Friday, January 30, 2009

How's That Again?

Here's a video of Sen. Claire McCaskill protesting Wall street executives for taking $18.4 Billion in bonuses, comparing it to "kick[ing] taxpayers in the shins".

She's not wrong, but I can't help but wonder. If $18.4 billions is a kick in the shins, just what is $820 billion? A double-tap with a .45 to the head?

I agree. Companies that take bailout money should not be offering executive bonuses. Executives in those companies should not be taking them. But I wouldn't extend that any farther. If those companies who are staying afloat by themselves want to give bonuses, that's their business. Stockholders should hold their boards accountable, but that is it.

Meanwhile, don't lecture people about wasting $18.4 billion of taxpayer money and then turn around and waste $820 billion of it. To be frank, I think the Wall St. executives will probably do as much or more to stimulate the economy with those $18 billions as the Democrats will with their "stimulus bill".

I'm just disgusted with the whole mess right now. A few bad apples on Wall St. are ruining it for everyone, while the Democrats take full advantage of it to ram a bunch of wasteful, crony-rewarding spending down our gullet. I hope there's a line in the stimulus bill to buy everyone in America shin-guards, because the shin-kicking is just beginning.

Marching Bravely Into the Unknown, Armed With....Nothing! Have A Sandwich.

Okay, it's not as bad as that, but it is one of my favorite lines from "You've Got Mail".

My job will be terminated in April. I am an official Victim of the Recession (TM). I'm fairly optimistic, though. I think this will prove to be yet another good experience. The only real question is just how much a vertiginous change in direction will be required before I wind up where I need to be.

One of the blessings/curses of having an MBA is the ability to see all the logic behind a move like this. The company is doing the right thing. It's not the easy thing, but it's necessary. It makes sense. I respect the leadership for what they're doing.

And I respect how this company handles lay-offs. I have a two-month period to get things in order and start lining up something else. I'll get a decent severence package. And, from what I can tell, they even fudged things a bit in my favor rather than follow the letter of the law. I have high hopes that the company will do okay, and perhaps in a few years when they're back in growth mode I'll want to go back there.

I won't be burning any bridges, that's for sure. They'll get my best before I go.

Call me naive, but I'm still kind of excited for the change.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Stereotyping - It's Okay Now

I've been meaning to get around to this for awhile now, as it's been tickling the back of my mind for days:

First Obama tells GOP leaders to stop listening to Rush Limbaugh.

Then he dings them for watching and/or appearing on Fox News.

Then, of course, there was the "bitter, religous, gun-owners" crack during the elections.

Is it just me, or does Obama have a real stereotypical view of people in Middle-America and on the Right? Wouldn't a black person and the "first post-racial candidate" know better than to trade in stereotypes?

It bothers me more than a little that he seems to make such sweeping generalizations about people. Just because one is a Republican doesn't mean they all listen to Rush or watch Fox News, and it's rather offensive for him to suggest that. You'd think if he were serious about ending partisanship and opening up a dialogue he wouldn't start with a pointless dig--if not insult.

Or, to put it bluntly, Mr. President, don't bite the hand you claim you want to shake.

Now add to all that his "I won" crack. Even if in jest, it was poor form. And largely irrelevant. As someone pointed out, he was talking to other elected representatives--all of which could say the same thing. They won their respective elections or they wouldn't be there. Sure, they can't claim to have won "the big one", but they still merit some respect, lest Obama be guilty of implying their individual constituencies don't matter.

What I see here is a disturbing trend toward arrogance. He seems to be going through the motions of reaching across the aisle, but it seems to be to deliver a slap rather than a handshake. If he's not careful in two years he's going to wish he'd shown a little more magnanimity and respect.

As it is, his first report card on how he's doing at building bridges came back tonight: a big red "F".

Bi-Partisan Cooperation...But Not Today!

The House passed the Stimulus Bill over unanimous GOP dissent. Eleven Democrats also broke ranks to oppose it (including the one from my district--kinda makes me wish I'd voted for him).

It'll probably pass the Senate, too, but it'll be obvious that the Democrats will own this one, whatever happens. Obama had better pray this works, or else it'll go down in the history books that his first significant act was to blow his political capital to further trash the economy.

Uh Oh, Buck!

Didn't I predict this? Even the New York Times is noticing that the Stimulus Bill is quickly becoming a Trojan Horse for everything the Democrats want to accomplish but wouldn't be able to without a fight. More here, from The Heritage Foundation.

UPDATE: The Wall Stree Journal weighs in with their analysis of the bill. To the Democrats this isn't a recession. This is Christmas.

I Am Standing Here Beside Myself

Dr. Mark Dybul, coordinator of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, has been sacked. Selected during the Bush Administration, Dybul has done a remarkable--even heroic--job, and had originally asked to stay on for a few months during the Obama Administration until a replacement could be found.

The day after Obama's inauguration Dybul as asked to resign immediately.

This makes no sense, does irreparable harm to the cause (which I thought Democrats got behind), and smacks of the nastiest of political maneuverings--something Obama had vowed to change.

Perhaps he was not behind this. Perhaps he doesn't even know yet. Perhaps he has nothing to do with it other than hiring the rat that did it. So far, though, his promise to surround himself with good people is sounding rather hollow.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mr. President...Tear Down This Stimulus!

