January 31, 2014
File Under "Dept. of Unnoticed
Finally, an explanation for why no one ever talks about that pachyderm in the room.
It snuck up on them. Sneaky creatures they are, silently tiptoe-ing along just a few feet behind you... just waiting for the right moment to pounce....
So, how in the world can an elephant creep up on you?
For one, the elephant has “big, cushiony feet” that allows it to tread softly, said Craig R. Sholley, vice president of philanthropy and marketing for the African Wildlife Foundation.
Sholley described his own experience on safari in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park: “Suddenly we had 30 elephants appear out of nowhere. I think all of us in the vehicle were looking at each other and saying, ‘How did that happen? They basically came through a forest and we didn’t hear a thing!’”
The pachyderm’s intelligence also plays a role: “If they don’t want to be heard, just like a human being, they will attempt to be silent—and they’re pretty adept at that,” Sholley said.
Be careful out there, peoples.
January 30, 2014
Coffee Snorters, "What Fresh Hell..." Edition
Because she works remotely about half the time, the Editorial Staff spend a lot of time in conference calls. We can report that this is spot on:
Stay tune: more random and completely pointless time wasters to come.
January 27, 2014
Let The Judgement Begin
Again you guys didn't disappoint, but I gotta wonder what it is with the blondes. Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but it is curiouser and curiouser. Enough wondering for now, let's see if y'all can keep it rolling.
On to the judgement and old business:
Our winner this week is our villainous pal, George Pal for what might be, in the old Match Game lingo, the definitive answer, "Defective Head Meat Institute. My name is Debbie. Are you volunteering or contributing?"
Close on his heels is our wandering Van Halen fan, OBloodyHell with "Quickly, the other workers there realized that working on the Suicide Hotline was NOT an appropriate job for Susan..."
And last, but certainly not least when there are this many great answers, is spd rdr for "Ok sir, just a few more questions. Your age? Ninety-eight. Your current health status? Six months to live... And your net worth? Really... Do you like blondes?"
Most excellent, villains.
And now, on to new business!
Have at it, villains.
May the Farce be with you.
Answer to the Quiz
Super Bowl XXVI, Jan. 26, 1992
Art Monk appears to catch a touchdown pass over the head of Buffalo Bills cornerback Kirby Jackson. Although the play was ruled a touchdown on the field, a video review overturned the call when replay revealed the Washington Redskins wide receiver's foot landed out of bounds. It was the first time a touchdown was overturned by instant replay in a Super Bowl, although the Redskins went on to win 37-24. [emphasis mine]
Tip o' the Stetson - SI's 100 Best Super Bowl Photos
It was also, by happenstance, the last game to use replay for seven years afterward.
Instant Replay was implemented in limited use in 1986. Limited in that only replay officials could initiate a replay and the scope of what could be viewed was considerably under-defined. Still, it was what it was, and for those who had been begging for replay to help "get the calls right" it would have to do. For purists, it was a time waster that only added commercials to the game without really changing anything. "Just wait," proponents said, "you'll see, it'll all work out, and we'll finally get the calls right."
Replay was here to stay.
Until the spring of '92, after that Redskin victory, when George Young, then owner of the NY Giants, put together enough of a coalition to block the vote to keep replay for the following season. The vote that year was 17-11, and rules required 21 votes for approval. Opponents of replay had won.
Or so it seemed.
1999 saw replay's return to the NFL with expanded, better-defined situations and plays for review, plus two coaches challenges in addition to any reviews the replay booth initiated. Beginning in the 2004 season, after much tinkering and debate, an additional challenge was added for instances when a coach had been proven correct in his first two challenges of the game. Much more tinkering and debate since has added automatic replay on every scoring play and turnover to the system we currently know as replay.
It seems to be an ever-evolving thing this Instant Replay. It started out just occasionally stopping the game to check a big play and has grown into not only automatically checking to verify every scoring play - even the obvious open-field plays when a defender is either not in the picture or several yards away - to coaches being able to challenge where the ball was spotted after a running play into a pile of 15-20 men with the hope/expectation/strategy of being able to move the ball an inch forward. All the while, as spd so elegantly put it:
"CUT THE AUTOMATIC TIME OUT AFTER EVERY TOUCHDOWN,DAMMIT. Why the hell should the scoring team get to dance around in the endzone and lollygag around the sidelines butt-slappping each other for five minutes after every touchdown? I know why, as do you: It's another opportunity for a TV commercial break. Cialis, anyone?)"
Yes, we all know well why. It's why there's a tv time-out after the touchdown. It why there's a time out after the extra point. It's why there's a time out right after that extra point we just back from a time out for, and it's the reason why we have a time out after the kick-off when we get back from the time out we just took after the point after. It's all about the commercials! All told, at least 10 minutes can go by between touchdown and first play of the next series. That's during the regular season. If I were a betting person, I'd be willing to bet that the average commercial time between actual score and first play of the following series pushes 15 minutes during the upcoming Super Bowl. Easily.
Baseball cracked the Pandora's Box of Instant Replay late in the 2008 season with something similar to the NFL's early version - big play calls only. In baseball's case, it was boundary calls. Two related to home runs - whether or not it was a home run and whether it was fair or foul; the other instance was to determine whether or not a fan touched a ball in play.
This 2014 season will see MLB jump head first down the rabbit holt into that technological
wasteland *Wonderland* of opinion known as Instant Replay. Will it get the call right? I would like to think so given there is so much less going on around a play in baseball as opposed to football. Will it prove to be a good thing? That one goes next to "What do you think about the Designated Hitter?" in the annals of baseball debate. Will it make the game longer? It will certainly seem so as ad companies will quickly over-fill the air space while a decision is being made. However, they seem to have taken some good ideas from other systems for their first full implementation. I'm curious to see how the home plate ump is going to balance the tradition of letting coaches (briefly) argue a call and cutting them off by asking if they want to challenge. (I can think of a couple of umps who will ask the moment a cleat hits the turf.) Overall, it's going to be interesting to see how it all plays out over the course of this inaugural season. I'm also curious to see how many major calls are reversed and what, if any, difference in the outcome of the season can be extrapolated from those reversals. Good, bad or ugly, replay, really is here to stay. For those who still *tut tut* about the length of games these days, replay doesn't make the game longer. Commercials do.
The Problem with Nullification
Grim and I have had a long standing debate over the tactic of nullification at both the state and individual level. The topic came up recently in the context of a proposal that the state of Utah deliberately refuse water to the NSA's new data center; effectively rendering the land useless. Substitute "electricity" for water if you will - both are required for buildings in which people work, and if the state can selectively deny water to [only some] landowners or tenants, why should it not be able to cut off other essential services?
I responded by asking a question: if it is acceptable for Utah to withhold water from property owners if it unilaterally holds their activities to be unconstitutional, what other uses might be made of this glorious new power?
Should a state legislature that thinks the United States military is illegal and immoral have the right to block water or power to military bases within its borders?
Should a state legislature be able to cut off public utilities to Tea Party headquarters? How about the local GOP headquarters?
These are not idle questions - we are talking about whether state legislatures are within their rights to effectively nullify (or greatly devalue) one of the most fundamental of rights - that of property ownership - on the basis of mere political disagreement, without any sort of due process to establish that the intended use of the property is in fact unconstitutional. We are allowing one party to a dispute - the state - to unilaterally decide the dispute.
"Nullification" is a term often used broadly to cover all sorts of refusals to obey the law. State nullification refers to the [rarely if ever upheld] theory that any state may refuse to enforce a law it considers unconstitutional. From what I could see during a brief attempt to research the issue, neither the Constitutional Convention or the Federalist Papers support the notion that states should be able to exercise such a power. This is inconvenient for those who like to cite the Founders or the Constitution as the ultimate appeal to authority:
The records of the state ratifying conventions include over three dozen statements in more than half the states asserting that the federal courts would have the power to declare laws unconstitutional. For example, Luther Martin's letter to the Maryland ratifying convention asserted that the power to declare laws unconstitutional could be exercised solely by the federal courts, and that the states would be bound by federal court decisions...
