Thursday, May 27, 2010

BP's disaster management strategy consists of managing the government and the media

Big Oil learned a lot about environmental disaster in the wake of the Exxon Valdez catatrophe (which has now officially been dwarfed by the Gulf oil spill). Unfortunately, they seem to have learned more about managing the media than managing the environment. Exxon was really battered in the media, which at the time were filled with heartbreaking images of dying sea creatures.

BP has been far more proactive in managing the daily news cycle, and often seems to have recruited Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen -- the Administration's man on the scene -- as an unofficial cheerleader who sets the theme for the day. The fine print usually follows much later in the day, after the evening news. Today was another classic example.

This Morning: Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen on NPR's Morning Edition.
"Since yesterday afternoon, British Petroleum and their subcontractors have been pumping a heavy mud down into the well bore below the blowout preventer, and over the course of the last 12 to 18 hours, they've been able to force mud down, and not allow any hydrocarbons to come up."
Midday: President Obama at his news conference.
Personally, I'm briefed every day and have probably had more meetings on this issue than just about any issue since we did our Afghan review. And we understood from day one the potential enormity of this crisis and acted accordingly. So when it comes to the moment this crisis occurred, moving forward, this entire White House and this entire federal government has been singularly focused on how do we stop the leak, and how do we prevent and mitigate the damage to our coastlines.
Tonight: New York Times update.
BP officials, who along with government officials created the impression early in the day that the strategy was working, disclosed later that they had stopped pumping the night before when engineers saw that too much of the drilling fluid was escaping along with the oil.
This is classic spin control. BP makes the President seem out of the loop at the same time he's trying to position himself as being in control.

Favoring public relations at the expense of science, technical expertise and plain old-fashioned morality probably accounts for BP's massive use of a toxic dispersant, illegal in Europe, which the EPA has tried unsuccessfully to keep BP from using. Renowned marine biologist Carl Safina on Democracy Now today:
Well, the dispersant is a toxic pollutant that has been applied in the volume of millions of gallons and I think has greatly exacerbated the situation. I think the whole idea of using a dispersant is wrong, and I think it’s part of the whole pattern of BP trying to cover up and hide the body. They don’t want us to see how much oil, so they’ve taken this oil that was concentrated at the surface and dissolved it. But when you dissolve it, it’s still there, and it actually gets more toxic, because instead of being in big blobs, it’s now dissolved and can get across the gills, get into the mouths of animals. The water below the floating oil was water. Now it’s this toxic soup. So I think that in this whole pattern of BP trying to not let people know what’s going on, the idea of disperse the oil is a way of just hiding the body. But it actually makes the oil more toxic, and it adds this incredible amount of toxic pollutant in the dispersant itself.
In addition to trying to manage the media by keeping as much of the oil as possible underwater and out of sight, BP is also doing its best to keep the media and other observers out of camera range, using the Coast Guard and other government officials as enforcers. Even Jacques Cousteau's son can't get into the area. From Newsweeks's story about BP's Photo Blockade of the Gulf Oil Spill:
Jean-Michel Cousteau (center) was turned away from a wildlife sanctuary by the U.S. Coast Guard after they discovered that an AP photographer was on board.
President Obama clearly is concerned about the Gulf disaster and tried hard during his news conference to take responsibility and communicate that he is in charge. But that won't really be true until he comes down a lot harder on BP than he has so far. They've been running the show from the beginning, and they're still running it. Time to get real.

Wingra Boats about to start summer hours with a couple of larger-than-life swans

Lake Wingra Swans
There's a new addition to the Wingra Boats fleet as they get ready to start seven-days-a-week summer hours this weekend -- these two swan paddle boats. They're not fast, but they sure are stately. I can't wait to see them out on the water.

According to Tyler Leeper of Wingra Boats, they'll be keeping them at their second location in Vilas Park, a great setting where they'll be hard to miss. I always thought some swans would look great on Lake Wingra. Now the lake has them.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

This is progress? No longer printing on dead trees, only to charge $4.95 per electronic copy?

I must be missing something. Wired magazine has an all-new digital edition for the iPad.
The iPad, with its touch-screen navigation, offers new editorial tools, such as high-definition video and push-button graphics. A reader can slide a finger across the screen in one feature to watch as a Lego Lamborghini takes shape step-by-step, compiled from 180 different images.

Advertisers have new opportunities as well. Mercedes has a 30-second, TV-style video ad.

