30 May, 2010

Quiet Time Coming Up



Better drop a line or three in here now. Odds are the Breadbin will be closed for business over the next week.

We're headed out next weekend to Frankenmuth, Michigan, for that great Canadian pastime of cross-border shopping. A friend and former colleague of Eva's will be living here for the weekend with our puppies...we anticipate this will go over much better with them than a kennel has in the past.

Contrary to the song above (an old favourite of mine), we are going down mostly to grocery shop. If that sounds strange, you're probably American.

There are any number of products that are either unavailable to us sad-sack Canucks, or only available at grossly inflated prices. One such is Mrs. Dreamfields pasta. This is low-carb pasta that actually tastes better than regular pasta and doesn't leave me with that horrid bloated feeling. We currently get it shipped from a store in Mississauga, at, as I say, grossly inflated prices. I'm willing to pay more for this stuff, but I don't want to be a masochist about it, especially if paying less involves a romantic weekend with my wife in a whole 'nother country with no puppies crawling around (ahem) on the bed between us.

I've looked at the Kroger and Meijer flyers. They boggle the mind. The staple prices are so low they're actually suspicious. I actually saw milk at $1.77 a gallon. Of course, this is Monsanto-milk, loaded with bovine growth hormone. I don't really care if it's free: you won't catch me drinking American milk. Eggs, though, at 77 cents a dozen? They usually run around $2.19 up here and almost never go on sale. I hope this is just economy of scale rearing its ugly head--American farmers probably produce ten times as many eggs, after all.

Anyway, we're not going for eggs, either. Honestly, aside from the pasta, I don't know what else we're going for: it'll suggest itself when we see it. An adventure. I'm looking forward to it.

Because I am off this Saturday, I have to work Wednesday, which is my usual day to gather thoughts and blog my brains out. We've also some outdoor renovations scheduled this week and a fairly deep-cleaning of the house to take up any time that might other was be spent baking up Breadbin material.

And so, barring anything world shattering--something worse than the extinction level event in the Gulf of Mexico or war between the Koreas or...

I need a break from this stuff. More than anything else, that's why the Breadbin's about to go silent.

See you in a week or so.



26 May, 2010

Hammering and Drilling

A patio door is being installed about twenty feet from my keyboard. As of right this moment, the noise hasn't gone redline...but it's coming. What I'm about to write will bring it on faster, I'm sure.

So the Federal Minister for Public Safety says that the estimated $930 million spent on the upcoming G8/G20 meetings in Toronto and Huntsville, Ontario represents the most "efficient and effective use of public money". Now let me first say that I am NOT a person inclined to join in protest against these meetings, mostly because (a) I disagree with the protesters' methods, which usually involve attacking police officers and setting random things on fire, and (b) the protests never have the slightest effect anyway (perhaps because attacking police officers and setting random things on fire is better described as terrorism than protest).

That's not to say I'm okay with these meetings. Far from it. What purpose do they serve that wouldn't be served equally well by videoconference at a minuscule fraction of the cost? Oh, yes, Toews says face to face meetings allow the leaders to deal with issues that can't be handled by teleconference. What issues would those be, Vic? Care to enlighten us? No, sir, I will not enlighten the lowly Canadian mushroom. I will keep you in the dark and feed you bullshit.

Hammering, drilling headache mounting...
--------------------

Did you hear about the new car that runs on water? Awesome invention, but it has one catch: the water has to come from the Gulf of Mexico.

So BP's examining whether or not to perform a 'top kill' ... and I can't help but ask the question, why the hell is this taking so long? I mean, I get it, this is an unprecedented event--we've never seen an oil spill from this kind of depth--but surely somebody thought to formulate contingency plans?

*crickets chirping*

It's bloody depressing watching Titanic syndrome play out over and over and over again. Who needs lifeboats, God Himself could not sink this ship. Never mind frozen O-rings, we know what we're doing. Sure, let's drill for oil a mile down, what could possibly go wrong? Hey, who cares if you don't have a job, you can afford the payments on this one-of-a-kind mortgage!

Drilling. Hammering. Make it stop already.

