Wednesday, April 27, 2011

BP Helps Restore Tourism

By Melissa Nardo
The Gulf of Mexico and its costal states took a hit last spring.  Due to a massive oil spill in April of 2010, the ocean and its coastline were greatly affected.  Oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico and washed up on the shores of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi; this effectively halted the fishing industry and reduced tourism to the southern coastal states.  BP is one of the drilling contractors being held responsible for 2010’s oil disaster.
BP has stepped up to the plate and is working to correct their mistake, and restore tourism to the southern coastal states.  Due to the oil spill, states such as Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida had a big loss of income; no one wanted to visit the oil damaged coastline.  All of the Gulf Coast beaches were closed and deemed unsafe, during the summer and fall of 2010. A lot of people still envision oil covered beaches, and this vision is what BP plans to correct.
Bringing back tourism will help dig a lot of business owners out of debt.  BP is helping the Gulf Coast states by financially supporting a new tourism campaign.  Over the last year, BP has given about $117 million in grants to help bring back tourism, and “each state is using the tourism funds to develop specific marketing programs.” Also, special events, such as concerts, have been used to attract more tourism.
So far it looks like BP’s campaign is making an impact.  Tourists returned to the Gulf Coast states for 2011’s spring break, and this is “an early indicator of the resilience of the Gulf Coast.”  Missy Zak, a real estate agent in charge of rentals says, “This weekend was even trending ahead of where we were pre-oil spill .”  Matt Shipp, owner of Shipp’s Island Thyme Grill reports, “spring break season has really picked up and been successful.”
BP has been running tests on the water, and results show that the beaches are safe to return to.  A BP spokesperson states, “we can absolutely say with confidence that the waters are safe, that the sands and beaches are safe.” BP and Gulf Coasts residents want to make it clear that they are back to normal, and enthusiastically awaiting the tourist season.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What is a Shawarma and Where Do I Get One?

By Donna Perezella
In the predominantly-Jewish town of Brookline resides the most unusual of residents — Shawarma King — a Lebanese-owned and operated casual eatery — serving mouth-watering Middle Eastern fare such as fabulous falafels, heavenly hummus, and baklava to boast about. Don't be fooled by this nondescript storefront on Beacon Street, for once inside, you'll find that both the food and the diners are far from ordinary.

A Coolidge Corner fixture since 1992, a quick magic-carpet ride will take you to this Middle Eastern Mecca, culturally intoxicating — both gastronomically and visually. Its clients are curiously diverse. Often seated at many of the twelve tables is the Koran-carrying crowd, Middle Eastern men who converse, as well as order, only in Arabic. Groups of college students, looking for great food at great prices, come here for both. Modestly-dressed Middle Eastern women wearing hijab gather for both conversation and camaraderie.

Shawarma King's prize namesakes — its shawarmas – three skewers of beef, lamb, and chicken —are a permanent fixture vertically rotating behind the counter. Not a meat eater, it's hard for me to understand what I witness –grown man salivating as they anxious place their orders.

Its menu features no less than one hundred and five items, plus four daily specials, written on a board, in Arabic on the left, English on the right. Roll-up meat sandwiches, straight off the shawarma, range in price from $5.95 to $6.99. All are served in typical Lebanese pita bread and come with an assortment of traditional Middle Eastern sides.

Finding myself ordering off the reliable vegetarian menu again, I decide to shake things up a bit and deviate from my usual – the never-disappointing falafel rollup ($4.95). Fool Moudammas ($4.95), boiled fava beans and chick peas tastefully seasoned with onions, parsley, lemon juice and garlic, are magically blended together. The result — my taste buds are pleasantly surprised by this grilled greatness.

Mark, however, is not as adventurous and sticks with the tried-and-true — the vegetarian grape-leaves roll-up ($4.95). His sandwich disappears in a Beirut minute as he devours in just five mouthfuls this overstuffed gem of grape leaves, rice, tomatoes, and parsley — blended to perfection in a delicious olive- oil mixture.

While savoring my Fool (the sandwich, not the husband), I take in the atmosphere of Shawarma King, that touchingly pays tribute to the owners’ homeland. Wonderful photos of Lebanon adorn its walls; dozens of picture postcards, all well worn, perhaps just faded memories of the land they left behind. Two "hookahs" (bong-like water pipes for after-dinner tobacco smoking found in some traditional Middle Eastern restaurants) sit atop a shelf.

I find Shawarma King delightfully entertaining for its no-frills ambience and no-nonsense attitude. With its twelve dollar credit card minimum, no-name ATM machine and its sign informing its guests that this is a self-service restaurant and you are required to bus your own table.

Sides are sensuously satisfying — I can never resist their homemade hummus ($4.49 small/$7.99 large). With warm pita bread straight from the oven, it is easy to devour this creamy blend of chickpeas and olive oil harmoniously spiced that would satisfy even a shiekh.

If you have a family (or harem) to feed, dinner plates are a must. The vegetarian combo ($11.99), a marvelous medley of hummus, baba ghanouj (eggplant), salad, rice, falafel (fried ground chick peas rolled into balls), stuffed grape leaves, tabbouli (chopped greens), is topped with a deliciously tangy tahini sauce.

We marvel over the melt-in-your-mouth spectacular spinach pie ($2.99), savory spinach and chopped onions mixed with lemon juice and baked in a buttery phylo dough crust. My advice to spinach lovers – order two.

Save room for dessert, for Shawarma King offers thirteen sinful sweets that are all homemade. Warning: these exotic sweets are not your grandma's chocolate chip cookies. From baklava (honey triangles of phylo dough filled with nuts $2.49) to Kunafeh ($4.49), a traditional sweet cake topped with rosewater syrup.

Settle in with a Jalla, an exotic beverage made with raisins and rosewater ($2.99), and in no time you will find yourself humming to the words of Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis."

Shawarma King is conveniently located in Brookline Coolidge Corner at 1383 Beacon Street. Phone: 617-731-6035. Hours: open seven days a week from noon to 10 PM, and until 9 PM on Sundays and Mondays. Plenty of on-street parking, whether you come by car or by camel. Conveniently located on the Green Line’s "C” train, Coolidge Corner stop.

Oil and Water are a Bad Mix!


By Donna Perezella
April 7, 2011

It is human nature to blame the big, bad bully -- that greedy, corporate giant who negligently dumped thousands of tons of crude oil into our own backyard. Whose careless acts, scientists believe, have caused large plumes of this crude oil to be caught in currents that have been carried as far as the pristine Florida Keys. Who unknowingly created a danger to both the coral reefs and precious wildlife with this pollutant that can kill the coral, as well as harm the aquatic life that calls these reefs their home. Whose utter disregard for the environment has resulted in a dangerous drop of oxygen levels by as much as thirty percent in some areas of the Gulf.

And rather than quit while he was ahead, this big, bad bully inflicted further damage on the Gulf by flexing his muscles and doing what he deemed as a "significant clean-up process." While attempting to right his wrong -- he planned to curb this environmental disaster -- he unleashed chemical dispersants underwater without any knowledge of their environmental impact.

Pretty easy to blame this greedy, corporate giant otherwise known as BP (British Petroleum), right?

And while all signs point to neglect and an inexplicable lack of ownership on the part of BP, one must ask these questions: Why was BP in the Gulf Coast in the first place, drilling for crude oil so fast and furiously? And whose oil was it, anyway?

Without the customer, BP might not have been there. And while much of the blame has been rightfully placed on the giant, corporate shoulders of BP, we as citizens of the United States, must morally share in some of the responsibility for this catastrophe.

It is alarming to note that today, although the US represents just 2.3 percent of the world's total population, it uses almost twenty-five percent of the world's natural resources -- water, natural gas, and oil.