James Pethokoukis presents 10 Reasons to Whack Obama's Stimulus Plan. A sample:
5) University of Chicago economist and Nobel laureate Gary Becker doubts whether all this stimulus spending will do much to lower unemployment: "For one thing, the true value of these government programs may be limited because they will be put together hastily, and are likely to contain a lot of political pork and other inefficiencies. For another thing, with unemployment at 7% to 8% of the labor force, it is impossible to target effective spending programs that primarily utilize unemployed workers, or underemployed capital. Spending on infrastructure, and especially on health, energy, and education, will mainly attract employed persons from other activities to the activities stimulated by the government spending. The net job creation from these and related spending is likely to be rather small. In addition, if the private activities crowded out are more valuable than the activities hastily stimulated by this plan, the value of the increase in employment and GDP could be very small, even negative."

In other words, it doesn't help to create 500,000 construction jobs if there are only 100,000 unemployed construction workers. How many unemployed bank employees do you think will apply for the other 400,000? Knowing that those jobs may--and should--go away in a few years?

The more I hear about this "Stimulus Package" the more I think it's a smoke screen to get a bunch of other things pushed on America that might not have had a chance under better circumstances. Obama claimed he'd oppose any bill with pork in it, and yet this bill is designed in such a way that nothing is pork, so that's an empty threat.

Economist Stephen J Entine has this to add:
The idea is to jump-start "aggregate demand," according to traditional Keynesian precepts. Milton Friedman, on the other hand, taught us that government spending and tax handouts do not stimulate demand, because every dollar doled out by government must be first taken in by taxes, borrowing or other spending cuts. The net effect on aggregate demand is zero.

Read the whole thing. He gets quite detailed on some of the specific points.

It's a big enough concern that Obama and his team of experts are proposing all this in the first place. It's a bigger concern that they've let Pelosi and Reid write the details. It's an even bigger concern still that the conservatives aren't offering any better plans. They've had time, since the Democrats didn't ask for any help in writing their plan.

In short, our ship is sinking. Obama wants to bail with a very large sieve. Pelosi and Reid want to use a hose to pump the water from one deck to another. The GOP is standing around wringing their hands hoping no one will ask for their opinion.

Is it any wonder Consumer Confidence is at an all time low?

Yes, We Can, But We Don't Dare

Philip K. Howard has some ideas on why Obama's call for people to get involved may fall on deaf ears:
Those who deal with the public are the most discouraged. Most doctors say they wouldn't advise their children to go into medicine. Government service is seen as a bureaucratic morass, not a noble calling. Make a difference? You can't even show basic human kindness for fear of legal action. Teachers across America are instructed never to put an arm around a crying child.

That instruction to teachers is one of the reasons I did not become a teacher. As a man, I sensed very early on that the risk of lawsuit or arrest was just too great to risk touching children, even though it broke my heart.

I did a short-term teaching job at a private Catholic school for a few hours each week. The moment I stepped onto the playground the kids would come flocking up to me and wrap their arms around my legs. I longed to hug them back, and I know that some would have benefitted from it enormously. But I couldn't afford to care about their needs. The threat to my potential livlihood was greater than their need.

As long as the modus operandii in America remains "No good deed goes unpunished" we will not live up to our values, no matter who is in office. Indeed, I have to question if those are still our values anymore.

My sister-in-law is a speech therapist in the public school system--at least for a few more weeks. Part of her job is working with mainstreamed special needs students. She tells of the incessant paperwork involved in her job and the lawyers constantly looking over their shoulders looking to sue if every piece of documentation isn't completely perfect. How does that serve the students?

It doesn't. The best special education teachers are quitting in droves, because they got into the job to help children, not file paperwork and fend off lawyers. But the job has become all about the latter and not the former. So they leave. In their place school administrators are forced to hire lesser-skilled stand-ins who are good at neither helping nor paperwork. In the end no one is served.

But it's not about helping people any more. It's about extorting money from the system. It's about "getting yours" regardless of who you have to crush in the process. It's about forcing people to do what's right, even if the definition of "what's right" is unclear or even contradictory.

The very people who are accusing churches of trying to legislate morality are doing just that themselves. Only they can't even get that right, because they have no moral compass of their own. Common Sense has become an oxymoron. Common decency has been replaced with lowest common denominator.

The problem is going to take much more than a sharp-dressed president with a bag full of platitudes. His community organizer tactics won't work here. America needs more than a bandaid, and he's offering little more than to kiss our owie better.

Why Yes, Yes I Do...

Richard Rahn at the Washington Times is asking "Feel like a chump?:"
While you may have thought you are required by law to pay taxes on all your income, you learn the "important" folks in Washington seem to think paying taxes is optional. Chairman Charles Rangel of the House Ways and Means Committee responsible for writing tax legislation has admitted he did not pay the required income taxes on some of his private income (Caribbean rental properties, etc.); and the proposed Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner, did not pay the required income tax on part of his income from the International Monetary Fund, where he worked for several years.

I thought Obama was going to hold government accountable to higher standards. It turns out (surprise, surprise) a politician lied to us...again. Geithner gets excused for his "goof". Rangel and Dodd will not be investigated by their respective Ethics Committees. At least Bill Richardson had the decency to remove himself from consideration. He probably would have gotten a pass from the Administration as well. So ironically the one politician with some integrity will NOT be part of the administration.