John Marshall said in the Virginia convention that protection against infringement of the Constitution would be provided by the federal courts: "If [Congress] were to make a law not warranted by any of the powers enumerated, it would be considered by the [federal] judges as an infringement of the Constitution which they are to guard. . . . They would declare it void. . . . To what quarter will you look for protection from an infringement on the Constitution, if you will not give the power to the judiciary? There is no other body that can afford such a protection."
In short, there were no statements in the Constitutional Convention or the state ratifying conventions asserting that the states would have the power to nullify federal laws. On the other hand, the records of these conventions support the idea that the power to declare federal laws unconstitutional lies in the federal courts.
The Federalist Papers do not directly address whether or not states have the power to nullify federal law. They say that the power to declare laws unconstitutional concerning jurisdictions are delegated ultimately to federal courts, once state courts have made their decisions
Federalist No. 33 states that federal laws are supreme to state law, so long as they are within the federal government's delegated powers. Federalist No. 39 does not directly address the question of who is to decide whether the federal government has exceeded its delegated powers and has infringed on the states' reserved powers. It explains that under the Constitution, legal conflicts over jurisidictions are decided by Federal tribunals: "[The federal government's] jurisdiction extends to certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects. It is true that in controversies relating to the boundary between the two jurisdictions, the tribunal which is ultimately to decide, is to be established under the general [i.e. federal] government. . . . Some such tribunal is clearly essential to prevent an appeal to the sword and a dissolution of the compact; and that it ought to be established under the general rather than under the local governments, or, to speak more properly, that it could be safely established under the first alone, is a position not likely to be combated."
Federalist No. 44 discusses the role of the states in checking actions of Congress that exceed its delegated powers. According to Federalist No. 44, one important role of the states is to "sound the alarm" regarding any unconstitutional exercise of power by Congress, and to assist in electing new representatives to Congress. Federalist No. 44 does not imply that the states have the power to legally nullify federal law, although this would have been an appropriate context in which to mention it if such a power were thought to exist.
...Federalist No. 78 says that the federal courts have the power "to pronounce legislative acts void, because contrary to the Constitution."
Federalist No. 80 asserts that the final authority to interpret the Constitution and federal law lies in the federal courts, not the states, because of the need for uniformity.
Likewise, Federalist No. 22 says that the federal courts should interpret federal law due to the need for uniformity.
Federalist No. 82 says that because of the need for uniformity and the federal government's need to effectively enforce its laws, the Constitution gives the Supreme Court the power to review decisions of state courts, but only in in cases arising under the Constitution or federal law.
The Federalist Papers therefore indicate that the power to declare federal laws unconstitutional lies in the federal courts, not in the states.
There are other remedies available to the states seeking to challenge federal power. The attorneys general of several states have sued the federal government alleging that they should not be bound by the Affordable Care Act. So far, none of these challenges has succeeded.
This type of remedy at least represents a direct, frontal assault that makes arguments within the existing framework of law. Proposals like the Utah plan do nothing to establish that the Utah data center is, in fact, unconstitutional. They make no argument, preferring sabotage to debate and deliberation. Interestingly, it turns out that the Utah data center is seated on a military installation called Camp Williams, which makes my debate question (can a state deny power or water to a military base within its borders?) even more relevant.
Note that I did not say, "on its land", as most military installations are situated on federal land purchased or leased from the states.
What we are really asking here is, "Can a state selectively discriminate against a tenant or owner in rightful possession of land for which the state has received monetary compensation (paid in federal taxpayer dollars!), denying to it essential public goods enjoyed by all other landowners and tenants within the state?" If we sanction this outcome because we approve of the result, against what other landowners or tenants could this delicious new power be used? Do we approve it in all situations (whether or not we like the outcome)? Or are we essentially arguing that it's OK for us to do it, but not for those we disagree with to do it?
Today, linking to a column by Glenn Reynolds, Grim poses another example of nullification:
... on the marijuana front, the people of states like Colorado are engaging in an odd, 21st century variety of nullification. Unlike the 19th century John Calhoun version, state laws legalizing marijuana don't purport to neutralize the still-extant federal laws banning cannabis. But the state, and millions of Coloradans, are simply ignoring the federal law and, in essence, daring the feds to do something about it.
State laws, of course, can't neutralize federal law, as the Constitution's Supremacy Clause makes clear. But, bloated as it is, the federal law enforcement apparatus isn't up to the task of prosecuting all the marijuana users in Colorado. And if it tried, it would have to bring them to trial before juries in Colorado, who would probably acquit most of them. There would also be massive political backlash, amplified in the coming 2014 and 2016 elections because Colorado is a swing state. And in response to Colorado's example, other states look likely to follow suit, making the feds' problem much bigger.
So, despite all the federal laws on the books, Colorado has de facto nullified them, and started a process that may very well snowball, all without directly attacking the federal laws, or the federal government, at all.
Once again, the state has done nothing to challenge the actual law in question. Colorado poses no constitutional or legal argument. It simply "dares" the federal government to enforce the laws it has made. Here in the people's republic of Maryland, the city of Takoma Park has open laws on the books forbidding law enforcement to report illegal aliens or take any action to deport them. In his article, Reynolds uses the fact that many Americans have refused to sign up for ObamaCare as yet another example of nullification (or perhaps more accurately, "Nullifaction" is the title of Grim's post, and Reynolds calls Colorado's stance "de facto" nullification:
In one area, we have the refusal of people to sign up for Obamacare in anything like the numbers that were predicted, or needed to make it work.
But this is a very different scenario, because the ACA contains provisions for doing precisely this - a fine - within the existing law. So those who "refuse to sign up" are not refusing to obey the law. They are taking advantage of an option provided within that very law.
The problem I have with nullification is that it is back handed and undermines the rule of law. Its supporters like to argue that they have "no other means" to oppose laws they disagree with. But that's not really true: there are many other ways to oppose laws: some more successful, some less so. But our entire system of government is based on the idea that we formulate the rules we live under a well defined process of public debate, legislation, and law enforcement. If you are willing to selectively disregard the law because persuading your fellow citizens is too hard, are you willing to have the same tactic used against you?
How do we object to this administration's refusal to enforce laws if we claim the same right? It is a puzzlement.
January 24, 2014
Questions and A Quiz
First the quiz:
It's Super Bowl time! Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear there's a Pro Bowl street game this weekend, but I won't be watching. Although, I am glad they finally made it into the complete joke that the game had devolved into over the last decade.
Anyway, Super Bowl and while neither of the two teams shown are playing in the big game, what is the significance of the play shown in the picture. Cudo's for those
can whom also (*sigh*) name which SB game this was - without Google or any other search engine.
Now questions for conversation:
As YAG mentioned in the Caption Contest thread, Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, has floated a trial balloon about doing away with the point after kick. Instead of kicking the extra point after a touchdown, teams would be automatically given the seventh point. If teams wanted to go for the two point conversion instead, they would, in a sense, be gambling that automatic extra point. Make the conversion, get the eighth point. Fail to make the conversion and you lose that automatic point and go back to six.
One suggestion I saw on a conversation board was to move the try from the two yard line to the one. Kicking a point from the one or two is neither here nor there for a professional kicker (Miami's kicker, notwithstanding), however, a two-point conversion try from the one is much more tempting - and attainable - than from the two. Witness Matthew Stafford's game winning *fake spike* earlier this season against Dallas.
Second question: Baseball is expanding replay to include almost 90% of the plays on the field. (The 200' infield fly Sam Holbrook called against Atlanta in the wild card game against St. Louis, however, is not part of that 90%, go fig.) Coaches will have a single challenge to use, and, like the NFL system, if their challenge is upheld, they will receive an additional challenge. Also, instead of the umps going off the field to watch replay, a central crew in NY will handle those duties and relay the information to the field crews. This is "supposed" to make the process faster. We'll see.
Placed on the backburner, for now, is the proposed change to no longer allow collisions at home plate. I say "for now" because the only thing standing in the way of adopting the change is formal ratification of the change by the Players Association.
So, what do you think of these changes, both proposed and instituted?
Sound off in the comments and tell me what you think.
What say you, villains?
I Think This Is What They Meant...
...when they said, "World Wide Web".
