Archive for the 'business_lies' Category

Grantham’s Nature Op-ed: Be Brave

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Jeremy Grantham is not a scientist. From his Wikipedia intro:

Jeremy Grantham is a British investor and Co-founder and Chief Investment Strategist of Grantham Mayo Van Otterloo (GMO), a Boston-based asset management firm. GMO is one of the largest managers of such funds in the world, having more than US $97 billion in assets under management as of December 2011. Grantham is regarded as a highly knowledgeable investor in various stock, bond, and commodity markets, and is particularly noted for his prediction of various bubbles.

So: He’s a sharp business dude who has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to correctly identify when society is failing to properly process information about an impending crisis. Which makes his recent op-ed in Nature magazine worth reading: Be persuasive. Be brave. Be arrested (if necessary).

I have yet to meet a climate scientist who does not believe that global warming is a worse problem than they thought a few years ago. The seriousness of this change is not appreciated by politicians and the public. The scientific world carefully measures the speed with which we approach the cliff and will, no doubt, carefully measure our rate of fall. But it is not doing enough to stop it. I am a specialist in investment bubbles, not climate science. But the effects of climate change can only exacerbate the ecological trouble I see reflected in the financial markets — soaring commodity prices and impending shortages.


President Barack Obama missed the chance of a lifetime to get a climate bill passed, and his great environmental and energy scientists John Holdren and Steven Chu went missing in action. Scientists are understandably protective of the dignity of science and are horrified by publicity and overstatement. These fears, unfortunately, are not shared by their opponents, which makes for a rather painful one-sided battle. Overstatement may generally be dangerous in science (it certainly is for careers) but for climate change, uniquely, understatement is even riskier and therefore, arguably, unethical.

It is crucial that scientists take more career risks and sound a more realistic, more desperate, note on the global-warming problem. Younger scientists are obsessed by thoughts of tenure, so it is probably up to older, senior and retired scientists to do the heavy lifting. Be arrested if necessary. This is not only the crisis of your lives — it is also the crisis of our species’ existence. I implore you to be brave.

The rest of it is worth reading, too.

Bill McKibbon Wants to Pick a Fight

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

You know the scene in Braveheart, after William Wallace has made his awesome horseback speech to rally the troops at the Battle of Stirling? And he has that quick confab with Stephen and Hamish and the gang (“Be yourselves”) and then as he’s about to ride off, Stephen asks him where he’s going. And William says, “I’m going to pick a fight.”

Bill McKibbon is about to do that, launching a nationwide tour to talk about the numbers from his terrifying new math article in Rolling Stone, and channel the resulting outrage in the direction of a divestment campaign aimed at fossil fuel companies.

Wen Stephenson in Grist talked with McKibbon about what he’s up to: Cue the math: McKibben’s roadshow takes aim at Big Oil.

So can divestment, I asked, be an effective strategy? Can it generate enough economic leverage to make a difference?

“I think it’s a way to a get a fight started,” Bill said without hesitation, “and to get people in important places talking actively about the culpability of the fossil fuel industry for the trouble that we’re in. And once that talk starts, I think it does start imposing a certain kind of economic pressure. Their high stock price is entirely justified by the thought that they’re going to get all their reserves out of the ground. And I think we’ve already made an argument that it shouldn’t be a legitimate thing to be doing.”

In other words, as in South Africa, as with Big Tobacco, there’s economic leverage in the moral case?


Bodyform Responds to Facebook Commenter Richard Neill

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

More on Daisey (Mostly), Plus a Little Russell and Gleick

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

It turns out that journalists have thought a lot about this whole question of whether it is or isn’t cool to lie to make your story more compelling. Weighing in on the Mike Daisey story are a bunch of journalists:

And a few climate-obsessed non-journalists:

Having now listened to This American Life’s Retraction episode, I’m with Ira: Daisey has moved on from fooling his audience to fooling himself, if he thinks his contortions about “it’s theater not journalism, and I stand by it” are anything but self-serving special pleading.

The difference between journalism and theater are important, if for no other reason than this: Audiences have bullshit detectors, and once you’ve activated them you’ve lost the ability to persuade. In a hyper-connected era, going before an audience the size of This American Life’s means that for someone in that audience, your lies will be transparent, and that someone will have access to the same communication tools you used.

Russell to Daisey to Gleick

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

There’s a weird synchronicity in all these stories floating around lately about people, nominally good guys, trying to raise public awareness about nominal bad guys, but doing it by exaggerating or outright lying. When the nominal good guys succeed in raising that awareness, and a wider audience is suddenly up in arms about the nominal bad guys, what does it mean when it emerges that while those bad guys really are pretty bad, they’re actually not bad in the particular way or to the particular extent that the nominal good guys made them out to be?

The nominal good guys should have been more honest, right? Ideally, they would have raised awareness without resorting to deception. But what if being honest about the bad guys means that the narrative exposing their wrongdoing is not compelling enough to go viral and get the kind of traction that leads to real pressure for change? Is it okay in that case to stretch the truth a little, to embellish the storyline? Is it okay to stretch the truth a lot? Where do you draw that line? And if the nominal good guy does stretch the truth, only to have the deception come to light later on, is it all just “pearl clutching” for the nominal good guy’s nominal allies to call foul at that point?

I don’t actually know the answers to any of these questions. I’m curious what you think. In particular, I’m curious about the following three cases:

Jason Russell: This is the guy who made the “KONY 2012” video via his nonprofit, Invisible Children, Inc.:

I still have not watched KONY 2012, though with 81 million YouTube views (and counting), I’m apparently one of the few who can say that. Among those who have viewed it, there exists a subset of people who have checked into the claims it makes, and pointed out that while this Kony guy really is a legitimately bad guy, the monstrous depiction in the video glosses over or outright misstates some important facts. Like, Kony is not currently operating in Uganda, and hasn’t been since 2005. He doesn’t have an army of 30,000 child soldiers; that number in the video apparently was based on an estimate of his actions over several decades. And so on.

From an article by Demian Bulwa in (Kony video quickly raises awareness, skepticism):

In a response to criticism on its website, Invisible Children highlighted its education and rehabilitation programs in the region and said it had “sought to explain the conflict in an easily understandable format.

“In a 30-minute film,” the group said, “many nuances of the 26-year conflict are admittedly lost or overlooked. The film is a first entry point to this conflict for many, and the organization provides several ways for our supporters to go deeper.”


Sean Darling-Hammond, a 27-year-old student at the law school, said he was becoming skeptical about all the skepticism.

“Criticizing the efforts of others has become the currency of relevance in social media,” he said. “If this video had been about the group’s cotton project in Africa, they would have gotten 200 views. The sad reality is that narrative sells, and catch-the-bad-guy is a classic narrative.”