If I failed to pay taxes the IRS would have me in jail. Ignorance of the law would not be a valid excuse. Why is it only the "important people" don't have to obey the law? And why aren't more people worried that the current Administration is filling up with law-breakers?

Monday, January 26, 2009

"Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!"

John Stossel has an article in the Weekly Standard making the case that there is no reason for the panic we're seeing over the economy right now:
But people are losing their jobs! President Obama frets that "the unemployment rate could reach double digits." Yes, that would be bad, but in the recession of '82, it reached 10.8 percent. Yet no one even remembers the "crisis" of '82. Today's 7.2 percent unemployment rate is higher than we've grown used to, but we've experienced that rate 16 times over the past 35 years. And it pales in comparison to the 25 percent rate of the Depression era.

"The bad news is that our economy is broken and there is nothing the government can do to fix it," economist Peter Schiff told the Wall Street Journal. "The free market does have a cure: It's called a recession."

Have we become so fragile that we can't handle any recession? The 11 recessions since World War II are part of the "creative destruction" that ultimately drives our economy, yet today politicians act as if they can insulate us from pain with bailouts and "stimulus packages."

Or, to quote from my favorite quotable movie: "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

I don't want to make light of the problems many people are facing right now. And I say this as someone working in a company that has announced pending lay-offs. But the government has been throwing money at the problem with no visible result so far. I don't think solution at this point is "More cowbell!"

We're in this mess, as someone pointed out, because people have gone havily into debt to make questionable investments and spend as if the bill will never come due. So why would the answer be to go heavily into debt to make questionable investments and spend as if the bill will never come due? I've only got an MBA, mind you, so perhaps I'm just not smart enough to see it.

I don't mind the government putting out a safety net to help those in need. I may be relying on that net myself in the next few months. But as someone who has scrimped, saved, and spent responsibly I'm still waiting to see a reward for positive behavior. And I'm not seeing that much of a punishment for bad behavior, either. In a world of no consequences one should not hope for change.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Speaking Truth To The Lesser-Powered

Andy Lew offers some sage advice to conservatives, including:
DON’T make it personal. We don’t need another Derangement Syndrome. We don’t need people doing things like emphasizing Obama’s middle name in a derogatory fashion. How anyone would think that’s beneficial to their cause, or to the country as a whole, is beyond me. Also, it’s not even clever. Neither are smushwords like BusHitler, or sillywords like Rethuglicans and Dhimmicrats.

DON’T pretend you’re being brave when you criticize your government. Not while people in other countries actually, y’know, DIE, when they do that.

DON’T use the phrase “speaking truth to power.” EVER.

DON’T say or do everything in your power to drive this country apart and then claim you want unity when it’s your guy in power. This is like the convicted felon who conveniently finds God when he’s up for parole.

DON’T automatically think people who disagree with you are stupid or evil. Some of them are, of course. But most of them aren’t, and you might actually learn something if you listen to them.

And finally, DON’T use the fact that many on the left behaved abominably for the past eight years as an excuse to behave the same way. America needs adults. And if it bothered you when they did it, it’s a good sign that you shouldn’t do it.

Hear, Hear! Read the whole thing.

He also gets in a swipe at Tom Hanks:
DON’T call people un-American one week, and then talk about how “We are not blue states or red states, we are the United States” the next. (This rule may only apply to Tom Hanks, but I put it in just to be safe.)

Further proof that most calls for unity from celebrities and the left (did I just repeat myself?) are little more than "We have you now! Surrender!"

Say It Ain't So, Tom

Tom Hanks, who is currently making a fair bit of money from producing a television show about an offshoot of the Mormon religion, fails to see the irony when he criticizes the church about their stance on California's Prop 8:
“The truth is this takes place in Utah, the truth is these people are some bizarre offshoot of the Mormon Church, and the truth is a lot of Mormons gave a lot of money to the church to make Prop-8 happen,” he told Tarts. “There are a lot of people who feel that is un-American, and I am one of them. I do not like to see any discrimination codified on any piece of paper, any of the 50 states in America, but here's what happens now. A little bit of light can be shed, and people can see who's responsible, and that can motivate the next go around of our self correcting Constitution, and hopefully we can move forward instead of backwards. So let's have faith in not only the American, but Californian, constitutional process.”

I'll grant it's one of the more calm and moderate criticisms I've heard, and I hope what we should read between the lines is a call for more dialogue and understanding on both sides rather than intimidation and violence. But still, the gist of his criticism is that donating money to unpopular causes is "un-American."

What, exactly, is un-American about backing unpopular causes? Gay rights was, at one point, extremely unpopular and considered by the mainstream to be immoral. So were the people who backed the cause then un-American? Were the Founding Fathers, who undoubtedly opposed "buggery" as it was known then, un-American? Bill McKeever of the Mormonism Research Ministry puts it best:
"Personally, I find it un-American to tell people that they shouldn’t vote their conscience. Hanks said he doesn’t 'like to see any discrimination codified on any piece of paper.' Considering that just about every law discriminates in some form or another, makes this comment ridiculous. Hanks’ comment shows that he very much believes in discriminating against people with whom he disagrees. I may not agree with Mormon theology, but I certainly defend their right to express their opinion."

