Posts

Showing posts from July, 2016

How Over-Customization Kills Government IT

Image
"I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV."- 1984 ad for Vicks cough syrup


Yesterday Scott Burns, the CEO and founder of GovDelivery (disclaimer: not an endorsement) published "The Elephant in the Room...Is Government the Worst Possible Customer?" on LinkedIn.


As someone who has worked for the government for more than a dozen years, and who frequently helps define requirements for government IT projects, I was interested to hear a vendor's idea of the things that are taboo to say.


His list of reasons why venture capitalists shy away from government as a customer, in brief: 1) excessive customization requirements 2) excessively cost-based decision-making and 3) excessive paperwork.

Overall I agree with Burns' assessment, and hope that the next Administration will take on the challenges he outlines. It will not be an easy undertaking, for the following reasons:

Excessive customization requirements are a mask for self-interest. Frankly, many departments, fu…

To Restore Trust In Government, Empower Federal Communicators

Image
On October 8, 2013 the Pew Research Center for U.S. Politics & Policy released survey results showing that:
Most Americans (62%) had a positive view of federal workers (and a majority had a positive view of the federal agencies they were asked about)Almost none (19%) trusted the government itself "to do what is right just about always or most of the time."



Over the years I have received many email chains ("Fwd: Fwd: Fwd:") portraying the government as corrupt or inefficient while hearing verbal anecdotes of federal employees who went the extra mile to help out.

Clearly, federal employees are dedicated. The 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, administered by the government's Office of Personnel Management shows that more than 90% of respondents "view their work as important, are willing to commit extra effort when necessary to get their jobs done, (and) consistently seek out ways to do better."

Feds are also committed to integrity and precision; th…

How They Squash You

Image
In recent months I've had to de-friend a number of people on Facebook. I enjoy hearing diverse views but it has degenerated to this:"Well I know where you get your news.""The fact that you could even say that means you aren't worth debating.""You need help.""That comment is beneath you.""You're an ignorant idiot schmuck." How has civil discourse sunk to such low levels? A great article by Sean Blanda, "The 'Other Side' Is Not Dumb," explains it in terms of psychology, the "false-consensus bias." Essentially we are confounded when other people show signs that they don't think the same way we do.

On social media, being confronted by different viewpoints leads us to assume the worst. If you don't agree with me - well then you must be crazy!
"We and our friends are the sane ones and ...there’s a crazy “Other Side” that must be laughed at — an Other Side that just doesn’t 'get it,&…

Removing the Mask of Power

Image
"The soldiers came for her at night. They took the girl to a barrack and forced her to watch a woman get raped.....The young witness was next. Five soldiers held her down and took turns....Later, her sister cleaned her up, but they didn't speak about what had happened. No one talked about such things. They didn't have to. Or maybe they couldn't." - "Silence Lifted: The Untold Stories of Rape During the Holocaust," CNN.com, June 24, 2011
Shame loomed large over my family as a child. I don't know if this had to do withhushed-up child sex abuse in the Holocaust, the extent of which we will never knowbecause the boys and girls who were sexually abused, raped, gang-raped, and prostituted--either by the Nazis or their fellow Jews--kept their mouths sealed firmly shut.

After the Holocaust, the victims went on to get married and have kids. If at that point they didn't keep their mouths shut, the researchers did it for them because "why harm survivo…

The Two Faces of Donald Trump

It is very common for abusive people to compartmentalize themselves.

Last night there was a story on Quora about "the weirdest classmate you ever had." Someone wrote about going to school with a classmate who was brutal and sadistic because his father sexually abused him. The father was discovered online to be a pedophile. Yet this same man successfully prosecuted the brutal kidnap-rape-and-murder of two little girls, and was considered a hero.

Israel has a lot of movies about the Holocaust and dealing with the difficulties of reconciliation with Germany. There is this movie "Walk on Water" where the Israeli Mossad agent falls in love with a German woman. He is supposed to kill the Nazi war criminal and I won't spoil it for you but the whole thing is his moral dilemma over what to do in the present versus how to handle justice for the past.

In America 2016 we have the difficult problem of a Donald Trump candidacy. On the one hand there are those who say he's t…

10 Things To Do When Crisis Occurs [FCN]

Image
This information was good fifteen years ago, and it's still good now. Adapted from: Communicators Guide for Federal, State, Regional, and Local Communicators, Federal Communicators Network, 2000, pp. 23-27. Information is quoted, condensed and slightly rearranged for readability and flow. 

