Monday, June 14, 2010

Reviewerspeak Awards

Book Examiner Michelle Kerns has a great post about her monthly Reviewerspeak Awards:

Hilarious yet heartbreaking: The Reviewerspeak Award results for May 2010

Just inaugurated a couple of months ago (It's gripping! It's luminous! It's the maiden voyage of the Reviewerspeak Awards!), Kerns' Reviewspeak Awards aim is

to thought-provokingly observe, vividly record, and unflinchingly report every book reviewer cliché perpetrated daily on the hapless readers of a select number of online book review sites. To leap boldly into a Brave New World where prose isn't always lively or spare or graceful or taut or accessible or lyrical; where debut novels aren't always solid or sparkling; where characters aren't always flawed or fully realized (or, if you prefer, perfectly realized) or quirky or likable or nuanced; where authors aren't masterful or at the top of their game in every third review.

For anyone whose work has ever been savaged by a book critic, damned-by-faint-praise, or even received a rave review, Kerns' Reviewerspeak Awards posts are hilarious. See also some of her previous review-satire articles:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Battle over Search-Engine Placement for Oil Spill Info

Today our local newspaper (The Times-Picayune) reports that BP has purchased the top spots on search engines such as Google:

BP, the giant oil company that owns the collapsed rig that is spewing oil, has paid search engines like Google to prominently feature links to the company's website. And, according to one online marketing expert, lawyers and other parties with work tied to the spill will likely fight for prominent links of their own. . . .

BP has purchased the "sponsored link" for that search term, via Google's AdWords program, according to Sandra Heikkinen, a spokesperson for Google. Unlike the standard links provided by a search engine, a sponsored link is one that a search engine sells to an interested company -- the link appears above the "related searches" and the "organic" links, which are based on relevance.

I myself when searching rarely click on the sponsored links, but go below them to the organic links. I've always figured the sponsored links are little more than advertisements or propaganda for the sponsor. On the other hand . . .

[W]hile BP currently has the market cornered on web searches, other interests -- such as law firms trying to attract clients affected by the spill -- are going to increasingly attempt to fight the company for the coveted spots at the top of the page.

"Those lawyers are going to start making it awfully expensive for BP to stay at the top of the links."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mr. Potato Head has left the building...

This is hilarious--like something from a Saturday Night Live skit:

The Elvis version of Mr. Potato Head will be released for Elvis Tribute Week, according to a Graceland spokesman.
Photo by PPW Toys

Mr. Potato Head Elvis Presley Figures to Launch in August of 2010

Elvis fans, toy collectors and pop culture enthusiasts will spend much of this summer anticipating the launch of the Mr. Potato Head Elvis Presley collectible figures from PPW Toys, under license from Hasbro, Inc. and Elvis Presley Enterprises.

Mr. Potato Head appeared as KISS last year, and this year he is ready to take on the king of rock 'n' roll. A series of Mr. Potato Head collectible figures will be released, each with a variety of costumes, instruments and other iconic components representing Elvis' most memorable performances.

The first spud to be released this August in tandem with Elvis Week events at Graceland in Memphis and will feature Elvis' famous white jumpsuit, microphone and guitar. A second version with Mr. Potato Head wearing black leather from Elvis' 1968 Special Performance will be released during the 2010 holiday season. Components such as hairstyles, costumes, faces and musical instruments will be compatible with every version, so fans can mix and match the styles with hilarious results.

The Mr. Potato Head Elvis Presley collectible figures will not only appeal to kids, but these figures will also be in demand by music fans and pop culture collectors of all ages. The Mr. Potato Head Elvis Presley collectible figures will be available at specialty retailers and e-tailers.

Created in 1952, Mr. Potato Head, the first toy to be featured in a television commercial, became an instant hit with youngsters. In the past 58 years, the beloved character has emerged as an American icon, a true evergreen brand with broad demographic appeal.

Hasbro licensee PPW Toys suits up MR. POTATO HEAD as Elvis Presley for a unique co-branded product. An Elvis tribute artist shows off the new collectible during a launch event at Licensing International Expo 2010 in Las Vegas.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Oil Spill and the Chain of Life

It's Prophet-of-Doom time again. If you're not in the mood to be bummed out, then skip this post.

A few days ago Newsweek published "What the Spill Will Kill," which discusses not only the damage the BP Oil Spill will have on the surface environment, but also what may happen in the deep sea:

The consequences for the delicate balance of existence in the vulnerable ecosystems of the gulf, and for the vast cycles of nature that sustain life there and beyond, are as incalculable as they are potentially devastating. ...

As far as scientists can tell, the undersea oil is actually a witch's brew of crude mixed with dissolved methane, stretching 15 miles long, 5 miles wide, and 300 feet thick in the case of one plume detected by the Pelican, and 22 miles long, 6 miles wide, and 3,000 feet thick in the case of a plume found by University of South Florida researchers aboard the WeatherBird II last week. The latter plume reaches all the way to the surface. ...