One look at the Mormon Research Ministry's website will confirm that McKeever is not a fan of the church.

So meanwhile, I have this to say to Mr. Hanks. I've appreciated your work. You've brought a lot of enjoyment into my life. I doubt I'm going to stop watching your movies just because of this. But I do have to say that it's rather hypocritical of you advocate denying Mormons of the right to political expression while simultaneously profiting from a TV show about Mormon splinter groups.

With the support of people like you, Mr. Hanks, how long will it be before Hollywood forms their own "Un-American Activities Committee" to snuff out dissent from people whose political opinions disagree with your own? And by the way? Where is your criticism of the also-un-American black and Muslim communities? Or does your courage not extend to criticizing those minorities?

But I will give you points for at least taking a more moderate line. When Hollywood is on a pogrom against anyone who would dare support Prop 8, being moderate is as close to dissent as some people can dare come.

From The Diversity Files

I'm not a minority--at least not in the standard political definition. Let's just say that nothing I'm a minority in is likely to gain me any special protections.

But I try to be sensitive enough to realize that my perspective on race relations in America could use some expansion. It's just that (and perhaps this is wrong of me) I don't like having to take personal responsibility for the entire scope of American history.

I'm willing to take responsibility for whatever prejudices my parents may have passed along that I may not have questioned yet. I'm willing to accept that my nervousness about some people may run deeper than my own personal insecurity with any stranger, and with the lifestyles certain clothing choices communicate.

I try not to be prejudiced, but let's face it. We all make choices about people and our reactions to them based on appearance. And when people dress in a specific way because it advertises a specific lifestyle they can't really hold people responsible for judging them based on that. In short, if you're going to dress like a gang-banger or rapper, it's not unduly prejudiced of me to suspect that you're going to be angry with me for being white--and as a result be nervous about you or even try to avoid you.

It would be unduly prejudiced of me to be nervous about or seek to avoid a black person who dresses within the realm of socially acceptable norms. I believe that is the key. If someone chooses to dress or act in an intimidating manner they should not expect people to react positively or even neutrally to them. I have as much right to be nervous about someone dressed like a gang-banger as I do a white person with disheveled hair and clothing walking down the street muttering to themselves and gesticulating wildly. It's simply, like the old Far Side cartoon, nature's way of saying "Do not touch".

Anyway, what I started out to say is that I do appreciate efforts by minorities to politely give the rest of us insights as to what their world is like for them. One such example is an article by John McWhorter in Forbes. This article makes it clearer that blacks in America are not unified in how they see themselves, but just as it appears more and more whites are moving past their historical prejudices, so are blacks.

If Obama's election does nothing else than open the way for people to have polite, respectful conversations about race he will have done this country a great service. I look forward to the conversation. I have much to learn.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Potholes in Memory Lane

Last night I was looking for a file on my computer so I could continue proofreading my niece's novel. Instead I clicked on the wrong folder and found a bunch of my own writing I haven't looked at in quite awhile. I ended up not getting to my original work (Sorry, Kayleen!) as I started re-reading stories and parts of stories I'd forgotten even existed.

Some of them are not only interesting memories, but mileposts marking the changes in my own life. For example, I had started re-writing my only published work as a larger novel. I'd decided to set it in my new home town which, at the time, I wasn't very familiar with. And so I have to laugh now to read about how my protagonist, who supposedly had lived there for six years, took a wrong turn, got lost, and just drove around for 45 minutes before he found a familiar landmark.

The city where I live now is quite a bit bigger than where I used to live, but there is little chance a person could stay lost that long unless they were trying to.

Some of the stories are somewhat embarassing in their simplicity, even though the concepts are still interesting and compelling. Others are little more than flotsam. Whatever my original intentions were, they're lost now. I have snippets of stories that I can't remember or reassemble where they were going.

I even ran across the beginnings of yet another attempt at a novel that's been stuck in my head for perhaps 15-20 years now. I've been over the beginning in my head thousands of times. But I'd forgotten all about this particular attempt, and I was excited to see that my new approach had been working. The material seemed fresh and new to me, and I was disappointed when I hit the stopping point.

I will--I must--write that novel someday. I'm probably just not ready yet. I've never been particulary good at--or patient enough for--planning my plots out to the conclusion before I begin writing them. I don't think will do for this one. I think the ending will rely far too much on details that would need to be in place from the beginning, and there's no way of doing that by accident. Watching "The Tale of Despereaux" yesterday made that very clear.

The good news is that I'm getting some practice at advanced planning like that. I'm running a D&D campaign with more depth and detail than I've ever managed before. I've fleshed out much of the setting to perhaps insane levels, as our group may never even encounter even half of what I've documented, and yet I've left much open to the players, as I don't want to impede the free-form nature of the game. It's their world to do with as they please, so long as they accept the consequences.

I need to dedicate a similar level of attention to my novel setting, and then the plot will practically write itself. And, of course, I need to write it. And that seems to be The Trick these days. Last night's reading session was depressing in some regards. I used to write much more than I do. What happened?

Life happened. Kids happened. Marriage happened (not necessarily in this order, mind you). Work happened. Mental and physical weariness happened. Taking too many shortcuts to entertainment and mental stimulation happened. In short, I've wandered far afield, and if I'm ever to really be a writer I need to find my way back.

