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Inevitability of the unlikely

I wrote this in response to another Livejournal entry, but felt it explained what really bothers me about the whole BP disaster. I expanded it a bit.

I have been pondering the problem of what can be done about the BP oil spill and all the disastrous consequences of it and who is to blame here. From an engineering point of view, I believe as much as can be done is being done. I think there is a convincing case to be made that BP would pay any amount of money to stop the flow of oil, and the fact that it has not stop says something about the scope of the disaster. I also think from a clean-up and mitigation point of view that about as much is being done as can be done, again because there is no one (not Coast Guard, President, shrimpers, hotel owners, oil workers) who are not better served by stopping the damage than by limiting their response. Essentially, BP is hemorrhaging money and Obama is hemorrhaging trust, and they are willing to do anything to make it stop.

That leaves us the question of who is to blame in the first place. Its this that I have some thoughts on. I have been at pains to point out to everyone who will listen that this disaster didn't occur weeks ago, it occurred years ago. This is the inevitable result of allowing the market to discipline itself. The problem is that this disaster was always a possibility, it was just unlikely. Indeed it is the very unlikeliness than made it inevitable. The oil companies analyze risk (that pale post-modern ghost of morality) and reduce risk on the basis of cost to likelihood. The more distant and catastrophic the event the more expensive it is to avoid. This disaster could have just as easily happened to Shell or Chevron or Lukoil, and (in fact) BP was banking on it. When the oil apocalypse happened, the risk calculators said it was going to happen to someone else, and at every company except BP they were right. For all those other companies, taking the chance that the worst would happen and end up bankrupting the company has paid off. They extracted the oil and haven't suffered the BP consequences.

The disaster happened when the Governments in U.S. and Europe decided that regulation of an inherently destructive industry was best left to the companies that comprise it. Only national governments actually owe it to their people to consider the risk to the whole society. This was a knowable problem which could have been addressed by forbidding this kind of drilling, or more realistically it could have had the risk ameliorated to a level that it would have been too expensive to do this kind of drilling except where it was truly safest.

My point is simply that I am angry because we have built a world where these little chernobyls are increasingly commonplace. We act like our only options are to soak up the oil with hair, and to punish British Public Service pensioners who hold big chunks of BP stock (which they got when it was privatized) by crushing BP. This won't reduce the chance of this happening again nor will it "make whole" the environment or the people of the gulf coast. But honestly, with a crime like this, someone is going to be punished.

Unfortunately it seems most likely going to be us.

5th Anniversary

Tomorrow is the Fifth anniversary of this livejournal. Unfortunately, LJ seems to be in rapid decline and with a couple of notable exceptions basically none of my friends are still posting. I am thinking of migrating over to another medium for my more blog-like entries and (lets face it) facebook has eaten up the daily comments.

Not to worry, if anyone is still reading, I'll point you to wherever I go from here.

He lives...well ... He posts anyway

So anyway, where was I, oh yeah spending too much time working and hanging out on facebook (yeah I know I said it was dead to me, but listen to me Livejournal, you're the one I really love). So here's an assortment of things that I have been pondering as I sit in endless meetings and run on treadmills.

Lady Gaga’s imaginary family tree

I imagined what an episode of that show where they trace famous people's genealogies would look like if the traced Lady Gaga’s genealogy. It turns out that she is the daughter of the short-lived marriage of Kylie Minogue and Madonna. She grew up backstage at the shows of the two stars, shuttling back and forth unhappily. She was always happiest with her Uncle Marilyn Manson at his Weimar themed summer camp/Spa outside of Bremen. It was there that she met a young Jean-Paul Gaultier with whom she whiled away many summer hours designing experimental swimwear.

My april fools joke

This year I convinced my local neighborhood association that the state (led by the Maryland Board of Racetracks, Sport Fishing and Gaming) was going to turn a local site into a slots casino instead of a park. This earned me the angry ire of the local advocates of the park, but I regret nothing. I think next year I will convince the government of Commerce, Texas that the Obama administration has signed a law requiring all cities named Commerce, Enterprise or other capitalist/business friendly names to be renamed Society, Community, or other socialist names. Anyone want to help?

my plan to raise chickens or miniature goats

Damm homeowner's covenants! oh well

I am contributing (possibly too strong a word) to reviews of old star trek episodes on a friends website, www.billiedoux.com (a terrific site btw) . Here's an example:

Mudd’s Women

So it would be hard to disagree with anything Billie said about this episode, it is fundamentally pretty terrible. But it’s worth noting that this is an episode where the great technological breakthroughs that we are enjoying now and may someday enjoy were on full display. I speak of course of the lowly Jell-O shot. With the remarkable foresight of science fiction that foresaw the popularity and importance of cell phones, computer disks, and prosthetic pointy ears, this episode featured the Jell-O shot prominently as the source of the women’s beauty and sexual appeal. What is remarkable is that Jell-O shots had only been around ten years, having been invented by famed satirist and musician Tom Lehrer around 1956 and yet their powerful influence on our future was already evident. Indeed prior to this invention, Spring Break was typified by the quiet contemplation of the re-birth of the natural world, and very rarely featured coeds fondling each other for the amusement of drunken frat boys.