I don't understand humans. Never have, likely never will. We aren't just capable of great acts of altruism, we perform them all the time...and yet "community" is entirely too close to "communism" for a sizeable subset of the population, and who really gives a fart in a glove for (the Third World/the homeless guy in yonder gutter/the common ratepayer/anyone less materially well off than I am)? Screw 'em, I've got mine.

That doomer mentality of seeming to actually relish disaster? I'm starting to think much of it is rooted in shame at having to share a planet with so many unthinking, unfeeling scuzzbuckets.


24 May, 2010

Happy Two-Four

As a small child, I remember finding the Devil in my sandbox. My mother told me that when you dig in the ground, if you hit a streak of red clay, it's actually good old Beelzebub. No doubt this cautionary tale was meant to discourage mischievous younguns from absentmindedly burrowing through the center of the earth and releasing sudden torrents of hot magma on an unsuspecting populace. But to me the message was clear: STAY AWAY. God is clean: dirt is dirty. And that's where the Devil lives...down there...below the ground, in the sand and muck beneath our feet and fingers...
Tim Burns, Brian Moffatt, Six Days That Shook the Walt


The outdoors and I have the kind of relationship many of you fine folks claim to have with winter, to wit: nice to look at, awful to experience.
That point is driven home many times throughout the year, but never so forcefully as on Canada's National Gardening Weekend...this weekend.

This first holiday of "summer"--granted, calendar summer doesn't arrive for nearly another month, but Canadians will call "summer" at the drop of a snow shovel--goes by several names. Officially, it's Victoria Day, after the long-reigning (and even longer mouldering) Queen. It's also colloquially called "Opening Day" (as people take the opportunity to open their cottages). I've heard this weekend referred to as the "May Long". But most people under a certain age call it the "two-four". It's a mark of my naivete that I didn't get the pun until I was twenty four myself: a 'two-four' is Canadian slang for a 24-pack of beers, which are ubiquitous this weekend. "Why do you call it the two-four," I wondered, "when it almost never falls on the 24th of May?" That earned me the look I've come to expect, the one that says who is this moron, and what planet does he hail from?

In most of Canada, you can pretty much rest assured there won't be any more frost after the 'two-four'. That's not always the case: four years ago, we had flurries on this date, and it's been known to snow in Calgary in July. But it's considered a safe bet to plant your summer garden right around now, and plant people do. Every grocery store, mine included, rushes to set up as big a garden center as they can manage. It's the one time of year that people will actually buy literal shit. Cow manure, sheep manure, even pig manure. I can't help looking at you folks askance. I manufacture my own manure and flush it down without a second thought...you actually pay for yours and lovingly season your yard, the yard within smelling distance of your own home. This strikes me as mentally unstable behaviour.
I absolutely loathe the feeling of dirt on my hands. My pores somehow s-t-r-e-t-c-h (rhymes with wretch and retch) and suck the muck into my very bloodstream, where it corrupts everything it touches. Blech. Gardening gloves go some distance towards solving this problem, except I find it very hard to get a decent grip on anything while wearing gloves. I have the same attitude towards gloves that an old friend of mine has towards socks: I'll wear them if I have to, but, awww, do I have to?

The dirt is just the beginning. Also one must contend with the sweat and the clouds of gnats that it attracts. Gnats are crunchy, did you know that? I learned this yesterday morning as Eva and I lifted up the patio we'd laid three years ago in preparation for the deck that's replacing it this week.

Eva and I make a pretty fair team, if I do say so myself. A few weeks ago, we rehabilitated our front lawn somewhat, to the point where actual grass seems to be seeking a toehold on it. Yesterday we made remarkably short work of lifting that patio. It helped that the soil surrounding it was damp. Well, that didn't help my mood much: the muggy atmosphere was driving me gnatty. But the job itself was easier than I'd anticipated.

Every year I tell my wife I'm going to take better care of the backyard. Every year I renege on this commitment. I've become quite the expert at rationalization. Really, I tell myself, how much point is there in yard maintenance when our Georgia and her beloved Peach-ball have churned up such a huge fan-shaped chunk of that yard? It's all dirt at this point, nary a blade of grass to be seen. I tell myself I'll get serious about it when the dogs move on to that puppy-patch in the sky and it's time to sell. And I will: unless we're lucky enough to put the house on the market in January, nobody's apt to buy it with a yard looking like that one does.

