Ed Driscoll

2014: An Obama Odyssey: Aging Hal-9000 Fails President Who Fell to Earth


Eric Shinseki has fallen on his sword at the VA. As Twitchy notes, “During his announcement that Eric Shinseki is out as VA Secretary, President Obama pointed the finger at pesky old technology. American heroes didn’t get the health care they need and deserve because of ‘old computers’? Nailed it, Obama. Nailed it.”


Susan Crabtree of the Washington Examiner tweeted, “In announcing Shinseki’s resignation, Obama says the VA computers used for scheduling are decades-old and weren’t up to the task.”

“Dear President Obama: the VA scandal is about bureaucrats DELIBERATELY deleting data, not a computer glitch.” John Hayward tweets today. A month ago at Human Events, he spotted this report from CNN:

At least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom were placed on a secret waiting list.

The secret list was part of an elaborate scheme designed by Veterans Affairs managers in Phoenix who were trying to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor, according to a recently retired top VA doctor and several high-level sources.

So to review: the Obama administration excuse for the disastrous Obamacare roll out in the fall of 2013? Horrible coding on untried software attempting to link together aging and labyrinthine government computer networks.  Obama’s excuse for the horrors at the VA? The aging computers themselves.

After Keir Dullea unplugged Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the spaceship Discovery settled into Jupiter orbit, the prerecorded briefing from space agency chief Heywood Floyd began playing on the Discovery’s video monitors, in which Floyd told the crew that the “origin and purpose” of the mysterious alien monolith that inspired their mission “are still a total mystery.”


“Not every regulation or government program is doomed to fail,” Kevin D. Williamson wrote last week at NRO on the V.A. debacle. “But we might consider the slightly terrifying possibility that when government does get something right, it does so by accident, temporarily, and for reasons that it cannot understand or replicate:”

But we might consider the slightly terrifying possibility that when government does get something right, it does so by accident, temporarily, and for reasons that it cannot understand or replicate. This may be why the sheer volume of law and regulation has been climbing so rapidly: Intuiting its own inefficacy, Washington is throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. The Entity with Whom politicians sometimes confuse themselves needed only ten commandments, not the ten thousand a year that Washington produces. Some of those coming down in the near future will be intended to reform the VA. The rational thing to do would be to abolish it. We’d be far better off paying veterans’ medical bills out of the Treasury than trying to operate a network of hospitals and clinics. And no matter what Washington promises to do to solve this problem, it is a good bet that the policy enacted will not produce the result intended. Reform is a random walk.

Another feature of complex systems is that some of them are very sensitive to initial conditions, as expressed by the butterfly effect. It may be the case that things have gone as well as they have for us in the United States not because of any current policy or because of the unique genius and saintliness of our national leadership as currently constituted, but simply because the right people with the right prejudices did the right things for a relatively short period of time in the 18th century, and what we have now is very little more than the compounded returns on that cultural windfall. That seems to me a more likely explanation for our relatively happy and secure place in the world than that we were led to this point by the kind of thinking, and the kind of men, who brought us the VA hospitals and those dead veterans.


As Williamson writes, “you can never have the same traffic jam twice.” But a love of The God that Failed is sure way to be at the center of a never-ending supply of them, as our intrepid space explorer Obama is discovering the hard way. Other than half the country, who knew that the federal government was such an unwieldy mess?

(Hat tip: Maggie’s Farm.)

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