Blog Ipsa Loquitur

On the occasion of Healthcare.gov (neé Obamacare dot com)’s first anniversary, Pomona College Magazine has a story about how the web site was fixed.

Healthcare.gov, the sign-up website that was the signature element of President Obama’s signature initiative, was a technological disaster. People couldn’t sign up even if they wanted to-the site would break, or fail. Delays were interminable. Information got lost. Customer service was about as good as you’d expect from a cable TV company. The Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for the new health care system, couldn’t seem to get it working.

The fact that the solution was so mundane and unremarkable speaks to two things. One, that the government’s rules for procuring I.T. projects are horrifically broken. The people who were initially hired (for hundreds of millions of dollars) were absolutely unqualified and egregiously incompetent.

Two, that the only reason the government keeps hiring these people is because their in-house capabilities are even more lacking. The article dips its toe into the sales pitch to get more nerds into government:

[Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America and the current Deputy CTO of the United States] thinks the pitch might actually work—and not just because of capitalism. “The consumer internet has influenced the way a generation feels about doing things together,” she says. “You have a generation of people who value collective intelligence and collective will—not necessarily collective political will, but the ability to actually do things together.”

Software designers and engineers are already political, Pahlka and Dickerson are saying; it’s just that the web generation is ignoring the greater good. Going to work at Twitter is a political choice just as much as going to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I give the worst sales pitch,” Dickerson says. “I tell people, ‘This is what your world is going to be like: It’s a website that is a Lovecraft horror. They made every possible mistake at every possible layer. But if you succeed, you will save the lives of thousands of people.’”

That is absolutely slanderous. Summoning the Old Ones is far less painful than federal I.T. procurement.

Filed on under Gov 2.0

The Atlantic ran this cute article a couple weeks back about how, for all the progress we’re seeing in the rest of society with regard to gender politics (and we’ve got a long way to go), men are still expected to pay for the first date with a woman.

There’s this absurd GamerGate which has its basic roots in boys getting upset that some girls got too much attention. The gender politics in my neck of the world (that is, the internet) are just about completely insane. I wanted to read a cute little article about how “haha yeah but you gals don’t mind letting us pay.”

And it is cute. You know how gay couples do it? Whoever invites the other person to a date pays for the date. That’s pretty straightforward (no pun intended), and it works for not-gay dating. I usually end up inviting women to dinner, and then I usually pay. This isn’t the worst proposition in the world. Well, not for men.

So yeah, the cute fluff piece made me laugh and then think a little and that’s okay. And then it got dark:

A 1985 study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly presented subjects with a variety of fictional dating scenarios—mixing up who invited whom, who paid, and the venue—and asked them to evaluate the acceptability of the sexual encounter that followed. Disturbingly, they found that money contorted men’s opinions of sexual consent.

“Rape was rated as more justifiable,” the authors wrote, “when the man paid all the dating expenses rather than splitting the costs with the woman.” Culturally speaking, 1985 may seem distant, but the study’s conclusion apparently hasn’t become any less relevant (or urgent): A more recent study, from 2010, found that men were more likely than women to think that sex should be expected when a man pays for an expensive date.

This has been your daily reminder that everything is awful.

Filed on under Nuke Us From Orbit

At the Online News Association conference, journalists were expressing confusion about how exactly Facebook decides what posts show up in who’s feed.

At ONA, anxiety about Facebook’s increasing control over our traffic revealed itself in lots of questions: If I have 250,000 fans of my page, why don’t they all see everything I post? Why does my journalism seem to reach fewer people than it used to? Is Facebook trying to pressure my news organization to spend money to boost my posts or take out ads?

Yes. Next question.

Filed on under The Digital Age

Pirated Thoughts links to a report on the new Batman prequel Gotham; people like it, but not enough to watch it on their TVs:

From Sept. 17 to Sept. 29, the pilot episode of “Gotham” was downloaded via torrent networks worldwide 1.33 million times, with 600,000 of those coming a day after its season premiere last Monday, according to data provided by piracy-tracking firm Excipio.

That was more than five times any of this season’s other freshman U.S. TV series. Of the six top-rated fall premieres from last week, ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder” clocked in with 259,432 downloads over the same period, per Excipio’s analysis. That was followed by CBS’s “Madam Secretary” (195,528), CBS’s “Scorpion” (168,091), NBC’s “The Mysteries of Laura” (100,792) and ABC’s “Black-ish” (45,476).

That’s huge. I think Gotham was pirated more than all other new shows combined. That still pales in comparison to not-new shows. Each episode of Game of Thrones was downloaded almost 6 million times last year.

Filed on under the digital age

The prosecutor in Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed teen was shot to death, appears to be declining to recommend any charges to the grand jury investigation. The St. Louis County prosecutor’s name is Robert McCulloch, and his family has a rich tradition of government service. His father was a police officer (killed in a shootout on duty), and he has several family members who are police officers.

This by itself doesn’t imply that McCulloch isn’t doing his job. In fact, prosecutors aren’t required to come up with charges for a grand jury. But, uh, there’s kind of a pattern here.

The Washington Post notes:

During [McCulloch’s] tenure, there have been at least a dozen fatal shootings by police in his jurisdiction (the roughly 90 municipalities in the county other than St. Louis itself), and probably many more than that, but McCulloch’s office has not prosecuted a single police shooting in all those years. At least four times he presented evidence to a grand jury but — wouldn’t you know it? — didn’t get an indictment.

The most disturbing part of that sentence isn’t the fact that there have been no prosecutions for instances where police killed someone. The fact is that police have a different legal standard to meet when proving justifiable homicide than you or I do.

The crazy part is that the Post has to guess at how many fatal police shootings there have been. The most comprehensive database for police shootings in America is run by a sarcastic sports web site instead of the Department of Justice or the FBI or something that makes sense. One of the stories on Deadspin’s homepage is “Carlos Martinez’s Twitter Favorites: A Big Ol’ Wall Of Porn.” This is the best resource we have. (For police shootings, not Twitter porn.)

Filed on under The News

Kyle Mizokami, a freelance writer on defense and military issues, has some words of wisdom for us all. Whatever You Do, Don’t Buy Your Aircraft Carrier From Russia. This is not a metaphor. You literally shouldn’t try to buy multi-billion dollar military hardware from Russia.

Essentially, India retired its one and only aircraft carrier in 2007. They needed to replace it, but couldn’t quite afford a brand new top of the line carrier. So India decided to buy one from Russia, at a price of $974 million, which Mizokami notes was “almost too good to be true.” That’s foreshadowing:

In 2007, just a year before delivery, it became clear that Russia’s Sevmash shipyard couldn’t meet the ambitious deadline. Even worse, the yard demanded more than twice as much money—$2.9 billion in total—to complete the job.

That’s pretty awful. I mean, how did th-

The cost of sea trials alone, originally $27 million, ballooned to a fantastic $550 million.

Are you kidding? What, is the shipyard building its own private lake to test this in? How are th-

A year later, with the project still in disarray, Sevmash estimated the carrier to be only 49-percent complete. Even more galling, one Sevmash executive suggested that India should pay an additional $2 billion, citing a “market price” of a brand-new carrier at “between $3 billion and $4 billion.”

You know what India needs to keep from getting strong-armed like this, and command respect on the global stage? An aircraft carrier.

Filed on under Irreverently Irrelevant