Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Reading

Kid Stuff — Carl Hiaasen finds the person who will plug the oil spill.

An absolutely true news item: British Petroleum says it is considering a plan to plug the main leak on the sunken Deepwater Horizon oil rig by shooting it full of shredded car tires, old golf balls and knotted ropes.

British Petroleum announced today that it has fired its top engineer for safety design and replaced him with Jody McNamara, age 12, a sixth-grade honors student at the Dwight Eisenhower Middle School in Tulsa, Okla.

McNamara, who will earn about $350,000 a year in salary and stock options, was offered the BP job after a panel of industry experts selected his 250-word essay, ”How To Stop Undersea Oil Leaks Really Quick,” over thousands of other entries.

”Jody is clearly on the cutting edge of deepwater energy technology,” said BP chief executive Tony Hayward. ”We couldn’t be happier to have him join our team at such a critical time.”

McNamara was introduced to reporters at a lunch-hour press conference in the school cafeteria. He said his first priority would be devising a new strategy for dealing with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

”I don’t want to talk trash about these other guys,” he said, ”but come on — golf balls and car tires? Seriously?”

It was not clear whether McNamara has any prior experience advising major petroleum companies. The school yearbook lists him as a member of the Science Club, Chess Club and 4-H. His interests are said to include ”soccer, skateboarding and collecting really cool arrowheads.”

The hiring of an outsider didn’t surprise industry insiders, who say BP had run out of ideas in its increasingly desperate efforts to plug the mile-deep Deepwater Horizon.

A four-story dome that was supposed to fit over the gushing wellhead became clogged with icy crystals and had to be towed away. Burning off the floating crude has had only limited success, as gobs of tar are threatening shorelines and marine life all along the Gulf coast.

”What Jody brings to the table,” said BP’s Hayward, ”is a completely fresh viewpoint on problem-solving. The principal showed us his class project from last semester — the hamster-powered light bulb? I’m telling you, this kid is scary smart.”

In his winning essay, McNamara proposed several possible options for sealing the ruptured oil pipeline. He said the most promising plan would require ”a super-long straw” and approximately 3,700 metric tons of Quaker oatmeal.

”You ever let that goop sit in a cereal bowl for an hour or two? It turns to rock,” the sixth-grader explained at his press conference. ”There’s nothing that stuff won’t clog up.”

More below the fold.

Frank Rich — A heaven-sent rent-boy.

Of all wars, only culture wars offer the hope of sheer, unadulterated hilarity. Sex and hypocrisy were staples of farce long before America became a nation, and they never go out of style. Just listen to the roaring audience at the new hit Broadway revival of the perennial “La Cage aux Folles,” where a family-values politician gets his comeuppance in drag. Or check out the real-life closet case of George Rekers, who has been fodder for late-night television comics all month.

Rekers is in a class by himself even in the era of Larry Craig and Ted Haggard. A Baptist minister and clinical psychologist with a bent for “curing” homosexuality, the married, 61-year-old Rekers was caught by Miami New Times last month in the company of a 20-year-old male escort at Miami International Airport. The couple was returning from a 10-day trip to London and Madrid. New Times, which published its exposé in early May, got an explanation from Rekers: “I had surgery, and I can’t lift luggage. That’s why I hired him.”

Alas, a photo showed Rekers, rather than his companion, handling the baggage cart. The paper also reported that Rekers had recruited the young man from, a Web site whose graphic sexual content requires visitors to vouch for their age. — really, who could make this stuff up?


Thanks to Rekers’s clownish public exposure, we now know that his professional judgments are windows into his cracked psyche, not gay people’s. But there is nothing funny about the destruction his writings and public activities have sown. His fringe views have not remained on the fringe. His excursions into public policy have had real and damaging consequences on a large swath of Americans.

The crusade he represents is, thankfully, on its last legs. American attitudes about homosexuality continue to change very fast. In the past month, as square a cultural venue as Archie comic books has announced the addition of a gay character, the country singer Chely Wright has come out as a lesbian, and Laura Bush has told Larry King that she endorses the “same” rights for all committed couples and believes same-sex marriage “will come.” All of this news has been greeted by most Americans with shrugs, as it should be.


By late last week, double-entendre wisecracks about Kagan’s softball prowess were all the rage on Fox News and MSNBC. These dying gasps of our culture wars, like Rekers’s farcical pratfall, might be funnier if millions of gay Americans and their families were not still denied their full civil rights.

Movement Away — Charles Homans writes about what happened when one conservative website ventured outside the movement bubble.

On its surface, the softly launched beta (test) version of Culture11 hewed closely to the original vision, down to its Slateish design. Poking around the site was a bit like wandering into the Christian rock section of a record store: the bands were recognizably bands, with electric guitars and vaguely countercultural clothing, but there was something … different about them, the musicians just a little too healthy looking to be real rock stars. But there were also more interesting things happening. For a site that took as its starting point a retreat from the political arena, Culture11 actually had a lot to say about the election, and it was generally more eclectic and off-message than what other political publications had on offer as November approached. This had a lot to do with the fact that Culture11’s editorial brain trust was made up of people who had little concern for—or at least needed a breather from—the self-immolating Hindenburg of movement conservatism. [Former Bush administration adviser David] Kuo had proclaimed his own disenchantment in Tempting Faith. Friedersdorf was concerned with improving journalism, not creating a permanent Republican majority. Political editor James Poulos, a PhD candidate in government at Georgetown who describes his dissertation subject as “the alluring puzzle of the Napoleonic soul,” was far too idiosyncratic in his own politics. Arts editor Peter Suderman was a libertarian who in the last frenzied days of the election spent a whole column arguing that voting was stupid. Having no claim to any particular ideological niche, Culture11 tried to corral them all in the same room and get them talking to each other. “People talk about the conservative circular firing squad—I think we see ourselves as a demilitarized zone,” Friedersdorf told me. “There is nothing like an agreement on our staff that would allow us to claim a slice of anything.” The result, perhaps inevitably, lacked a real sense of identity, but it also offered the closest thing political journalism had to a controlled experiment. Drawing mostly from the gated intellectual community of East Coast–based young political writers, Culture11’s contributors were often people who also wrote for more ideologically coherent political magazines, environments that encouraged groupthink. What they wrote for Culture11, which encouraged the opposite, was often much smarter.

Doonesbury — the Red Rascal rides.

The week in review with Jon Stewart.

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