Of course Star Trek always looked forward to a better world and in the future, Jell-O shots will actually make the drinker more attractive. Clearly technology has advanced considerably with this revolutionary change from the drinker merely believing everyone looked better. It is this bold vision which rescues this episode from complete forgetability.

Lantz and Auden

I read something in the Writer's Almanac the other day, a poem by Nick Lantz called "POSTMANTERRORISM" and its melancholy tone put me in mind of one of W.H. Auden's best known (and one of my favorite) poems, September 1, 1939. Each is a requiem for an age of anomie, confusion and unhappy unrealized hopes. Each is wonderfully packed with allusions and contemporary (to each poem) signifiers. I think the key difference is that Lantz's subject is postmodern and is spoken almost entirely in those signifiers as if to point out how blinded by distraction we have been and continue to be.


So for your approval.


by Nick Lantz

Would it make a difference to say we suffered
from affluenza in those days? Could we blame
Reaganomics, advertainment, the turducken
and televangelism we swallowed by the sporkful,
all that brunch and Jazzercise, Frappuccinos
we guzzled on the Seatac tarmac, sexcellent
celebutantes we ogled with camcorders while
our imagineers simulcast the administrivia
of our alarmaggedon across the glocal village?
Would it help to say that we misunderestimated
the effects of Frankenfood and mutagenic smog
to speculate that amid all our infornography
and anticipointment, some crisitunity slumbered
unnoticed in a roadside motel? Does it count
for nothing that we are now willing to admit
that the animatronic monster slouching across
the soundstage of our tragicomic docusoap
was only a distraction? Because now, for all our
gerrymandering, the anecdata won’t line up for us.
When we saw those contrails cleaving the sky
above us, we couldn’t make out their beginning
or their end. What, in those long hours of ash,
could our appletinis tell us of good or of evil?


“POSTMANTERRORISM” by Nick Lantz, from The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbors’ House. © The University of Wisconsin Press, 2010.



I slept in this weekend until 8:30am. When I got up I realized it had been more than 5 years since I last got to sleep that late. This from a guy who used to have routine problems meeting his friends for breakfast at 11 on Sundays. Children will make a morning person out of anyone (but they can't make me like it).

A final thought on 2009

Rabbit needed to be taught the following in 2009:

Snow drifting gently down onto one's tongue = good

Eating snow freshly fallen in dog-free back yard as dad drags you about on a saucer sled = silly but good

Snow eaten from someone else's discarded chicken bone in a Jersey rest stop = not good.

Happy New Year! (and maybe I'll do better next year)

Things which will matter an awful lot in 2010

So important that they bear little explanation:

Samurai themed underwear - currently a men’s underwear trend which is mostly sold to Japanese "reki-jo" (history girls), but soon a world-wide phenomenon. (check out: http://www.pinktentacle.com/images/word09_samurai1.jpg)

Double sock puppetry - the art of creating false online identities for deceptive purposes which are themselves designed to deceive those who uncover the deception. Evolved from the term sock puppets, referring to false online identities used for phishing and other badness.

The 1 millionth English word - We'll pass this mark shortly and many people will claim to have invented the "schpark" which becomes that word.

Crowdsourcing BS - Allowing my friends and readers to generate this list for next year and then claiming credit for it.

Here endeth my nonsensical end of year lists. I promise.

2009 Word of the year:

Dumbassedness – small minded stupidity practiced with supercilious élan. As in, "This year's health-care debate was characterized by an unusually high level of dumbassedness."

It was a close competition, but this word seem to encompass so many of the other candidates .

2009 Runners-up:

Furliday – time off of work combining unpaid furlough and holiday.

Dissertating – 1) the act of writing a dissertation, 2) to be ABD and engaged in any activity which is not self-evidently goofing off.

Cloud Visioning – 1) Planning all the miraculous things you’ll be able to do when all information everywhere in stored in the data cloud, 2) to be an IT professional and engaged in any activity which is not self-evidently goofing off.

Teabagger – 1) a derogatory term for a member of the tea-party movement, 2) a pornographic reference, 3) any right-wing nut job engaged in any activity which is not self-evidently goofing off or treason.

And they are:

Lady Gaga


Supply Chain Management theory

Next: 2009 Word of the Year

The Joke

I am working an article about Czech humor and political resistance, and so I am re-reading Milan Kundera's "The Joke." Great book, but I feel so pretentious sitting in public and reading it. I think this is because it was one of those show off-y books which I read as an undergraduate at least in part to convince earnest undergraduate girls that I was worthy of their attentions.