“Help, me, help me……DON’T!!!”

As the oil spill in the Gulf has unfolded, one of the things that has become abundantly is that what happened on the destroyed exploration platform was almost inevitable. Though they should have been more vigilant, more ‘ahead of the curve’, everyone who was concerned with the safety of such operations was in fact living in denial. As wells were drilled in deeper and deeper waters, plans for how to deal with just this sort of problem became more and more out of date. Things like the much-discussed blow-out preventer, how different possible failure modes might be dealt with, almost at every turn, planning seems to have been based just as much on wishful thinking as it was on hard data.

Given that, you would think that the logical first step to try to make sure nothing like this ever happens again would be to stop any new drilling. You’d also think that, with every single official along the Gulf Coast screaming for the federal government to “Do Something”, that this would be something they’d swing in behind.

WRONG!

With oil coating nearly everything that touches the Gulf, even with the very real possibility that any one of the oil rigs now drilling off their shore could fail with just as horribly, these same officials are now screaming about the possible loss of jobs this might represent.

It is almost understandable, but the emphasis in that statement should be on the word almost. Would things be better for the shrimpers, fishermen and all the other people who depend on a Gulf of Mexico be better off if another oil well fails? Would their economies benefit from an ecological disaster that was far larger than the current one? That lasted not for the multiple-months currently projected for the BP spill, but for year? Doesn’t it make sense to try to figure out just how bad things might be now, and do what it takes to fix them, instead of just cross our collective fingers and hope for the best? Yes, it’s going to have a cost to it, and yes it’s going to be painful. That can’t be denied, but neither can it be denied that the alternatives are potentially as bad, if not worse.

To the folks on the Gulf Coast who are yelling their heads off, demanding help with every other breath, a hint:

If you ask for help, don’t complain when you get it! Got it?

Mind you, the folks from the other end of the political spectrum are not exactly brimming with good ideas either. I had the pleasure, despite a day long off-and-on rain, of attending Chicago’s literary celebration, the Printer’s Row Lit Fest. If you are from anywhere around the Chicago area, and love books, this is one of those events you should keep track of and attend. One of the exhibitors was a group called “Revolution Press”. From everything I read and could deduce, they operate as something like the official press arm of the Communist Party. Along with their booth, where they sell various books they publish, they also engage attendees in an effort to drum up support for various causes. This year was no different, and their cause belli on this occasion was the above mentioned Gulf oil spill. In their case, they were appealing to people to either attend a meeting on the spill they are planning for a short time in the future, or to contribute money to help support said meeting. They had a nicely done poster at their booth, which I read out of my usual curiosity, but before I had time to finish the entire poster, one of their people came over to ask me to join their effort. What resulted was a multi-minute debate over their gathering. I had read enough to give me the gist of what the meeting would basically be: people setting around talking about how this was wrong and that Something Should Be Done. When I asked the individual who approached me this point, I was told that this was needed to ‘draw attention to the matter’, as though nightly images of the ongoing devastation were not enough to do this already. I was also told how BP had known that there was a problem with the now-infamous blow-out preventer and could have fixed it for a fairly small sum (again, far from breaking news). My counter-argument boiled down to one point: what happened can’t be undone, and that setting around discussing and rehashing the point would accomplish nothing. Au contrare!, I was informed, this would be a forum where people and scientists could get together and figure out what to do next. The old cockle about ‘America put a man on the Moon’ was even brought forward to justify further discussions. In the end, my counterpart couldn’t see that, in all likelihood, the scientists and experts would come to the conclusion that the only way to fix the problem is to plug the leak, and that until that’s done, all talk is vain. I would have been more than willing to give a few dollars if, instead of wanting to talk about the problem, they’d been recruiting people to don haz-mat suits and help clean beaches. That bit of practicality seemed to be as far beyond them as the sense of stopping drilling until we know we can contain another failure-induced leak is to the conservatives along the Gulf Coast.

So, you may ask, what is the moral of this particular story? The central core, I think, is that wisdom never comes from the fringes of politics, only useless rhetoric and empty gestures. That if you want to fix a problem, you first have to be willing to do something more than complain about it. That making a sacrifice, be it a painful one or a personal one, is sometimes needed to make that solution possible. That, maybe, if the fringes could channel some of their energy into concrete action, into actually doing something to help fix the problem, or at least clear up the aftermath, that the world would be a lot better place.

Why is it I doubt any of them will read this, or if they do, that they’ll actually listen?

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