Foreign Relations Briefing

For a stunning wake-up call and briefing on foreign affairs, see Robert D. Kaplan’s article: “Old World Order – How geopolitics fuels endless chaos and old-school conflicts in the 21st Century” in TIME magazine, March 31, 2014.

“Mr. Kaplan is chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor, a private global intelligence firm. He is the author of 15 books on foreign affairs, most recently Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific.”
A few samples:

“Whereas the West has come to think about international relations in terms of laws and multinational agreements, most of the rest of the world still thinks in terms of deserts, mountain ranges, all-weather ports and tracts of land and water.”

“…the home (Sevastopol, in the Crimean Peninsula) of Russia’s warm water fleet could never be allowed to fall under the sway of a pro-Western government in Kiev.”

“Damascus is not the capital of Syria but only that of Syria’s most powerful warlord, Bashar Assad.”

“China/India – Because of the Himalayas, India and China have developed quite separately. But the collapse of distance has put them increasingly at odds.”

“South China Sea – China claims most of the sea with its ‘cow’s tongue,’ as the area is called. Vietnam and other nations have claims that overlap.”

“While our foreign policy must be morally based, the analysis behind it must be cold-blooded, with geography as it starting point. In geopolitics, the past never dies and there is no modern world.”


Crimea and “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson

To understand why Russia wants Crimea one has only to look at a map and discover that Crimea provides Russia with its only warm sea access.

Tennyson’s poem, the title of this post, was written about, you guessed it, the reckless, futile, and military strategy-wise stupid charge of a British light brigade in Balaclava, Ukraine, during the Crimean War (1854-1856). Of the 637 cavalry that took part, 247 were killed or wounded. The war between Russia and Turkey was joined by Britain and France because Britain and France wanted the Russian navy to stay out of the Black Sea and the Dardanelles – the straight from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, and from there to the Atlantic Ocean and the rest of the planet.

It has been said that the generals who ordered the charge of the light brigade never saw the battlefield.

So why does Russia still crave Crimea in 2014? Because Russia still wants warm sea access to the rest of the planet. As part of the reason, the fact that most of the people in Crimea are Russian is in second place.

This is too easy.

Health Care Reform Sabotage

(Note: the following extremely short story is a work of fiction. Any similarities to actual persons or events are purely coincidental. EJB)

The entire scam was much easier to pull off than any of them had thought. Just a week before the final steps were taken, Bill Loyd was ready to call it off. “No way we can keep a lid on this,” he said. “With all the media attention somebody’s sure to spill their guts when people get frustrated trying to enroll. Then the hounds are let loose and our asses are sure to be toasted blacker than an eight-ball.”

“You worry too much,” said Ralph McLane, chief aide to the House Minority Leader. “We’ve got this debacle on track and sealed up tight. There’s more layers to slog through they’ll never get to us, and besides, a few of the links in the chain are no longer with us”

Loyd slammed his fist on the table. “Jesus Christ, Hugh! How many times do I have to remind you to keep that kind of information the hell away from me? If the shit does hit the fan I don’t want to know all there is to know. I want to be able to deny any….”

“I understand, I know,” Ralph interrupted. “No more information than absolutely necessary. Let’s move on.”

Not fully satisfied, Loyd turned to the other two conspirators. “Before we move on, I want assurances. I want assurances once again; that this can’t come back on any of us. Dirty tricks are one thing, but what we’re doing amounts to wasting millions of tax dollars, and if….”

Ralph interrupted again. “For chrissake, Bill, we’ve done all we can. If anything, we may have sealed it up too tightly.”

Lester Tryon jumped in. “How can that be? Sealed up too tightly? That means what?

Ralph sipped his bourbon and said: “Some of the people doing the actual work are so far removed from us, the ones supposedly in control, that Pete Murdock, Dan Toohey and I are worried they might not be making the damn thing work poorly enough. We want an Affordable Care Act website nightmare, not a bump in the road.”

“And what are you doing about that?” Loyd said.

“We’ve infiltrated some of our guys into the project,” Ralph said. “Some real hard-asses with guaranteed ways to screw things up or at least make sure the contractor’s people are screwing things up. Had to convince the head honcho on the consulting team that if he wouldn’t agree to letting us drop some of our people on the team we’d pull the plug on him. Bring in somebody more cooperative.”

“And we know the contractor and his people will keep their mouths shut.”

“Right. Reason one: they are taking part in the felony. Two: no more contracts. Reason three….”

“OK, that’s enough,” Loyd said. Is the start-up still October 1?”

