The Progress of Humanity

Humans are irrevocably flawed. We default to communication silos, we often steal when we can, we exploit each other. Wikipedia's list of ongoing conflicts is depressingly long.

And yet, we are less violent today as a species than at any point in our world's history - Steven Pinker's book on the subject is both sobering in revealing violent history and uplifting in showing how many fewer people are massacred these days. Some who dispute Steven Pinker's argument remind us that the deterrent of nuclear weapons might have a lot to do with this, but they concede that the overall numbers are down. In addition, increased global trade has drawn countries together in a way that makes true war impossible between an increasingly large world community.

This is not the state of humanity that all desire. ISIL and its peers seek an apocolyptic world of warlords, where violence and death are a regular part of life. They dream of a mass regression of humanity to an earlier, more brutal time when families were split and sunders by the whim of kings and dictators.

When attacks come out of this ideology - made events that seek to awaken our "reptile brains" and make us fear each other - it's a mistake to think of counter-pushes as "weak." On the contrary, our greatest warriors dreamed of creative days of peace, and maintaining peace is harder than creating way. Anyone can destroy, shoot a gun, or create chaos. Order, peace, and stability take work.

That's the cause that we dedicate ourselves to each time we vote in an election, or yell at each other on social media instead of doing violence, or help out a stranger only tied to us by our shared humanity. That's the dream of so many warriors in years past, and its why I have no doubt that ISIL and its peers will fall apart. However, there will always be others to take their place - the flaw isn't something we can eradicate.

We just have to keep proving each day that it's better to live in peace than to dream of war.

On recent events and their designation "Terrorism"

Terrorism is "the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims."
These days, I worry that we misuse the term. A killing spree caused by anger against the world isn't terrorism - it's mass murder. And mass murder is just as bad as terrorism - both take life, and both do harm to our communities, families, selves. The recent Colorado Springs shooting and San Bernardino massacre are both important data points in the ongoing struggle against mass killings in the United States.
However, I don't think we should call either "terrorism" at this point.
The added dynamic of terrorism is that someone is doing it to cause a political reaction, or to change the behavior of a population. The targets of terrorism are not the direct victims of gunfire - they are us, the "everyone else" who might have been at that store, or at that party. Even if the shootings in recent events were motivated by political statements, that doesn't make them terrorism because they weren't going after our minds.
Now, should the non-designation change our response?
I would say no. The designation of terrorism is tactical - it calls us to be on guard against manipulation of society through violence. For example, the recent suspicions of Syrian refugees after the Paris attacks (committed by people who were neither Syrian nor refugees, but who apparently carried a passport from a refugee to ruse us) was a successful result of that terrorist action. A public murder, such as the killing of a reporter and cameraman in Virginia, may not have those same attempted manipulations, but it demands our response just like any act of terrorism.
The DC Sniper Attacks are my counter-example - they were committed over a period of days with the goal of terrorizing a population to "shut things down" in the United States. The clear targets were not the random victims (known to the killers in 2/3 cases above), but instead the rest of us. That did demand a calculated response - taking all actions to catch the murderers, and knowing that they sought to create fear and therefore taking counter actions (like putting more police in schools).
The words we use to label things matter. Let's not muddy the waters of "terrorism" by assigning it to every killing with a political connection.

EDIT on 1/3/16:

Now we have some militiamen in Oregon occupying a Federal building and a lot of questions about if this action is "Terrorism." While it matches my dictionary definition, I don't think they occupation is being done to scare other Americans or (and I don't see a threat that anyone will be taken hostage). They also aren't doing this to change the original prison sentences - the Hammond family doesn't welcome this occupation. I'm still struggling, though, to create a clear definition.

The political stance these people are taking seems to be "it is the right of the people to occupy an empty federal building."

What it means to "use" Whiteness for good

Posted by Upworthy on Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The seductive temptation of inaction

Think of any recent news of political action or decision and you will find quotes in opposition. That's normal and expected - the easy, non-controversial decisions don't get coverage. However, it's much easier to oppose - to support inaction - than it is to take action. The person acting must take responsibility for outcomes. Those pushing for inaction have no responsibility. The easier side to be on is inaction/opposition, and many commentators have discussed this in recent years.

