The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The more things change

James Fallows nails the dispiriting "business-as-usual" of Peter Orszag's new job:

[T]he decision of Peter Orszag, until recently the director of the Office of Management and Budget under Barack Obama, to join Citibank in a senior position [is both damaging and shocking. ]. Exactly how much it will pay is not clear, but informed guesses are several million dollars per year. Citibank, of course, was one of the institutions most notably dependent on federal help to survive in these past two years.

Damaging, in that it epitomizes and personalizes a criticism both left and right have had of the Obama Administration's "bailout" policy: that it's been too protective of the financial system's high-flying leaders, and too reluctant to hold any person or institution accountable. ...

Shocking, in the structural rather than personal corruption that it illustrates. I believe Orszag (whom I do not know at all) to be a faultlessly honest man, by the letter of the law. I am sorry for his judgment in taking this job, but I am implying nothing whatsoever "unethical" in a technical sense. But in the grander scheme, his move illustrates something that is just wrong.

When we notice similar patterns in other countries -- for instance, how many offspring and in-laws of senior Chinese Communist officials have become very, very rich -- we are quick to draw conclusions about structural injustices. Americans may not "notice" Orszag-like migrations, in the sense of devoting big news coverage to them. But these stories pile up in the background to create a broad American sense that politics is rigged, and opportunity too.

The whole piece is worth reading.

Looking at the bright side

Yesterday, it took me longer to fly home (8½ hours) than it would have taken to drive (6 hours). This almost never happens; and throughout my flight cancellation and delay at Cincinnati's Terminal 2, I remained sanguine and peaceful. (Beer helped.)

Because no matter what flight delays I encountered, no matter what kind of snow blew all over the roads causing the taxi to crawl at a modest walking speed, no matter anything, at least I wasn't in Suburbistan, Ohio:

No, my life wasn't that bad anymore.

This was, I think, my last flight of 2010. And for those keeping score at home: this year I flew in or out of O'Hare 43 times. I'm not sure when I'll do that again, either.

Four days left

I can't quite grasp that I'll finish my MBA sometime before next Tuesday. My Duke to-do list (I actually use FogBugz for school and for work) has had, over the past two years, 573 items on it. Today I've got just 7 active items, including "Confirm CCMBA degree is conferred" which is due on the 30th.

One paper left. One PowerPoint dreck. Er, deck. One case to read. Two classes.

I have no idea what I'm going to do without all that stress and bother, or with all the time I'll suddenly have. Oh, right: I'll moonlight to pay off my student loans. Forgot that...

The right man for the job

Via TPM, the Republicans have made Ralph Hall (R-TX) House Science and Technology Committee chair. He's got an impressive record:

The Texas representative is a strong supporter of the oil and gas industry and has voiced his support for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. The League of Conservation Voters has given him a zero-percent rating every year since 2004 due to his positions and votes on environmental issues.

He's also the guy who killed a House bill which would have increased funding for scientific research and math and science education by forcing Democrats to vote in favor of federal employees viewing pornography. As ranking member, Hall introduced a motion to recommit which would have changed the bill by sending it back to the committee with mandatory instructions, in this case barring the federal government from paying the salaries of employees who had been disciplined for viewing pornography at work.

Some of you will have seen the story in The Atlantic this month outlining how American kids rank below-average on international math and science tests. Texas, were it a country (and why, oh why, didn't we just let them leave?), would be almost identical in the rankings as the U.S. as a whole in math, between Latvia and the Russian Federation. (Illinois is about the same, sadly.) The only state that breaks into the top 20 is Massachusetts, slightly ahead of Solvenia and slightly behind Austria.

It's an astute policy choice for the GOP. The 87-year-old Hall—he's the oldest member of Congress in either house—has strong ties to the oil industry and voted against NAFTA in 1996. I'd go on about his science and technology credentials but, sadly, I couldn't find any.

Yes, the GOP is all about policy these days. Chairman Hall will fit right in.

Never ascribe to malice...

