To everyone out there, conservative and liberal alike, patriot and internationalist, a good year.
(Unless your definition of good involves deliberately killing a lot of innocent people.)
…and remember, tonight’s the night for the ‘amateur drunks’ so drive, ride and walk carefully…


It may be Ann, who’s fed up with my lefty-patriotism meme and practising her imitation of Sabrina, but so far this week, we’ve had:
1) two plumbing crises;
2) two incontinent cats (the 16 year old cat is apparently competing to be annoying with the diabetic one);
3) one leaky British motorcycle;
4) a power outage;
5) a dead laptop (don’t buy consumer-grade Compaq laptops and expect them to last more than 18 months);
6) and now, the ne plus ultra, a dead hard drive on the house file server. I backed it up last week, but in all the hoohah this week, failed at my job and didn’t back it up Sunday night. We’ll see what we can recover.
So I’ll be starting the new year by supporting the consumer economy, and giving back some of the ground we’d gained on our credit cards…sigh…
Blogging may be light as we only have one working computer in the house for the four of us; Middle Guy’s new ‘puter will show up Thursday, and mine the day after, I trust.
For a laptop, a friend just got an iBook, which seems like the bargain of the week; my only problem is that I use Visio and Access extensively and I don’t think there are any cross-platform versions or equivalents…
….so what kind of (physically durable) notebooks are people using these days?


While surfing through the OxBlog links, I tripped over this article in Dissent by Michael Kazin…‘A Patriotic Left’:

I love my country. I love its passionate and endlessly inventive culture, its remarkably diverse landscape, its agonizing and wonderful history. I particularly cherish its civic ideals-social equality, individual liberty, a populist democracy-and the unending struggle to put their laudable, if often contradictory, claims into practice. I realize that patriotism, like any powerful ideology, is a “construction” with multiple uses, some of which I abhor. But I persist in drawing stimulation and pride from my American identity.
Regrettably, this is not a popular sentiment on the contemporary left. Antiwar activists view patriotism as a smokescreen for U.S. hegemony, while radical academics mock the notion of “American exceptionalism” as a relic of the cold war, a triumphal myth we should quickly outgrow. All the rallying around the flag after September 11 increased the disdain many leftists feel for the sentiment that lies behind it. “The globe, not the flag, is the symbol that’s wanted now,” scolded Katha Pollitt in the Nation. Noam Chomsky described patriotic blather as simply the governing elite’s way of telling its subjects, “You shut up and be obedient, and I’ll relentlessly advance my own interests.”
Both views betray an ignorance of American history, as well as a quixotic desire to leap from a distasteful present to a gauzy future liberated from the fetters of nationalism. Love of country was a demotic faith long before September 11, a fact that previous lefts understood and attempted to turn to their advantage. In the United States, Karl Marx’s dictum that the workers have no country has been refuted time and again. It has been not wage earners but the upper classes-from New England gentry on the Grand Tour a century ago to globe-trotting executives and cybertech professionals today-who view America with an ambivalent shrug, reminiscent of Gertrude Stein’s line, “America is my country, Paris is my hometown.”

