18 August 2010

It's Official: Nomenclature Is a Weapon of Mass Destruction

this is what happens when oxygen levels drop in the ocean
It's a common practice in politics and PR. The easiest way to avoid responsibility for something is to just call it something else. Put it in another category and wait for people to focus on the next outrage.  It usually works.   The most salient example in recent memory is the depraved attempt to define waterboarding as something other than torture. Sure, the media covered the issue well for a while, but it's not as if anyone has ever truly been held accountable for torturing people. The experts on the topic never had a chance against a PR strategy run by political consultants.  That's because "experts" - scientists, academics, intellectuals - really have no serious influence in policy when it matters most.  (Seriously, they don't.  I'll debate anyone, anytime on this.)

Now nomenclature has suddenly (and perhaps officially)  made millions upon millions of gallons of oil miraculously disappear from the Gulf of Mexico.  A report earlier this month from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports:
The vast majority of the oil from the BP oil spill has either evaporated or been burned, skimmed, recovered from the wellhead or dispersed  much of which is in the process of being degraded. A significant amount of this is the direct result of the robust federal response efforts.
Which in government-PR speak means "we won't be spending a ton more time or money dealing with this because the way we've defined it, we're almost done fixing it. So chill out.  We got this."

Enter the scientific community, led by some really outstanding researchers from The University of Georgia. (Goooooooo DAWGS.)  They took a look at what the government said and then looked at what's actually going on and had this to say:
“One major misconception is that oil that has dissolved into water is gone and, therefore, harmless,” said Charles Hopkinson, director of Georgia Sea Grant and professor of marine sciences in the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “The oil is still out there, and it will likely take years to completely degrade. We are still far from a complete understanding of what its impacts are....
The group analyzed data from the Aug. 2 National Incident Command Report, which calculated an “oil budget” that was widely interpreted to suggest that only 25 percent of the oil from the spill remained.

Hopkinson notes that the reports arrive at different conclusions largely because the Sea Grant and UGA scientists estimate that the vast majority of the oil classified as dispersed, dissolved or residual is still present, whereas the NIC report has been interpreted to suggest that only the “residual” form of oil is still present. 
This is science-speak for "Yeah, ummm... dudes?  Not so much.  'Dispersed' doesn't mean 'gone.'"  There is no doubt that the ecological impacts of this spill will be devastating for years to come. And NOAA is spinning it.  The media, to their credit, took the UGA folks seriously.


comes with a side of defibrillator
Here's how I might try to explain it.  First, grab a Double Coronary Burger, which can be found at the Vortex Bar & Grill in Atlanta - probably less than 2 hours from UGA.  (I learned about it at the website This Is Why You're Fat.)  The Double Coronary features a burger topped with five slices of bacon, four slices of cheese, two fried eggs, mayo, lettuce, tomato, and onion between two grilled cheese sandwiches.

Now, cut it in half.  Cut the halves in half, and eat one of the quarters.  Try not to die. Take another quarter and put it on another plate.


Take the remaining two quarters and cut them in half.  Then cut all those pieces in half.  Then repeat this until you basically have a bunch of little pieces of heart attack smeared all over a plate.  Then spray that smushed up death plate with some liquid borax or something like that.

Then take both plates, head over to the local supermarket, and dump the plates into the lobster tank and see what happens.  (Be prepared to pay for all the lobster. And maybe the tank.)



I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure our government would be pleased if you thought the borax-infused death smear in front of you doesn't really exist any more because it's in a bunch of little pieces.  You really only need to worry about that quarter on the other plate, and that's going away naturally or something.  

And when the borax-infused death smear makes its way up the food chain?  You can be damn sure the company that gets sued for selling food that got someone sick will say the government told everyone it was ok, so they shouldn't be held responsible.

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