I guess. But apparently the stress of his newfound success in selling a not-quite-factual bad-guy narrative — or maybe the pushback from people who want to hold the video to a higher standard of accuracy — has been having a negative impact on filmmaker Jason Russell. From the NYT (Police Detain Maker of Uganda Video):

SAN DIEGO – A co-founder of Invisible Children, the nonprofit organization whose video “Kony 2012” has become an Internet sensation, was detained by the San Diego police on Thursday, after they said he was found in the street in his underwear, screaming and interfering with traffic.

The police found Jason Russell, the filmmaker behind the video, after responding to calls about a man who was acting irrationally, including one call that alleged he was naked and masturbating, a San Diego police spokeswoman said. He was taken to a hospital for evaluation and treatment, and the police have no plans to charge him.

“It’s our belief that a medical condition would explain his irrational behavior as opposed to criminal intent,” said Lt. Andra Brown, the spokeswoman. “If we thought he was under the influence, we wouldn’t have taken him to a hospital; we would have taken him to jail.”

The 30-minute “Kony 2012” video has been viewed nearly 80 million times on YouTube since March 5. It has thrust a sudden celebrity upon Mr. Russell, 33, who narrates the video and appears in it with his young son, appealing to viewers to bring more attention to the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and advocating his arrest.

That success has brought criticism of Invisible Children for the way it spends its money, for a photograph of its founders, including Mr. Russell, holding rifles, and for other matters.

That criticism took its toll on Mr. Russell, according to his wife, Danica Russell, who released a statement Friday.

While the attention the film has drawn has brought increased awareness of Mr. Kony, Ms. Russell said, “it also brought a lot of attention to Jason — and because of how personal the film is, many of the attacks against it were also very personal, and Jason took them very hard.”

Mike Daisey: Because I’ve switched to mostly telecommuting lately, I don’t listen to nearly as much This American Life. As a result, I missed an episode, aired back in January, in which reporter thesbian Mike Daisey gave a first-person account of his investigation into the surreal and horrible working conditions at Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturing company where my iPhone was probably made.

The episode became the most-downloaded TAL episode ever, and apparently played a role in a massive petition campaign that pressured Apple into pressuring (some) of its Asian suppliers into improving working conditions for (some) employees, or (some)thing.

Except it turns out that many of the “facts” narrated by Daisey were not, in fact, factual. This weekend’s This American Life episode consists of an apology, including a detailed account of what went wrong: Retraction. See also this blog post (and attached press release) from TAL host Ira Glass: RETRACTING “MR. DAISEY AND THE APPLE FACTORY”.

Some of the falsehoods found in Daisey’s monologue are small ones: the number of factories Daisey visited in China, for instance, and the number of workers he spoke with. Others are large. In his monologue he claims to have met a group of workers who were poisoned on an iPhone assembly line by a chemical called n-hexane. Apple’s audits of its suppliers show that an incident like this occurred in a factory in China, but the factory wasn’t located in Shenzhen, where Daisey visited.

“It happened nearly a thousand miles away, in a city called Suzhou,” Marketplace’s Schmitz says in his report. “I’ve interviewed these workers, so I knew the story. And when I heard Daisey’s monologue on the radio, I wondered: How’d they get all the way down to Shenzhen? It seemed crazy, that somehow Daisey could’ve met a few of them during his trip.”

In Schmitz’s report, he confronts Daisey and Daisey admits to fabricating these characters.

“I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard,” Daisey tells Schmitz and Glass. “My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism, and it’s not journalism. It’s theater.”

Daisey’s interpreter Cathy also disputes two of the most dramatic moments in Daisey’s story: that he met underage workers at Foxconn, and that a man with a mangled hand was injured at Foxconn making iPads (and that Daisey’s iPad was the first one he ever saw in operation). Daisey says in his monologue:

“He’s never actually seen one on, this thing that took his hand. I turn it on, unlock the screen, and pass it to him. He takes it. The icons flare into view, and he strokes the screen with his ruined hand, and the icons slide back and forth. And he says something to Cathy, and Cathy says, “he says it’s a kind of magic.””

Cathy Lee tells Schmitz that nothing of the sort occurred.

Here’s Daisey’s response, as posted on his personal blog (Statement on TAL):

I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity. Certainly, the comprehensive investigations undertaken by The New York Times and a number of labor rights groups to document conditions in electronics manufacturing would seem to bear this out.

What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic ­- not a theatrical ­- enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations. But this is my only regret. I am proud that my work seems to have sparked a growing storm of attention and concern over the often appalling conditions under which many of the high-tech products we love so much are assembled in China.

Peter Gleick: You don’t really need me to summarize this, right? Just go back and read the last 50,000 words of drivel I’ve spewed in this blog. Note that for the purposes of the current comparison, I’m crediting Gleick with having forged the 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy memo. I’m also crediting him with having created at least some degree of heightened public awareness of what Heartland is up to, awareness that would have been less if he hadn’t “sexed up” his document leak with the forged memo.

So, here’s my actual question: Were these guys (Russell, Daisey, and Gleick) in any sense right to do what they did? All appear to have been willing to deceive the public as part of crafting a more-compelling narrative fiction. And in each case it appears to have worked (at least in a certain sense). Their acts of public deception gave their stories “legs,” making it so more people heard about them, were outraged by what they heard, and were motivated to pass the stories on. The fictions contributed to, and may actually have been essential to, the stories “going viral.”

With the benefit of hindsight, was that a good thing? Is the “it’s not journalism; it’s theater” defense valid?

BS and Anti-BS

Saturday, January 28th, 2012

Kevin Drum talks today about the inherent silliness of people spouting bullshit economic theories, and other people debunking it, and how the whole process just goes on forever without actually getting anywhere. But he thinks it’s still necessary: Fighting the bullshit.

So sure, it’s kabuki. All of us who write about politics for a living understand that 90% (at least) of what we do is just shadow boxing. Controversies are invented, then debunked, then invented all over again, and debunked. Sometimes the inventors know perfectly well what they’re doing, while other times they’ve talked themselves into actually believing their own nonsense. In either case, these things are mostly just proxies for the issues that really matter.

But so what? The Reichstag fire was wholly invented too, and look what happened after that. As demeaning as it is, fighting back against bullshit is every bit as important as fighting back against the real stuff.

I think I was on-board with Mr. Drum all the way up to the last sentence, at which point I balked. “Every bit as important”? Really? I’m not convinced of that.

Which isn’t to say that fighting back against bullshit isn’t important. Case in point, the recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece claiming global warming is a sham. It’s exceedingly dishonest, and worthy of being fought back against. But is fighting back against it as important as fighting against the real stuff? I think maybe it’s only 38% as important. The real stuff, after all, is real.

Anyway, I know from The Debunking Handbook that I’m at risk of reinforcing the bullshit in your minds just by mentioning it, but so be it. I think that ship has already sailed, as least as far as is concerned. I’ll try to prominently flag it, at least, as they recommend.

