that the government mobilize all of its resources to show the country that it is not just a helpless spectator at the mercy of big oil.  In fact, in some ways, the Obama administration may even score some points for seeming to slap BP around, though, no doubt everyone would prefer a quick fix, massive cleanup and the restoration of the environment and the economy on our gulf shores.

While the oil spill is not the fault of the government, drilling is.  The Obama administration had favored drilling as one of many strategies to meet our current energy needs.  Of course drilling has been part of U.S. energy policy for years, as has lax oversight of the oil industry.  When the government is in bed with BP and the rest of the oil industry, what can you expect.  And as long as the U.S. is dependent on fossil fuels to support its energy habits, nothing much will change.  However, now is the time to put a stop to offshore deep water drilling.  If the Obama administration is really calling the shots, those oil relief wells should be the last wells drilled in U.S. waters.

Bear and Tiger to the BP rescue

BP has a new plan for plugging the oil fountains – dropping a load of junk down the riser.  Junk – like tires and golf balls.  I suggest BP hire a golfer – Tiger Woods maybe or Jack Nickolaus to recommend the optimal golf ball to drop – Titlelist, Nike, Callaway, Top Flite – you know it might make a difference.  If Tiger can plug the leak with the proper ball, he could help to rehabilitate his image and that of BP.   And those tires.  Look, I have four Michelin Harmony tires I’d donate to the cause.  And my daughter’s Honda Fit has a leaking Dunlop.  Drop that down on the leak.  Hey, a leak on a leak – might just work.

Look, BP is trying everything they can to cap that pipe, so why not just drop down a bunch of divers in those Jules Verne diving suits – have Bear Grylls lead the way;  he’s a superhuman Brit with elite Special Forces training. If Bear and Tiger can’t save the day, there may be no hope until those relief wells are drilled.

Thougts on the BP Oil Disaster

The BP oil spill is now the worst environmental disaster in U.S. History,  worse than the Exxon Valdez spill.  And spill doesn’t seem like the right word to use either.  It’s more than a spill, more like a deluge, a flood, an inundation of oil and it’s still not capped despite the “top kill” effort.  It will take months to drill two relief wells to cut the flow off at the source.

Though most of the effort has been to stop the gushing fountains of oil, there has not been much going on by way of cleanup of the oil that has begun to wash up on the gulf shores.  The federal government should mobilize all the resources at its disposal for a massive cleanup effort.  Divert those border troops to the shorelines.  This oil disaster is considerably more urgent than stepping up border patrol.  Arm the troops with gas masks and shovels.  Put prisoners to work.  Enlist the support of environmental groups, concerned citizens, the “drill baby drill” crowd and the Red Cross.

I saw a clip on the news this morning of a team of workers bathing oil soaked birds in soap.  Once clean, though, I wonder what they do with the birds?  It would seem like a bad idea to just release them back into the oil polluted gulf area.  I hope they are relocated to cleaner areas, if any can be found, so the birds have a shot at survival.

Blame is the Name of the Game

I was reading this news item on the way in to work this morning.  One Dr. Wakefield, no not the Dr. of the knuckleball, but a gastroenterologist (funny, my spellchecker wanted me to write numerologist) anyway, Britain took away his medical license for reckless behavior for offering children money for blood samples as part of his research to show a link between childhood vaccinations and autism.  The peer-reviewed study which claimed the link was published in the Lancet in 1998 and prompted many parents in the UK and the USA not to have their kids vaccinated.  The study has since been discredited yet vaccination rates are not nearly as high as they once were and not nearly high enough now to prevent outbreaks of measles once nearly eradicated.  Thanks a lot Dr. Knucklehead.