I want to highlight another tendency to inaction that is sneakier and a sibling to righteous opposition: the showcasing of a harmful outcome to someone involved in a policy.

We see news articles all of the time about the people harmed be various government policies. Many times, they feature people suffer from unjust gov't decisions or results, and put a human face on those harmed by poor decisions or policies. This sentiment is valuable, and I'm glad to see these types of stories, but they also represent risk.

The third character we don't see in these stories is the status quo, which has no face and no new victims to showcase. We get used to the constant pain of bad policies, especially when the pain comes from complexity or faceless bureaucracies that can't be easily placed in an article, and the victims are more collective than singular. It becomes hard to compare the harm of action and inaction, but without a good way to find or weigh the beneficiaries of a new policy against those harmed, inaction is easier.

I suppose the same problem applies in budgeting - the benefits of targeting spending may shine brighter than the collective pain of slightly hire taxes. Individual stories are easy - collective benefits are harder to see. Both matter.

Not Allowed at the Party

I like politics where lots of "stuff" happens because the nature of political governance is that lots of "stuff" happens - small and large. The ridiculous charade that we collectively put candidates through mirrors much of the scrutiny and complexity of actual office, though the stakes of "what shall this tweet reply say?" are much less than "what's the best way to implement the Iran Deal?"

A static race with unchanging narratives does not accomplish this purpose. Indeed, the shuffling, sorting and surfacing of new candidates that we saw in the Republican 2012 primary was a handy way to apply scrutiny to a wide group of candidates. I worry that right now, I'm not seeing a path for this process on one side of the political spectrum, but rather a long and slow burn towards a general election that's already being planned.

Strong candidates that want the best for the country should welcome other strong candidates from their party, even as they seek to rise above each other. Campaigns provide platforms for messages and visibility, and the universal dominance of one candidate in media coverage has a subtle choking effect on other candidates, especially those with valuable contributions to the national political conversation.

That's why, in general, whenever I see articles or coverage to the effect that someone or some group is trying to silence someone else, politically, I'm disappointed. Give voice to the argument from someone else, then win it. I want to get my mind changed by an argument I hear from a candidate, and I'm not sure that's ever truly happened. Let's hear from more voices, as many as possible. The votes of the people will winnow the field.

Congress Is Making Life Harder for Economics - Bloomberg View

Congress Is Making Life Harder for Economics - Bloomberg View: "Whatever the reason, the BLS reductions are part of two dismaying trends in our legislative priorities -- cuts to research funding, and a disregard for the importance of social science. In the case of the BLS, it would be a mistake to further hobble an agency that does so much to aid our very understanding of the economy around us.


'via Blog this'

For the First Time in History, Less than 10% of Humanity Lives in Extreme Poverty | Foundation for Economic Education

For the First Time in History, Less than 10% of Humanity Lives in Extreme Poverty | Foundation for Economic Education: "According to the World Bank, for the first time in human history, “less than 10 percent of the world’s population will be living in extreme poverty by the end of 2015.”


'via Blog this'

Joy in the audience

Tonight, I met the perfect audience person. There's a rare joy in performing when you know - know - that you've nailed a part, or a piece, or a phrase, or a "thing" that helps make a song what it is. (Example: skip to 1:15, watch his face for a radiant grin at 1:56) Then there's a second joy when the crowd "gets it" in a way you don't expect; see the embedded video at 1:28 for Lea Salonga getting that feeling from rowdy bar.


The third feeling is when you see it in a particular person. It can happen in speaking as well - when you know that your words have reached and changed a person, but in music - it's the feeling of creating something beautiful and watching someone else immerse themselves in the music. I didn't start singing tonight with the intention of making that connection, but once I noticed it, I couldn't completely ignore it - how this person sang under her breath, eyes closed, breathing in the music and experiencing more fully than I typically can.

It was lovely.