I think it's time to decide if I want to. If writing is really my dream, then I need to can the excuses and do it. If it's not, then I need to cut it loose and get on with finding out what I really want to do. this a mid-life crisis?

Good Luck, Sirs!

I didn't vote for him. So what? Today he takes office, and I wish him well. I hope he is successful. I hope he does what is right for our country. I hope before his four years are up I find myself wishing I could say I voted for him.

Most indications suggest he's not going to live up to my fears. That's a good start. Much of the changes of direction he's made since the election would have made my choice much, much harder. There are strong indications he might even "out-centrist" McCain. If so, I'll be glad.

As for me, I'm going to learn from the horrible example of our national celebrities (Hat Tip Dr. Helen). I am NOT going to start bad-mouthing my country just because I may not like the man in charge. I am NOT going to start sucking up to ever evil dictator in the world who embodies and embraces the worst (erroneous) accusations I fling at my president. I will not look down my nose at the very people who made me the filthy rich in the first place. Not that the latter one is even an option, mind you.

In short, you will not find in me any justification for how those on the other side have been treating Bush all these years.

And speaking of Bush, I wish him all the best. Thank you, sir, for doing your best for this country, even if it was unpopular and even if I didn't always agree with you on what was best. Thank you for having the guts to do what was right in spite of the disapproving glare of Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. It is unfortunate that your predecessor will get much of the credit for your successes while continuing your policies, but that is the nature of a true leader. I do hope that history judges you more kindly than your rabid, loud enemies.

Monday, January 19, 2009

All-Star Cast

Our dentist selects a "patient of the month" and rewards them with movie tickets. Both Emma and Walter were selected over the last six months. Today I was off work for MLKJr. Day, so I took them to see "Tale of Despereaux". It should have been PG, as it's very intense (as witnessed by Walter's gradual migration into my lap), but it's a good show. Very cute, very well done.

There were a lot of celebrity voices, but the credits went by the character name--only a few of which I caught. So I guess it'll remain a mystery for now who did which voice.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Extremely Poor ROI

This week I took a Project Management class at work the same days I was watching Battlestar Galactica. It was an odd juxtaposition that eventually demanded my attention until I wrote this, a "project evaluation" for Battlestar Galactica. It's long, and extremely dull if you haven't (and probably even if you have) seen the new series' premier. But here it is.

Colonial Fleet Modernization Upgrade – Project Post-Mortem
Major Richard Jolsen, QC Auditor, PMP

Overview: This project was intended to network all fleet assets together and upgrade their navigation systems, making it easier to share information and make navigation safer. On the surface, this project appears to have been a success. The vast majority of the fleet was networked and upgraded on time and on budget. That this project ultimately resulted in the destruction of nearly all of humanity suggests that the wrong metrics were used in gauging project success. This report will attempt to address what likely went wrong in each stage of the project in order to uncover “lessons learned” for future endeavors.

Stakeholder Identification: At first glance there were no defects at this stage. The appropriate fleet sponsors and stakeholders were identified. On further analysis, however, two important stakeholders were excluded in this phase: Humanity, and fleet personnel in general. Identifying these two important stakeholder groups and their need for security may have helped focus the project in directions that would have resulted in dramatically different results.

Scope Definition: The first specific project defects were introduced during this activity. For a military project it seems inconceivable that the Business Vision excluded the goal “Make Humanity Safer”. Indeed, this project seems to have suffered from the far-too-common problem of “Geek Technology Attraction”, more clearly defined as the need for the best and fanciest technology for the sake of technology. Networking the fleet and upgrading the navigation software in hindsight seem not to support the goal of keeping humanity safe at best, and run completely counter to that goal at worst.

The entire reason for the fleet’s existence is to protect humanity. The primary goal is to protect them from the Cylons. The secondary goal is protecting interplanetary commerce from the hazards of space travel. While the Colonial Fleet Modernization Upgrade (CFMU) Project would render non-trivial benefits toward the secondary goal, it runs distinctly contrary to success in the primary goal, based on known Cylon strategies and tactics.

Therefore it can only be assumed that while the fleet’s formal business vision has been to protect humanity from both Cylons and interstellar hazards, the long silence from the Cylons has resulted in an unofficial and unannounced alteration of that business vision. It’s as if the Cylons were dropped from the list of potential threats from which humanity must be protected, even while the Colonial Fleet continued to train first and foremost for combat against known Cylon weapons and tactics with only lesser preparation for rescue operations.

This defect in vision cascaded throughout the project, resulting in insufficient Business Goals and Objectives, inappropriate identification of Business Needs/Pain, and hence potentially harmful Project Objectives and Deliverables. In short, when someone suggested we needed to upgrade the fleet, no one asked the critical question of “Why?”

One possible explanation for this indefensible error is the recent discovery of Cylon infiltrator and sleeper units, who look and act like human beings and have been able to acquire significant positions within our society and fleet. That a Cylon agent reached a position high enough in the fleet to influence and authorize this otherwise-inexplicable deviation in Business Vision would explain much.

Risk Assessment: To the project’s credit, “The Cylons return and declare war” was identified as a project risk. It was defined as a Low-Probability, High-Impact risk. While the probability rating was, in hindsight, set too low, what is really inexcusable is the decision to simply accept the risk. Considering the original vision of the fleet—to defend against the Cylons—and the fact that it is the traditional role of the military to prepare for the unexpected, this risk should have been mitigated.

