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So Now What Do We Do? June 1, 2010

Posted by A. Robinson in Life.
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Oh, so you heard that BP’s top kill method of plugging up the giant oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico didn’t work?  I’m assuming that you weren’t distracted by what is effectively the beginnings of The Korean War Part Deux Only With China This Time or that little tidbit of Israel Going Batcrap Insane And Boarding A Turkish Aid Flotilla In International Waters And Killing Some Folks (sidenote: John and I don’t agree on Israel.  He’s an Israeli sympathizer whereas I think their failure to compromise makes them big bullies).

Anyhoo, there’s still oil pumping into the Gulf of Mexico.  Just a little bit.  Over the weekend, BP announced that they’re going to cut below the damaged pipe to get a clean surface, then try to put another containment vessel on top of the leak.  You know, like that containment vessel that didn’t work the first time.  As of this morning, Gizmodo is reporting that this new method of correction could put 20% oil into the Gulf. Since BP has done such a wonderful, bang-up job so far, I think it’s safe to assume that we’ll be seeing a lot more oil in the Gulf of Mexico in the next few days.  Let’s just pray that those relief wells get dug sooner rather than later.

Sorry dolphins, sea turtles, and various avian life.  It was nice knowing you.

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What the Crap, BP?! May 26, 2010

Posted by A. Robinson in Life, Loathin'.
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OH MY GOD.  It has been umpteen thousand million days since this whole fiasco started (read: over a month), and still no solution.  An article in USAToday says that BP is trying a “top kill” method of plugging the spill that works on aboveground leaks, but it has never been tried underwater.  Their estimate for success?  Somewhere between 60% and 70%.  I don’t know about you, but those are unacceptable grades for a math test, much less the last desperate idea to stop ecological travesty.

Let me just get this out of the way before I continue on:  SCREW YOU, BP.

First, get a sense of the size of this spill.  One of John’s coworkers mocked up these images yesterday, and it really puts things in perspective, though you’ll need to click through to see the full size image:

Here's an outline of the spill in the gulf. It's already big, right?

Here's what the spill would look like on land in Northwest Arkansas

I feel awful that people died in this catastrophe, but their deaths are far outweighed by the outrageous awfulness that is this oil spill.  Scientists estimate that 7 million gallons of oil have already leaked–oh, excuse me, GUSHED–into the Gulf, and if this last minute attempt at plugging the hole doesn’t work, there will be “significant down time” before another alternative can be implemented.  That’s compounded by the fact that scientists say the oil plume is actually getting darker, which implies that the oil coming out is more polluted and even more dangerous.  The dispersants that BP originally used to try and break up the oil are just as flawed; now there are giant plumes of oil floating willy-nilly in the water column.

The water is so toxic that they won’t let divers go in with ANY SKIN EXPOSED.

What really pisses me off is that this whole disaster could have been avoided if the platform had redundant shut-off valves.  When oil companies–including BP–were approached about this by regulatory committees, they pooh-poohed it off as overly expensive and unnecessary.  Now BP is facing a piddling $4300 dollar per barrel fine (which, by my estimates, totals somewhere near $30 billion dollars in addition to clean-up costs.  Lots of people are wagging their fingers at BP, but we should also be looking at Deepwater Horizon (which owned the rig) and Halliburton (which set the lines).  Even more so, we should be glaring down a gunsight at OSHA, which is in charge of inspecting and regulating off-shore drilling rigs.

This should make Obama’s push to open new offshore drilling sites even more infuriating that it was when he backed out of his campaign promise to stop the expansion of such drilling sites.  This wasn’t an old announcement, either–this hit the wire a mere three weeks before BP blew the Gulf of Mexico all to heck.  Don’t read this as an indictment of the Obama administration, because I know full well that McCain would have done the same thing. Consider this an indictment of the American political system that has been sleeping with Big Oil for the past century.

People are screaming at the government to get involved in this process, but that’s not feasible, either.  What is the government going to do that BP isn’t’ already doing?  Obama has assembled a team of scientists to deal with this issue, but they’re going to need as much time as BP is to get in there and fix this thing.  Not only that, but why waste taxpayer dollars on this when you can run a company into the ground instead?  I really think that BP is trying to do everything they can to stop this leak to save the company itself.  Any more of this and they’re going to go under: hook, line, and sinker.  In an effort at self-preservation they’re going to do anything they can to get this mess cleaned up.  The government would be no faster, more efficient, or better.  The only thing it could do is get more manpower on the scene, but with 21,000 BP employees already on the ground and countless American scientists and volunteers, how many more people do you need right now?

