There is an old story about Abraham Lincoln spending vast amounts of time in the telegraph room of the War Department waiting for dispatches from his commanders in the field. One day, according to Lincoln biographer John C. Waugh, after a particularly long night, the president turned to the telegraph operators and said, "Well, boys, I am down to raisins."
When asked to explain the phrase, Lincoln told the story of the little girl who celebrated her birthday by feasting on sweets, followed by raisins for dessert. Soon, she became violently sick and started throwing up everything she had eaten. Her concerned parents summoned a doctor, who upon investigating her issue, told the parents the danger was past and that she was "down to raisins."
That's us; that's you and me, and certainly that's the people in the Gulf region. We have all become so sickened by the events surrounding the collapse of the Deepwater Horizon and the broad-spectrum, oil-soaked destruction, which has not even begun to sink its teeth in, that we are all down to raisins.
The dome failed when it filled with bubbles. "Top kill" failed because, well, they were trying to stuff mud into an oil-spewing hole 5,000 feet below the surface of the sea. The diamond saw meant to slice the pipe and make room for a cap got caught in the apparatus down there. They were able to salvage the thing, but if they screw this maneuver up as badly as they've screwed up everything else so far, the amount of crude dumping into the sea could increase by as much as 20 percent ... which in BP-ese could mean 30 percent, 40 percent or even 200 percent.
Oil has been ravaging the Louisiana coastline for days now. The Coast Guard has said that, of the 126 miles of coastline that has been affected, 25 of those miles can be restored to its previous condition. That same dreary percentage will certainly apply to the rest of the Gulf, which has also begun to feel the effects of this calamity. Oil has arrived on Dauphin Island, Alabama. Oil has reached the Mississippi coast. Oil is expected to reach Florida by the end of the week. Oil is expected to annihilate reefs, kill fisheries, destroy tourism, slaughter wildlife and create staggering dead zones that will affect everything from whales to tuna to birds to plankton, which pretty much amounts to the entire food chain. Whatever survives the oil faces an equally toxic death from the dispersants being used to contain the oil.
BP, for its part, has made some moves of its own. One of their spokespersons got up on his hind legs and declared, with bare face hanging out, that reports of massive oil plumes lurking for miles under the surface of the sea do not, in fact, exist, despite reports from a series of experts that the things are down there, just waiting to strike. BP has hired former Cheney spokesperson Anne Womack-Colton to be the company's face for the disaster. They have decided not to add a second blowout preventer to the wrecked gear at the center of the crisis, and after attempting to do this cut-and-cap move, will concentrate only on drilling relief wells. The best-case scenario, they say, has the well being fully shut down by late August, maybe, if we're lucky.
We haven't been lucky yet, and according to experts, we have no reason to think our luck will turn:
BP Plc's failure since April to plug a Gulf of Mexico oil leak have prompted forecasts the crude may continue gushing into December in what President Barack Obama has called the greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history.
BP's attempts so far to cap the well and plug the leak on the seabed a mile below the surface haven't worked, while the start of the Atlantic hurricane season this week indicates storms in the Gulf may disrupt other efforts.
"The worst-case scenario is Christmas time," Dan Pickering, the head of research at energy investor Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. in Houston, said. "This process is teaching us to be skeptical of deadlines."
As for the Feds, it seems the memo regarding how unutterably important this situation is has, at long last, penetrated the farthest reaches of government. President Obama has been speaking about it on a daily basis, and his administration has announced the launching of a criminal probe into BP's actions before and after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
That's great, for what it's worth, which isn't much at all if you're a fish, bird, whale or Gulf Coast human whose livelihood is drowning in crude. It's all just words. As for actions? Well, never fear, because the Feds have met with "Titanic" and "Avatar" director James Cameron to brainstorm on how to stop the leak.
No, really. James Cameron, underwater filming expert, has been cut into the loop. One could take this as an indication of the all-hands-on-deck attitude being taken in order to end this crisis, but I hear this and just want to put my head in the oven. Mud to fill the hole, and now movie directors to save the day. You really can't make this stuff up.
Hurricane season began on Tuesday, the saw got stuck, and the end of August is more than 70 days away. Christmas is too massive to contemplate, but contemplate it we must, because we are down to raisins with this thing.