Saturday, November 09, 2013

Ideology to Eschatology


Source: WordNet (r) 1.7

     n 1: an orientation that characterizes the thinking of a group or nation [syn: political orientation, political theory]
     2: imaginary or visionary theorization


Source: WordNet (r) 1.7

     n : the branch of theology that is concerned with such final things as death and judgment; heaven and hell; the end of the world

The modern day Left started with an ideological framework that arose out of the works of Karl Marx and then added to via the International meetings on Marxism and then put through the lenses of Progressivism, Soviet Communism, socialists like Friedrich Engels who had impact on US Socialism via his works with Marx, European Anarcho-Syndicalist movements, the works of Antonio Gramsci and cultural hegemony as seen in the Frankfort School of cultural Marxism, then onto National Socialism and Nazi Fascism.  Taken as a whole, starting with Marx, the ideology derived from this school of thought is one that is based on an end of economic systems and the final removal of the capitalist or owning class of society and the rule of the Proletariat.  As an ideology it has its roots in the post-Classical period coming after John Locke, Adam Smith, and Immanuel Kant, and as a form of response to Utilitarianism.

I have gone over the ground of Marxism multiple times, most recently in What is the value of... anything? and review some of the highlights and problems of Marxism from the time of Marx.  Economically Marxism's problems with defining value, exactly who is being exploited, explaining what alienation of labor is and why its abolition is seen as a historical imperative does not address a part of Marxism that keeps it alive, and that is its sociology.  Within the Old Left (Communists, National Socialists, Anarcho-Syndicalists, American Progressivists) there was a requirement of scholarship for those on the 'inside' of the movements.  You had to know Marx and Engels, at the very least, be able to go through the rhetoric of Marxism via Hegel's Dialectical Materialism and then continue on with how bad those owning businesses were in their exploitation of labor.  Even given misplaced basis for arguments, there had to be a rational structure of argumentation on those points and defense of the critical starting points to assert the end points of the ideology.

This formed a sociological structure within Marxists circles that I got to witness first hand growing up in a family of socialist sympathizers.  It was an old First International sort of adherence, however, and had nothing to do with the Second or Third Congresses dominated by the (so-called as they put it) Communists.  Thus the first divisions were International Congress divisions and they would break out to the 'true believers, the rest of you are wrong' First Congress types and then those seen as corrupt: Communists (Soviet sort), National Socialists (all stripes), Progressives, social hegemonists... basically anyone save the strongly influenced Anarch-Syndicalists who cribbed a lot from US First International followers who themselves cribbed from Engels.  As you can tell by the long list of Marxist derivatives, there was a lot of in-fighting, factionalism and otherwise fierce boundary disputes within Marxists circles based on who you followed and what their form of argumentation was.  This could get broken down inside factions via different argument strains and who followed which form of their own particular brand of Marxism.

What this strongly looks like is a religious movement, and that is due to the fact that human nature (which Marx criticized the Utilitarians for not understanding) is seen as something that will go through a sudden, global transformation amongst the Proletariat.  Basically from nowhere, although the Marxists will point to the evils of capitalist exploitation, etc. but the actual gripes that the actual proletarians had (versus the idealized ones of the Marxists) had more to do with banal things like pay, working conditions, bad bosses and then, lo and behold, abusive Union bosses.  Labor Unions, seen as a first step towards Socialism and this grand uplifting of proletarian thought, turned out to be just another human made and manned system with all the faults of all such systems that man makes.  Instead of uplifting worker education they served to line the pockets of Union Bosses with worker funds and then walk away richer for it and cut deals with the very people they were supposed to protect the workers from.  The First Congress types saw Trade Unions as just another corrupt system and lumped them in the 'everybody else' category of 'not true socialists' right next to the National Socialists.

