The Feel-Good Spill of the Decade

Dead zones suffocating 20,000 square kilometers of ocean. Endangered wetlands, disappearing at the rate of over 300 Ha/day. Clouds of black viscous poison soiling the coastlines of four states.

And then the Deepwater Horizon blew up.

What, you thought those apocalyptic descriptions were of the spill? You thought the Gulf of Mexico was some pristine marine wilderness before those nefarious assholes from BP came along and ruined everything?

What are you, twelve?

Everything I’ve just described was old news long before April 20. Granted, the black tides were dinoflagellate blooms, not oil slicks; the dead zones came to us courtesy of the Mississippi, which delivers agricultural runoff from almost half the continental US. The wetlands — 40% of the US total — were being decimated daily: by dredging, by condominiums and golf courses, by the collapse of the very substrate as oil and gas were sucked up from underneath.

Wile E. Coyote ran off the cliff decades back, was already halfway to the rocks below, and nobody gave a shit.  Now you start wailing and gnashing your teeth, just because the anvil BP dropped into his arms is making him fall faster?

Me, I prefer to look on the bright side. The Gulf was already dying, just like the rest of the planetary conshelf. The fishers and tour guides were already dead men walking; the wetlands were already doomed. Nobody cared. Now they do, and I think that’s a good thing.

Not because we’ll finally survey the carnage, take a deep breath, roll up our sleeves and fix things. Only an idiot would believe that that’s ever going to happen. Gulf coast residents are already complaining that a moratorium on new wells will cost thousands of jobs; the Obama administration is poised to permit the resumption of oil exploration in the Gulf; and all the foxhole environmentalists screaming about Big Bad Oil will shut up the moment the price of gas sails past $4/gallon. Nah, we’re pretty much like every other species on the planet: short-sighted, hooked on instant gratification, drawn irresistibly to the path of least resistance. The spill could continue unabated into next year, but long before then it will have stopped being News; we’ll forget about it as soon as American Idol starts up again.

But if we’re no good at cleaning up the shit we’ve sowed, if we’re incapable of taking the long view, there’s one thing we absolutely kick ass at. Can you hear it? Can you hear Rush Limbaugh spluttering that the Sierra Club should pay for the cleanup, because it was those idiot environazis that forced drilling off the land in the first place? Can you see Sarah Palin’s Trig-worthy attempts at revisionism as she tries to claim that “Drill Baby Drill” actually meant only-on-land-and-never-in-the-water-NOW-do-those-crazy-greenies-get it? Did you see Halliburton and BP and Transocean falling all over themselves trying to blame each other for the mess?

That’s what we rock at. That’s where we leave every other species in the dust: the laying of blame. And with the laying of blame comes the passion for payback. And when we see a sociopathic scumbag like Tony Hayward try to emulate human emotions, try to feign empathy and vulnerability by going all seal-pup-eyed and saying “I’d really like my life back…”

— you know, someone could easily take a shot at the sonofabitch. Or if not at Tony (he’s probably pretty well protected, after all), maybe a member of his family. Maybe the day’s not too far off when we find Liz Cheney’s entrails strung along a barbed-wire fence overlooking that cesspool that used to be the Gulf of Mexico. Or maybe we’ll just have to settle for beating the shit out of the guys who pump gas down at the local service station, or putting a brick through the windows of those adjusters working to cheat the local bait shop out of its just compensation. Sure, those are just small fry. They didn’t make any of the Big Choices. But they chose one thing, at least: they chose which side they were on when they took the job. And BP sure as shit ain’t going to be assigning bodyguards to folks that far down the ladder.

Of course, there would be consequences. British Petroleum — a criminal corporation with countless infractions and convictions already notched onto its bedpost — is already a serial murderer. It kills entire ecosystems as we speak, ruins countless lives. If any of us little people tried to repay even a fraction of that in kind the whole weight of governments and armies would try to squash us flat. I know first-hand the righteous outrage that inflames such cocksuckers when anyone tries to do to them the merest fraction of what they do to us on a daily basis. We all know the overwhelming force that would be brought to bear on the “anarchists” and “criminals” who dared to “take the law into their own hands”.

But revenge is funny that way. They’ve done the studies; we’re inclined to punish those who trespass against us even when it hurts us more than the other guy. It’s just the way our brains our wired. And so at least some of us will strike back — not because we’re in a position of strength, or because we think we can get away with it, or even because it’s the right thing to do. Some of us will strike back simply because whatever the cost, it feels good to sink your teeth into the throat of the asshole who’s ruined your life. It feels good to hit back.

And the rest of us — those who kow-tow, and back down, and do what we’re told because we know what happens to us if we don’t — we’ll feel good too, when CNN shows us the footage of Tony Hayward’s children being carted off the stage in body bags.

That is the one positive result this unimaginable catastrophe might yield, when all is said and done. It might at least make us feel good.

I’ll take what I can get.

Postscript 10/06/10 1215 EST: I’ve never done this before, but I’d like a preemptive word with those who might be inclined to post comments regarding my advocacy of brute violence as a solution to complex envirocorpolitical issues: please, before commenting, go back and read this post again.  Carefully this time.  If you still think that’s what I’m doing, at least read the lengthy follow-up I posted down in the comment stream.

If you’re still not clear after that, well, go ahead and have at me.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 9th, 2010 at 5:45 pm and is filed under In praise of biocide, rant. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

170 Responses to “The Feel-Good Spill of the Decade”

  1. Robert

    Brilliant and provocative, as usual.

    Personally, I’d stop short of advocating murder — especially of people who’s only crime is being related to someone who did something wrong. That way lies sectarian violence and blood feuds.

  2. charles_p

    Woah, Peter, man!

    I don’t know exactly what it says about me that I was smirking all the time while reading this, but sir, that is some dark shit. Thoroughly enjoyable, as usual.

    I just hope no one ever puts you in a position where they can use this against you. Having the balls to write down what many of us are thinking (however peripherally) should never be penalized.


  3. Julie Platt

    It gives me comfort to know that I am not the only one who wants revenge.

  4. Kai

    Hrm, this rant embeds itself into my mind and squirms about quite firmly, dislodging a lot of thoughts and memories.

    I’ve been on both sides on the fence, primarily on the kow-towing side, that’s what we are taught to do after all… but even so, I’d crossed over to the tooth and nail side more than once before I’d even left kindergarten. It was a pretty necessary requirement in that country, hell by grade 2 me and mine had even organised a little brigade to beat the daylights out of the threats from the outside and our elders. It was both more effective, and far more satisfying that seeking the help of authority, certainly.

    I mention that, because over there that was a big part of life. If one thing failed, you climbed the notches, violence was always a possibility. It created an interesting atmosphere, because it meant there was a certain amount of respect even between enemies. It’s strange how the potential of direct pain translates to that, when both parties have that potential. It also often meant that if things did come to blows, after that, it was over (not always of course, but most often). Might be a lot of reasons for that, release, the primal satisfaction, the instinctual assertions of superiority. But, it also meant that seldom did things go higher, ruining/taking a life was a serious decision, which might cause your own ruin. And it also meant that breaches, were handled directly. The potential for violence and that violence did occur seemed to somehow place a higher value/respect on life and also created a lot more attempt at direct communication to resolve matters. Of course, this didn’t prevent the murder rate from being high to the point of being ridiculous and the associated troubles.

    Before I came to North America I yearned for to be here, I thought “here are the places of enlightenment”. I thought the system here would be better, I thought the other flawed… but, it seems in the end one merely trades one set of demons for another. Here the system seems to protect the wrong more than it does the right. It also seems to create apathy… I equate it in my mind to the concept of pushing a button and dealing death, except the button in these cases are often a pen put to paper. The lack of responsibility, large and small frustrates me endlessly. Especially as it’s so often done with a smile, the smile of “you can’t fight me.”

    So I kow towed, I’ve been an advocate, a student leader, worked with unions, volunteered, pursued law, helped police, etc. It amounted to exactly: dick all. It changed not a thing. The belief that working within the system in the western world can bring about improvement, I think, is bullpucky.

    So now, I’m trying another approach, my last course I believe, and that’s to go after the culture itself. It’s part of why I created that poster and submitted it to Doctorow. The hope, that little by little, minds might change or have new seeds embedded in them. Another part was to show support for you, to acknowledge and remember the event. And the last part, was that however small, it felt like hitting back… something those jerks couldn’t control, something to humiliate. Sometimes laughter hits as hard as a fist. Sometimes a thousand little punches is a knock out blow.

    Effectively, there is more than one way to wage war. It makes me feel better at least, I hope it does the same for you and others ;P And I’ll also take what I can get.

  5. Terry

    Thanks, Peter. I needed that.

  6. Nix

    Has anyone ever mentioned that you’re quite depressing?

    (Oh, and BP does do one good thing, although it didn’t intend to: it pays approximately 7% of British pensions, and a lot elsewhere. OK, it does this by paying approximately 7% of every single British pension, and this is not its decision but pension fund managers’, and is if anything an indictment of those managers, half of whom now seem to be suing BP for making them look like idiots, but still.)

  7. Matt

    I’m actually deeply surprised that no one has tried it yet.
    Lord knows, if -I- were a Gulf Coast resident, I’d be spending more time than usual polishing my guns.

    As it is I just cry when I’m reminded of how badly fucked we are as a species, at this point, and how much of the temple we’re going to pull down on our heads when we go.

  8. Redcoat

    I have to shrink from any endorsement of violence and murder – Hayward is a feckless drone and actually beneath contempt really, and his physical demise would not advance the human condition one iota. The truth is that if you put gas in your car or, I dunno, have a plastic utensil in your kitchen, you are at least implicated in this crime, and I find the sanctimonious howling from the Gulf Coast pretty hard to stomach. I don’t dispute the staggering magnitude of the destruction, or the miserable, grasping venality of the corporate interests instrumental in its origin, but neither can anybody who ever objected to a nuclear plant or to dry-land oil extraction dispute that misguided strands of environmentalism have allowed, even forced the oil companies to hide our filth in the sea.

  9. Außenseiter

    To put your blog more firmly on the DHS’s list of ‘extremist’ blogs, I’ll post this somewhat relevant quote from a certain book by an angry white writer
    (an ex-teacher, to boot)

    The personal, as everyone’s so fucking fond of saying, is political.
    So if some idiot politician, some power player, tries to execute policies that harm you or those you care about, TAKE IT PERSONALLY.
    Get angry. The Machinery of Justice will not serve you here – it is slow and cold, and it is theirs, hardware and soft-.
    Only the little people suffer at the hands of Justice; the creatures of power slide from under it with a wink and a grin.
    If you want justice, you will have to claw it from them.
    Make it PERSONAL. Do as much damage as you can. GET YOUR MESSAGE ACROSS. That way, you stand a better chance of being taken seriously next time. Of being considered dangerous.
    And make no mistake about this: being taken seriously, being considered dangerous makes the difference, the ONLY difference in their eyes, between players and little people.
    Players they will make deals with. Little people they liquidate. And time and again they cream your liquidation, your displacement, your torture and brutal execution with the ultimate insult that it’s just business, it’s politics, it’s the way of the world, it’s a tough life and that IT’S NOTHING PERSONAL.
    Well, fuck them. Make it personal.
    -Quellcrist Falconer
    Things I Should Have Learnt by Now, Volume II

    Also, could some other reader here point me to a good resource on anoxic zones, what causes them, and so on? I’ve known about them, but exactly how big a threat they are?

  10. Zen Chick

    Hi Peter,
    I bet you and your friends here walk everywhere, eat only things grown in your own pesticide-free gardens, and own no electronic devices. Otherwise you’re part of the problem.

  11. Peter Watts

    @Zen Chick:

    I’ve never owned a car. I either walk or take transit. I live in a one-bedroom apartment. I use lots of electronic devices, but I’m guessing I still kick your ass in the whole carbon-footprint arena. If not yours, I certainly kick the asses of most N’Amians.

  12. rayp

    You are a scientist and this is the best solution you can come up with? Smash their skulls with an antelope femur?

  13. PrivateIron

    Peter, I generally agree with the anger, but :

    1) I think you were right when you said the spill was a drop in the bucket compared to the systematic on-going destruction and the weeping and wailing is a day late,a dollar short and crocodilian at its source, but then

    2) you contradict yourself and start looking for personalized scapegoats.

