THE SPILL (CONT.)
The disclosure last week of an internal Exxon memorandum pertaining to the 11-million-gallon oil spill from the Exxon Valdez caused a furor in which Alaska officials accused Exxon of breaking its promise to clean up the mess, and two members of the Bush Cabinet quarreled over the oil company's obligations. Even after a clear-the-air hearing before a House of Representatives subcommittee last Friday, the future course of the cleanup remained uncertain.
The memo, written on July 19 by Otto Harrison, Exxon's senior official at the spill site in Valdez, called for the termination of current cleanup efforts in mid-September, when winter weather arrives in Alaska. Next spring, according to the memo, the company would survey the coastline and decide its next move. There was no assurance that Exxon would finish the cleanup.
"Exxon promised Alaskans that the company would stay until the job was done," said the incensed governor of Alaska, Steve Cowper. "It's not enough to declare victory and go home."
That's particularly the case since victory is nowhere in sight. Exxon, which estimates it has spent $650 million on the cleanup, said last week that it has already treated almost 500 miles of the 730 miles of contaminated coastline. This figure is "absolutely at odds with what local officials are telling us," said Jeff Petrich, aide to House Interior subcommittee chairman George Miller (D., Calif.). State officials said that as of last week, Exxon had treated only one sixth of the oiled beaches. Furthermore, said Petrich, as oil from the spill continues to wash ashore, "some of the treated coast has been reoiled."
As Alaska and Exxon argued over the status of the cleanup, two federal agencies sparred as well. Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan joined with Cowper in insisting that Exxon keep its promise to finish the job. But Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner, who administers the Coast Guard and therefore is the government's chief overseer of the cleanup, defended the company's plan to stop work on Sept. 15. "Exxon basically has done everything they told the government and me they would do," said Skinner. At the Interior subcommittee hearing, Coast Guard Vice Admiral Clyde Lusk testified that the goal was to treat all shoreline segments "to a stable level...before the expected onset of severe weather." He said Exxon would be told in the spring where more work was needed. But he also said, disconcertingly, that if Exxon balked at Coast Guard suggestions, the cleanup would fall to the federal government. That is, to the taxpayers.
Exxon president William Stevens distanced himself from the offending memo. "We will follow through on any reasonable request that is made," he told the subcommittee. But he also said he couldn't make "an unequivocal commitment" to a cleanup plan, since there could be disagreements about what constitutes a clean shoreline.
Exxon's latest pledge is clearly less than rock solid. Nevertheless, referring to the memo, Petrich said, "The company had a policy, it took the heat for that policy, and it backed down." He said the subcommittee stands ever more vigilant, because "the last few days haven't inspired confidence that everyone is dedicated to doing the right thing."
THE GREAT BAT DEBATE
Are aluminum bats the inevitable wave of the future, as SI suggested is the case in its July 24 issue? Since then, the question has been batted around widely. It has been asked in the editorial pages of The New York Times and USA Today. It has even been raised in the halls of Congress. All America, it seems, is going batty about baseball bats.
Last Friday, a Times editorial lamented that "just when purists surrender grudgingly to exploding scoreboards, artificial turf and domed stadiums, along comes news that the wooden bat may very soon be wholly replaced by aluminum.... The thunderous crack of the bat will be replaced by a wimpy ping."
The Times was at least half serious. So were author Paul Hemphill and Jim Darby, senior vice-president of Easton Sports, the largest producer of aluminum bats in the U.S., who squared off in USA Today. (Hemphill: "Say it ain't so, Alcoa." Darby: "Baseball is an ever-changing game.") So too was Richard Durbin, a Democratic congressman from Illinois, who on July 26 exercised his oratorial skills in defense of wood. "Mr. Speaker, I rise to condemn the desecration of a great American symbol," Durbin intoned. "No, I am not referring to flag burning. I am referring to the baseball bat." Durbin made his prowood arguments, and then, anticipating the qualms of some environmentalist colleagues, he added, "I do not want to hear about saving trees. Any tree in America would gladly give its life for the glory of a day at home plate." While he was at it, Durbin also attacked such baseball innovations as "designated hitters, plastic grass, uniforms that look like pajamas, chicken clowns dancing on the baselines and of course the most heinous sacrilege, lights in Wrigley Field.... What is next? Teflon baseballs? Radar-enhanced gloves?"