Meantime, I'm slowly working my way up to a limited tolerance of the Great Outdoors. Limited meaning "in the morning, for a short period, before the heat comes along and fricassees my ass". I still resent doing tasks that recur: what I'd really like is an AstroTurf yard. But I'm coming along, even if it drives me to drink. Ahh, that explains it. Anybody got a two-four handy?

23 May, 2010

Big Brother?

The CBC reports that the government is paying a Toronto company "to monitor social activity and help identify … areas where misinformation is being presented and repeated as fact," according to a spokesperson. The government then leaps into action, presenting its side of the story.

Oh, the horror.

You'd think, from the online reaction, that people are being jailed for thoughtcrime. That the government was trying to censor the Internet. That Harper's into mind control.

Whatever.

How many of these same people have ever thought to themselves what the hell is the government up to? What are they thinking? Do they even know how to think? How many of these same people work up a lather imagining government secrecy and opacity? How many would react a little differently if, say, Ignatieff was in power and the Blogging Tories were spreading manure around the Net?

I'm really not sure what drives the outrage, here. I suspect part of it is the shattering of the illusion that so many insist on lovingly cultivating. You know the one I mean: the illusion that whatever you post in an online forum is only visible to a select few. If they're seeing my words, the faulty thinking goes, then on some level I know them and they know me and everything's okay. Some people can stretch their minds enough to admit that strangers are viewing their thoughts, maybe even strangers who may bear them ill will...but it appears nobody has even considered that some of those strangers might work for (gasp) the Big Bad Government.

If I ever needed further proof that the Net cultivates a hive mind, it's here in spades. "Conservative propaganda", sputters the top-voted comment on CBC.ca, as if anything associated with Harper is propaganda by definition. Reasonable debate be damned: obviously the government, or at least this government, doesn't have the right to publicly air an opinion. Preposterous.

I for one welcome this initiative and think it should be expanded. Imagine being able to react in real time as the feds formulate policy. Imagine having the whole of Wikipedia at your disposal as you rebut some inane piece of legislation being contemplated. Imagine YouTube videos soliciting opinions, tweets updating progress, Facebook groups for and against all manner of things (just as exist now) but where you know somebody's paying attention. This is what the Internet is FOR, people! Empowerment of Joe and Jill Citizen!


19 May, 2010

The Short and Curlies

Oh, give me a home
Where the buffalo roam
And I'll show you a dirty house...


Like every other male human being I know, I hate cleaning things. Partly I'm just lazy, of course, but it goes deeper than that. I'm convinced that the little snippet of the second X chromosome that got snipped just happens to contain the genetic markings for an ability to see/care about dirt.

It's not that I live in a sty (although folks of the Martha Stewart persuasion would undoubtedly think so, and that's fine...they're entitled to live in their museums if it makes them happy). No, I'm just a clutterbug. I'm one who knows the answer to the famous question if a cluttered desk signifies a cluttered mind, what does an empty desk signify?
That said, every so often the clutter approaches some kind of critical mass and triggers a paroxysm of cleaning effort. As I get older, I'm finding my tolerance for stacks of paper and piles of books ever so subtly decreasing, and my willingness to do something about them increasing just as imperceptibly.
There are some things I don't mind doing at all. Dishes, for example. I'm one of the few people I know who doesn't have a dishwasher--I'm the dishwasher--and it doesn't bother me in the slightest. I don't mind doing laundry, either, although putting it away grates on me, since it seems to take about as long to fold/hang clothes as it does to wash and dry them.

And I rarely bother to make my bed. Why would I? It's not like anybody's going to see it today. Not in real life, anyway. Ahem.

Bathrooms? Hate 'em. With a passion.

