Another Black Swan

Nobody could have predicted:

In retrospect, the pattern seems clear. Years before the Deepwater Horizon rig blew, BP was developing a reputation as an oil company that took safety risks to save money. An explosion at a Texas refinery killed 15 workers in 2005, and federal regulators and a panel led byJames A. Baker III, the former secretary of state, said that cost cutting was partly to blame. The next year, a corroded pipeline in Alaska poured oil into Prudhoe Bay. None other than Joe Barton, a Republican congressman from Texas and a global-warming skeptic,upbraided BP managers for their “seeming indifference to safety and environmental issues.”

Yeah – BP was so on top of this shit:

Much of this indifference stemmed from an obsession with profits, come what may. But there also appears to have been another factor, one more universally human, at work. The people running BP did a dreadful job of estimating the true chances of events that seemed unlikely — and may even have been unlikely — but that would bring enormous costs.

They can’t think outside the box:

For all the criticism BP executives may deserve, they are far from the only people to struggle with such low-probability, high-cost events. Nearly everyone does. “These are precisely the kinds of events that are hard for us as humans to get our hands around and react to rationally,” Robert N. Stavins, an environmental economist at Harvard, says. We make two basic — and opposite — types of mistakes. When an event is difficult to imagine, we tend to underestimate its likelihood. This is the proverbial black swan. Most of the people running Deepwater Horizon probably never had a rig explode on them. So they assumed it would not happen, at least not to them.

They should have expected a black swan. It does show up. We’ve read Taleb’s book.

Spillonomics: Underestimating Risk [NYT]

Fuck ’em. Everyone from the fucking CEO down to the last EVP born outside the US should be enslaved for life to lick the gulf coastline clean for the rest of their days. Starving fisherman can entertain themselves shooting at them from their useless boats.

You’re a better man than I. I just read the Wikipedia article and the NYT puff piece on Taleb.

BTW, BP admitted in its plea agreement for its oil spill in Alaska that “the company’s approach to monitoring and managing corrosion in Prudhoe Bay oil transit lines failed to properly consider the risks posed by changing operating conditions in the field and that, as a result, BPXA failed to take necessary actions to prevent the March 2006 pipeline spill.” Hmmm — failed to properly consider the risks. They must have learned from that, right? Right?

Chill, dudes! David Vitter is on the motherfucker… making sure that BP doesn’t have to pay too much to fix its mess.

Next time you hear some GOP sympathizing douchebag touting this crisis as “Obama’s Katrina” point out that the GOP has been in bed with the oil industry since time immemorial. Point out that Cheney’s energy task force struck down proposed regulations that would have added additional safety requirements to offshore oil platforms. Point out that in 2008 Sarah Palin and John whatshisname ran on a slogan of “drill baby drill” and accused Obama of being opposed to expanded offshore drilling. And finally, point out that while the Obama administration has been overseeing a taskforce of thousands of Coast Guardsmen working their asses off to contain the spill, the GOP’s sole contribution to the crisis has been working double-time to filibuster any bill that would rasie oil company liability caps on the damage they do from a measly $75 million to a still vastly inadequate $10 billion.

Risk assessment is a highly theoretical and subjective game. Just ask the FDA and those they “regulate”.

Much of this indifference stemmed from an obsession with profits, come what may

Obsession with profits is not just an adventure, it’s the job of our modern corporations. These fucks can be sued every which way to hell for either not being zealous in their pursuit of “safety”, or not zealous enough in their pursuit of profits.

Time was, when corporations were chartered for specific goals of development (however questionable those goals may have been), and profit was just a byproduct of a successful charter.

Now, we have rapacious executives contracting their own golden parachutes; corporations that are treated as persons under the law, while protecting the people who make up those corporations from justice; and an absolute commitment to short-term profit, at whatever cost.

In such an environment, nobody could have predicted that something could go wrong on this scale, yes?

@Serolf Divad: Sorry, I can’t let a moment of team spirit go without comment.

Yes, all you said about the heinous previous administration is true.

But also point out that Obama’s administration had more than a year to clean up the notoriously, well-publicized shenanigans at the MMS.

Point out that the Obama administration continued to grant environmental impact waivers well into this particular crisis.

Point out that the Obama adminsitration is filled with corporate shills (starting with Ken Salazar) who seem to want nothing more than to grease the wheels for their corporate masters.

