Back in the 1970s, there was a very popular show called “Happy Days,” starring Ron Howard and Henry Winkler, who played Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli. Five years into the series, an episode aired in which Fonzie is shown improbably water skiing and jumping a shark to show his bravery. A few years later, the phrase “Jumping the Shark” came to mean that point in a television series where the program had reached its peak, and it was going to be all downhill from then on until it got canceled.
I think risk management in the oil industry has reached that moment, except in this case, I think the appropriate phrase is “Jumping the Walrus.”
According to BP PLC’s 582-page 2009 spill response plan for the Gulf of Mexico, walruses along with sea otters, sea lions, and seals are among the “sensitive biological resources” that could be harmed by an oil discharge from its operations in the Gulf. The only problem is that walruses, sea otters, sea lions, and seals don’t happen to live in the Gulf of Mexico, and haven’t for a considerable period of time — like millions of years.
The spill plan also lists a Japanese home shopping site as one of BP’s primary providers of equipment for containing a spill, a dead professor as one of its wildlife experts to consult with in the event of spill, and other outrageous gaffes.
BP was not alone in worrying about walruses. Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil’s oil discharge response plans in the Gulf of Mexico also listed those poor walruses as potential victims of a spill.
The US government must have been worried about those walruses, too, since those in government accountable for reviewing and approving the oil companies’ response plans didn’t say a word about them. Maybe the US government officials at the Minerals Management Service decided that, even though walruses, sea otters, sea lions, and seals didn’t currently live in the Gulf of Mexico, they might someday. Better to be safe than sorry, right?
Well, the reality, of course, is that the oil companies outsourced the writing of their oil response plans to a consulting group, and didn’t bother to read the plans to see if they made any sense.
What worries me more is that the possibility that those responsible for risk management at the oil companies (and US government) did read these plans and didn’t catch any of the errors. If that is the case, then we may have a deeply disturbing case of the Dunning-Kruger effect at work: the incompetence of oil company and government risk managers masked their ability to recognize their own incompetence at managing risk. 1
When drilling oil wells at ocean depths of 5,000 feet or more, risk-management competence is something I really want those oil companies and government officials that oversee them to possess.
It is pretty clear that oil spill risk management wasn’t taken seriously at all by BP, or by most of the other major oil companies drilling in the Gulf. In congressional hearings, oil industry officials admitted that the industry is poorly equipped to handle oil spills of any size in the Gulf, and that is why the industry tries to prevent spills from happening. The industry also viewed its oil-well blowout preventers as foolproof safety mechanisms, even though they fail regularly. However, the industry officials also admitted that less than 0.1% of corporate profits are spent on improving offshore drilling technologies, even as the risks of drilling offshore have increased significantly over the past decade.
Oil spill risk management was not taken seriously by the US government, either. Even though the MMS has sponsored many, many studies into the risks of offshore drilling, no one seems to have bothered to read and then act on them. Like what used to be said about software reuse libraries, risk management reports were checked in but never checked out.
We can only hope that risk management will be taken a wee bit more seriously in the future by both oil companies and the US government when it comes to drilling in deep water or other sensitive environmental areas, including those where walruses may actually live.
However, I don’t doubt for one minute that other industries pay other consulting companies to write their risk management reports as well — and don’t bother to read them until after something goes terribly wrong. I see it all the time on IT projects, for example.
So, I would like to propose that in the future, whenever risk management is incompetently performed, done just to meet some requirement, isn’t taken seriously, or is plain lackadaisical, we describe it with the phrase, “Jumping the Walrus.” Maybe that will remind those involved that the consequences and public ridicule are likely awaiting them next.
1. The Dunning-Kruger Effect basically says that incompetent people are too incompetent to realize they are incompetent. See: Kruger, Justin, and David Dunning. ” Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 77(6), Dec 1999, 1121-1134.
“India’s Department of Telecommunications has been asked by the government to serve a notice to Skype and Research In Motion to ensure that their email and other data services comply with formats that can be read by security and intelligence agencies, or face a ban in India if they do not comply within 15 days. A similar notice is also being sent to Google, asking it to provide access to content on Gmail in a readable format.”
A 2004 study of the results of stock trading by United States Senators during the 1990s found that that Senators on average beat the market by 12% a year. In sharp contrast, U.S. households on average underperformed the market by 1.4% a year and even corporate insiders on average beat the market by only about 6% a year during that period. A reasonable inference is that some Senators had access to – and were using – material nonpublic information about the companies in whose stock they trade.
Under current law, it is unlikely that Members of Congress can be held liable for insider trading. The proposed Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act addresses that problem by instructing the Securities and Exchange Commission to adopt rules intended to prohibit such trading.