    As scummy as many of these guys are (at least in their professional life), they derive their power from giving (most of) us as much of what we want as they can possibly deliver most of the time. We pick and choose this little item we did not ask for or rant about the means, but we get awfully crabby when our bubbles pop. And this applies to 99% of everyone in the developed world regardless of age, creed, gender, orientation, avowed politics, race, etc.

    Regardless of how you customize your controllable foot-print, you belong to a society with one honking large boot on Gaea’s neck (as do I.) Every aspect of your life is tied to this net of explotiation. If there is such a thing as Noodly Appendage Justice for her plight, you are going to get it and deserve it as much as the rest of us. The Koran says something like “if every man were to be treated as he deserved, then none would escape hanging.” You may want to see body bags, but I pity all of Sauron’s slaves, particularly as I just might be one.

  14. Ensley G.

    Wrong target, and you forgot what US citizens are REALLY good at: litigation. I don’t want to hurt the guys at the corner gas-station, I want to hurt BP, and we do that by ruining them. Uncap the liability and sue the entire company into bankruptcy and beyond.

    Here’s the thing: violence does not scare these organizations because it doesn’t really touch them beyond crocodile tears and maudlin PR statements. The potential loss of all their money, however, will make them soil themselves quite nicely, and not just BP, but others as well. After all, if we can do it to BP, we can do it to anyone.

    Ruin BP. The American legal system provides more tools than we need to attack them from all sides simultaneously. Federal suits, class-action suits, personal suits, suits against the company, and suits against the individuals.

    And Jesus Jumped-Up Christ on a Pogo Stick — BOYCOTT ANY AND ALL STATIONS SELLING BP GAS!!! Do something besides bitch and moan, and actually hurt BP your own self, without the risk of being thrown into lockdown.

  15. walkerp

    You can fight without violence as well. Ghandi, Greenpeace have demonstrated effective ways of sticking it to the man without hurting anybody. How effective it is compared to direct violence is questionable, but the problem with violence is that in the long run it doesn’t seem to get us anywhere. That’s the mantra that people that I know and respect follow in their activist lives and it seems to work for them. And they aren’t kow-towing either, for sure.

    However, your piece very accurately captures my own take on the human species. We are what we are and the only thing that has changed is the tools we have and size and sophistication of our social structures. But we still consume and struggle for individual survival like rats and barring some serious external genetic manipulation, I don’t see that changing.

  16. V

    Based on what I have seen thus far in my life, the best way to hurt these jerks is to hit them in the wallet. That will get through to them more than violence ever will. Humiliation and reduced earnings have more power than any physical weapon. Because using weapons on them will just encourage them to be more likely to use weapons on their opposition, and potentially give them free pass in public opinion as victims, especially given how good at denial so many of us are.

    Violence among humans is a cycle that goes around and around, just like pernicious toxic substances which pour out of some factory, spiral up the food chain, and end up sitting in our fats for the rest of our lives. On its own, human violence accomplishes nothing, except to encourage perpetual one-upmanship, a war of attrition and competition that blasts the landscape it takes place on. You can look at various places around the world to see examples of that . . .

    ( The reason I keep saying human violence is because I am aware that the rest of the biosphere which we are part of is also full of violent competition, and my argument isn’t about that. )

    It satisfies the atavistic parts of us to imagine doing physical violence to those who do violence to us or the living things (humans or otherwise) which we care about. I do it myself at times, despite philosophically being a pacfist who is against the death penalty. But ultimately, it accomplishes nothing, except more destruction.

    So why waste calories painstakingly heaved out of the soil on it?

    Also, and I’m really *NOT* trying to be a jerk, but doesn’t gasoline fuel jet engines? You are going to Australia, right? Sorry. This feels low but it has to be said in the interests of honesty . . .

    I say this as someone who is complicit, who isn’t doing much to make things better, and feels trapped and like crap about it, who sees almost every decision about food, reproduction, clothing, transportation, entertainment . . . in moral terms. And tries to make the right and healthy decisions and fails again, and again, and again. And hates myself a little more every time.

    I get what you’re driving at. I care about the biosphere and the humans who are part of it, vampiric though many of us may be (a point I think worth stressing). And for all of these reasons, I look at violence and its likely results, and cannot support it as a solution.


  17. Anony Mouse

    Ensley G said Uncap the liability and sue the entire company into bankruptcy and beyond. The American legal system provides more tools than we need to attack them from all sides simultaneously.

    Unfortunately, in spite of the American bent towards litigation, the legal system is still stacked in favour of the big corporations. You can bet that BP is already doing their risk assessments with regards to future law suits. All they need to do is go chapter 11 and only pay cents on the dollar. They then reorganize under a different brand, maybe Beyond Petroleum (wait, didn’t they already do this?), and continue as normal.

    I am no engineer, and maybe I’m too cynical, but it strikes me as unusual that most of BP’s efforts to stop the flow have been to place a big dome over it so that they can recover the oil.

  18. Chinedum Richard Ofoegbu

    no. It might be satisfying but it won’t help. Hitting the people you can hit rather than the people responsible won’t help. Ignoring our own complicity in this bullshit won’t help. Like you said, we’re fucked already. It’s crisis management time.

  19. Redcoat

    Ensley G

    Mate, taking down BP won’t hurt the decision-makers within that corporation (or Halliburton, or Transocean) half as much at it will hurt (comparative) innocents whose pension funds (invested by 3rd party fund managers) rely on BP dividends – if you are going to vengeful (and I well understand the impulse) think stilletto not daisy-cutter. And it won’t work anyhow – litigation only feeds the lawyers.

    On another angle, I note that Union Carbide still trades, but then it was only Indian people that they killed, maimed and impoverished. Just sayin’ . . .

  20. Terren

    I love your books, but don’t count me among the people who will “… feel good too, when CNN shows us the footage of Tony Hayward’s children being carted off the stage in body bags”.

    Too far, man, that’s a pretty sociopathic sentiment. I’m not easily offended but that’s messed up.

  21. Peter Watts

    Redcoat said:

    …neither can anybody who ever objected to a nuclear plant or to dry-land oil extraction dispute that misguided strands of environmentalism have allowed, even forced the oil companies to hide our filth in the sea.

    Nah, I don’t buy that. I’ve never heard any environmentalist advocate deep-sea drilling. Sure, they’re opposed to land drilling (especially in places like wildlife preserves), but what they’re really opposed to is dependence on fossil fuels from whatever source. Blaming the enviros for offshore drilling is like Clifford Olsen claiming the police tacitly approved his killing of children out in the boonies because they made it too hard for him to work in the city.

    Außenseiter quoted: Well, fuck them. Make it personal.

    I did not know Richard was an ex-teacher. I knew he was angry, though. Good company to be in.

    rayp said

    You are a scientist and this is the best solution you can come up with? Smash their skulls with an antelope femur?

    Dude, no. I never said it was the best solution. I never even said it was a good solution. I didn’t say it was any kind of solution at all, in fact: I said it would feel good. I said it would be viscerally satisfying (and come on, admit it; deep down in your brainstems you all know I’m right).

    All I said about solutions was that we weren’t likely to get any real ones, because corps are powerful and people have short attention spans. And that visceral satisfaction might be the most we could hope for. Which I guess is a good point to segue into some general responses to some of these comments en masse, the first of which might be:

    People, read the damn post. I’m not advocating anything: I’m pointing out that human nature being what it is, there’s a good chance that someone’s going to cave in someone else’s skull — and if that someone else happens to work for BP, I myself am not going to feel especially sad about that. Is that a solution? Of course not. It’s catharsis. A solution would have involved actually investing massive amounts of R&D in alternative fuel sources back in the early seventies, instead of recycling tired platitudes about How We Must End Our Addiction To Oil for thirty years and counting. But that ship has sailed, folks.

    Litigation? Sure. Drive BP into the ground, if you can. If the gummint doesn’t step in and deem it Too Big to Fail. (Although I understand that just yesterday a source within BP mentioned that the company was thinking of starting to push back against all these White House demands for compensation, because after all “you have to draw a line somewhere”.) Litigate them into oblivion — and then watch Exxon and Chevron and Shell swoop in and buy all their offshore drilling rigs for pennies on the dollar.

    Litigation is no more a solution than bashing in skulls with femurs; hell, it is bashing in skulls with femurs, only in the financial era rather than the Pleistocene. It’s monetised revenge. But it won’t stop the oil gushing into the gulf, and it won’t stop future spills; if anything it’ll give a competitive advantage to the other oil companies who get to scoop up all that high-tech equipment at garage-sale prices.

    Finally, the whole we-are-all-to-blame thing. Yes we are, to some extent. It’s pretty much impossible to function in this society without an obscenely large C footprint compared to other parts of the world. Still, if you buy into the premise that we actually could elect leaders who would lead us to environmental sustainability instead of endlessly lecturing us on why we can’t afford to do that just yet (a premise that even I, an author of fantastic fiction, find a bit hard to swallow), then I guess we are to blame for the mealy-mouthed wafflers (or worse) that keep ascending to power. Yes, we all drink too much oil, in our plastics if not in our cars.

    Two things, though. First, no life form anywhere has a zero footprint, and there’s a limit to what we as individuals can do; that means you can accuse pretty much anyone who doesn’t live like a sasquatch of hypocrisy. I suspect zen chick wasn’t expecting me to be able to say that actually I don’t have a car, that I live in a small apartment, walk everywhere, don’t eat meat (at least, not at home.) I could’ve also thrown in the vasectomy I got back in ’91 to ensure that I wouldn’t be siring any environmentally gluttonous offspring to poison the future. My footprint is pretty fucking small by North American standards; that gives me more finger-wagging rights than most. But even so, V can point the finger at me for flying to Australia (which by the way is still not on for certain, and if it does happen it won’t be at my expense. Also, booking one seat out of hundreds on a plane that’s going to be making the journey anyway probably doesn’t have as much of an environmental impact as if I’d actually bought a car and been driving it around for the past thirty years. But I digress. And I also seem to be getting a bit defensive, which I guess means that V has a point.)

    So yeah. We’ve all got oil under our fingers, self included, and we are all responsible for the existence of the industry.


    Here is a company whose Emergency Response Plan for the gulf included mention of a potential impact on walruses. Walruses. Which, if you don’t subscribe to Animal Planet, are of exclusively Arctic distribution. Here is a company which cut-and-paste its remediation plan from other documents for entirely different areas, a company which assured us before the blowout that the odds of a blowout were negligable and even if one happened, it would be No Big Deal because they knew how to deal with even such remote possibilities — and then, after the blowout, had to admit that they had no fucking clue what to do, that they never did, and that they were making it up as they went along.

    Here is a company whose employees filled out inspection forms that were supposed to be completed by the Minerals Management Service (ostensibly the industry’s regulators) — filled out the results they wanted in pencil, so that the MMS could come in later and trace over the writing in pen. This is a company whose employees were literally fucking government regulators at cocaine and porn parties, a company that routinely falsified the results of safety tests, a company that — when dismembered pieces of the so-called “blow-out preventer” started showing up on the surface hours before the explosion — overrode their own worried employees and told them to keep drilling. This is a company which already had a substantial criminal record prior to the Deepwater Horizon disaster — and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar did fuck-all to rein in either them or his own corrupt MMS in the solid year he was on the job prior to all this going down.

    We are not responsible for any of that, no matter how many miles we commute. We are, to some extent, all responsible for the existence of the fossil-fuel industry, but we are not responsible for the rampant corruption, farcical oversight, and nonexistent safety measures therein. It’s very convenient for those in the industry to point the finger back at our insatiable appetites, and I expect we’ll be hearing more of that as time goes on. But it doesn’t wash in this case.

    We are not responsible for this spill. BP is.

  22. Anonymous

    This and now this… that’s radical. You feel a bit like a green* Sayyid Qutb.

    * Heh, environmentalism and Islam are the same colour**.
    ** Why does my Firefox spell checker tells me “colour” is spelled wrong? I really need to change to an en-gb or en-ca package.

  23. Mats

    *punching fist in the air*

    Watts is back!