A strange thing happened from the days of the Old Marxist Left (roughly up to the mid-1970's encompassing the 'New Left' which was just warmed-over Old Left) and today: the grandiose vision of Marx was retained but the rhetoric, the internal logic, the ability to argue based on it all disappeared.  Lock, stock and barrel the current Authoritarian Left no longer has intellectual roots in Marx, Marxism or even logic.  Meet up with a Leftists today and they couldn't even attempt to give a good description of the Labor Theory of Value or to even explain what Alienation of Labor is.  Handwave as much as you like at the Frankfurt School, but they sought a domination through culture and have, instead, reinvented nihilism.


Source: WordNet (r) 1.7

     n 1: a revolutionary doctrine that advocates destruction of the social system for its own sake
     2: the delusion that things (or everything, including the self) do not exist; a sense that everything is unreal [syn: nihilistic delusion]
     3: complete denial of all established authority and institutions

Given that Marx gave us an Eschatology of end-times, it is little wonder that those seeking a cultural domination would come up with nihilism.  Trying to unmoor past and present, seek to remove objective reasoning and, instead, personalize all political and economic points of view and then enforce those on everyone from some intellectual elite that doesn't have rational thinking as its basis, is it any wonder that you come to nihilism?

The feel-good and warm-fuzzies of Marxism are retained, that workers paradise and everyone getting goodies for nothing and their chicks for free remains to this day the heart of the Left and, in fact, dominates it.  If the Frankfurt School is to blame for its institutional marching to the point where politicians no longer believe in balancing a check book for THEMSELVES not to speak of the governments they seek to run, is it any wonder the rest of us are left scratching our heads asking: just how the hell is THIS supposed to work?

If there is no inherent difference between work and non-work, then why work?

If you hand out a dole to everyone for just existing, then who grows the food and why?  To what end?

Being generous with tax revenue and then some, means that you are taking economic vitality and encouraging non-vitality and asking our children to pay for it.  And if you don't teach them the value of actually earning a living, and they don't repay the debts, then who is going to grow the food?

Mao had the lovely idea of whipping the intellectuals into line, even a good amount of his supporters, by putting them to grow food for others and starve as they did so.  Radical material simplification, as one professor puts it about the Dark Ages: you are poor, hungry and have a short life deprived of the benefits of a civilization that once flourished.

Marxism has always had an eschatological view of the human race: it was always an end time religion because it never got the basics of human nature right and assumed a massive change intellectually that would free the working class and remove alienation of labor.  That's right, everyone would get to do the entire job for themselves!  You would be a fisher, raise wheat and corn, have chickens, read and print books, go hunting, and have the satisfaction of knowing that your labor was no longer alienated!

Unfortunately fishing is not catching.

Unfortunately hunting is not always successful.

Unfortunately chickens get sick, as do pigs, cattle, and you have to care for them as well as yourself.

To keep warm you must chop your own wood, mine your own coal or make your own nuclear reactor.

And then you would have to find the time to write about how grand your life was and how good it was to have unalienated labor.

Because all of it, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, you are going to do it all and even when you do it with your fellow liberated proletarians, you dare NOT divide up labor into different parts because that will alienate your labor from the entire affair.

To support unalienated labor is impossible, but the Left has decided to support the unemployed who should be seeking a job but now get supported for nearly two years and are taught how to live off the money taken by government for them.  Their labor is lacking.  Your labor's wages are stolen via government and given to those who have decided that living on what government gives them from you is better than working for a living and supporting themselves.  This isn't labor that is no longer alienated as their labor is no longer done: that which is not done cannot be alienated as it is never present.

What drives this is no longer an ideology but the belief in the end state of an ideology: the ideology, itself, is no longer discussed or thought about as a thing in and of itself.  At this point there is a belief in Marx that is no longer intellectual and not even rooted in his texts or the body of work of those closely associated with him.  Leftists are atheists because they want to be in the belief that Marx is right, not through reading Marx and understanding Marx, but just believing in him.  Their attacks on those who read religious texts is thus an anti-intellectual attack, no matter how dressed up and how many degrees are held by those going after religion, their own belief structure is based on unread texts and only on assumptions.