And guess where he has relocated?  Yes, here – Austin, Texas to be exact.  I found it ironic the similarity between Austin and Autism.  This story is just weird and now feeds into the tea party hysteria about government plots.  In this case the plot is to protect the drug companies that make the vaccines.  There is something odd about the logic.  Companies are never directly blamed for anything.  The companies are good, it’s the government protection that’s bad.  Do the tea parties insist big business pay a fair share of taxes?  They’d say no, because big bidness would pass on the cost to the consumer.  I say, take a stand, demand companies pay and refuse to pay the passed on costs.  I ain’t payin 4.50 at the pump.  I’m not.  And of course BP is not really responsible at all for the oil spill right?  Obama could have stopped the leak on the first day if he had wanted to, right –  or so the argument goes.  And the next kid who dies from measles because his parents didn’t have him vaccinated, blame it on Obama.  And the next outbreak of measles, that’s right, Obama.  And the next autistic kid, Obama.  And the next tornado in Texas, Kansas or Oklahoma, Obama (even the name is similar) and when you miss a free throw, Obama.  Your team’s error in the field, Obama.  Blame is the name of the game.  Tea anyone?

Pat Metheny Orchestrion Review Boston 5/20/2010

Orchestrion. What?  Instruments playing by themselves?  Is Pat Metheny some kind of wizard?  Well, after seeing the show at the Orpheum in Boston on May 20, I have to say he is.  A one man musical genius and madman,  touring with a bunch of robotic instruments from futuristic guitar bots and bottle organs full of mysterious liquids that looked like something you might see in a 19th century apothecary, to percussion instruments suspended in animation. And of course a player piano that inspired it all, not the one from Pat’s grandpa’s basement, but a Yamaha that actually sounded like a real keyboard and not a toy.

Pat came out and played three solo pieces; a couple of which I didn’t recognize.  He played the bizarre, but beautiful looking and sounding 42- stringed Pikasso guitar, which is a cross between a harp and guitar.  He finished the pre-set with an old tune called Unity Village, off Bright Size Life, his first recording, adding a little taste of percussion from the Orchestrion.

And a red curtain lifted, to reveal the odd assortment of instruments ready to play the Orhcestrion suite at Pat’s command.

It was a magical moment.  People clapped; I just smiled and pumped a fist.  I was ready.  And what I mean by ready is that I had done my homework.  I purchased the Orchestrion CD shortly after it was released and listened to it over and over until I had it memorized.  See my review here.  I might have been one of the few in attendance who noticed he played the suite out of sequence from the recording.  He started with Expansion, one of my favorites, which is track 3 on the CD.  It’s high energy and I thought it was the perfect beginning to the suite.  He played Spirit of the Air next, which is the last track on the CD.  It’s a tune I really dig – so cool, with a groovy baseline and hypnotic vibes.  It reminded me very much of some of the music on one of my favorite Pat Metheny Group LPs, Imaginary Day.  He played my favorite tune off the CD next – Entry Point – it has that mesmerizing Secret Story quality – very emotional,  evocative, so much so that I shed a tear.  I did.  Next came the opening track, Orchestrion, which I think was a great spot for it.  It really amped up the mood and energized the audience.  After Orchestrion, he talked a little about the project and announced what he had played so far and then finished out the suite with Soul Search, which has a minimalist motif similar to that found on The Way Up.  What amazed me about the performance was that each tune sounded exactly like the studio version.  There were a few improvised departures in the guitar work, but not much.  He actually pulled it off.  Things were about to change however, when he came back on stage after a roaring standing ovation.

The cool and unexpected treat was that Pat was in a talkative mood.  He practically gave an encore clinic, explaining how the Orchestrion worked.  He demonstrated how he built layers of sound from the different custom built instruments, all with his guitar and foot pedals, and in the process created a completely improvised – on the spot – composition.  He started with a tempo, which he thought was a little too slow, and restarted with something fast.  Then he gave guitar commands to each instrument, playing notes that the instruments mimicked until he had the desired background for his guitar improvisations.  He then played another encore which included a stunning version of Make Peace, a composition he wrote and recorded with Brad Mehldau.

I thoroughly enjoyed the concert as did my daughter.  Pat was in great form as always and played for over 2  1/2 hours.  He interacted with his band of bots with affection as if they were his band mates – there was a real connection there.  Pat has always had a way of humanizing technology dating back to his early experiments with the Synclavier and his ongoing use of the Roland guitar synthesizer, which he actually played with the Orchestrion during the encore.  I’ve seen Pat live a dozen or so times over the years, and his music is always fresh, melodic and full of surprises.   He’s one of the great artists of our time and a national treasure.  I feel fortunate to have seen one stop on the Orchestrion tour.   If you get the chance, go out and see it.  You’ll never see anything like it again – ever.