Yes, oil and a grossly-skewed twenty five percent of the world's share of it. So was it the wants and needs of the US of this "Gulf Gold" that initially put BP in the Gulf and is setting the scene for yet another return?

To measure the United States's dependency on and overuse of the world's natural resources, one must look at its ecological footprint, which compares human demand with Planet Earth’s ecological capacity. The United States and the United Arab Emirates currently share the dishonor of having the highest ecological footprint, that of 9.3. Compare that to the footprints of other western nations, predominately in Western Europe, whose average footprint is just 5.0, almost half that of the United States. In these developed nations, energy consumption, like most other environmental practices, is taken very seriously.

These Europeans, who we most resemble of all of our fellow westerners, have always been more environmentally conscious than Americans. There is no love affair with air-conditioning, gas-guzzling SUVs, or suburban McMansions, because so much of their lives are tied to the land. There is an inherent responsibility to preserve what is one of their most valued treasures.

Which is why one needs to look no further than the Kyoto Protocol for a perfect illustration of this disparity in attitudes toward the environment. With a goal of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, the Kyoto Protocol, in February of 2005, set forth guidelines to participating nations necessary in reducing their carbon emissions output. The United States withdrew and declined to sign this agreement, citing that the mandated reduction would have a negative impact on its economy.

Or was it also the idea of driving fuel-efficient autos, living in a smaller homes with less heat in the winter and less air conditioning in the summer, too much of a sacrifice to make in the name of the environment?

Today, the average American home is 2,329 square feet, which is more than double that of the average-size home in the 1950s. And with this extra size comes extra energy usage. Homes are heated and cooled according to size -- which implies that Americans could potentially be using twice as much electricity as their predecessors did fifty years ago. As our energy consumption increases, it is only logical that our demand on the supply would increase as well.

Which brings me back to BP, remember him? That big, bad corporate giant who negligently dumped thousands of tons of crude oil in the Gulf, wreaking havoc on a community still recovering from a previous natural disaster, Hurricane Katrina.

So why would he be allowed back, risking a repeat performance?

Simple. Because until Americans adapt their attitudes, become more environmentally conscious, and cease treating the world's natural resources as disposable items, there will always be a need for more oil. And avoidable disasters, such as the BP spill, will be inevitable.

Is the suburban McMansion, with more room than one really needs, and the gas-guzzling SUV, that may average just 15 miles per gallon in the city, really worth the risk?

No need to tempt fate a second time. By becoming more accountable for our own actions and decreasing our individual energy consumption, we can avoid inviting this greedy, corporate giant back to the Gulf. It is our responsibility as good citizens of not only the US, but of Planet Earth, to do our part in keeping BP out of the Gulf.

Because American irresponsibility and the big, bad bully -- like oil and water -- just don't mix.

Make a pilgrimage to Villa Mexico

The best Mexican food in Boston is in a gas station. I kid you not.

On Cambridge street, across from the cluster of buildings that make up Massachusetts General Hospital, there’s a small filling station called “Grampy’s,” and it’s home to the kitchen of Villa Mexico, run by Ms. Julie King. Ms. Julie is a native of Mexico City, always greets her customers with a sincere question of “How are you, my friend?” before taking their order. She’s brought her authentic recipes to our fair city in order to educate us in the proper way Mexican “street food” should taste.

The cornerstone of her cooking is her salsa. Made fresh daily, it’s unlike anything else being sold anywhere else in town. It’s dark green, almost black, and as close as I can tell it’s made purely of fresh roasted peppers that have been ground into a paste with a number of other spices, and something else I can’t quite place. Is it eggplant? I don’t know, but above all else it is delicious. It’s not immediately “hot,” but the spice builds slowly on the palate, and lingers only a few moments after finishing a bite. A diner can effectively control how “hot” their food is by eating faster or slower.

Don’t even think about asking for the recipe. It’s secret.

The burritos are amazing. I’m not being trite when I say that the secret ingredient in them is love. Ms. Julie loves her job, and it shows in the quality of the wrapped bundles of happiness that come packed with pork, chicken, beef, veggies, or her signature chicken mole. All the meat is marinated and cooked to perfection before she adds it to Mexican rice, spiced black beans, fresh vegetables, that amazing salsa, and home-made guacamole. They’re professionally wrapped, then toasted on a grill to give them a unique crisp outer shell around the chewy interior.

Tacos and quesadillas are also available, both using the same delicious ingredients as the burritos, but it’s the tamales that really shine. Wrapped in authentic cornhusks, Ms. Julie hand makes every single one of her tamales before steaming them to serve to hungry patrons. Seasoned cornmeal encases a core of meat or corn filling, and it’s served with a side of her signature salsa for dipping, for the modest fee of three dollars.

One note: be on your best behavior. Getting food from Ms. Julie is a privilege, not a right, and I have witnessed several occasions where rowdy drunks have been asked to take their business down the street to Anna’s. The respectful are rewarded, and barbarians are banished. She might not be operating the Holy Grail of Mexican food in Boston, but it may well be the Ark of the Covenant. Treat Villa Mexico and Ms. Julie King like the treasures they are.

Villa Mexico can be found at 296 Cambridge Street, in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. They are open from 9am to 9pm, Monday through Wednesday, and 9am to 11pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. They are closed on Sundays. Cash only.

Slick: BP's Plan to Slide Back into the Gulf

There’s a difference between a situation that is horrible, and a real, unmitigated horror. Horrible things are manageable. Losing a job is a horrible thing to have happen, but when the initial shock wears off, there’s a list of things that a person can sink themselves into that stops the situation from becoming overwhelming. Dwelling for a few minutes on whether a résumé should be printed on granite-grey cardstock or linen-based paper seems petty, but it’s a step in the process that pulls a person through a tough time. We can progress beyond the horrible.

Horror, and I mean real, honest-to-God horror that is still there when we turn the lights on, should not be broken down into “baby steps.” Horror is something that needs to be experienced in its immense scope, so that it can stand as a lesson and a testament to folly that should never be repeated. A house burning down is horrible. The Holocaust is horror. When our behavior leads us down the wrong path, horror is the brick wall that stops us from going any further. Believe this, though: there are people who are hard at work to tear those walls down. It might be for an ideology, but more often than not, it’s money. Horror stands in the way of rich people who want to be richer. Enter Transocean, British Petroleum, and the Deepwater Horizon disaster last spring. It is important that we should recount this horror, because there are people trying desperately to erase it.

April 20th, 2010

Anchored in five thousand feet of water, about forty miles off the coast of Louisiana, the Deepwater Horizon was a decade-old oil rig built in Korea, prospecting for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. While it resembled a floating skyscraper, Deepwater Horizon was registered as a ship. Specifically, it was registered under a flag of convenience in the Marshall Islands. It might seem odd that a floating skyscraper drilling for oil off the coast of the United States would be flying the flag of a small island chain in the South Pacific, but this is standard operating procedure for most of the oil industry. Oil Rigs, and most merchant ships that are owned by American corporations, fly the colors of nations with lax or no safety standards, such as the Marshall Islands, Liberia, or Panama. Had Deepwater Horizon been flying a US ensign, it would have been subject to regulation and inspection by a number of federal agencies that would have surely taken issue with the lack of safety measures onboard. As the laws stood then (and now), a rig was only subject to inspection when it actually made a stop in a US port of call.

While drilling a test well on the Macondo oil field the morning of the explosion, BP opted to cancel a test of the cement bonds that could have prevented the ensuing disaster. Later congressional hearings revealed that “[t]he cement bond log would have cost the company over $128,000 to complete. In comparison, the cost of canceling the service was just $10,000. Moreover, Mr. Roth of Halliburton estimated that conducting the test would have taken an additional 9 to 12 hours.” Instead of testing the integrity of the well, and the critical blowout preventer, BP officials gathered the workers on deck to celebrate seven years without a major safety incident. This was less than twelve hours before the explosion and fire that would kill eleven men on the rig.