Oh, the actual cleaning of them isn't so bad, but for one thing. Okay, many things. Many curly, hairy things that stick to porcelain like glue, bending and twisting into taunting smirking hairy grins. You can't lift me, nah na-na-na-nah! No matter what cleaning apparatus I use--cloth, ScotchBrite, even a Swiffer Duster, which makes short work of anything not in a bathroom--all I ever succeed in doing is moving the little buggers around. I'm pretty sure they even enjoy the ride. Whee. After what seems like hours playing pubic-hair chess, I'm usually able to shove most of them into the toilet bowl proper, at which point I pause to catch my breath before beaming a satanic grin down as they wriggle together in an effort to form a life raft. Then I flush. Mercilessly. Our toilet flushes in three seconds flat, with a torrent that's absolutely un-survivable. My laugh sounds just like the evil chuckle of the flushing mechanism.
I start to get up, knees popping like my name is Orville Redenbacher--and then I catch sight of four or five little wigglies that I missed. I know when my back is turned, they'll commence to breeding. Hairs from that area of the world are renowned for it.

Screw every bathroom cleanser ever made. What we REALLY need is Pubes-B-Gone. I'd buy that. Wouldn't you?

16 May, 2010

Biting My Own (Re)Tail

or, TALES FROM AISLE TEN (IV)

You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need
--The Rolling Stones, of course

I take my job seriously. Often too seriously. It's a failing of mine. It led, in part, to the diagnosis of a peptic ulcer several years ago, at which time I began to make a conscious effort to lighten up a little.
It's not always easy...but it has gotten easier, particularly in the past six months or so. "Help" is no longer a four-letter-word to me. Nor, it seems, to my immediate supervisor, who--most days--is able to spare someone to give a hand.
I'm still woefully behind on any number of things, mind you. Price tags go missing in my department with alarming regularity, for instance. Up to fifty a week just up and disappear, sometimes actually taking the orange stripping that fronts their shelf along with them, and I'll be damned if I can tell you where that gets off to. It's kind of like coming home and finding your couch missing. That kind of thing is too big to just evaporate. Yet it happens.
And Head Office has a nasty habit of changing prices on a given item every other week. Which would be all well and good except I'm one of the few people in the store that can find anything in my aisle. So oftentimes the new tag doesn't make it on to the shelf until somebody draws my attention to the banana alfredo that's tagged at $3.27 and scanning at $3.29. (I'm amazed how many people notice, let alone care so deeply, about two cents...) Sometimes it seems like the file maintenance in my aisle and a half of store is itself a full time job...
*sigh* Let it GO, Ken...

Okay. On to what's really been bothering me. I'm losing a vendor.

I have (had) four suppliers of yogurt, as follows:

COMPANY A--was, for quite some time, "the" name in yogurt. A few years ago, they made a classic frontrunner's blunder and failed to acknowledge a change in their market until it was far too late. Despite the phenomenal success of one particular line, they have steadily lost market share in other segments. That said, they still have many loyal customers.

COMPANY B leapt out in front in the "diet segment", being the first company to eschew aspartame and capitalizing on people's growing disdain for same. They live and die on that diet segment and their kids' products, which outsell everyone else's.

COMPANY C used to have the single best-selling economy yogurt in Canada, until they inexplicably discontinued the whole line. Now they trail A and B quite badly in most segments, but do hold their own in plain yogurt. Their Balkan variety is my single best-selling sku on the entire counter.

I'd never even heard of COMPANY D until their rep showed up one day towards the end of last year with a request that I at least try to sell a few of his products. Even though space was extremely limited, I thought I'd give it a go. I was, quite honestly, surprised, almost shocked, when people starting buying up D yogurt beyond all expectations, demanding more and more flavours and even requesting other products, such as pressed cottage cheese, kefir, and sour cream. My chain viewed upstart D with some skepticism, only once featuring their yogurt in a flyer. And yet, even without promotion, it got to the point where--all things being equal--I was selling more D yogurt than A, B, or C. Most of their yogurt is organic and all of it is of exceptionally high quality, as any glance at their ingredient lists would ascertain.