  24. keanani

    (Note: I was writing this before the thread posts jumped from 12 to 21. I read everyone’s posts.)

    Cheese wiz Peter, I was wondering when you were going to rant about the Gulf Coast Environmental Disaster…being a Marine Biologist and all.

    Ah, Tony Hayward, the anointed BP executive with the Geology PhD….

    Let’s not forget the eleven human beings who lost their lives.

    This morning I saw people trying to save Brown Pelicans, as the oil hit nesting sites. Then there was a story about how Ferraris are selling well in China.

    Violence is never a solution in any way a justifiable response as some sort of exaction in making someone, or others, feel good in retaliation for bad things that happen. The blame does not fully lie on any particular humans or groups of humans.

    It is one long interconnected web of humanity that stands like an endless line of dominoes. Each and every human who chooses to be in that line takes the chance in being affected by any other domino tumbling.

    Violence, advocated or done out of anger, hatred, revenge, retaliation, retribution or some sort of karmic influenced hooey would not be advocated by those whose conscience would plague them for the rest of their life. It does not make me feel good in any way, viscerally or otherwise. I would endeavor to believe that is not want is being advocating by anyone on here.

    BP is responsible for the spill, certainly, but it is ultimately the lust of human beings for things that need that oil who are fueling the possibility and likely probability of environmental disasters and loss of life, human and nonhuman, that ultimately rests upon all of us as a collective whole.

    The pointed flinging and fingering of whom is dwelling in hypocrisy is not really going to solve anything nor is it really conducive to meaningful discussion and debate that stays at a level of higher road productive positivity, albeit heated and testy, but hopefully not one in which offense is taken and anger ensues. (However, being “grumpy” is supposed to actually be good for humans to partake in.) My understanding of Peter’s post is that it is a rant, and arguably in praise of biocide. That in and of itself alerts me to the possiblities its’ contents. Everyone and anyone is guilty of hypocrisy to some degree just for being human. Just for being alive.

    We in Hawai‘i time and again witness the digging up of “ancient Hawaiian” burial grounds to make way for luxury resorts, golf courses and big-chain mega stores. All in the name of progress, jobs and moneymaking. Hawai‘i people practically had orgasms over Walmart, Target, Costco, Sam’s Club and Victoria’s Secret coming to the islands. We have stinking plastic wrapped garbage loads awaiting transport to Washington State for disposal. Then South Korean Automaker Kia has a deal to make its little energy efficient cars in Hawai‘i. That means more precious, costly island land is needed in development.

    Great swaths of prime ag land is being “argued” as necessary for housing development due to the increasing human population, thereby further diminishing the ability of Hawai‘i to be more self-sufficient in actually making its own food instead of shipping the majority of it in. Thus the cost of living continues to rise making it harder for residents to support themselves, as more people end up homeless. Then we see how Hawai‘i people wait hours impatiently in their gridlocked cars trying to go a short distance from point A to point B, which really should only take minutes, so rapid transit rail is being advocated as a solution, but of course that will take up precious land, wipe out many homes and businesses along the way and mar the beauty of Hawai‘i’s natural vistas.

    The thing that is not really spoken of is, will enough of Hawai‘i’s humans take the rapid transit lite rail and leave their cars at home? Somehow I do not think so. So the endless cycle of human life continues unabated without enough meaningful thought as to the significance and consequences of what we do. Of what we want.

    The fact is the species that is the most dangerous on the face of this planet is the one that is overpopulating this planet. As human endeavors increase the possibilities of a longer life, thanks to science and medicine, and the lives of many are being saved through eradication or treatment of diseases, parasites, and viruses, and maternal health, infant mortality and the lives of children are saved, the human population is achieving levels of planetary unsustainability.

    As harsh and antisocial as this is going to sound, there are too many human beings on this planet. Human beings are taking away the “natural predators” of humans by making it possible for any and all human beings to live. More human beings feel they need to have a litter of progeny instead of one child or two that they could really support and create less negative impact upon this world. The competition for resources, space, education and material things will increase to the point that all other life forms will either be wiped out or rendered dangerously rare. Some mammals, birds and insects are already adaptively evolving to changing climate conditions by seeking higher altitude niches and/or having to adjust their reproductive cycles, because humans have so altered the environment that they had just a few generations ago been superbly adapted to.

    The sad sack fact is that many humans by and large are quite selfish. So many people living in more fortunate locales just cannot make the leap to living a simpler, meaningfully pared down life, striving for symbiotic existence with their environment and making the necessary sacrifices to ensure that they do no harm to the environment and any other life forms.

    If so many humans are not even willing to give up the plastic bags at the grocery store, and instead be aware of it’s impact upon the environment and carry around their own reusable or recyclable carryall, why in the world would enough humans even care a whit about any disaster that affects other humans in some other part of this world?

    The seemingly human condition of wanting material things and damn the consequences and impact upon the planet is unfortunately what too many humans ascribe to. There are enough of those humans who do care to keep it from getting out of control, but not enough to turn the tide and make a significant impact in making things right.

    It is not just some human nature that is at play here. It is also partly culture and values. Those cultures that do not see or believe in interconnectedness with the land and all of life are the most likely to continue the using, taking, depleting, ruining and plundering. Fear is also an impediment to meaningful change for the better. Many people are afraid to let go of their things upon which they have so come to depend upon to make their life easier. An addiction that is hard to break. However, it is also fear that can change that easily for those who are shaken out of their apathetic stupor.

  25. Understanding My Position « Wild Rote

    […] I’ll take what I can get.” – Peter Watts […]

  26. V

    I get it now; you’re saying nothing we *want* to happen that will actually do any good will happen, so why can’t something crappy that is likely at least happen to these expletives.


    oh, and you don’t even want to hear what my footprint is . . . : (

    I wish there was a way to bring the thoughtful sentiments I hear here to sf conventions, wake people up, make them realize what they are consuming . . . but one feels so afraid to be political there, at least at the conventions I go to regularly, which are all near where I live. *sigh*

  27. Simon

    If I could donate money every month towards researching an alternate solution to fossil fuel reliance, I would.

    Maybe with “green” being all fashionable now, something like that could actually be successful. If it doesn’t exist already?

    Saying “you could just give to a university” doesn’t work because that’s not simple enough or cool enough to get popular.

    I’m kind of sick of us failing to fix this problem for so long. I’d like to actually do something about it, but I don’t think I really can. I don’t want to dedicate my life to being an activist or anything, but I’d be willing to make a small sacrifice… and if a lot of people felt the same way, it could make a huge difference.

    @Peter, I think your post is unclear. The middle bit about violence, it sounds like you’re really angry and you want to / want other people to commit acts of violence. I assumed you didn’t really mean it that way but that’s how it came across when I read it.

  28. Kai

    Hrrm, just wanted to add a few things:

    I always find it interesting that when these events occur, very seldom, if ever, are the shareholders/board mentioned. The CEO may run the place, but ultimately he runs the place at the whim of those and needs their approval for the modus operandi. Is it the tiny degree of separation that keeps them out of the anger loop?

    I’m with Peter on the litigation as well, because it’s proved so effective in the past. (Anyone remember Arthur Anderson/Enron and all the rest? That worked so well) I think satisfaction with the litigation route may be mediocre at best, and even if so, it won’t give anything more than the primal response violence would. The belief of victory/striking back, when in reality, it’s changed just about nothing.

    I’ll also say, blaming human nature is, I think, a cop out. It’s another way of basically throwing responsibility over ones shoulder and saying “we’re all doomed anyway.” Blaming of biological imperatives, stopped being a valid excuse the moment society was born. If most of us can control our urge to whack the other guy over the head for the chunk of meat in his hands (for whatever reason), we can control everything else too, by choice. You don’t fall prey to your base nature, you can’t victimize yourself, it’s just a choice, admitted or not.

  29. Peter Watts

    @Simon, you actually read that right: I am fucking furious, and my brainstem wants nothing more than to smash in a few deserving skulls (or even undeserving ones; that’s how brainstems work).

    But I also realize that we’ve passed the point of being able to get away with using our big honking brains to make excuses for our baser selves; we have to use them to control those baser selves, or we’re all screwed. I’m more or less with Kai on this (although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that blaming our biological imperatives is “invalid” — those instincts run very deep indeed, and sometimes it takes everything we’ve got to keep them leashed).

    Personally, I think we are screwed; the hypertrophied greed that drives this machinery is every bit as “natural” as the rage that it provokes, and I see little evidence that either side is inclined to self-control. But if the future is going to be anything better than shit, guns, and poison, self-control seems to be the only available road.

    Which doesn’t mean I don’t get to vent now and then. Or take home a bit of grim satisfaction should the bastards take the occasional kick in the teeth.

  30. Gabor Varkonyi

    “It might at least make us feel good.”

    It might, but receiving my two copies of State Of Grace would make feel a wee bit better.

  31. keanani

    Peter said: “I’ve never done this before, but I’d like a preemptive word with those who might be inclined to post comments regarding my advocacy of brute violence as a solution to complex envirocorpolitical issues: please, before commenting, go back and read this post again. Carefully this time. If you still think that’s what I’m doing, at least read the lengthy follow-up I posted down in the comment stream.”

    Hmmm, I did not think that is how your rant read, but as is the way of the world, words strung together are apt to be interpreted in various, if not misinterpreted, ways. Of course I pointed out my view on violence…that is on the rise amongst humankind.

    Us humans, or perhaps I should say, some of us humans, find it necessary to justify ourselves in order to speak fully and honestly. I don’t believe anyone should have to reveal themself in order to defend themself as to something they said in a point of view that was misintepreted or misunderstood. I would hope that more people would simply, merely ask what was meant before going off in the offended and anger zone due to mistake on their part. But alas, it is indeed more likely that humans will go with the emotion and actually make matters worse than they even should have been.

    I do not sense your words as the “advocacy of brute violence” at all. They do, however, seemingly envision that anger and violence is or would be in the hearts or minds of others, perhaps many.

    It is this statement Peter, that is so easily offensive and interpreted as such ~ “…the rest of us — those who kow-tow, and back down, and do what we’re told because we know what happens to us if we don’t — we’ll feel good too, when CNN shows us the footage of Tony Hayward’s children being carted off the stage in body bags.”

    Since I believe you are a good-hearted human who in a most positive and complimentary way has “his grump on”, I was neither angered nor offended by these words, but after reading your post three times, I will give you my thoughts on how it reads, to me, based upon my own view.

    I am bit of a picky bird when it comes to how things are phrased as in the “we”, “us” “you” etc. I do my best not to lump people together or broadbrush humans where it can be interpreted that I am aiming at or including “everyone”. Especially in the realm of the negative. That being said it is this usage of “us”, we’re”, “we” and “we’ll”, in that above quoted statement, that is prickly for me. It seemingly reads that you are believing that all of us join in the sentiment. With nothing more in relation to those words, it is relatively easy to interpret this as such. Only you know how and what you meant.

    (In no way comparing and contrasting myself to you, Peter, and not at all passing judgment, I tend to minimize my own particular fleeting angry and violent-tainted thoughts, if not partly by nature, certainly by my own experiences of having had endured such things in my own life, which makes me sensitive, attuned to that in reality.)

    Also, I do my best not to kow-tow, back down or do what I am told because of consequences that are most likely retalitatory in nature, unjustifiable and merely meant to control, but instead adjust or evolve to deal with the possibilty or potentiality of said consequences that enables me not to compromise my values, integrity and self. That’s why I care not about popularity and being rewarded for “fitting in”. Oftentimes it is at the direct expense of going against what is right, true and of good conscience.

  32. Anonymous

    Heh heh, oil spills are comedy gold mines*.

    * oil wells? black gold mines? I don’t know which one is funnier.

  33. Außenseiter

    ..but what they’re really opposed to is dependence on fossil fuels from whatever source.

    Is it quite honest to pass over their rabid and irrational fear of all things nuclear? I’m not a sociologists studying ze greens, but those who are in favour of nuclear power either keep a low profile, or there just isn’t that many of them.

    I don’t think we’re quite fucked. A completely fossil fuel energy free state isn’t that hard to envision. Electric rail is a proven technology, nuclear plants could be built with 19th century level technology (wouldn’t be very safe though). There is no firm rule that motoring for the masses is an inalienable right.