The catch: You'll have to pay $4.99 for each issue, the same as the cover price for the printed version of Wired. It's yet to be seen whether many readers will pay for an app when the Web site is free and just a few clicks away. Subscriptions, which in the case of Wired's print edition can bring the cost down to $1 per issue, aren't available yet through the iTunes store.
This is progress? Hard to see how e-publishing will ever get off the ground if they only price it for rich early adopters.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

From space you can see right through the fog of disinformation that BP has cast over the Gulf

This is what they don't want us to know. For more than a month now, BP has been more more successful in obstructing public awareness of the full extent of the Gulf oil spill than in bringing it under control. Their public relations campaign must be working. If Americans really understood the full scope of this slowly unfolding disaster, people would be rioting in the streets.

And the blame, as Bob Herbert comments in today's NYT, goes far beyond BP.

No one has a handle on how much oil is gushing out of control into the gulf. No one understands the environmental impact of the hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemical dispersants that BP is injecting into the gulf. No one has any idea how far this awful stain on the environment will spread.

President Obama should have taken charge of the response to the oil spill — which he called a “potentially unprecedented” environmental calamity — from jump street. He should have called in the very best minds and operatives from the corporate and scientific worlds and imposed an emergency plan of action — to be carried out by BP and all others who might be required. Instead, after all this time, after more than a month of BP’s demonstrated incompetence, the administration continues to dither.

Incredibly, until The Times blew the whistle in an article on Monday, environmental waivers were still being offered for oil drilling in the gulf. What will it take for sanity to prevail? How many people have to die or face ruin, and how much of nature has to be despoiled before we rein in the cowboys of these runaway corporations?
Good questions. Don't hold your breath waiting for BP to answer them.

Avian athletes who start their marathons with bodies that are 55 percent fat

A human whose body was 55 percent fat would suffer from crippling obesity. For the bar-tailed godwit, it just means it's ready to go, looking like a softball with wings.

The godwit is a land bird that summers in Alaska and winters in the South Pacific. Its migration is a 7,100-mile, nine-day nonstop flight at a steady 40 miles per hour. Because it feeds on land, it can't stop to eat along its open-water route. Instead, it kicks its metabolism into high gear and burns all that fat.
Consider what might be the ultimate test of human endurance in sports, the Tour de France: Every day, bicyclists pedal up and down mountains for hours. In the process, they raise their metabolism to about five times their resting rate.

The bar-tailed godwit, by contrast, elevates its metabolic rate between 8 and 10 times. And instead of ending each day with a big dinner and a good night’s rest, the birds fly through the night, slowly starving themselves as they travel 40 miles an hour.
Today's NYT Science Times has a fascinating story about what new tracking technology is telling scientists about long-range bird migrations. It turns out that a lot of birds they thought had to migrate mostly by land in order to feed actually make vast nonstop flight over open water. This includes birds as small as the hummingbird.
Not long ago, ornithologists had far lower expectations for birds. Ruby-throated hummingbirds, for example, were known to spend winters in Central America and head to the United States for the summer. But ornithologists believed that the hummingbirds burned so much fuel flapping their wings that they simply could not survive a nonstop trip across the Gulf of Mexico. They were thought to have flown over Mexico, making stops to refuel.

In fact, ruby-throated hummingbirds returning north in the spring will set out from the Yucat√°n Peninsula in the evening and arrive in the southern United States the next afternoon.
Almost makes running 26 miles and 385 yards seem pedestrian in comparison.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What Fox Talbot could have done with the right equipment . . .

What Fox Talbot Could Have Done with the Right Equipment . . .
. . . and the garden kaleidoscope at Olbrich Botanical Gardens.
Make picture of kaleidoscope.
-- William H. Fox Talbot (note dated February 18, 1839), quoted by Susan Sontag, in On Photography

Sailing on Lake Wingra by moonlight

Sailing on Lake Wingra by Moonlight
I was getting tired of another lame SNL rerun tonight (even if it did feature the incomparable Tina Fey) and walked down to Lake Wingra under a bright 3/4 moon for a breath of fresh air. Our cat accompanied me part way, but he's frightened of the big wide open spaces of our little Wingra Park (he's heard dogs there, he knows the score), and he jingle-belled his way home.

The lake seemed to glow in the dark, but I couldn't see much of anything, except for one ghostly shape right in front of me. Then I saw it was moving. Then I saw it was a sail. The boat was so graceful and peaceful. I had the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens on the camera, thought I'd see if it could capture anything by ambient moonlight, handheld. Cranked up the ISO, underexposed by three stops* to make it look dark and fired away. A couple actually turned out OK. This pretty much captured the way it felt.

* Wrong move, as it happens. Click through photo to get to Flickr discussion about digital noise in the comments.