Via WND comes this:
Ask MetaFilter member JannaK presented the community with a puzzle that had been troubling her family for nearly 20 years. Her grandmother died in 1996 from cancer and in her last days she scribbled down a seemingly non-sensical string of characters on index cards. Nobody knew what it all meant. Then the Metafilter community solved the puzzle in 14 minutes.
According to the posting, JannaK’s grandmother left at least 20 of the cards behind but neither JannaK nor her cousins could solve what they assumed were codes. Her father discovered one of the cards lying around recently, and so JannaK put it to the community. Holy moly, wouldn’t you know it? The code turned out to be …
Please go check it out, villains...and Princess. I can't help but think that this is what the creators of the interwebs really had in mind when they were dreaming up their theory of connecting everyone on the planet with everyone else *oh so long ago*.
January 23, 2014
Today's Moronic Tempest in a Teapot
Conservative man expresses opinion about what women should voluntarily do. You know, only if they choose to.
Which is pretty much what "voluntarily" means:
Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) believes that although a wife is supposed to "voluntarily submit" to her husband, she is not inferior to him, according to the Washington Post.
"The wife is to voluntarily submit, just as the husband is to lovingly lead and sacrifice," Pearce wrote in a December memoir "Just Fly The Plane, Stupid!" that discusses the Bible. "The husband's part is to show up during the times of deep stress, take the leadership role and be accountable for the outcome, blaming no one else."
Pearce also writes that while the wife is not inferior, she must nevertheless be obedient to her husband.
"The wife's submission is not a matter of superior versus inferior; rather, it is self-imposed as a matter of obedience to the Lord and of love for her husband," he said in the book.
In the book, Pearce criticizes men who "bully their wives and families" based on the Bible passage that says wives should submit to their husbands.
"Authoritarian control is not given to the husband," he wrote.
Question for the ages: why on earth should it be considered outrageous or offensive for one adult to express an opinion (especially one grounded in religious faith) about how another fully autonomous adult ought to behave?
Opinions have zero coercive power, and people express opinions about what other people ought to do all the time. Feminists are constantly expressing their very strong opinions about how men ought to behave (and in all fairness, men erupt in outrage over this sort of thing all the time as though somehow, simply voicing an opinion were actively endangering their autonomy). Still, if expressing opinions about how the other half of Humynity should behave or what they're allowed to say is somehow wrong/bad/offensive, why do feminists do it so often? Shouldn't they practice what they preach? Why would anyone voluntarily (there's that word again!) limit their own behavior without the expectation of reciprocity?
The Editorial Staff have seen conservative men say some mind-bogglingly idiotic things with respect to women. But they're hardly alone here. For that matter, the Editorial Staff (female, at least the last time we checked) have several times expressed the opinion that there's some value in women being gentle and - dare we say it? - yielding in relationships with men. We have also expressed many opinions on things both sexes can do to get along better with each other.
But none of us has the luxury of redesigning the other sex to our own specifications. They are what they are, just as we are what we were designed to (and decide to) be. Adults should be able to stand on their own two feet, and a stray opinion from the other half of humanity shouldn't be enough to rock anyone's world on its axis.
Sheesh. Everyone's a fragile snowflake these days.
January 22, 2014
All Kinds Of Kinds
The category says, "Something Wonderful", but this one comes with a caveat: "And Sad".
Friends and strangers have raised more than $20,000 to fund the funeral of an 8-year-old boy who died after saving six relatives from a fast-moving blaze in his grandfather’s trailer home in western New York.
Tyler Doohan is being hailed as a hero days after he awoke his grandmother, aunt and cousins, including two children ages 4 and 6, after spotting the fire early Monday in the single-wide trailer in Penfield. The boy's body was later found near the bed of his disabled uncle, who authorities believe he'd gone back in to save in a doomed effort as brave as it was heartbreaking.
Our society today throws the word "hero" around with such casual disregard for the veracity of whether or not the act is truly heroic. This young man, who will never grow to be an old man, knew heroic without understanding why. He knew it because it came from that place from whence comes all acts of true heroism - it was in his heart.
RIP Tyler Doohan. Know that you are were a better Man than many of your current societal peers will ever be. May they look upon your selflessness and find themselves wanting. To the family whose lives were spared by Tyler Doohan's selfless act, may you one day live in peace knowing of the great love he held for each of you.
Well, really only devastating if you subscribe to the notion that women "ought" to prefer working for other women:
A recurring issue in glass-ceiling debates revolves around whether women are, either directly or indirectly, excluded from high-level jobs. Many offices tend to promote people according to a concept called "homosocial reproduction"—essentially, the spoils go to the workers who move in the right social circles. If your workplace is a boy's club where the high-performers smoke cigars and play golf together, this theory would dictate that the next big promotion is likely not going to the quiet female analyst who knits during lunchtime.
That's why this one fact, from a Pew survey released last month, is so devastating.
Pew asked 2,002 people if they would prefer to work with men or women. Most—78 percent of men and 76 percent of women—said they didn't care. But for the 22 percent who did have a preference, "it’s men who get the nod from both sexes by about a 2-1 margin," Pew's Rich Morin writes. In fact, more women said they'd rather work with men than men did.
One interesting way to look at this study is that - despite the shrieking of the perpetually aggrieved crowd who contend that allowing women into the workplace has terrified men to the point of utter helplessness - there's hardly any difference between the co-worker preferences of most women and most men.
To evaluate the efficacy of a policy, most analysts pay more attention to how well it works in the majority of cases. Here, 85% of men and 81% of women either have no preference or prefer working with women.
This would appear to be bad news for the argument that feminists have made the workplace so unfriendly to men that they've gone on strike. The converse (an even higher proportion of women than men - 94% vs 92% - either have no preference or prefer working with men) is bad news for the argument that Evil, Patriarchal Hegemonists are oppressing women left and right.
The differences here are marginal at best. And the majority of workers - male and female - appear not to have gotten the outrage memo :p
21st Century Advice for Parents of Boys
I wonder how many parents have done this?
... advise your son not to have virtual or real sexual contact with someone he doesn't know well.
Encourage your son to avoid sending any pictures of his body using social media. No sexting. No oral sex parties. They should not have sexual contact with someone with whom they have not shared a meal.
The bar for getting to know a person seems to have been considerably lowered with time.
January 21, 2014
All Kinds Of Kinds
Via BookwormRoom comes this video of an exceptional flash mob in Russia. The occasion being the marriage, and subsequent surprise, of a young couple by their friends. Bookworm offers it for enjoyment with some historical context for the video. I, however, loved it for one simple reason: the look of surprise on the bride's face as she realizes just exactly what her friends have done for them.
Plus, I love the song
Ok, that's two reasons. Cue the YouTube.
Update: OBloodyHell has shown up with his pencil in hand and pointed to another flash mob that I would not want missed. Not only is the music beautiful, but the kids, oh the kids....
January 20, 2014
Let The Judgement Begin
Dayum peoples! You guys really came out firing on all cylinders for last week's picture. I love when you make my job difficult, and this week was very difficult.
So, on to the judgement and old business:
Eliciting the biggest belly laugh this week is George Pal with "You make crazy eyes like this and say... 'what difference does it make?' Scares the bejeezus out of the nimrods."
Second place goes to our own inimitable spd rdr for expressing what everyone wishes for "Wait! What did you mean by 'Thanks for the signed confession?'"
And, grabbing a rare third place this week, is frequent flyer for "Hey, wanna see my Nancy Pelosi imitation?"
Excellent job, villains!
Now, on to new business!
Updated: Oh crap! I forgot my these!
Obscure movie reference props go to the Blog Princess for her sssscintillating [Hillary, channeling Kaa in the Jungle Book]
"Trussssssssssst in meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee....
Jussssssssssssssst in meeeeeeeeeeeee
Close your eyes
Trust in me.
[Hold still, please]"
And, obscure political trivia reference goes to Don Brouhaha's "Here, let me autograph that baseball. I once played for the Yankees, or I would have if they would have given me that minor league contract."
Now, on to new business!
Have at it, villains.
May the Farce be with you.
January 19, 2014
Every Time Peyton Manning Yells, "OMAHA!"...