Thoughts on Politics of the Day – this day, today

A community ID card such as the one available to undocumented immigrants in Trenton, New Jersey, is a good, no, great idea.  With the ID card, folks without legal papers can check out a library book, visit a health clinic and open a bank account.  Literacy, health care and safe banking are human rights.  Yes, banking.   Crime falls when fewer people are carrying around wads of cash.

The incumbent corporate centrist Blanche Lincoln will lose in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat in Arkansas to Bill Halter.   Halter will not falter.  He won’t.

At 80, Arlen Specter will beat back his opponent and ultimately be reelected for another Senate term by the good people of Pennsylvania.  Too bad the Obama administration did not respect Specter and make an endorsement appearance. With the mood of the country as it is, it might not have been a good idea.  Obama’s coat tails are about as long as a jeans jacket.  A cocktail might have longer tails.

Richard Blumenthal out in Connecticut claimed to have served in Vietnam on numerous occasions.  Turns out, he simply served during Vietnam, not actually in it.  In fact he received deferments from 1965-70 to avoid combat.  He served in the Marine Reserve for six years starting in 1970.   Americans don’t like deception and I would argue that Blumenthal’s chances of rising in the Democratic party are slim to none.  I can’t help but think of the PR disaster of Mike Dukakis riding in a tank when he ran for President and the swift boat attacks on one-time presidential hopeful John Kerry.

One final thought.  Is Kentucky U.S. Senate candidate Republican Rand Paul related to Ron Paul, or Ayn Rand?  If he were to either, he’d be a much more interesting prospect IMHO.

In Support of the Undocumented

Let me start by saying the Arizona law is just stupid, invites racial profiling and is probably unconstitutional.  It’s bad for Arizona and bad for the country as other states try to take matters into their own hands like vigilantes.  Building walls won’t stem the flow of the undocumented across the borders.  Deportation won’t help – people will come back.   Incarceration makes little sense.  Jails are overcrowded as it is.

The solution is comprehensive immigration reform.  But hear me out.  I’m not just throwing down talking points.  My idea of immigration reform is simple.  Tear down the walls.  Open the borders.  Let anyone who wants to work cross, for a fee of course.  Let the states get the money the border crosser would have had to pay a “coyote”.   No criminals.  No drugs.  No guns.   Think of the border like an airport.  You have to purchase a ticket to get in.  Get searched.  Have bags x-rayed.  Even random body scans.  We have the technology.  Why not put it to use?  Once here, the now documented immigrant would have to have a sponsor and be required to get a job within a certain period of time.   Families welcome as long as they have some means of support.  As documented immigrants, they’d be free to travel to whatever state they like for work.   This would take the burden off the border states.  Don’t think that all border crossers want to live in California, Arizona and Texas.  Maine is nice, Arkansas too.  Montana is big.  Florida has great weather, South Carolina nice beaches.   Massachusetts has lots of history; Idaho lots of potatoes – Jersey is a garden paradise with the Big Apple just across the way.

Now there would have to be a quota system.  A certain number per year.  It couldn’t be just a mad rush across the border.  Also, those currently living in the states without papers would have a chance to adjust their status.  They’d have to show they can support their family or have a sponsor.  They’d have to pass a criminal background check too, and pay a fee.

Legalizing takes the criminal element of smuggling out of the equation.  It keeps people from taking dangerous risks, often ending in death, to get across the border undetected.  And I’d go one step further.  Legalize pot.  Tax it like cigarettes and alcohol.   This would take a chunk of the market out of the hands of the drug cartels.  Reduce the demand in the U.S. for hard drugs like heroin and cocaine with intensive drug education campaigns and expanded treatment programs for addicts.   Lets put the drug cartels out of business.

