Category Archive 'Official Incompetence'
15 Apr 2020
Detail, Pieter Brueghel the elder, Parable of the Blind Men, Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy, 1568.
Victor Davis Hanson observes that credentialed experts’ supposed omniscience has been reduced to tatters by the recent COVID-19 wordwide outbreak.
The virus will teach us many things, but one lesson has already been relearned by the American people: there are two, quite different, types of wisdom.
One, and the most renowned, is a specialization in education that results in titled degrees and presumed authority. That ensuing prestige, in turn, dictates the decisions of most politicians, the media, and public officialsâ€”who for the most part share the values and confidence of the credentialed elite.
The other wisdom is not, as commonly caricatured, know-nothingism. Indeed, Americans have always believed in self-improvement and the advantages of higher education, a trust that explained broad public 19th-century support for mandatory elementary and secondary schooling and, during the postwar era, the G.I. Bill.
But the other wisdom also puts a much higher premium on pragmatism and experience, values instilled by fighting nature daily and mixing it up with those who must master the physical world.
The result is the sort of humility that arises when daily drivers test their skills and cunning in a semi-truck barreling along the freeway to make a delivery deadline with a cylinder misfiring up on the high pass, while plagued by worries whether there will be enough deliveries this month to pay the mortgage.
An appreciation of practical knowledge accrues from watching central-heating mechanics come out in the evening to troubleshoot the unit on the roof, battling the roof grade, the ice, and the dark while pitting their own acquired knowledge in a war with the latest computerized wiring board of the new heating exchange unit that proves far more unreliable than the 20-year-old model it replaced.
Humility is key to learning, but it is found more easily from a wealth of diverse existential experiences on the margins. It is less a dividend of the struggle for great success versus greater success still, but one of survival versus utter failure.
So far in this crisis, our elite have let us down in a manner the muscularly wise have never done.
06 Oct 2014
Doyle McManus, at the LA Times, contends that the federal government is focused on political competition at the expense of competence.
Whatever happened to good old American know-how?
The nation that invented modern management seems to be suffering a crisis of competence.
The Secret Service can’t protect the White House. Public health authorities can’t get their arms around a one-man Ebola outbreak. The army we trained in Iraq collapsed as soon as it was attacked by Islamic extremists, and our own veterans can’t get the care they need at VA hospitals. And, lest we forget, it was only a year ago that the White House rolled out its national health insurance program, only to see its website grind to a halt.
Yes, you can argue that these problems all have different causes.
But it’s hard not to conclude that something basic is amiss in Washington.
“This isn’t a partisan problem,” argues Linda Bilmes, a public policy scholar at Harvard’s Kennedy School who worked in the Clinton administration â€” although she does fault the people at the top. “It hasn’t been a priority under this president to appoint good managers to top positions, but it wasn’t a priority under George W. Bush either.”
Read the whole thing.
30 Dec 2013
This Flicker Photo essay by Brandon Davis shows how the combined impact of municipal corruption, fiscal incompetence, and superstitious belief in junk science actually resulted in the neglect and finally the abandonment and demolition of a major branch library in Detroit, complete with shelves and books. Nobody could enter the place to salvage anything. The black mold bogey and the asbestos monster might eat them.
The symbolism of all this, the reverse course in development and progress, the neglect and abandonment of the achievements of past Americans, the betrayal of their constituents by the crooks and looters in Detroit’s city government, all capped by reliance on wild-eyed phobias promoted by politicized pseudo-science to justify the final betrayal.
The Mark Twain branch library on the corner of Gratiot Avenue and Seneca Street in Detroit is a study in physical and cultural decay. …
Twain was Detroit’s third regional library, (along with Parkman and Monteith), designed to be larger than a neighborhood library. Regional branches offered a wider selection of books and periodicals in an informal “clubhouse” environment, and could host public events, such as plays and concerts. Construction on the Twain branch finished in early 1940, and the library opened its doors to the public on February 22nd. The actual dedication of the library took place two months later, in a ceremony attended by city officials, religious leaders, and members of the business community. Over 20,000 books were on the shelves for opening day, watched over by head librarian Ethel Kellow.
