Podcast

Roy Morris Jr. on The Making of Mark Twain & Diane Wilson On Pollution in The Gulf

Roy Morris, Jr.

Roy Morris, Jr. talks about LIGHTING OUT FOR THE TERRITORY: How Samuel Clemens Headed West and Became Mark Twain. And Diane Wilson talks about AN UNREASONABLE WOMAN: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas. A shrimp boat captain turned environmental warrior, she went up against one of the biggest polluters in America to save the waters of the Gulf.

The Mark Twain of the flowing white hair and big mustache we all know was made, not born. His real name was Samuel Clemens and, as a youth, he tried his hand at a number of trades, from printer to river boat captain and even gold miner. He was clever but  didn’t much like hard work. And when war broke out between the states, he found he didn’t much like the idea of fighting. He grew up in the slave state of Missouri and when the conflict began heating up, he went gallivanting off to the Wild West, out to the Nevada territories, joining the stream of Americans going west to make their fortunes. There he learned to bend his story-telling talent to the professional life of a writer.

Clemens got a job as a reporter for a newspaper — although it was more entertainment than journalism. “Never let the facts”, he was wont to say, “get in the way of the story.” He created himself as a character, the character Mark Twain.

Roy Morris, Jr.’s book about Sam Clemens and how he became Mark Twain is LIGHTING OUT FOR THE TERRITORY:  How Samuel Clemens Headed West and Became Mark Twain. He’s the editor of Military Heritage magazine and the author of four books on the Civil War and post-Civil War eras, including Fraud of the Century: Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden, and the Stolen Election of 1876 and The Better Angel: Walt Whitman in the Civil War.

Read The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County

Diane Wilson on her shrimp boat
Diane Wilson

As we find ourselves riveted by scenes of BP’s epic oil spill catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico — the spreading plume, the dying birds, the grieving fishermen — it may come as a surprise that toxic pollution is not new to the area.  Long before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, chemical plants have been spewing poisons into the Gulf, threatening shrimp fisheries, wildlife, and residents.

Diane Wilson started shrimping on Texas Gulf Coast with her family at the age of 8 and became a shrimp boat captain when she was 24. She’s been an environmental activist since 1989, when she took on Formosa Plastics, one of the biggest polluters in the US. Her 2005 book, AN UNREASONABLE WOMAN: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas (Chelsea Green Press), describes her struggle to preserve a way of life that is now even more endangered and may never recover.

Writers Voice spoke to her in October of 2005, not long after Hurricane Katrina hit the coast — that was the last time the shrimp fishing industry was devastated. I was joined by Daisy Mathias, who was WV co-host at that time.

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About Francesca Rheannon

Francesca Rheannon is an award-winning independent radio producer. In addition to hosting Writer's Voice, she's a freelance reporter for National Public Radio and its affiliates. Recipient of the prestigious Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Award for reporting on substance abuse issues for her news series, VOICES OF HIV, produced for 88.5 WFCR public radio in western Massachusetts. She is also finishing a book on Provence (PROVINCE OF THE HEART) and working on a memoir of her father, THE ARGONAUTS.

4 thoughts on “Roy Morris Jr. on The Making of Mark Twain & Diane Wilson On Pollution in The Gulf

  1. Back when we were advocating for double hulled tankers and oil barges, we were also advocating for sensible oil recovery systems. But the politicians and the bureaucratic offices of the US Coast Guard were unresponsive to such concerns. This resulted in the non sensible scheme of stock piling and warehousing oil recovery equipment at a few locations to be air lifted and dropped at an oil spill. The many hours spent getting the gear out of storage, loading it onto aircraft and delivering it hundreds to thousands of miles away, with instructions for inexperienced crews resulted in the gear always arriving long after it would have been most or at all effective.

    The oil booms and boom boats and skimmers and suction pipes and pumps and storage tanks and density separation towers need to be on site before the oil spill occurs to be effective when needed. The sites are often where oil is being moved, such as loading and off-loading terminals, drilling and pumping sites and aboard tankers and oil barges.

    A super tanker is an immense vessel. They are on the order of a thousand feet (1/5th of a mile) long, 100 feet or so beam or width and, perhaps, 50 feet depth of hold. They are very stable especially with no headway. The spaces between the double hulls, with anti-sloshing or free surface effect bulkheads, if fitted with appropriate plumbing (pipes, pumps and valves) would serve admirably as density separating towers. If empty, their cavernous tanks or holds could store tens of millions of gallons of recovered and concentrated oil. If the tanker is properly equipped, boom boats could quickly be launched in essentially any sea conditions. Bladder tanks carried aboard tankers, if unable to be used inserted into a leaking tank to line it, could be launched over side, filled with recovered oil and towed.

