In Bureaucracy, Politics, Social commentary on May 29, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) published over 60 children’s books, which were often filled with imaginative characters and rhyme. Among his most famous books were Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.

Honored in his lifetime (1904-1991) for the joy he brought to countless children, Dr. Seuss may well prove one of the unsung prophets of our environmentally-threatened age.

In 1949, he penned Bartholomew and the Oobleck, the story of a young page who must rescue his kingdom from a terrifying, man-made substance called Oobleck.

The story is quickly told: Derwin, the King of Didd, announces he’s bored with sunshine, rain, fog and snow.  He wants a new kind of weather.

So he calls in his black magicians and gives them the order.  The magicians assure him they can create it.

“What will you call it?” asks the king.

“We’ll call it Oobleck,” says one of the magicians.

“What will it be like?” asks King Didd.

“We don’t know, Sire,” the magician replies.  “We’ve never created Ooleck before.”

The next morning, Oobleck–a greenish, glue-like substnace–starts raining.

The king orders Bartholomew, the royal page, to tell the Bell Ringer that today will be a holiday.  But the bell doesn’t ring because it’s filled with Oobleck.

Bartholomew warns the Royal Trumpeter about the Oobleck, but the trumpet gets stopped up with the goo.

The Captain of the Guards thinks the Oobleck is pretty and sees no danger in it–until he eats some.  Instantly, his mouth is glued shut.

The Oobleck rain intensifies.  The falling blobs–now as big as buckets full of brocolli–now break into the palace, immobilizing the servants and guards.

At the climax of the story, Bartholomew confronts King Derwin for giving such a rash order.

“If you can’t do anything else,” says Bartholomew, “at least you can say you’re sorry.”

King Derwin refuses, and Bartholomew says, “If you can look at all the horror you’ve caused and not say you’re sorry, you’re no sort of king at all.”

In real-life, the king would have almost certainly ordered Bartholomew’s execution.  But this is a children’s story.

So, overcome with guilt, King Derwin utters the magic words: “You’re right, this is all my fault, and I am sorry.”

Suddenly the Oobleck stops raining and the sun melts away the rest. With life returning to normal, King Derwin mounts the bell tower and rings the bell. He proclaims a holiday dedicated not to Oobleck, but to rain, sun, fog, and snow, the four elements of Nature—of which Man is but a part.

* * * * *

Flash forward to May 29, 2010: BP has admitted defeat in its latest attempt to plug the Gulf of Mexico oil leak by pumping mud into a busted well. More than 1.2 million gallons of mud was used, but most of it escaped out of the damaged riser

In the six weeks since the spill began on April 20, BP has failed in each attempt to stop the gusher.

First, the company used robot submarines to try to close valves on the massive blowout preventer. But the valves wouldn’t close.

Two weeks later, BP tried to place a 100-ton concrete box over the leak. But this was soon clogged with ice-like crystals.

Then engineers used a mile-long siphon tube to suck up the gushing oil. But the tube sucked up only 900,000 gallons of oil—out of an estimated 18- to 40 million gallons of oil pouring into the Gulf.

“This scares everybody,” admitted BP PLC Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles. “The fact that we can’t make this well stop flowing, the fact that we haven’t succeeded so far. Many of the things we’re trying have been done on the surface before, but have never been tried at 5,000 feet.”

There is a moral to be learned here—but not by right-wing fanatics like Sarah Palin and the “Drill, baby, drill” crowd. It’s only for those who are willing to confront the truth head-on:

There are forces in Nature far more powerful than anything Man and his puny strength can defy—or harness. And we invoke the wrath of those forces at our own peril.

In the world of children’s stories, it’s possible for a king to undo the terrible damage he’s unleashed by finding the courage to say: “I’m sorry.” BP’s top executives—and the government officials who refused to hold the company accountable—have been saying “I’m sorry” for the last six weeks.

It hasn’t proven enough, and the residents of Louisiana—and states well beyond it—will be living with the damage of this environmental holocaust for decades to come.

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