For many years, the Twain branch was the social hub of the northeast side of Detroit. Numerous newspaper clippings from the 1940’s and 50’s note a wide variety of events hosted at the library, including a series of lectures on “Problems of Working Girls” held by Miss M. Sharpe, head of the personnel department of the Detroit Edison Co., Boy Scout troop meetings, and the playing of recorded symphonies conducted by Toscanini, Stokowski, and Iturbi for the Girls Music Club program. Well into the 1970’s and 80’s, Twain branch offered a haven for children and residents as the neighborhood around the library started to decline.
The Detroit Public Library started to run into financial problems in the early 1980’s, closing several branches and deferring maintenance on others. In the summer of 1990, several branches, including Twain, were closed due to significant shortfalls. A grant from the State of Michigan reopened Twain in September for two days a week, but a precedent had been set.
In 1996 or 97, long-delayed work began on repairing the roof of the Twain branch, which was leaking water. The scope of the repairs needed increased greatly as contractors found more damage than expected, including toxic asbestos and structural problems. In 1997, the library commission decided to replace the entire roof, and temporarily closed the Twain branch.
What had started off as small repairs grew into a large project that put the library out of service for the foreseeable future. As planning dragged on, residents complained about the lack of library services in the area. To address their concerns, a temporary “annex” for the Mark Twain branch was set up in the basement of Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist on Iroquois Street in 1998. About half of the books were moved from the old building to the annex branch, along with computers and other equipment.
Work on the old Twain branch stalled in 1999, as the Detroit Public Library faced another financial crisis. With many of its branch buildings approaching 50 years of age or more, the library estimated that over $100 million dollars in repairs were needed across the city. A millage campaign to fund operations and repairs passed in 2000, and shortly afterwards, the library announced that it would be spending $4 million dollars to repair and reopen three branches, including Mark Twain.
Progress on the Twain branch remained minimal though, even as the library commission claimed that work was going forward. Conditions at Twain were so hazardous that one contractor refused to enter the building to survey it in 2000. A follow up report on the millage by The Detroit News in August of 2002 stated that work was ongoing at the Twain branch, though no details were offered. In 2004 the library started to campaign for a renewal of the 2000 millage. A marketing brochure sent out to residents promoting the renewal featured a “report card” with a list of accomplishments from 2000, including the reopening of two branches (Richard and Skillman), “with the reopening of the Campbell and Mark Twain branches in the works.” Another item highlighted new roofs at 17 branches, “including Mark Twain branch.” No work appears to have been done, as by 2007 there were large holes in the roof over the general circulation room. Other letters sent out to residents in the neighborhood by the Detroit Public Library led them to believe that the millage would provide funds to reopen the Twain branch. The millage passed, but minimal work was carried out.
In 2003 and 2006 the library commission carried out surveys of the Twain branch, both time finding that the damage had grown more extensive and that it would cost more money to repair the building. Open holes in the roof were letting in water, leading to an infestation of black mold that crept across the walls and into the books that had been left behind. Despite promises given to the community and specific wording in the 2000 and 2004 millages that funds raised would be used to repair the library, little was being done to stabilize, much less improve the Twain branch.
The first public sign that saving Twain was a lost cause came in 2008, when negotiations between the Detroit Public Library and the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance were opened to move the Mark Twain annex into a new mixed-use development that the Alliance was planning on the corner of Gratiot Avenue and Rohns Street. It was estimated that build-out for a new branch inside the development would cost about $1.5 million, less than the cost of renovating. By 2009 the old Twain branch was in visible decline, with broken windows and holes in the roof. When residents challenged members of the library commission at a December 15th meeting on why the bond money had not been spent restoring the library, a representative claimed “that the millage proposal pledge was to find a library solution,” sidestepping the issue. Despite ongoing talks with the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance, residents were assured that no decision had been made regarding the future of the branch.