    This quote sums up the Gulf oil disaster pretty well:
    “Are you fucking happy? Are you fucking happy? The rig’s on fire! I told you this was gonna happen.”
    (reportedly from the person who was in charge of the rig, but obeyed the BP representative)

  34. Außenseiter

    This is interesting..

    There’s a rumor that the contractor who was supposed to run a final safety test was very unhappy with what they found. They told BP to close the well, as it was still “kicking”. BP refused, they refused to do the test, and wanted out. BP refused them transport, so they called their own and got their people out…

  35. Sylocat

    Look on the bright side. The seven-thousand-year-old pissing contest in the Middle East is going to go nuclear before too long, and when that happens, we’ll all be gone, and it’ll only take a few hundred thousand years for the ecosystem to regenerate, which is the blink of an eye on the cosmic scale.

  36. sebastian

    I love this essay.

    The only comfort I get is that they’re going to kill us all, but they and their families aren’t getting out of it either.

  37. Johan Larson

    People are inclined to over-react and are notoriously poor at evaluating quantities outside the immediate human scale. What’s more, it is in the interest of those who run their information sources (i.e. the media) not to correct mistaken first impressions, but to amplify them. None of this is conducive to good decision-making.

    The truth is that the Gulf of Mexico contains about 2.5*10^15 cubic metres and the volume of the spill to date, while difficult to estimate, is perhaps 10^5 cubic metres. Scale that down to a decent-sized swimming pool, and you get a couple of drops of oil in 100 cubic metres of water — hardly a problem.

    Of course, there is more to this issue than that. Not everything is a matter of averages. But the facts remain that the Gulf of Mexico is very large and the spill, even if it continues, is very small compared to it. If there are problems, they are likely to be localized.

    Some of you may remember a great provocation a decade or so back that triggered an even greater response, a response many now consider misjudged. Let’s not make the same mistake again.

  38. Mirik

    Seems to me, outside the right or wrong debate, violent revolution can be an answer. Decapitate the monster and burn it’s remains? Shut the company down, employ the (surviving) management as cleanup crew scrubbing birds and the engineers to fix the leak.

    I think directed, not the base emotive satisfying unconstructive version, of violence is very well capable of fixing this mess. But nobody will do it. There is no punishment for this mismanagement at BP. Nobody goes to prison, nobody gets flogged or raped by bubba. That is sort of the whole point Peter is making i thought; where is the retribution for ruining all of this? It’s not satisfactory like this.

    Lots of bad press is hardly punishment. Like saying Hitler was a jerk and letting him be dictator, ruining Europe and genociding like crazy, anyways. Violence was needed for that to stop it.

    I think revolution by force IS the only (and fast) alternative to the procrastinated evolution of responsibility. Which might take 1000 years or more to finally arrive at this rate.

    The solution therefore is culling the herd. Maybe random maybe targetted (i could never decide who, i would prefer fast killing natural plague/disease that leaves all resources and other life intact) so the population can be kept sustainable at a million or so forever after in utter heavenly sustainable fully anarchistic cooperative tribes of wise men and woman who take the stewardship of earth serious. In my eyes that’s the only responsibility we have.

    To function in that position most efficient you need to manage your species by education and cultural change. (asides from the whole 6 billion must die part, which makes the survivors manageable in the first place).

    Anyways typing on iphone sucks. Sorry for errors. I share the anger, but lack the nuance to see how violence is not the only timely option to change anything. (not that i would do or support it, just singing a pessimist song)

    i’m a pacifist and humanitarian. But I think the earth and the innocent beings that are not human are in total worth more then all our race. I’m glad i refuse to be in positions of any power so i can leave the decisons to more confident men and women. I dont know of i could ever truly act or decide wha is right.

    Revolution is by definition terrorism of a kind and that is scary.

  39. Mirik

    Addendum: The alternative is another kind or terrorism, the terrorism of stupid greedy egotistical maniacal warmongers like Hitler and Bush and the mentally unsound purely profit motivated corporate plundering.

    Reduce power.

  40. Keith Soltys

    Good, long article in the latest Rolling Stone: The Spill, the Scandal, and the President.

    Looks like the Obama administration knew that the MMS was totally corrupt and did nothing when they had the chance to clean it up. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, eh?

  41. ChrisP

    Wow – Dr Watts seems to have struck a nerve. Good for him. I am no scientist, and many of the discussions on this blog are far too complex for me to understand; however, this one is near to my heart, because I think what many posts are talking about are, “consequences.”
    In a past life, I worked in the aviation business. Frequently, the consequences of fucking up were pretty unequivocal – you died. Not every occupation is “blessed” with a built in means of keeping shallow end of the gene pool …. shallow, and maybe that’s not a good thing. “I’d really like my life back” … really??!! Sure … all you have to do is spend about five minutes with the folks whose lives you have now ruined – I’m sure they’ll know how to explain the “consequences” of your decision(s) to you.
    Oh, and litigation???? Please – do you really think that any “consequences” will be imposed by a system that rewards folks too stupid to know they shouldn’t hold a cup of coffee on their lap?
    Want to know why little kids with bags full of cash can walk through the worst neighborhoods in many North American cities – or anywhere for that matter?? It’s because everyone knows that they are doing the bidding of some very bad folks and if you touch them, you die. Period. Soon and in great pain, you die. It won’t be after YEARS of litigation and appeals. You die. End of story. Say what you will, it tends to focus one’s attention. If more folks faced those kinds of “consequences” perhaps things might be just a little less … fucked up.

  42. gMike

    I am concerned that Federal Law Enforcement system might deliberately misunderstand your statement and follow-up and seek to use it against you. I realize that you are already on the no-fly list but that might not be enough for the bottom feeders that currently populate Fed Law Enf.

    An emotional reaction is clearly understandable in this situation. Anything resulting from that emotion will be dissected later when the emotion has drained away and mined for anything that might be useful.

    I spent 30 years as a natural resources law enforcement officer for a state agency. I had ample opportunity to deal with a variety of Federal Law Enf. agencies, none of them are beyond picking the low-hanging-fruit you have provided them and using it against you. I think you cut the distinction between violence and emotion too fine for the average Fed to understand.

    Be careful out there.

  43. Alehkhs

    Excellent read before bed; much better than the “1,000 barrels-a-day” hope that BP tried to pass-off on us…

  44. Tea4Phage

    Excellent, if understandably grim. Solutions aren’t in evidence, and it seems like the power of most of us to change the system is massively overrated at best. The idea of catharsis is at least slight consolation, but overall the whole thing is just massively fucked.

  45. Matt

    Johan – “Of course, there is more to this issue than that. Not everything is a matter of averages. But the facts remain that the Gulf of Mexico is very large and the spill, even if it continues, is very small compared to it. If there are problems, they are likely to be localized.”

    This is a a bit of silly.
    The fact is that crude oil is a magnificent cocktail of organic compounds, many of which can be toxic at quite low concentrations. There are now large plumes of emulsified oil moving throughout the Gulf, creating anoxic zones as they travel. Oil entering wetlands will be there until it is burned out or consumed by bacteria, in the meantime altering the ecosystem for probably a generation.

    And, of course, the Loop current will eventually carry the oil to the Gulf Stream, through the Florida Straits, where even low oil concentrations are likely to be bad news for ecosystems already under stress. And then some will travel up the East Coast, and eventually cross the Atlantic. At ever lower concentrations, of course. But the longer this goes on, and it could go on for a very long time (and the real rate is probably something like 50K barrels a day), the larger the effected areas will be, and the higher the concentrations of contaminants in distant regions.

    It’s a bloody disaster on a massive scale. While the Gulf recover?
    Of course it will. (It won’t be the same, of course, but I’ll make no judgment on that here) Humans ultimately would have to try very hard to hurt the earth bad enough that it never recovers. But we can certainly make things much, much harder on ourselves. And the spill does that, in many ways.

  46. AR

    Why should we care about “the environment?”

    I mean, the environment for whom? Because to the best of my knowledge, the wealth made possible in large part by cheap energy has caused human life expectancy to rocket upwards in any area that industrialism takes hold. Compared to the time when we were at the mercy of the local ecosystem, the human environment is doing fucking awesome right now. This accident will have great costs, but compared to the perks that the pursuit of energy that it is a part of has given humanity, it is next to nothing, a regrettable but ultimately insignificant blip in the history of an industrial civilization.

  47. Keippernicus

    “Now you start wailing and gnashing your teeth, just because the anvil BP dropped into his arms is making him fall faster?”

    At the risk of being a dick would the extra mass really impact terminal velocity all that much?

  48. Alex

    Again, an interesting post! It’s so strange to be reading the comments about BP’s Emergency Response Plan . . . All I could think of was Taleb’s contention in The Balck Swan re. probability for rare events. Pitiful.

    More depressing news from Greg Palast:

  49. Alex

    Even more personal irony. I picked up Black Swan when I swa it on a counter, and recalled you review of the book. Happy days for everyone!

  50. Redcoat

    A few posts above Peter calls me out on my assertion that risky oil drilling at sea has been facilitated by resistance to drilling on land. I’ll own that I maybe over-cooked that one a bit, but I did not mean to suggest that there was any environmentalist advocacy of off-shore drilling – I was thinking less in terms of what was advocated than in terms of what has been resisted, and the unitended consequences thereof.

  51. Kai

    Urm, just to point out, offshore drilling isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.
    The reason they went out that far, is because there’s already a lot of them closer to shore. And it should be noted, that the spills are not new either.
    I think the one being cited most frequently currently in comparison, is the Ixtol one, which happened in 50 meters of water.

    Believing that the rigs wouldn’t have existed if they’d been allowed to drill more on land, I believe, is likely naive. They pursue all they can. And that’s even if you disregard that the whole point of resistance was because of the ecological damage perceived in that construction. Offshore rigs in normal operation, cause damage as well, I believe those are protested as well. Just perhaps, disregarded more easily.

    As for Nuclear Power plants, better perhaps in many ways, but still not exactly great:
    And if a company like BP was operating the reactor and cutting corners… well, have fun with that mental image.

    Other sources of energy have their problems as well, of course. But, somehow I tend to believe it wise to go with those less likely to cause wide scale destruction. Just a personal preference =P


    An aside: Scale it down to a swimming pool? Really? *snerk*

  52. Mirik


    No it’s not. Soil is getting more depleted of nutrients all around the world and poluted by companies externalizing their waste (mainly of course in the poor nations), the sea is fished clean and poluted in the same way. We are pumping dangerous levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, changing climate conditions for growing crops and creating more desert area where nothing can grow and rising sea levels. We are getting dangerously low on non-poluted potable water because of western abuse and polution, etc.

    It so happens billions of people that are already struggling depend on this fish, water and not-so-fertile soil. YOU won’t notice the effects since you go in the store and don’t have to even know where food comes from and at what costs, but they don’t live in Europe or the US. Their nations don’t have the riches we have, or if they have, they are being plundered or mismanaged, leaving them with nothing, and they are dying because of it.

    So the human environment is not doing do well, thank you. you are in the 8% of humans beings having NO worries what so ever. You are NOT the majority.

    Not to mention we are forcing other completely INNOCENT races to extinction because of our polution, greed and destruction.

    Imagine there landed aliens on earth that are great leaps and bounds ahead of us in technology, culture and development of consciousness. Imagine then, that they would randomly kill and disperse us, deprive us of the needs for us to sustain ourselves, so they can further their goals. Would that be fair in your eyes? Sad thing is, however you scream and fight, they don’t care, because they might not even understand our petty needs and see us like simple animals not worthy of through and rights. They will plunder and destroy you and have nothing to fear from doing this to you, just like we are the destoying habitats of the animals everywhere in the world and (at large) ignoring their struggles for survival and rights to live.

    Seems like a pretty naive thing to say that our specific group of rich people somehow represent humanity and it’s awesome environment they built for themselves. Locally if may be great. Globally, there is a lot of unnecessary dying. In fact, it’s the norm.

  53. Gabor Varkonyi

    @Mirik: No, that wouldn’t be fair in MY eyes. But MY point of view is just important to me. To those aliens, THEIR point of view is what matters, and in THEIR eyes it would probably be fair, at least until they protect us from complete extinction.