    A friend, who, early in his long career at MIT’s Department of Ocean Engineering, did research regarding fluid mechanics and oil booms, advised me that the diameter of the oil plume exiting BP’s broken pipe would probably expand to about 1000 feet as it rose 5000 feet to the sea surface. A super tanker of 1000 feet in length would have spanned the concentrated oil plume. With suction pipes and/or skimmers every 100 feet along each side, 100 feet apart, such a ship would have 20 high capacity pumps and pipes bringing aboard the oil and water into the separation towers in the “double hull” tanks, or, if needed, into the holds, where the water, if without dispersants, would separate and be pumped overboard at the bow or stern or through floating pipes to beyond the perimeter of the plume, thereby helping to corral the oil with a slight head of water inducing a slight current toward the ship.

    With all the oil refineries along the Gulf coast and all the tankers supplying them with crude oil to be refined, there must be a lot of empty ones leaving as full ones arrive. It may be that the greatest dereliction of duty after the eruption of the oil plume was that BP did not immediately lease, buy, or otherwise procure a half dozen of those empty super tankers and begin whatever modifications were needed for them to perform as above. During World War II, Kaiser was building entire Liberty and Victory ships (freighters) in seven days. With the proper effort, BP should have had a super tanker on duty at the plume in less than a week recovering the oil at whatever rate it was emerging from its pipe. If one tanker would fill before the water would separate, another should have been standing by to take over.

    Such tankers, so equipped,, with the help of the submarine robots BP is now using, might be able to bring aboard vast quantities of oil from below the surface, even if quite dilute, allow the oil to separate and bring it ashore for further processing. Several such tankers stationed in the Gulf, searching out such submarine quantities, might, in time, significantly reduce the repercussion of the presence of the oil.

    If anyone had taken what we were advocating decades ago seriously instead of jumping on the band wagon with the buzz words “double hull” on it merely for the sake of appearance and hype, every tanker at sea today would have been equipped to take on the challenge of today’s Gulf oil spill. Instead we have the miserable attempt to emulate the above described procedure with inefficient, insufficient and ill equipped barges.

    In the days before hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, towboats with empty barges equipped with cots and foot lockers, etc., tarps or hatch covers for protection from the weather, field kitchens and first aid stations in one of them and washing and sanitation facilities in another furnished by the Army, could have evacuated New Orleans, loading from the levies, in a day or so. The Army is supposed to excel at instantly provisioning an army and getting them into the field. All the above gear could be air lifted by helicopters and deposited into the barges along with Army personnel to expertly set up the equipment and provide the needed services, Far better than the authorities standing around for days watching the stalled traffic of people trying to escape in cars and buses and failing due to lack of preparations started when the authorities were first alerted to Katrina’s probable course. Now here we are, two months too late, with tugs and barges trying to capture escaped oil.

    It would be good if economic and social rewards were directed toward those who effectively solved problems instead of lusting after lobbyist’s payoffs.

  2. When mandatory auto liability insurance went over $50/year, I got farm plates for my truck and got it back down to $50. A few years later it was back into the $80’s. I decided a car wasn’t worth that much. I haven’t owned a car since 1989. I now have a fleet of good bicycles from the dump that others have discarded and have been using one or another of them since 1990. I have lived here, off and on, since 1932 and have never used electricity off the grid here. I used to buy a gallon of kerosene about once every two months for the lamps. Now, I buy it once a decade, perhaps, for penetrating oil, cleaning things, etc. I use a P.V. panel discarded from a navigation buoy for electronics and light, now. I get any lube oil I need from the recycled oil barrel at the dump.

    I hear a lot of people talk about getting off their dependence of oil. I don’t see any of them doing it.

    Reduce the population by 90% and you, and everyone else in the world, including those now living on $2/day in the Indian Sub Continent or wherever they are, can continue to use oil at our (in the USA) rate for 10 times longer than we can at the present (or the increased)rate of the population of the future. That means it may last 1000 years instead of the present guess of 100 years??

    Cheers.

  3. P.S. Sorry… a correction. I used to buy FIVE gallons of kerosene every two or three months for everything, mostly the lamps.

    Cheers.

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