With its shelves of decaying books, Twain became a very visible symbol of mismanagement and decay in the media. Questions of why so many books and supplies had been left behind to molder dogged the Detroit Public Library, as images of the library featured heavily in news stories about the city. In May of 2011, an RFP for the demolition of the library was issued and discussed at a June 21st meeting. One of the commissioners raised concerns about items that had been left behind. According to the minutes, “Ms. Machie explained, back in 1997 when the building was decommissioned, everything was taken out, reassigned, or sold at a garage/book sale that was of any value. Branch librarians reviewed and selected books and were able to add to their book inventory. Ms. Machie said entering the building to retrieve materials would be hazardousâ€¦”
The contract to demolish Mark Twain library was awarded to Adamo Demolition in July of 2011 for just under $200,000. It did not include any provision for salvage of books or materials. Asbestos abatement began in September, and the building was gutted within a few weeks. Structural demolition of the building lasted into October. After work was finished and the demolition crew had left for the day, scavengers would pick through the piles of debris for bits of metal pipe and wiring. Curious onlookers would sneak under the fence to gaze at what was left of the building, or to take a brick for a souvenir.
Hat tip to Madame Scherzo.
Mark Twain Library, 1940
08 Dec 2013
Mark Steyn is in exceptional form this week.
For much of last year, a standard trope of President Obama’s speechwriters was that there were certain things only government could do. “That’s how we built this country â€” together,” he declared. “We constructed railroads and highways, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. We did those things together.” As some of us pointed out, for the cost of Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill alone, you could have built 1,567 Golden Gate Bridges â€” or one megaâ€“Golden Gate Bridge stretching from Boston to just off the coast of Ireland. Yet there isn’t a single bridge, or a single dam (“You will never see another federal dam,” his assistant secretary of the interior assured an audience of environmentalists). Across the land, there was not a thing for doting network correspondents in hard hats to stand in front of and say, “Obama built this.”
Until now, that is. Obamacare is as close to a Hoover Dam as latter-day Big Government gets. Which is why its catastrophic launch is sobering even for those of us who’ve been saying for five years it would be a disaster. It’s as if at the ribbon-cutting the Hoover Dam cracked open and washed away the dignitaries; as if the Golden Gate Bridge was opened to traffic with its central span missing; as if Apollo 11 had taken off for the moon but landed on Newfoundland. Obama didn’t have to build a dam or a bridge or a spaceship, just a database and a website. This is his world, the guys he hangs with, the zeitgeist he surfs so dazzlingly, Apple and Google, apps and downloads. But his website’s a sclerotic dump, and the database is a hacker’s heaven, and all that’s left is the remorseless snail mail of millions and millions of cancellation letters.
For the last half-century, Obama has simply had to be. Just being Obama was enough to waft him onwards and upwards: He was the Harvard Law Review president who never published a word, the community organizer who never organized a thing, the state legislator who voted present. And then one day came the day when it wasn’t enough simply to be. For the first time in his life, he had to do. And it turns out he can’t. He’s not Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos. And Healthcare.gov is about what you’d expect if you nationalized a sixth of the economy and gave it to the Assistant Deputy Commissar of the Department of Paperwork and the Under-Regulator-General of the Bureau of Compliance.
Politics, the late Christopher Hitchens used to say, is show business for ugly people. But it’s also ugly business for show people. Thatcherism is a political philosophy; Obamaism is a vibe, a groove, a pose, an aesthetic. When his speechwriters are cooking, he’ll get them to work up a little riff about how it’s not about Big Government vs. Small Government, it’s about “smarter” government. A few months ago, he even gave it a hashtag! #SmarterGov. How cool is that? “Smart” refers less to the product than to the guys pitching it. “He’s probably the smartest guy ever to become president,” said the historian Michael Beschloss the day after Obama’s election. In an embarrassing effusion even by his own standards, another smart guy, the New York Times’ house conservative David Brooks, noted the incoming administration’s narrow range of almae matres and cooed: “If a foreign enemy attacks the United States during the Harvardâ€“Yale game anytime over the next four years, we’re screwed.” Obama and his courtiers were the smartest guys in town, so naturally their government would be smarter than all previous governments. A few weeks before Obamacare’s launch, one of the smart set, Dan Pfeiffer, promised it would be “a consumer experience unmatched by anything in government, but also in the private sector.” And he was right, kind of.
