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Sunday, June 20, 2010

A DAY AT THE RACES


















In recent days, BP CEO Tony Hayward has taken what few rational Americans would begrudge him—a break back in England from the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Except Mr. Hayward has a gift for getting it wrong. He took his break in a way guaranteed to dig his Stateside public relations hole even deeper: racing his 52-foot yacht Bob. From the position of average Americans, the most telling feature of this latest gaffe, and others by BP’s Swedish board chairman, is simply this: it underscores that in the new millenium, class distinctions in the Old World remain firmly rooted. So much so as to blind corporate plutocrats to any idea of how their words and deeds are perceived by those who don't belong to their "set." If any of us thinks European society no longer maintains sharp divisions based on privilege, the toffs at BP have set us straight.

--Tony! My God, what a surprise.
--Trevor! When was it last, Ascot? Boxing Day? I hope not, I was rather in my cups, I should think.
--No, actually, it was the day you sacked me. Last year. We were reviewing those Deepwater Horizon schematics, remember?
--Ah. Well, given what’s happened lately, I suppose you feel vindicated. Even though, as you well know, I was never in the same room with those diagrams.
--No, of course not. And, yes, I confess there was a schadenfreude moment or two in the last couple months. Golden parachute or not, no one likes getting sacked. Makes for awkwrd moments at one’s club. But then I got to thinking of you over there on the other side of the pond, having to muck about that way—
--Hold on… Damned binoculars… Yes, that’s my boat. Bob seems to be doing rather well, don’t you think? Look at that. Carry on, Bob!
--Pretty audacious, coming home this way. But given what you’ve been through, I should think you’d be at the helm yourself, not watching from shore.
--Would it were possible, Trev. Home for just these few precious days to see my boy. Certainly we should be out there together.
--New spinnaker?
--Could be. One of the crew takes care of all that. God, it’s great being here, breathing English air.
--Still, old salt, it does seem a bit odd. Flying back just to watch your boat.
--It’s the digital age, isn’t it, Trev? Phones that takes pictures and all. Telecommunications satellites. A bit ironic, that. Chairman Svanberg was CEO of phone maker Ericsson before giving us the nod. No, let them take all the pictures they like. Let them make something out of my just standing here. Not even wearing a blazer, or holding a proper drink. Being at the helm, though, that would get them pulling out their Photoshop manuals, I can tell you. They’d have me and Junior sailing over a glossy sea of BP oil. Lighting cigars from a burnoff. Plastering JPMorgan Asset Management all over my new spinnaker. They hate investment banks, too, you know. It would be great fun for them to make something out of the race’s sponsor. Oh, they’d do a smashing job with that.
--I see what you mean. Even so, old man, a little respite. Some shore leave, if you will. The stench must be something awful.
--The oil, you mean. Only on outings with the press. But that aside, yes, it is a nasty business. Rotting vegetation and oil-covered shore birds. Creepy crawlies everywhere you turn. Absolutely permeates your clothes. I’ve thrown out four pair of new wellies just this past week.
--Yes, well, I’m sure it must be horrific. Actually, though, I was thinking more in shall we say human terms.
--Ahh.
--No, Tony. Thinking of you over there these past weeks, day after day having to look as though you’re taking such people seriously. Whatever resentment I might have felt when you sacked me for bringing up those safety issues—
--I hope you know I had no choice.
--Of course I do, it’s how the game is played. That’s why I lost all sense of resentment several weeks ago. Knowing what hell you must be going through. And then the way they savaged Chairman Svanberg for calling them just what they are, small people. My God, bait-shop owners and shrimp fishermen. If they aren’t small, what else do you call them? Mr. and Mrs. Everyman, I suppose.
--Yes, nothing but tabloid press over there. They are quite clever at turning one into the upper-class toad for speaking what’s obviously true. I give them that.
--Worse than wogs, I would think.
--Wogs, frogs. Worse than the whole lot. Wait, she’s at the turn… Spot on, my beautiful Bob! Good show.

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