...God kills another fluffy kitten.
January 17, 2014
Friday Odds And Ends
It's Friday, the Princess' hair is on fire and the only advice I have for her at this point in time is: Get thee to a wiggery!
We've discussed the current car wants and needs of Gen Y and have found their priorities somewhat misplaced. It leaves one with a sense that the *hive mind* has permeated too deeply. But fear not, Villainous Company! There are still vestiges of creativity to be found, if you can just know how to spot the clues.
"Going back to the '80s for inspiration, Sairam Gudiseva wrote an essay with a "rickroll" message best to be enjoyed by fans of good-natured shenanigans.
Give Gudiseva props. It isn't easy to write about scientist Niels Bohr, while working in Rick Astley lyrics that you may miss on first pass. Gudiseva posted a copy of his essay to Twitter, with the Astley lyrics marked up with a yellow highlighter. As the Independent noted, it's impressive to write an essay on physics, never mind the time it must have taken to get each lyric to line up perfectly."
A few things that have found their way into my folder, but hadn't found a way out....until now:
And finally, because, well because....
January 16, 2014
Here, You Drive
"Yo' man, what tha' utha pedal fo'?"
"I'own know...maybe it's a brake for da lef' side."
"SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — A trio of would-be Massachusetts car thieves had to hit the brakes on their plan because none of them knew how to drive a stick.
Police in Springfield say the men pulled a knife on a food delivery driver Tuesday night and demanded the grub and his keys. But then they noticed the car had a manual transmission.
Sgt. John Delaney tells The Republican newspaper the thieves argued among themselves then ran down the street with their ill-gotten dinner.
The driver was not seriously hurt. There have been no arrests."
With Friends Like These....
Matt Lewis makes the case for tribalism in politics:
“If there were a fervent ideological foundation,” Limbaugh said, “if there was a substantive reason of believing in Governor Christie, then whether he lied wouldn’t matter. They’d [conservatives] be out there defending him left and right just to make sure the Democrats don’t get away with this.”
It may sound unseemly, but Limbaugh, I suspect, is absolutely correct. At the macro level, tribalism might be bad for society. But at the micro level, it makes complete sense. The first thing a lot of people do when they go to prison is join a gang (as the son of a prison guard, a disproportionate number of my stories relate to prisons; I suspect an accountant’s son is prone to talking about numbers). They do this for protection.
As much as we would like to pretend otherwise, politics, I suppose, isn’t terribly different. You and I need someone watching our backs when the other side tries to shank us in the courtyard. (This, of course, is one of the many forces pushing politicians to the right or the left. It’s not just about gerrymandering. Moving to the right or left is a rational decision based on the perfectly logical assumption that you may one day need protection.)
Let me give you a practical example of how this works in the relatively safe world of political journalism.
Let’s say that you develop a reputation as an intellectually honest, center-right contrarian. Your fans (to the degree someone who fits this description has “fans”) will tend to be like you, which is to say they will call em like they see em. As such, when you get into some sort of skirmish or hot water, there’s no guarantee these “free agents” will come rushing to your defense. Even if they agree with you (and there’s no guarantee they will), they aren’t likely to do anything about it. The trouble is, when you’re under attack, you don’t need intellectual honesty, you need unconditional loyalty.
It's hard to figure out why a prominent conservative talk show host would want people to see conservatives as folks who will defend a liar simply because he's "one of ours". It makes perfect sense to me that conservatives would be more inclined to defend (or simply extend the benefit of the doubt to) someone who shares their values. It seems natural to trust people who think the way you do because you understand them better (and theoretically at least, you ought to be better able to predict their actions). That kind of tribalism doesn't strike me as particularly harmful, so long as it's not carried too far.
But to admit that you'll passionately defend even a dishonest politician so long as he/she meets some sort of conservative litmus test?
What's the upside to this argument? "Elect us - we'll defend our own. Even if they're lying."
January 15, 2014
That's Gonna Leave A Mark!
I'm not sure Jay Leno was ever really "on the farm" enough to really be considered *lost*, so his monologues on the Tonight Show for the past few years were only surprising to his bosses at NBC. But Jimmy Kimmel on the other hand...
I can't help but wonder how much fabric disappeared from office chairs at ABC this morning.
Update: Link fixed. Thanks for pointing it out, Ron.
Update II: Methinks that *someone* is not happy about this video's existence.
You Tell 'Em
I love dogs. I love kittens. I just wish they didn't always grow into cats. Some of my kittens have grown into cool cats, others, like the one that currently resides on the Dark Side with us, have not. However, it is not my cat. It is the VES's cat, and that, and only that, is the reason why it is still here on the Dark Side. But I digress... I always had dogs around when I was growing up. And, from the moment I moved out on my own, rare has been the occasion when there was only one residing on the Dark Side with me. When such times have occurred, the situation has been remedied within a few months. Now, one of the cool things I love about my animals (PITA cat included) is the fact that they all talk. It started with my first dog, Bart, a German Shepherd/Doberman mix that was one of the smartest dog I've ever seen. He easily had a 200 word vocabulary of commands. About the only thing I couldn't teach him was to fetch the ball off of a baseball bat. He would wait for me to go get them in the outfield, toss them back to home plate, and....you guessed it, bring them back to me in the outfield.
Silly damn dog.
But he was a helluva talker, and that's what started it all. From that point on, I made sure to teach my animals to talk to me. Now they pick it up "monkey-hear/monkey-do" style from the older ones as they get brought into the pack. From all indications, my newest pup, Sierra,
is going to be quite the talker, too. She's just a little over a year old and may one day be as good as this guy - who definately has something to say to his person:
Tip O'the Stetson: The Daily Caller
Important "Fist Bump Disavowal" Alert!
This post is dedicated to the many souls who have found themselves asking that age old question: "When is a fist bump, not a fist bump?":
New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) is disavowing a fist bump he gave to Gov. Chris Christie (R) during last year's State of the State address.
DISAVOWING!!! This, people, is how you know you've got a major scandal on your hands. People start disavowing your fist bumps!
Sweeney, who has enjoyed an unusually cozy across-the-aisle relationship with Christie, appeared Wednesday on WNYC radio's "The Brian Lehrer Show" to talk about this year's speech and the growing bridge scandal. Host Brian Lehrer began by inquiring about the absence of a Christie-Sweeney fist bump at the address signaled a change.
"I didn't see any fist bump this year," Lehrer said. "Have things changed?"
Sweeney encouraged Lehrer not to read too much into it.
"Last year I was sick, Brian, and I don't believe in shaking peoples' hands when you're sick," Sweeney explained. "You know what I mean? So the fist bump was just trying not to spread a germ."
Pay no attention to what might (to those not in the know) have appeared to be a minor social interaction with no particular news value. This is why we need an intrepid journalistic class: to probe the Deeper Meaning behind such apparently innocuous gestures. Undeterred by the obvious attempt at a cover up, our hero DEMANDS answers:
Lehrer pressed the point and, noting Sweeney's "reputation as somebody who has worked with the governor very closely," asked if things are "different" in the wake of the bridge scandal.
What's that old adage about not asking questions you don't already know the answer to???
"They're different because we got the distraction of this bridge -- this 'Bridgegate' situation or, you know, that's what we're calling it. But you know, at the end of the day, to me, we still have the work of the people to get done," said Sweeney. "We're trying to minimalize (sic) this distraction of this bridge issue because, you know, the people, people expect to see progress."
Looks like someone didn't get the memo.
January 13, 2014
Let the Judgement Begin
Bridegazi! Oh wait, what am I thinkin'!? This is the caption contest thread...which is my not so subtle way of saying the innertubes ate my first draft post before I saved. Trust me, it wasn't much better than "Bridegazi!".
So, on to the judgement and old business:
Breaking the yellow tape at the finish line for the first (and hopefully not the last) time is our own Blog Princess for "[Boehner, to self] I'm less concerned about what he's wearing on his lapel than what's in his heart."
YAG claims possession of second place this week for "When asked about his expression, Boehner remarked that he was wondering if Obamacare covered rhetorically induced nausea."