I don’t personally believe that the government could do anything more right now to stop the spill. But they could send a signal that private profit is not valued above preservation of the commons, and that they most definitely will not do.

@Dodgerblue: So what do you think about DOJ going after them for criminal charges? Watching the teevee tonight at the gym, the CBS legal correspondent said that false statements, fraud, and conspiracy are all possible.

I yelled “What about negligent homicide?” with my outside voice instead of my inside-my-head voice and scared the young woman on the treadmill next to me.

@PedonatorUSA: You free for drinks or dinner tomorrow in Sandy Eggo? Where’s Noje?

Mac tech support request: The Air, which I’ve had since 2008, is starting to have trouble with video I’ve downloaded or am streaming. After about 5 minutes of running just fine, it starts to get choppy, with out of sync audio. I’ve tried emptying the browser cache (for streaming video) or restarting, but it doesn’t seem to help. Is there a utility like disk defrag that will help? Because I bought the first gen model, the “geniuses” at the Apple store said there’s no way to add memory.
BTW, it can play dvds just fine. Thanks for any advice you can give.


Here’s my problem with your take on this: the GOP and the oil companies are all too happy… hell, they are banking on a “doesn’t matter what party is in power, they’re all equally corrupt” narrative to emerge. The last thing the GOP and the oil companies want is for the public to direct their anger at them. Doing so would likely lead to greater regulation and greater accountability in the future. But if instead we simply throw our arms in the air and exclaim: shit, doesn’t matter who’s in power, the oil companies will get to write their own rules, then we’re setting in motion a self fulfilling prophesy.

This is what really drives me nuts about liberal critics of the Obama administration. All you’re doing is ensuring that the GOP will gain a greater victory in the upcoming elections, and the country will swing farther to the right. This is the same attitude that brought us Ralph Nader’s disastrous 2000 presidential run. The notion that there’s no difference between the Dems and the GOP simply hands the country over to the GOP, and the ridiculous notion that the Democrats are “just as bad”as the GOP is quickly dispelled when massive , fiscally irresponsible tax cuts are passed, foolish unwinnable wars are declared, and the economy is brough to the brink of collapse by irresponsible de-regulation. And the laughable fantasy that the people will “wake up” once things finally “get bad enough” is so sad it’s hardly worth countering.

@Serolf Divad: I voted for Obama. At the time, I really believed he would come through on at least half of his campaign memes of transparency and rule of law.

I truly didn’t expect his administration to increase opacity and argue continually against habeas rights for the people the previous administration jailed indiscriminately, much less step up the game with extrajudicial assassinations of anyone in the world some “intelligence” agency deemed a worthy target.

The “ridiculous” notion that the Democrats are “just as bad” as the GOP derives from the facts on the ground. While out of power, the Dems capitulated over and over again to the GOP, while protesting with pinky-slaps at the flagrant violations against the Constitution and the rule of law.

Now that the Democrats are in power, they proceed to institutionalize the very worst aspects of the GOP’s war on civil liberties.

Yes, the Dems give some meager crumbs to the working class, at least, they promise enough to get their votes. I guess it comes down to the fact that I personally value civil liberties above vague promises of economic justice. That is the only reason I treat libertarians with respect. I completely disagree with their notions of free markets, capitalism, fuck, even “private property”, but I do respect their commitment to civil liberties.

And Rand Paul is not the poster child for libertarians — they are as varied as Democrats.

The party system is useless. I absolutely will not support the Democrats just because they are not Republicans.

I must once again refer to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, the definition he gives for an “accident:” “an occurrance inevitable to the action of natural laws.”

This is not a “black swan” as described in the fantastic book which popularized the concept. A “black swan” is not a known risk deliberately ignored. It is an “unknown unknown,” to take off from that famous quote from Rumsfeld. You know, Rumsfeld was not wrong in his description of the realm of known unknwowns, and unknown unknwowns, his idiocy was in his judgment as to what he knew and didn’t know. It is indeed critical to always be aware of the difference between unknown unknowns, the true black swans, and the known unknowns. But Rumsfeld, and Bush, and the Neocons, though aware of the distinction between known unknowns and unknwon unknowns, did not take it far enough, and were not sceptical enough of what they thought was “known.”

This was no black swan, this was a known known.

There needs to be a word for a judgment that takes into consideration the possibility for error and ignorance, and yet, still, discounts it. Giving lip service to caution and care while being wrecklace.

