Enterprise-Journal from McComb, Mississippi on December 18, 2007 · Page A004
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Enterprise-Journal from McComb, Mississippi · Page A004

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McComb, Mississippi
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Tuesday, December 18, 2007
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Page A004
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A4 TUESDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2007 www.enterprise-journal.com ENTERPRISE-JOURNAL, McCOMB, MISSISSIPPI Opinion Opinion By mail: Editor, Enterprise-Journal, P.O. Box 2009 McComb, MS 39649. By e-mail: publisher@enterprise-journal.com Letters must be signed with a return address and a telephone number. Anonymous, abusive or libelous letters will not be published. SUBMIT YOUR VIEWS n EDITORIAL n Questions about oil well blowout Everyone is thankful that Monday’s oil well blowout in Amite County occurred in a thinly populated area and caused little or no property damage. Officials evacuated at least three homes as a precaution, but the major development was the closing ofa five-mile stretch of Highway 570 west ofMcComb. The road reportedly was closed at least until Monday night. Reports today indicate that the blowout occurred at a well originally drilled in the 1970s that had been reactivated recently. But here’s a question everyone should be asking: With oil recovery in this area proceeding rapidly, what are the risks ofsomething like this happening again? What ifit happens at a well located much closer to a greater number of homes? To say that the chance of such an accident is unlikely may be accurate, but to say that it’s impossible is to deny the obvious. Ifit happened Monday morning in Amite County, it certainly can happen anyplace where there’s drilling activity. The recovery ofoil and natural gas from thousands offeet below the surface — two or three miles below, and sometimes deeper — is an amazing technological achievement that we tend to take for granted. But it is dangerous work, and there is plenty ofrisk involved. One way to describe it is to picture a balloon, so large that it cannot be popped. But ifyou stick a pin-sized tube in the balloon, the internal pressure will force some air outward. In the same way, the recovery ofoil and gas uses the Earth’s immense underground pressure to force the natural resources into a pipeline and up to the surface. Accidents can occur when the pressure on a pipeline becomes excessive. While details ofwhat happened at the Amite County oil well have not been made public, one strong possibility is that underground pressure overwhelmed the well and its safeguards. The failure of equipment at the surface is another possibility. Denbury Resources Inc., the company drilling new wells west ofMcComb, has been pumping carbon dioxide into existing oil fields to dislodge the stufffrom rock pores. Though Denbury is fairly new to southwest Mississippi, these carbon dioxide injections have been going on in the area since the 1980s. Residents should wonder what cumulative effect these injections have had below the surface. Are oil wells, drilled in the 1950s and 1960s but since plugged up, strong enough to withstand any changes brought on by the current recovery work? Obviously there have been improvements in plugs in the decades since these wells stopped producing, so it is fair to ask whether the methods used to plug old wells remain reliable, given the new activity in the area. While many ofthe old wells in this area remain in rural areas, McComb has grown over a good number of those from the old McComb Field, which was a busy site for the oil business in the years before Interstate 55 came along. At a minimum there are several capped wells in residential neighborhoods in west McComb, as well as in some commercial areas. Though it is unlikely, what happens ifone ofthem gives way? What effect, if any, is the new work having on the old wells? This is not an anti-oil tirade. Denbury’s work brings jobs and tax dollars to the McComb area, and state and county governments collect severance taxes on the sales. Millions ofdollars in royalties are paid to mineral rights owners. The oil business has been good to southwest Mississippi over the years, and thankfully accidents like yesterday’s have been minimal. The key is to keep it that way, and both Denbury and the state should be completely forthcoming about exactly what happened Monday. Rising oil prices have enticed drillers back into southwest Mississippi. How will this work affect old wells that have been capped for years? n Actions are more important than words T ying a man to a board, blindfolding him, holding his nose and then pouring water down his mouth to make him feel as if he is drowning is an action. You can call it many things. You can call it waterboarding. You can call it an intensive interrogation technique. You can call it questioning. You can call it torture. You can call it not torture. The names and labels do not alter the act. Words do not alter or affect reality. Words are a set ofsymbols humans use to communicate with each other. The symbol, however, is never the same as the thing itself. We can call a wooden, leafy organism growing in the ground a pine or a maple or a sycamore, but it remains what it is regardless ofwhat we call it. That is the lesson ofgeneral semantics, a subject all adults should study. All ofthe manipulation ofour minds is done, for the most part, with