On Harm, Damage, and Policy

I noted with interest some of the criticism and critique that came out this weekend against a new project of my colleagues. Essentially, some of the arguments posted were "this data/site doesn't do X, therefore, it shouldn't exist" or "this data harms Y, therefore it shouldn't exist." Of course, the data is helpful in other ways, allowing limited comparisons, but it's rare to see a comment saying "this looks pretty good, ok." So instead, the comments are all "THIS IS AMAZING" vs "THIS SUCKS" and whatever the product is, it feels like a dystopia where completely opposite conclusions are possible.

So it goes with many political and legal policies.

If you experience a crime and the law is such that the criminal is not found guilty, the law feels far too soft. If you are falsely accused and your life is severely harmed, the law feels far too hard. This is the nature of political compromise - some times different interests each have valid perspectives and the right answer does involve weighing them and coming down somewhere in the middle.

In the area of rape and sexual assault, where hard evidence is often extraordinarily difficult to come by (and where I volunteered for years in college), there is no policy that will prevent horrible outcomes - either for survivors that can't get justice or for the falsely accused. I've seen several stories in recent years with long, personal profiles of people on both sides of this equation, and I've realized that no matter how bad the stories are, the overall data is much more important when it comes to identifying the best policy. To some extent, policy making means ignoring single trees to see the dynamic of the forest, but that also feels a little harsh and cold (and to be clear, this is the wrong answer when it comes to supporting anyone who has been through trauma). I'll be looking for examples of leaders and people who walked this line well.

Rankings and Inputs

I've written before about higher ed data and ranking, and its worth revisiting that subject today on the heels of a large data release by the Department of Education (along with a website my wonderful colleagues in various government offices helped to create). I should also note that I am only speaking in my individual capacity. None of the words in this post represent the views of 18F, the General Services Administration, or the United States Government.

Data releases are wonderful because they give true information about a topic, often replacing anecdotal evidence that depends more on who we know than the true state of a Thing. My thoughts on financial success after college depend partly on if I hung out with aspiring educators vs management consultants, for example. Hearing that one of your friends had a great experience at College X might lead you to recommend it, but there's a chance that your friend's experience was one of the rare positive ones. I am all for releasing data.

However, in looking at data, we still need to apply context and analysis. Data depends on a varsity of factors, such as the group being examined or the method used to collect it. College ranking data is especially scary when used long-term because the selective colleges being examined have a lot of control, though their admissions and administrative processes, over some of the data inputs. For example, US News looks at the % of classes with under 20 students - and I'm not sure its a coincidence that some college cap certain classes at exactly 19 students.

In a world without manipulation, the US News datapoint could be used to interpolate a bell curve of class sizes. Instead, I suspect that colleges work to shove as many classes as possible under that 19-person cap - meaning that a college with a mix of 10 person and 15 person classes ends up looking equivalent to a college full of 19 person classes, even though the 10 person experience is much more rewarding (in my anecdotal experience).

Example of a bell curve with a spike at one level

The worst implication of using and relying on data like this is that the attributes that make a strong college cohort may end up producing data that looks "worse" than other cohorts - meaning that colleges that seek to do the best job possible have an incentive to manipulate their incoming classes to have stronger data.

For example, a college that wants to produce graduates with higher incomes after 10 years might have an incentive to take more students interested in economics, technology, or engineering - disadvantaging those interested in other fields. Colleges interested in keeping a higher graduation rate might shy away from admitting anyone with mental health struggles or other risk factors that could lead them not to graduate - regardless of a college's strength. Finally, colleges interested in reporting a high amount of average aid could seek more students who are extremely poor (who need more aid) and disadvantage those from middle class families that need a small amount of aid, but not much.

That last paragraph describes the three primary data points used by the college scorecard. That doesn't make the data that was used bad, but it does mean that we should pay attention to the incentives that we create in rating systems and how to actively counter act them. For example, colleges could get "credits" on their graduation rates by admitting more students with active risk factors, or by being able to report different data about why students don't complete a degree. Average earning data should take into account the earnings of a student's parents and seek to remove that variable, since a college is more important for the change it makes to a student.

In the end, a college isn't everything in a student's future. We shouldn't make schools own outcomes that depend on the students they choose to admit - instead we should look at how a college bends an incoming class's future toward job satisfaction, strong connections with peers, impact towards social good, and ultimate life happiness. Is that data available, truly? I doubt it.

