Posts Tagged ‘BP’

Did any of you see this “oops” moment in the investment world–how many socially responsible investors and “green” mutual funds were actually invested in disgraced oil giant BP when the Deepwater Horizon exploded? That means if you were an investor trying to plow your money into environmentally sensitive businesses, you might have been unhappy in March to find yourself part-owner of a giant oil company with a bad safety record.

We wrote a couple of articles about it at the magazine I write for, Financial Advisor, where I’m the senior editor. The situation is not as simple as it seems, and if anything, it should remind you that economics make even stranger bed fellows than politics. The reason many socially responsible investors were holding BP was not just so they could boost returns and screw the planet. It is part of a broader engagement to get those companies in the biggest polluting industries to play ball. BP had a stated willingness to lower its greenhouse gas emissions and discuss climate change, unlike some of its brethren in the industry. The bad news is that the company had a crap safety record. This set off warning bells, and many socially responsible funds earlier this year started thinking of dumping the company before something really bad happened.

Before they knew it, something did.

I’m sure The Wall Street Journal article on the story is better than mine, but if you do want to read my story and get more esoteric facts about how socially responsible funds score and rate their holdings, you can see it here.

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Promotional materials for a well-known Christina Aguilera album.

I know that you have a lot of things on your desk right now–the BP oil spill, fights over government spending and debates over whether to let the Bush tax cuts expire. These are not small issues. Some environmentalists even fear there are thousands of deep sea oil wells just as poorly tested for safety as the Deepwater Horizon was. And of course, national debt has become a crippling concern, as U.S. citizens demand services and infrastructure and overseas military spending that they seem unwilling to pay for with higher taxes. This leads us to finance more government spending with debt, selling out to the Chinese and the Saudi Arabians to do for us what American productivity used to. An unsustainable condition.

So I am almost embarrassed to call your attention to a problem that might seem small by comparison, but I believe it is eroding our national morale, making us weak at the wrong times, even crippling our ability to act on these pressing concerns.

I am talking about the song “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera. Mr. Obama, I have heard this song every day for eight years, on car radios, in clubs, in grocery stores, in convenience stores, in delis, in airports, at the beach, at the spa, in the U.S., and even in Japan. I find that no matter where I go, I cannot escape the cello-driven, melisma-laden 2002 hit song penned by Linda Perry for Aguilera’s Stripped album. Now, I would never pass a value judgment against a song that has brought pleasure to millions and which indeed boasts an incredible vocal. The song is a great one, in which Aguilera’s voice rides the crests and troughs of more than two octaves, where she shows off her many nuances of mood and feeling and shading, not just wasting notes, but using them to look into the heart of a person in the darkest of states, someone reeling in the fugue of depression and emaciated self-esteem. She claims that she is beautiful in every single way, that words will not get her down, and that her listeners should feel the same way.

But if I were to pick any song in the history of recorded music that I would want to listen to every day for eight years, would this really be the song? Is this one better than, say, “When the Saints Go Marching In?” or “Someone To Watch Over Me?” If most people had a choice, wouldn’t they choose a song by Cole Porter or even the Beatles? But even then, could we do it every day? For how many years could a person really stand listen to “Hey Jude” every day, or “You Are My Sunshine” or even “Happy Birthday” and “Jesus Loves Me”?

At some point, even Christina Aguilera would likely admit by now, the importance of her message has likely become trite from overexposure. Michel Foucault once wrote that the proliferation of discourse on a subject of sexuality was one way of hiding the truth of it. We use certain words so much that we become numb to their meaning as anything but empty discourse, and they start to ring false. I believe something similar has happened when I listen to the words of “Beautiful” over and over and over and over again. I believe Christina Aguilera doth protest too much, and that by constantly declaring hers and others’ need to repair their fractured self-image, she has lulled us into a cultural welfare state of mollycoddling and patronizing that actually makes our self-esteem lower than ever.

In other words, I think Christina Aguilera is talking to us like we’re a lot of stupid, not-beautiful dummies who constantly need reassurance to salve the open wound that is our collective American soul. She’s keeping us weak and unattractive. I am reminded of the episode of “The Odyssey” where the lotus-eaters wasted away on pleasant sensations. I also think of that episode of “Quantum Leap” where Scott Bakula is transported into the body of a retarded man and starts acting as retarded as everybody treats him.

I say this to you, Mr. Obama, not because I have anything against Christina Aguilera or her other great songs such as “Ain’t No Other Man.” It’s only that I believe that this song has lulled me into my own fugue state more times than I would care to count over the last few years, sapping my vitality at moments when I would be better served by the joy of expression that comes from listening to, say, The Ramones, an expression some social critics have called violent and crypto-fascist, but one you must admit gets you pretty charged in the morning. I also feel that “Beautiful” dulls my perspicacity, putting me in a contemplative mood at the worst possible moments, perhaps when it’s more important that I stay sharp and count change or stay on the ball at the Post Office. Just as a side note, most of the people who work for the U.S. Post Office are rude and don’t like absent-mindedness when you come to their windows. The kind of absent-mindedness caused by a song like Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.”

Ultimately, that dreaminess, that lofty, airy, ethereal demand to live in the moment, has turned us all into wide-pupiled, belladonna-drunk 19th century ingenues, the type regularly ridiculed by Chekhov, Flaubert and Aaron Spelling. If the economists will follow up on it, I believe the song has directly hampered our gross national product, earnings per share and EBITDA and has exacerbated our trade deficit.

I’m asking you to pass a law that will give the radio back to the public in a nationalized radio format like the BBC’s, one that has some responsibility to the public good. Or if that is too much in our politically charged era, I ask simply that you ban this song like George Bush banned the stimulant Ephedra. I supported him then, I will support you now. Thanks.

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