Around 9:45pm, on the 20th of April 2010, Deepwater Horizon hit a pocket of methane gas while drilling. The gas, mixed with mud and unbonded cement, rocketed through the five thousand feet of drilling pipe to the surface. After a few minutes of expansion on the surface of the platform, the gas was pulled into the intakes of a number of diesel generators that had not been fitted with standard safety valves. The resulting blast and fireball could be seen from over thirty-five miles away. After several secondary explosions rocked the vessel, the fire settled into to an uncontrollable inferno, killing 11 men and wounding 17 more. The rest of the crew managed to evacuate to lifeboats.

Two days later, and after a heroic effort by the US Coast Guard to contain and control the blaze, the Deepwater Horizon sank. As she went down, the rig dumped 700,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the water and snapped the oil pipeline off at the sea floor, allowing the pressurized crude to gush directly into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. BP released an estimate placing the rate of flow at 1,000 barrels per day. By contrast, Coast Guard estimates of the leak placed the rate of flow of crude oil at about 8,000 barrels a day. That’s about a third-of-a-million gallons. In the meantime BP “worked closely” with federal efforts to contain the spill by packing federal agencies with corporate bodies to muffle communications between the agencies and the public. From the start, the press was a persona non grata at the “incident response center” in Houma, Louisiana. By mid-May, BP agents within the Coast Guard had managed to pressure the agency to bar reporters from all “crisis areas” with a threat of five years in federal jail and tens of thousands of dollars in fines for “interfering in a clean up operation.” The definitions of “crisis area” and “interference” were left purely up to the discretion of BP officials. The President was allowed to visit the recently contaminated beaches of Louisiana for photo ops, which captured images that depicted him as subtly disappointed, possibly angry.

By mid-June, the amount of oil pouring into the waters of the Gulf was no longer estimated at BP’s initial claim of 1,000 barrels, or even the Coast Guards 8,000. Instead, international agencies who had arrived to inspect the scene had found a flow rate of over 60,000 barrels per day. That’s over two-and-a-half million gallons of oil, every day, for nearly two months. The Coast Guard, at a loss for anything else to do, began to set fire to the oil slick in an attempt to “burn it off.” Tony Hayward, CEO of BP felt the need to remind us all that the leak was actually “quite small” when compared to the vastness of the ocean. By this time, however, the oil slick could literally be seen by astronauts on the space. Tar balls and sludge had also washed up on beaches from Texas to Florida, and the seafood industry had ground to a halt over concerns of contamination.

Meanwhile, BP tried repeatedly to seal the well, always erring on the side of the “low cost” fix. They tried jamming the pipe full of mud, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the oil pressure had sent thousands of pounds of mud and cement flying up the drilling pipe to cause the explosion in the first place. When that failed, they tried to “crimp” the pipe, but the twenty-one inch steel pipe – five thousand feet underwater, spewing over two million gallons of oil a day – was unsurprisingly resistant to being pinched shut. Ideas began to be floated that sounded cartoonish at best, sinister at worst. It was proposed that a decommissioned battleship ought to be sunk on top of the pipe. An idea was also floated that a nuclear bomb could be fed down a relief well and detonated to seal the run-away leak. Finally, in late July, BP managed to successfully cut the pipe cleanly enough to install a forty ton “cap.” On July 24th, ten days before the well is officially declared to be “static,” BP released the results of their own “internal investigation” into the Deepwater Horizon disaster. They acquitted themselves completely of any negligence. Three months and four days after the incident had taken place, more than 4.9 million barrels of oil, one fifth of a billion gallons, had been blasted into the waters of the Gulf. To call it a leak is a gross understatement. It’s a bit like calling the damage to the reactor in Chernobyl a “crack.”

Do the best you can to remember this horror, because BP wants you to forget that it ever happened. They’ve got a plan to make it happen, too. It entails giving a ton of money to people in power, and a ton of bullshit to people who aren’t.

Oiling the Wheels

After the Deepwater Horizon incident, a “relief fund” of $20 billion dollars was established to be paid out to fishermen and other effected parties. This prompted Rep. Joe Barton, Republican of Texas to declare on the House floor that he was “ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy in the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown -- in this case a $20 billion shakedown ... I apologize. I do not want to live in a county where anytime a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, [it is] subject to some sort of political pressure that, again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown.” Be aware that Rep. Barton was completely unashamed to live in a country where he could be the single largest recipient of oil-industry money in Congress, however. His remarks were so brazen that other house Republicans actively sought to censure him for the comment, and in the end, simply forced him to apologize for his “apology.” Rep. Barton’s outburst begs an important question: How much cash does it take to buy the unswerving loyalty of an elected official, even in the face of the largest ecological disaster ever caused by gross negligence?

BP is no stranger to bribing members of governments across the globe. It might not be fair to say that they’ve refined it to an art-form, but they are certainly adept at using money to lubricate political machinery. Their exploits have frequently been brought to light by a hyper-litigious oil man from Denver named Jack Grynberg. He’s made his fortune by seeking out fraud and bribery within the oil industry, bringing charges against giants like BP and Royal Dutch Shell, and then taking his settlements in the form of stakes in their oil production. What he’s uncovered is that the oil giants, and BP in particular, have no problem dedicating financial resources to subvert governments whenever it furthers their profit making endeavors. For example, throughout the past decade, BP waged a campaign of direct bribes of officials in Kazakhstan, home of one of the planet’s largest oil and natural gas deposits. It’s estimated that BP and a subsidiary expended over $12 million dollars in bribes in order to sway the Kazahk government to issue licenses to themselves. Developing nations sell their politicians at bargain prices.

But getting government officials to grant licenses-for-bribes here in the US isn’t so easy. Or is it? Until July of last year, BP maintained at least one “ticket hotline,” operating in California that provided passes to major sports and music events. These were offered, free of charge, for politicians, their staff, and their families. Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones News investigated the hotline, and found that in the five years before it was shut down, over 1,200 tickets had been provided, and in the ten years it had been running, BP had spent over $300,000 on the program. In March 2002, when the Sacramento Kings were locked in a playoff battle with the Los Angeles Lakers, 9 state senators and 12 state assembly members, including the speaker, pumped BP for the coveted seats. While serving as assembly speaker in 2006, Los Angeles Democrat Fabian Núñez and his family watched the Kings beat the Chicago Bulls on BP's dime. During Democrat Karen Bass' tenure as speaker between 2008 and 2010, 13 members of her staff tapped BP for 2 tickets to see Disney on Ice, Tina Turner, and Madea's Big Happy Family.” Priority was typically given to members of the state government who were directly involved in California’s energy and transportation bureaus, as well as the state’s legislative and executive branches. It’s doubtful that these tickets were ever considered to be gifts with no strings attached. They were political party-favors – soft-gloved reminders that the fun never needs to stop, as long as everyone plays their part. BP is a patron that rewards the virtue of obedience in its elected officials.

What better way to secure that loyalty than sliding money into the campaign coffers? Over the past two decades, BP has contributed over six million dollars directly to campaign funds of various politicians. Our president received more than seventy-five thousand dollars worth of campaign contributions from BP during the election cycle in 2008, more than any other candidate running for the office. If we have any curiosity as to why BP was given authority over Coast Guard assets during the response to the leak, maybe this is a good place to start inquiring. Does seventy-five to eighty thousand dollars buy the right to staff federal agencies with corporate commissars?

