Wednesday, June 15, 2005

80 Million Barrels a Day

I'm happy to announce good new for all those either foolish or self-serving enough to deny that human activity since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution has affected climate change.

Philip Cooney, the White House's Council on Environmental Quality chief of staff and former oil-industry lobbyist, will join Exxon Mobil. When Cooney read government reports on climate change and decided to oversee final edits that would downplay human activity as a cause while casting doubt on good science, I'm sure Exxon Mobil was in the back of his mind. In part because Exxon Mobil Chairman Lee Raymond hates the Kyoto climate accord and constantly questions climate scientists and their work.

I can understand being skeptical about science. About the conclusions scientists reach. About the conclusions scientists reach that are acclaimed, upheld, and otherwise bolstered by the world's top scientists over many years then published in the world's top peer-reviewed journals. I can certainly understand being skeptical about work that you're not trained to do or understand. I worked in a lab a few doors down from guys studying glacial ice-core samples 10 hours a day with a view toward ancient atmospheres. Woah.

But when you work for Exxon, it's not really skepticism at play. It's your cause. Your livelihood. Your raison d'etre. If this global warming thing is true, and if enough people believe it, then Exxon has to find some new product lines. That's why the "skepticism" of Cooney and Raymond is nothing more than propaganda thinly disquised as righteousness.

All that said, I drive a car. I like driving my car because it makes travel much easier in a city beset by ancient socio-economic postulates that undermine public transportation. And it takes me one-third of the time to get to work. So I'm not against oil companies, as a general measure. Even if I didn't drive, I'm surrounded by enough plastic on a daily basis to stock the tables of a block-long stretch of Manhattan schtick-vendors. In fact, I'm becoming convinced that many of the oil companies are embracing forward thinking. Some even shy away from the prospect of drilling in ANWR.

But as long as profits are solely linked to our tired emotional and physical bond with petroleum as fuel, the prospect of global warming--despite the evidence--will remain anathema to those controlling the pump.

Without a Net

This weekend over dinner with relatives visiting from the great Midwest, the question "Are we really more secure since 9/11?" came up. If a dinner lasts beyond dessert and into lingering drinks, the topic is inevitable. Borders, ports, chemical plants: the usual culprits were acknowledged, pondered, and--with a shudder of anxiety--discarded for lighter fare.

Today, I read commercial pilot Patrick Smith's essay on a loophole I didn't know existed. While all of us who fly are allowed to admire the smart uniforms and cocky personae of the pilots and flight attendants standing in the snaking, shuffling security lines with us, it turns out we are not allowed to see something else.

Hector, who works for an aircraft-cleaning contractor, is shuttled from the parking lot to the terminal, where he slides his ID badge through a magnetic reader on a security door and walks, backpack full of day's gear, to a waiting Air France 777 whose seat backs he must empty and toilets he must scrub. Without walking through a metal detector, having his bag searched, or talking to security personnel. And the Hectors of United States airports number almost one million. If he's been through a background check at all, it might be overlooked or otherwise ignored. Background aside, nothing prevents him from doing what he will, unsupervised, inside a plane awaiting takeoff.

Read it. It's astonishing. More importantly, Smith lends his usual level-headedness to a possible solution.

Question of the hour: While a zero-tolerance security environment is cost-prohibitive, why can't the TSA focus more on security itself than the perception of security?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Stupid Little Gum

I chew a lot of gum. The mint is refreshing. The cinnamon is lively, a little prodding. The bubble gum flavor harkens back to the days when I wore knickers. . . .

I'm sorry; did I actually say that out loud? It's not like I wore ladies' underwear or anything. Maybe the stretchy work-out kind once in a while. To prevent chaffing.


I'm tired of the gum. It's all small pieces, flavor that lasts about 12 minutes, and so much packaging that I have to use a staple remover to get to the tiny space-food-lookin' pieces. I end up chewing about 8 pieces at a time to maintain any remotely fullfilling mouth-feel. I end up wrestling with this huge mass of jaw-cringing nastiness that after about 4 minutes retains only a piddling lukewarm trickle of the Arctic Chill I'm promised.

The sad thing is that the packaging and the advertisements promise so much more:

ICE: "There's nothing colder than ice." You're right. But this is gum. And it blows.

Orbit: Look at me, I'm doing 5 G's in my frickin' mouth with this space-age gum, ma! Screw you, Wrigley's.

Juicy Fruit: I'm so juicy! I'm so juicy! Yeah, you're full of sugar, big guy. And, while I admit you're somewhat mystically fruity flavor is appealing, I'm still left with a tan-grey asteroid of rubber in my mouth 10 minutes later.

I'd settle for a bag of Big League Chew--despite the sugar and the 30-second flavor burst that burns out to nothing--just for something interesting. But, alas, I can't find it anywhere. And can you see me in my knickers jamming a palm full of shredded bubble gum in my cheek? Pink shreds falling everywhere.

Even the excruciatingly artificial grape of a massive cargo-container chunk of Bubbalicious would beat the crap out of one of these weak, "flavor charged!" "just-brushed-clean-feeling," "look how pretty and smooth and hard-shelled I am" niblets of glory.

Screw you, gum makers.