6 months in DC

It's hard to believe that I've been in DC for six months - the time has flown by, and I've learned more about my skills and abilities here than in the last 18 months at my old job. I don't intend to write anythjng official here about my work, but my professional happiness has bueyed my personal happiness.

Music and links from a random weekend

New readers: note that a regular feed of things I think are interesting can be found at this link.

Here's a sampling of what I got into this past weekend, after a wonderful but intense-for-my-introvert-self week:

Here are other videos from the same event - the quality live was really something, though I'm sure the official track was heavily mastered:

In the category of things that are unfortunate:
We can’t completely undo the financial obstacles younger Americans face, such as their weak earnings. But we can start to put in place policies that will ease their burden. First and foremost would be to get the nation’s economy onto a stronger growth trajectory. That’s a daunting challenge that would require revamping federal outlays to emphasize areas like education, infrastructure and research and development. Spending more on these areas would require higher taxes on my generation, which is getting a lot more from government than we are paying into it.


On December 6, 2012, during Ryan & Shannon's KS95 for Kids Radiothon, KS95 debuted a song by Zach Sobiech, a teen with cancer, called "Clouds." Zach and the song became a worldwide sensation, touching the hearts of millions. One year later 5,000 fans gathered at Mall Of America for KS95′s Ryan & Shannon's Largest Clouds Choir to remember Zach, who passed away in May of 2013.

Madison Singing

I miss these jokesters.

"Call Me Maybe"Watch in HD!!
Posted by Fong Fan on Wednesday, June 11, 2014

For American pundits, China isn’t a country. It’s a fantasyland. - The Washington Post

For American pundits, China isn’t a country. It’s a fantasyland. - The Washington Post: And because China is so vast, its successes can be attributed to whatever your pet cause is. Do you oppose free markets and privatization, like John Ross, former economic policy adviser for the city of London? Then China’s success is because of the role of the state. Do you favor free markets, like the libertarian Cato Institute? Then China’s success is because of its opening up. Are you an environmentalist? China is working on huge green-energy projects. Are you an energy lobbyist? China’s building gigantic pipeline projects. Are you an enthusiast for the Protestant work ethic, like historian Niall Ferguson, who describes it as one of his “killer apps” for civilizations? Then credit China’s manufacturing boom to its 40 million Protestants — even though they’re less than 5 percent of its 1.3 billion people.

Commute Metrics

Previous Commute:
  • 2 minute walk to bus
  • 22 min bus ride
  • 14 minute walk to office
New Commute Day 1 (saving 4:30):
  • 4:30 walk to bus (iterating to best path)
  • 25 min bus ride
  • 1 minute walk to office
  • 2 minutes walking inside GSA
New Commute Day 2:
  • 2 min walk to bus (iterating to best path)
  • 18 min bus ride
  • 7 minute walk to office
  • 2 walk inside GSA
More importantly, my new commute will involve less exposure on really hot days. :)

Tips for an Epic Interview

A friend of a friend is calling me today for advice about an interview he has with Epic. I've done a few general calls about Epic since departing my job for civil service, but since this one is specifically about tips and advice, I wanted to make my thoughts available publicly. Connections like these are great, but many people who might want a job at Epic don't have them.

So here's my advice, which applies to all phone screens. I am being deliberately vague about the questions because I think that would be against the spirit of Epic and the trust given to employees - something I greatly admire. I am also omitting the suggestion to do research on Epic, since you've found this post (and are therefore doing research!)
  1. Take care of the basics. Your phone should have sufficient charge and you should be in a place with signal. (I wouldn't be saying this if I hadn't noticed an issue here)
  2. Remember that your screener has an agenda of things to get through. Long-winded answers will rush things for both of you
  3. You should have an elevator story about yourself, covering pieces like - who are you? What do you know about? Why do you know about it? What are you looking for in your career, both presently and in the future? This is your arsenal for the questions you will be asked - as long as you've thought through these sorts of questions, biographical questions shouldn't surprise you.
  4. You should bear this quote (slightly dated) in mind: "The firm makes about 1,500 hires annually and goes through about 150,000 resumes."
  5. If you have weak points on your resume, this is the time to make additional mitigating statements about them.

