To Serve Man

by Scott McLemee on August 14, 2008

Henry has written about Wendt and Duvall’s “Sovereignty and the UFO” at The Monkey Cage. And my column yesterday lauded both the timely urgency of the paper and the aesthetically satisfying way it resists counterarguments.

But after thinking it over a little, I believe a critique from outside the poli-sci orbit is necessary.

Wendt and Duvall seem to mount a radical challenge to the anthropocentrism of contemporary ideas of sovereignty. But in so doing, they are complicit with the lingering effects of Cold War ideology — for nowhere do W&D consider the work of Juan Posadas, who proved four decades ago (to his own satisfaction anyway) that flying saucers demonstrate the existence of communism elsewhere in the galaxy.
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Big government, big IT

by Daniel on August 14, 2008

Over at the Guardian website, I have another piece up about my general scepticism of both big government IT projects, and the possibility under our current political and economic system of not being deluged with big government IT projects. I filled it full of jokes because I’m not yet really sure what I believe about the underlying causal mechanism. There’s a half-joking suggestion that the business development offices of the major IT consultancies probably ought to be considered as a material interest group in any analysis of British politics; we’ve not yet reached the levels of a “consultancy/government complex” but we’re not far off.

But on the other hand, I might be committing a version of fundamental attribution error here. The sales process is an important part of the procurement of big, failed IT projects, but the proliferation of big failed IT projects isn’t really a result of successful selling – it’s a result of the fact that nearly anything new that the government does is going to require an IT element, and that government projects tend to only come in one size, “big”, and to very often come in the variety “failed”.

And a lot of the reason why these projects screw up so badly has to do with the fact that they have to reinvent a lot of wheels, duplicate data collection exercises, and integrate incompatible systems (useful rule of thumb: whenever you hear an IT person use the word “metadata”, as in the sentence “all we need to do in order to make this work is to define suitable metadata”, you can take it to the bank; this project is fucked). In Sweden, for example, they have a working education vouchers system not unlike the one I discuss in the article, but in Sweden they have a big central database linked to the national identity card system.

In the UK, we don’t have a big central identity card database, and the main reason for that is that we don’t want one. And so I find myself entertaining the hypothesis that the constant parade of halt and lame IT projects which is British administrative politics, is actually an equilibrium outcome.

I am also rather pleased that, after two years of removing my bad language, the website editors actually introduced a swear-word into this piece that I hadn’t originally put in there.