The real tragedy here is that it doesn’t matter what we do now.  Even if we plugged the spill today, we cannot feasibly undo the damage to the gulf.  The ecosystem will take decades to recover, but with the current state of affairs–global warming, oceanic acidity, pollution, et. al–it may never, ever recover.  EVER.  All of the regulation, restrictions, and nay-saying that will come in the next few months isn’t going to fix anything.  It may prevent another spill of this magnitude, but it’s not going to help out the Gulf Coast now.

I hope you all are PISSED OFF at the lack of planning, initiative, and competency evidenced by everyone involved in the offshore oil drilling industry. I sure am.

Proof That Killer Whales Are Pretty Much The A-Holes Of The Ocean March 15, 2010

Posted by A. Robinson in Life.
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Lindsey, I realize this post might not be for you, seeing as you think animal cannibalism is “cute.”

I have continued to mull over killer whales this weekend.  Well, okay, not really, but John and I watched part of the BBC series Blue Planet and it sparked some questions for me.  Namely, are killer whales really all that friendly at all?  Or are they–as I now suspect–just big, raging meanies?

Here’s the video that sparked my curiosity:

At first I was all like, “Oh, that’s sad, but so goes the circle of life,” up until the narrator mentions that the whole pack of whales only eats a teensy weensy bit of the baby.  You know, after they spent 6 hours hunting it or whatever.  Of course, I went straight to YouTube to try and find out whether this was typical behavior.  Cue a slew of videos showing how they not only capture but torture their prey.  They play volleyball with baby seals!

Yeah, so they let one go at the end.  Big effing show of mercy once you’ve whacked it around for thirty minutes!  The thing is, these suckers are incredibly smart, turns out.  Just look at the way they coordinate in order to knock this seal off an ice flow and into a waiting pod-members mouth.

Not only that, but they’re totally adaptable.  I read an article this weekend that said the Sea World whales have figured out how to take fish to the bottom of the tank and send up little pieces to lure in sea birds.  Once the birds land on the water, it’s CHOMP CHOMP while buddy whale rushes up to snag him some poultry.  Also, check out these guys who’ve learned that hanging out by fishing boats gets them a quick and easy meal (also, you should watch this one because the fishermen are hilarious).

Conclusion?  These guys are smarter than I am, and no way in heck am I getting in the water with one.

Captivity March 1, 2010

Posted by A. Robinson in Life.
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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of the Orca attack at Sea World in Orlando, Florida.  Tilikum, a male Orca with a history of attacking humans, killed his trainer last week in what Sea World has called “an unfortunate, tragic accident.”  Of course, this has brought another, older debate to the surface: should animals–especially dangerous ones–be held in captivity?  And, on yet another level, what do you do with an animal like Tilikum?

I, of course, have an opinion on this, but to get there, we first have to talk about ponies.  I. LOVE. HORSES.  This almost goes without saying, I know.  I share the sentiments of most 7 year old girls in that horses are pretty much the best animals ever.  Not only that, but I’m incredibly attached to them.  I can remember the individual foibles of all the horses I’ve ridden, and even though I don’t know where many of them are today, I can look back at many with fondness.  My horse, who died tragically when I was a sophomore in college, was my best friend in high school.  When I heard she’d died, I cried for months.  I’ve still not taken out the pictures of her that I boxed up; even remembering her now is incredibly bittersweet.

Yet, I’ll be the first to tell you that of all the animals that I’d be comfortable letting a 7 year old girl hang out with, horses would be at the bottom of my list.  They are crazy mo’fos.  Totally unpredictable.  You can have a horse for 20 years and never have him freak out at a bird, and then one day…BAM.  You’re on the ground and Trigger is running terrified from a pigeon.  You just can’t predict their behavior.  Some horses, though, are much more dangerous than others.  Those horses you have to kill.  You can’t sell it to someone and have it hurt and/or kill a kid.  Sometimes the only place they can go is the glue factory.

This reminds me of the story of Magic Pony.  I cackled with glee as I loaded him up on the Dog Food Trailer.  That’ll teach you to roll on my brand new saddle, you jerk.

Anyway, this has everything to do with the debate at hand.  What do you do with a killer whale who kills people?  Heck if I know.  My instinct is to terminate it, but the issue is more complex than that.  The whale (or dolphin, really) was just doing what it instinctually does.  It’s not like a horse in that it is WILD, and no matter how many hoops you teach it to jump through, it is not a puppy, pony, or kitty.  It is an apex predator that abides by you when it wants to.  Not to mention, there’s no telling how many instinctual triggers you can trip in a given day that might scream, “I am yummy and delicious FOOD!” and get you eaten.  I don’t really think you can punish it for that.  To wit, you can’t release the thing into the wild either, because it’s just domestic enough that it isn’t equipped to deal with the Darwinian system.