On Motivation

I've enjoyed self-observing as I age and start taking on the exact traits that I used to see appearing in older friends. For one thing, I don't enjoy movies or TV shows the way I used to - too many tropes, too little creativity, too much familiarity with the tricks of the media-making trade. Learning about how the sausage gets made gives me both a huge appreciation for the work done to great content and takes away from of the magic mystery of shows. So it goes for houses, and programs, and so forth.

One other trait I've noticed lapsing is "passion" - a pattern of getting so immersed into something that used to lead me to spend four hours between 9 PM and 1 AM on a new project. Instead, I've gotten smarter about how I spend my time. Those spurts of projects were fun, but they also generally failed to go anywhere (though I'm still proud of my proposal to fix Williams housing). Long, slow, regular effort is more likely to yield tangible results.

However, I don't see this trend in everyone. On the contrary, some adults remain studiously passionate, jumping from project to project with a degree of direction changing that makes my head spin. It feels like the driving/motivating force for them is something else, and that these projects are offering an avenue for engagement instead of a motivation in and of themselves.

A very good blog post about 18F

From one of the best blog posts I've read about my employer:

These applications and initiatives are important, and they have been
built transparently and in the open. The manner in which this work gets
done is also encouraging: agile, perhaps even lean. I don’t see
year+-long projects comprising large teams and costing millions of
dollars. They appear to be greenfield, relatively small applications
that will likely not require considerable resources to maintain over

Importantly, we know about all of this because 18Fers are vocal about their work and successes, rightly so. They blog frequently
and tweet, a lot. They market and promote their work, and they do so
consistently. Considering the government’s general risk aversion,
message obsession, and concern about “optics,” 18F’s prolificness in
writing about their work is, again, impressive.

I do not know first-hand what it’s like to work at 18F. But it sure does seem like a good place to spend part of a career in technology.

That, right there, is in my estimation the most important thing that 18F has done: 18F has made working in government seem like an attractive option for talented people.

Why Millennials Are Less Urban Than You Think | FiveThirtyEight

Why Millennials Are Less Urban Than You Think | FiveThirtyEight: Millennials overall, therefore, are not increasingly living in urban neighborhoods. Rather, the most educated one-third of young adults are increasingly likely to live in the densest urban neighborhoods. That’s great news for cities trying to attract young graduates and a sign that urban neighborhoods have become more desirable for those who can afford them. But the presence of more smart young things in Brooklyn is not evidence that millennials are a more urban generation.

On a South Carolina Shooting

Regarding this story/video of a police officer shooting a running black man eight times, I am not as interested in stories about these particular individuals and their backstories as I am in stories about:
  • Why the police officer actually felt like he had to shoot a running suspect
  • Why the police officer felt so secure/confident about framing the murdered man with a Tazor.
  • How we can address the many situations like this where its not caught on video.

The backpacks of an implementer vs an innovation specialist

After two days on the job, I don't think I know enough to post a full review (beyond saying 18F is wonderful and I'm so excited to learn more), but here's a starting point.

In my backpack with Epic:
  • Laptop, so that you can work anywhere with wifi
  • MiFi, so that you have fast wifi everywhere
  • Headphones (with attached mic) to do calls while walking between planes
  • Semi-wrapped laptop cord for plugging in everywhere
  • A pack of Epic pens, which seem to disappear onsite
  • Home car keys (rental car keys are in my pocket)
  • Business cards
  • Pack with toothbrush and other "if my bag gets lost" nesssities
In my backpack with 18F:
  • Water bottle, so that I don't have to buy another bottle at lunch
  • Umbrella, since GSA doesn't have thousands of free underground packing spaces and I'm taking a bus to work (learned that lesson today)
  • Book/Nook for the bus
  • My letter paper DC license while they print a new small one
The move to DC has simplified my working life, and I appreciate that. :)

