Oct 312012

I worked in Federal employment for 29 ½ years, finally taking an early out offer of the sort that the government made then – essentially allowed to retire 6 months early.  Certainly no bonus was involved.   The idea was that I would work at some writing, give my wife more time to do her job teaching engineers and premeds, and maybe do some research – and have a parent at home most of the time as our daughter entered high school.  It didn’t quite work out that way, but that’s besides the point.  Nor, for that matter, did I set out to be a bureaucrat – back in the long ago, doors to other careers slammed shut, sometimes by my folly, sometimes by other folks, sometimes because of the times.  Water, bridge.

Federal employment had drawbacks and advantages, much as do other fields.  It’s a bit amusing these days to read from some self-defined ‘conservatives’ vituperation heaped on public sector workers that is really quite like the vituperation that self-defined ‘progressives’ apply to “capitalists.’  Neither of it is very realistic.  But in those years, I was ashamed of working for Uncle precisely once:

This application of wholly unnecessary police power upon someone who wished only to live in freedom was far decency the boundaries of decency.  One can, I suppose,  debate the Clinton Administration’s policy in re Elian: what appalled me was the application of force.  It still does.



Now this event revived that sense of indecency:








As time passes, and it becomes ever more clear that the Administration knew from the outset that the attack on the American Consulate was a planned terrorist attack, the effort to scapegoat anyone however much a mope he might be is ever more appalling.  As evidence accumulates, it becomes ever more obvious that something happened that is unprecedented in my experience – Americans were left to die when help was possible and (relatively) immediately available.  But while the growing body of evidence has its own fascination, the sheer, deliberate, deceitful effort to direct attention away from the real causes and toward someone entirely irrelevant, is appalling.  And indecent.

This was, keep in mind, a President who came in to office promising to do things differently.

Jun 282012

I view the Affordable Care Act unfavorably, mostly, and on entirely prudential and experiential grounds.  I spent 30 years in a Federal social services bureaucracy, and found that, by and large, with the usual exceptions to validate the rule, utter mediocrity finds its way to the top, where it preserves itself rigorously.  This led to White’s Law of the Intelligence of Large Organizations:

The effective IQ of any large organization is equal to the nth root of the sum of the IQs of the n members of the organization.

In other words, it approaches 1.  Fast.  Do you really want the sort of person who thinks this is a good idea (tug o’ the forelock to MCJ) to be making decisions about your own health care, or your child’s or your parents?  That’s what we’ll get.

Additionally, the Federal Government cannot produce much of anything, much less more health care.  That can be done only by economic forces, which can be guided partially, but not controlled.  What Uncle can do to reasonably good effect is ration, and I really don’t think we want to go there.

With that out of the way, today’s Supreme Court decision seems itself to be prudential.  Faced with a split court, the Chief Justice acted to remove the Court from the election and made the ACA the centerpiece of the summer and fall campaign, as it should be.  A 5-4 decision to overturn the ACA would have made the Supreme Court the center of attention.  Now the center of attention is the ACA itself, and its fate is in the hands of the electorate.  Which is as it should be.  The tax that wasn’t a tax is clearly stated to be a tax, and the Commerce Clause expansionists have been cuffed around a bit.  Now it’s in the hands of the voters.  If the electorate wants the ACA repealed or substantially altered, they can elect Mitt Romney and a Heffalump House and Senate.  Or not.  As for me, no matter what the rest of the country wants, I am still stuck with Jan Schakowsky, who seems to be my Representative-for-life.

Mar 072012

I  have no interest in Ms. Sandra Fluke, her manner of life, or for that matter her opinions.  I am interested in her as the end game of a successful strategy of “controlling the narrative.”  This is an important art, one which conservatives of all sorts have not mastered, and which certainly bears some study.

The DHHS regulations that were the original focus of controversy were an over-reaching misstep.  The regulation required access to abortion in all but a few narrowly defined circumstances, and furthermore purported to define religious practice.  Abortion is at least controversial, with many people finding it wrong in most cases, and even more finding it distasteful.  I imagine that the administration recognized very quickly that it had overreached, but the problem was how to preserve the regulation (because widespread access to abortion is a first order principle for the core believers here) while distracting attention from the generally unacceptable aspects of the regulation.  And this, the Obama Administration did with terrifying efficiency.