Again, I'm afraid I've chosen a picture that didn't inspire enough comments to give an honest contest for third place. However, notice is taken (as well as a very large Huzzah) for htom's fashion sense: "Button-down collar, with a suit? Are there not Fashion Police to prevent such things from happening?".
Now, on to new business!
It seems the stage is being set for the next "heir apparent" to the Emperor's *New Clothes*. Personally, I'd prefer she stick with the pantsuits.
Anyway, have at her..errr, it, peoples.
May the Farce be with you.
January 12, 2014
Does Your Personality Explain Your Politics?
Social scientists find many questions about values and lifestyle that have no obvious connection to politics can be used to predict a person’s ideology. Even a decision as trivial as which browser you’re using to read this article is imbued with clues about your personality. Are you on a Mac or PC? Did you use the default program that came with the computer or install a new one?
In the following interactive, we put together 12 questions that have a statistical correlation to a person’s political leanings, even if the questions themselves are seemingly apolitical. At the end of this (completely anonymous) quiz, we’ll use your responses to guess your politics.
The Princess's results are below the fold (spoiler alert - take the test before reading!).-
Interestingly, the Spousal Unit came up only +2 points in the conservative direction. If anything, the quiz probably overstates my conservative chops.
Feel free to amaze and confuse us with your results in the comments section.
Reality and the Object Lesson
An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had recently failed an entire class. That class had insisted that Obama’s socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer.
The professor then said, “OK, we will have an experiment in this class on Obama’s plan”.. All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so no one will fail and no one will receive an A…. (substituting grades for dollars – something closer to home and more readily understood by all).
After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little.
The second test average was a D! No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F. As the tests proceeded, the scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else.
To their great surprise, ALL FAILED and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed.
Economic Theory vs. Economic Reality
Good video on how minimum wage laws make inexperienced and unskilled workers less employable:
Possibly related - over at The Atlantic Anne-Marie Slaughter complains that the US economy doesn't value caregivers enough:
An America that puts an equal emphasis on care and competition would be a very different place. We would invest in a national infrastructure of care in the same way that we invest in the infrastructure of capitalism. We would institute:
•High-quality and affordable child care and elder care facilities
•Higher wages and training for paid caregivers
•Support structures to allow elders to live at home longer
•Paid family and medical leave for women and men
Flexible work arrangements and career life cycles to give breadwinners who are also caregivers equal opportunity to advance over the course of their careers:
•Financial and social support for single parents
•Far greater social esteem for the “caring” professions
Not being cared for is just as much a marker of inequality as being discriminated against.
In short, we would build a social infrastructure that allows people to care for one another, in the same way we provide the basic physical infrastructure that allows them to compete.
The blog princess is always somewhat mystified at demands that people value some-thing-or-other more than they already do. For what little this may be worth, she actually agrees that the world would be a far better place if people valued caregiving more.
But the progressive answer to the valuation question always seems to require the use of government force (laws requiring employers to act in ways that are often inconsistent with staying in business, or laws that further disadvantage already-disadvantaged workers) combined with the forcible confiscation of income required to bridge the yawning gap between abstract theories of what people should want and how they should behave and the demonstrable ways they DO think and behave.
With an aging population and a growing number of mothers choosing to work, the caregiver field is likely to be a growth industry over the next decade or so. But the ugly truth here is that few skilled workers want to be caregivers (we'll skip the Princess's favorite rant about "Why don't more men rescue underachieving boys by going into teaching"). The pay is low because for the most part, only the least skilled workers are willing to take such jobs.
There is no "Department of Valuation" that decides these things - wages result from the individual cost/benefit calculations of millions of employers and employees.
Thinking that somehow, wishful thinking will cancel out all the very real considerations that go into these calculations is just delusional. But when logic is in short supply, there's always coercion.
Sgt. Peralta's Rifle
The blog princess ran across this poem by Marine Corporal William Berry III in an article about Rafael Peralta's rifle:
The story behind the poem is an interesting one:
When William Berry wrote to the National Museum of the Marine Corps asking its curators to find Sgt. Rafael Peralta’s M16 service rifle, he wasn’t terribly confident they would read it or respond.
After all, his letter was postmarked from the Virginia Beach County Jail, where he was serving a year sentence after a drunken driving bust.
But Berry wasn’t just a casual observer; he was intimately familiar with that rifle, down to its shrapnel scars and battle dust, and his instructions helped museum staff to locate the weapon at the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit armory in Okinawa, Japan, where it had been in storage for years. Where, in fact, Berry had left it in 2005 when he gave it a final cleaning after its return from Iraq.
An armorer with Battalion Landing Team 1/3, Berry’s job in Iraq in 2004 was in part to collect the remnants of rifles after their owners became war casualties. Frequently, the weapons were mangled and twisted; sometimes they were covered in blood.
Berry recalled several instances when casualties came pouring in all at once and his grim job became a blur.
“Right before we went into Fallujah, it was late October, we had an [improvised explosive device] go off on a seven-ton [truck], and it killed eight Marines,” said Berry, who was a 22-year-old lance corporal at the time. “Once we recovered all the weapons, which were blown up to bits, we would put them in a body bag. ”
Exactly 8 years ago today, we wrote about Sgt. Peralta's heroic deeds. At that time, we didn't think his story would be remembered:
Most Americans have never heard of Rafael Peralta, and they never will.
In past wars, he would have been a hero. His name would have been a household word, his deeds an inspiration to small boys, their eyes growing wide with amazement at his sacrifice. The chests of old men would have puffed out in pride. Crusty veterans would have stood a bit taller, remembering their own service. Women would have grown misty-eyed, and young girls would have laid flowers on his grave, wiping away a tear as they dreamed of handsome heroes.
We did not know then that one day he would be nominated to receive the Medal of Honor. We did not know that this honor would be refused him - wrongly, we've always thought.
And we did not know that Sgt. Peralta's battle-scarred rifle would one day become instrumental in the fight to honor this hero as he should have been honored long ago.
The Army and Navy Clauses in the Constitution
In the previous post, the Dark Lord Sly poses an interesting question:
The Constitution requires a military, so while I understand where the idea that a state would declare our military illegal would come from, perhaps not the best comparison in that it is a requirement of our federal government.
This is an area the Editorial Staff knows little about, so we resorted to Google. We dimly remembered from our school days the debate about a standing army. As it turns out, the relevant clauses to the Constitution (the Army and Navy Clauses) delegate to Congress the following powers:
(Clause 11 – War power)
[The Congress shall have Power] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
(Clause 12 – Army)
[The Congress shall have Power] To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
(Clause 13 – Navy)
[The Congress shall have Power] To provide and maintain a Navy;
(Clause 14 – Military establishment)
[The Congress shall have Power] To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
In a fine essay, Mac Owens explores the history and context behind the Army clause:
For most Americans after the Revolution, a standing army was one of the most dangerous threats to liberty. In thinking about the potential dangers of a standing army, the Founding generation had before them the precedents of Rome and England. In the first case, Julius Caesar marched his provincial army into Rome, overthrowing the power of the Senate, destroying the republic, and laying the foundation of empire. In the second, Cromwell used the army to abolish Parliament and to rule as dictator. In addition, in the period leading up to the Revolution, the British Crown had forced the American colonists to quarter and otherwise support its troops, which the colonists saw as nothing more than an army of occupation. Under British practice, the king was not only the commander in chief; it was he who raised the armed forces. The Framers were determined not to lodge the power of raising an army with the executive.
... Founders like George Washington, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton were also acutely aware of the dangers external enemies posed to the new republic. The British and Spanish were not only on the frontiers of the new nation. In many cases they were within the frontiers, allying with the Indians and attempting to induce frontier settlements to split off from the country. The recent Shays's Rebellion in Massachusetts had also impelled the Framers to consider the possibility of local rebellion.
The "raise and support Armies" clause was the Framers' solution to the dilemma. The Constitutional Convention accepted the need for a standing army but sought to maintain control by the appropriations power of Congress, which the Founders viewed as the branch of government closest to the people.
