Wednesday, January 29, 2014

40. Rebecca for First Lady

Senator John Buchanan (D-MI) was about as handsome and charismatic as a senator could be, short of acquiring the aura of a president, in which case he would be a cross between Kennedy and Clinton, with a dash of Jefferson thrown in.  And a bachelor to boot.  If he announced intention to run for the US presidency, there would be a million single American women dreaming about becoming the First Lady.  And he just did, and so did the dream. 

Before he sponsored bill HR 1896, he had only read about the Kalamazoo pipeline spill on newspapers and TV coverage.  Now, the knee-high rubber-boots provided to him for the occasion were covered ankle deep with a black tarry substance which emitted a stench that followed him wherever he trudged.  

"Too bad that the microphone can't pick up the smell too," he said to the TV camera.

Following is a typical example of the articles that had caught his attention, of which there were hundreds:



by Lisa Song, Inside Climate News

EPA demands some dredging of Kalamazoo River, but the Canadian company responsible for the million gallon spill is objecting. Clean-up is in its 3rd year. Two and a half years after the costliest oil pipeline spill in U.S. history, the company responsible for the disaster is balking at digging up oil that still remains in Michigan's Kalamazoo River.

The cleanup has been long and difficult because the ruptured pipeline was carrying bitumen, a heavy oil from Canada's tar sands region. Bitumen is so thick that it can't flow through pipelines until it's mixed with liquid chemicals to form diluted bitumen, or dilbit. When more than one million gallons of dilbit poured out of the broken pipeline in July 2010, the chemicals evaporated and the bitumen began sinking to the riverbed.

Today, regulators and oil spill experts are still struggling to deal with the accident, which was the first major spill of dilbit into a U.S. waterway. The cleanup tools and techniques developed for conventional oil spills—which mostly float on water—are ineffective for submerged bitumen, so experts have had to come up with new methods...

He now saw with his own eyes what Mark Lee had said in the congressional hearing of HR-1896: "To move the heavy and viscous dilbit down the pipe, or up as the case may be, great pressure has to be applied from pump houses along the line, especially in the ascending miles going all the way up to mountain-pass heights.  Given this pressure, pipeline 'leaks' are not as in drip-drip-drip, but in fact are explosions as in BANG, with enough force to rip the steel piping to shreds, followed by SPLASH, then GUSH, and GUSH, and GUSH...  When the pump house upstream senses the lowering of pressure, it might redouble the pumping to compensate, thus redoubling the spill, sometimes lasting the greater part of an hour before being shut down.  The segment of pipe that bursts often resembles an opened banana peel.  If you look into spill stats, it will also strike you that pipeline bursts are inevitable - not 'if' but 'when'.  This is not to say that any particular pipeline will burst, but that where there are a number of pipelines, a percentage of them will, at some point somewhere - that is the certainty.  There have been dozens of major spills in North America over the years, and hundreds of minor spills, and the numbers are consistent enough from year to year to discredit any talk of them suddenly falling to zero when the Keystone pipeline or any other pipeline comes into the picture.  The only way to ensure no spills is to build no pipeline, period."  

As soon as Mark Lee injected his hot aerial video of the Alberta Tar Sands into the seething pipeline war, Buchanan picked up the ball and ran with it.

"Senator Buchanan, my name is Gillian Mason.  Do you have time for a few questions?" asked the stylishly dressed blonde woman who walked up to him with mike in hand, and oil smudges on her high-heel shoes.

"I have time if they are about tar sands and pipelines," said John amicably.

"Not exactly, but they're of relevance to you."

"In what context?"

"I'm a free lance journalist with a number of pieces mostly on political figures published in various publications including the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Canadian national newspaper the Globe and Mail.  These articles are on Google if you're interested.  Right now, I'm working on a piece focusing on the lives of US presidents before they became presidents.  Regardless of my party allegiance, objectively you look like the winner by ten lengths.  I would very much like to include you in this piece, while you are still a senator."

"When would you like this done by?"

"At your earliest convenience please, sir.  You're on the campaign trail.  There is no better time than now."

John looked into her steel blue eyes and felt a shiver in his spine.

"Would you care to join me for dinner?  We could talk then."

"That would be wonderful.  Just tell me when and where."

"There is a Chinese restaurant just half a block from my hotel - the Marriott.  At 7?"

"Nice choice.  When you become president, you can kiss Chinese restaurants good bye."