This is the textbook definition of rock and hard place.

What I do know, though, is that you absolutely cannot start hating on Sea World because it has killer whales in captivity for a couple of reasons:

1.  It’s not like Sea World went out and snagged a baby Orca from its momma.  Tilikum, like many of Sea World’s orcas, was actually bred in captivity.  The whales, dolphins, sharks, and other assorted creatures that aren’t from a captive breeding program are almost always rescues.  Animals that otherwise would die in the wild are given a pretty nice life with lots of food.  Sea World, like most zoos, does its very best to not to take animals out of the wild for a life in captivity.

2.  Sea World, like zoos, are incredibly important for educational purposes, and I’m not just talking about understanding how these things live, eat, and breed.  Do you know why little girls love horses?  Because they can go out and pet them, ride them, and otherwise get to know them.  That’s why there are more people fighting for America’s wild mustang than fighting against open ocean pollution.  Ponies are majestic.  They’re wonderful.  Everyone’s met one that they thought was beautiful/awe-inspiring/the poo.  The key to conservation efforts is allowing people to understand why these animals are important.  When you go to a zoo and see the elephants, all of a sudden the shrinking African savannah seems like a much more important problem.  Sea World banks on the fact that at least a few of the people who visit will start driving Priuses and switch to compact flourescencts when they realize that the way they’re living is killing Shamu.

What Sea World–and other zoos–understand more than ANY of that is that children must be educated to actually make a difference.  If a kid falls in love with bottlenose dolphins, maybe he or she will become an eco-conscious adult.

I guess what I’m saying here is that I can’t see people getting pissed off about captivity.  I mean, yes, I understand when animals are kept in inadequate conditions.  I’m not even touching that part of the argument.  What I’m talking about are places that make every conceivable effort to keep their animals healthy and happy.  What it comes down to for me is this: if 20 whales, scattered across America, can help educate the public and encourage environmental awareness about the 100,000 whales in the wild, then that’s fine by me.

The Alternative Fuel Wars June 5, 2009

Posted by A. Robinson in Life.
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Rarely do I feel the need to voice my political views here.  Mostly it’s because I want to avoid conflict; the only topic that is more divisive than politics, after all, is religion (another topic I avoid, yet will mention here!).  However, I hope that this post will be less of a rant and more of an open forum for discussion.

About what, you ask?  About alternative fuel sources.

Five years ago, if you would have told me that gasoline would be obsolete in half a century, I would have laughed at you.  I also refused to believe that things I was doing as an individual were impacting the environment for the worse.  Things today, however, are quite different.  Within 50 years, the world’s fossil fuel supply will be gone, according to many experts.  Though I am often distrustful of statistics, the fact is that the United States is the leading consumer of fossil fuels in the world, and the majority of that use is in motor vehicles.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that America needs to start making a change, and that it needs to begin with the largest chunk of the pie.

Everyone seems to be developing alternative fuel sources.  Biofuels, electricity, hydrogen, solar, wind…all viable sources of power.  However, until we decide on ONE alternative fuel for our motor vehicle fleet, all efforts will be in vain.  Here’s an example for you: back when HDTV was first coming in style, there were a few different kinds of DVDs that claimed to capitalize on this new format.  Regular DVDs upgraded their quality, but ultimately, there were two–HD DVDs and Blu-Ray format discs.  Both of these formats tried to coexist peacefully.  It wasn’t long until problems started to emerge.  In order to use one format or the other, you had to buy special players, which required special cables.  Some movies were only available on one format, so you had to have both to watch the movies you wanted at the quality you wanted.  Eventually, HD DVDs folded to the power of Blu-Ray, and everyone lived happily ever after.

This is the problem with offering A MILLION different fuel sources.  There’s no way that there can be the widespread availability necessary to run America’s fleet without settling on ONE source.  Not only that, but the fuel source that wins out will be the one that can be converted to fit existing gas-burning vehicles.  Can you imagine every car on the road being obsolete in 5 years?  Crazy.  Whichever fuel source we pick will have to be adjusted to fit classic/current gas burners.  I’m not sure how this can work, only that I think it has to.

In terms of fuel sources, I think electric cars are the way to go.  If you want to see a compelling speech calling for the use of electric cars, watch this 20 minute video on TED.  Trust me, you’ll love it.  I know that this causes issues in terms of how we produce electricity itself–but what better way to move away from coal power plants to wind/solar/water/nuclear power plants?  It seems like choosing this kind of car will ultimately force a change in the power grid as well.  Both Chevrolet and Tesla have developed electric cars, and with battery distribution points and a standard battery system, problems should be (at least moderately) solved.

So, what do you think?