60 mins.
TV Documentary
Director: Kenneth Lewis
Producers: New York Times and Discovery Channel

The geeky but jaunty know-it-all-ness of Thomas L. Friedman’s books (such as The World is Flat) comes through in this personal exploration of “geo-green alternatives” to the demon oil of our era. Although Friedman is not as bad as some–buying oil at all = terrorism–Friedman still waves the red flag of Islamo-terorism in our faces a little too often: “Petro-dollars,” Friedman states, “are now funding networks of Islamic militants.” Is that true?!

Nonetheless this is a short but very helpful march through the alternatives, in every instance a minor or major success story. Gas guzzlers like Hummers and even a new Ford pickup truck that looks aluminum-light, are the enemies because of their incredibly bad gas mileage (10 and 12 MPG, respectively). On the heroes’ list, auto-wise for the moment, are such cars as the Prius and the prototype of a car run by a hydrogen fuel cell. Which, of course, has no MPG because it doesn’t use oil. What it also does not have is an infrastructure of corner “gas” stations pumping hydrogen.

Friedman is bullish on hybrid cars, hydrogen as fuel, ethanol, and solar and wind power. In every instance he makes a good case and gamely does the equivalent of taking the alternative power source for a spin around the block. He even takes on the scientifically-supported economics of ethanol (that it takes more energy to produce ethanol than it saves) by instead bundling up some switch grass (“five or six foot high prairie grass”) for ethanol production because it has “more energy in it than corn.”

While any screen time given to Gary Bauer, President of American Values, an advocacy “think tank,” is too much, it may be helpful to hear occasionally what a right-winger contributes to the oil debate. “There are evil people,” Bauer intones, “feverishly working on ways to kill us. We are dependent on our energy resources to people that worship death and have drawn a bulls eye on our backs.”

The only thing scarier than peak oil, in my opinion, is the rhetoric of Gary Bauer that has me supporting Osama bin Laden every time I tank up. If only it were that simple.

Transcript/film clip of Thomas Friedman’s Addicted to Oil documentary
Jun 30, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)

YouTube: Addicted to Oil in six parts–


Further Reading:

Mink, Eric. “Drunk on Oil, and a Bad Hangover Looms.” New York Times, 24 June 2006. Finds the program a bit “sloppy” and inconsistent at times, but overall it offers its “principal themes” that only “the most rigid of ideologues” would contest; reviewer misses an effectives critique of corn as the only source of ethanol.


8 episodes, 2008
Director: Molly Mayock
Producers: National Geographic Channel and Original Productions

Los Angeles is the largest container port in the USA, exemplifying the enormous spread of the megalopolis along the channel.

The episodes are literally all over the place: in one (CSI on the Water), Port Police investigate the alleged rape of a mentally-retarded 21 year. When their crack investigator discovers childish drawings of the woman and her assailant together they conclude they don’t have a case. In another (Missing Man) longshoremen strut their stuff by offloading 4,000 containers from a single ship that had some wobbly engine problems.

The numbers racked up by the Port of Los Angeles are impressive: it has 43 miles of waterfront, 270 berths, and 76 cranes. Twenty-five of its cargo terminals can hold autos, clothing, toys, sporting goods, and electronic products, whose top suppliers in 2007 are, not surprisingly, China (with $119.9 billion) and Japan (with $40.4 billion). Its trade value in Californioa alone is $89.2 billion with an estimated impact on over a million jobs.

Two of the series stars have remarkably different jobs: Mike Rubino, the pilot captain who has to park the 90,000 ton vessels, and Geraldine Katz executive director of the port, who has to combat the fact that the port is “one of the dirtiest sources of contaminated air, carbon emissions anywhere in the region.” (according to the mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa.

In the meantime the series’ producers would do well to watch some science fiction films, since the adjoining Port of Long Beach was disrupted by an anthrax hoax during the filming.

YouTube: Excerpts from America’s Port :

Official Site (with video):

Further Reading:

Hale, Mike. “At the Port, Peril is Around Every Corner.” New York Times, 5 April 2008. Although the reviewer knows the jobs at the port of Los Angeles could be dangerous, it bothers him that nothing really scary happens in the season, unlike its sister production of Deadliest Catch (see Cinema of Globalization): he even blames the audience, “living the most comfortable lives this earth has ever afforded to nonroyalty” for a tendency to “festishize danger and risk.”



  1. Thanks for the Youtube links!


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