For what it’s worth, then, here’s the (WARNING: THE FOLLOWING IS BULLSHIT!!) original WSJ opinion piece:

And here is the first in an ongoing batch of reasonable, well-informed, honest debunkings to fill the hole in your brain left by the removal of the previous bullshit. NOTE: NON-BULLSHIT:

The Ongoing Decline in Corporate Accounting Honesty

Friday, October 14th, 2011

From finance professor Jialan Wang comes this really interesting analysis: Benford’s Law and the Decreasing Reliability of Accounting Data for US Firms.

Basically, by looking at the distribution of leading numerals in sets of numbers, you can often spot cases of people “cooking the books”. People engaged in fraudulent accounting practices tend to make up randomish-looking numbers. But real measurements of phenomena that span orders of magnitude tend to follow a distinctly non-randomish pattern called Benford’s Law, with leading 1’s being more common than 2’s, which are more common than 3’s, and so on.

What Prof. Wang did was to look at historical accounting data for big US companies and analyze the data’s conformity with Benford’s Law. The whole blog post is really interesting, but one of the most interesting things she found was this: Deviation from Benford’s Law, though initially small, has grown dramatically over the last 40 years, reaching record levels in 2009:

Her conclusion:

While these time series don’t prove anything decisively, deviations from Benford’s law are compellingly correlated with known financial crises, bubbles, and fraud waves. And overall, the picture looks grim. Accounting data seem to be less and less related to the natural data-generating process that governs everything from rivers to molecules to cities. Since these data form the basis of most of our research in finance, Benford’s law casts serious doubt on the reliability of our results. And it’s just one more reason for investors to beware.

Update: You ask, I deliver. Here’s Wang’s chart, annotated to indicate which party occupied the White House during the years in question:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Reagan, with his hostility to government regulation, oversaw dramatic increases in deviation from Benford. The famously corrupt Nixon did as well. But so did Clinton.

The Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, and elder-Bush administrations were all pretty undramatic, with flat or slightly upward trends in Benford deviation.

Bush the younger oversaw a dramatic up, down, and up again pattern of deviation, ending significantly higher than he started.

Obama, at least so far, looks a lot like Gerald Ford in terms of having presided over a rapid drop in Benford deviation (albeit one dwarfed by the overall upward trend).

Ultimately, I think these numbers probably have more to do with the larger business climate than with which party holds the White House. Boom times and bubbles tend to produce greater deviations, as get-rich-quick cowboys make their own rules and ride the wave upward. Times of greater regulatory concern (like the post-Watergate Ford administration, the 2002 enactment of Sarbanes-Oxley under George W. Bush, and Obama’s time since the 2008 financial meltdown) see the deviations come back down a bit.

But the overall trend for the last 50 years has been up, pretty much regardless of which party was in power.

Anatomy of a Scam

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing pointed out this interesting series of posts on tracking down a scam artist using Google (among other tools): Anatomy of a Scam Investigation: Chapter One.

Alamo Drafthouse’s Angry Texter Rant Ad

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

I really, really loved this:

Lehrer on Srivastava’s Decoding of the Scratch Lottery Algorithm

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Can’t throw a rock without hitting a recently added jbc mancrush. Case in point: Jonah Lehrer, and this article of his in Wired: Cracking the scratch lottery code.

As a trained statistician with degrees from MIT and Stanford University, Srivastava was intrigued by the technical problem posed by the lottery ticket. In fact, it reminded him a lot of his day job, which involves consulting for mining and oil companies. A typical assignment for Srivastava goes like this: A mining company has multiple samples from a potential gold mine. Each sample gives a different estimate of the amount of mineral underground. “My job is to make sense of those results,” he says. “The numbers might seem random, as if the gold has just been scattered, but they’re actually not random at all. There are fundamental geologic forces that created those numbers. If I know the forces, I can decipher the samples. I can figure out how much gold is underground.”

Srivastava realized that the same logic could be applied to the lottery. The apparent randomness of the scratch ticket was just a facade, a mathematical lie. And this meant that the lottery system might actually be solvable, just like those mining samples.

Yves Smith on Servicer-Driven Foreclosures

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism blog has a very interesting item today: Servicer-Driven Foreclosures: The Perfect Crime?

The sooner the media and the public learn to assume banks are liars until they offer solid evidence to the contrary, the better off we will all be.

Staniford on the NYT on CERA on Plentiful Oil

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Stuart Staniford (*swoon*) is disappointed in the journalistic standards at the New York Times: New York Times still Parotting CERA.

I guess the thing that bothers me is this: the piece reads to me as deeply and intentionally deceptive, while being skillfully crafted to avoid saying anything verifiably untrue.  The constant mixing of oil and gas as though the two situations are the same.  The cherry picked and misleading comparisons.  For example, “oil sands projects expanded so fast, they now provide North America with more oil than Saudi Arabia.” – Saudia Arabia has never been a large direct supplier of oil to North America – and so this is an irrelevant example intended to mislead someone who isn’t intimately familiar with the stats.  Clifford Krauss knows perfectly well that CERA has always said that oil will be plentiful and moderately priced in the near future.  There is nothing new about this in the last three years.  He knows that their track record of prediction in the 2005-2008 oil shock was dreadful.  But he says nothing to clue his readers into any of this context.

And whatever happened to at least nominal adherence to the rule of journalistic balance?  There isn’t even one quote from anyone who would dissent from the cornucopian point of view peddled in the article.

I have no idea what motivates the New York Times to publish this kind of dishonest propaganda masquerading as journalism, but it is extremely unhelpful.

If you prefer your propaganda masquerading as journalism straight, with no filter, you can read the original article here: There Will Be Fuel. The CERA Staniford refers to is Cambridge Energy Research Associates, an energy consulting firm with close ties to the oil industry and a history of making rosy predictions about our plentiful-fuel future that then fail to come true.

I Have a New Car

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

I’ve been thinking about cars more than I usually do, and I wanted to share this item I came across: My Car, My Crutch.

When I opt to use my car for transportation, it is easy for me to control my experiences and keep them uninterrupted by the vast, unimagined plethora of possibilities that otherwise wait for me in relatively safe Canadian cities. Instead of using my mind to assimilate and conduct unexpected, interesting stimuli into equally unexpected and provocative thoughts, I wait for lights and sit in traffic. Head in hand, elbow resting on the door’s window ledge, I fill the time by pondering my achievements, my assumed obligation to fulfill those achievements, or the nagging belief that I haven’t or won’t or can’t fulfill them. Perhaps my subconscious propels me into this space partly because of the monetary pressure my vehicle exerts on me. Or perhaps, since I never have to think about becoming waylaid by the irregularities of public transit, this car gives me the sense that I have temporal invincibility in my task-oriented approach to life.