Now, in April of 2011, BP is looking to return to return to the Gulf. The corporation has petitioned the administration to rescind the moratorium on drilling it imposed last year, after the disaster. The timing is most likely not coincidental. The Supreme Court has recently ruled that corporations are no longer bound by a decades old law that limits their ability to contribute to political campaigns. Their 2008 contribution of a few tens-of- thousands of dollars may seem paltry when compared to the millions that are tossed around during campaign seasons, but the 2012 election is going to be an entirely different game. The spending cap has been removed, and their cash can gush into the electoral system like oil into the Gulf Stream.

It’s likely that their recent request to start drilling is a direct question to the Obama administration: “Will you kiss the ring?” How badly does Obama want an almost limitless pool of campaign funds? If he bends to the request, he’ll likely be sticking around for four more years. If not, we’ll likely have someone with an (R) tacked behind their name in the Oval Office in January of 2013.

Sinking Memories

The massive amount of money that BP dedicates to keeping politicians in line is only one component of a two part system. For the rest of us, there’s the media and a PR blitz to make us forget that anything ever happened one year ago. Plugging BP shills into every spot possible during the cleanup was the first step. They made sure that stories, like dump trucks depositing “fresh” sand onto oil-soaked beaches to make them appear pristine, got a lot little to no coverage. They intimidated the press with threats of fines and jail time, if they went anywhere near the beaches that were being re-sanded. The horror was covered up as fast as it was being revealed. Since then, the public relations arm of BP has been working non-stop to deliver both feel-good meaninglessness and outright misinformation to the American public. The drilling must inevitably recommence, and the last thing BP wants is a lot of people who can accurately recall the events of the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Right now on Twitter, BP is firing off a barrage of posts that would make a person think they were a seafood company or a travel agency, not a global petrochemical concern. “’Serve the Gulf’ campaign tells consumers, ‘it’s time to eat #Alabama seafood,’” shouts one message. Another declares, “The Seabreeze Jazz Festival is right around the corner. Click here for a full lineup.” Hardly any of their communications via twitter over the past two months have had anything to do with the actual goings-on at BP. The minority of posts that do have something to do with BP generally reference the amount of cash that they’ve tossed at various Gulf coast organizations.

Those funds come with strings attached to further BP’s propaganda campaign. A number of schools in Louisiana were given “donations” by BP ranging from twenty to fifty thousand dollars in return for hosting “presentations” about the disaster. These “educational sessions” were given to students by BP representatives. In one case, children at a school in Houma, Louisiana were shown an “experiment” where cooking oil mixed with cocoa powder was pumped into an aquarium to simulate an oil leak. The BP reps giving the demonstration informed kids that the oil floats to the surface where it can be skimmed off by ships, or destroyed by dispersants. The oil that remained floating would eventually be “eaten by bacteria.”

The reality is that crude oil does not uniformly float, and international agencies have observed a layer of “hydrocarbon debris” on the ocean floor surrounding the site of the incident. Furthermore, dispersants have a toxicity of their own that is still being hotly debated, and there is absolutely no conclusive evidence that bacteria “eat” crude oil when it is released into the ecosystem. To reinforce the half-truths and outright lies of the presentation, children were awarded pens and toys emblazoned with the BP logo for “correctly” answering questions about the oil leak after the conclusion of the presentation.

Who needs historical revisionism when you can edit reality in the present tense?

Don’t Slip Up

There’s been a lot of rumination about whether or not a boycott of BP would be effective. Some people have refused to buy their gas at a BP station, but the petrochemical industry is far more ubiquitous than the brands we fill our tanks with. Chances are the plastics in your home have poured out of an oil well at some point in their production, and there’s a good chance some percentage of that plastic came from a BP source. It’s hard to boycott someone when you don’t even know what you buy from them.

The best thing we can do, for now, is remember the events as they actually happened, and shine a light on those who accept money to cover up the tragedy. Any time someone tells you that gulf seafood is safe to eat, remember that nearly two-hundred-and-ten million gallons of toxic sludge poured out into the ocean, less than a year ago. That oil had been eighteen thousand feet underground for tens, if not hundreds of millions of years, until avarice and negligence brought it to the surface. Any time a politician says something to the tune of, “drill here, drill now,” look to see who’s been dumping money into their campaign fund, and which lobbyists have been buying them lunch. Most of the people who will read this are not responsible in any way for the events April 20th, 2010, but we are certainly responsible for making sure it does not happen again. We must not allow ourselves to “get over” horror.

Mexican Scandal for US Presidential Hopeful Michelle Bachmann

April 1st, 2011 - Minneapolis – A potential presidential bid by Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) hit a major stumbling block this afternoon amid revelations that she visited Cancun during Spring Break of 1986. Photos surfaced earlier this week that allegedly show the junior congresswoman, then a senior at Oral Roberts University, participating in the annual Señor Frog’s Wet T-Shirt contest. Speaking on conditions of anonymity, a source from inside her staff has confirmed that the photos are real. The pictures have sparked outrage among Bachmann’s base constituency, made up largely of traditionally conservative Tea Party voters. A poll released this morning shows a 12% drop in her approval rating when compared to last Friday, before the news of her vacation to Mexico became public. Predicting that the handling of this scandal will define the shape of any future presidential campaign, cable news pundits have been analyzing the situation in detail since the photos were published on Wednesday. “It’s shameful,” commented Bill O’Reilly, “It’s absolutely shameful that we might elect a president capable of such poor judgment. We deserve a commander-in-chief that parties in Daytona or Long Beach like a decent American.” Sean Hannity demanded an immediate investigation into Bachmann’s passport, to see what other foreign visa stamps the congresswoman might have acquired in her youth. Meanwhile, Glenn Beck questioned the patriotism of Bachmann in a more direct manner during his daily radio program. “I’m just wondering,” he said, “when Representative Bachmann visited Mexico in 1986, wasn’t that about the time that the Zapatistas – a Marxist revolutionary organization, a socialist organization – wasn’t that about the time they were organizing? Who was she meeting with at the time? We’ve never seen Subcomandante Marcos’ face. For all we know, he could be Bachmann in disguise. I’m not saying he is. I’m just asking the question.” Rep. Bachmann has been keeping surprisingly mute about the scandal, so far. It could be that her public relations team is attempting to garner the votes of a large number of Gringo-American’s in the Midwest. By neither embracing, nor denying the photos, she may attract sympathy from millions of white voters who frequent Taco Bell after midnight, invest heavily in Jose Cuervo, and listen to Shakira and Menudo. Her potential rivals are not resting on their laurels. Already, Sarah Palin, the on-again, off-again presidential candidate and former governor of Alaska has commented via Twitter, “Will be doing a meet & greet @ Sturgis this year for Real Americans. Body shots & autographs, $50.” When contacted for a response, a member of Newt Gingrich’s staff declined to comment on Rep. Bachmann’s situation, but vehemently noted that former House Speaker Gingrich “does not even own a passport. His credentials speak for themselves.”

The Groundhog's Shadow: A Friend Comes Home on Leave

Their Frailty

He’s got a Blighty wound. He’s safe; and then

War’s fine and bold and bright.

She can forget the doomed and prisoned men

Who agonize and fight.

He’s back in France. She loathes the listless strain

And peril of his plight,

Beseeching Heaven to send him home again,

She prays for peace each night.

Husbands and sons and lovers; everywhere

They die; War bleeds us white.

Mothers and wives and sweethearts – they don’t care

So long as He’s all right.

– Siegfried Sassoon

Thursday before last, from somewhere in Kuwait, my friend Phil logged onto a computer terminal and sent me a message: he was coming home on leave. We should totally get together and have a few drinks.

It caught me completely off guard, but it made my day. I hadn’t heard anything from “one of the gang” in Afghanistan since before Christmas, and now a few of them were coming home for a week and a half that roughly corresponded with both my birthday and a week of vacation. The little Google-Chat window that popped up to announce their return was probably the best present I could get. We made some tentative plans. Then he logged out to go to lunch, and I logged off to go to bed.

