27 May 2010

BP PR - The Ultimate Junk Shot

The Ultimate Junk Shot

The ultimate junk shot is not injecting a clever mixture of golf balls and tire shards into the blowout preventer. It's that we live in a balls-out corporatocracy where laissez faire capitalism - from the likes of Ayn Rand to Rand Paul - repeatedly explodes into a fireball.

Mud Beats Oil

The headline for BP's Top Kill procedure at the Deepwater Horizon calamity read "Mud Beats Oil". This makes me wonder if BP executives do a collegial round of Rock-Paper-Scissors before making all crucial decisions.

Why are so many corporations hell-bent on doing the wrong thing?
BP is destroying an entire region of the world & there's still no talk of cutting their next dividend -- Scott Adams

But, it does make for dark humor.

Here are the funniest and most poignant tweets about the BP calamity from the fake BP Twitter account BPGlobalPR:
  • The good news: Mermaids are real. The bad news: They are now extinct. #bpcares
  • We are dedicated to helping the wildlife in the gulf. Any birds that need cleaning must report to 287 Quartemain St, Baton Rouge, LA 70801.
  • Just got the concession call from Exxon Valdez. They were great competitors and remarkably evil about everything. #bpwins!
  • Not only are we dropping a top hat on the oil spill, we're going to throw in a cane and monocle as well. Keeping it classy.
  • If Top Kill doesn't work, we're just gonna toss a giant "Get Well Soon" card into the gulf and hope for the best. #bpcares
  • BP will be sponsoring the New Orleans Blues Festival this summer w/ special tribute to Muddy Waters. #bpcares
  • We just saw a shark fight an octopus inside the geyser. Almost made this whole thing worth it.
  • We are starting a movement to fix the oil leak. Just mail your garbage to New Orleans and we'll take it from there.
  • Sorry Kevin Costner, if we were interested in what you had to say, we'd rent Tin Cup.

Man With The BP Hat

Modified lyrics to The Man With The Big Hat
performed by Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson

Click the play button and follow along...

Jeff Jeff Walker:
In a 'lil bar south of Cut Off
Was on a sultry Louisiana day
Oil Boy comin' off the road, just to pass the time away
Pulled a stool up to the bar. Pushed his hat back on his head
I listened to the stories told, the words that Oil Boy said.
He said...

Willie Nelson:
I can tell you stories 'bout shoveling lube in the rain
Talk about Dick Cheney, and the comin' of the shame
I can talk about the slaughter, of the Spoonbills that flew
Sing you songs of baby Terns, come-a-looking for their crew

CHORUS (both)
And the man with the BP hat is buyin'
Drink up while the drinking is free
Drink up to Brown Pelicans a dead or a dying
Drink to my compadres and me
Drink to my compadres and me

Jeff Jeff Walker:
Well his shirt was brown and faded
And his hat was dripping black
The pants that once were blue were grey, had a pocket gone in back
He had a finger missin' from a hand that laid crude-soaked boom
As he laughed and talked of Oil Boy life, you knew it weren't perfume.
He said...

Willie Nelson:
I rode on the cleanup drive from here to Timbalier Bay
Ten days in the Tyvek suit, and my face is ashen gray
I rode from here to Atchafalaya, without a womans' smile
The porta-potty where I took a crap, was the only light for miles

CHORUS (both)
And the man with the BP hat is buyin'
Drink up while the drinking is free
Drink up to Brown Pelicans a dead or a dying
Drink to my compadres and me
Drink to my compadres and me

Jeff Jeff Walker:
He rested easy at the bar, his foot upon the rail
You know he laughed 'n talked of times he had, tossin’ globs in a pail
The silence never broken, as the words poured from his lips
Just quiet as the dispersant he carried on his hip.
He said...

Willie Nelson:
I seen the day so hot your alligator weed would wilt
And if you had a white plastic bag, you’d fill it with oily silt
And sheens, I’ve seen sheens where your boots slipped in the sand
And your only thoughts was leavin', but you witnessed it firsthand

CHORUS (both)
And the man with the BP hat is buyin'
Drink up while the drinking is free
Drink up to Brown Pelicans a dead or a dying
Drink to my compadres and me
Drink to my compadres and me

Jeff Jeff Walker:
Well he rolled one more tar ball, as he turned toward the door
I heard his cell phone jingling, as his Tyvek booties hit the floor
He loosened up his belt a notch, pulled his hat down on his head
As he turned to say goodbye to me, this is what the Oil Boy said....

Willie Nelson:
Now the boom-lines is chasin’ oil slicks, and the newsman stokes his fear
And to see a beachcombing Oil Boy, is a sight that's mighty queer
But an Oil Boy’s life is lonely, and his lot is kinda harsh
But had it not been for men like me, there wouldn't be no marsh.

CHORUS (both)
Alright, and the man with the BP hat is buyin'
Drink up while the drinking is free
Drink up to Brown Pelicans a dead or a dying
Drink to my compadres and me
Drink to my compadres and me

23 May 2010

The Trust Bubble

We might be facing a period where the resilience of our trust will be tested.

The term Economic Bubble has become part of our lexicon. A decade ago we endured the dot-com bubble.

Recently the US seems to be emerging from the devastating foreclosures of the real estate bubble. These are speculative bubbles – irrational price run-ups driven by a toxic combination of greed and delusion.

Our economy seems poised to be buffeted by hard-to-predict events that might burst another type of bubble – a bubble buoyed by reasonable trust. There is not an abundance of trust. Yet most of us share some level of reasonable trust – trust in our corporate and government leaders to do right by us.

Prominent companies, new economy and old, float on precarious bubbles of reasonable trust. What will be the tipping point that bursts those bubbles?