Yup, America is my country…I like the sound of that…


I’m working on a longer post about democracy (and the fact that we aren’t one, thankfully) and its history as a political concept in the West. but that’s going to take a while. and in the meantime I keep hearing people on both the Right and the Left say that the problems in the Third World stem from ‘a lack of democracy’, and that many problems, including the problems of Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East cannot be solved until the United States gets out of the way and ‘supports democracy’.
People keep using that word, but I do not think they really know what that word means…
Look, democracy isn’t like Vitamin D tablets, which we can airdrop into poor countries where rickets is prevalent. It’s not a consumer product we can package up and export in shipping containers. Soldiers with guns and bombs can’t enforce or create democracy. People who suggest that they can are simply ignorant of two or three thousand years of political history.
The history of First World efforts to ‘give things’ to the Third World is fraught with examples where we’ve taken something, plunked it down, and wondered why it didn’t work.
We might as well take a million Ducati 998 racing motorcycles and airdrop them into Afghanistan. They’re fast and sexy, but out of the million, half a million won’t be running in a year, and less than 10% in the year after that. It’s not because the Afghans are mechanically ignorant; they are brilliant at improvising ad-hoc machining to make parts for, for example, guns. They self-manufacture clones of AK-47’s and other weapons in artisan’s shops.
But to keep something as complex as a Ducati running implies a number of things; it implies a public infrastructure of smooth roads, synthetic oil, and premium gasoline. It implies a network of artisans trained in maintaining electronic fuel injection and desmodromic valve trains. It implies a supply of parts, from tires, which only last about 3,000 miles, to spark plugs, wires, bodywork, brake pads, etc. etc. etc.
The product that we see…the motorcycle…is the visible peak of a complicated pyramid of relationships, skills, and assets.
And an industrial product such as a motorcycle is vastly less complex than the social, cultural, economic, and political systems necessary to stably and peacefully share political power among the citizens of a nation. You have, first of all, to have the concept of citizenship, which implies a concept of nation.
Look, this isn’t some racist ‘the wogs aren’t ready for self-rule’ position. Nor is it a ‘the revolutionary vanguard must guide the lumpenproletariat’ one. But I’m frustrated at the shallowness of the commentators who casually toss off the notion that a Healthy Dose of Democracy will cure whatever ails folks. Democracy doesn’t come in doses, and while I’m positive that non-Western forms of democracy can bloom and thrive, I’m also sure that they won’t be created by fiat.
This is an important issue, because within U.S. politics, the temptation to simply assume that we can help create foreign democracies where there are none of the cultural or political precursors is a ‘cargo cult’ that we must get beyond.
So can we find another panacea?? Or better still, can we start thinking a bit harder about this and come up with something that might actually work?
Better still, go read the The Federalist Papers and then talk casually about how simple it is to ‘create democracy’…
UPDATE: I swear I hadn’t looked at OxBlog, where David is apparently taking a contrary position. I’ll read him and follow his links when I get a chance, and we’ll see if he can change my mind. I’m dubious…
(fixed typos)


Via Rough & Tumble, another column on the silencing of dissent.
Marjie Lundstrom, in the Sacramento Bee, writes about three instances in which dissent was silenced.
The New York Times’ spiking of columns critical of it’s anti-Augusta stance; the new Berkeley mayor Tom Dean’s trashing of student publications critical of him just before his election; and the generalized ‘silencing of dissent’ on the coming war in Iraq.
There’s just one problem…
…only two of the three are real.
I’m the poster child for ambivalence on this coming war. I need to write something about it, and have trashed about six false starts. But I’m certainly not feeling like the voices opposed to the war are being silenced. Not in the L.A. Times, not in the New York Times, not in the Washington Post, not in the Chicago Tribune.
From the Bee:

Published on December 21, 2002, Page B6
Striking first
Re “Bush sanctions strike-first plan,” Dec. 11: It makes no sense that the U.S., a sovereign nation, is “allowed” to have weapons of mass destruction, while other sovereign nations are not “allowed.” It is both ironic and terrifying that this country may use such weapons to prevent another country from producing its own. On the day that President Bush pushes the nuclear button, will you be proud to be an American?
– Matt Nelsenador

From the Tribune:

Protesters denounce U.S. Navy presence
Items compiled from Tribune news services
Published December 27, 2002
MARSEILLE, FRANCE — With chants of “no blood for oil,” about 1,000 people marched through this southern French port city Thursday, protesting the presence of a U.S. Navy battle group and the prospect of an American-led war against Iraq.
Dozens of police kept order during the rally, which was peaceful even though demonstrators briefly shouted at a small group of U.S. sailors…

From the New York Times

THREATS AND RESPONSES: DISSENT; Protests Held Across the Country to Oppose War in Iraq
Late Edition – Final , Section A , Page 22 , Column 1
LEAD PARAGRAPH – From a morning blockade of a federal building in Chicago to a lunchtime march to the White House to an evening discussion at a Y.W.C.A. in Detroit, a cross-section of activists, celebrities and everyday Americans held more than 150 events across the country today to oppose a war with Iraq.