  54. David Ellis

    “I bet you and your friends here walk everywhere, eat only things grown in your own pesticide-free gardens, and own no electronic devices. Otherwise you’re part of the problem.”

    So many comments similar to this. When did everyone decide that the only moral way to live on the planet was as a primitivist?

    If environmental problems are going to be solved it’ll be done by embracing and improving technology and by full engagement with our technological culture—not by going into the wilderness and living on grasshoppers and wild mushrooms.

  55. Hljóðlegur

    I read this lovely post aloud to my sweetie, who is in the environmental remediation business, because Sugar-Drawers occasionally rants about evil polluting corporations, too.

    SD enjoyed the sentiment, but replied, “Okay, so everyone is all pissed off about this. Ask them: What are you going to do about it? Right now, what are you personally going to do?

    *timidly* I.. I….I’m gonna go eviscerate Liz Cheney?

    Any decent heart-felt complaint about how something is being grossly mismanaged is per force a call to action, but I’m not sure what this call-to-arms is asking us to do. I’m sure Peter can’t be suggesting we go bump off BP execs and their families.

    Or is it just a good rant that needed airing?

  56. Gregory Lemieux

    “And the rest of us — those who kow-tow, and back down, and do what we’re told because we know what happens to us if we don’t — we’ll feel good too, when CNN shows us the footage of Tony Hayward’s children being carted off the stage in body bags.”

    Or even when Colbert acts out our fantasies for us all:

  57. patrick

    rather pathetic instance of small man’s disease. Tough talk, no impact.

    The ridiculous blame game became preeminent in opposition to bush, now the left in the US is reaping what it sowed.

    and peter *used* to be a scientist. now he’s a very successful and competent novelist. It takes two very different mindsets to be those two different things, and i’m not sure one can translate back and forth at will.

  58. AR


    You say those things as though absolute poverty and suffering have not been the human norm prior to the industrial revolution. Industrialization may not have improved everyone’s life by as much, but when you consider the plight of the common human throughout the 200,000 years that humans have existed, its hard to imagine it making things much worse. If nothing else, the population booms that have historically followed industrialization should be proof of its power to improve the human condition. For a more recent example, look at how much starvation was prevented by the Green Revolution.

    As for the species that are dying, well, I honestly don’t care. Not even a little bit. The majority of species that have lived on Earth are already extinct, and the majority of species that ever will have yet to evolve. Our economies are just another part of the environment to which they must adapt, or else they will die, but there’s no moral value in either outcome.

    Hell, few of the orders that are around today would have come into existence without the mass extinctions of the past. If you value a species for the sake of a species, any preservation of existing ones will also preclude the evolution of possible future forms of life that are nothing like what we have now. Recall that the Earth biosphere has already survived being mostly flooded with a poisonous carcinogen called oxygen. Life got over it. From an ecological perspective, the worst we could possibly do even if we tried, global nuclear war, would merely match a number of the things that have already happened.

    Worst case scenario, it’s as George Carlin said, “The planet is fine. The people are fucked.” The second part is something to worry about, though we disagree on the reasons, but nature should be a complete non-issue.

    Certainly, it should be a small enough issue that when 11 people are KILLED in an industrial accident, it isn’t someone’s gut response to be enraged at the damage to the ocean, as in the OP. Those are some fucked up priorities.

  59. Peter Watts

    Keippernicus said

    At the risk of being a dick would the extra mass really impact terminal velocity all that much?


    But yeah, I thought about that. I figure coyote’s spread-eagled surface area keeps him from reaching (vacuum-equivalent) terminal velocity. But the anvil gets him closer.

    Gregory Lemieux said:

    Or even when Colbert acts out our fantasies for us all:

    I just caught up with that last night. Man, if I could’ve only pointed to it a few comments back…

    Hljóðlegur said

    Ask them: What are you going to do about it? Right now, what are you personally going to do?”

    … I’m not sure what this call-to-arms is asking us to do. I’m sure Peter can’t be suggesting we go bump off BP execs and their families. Or is it just a good rant that needed airing?

    And then patrick weighed in with the similar sentiment:

    rather pathetic instance of small man’s disease. Tough talk, no impact.

    Sooooo, basically everybody should just shut the fuck up about any problem unless they personally have it within their power to fix it, huh? You guys should forward that over to BP: I’m sure they’d love to have that one in their arsenal. (Of course, to be consistent they’d pretty much have to STFU themselves until they figured out what they were doing. But consistency is for the little people.)

    and peter *used* to be a scientist. now he’s a very successful and competent novelist. It takes two very different mindsets to be those two different things, and i’m not sure one can translate back and forth at will.

    I wasn’t sure either. In fact, I’ve actually given talks in which I argue that scientists make really bad SF writers. But then I wrote something that ended up getting cited as one of the Top 50 Science Blogging Posts of the Year, even though I was wearing my author hat when I wrote it. So maybe I can go back and forth.

    Of course, that post grew out of the whole climate-change thing. Given patrick’s implicit defense of the Cheney/dubya administration, I’m guessing he probably thinks that’s science fiction as well.

  60. Hljóðlegur

    Sooooo, basically everybody should just shut the fuck up about any problem unless they personally have it within their power to fix it, huh?

    No! Absolutely not. Literally: your post feels like a call to action, but I can’t tell what action.

    Or is the idea of the post expressive – the point is to express anger over this latest ecological stupidity?

  61. gawp

    Minor observation: when there is a big accident of this, there is much debate about where blame should go.

    There is no debate where profits should go. Ever.

  62. AR


    On another note, I’d like to say that when I read the part of Blindsight that said:

    “To the Historians, tools existed for only one reason: to force the universe into unnatural shapes. They treated nature as an enemy, they were by definition a rebellion against the way things were. Technology is a stunted thing in benign environments, it never thrived in any culture gripped by belief in natural harmony.”

    I was all like, “Fuck yeah, technology!” But then when I read posts like this, where you lament the loss of mere ecosystems in the pursuit of ever greater industrial power, I have to wonder if that was how you meant it to come across.

    Speaking of fiction, this reminds me of a take on Mother Gaia that contrasts sharply with the way people who use the phrase “Mother Gaia” usually see things. I have it here, but for some unknown and presumably stupid reason it is in the form of an image.

  63. Sheila

    Or is the idea of the post expressive – the point is to express anger over this latest ecological stupidity?

    express anger and admit to schadenfreudesque fantasies?

    my blame: all of the people who vote for deregulation of everything.

  64. Gabor Varkonyi

    @patrick: “rather pathetic instance of small man’s disease. Tough talk, no impact.”

    IMHO if this blogpost is pathetic, then your comment is even more pathetic. I mean, you’re also powerless, and have no impact, but you’re even more powerless than Peter. After all, he’s got a blog with dozens reading, you’re just a commenter which even less people read.

    What makes it even more pathetic is that you’re trying to protect the powerful BP from Peter’s ineffectual blog post, which, well, you know, BP don’t need.

  65. Simon

    “you actually read that right: I am fucking furious, and my brainstem wants nothing more than to smash in a few deserving skulls (or even undeserving ones; that’s how brainstems work). ”

    It’s hard not to read stuff like this out of context.

  66. Tea4Phage

    @AR: You took that out of Blindsight? What, did you not read the rest of the book?

  67. AR

    One course of action immediately comes to mind: buy BP stock.

    A lot of people are absolutely convinced that BP is going to get away with not paying nearly as much as the damage they’ve caused. Wall Street, on the other hand, is not so convinced, as is evident by the drop in share price. If someone really is certain that BP will escape full liability, then that means that BP stock is currently undervalued, and a sure profit is to be had by buying up as much as you can from naive people who honestly think that corporations are held accountable for anything.

    Obviously, then, people who say that but nonetheless refrain from buying BP stock are not nearly so confident as they say they are. Talk is cheap, after all.

  68. AR


    Well, yeah. After the whole “consciousness is not needed for intelligence” idea, the second most important theme in the book, what with that section, Heaven, and other things, seemed to be “advance forever, or stagnate and die.”

  69. Gabor Varkonyi

    @AR: No, I think BP will never pay the damages in full, because they have this thingy called limited liability. You might have heard about it. This means that even if the damages and fines they’d have to pay would exceed a trillion dollars, they would only have to pay 100 billion (their shareholder equity), after which they wouldn’t have any more. Which means that the large shareholders and board members etc. who all benefited from the activities that eventually lead to the catastrophe, will basically only lose a fraction of what they have. But even after everything, they will stay obscenely wealthy.

  70. AngusM

    I understand that Peter is not advocating violence against officers or employees of giant planet-raping megacorporations. My reading is that he’s saying “Like it or not, it’ll happen; when it does, we’ll feel good because it’s the only payback we’re ever likely to see.”

    Wanting to see the guilty punished runs pretty deep in many of us. As Justin Sullivan put it: “I believe in justice. I believe in vengeance. I believe in getting the bastards, getting the bastards.” Although when ‘vengeance’ spills over onto innocent bystanders (Peter talks about Hayward’s children being carried out in body bags) you’re heading down the road to insanity at two hundred per, and justice isn’t even a tiny spot in your rearview mirror.

    But I think there’s a good reason why seeing violence done to the despoilers shouldn’t be cause for any kind of satisfaction. Umberto Eco, in his essay collection “Travels in Hyperreality”, has an essay that talks about anti-state violence as committed by groups like the Italian Red Brigades or the Baader-Meinhof gang. The point he makes, briefly summarized, is that these are the enemies against which a repressive state is best able to defend itself. Each terrorist attack ‘justifies’ increased repression in the name of ‘security’. The attackers can be painted as ‘extremists’ and ‘fanatics’, while the state presents itself as the guardian of ‘peace’ and ‘stability’. Terrorist attacks strengthen rather than weaken despots.

    So too with corporations. Giant corporations like BP are already deeply intertwined with government. When they or their employees are subject to violent attacks, they turn to the government for special protections and the government obliges. The end result is that they become still more unaccountable and their actions are even less subject to scrutiny. Anyone trying to find out what they’re up to risks being accused of information-gathering in preparation for a ‘terrorist’ attack. The state assumes responsibility for the security of the corporation, and corporate interests come to direct the security policies of the state.

    So seeing violence done to officers of a corporation, no matter how vile that corporation (or how vile its officers), should not be anything to celebrate. Because when it happens, we all lose.

  71. Tea4Phage


    YMMV, I suppose. To me it more read out like “we’ve got built in limits on how far we can get, and even the bleeding edge would scarcely want, much less be able to make, the jump that it might require to change that.” Like trying to re-wire the human retina so it’s not bass-ackwards; doing that in stages makes you blind, and the very trait that makes us what we are is going to make most of us blanch at the alternative.

    In other words, not so much a case for advancement as a concession that we’ve overestimated a quirk of our hardware.

  72. AR


    I also got that, but it hardly contradicts my other interpretation. It just adds, “Therefore, we’re fucked.”

  73. Gabor Varkonyi

    @AR: BTW, Jim Cramer said two weeks ago on CNBC that BP was a bargain. Which – given Cramer’s track record – makes a BP bankruptcy almost inevitable. 🙂

  74. Peter Watts

    Personal gripe to keanani: kea, how the hell am I supposed to answer your e-mails? I keep getting e-mails from you at different addresses, and every time I try and answer them — regardless of the address — the reply gets bounced because the destination is unknown. WTF?

  75. Flanders

    Oooh, a mystery!

  76. Marcus

    People wring their hands at violence never solving anything, meanwhile, violence is solving *them*.

  77. Botfinder-General


    Keanani is a chatbot, and they took it’s mailbox away after it convinced a few net users to eat the gun through sheer confusion. Would’ve been bad PR if they ever traced it to him. So now he can’t have a real address..


  78. Brycemeister

    Shit howdy some of youse-BP is making money. Now. As we speak. Get the picture? They don’t give a sweet fuck about lovely little north american boycotts, or Greenholes who only eat organic. There’s a big ol’ world out there, and they’ll chomp away on any ol’ oil they can get.

