Wednesday, July 28, 2010

BP - Tax Deductions to Contribute to Paying for Oil Mess

Wonder how BP is going to pay for the $32 billion it estimates the gulf oil spill, cleanup and compensation will cost the company? Think they are simply going to pay up and move on? Oh no, they are going to make sure they come out even on the deal and don't take the hit to their bottom line.

How are they going to do that?

Well, part of their answer is to deduct $10 billion of the cost from their U.S. taxes.

Yep. A third of the expendatures they're laying out they are going to recoup by not paying taxes.

I'm not saying that this is illegal or anything, and I understand that BP is committing the $32 billion. But, I bring this up because I think this maneuver again shows you the nature and motivation of big business. In this case, a company is ready and willing to deduct the cost of a disaster it caused from their taxes to help pay for it's cleanup...depriving the U.S. public of funds that in a more equitable situation it should in receive as compensation for this mess.

Oh, and how will BP make up the rest of the $32 billion so they don't go into the black? It appears they will sell off certain elements of their business to raise the funds. This certainly makes sense, but the thing that is interesting to me is even after doing that, BP will STILL be the second biggest oil company in the world. This is a massive, massive international company. Is it any wonder they have so much influence on our government, its policies and energy regulation?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Naked, Gay, Vietnam Taj...and Don't Tread On Me

As I like to do about once every quarter, the other day I checked in on my Flickr Photostream to see what were the 10 most viewed pictures of mine that people across the Internet were viewing.

 Most  were similar to quarters past. My closeup of detail on the Taj Mahal in India is by far and away the most looked at with more than 1,400 views.

After that it's a repeat from previous quarters with an aircraft carrier in South Carolina, the Don't Tread On Me flag, various pictures of Vietnam, the Beijing Olympic stadium and paraders from the 2009 Seattle Gay Pride festivities.

New to the top 10 and skyrocketing into place number eight in just about a month since I posted it is a picture of naked bicycle riders from the Fremont Solstice Parade in Seattle this year.

So, what does this tell us?

Well, there appears to be a massive appetite for close ups of the Taj Mahal. Who knew?

After that, for kicks I'll break it down this way this time...there seems to a pattern perhaps along political lines:

  • On the left there are some free spirits seeking pictures of naked paraders and/or gay paraders and some travel shots of Asia.
  • On the right there are some uptight and traditional people looking for aircraft carriers, the iconic "don't tread on me" flag that has become a symbol of the Tea Party and shots of "the 'Nam."
 But who knows?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Why Does Everything "Suck"?

You suck.

That movie really sucked.

The Seahawks really sucked today.

Working for the man sucks.

The word "sucks" is ubiquitous in today's American language. I'm sure you've noticed...and probably use the word many times a day without even thinking about it.

It's always used to express displeasure or to disparage something or someone and is commonly accepted as a non-offensive word. It's everywhere - in TV programs, in commercials, in movies, in articles and other writings. Children and adults alike use the word.

But do you know where the term originated? What it means?

I've had my hunches, but seeing a recent TV ad in which a "suck-o-meter" is used to make some point or another about how the product being promoted doesn't "suck" demonstrated to me how much this word is in our culture and got me thinking about why such as strange term would be used to express a negative feeling or judgement.

Well, the first thing to know is that yes, "suck" is a term for oral sex. This is what I had assumed all along, and perhaps you did too. But, the real mystery is why it is so commonly used in general society. And I think the answer suggests perhaps it isn't a great term to be throwing around so easily.

OK, back in the, the 60s and 70s and probably before..."sucks" was used in a very negative way as shorthand to essentially say, "you suck c*%#k" or "that sucks c*%#k." So, the intention was a degrading insult. But, it was also usually meant to imply that "you are gay." So, it's a bigoted term too - anti-gay. The translation of "you suck" was "you are gay and suck c*%#k." Because it was offensive, you didn't hear it as much and it wasn't in media, movies and print.

Perhaps the defining moment for the word "sucks" - proving its anti-gay insult status AND its adoption into everyday American syntax - is the whole "disco sucks" thing that happened in the 1970s. Disco music started in the gay clubs in NYC in the mid-70s and had a following in the African American community too...and it spread from those places into the general American culture as a sizable sector of our population wanted to get down.

Along the way, some people who were not gay, black or living in NYC took exception to the disco sounds they were hearing on the radio and the disco fashion they were seeing on the street. It all seemed awfully "gay" to them...and in their contempt they started saying, "disco sucks." By the mid to late 1970s, this essentially homophobic and racist mantra was picked up on rock radio stations as DJs became distraught over their beloved Stones, Zep, Rush and Sabbath being scaled back on airplay in favor of dance songs by Donna Summer, The Village People, Chic and other disco acts. Hitting the airwaves daily, the term "sucks" was used to describe disco in a derogatory way...and spread broadly from there.

At this stage, two events in particular really really propelled and solidified the use of the word "suck" as mainstream. First, the movie Saturday Night Fever in 1978 was a HUGE hit nationally - spreading the groovy disco sound across all corners of America and generating the predictable backlash call of "disco sucks!" among people who may not have quite appreciated the innovation of the Bee Gees and John Travolta and his white suit. Second, the Disco Demolition Night at Comisky Park in Chicago in 1979 where nearly 90,000 people responded to a Chicago area DJ's call to bring disco records to the field to literally blow them up before the start of a White Sox game. Following the initial explosion, a mini riot started on the plying field.

This stunt came across for what it was - low brow and reactionary. It also got a lot of attention in the media...complete with the "disco sucks" chants from the crowd and "disco sucks" signs in the stadium. America, say hello to your new term for saying something is not good.

The rest as they say is history. All of a sudden, many things "sucked." And that's how it is today. Thirty years on from the baseball stadium stunt and the heyday of disco, even kids cartoons say things "suck" when they want to say something is not good.