words, whether the motive is political, commercial, ideological or religious. Words depend on definitions. Ifyou define torture as shedding blood and causing permanent injuries, then waterboarding is not torture. Ifyou define torture as causing extreme fear and pain, then waterboarding is torture. The hoopla reminds me ofthe Inquisition, when our Christian ancestors were ferreting out alleged heretics to burn at the stake. The Inquisitors were forbidden to shed blood. Not a problem. They used extreme pressure on certain parts ofthe body, and fire, which caused intense pain and tissue damage but no bleeding. A presidential campaign is a thunderstorm ofwords, and all the candidates are playing word games. I saw an image ofBill Clinton wagging his finger and saying, “Hillary has always been an agent ofchange.” The expression and gesture had an uncanny resemblance to another lie Bill Clinton told when he wagged his finger and said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Ofcourse, it was not sex as Mr. Clinton defined sex. It is these word games politicians and political journalists play that give our political campaigns such an air ofunreality. You get drowned in words, but you still don’t know where candidates stand or what they intend to do ifelected. One additional reason for this uncertainty is that most politicians can lie with a straight face. It takes practice. I was looking at used pickup trucks some years ago, and one in particular, which had a squirrel’s tail tied to the antenna. I asked about the previous owner and the salesman said, without blinking an eye, “A retired kindergarten teacher.” Yes, ofcourse. I have no solution for the problem ofliars and opportunists running for public office. It’s tempting to just stay home, but we really should try to make our best guess. I’ve never gotten the best ofa used-car dealer in a trade, and I’ve never voted for a winning presidential candidate whose election I didn’t later regret. As for the losing candidates I voted for, it’s impossible to know ifI would have regretted those votes, too. American life is a great adventure, and part ofthat adventure is often having lousy leaders. Americans are optimists by necessity. There is always hope of comic relief. It would also seem to be mathematically certain that sooner or later a competent leader will be elected, even ifit’s by accident. The trick is to avoid the company ofthe Custers when they decide to charge the Indians. A ndrew Young, a civil rights veteran and former United Nations ambassador, should stay away from microphones. In videotaped comments that have taken the Internet by storm, he says this: “I want Barack Obama to be president in 2016!” Obama, the Illinois senator and Democratic presidential hopeful, is too young and too lacking in a support network to be pursuing the White House this time around, says Young. In the video interview posted on NewsMakersLive.com based in Atlanta, where he used to be mayor, Young praises Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Young says that her husband, Bill, the former president, is “every bit as black as Barack.” As the audience whoops and laughs, he quips, “He’s probably gone with more black women than Barack.” Young quickly adds, “I’m clowning.” I’m sure he was. In case you couldn’t guess, Young supports Sen. Clinton. He’s even hosted a fundraiser for her. But with supporters like Young bringing up her least favorite part ofher husband’s presidency, Sen. Clinton doesn’t need critics. And, please, Mr. Ambassador. The line about Bill Clinton’s being our first black president is wearing a little thin, especially when his wife is running against someone whose African side is more visibly apparent. It is worth noting that Young’s remarks were taped in early September. They predate Obama’s recent surge in the polls in the three early states ofIowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The remarks did not draw much attention until this past weekend, just as Oprah Winfrey led rallies for Obama in those three states. The two crossover stars in front of cheering crowds made Young’s remarks sound like the grumpiness ofan aging crusader whose mind is still stuck in the ‘60s. Nevertheless, Young’s quips have a serious side. His ominous outlook for Obama appeals to a gloomy view that I find remarkably common in black conversations. It is a surprisingly grim, willfully pessimistic view that endures despite Obama’s recent surge in the polls. It is a view that says Obama can’t win because “they” won’t let him. Who is “they”? Take your pick. The Republican smear machine. The FBI. The CIA. Crackpot assassins. Or maybe just “The Man.” There’s always that old standby devil, institutional racism. In this view, popular with barbershop philosophers and the academic intellectual set, America is too saturated with white supremacy to ever give a black presidential candidate an even break. Or, ifany actually does make it, well, he or, someday, she must be a sell-out. An Uncle Tom. An Oreo. Black on the outside and you-know- what on the inside. Pick your paranoia, it will show up as a very real presence in some- body’s mind. After all ofthe hard- won opportunities that the civil rights movement opened up, I am disappointed by this gloomy outlook, but not surprised. Neither is Michelle Obama, the senator’s wife. She attributed the hesitancy she hears in some African Americans to “the natural fear of possibility.” Such fear is a natural byproduct ofour historical memory as an oppressed people