Oil and Water, Republicans and Democrats, Right and Wrong

I am reminded of a line from the movie Forrest Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does”.  President Obama is accused of working halfheartedly at the problem in the Gulf of Mexico.  This sticks because he’s been entertaining, attending baseball games, and putting in appearances on the scene to make it look like he’s doing something.  The press is by and large quiet about this.  Then, somehow The Washington Times (along with the rest of the media) found it’s voice to say this:

Lawmakers from both parties on Sunday criticized BP PLC Chief Executive Tony Hayward for taking part in a yacht race along the English coast two days after testifying on Capitol Hill regarding his company’s role in the oil spill.

Before I go on to the matter of what Rep. Barton said, let me make note of the blatant double standard.  It is fine for the President to do other things besides spend every waking moment on the crisis.  But it is not appropriate for the BP Chief Executive to take a break?  Honestly, what can the BP Chief Executive, or the President really do beyond setting up their teams and providing leadership?  As far as that goes, based on what I can see, BP has taken ownership of this problem, and it is their key focus.  The President it seems is more interested in how things look.

In addition, have you ever stared at a problem for an extended period of time?  Have you ever found yourself running into the same challenges preventing you from solving your problems each time you tried?  I know I have, and history is replete with examples of how answers have come from the least expected places, and from getting away from the grind of the problem.  Take penicillin for example.  The Wikipedia entry contains this quote:

Fleming recounted that the date of his discovery of penicillin was on the morning of Friday, September 28, 1928.[14] It was a fortuitous accident: in his laboratory in the basement of St. Mary’s Hospital in London (now part of Imperial College), Fleming noticed a petri dish containing Staphylococcus plate culture he had mistakenly left open, which was contaminated by blue-green mould, which had formed a visible growth. There was a halo of inhibited bacterial growth around the mould.

Resist the urge to think that I am saying we should pray for a “fortuitous accident” to solve the current crisis, although at this point any way of getting the problem resolved would help the Gulf ecosystems, and the lives and livelihoods that depend on it.

I also realize that people in elected positions from each party are saying things that are being parsed in every way imaginable.  I am currently thinking about the comments made by Rep. Joe L. Barton of Texas.

Rep. Joe L. Barton, Texas Republican, on Thursday accused the administration of extortion after it secured a $20 billion compensation fund from BP for victims of the oil spill, calling the move a “shakedown.”  – The Washington Times

I agree with the congressman!  But wait!  I do believe that BP should pay, and that the amount they pay should be substantial, perhaps even more than $20 billion.  But they should not do it because any government tells them to do it.  They should do it because it is the right thing to do.

Here are some facts and hard questions.

Natural disasters happen, and our hearts go out to the victims.  Sure, some people blame God for those, but in the end, blaming God does little to mitigate the human suffering.  Instead we mount global relief efforts and work to reduce the suffering.  What if this oil spill was the result of an earthquake in the Gulf of Mexico instead of an oil-rig explosion?  I submit that as difficult as capping this well is, it is easier than resolving the problem we would have if it wasn’t a man-made rupture.

Since “Life is like a box of chocolates–you never know what you’re going to get”, I figured I’d add my thoughts on solving the current crisis.

What do we know?  It will take months to plug the leak.  Oil will damage ecosystems.  How does oil damage ecosystems?  It coats feathers, sticks to marsh plants, and destroys the beauty of beaches.  My approach is simple.  We know what oil is attracted to.  We know what it doesn’t mix with.  Why not bring the things that oil is attracted to closer to where the oil is coming from.  Instead of dispersing it, work on containing it.  Currents move oil in water like lint moves in air.  We all have lint traps on our driers at home.  Why not build giant oil traps?

Now, some will say, what about the oil that has already damaged the coastal areas?  I don’t know.  That’s why I would look for ways to take the fight to the oil, instead of waiting for the oil to wash up on shore.  I would look for ways to move a more acceptable “shore” to the oil.  The oil is going to damage something… far better that it is something we are willing to sacrifice.

What would be even better is if the oil could then be separated back out of whatever was used to absorb it.  I know they extract oil from shale or tar sand.  Why not do this intentionally in reverse?  This would turn the oil into a solid, and keep it from damaging coastal ecosystems.

I hope this generates discussion with a view towards a solution to this crisis that makes the best out of a terrible situation.  I hope it also demonstrates the futility of placing blame.  There will be plenty of time for that… or maybe with the perspective of a decade, we will look back and see that we are all to blame.

How are we all to blame, you ask?  Well, we ask more of government than it can deliver with the resources that government has.  We fail to take personal responsibility.  We fail to demand accountability in government, and continue to elect the “lesser of two evils”, because a member of congress helped solve our personal problem with government, so we feel we owe them.

The bottom line is this.  What is right must prevail.  Perhaps the problem is, among other things, that we have things backward.  Instead of individuals trying things that may turn out to be wrong, we have policy that’s wrong preventing people from even trying things that turn out to be wrong in an attempt to find out what is right.  In the end, the destruction is an unnecessary self fulfilling prophecy.

It is time to rewrite the story.  It is time to do things right.  It is time to admit failed attempts, not as failure, but as yet something else that didn’t work, and keep trying.  It is time to stop the blaming, and simply get down to the business of solving the problem.

Talk is cheap, including what I’ve had to say in this piece.  Is it too much to hope that what I’ve said will make a difference?