Daily Archives: September 29, 2014

Hey, I think we finally found a conspiracy theory too nutty for Vermont

Saturday was a big day for a certain group of Internet-based nutbars. Namely, the Chemtrail folks — the ones who believe the water-vapor contrails emitted by jet planes are actually “chemtrails” meant to control the weather and make us sick. Or something like that.

Well, it would’ve been a big day if anybody had showed up. It was promoted online as the Global March Against Chemtrail and Geoengineering. Its webpage showed a map with dozens of protest sites around the planet… including one in Montpelier, Vermont!

Problem is, the actual turnout at the marches was so underwhelming as to be positively comical. Each city’s “march” had its own Facebook page, and some of the post-event comments are downright sad.

Some poor sap in Rhode Island was the only one who showed up for his “mass protest.” The ringleader in Philadelphia posted some photos that show no more than a handful there. Louisville had four. A dutiful correspondent in Denver plaintively inquired, “Am I missing something? I saw no one here.” A similar “Nobody showed” from Hartford, Connecticut.

The diligent nutbars in Omaha posted a brief video of their march — featuring four protesters.

The NYC organizer posted a photo of three people leaning on a railing — but he had perhaps the ultimate conspiracy theorist’s explanation for the dud turnout: the sky was clear. CLEAR, do you understand??? “They” called off the Chemtrail spraying for the day “which, of course, portrayed protesters as ‘fringe crackpots’ in an attempt to take the wind out of our sails.”

Ohhhhh. I see. No vapor trails in the sky for one day, so all your thousands upon thousands of invisible NYC supporters stayed home. Uh-huh. Don’t let nothin’ stand in the way of your pet theory.

Nice, professional-looking logo anyway.

Nice, professional-looking logo anyway.

Anyhoo, the alleged Montpelier event apparently didn’t happen. No sign of anyone posting on its Facebook page — not before, not during, and not after. Most of the Facebook pages had at least a smattering of people promising to attend — and then not doing so. And the plaintive wails of the few who did.

But in Montpelier? Not a whisper.

I didn’t think it was possible for there to be a fringey cause beyond the pale of us quirky Vermonters, but I guess I was wrong. Congratulations, Vermont: your annoying streak of crazy has its limits.

We eagerly await good tidings from the VTGOP

As you might know, although they did little to publicize the fact, the Vermont Republican Party had its fall fundraising dinner last Friday. The guest of “honor” was Islamophobic national-security nutbag Peter King, undistinguished Congressman from New York.

During the course of the evening, the operator of the VTGOP Twitter account posted four photos form the event. All four showed one of the evening’s speakers at the podium; all four were taken from angles that showed very little of the crowd. One example:

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 1.29.38 PM

Okay, so we know there were at least three people in the audience. Which is more of the crowd than you can see in any of the other photos, all of ’em focused on the podium.

No crowd shots, VTGOP?

What, too embarrassing? In my mind’s eye, I’m picturing a few dozen people crowded around the front tables, with plenty of empty seats farther away.

You may think my surmise unfair, just another example of theVPO’s liberal bias. But riddle me this, Batman:

— Right up to the day of the event, the VTGOP was sending out reminders that tickets were still available. The last one was sent at 10:43 a.m. Friday, less than seven hours before go-time.

— Since the Twitter posting of those four photographs, we’ve heard not a peep from the VTGOP about the success of the fundraiser. Or anything else, for that matter.

— This, in spite of the fact that I’ve been sending them gentle reminders via Twitter:

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 1.38.41 PM

And still no response.

I see a pattern. Last December, the VTGOP was very free with very generous pre-event estimates for its Chris Christie fundraiser. After the event, not a peep. Then in the spring, the Vermont Democrats hosted Sen. Elizabeth Warren; shortly after the event, the Dems announced attendance and fundraising totals.

Now another Republican event comes along, and once again, they’re being tight-lipped about the actual results.

As I said in one of my subsequent Tweets to @VTGOP, “I’ll take that as bad news.”

If the Vermont Republican Party does release totals for tickets sold and dollars raised, I’ll be happy to report them in this space, with whatever comments they provide. And if the totals are respectable or better, I’ll be happy to retract my cynicism and congratulate them on a successful event.

I’m not holding my breath.

Why state IT projects fail: a much-overlooked factor

Oliver Olsen, the once and (perhaps) future State Representative from southern Vermont, recently wrote an essay entitled “Why IT projects fail.” It was, more specifically, about why state-contracted IT projects fail.

Olsen began with the question, why can’t we bulid a software system when we manage to build large-scale complicated stuff like highways, bridges, and suchlike. His explanation: while the basics of civil engineering have been in place for quite a while, the world of high technology is young and ever-changing. And it’s harder to deal with the intangible world of IT than with the steel-and-concrete world of construction.

Good enough, as far as it goes, and I recommend reading the piece.

But I’d add one big factor that no one else seems to have noticed.

One of the problems throughout the history of the Affordable Care Act and Vermont Health Connect is a lack of competition for IT contracts. CGI was the big dog, by a long shot. Vermont chose CGI in large part because it had won so many other ACA contracts that it seemed the clear choice. Turned out, of course, that CGI wasn’t really up to the job. And when Vermont went to find a replacement, the only real choice was Optum, upon which our hopes are now pinned.

So the question: Computers and software are huge growth industries, and the US excels at both. Why can’t we get more, and smarter, companies to bid for health care exchange contracts?

I’d turn that question around: why are so many high-tech companies staying away?

Could it be because public-sector projects are complicated, fraught with peril, and more likely to yield failure than success?

Just looking at how the market moves, I have to conclude that it’s a lot more profitable to build newfangled gadgets, computer games, and smartphone apps. And the cost of failure is a whole lot lower: you put out a device or a game or an app. If it fails, you move on to the next one and write off the development costs. If you’re trying to build a health care exchange, you’d better damn well get it right. You can’t just walk away in the middle, and you can’t unilaterally postpone the launch.

Also, whereas a game or an app is pretty much a stand-alone item (as long as it plays nice with the operating system), public-sector IT projects are complicated systems that have to interface with other complicated systems.

There are lots of things IT experts can do that are higher-return and lower-risk than public-sector IT projects. Which is why most of them stay away from the business, and the public sector is left with a relative handful of bidders.

And somehow I doubt that those bidders represent the best and the brightest of the IT world.

Shumlin’s second TV ad: nice, but…

The Governor’s first ad featured a number of Vermonters talking about Shumlin initiatives that had helped their lives. The second spot connects two themes: post-Irene recovery and helping Vermont businesses survive and thrive.

Nice glasses, Gov.

Nice glasses, Gov.

The spot is narrated by John Wall of WallGoldfinger, a furniture maker located in Randolph. Wall tells how his factory was hit hard by Tropical Storm Irene, and how the Administration responded “within a week,” facilitating loans to keep the company afloat.

“It was the difference between life and death,” says Wall. Now, he says, the company is poised for further growth.

It’s a good story, and having it told first-person gives the spot instant impact and credibility.

My only qualm?

I hope we’re not leaning too much on Irene.

It did, after all, happen three years ago, during the first year of Shumlin’s governorship. He deserves full credit for pushing the recovery forward… but I hope he doesn’t lean too heavily on Irene.

In the first ad, one of the four brief testimonies was about Irene; it’s the dominant subject of the second. More are on the way, I’m sure; and if other spots focus on other issues, I’ll be fine with the overall balance. Irene deserves to be part of the story, but let’s have some more recent stuff as well.