Read the whole thing.
14 Nov 2013
Dan Greenfield deconstructs Barack Obama’s apology to Americans who will lose their health insurance.
Obama’s non-apology apology “I’m sorry that you’re unhappy” is typical of the passive aggressive apology of the twenty-first [century]. What was once character has become branding. What was once manners has become damage control. …
Obama, Hillary and Sebelius all recite formulaic admissions of responsibility without actually taking any. Hillary was happy to take responsibility for Benghazi, as a verbal statement, without actually accepting political or practical responsibility for any of it. Likewise Sebelius and Obama took responsibility for the ObamaCare website without actually accepting it.
Obama took responsibility and then explained that he doesn’t really know anything about programming so he isn’t responsible. …
This is the innocence of incompetence. Obama isn’t a programmer; he can’t be held responsible for Healthcare.gov. Hillary Clinton isn’t a soldier or even a real diplomat. She can’t be held responsible for Benghazi. Sebelius is a political appointee whose job is to look into the camera with the baffled incomprehension of the professional civil servant. “I don’t know anything. I just work here.”
Obama had boasted that he was a better speechwriter than his speechwriters and a better political director than his political directors. But apparently he’s not a better programmer than his programmers.
Programming is hard work compared to finding ways to arrange new promises and lies around “Let me be clear” which is the twenty-first century version of “Read my lips”. It requires knowing how to do something more than blame the previous programmer or the programming language.
The ideologues are always innocent because it’s always the implementation that fails; not their ideas. It’s why Communism isn’t responsible for the USSR or North Korea going down the tubes. The ideas were solid, but the programmers did a bad job of coding their brilliant economic theories into a working website.
And so we are told once again that Obama is smart. Really, really smart. Despite this fearsome intelligence, there isn’t one thing they can point to abroad or at home that he did well on his own. And that very uselessness shows how smart he is. Any idiot can fix a car, build a website or make a foreign policy work. It takes a real genius to come up with the ideas and sigh in disappointment as everyone else screws them up.
Liberal columnists ponder whether Obama is too smart to be president. By that they mean that he’s much too elevated a being to sit around trying to make things work. His proper role would be theorizing how things should work and then putting those theories in book form.
That is something the left is undeniably good at. It’s like an entire movement of flying car inventors who spend so much time describing why flying cars are the answer that they never bother with the question of whether anyone needs flying cars or how to keep flying cars from crashing into things all the time.
Read the whole thing.
04 Nov 2013
â€œThey were running the biggest start-up in the world, and they didnâ€™t have anyone who had run a start-up, or even run a business,â€ said David Cutler, a Harvard professor and health adviser to Obamaâ€™s 2008 campaign.
WaPo: Politics Doomed the Obamacare Rollout.
28 Oct 2013
Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president of CGI Federal, left, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday. CGI will earn at least $290 million from its Obamacare contract to design the site.
Mark Steyn identifies the Canadian Company which got the no-bid contract to build the botched Obamacare web-site. Who knew? They were already famous for their achievements on behalf of the Canadian Government.
CGI is… a Canadian corporate behemoth. Indeed, CGI is so Canadian their name is French: Conseillers en Gestion et Informatique. Their most famous government project was for the Canadian Firearms Registry. The registry was estimated to cost in total $119 million, which would be offset by $117 million in fees. Thatâ€™s a net cost of $2 million. Instead, by 2004 the CBC (Canadaâ€™s PBS) was reporting costs of some $2 billion â€” or a thousand times more expensive.
Yeah, yeah, I know, weâ€™ve all had bathroom remodelers like that. But in this case the database had to register some 7 million long guns belonging to some two-and-a-half to three million Canadians. That works out to almost $300 per gun â€” or somewhat higher than the original estimate for processing a firearm registration of $4.60. Of those $300 gun registrations, Canadaâ€™s auditor general reported to parliament that much of the information was either duplicated or wrong in respect to basic information such as names and addresses.
Read the whole thing.
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