In theory, “leave” should be fairly simple and relaxing. Weary soldiers should take a short vacation from the theater of war, get on an aircraft, and return to the United States. A couple of week should be spent visiting with family and friends. Then the soldier gets on another aircraft to carry them back to their deployed unit, rested and recharged. They’ll be ready to resume doing whatever good work they’ve been assigned with a new enthusiasm; however, the practice of “leave” is far removed from the theory.

Months before it even starts, the haggling begins. Private Jones needs to be home on the fourth of April for her sister’s wedding. Sergeant Davis’ wife has a baby due during the middle of June. Everybody wants to be home for Christmas. Depending on the size of the unit, between five to seven people are authorized to be “on leave” at any given time. If you have a 130 person unit, then some negotiation is going to take place.

Generally speaking, the parents of new babies are given priority when it comes to “first dibs” on leave dates. Then everyone else descends on the sign-up sheet in a sort of controlled melee. It’s not important that you get the spot you want, per se, just that you can get a spot; because, in some units there are more soldiers than there are time-slots for leave. You can hash out the trades and swaps that have been discussed since before deployment later. If you trade for a spot that’s too early in the deployment cycle, the you’ll go home a few months after the unit arrives in theater for a couple of weeks, then you’ll come back and spend a nice, long stretch of time deployed with no relief. If you manage to nab a spot near the tail end of the deployment, you might not even get to go home at all. The tour could get cut short, or the command structure might decide to suspend leaves since there’s a lot of moving around between locations that happens toward the end of deployments, and all personnel are needed to help haul equipment around. So, there are about four months worth of prime real-estate in the center of the sign-up sheet, and everyone fights for it.

Now, assuming a soldier has managed to grab a slot for leave, there’s some bureaucratic fun that has to happen before they ever hit the ground in the United States. There’s paperwork to fill out so that the soldier can get booked on the multi-leg flight system that ferries troops in and out of theater. There’s a system of briefings, de-briefings, and back-briefings that a soldier has to sit through. These cover a wide range of topics such as avoiding skulking terrorists on domestic flights, the need to stay tight-lipped about operations and practices, and maybe even the do’s and don’ts of sexual harassment. (FYI: it’s mostly don’ts.)

When a soldier finally touches down in the US, hopefully at an airport near where his or her family is actually located, the relaxation begins. Or not. “Leave” is a vacation that leaves a person in need of a vacation. For every soldier deployed, there are dozens of friends and family members who want a piece of that “leave” for themselves. Everyone wants to see the hero return, to hear the stories, and to satisfy their own curiosity about what it’s like “over there.” “How are you holding up?” “Is the food good?” The dreaded: “Have you killed anyone?” So, a soldier is faced with a choice. Do you tell everyone you’re coming home, and spend leave being bombarded with visitors and requests for visits? Do you tell only a selected few, and deal with seriously hurt feelings and major drama from those who didn’t get the memo later on?

Phil went with option number one, and we’ve been playing phone tag ever since. He’s been bounced between family in Massachusetts and New Jersey for the past week. We were going to meet Thursday night, but his fiancée’s family wanted to do dinner. In a battle between family and friends, family is usually the victor. Trying to spend two weeks visiting everyone you know is taxing in its own way, and I can hear the fatigue in Phil’s voice and see it in the photos posted to Facebook. I’m left in the position of wanting to hang out with a friend (and satisfy my own curiosities,) and yet I know all too well the burden of demanding time from a person who has precious little to spare.

Phil and I were deployed to Iraq together nearly four years ago, and we spent some time theorizing about how the nature of military deployment affects changes in both soldiers and the people they love back home. Our friends and family flock to us when we’re on leave because it might be the last contact they ever have with us. It seems trite to say it, but communications break down when you’re living in a chaotic situation and trying to stay in touch with people halfway across the planet.

The first barrier to communication is simply physical. Phil’s been deployed to Gardez, a place so remote that to call it a “backwater” does a disservice to other, comparatively cosmopolitan backwaters across the globe. They’ve managed to put up a satellite uplink that gives them some limited internet capability, but by-and-large that’s reserved for military communications, not friendly e-mails. Old-fashioned letter writing is somewhat of a lost art in today’s military. To complicate matters, it assumes that a soldier has access to things like paper and envelopes.

Time also constitutes a massive impediment to communicating with home. Phil’s told me that they’ve been running mission daily since they got into the country last September. That’s twelve to eighteen hours a day, six to seven days a week, outside their base camp, patrolling the local countryside and villages. For the six to twelve hours that they’re “home” at the compound, there’s maintenance to do. Vehicles need to be fueled and repaired. Weapons need to be cleaned. People need to bathe, and eat, and sleep. I remember those situations well. While we often thought of home, the thought of banging out e-mails for an hour seldom crossed our minds.

And what would we have said if we did write, or call? Probably nothing that would have put our loved ones at ease. Phil’s told me that they’ve been in “shooting situations” on a number of occasions since they’ve been in Afghanistan. Rockets and mortars pelt their base on a fairly frequent basis. In Iraq, Phil and I used to stand on the roof of our “house,” and watch rockets impact on other parts of the airfield where our compound was located. We’d listen to car bombs detonate, then put in a pool as to how many kilos of explosives were in it when it went off. (The winner was the person closest to the weight, without going over, as determined by Explosive Ordinance Disposal when they made their report. We used “Price is Right” rules, naturally.) There is a certain dark humor that the situation necessitates. It’s incredibly difficult for a soldier to put on a happy face, and reassure the folks back home that everything is all right. More often than not, we don’t.

Those who do call home with the “real story” are not well liked among their peers who value their family’s piece of mind. Most family members are connected to some sort of “Family Readiness Group” sponsored by the deployed unit. Ideally, these FRGs are social networks that let the families support one another while their soldiers are deployed. If Staff Sergeant Meaux’s wife is having a hard time getting groceries because she’s expecting a baby, then maybe Sergeant Hawkin’s wife can go give her a hand.

In reality, FRGs often just amount to a prairie in which the grassfires of rumor and panic can be easily lit. Spouses and parents, hungry for any information at all, latch onto even the most outlandish stories. Those most inclined to pry into other people’s business and spread rumors seem to gravitate toward positions of “authority” in the FRG. The end result is that somehow the (usually incorrect) dates of leaves, returns, and demobilization are somehow “known” to the FRG long before the soldier in the field ever comes across the information. The last time Phil and I demobilized, we came home to families that were irate that we’d “been home for weeks” and hadn’t called home. We’d been home three days, and not had access to a phone.

The end result of this failure to communicate is that soldiers end up in a sort of “time warp” where they constantly think about home, but are unable to connect to it in a meaningful way. Phil and I took to calling it “Groundhog’s Day” in homage to a Bill Murray movie of a similar name. A soldier lives the same day, over and over. Sure some details might shift, but from the time they leave home, until the time they get back, they are more-or-less in suspended animation. All of the social information they had when they left is what they’ll be operating on when they get home. At the same time, everyone at home is going on with their ever-changing lives – forging new social bonds, breaking others, switching jobs, listening to new music, seeing the newest movies, continuing school, and so on. When a soldier comes home, the usual remarks from friends and family are along the lines of, “Wow, you’ve changed.” Phil and I felt the opposite; we’d more or less stayed the same. We’d seen some radical things, but it was the United States around us that had changed. We were time travelers from 2006 that had been tossed into 2008. Our friends were strangers to us, and we were even strangers to our family.

It was future-shock, firsthand. As Phil said at the time, being deployed makes you “love your country so much that all you want to do is get away from it again as fast as you can.” In some ways, going back to the war is a relief. At least a soldier knows that things there will be pretty much like they were before “leave.”