First, we found out that we were losing half of company A's lines. This, to be honest, wasn't a shock, although the backroom wheelings, dealings and squealings that went into the decision opened even my jaded eyes a little. Companies B and C had acted in concert to secure an exclusivity deal in the creamy and diet segments. I went from two deliveries of A a week down to one, and making the minimum order for that single delivery is sometimes a bit of a struggle.
I was a bit distraught over this at the time, wondering how my customers would handle it. One in particular: an elderly lady who came in every Thursday like clockwork for three sixteen-packs of A. I always smiled when I saw her--that's over twenty bucks a week just in yogurt!--while privately wondering if she bathed in the stuff or what.
Came the first Thursday after my counter stock of A had depleted and I offered her three packs of C, which was the only other sixteen I had on shelf that matched her preferred flavour grouping exactly. Next week, she came in and said she hated the C-packs...had thrown them out after a single taste, in fact. "Like pudding", she said, disgustedly. I'd warned her of the difference in texture--A, to me, is like yogurt-water--but I guess I'd understated the difference. "I can still taste that crap!" she said.
I'd already talked to my B rep and gotten a free sixteen pack for her. The flavours didn't line up exactly, but they were close. I gave her the B and held my breath for a week.
"Nope", she said. "Still like pudding. Doesn't anybody make yogurt any more?"
There's no arguing with taste. D yogurt, which only comes in tubs, is thicker than either B or C. There can't be too many people in the world who like yogurt-water. Unfortunately, this lady, hitherto one of my best customers, is one of them.
Haven't seen her in my aisle since. I know I've lost other customers as well, and I sure as hell doubt I've gained any. Hey, I can balk, but money talks and the customers walk.

Before all this ABC nonsense, Head Office executed one of its stealth price changes, raising the retail on three (and only three) skus of D. I had seven other kinds on the shelf that were suddenly seventy cents cheaper. It made no sense. I wrote to them to draw their attention to this blunder, only to discover the blunder was mine: the seven cheaper skus of D were not authorized products. That's odd, I wrote back, because they're in our system. Anything unauthorized is tagged "DNO" in our database. None of this was. Nevertheless, I was informed that not only were the products unauthorized, the vendor itself would be discontinued shortly.

Not if I have anything to say about it. I began a campaign that bordered on obsessive. Over a period of a couple of months, as the B-C coalition took hold, I gathered sales figures showing how much D was appreciated by my customers. I related anecdotes. I begged, pleaded, and cajoled to be allowed to keep at least the D products that B and C didn't bother making equivalents for. I was told in an email tone that brooked no dissent that exclusivity deals were in place with B and C and that I was to discontinue D immediately.

Even then, I didn't give up entirely. I pored through our system and discovered companies E and F, neither of which I had ever done business with before. I wrote a different specialist at Head Office to inquire if I could bring them in, provided I (of course) stayed away from yogurt. At least the people buying five cases of kefir and three of pressed cottage cheese a week would have something. I hate sending customers elsewhere. Just hate it.

I got a letter back promptly, thanking me for my "passion for the business". No, I thought. I've got a passion for customer service, not business. They're supposed to be one and the same, but...He told me he was investigating with the higher-ups to determine of some "unique" products could be re-listed. That's all I'm asking, damnit.

A similar episode sparked briefly on the egg counter. I was informed that free run and organic eggs would be discontinued. It only took one email to fix that, but then, all my eggs come from the same company and there are no "exclusivity deals" in play. But seriously, come on, let me run my department. Maybe free run and organic eggs don't sell in Toronto--hell, I know they don't, most stores never bothered carrying either--but they sell quite well here, and once again I'm being told to send people to the competition? ARRRRRGGGGGGHHHH!

I'm slowly coming back down from my frightful fits of "passion". I'm not exactly apathetic about all this now: I'm still wondering what I'm going to say when people approach me (and they will) looking for the D yogurt they love. But something big has come along to take at least part of my mind off the madness.

My store sold more per square foot in fiscal 2009 than any other in the banner. A sorely-needed expansion/renovation has been promised, repromised, and promised again. The space next door was bought a year ago and gutted soon afterwards. Nothing happened. And then, after a month or ten, nothing continued to happen.

Until now.




no audio, but I don't need Muzak to like it

I'm not sure when exactly this is happening, but it will, and it's the best thing to happen to my store. We're ten years old, and we look it. Not that we're dirty or anything: we're dated, which is almost as bad. (Stale Co?) This place is state of the art. I'm going Wednesday with my boss and some colleagues to see it for myself, and I don't mind admitting my grocery geekiness when I say how excited I am.