The compromise, however, did not satisfy the Anti-Federalists. They largely shared the perspective of James Burgh, who, in his Political Disquisitions (1774), called a "standing army in times of peace, one of the most hurtful, and most dangerous of abuses." The Anti-Federalist paper A Democratic Federalist called a standing army "that great support of tyrants." And Brutus, the most influential series of essays opposing ratification, argued that standing armies "are dangerous to the liberties of a people...not only because the rulers may employ them for the purposes of supporting themselves in any usurpation of powers, which they may see proper to exercise, but there is a great hazard, that any army will subvert the forms of government, under whose authority, they are raised, and establish one, according to the pleasure of their leader." During the Virginia ratifying convention, George Mason exclaimed, "What havoc, desolation, and destruction, have been perpetrated by standing armies!" The Anti-Federalists would have preferred that the defense of the nation remain entirely with the state militias.
The Federalists disagreed. For them, the power of a government to raise an army was a dictate of prudence. Thus, during the Pennsylvania ratifying convention, James Wilson argued that "the power of raising and keeping up an army, in time of peace, is essential to every government. No government can secure its citizens against dangers, internal and external, without possessing it, and sometimes carrying it into execution." In The Federalist No. 23, Hamilton argued, "These powers [of the federal government to provide for the common defense] ought to exist without limitation: because it is impossible to foresee or define the extent or variety of national exigencies, or the correspondent extent & variety of the means which may be necessary to satisfy them.".
Owens goes on to trace the evolving use and orientation of the Army, from a small, expandable militia-like force to a constabulary to the behemoth, draft-supplied Army of WWII to the all volunteer force we know today. It's interesting reading:
The purpose of the United States Army has not always been primarily to win the nation's wars, but to act as a constabulary. Soldiers were often used during the antebellum period to enforce the fugitive slave laws and suppress domestic violence. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 permitted federal marshals to call on the posse comitatus to aid in returning a slave to his owner, and Attorney General Caleb Cushing issued an opinion that included the Army in the posse comitatus.
In response, Congress enacted the Posse Comitatus Act (1878), which prohibited the use of the military to aid civil authorities in enforcing the law or suppressing civil disturbances unless expressly ordered to do so by the President. The Army welcomed the legislation. The use of soldiers as a posse removed them from their own chain of command and placed them in the uncomfortable position of taking orders from local authorities who had an interest in the disputes that provoked the unrest in the first place. As a result, many officers came to believe that the involvement of the Army in domestic policing was corrupting the institution.
In 1904, Secretary of War Elihu Root reoriented the Army away from constabulary duties to a mission focused on defeating the conventional forces of other states. This view has shaped United States military culture since at least World War II and continues to this day. Whether the exigencies of a modern war against terrorism once again changes the military's mission towards domestic order is yet to be seen.
Owens next turns his attention to the Navy clause:
Because the Founding generation considered navies to be less dangerous to republican liberty than standing armies, the Navy Clause did not elicit the same level of debate as did the Army Clause (see Article I, Section 8, Clause 12). Their experience taught them that armies, not navies, were the preferred tools of tyrants. Readers of Thucydides could view a navy as particularly compatible with democratic institutions. They were also aware of how much the economic prosperity and even the survival of the country depended upon sea-going trade. Consequently, the Framers of the Constitution imposed no time limit on naval appropriations as they did in the case of the army.
Both Federalists and Anti-Federalists believed that maritime trade was necessary if the United States was to maintain its independence of action, but they disagreed over how to protect this trade. After the Revolution, the United States possessed one of the principal merchant fleets in the world, but it was largely defenseless. In June 1785 Congress voted to sell the one remaining ship of the Continental Navy, a frigate, leaving the fledgling nation with only a fleet of small Treasury Department revenue cutters for defense.
Federalists such as Alexander Hamilton argued for a federal navy, which "if it could not vie with those of the great maritime powers, would at least be of respectable weight if thrown into the scale of either of two contending parties." Hamilton argued that without a navy, "a nation, despicable by its weakness, forfeits even the privilege of being neutral." The Federalist No. 11.
Anti-Federalists argued that instead of defending American commerce and guaranteeing American neutrality, creating a navy would provoke the European powers and invite war. They were also concerned about the expense of maintaining a navy and the distribution of that expense. During the Virginia ratifying convention, William Grayson argued that, despite the fact that a navy would not appreciably reduce the vulnerability of southern ports, the South would bear the main burden of naval appropriations.
The wisdom of granting Congress the power to provide and maintain a navy became evident during the two decades after the framing and ratification of the Constitution. As Europe once again erupted in war, American merchantmen increasingly found themselves at the mercy of British and French warships and the corsairs of the Barbary States. Only the rapid creation of a navy permitted the United States to hold its own in the Quasi War with France (1798–1800) and the War of 1812 with the British.
The threat of cyber war and cyber attacks on both civilian and government targets poses yet another situation the Founders never really planned for. But the question of whether a State may selectively "starve out" or withhold public resources from a military institution lawfully present within its borders appears to be addressed in part by ARTICLE I, SECTION 8, CLAUSE 17:
The Congress shall have Power To ...exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings....
Not wishing to play attorney (even on the Internet), the Editorial Staff's laypersonish interpretation of this passage is that the rights retained by States are governed by the terms of the original purchase agreement. A state may refuse to host a military (or possibly quasi-military) installation, but once they have agreed to do so and accepted payment for the land, their rights are not unlimited but rather depend upon the terms set forth in the purchase agreement.
We would be extremely surprised to learn that a State had negotiated the right to sabotage federal property at will, and are even more skeptical that such an agreement would be a good thing, were it to have been agreed upon by both parties.
January 11, 2014
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Intriguing question for debate:
Should a state legislature that thinks the United States military is illegal and immoral have the right to block water or power to military bases within its borders?
Should a state legislature be able to cut off public utilities to Tea Party headquarters? How about the local GOP headquarters?
Our first family dog was a beagle. Somehow, this does not surprise us.
Unexpectedly! Obama Administration Throws CGI Federal Under the Bus
Imagine you worked for a large federal agency tasked with designing, developing, and delivering the largest, most complex federal IT system in this nation's history. Current benchmarks exist - for 10 years, the UK's National Health Service has been trying to construct a federal health records system (something your administration talks about all the time). But after a decade of development and over 11 billion dollars of taxpayer money, the system was deemed a complete failure and was abandoned.
To function correctly, your system must seamlessly and quickly interface with an absolutely mind boggling number of federal and state agencies running - in many cases - antiquated systems of their own. The number of people it must serve and agencies it must interface with dwarf the failed NHS e-records system. Undaunted, you press on.
Inexplicably, you ignore the primary contractor's repeated warnings that the delivery date is completely unrealistic and the system can't possibly be tested thoroughly in the government mandated time frame, compounding an earlier decision to ignore the contractor's warnings that they had no experience with the non-standard database system you selected over their objections, and that the resulting learning curve would introduce additional delays into an already unrealistic timeline:
Another sore point was the Medicare agency’s decision to use database software, from a company called MarkLogic, that managed the data differently from systems by companies like IBM, Microsoft and Oracle. CGI officials argued that it would slow work because it was too unfamiliar. Government officials disagreed, and its configuration remains a serious problem.
Finally the system makes its debut on the mandated delivery date. Of course it only works 40% of the time, but durnitall, you delivered on time! This is obviously proof that those silly contractors were just making excuses. They tried to pull the wool over your eyes, but you weren't fooled were you? Only saps pay attention to the peasants actually doing the work.
After weeks of circling the wagons and shooting every messenger in sight, you're finally forced to admit what everyone already knows - you delivered too early and that pesky contractor was right - the time allotted for testing wouldn't have been adequate for a minor point release of an existing application with NO interfaces. Your response? Fred Brooks be damned - nine women CAN TOO make a baby in one month! You throw more bodies onto the project: people who know nothing about the code or architecture, who will spend most of their time just trying to wrap their minds around a project of unprecedented and mind-boggling complexity.
But they're smart people.
You call this idiocy a "tech surge", a moniker no doubt meant to remind the nation of your wildly successful Afghan surge. You know, the one that raised American casualties to an all time high but which yielded absolutely no long term gain. The deeply cynical strategy that blithely ordered American men and women to put their lives on the line for a plan you didn't believe would work.
Well at least you were right on that score!