Now I’m part of the shocking future in Phil’s life, and it stings. Hopefully we’ll be able to get together for a few drinks and some stories before he heads out next week. If not, then I’ll keep sending him pictures of the beard that I’ve been growing since they left. At least that’s a change that they’ve watched happen with amusement, and they’ll be ready for it when they get home. Every morning I look in the mirror, it’s also a reminder of how much I’ve changed since they left.

During World War One, Siegfried Sassoon wrote a number of poems about the uncomfortable reality of soldiers coming and going between home and the front. In “Their Frailty,” he muses about the fickle affections of those of us here at home, and how we attach our emotions to very individualized cases. What does the war-at-large mean to me, really, as long as Phil, Fitzy, Rodney, Mike, and Pete are OK? It’s a trick of perception. It’s why we can obsess over one baby in a well, and somehow still manage to ignore millions of children worldwide with no clean drinking water. We can attach ourselves to individuals, but empathy for large groups is elusive.

The war’s not over when they come home. There’ll be others who take their place. Soldiers with names that I don’t know, or maybe names I do know but have lost contact with – people I once called “brother.” They’ll be back in harm’s way for reasons that both they and I will have difficulty articulating. Whether they live or die, they are ultimately sacrificing their lives because as a nation we have decided that they should do so. They’re in limbo – living the same terrible day over, and over. They want to come home, but dread what they’ll find when they get back. We owe them at least a few moments of introspection a day. We can tell them “thanks” when they get home, but coming from someone who has been thanked, I can tell you it’s a little hollow without some sort of real reflection or sacrifice on the part of the person doing the thanking.

So I’ve decided to keep the beard growing, even after Phil and the gang comes home. It seems stupid and small, and to tell the truth, it kind of is. It’s a reminder, though. It’s a modern hair-shirt that causes me to reflect on my place in a modern contract society that sends soldiers abroad to maintain a status quo at home. When it starts to annoy me, and I want to shave it, I remember how annoyed our troops are with their situation, and how they have no “quick fix.” Does the stray moustache in my soup annoy me as much as the stray bullet in a village that kills an innocent person, regardless of who pulled the trigger? There’s no shaving ourselves out of Afghanistan, or Iraq. When people ask me about the beard, it’s a prompt for me to remind them that we’ve still got a war going, and no end is in sight.

If you’re reading this and you give a damn, and you’re male, I’d like to challenge you to grow a beard as well. (Ladies, we’ll figure something out.) Do it for the soldiers you might know, but especially the hundreds of thousands of soldiers you don’t, and the millions of civilians for whom there will never be any “leave” or “demobilization.” While our young men and women are deployed to “Groundhog’s Day,” let the people at home watch the faces of young men grow old in front of their eyes. If we find ourselves with fading memories of brothers and sisters, father and mothers, sons and daughters, friends and lovers sent into harm’s way, and if we find that our memories of their faces have become fuzzy, perhaps our faces ought to become fuzzy as well. Let our mirrors reflect the chaos that we have ordered our lives around for the past decade, in hopes that it won’t last for another.

Poor Choice For Fast Food

Does it look good? Yes, but so does Jet Li! Similarity...
their both an Americanized memento of Chinese culture
and they both can kill you!
Image courtesy of Midtown Lunch Guide to all you can eat Chinese food

Upon bringing up this article to my fellow Mass Mediaites, I was unsurprised to encounter looks of disgust and various phrases like “why would you choose that one!” when I brought up Lee Chen’s. Lee Chen’s is, by the way, a combo Mexican Chinese restaurant that delivers well into the night. For my part, I have only had Lee Chen’s Chinese food, so my opinion is limited.

My workmates’ reactions disheartened me. So, I went home and did some research – is Lee Chen’s really the place I’m thinking of? A reliable establishment with great, cheap Chinese food? Do I really have such poor taste?

Evidently, I do. 

If you’re looking for salad, go somewhere else. If you’re watching what you eat, avert your eyes. If you have a heart condition, do not order from Lee Chen’s. 

Get ready, folks; get some napkins and be prepared to dab, Lee Chen’s is a glorious grease-fest of golden-brown, deep-fried, artery-polluting tastiness. 

Apparently, I’m not the only one who enjoys the gustatory pleasures of Lee Chen’s. John Hunt, a close friend of mine and a food aficionado (he once ate 2.5 burritos in one night and didn’t mind), has something to say. “I love the variety that Lee Chen’s offers. There aren’t that many places around that mix Chinese and Mexican and is still edible.”

What’s John’s favorite Lee Chen’s dish? “My favorite Lee Chen’s dish is a burrito with only chicken, cheese, and sour cream and, if I’m feeling feisty, I get some nachos with chicken and cheese on them as well.” Some deep, psychological architecture has discouraged me from ordering Mexican food. But, a description like John’s makes me consider breaking my thoughtless habit in order to embrace the fabled delivery-burrito.

Regarding delivery time, I heard two responses when I asked about the speed of Lee Chen’s delivery service. 

“Faster than a speeding burrito bullet,” John answered. 

Anonymous source: “faster than a speedy Speedy-Gonzalez.” 

John also had a comment about the prices. “Their prices are very reasonable,” adding, “there’s just nothing like them anymore.” 

Tyler O’Brien (one of my beautiful roommates) added her input. “I really love Lee Chen’s because it’s quick and I really like their brown rice. But they gave me a bad chicken finger one time.”

One time, out of a dozen or so orders – that’s consistently high-quality cooking!

So, what is the allure of this place that puts it above all other combo Mexican-Chinese delivery places in the South Boston area? It’s truly a mystery. 

I did some research, however, to see if there was a secret behind their success (other than some quality crab rangoon). Apparently, Lee Chen’s does have a secret, or at least something its owners wouldn’t want to become public. Of the eleven inspections done on Lee Chen’s since 2008, the restaurant has had “violations requiring reinspection” twice this year and failed on three other instances. 

Some quick calculations reveal that Lee Chen’s has only passed inspection 45 percent of the time. That’s almost 50 percent!

So, in conclusion, based on my own experiences, the experiences of some of my friends, and the information provided by the world wide wed, I think I should start rethinking what food to get to satisfy my midnight cravings. Yes, they deliver until midnight.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Marine Mammals and the BP Oil Spill: Much More Deadly Than Touted?

Less than 12 months ago, on April 20th, 2010, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig killed 11 men and released huge amounts of crude oil—estimated to about 4.9 million barrels—into the Gulf of Mexico. What followed seemed like endless weeks of frustration and panic over the spreading endangerment of a huge ecosystem, as oil flowed unabated from a damaged wellhead. Concerns over a devastating economic and environmental impact for the region could not be overstated, and images from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, with its apocalyptic destruction of marine life in the area, came flooding back to the nation’s consciousness.

And such images began to circulate again. But the efforts of BP and related companies, the U.S. and state governments, and concerned citizens from all over the country seemed to minimize the worst of the damage. Marine life—especially that of mammals such as porpoises, whales and dolphins—was felt to be minimally impacted given the huge scale of the spreading oil.  A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) maintained that the number of cetacean (whale, dolphin, porpoises and other similar marine mammals) carcasses registered was modest compared to widespread fears.  The total cetacean death count was only 101. 

However, this last March, a group of concerned scientists from all over the world wrote an article published in Conservation Letters that directly disputed the NOAA’s figures, calling them grossly underestimated.  In the article, entitled Understanding the damage: interpreting cetacean carcass recoveries in the context of the Deepwater Horizon/BP incident, (Understanding the damage: interpreting ceacean carcass recoveries in the context of the Deepwater Horizon/BP incident) they used analyses garnered from past oil spill disasters to estimate the marine mammal deaths of the BP oil spill of last year.  The difference in numbers estimated—when compared with the NOAA’s study—was of a factor of 50 times. 