A little over 10 years ago, I carpooled to work one day with a freelance programmer who was working on the commercial website I was building. When I picked him up in my then-new 1998 Accord, he commented, “Ooh, nice car.” I thanked him and observed, without really thinking about it, that it was “probably the nicest car I’ll ever own.”

He was shocked that I would say that, at least in reference to a sensible 4-door family sedan. His response reminded me of something I frequently forget: that there is this whole Cult of the Car that I’ve never been part of, with roadsters and Ferraris and all that stuff.

My prediction (that our ’98 Accord would be the nicest car I ever owned) had a chance of coming true up until a couple of days ago. But after 250K miles of ridiculously long commuting it was time to buy a new one.

I go into the car-buying process afraid. In the past I’ve tried hard to avoid being scammed, but the best I can usually do is to avoid being scammed in the particular ways I’ve previously been scammed, while being scammed in completely new ways that I don’t recognize until later.

This time was different, thanks in large part to Zag/Truecar, a reverse-auction site that has dealers bid for your business, and to salesman Mike Daegetano at Honda of Hollywood, who actually ended up selling us the car. I feel badly about how I treated Mike. I owe him an apology.

It’s a fairly long haul down to Hollywood from where I live, so I wanted all the numbers buttoned up before I went there. Mike gave me his out-the-door price over the phone, including the breakdown for tax, license, etc.

I told him, “Look; I don’t want to get down there and find out that there’s something extra being tacked on. This is the price, right?”

“Absolutely; I don’t do that kind of thing. I’m being straight with you.”

Yeah, whatever, I thought. “Fine,” I said, and hung up. But when I went over the numbers he’d given me, I saw that the California sales tax was $19.25 too high. That is, it looked like we were paying the 8.75% sales tax on $220 more than we should have been. I went over the numbers a couple of times, but couldn’t figure out why that money was there.

Until I thought, oh, of course. Car dealers. After all this, they’re going to pull this on me, and for a measly $20. But even with that, Honda of Hollywood’s price was still more than $1K less than any of the other dealers I’d been talking to, so I decided to just eat the $19.95, while keeping my guard up to make sure it wasn’t the first step in some ploy to get me to pay an extra $220. Which I assumed it probably was.

Mike called me the next morning. “Mr. Callender? I wanted to let you know there was a mistake in that price I gave you.”

Uh oh, I thought. Here it comes. “So you’re saying it’s going to cost us more?” I could feel my blood pressure rising.

“No, no. I made a mistake in the sales tax, because I took off the price of the window etching, like we agreed, but then I forgot to take that cost out when I figured the tax. So your actual out-the-door price will be $19.95 less than what I told you yesterday.”

There was a long pause.

“Mr. Callender? Is that okay?”

“Yeah, it’s fine,” I finally said. “It’s just… unprecedented.”

“Hey, I said I was being honest.” He sounded hurt.

“Yeah, I know. But you guys always say that. And until now it was never true.”

But it was. I was in and out of the dealer in 15 minutes, and am now driving what I’m pretty sure is the nicest car I will ever own. And if you are shopping for a Honda in L.A., you really should talk to Mike at Honda of Hollywood.

Diogenes, I’m sure, is spinning in his grave.


Friday, September 17th, 2010 is an interesting list of ways that some commercial websites intentionally hose their users. As someone who works for a commercial website, I think about this issue a fair amount.

Measure J Defeated

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

The citizens of Carpinteria successfully defeated Venoco’s oil-drilling initiative in Tuesday’s election:

Measure J lost big: Of 3,262 votes cast, there were 2,284 “No” votes (70%) and only 978 “Yes” votes (30%). The Gulf oil spill was a factor, obviously; Carpinterians still remember the 1969 wellhead blowout that fouled local beaches for more than a year. With the benefit of hindsight, I’m sure Venoco CEO Tim Marquez wishes he’d picked a different time to try to get Carpinteria voters to set aside local oversight and grant his company carte blanche.

Even without the Gulf disaster, though, I think Measure J would have lost. It might have been able to get 40% of the vote, and maybe even 45%, but I don’t think it could have reached 50%. Among informed voters Venoco started off way behind; we saw that clearly in the No on J campaign. The company’s only hope was to dramatically outspend us (which it did; Venoco spent about $600,00, compared to about $80,000 spent on our side), and hope it could pick up most of the late deciders. But amidst all the news about oil-soaked beaches, undecideds broke the other way. Live by the low-information voter, die by the low-information voter.

One aspect of Venoco’s campaign that was particularly interesting to me was the company’s repeated charge that the No on J campaign was lying. Venoco wasn’t able to make that charge stick, mainly because it wasn’t true; it was Venoco that consistently made misleading statements, statements that were routinely knocked down, in accurate and devastating detail, in the letters section of the Coastal View News, our local paper.

I heard a story (third-hand, so I don’t know how accurate it is) that in the wake of Measure J’s defeat, Gary Dobbins, publisher of the Coastal View, has been threatened with lost advertising from pro-Venoco business interests unhappy with the paper’s coverage. From my perspective, though, the Coastal View did an admirable job throughout the campaign, and served its readers really well — not by slanting its coverage, but simply by doing what a newspaper should do: reporting the facts. It’s just that in this case, the facts had a strong anti-Venoco bias.

A few days before the election, Venoco distributed a faux “newspaper” called Carpinteria Coastal Preservation News. I haven’t seen a copy, but others in the No on J campaign who have say it looks a lot like the Coastal View — misleadingly so. One thing the mock newspaper did that particularly incensed many in the No on J campaign was to accuse our side of engaging in a Nazi-style “Big Lie.” No on J volunteer Niels Johnson-Lameijer wrote in his blog:

Taking a closer look at their publication a quote on page 5 caught my eye. It is a quote by Adolf Hitler’s Propaganda Minister J. Goebbels: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Venoco Inc. states a little further: “Opponents of Measure J seem to have perfected this technique to such an extent that even J. Goebbels would have been proud.”

As you may know I am Dutch, and my home country (the Netherlands) was occupied by Goebbels’ Nazi-regime from April 1940 to May 5, 1945. All of my grandparents fought in the resistance and I grew up hearing first hand WWII stories. We all know about the terror the Germans spread over Europe and I can tell you it has left deep marks on Dutch society that are still visible now, almost 70 years after the first Germans marched into the Netherlands.

I am sad to say that with comparing their opponents with one of the masterminds behind the Nazi’s Holocaust, Venoco Inc. has crossed a line, a line I never thought they would even come near. I don’t know who is responsible for comparing the “No on Measure J”-voters to a regime that resulted in an estimated of 50-70 millions deaths and millions more people severely traumatized, but I suggest they pay a visit to the Ann Frank Museum in Amsterdam. This will for sure help give them a little more perspective.