@Promnight: Our reliance on carbon fuel is a known known.

I would argue that, as much outrage, shock and distress we see expressed on the teevee, the US American public is perfectly willing to accept the cost of catastrophic environmental degradation, nay, even relish the thought that we in particular are privileged to be part of the greatest mass extinction event in the history of life on earth, in order that some of us may have the privilege of driving to the 7-11 three blocks away for a 64-oz. Slurpee.


Breaking: Hopper funeral in NM; next governor will be a woman,

New Mexico will have a woman governor next year. GOP “Swift Boat/oil industry” Palin-endorsed candidate Susana Martinez got 50 percent of the vote tonight. She got $450k from Swift Boat funder Robert Perry and wife; 63% of her money since May. She earlier got $115 K from an oil company. NM has no caps on contributions until next year.

Her Democratic opponent is Lt. Gov. DIane Denish. Start writing checks, people.

Dennis Hopper will be buried in Taos NM tomorow.

@redmanlaw: Will NM go nazi? She one of those psychos that wants to follow AZ?


“Yes, the Dems give some meager crumbs to the working class, at least, they promise enough to get their votes. I guess it comes down to the fact that I personally value civil liberties above vague promises of economic justice. That is the only reason I treat libertarians with respect. I completely disagree with their notions of free markets, capitalism, fuck, even “private property”, but I do respect their commitment to civil liberties. ”

The libertarian “commitment to civil liberties” is a sham, it’s little more than a disingenuous smokescreen. Once government is reduced to something so small it would rattle if placed in a thimble, “civil liberties” becomes nothing more than an empty phrase. That’s because corporations come in to fill in the void left by government, and as Rand Paul amply demonstrated, Libertarians take an “anything goes” attitude once a property owner starts setting the rules. You may insist that Paul is not a “typical” Libertarian, but I’ve spent decades arguing with people who call themselves libertarians and every one of them has subscribed to Paul’s interpretation of the rights of property owners to discriminate at will.

I have little regard for Libertarians for the same reason I don’t take fringe liberals seriously (though I am still a registered Green): their purity derives from their distance to actual power. Once you actually face the prospects of wielding power you realize that sometimes the only way to get things done is to compromise. You have to eat a lot of toads to move your agenda forward, and the Obama administration has eaten its share. But lets face it: we live in a plutocracy much more than a democracy. Any politician who charges full steam ahead against corporate interests will find himself very quickly destroyed and left a lame duck. Until liberals realize this and abandon the unrealistic demands of purity from their leaders, the country will continue to move two steps to the right for every shaky little step it moves to the left. If we don’t temper our ideological demands somewhat and come out to support “our team” then the game is already lost before it began.

@redmanlaw: Perhaps it will be an oil spill on the Santa Fe Opera House that finally makes us take note!

@FlyingChainSaw: If Martinez wins, yes. The major issue in the GOP primary was “who hates Mexicans more”? Ironically, the Hispanic won because she tarred her rich old white guy opponent with the amnesty brush. Also, as I’ve said before, lots of native Hispanics here hate Mexicans, including at least three women I know who are strong Obama supporters, so Martinez will scoop up those votes right away. Fun fact: both of my Mexican friends here yesterday for my birthday cookout entered here illegally, one as a child, the other as an adult.

My candidate Diane Denish predicted the race will get nasty. I’ll have to reenlist for this one.

@Serolf Divad: I have little regard for Libertarians for the same reason I don’t take fringe liberals seriously

their purity derives from their distance to actual power

Yeah, exactly.

I can’t quote your entire past post because it would be superfluous. You seem to argue that since we live in a “plutocracy”, we must capitulate and that any liberals who disdain the status quo are doomed to failure.

I actually belive you are correct, that liberals who work within the system are doomed to fail. Because the very system you seem, incomprehensibly, invested in, will fail. Not sure where I can go from there.

Do you really think a particular political party in our system will somehow bring something good to the majority?

@Serolf Divad:

I’m not a fan of the “the two parties are the same” framework (sure, one may be a bag of shit and the other a *flaming* bag of shit – but that’s a substantial difference!) but I’m also not particularly optimistic about the future of the country. I think we’re starting to see what happens (both here in the US and in Europe) when people forget what fascism actually *involves* and start thinking it would be OK as long as their side is holding the power. Especially here in the US, where the snotty little wanna-be Hitlers didn’t get stomped two generations back; it seems like the Europeans tend to (barring the seriously extreme) avoid the blatantly racist / police-state dog whistling. Or perhaps I’m simply not familiar enough with the political scene over there…

@Serolf Divad: If we don’t temper our ideological demands somewhat and come out to support “our team” then the game is already lost before it began.