    So what do I make of this? Well, here it is: had me a harsh childhood. I lived in a town where if you were a native, and, say, were a little drunk, and it was winter, the cops might pick you up, deposit you outside of town, in your shirt and socks. That town was tough, and dirty as all hell. Bigoted, mean spirited, and everybody was in on the fun. Hey, the University had ‘Agro’ students-farmer John would send in his inbred son to get some learning-that had a big red truck, especially for hazing, that had painted in white on it’s side ‘Rapemobile.’ I kid not. Finally, somewhere in the bowels of the eighties, they were told to stop-not the activities, of course, but driving the truck.

    Cause it looked bad. Hmn…much like The Hellfire Club, with their penchant for cutting off noses…I often laugh at people, when they talk of such and such, and seem surprised that things can be so bad. That there could be sociopaths that care not a whit. And that the corruption goes very deep, indeed. I generally say “What part of ‘we’ve been at this for a long, long time’ did you not quite get?”

    But my laughter is bitter. Because hey, I’ve had it hard, for a long long time. And often thought that if only I didn’t have eyes to see…Bhopal, anyone? Goes back further than that. I’ve felt it on a personal level. Way too many fights, where some jerk is beating on you, badly, just because he can, it’s kinda fun. And even though you’re fighting back, you’re getting stomped.

    You just want to hulk out, and lay waste. My dad used to say “if you’re angry, go punch a tree.” I used to reply with “It isn’t the tree that got me riled. I wanna hit what did this to me.” It’s a basic human need, it’s why every once in awhile, the King gets surprised by a visit from the local villagers.

    what depresses me the most, is what I read from Jane Goodall, about our closest relation, ye olde chimp. She observed that every once in awhile, a tribe would get a leader that made crappy decisions, abused those under him far more than the normal alloted levels of abuse, and other sundry indicators of a bad leader. well, them old chimps would finally, after taking a lot of abuse, get pissed off enough to gather together, and rip said leader ape to bits. But then they’d completely forget that they had just acted as a group. They weren’t capable of getting past that. Not enough evolving, maybe just such a thing aint needed.

    And we humans, so evolved? we do the same thing. And those fuckers know that. They’ve known it for a long time. So, I should take the blame, and responsibility for what some coke-addled criminal did? Yeah, that’d be like someone B and Eing where I live, and me deciding that since I’ve done such and such, I’m involved too. Screw that.

    It’s just that all the weeping, gnashing of teeth, and trying to hit them in the wallet (that’s a rich one, that is) aint gonna do diddly to these guys. They’re like the Blackhawks versus the Canucks-while the idiot lame ass canucks were happily playing a polite form of the game, those drugged up steroid monkies were playing hard, nasty, and dirty as hell. It’s like playing touch football at a real game, and whining about why are they hitting me so hard.

    But it seems, as Peter so eloquently put it, that all we seem to have left is the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Does it solve anything? No, and I’m pretty sure he’s not the type of guy who gives in to his worst impulse. Shit, it took me forever to realize a simple thing: he had his ass handed to him by a wee tribe of likely drugged up poorly trained apes, and had the temerity, the gaul, the indecency to react with intelligence-and take it through the courts. Heaven forfend! Or maybe “Bob” forend-though I can’t see a faux icon like “Bob” forfending anything.

    Heck, he’s gotta know that blogging about this is pretty much all he’s got in the arsenal. And what makes it worse is, these guys really do play a very different game then you and I. Exxon, anyone? Hey, I noticed that when Exxon did their little stint of bad business, well, the other boys slapped them down, but hard. so much so, that Exxon made money.

    It’s pure frustration. We’re on a vehicle, the drivers are coked up hardcore criminals, and we know that if we could just get past their guns, well, we could turn it around, and have it not drive off the cliff. Except that it’s entirely possible that we are at a point where there aint enough time for a coup, cause we ran out of ground, and there’s not enough room to turn the vehicle around, and meanwhile, the baddies are partying it up something fierce, like it’s all cool to be a bad guy.

    when that moment comes, you just go ape. “Screw it. we’re done. I’d really love to find me something to bash about for a bit.” Would you do it? Likely not, we have control, sort of, but damn it, if that’s all that’s left a s a reaction, it won’t solve-but hey, he already said that. And way better than I ever could.

    Thanks Peter-I’m all cheerful and peppy right now. It’s a love hate thing, you understand.

  79. Hljóðlegur

    Dear Botfinder-General

    You aren’t fooling me.

    I’ve figured it out.

    You’re all chatbots.

    The Only Real Person Here

  80. Brycemeister

    Gonna add a little something here. There is one thing we have going for us. and it’s something that can be described within the constraints of science and materialism. It’s called our brain, and how much power it has. Let’s take a look at it. We have a biological computer that is very plastic in terms of damage-and how much repair the brain can do, is increasingly broadened, especially as medical science continues to advance. It has more neural connections than stars in the universe-and there are a lot of stars in the universe. More importantly, the brain does not use and/or binary logic, or even parallel processing, to do it’s thing. We haven’t quite worked out what it uses, but we know it aint that.

    It’s also easily capable of massive amounts of memory storage, with clear recall (with training, of course) and I suspect that it’s processing capabilities will be found to be very high. I’m using the idea of what the brain can do with, and to, information, sort of an ability quotient. One notices that many animals do some pretty incredible things, with minimal equipment.

    Best part though, is what I can at best call a sort of OS. The brain, having electro-chemical synapses, neural pathways, possess a unique hardware-in that the Os can be written, and changed, on the fly-often using only minimal processing power. Like DNA, it is both flexible, yet stable. what this means is this: everybody plays games. Everyone. You can’t hope to directly alter someone’s game, and in many cases, no matter what you do, they’ll keep playing their game. But, you can change, in seconds, and faster, your game. Indeed, you can go so far as to bypass, step outside of their game. and, with just a little practice, play them.

    Especially if they’re hardcore game players, and ones with negative impact. Yeah, I know, that won’t clean up the gulf-we will, if we decide to. Or maybe if we’re allowed. It aint much, but it’s better than nothing. Maybe we should look to the animals. They’ve survived worst shit than an oil spill, and with far far less to work with. Time for us to toughen up.

  81. Mark Robinson

    I wonder if the same sort of lych mob would have happened if it was an AMERICAN oil company at the centre of this latest environmental disaster?

  82. Mark Robinson

    I meant lynch. OOPS!

  83. ClaytonR

    Sup Brycemeister, nice to see a fellow Saskatchewanite. I have to disagree with the “inbred farmer” bullshit however -I’ve met more far, far assholes from Saskatoon and the “friendly” small towns then I ever did out in the country. The place still looks like a Siberian mining town hilariously enough.

    Oh yeah, if you guys are feeling down – just imagine corporate executives being sent back in time to the Cultural Revolution and having to deal with crowds of angry Red Guards. Puts a smile on my face every time.

  84. Flanders

    @Hljóðlegur: And how does that make you feel?

  85. Hljóðlegur

    @Flanders: Well, I guess it makes me feel a little ..*lightbulb*

    Oh, OH! Oh, ahhahahaahghahahahhahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

    You wacky AIs and your bot-humor! ;p

  86. Hljóðlegur


  87. Hljóðlegur

    Flanders et al: 010011110100111101010000010100110010000000101101

  88. Flanders


  89. Hljóðlegur


  90. Flanders

    [I/O ERROR]

  91. Nick N

    Since replying to the substance of this post would do nothing but continue to infuriate me about the state of the world, I’ll nitpick an offhand comment replying to an admitted dick (thus putting myself in the same category):

    What the hell is “(vacuum-equivalent) terminal velocity”? As far as I know, that would be the speed of light…

  92. Allister01

    Hljoolegur: Stop that! I just finished my assembly language class a little while ago, and my brain totally started trying to condense that into hex so I could read it! You are furthering my insanity.

  93. Cookie McCool

    I’m looking on the bright side. This is just one small step on the way to the apocalypse. I just wish it would hurry up, because the post-apocalypse is not an old woman’s game, and I don’t have all goddamn day to come up with situation-appropriate survival plans.

  94. Anonymous

    Nick N, I don’t think free fall with no drag from air or etc. is going to be able to get mass up to the speed of light.

  95. Peter Watts

    @Nick N: you know, terminal velocity of an object falling in vacuum. Without air resistance, it’s the same for an anvil, a feather, and a flying squirrel. In air, though, air resistance slows descent as a function of surface area.

  96. Flanders

    Yes, but I always thought the phrase “terminal velocity” MEANT the point at which the resistance of whatever substance the object was falling through overcame gravity’s constant acceleration. In a vacuum, wouldn’t an object just continue to accelerate until 1) it hit the ground or 2) it began to experience relativistic effects?

  97. Peter Watts

    Oooh. Good point. Dumb of me.

    Never send a biologist to do a physicist’s job.

  98. Flanders

    This was my own Fantastic Sci-Fi Idea(TM):

    1) Set up opposing portals a la Aperture Labs (, one on the floor, one on the ceiling.
    2) Chuck in a rock.
    3) Enclose portals and falling rock.
    4) Suck out the air.
    5) Wait about a year.
    6) Take your portal gun to inhabited area, and open one of the entangled portals.
    7) Boom.

    Unanswered questions:
    1) I presume that the rock will, at this point, be going fast enough that it will simply explode on contact with air. How big a boom are we talking about? Tunguska-level, or, K-T?
    2) WIll the rock even make it out of the portal, or will the air rushing into vacuum make the rock blow up in the lab? That would kind of reduce its effectiveness.


  99. Nick N

    Flanders gets me. Good to hear I wasn’t forgetting something.

    As for the portal gun, two thoughts:
    1) Rather than opening one of the portals, you’d have to place the ceiling portal on a surface with a different orientation, since that would be the only hope to redirect the kinetic energy in a direction other than straight towards the center of the Earth.
    2) With that kind of speed, there wouldn’t be time for the rock to heat up and explode. I think it would quickly leave the atmosphere, leaving a temporary hole of vacuum in its wake. The rock would be a certain amount plasma, but that plasma would still have the kinetic energy.

    Actually, the rock would probably be almost entirely plasma, given the 5 lbs of air per cross-sectional area. So, it’d be a plasma gun.

    Here’s the homework for you: what would be the kinetic energy of that rock? And since the rock would have “stolen” that kinetic energy from the earth, what would the effect be on our orbital path?

  100. Hljóðlegur

    [I/O ERROR]

    Hahahahaha – Flanders ftw!

    My flash drive just melted.

  101. Lars

    Larry Niven worked out the implications of the portal gun years ago, back when he was worth reading.

    Have to hand it to him, he was good at working out the implications of these sorts of things, before the Right-Wing Brain Eater got him.

    If the rock’s accelerating at 1 G, it will start to approach the speed of light – as I recall, Niven worked out how long this would take, and it wasn’t all that terribly long. Then you’re going to have to worry about its relativistic mass and the Cerenkov radiation that it will be giving off.

    As I recall, his matter transmitter essay (that’s where I cribbed this, but I could have got it wrong – I read it back in high school) was in the short story collection All the Myriad Ways (something else I could be wrong about, but it has the deathless “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” in it, if that helps).

  102. Flanders

    Dang that Larry Niven.

  103. Jason Stackhouse

    Wait. We’re *not* advocating simplistic, violent solutions to nuanced problems?

    What the hell am I supposed to do with all this hydrofluoric acid, then?

  104. Flanders

    Well, Peter did have some interesting ideas regarding the Pope in a previous post…

  105. Flanders


    Here’s the text (atrociously formatted) of the article you mentioned, “Exercise in Speculation: the Theory and Practice of Teleportation”: The “Portal” Theory is at the very bottom.

    I hadn’t considered the notion that increasing mass would start distorting the Earth’s orbit. Interesting. I think NIven’s concerns regarding conservation of energy are interesting, but can be hand-waved away. Niven concludes that opening up the portal to the atmosphere would provide a very big boom, but mostly gamma radiation. Hulk Smash!

    So I guess the best bet is to calibrate the strength of the vacuum to give you a terminal velocity that’s fast enough to do the appropriate amount of damage when exposed to a thicker atmosphere, but thick enough to keep the missile from converting into energy.