These undersea rivers of oil, though not nearly as concentrated as oil at the surface, are likely to affect the gulf through two mechanisms. The first is oxygen depletion, which has been estimated at 30 percent in the plumes. The other will be direct toxic effects of the oil and methane. Leatherback turtles and sperm whales dive to the 3,200-foot depths where plumes have now been detected, and aren't smart enough to take evasive action. ... Sharks, shrimp, and squid are all inhabitants of the deep, which would protect them from a Valdez-type spill on the surface, but now puts them in the crosshairs. Marlin, snapper, and grouper swim hundreds of feet down. One of the biggest losses may be bluefin tuna. Already imperiled from overfishing, the species breeds only in the Mediterranean Sea and the gulf. ... Even small bits of crude, like those in the plumes, can suffocate fish by gunking up their gills.

Other species imperiled by the deep-sea plumes include those that migrate down from the surface and others that make the reverse commute. "There are plankton that go from the surface to the middle of the water column, and other things eat them and go down deeper, and other things eat them and go to the bottom," says oceanographer Lisa Levin of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "All the zones of life interact, and now they're probably all being hammered."

The worst effect of large-scale death on the gulf floor is nothing as photogenic as dead pelicans, but much more pernicious. "The organisms most likely to be harmed by the oil plumes are those at the base of the food chain," says biological oceanographer Andrew Juhl of Lamont-Doherty. "Most of the primary producers, such as phytoplankton, live throughout the water column. Effects on them would cascade to the larger species we care about."

The deep-sea communities are also linchpins of the global carbon cycle—the ocean's garbage men and recycling centers. They eat the waste and carcasses of creatures that lived and died in higher layers of the sea, and whose bodies drift to the sea floor. ... [W]ithout deep-sea organisms, dead marine creatures would accumulate like bottles and cans in places without deposit laws. That would deprive the rest of the living seas of the nutrients they need to keep life going. If a large enough area in the depths of the gulf becomes a kill zone, organic matter would accumulate in the sediment and be cut off from the rest of the ecosystem, says marine scientist Mahlon Kennicutt of Texas A&M.

Uniquely in the crosshairs are creatures living at or near the sea floor: deep-sea corals, jellyfish, and soft-bottom fish such as Atlantic croaker, sand seatrout, Atlantic bumper, sea robin, and sand perch. Three coral reefs live in the area under the surface slick, and two are close to one plume that scientists tracked last week. Oil could be lethal to a reef. The Minerals Management Service's 2007 report concluded that "in the extremely unlikely event that oil from a subsurface spill were to reach a coral reef…in lethal concentrations," recovery could take as long as "10-20 years." "In the time scale of man, this will be a catastrophic event," says Baguley.

Of special concern are the hundreds of "seep" communities in the gulf, enclaves of crustaceans, weird tube worms, tiny fish, mussels, and crabs that live near natural gashes in the sea floor. These seeps release hydrocarbons, which might suggest that the oil-and-methane plumes are good for these creatures. Unfortunately, the profusion of hydrocarbons is likely to be less like sitting down to a Thanksgiving feast than like being encased in marshmallowed sweet potatoes: deadly. Like Yellowstone's geysers, they support unique organisms that may have scientific and commercial uses. Bacteria from a Yellowstone geyser are the source of enzymes that power a biochemical reaction called PCR, a workhorse of the genome revolution. Marine scientists have high hopes for finding similarly valuable microbes at the seeps. Some even talk of compounds that might fight cancer, much as extracts of the rosy periwinkle fight Hodgkin's disease and childhood leukemias.

Oil on the ocean surface eventually evaporates, is degraded by sunlight, gets consumed by microbes, or washes up on beaches, where it can be collected. The fate and effects of the undersea oil are largely unknown. The Deepwater Horizon disaster is thus one big unplanned experiment.
As I said in my previous post, Krewe of Dead Pelicans, the effects of the BP Oil Spill will be felt not just for decades but possibly for centuries. It could change the ecological balance of the entire planet.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Krewe of Dead Pelicans

Feeling helpless at the immensity of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans resident Ro Mayer organized a protest in a typical New Orleans way: a mock jazz funeral for the Gulf and its wildlife. Participants in The Krewe of Dead Pelicans were asked to wear black pants and blue shirts, and to carry blue umbrellas painted with black splotches--symbolizing the black oil beneath the blue waters. They also were asked to wear shrimpers' boots--the short white rubber boots you'll see many people in the second-line parade wearing--symbolizing the mighty Louisiana seafood industry, which is likely to be permanently devastated by the oil spill. 

Photo of oil-coated pelican by Matthew Hinton/The Times-Picayune

As Ro Mayer said in her video interview with the local newspaper's reporter, we feel helpless in the face of this calamity. We have to cope as best we can. At nearly five years after Katrina, we are faced once again with an environmental disaster that will destroy our marshes, our wildlife, our homes, our businesses, our jobs, our economy, our lives. Its effects will be felt for decades, if not centuries, and will reverberate far beyond Louisiana and the other Gulf Coast states.

See the video of the event, held Saturday, June 5, 2010. Hundreds of people participated.

In a press conference last week, BP CEO Tony Hayward said he'd like to have his life back. Yeah, so would we, but it ain't happening. How about this, Mr. BP? You don't get your life back until, and unless, we get our lives back. You suffer what we suffer, as long as we suffer. How about that?

Photo by Michael DeMocker/The Times-Picayune