Unexpected areas of expertise, and what to do with them

Before my work life ramps up again on Monday, I'm working to take stock of my areas of semi-expertise and where I want each of these to go:
  • Admissions and financial aid in higher education
    • I studied this in college, and want to use the knowledge to help spread knowledge and information about college access, especially across socio-economic lines. Some of the best schools in the country are much less expensive than popular belief suggests.
    • Less importantly, I will fight a losing battle against college rankings, which are gross simplifications that cause students to make poor college choices.
  • Credit cards and EFT processes
    • My primary area of expertise at Epic, with rising importance as money transfers via apps like Venmo and Square Cash or services like Apple Pay become more prevalent.
    • I have no idea how this might be useful in the future, except in knowing something about network security as it relates to PCI certification for merchants.
  • New Media
    • I've followed the rise of online "streaming" closely (most relevant for video and computer games at the moment), as well as the ensuring convergence of TV and the internet. Also familiar with monetizing these efforts.
    • I think this area will be most useful for community building - if we can create venues where contributing ideas and feedback becomes a joyful action for people, then new media can become an avenue for creating all sorts of projects beyond Wikipedia.
  • Lighting and sound design/event support
    • I developed this in college as the tech manager for one of the student centers. Never used it in Madison (I had a few opportunities to run sound at local venues, but it never worked out). I don't really expect this to be useful except in setting up a home system or jumping in if technology breaks during an event I'm involved in.

Skills I want to gain:
  • Gardening - I want to be able to grow and eat my own food, so that I understand more about food production
  • Carpentry - Probably via volunteering for Habitat, I want to learn more and get more practice around home care and projects.

A successful Git branching model �

A successful Git branching model � In this post I present the development model that I’ve introduced for all of my projects (both at work and private) about a year ago, and which has turned out to be very successful. I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while now, but I’ve never really found the time to do so thoroughly, until now. I won’t talk about any of the projects’ details, merely about the branching strategy and release management.


Earlier tonight, I published the first two revisions of, my new homepage. It's a little strange to be operating in the open, with every bug I introduce and fix visible to all, but it's also freeing. The world of software I'm coming from couldn't operate with those rules.

Epic uses a variety of homegrown systems to run and manage internal processes that aren't known on the public internet - the names for them are common internally, but I'm not pulling anything up in a quick Google search. It's understandable, since the core codebase that the tools support is full of trade secrets. Why? Well, this codebase and the underlying ideas and organization forms used are the result of decades of revisions and input from hundreds of customers. The world of healthcare IT is lucrative, but also rather small, and Epic has a giant target on it's back due to past and present success. Even Epic training materials are sometimes sought through illicit means.

There just aren't many companies that have fully integrated systems crossing all areas of healthcare - the vast majority of companies have grown through acquisition, often meaning that internal systems must interface to each other instead of maintaining a single master data source.

From experience, these interfaces can be very painful, and I was never frustrated that Epic maintained these secrets through policy and practice.

But in reading Greg Boone's piece, "The Supreme Joy of Writing in the Open," I already know that my future work will be much more invigorating, as everything we do can be taken and forked by anyone. That's a wonderful feeling, and I can only hope that I can be a part of efforts worth stealing.

Departure from WI / Shows

I've scheduled this post to publish while I'm between Madison and Chicago. It's been over 3.5 years since I drove up into town, and I'll be headed out in the same way - one very full subcompact, but with professional experience and some money saved to show for my time here. I had a few goals in coming to WI, and I think I accomplished most of them, though I probably could have had similar gains in less time - I was just lucky enough to enjoy my job and stick around longer than I had planned.

I'm really excited about what's coming up - which I will announce in this space once I'm cleared for my next gig, but right now I wanted to catalogue something of my time in WI: the shows I saw, and events I attended. I don't think I'm going to save the programs/tickets for a scrapbook, but I think listing them out is a cool record of how else I filled my time here, and around the country. This is definitely a partial list - I only saved tickets or programs some of the time.

