Blogbeat: Burritos per Barrel

By Thomas Lord
Monday May 17, 2010 - 09:00:00 AM

I want to talk about the World Wide Web but, first, some talk about money. 

Big numbers are hard to wrap your head around, especially with dollar signs attached. Consider, for example, $500,000,000. That is: $500 million. How much money is that? 

Well, let's talk about money and oil and big numbers. And energy. And Berkeley. And the web. Oh, and that mess in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Mostly, though, let's talk about the World Wide Web. 

$500 million works out to roughly one meal a week for a year at Chez Panisse (wine included), for every single person living in Berkeley. I based my math on a population figure (2000 census) at and on a discussion of Chez Panisse prices at local blog

In burritos, based on a menu linked from, it works out to a free burrito for every Berkeleyan, every day, for about 3 years. 

As widely reported, BP - our friends having some trouble in the Gulf of Mexico these days - said on 13 May that they'd spent $450 million so far on the response. By today, I'm sure they're past the $500 million mark. The information comes from a filing BP made to the SEC. The filing was very widely reported and is easy to find with any decent web search engine. 

There is an interesting coincidence about that number: $500 million. Some might remember that in 2007 BP selected the University of California and Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory to "lead an unprecedented $500 million research effort to develop new sources of energy and reduce the impact of energy consumption on the environment." If you'd like to see the press release, visit and search for "BP 500" or similar terms. 

Critical to winning that grant from BP was of course the former director of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Steven Chu - who is currently the United States Secretary of Energy. (See 

Mr. Chu (as widely reported) has recently sent a team of five experts to consult with BP about the response to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Among these is Professor of Civil Engineering George Cooper, from the University of California at Berkeley and a senior petroleum engineer at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. You can find out about his expertise in drilling by searching for his name at Among other things, he has worked on developing theories about how to do deep drilling on Mars. (To be clear, he also appears to my lay eyes to have done a heck of a lot of serious work about drilling here on Earth.) 

Another Berkeley connection is Professor Robert B. Bea, another engineer at Cal and (among other things) an expert in "Risk Assessment and Management of Engineered Infrastructure Systems". You might have seen his rather damning assessment on the 16 May edition of 60 minutes (search The LA Times reports that he is also advising the federal administration (search Professor Bea had a hand in analyzing the Challenger space shuttle disaster. 

And, well, so what? 

Remember, this piece is mostly about the web. So let me turn away from oil and the Gulf and $500 million for a moment. 

Many sources (say, have reported in some detail about a recent house fire in North Berkeley. Today also brings other sad news that a Berkeley man was shot in Richmond. 

The web is awash in news local to Berkeley, if you know where to look. 

And yet: 

A few weeks ago, a fellow was shot in front of my South Berkeley apartment - and I can find no record of this on the World Wide Web. A bit after that, on our quiet residential street, a speeding car struck three or four other vehicles before overturning and, subsequently, a passenger was taken to the hospital and, allegedly, according to anonymous sources on the street, a drunk driving arrest was made. I happened not to be present for either event and neither is recorded on the Web. 

And today there was a significant house fire on Acton St. but no reporter in sight and I don't expect that house fire to receive the press or Web attention of the one in North Berkeley. 

Consulting the local blogs for news of our city what do I find? I find tired rehearsals of the burning question of whether or not Becky O'Malley is an anti-semite. I find endlessly repeated reports about the virtues or sins of our school lunch programs and edible gardens. There are theater reviews, restaurant reviews, celebrity chef interviews, author interviews, thin-on-facts opinion-pieces, countless lovely photographs.... but not one word about a serious house fire, a man being shot, and a speeding car losing control and overturning. 

The Gulf of Mexico is, quite literally and also figuratively, on fire. We can trace Berkeley Connections, in what passes for on-line news, with exquisite detail - I've barely scratched the surface here. And yet, there is so much that locally matters - that demands a public account - that happens all about entirely out of public view. You know, like: someone got shot. Someone not on North Side had a serious house fire. 

And so, dear readers, I'd like your help in an experiment. Will you? I ask two things of you: 

First, if you know of good sources of on-line local news information (for Berkeley and the surrounding areas) by gosh, please tip me off to them. I'll do what I can to publicize those. I give my email address below. 

Second, if you can, please become a bit of a citizen reporter, at least for your block or stretch of road. Become a blogger, if you like, but if you can just at least take pictures, interview folks, and alert people like myself and the Berkeley Daily Planet to news that will otherwise be lost. 

Meanwhile, I'll continue this experiment of drawing a column based on "local news found on the web" but - and I'm sure you'll agree - if all I can find facts for is the number of burritos per oil spill it won't be a very interesting column. So do please be in touch. 

My email address is "".