Ultimately, I think Venoco overplayed its hand with the whole “the other side is lying” angle. Maybe the company’s strategists felt they didn’t have any choice, but the reality is that many of the most prominent people in the No on J campaign have reputations in Carpinteria for honesty and fair-mindedness. Former mayor Donna Jordan came out of retirement to fight Measure J. So did former mayor Dick Weinberg. Current mayor Gregg Carty, a lifelong Carpinterian whose family has strong ties to Venoco, such that many of them publicly supported Measure J, nevertheless elicited gasps of surprise from the crowd attending a packed City Council meeting in February when he announced that after careful consideration, he was encouraging the public to vote against the initiative.

Donna Jordan, Dick Weinberg, and Gregg Carty are three of the most honest people I’ve ever met. They have demonstrated — for decades in some cases — that they are willing to listen to all sides of an issue, set their own interests aside, and make the decision that they honestly believe is in the best interests of Carpinteria.

I live in a small town. In some ways it feels like a throwback to an earlier time, which can be both good and bad. But one of the good things about it is that people here tend to relate to each other as individuals. We know Donna Jordan, Dick Weinberg, and Gregg Carty. We know them not as public figures, but as neighbors. We know their character.

These are the people Venoco was calling liars. Maybe that could have worked in a big city, but I don’t think it was ever going to work here.

MacKenzie on Denialism

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Writing in New Scientist, Debora MacKenzie has an article that is right up my alley: Living in denial: Why sensible people reject the truth.

All denialisms appear to be attempts like this to regain a sense of agency over uncaring nature: blaming autism on vaccines rather than an unknown natural cause, insisting that humans were made by divine plan, rejecting the idea that actions we thought were okay, such as smoking and burning coal, have turned out to be dangerous.

This is not necessarily malicious, or even explicitly anti-science. Indeed, the alternative explanations are usually portrayed as scientific. Nor is it willfully dishonest. It only requires people to think the way most people do: in terms of anecdote, emotion and cognitive short cuts. Denialist explanations may be couched in sciency language, but they rest on anecdotal evidence and the emotional appeal of regaining control.

Oil and Water

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

My big sister M’Liz sent me an email the other day. “I am surprised,” she wrote, “that has not addressed the oil spill in the Gulf.” I guess she has a point; it’s the kind of thing I would normally say something about. I’ve been following the news (like everyone). The May 11 Senate hearing where executives from BP, Transocean, and Halliburton pointed fingers at each other was certainly a moment.

Since then there has been a parade of spin and counter-spin, with events in the Gulf providing an ongoing (and depressing) fact-check, culminating most-recently in the “top kill” failure, with Obama pronouncing the news “as enraging as it is heartbreaking.”

I’d like to talk to my brother-in-law Steve (M’Liz’s husband) about all this, partly because he works as a safety engineer for BP, and partly because he’s a really honest, decent, thoughtful kind of guy. But I haven’t had a chance to talk to him.

Joe Romm at Climate Progress reposted an interesting item today (I think it was originally written by Craig Severance, but it’s not completely clear to me which parts are Romm’s and which are Severance’s). Anyway: What will it take to end our oil addiction?

I also enjoyed reading self-described “modern day Thoreau” Barbara Tomlinson’s write-up of the training she received from BP as an oil-spill cleanup worker: Emergency vs. Post-Emergency.

Update: Also entertaining, in a depressing kind of way: Fishgrease: DKos Booming School.

Closer to home, I’ve been working as part of the effort to defeat Measure J, the local oil-drilling initiative placed on the ballot by Venoco. Steve McWhirter, a neighbor of mine and would-be politician (he was narrowly defeated in a run for city council last election, and says he’ll run again in November), forwarded the following video to me. It shows Tim Marquez, the CEO and majority shareholder of Venoco, talking about why Measure J would be such a great deal for Carpinterians:

Tim Marquez One on One Interview from YES on Measure J on Vimeo.

I think Marquez is probably a more or less decent guy, and that he honestly believes that what is good for Venoco (and himself) is good for Carpinteria. But as with my previous fisking of his ad in the local paper, I think he’s making misleading statements in an effort to get low-information voters to support the initiative.

The biggest issue I have with the video is when Marquez talks about environmental review. He says that even if Measure J passes, his project will still need to undergo “the same environmental review process” it would have faced without Measure J. That’s simply not true. Yes, there are a number of agencies that would need to approve the project either way. But if Measure J passes, the project will bypass the city’s review, as well as any oversight and mitigation measures the city might have imposed. That’s pretty much the whole point of Measure J.

When Marquez talks at 13:10 in the video about the “misperception out there; some of it’s intentional, some of it’s accidental” concerning the effect of Measure J on the environmental review process, he’s being disingenuous. Marquez has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to create the misperception in the minds of voters that Measure J will not let Venoco bypass environmental review. (Other arguments I’ve heard from Measure J supporters: Measure J would merely initiate the environmental review process, the environmental review by the city has already been completed, and the project described in the initiative is the same as the environmentally preferred alternative in the city’s environmental impact report. All untrue.)

I think it’s human nature that the farther away someone is, the less likely we are to rank their concerns ahead of our own. That plays out in various ways: The image of an oil rig burning can be awe-inspiring, even beautiful to look at, except that people were killed and injured in that fire, and for them, and for their families, that image is associated with horrible suffering and pain. Should I not look at it?

Tim Marquez, and Venoco’s contractors (like Steve McWhirter) are just trying to put food on the table and help themselves and their families get ahead in the world; should I really be willing to tell them no, they don’t get to rewrite the city’s planning laws to place their own interests ahead of those of the community, generally?

M’Liz mentioned something else in her email to me. She said that the ongoing disaster in the Gulf might at least contain “some good news for Carpinteria in a small way,” in terms of the impact the story will have on the Measure J vote. I’ve heard the same thing expressed, quietly, by people in the No on J campaign. I confess there is a part of me that, while not actually rooting against BP in their efforts to stop the undersea gusher, takes a measure of grim satisfaction in their failure: See? That’s what I was talking about. You can’t trust these companies. It’s a reaction that reminds me of the emotional response I had while tracking the Iraq war body count: I hated the lies that led us to war, and sympathized with the victims on both sides, but there was still an element of satisfaction in seeing it go so wrong. See? That’s what I’m talking about. You can’t trust these politicians.

I’m not defending that reaction. I’m appalled that I feel it. It’s wrong. But it’s part of me.

I wish the Deepwater Horizon blowout never happened. I know that any impact it has on the politics of a little town 2,000 miles away is completely insignificant compared to the suffering it is causing, and will continue to cause, for those who are closer to it, for many years to come.

Tim Marquez’s Letter to Carpinterians about Measure J (the Paredon Initiative)

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

marquez_smTim Marquez wants to drill for oil from inside Carpinteria, the small town where I live. Technically, it’s Venoco, Marquez’s oil company, that wants to drill. But I’m pretty sure that for the purposes of the current discussion, when we talk about Venoco, we’re talking about Marquez.

