Thursday, June 17, 2010

Snake Oil And Jimmy Carter's Sweater: Ready to Respond

Jimmy Carter's sweater is a phrase used in politics to indicate an earnest response rendered silly by the context in which it is offered. It asks for minimal discomfort when the political opponent is claiming you need suffer not at all.

It is common effort versus snake oil. I'm in a business where snake oil solutions, technology as a solution instead of enabler is a way of life.

Some say Obama failed with his speech. Exactly how so? He told us the truth, same as Jimmy Carter. We didn't listen to Jimmy. How'd that work out for us?

Obama gave us a broad agenda with three quantifiable goals:

1. Stop the leak.
2. Clean the water.
3. Get off the oil addiction.

If he's asking us, that's to use the modern yak, crowd sourcing solutions. The first isn't as amenable to crowd sourcing. The second is but relies on resources and organization.

We'll come back to that: that is the cross-jurisdictional communications problem. Years after Mike Chertoff stood there waving the early drafts of the National Response Framework/National Incident Management System (NRF/NIMS) and considerable capital investment, we haven't established a basic communications system that can enable us to establish scalable command and control. There are potential solutions that can be fielded, but that covers products I work on and this isn't an advertisement. Happy to discuss them but not in this blog.

But and Nota Bene: ALL of the oil industry response plans are straw, carbon copied, incompetent filings for mission critical response systems. Say Federal fraud. NRF/NIMS for an event of this type is a hollow suit. This is serious and heads will and must roll for that.

That leaves oil addiction and this is very amenable to crowd sourcing. A friend of mine did some math based on government figures: we are getting 6.8% of our oil consumed in the US from offshore drilling. Another web site shows that 1 billion spent on insulating 75,000 homes equals the amount of energy spilled into the Gulf currently at a current cost of 40 billion dollars. If you are one of those with retirement funds in BP or any other oil company stock, you may want to pay attention to those figures. That's money invested with no R&D. Off the shelf.

Try to think of the problem not in an either-or culture ninja whack context. For a moment put down the pitchforks, let Frankenstein turn the grindstone, and let's ask ourselves if we can start reducing our economic and cultural reliance on oil.

  • Imagine church missions to insulate homes. Start in your own pews and work your way down the street. See if the Methodists and Baptists meet in the middle of if the Catholics can get there first. Don't ignore; compete.

  • Imagine MADD Against Plastics. Again, why do I have all these plastic bags and whatever are they good for except filling the landfill? Go through your house and count the things you use that require plastic or other petroleum products. It is a sobering exercise.

  • Imagine empty recycle containers because the house consumes all the energy it ingests in any form.

  • Imagine wikipedia for disaster response, Redress the expertise imbalance of government over big money: not big gov vs small gov but Smart Gov vs Merely Technically-enabled Gov. If industry experts wrote open source, freely sharable, always inspectable response plans, for example, instead of "oh just use this copy; it worked for the other guys", we can address part of the problem of industry owning all the smarts and government being merely a forms processor that writes checks.

  • We can do this, meanwhile, please Mr. President, more Carter's Pills!

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Big Government or Smart Goverment

    It's an expertise problem. Drop the 'big government' distraction for a moment and consider the amount of training and background required to evaluate the technical details in a seemingly simple response plan that BP would be required to file by regulation. The way government run and regulated industries work, there have to be not simply GS employees (civil servants, job for life, hiring favoring social engineering goals as well as on the job performance), but real technical experts in the field who maintain their expertise given a changing industry even if their job is to read reports and sign off on them.

    And before we run down the 'lazy gov workers' rabbit trails, how many of you can still do your ninth grade children's algebra assignments? Compare NASA in the days when Marshall had the complete fabrication facilities for a Saturn vs the manage-at-a-distance style now where as much of the thought work, testing and assembly is outsourced to contractors. Once expertise is lost, it is very expensive to get it back and as a result, the average government civil servant becomes expert at the process, knowing which forms have to filed, which signatures have to be obtained, bottom line costs and their own performance bonuses given objectives handed down by political processes, not technical adaptations to changes in the technology or the market.

    The problem of the 'big gov' topic is it doesn't actually address the problem of 'smart government', 'trained government' and innovative government. You will never be able to regulate a complex technical industry listening to politicians instead of scientists and engineers when it comes time to make the decisions about technical risks. Physics and chemistry don't recognize the supremacy of money.

    Quit playing football with your environment for the sake of bragging rights. That is how the BPs of the world shuck you for gumbo and feed you your own entrails. Demand smarter government instead of the uptown klan.

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