whose hopes too often have been dashed. I’m old enough to have heard the same pessimism expressed by my Roman Catholic friends about John F. Kennedy’s chances in 1960. I heard similar pessimism expressed by some ofmy Jewish friends when Sen. Joe Lieberman ran in 2000. I hear it from countless women about Hillary Clinton’s chances now. If you expect the worst, many figure, you won’t be disappointed. “I freed thousands ofslaves,” Harriet Tubman, the great conductor on the Underground Railroad, is quoted as saying. “I could have freed thousands more, ifthey had known they were slaves.” Many ofus today are slaves to the past and don’t know it. That presents a special challenge to Obama. Like other racial pioneers, he finds that he must run more than an ordinary campaign. He has to build a movement across racial lines that can tap into the same spirit ofpossibility that energized the civil rights movement. I don’t know ifObama can win any more than anyone else does. My crystal ball isn’t that good. But, with help from spiritual revivalists like Oprah, he can build that new movement, especially ifleaders ofold movements get out ofhis way. Obama and ‘fear ofthe possible’ S hoeless Joe Jackson was the only man to bat .382 in his last season in the major leagues. After that he was banned for life for his role in the “black sox scandal,” the deliberate throwing ofthe 1919 World Series. It was to Jackson that a youngster was supposed to have said, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” Maybe we are too sophisticated today to react that way to the news that many major league star players have been taking steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs. But maybe we have gotten too sophisticated for our own good. Some people are questioning whether there should now be asterisks alongside the records ofBarry Bonds or other star players. That is the least ofthe problems — and the least ofthe solutions. Steroids are dangerous and sometimes fatal. Yet, ifsome players use them, others will feel the pressure to use them as well, in order to compete. Most important ofall, many young people will imitate their sports heroes — and pay the price. Those young people are far more important than asterisks. You might think that athletes who are making a million dollars — not per year, but sometimes per month — could spare some concern for the kids who look up to them. But too many think only ofthem- selves, and not always wisely, even for themselves. Football star Michael Vick’s downfall was dog- fighting, rather than steroids, but it was the same reckless disregard of rules, jeopardizing a career that would have earned him more in a few years than most people make in a lifetime. Even those ofus who are not Michael Vick fans have to find it painful to see a young man self- destruct this way. If anything good comes out ofthis, it might be that his fate may deter others. The bottom line question for those in authority, whether in the courts or in professional sports is, “What are you going to do about it?” The law has already spoken in the case ofMichael Vick. It is too early to say what the law will do in the case ofBarry Bonds and others involved in the steroid controversy. But it is not too early to point out that what the law does or does not do is separate from what the people in charge ofprofessional sports do. In a court oflaw, the accused is presumed to be “innocent until proven guilty” beyond a reasonable doubt. But too many people mindlessly repeat that phrase for things outside ofcourts. All the ballplayers accused of throwing the 1919 World Series were acquitted in a court oflaw — and all were nevertheless banned from baseball for life anyway by the commissioner ofbaseball. In a sense, that ban applied not only for life but beyond death. None ofthose players has been put in the Baseball Hall ofFame, even though Shoeless Joe Jackson hit .408 at his peak and left a lifetime batting average of.356. That was long before we became so sophisticated that we learned to come up with excuses for those who violate rules. Today there are those who lament Pete Rose’s exclusion from the Baseball Hall ofFame, despite a record on the field that would certainly have put him there, except for breaking rules. But Shoeless Joe Jackson’s even more impressive record would certainly have put him in Cooperstown, ifhe had not broken the rules. There is still some lingering hope ofsanity in the baseball writers’ refusal to vote Mark McGwire into the Baseball Hall ofFame, despite his tremendous career achievements. Keeping known rule-breakers out ofCooperstown would be a lot more effective deterrent than putting asterisks alongside their records, to be disregarded by those who are “non-judgmental.” Unfortunately, Sen. George Mitchell’s report on steroid use in the major leagues and its recommendations are ofthe let-bygones-be-bygones approach that has spread the disregard ofrules throughout the whole society. ‘Say it ain’t so’ baseball heroes Enterprise n Journal McComb, MississippiFounded 1889 Oliver Emmerich Editor-Publisher 1923-1978 John O. Emmerich Jr. Publisher 1978-1995 Charles M. Dunagin Editor 1978-2000 JACKRYAN Editor and Publisher LAUREN DEVEREAUX Advertising Manager MATT WILLIAMSON Managing Editor KEITH HUX Production Manager FREDDIE DEER Circulation Manager GERALYN C. KELLY Business Manager CLARENCE PAGE CHICAGO TRIBUNE n THOMAS SOWELL SYNDICATED COLUMNIST n CHARLEY REESE SYNDICATED COLUMNIST n

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