Similarly the risks “Network attack” and “Catastrophic system failure” were identified, classified as Low-Probability/High-Impact, and simply accepted. This is also inexcusable. Even ignoring the Cylon threat and their known tactics of attacking systems and networks as a possibility, hackers and mal-ware developers are a known threat in both the civilian and military world. While it has been determined that the Cylons had inside help in attacking the networks, the fact that we had no manual overrides available on our vessels is simply inexcusable. To make our fleet assets completely reliant on networked computer systems and leave them no way to operate should those systems fail is astonishingly negligent.

Risks that were not identified were “Lack of security surrounding project deliverables”, and “Outsourcing of critical systems”. That outside experts were brought into the project is understandable. That they were allowed to develop the entire system outside of the military security structure is astonishing. Gaius Baltar had security clearance, but he was allowed to bring outside consultants onto the project without clearing it with anyone else. This was not a fast-food ordering system we were building. This was a critical component in our entire defense establishment. There are fast-food companies with tighter project security.

Estimating & Scheduling, Tracking, and Communications: Once the project reached this stage everything progressed quite smoothly. The catastrophic defects were already in place and were simply allowed to propagate as the project executed on schedule and on budget. There is little of note here.

Quality: It would be stating the obvious at this point to suggest that the quality in this project was not achieved. There are not adjectives to describe the level of failure this project represents. Here too there were serious oversights that might have otherwise resulted in much different outcomes than we currently experience.

The first error was in code review. No one reviewed Gaius Baltar’s code. If they did they did not ask him to explain the unidentified sections that proved to be the “back door” the Cylons used to cripple our fleet. While Mr. Baltar is arguably a genius, he would have been using known coding languages, and our people should have been able to figure out everything his code would do. If not, it would have been within the rights of our contract to make him explain it, as our IT team would be responsible for supporting his code. The fact that Gaius Baltar either did not notice this code himself or did not bring it to our attention at best makes him unreliable and a security risk for the future, and at worst makes him a willful collaborator and a traitor.

The other error was in reviewing the system design. Networks and navigation software are limited systems and should have been logically and perhaps physically separated from other systems. Weapons and Propulsion systems, for example, should have no need of navigation inputs and should not need to communicate with other vessels. That the navigation system was designed to interface with every other system, both critical and non, should have been easy to notice and questioned immediately. It’s almost as if Baltar were told “Go and create us a system. Let us know when you think it’s ready and we’ll implement it sight unseen.” Best practices mandate that developers not test their own code and that each deliverable in a project undergo some level of QA and QC evaluation. These seem not to have been done.

Implementation: The happiest of failures in this project occurred in implementation, proving that occasionally two wrongs do make a right. Commander Adama of the Battlestar Galactica failed to implement both systems. Citing the fact that his vessel was due to be decommissioned soon, and through dogged stubbornness, he avoided compliance. Under normal circumstances this would be considered a failure. The project objective was 100% compliance, not 99.99%, after all.

Commander Adama has a long history of avoiding upgrades to his vessel. The latest of the late adopters, he should have been specifically identified as an implementation risk and specifically ordered to install the upgrades. He was not, and he did not. In this case the “project saboteur” was correct, and only through his intense opposition can this project be considered even a minute fraction short of a complete and utter failure. Indeed, it is because of Commander Adama that this post-mortem is even possible.

Recommendations: As indicated above, the chief defect in this project was a faulty Business Vision. Had we not lost sight of that vision many errors in this project would have been avoided before they were even a possibility. The Colonial Fleet simply forgot who they were and what their job was. This simple inattention to detail and in-adherence to mission resulted in a cascading failure of unprecedented magnitude.

Even so, this disaster may have been avoided had proper Quality Assurance practices been observed. The defects in the deliverables were in the open for anyone to see. No one looked. This cannot happen again. Any future projects simply must follow good Quality standards. We must test all deliverables as if our lives depended on them, for indeed they do.

Opportunities: With the notable exception of Gaius Baltar, the entire project team is dead. It is a regrettable outcome, but suitably just. We have the opportunity to build a project management culture from the ground up. Those who will participate in future projects will be painfully aware of the cost of failure for a good, long time. The motivation to “get things right” will be very high. On the other hand, we should also make every effort to ensure that no Cylon agents find their way into positions to define or implement the new and improve methodology we need.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

This Is the Sound...of Cylons

I was resistant at first. I've been rather tired of all the attempts lately to redo all the great shows from my youth. I was even more wary after reading the producers' promise to make it "more grown up". But other people have gievn it positive reviews, including some whose tastes I usually trust. So I finally gave in.

I watched the new Battlestar Galactica.

Just the original miniseries, mind you. I can't afford to rent a whole season. My verdict? Well done. Not perfect, but well done. I like the new Cylon ships. There is something visceral about watching all those missiles streaming toward their targets. Especially the scene when two fighters attack the convoy of ships that get left behind at the last moment.

I like the photography, mostly for the reasons above. The wide-shots of distant battles really, really works in this instance. And it doesn't get overly cluttered. George Lucas should take notes. As for the battles themselves, I think someone has been studying their Babylon 5.