The trust bubble is unlike speculative bubbles. Absent is the irrational optimism of the dot-com bubble. And there isn’t the delusional notion that housing values will always appreciate that characterized the real estate bubble.

The reasonable trust bubble feeds on our naïve, but optimistic notions of decency, common sense, and goodwill.
  • Reasonable trust is what citizens have when they assume an entity like the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency responsible for offshore oil and gas regulation, is dutifully overseeing the redundant failovers companies like BP are reasonably expected to use when extracting our natural resources.
  • Reasonable trust is what social networking website users have when they assume that Facebook protects their personal likes, dislikes and associations from unknown and un-trusted eyes.
  • Reasonable trust is what Google Maps users have when they marvel at Street View images of their homes (not knowing their wireless router SSID and location was also recorded by the roving Google Car data collection system).
There is an unwritten contract (an implied agreement of fairness) between new economy online entities, who hold vast amounts of information about web consumers, and the web consumer. Facebook and Google have earned our loyalty, if not our trust, by providing appealing and competitively superior products.

A less noble approach is to buy our trust. Old economy corporations like BP pour millions each year into positive brand campaigns. In 2005, BP doubled its advertising budget to $150 million with the explicit goal of burnishing its environmental credentials.

The Trust Bubble is the increasing value of companies based on an accumulation of goodwill. Goodwill is an accounting term I learned about during a one-semester stint as an clueless MBA student. It reflects the possibility that a business has some prudent value beyond its assets, like the reputation a company enjoys with its clients.

Google’s widely reported Don’t be Evil slogan is still a bond of trust Google holds with most of its users. Yet, as mentioned, Google embarrassed itself admitting its Street View image collection also included inadvertent collection of wireless router information as the dexterous Google Car rolled by our houses.

Facebook’s popularity grows despite a recent and fervent backlash against their eroding privacy protections. On April 27, a group of Democratic US Senators sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging him to implement easier privacy controls.

Kurt Opsahl, Senior Staff Attorney at the non-profit digital rights watchdog Electronic Frontier Foundation observed,
As Facebook grew larger and became more important, it could have chosen to maintain or improve those controls. Instead, it's slowly but surely helped itself — and its advertising and business partners — to more and more of its users' information, while limiting the users' options to control their own information.
A Facebook executive answered a reader's question in the NY Times technology blog Bits, writing
We don’t share your information with advertisers. Our targeting is anonymous. We don’t identify or share names. Period.
~Elliot Schrage, Vice President for Public Policy, Facebook
Sounds reasonable, except that, as the Wall Street Journal points out in Facebook, MySpace Confront Privacy Loophole, it's not true. Not surprisingly, several social-networking sites, including Facebook, sell advertising companies data that can be used to look up your profile.

Facebook spent the past six years connecting us with friends and community – building trust and accumulating goodwill. Yet the Facebook wall posts that brought us closer to new and long-lost friends, have suddenly became a sideshow. Front-and-center is the vanishing act of privacy protection.

BP’s penny-pinching on safety and failsafe protections, followed by an ill-advised spin control campaign of its Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, characterized by denial, finger pointing, misinformation and obfuscation, has people hopping mad.
BP's millions spent on green advertising flamed out long before the oil globs hit the gulf coast marshes.
Bought or earned, the Trust bubble is an accumulation of goodwill. A hash tag like #deleteyourfacebookaccount reaches a trending peak on Twitter within hours then virally spreads throughout the Twitter-verse for days. I await the impact of Quit Facebook Day - May 31st - with keen interest.

Without the inflated chest of goodwill, perceived and real value could vanish - poof. Our trust is worth an incalculable sum. Trust is a challenge to earn. It can disappear in a flash.

Appendix A - The Dot-Com Bubble
We experienced the dot-com bubble during 1995 through 2000. It was characterized by rapidly increasing internet sector stock prices (the bubble), followed by rapidly decreasing internet sector stock prices (the burst). The impact of the speculative frenzy over internet stocks spread throughout the market. The NASDAQ peaked at 5131 on March 10, 2000. It has yet to recover.

Source: Finance.Yahoo.com, NASDAQ composite plot

Appendix BThe Real Estate Bubble
We are in the midst of the downward trend of the Real Estate Bubble in the United States. Single family house prices have in 363 metropolises (measured quarterly by U.S. Federal Housing Agency) have dropped over 15% since 4th quarter 2006.

01 May 2010

Energy: Hindsight Shaping Foresight

Imagine our hindsight 50 years hence. Here's a film clip shot circa 1954 that we view from the high ground of hindsight. This over-turned street car in flames signified the end of the street car era in the Twin Cities.

Are there alternate ways this street car demise story might have played out? A few If only scenarios came to mind:
  • If only the US had not been so singularly focused on promoting the exponential growth of the automobile.
  • If only city planners had the foresight to devise better ways for street cars to coexist with cars and pedestrians.
  • If only city planners had the foresight to save a few street cars for limited, alternate uses like tourist traffic or sightseeing.
  • If only city planners had the foresight to pave over the street car tracks rather than rip them out.
  • If only the city council had the foresight to vote to warehouse the street cars for re-use instead of burning them.
In June of 1954, the last of the street cars operated by the now defunct Twin City Lines (TCL) were unceremoniously burned and salvaged for scrap metal.

Fast Forward: April 2010, Oil Spill Disaster

Satellite images from NASA track the April 2010 oil spill disaster as the plume disperses and migrates toward the coast. The prognosis for the impact on fisheries and shore habitats is bleak.

In 10, 20 or 50 years, what will our If only scenarios for these images be?

There might be a silver lining. A silver lining like a race-to-the-moon commitment by the US Congress, and the President, to forging and championing a forward-thinking energy policy.
 Heed the lessons of hindsight. Commit to an energy policy with foresight.