One of their (soon to be our) philosophies centers on quality, a higher quality than you'll find in most discount banners at a cheaper price. We also believe we'll be granted local autonomy, meaning local vendors or vendors reflecting the local market wherever possible. I doubt this means I can bring my D yogurt back, but I can hope...

12 May, 2010

Inspirational Government?!

Two words that, at least in Canada and the U.S., are as oxymoronic as a liberal conservative or an initial conclusion. And yet, surveying this, my initial conclusion is that Britain's liberal-conservative coalition is an example of inspirational government.
Granted, much of this came in the form of preconditions for the establishment of the coalition in the first place, and a great deal remains to be ironed out...but that in and of itself is somewhat amazing. That two parties, normally completely at odds with each other, can look at a list of disparate policy objectives and say I can work with this is so far from expected political behaviour "over 'ere" as to be frankly incredible.
And just look at some of these initiatives.

  • A referendum on proportional representation. Hey, if the Motherland can scrap first past the post and institute some form of PR, maybe we can do it too!
  • high speed rail is a priority. In Canada, it's arguable we have the population density to make such a thing work, although I'd certainly like to see it in the Windsor-Quebec city corridor. But with further oil shocks coming, it's entirely sensible to be abandoning further aviation development in favour of a high-speed rail network.
  • An elected "Senate", i.e., the scrapping of the House of Lords. Now, I'm not completely sold on this--I think there is something to be said for a "chamber of sober second thought"--but hereditary lordship is replete with its own set of pitfalls, most of which have been stumbled into over the last year or so. Kudos to the coalition for (a) recognizing this and (b) being willing to do something substantive about it.
There are several other items on the list of which I'm sure I would have an opinion were I British. But again, the mere fact of this list's existence gives me some much-needed faith in elected bodies. Hell, watching Brown fall on his sword and actually tell the Queen to offer the government to the Opposition...can you imagine a scenario wherein Stephen Harper would do that? Or Ignatieff? I can't.

10 May, 2010

One infinitillion

Have I got this right? So Europe's economies are choking on debt. Greece was, what, a week or two from sailing over the cliff of solvency, in all probability dragging the whole Eurozone with it...and what an almighty ker-sploosh that would have made, eh? Obviously that's to be avoided, at, well...

...all costs.

It's a trillion dollars, to start. And it's coming from the Eurozone itself. This is fascinating. Where did they get this money, pray tell? And if they've had ONE TRILLION DOLLARS just sitting around gathering dust all this time, how the heck did this crisis ever get to be just averted in the first place?

Is nobody asking this question? (Besides you, James...I know you are.)

I'm going to echo Kunstler's prediction. The stock market is drunk on money right now...even the Goldman Sachs-ers aren't accustomed to ONE TRILLION DOLLARS just appearing out of thin air. I wonder what's going to happen when all that money disappears into the thin air whence it came? Do they just announce a quadrillion next week, a jillion the week after, leading up to an infinitillion dollars? 'Cause hey, I can play this game too. Here, America, here's a squillion dollars. Take it, it's all yours.

09 May, 2010

Naivete

When I was a kid, I thought that radio stations were studios where actual bands played the music. That illusion was only shattered when I spun the dial one day and discovered the same song being played in two places at once.

Naivete. Painful innocence. I've still got it in spades. In fact, the older I get, the more naive I seem.

For instance: torrents. Downloading things, a.k.a. "stealing", is still (technically) legal in Canada, albeit not for much longer. (I know the bill that's eventually going to pass is not C-61, but it will look a lot like it).

Google "legal use of torrents" and you'll be informed that Bittorrent is completely legal so long as you use it legally. Legal uses of torrent technology include downloading anything with a Creative Commons license and downloading a copy of an item you already legally own. To which I say, huh? The only Creative Commons stuff I've run across is from Cory Doctorow or Jonathan Coulton (and, incidentally, I can't recommend either's works highly enough). Doubtless there's lots more, but I'm not all that inclined to stumble around looking for it. And as for procuring a copy of a work I already own...why? Seriously, why? If I want to put music on my iPod from a disk, I put the disk in the computer and sync the iPod. No torrent required. If I have a movie on DVD...oh, yeah. Some people like to watch movies on little tiny screens. Weirdos. Still don't need to torrent it to transfer it, though.