He was going through the usual environmental review process for his project (called the “Paredon” project, after the oil field he wants to drill into), but a little over a year ago, just as the environmental impact report, or EIR, was about to be reviewed by Carpinteria’s planning commission, he announced that he was putting the project on hold, and instead would use a ballot initiative so voters could decide the project’s fate directly. He hired a bunch of signature gatherers, and succeeded in qualifying his initiative for the ballot. We’ll be voting on the initiative — which is now called Measure J — in June.

Marquez took out a full-page ad in my local paper last week, urging Carpinterians to vote “Yes” on Measure J. The letter is pretty interesting. Everything — or nearly everything — Marquez says in it is true, technically. But some of the impressions it creates are pretty misleading.

Disclosure: I’m a member of Carpinteria’s planning commission (though I’m writing this as a private citizen, not in my capacity as a planning commissioner). I’m also a volunteer with Citizens Against the Paredon Initiative, the grass-roots organization that is working against Measure J. Again, I’m doing that as a private citizen, separate from my role as a planning commissioner.

marquez_letter_smYou can view Marquez’s letter on the web site of our local paper, the Coastal View News (A Personal Message to Our Carpinteria Neighbors).

The letter starts off like this:

Dear Friends and Neighbors:

When I founded Venoco here in Carpinteria back in 1992, we had no revenue and no income. I had a small office at 5655 Carpinteria Avenue where I spent the next two years struggling to create this company. In those days our family survived on my wife Bernie’s income as a nurse at Cottage Hospital.

The story of Marquez’s founding of Venoco, and his subsequent history with the company, is actually really interesting. I recommend a 2003 article from Inc magazine (Oil Slicks), and a 2007 article from the Denver Post (Tim Marquez: Oil and opportunity), if you’d like to learn more of the details.

These days, Marquez is doing really well financially. I don’t have a problem with that. But I think it’s important for Carpinterians reading his letter to understand how much his circumstances have changed since 1992, and how closely those circumstances are tied to Venoco’s stock price.

According to the latest SEC filing, Marquez currently owns 32,271,532 shares (60%) of Venoco stock, either individually or through the Marquez Trust and the Marquez Foundation. A year ago, when Venoco stock was trading at $3.05 per share, Marquez’s holdings were worth about $98 million. As of March, 2010, with Venoco stock at $14.04 per share, his holdings are worth about $453 million.

Returning to the letter:

I’m very proud of what we have accomplished since 1992. We were recognized last year as the top operator in the Pacific Region by the U.S. Government with the Safety Award for Excellence. And we now have almost 80 local employees here in Carpinteria — of whom you probably know from their active participation in the community.

Marquez doesn’t actually say who gave Venoco that award (other than “the U.S. Government”). As it turns out, the award was given to Venoco by the regional office of the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service (MMS), and covered operations on Venoco’s offshore platforms Gail and Grace during 2008. MMS officials report that they performed 20 inspections at the two platforms that year, and found “only three, minor incidents of noncompliance” with safety regulations.


I’m not sure how much confidence Carpinterians can place in the MMS award, though. The agency has been widely criticized as being overly friendly to the oil and gas industry, and was the subject of a 2008 internal government investigation that found extensive wrongdoing. According to Wikipedia:

On September 10, 2008, Inspector General Devaney found wrongdoing by a dozen current and former employees of the Minerals Management Service. In a cover memo, Devaney wrote “A culture of ethical failure” pervades the agency. According to the report, eight officials accepted gifts from energy companies whose value exceeded limits set by ethics rules — including golf, ski, and paintball outings; meals; drinks; and tickets to a Toby Keith concert, a Houston Texans football game, and a Colorado Rockies baseball game. The investigation also concluded that several of the officials “frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.” According to the New York Times, “The reports portray a dysfunctional organization that has been riddled with conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and a free-for-all atmosphere for much of the Bush administration’s watch.”

As far as I’m aware, Venoco was never implicated in the MMS scandal. But I think voters should be aware of it, and take it into account when evaluating the significance of Venoco’s MMS safety award.

When it comes to safety, oil companies tend to fall into a spectrum, with those that have the highest safety standards at one end, and scofflaws that treat spills and fines as a routine cost of doing business at the other. Venoco definitely is better on safety than some — see, for example, this recent article on Greka Energy, another local oil company: No Really, Greka Spills Again. But Venoco’s record isn’t perfect.

One incident involved Venoco’s drilling operation in Beverly Hills. This was one of the first drilling operations Marquez bought when Venoco was starting out. In some ways it’s a good analog for what Marquez wants to do in Carpinteria: It’s in a populated area, just a hundred yards or so from the Beverly Hills High School athletic field. Supporters of the Paredon project like to cite the Beverly Hills operation as evidence that Venoco can operate in a residential area without causing problems for its neighbors.

Except that there have been problems. In March 2003 Venoco was the subject of a lawsuit that alleged the company had released benzene, a carcinogen, into the air at the Beverly Hills facility. The suit was dismissed by the court when studies found no connection between the facility and cancer rates, but not before the increased scrutiny had resulted in Venoco being fined by the Air Quality Management District (AQMD) for violations regarding gas releases. See the following AQMD announcement for details: Venoco to monitor air quality at Beverly Hills High School.

Venoco had a similar run-in with the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District (APCD), our local version of the AQMD, in 2006. The issue concerned the height of six smoke stacks at the Carpinteria Processing Facility (CPF), the same place where Marquez wants to do the Paredon project. According to the APCD (see Santa Barbara County APCD Health Risk Assessment Report), Venoco submitted a report to the APCD in 1999, and again in 2004, giving the height of the stacks as being twice as high as they actually were. In 2006, after an outside party raised questions about the issue, the APCD measured the stacks and discovered the discrepancy.

The difference between the reported and actual stack heights was not very large (the stacks were reported as being about 30 feet high, when in fact they were about 15 feet high). But the discrepancy was enough to make the difference between the APCD reporting that the facility’s benzene emissions did not represent a significant cancer risk to the surrounding community, and reporting that those emissions did represent a significant cancer risk. And Venoco probably was aware of that, since Chevron, the company from which Venoco bought the CPF in 1999, had asked for, and received, an assessment from the APCD on exactly that point at the time the CPF sale was being negotiated.


From the time he founded Venoco, Tim Marquez has had a pretty consistent strategy: find oil and gas operations where production has declined, such that the current owner is having a hard time making a profit, but where there still are significant reserves in the ground. Buy out the current owner, then upgrade the operation to make it more efficient and increase production. The result: A profitable well.

It’s an approach that has been very successful. But for Marquez’s neighbors, it’s important to understand the economic realities under which Venoco operates. It’s all about cost-efficiency, finding ways to squeeze out a little more oil for a little less money.

