Sleepless in the Gulf

| Jun 2, 2010

Not poppy, nor mandragora,
Not all the drowsy syrups of the world
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou ow’dst yesterday.
    — Othello, III, iii

It will be years before the bosses at British Petroleum, its ancillaries like Halliburton, and the undesirables at Interior’s mineral management can once again sleep easily as once they did on that “yesterday” — for which today they must so yearn. Courts will wrangle for years over what are “legitimate” claims and over personal responsibility for lost lives, livelihoods, homes, a way of life. Some talk of indictments in the case of the eleven dead. Others keep pushing the long narrative of corporation neglect, malpractice, dishonesty, and profiteering coming forth from whistleblowers who were on the spot. And those wretches in the offices of MMS, where can they go now?

No, there will be precious little “sweet sleep” for any of them in the face of charges for their malfeasance. They must toss and turn the nights away thinking how bitterly ironic it is that, had they only, many yesterdays ago, cooperated with and not fought off regulations and supervisions from federal authority, this thing might never have happened. The right-wing, single-minded as it is in its effort to “get” the President for anything and everything, is now crying out against the failure of government to fix the mess — a “mess” that their opposition to regulation of corporate culture has brought down on all our heads.

Surely it must be clear to some sober conservatives that government intervention into any emergency like this must move them closer to just what they most fear and now call European democratic socialism.

Year by year, day by day, almost by the hour, the public is moving closer, in spite of protestations to the contrary, to acceptance of the need for greater governmental regulation of American business, industry and finance. Government is, after all, the means by which we save ourselves from ourselves.

Surely there are thinkers on the Right who must realize how much bigger this disaster in the Gulf must now make the federal government? Don’t they hear the public demand for a bigger government intervention? At what point might public consciousness turn to the possibility of out-right public ownership of the oil industry for rescue from its product?

And the industry has only itself to blame. It has fouled, quite literally, its own waters. Corporate capitalism, foreign and domestic, has taken a body blow and might never be the same again in the United States of America.

Who among us would want to walk in the pajamas of the management of BP and face the miseries of those sleepless nights, imagining papers of indictment, writs of restitution, threats of corporate collapse, possibly even the loss of private millions?


Where is the great man, jaunty with a cigarette and a martini — or that plain, hard-boiled Missourian with a plain bourbon and water — where is that man of whom I have dreamed to lead me through these late days of my life? Where is he who will raise holy hell, cleanse the temple, and restore the beauty of American life?

Well, you can’t fool me: I know where he is. I want him to rise to the full height of his excellence and lay about, as it were, with the jaw-bone of an ass to call an end to this nightmare of corporate malfeasance. “Yesterday” is a lost cause. A livable tomorrow can still be cried in the streets.  

Gordon Wickstrom is a Boulder native, navy man in the Philippines, CU grad and Stanford Ph.D., professor of drama, director and sometime actor. He retired home to Boulder in 1991, fishes with his wife Betty, and writes books, essays and columns on the angling life and on theatre. He is the oldest living — in captivity — writer about fishing in English, and a member, for the sake of his obituary, of the Flyfishers’ Club of London.