Belmont Club

The Dinosaurs Who Came To Dinner

Michael Crichton, in his book Jurassic Park, explained how catastrophe befell his characters by remarking that “living systems are never in equilibrium. They are inherently unstable. They may seem stable, but they’re not. Everything is moving and changing. In a sense, everything is on the edge of collapse.” When human beings attempted to take control of things they didn’t understand in Jurassic Park they set in train a chain of unintended consequences. “God created dinosaurs. God destroyed dinosaurs. God created Man. Man destroyed God. Man created dinosaurs.” And in the movie dinosaurs ate man.

Crichton observed that Jurassic Park had a real world analogue. Well-meaning bureaucratic attempts to tune Yellowstone Park’s ecosystem had led instead to untold destruction. The problem had its genesis when Theodore Roosevelt visited Yellowstone in 1903 hoping  “our people should see to it that this rich heritage is preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with its majestic beauty all unmarred.”

By 1934, the Park Service’s efforts to fulfill this wish had turned Yellowstone into a parody of its former self.

the Park Service did everything they could to increase the number of elk. The results were predictable. Antelope and deer began to decline. Overgrazing changed the flora. Aspen and willows were being eaten at a furious rate and did not regenerate. Large animals and small began to disappear from the park.

In an effort to stem the loss, the park rangers began to kill predators, which they did without public knowledge. They eliminated the wolf and the cougar, and they were well on their way to getting rid of the coyote. Then a national scandal broke out. New studies showed that it wasn’t predators that were killing the other animals. It was overgrazing from too many elk. The management policy of killing predators therefore had only made things worse.

Actually, the elk had so decimated the aspen that now, where formerly they were plentiful, now they’re quite rare. Without the aspen, the beaver, which use these trees to make dams, began to disappear from the park. Beaver were essential to the water management of Yellowstone, and without dams, the meadows dried hard in summer and still more animals vanished.

The situation worsened further. It became increasingly inconvenient that all the predators had been killed off by 1930, so in the 1960s, there was a sigh of relief when new sightings by rangers suggested that wolves were returning. Of course, there were rumors all during that time, persistent rumors that the rangers were trucking them in. But in any case, the wolves vanished soon afterward. They needed to eat beaver and other small rodents, and the beaver had gone.

Pretty soon, the Park Service initiated a PR campaign to prove that excessive elk were not responsible for the problems in the park, even though they were. The campaign went on for about a decade, during which time the bighorn sheep virtually disappeared.

Crichton called it “a cascade of ego and error”. This catastrophe has been recreated in its essentials on a much vaster scale by the Obama administration, who finding the American healthcare system to their distaste, also decided to improve it. In order to accomplish this, shortcuts were made — for a good cause of course.  When the rules proved inconvenient they waived the rules. When waivers produced further disaster, they waived the waivers. They are now in the stage of waiving the waivers to waive the waivers and trucking in subsidies for the insurance companies the way the park service trucked in the wolves.

Megan McArdle wrote that along the way Obama’s actions had the accidental effect of destabilizing the legal system itself. “The White House seems to believe that they are allowed to shinny around any rule, as long as they wrote it. I’d argue that this is exactly backward: They have an especial duty to uphold the laws that they themselves constructed, because if they don’t, why should the rest of us go along?”

That in turn is spawning its own effects.

Mark Steyn asked whether it is seditious to observe that de facto sedition is taking place. Steyn, a Canadian, writes “it is a condition of my admission to this great land that I am not allowed to foment the overthrow of the United States government. … Fortunately, at least as far as constitutional government goes, the president of the United States is doing a grand job of overthrowing it all by himself.”

On Thursday, he passed a new law at a press conference. George III never did that. But, having ordered America’s insurance companies to comply with Obamacare, the president announced that he is now ordering them not to comply with Obamacare. The legislative branch (as it’s still quaintly known) passed a law purporting to grandfather your existing health plan. The regulatory bureaucracy then interpreted the law so as to un-grandfather your health plan. So His Most Excellent Majesty has commanded that your health plan be de-un-grandfathered. That seems likely to work. The insurance industry had three years to prepare for the introduction of Obamacare. Now the King has given them six weeks to de-introduce Obamacare.

“I wonder if he has the legal authority to do this,” mused former Vermont governor Howard Dean.

“I wonder if he has the legal authority to do this?”.  That is the wrong question. The real problem is whether any future Republican president will be allowed to do the same thing, such as droning American citizens without due process, canceling contracts at press conferences, changing the rules of whole industries at the stroke of a pen, or engaging in harmless well meaning fraud, etc.

The answer to the rhetorical question is obviously “no” since only a Democratic president named Obama can be allowed to do any such thing. The still uncomprehended result of making Obama the exception is that it establishes the rule.  After Obama … well there must never be an apres Obama. Robert Bolt in his play, A Man For All Seasons, captured the dilemma faced by anyone who would set aside the the rules in dramatic lines he wrote for St. Thomas More.

“What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? … And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you – where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s, and if you cut them down – and you’re just the man to do it – do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”

One you establish the rule that there are no rules, it applies to you too. Well the laws are now flat and the devil is abroad.

Nearly a year ago a friend mused on the impossibility of challenging the Federal Government and/or Obama. “The Feds,” he said “spends more in hours than even the largest private American fortunes.” What could not be anticipated however, was that Obama would create through “a cascade of ego and error” something actually large and powerful enough to destroy his own administration. The trillions at the Federal Government’s disposal have created a Frankenstein monster big enough to challenge its creator.

One commenter at McCardle’s article cannily observed that it was the downstream consequences of insignificant actions that hurt Obama the most.

What’s most impressive now is how much Obama will sacrifice for so little. Any law, any policy, any constitutional principle, any constituency, and any national interest can be thrown under the bus for short-term political distraction, on the order of months or even weeks or days. Red line comment got him on a box on Syria? Just bomb them, without any popular or political support. Waffling on that fails? Then instead of bombing them, guarantee them in power and overturn our decades of Middle East policy, without even consulting anyone. That doesn’t look so hot? Let Iran have nukes as long as they tell us they don’t. Obamacare doesn’t work? Throw out almost four years of preparations and any pretense of constitutional government, and throw all insurance regulators and insurance companies under the bus, just because approval ratings hit 40%. It profits a man nothing to sell his soul for the whole world. But for the remote possibility of a 2 point uptick on Gallup this week?

Watch him just get more and more reckless and erratic as his popularity continues to plummet. I can’t predict what insanity he will try when he hits 30%, but we should all fear a cornered president who recognizes no limits on his power and no duty to uphold his oath.

There’s nothing for it now but to pile expedient on expedient. To patch the patches.  And to do it all without the benefit of source code control or versions. The media’s version of source control is the Memory Hole.

What happens next is anybody’s guess. Complex systems are like that, especially when you try to micro-manage them with slow, inaccurate and lagged feedback systems.  As Crichton put it, “God created dinosaurs. God destroyed dinosaurs. God created Man. Man destroyed God. Man created dinosaurs.” And you know the rest.

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The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
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