As the great bat debate raged, some sought to allay the fears of tradition-minded fans. Howard B. Keene, president of the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company, wrote to SI last week that his firm had "no intention or desire to get out of the wood-bat business.... Rawlings/Adirondack has worked very closely with Major League Baseball to encourage the use of wood bats at nonprofessional levels and to protect this standard of the game in the professional ranks."
Keene probably hasn't played the Nintendo computer baseball game Bases Loaded. The video has such realistic big league touches as golf carts in the bullpens and players who give high fives. But when bat meets ball in Bases Loaded, a ping is heard. Nintendo says it couldn't reproduce a thwack. Perhaps. Or maybe ping is the sound of the future.
ARMLOCK OR WEDLOCK?
According to an Olympic Festival media guide, Skipper Kelp, an 18-year-old boxer from Colorado Springs who won the light welterweight division, "has six black belts in marital arts."
TRICKS OF THE TOUR
The clock said Laurent Fignon was 50 seconds ahead of Greg LeMond as they started the last stage of the Tour de France (SI, July 31), but several cycling experts say Fignon had already squandered much of his lead with a poor choice of equipment.
"I'll bet half of what LeMond gained was because he was a smarter rider," says Mark Hodges, assistant executive director of the U.S. Cycling Federation. For one thing, LeMond used handlebars that helped him achieve an aerodynamic tuck. And over those last 16.8 miles, Fignon chose not to wear his streamlined racing helmet. "European riders are less concerned with technological advancements," says Ed Burke, former technology director for the USCF. 'That hurt Fignon."
"Skipping the helmet was a major mistake," says Jim Gentes, who has a bias since he designed LeMond's headgear. "Hair is really bad aerodynamically." Gentes says wind-tunnel tests have shown that his helmet provides a one-second-per-kilometer advantage over a bare head. Burke figures the follicle factor cost Fignon 20 seconds. He says his estimate is conservative because Fignon's stylish ponytail was, for hair, relatively aerodynamic.
Charley French is a bicycle engineer who advocates the "clip-on aero-extenders" that LeMond used. French says the clip-ons, which attach to a bike's handlebars and force the rider into a tuck, "are worth almost a minute and a half over 25 miles." Burke says most of a cyclist's effort goes to overcoming wind resistance. He estimates that Fignon's wider bars, which caused him to take a more open riding position, cost Fignon nearly 50 seconds. LeMond's margin of victory was eight seconds.
Two days before the final stage, a confident Fignon told Steve Brunner, the media director for the Tour de Trump, "Greg believes he can win, but it's impossible. I'm too strong in the mind and the legs." But not, perhaps, in the handlebars and the hat.
THE CIRCUMFERENCE FACTOR
After seeing oh-so-heavyweight George Foreman on the Late Night with David Letterman show, USA Network boxing commentator Al Albert came up with a Letterman-like Top 10 list of reasons why Mike Tyson should give Foreman a shot. Our favorite: Because it would take Tyson at least 93 seconds to circle Foreman.
REACHING NEW HEIGHTS
Mark Wellman attracted considerable attention last week, and properly so. Wellman, the 29-year-old director of the disabled-visitors' program at Yosemite National Park, reached the top of the park's El Capitan mountain, having made a 3,569-foot ascent that is treacherous enough for an able-bodied climber. Wellman has been paralyzed from the waist down since 1982, when he suffered injuries in a 50-foot fall on another peak in the Sierras. For him to have completed one of the world's most difficult climbs is almost unthinkable.
Wellman's feat, remarkable as it was, should not overshadow the contribution of his climbing partner, Mike Corbett, who ascended El Capitan just ahead of him. It was Corbett's task to set the ropes with which Wellman hoisted himself up El Capitan. Progress was torturously slow, and the climb took seven days, four hours. "For Mike it was even tougher than for me," said Wellman at the summit. "He had to pull out all the pins from the mountain, haul all of the gear and handle all the logistics. In effect, Mike climbed this mountain twice."