In the late afternoon, back in his hotel room, John googled "Gillian Mason", and the articles were right there.  He read the one about  Obama, and it was sterling.  The one about GW was down right hilarious.  But none that he found was derogatory.  All complimentary in unique ways.  He felt he had precedents galore to justify granting this interview.  He was also an honest man, including to himself, and he acknowledged the presence of an ulterior motive on his part.

When she walked into the restaurant at 7:03, he stood up as if levitated by anti-gravity.  His peripheral vision seemed to have dissolved, but he was not aware of it.  At the same time, he cautioned himself against any violation of protocol.  Bluntly, he told himself to not behave like a "womanizer".  He extended his hand for a formal handshake, and received a warm one in return.  "John, John, you have been through this love-at-first-sight stuff before, and will again," he thought to himself.  Just take it easy and err on the side of caution.  The arena is full of spies, back-stabbers, and those who would sell their own mothers for a vote," he thought to himself.

"Hello Mr. Senator!  Sorry to keep you waiting."

"You should be.  Every second seemed like an eternity.  And it was almost a hundred of them," he said with a laugh, while thinking to himself, "Damn!"

"Long day for you, sir?"

"Call me John.  Well, nothing out of the ordinary.  But the smell did give me a headache."

"I know what you mean.  I had a bit of a one too.  It's gone now, thank God.  I hope yours is too."

"Yes, thank goodness.  I have no idea how the clean-up crew can stand it all day long."

They flipped pages of the voluminous menu.

"So, what are you having?" asked Gillian.

"I'm considering Mah Paw tofu on rice, vegetarian version."

"Never had it before."

"You should try it."

"Sure.  Mah Paw tofu on rice for two it is!  But you said vegetarian version.  So there is a non-vegetarian version?"

"The original is non-vegetarian, with minced beef or pork mixed in.  The vegetarian version uses soy-based faux-meat instead."

"If you will excuse me, I will try the non-vegetarian version."

"As you please."

While waiting for the food to come, she said, "We do have similarities, but a few minor differences."

"Which are?"

"I say 'Thank God' and you say 'Thank goodness'.  You say vegetarian and I say non-vegetarian."

"It may sound minor, but could be profound under the surface."

"We still have our similarities.  Thank God."

"Thank goodness.  But what are they?"

"The leading one, it seems, is the same as that of the Everest mountaineer.  The irresistible desire to climb to the top."

The dinner came.  She sampled it, and exclaimed in delight, "Mmm...  Deeelicious!"

"Glad you like it."  

Before he dug in, he spooned up a little of the faux-meat and said, "Here.  See if you can tell the difference.  Better yet, close your eyes.  I'll give you a spoonful from one of them.  See if you could tell which it is."

He gave her the faux-meat and she guessed it to be the real thing.  John thought, "Is this a deliberate loss for a future gain?  If so, she is very smart."

Along the course of the dinner, she asked him questions about his childhood, his education, his hobbies, his work history, his worldview and his love life.

"Yes, you could be right about that 'Thank God' and 'Thank goodness' may overlie a deep chasm.  Let me be straight forward, John.  Do you believe in God?"

"This is big question for a small dinner."

"Depends on what happens after the dinner," she said.

"What is your religion, Gillian?"

"I asked you first."

"Off the record."


"John Lennon speaks for me in Imagine."

"You mean 'Imagine no religion'?"

"He said a lot of things."

"Are you an Atheist?"

"Not necessarily."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean I don't necessarily disbelieve in super-human beings.  Just the kind being taught."

"You mean God?"

"Or Allah."  

"I do believe in the Christian God," she said, eyes distant.

"Which one?
"Is there more than one Christian God?"

"Yes, there is."

"And they are?"

"Yahweh of the Old Testaments, and Jesus of the new."

"They are one and the same."

"Not even close.  One is wrathful, the other is loving.  One says 'an eye for an eye', the other says 'forgive thy enemy'.  One says to stone the adulteress, the other says 'Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.'  Does the Christian God have split personality?"

"May I quote you?"

"You're welcome to quote what I quoted from the bible."

"But not the 'split personality'?"


"Tell you the truth, I wouldn't even if you didn't say so?"

"And why not?"

"I want you to win."

"Why's that?"

"A woman can't become the First Lady unless her husband becomes the President."

For once, John was speechless.

"I'm sorry, John, just my bad sense of humor."

"I'm sure you're a Republican.  I can tell one from a mile away."

"What difference does it make which party I favor?  It only matters which party is in power," she said with a wickedly tempting smile.

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