Blogbeat: Does BP Stand for Berkeley Petroleum?

By Thomas Lord
Tuesday June 08, 2010 - 10:40:00 AM

Stuff found on-line about Berkeley and its neighbors... Two topics this week:First, Berkeley’s love/hate relationship with BP is back in the news.Second, at an author’s event you’ll have a chance to learn how the Internet is messing with your head. 

BP and Berkeley: Oil and Vinegar? 

A relative I’ve long since lost track of used to work in the high tech coatings field. I suppose that one point you could say that he was basically a paint salesman who sold particularly fancy paints to oil companies for use on oil rigs. Because of his training in chemistry he’d fly out into the Gulf of Mexico to spend some time on the rigs, seeing how the coatings were performing in the harsh, real-world conditions. I once asked him about the problem of oil spills – there were some in recent news at the time.“Bah,” he said, “you can basically just pour that stuff directly on the ground.It’s clean.” 

He was not a fellow to take too lightly abuses of the environment. And he was not a fellow too quick to make lousy excuses for his livelihood. I was pretty young at the time but his comment seemed out of character to me. I’ve pondered it, off an on, over the years. 

I still think he was rather a lot too cavalier in that pronouncement but recently the blog Berkeleyside carried discussion and a video link to a lecture by Terry Hazen of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab . The piece was contributed by Jane Tierney,who was formerly a Scientific and Technical Information Manager for LBL.(See 

The lecture linked to is by no means easy going for us average folks. It is a lecture by a microbial ecologist primarily for an audience of biologists and other scientists – chock full of complicated jargon and scientific details that are hard to follow. Nevertheless it’s interesting viewing. It turns out that naturally occuring processes, perhaps very gently nudged along, are one of the best techniques we have so far for cleaning up after spills and other environmental disasters. 

Meanwhile, the “blogosphere” (is it too soon to drop the quotation marks) is showing signs of re-igniting old controversies over BP’s funding of the Energy Biosciences Institute .For example, the Daily Clog (blog of the Daily Californian) raises the issue , concluding “But hey, before we get into this fight, let’s clean the pelicans off. We need to prioritize.” They and other bloggers re-raising the issue are mostly reacting to a recent article in the Sacramento Bee . (Those links, spelled out: , , and ). 

While some begin to renew the question of whether or not BP has too much influence over Berkeley institutions, Robert Reich (Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley) is defending on his blog his notion that the government ought to take greater control of BP .He argues for placing the company into receivership – temporarily seizing control – to better align its corporate interests with the public welfare. Critics appear to be having to stretch a bit to try to argue why that would be a bad idea. 

Just Relax and Let the Links Gently Massage Your Brain 

The “stuff” above about BP and Berkeley is pretty much what this column is for: to offer up some topical starting points for finding news about Berkeley on the web with particular attention to non-conventional sources. In some sense, the goal of this column is to encourage readers to go away and read something else. But, wait, before you go: 

There is a lot of interesting scientific evidence that, well, all of these link following distractions are, as they said at Woodstock, “not specifically good”. Does the wealth of content on the Internet not merely provide excuses for wasting time but actually change the way you think, and not obviously for the better? 

A highly praised and non-hysterical exploration of the science and its implications is available in a new book by Nicholas Carr:“The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains”. 

Mr. Carr will be speaking at the Hillside Club on June 24 ($10 in advance, $12 at the door). 

I have a selfish reason for mentioning the event: he surprised me by quoting me in the book.He apparently liked a comment I’d posted to his blog and, in addition to quoting from it in the book, re-posted it as Tom Lord on ritual, knowledge and the web , a title that almost makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about. 

(Links: (see about halfway down the page) and ). 

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