I like the technology and feel of the Galactica (I believe my brother mentioned this, too). In spite of the rather convoluted rank system, they've managed to capture a fairly realistic experience similar to what I believe life to be on a naval vessel of today. They made some very good character choices (I'm liking the chief engineer guy very, very much).

I like Mary McDonnell. I loved her in Independence Day, and I love her here. She turns in the best performance of the cast. Her character is wonderful.

There are some holes, though. Perhaps they get plugged later in the series?

For example, the Cylons are supposedly in constant contact with their central system or something so that their consciousness can be reloaded into another body. Fine. Cool. I see some potential problems with that the farther away from Home they get, unless they've also developed FTL communications.

But you can't run a networked system like that without a transmitter. Each Cylon would have to have their own transmitter. That would make them detectable. Or should.

Further more, the idea of Cylon moles that don't even know they are moles is a bit much. Especially if they are supposedly undetectable from humans in almost every way. That would mean they have to have similar-looking MRIs of their brain activity. Where exactly would you hide a second, independent personality that wouldn't leave a big blank spot on their brain scans? Granted, no one has tried that yet.

But even that aside, you'd have to not only activate their new programming, but turn off their old or else you'll have a massive internal conflict. Perhaps they will. We've supposedly not seen it happen yet.

And where did the note come from about there being 12 Cylon models? Unless I missed something, Baltar didn't have that information (ed. Yes, I missed something. #6 told Baltar she was one of twelve. At the time I thought she was talking about her specific model. Still, why did she tell him if it can be used against them?). If he got it from his Cylon brain-parasite, why would SHE want them to know? For that matter, if she is for real and not just a psychosis of Baltar's, just why DOES she care so much for him? Why is she willing to help him--and hence humanity? Not a hole, but certainly a major unanswered question.

Commander Adama's "Earth" speech at the end was pretty hokey in my mind. I was not the least bit convinced that he really knew where it was--and this is from someone who grew up on the original where Earth WAS real, and they DID find it (and promptly jumped the shark). So why did anyone else buy it? Were they so desperate for a hope to cling to?

I do hope they give more insight as to why Adama changed his mind about fighting and decided to run instead, because other than watching two youngsters flirting, I saw nothing to indicate a reason. Not strong enough, in my book. Either that, they didn't show that his dedication to continuing the fight was not so strong. Other than his speech at the decommissioning, which just doesn't jibe with the rest of his character after that.

Anyway, I have the opportunity to borrow the first four seasons from someone at work, and I'll probably take them up on it. But I do hope they give more more excitement than "Oh my gosh, who are the Cylon infiltrators."

Perhaps everything will make sense, and all the pieces will fall into place later. I'm willing to give it a shot. But so far I am bothered by some of the holes and a general lack of substance. The special effects will only hold me so long.

UPDATE: Something finally went click the other night. Ronald Moore, who writes the show, was also a writer for Deep Space Nine. The only question now is whether he was selected because he had experience in writing "the evil guys look just like us and could be anywhere" screenplays already, or if he took the show that direction himself because he just can't get enough of that particular plotline.

I can get enough of it. If I do start watching the series I really, really hope this doesn't turn into a "Dominion" reload.

Friday, January 09, 2009

We Shall Make No Policy Until Its Time

Michael Totten defends Barack Obama over his silence regarding the Gaza crisis:
If Obama opposes Israel’s use of force to defend itself from missile attack, he deserves credit for keeping his opinion to himself while he is not actually president. As he has stated on several occasions: the United States only has one president at a time. “We can’t have two administrations running foreign policy at the same time,” he says. “We simply can’t do it.” He could try to undermine the current President Bush, but he’s right that it wouldn’t be proper.

On the other hand, perhaps he silently supports Israel’s short operation in Gaza against a terrorist army with whom he himself repeatedly said he would refuse to negotiate. If he said so out loud, though, his global “hope and change” honeymoon would be over before it even began. It’s not in his interest to hobble himself from the start, nor is it in America’s interest or Israel’s.

I have to agree. While I'm still in wait-and-see mode over many things Obama, I appreciate his respect in not undermining the current president, however unpopular. While it could just be that he really doesn't want to have to take the job any sooner than necessary (and who could blame him), evidence suggests otherwise.

He's NOT silent on the economy. He's saying plenty there, and it's a good thing. Right now the economy is as much a matter of perception as a matter of substance. The Democratic Congress wants to get to work fixing things, and if Obama doesn't want to lose control of the helm there he needs to be involved. Even though it may be weeks before anything gets through congress, it's important to be seen doing something.

Foreign policy, on the other hand, is NOT Congress' arena. It's important there be one and only one Voice of the US. Congress has passed resolutions supporting Bush's position on Gaza, however, and that is entirely appropriate. Obama seems to know that on matters of foreign policy he needs to keep quiet until it's his turn.

He'll get his turn soon enough. For many reasons, most of which could be simultaneously true, he is smart to wait.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Get Satan A Cardigan

It's a little scary, but Harry Reid is starting to sound almost...sensible these days:
“Even though we’re one short of 60 [senators in the Democratic Conference], I don’t want to ever have to depend on cloture,” Reid said. “We may have to do that, but it will be with the support of a few Republicans.”

Reid, who lambasted the GOP-led Congress for being a rubber stamp for President Bush, indicated that he will not bow to the Obama administration.