The media politely refrain from asking too many questions about your tech surge, though eventually even they can't stomach your deception:
Talk about burying the lede. Deep within a 5,000-word story published today in the New York Times about the Obamacare website launch is the very damaging disclosure that the much-vaunted “tech surge” promised by the president in late October was mostly just a publicity stunt. In truth, the number of people brought in to work on the project was no more than “about a half-dozen.”
Not only that, despite the Obama Administration’s claims that it met its November 30 deadline to have things fully operational, it turns out that much of the software code that operates away from website users and passes their information along to insurance companies has not even been written.
Think about that for a moment - somehow 6 people, brought on board only 5 weeks before the Nov. 30th deadline, are somehow magically going to fix things. It would take that long just to understand it fully.
Remember how the media repeatedly referred to George Bush's Iraq Surge - a plan that added more than 20,000 soldiers over two years to the war effort - as the "so-called" surge? But somehow, half a dozen people over 5 weeks is the real deal.
Faced with a system that is not only incomplete (remember, the much vaunted "tech surge" didn't even result in a completed system!) but still bug ridden, what do you do?
If you're the Obama administration, the answer is obvious: fire the primary contractor and bring in a company with no experience with a federal system of this size and complexity:
The Obama administration has decided to jettison from HealthCare.gov the IT contractor, CGI Federal, that has been mainly responsible for building the defect-ridden online health insurance marketplace and has been immersed in the work of repairing it.
Federal health officials are preparing to sign early next week a 12-month contract worth roughly $90 million with a different company, Accenture, after concluding that CGI has not been effective enough in fixing the intricate computer system underpinning the federal Web site, according to a person familiar with the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss private negotiations.
Accenture, one of the world’s largest consulting firms, has extensive experience with computer systems on the state level and built California’s large new health-insurance exchange. But it has not done substantial work on any Health and Human Services Department program.
In what alternate universe does bringing in people who don't know the code or the architecture or the project history magically result in faster and better performance?
At some point, the Smart Folks at 1600 Pennsylvania may want to consider the old adage that says the common element in every failed relationship can generally be found staring back at us from the mirror.
January 09, 2014
Public Policy and the Edge Case
One of the more interesting aspects of the Blog Princess's day job involves thinking about software algorithms. She works for a software firm that developed a suite of tools with distinct purposes and capabilities. Each tool can be used alone, but they were also designed to work together. Natürlich, the interfaces between applications greatly complicate the design of new features (and even trivial changes to existing features).
Dealing with any application in isolation is complex enough at times. But when changing a feature in one application can cause unintended consequences in other tools, making even the simplest decisions involves not only consideration of the instant requirement or problem, but careful thought as to how a change might cause unintended consequences in other tools.
To make things even more complicated, we have to satisfy a broad spectrum of end users ranging from nontechnical folks to engineers who don't trust any number or model unless they have personally worked through the math themselves. Most of the nontechnical folks don't use our tools every day. Consequently, they need only 10% of the core functionality. For this set of clients, ease of use and simplicity are paramount. They don't want to have to wade through a gazillion dialogs and settings and help topics to get what they want: fast results. They need simple, clear instructions with just enough "why" to support informed decisions but not so much detail that they get overwhelmed. Because most of these folks don't have a background in statistical modeling, explaining how our tools work is a real challenge (and arguably the favorite part of my job). To support them, I often resort to analogies - I try to relate some abstract concept to a familiar, real life situation they already understand intuitively.
Other clients are power users - they push the tools to (and sometimes past) the breaking point. These clients need a rich and complex set of features with maximum flexibility. Their needs are diametrically opposed to those of more infrequent users. They demand detailed, in depth instructions to support complex processes and decisions. To support this set of clients, I sometimes have to write long whitepapers that step through the logic in great detail, using a mix of math and everyday analogies.
Reading this story, I was struck by the similarities between algorithms - which are really nothing more than sets of rules that govern how software should behave - and the interlocking system of local, state, and federal laws we live under. Both systems are composed of individual laws or algorithms, typically designed to address a specific need or problem. But neither individual laws nor individual algorithms operate in isolation. They are part of a greater system in which new laws or changes to existing laws often cause unintended problems. And both systems must be flexible enough to be used in ways their creators never anticipated or intended:
The diagnosis was crushing and irrevocable. At 33, Marlise Munoz was brain-dead after collapsing on her kitchen floor in November from what appeared to be a blood clot in her lungs.
But as her parents and her husband prepared to say their final goodbyes in the intensive care unit at John Peter Smith Hospital here and to honor her wish not to be left on life support, they were stunned when a doctor told them the hospital was not going to comply with their instructions. Mrs. Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant, the doctor said, and Texas is one of more than two dozen states that prohibit, with varying degrees of strictness, medical officials from cutting off life support to a pregnant patient.
More than a month later, Mrs. Munoz remains connected to life-support machines on the third floor of the I.C.U., where a medical team monitors the heartbeat of the fetus, now in its 20th week of development. Her case has become a strange collision of law, medicine, the ethics of end-of-life care and the issues swirling around abortion — when life begins and how it should be valued.
In the natural order of things, when a pregnant mother dies (in this case, when nature is allowed to take its course) so does her child. But for the active intervention of the hospital, this poor woman would have passed on.
And so, tragically, would the tiny life growing inside of her.
This is what bothers me so much about the conflict between the rights of an individual - the baby - and the interests of her father and grandparents. I understand the purpose of laws that place individual welfare - even that of a 14 or 20 week old fetus - above the welfare or wishes of other individuals: this woman's family. But they're not just individuals - they're also a family whose lives are inextricably intertwined, and whose decisions impact the rest of the family.
I used to associate "individualism uber alles" with the political left, but (perhaps as a consequence of the encroachment of big government on individual liberties) I often hear right-leaning pundits stressing individual interests over the interests of institutions like family, community, the military, the church. These institutions are - like individuals - the building blocks of civilization. Tex touched briefly on the balancing of individual and group interests a while back:
The Burkean believes government is there to give all of the institutions of society room to thrive and discover what is good through trial and error. The Paineian sees progress as a society-wide movement, led by government, with no safe harbors from the Cause. This is why Paine was one of the earliest advocates of a welfare state — funded by a massive inheritance tax — that would intervene to empower every individual.
President Obama's second inaugural was a thoroughly Paineian document. In his telling, America is made up of individuals and a government with nary anything in between. And because "no single person" can do the things that need to be done, "we must do these things together, as one nation."
The conflict between progressivism and conservatism is often described as a simplistic clash between collective and individual interests. But I don't think it's that clear cut. Both sides seem to move flexibly from defending individual or collective rights as the instant case demands, and the right in particular has recently placed increasing emphasis on individual rights, even to the point of worrying about how social pressure (which we used to prize as the natural ordering mechanism of civilization) can affect individual liberty.
This story lends itself to the individual/collectivist framework. The specter of the Nanny State stepping into what ought to be a private family decision is horrifying to me. At the same time, I recognize the value of that tiny life: one that cannot yet survive on its own and one whose soul - were nature allowed to take its course - would now be with its mother's in a far place none of us have ever seen, but to which we will all travel some day.
When we criticize laws we don't like, we almost always do so based upon their results in the instant case. We deplore the effects on the people and situation we're considering right now. We rarely if ever consider the vast spectrum of situations most laws will be applied to.
It's this result - this outcome - that infuriates us; that makes us say, "That's a bad law that should be abolished". All the other outcomes and scenarios, unconsidered, do not matter much at this moment. And that seems to me to be the impetus for many laws in the first place - this situation is intolerable. "Something" must be done to address it. But that something will not only be applied to the scenario we are dealing with today, but to so many situations we aren't considering right now.
This year, whilst designing test cases (this is a new thing for our group), one of our developers used a term I had never heard before: the edge case.
An edge case is a problem or situation that occurs only at an extreme (maximum or minimum) operating parameter. For example, a stereo speaker might distort audio when played at its maximum rated volume, even in the absence of other extreme settings or conditions. An edge case can be expected or unexpected. In engineering, the process of planning for and gracefully addressing edge cases can be a significant task, and one that may be overlooked or underestimated.