The devolution of Marxism from rhetorical premise and argumentative structure that requires thought has been slow, but has become greatly accelerated as the 'March through the institutions' is no longer based on something that has definition, but on the belief that the end result is 'good'.  Yet what is 'good' is never defined in a hard, fast and discernable way: good has no end state to it of limits to how much good any bureaucratic organization can do.  In fact the growth of bureaucracy is an in-bred 'good' in the belief that more of it and more power to it will get 'good' results.  And because human nature is no longer studied, nor the very impacts of it upon prior Marxist ideology and its factionation, it is not understood that a bureaucracy has no intellect, has no fast goal, cannot become an 'expert' no matter how many it hires, and that the Iron Law of bureaucracy is that those that further the ends of the bureaucracy get rewarded as the bureaucracy expands.  Thus the end goal a bureaucracy, any bureaucracy, is the expansion of bureaucracy by the bureaucracy for the bureaucracy.  Other goals become secondary to that quest for greater power.

Marxist ideology is not, of necessity, nihilistic and was, in fact, seen as something a bit more humanized than Utilitarianism.  Yet the very problems of Utilitarianism are seen in Marxism in its later stages of demeaning the individual, of not understanding the human nature of the individual and not addressing that there is more to the individual than, in the case of Marx, labor not utility.  Yet the very way labor is posited makes it utilitarian, thus the premise of Marx is eschatology within an ideology based on a belief and criticism that is has scant difference from the ones Marx leveled at Utilitarianism.

This cannot be argued to those who follow only the nihilistic eschatology of modern Marxism/Leftism because those inside the belief system don't bother to read and grapple with Marx.  It is always about doing 'good' through government, growing government and never asking if this is good for all the individuals in society.  Yet they speak of the 'collective' but then only want to do better for parts of it, not the whole thing, and thus they even miscomprehend what collectivism is and sacrifice it on the alter of special preferences. 

I never thought I would wish for the day of actual, intellectual Marxists arguing the rhetoric of Marx for policy, but they are not to be found.  The Marxism in the halls of power today, under a Progressivist/Liberal/Left guise is one that is rudely divorced from the ideology of Marx and connected to the end state eschatology of Marx.  Even that doesn't follow Marx as they screw up the Marxist notion of collectivism and replace it with special privileges for a few.  That is a National Socialist conception from Fascism as gone through the form of its German descendent, and this one isn't the one at Frankfurt but the one that got tried at Nuremburg.  It, too, had an end state eschatology that it elevated above ideology, and it was hard to find parsers of Marx amongst the National Socialists who started out as off-shoots of the International Socialist schools.  Gramsci would have his ideas picked up the the West but his body would be killed by Italian Fascists, which demonstrates the allure of special privilege nihilistic eschatology based roughly on Marx.

Too bad those followers of this anti-human form of Marxism don't bother to read history, either, because it is littered with such examples and death tolls attributable to it.  Better to go on pushing 'forward' never looking at where the path gets you and never asking 'just where in the hell are we going?'  The moment you do that you are decried as being against this or that special privileged group, or as someone who is an anarchist, which is strange because that is just another nihilistic eschatology.  Thus point out the bad ends of the road and you are said to be using a nihilistic eschatology by those who are using a nihilistic eschatology and don't want it mentioned that this is what they are doing.  And if you ask where they get these ideas from they just say its because it 'feels good' to do these things and have government do it for them with other people's money.