  • Taize gatherings in Chicago, Pine Ridge, and Austin (still need to write a thank-you-note for Austin)
  • Darlingside had a show in WI this past winter; I took some dear friends with me and we enjoyed the great sound (using just one mic!)
  • Bookless: the madison central library held an event with live music acts, art everywhere, and a few "Special features" as we said goodbye to the library before a big renovation. The definite highlight was lots of free paint and brushes to get creative on several walls.
  • Madison Remembers: I sang in this 9/11 memorial concern pictured to the right.
  • Monster Trucks! On a whim, I joined M, M, and A at Madison's smallish arena to see a pretty good show
  • Madison State Fair - weather was bad, eh.
  • The Magic Castle - an amazing club in LA that I got to visit thanks to a work trip and got in thanks to a work connection.Very privilaged.
  • Verona Area Theater - Singing in the Rain and The Producers
  • Middle Theater - Les Miserables. It was an AMAZING show.
  • Stoughton Players - Company.
  • John Oliver Stand-up in Madison.
  • Bobby McFerrin in Chicago, and endless calls from the CSO afterward for a membership.
  • Catch Me if you Can - the national tour, with a friend's friend in the cast
  • Almost, Maine in Rhode Island with a friend in the cast
  • Once on Broadway



The umbrellas are all retractable.

On the American State

This article is interesting:

The Rise and Fall of the U.S. Government by John J. Dilulio Jr. | The Washington Monthly

The federal civil service is overloaded, not bloated. The failed
Federal Emergency Management Agency response to Hurricane Katrina in
2005 hit when FEMA had only about 2,100 employees and had recently lost
many senior managers. The badly bollixed launch of Obamacare health
exchanges in 2013 involved scores of contractors and was overseen by the
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a federal center with fewer
than 5,000 employees. The Internal Revenue Service fails to collect
more than $300 billion a year in taxes it knows are owed, in part
because it lacks the necessary personnel.

Fukuyama is correct that America has never had a fully “centralized,
bureaucratic, and autonomous state”; but he is wrong to imply that
America needs one. What America does need is a federal public
administration workforce that relies less on proxies and more on
full-time bureaucrats who are well selected, well trained, well
motivated, well rewarded financially, and well respected by one and all. American government is decaying mainly because it has too few federal
bureaucrats chasing after too many federal proxies, monitoring too many
federal grants and contracts, and handling too many dollars.

The way
forward is to de-leverage the federal government by defunding its
nonessential proxies and relying more on full-time federal civil
servants to directly administer federal policies, programs, and
regulations. Over time, hiring more federal bureaucrats while pruning
proxies would result in a federal government less beset by grant-seeking
and contract-mongering special interests, more “faithfully executed” by
the executive branch, and less bollixed by the Congress and its dozens
of massively dysfunctional administrative oversight committees and
I don't have personal experience with the questions here, but it's true that in a college education where I focused on politics and policy, the only discussions of bureaucracy came about when discussing obvious corruption - the design of strong gov't systems is a different matter, and one I didn't hear about much in college. Perhaps a good topic for an MPA....

On MLK in 2015

Growing up in Georgia, the idea of Martin Luther King Jr. was a powerful force. He was a unifying figure, canonized in literature and lesson, and a source of pride for the greater Atlanta area. I don't recall ever hearing about him from my grandparents (or really anyone that was a contemporary of his; he would be around 83 this year), but I do remember the shock when Cedric The Entertainer's character made a disparaging comment about MLK in the movie Barbershop.

After that, I realized that MLK wasn't a real person for us. He was a hero, a saint, a martyr....but not a person. And his accomplishment is much more complex than we heard about in school. See this excerpt from an interview he did that I read about here:

KING: But I do not think violence and hatred can solve this problem.
KING: I think they will end up creating many more social problems than they solve, and I'm thinking of a very strong love. I'm not, I'm thinking, I'm thinking of love in action and not something where you say, "Love your enemies," and just leave it at that, but you love your enemies to the point that you're willing to sit-in at a lunch counter in order to help them find themselves. You're willing to go to jail.
KING: And I don't think anybody could consider this cowardice or even a weak approach. So I think --
WARREN: -- yes --
KING: -- that many of these arguments come from, from those who have gotten so caught up in bitterness that they cannot see the deep moral issues involved.
MLK's choice of non-violence was not because it was the best method of achieving integration, but instead because it was the best method of ending segregation. We haven't completed the former work yet, and the latter work continues to be a struggle. Below the jump is a map of Atlanta using 2010 census data; you can see the fault line between the green of blacks and the blue of non-Hispanic whites, with stark sections of people who identify as Hispanic or Asian.