THE DO’SCommunicate. Don’t hide behind “no comment.” Even if all you can say is that you don’t know, say so, say why and when you think you will know. Reporters look favorably on people who are trying to be helpful.Put people first. Communicate your concern about the victims. Help the people most affected by the crisis. In the case of accidents, remember to deal with victims’ families before any other group. If they want you to, intercede on their behalf with the news media.Be available at all times to respond to your various publics. Take your time in explaining difficult issues to reporters. Know media deadlines and don’t rely only on news conferences. Monitor media accounts and quickly correct…

Everything's Fine Until You're A Victim

Image
You tell me it gets better, it gets better in time
You say I’ll pull myself together, pull it together, you’ll be fine
Tell me, what the hell do you know? What do you know?
Tell me how the hell could you know? How could you know? Till it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels, how it feels
Till it happens to you, you won’t know, it won’t be real
No, it won’t be real, won’t know how it feels You tell me hold your head up, hold your head up and be strong
’Cause when you fall you gotta get up, you gotta get up and move on
Tell me how the hell could you talk, how could you talk?
’Cause until you walk where I walk, this is no joke Till it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels, how it feels — Lady Gaga, “Till It Happens To You” (see music video) Yesterday on Facebook someone asked rhetorically why anyone would cover for a child sex abuser instead of outing them. I thought about this subject. And realized that while most people will not out-and-out support such a despicable type of perso…

Why Halacha Still Matters

Image
Photo by Sharyn Morrow via Flickr (Creative Commons)
I still remember my Zayde’s (z”l) voice, how he never raised it even to the level that most of us would consider normal talking. Yet he was not a soft-spoken man either, because his words were words of steel. Zayde understood that I was not like other children. For one thing nobody could tell me what to do. This did not stop my father from trying, and as he had a natural tendency toward control it was inevitable that my neck would stiffen in response even if he said so much as “please come to the Shabbos table.” Family relationships are complicated. It bothered me to see how my father kept trying to win Zayde’s approval. I think if it were me I would have been very angry. But Bubbie (z”l) had been in Auschwitz and Zayde escaped from a Romanian labor camp. So my father kept his head down and diligently observed Kibud Av VaEm anyway. To a level that way surpasses anything I would consider obligatory. Regardless of the subtle discord I…

Communicating To The Truth Instinct

Image
On November 17, 2015 the Department of Defense issued an update to its Joint Publication 3-61, Public Affairs, the second update since its original issuance in 2005.


(Unlike the civil service, which operates without a shared set of standards for public affairs, the military has developed clear and concise guidance about how this vital function is supposed to work.)

In reading the publication, my first reaction was appreciation. This is a very sophisticated document. For example, early on we are reminded to tell only the truth:
"PA [public affairs] personnel will release only accurate, fact-based information....Denying unfavorable information or failing to acknowledge it can lead to media speculation, the perception of cover-up, and degradation of public trust....Once an individual or unit loses the public perception of integrity, it is nearly impossible to recover." Of course, my second reaction was dismay. If the thinking is so good, how can the reality be so disappointi…

Please Do Not Tell Me That You Are Colorblind

"Here in North Carolina’s third-largest city, officers pulled over African-American drivers for traffic violations at a rate far out of proportion with their share of the local driving population. They used their discretion to search black drivers or their cars more than twice as often as white motorists — even though they found drugs and weapons significantly more often when the driver was white.   Officers were more likely to stop black drivers for no discernible reason. And they were more likely to use force if the driver was black, even when they did not encounter physical resistance."

 - " The Disproportionate Risks of Driving While Black,"The New York Times, 10/25/2015

Racial discrimination is everywhere. So please don't tell me that you, personally are "colorblind" or that a movement such as "Black Lives Matter" is "racist."

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics' most recent survey on "Public-Police contact&qu…

Surviving Your Midlife Crisis

Image
In the first stage, you do what you have to do. Hands over your ears, you march. Elementary school, high school, college, job and maybe grad school. Maybe the military, maybe marriage, maybe kids. There go your boots on the pavement. Do you hear the rain? That's about all you hear, in the protection of your uniform, as you methodically put one foot in front of the other, over and over again. In the first phase of your life, success means that you've made a commitment to avoid "distractions." You have to work, work work at whatever you are doing, and do the best you can not to look up. Inside the bubble you train your thinking mind to stop itself from thinking so very much. Like a pair of noise-canceling headphones, busy-ness drowns out the sound. Is it limiting? Sure. But it's also soothing: You don't have to deal with anything -or anyone. But what you may not realize, at that stage, is that your first phase of life is where you most resemble a caterpillar. …

Rabbinic Sexism Is Not Religious

Image
Here is a screenshot photo from a video posted to Facebook July 7, 2016 by Israeli nonprofit group Women of the Wall. It shows religious men ripping up the prayerbook, to applause and cheering, of a group of women who have gathered to pray at the Western Wall, the only remnant of the holy Jewish Temple and the holiest Jewish site on earth.
The group doing the praying is controversial among Orthodox Jews. It fights for nontraditional (read: non-Orthodox, pluralistic) freedom of worship for women at the wall who are engaged in doing things that men traditionally do. This includes reading from the Torah, and wearing tallis and tefillin.
The sight of this video literally nauseated me. This among numerous other visible manifestations of condescension, sexism and outright woman-hatred that are unthinkingly considered part and parcel of Orthodox Judaism.
“Deborah, a prophetess…judged Israel.” — Judges 4:4 With regard to this verse, R. Berekhiah had four sayings: Woe unto the living who need…