The NOAA study, the scientists said, presumed that the total number of dead cetaceans were simply the number of carcasses counted, with no attempt to extrapolate upwards to a more likely figure.  Even after the Exxon Valdez spill, it was widely accepted that the large number of registered deaths was only a small portion of the presumed dead.  

Looking at a past analysis of cetaceans in the Gulf of Mexico, it was estimated that there were about 4,500 deaths from all causes (natural or otherwise) from 2003 to 2007.  Yet during that same period, only 17 carcasses were discovered, a rate of .4%.  (Reasons for such a low carcass number are varied, but the most common are the sinking of the carcasses, their deterioration, or their simply being blown out to sea and uncountable by investigators.)  Working with that percentage, the scientists felt that the true number of cetacean deaths from the BP oil spill would most likely approach over 5,000—a huge disparity when compared with the NOAA’s numbers. 

The scientists worried in particular that certain subgroups of larger populations will be hit particularly hard, not just in the number of their members dying, but in the long-term effects for the survivors as well.  A year after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, more than 40% of a killer whale group had died; but even more ominous is the fact that there has been no reproduction in that group in all of the years since.   And herring stocks seemed to bounce back a year after the Exxon Valdez spill, only to collapse completely four years later.  The long-term repercussions in such disasters are simply unknown.

There is great concern in particular for the sperm whale.  Of the 21 protected marine mammals that inhabit the Gulf, the sperm whale is one of six on the Endangered Species List.  They number only 1,500, and live their whole lives within the Gulf’s limits.  As the oil spill originated from the bottom of the sea floor—instead of being spilled on top of it—the oil is thought to have contaminated every water level, and thereby much of the fish that the sperm whale feeds upon.  The toxins concentrated in the fish would become even more concentrated in the whales preying upon them, and the resulting risk to the sperm whale population as a whole is plainly evident. 

Making matters worse, scientists trying to study recovered carcasses in hopes of better understanding the effects of the spill are being stymied by the federal government itself.  Of particular interest was the spike this year in bottle-nosed dolphin deaths—especially among calves—and whether or not it was connected to last year’s spill.  Their attempts to collect data from government-contracted investigators, and those investigators’ desire to share that same data, was met with a mandated gag-order by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS.)  The NMFS told its investigators to keep all of their findings confidential, as the information being collected could be used in criminal proceedings against various companies related to the spill.  This frustrated the scientific community greatly, as similar gag-orders during the Exxon Valdez spill proved unnecessary, and only slowed much-needed fact-finding.  They felt that the same pointless mistakes are being made again.

The scientists that contributed to Underestimating the damage believed that long-term observation of the cetacean populations was highly necessary.  Otherwise, chronic effects of the spill on surviving members would go unstudied, and scientists’ ability to forecast the dangers of future events would be hampered.  Although they admitted that the actual number of deaths would never be known for sure, they feared that the unreasonably low numbers of deaths cited would make the situation seem less dire, and needed funding would be diverted elsewhere. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pretty Fly for a French Fry

When I first heard about Saus I thought, in the eloquent words of Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there.” When I finally had a chance to stop in, it was Belgian street food heaven. Let me preface this by saying I met some friends for drinks before, and although it was a Wednesday night, the round of beers turned into rounds of Kamikaze shots. That being said, Saus is like a dream come true for the hungry, wayfaring drunk.

Saus is located in tourist land—aka Faneuil Hall—right near the Purple Shamrock and the Union Oyster House. If you’re brave enough to traverse this scary territory, wonderful, cheesy, greasy rewards await you. The joint is pretty small, with seating for about ten people. If you can find a seat, the eclectic décor, wooden benches, and chalkboard menus make it a nice place to eat in, but you can also take your order to go. In a nod to Belgian street food carts, your take-out frites are served in adorable paper cones.

I would consider myself an amateur connoisseur of poutine, the French street food that is increasingly finding its way to trendy restaurants in America. There are particularly good versions being served at the Gaslight in the South End and at Foundry in Davis Square, but none of them compare to what Saus is turning out. The pommes frites in their poutine are crispy on the outside and slightly soggy on the inside from absorbing all of the warm gravy and melted cheddar cheese curds they’re smothered in. At Saus, all of the fries are hand-cut, the gravy is homemade, and everything is made to order. It might seem like a fast food joint, but they’re not taking any shortcuts. Despite such high quality ingredients and preparation, nothing on the menu is over ten dollars.

I ordered the poutine and my friends ordered an assortment of other items so we could all sample. They make Belgian style waffles which come with a choice of one dipping sauce. We got the nutella option but also ordered salted caramel on the side. The waffle tasted completely different from an American breakfast version. It was more doughy and less sweet, making the dipping sauces a perfectly balanced accompaniment. As a snack, one waffle ($3.50) is perfect, but if you’re a little more hungry, two would certainly do the trick.

We also tried the pommes frites, regular fries that are not topped with cheese or gravy like the poutine. You can order these in three different sizes, but the regular size for $5.50 is perfect for sharing with another person and comes with your choice of a mayo-based dipping sauce. We tried the Cheddar and Duvel Ale and it was delicious, but there are nine other options which are all also homemade. Saus is so committed to making everything from scratch that even their ketchup is made in-house! It should also be mentioned that the uber helpful and friendly staff will let you sample as many sauces as you like before deciding on your favorite.

Bottom line, get yourself to Saus. The food is delicious, the staff friendly, and did I mention it’s open until 2am Thursday-Saturday? It’s a dangerous game to serve perfect drunk people food--smack dab in the middle of drunk people land--until last call, but it could also be seriously profitable. Go get your fry on.

Mon-Wed 12pm-10pm, Thu 12pm-12am
Fri & Sat 12pm-2am, Sun 12pm-8pm

33 Union St.
Boston MA, 02108

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

BP And the Wildlife.

 By: Kara Wooten 

In the past few weeks, it has surfaced that B.P. wants to resume drilling in the Gulf of Mexico as soon as possible. Like many other people, I found this absurd. It has only been a year since the tragic Gulf spill happened but to many people, including myself, it feels like it just happened. Trying to contain the oil spill took B.P. way too long to figure out. During this time, the oil was flowing through the ocean and negatively impacting wildlife. The damage had already been done. The twenty-first century has not been kind to the Gulf of Mexico. First with Hurricane Katrina half a decade ago and then this oil spill. The oil spill was on the news around the clock. I noticed that the news focused more on how residents were being affected and how people were going to lose their income because they had ocean related jobs. I felt bad for the residents but my heart broke for the sea creatures. The vivid images of birds, whales, fish, and sea turtles being covered in oil haunted me most.

Evidence regarding the impact the B.P. oil spill had on wildlife continues to worsen every time it’s brought up in the news. From all of the ocean life affected from over one hundred and seventy million gallons of oil that spilled into the water, birds have been suffering as well. Eight thousand is how many fish, birds, sea turtles, and marine mammals scientists say died in the first six months after the spill. To think that B.P wants to start drilling again in the same location is absurd considering the long term effects of oil and chemicals spilled into the water will be unknown for years to come. What scientists do know is that the food web will be significantly unbalanced in years to come because when the spill happened, it was prime mating season for fish and wildlife. Ultimately, because of an unbalanced food web, the population of these birds, fish, sea turtles, and marine mammals will drop drastically.

The oil spill in the Gulf was devastating for everyone. It permanently altered wildlife and the outcome of their future. Maybe the spill will be cleaned up and people near the Gulf of Mexico will be able to move on with life, but these animals may never be able to. Certain fish may eventually go extinct in the future because of this spill. In The New York Times article, B.P. says that they have compensated all of the people who lost their income because of the oil spill. Compensating the people who were affected isn’t good enough. B.P. should not be asking to drill in the Gulf, instead they should be donating all of their time and money towards research so our wildlife can not only survive this tragic event, but also prevail. It is up to us to speak for the animals and do absolutely anything and everything we can to not allow to B.P. to ever drill in the Gulf of Mexico.