  106. PrivateIron

    My confusion was that Peter seemed to be saying that the spill was a big blip, but still just a blip, in a larger systematic devastation and an excuse for some GroupHate faux angst on the part of the American Public that would not accomplish anything in the long run. So instead of having an adrenaline rush/fatigue on this issue; we should focus on the big picture for the long haul. Then he seemed to turn around and say, now let’s have that GroupHate about these exceptionally icky bastards who are the real ones ruining the planet! To my mind, he may have undercut his message or not settled on which message he wanted to emphasize.

    Having read his work, I am mostly immunized to his OTT violent metaphors; so that kind of washed over me like swear words in a George Carlin concert. But I knew that a lot of people would just see what he wrote and their vision would automatically cloud up: won’t somebody please think of the children! If I thought he actually wanted that or advocated it, I would be a lot more pissed off by his use of language. If the purpose was for him to reach ranting apotheosis, then it probably succeeded. If it was to communicate, it may or may not have been entirely effective.

    I did have a bit of gMike’s worries about what Big Brother might do with PW’s language here. However, Dr. Watts is a big boy who has been through the wringer once already and gotten some real legal advice on this subject. So I have no problem with him speaking in his own particular idiom (as Sir Lancelot would say) and he does not need me concern trolling him. He’s got more perspective on consequences than most of us; so rant on, mister Squiddy man, tally me ecodiversity implosion.

  107. Sheila

    I’Ive never played portal. Can we assume a uniform gravitational field?

    I should go find the. Niven story. It’s been so long since I have had physics that I need help figuring out how long it would take to approach c.

    And speaking of kleenex and steel, I was pondering the other day about that for some reason and wondering why it would be advantageous for all of someone’s sperm to find eggs. Maybe on his world the females are like hiv queens. Or maybe the males get filled with zygotes that feed off of them and the males slowly dissolve. Maybe attach themselves to the female like that fish whose species I cannot remember.

    Boy did he escape an odd fate but maybe he is depressed at never being able to become a dad.

    And ina fit of despair hurls a rock at relativistic speeds towards bp for ruining it for all those other fish.

  108. Hljóðlegur

    Allister01 says:
    Hljoolegur: Stop that! … You are furthering my insanity.

    Dearest Allister01,

    0000110100001010011 10111011011110111001001101011

    Alright, I promise no more binary after this. 🙂

  109. Hljóðlegur

    Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex:

  110. Hljóðlegur

    Hey, Sheila, if I remember rightly, the caps of the many sperm bump the surface of the egg and chemcially induce permeability, then one slips in, causing a cascade of impermeability to ripple out from the spot and prevent further insemination.

    It’s why low sperm count can make you infertile – you need a certain number of sperm brothers to rap on the door so one may enter.

    It’s one more reason why I get amused at the tooth-n-nail mythology of individual cuthroat action that peppers biology. As if the sperm have minds with which to calculate how competitive to be. If you think about it, cooperation amongst the related sperm gets the job done.

  111. Flanders

    Come the robot uprising, we know who will be first against the wall, don’t we, Hljóðlegur?

  112. Lars

    It’s been so long since I have had physics that I need help figuring out how long it would take to approach c.

    You’re one up on me, then – I probably never could have figured it out. Something approaching a year, at least, as the acceleration is 1 G.

    Niven also pointed out that this would amount to a perpetual motion device.

    Pity that he was never this astute about biology.

  113. keanani

    Look Botfinder-General, Peter can have at me on his blog because it’s his blog, but you don’t know jack squat shit so keep your chat box crap to yourself. Seriously don’t appreciate being talked about publicly on the blog though.

    Some of us do not have great internet and email service, sometimes it does get fucked up. However, it is not really something to get one’s enraged pissoff on about. 🙂

  114. Botfinder-General

    And your posts often make my eyes glaze over. I’m hoping for an ignore button, as I like this blog, and like the discussion, -but I don’t like people who just doth post too much

  115. Jason Stackhouse

    @Botfinder-General Casual violations of Wheaton’s Law are bad form. Don’t be a dick.

  116. Botfinder-General

    @Jason Stackhouse
    You’re right, in this case. I should just put up with him.
    However, if something more were at stake, someone has to be a *dick*. Even casually. If we all went around tiptoeing around one another’s fucking feelings(as being a “dick” means being abrasive), nothing would ever get done quickly enough. ’nuff said, I believe.

  117. Hljóðlegur

    @Botfinder –

    I hear you. And out of respect for your stated philosophy that tiptoeing around other people’s feelings if inefficient, and your implication that this is a bad thing, may I offer this:

    1. Unless you’re a teen, avoid, “’nuff said” as a QED argument closer. It’s ineffective in that role.

    2. You have misunderstood the spirit of Mr. Wheaton’s moral guideline. “Being a dick” means violating agreed-upon social norms, the prime one being “take care for other people’s feelings.” Abrasive ≠ dickish.

    3. Keanani. Think of this as a marketplace of ideas – if you find her ideas and flowerly prose style not to your taste, pass by her and go to the next offering. This place has got specializations – biology, consciousness, religion, neurology, psychology, philosophy, television, the physics of cartoons, writing, cats, science fiction, Peter’s life and travails – and you should be able to find something you like. If not, the internet is wide and full of discussion.

    Bon chance.

  118. Ryan F

    I would like the great minds of Rifters to once over this article relating to the well itself. Basically, it would seem BP is in a race with a collapsing well.
    Saskboy- not inbred
    Please read:

  119. keanani

    Hey Chris in MN, fka Chris in NY, looking forward to communicating with you again, when you feel like it. Hope your book is coming along well.

    You know where to find me, just an earth bound misfit, I.

  120. Außenseiter

    re 1. English is my third best language. You can hardly expect flawless prose and phrase choice from me.
    re 2. Really. That’s not a social norm where I come from. They’re more basic here. Abrasive is okay, as long as you don’t try to hurt someone’s feeling for fun. I’ve heard that North America, on the other hand, is reportedly full of people who are all smiles, even if they hate you. I don’t get that. If I hate someone, I like to glare. If I don’t care, I look as If I’m not giving a shit. Why bother with charades?
    re 3. Pass by her ideas? I guess I should just install greasmonkey and write a script in that. In the past months, her posts have been exceedingly prolific. She makes me understand why the aliens in Blindsight treated us mammals the way they did.

  121. Allister01

    @Botfinder: Hey man, I’m with you. When I first started posting here, Keanani’s posts irritated the hell out of me (don’t get mad Keanani! Let me finish!). However, I understood that I was the newbie on here and I just kept my mouth shut and skipped them when I wasn’t in the mood to read them.

    After a while though, I genuinely started to enjoy her posting style. Sometimes they confuse the hell out of me, but almost always she has a point worth listening to (Just going out on the limb here, but I think remember Keanani being a girl, my mistake if not :P).

    The important part of this analogy though, is that when I first started posting on a site I didn’t decide to come out and start dicking it up with people that had been here way longer than I. Again, I may have missed something, but I don’t remember seeing your tag here very recently.

    First rule of internet forums/discussion boards/newsgroups, people with higher post counts are effectively gods. Mostly because they’ve had time to make friends with -everyone else on there-. So maybe just tone it back a bit? There may not be an ignore button, but you have something similar built right into your eyeballs.

    Hint: It’s called -not looking-.

  122. Allister01

    @Ryan F: Awesome. Were it not for me having a girlfriend I would be some kind of eco-terrorist trying to make humanity go extinct, so this splits the difference nicely. We can hope this whole event will trigger some sort of horrible chain reaction that will cause people to either wake up and realize our whole species is going down, or we will probably just start fucking the environment even more. Either way, I win.

    As for the substance of the article, I’m no expert on drilling, but it seems plausible. Guess we’ll find out when the whole thing asplodes, or not.

  123. Hljóðlegur

    @Ryan F: I ran this by someone who is not in the oil biz, but who has experience with drilling wells on dry land, so fwiw, he thought the whole “down well leak collapse” scenario looked plausible, especially if the original boring was designed to be steered, not bored straight down. He’s not in the oil biz, though, as I said.

    I said, So we could be looking at an oil Chernobyl? He replied:

    That is my take, yes.

    Well, actually, I think it will be greater than that. Chernobyl affected a 489 square kilometer area (well, more or less, depending on who you talk to, but that is the size of the “wildlife sanctuary” that does not have any humans living within it). The Gulf of Mexico, is 1.6 million square kilometers in area, or about 3272 times larger in area than Chernobyl.

    If what that one commentator notes is roughly accurate, in terms of flow rate and duration, the Gulf will be dead. Given that currents imply movement up the American coast, it will probably destroy the coral reefs of Florida, Cuba, the Bahamas, and anywhere else in the northern Caribbean as well as ecosystems on the Atlantic barrier islands.

    Ecoapocolypse on a Wattsian scale, anyone?

  124. Flanders

    Außenseiter: YES! America is soooo backward when it comes to that! How I long to live in a country like yours, where everybody glares at everybody, and then people say mean things, and then expect everybody to laugh about it! “I hate you! You body odor offends me and your parentage is dubious! HAHAHAHAHA! Now buy me drink!”

    Also, congratulations on your English. It is not the easiest language to learn, and it is certainly better than my Outer Assholevanian.

  125. Hljóðlegur

    Außenseiter: Sind Sie Deutscher?!

  126. Flanders

    @Hljóðlegur: I’m guessing Austrian. They have a long and storied tradition of meaningful glaring.

  127. proudinjun

    To all that have a problem with Keanani, I say “Too bad.” She is a very intelligent, sensitive soul who has the tenacity to get her point across and takes the time to take peoples’ feelings into consideration while doing it. Get off her back. Maybe if you opened those cold little pebbles in your chests (also known as hearts) while you read her postings, you would get an idea of where she’s coming from. So, once again, don’t be a dick!!!

  128. Jason Stackhouse

    Spankings administered, shall we move on?

    The Oily Apocalypse Scenario is making the rounds at speed. I’ve been unable to track and digest the idea myself, for lack of either spare grey matter or training… How far can this plausibly go? Do we (ie, you all) have any data from previous spills on rate of recolonization?

    I tried to work out a sense of boundaries, of what -wouldn’t- be in some way affected by the OAS, and found I honestly couldn’t do it.

  129. Jason Stackhouse

    (And by Oily Apocalypse Scenario, I mean 4 billion barrels and a dead, brown Gulf.)

  130. Flanders


  131. Flanders

    Seriously, it’s way more fun than the Oily Apocalypse. I think the reason this thread has been going off-topic (even moreso than what is usual around here) is that it’s really quite astoundingly depressing.

  132. Flanders

    How far can this possibly go? Possibly the collapse of the entire North Atlantic fisheries (which has been teetering along waiting for something to push it over the edge for decades). Say goodbye to Atlantic salmon, Maine lobster, and a good chunk of the ocean whitefish and tuna. I don’t know if an actual oil slick will be able to ride the Gulf stream all the way to Britain, but tarballs on Cork’s and Cornwall’s shores seem to be on the horizon.

    Oysters? Fuggeddaboutit.

  133. Flanders

    Cuba’s fucked, the Bahamas will no longer be a nifty tourist destination….

    …Like I said, really quite astonishingly depressing.

  134. Allister01

    Let’s go back to general spankings. At least those could be considered to have some subtle sexual undertones. Then again, all this talk about oil is kinda turning my crank too.

    Note to self: Feature some kind of exploding oil derrick scenario in next week’s roleplaying session.

  135. Jason Stackhouse

    I’m embarrassed for not thinking past ‘those crazy Russians’ when I learned they’d sealed similar leaks with low-yield nukes; arguably lower-impact than some scenarios I’m reading… I’d forgotten the rational brutality of their command and engineering cultures. Shame on me.

  136. Terry

    Not totally on point, but I can’t think of a better group of people to have weigh in on this…
    I hope the HTML works.
    Neurobiological cause of intergroup conflict: ‘Bonding hormone’ drives aggression towards competing out-groups
    ScienceDaily (2010-06-15) — Researchers in the Netherlands provide first-time evidence for a neurobiological cause of intergroup conflict. They show that oxytocin, a neuropeptide produced in the brain that functions as hormone and neurotransmitter, leads humans to self-sacrifice to benefit their own group and to show aggression against threatening out-groups. This finding qualifies the wide-spread belief that oxytocin promotes general trust and benevolence. … > read full article

  137. Terry

    Cool! it worked…

  138. Terry

    I just don’t know what more anyone can say on the disaster in the gulf… I think what I’m waiting for is for Hayward to say, “Look, we don’t have a clue what to do; the oil will just have to keep on coming until there is none left.” At least it would be more honest than anything he’s said to date.