No, to me, the free lunch will always be illegal, whatever the laws say. And let's face it, most people use torrents to download all manner of content, completely irrespective of copyright.

I equate torrents with radar detectors. Both let you break the law with relative ease and impunity. And so I'm not surprised that the entertainment industry is up in arms trying to shut the things down, any more than I'm surprised that "radar detector detectors" exist. Part of me's even rooting for The Man, as hard as that is to admit. Information may want to be free, but artists want to eat. Too many people seem to ignore that in the hopes it will go away. Naive of them, says I.

But then, I'm naive myself. Right?

01 May, 2010

Spill, baby, spill*

"Drill, baby, drill!"
--Republican campaign slogan, 2008

"You want oil? I'll give you oil.
"
--Mother Nature, as overheard by Mike Ruppert

The water is black--the coast was clear--
Now they're sweating dollars, dripping fear.
What a way to end the fiscal year:
Mopping up the dirty pool.
--Spirit of the West, "Dirty Pool"

For once I think the doomers, if anything, have understated the case. The swiftly growing oil slick--if you can call something soon to be the size of Ohio a "slick"--is already a serious problem. It has the potential to become a real bitch-monster of a problem, real soon. Already there is speculation the oil could actually be driven south of the Florida Keys, killing off the third largest coral reef in the world (and the only one in this hemisphere), before roiling north up the eastern seaboard of the United States.

The response so far is sadly all too familiar in every particular. First, there's the finger pointing. The U.S government blames British Petroleum, who counters that they warned about precisely this scenario a decade ago. The Tea Party folks, predictably, blame Obama. Bill Maher, with whom I emphatically agree, says that everyone who chanted "drill, baby, drill!" last year should be helping with the cleanup.

Reality is, there's plenty of blame (and a great deal of shame) to go around. But can we bloody well fix the problem before we start assigning culpability?
About that problem. BP claims it has no idea what happened. Right. Everyone from Wikipedia on down can tell you it was a blowout. The Forbes blog advances some plausible causes. But if BP were to shout out any theories it may have, that would of course be construed as an admission of guilt. And avoiding guilt is important. Really important. Infinitely more important than letting everyone know exactly what's wrong and how it might be fixed or at least ameliorated.
And--of course--the loonies are out, suggesting this might have been eco-terrorism" or an act of war. After all, it happened on the day before Earth Day! That must be significant!
If THAT theory spreads, we'll get lots more entertaining diversions that will do nothing to solve the damn problem.
What else is predictable? Well, BP first said the leak was 1000 barrels (42000 gallons, 158760 litres) a day. On Wednesday we found out it was more like 5000 barrels (210,000 gallons, 793,800 L) a day. And latest estimates show yet another five-fold increase, to 25,000 bbl (1,050,000 gallons, or 3,969,000 L) a day. At this rate, by the time I wake up in the morning, all the oil in the world will be in the Gulf of Mexico.

So. What does this mean? There is, of course, the obvious environmental disaster, and I'd rather not dwell too much on that lest I burst into tears. I'm becoming increasingly sensitive to animal suffering as I age--credit my wife for this--and this is suffering writ large, boldfaced, and underlined. As Spirit of the West put it in their song "Dirty Pool" (written in response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, which this one will very shortly eclipse):

The shoreline's tarred and feathered
And the seagulls look like crows
The unofficial explanation
"shit happens don't you know"
But this is far more than an ecological catastrophe. It's an economic nightmare as well. Locally, of course: there are plenty of people who depend on the Gulf one way or another for a livelihood that looks to be dead for some time to come. But also globally: what do you think this will do to the price of oil, just as peak driving season hits? $100? $150? Higher? If Katrina was enough to jack the price of oil up to $140/bbl, what will this do? As of this writing, only the folks on the fringe will forecast, and they've been forecasting oil at $200/bbl for years. Nobody's suggesting it will stay that high, not least because the economy would collapse (again). But it could well by that the wolf they've been crying about is actually here.

Spilt milk tears run down your chin
This cryin' shame's a fuckin' sin
Mopping up a dirty pool...


*a quick Google search shows I'm far from the only one to come up with this title. Screw it. It's too good not to use.