My impression is that problems like the Beverly Hills gas releases and the misstated stack heights at the CPF are not common for Venoco; the company really does have a pretty good track record on safety. But the track record isn’t as good as the picture Marquez paints in his letter, and Carpinterians should be aware of that when considering Measure J.

Marquez continues:

My experience leading a local company has a lot to do with why Measure J is on the ballot this June. The State of California has never before allowed a local community the right to receive royalties from oil development. That’s why Measure J is so important. It is a one-time opportunity to generate enough royalty and tax revenue to double city revenues and meet critical needs of local school children.

A casual reader could interpret this passage to mean that Measure J somehow changes how the state would distribute royalty payments from Paredon. But that’s not true. All Measure J does is to rewrite Carpinteria’s planning laws to approve the project, and require the city to issue Venoco the necessary permits to proceed. Any royalty split between the state, county, and city would be up to the state, as it always has been. Measure J does nothing to change that.

I also was struck by how Marquez tries to create a sense of urgency here by describing Measure J is “a one-time opportunity.”

Here is how we got to this point. Eleven years ago we acquired a lease from the State of California to explore for oil and natural gas just off the coast of Carpinteria. Environmental reviews identified two basic options for pursuing these reserves — either from an onshore facility or from an offshore platform located in coastal waters. Independent experts stated that the best choice for the environment was to drill from our existing onshore facility. [underlining in original]

This is all true. The EIR for the original Paredon project goes into detail about the environmental benefits of drilling from shore, as opposed to drilling from an offshore platform. That isn’t to say that any particular onshore drilling project is environmentally superior, though. Part of what makes onshore drilling environmentally superior is that it allows for easier monitoring and maintenance — but you only get those benefits if the monitoring and maintenance actually happens.

By bypassing the city’s review process, Measure J tries to avoid a lot of monitoring and maintenance that the city was trying to include as mitigation measures in the original project. Steve Greig, Venoco’s government relations manager, admitted as much during a public hearing before the Carpinteria City Council. Here’s the video:

A Venoco Confession (running time 1:15) from Ted Rhodes on Vimeo.

Grieg subsequently tried to walk these comments back a bit, but I think this probably is one of those cases where an official accidentally told the truth.

Returning to Marquez’s letter:

Our existing onshore facility covers 55-acres and it has operated in Carpinteria since the 1950s. Our plan would use just one-acre of this facility for our exploration activities.

Measure J simply modifies the current land use designation (this is already an industrial site) to allow us to use a small portion of the land for exploration activities. But you should know that Measure J does NOT actually approve our application. It is merely the first step in a long review process. [underlining in original]

I think this creates a misleading impression. Yes, there are other hurdles that Paredon would have to clear even if Measure J passes. But as far as any oversight or review by the city of Carpinteria is concerned, Measure J absolutely does approve Marquez’s project. That’s the whole point of Measure J.

Approval of Measure J would be followed by a full environmental, health and safety review. The reviewing and approving agencies include the State Lands Commission, Coastal Commission, Air Pollution Control District, Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Summerland/Carpinteria Fire Department.

This statement would be true, except for the word “full.” A full environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) would be led by the city of Carpinteria. That’s the one agency in the long list of those required to sign off on the project that has the principal responsibility for evaluating the project’s cumulative, overall impact on nearby residents. Those other entities are charged with doing more-limited reviews dealing with specific aspects of the project (its impact on air quality, or water quality, or provisions to assist firefighters in the event of a fire or explosion). It’s the city of Carpinteria, as the “lead” agency under CEQA, that is supposed to do the most-comprehensive analysis of the project’s impacts. And it is that review that Measure J would bypass.

If Measure J is not approved, then we’ll have to submit a new application to drill from offshore and the State will keep all the royalties.

Again, I think Marquez is being misleading. Defeat of Measure J would not force him to drill offshore. All it would do is require that he go through the same review process that any other developer has to go through to do business inside the city limits. If Marquez wants to try to get approval to drill offshore he’s free to pursue that — just as he’s free to pursue it today. But Measure J’s failure wouldn’t compel him to do so.

This is an exploration project. After we drill the first well we may not find enough oil and gas to continue. If that occurs, then we’ll stop the project and remove all of the equipment. However, if oil and gas supplies are found (we estimate as much as 11,000 barrels of oil per day could be produced from this project) then there will be substantial benefits to the Carpinteria community.

A successful project would mean the City of Carpinteria could receive enough income to double its current annual budget for years to come. We have also pledged to donate up to $5 million to the Carpinteria Education Foundation to help local school children. [underlining in original]

It’s important to read this passage carefully. “…the City of Carpinteria could receive…” “…pledged to donate up to $5 million…” Those phrases I’ve emphasized are terms of art. They’re easy to overlook, but they’re important. Because of them, and because of similar language in Measure J, neither Marquez’s letter nor Measure J actually guarantees any money to Carpinteria or its schools. I think it’s likely that if Measure J is approved Carpinteria will eventually see some money. But how much? And at what cost? You can’t actually tell from what’s written in Marquez’s letter, or in Measure J.

My parents were both school teachers, so I have a special affection for public education and the great teachers who can make a difference.

I think this part is true. A lot of the goodwill Marquez enjoys in Carpinteria comes from his practice of donating significant amounts of money (tens of thousands of dollars per year) to local educational nonprofits. Even more, when Venoco went public and Marquez became wealthy, he donated $85 million in Venoco stock to establish the Denver Foundation and the Marquez Foundation, creating scholarships for Denver public school students. (See The 2006 Slate 60: Donations, which lists Tim and Bernadette Marquez among the largest charitable donors in the US during the year 2006.)

Returning to Tim Marquez’s letter to Carpinterians:

There is some false and misleading information being distributed about Measure J in the community. I encourage you to read and study the facts about Measure J for yourself.

I agree that there is false and misleading information being distributed about Measure J, but I’m probably thinking of different information than Marquez is. For example, when his paid signature gatherer came to my door as part of the effort to qualify the initiative for the ballot, that signature gatherer told me that 1) the signature-gathering effort had been underway for several weeks (it hadn’t; I knew that it had started only a few days before), and 2) there was a deadline that very day at 5:00 p.m. if they were going to gather enough signatures to qualify for the then-upcoming Fall election (again, not true; there was no deadline, and Venoco had no intention of trying to get the initiative on the Fall 2009 ballot). When I told the signature gatherer that I didn’t think his statements were true, he backed up like I had physically threatened him (which I hadn’t; I thought I was being pretty reasonable), and told me, “well, that’s what my supervisor said; she told me that before I came out today.”

There was fairly widespread outrage in Carpinteria over the tactics these signature gatherers used. Carp is a small town, and word gets around. But Marquez got his signatures, and the initiative is on the ballot.