Lately, though, they are finding out they have to pay for their good ideas by finding out that their health insurance policy has been canceled and that they will have to get a much more costly one that does less for them.  Only once they start to get mugged by their own creation do they realize that there is pain involved to the many for the few with their 'good feeling' policies.  Better that it be a lot of pain, swiftly and deep today, so that more will see this is not good at all so that we can start requiring that people think and work for themselves and help the collective to get out of the mess the privileged got us into with their strange religion based only on good feelings and an nihilistic eschatology.  Ideologues you can at least argue with on the basis of something.  Those with a worldview religion based on someone they never read have belief in nothing and no idea what they are actually arguing about, just that they are always right.  Religious zealots who are unlearned and don't bother to ever think about what they say, you only can argue with and never, ever get anywhere.  I'll take the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Mormons, or any other religious sect that at least honestly reads about itself than this strange sect on the Left that just believes it is right because it said so.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Congressional software design

The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was a piece of legislation that did far more than just try to transform the medical care and delivery sector of the economy and also brought in such things as Student Loans under its heading in a separate section of the bill.  Be that as it may the bulk of the bill dealt with a series of mandates and payments to government (taxes and penalties), and within those the requirement of health insurance companies to provide certain types of care for 'free', plus hand out individual 'subsidies' meant that there had to be a large-scale interplay between private insurers and the public purse.  To facilitate that a series of 'exchanges' were to be set up either by the State governments or, if they opted out of Obamacare, the federal government.  Thus there are a whole list of exceptions, exemptions, requirements and so forth that differ per State that the entire system must provide for, and these vary from State to State, as well.

In the previous part of my life before ill-health befell me, I worked for the federal government on the DoD civil side for an Agency that had some actual things to produce for the military.  As I was technically astute and able to deal with large scale bureaucracies (my prior university experience gave me that) I was able to shift from production work, which I enjoyed, to process improvement (or one of its synonymous variations over time) and then to new system procurement.  Thus I got to learn the government side of contracting, specifications and requirements: the whole series of hoops to go through to show that what you wanted would work, it had a set cost and it would have a series of set functions while interacting with previous work systems.  This required a whole set of understanding from the system level architecture to data file types and their metadata, library storage of digital work, shifting work from physical media to digital media and back all the network architecture for a closed system, software specifications to do particular types of work, and the equipment that would be required to proof and make press ready printing plates.  I became a one-man band of specialists and held a number of specialist hats for the agency as well as the Contracting Officer Technical Representative (COTR) hat for the project.

In that era of the late 1990's the federal government was shifting from the old procurement systems of detailed specifications and looking to utilize Commercial Off The Shelf technology (COTS) and go from a 'low bidder always wins' to 'best value can win' paradigm.  That last meant that if a contractor actually exceeded minimum specifications and offered more value for the dollar than the lowest bidder, it was possible to seek a change in funding levels with a justification for it.  I got to experience that and a firm from the old 'sole source' days trying to leverage its contacts to win with a lowball and then up the price through a series of Request For Changes (RFCs).  In contracting parlance the RFC can start to add to the cost of the contract if accepted by both sides, although either side can propose one.  The US Navy is infamous for their massive cost over-runs due to the number of RFCs on ship construction... luckily I was working on a simple IT project, but knew the RFC dance from my time in the agency.

For a contract Request For Proposal I had a tight set of specifications, workstation requirements, networking requirements, library storage system requirements, software requirements... an entire system specified for with minimal performance levels to it.  That went about 20% over on final award, but we got way more for that money in the way of reliability and software backing than the lowball bidder could ever provide.  I had spent years working with everyone from every system that would be impacted by this project not just the output groups but those on the input and library storage realm, as well as making the system Continuation Of Operations Plan compliant in case any single site were totally destroyed, so that we could at least get data to a printer with digital systems and get product.

Because I had been through the process improvement dances by attending seminars and inter-governmental meetings and just reading a lot on the subject, I was fluent on things like the Mythical Man-Month and the concept of a Death March development project.  In prior times my agency had a large scale project that suffered from the mythical man-month problem of program management, and it was a Death March as well: it was an IT system specified for in the 1980's, getting first deliverables in the mid-1990's and had a Y2K bug that would kill it.  Some items were delivered mere weeks before Y2K.

