Letter From New York May 6, 2010

con·tain·ment
   Show Spelled[kuh n-teyn-muh nt]
–noun
1.
the act or condition of containing.
2.
an act or policy of restricting the territorial growth or ideological influence of another, esp. a hostile nation.
3.
(in a nuclear power plant) an enclosure completely surrounding a nuclear reactor, designed to prevent the release of radioactive material in the event of an accident.

http://www.dictionary.com

I’ve been thinking a lot about containment the last few days – there are lots of things happening that seem to need containing.

First of all, there is the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that definitely needs containing – the slick is spreading and is reaching shore, threatening the fishing industry in the Gulf region, another in a series of catastrophes that have bedeviled them since Katrina hit five years ago. Deep beneath the ocean surface, crude keeps burbling out – at five times the rate originally thought, now covering an area larger than Puerto Rico. And the efforts to stop the well from spilling have so far proven ineffective – not all of British Petroleum’s men and efforts combined with those of the U.S. government have been able to put this Humpty Dumpty together again.

BP’s CEO Hayward was heard to say: what did we do to deserve this? Perhaps not pay enough attention to well safety? Eleven men are missing and presumed dead. Some are already declaring the fishing industry in the Gulf dead on arrival, not seeing a way that they will recover from what is becoming the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

There is a lot of effort going into containing this catastrophe with its attendant ecological and political fallout – the Obama Administration is scurrying to contain accusations that it moved too slowly in responding to the situation, desperate to avoid comparisons to the Bush Administration’s response to Katrina.

And while BP’s Hayward is doing his best to contain the oil spill and the corporate backlash, another CEO, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs is doing his best to contain the potential damage to his financial behemoth as it faces both civil and criminal investigations over the way it handled sales of mortgage back securities. He appeared before a very hostile Congress, where some comments from lawmakers had to be bleeped because the language was so strong. He did a good enough job in Washington that most think he will save his job. Friday night he appeared on Charlie Rose, again elegantly and eloquently defending his company while promising more careful oversight going forward as a result of current corporate soul searching. It was exactly what you’d expect from the CEO of Goldman Sachs after being taken to task so severely by Congress. It was a worthy effort at containment.

The State of Arizona is working to contain the fallout that is resulting from passing a tough immigration law. While the majority of Arizonans favor the law [as do, apparently a majority of Americans] there were protests held in something like eighty cities this past weekend and many are calling for boycotts of the State of Arizona. This was not unexpected though what was unexpected, according to an Arizonan interviewed on NPR, was that some Arizona companies are taking about boycotting Arizona.

And, certainly sobering to me, was waking to the news on Sunday, that a car bomb had failed to go off in Times Square on Saturday night – a failure on the part of the men who assembled it. New York has been lucky in containing such threats as these, having stopped a crew intent on bombing the subway last year and saved this time by apparent incompetence. But it is a sobering thought, and I am grateful that this incident did not result in death and destruction. Awareness is heightened that we are vulnerable and efforts are continuing to be made to wrack mayhem on us. And this will be a condition that will be hard to contain.

Thinking about the news of the week, it seems that it has all been about the “act or condition of containing,” fighting back ecological disaster, corporate catastrophe and political fallout. Legions are engaged in stopping the oil spill, legal and public relations legions are engaged in walling off BP and Goldman Sachs from their troubles, and so on and on…men’s efforts to enclose and contain the toxic results of acts of other human beings.

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