Fuck, when do we stand up for our idelogical demands? After the know-nothing-and-proud-of-it “right” wing exhausts its fantasy manifesto of a 6,000 year old world and imminent Armageddon?

How many times to the Democrats have to throw you under the bus before you wake up and say: “Hey, I don’t want to be run down by a bus!” anymore?

They are exactly as evil as the Republicans, they just manifest it in a more subtle manner. The way a serial abuser gets his victim to come back to him again and again.

Both major parties are wholly owned subsidiaries of corporations that, giving them their due, have no legal or even moral obligation other than to maximize profits. Why does this not compute? They can actually be sued in court for not doing everything in their power to maximize profits. There is absolutely no obligation to humanity, the environment, etc.

WTF is wrong with this picture?

What I’d like to know is, if the only way these things have been stopped in the past is drilling relief wells and everyone knows it takes two to three months to drill them, why the fuck didn’t BP start the relief drilling five weeks ago when this thing started?

@Promnight: Well, no, see the problem with Rumsfeld and Bush is that their “unknown unknowns” are what normal people would refer to as reality. They operated in their own manufactured reality. Any clash between that and actual reality is ~surprise!~ an unknown unknown!

Magical thinking at its best.

@karen marie: Perhaps because our fucktard government didn’t ask nicely for them to do so?

Really, I don’t know the technicalities of this. But the first few weeks of the government response really did seem to be like:

“Oh, well, it’s BP’s problem, and we’ll make sure they pay for it (nyark nyark nyark), but there’s really nothing we hapless government functionaries could possibly do. We just need to let the industry experts do their jobs. [which would be, maximizing profit for the industry that contracted them: disaster capitalism in action]”

It’s BP’s oil, because that’s how we roll in this system.

@SanFranLefty: I think it’s political theater, to make people think that the Obama Admin is actually doing something. I’ll have a blog post up tomorrow on how these things tend to work out.

@Mistress Cynica: I’ve only noticed the problem you describe with downloaded Flash video (say, from YouTube), and only then because the open-source Flash decoder plug-in for Quicktime (Perian) isn’t perfect.

Which is to say, it may not be a memory problem, and certainly not something where you want to deal with defragging. (I haven’t bothered with disk utilities since OS X, and I’m a geek.) Digital video is a riot of formats under the hood, and there are umpteen ways for something to go wrong.

I actually belive you are correct, that liberals who work within the system are doomed to fail. Because the very system you seem, incomprehensibly, invested in, will fail. Not sure where I can go from there.

When has the system ever “failed” in such a way as to bring about the radical change in governance that you seek?

The true folly isn’t trying to work within the system. The true folly is the belief that if we just wait long enough for things to get bad enough, eventually the people will come to realize it and mount a revolution. That’s just not going to happen. We live in a society in which methods and techniques of social control are so well developed, so finely tuned, that the plutocrats will just keep rolling us along ad infinitum. I mean, look how difficult it is today to elect a politician who doesn’t run on a platform that explicitly proposes policies that harm the interests of most of the people who vote for him?

@Promnight: Rumsfeld took a perfectly good and simple tool for identifying our relative awareness of things – Johari’s Window – and made a late-night joke of it. I’ve used it in conflict analysis in the Rest Of The World.

why am i a citizen of 3 of the most fucked countries on the planet?

breaking soon: the former prime minister of the turks and caicos islands, michael missick, is under investigation for taking bribes from developers and giving away crown land willy nilly to his posse. the investigation will take another year. i have been praying the court will be open so i can be there for the fun. they have already started construction to allow room for the international press and giggling looky loos such as myself. gonna be a HOOT. and this commenter will be there to report to you how corruption is done in banana republic.

O tempore! O mores!

Truly, it has always been thus. That is all that keeps me going. The more you read of history, the more evident it is that everyone, at all times, forever, has always felt that civilization is in decline, and the virtues of the past were lost. And they have only been right about it some of the time.

And not a one of Barbara Tuchman’s books is available on Kindle, dammit, Nojo, you got me searching for them.

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