Belmont Club

The March of the Dinosaurs

After noticing that the Gmail inbox had changed yet again, a friend asked “why does Google keep switching things on me?” I replied that somebody at Google felt he had to earn his salary and, in the absence of any pressing bug, busied himself with improvements. “So it’s been improved, whether you like it or not.”

That recalled an situation some years ago at a company which I visited, in which the IT manager kept asking their database administrator why he was so idle only to receive the reply, “because I’ve set things up so that things don’t break down.”  They should have put him to working diddling with code that worked. Then he would be busy.

This is a problem shared by firemen and the military. They mostly do nothing if they do their jobs right. And by and by they will get their budgets slashed. It’s the screwups who experience eternal growth because the pot of gold is always on the other side of the hill.

It never occurred to the IT manager that if his subordinate was actually perpetually busy saving the company data it was a sure sign that he had to be fired.  And nowhere is the imperative to substitute activity for achievement so endemic as in government. Daniel Henning at the Wall Street Journal argued that  Obamacare was failing because it had become too big to actually do anything. Government just grows and grows and grows. Because that’s the nature of the beast.

The March of the Agencies

Sinclair Dinosaurs are transported on the Hudson River to the 1964 World’s Fair.

If the ObamaCare meltdown were a one-off, the system could dismiss it as a legislative misfire and move on, as always. But ObamaCare’s problems are not unique. Important parts of the federal government are breaking down almost simultaneously. …  a dweeb like Edward Snowden could download the content of the NSA’s computers onto a thumb drive and walk out of the world’s “most secretive” agency. Here’s the short answer: The NSA has 40,000 employees. (Some say it’s as high as 55,000, but it’s a secret.)

Echoing that, when the IRS’s audits of conservative groups emerged, the agency managers’ defense was that the IRS is too big for anyone to know what its agents are doing. …

It is hard to imagine a more apolitical federal function than the nation’s weather satellites. The ones we have—to predict hurricanes and such—are about to wear out and need to be replaced. Can’t do it. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and the Pentagon have been trying to replace the old weather satellites, since 1994….

The State Department missed signs of the Arab Spring’s insurrections in late 2010 despite warnings from outside groups. Egypt is in flames, in part, because State for years has been mainly a massive, drifting bureaucracy. Little wonder Hillary Clinton spent four years in flight from the place. …

Excepting the military’s fighting units, the federal government has become a giant slug, like Jabba the Hutt, inert but dangerous. Like Jabba, the government increasingly survives by issuing authoritarian decrees from this or that agency.

The Examiner summarizes the problem succinctly: Obamacare is a 19th-century answer to a 21st-century question. “Rather than imposing a top-down, command-economy, welfare-state health care model with roots in Otto von Bismarck’s Germany of 1881, a 21st-century government would ask what is needed to apply to health care access the Internet’s boundless capacity to empower individual choice.”

But of course that’s not going to happen. Recently Leo Linbeck III proposed a consumption tax to replace the supergiant labyrinthine tax system. Whatever its merits it has one undeniable virtue: it requires far less energy to operate than the current gigantic IRS. It’s much smaller than the monumental reptilian monster than we have now.

And small systems do something counterintuitive. They let you find the button to retake control over your life.

Today individual choice is a checkbox buried in a 500 page form. It is a setting concealed deep within the preference menu of whatever software you use, a setting that will buried even deeper still when the next generation of developers adds features to your application. But it’s not choice if you don’t know it’s there.

You’ll never find the button you need to press because  all that bandwidth has to cram itself into an increasingly small pipe. On a public policy level this manifests itself as pixelated vision. The feedback loops of the immense bureaucracy can only be perceived through the low-res imaging of the mainstream media. The only thing we see is what the Narrative lets us see, so that basically we have the visual acuity of Mr. Magoo.

Recently the New York Times did a retrospective of the Tawana Brawley case. “Revisiting a Rape Scandal That Would Have Been Monstrous if True”. What was monstrous was that nobody could tell until much later that it was untrue.

But, as the meticulously researched Retro Report points out this week, it was all a hoax. After seven months, 6,000 pages of testimony and 180 witnesses, a grand jury found Ms. Brawley’s story to be a lie. Neither the police officer nor the district attorney accused by Ms. Brawley and Mr. Sharpton had been involved in any way, the report concluded.

A Sharpton associate told the news media at the time that Ms. Brawley’s lawyers, C. Vernon Mason and Alton H. Maddox Jr., and Mr. Sharpton were “frauds from the beginning.”

And about six months after the hoax, Ms. Brawley’s former boyfriend told Newsday that she had invented the allegations, apparently to avoid a beating by her mother’s boyfriend after running away from home for four days.

Last week, Retro Report interviewed Mr. Sharpton and asked whether, 25 years later, he felt that any crime had occurred at all.

“Whatever happened,” he answered, “you’re dealing with a minor who was missing four days. So it’s clear that something wrong happened.”

It’s tempting to think of the Brawley incident as a conspiracy. On one level it was exactly that. But on another level it was just bad signals being amplified by a pitiful saurian media brain that had become far too inadequate for the new and gigantic body that it had to serve. People just stampeded themselves into a fix.

Sharpton was unintentionally right. The Brawley affair was something that just happened, a spasm that ran through the dinosaur. Is it is his fault if he just happened to be around to catch pennies from heaven?  Just one of those things whose provenance no one knew nor cared what became of it later. And if weren’t Brawley  it would be something else.

What is remarkable about the misfortunes overtaking the Obama administration is they are just cumulative. It’s like standing in front of a maniac baseball pitching machine without a bat. Nothing gets solved. The don’t even bother to swing. They can’t even keep count.

The public only gets a momentary glimpse a huge problem before it gets buried in the avalanche of something else. Recently it has come to light that government has been tracking “photographs of your car in their files, noting where you were driving on a particular day, even if you never did anything wrong.”

Using automated scanners, law enforcement agencies across the country have amassed millions of digital records on the location and movement of every vehicle with a license plate, according to a study published Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union. Affixed to police cars, bridges or buildings, the scanners capture images of passing or parked vehicles and note their location, uploading that information into police databases. Departments keep the records for weeks or years, sometimes indefinitely.

But so what? This new scandal has got to get in line behind the IRS, Benghazi, the North Korean Missiles in Panama, Syria, Egypt, economic bad news, Bernake, Zimmerhoo and Zimmerhaw. It ain’t never going to get attended to. I honestly expect the car monitoring scandal to buried in a week, tops. Nobody even has time to notice that the administration has been selling ambassadorships or that the IRS snooper wasn’t even an IRS employee — just a political donor.

In a manner of speaking this means there is nothing to worry about. There is no point being outraged at Jesse Jackson’s demand that the United Nations investigate the Zimmerman case.  Why? Because if the UN actually tried to do something it would be forgotten in a week, simply overwhelmed by news from Syria or a meltdown somewhere else. Besides the UN never actually does anything, which is why it is so widely admired by liberal ideologues.

It used to be a bad sign when events got inside your OODA loop. The modern bureaucratic state has gotten inside its own OODA loop. Nobody knows what’s going on. So they’ll start a committee …

Is that cause for celebration or just another “oh s**t” moment? Don’t hesitate now. Make your choice, rush out and buy a beer. Dinosaurs really can’t afford to spend too much time thinking about any one thing when they cover the best part of an acre.

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The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of
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Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
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