I certainly agree with the part about encouraging voters to get more information about the initiative. A good place is to start is the City of Carpinteria’s Measure J page. In particular, I recommend the city’s Elections Code 9212 Report (PDF), which gives a more-balanced version than Marquez’s letter of the likely consequences for Carpinterians should Measure J become law.

Update: Some other resources from the city of Carpinteria’s web site (all of these are PDFs):

Returning to the letter:

There are also some interesting claims being made about our existing facility which has been in operation for more than 50 years. If our onshore exploration permit is approved there will be far less oil and natural gas going through this facility than it processed in the 1980s without incident.

It’s hard to get a handle on what Marquez is actually saying here. If Paredon is approved and the amount of oil and gas found is in line with Venoco’s hopes, there will be a lot more oil and gas processing at the facility than has been the case for a long time. Whether the facility will be able to handle that load safely without a lot of costly upgrades and mitigation measures is a complex question, one that would have been analyzed in detail as part of the now-suspended environmental review of the original project.

I want to offer you a tour of our existing facility so you can see the location for yourself and ask us questions. You can make a reservation for a tour or get answers to your questions by either calling us at 745-2165 or emailing us at

Actually, I think I’ll take Marquez up on this. I’d like to get a tour of the facility. I’d also like to ask some of the questions I’ve raised here of Lisa Rivas, Venoco’s Carpinteria community relations manager. One thing I want to ask, more for my own curiosity than anything else, is whether she’s the supervisor who allegedly told my paid signature gatherer misleading facts to pass on to voters.

Imagine the possibilities for Carpinteria — making the best choice for the environment by moving oil exploration onshore, providing significant new revenues to meet community needs for years to come, and generating millions in new funds to support our local school children.

I can promise you that our company and our employees will continue to be strong supporters of this wonderful community. And it won’t matter if you vote “YES on J” to start the formal environmental review of our onshore permit or vote NO on J to send us offshore to explore for these resources. [underlining in original]

For me, this is probably the most misleading statement in the letter. According to Marquez, it doesn’t matter if I vote “Yes” (thereby starting the formal environmental review) or vote “No” (thereby making it so Venoco uses offshore drilling to tap these resources). The reality, of course, is just the opposite: a “Yes” vote means Venoco gets to bypass the most-comprehensive environmental review. And voting “No” doesn’t “send Venoco offshore”; that would be up to Venoco (and to state and/or federal policymakers and voters, who would have to approve any new offshore drilling). But by misrepresenting a “No” vote as leading inevitably to offshore drilling, it sounds like Marquez is trying to trick low-information voters who oppose offshore drilling into voting “Yes”.

Offshore drilling is very unpopular around here (and likely to become more so, with a push currently under way at the state level to approve new offshore drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel). The 1969 Platform A blowout and the oil spill that followed hit Carpinteria’s beaches hard. The outrage provoked by that 1969 spill is credited by many with being the trigger that launched the modern environmental movement, which eventually led to passage of the very same laws Marquez appears to be trying to evade with Measure J.


I would be delighted to hear from you. Please send any comments or questions that you might have to us at the email address or telephone number listed above.

Yours Truly,

Tim Marquez

I have a question for Tim Marquez: Is Measure J an attempt to evade CEQA? Why would you want Carpinteria voters to decide this issue without the benefit of a detailed analysis of the environmental impacts? I’ll grant that you may have the legal right to do this (the courts have sided with you so far), and I can certainly see how it is in your interest financially. But is pursuing the Paredon project this way — bypassing environmental review, and using misleading statements to try to sell the project to voters — morally right?

I know you live in Colorado now. But to the extent you still think of yourself as a Carpinterian, let me speak neighbor-to-neighbor.

I really like Carpinteria. I like raising my family here, and pursuing my own modest version of the American dream. The thing I like most about Carpinteria is that it’s sort of a throwback to an earlier time. It’s a place where a farmer will take a break from plowing a field to chat with a passing stranger and his son, then offer the boy a ride on his tractor. That actually happened to me one day while I was out walking at the Carpinteria bluffs, about a hundred yards from where you want to drill.

I probably don’t have much in common with that farmer in terms of my politics or how I make my living. But in that moment we shared something more important than what divided us. What we shared was that we saw ourselves as part of a community, as neighbors.

Neighbors look out for each other. And as a neighbor, I have to say, I wish you’d give some more thought to how you’re going about this project.


Google Isn’t Not Being Evil by Pulling Lessig’s Webside Chat from YouTube

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Apparently you used to be able to watch Lawrence Lessig give a very cool talk on copyright and free culture on YouTube, but now you can’t. Shame, that.

Fortunately, you can still watch it on

Seeing Is Believing, Part 3

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Continuing the series of posts containing videos that are (not) real, here’s Leo LaPorte interviewing Craig Allen and Eric Kallman of Wieden + Kennedy about the making of the Old Spice “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” commercial, which aired during the Super Bowl.

The bottom line, for those who don’t want to watch the video: It’s real. It’s all one take (albeit, take fifty-six on day three of shooting), and with two exceptions, it’s all “practical” effects — no computers, no in-camera trickery.

The two exceptions are this: The part where the tickets in his hand turn into diamonds, then into a bottle of Old Spice, was composited in. And the mechanism they used to move him onto the horse was painted out in the final wide shot. Everything else — the bathroom, the boat, and (yes) the horse — was real. If you were on the set, it would have looked just like what you see in the commerical.

With the possible exception of the Saints’ come-from-behind win and the way the game was still on the line in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter, this was my favorite part of Super Bowl Sunday. Of course, effects notwithstanding, it’s mostly actor Isaiah Mustafa’s delivery that makes it work. Christie D’Zurilla, writing in the LA Times’ Ministry of Gossip blog (It’s the guy in the Old Spice commercial: Isaiah Mustafa), says:

The Old Spice body wash audition was like any other except …

… the night before, he called a college buddy, quarterback Jake Plummer, most recently of the NFL’s Denver Broncos, to shoot the breeze. Jake wasn’t home, but Jake’s answering machine was — so Isaiah, schooled in improvisation, did an over-the-top mini performance of the script he had in hand…

“I just did it for him, and I did it extra big, and then when I hung up, I thought, ‘Maybe I should try it that way and see if they like it.’ ”

They did.

Good stuff. And real!

Here’s just the commercial, if you’d prefer your Isaiah Mustafa with no Leo LaPorte:

Update: Heh. From reddit user seraphseven:

Hello voters! Look at your rep, now back to me. Now back to your rep, now back to me! Sadly, he isn’t me. But if he stopped voting with his head up his ass, and switched to the Democratic Party, he could vote like he’s me. Look down — back up. Where are you? You’re at a rally, with the pol your rep could vote like. What’s in your hand? — back at me. I have it! It’s a bill, with appropriations for that thing you need. Look again — the appropriations are now health care. Anything is possible when your representative votes like a Democrat and not a lady. I’m on a horse.