There are those who defend the modern use of the word and I can see some of the logic, but primarily I try and not use the word myself because each time I do I think that it's a lame way to say something that could be articulated better with other words and it has a quite homophobic and racist history. The word is so ingrained in our culture that I am sure I will still use it reflexively now and again, but I'm trying to dial it back.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Excursion to Egypt - Aswan & Crusin' the Nile

After a couple days in Cairo, we took a morning flight all the way down to the southern region of Egypt to the city of Aswan. Arriving to 110 degree temperatures at 10 a.m., this is where we boarded our Nile River cruise ship that would take us down the river to more spectacular sites. However, before our river journey began, there were a number of things we did right there in the Aswan area.

Ship and Felucca
From the airport we were transported through Aswan and down to the river where our cruise ship, the Movenpik Royal Lily, awaited. This thing looked like most every other cruise ship on the river from the outside, but inside it was like staying in a W Hotel. We had a very comfortable cabin with big windows facing out to the river, king sized bed, couch and lounge, killer air conditioning and more. Really nice.

After we checked in, but before lunch, we decided to go up top deck and take a dip in the pool to cool off. As reached the doorway up to the pool, I observed a thermometer outside that said the temperature had risen to 120 degrees. That pool really was going to feel good. And it did. But here's the thing - I left the card key for our room and my flip-flops on the pool deck as we swam around for about 10 minutes. When a went to fetch them, the key card had melted into a warped piece of plastic and my flip-flops were far too hot to wear. I had to quickly scoop them up and scamper into the shady part of the deck. After lunch we attempted to go up on the deck again to sit in the shade and read, but by this time the temperature had reached 131 degrees! After a minute of that Diane said, "this isn't good, lets go back to the cabin." She was right and we did.

Later that evening around sunset, when the temperature had cooled to a chilly 90 degrees or so, we went on a fun boat ride on a vessel called a Felucca. Basically, they are small sail boats the likes of which have plied the Nile for centuries. This was a fun excursion as it got us out on the river, in the breeze and we could see Aswan from the river perspective. At right is a picture of a felucca sailing in front of Aswan to give you the idea.

After a restful night on the boat moored at Aswan, the next morning we went to the Aswan "high dam." Built in the 1960s, the dam is one of Egypt's major sources of revenue and regional power. It's also one of the biggest dams in the world. By bottling up the Nile, Egypt can produce a massive amount of electricity with the dam that it uses domestically and exports all around the Middle East. And, by controlling the flow of the Nile, the government can reduce the instances of devastating flooding and occupy the position of a major player in water issues for most of North Africa.

While the dam does not have the "wow" factor of, say, the Great Pyramids, it is clear that this structure is as important - if not more so - to the Egyptian economy and way of life than any tourist attraction. That's why our guide made a point of showing it to us. Here is a shot of the dam. You can see it in the middle of the picture at the back.

After the dam, we went into Aswan town and did some shopping. We purchased some beautiful glass perfume bottles that artisans from that area are known for.

Nubian Village
Later in the afternoon, with only our guide and another couple, we took a motor boat up the river to a Nubian village for a visit. Nubia is a region in the south of Egypt and most of the Sudan. Nubians are the native people of that area. In this instance, we went to one of their homes for a visit. I'm not sure how "typical" the home was as there were plenty of things to buy sitting around (kickback to the guide no doubt), but none of that was a distraction and our visit proved to be interesting. For example, we got up close and personal with some crocodiles. From a balcony offering shade and views of the Nile, we snacked on some home made bread, cheese and honey. And, we partook in smoking from the hooka water pipe - tobacco only just so you know. We really enjoyed this little get-away within our trip because it allowed us to see something off the beaten path, see how some Nubians live, and experience some tastes and smells to go along with all the sights and sounds of Egypt. Here are a couple pictures from our visit:

After seeing the Aswan high dam, but before the Nubian village, we took a small boat over to an island to visit the Temple of Isis. In the heat of the day, we wandered through the ancient doorways and worship chambers, marveling at how old the construction is, how well preserved the carved hieroglyphs were and pondering what the Egyptians of old would have done here in this place thousands of years ago. This was our first temple tour and the basic construction and shape were the template for most the other temples we would see on the trip.

Shoving off later that that afternoon from Aswan, our ship chugged down the river to the site of one of the best preserved ancient temples called Kom Ombo. Notice I said "down" the river. The Nile is one of the only - and certainly the largest - rivers in the world that flows south to north. So, our ship journeyed north back toward Cairo.To be honest, between the time zone change, three aggressive days and the evening hour...we were exhausted by the time we started our exploration of the Kom Ombo temple at dusk. 

But, the sunset and twilight hour bathed the temple beautiful hues, and we learned that the site is the only ancient Egyptian temple that honors two gods simultaneously - Horus (the Hawk) and Sobek (the Crocodile). The temple was also a center for medicine and houses the original ancient Egyptian calendar - remarkably accurate. Ready to drop, we ate a late dinner and then hit the sack and slept hard. In the morning, our ship sailed down river again - this time the destination was a town called Edfu

Edfu is not a tourist destination itself, although you could get an education on what a typical Egyptian town is like by hanging out there. What the city does have is one of the biggest, best preserved ancient Egyptian temples left standing...and we toured it. By this point we were becoming experts on what these temples looked like, how they were constructed and which rooms served which purposes. With this knowledge in our memory banks, the visit here was more about appreciating the art than learning anything new about the structure's function or history itself. Following an enjoyable - and hot! - visit, we went back to the ship and sailed onward in the afternoon toward Luxor.

NOTE: All pictures featured in this article were taken by me, Marc Osborn. They are copy written in my name and are not authorized for any use by anyone without written permission directly from me.