The President took the lead by promising to fix the regulation eventually.  Promulgating a regulation takes a fair amount of time, and in the interim the (unacceptable) regulation remains in place.  The President’s action was merely to gain a little time.

Within days, the administration had turned the subject to birth control, not nearly as controversial an matter as abortion.  Whether the use of birth control methods to prevent pregnancy is a good idea or not is irrelevant for this discussion.  That use is widely supported by Americans, even among Roman Catholic laity (percentages and numbers are not relevant.  It’s important only that a good sized chunk of American Roman Catholic laity use birth control).  Another, good sized chunk of American Roman Catholic laity are disenchanted with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops anyway, so this issue becomes the classic “wedge issue” that fragments the opposition united on one large issue (abortion ) into segments that are not united on another (birth control).

The last act was rolling out Ms. Fluke to argue that, so far as I can see, Georgetown had some difficulty in seeing to it that its own policies were followed, the only solution was, of course, A Big Government Program.  The opposition took the bait, and the public discussion turned to Ms. Fluke, her statements about birth control, the sad stories of a couple of her friends, and the boorish behavior of some of her critics, and not about the mandatory abortion coverage or the overreaching claim to define religious action.  Or, for that matter, about the extremely significant tendency among the Administration’s supporters to treat pregnancy as a pathology.

By changing the narrative from one about the erosion of liberty and the violation of conscience to one about a person, and about foolish attacks on her, the Administration and its allies have very successfully diverted attention from the offending regulation to the opposition’s response to a relatively innocuous individual, and have created a climate in which the opposition can be made to appear simply cranky.

 Posted by at 12:03 pm
Dec 072011

We sure have a lot of scandals right now.  From the Penn State horror to Presidential wannabe’s zipper problems and on to a not yet very clear ruckus in The Anglican Mission (go the the link and follow the related stories), the density of scandalification seems a tad higher than usual.  Without delving into the details (eeeww) of these cases, it’s interesting that some common behaviors can be identified, not only among the principals.

  • Shoot the messenger.  Blame the prosecutor, the reporter, the victim.  Accuse them of “being out to bring Joe Pa down,” (yes, I saw that on one PSU message board), blame them for causing dissension, attempting to destroy an institution, call them irresponsible.  This is a good but very short term tactic for a principal, but it tends to run out of steam.  It’s usually connected to the next item, “blustery denial.”  For supporters, this reflex seems to be defensive.  They often over-identify the institution with the individual (and how often do the individual principals in a scandal do this themselves?  L’Etat, c’est moi.)
  • Blustery denial.  Herman Cain was “just helping a friend financially.”  “I was just helping the disadvantaged.”  “God is doing a new thing.”  Sometimes, blustery denial is supported by Fine Parsing (Bill Clinton has been a master at that) but not often.
  • Ignore the charges.  That’s hard to do when under indictment, but you can try to shape the battlefield with interviews and loud protestations of innocence.  When an indictment is not likely, ignoring the storm can work sometimes.  Delay is always a good tactic when you’re in an unfavorable situation.  Other scandals come bopping along, and, who knows, with time maybe the horse will learn to sing.  This is a risky tactic, since events may overtake you.  It’s essentially passive.
  • The Jack Move (from William Gibson, Pattern Recognition).  This is an unpredictable, abrupt action designed to confuse.  Do the unexpected (trickeration plays in football (Victory Right!)).  This has the advantage of being active, but carries a high risk of failure.  It does usually change the shape of the battlefield.
  • The Deer in the Headlights.  The really innocent person overtaken by an error or by malice will display bewilderment, but so will the crafty offender.  Bluster is the more usual response, unless the offender has been planning ahead.
  • In sex scandals, onlookers should remember that men (and it’s almost always men.  Interesting, that) who behave badly, behave badly chronically.  Where there’s one, there’s another.  This is a subset of the last point, but sex scandals are so common that they deserve their own caution.
  • The Other Shoe.  Sometimes, the whole rack.  Again, a point for onlookers.  Initial reports are almost always incomplete.  But wait, there’s more, is a very sound rule.  If there isn’t more, the scandal is probably mere rumor.  Watch what happens next.  One impropriety leads to another, financial, moral, or political.

I offer these observed behaviors not as a guide to whether any particular charge or scandal has validity, but as an aide to cutting through the clutter of noise that surrounds them.