From the Los Angeles Times

December 27, 2002
A Fight for Freedom of Speech

Dissent doesn’t mean a lack of patriotism.
By Eric Foner and Glenda Gilmore, Eric Foner is a professor of history at Columbia University. Glenda Gilmore is a professor of history at Yale University.
We are two of the professors to whom Daniel Pipes refers when he asks: “Why do American academics so often despise their own country while finding excuses for repressive and dangerous regimes?”

These took me three minutes to find. So help me out here…
Why exactly are the opponents of the war acting like the Ministry for Prevention of Protests is about to beat them back into the burning building?
Sadly, the examples of repression she cites that appear real…the New York Times and Berkeley stories…represent the casual use of repression by the left, not of it.
Honesty, folks. It all starts with honesty.
(cleaned up some wording)


Instapundit publishes an email that mistakenly suggests that Calhoun’s BBQ in Knoxville is the best BBQ in the country.
As someone who once diverted a business trip to New York to go via Kansas City and eat at Arthur Bryant’s, I can testify that Los Angeles has world-class barbecue. The reasons are simple to understand; when the great WWII migration happened, someone had to feed everyone, and we managed to bring in practitioners of the various regional styles.
I’ll suggest three places, in no particular order:
The Pit
All are small family-run places in South-Central. Go see the newly renovated Watts Towers and make a lunch of it.
UPDATE: As long as we’re talking brisket, I have to add California’s contribution, Santa Maria tri-tip. To really enjoy it, you have to go to Central California; in Nipomo, Jocko’s (my personal favorite) and The Hitching Post in Casmalia. Check out this review of both.
Thanks to all the commenters here, we went and had mediocre ribs last night at a local chain BBQ place. I was desperate…


I got some smart comments from Henry over at The Modern Middle Manager, and went over to take a look. He had a great post on an almost-failed eCRM implementation, and it started me thinking.
About 70% of the billable work I’ve done in the last five years has been work on failing technology projects. These are projects from simple websites to the project I’m on a now, a multi-million dollar customer data warehouse for a major corporation. (The project is Really Far from my house, and while I’m glad for the work, I’m getting tired of commuting and anyone in Greater LA who has a troubled tech project ought to email me…)
Almost all of these projects got into trouble for similar reasons. Lack of planning, lack of clear alignment among the stakeholders, a failure to follow rudimentary systems development processes, vendor deceit, and most of all, hubris.
Hubris is the most important thing, because it is what allows the project sponsors and leaders to believe that what they’re doing makes sense, even in the face of contradictory best practices and evidence.
Hubris in the technology world typically looks like this:
A visionary engineer builds a tool or product. He partners with or hires, or is hired by an aggressive marketing visionary who takes the actual capabilities of the tool or product and ties them to a business need in the most visionary and optimistic way. They hire an energetic PR person, who gets them press in Wired (or the late lamented InfoWeek), where it gets read by an executive at an organization that has the business need targeted. The executive groks the vision, and calls the vendor, who sends a sales executive and sales engineer to meet with the organization, and sell a vision…of a seamlessly integrated, real-time view of the company processes, or customers, or whatever.
Now the bigger the vision, the bigger the ROI, and the interests of all parties are well-served by revolution, rather than evolution. So the decision is made to junk the existing (badly architected, lashed-together, obsolete, barely-functional) systems, and build something new from scratch.
Here’s where the problems really begin.
Management, planning, analysis, and documentation rise in importance and as a necessary percentage of the project budget as the scale of the project increases.
Examples: I just designed and a friend built a small web-referral monitoring and reporting system; it’s a database of about seven tables and four web pages. Meeting with the customer took about two hours, I wrote about ten pages of documents (including two pages of database ERD’s, one page of flowcharts, and seven pages of functional description) in about a day, and the developer worked for a week to build it. So roughly 20% of the effort was in ‘overhead’.
I’ve never worked in aerospace, but I’m told that on major aerospace software projects that the ‘overhead is approximately 60% of the total budget; this is required because a) the projects are extremely large; b) releasing buggy software and iteratively working it out – the Microsoft solution — is not an option; c) the management and reporting processes are extremely formal and structured, because that’s what has worked on large scale engineering projects such as Apollo in the past. That system is brutally inefficient, and probably not a lot of fun for the people involved, but it works.
The problems begin to arise when project sponsors try to take projects of near-aerospace levels of complexity and apply the kind of management techniques I used in designing a four-page, seven-table web tool.
Most non-aerospace organizations lack the expertise and discipline to manage huge projects. Many of them claim to, however.
The best defense, I’ve learned, is to manage the scale of the projects, rather than trying to change the management culture of the organization. This doesn’t mean that you have to abandon far-reaching systems as a goal. It just means you have to break them up into littler systems that can be developed within a reasonable span of control. Personally, I tend to think that a project budget of $750,000 and a project term of four months is about right. You can do useful work and still have a small, agile team doing the work.
Henry came to the same conclusion:

Don’t create one massive project, do mini-projects and stick to a rollout schedule. We changed too much too fast and tried for too many payoffs at once (in sales, client management, operations). That’s the number one reason the end-users got irritable and the reputation of the system was trashed almost immediately.

My personal project bible says much the same thing.
If you’re interested in this stuff at all, go read Rapid Development: Taming Wild Software Schedules, by Steve McConnell. It’s a terrific book; I’ve given about a dozen copies away to clients and team members.
OK, for the non-geeks in the crowd, what’s the relevance of this?
Traditional command-and-control government programs are like large software development projects; they are insanely complex, and to succeed, they require incredibly tight control over the participants. This both requires a huge ‘overhead’ of people doing the controlling, and a culture of tight control as well.
And like large software projects, they fail badly. The hysterisis…the time lag between action and output…is so large that it’s almost impossible to change or adapt. Small projects fail well; they have low hysterisis, and so when problems arise, they can adapt in response to real conditions.
As we’ve talked about race, one of my issues is not that change needs to happen; it’s that the breadth of change is so great that making it requires the kind of cumbersome, likely to fail or have unintended consequences programs that I’m discussing here. I’m trying to see a way through the problem that uses smaller more nimble, more effective programs.
Not only for dealing with issues of race, but for dealing with the array of issues that we confront as a society, and that, as a liberal, I’d like to use the power of society and the government to improve.


D^2 has a long post which also touches on the issue of the role machine politics played in integrating European ethnic immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries. (Look at the end of the post after the long and wrongheaded argument that polite discussion of the race issue keeps us from dealing with the reality of it. I’ll get to that issue at some later point.)
Los Angeles politics in the 70’s were marked by an alliance between the city’s African-Americans and liberal Westsiders (often Jews), in which many of the city’s civil service jobs were targeted at African-Americans through AA and explicit political setasides.
The consequences were, on one hand, a flourishing African American employee and professional middle class (as opposed to entrepreneurial middle class), and on the other a highly racially politicized set of civil service unions.
This is pretty typical of most big cities at that point in history; it was the modern ‘googoo’ form of ethnic machine bloc politics.
What has been interesting in Los Angeles has been to watch the politics since then change, as on one hand, the burgeoning Latino voting population and political class began to outmuscle the African American politicians, and the fragmenting of the liberal Westide/urban African American alliance as the claims of the Latinos began to challenge the role of blacks as the ‘parties due compensation’, and as the fiscal crisis of the cities began to erode the white entrepreneurial/professional willingness to tolerate the costs of ethnic patronage.
Essentially, the same things happened at Tammany as Tweed had to provide more and more jobs and contracts to keep buying the support he needed to stay in power; at some point the cost became so high that he couldn’t bury it in the budgets any more. At that point he was prosecuted and his patronage appointees lost their jobs to a new set of patronage appointees.
The difference is that the reforms instituted to block Tweed/Daley type of explicit patronage created the groundwork for a more structural kind of patronage, which is equally valuable, equally political, and equally hard-fought over. But because it operates under the color of a bureaucratic civil service, the fights are less explicit and hence harder for anyone but the politically hyper-aware to follow, and they tend to be accretive, in that programs and positions never die, they just get added to.
And so the school district gets layers and layers of administrative employees, the city gets half-attended to and partially-funded programs, services decline and costs increase.
Note that this isn’t done outside the boundaries of the SkyBox politicians; they’re the ones orchestrating it to maintain their own coalitions and political advantage.