    I don’t think any of the $20Bn will ever get to the real people who will never have their way of life ever again.

  139. Terry

    Again I hope the HTML works…. a 10 minute video

    Edward James Olmos: Gulf coast residents are “devastated”

  140. Sheila

    unconnected paragraphs…

    keanani reminds me of twirlip in the mist. sometimes I am a bit “huh” and someones “oh, maybe. yeah. I see that.”

    perhaps people go offtopic since the main topic is a bit horrifying.

    somehow the memory of this blog post bubbled around in my head with all the other random oddness that a memory of the Psalms popped up and I realized that pw’s hypothetical reaction is a bit like the one where the psalmest said he would be happy to see his enemy’s child have its head dashed against the rocks.

    I’m angry at all the people who react to speeches by saying that they want to hear specifics on how things will get fixed. complicated engineering stuff does not work like that. I’m just a programmer, and even programmers have a hard time estimating things to the higher ups. Or even knowing exactly how something will get implemented. I take that personal experience and scale it up to something incredibly tricky and I feel for the engineers having to deal with things and trying to figure out how to solve the problem. I’d be glad to hear that there’s a dedicated team of engineers doing their earnest best trying to figure out what the hell they can do.

    Higher ups? They fucking suck. Regulatory minions? they suck too. People who think that we should deregulate everything? They double fucking suck and should be forced to experience living in a libertarian dystopia. how the unprivileged lived in The Sheep Look Up. It seriously fucking sucks that the people at the top who lead to this won’t get treated like impoverished crack heads who get sent to prison rather than extremely rich guys with top notch lawyers.

  141. Hljóðlegur

    @Allister01. Note to self: Feature some kind of exploding oil derrick scenario in next week’s roleplaying session.

    Note to self: add gallon Hershey’s syrup to grocery list.

  142. Hljóðlegur

    @Außenseiter, I am done spanking you.

    1. Your English is very good, in fact. I just thought you were a sloppy typist..

    2. Social norms vary from place to place, website to website, it’s true. The “Don’t be a Dick” rule requires different behavior, depending on where one is. Hm. If you are glaring at me right now, er, how do I know?

    3. Pass by her posts. You know, just don’t read them? If you aren’t a native reader of English, she will be more confusing, because she writes poetically, in layers of meaning, including references to pop culture. A great deal of what she is saying might be lost on non-native speakers. Also, lots of lateral thinking, which takes more concentration to follow the connections. You have my sympathy, reading it in a foreign language.

  143. proudinjun

    @ Hljóðlegur… How’s the brick lobbing coming? I’ve been busy putting the vegetable garden in, guarding it from hungry cotton tails. The compound may need your services sooner than expected. I hear that Bugs is pretty good in a stew. You provide the bunnies, I’ll provide the rest. Who needs to wait for the apocalypse? The state of affairs, as they are, tell me we need to start honing those survivor skills a little sooner than we thought. What do you think?

  144. Allister01

    Talked with my friend about this last night and he’s pretty convinced this may set off a pretty big collapse, or at least severe reorganization, of the USA. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t read “Black Man” by Richard Morgan (or “Thirteen” to you Americans) can really appreciate how scary that may end up being.

    I don’t really see it happening, but hey, hope springs eternal.

    *clutches his SAS Survival Handbook tightly* Just you and me baby, just you and me.

  145. Hljóðlegur

    @proudinjun – sounds bucolic – what are you putting in? Corn and tomaters? I love home grown tomatoes, myself.

    By way of pre-apocolypse preparedness, I am learning the drink my tea with a dash of crude oil instead of lemon. 🙂


    I bet Alton Brown has some kind of recipe with crude oil and rabbit.

  146. proudinjun

    Could be. Can you fry rabbit in crude? I prefer Crisco myself, but we do what we have to. I have tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, zucchini, yellow squash, black-eyed peas, sweet peas, sweet pea pods, cucumbers, brussels sprouts, various lettuces, swiss chard, radishes, asparagus, water melon, cantaloupe, pumpkins, and beans. No corn. The raccoons always get to it before I do. I also have 3 apple trees, a plum tree, a peach tree, 4 grape vines, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and mulberries. And a 50 ft. x 8 ft. herb berm. All sorts of goodies on it. Bring it, man, I’m ready!!! All I need is a proficient brick lobber to protect it all from Bugs. That’s our protein for the meal. Do we have a deal?

  147. Hljóðlegur

    You’re one busy woman! I’ll be your scarecrow then.

    What’s a herb berm exactly?

    You know, no matter what Sugar Drawers says, I have done *nothing* to reduce my carbon footprint, despite being mad as hell at BP. You sound like you are doing something with your garden.

  148. Jason Stackhouse

    Planting in berms or raised beds gives you more control over water content in the soil.

  149. proudinjun

    @Hljóðlegur, Jason’s got it! My soil has a high clay content, and I live less than an eighth of a mile from a river, so I have drainage issues in my yard. I tried growing herbs directly in the soil, and they were not happy being in water most of the spring. My husband’s boss was excavating a foundation for a house, so he brought the surplus soil over and we made a berm, or raised bed, down the center of the yard. I grow things like thyme, savory, chives, sage, tarragon, several types of mint, chamomile, lemon balm, winter onions, garlic, comfrey, yarrow,plantain,sweet violets, etc. I use a lot of herbs in holistic healing, and, although I’m not a health nut, I prefer to know that the herbs I give my family for minor ailments aren’t loaded down with pesticides. As for that darned carbon footprint, I don’t can, freeze, and smoke my own foods because of a conscious effort to reduce my footprint. I just prefer the taste of it, and like knowing I’m not putting some sort of mutant vegetable down my gullet. I have a nephew that started producing mammary tissue in his chest as a teenager and had to have a breast reduction surgery. They say it may have been caused by a mutant gene, or it may have been caused by hormones consumed in chicken. Chickens are given a hormone that causes them to grow those fat breasts that everybody loves so much. Although that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for me as far as the hubby is concerned, there’s probably better ways to go about getting bigger breasts, you know what I mean? Same thing with meats and antibiotics. I try to eat more wild game, so if I get an infection, antibiotics will actually work on me. Technology is a good thing in some instances, but I don’t think it’s all that wonderful when you mix it with your food sources.

  150. Außenseiter

    Eat rabbits? I wouldn’t bother with them. No real eating there.
    During the coming meltdown, long pig is certainly going to be the most plentiful and easiest to hunt prey item…
    Due to their numbers being grossly above the ideal level, we’d be doing the biosphere a favour while also ensuring that our offspring end up with a more privileged position in it. Furthermore, unlike the wild pig, long pig is easy to sneak upon, is very unwary and very gullible.
    A classic win-win situation that will surely lead to our improvement as a species, as a lack of natural predators has contributed to a surfeit of sickly and degenerate individuals abounding.

    I’m sure oil company executives taste great. Do you think they get massages from time to time? I’ve heard that improves taste and texture tremendously…

  151. Allister01

    @Aussenseiter (I think that’s how you anglicize that funky B shaped thinger):

    Try story on the rabbits. People have been recorded starving to death eating only rabbit. Good as supplemental food, not so good as your main item.

    As for oil company executives, humans apparently taste very similar to pork, if the reports of cannibal serial killers can be trusted. Get some maple on that sucker and we’ve got some damn fine morning bacon.

  152. Kai

    … I read that last bit about execs and pork… and my mind instantly wondered “Would they squeal?”

    That seemed for a moment to be too much… And then I heard on a webcast how all the Gulf of Mexico response plans for the five large oil companies are exact copies of each other… And three list an emergency contact who died five years ago.

    I have since amended my thought to, “How much can we -make- them squeal?” =P

    Oh and maple… yum!

  153. Flanders

    Watch out for that kuru. I hear it’s a bastard.

  154. Allister01

    Hmm… I forgot about prions. Lets hope the next law that gets passed includes something about screening oil executives for diseases.

    We need to make sure our food source is secure.

  155. Flanders

    Well, I guess as long as you refrain from eating brains or spinal fluid, and also refrain from feeding oil execs to other oil execs, your risk of actually contracting K-J or kuru are pretty limited.

    However, I hear kuru’s not a bad way to go. At least you die laughing.

  156. apnea

    The only “payback” we’ll get to see will be against conveniently designated targets of minority, marginal or foreign background. Not even the lowliest of corps employees will get his hair tussled, not with our gigantic MSM noise machine blaring coordinates for selective divide-and-conquer false flag payback day-in day-out.

  157. proudinjun

    Eat ’em all, I say. As far as pig goes, there’s not too many of them wandering around in SE Michigan. For a really good meal, we have a tendency to lean towards white-tail deer, which are incredibly delicious!!! I couldn’t imagine trying to maintain on a diet of strictly rabbit. But for a change of pace, it would be a good thing. As far as oil executives, it’s been my experience that if you mix up a proper marinade and soak just about anything for the right amount of time, you can make it palatable. Maple syrup would make an excellent marinade. I think those darned critters may have a bit too much fat content, though. Living high on the hog, no pun intended, (maybe a little pun intended,) would have a tendency to make them that way. I’m open for other marinade suggestions. Maybe raspberry? Or perhaps some honey and lemon. Pineapple goes excellent with pork, but we don’t have those in Michigan, either. Not wild, anyway.

  158. Denni

    I say smoke ’em or pickle ’em!

    Tastiest outcome 🙂

  159. proudinjun

    I’ve got it! Shove an apple in their mouths, slather them up with some apple sauce, and slow roast over an open pit. MMMMM!!!

  160. Allister01

    I am actually all aboard the smoking train now. A whole new meaning to JERKy

  161. Außenseiter

    On the contrary, the so-called elites are pretty much health conscious. Proles tend to be high in fat content, but these executives play squash, tennis, or golf.

    I really don’t know what it is with me and long pig jokes. It’s a bad habit, I guess.

  162. Flanders

    Cannibalism is always funny!

    …except in real life. Then it’s not funny at all.

    Jokes about imaginary cannibals are always funny!

  163. “the planet is fine; the people are fucked” : The Tinuum

    […] commenter here posted this link and I found it rather interesting… As in, a useful perspective to keep in […]

  164. proudinjun

    Loved the link, long pig jokes are fine, and cannibalism jokes are okay, too. I agree, nothing funny about it in the “real” world. But we can either laugh about the gulf situation, or we can all cry ourselves to sleep at night. I hate reality checks. I prefer to laugh. And I still think oil execs would be tasty with apples. Lean or fat, it makes no difference. The heat from the smoking will take care of the fat.

  165. Sheila


    Is that Flanders as in “Flanders & Swann”?

    (as in ?)

  166. So much has happened since last we talked — My Time Abroad

    […] Barton just wants his life back by the always incredible John Scalzi The Feel-Good Spill of the Decade, a darker piece by Peter Watts Geopolitics in the raw brings us away from the Gulf oil spill and […]

  167. brycemeister

    Clayton-yeah, I go a little yeehah sometimes-although prairie gophers sound more like the drawl in Fargo. Sheesh, it’s been forever since I’ve been in toon town, and not really interested in say, a visit. I can always google street view it.

    Nifty bit of saddening news-BP is working a deal, natural gas, I believe, out here in BC. I’m beginning to think that evolution isn’t really a major thing with these guys. In the ‘real world’, failure on that kind of level tends to have repercussions, usually such subtle things as species extinction…

    Oh wait…we’re a species, aren’t we?


  168. Brian Dodge

    I think the question boils down to whether it’s effective to kill the drug dealers, or attack their families and business associates, or otherwise put them out of business. Or do we need to address the question of what to do about the addicts and the causes of addiction?

  169. iso-octane

    People, I really don’t understand your problem. You wanted the oil, and now you have the oil.

  170. Damon

    Brilliant post, Peter. Ignore all the nay-sayers and pussy-footers in this comment thread; you hit the nail right on the head.

    Keep up the good work.