Reid stated, “I don't believe in the executive power trumping everything... I believe in our Constitution, three separate but equal branches of government.”

“If Obama steps over the bounds, I will tell him. … I do not work for Barack Obama. I work with him,” he said.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Burris Under The Saddle

It appears that the Democratic Majority has a bit of a backbone after all and has refused senate-appointee Burris admission to the Senate. I'm not impressed, though, as the Democrats are the only ones who could get away with it--not to mention they put themselves in this position in the first place.

It was a rather cynical play in the first place to insist that the real reason Burris might not be admitted is because of race. It was mean-spirited and cynical for Gov. Blagojevich to make the appointment in the first place. It does little to dispell the media image of him to lash out like this and try to take everyone down with him.

To be honest, I don't know if Burris is a good choice or not. It sounds like he's at least not a bad one. He's certainly more experienced than Caroline Kennedy. And this is most certainly not about race. To not seat a black man in the Senate to replace another black man who was just elected president should render that accusation dead on arrival.

No, this is about the fact that the governor who made the appointment is currently under indictment for trying to sell that senate seat for personal gain. That places anyone so appointed under a cloud of suspicion from the very start.

It's unfortunate that Harry Reid and the Democrats were not stronger in stating that they would refuse to seat anyone nominated by Blagojevich under any circumstances. But at least they had the basic sense to cut this off before it gets any worse.

I hope that--sooner rather than later--they can resolve this. As others have suggested, the best way would be to impeach Blagojevich and then let the Lt. Governor re-appoint Burris.

But in the mean time, I think we should all remain calm and not turn this into Cirque de Invective.

Burris Under The Saddle

It appears that the Democratic Majority has a bit of a backbone after all and has refused senate-appointee Burris admission to the Senate. I'm not impressed, though, as the Democrats are the only ones who could get away with it--not to mention they put themselves in this position in the first place.

It was a rather cynical play in the first place to insist that the real reason Burris might not be admitted is because of race. It was mean-spirited and cynical for Gov. Blagojevich to make the appointment in the first place. It does little to dispell the media image of him to lash out like this and try to take everyone down with him.

To be honest, I don't know if Burris is a good choice or not. It sounds like he's at least not a bad one. He's certainly more experienced than Caroline Kennedy. And this is most certainly not about race. To not seat a black man in the Senate to replace another black man who was just elected president should render that accusation dead on arrival.

No, this is about the fact that the governor who made the appointment is currently under indictment for trying to sell that senate seat for personal gain. That places anyone so appointed under a cloud of suspicion from the very start.

It's unfortunate that Harry Reid and the Democrats were not stronger in stating that they would refuse to seat anyone nominated by Blagojevich under any circumstances. But at least they had the basic sense to cut this off before it gets any worse.

I hope that--sooner rather than later--they can resolve this. As others have suggested, the best way would be to impeach Blagojevich and then let the Lt. Governor re-appoint Burris.

But in the mean time, I think we should all remain calm and not turn this into Cirque de Invective.

As Accurate As Truthiness

I read this interesting article today:
(AP) Tel Aviv - The Israeli government today indicated they would bow to international pressure and moderate their attacks on Hamas in Gaza to a more "proportionate response."

"Starting today," said spokesman David Ben-Gasser, "we will withdraw all troops and cease all air operations. Instead we will begin firing between 100 and 1000 rockets per month into the Gaza settlements. We will also reopen all border checkpoints, but will be directing rocket fire at these points as well. We are also recruiting for suicide bombers to send into Gaza marketplaces and schools. In lieu of this--Israeli youth being shamelessly less willing to throw away their lives--we may be forced to place suicide vests on mannequins and drop them by air into these locations. It is regrettable, but demonstrates our commitment to a proportional response.

"We are also, in a proportionate response, ending our disproportionate commitment to establishing peace between Israelis and Palestinians and will instead adopt the Hamas-inspired policy of seeking the eradication of every last Palestinian in the world."

Ben-Gasser then added, "We thank the world for their input on how to secure our population. We appreciate the feedback we have received that has basically told us we've been going about this all wrong. We hope that by adopting Hamas' tactics and policies we will succeed in gaining the good will of the international community. As soon as we have eliminated every last Palestinian in the world I'm certain much of the trouble in the Middle-East will disappear."

Okay, I didn't read this anywhere, but it would serve the world right if this were Israel's response. They are fighting an enemy with the stated goal of eliminating all Jews. This same enemy completely disregards all internationally-accepted rules of warfare. This same enemy deliberately targets civilians and uses their own for shields and camoflage. This same enemy hides behind international agencies.

This call for a "proportionate response" is poppycock. Russia used the U.S. invasion of Iraq to justify their own invasion of Georgia. Well, I say Israel should be able to use Russia's invasion of Georgia to justify their invasion of Gaza. It is time that Hamas be eliminated. Unfortunately that means that some innocent Palestinians will be killed. Perhaps they should remember that next time they elect a terrorist group into power.

Hamas doesn't care one whit for the people they supposedly represent. Palestinians are just chips in the big game. Their primary use is as body count for news stories. So next time you Palestinians decide you don't like Israeli tanks firing at you, why don't you just turn around and beat the crap out of the Hamas militant hiding behind you to attack the Israelis? I'll bet you find the Israelis stop firing at you.