One thing to remember.  Undocumented immigrants are here and here to stay.  It would be impossible to find and deport them all.  In fact, it would damage our country irreparably.  We are a nation of immigrants, not just of some immigrants or the right immigrants.  And don’t forget that undocumented immigrants do pay taxes.  They do buy food, pay rent, shop at local businesses, work the fields, clean buildings and hotels, bus tables, care for children, work construction.  And many who perform unskilled labor every day are doctors, engineers, architects and entrepreneurs in their native country and would thrive here and contribute tremendously to society if given the chance.   And they do pay sales taxes, property taxes, tolls, parking tickets and a great many pay income tax with a tax identification number. Immigrants also send money back to their families helping to keep their native countries economically stable.  Children of immigrants, many of whom are high school valedictorians are being denied a chance at higher education.  A mind really is a terrible thing to waste.

We are a big nation, a nation of immigrants.  There’s room for all who want to work and live the American dream.

SCOTUS Pick Reveals Obama’s Centrist Views

Elena Kagan for SCOTUS.  Not my first choice or even second but I trust she’s been vetted as carefully as possible.  Her academic achievements are solid. She has the Ivy League club membership.  Actually, this is a little off putting to me.  The court needs a little more diversity with respect to academic experiences.  Isn’t there a qualified graduate of say the University of North Carolina or the University of North Texas, preferably someone who played in the One O’ Clock Lab Band?  Come on.  Harvard, Yale, Princeton?  Let’s give the small liberal arts grad a chance!  Nominate a SCOTUS from Bard College, Connecticut College, Swarthmore or Hendrix.  These are the places I’d look first.

Elena Kagan will be an ok addition to the court.  She’s not quite the liberal or progressive I’d hope for to replace Justice Stevens.  A bit of a centrist, I liken Kagan more to Justice Kennedy.  You know, Obama may be moving this court to the center, reflecting his ideological bent.  Like Kagan, the President is not the progressive I had hope he would be.  But better the center than the right, right? And it could be worse.  McCain could have gotten the pick.  And who knows, he might have nominated the governor of Arizona or the former governor of Alaska.

That Oil Spill, What A Mess

What a god awful mess out in the Gulf Coast thanks to the good folks over at British Petroleum affectionately known as BP. I can’t believe they still haven’t capped the oil spewing from the hole on the ocean floor.  200,000 gallons of the stuff a day.  BP seems less worried about cleaning up than capturing and cleaning the oil for future use.  They do that.  Suppose to be a fairly straightforward purification process.  They will profit from this mess yet, even as the spill wrecks the fragile coastal environment and the tourism and fishing industries of the Gulf Coast.

That the Obama administration has yet to denounce drilling as an unsafe, and unwise practice is completely baffling to me.  It comes as no surprise however that the Republicans and some Democrats too – Senator  Mary Laundrieu for example, whose top legislative priorities are energy security and coastal issues –  have tried to minimize the catastrophe to protect the oil industry.  Well, we should be securing clean energy policies, not risky policies that dirty and destroy our fragile coastal areas and vital industries.

If there is any silver lining in the massive environmental disaster it would be that dead jellyfish have started to wash up on shore.  I’m serious.  Those destructive creatures have multiplied to the point that their numbers are simply out of control, as they reek untold damage to fisheries, and the tourist industry.  They sting.  Do they ever, and some stings are deadly.   The only other possible good thing that could come from the disaster is that our political leaders could wake up and realize that “drill baby drill”  is suicidal.  I agree with Bill Maher who said, and I’m paraphrasing, that we are our own worst enemy.

BP.  Get it together.  Cleanup.  Pay Up.  And get out.  No more drilling for oil anywhere.  Time to move on to clean, renewable energy – and not coal.  There’s no such thing as clean coal and it’s not renewable.  Think about it.  Wind, electric, solar, bio-fuels, and leg power.  That’s all we need.  Okay, a little nuclear sprinkled here and there with a smattering of geothermal exploration and hydroelectric tinkering.  Let’s also run some stuff on recycled vegetable oil for good measure.  Depending less on foreign and our own oil is the key to a safe and sane energy policy.