Non-trivial edge cases can result in a failure of the object being engineered that may not have been imagined during the design phase or anticipated as possible during normal use. For this reason, attempts to formalize good engineering practices often incorporate information about dealing with edge cases.
In programming, an edge case is typically a unit test that tests a boundary condition of an algorithm, function or method. A series of edge cases around each "boundary" can be used to give reasonable coverage and confidence using the assumption that if it behaves correctly at the edges, it should behave everywhere else.
For example, a function that divides two numbers might be tested using both very large and very small numbers. This assumes that if it works for both ends of the magnitude spectrum, it should work correctly in between.
It's my sense that, like most statistical models, good laws are ones that work for the vast majority of cases they are applied to. But the edge cases, though statistically rare, can also have catastrophic consequences. We run into this a lot in testing: a client does some something unusual or unexpected and suddenly the design of a feature that has worked reliably for years - decades even! - is suddenly called into question. Is it worth redesigning the feature to handle the rare edge case? Will doing so make the model work less well in the middle?
We - all of us, both in government and as individuals - are not very good at dealing with the edge case:
Many years ago - 40 or more - I heard a news story about some poor Third World country. The government had decided it needed men to mine something or plant something or build a road or whatever. The government sent troops to a small village out in the middle of nowhere and scooped up all the men and boys who were the right age to do the work. The soldiers left with their captives and no one left in the village knew where the men and boys had been taken or if they would ever come home again.
I was horrified and heart-broken. That government, I was sure, was made up of cruel men who cared nothing for their fellow citizens. It never occurred to me that those men undoubtedly believed that they were doing the best thing for the country as a whole; that the suffering of a few was a fair price to pay for the betterment of many; and that those who opposed them were short-sighted and, quite possibly, selfish and hard-hearted to complain about the plight of a few when so many would benefit.
The damage from ObamaCare is not on the same scale as the damage from that Third World government’s policies, of course, but the shape of it is the same, as it is for the people displaced by the TVA, as it is for all the people whose lives have been disrupted or damaged in the name of progress or the greatest good for the greatest number or simply because those in our government are convinced they know what’s best for every man, woman, and child in the country. The intentions may have been good but the reality is that the government doesn’t know what’s best; the greatest good for the greatest number is an illusion; and progress is something people do, not something government creates. And you know what they say about the road to Hell.
Every act, every decision we make in life has consequences. Some are immediate and obvious. Others are obscure or rarely encountered, but when they are they too can be extraordinarily painful.
Wherever you come down on the conflict between the state of Texas and a heartbroken family struggling with the loss of (depending on how you look at it) either one or two people they share a blood tie with, this seems like a great argument for humility.
Both from those who make laws, and those who comment upon them from the comfy chair. May God comfort and strengthen these poor folks.
Interesting commentary here. Thanks for the link!
January 06, 2014
To Sleep....Perchance To Dream.
One of my childhood friends was a girl named Susie. Also at the time, one of the hits was an Everly Brothers song called "Wake Up Little Susie". Needless to say, it was always noticed when the song came on the radio. Did I mention it was a popular song? To Susie, it seemed like it was always on the radio. I remember one time we were sitting in our local theatre (the only one within a 75 mile radius) listening to the radio playing over the speakers while waiting for the movie to start when guess what came on? Yep! The entire audience started to sing along. Many of them were looking at my friend as, as I said, this was thee local theatre and we all knew each other. The seats in the theatre were covered in red fabric, and if Susie could have slouched down any further into her seat, she probably would have disappeared.
I was thinking of those times the other day. Phil Everly has passed away.
Growing up with their music planted a seed for appreciating accoustic guitar, tight harmonies.....and, later in life, a living example in coming back together in forgiveness and love.
From the YouTube page:
"When asked recently for the most memorable moment of his career, Phil Everly replied 'the Albert Hall reunion'. It was September 1983, and ten years on from one of the most acrimonious splits in popular music history, when the Everly Brothers, Don and Phil, took to the stage at London's Royal Albert Hall. One of the most successful duos of all time, the Everlys had dominated the charts in the late fifties and early to mid sixties. Their close harmony singing, acoustic guitars and brilliant songwriting had become instantly recognisable and inspired millions of fans worldwide. On an emotional night in London, the reunion was an unqualified success and led to the renewal of their partnership on an ongoing basis and many more years of success, which continue to this day"(No, I hadn't read the YouTube page before writing this.)
My Mom loved the Everly Brothers. They were one of the hearthrobs of her generation, and their family had their roots in her home state. Many a Saturday morning were spent listening to Everly Brothers records mixed in with the likes of Patsy Cline, the Statler Brothers, Marty Robbins, Dean Martin, and, of course, Elvis whilst a true military spit and polish was put upon our Orygun Mountain William Mole Farm. (We even had a sign.)
I mention this because the other day also marked the fifth anniversary of the passing of my Mom. As a young and very Dark Lord, the relationship I had with my Mom was nuclear on the scale of those wonderful toys CAPT Mike got to ride in during his career. I lived a block from her office building for five years and never spoke to her. The hospital where she went in for surgery was within sight of my apartment, she instructed my family to not tell me.
N.u.c.u.l.a.r. as someone we know says.
But the Good Lord has many ways of working His magic.
He started with a daughter.
Throughout the years He continued to work on the stubborn heart He so graciously gave me. All the while He was also teaching me a lesson that I will never forget:
That while I may have not have always believed in Him.
He always believed in me.
One of her favorite singers has slipped into the etherial sleep from which one does not awake. Perchance to sing of sweet dreams to the many fans who have awaited his arrival. While here on this mortal coil we remain, with memories and music to ease the passing...of time and pain.
There's Someone For Everyone...
...and these gentlemen must be the perfect match for all those women who fall in love with prison inmates:
Next, she demanded men to let her pull out their teeth.
'I THINK U HAVE TOO MANY TEETH SO LET'S MEET UP AND I CAN FIX THAT. I CAN FIX THAT BY PULLING OUT ONE OF UR TEETH,' she wrote in capitals for added crazy.
They were still undeterred so Reed tried tactic three: Talking utter nonsense, partly because of 'the mental and emotional toll' the social experiment had taken on her. However, that didn't work either.
On the otter heiny, this sort of thing probably explains a lot of material on PUA/MRA sites. Funny how often we find exactly what we're looking for...
January 03, 2014
From the balcony of our hotel room:
January 01, 2014
As You Drink....
...so shall you vote. And according to the WaPo, the Blog Princess is unequivocally a high turnout Rethug:
Former Mississippi governor and uber-Republican Haley Barbour loves bourbon. Franklin Roosevelt mixed martinis. And, as it turns out, those two partisans have something in common with their base voters: Consumer data suggests Democrats prefer clear spirits, while Republicans like their brown liquor.
Democratic drinkers are more likely to sip Absolut and Grey Goose vodkas, while Republican tipplers are more likely to savor Jim Beam, Canadian Club and Crown Royal. That research comes from consumer data supplied by GFK MRI, and analyzed by Jennifer Dube of National Media Research Planning and Placement, an Alexandria-based Republican consulting firm.
The results are fascinating: Analyzing voting habits of those who imbibe, Dube found that 14 of the top 15 brands that indicate someone is most likely to vote are wines.
If you see someone at your New Years party tonight drinking Kendall-Jackson or Robert Mondavi wines, that person is highly likely to vote, and they’re likely to vote Republican. Someone who savors a Chateau Ste. Michelle Merlot, one of Washington State’s top producers, or Smoking Loon, they’re likely to cast ballots for Democrats.
Hope your New Year's eve was filled with mirth and merriment (or if not, at least with quiet contentment).
The blog princess won't be sad to see the back of 2013. The year wasn't a very happy one for her loved ones. But things, at least for now, are looking good.
The Spousal Unit is in the kitchen cooking up some country ham, black eyed peas, and kale. We're eating New Year's dinner early before we hop on a plane for Tampa. Black eyed peas and rice for luck, greens for prosperity in the new year. An old tradition that neatly folds ingredients from different cultures, different dreams and aspirations, different histories into something like that melting pot we were taught about in school.
Happy new year. May it bring you nothing but good things.