A special order issued in early 2008 by the Los Angeles Police Department mandated that all officers report people engaging in a list of 65 supposedly suspicious behaviors. According to the ACLU report, “the list includes such innocuous, clearly subjective, and First Amendment-protected activities as, taking measurements, using binoculars … drawing diagrams, taking notes, and espousing extremist views.” But the best one was taking pictures or video footage “with no apparent esthetic value.” Angelenos can rest easy knowing the esthetics cops are on the case. (But beware, Hollywood: not all that stuff you folks put out is likely to make the cut.)
Starting this month, colleges and universities that don’t do enough to combat the illegal swapping of "Avatar" or Lady Gaga over their computer networks put themselves at risk of losing federal funding.
A provision of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 is making schools a reluctant ally in the entertainment industry’s campaign to stamp out unauthorized distribution of copyrighted music, movies and TV shows.
Colleges and universities must put in place plans "to effectively combat the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material by users of the institution’s network" without hampering legitimate educational and research use, according to regulations that went into effect Thursday.
RIAA president Cary Sherman said the group can’t say whether campus programs are putting a dent in piracy. But he said the threat of a gradually tougher response to repeat violations is working, pointing to the University of California, Los Angeles, as one example.
“We think we’re beginning to get to a scale now where it actually can make a difference,” he said.
UCLA has developed a system that notifies users by e-mail when the school receives a copyright infringement notice, setting into motion a process that includes a “quarantine” on the computer’s Internet access and the student’s attendance at an educational workshop. Repeat offenders typically face one-semester suspensions.
Since the workshops started, repeat offenders have virtually disappeared, said Kenn Heller, assistant dean of students.
So if you want to know how to encrypt and hide your torrent traffic, contact an UCLA student. They are certain to know how.
In a 68-page decision, a Federal judge has declared a Pennsylvania blasphemy law unconstitutional, due to its “predominant religious purpose”.
The law forbade words constituting “blasphemy”, “profane cursing or swearing”, or “profan[ing] the name of the Lord” in the name of a corporation. Passed in 1977, the law was a response to numerous complaints arising from a shopkeeper naming his store “The God Damn Gun Shop”.
In 2007, George Kalman decided to name is company “I Choose Hell Productions”. His application was declined under the blasphemy law, so he went with “ICH Productions” . . . and sued. The case is Kalman v. Cortes.
U.S. District Judge Michael M. Baylson found that the language of the law made clear its religious purpose. He further noted that it “unequivocally excludes only one religious perspective but not the other, as it permits speech deemed reverent to religious beliefs, yet excludes speech deemed irreverent to religious beliefs.”
now, you probably think your opinion of Goldman Sachs and its swarm of Wall Street allies has rock-bottomed at raw loathing. You’re wrong. There’s more. It turns out that the most destructive of all their recent acts has barely been discussed at all. Here’s the rest. This is the story of how some of the richest people in the world – Goldman, Deutsche Bank, the traders at Merrill Lynch, and more – have caused the starvation of some of the poorest people in the world.
It starts with an apparent mystery. At the end of 2006, food prices across the world started to rise, suddenly and stratospherically. Within a year, the price of wheat had shot up by 80 per cent, maize by 90 per cent, rice by 320 per cent. In a global jolt of hunger, 200 million people – mostly children – couldn’t afford to get food any more, and sank into malnutrition or starvation. There were riots in more than 30 countries, and at least one government was violently overthrown. Then, in spring 2008, prices just as mysteriously fell back to their previous level. Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, calls it “a silent mass murder”, entirely due to “man-made actions.”
Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) drew criticism and a call for his resignation Friday after saying at a party fundraiser that the United States was on the wrong side of history with its conflict in Afghanistan, a military fight he called "a war of Obama’s choosing."
"This is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in," Steele said in a speech Thursday night in Connecticut in which he slammed President Obama’s military strategy.
"It was the president who was trying to be (too) cute by half by flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should be in Afghanistan," Steele said, according to a video of his remarks that was circulated by Democrats on Friday. "Well, if he’s such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan?"
Steele, seeking to clarify his remarks, said Friday afternoon that, "There is no question that America must win the war on terror."
He did not, however, correct his factual error about the war’s start.
I’d wonder how many people in the US would answer “Obama” when asked “who started the war in Afghanistan?”….
Salt Spring Coffee Co., a fair trade, organic roaster that borrows its name from the quaint hippie hideaway off Vancouver Island, asked a Vancouver-based carbon offsetting company Offsetters to look at every aspect of the coffee-making process.
That means a year of drinking Salt Spring’s Nicaraguan coffee — each bag can brew about 50 cups — would produce about 34,000 grams of carbon dioxide, which is about the same as driving a mid-sized car for 170 kilometres. That’s also the size of carbon offsets that Offsetters sells for a single traveller on a commercial flight between Ottawa and Montreal.