I've recently had the opportunity to work on-site with a client who has a strong interest in protecting its customers' privacy. They have understandably strict policies regarding who can see what network data, who can get what access to which applications, etc. And they're interested in the physical security of their buildings.

At some point, however, process can stymie progress, and this client recently added a physical security measure that can stand as a proxy for everything else about how they function. Not content with having a full-time security guard at each lobby entrance, and with doors that require an ID to open, they now have a man-trap-style revolving door system. Only one person can enter the door at a time, or alarms sound. The doors move slowly enough that even the slowest walkers—and this is far Suburbistan, so there are many—can get through without hurrying. And to make extra-special-certain, these doors require a second ID badge.

Now, the client building is 30 km from the nearest city of any size, and that city doesn't even rank in the top 50 by population. In order to get to the building you have to drive some distance from anyplace you'd ever want to be, then cross a parking lot whose area, according to Google Maps, is four times greater than the building's footprint. In other words, they're protecting the building from...nobody. Nobody will ever lay siege to this place.

This aptly demonstrates the philosophy throughout the organization: they have immense barriers that have no purpose except to prevent any actual work from happening. My effort for this particular client lasted several long weeks and produced, in the end, about fifteen lines of code. They brought 60 developers onto the project to speed it up, with the result that 60 developers tripped over procedures and project management at immense cost to the company to produce something four guys in a garage could have done in the same length of time.

There's a punchline, a poignant one for the day after Elizabeth Edwards died: the client is a major health-insurance company.

Do you want to know why the U.S. spends more on health care than any other country? I think I have the answer.

N.B.: The title of this post comes from one of my favorite quotes, usually ascribed to Napoleon Bonaparte but probably coined by Robert Heinlein: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

Cheerful reading about the end of our empire

Via Sullivan, Salon presents four possible scenarios that could very well happen:

Despite the aura of omnipotence most empires project, a look at their history should remind us that they are fragile organisms. So delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly bad, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, 11 years for the Ottomans, 17 years for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, 22 years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003.

when Washington's global dominion finally ends, there will be painful daily reminders of what such a loss of power means for Americans in every walk of life. As a half-dozen European nations have discovered, imperial decline tends to have a remarkably demoralizing impact on a society, regularly bringing at least a generation of economic privation. As the economy cools, political temperatures rise, often sparking serious domestic unrest.

This will be interesting, anyway.

My remote office, noticed

Sullivan included my note to him about The Duke of Perth in his thread on America's corner pubs. The whole thread is worth reading, as most Americans don't seem to know that such thing as a corner pub exists—except those of us who live in actual cities:

I'm sitting in a great pub in Chicago right now: the Duke of Perth. It's walking distance from my apartment, has wonderful Shepherd's Pie (though they assure me it contains no shepherds), Theakston's Twisted Thistle IPA on draught, and 90 varieties of single-malt Scotch. It also has no TVs, free WiFi, and two active fireplaces. Bonus: it's owned by a guy who immigrated from Scotland.

Sullivan's blog has hundreds of thousands of page views per day.

I forgot how homey these things are

Sitting in a cube farm outside Cincinnati, Ohio, I start to jail anything like this?

Researchers have documented the soul- and productivity-sucking effects of cubicles for about 20 years, with other related research going back to the 1950s. Someday I will understand why no one acts on this research...

Breakups, the infographic way

Via Sullivan, a collection of data and infographics about "the battlefield of love:"

There are many opportunities for failure with 3 million first dates every day worldwide.

It turns out that sex is pretty important as 56% of adults claim to be unhappy with their sex life and 22% of married people worldwide have had an extramarital affair. Turkey has the highest rate of affairs with 58% of married people, and Israel the lowest with 7%. Cheating is one of the most popular reasons for breaking up with 25% of women and 18% of men reporting it as the reason for their last relationship's end.

Many find success as 2.5 million per year vow "Till death do we part," albeit nearly half will break that vow. 5.4% of adults, for better or worse die having never married.