“Yup,” Ralph said. “I can’t wait to see the long faces over in the White House when they realize they’ve been had. The damn website will be a total disaster.”

“It better be,” Loyd said. “After all we went through to make sure the right people were picked to screw it all up. And all the money we spent doing just that.”

“And you’re sure they can’t get it fixed?” Tryon said.

“Oh they’ll probably get it fixed,” Ralph said. “But too late. It will take time and money, and while they’re scrambling to end the nightmare we’ll be pounding the drums on our campaign to take back the Senate.”

“Let’s hope you’re right,” Loyd said.

“You know I’m on the right all the time, Bill,” Ralph said. “And far enough on the right to make sure you and your friends can trust me completely. When this website fiasco gets going, there’s no telling how much damage it will do to those who have supported this so-called health care reform. It will cut their hearts out, and not just the parts that are already bleeding.”

“OK,” Loyd said. “On to the next item. How are we doing with voter registration? We can’t afford to let all those low-lifes to keep voting in those other low-lifes.”

And at that point the recorder failed. Could It Have Gone More Smoothly?

Disclosure: my experience with developing computer systems is limited and outdated. And as for actually doing the systems work, including the software programming, I haven’t done any of that for decades. As a manager, I was fortunate to have wonderful, talented people for more recent though still ancient projects, without whom nothing useful would have been accomplished.

Just so you know, I did have some success, but the systems I worked on were not by any measure the size and scope of the website for Obamacare. Examples of systems I worked on: payroll, student accounting, appropriation accounting, process control, datacenter programs, court systems, law firm systems.

However, despite my being outdated, there are still a few of what we mathematicians call axioms, basic ways to manage and perform systems development that, I submit, never change. Here are a few:

First, the lowest bidder is usually the worst choice.

Second, if you bid the job out (request for proposals – “RFP”), you are likely to have a lot of headaches and dissatisfied people no matter what company you choose.

Third, despite the above, for any complex development project you need to get bids for at least two reasons: 1) choosing bidders and preparing the specifications for the system will get you involved in important details and 2) if you select the bidders well, even in the bidding process they will contribute to your information systems education.

Fourth, get the best people to do the job, even if they cost more.

Fifth, make sure those people don’t go off on their own to do whatever they feel like doing; i.e., define what you want accomplished and manage, manage, manage.

Sixth, do not hide behind a lack of knowledge about computers and computer systems; be involved, take some classes (especially on project management), get your hands dirty, manage, manage, manage.
Seventh, do not launch an entire system all at once. Instead, set up an appropriate test or “pilot” group or groups and get the system working. Get some of the bugs out before it is inflicted on an entire office, company, or nation.

There are other axioms. Pick up any book on information systems management for more.

Did I mention you must manage the project?

I recommend Steven Brill’s article in the March 10, 2014 issue of TIME magazine: “Code Red – inside the nightmare launch of and the team that figured out how to fix it.”
After you read the article, do you think that if our leaders in Washington had followed the above suggestions/axioms, the launch might have had fewer and less serious problems?

And this from a firm but rapidly aging and disappointed “Dem” – we needed our leaders to do a much better job on the rollout of

Coincidence Or Catastrophe?

In a brief article in the March 3, 2014 edition of TIME magazine, Denver Nicks describes Oklahome eathquakes; 11 a year at 2.0 on the Richter Scale between 1990 and 2008, as opposed to 291 in 2013.  So far this month: more than 250. 

Although I majored in math, my arithmetic is often faulty.  Nevertheless, I calculate that going from 11 a year in 18 years (roughly half an earthquake a year, but who cares?) to 291 last year is roughly an increase of about 477%.

Some are blaming fracking, but so far there is no proof.  Cornell geophysicist Katie Keranen: “the evidence is strong” that the Oklahoma incidents are caused by injecting the waste water (from fracking) into the ground.

Again, I often think it’s satire from The Onion when I read articles of this sort.  It’s not the author or the magazine that makes me boil; it’s the whole idea that fracking, according to the people that want to do the fracking, is safe.

So, it’s not fracking but the result of injecting the waste water from fracking?  The injection of waste water is thought to be the cause of a several hundred percent increase in the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma, but it’s not the result of fracking?  Am I missing something here?

And is the several hundred percent increase in the number of earthquakes just some mystical coincidence that happened at the same time fracking began in earnest?

What is more important, our water supply and the condition of our land, or the money to be made by disturbing the ground, the foundation of the planet’s outer layer?