Actually, Corbett, 35, has climbed this mountain a record 42 times. Corbett is a world-class rock-climber who ordinarily sprints up El Capitan in a couple of days, chain-smoking cigarettes nearly every step of the way.
The publicity that Wellman's ascent generated has had a serendipitous side effect for Corbett, a native of Houston. He had been estranged from his family since his parents were divorced 10 years ago. But the Texas Corbetts recognized him in news photos, and now his dad and a dozen other relatives are reuniting in California. "I've got to fill my family in on a lot of things that have happened in my life," said the elated Corbett.
A BULLISH PORTFOLIO
A stockbroker in Durham, N.C., is offering clients a unique investment package: the Michael Jordan portfolio. Chris Harrell of J. Lee Peeler & Co. writes, "Everything he [Jordan] touches turns to gold. So as an investor, why not participate in the Jordan phenomenon? Invest in Michael Jordan by investing in the companies whose products he endorses."
Jordan, the Chicago Bulls star, currently endorses McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Wheaties for General Mills, a backyard basketball game for Ohio Art and, of course, Air Jordans for Nike. All five of these companies have had strong earnings increases in the recent past. Harrell cites an average earnings growth rate over the past five years of 15% for McDonald's, 17% for Coca-Cola, 44% for both General Mills and Nike, and 131% for Ohio Art. He says that he expects them to continue to perform well.
As attractive as Coke is, Harrell thinks Pepsico is even more so, with an average earnings growth rate of about 30% over the past five years. Pepsi, by the way, is endorsed by Magic Johnson. While Johnson and Jordan failed to meet in the NBA playoffs, they at least have gotten to face off in the cola wars.
IN THE JAWS OF THE LAW
It has already been a long, hot summer for frank mundus, 63, the legendary Montauk, N.Y., sea captain. Mundus, who inspired the character of Quint, the grizzled shark hunter in Jaws, has been tangling with federal and local authorities. First, his 26-year-old bride, Jenny, when going through some of her husband's papers, discovered that his captain's license had lapsed. The Coast Guard said Mundus couldn't serve as skipper for any more fishing trips aboard his charter boat until he passed a qualifying test. Then Mundus ran into trouble with the local police, who charged him with criminal possession of a handgun, a nine-millimeter pistol.
Mundus claims he bought the gun, which he handed over in several disassembled pieces, merely to help out the seller, a friend in need of cash. "I hate pistols." says Mundus, who will appear at a pre-trial conference on the gun rap this week in East Hampton, N.Y., Town Justice Court.
The lapsed license may prove the thornier problem. Mundus, who last passed a competency exam when he received his charter-boat operator's license in 1951, flunked the 1989 test last month. He sailed through the Deck and General Navigation sections but ran aground when asked to solve a navigation problem that involved mathematics. "It's bull——," says Mundus, who has a ninth-grade education but is boning up on his math and intends to retake the test. "The whole thing is a joke. They're asking me to do on paper what I've been doing on water for 45 years."
Mundus has known happier days. Back in 1964 he caught a 4,500-pound great white shark on harpoon, adding luster to an already growing reputation as the Monster Man of Montauk. After being made famous by Peter Benchley's novel and the subsequent movie, Mundus continued to live up to his image. Three years ago he helped fellow charter-boat captain Donnie Braddick land a 3.450-pound great white on a rod and reel.
Mundus, wearing an earring and a shark's-tooth necklace, still goes fishing, but now he has to take along a licensed captain. "It's bloody embarrassing," he says. Enough so that the unpleasantness may hasten his long-planned retirement. "All I want to do is get out," Mundus says. If he can sell his boat and business—he's asking $150,000—he and Jenny will move to Hawaii. "Once you've got all the largest fish, what's left?" he asks.
THEY SAID IT
•Howard Johnson, New York Mets third baseman, on Royals slugger Bo Jackson: "Maybe they should see if his body is corked."
•An Egyptian journalist to Bruce Webster, coach of the Division II University of Bridgeport (Conn.) basketball team, at the outset of the team's seven-game tour of Egypt: "Do you guys play the Lakers?"