New York Times

Dolphins? Dolphins!

"I will kill you."
image from (unknown author)

The Pentagon has recently leaked a controversial, top secret file. Anthony Webber, a clerk who manages dated Navy and Military operations files, came across this jewel and emailed it to a writer on March 15th, 2007. Wallace Hyndman (the writer) gave it to his higher ups (not exactly certain what to do with the information). Then they gave it to me. Then all hell broke loose. 

Military scientists out of Saint John the Baptists’ Marine Base in Honolulu were doing research into the feasible implementation of fully trained, weaponized dolphins. 

According to the report, scientists have investigated the following specific applications:
1. Dolphins as underwater hand-to-fin combat. 
a. Weapons training; ie katana, bo-staff, switch blade, spear gun and bat’leth.
2. Uses of sonar to detect subsurface aqua-battlements. 
3. High pitched EMP rays – AKA, project EEEEEK EEEEEE EEEKEEEE.
4. Death screeches.
5. Nuclear Device Delivery Systems (NDDS).
6. Dolphin launchers. 

The feasibility of the use of dolphins in war is not a new concept, in fact, it has been around for centuries. The Greeks, anticipating war with other island and costal countries, employed dolphins and many other aquatic mammals to do their bidding. 

Dr. Robert Graves (with a rare combination of PhDs; one in Greek Mythology, the other in Marine Biology) believes that much “sea monster” mythology surfaced with the implementation of these oceanic mercenaries. 

“Dolphins,” Graves reports, “are feisty and easy to pay.” I asked him to define “feisty” for me. He thought for a few moments. “Dolphins enjoy hunting. Typically they hunt small fish. However, on two nights of the year, in a rare display of needless violence, dolphins go nuts. They swim fast and quiet, they kill anything they encounter. But they target certain animals specifically. Just what do they hunt, you ask? Whales. Sharks. And even humans.”

“The Greeks,” continued Graves, “we’re brilliant tacticians of battle and they were fully aware of the dolphins' biannual rampage. They believed that they could convince the dolphins to do their bidding all year round."

"Thus," continued Graves, "the Greeks gave the dolphins an outlet for their blood-thirst. Namely, the Spartans (on the rare occasion they took to the sea), the Romans, the Carthaginians, and anyone else who dared cross them. The Greeks toppled nations and kept their sea-borders safe for decades. It's not known exactly when they stopped using these aquatic death-machines.” 
"We are on your T-shirt. We are underneath your bed."

But that’s all history. We’re talking about today’s death-dealing, gun-toting, flesh-eating, boat-maiming, sword-wielding, samurai of the sea. 

“Heck yeah, dolphins are dangerous!” affirmed Suzie Swanson-Baji, a dolphin trainer and rider in Florida’s Sea World. “There are two nights a year when we’re not allowed to go near the tank because they go wild.” 

We brought Dr. Graves down to Sea World during one of these dangerous nights so he could make an analysis of the behavior. 

“That’s it!” he yelled over the screeching and splashing. “You’d better step back,” he told me. Pointing to one dolphin, he added, “that one there hasn’t moved, but it’s had its eyes on you. They can jump 40, 50, even 60 feet at 50 miles per hour. You might as well stand in the middle of the freeway.” 

I asked Mrs. Swanson-Baji if anyone had ever been injured by the dolphins. “Well,” she told Graves and me, “usually they’re fine, fun, even playful. Intelligent. You can see it in their beady little eyes… they’re always thinking, you know calculating, sort of like the terminator or something. Sharks… you know, the ones that everyone’s all afraid of, they’re nothing. They’re dumb. Dolphins will play with you, kiss you, then eat your leg like it's a darn cheese-stick.” 

Ernest Lessing, a 70-something mariner with more years at sea that at land (having been a crab fisherman, swordfish fisherman, and avid diver) was eager to talk to me when he heard I was working on the story. 

“I was working for a man off the coast of Greece, oh… thirty years back. I was diving down, collecting conch shells for a merchant who sells the shells on the shore and who made a mean conch soup. Let me tell you, son, they could make a conch soup back the. Anyhow, there I am, minding my own business when I ketch something fast and silver out of the corner of my eye. A shark? No, I wasn’t that lucky. See, I’ve heard that in ancient Greece they used to train dolphins to kill people, and I guess, hundreds of generations later, the little bastards still have the thirst for blood.” He lifted up a pant leg to reveal a prosthetic limb. “Itches me something fierce, the phantom limb does. I’m hoping that dolphin spits it out on some sea urchins or something.” 

I’d met my fair share of colorful characters by this point in my research. But I hadn’t made much progress on the real goal of my story – talking to someone about the feasibility of using dolphins in militant operations. I’d read the files, but I wanted someone high up, someone who could tell me more than was in the 654 page leak.

I came upon a former admiral, Douglas Archimedes. A decorated, proud, salient, and disowned Marine right out of a Tom Clancy novel. I “came upon” him at a bar in Palay, North Dakota, a small cold town with a population of about 800. I came upon him because he called into the office and said to my editor, “I want to talk to someone about the dolphins.” 

So, I drove up to North Dakota.

“It’s all a big joke… or so I thought, until I did some digging of my own. I was a Marine. A Navy Seal too. I did it all. I was more fish that man – and my exploits earned me high rank and considerable recognition. But, it didn’t earn me the right to go digging around.”

“This was back in the '90s,” he continued. “I was concerned when I started seeing documents… disturbing documents. Some boys had been doing work off an island,” he told me he couldn’t give much detail, “and the dive team kept coming back with strange injuries. It was night operations and it was in deep waters. Equipment would go haywire. Lights would switch off. It was all like a real horror movie. Then, out of nowhere,” he produced a file from his jacket, “Officer James Briggant loses his entire left calf muscle.” He snapped his fingers, “whoosh, gone. Just like that.”

"Then, men started dying. But the mission was important, so they pressed on." Archimedes handed me the document when I bought him a rum and coke. "You're probably wondering why we're in Palay. Well, after you look at that, maybe you'll understand," he said after a few sips he walked out, without even saying goodbye.

I reviewed the files. They were disturbing, graphic in description and graphic in images. Dead bodies, dozens of them. A nameless killer, a deep fear, an abandoned mission. Though much of the report was blacked out, I learned a lot. I learned too much. But I figured out Archimedes' riddle. We were nowhere near the ocean and all the rivers and lakes with 100 miles were frozen most of the year. Archimedes was terrified of the water. 

It wasn't a hard guess what the monsters involved in the incidents off that mystery island were.

“This report means one of two things. One, the dolphins want to kill us of their own accord. This wasn’t the biannual night of feasting. No, this was a month of havoc." A month, he said. The attacks actually lasted six weeks. It took those divers' bosses (whoever they were, wherever they were) six weeks (and twenty eight dead bodies) to think to pull the marines out of the water indefinitely.

"The other likelihood?" the email continued, "someone else is training those bastards to kill us,” Archimedes said in an email to me a few weeks later when I emailed him some questions about the report.

I spent six months continuing my research. What started as a joke, something that couldn’t be true, had flourished into an obsession. 

Soon, I was being investigated. My phones were tapped. My office, broken into, computer destroyed, everything gone, everything except my audio recorder (which is always on me) and my memory. I’m working on another lead now. 

I’m back to where it all began. I’m in Greece, sitting in a small coffee shop in Epidaurus. I'm trying to find the answer to a few simple questions: why are the dolphins out to kill us? Who is training them? If no one is training them, why are they attacking us? Do dolphins have nuclear technology?