When you are specifying for how many people you need to do a project you do it in man hours or man months (or man years depending on the scale of it).  It is a generalized way of estimating how many people you need to do tasks on a project and useful for scaling personnel for a project or program.  So many people to work so many hours on X task gets you so man man hours.  Burden that by 20% and you get a realistic ballpark figure of how many actual people you need.  The burdening is to add in such things as sick time, unexpected delays, bureaucracy, etc.  Unfortunately when you have a project that has had only a few people on it and it is behind on its schedule, you start to try and throw more people at the problem.  These people are not up to speed on the project, may not know all the work that has gone on, and may or may not have the necessary skill sets to do the work.  As a program manager you need those man hours or man months of work in, however, and when you are late you do throw people at the project to burn those man hours up.  What happens, however, is that the delays get longer as the new people do take time to get familiarized with the system and when they make mistakes they have to be caught and then work re-done.  The less familiar people are with the project the more likely they are to commit mistakes which actually begins to set meeting the deadline further back.  Of course to avoid that you add more people to the project!

Ed Yourdon who wrote the Death March book (I read it in 1st edition back in the day) followed through on this mentality to see how modern program managers dealt with the problems of the mythical man-month.  Mostly they hadn't.  But a new phenomena had cropped up and it wasn't just in the Info. Tech. world, either, and that was the problem of changing customer specifications and unrealistic milestone schedules.  A death march project suffers from poor specifications for a system from the start and I read books to try and deal with just that problem as part of my job, too.  With poor specifications and milestone schedules what happens is that a project gets started with one set of specifications that then get changed in whole or in part, and prior work which was accepted now no longer advances the program to its milestones and must be abandoned.  On the IT side, however, some of that is in software code modules which may still have absolutely valid functions to help meet the schedule, so that software is kept for those functions.  New software is build around it for other functions but, when debugging must occur, problems can crop up between that older module and newer work if all the data structures haven't been well defined: old code may start to work on other parts of data passed to it due to the way it was sent to the module.  Even worse there may be dependencies in the module for information from other modules which weren't developed and that will hang up the entire development for that function to de-conflict these problems.  This eats up time.  It can invite the mythical man-month problem, and does, but also has feedback to the customer as the code structure may now need to be changed based on the newer specifications so as to avoid older software.  In theory you want to just rebuild modules from scratch, but as they have already been accepted you are stuck with them as a developer. Plus de novo work costs more, which wasn't budgeted for.

In a death march a project has a moving set of specification goal posts and the mythical man-month personnel problem plays into the problem as individuals begin to identify the project as one that actually can't reach its goals.  Yet because the customer wants results and money is available the project continues and begins a process of cycling through people within it, so that the people who started the death march project may be gone within a few months as the first set of changes come in and they see either a program manager unable to get the idea of hard set specifications or a customer unwilling to provide them.  Because money flows the project continues, and the personnel begin to flow as well so that the second group have not just the mythical man-month problem of not knowing the project fully, but also have already completed code that may not be well documented to deal with.  Without impeccable program documentation both outside and inside the computer code, new personnel face the daunting task of having to deal with changed functions and not fully understanding what has been done before them.  Of course the first set of changes brings problems and may break prior functions, thus requiring code rework... fine and dandy if it ended there, but a death march will see requirements and functions change yet again due to changes in management, possibly, or changes in customer specifications and requirements as they process through what the prior set of changes actually are.  The morale of a death march project is abysmal, and yet it happens often enough to have its own set of criteria adorning it and its own category of failure.

Obamacare came in with Congress setting some pretty broad but ill-conceived specifications for what would be a software project.  Plus there are hard legal deadlines set by Congress that met political realities but have no real parallel for a large scale software project.  In other words the federal customer shopped around a project with ill-defined goals and expectations and an unknown number of variables for which organizations and systems it would have to interact with.  Each State that didn't want to do an 'exchange' then changed the federal system as it must cover that State with all of its legal requirements, as well, which generate up new system requirements and interactions with previously designed code.  The number of States that refused was high, when it was expected to be only a couple of States, and that meant more had to be picked up by the federal system.  Yet that system now had to interact with insurance groups in different States each having their own data requirements.

The SCOTUS decision also gave States leeway on other parts of the law which also affected the 'exchanges' and because States took different routes on that, each of them that went away from the original template then brought with it changes to the system.

What Congress created was an ever changing set of functional variables within the system that would not allow the overall interaction to be a known quantity until a date perhaps as little as six months and no more than a year before the deliverable was required, by statute, to be in place.  In the modern age such laws that have so many parts to them become, effectively, IT projects.  They are designed by a committee.  They are carried out by an entirely different branch of government that must deal with its complexities, and yet the activation date is set to political realities not actual realities of software design and roll-out.  This latter problem is one that is well known: large scale systems fail more often than they succeed in all realms of business and government.

By not taking these realities into account the law is bad law, and is worse as a software design and integration project.  Any complex system requiring interactions between a set of knowns (federal agencies) has problems within the federal government.  The FBI tried twice in the 1990's to create a single sign on system for its agents to get access to all the databases the agency held.  It failed both times because the systems each had their own data standards, hardware and software, and some had human interaction requirements because they were never dreamt of being fully automated in the first place.  DoD attempted to revamp its pay system in the '90s, as well, and failed to replace multiple separate pay and leave systems with a single, unified one.  Another part of the DoD attempted a large scale system roll out for gathering map data and the RFC database became nearly as large as the project, itself.  And any ship the Navy has built for it will have a huge file behind it of changes done with a frequency that is mindboggling.  The federal government has problems within each of its departments and agencies, and working across them in an automated way is problematical due to the complexity of existing IT infrastructure.  When the States, private insurance companies and all the individuals in the US are added to this, along with federal and State laws that are at variance for each State, is it any wonder that this system is failing like we see it failing today?

Each of the three branches of the federal government has changed the specifications for the system: the legislative by the law itself, the executive in trying to prioritize functions, and the judicial by changing the interpretation of the law in a way unknown from all prior rulings.  Each of these entities can change the parameters, functions and deliverables of the system in an instant.  And yet the already accepted code is just that: accepted.  It is there be it functional, semi-functional or zombie waiting for some errant function to bring it back to life once more.  It is the far-reaching scope of the law that is a failure because no federal entity can deal with so much complexity.  The software is on a death march because of the inability of any of the three branches of the federal government to grasp that they are writing deliverable code requirements with variable function parameters.  Yet even if this was done by hand on paper it wouldn't work because of the rate of change to parameters of each part of the system: State, three branches of federal, insurance systems and advances in medical technology shifting the entire basis for treatments and medications.

That last is at peril with Obamacare as it puts a high price on new treatments and attempts to create a static system to deal with what already exists in the way of medicine.  Yet, with the entire genome now available for study, we are getting some of the first treatments to long-standing diseases which have the opportunity to alter what we see as medicine and health care.  You and I can adapt to that quite readily.  A large, hide-bound bureaucracy with hard coded imperatives and functions in its software will not.  Our freedom and liberty make it possible to change the entire idea of what health care actually is, and the idea of 'insurance' may get replaced by other systems of delivering health care that have little to do with doctors or pharmacies, and yet costs less and is more widely  distributed.  We are heading into an era of miniaturized labs on a chip that can do more complete work than an actual lab employing tens or hundreds of people per lab.  Similarly with stem cells that can come from each individual and be differentiated to organ based cells, these cells can be printed into a 3D matrix to be put into the body without fears of rejection factors.  Telemedicine and automated systems for analysis aren't just on the horizon with the former being here for nearly a decade and the latter now available interactively via web sites.  Incorporate these with labs on a chip and miniaturized sensors and you have something very close to Larry Niven's Autodoc: a machine capable of doing a complete bio-analysis of an individual to find systemic problems and even treat certain conditions, as well as do simple things like set bones, and call on specialized individuals or emergency personnel. 

Just take a look at the last century of medicine and compress the number of changes coming down to half or one-quarter of that time.  What sort of fit is a One Size Fits All Fits None Well system of paying for health care for what is coming?