Category: Current Events

What you talkin' 'bout?

What you talking about, Willis?

The 110-story Sears Tower, tallest office building in the Western Hemisphere, will be renamed the Willis Tower, global insurance broker Willis Group Holdings said on Thursday.
Willis said it was leasing multiple floors in the 1,451-foot (442-meter) structure in downtown Chicago to consolidate offices. As part of the deal, it will become the Willis Tower this summer when the move takes place, the company said.


A nudge in the right direction?

I am surprised I hadn’t heard about the book Nudge, by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler.
I haven’t read it yet, but from the web page it seems to be about how policymakers can take into account the heuristics and biases characteristic of human decision-makers and create a choice architecture which yields “proper” decision-making.
I confess that this whole line of thinking is somewhat alien to me, and that I never cared much about psychologists trying to understand how we think, since many of their explanations could also be seen as just-so stories. Of course, with amazing advances in brain imaging that has changed, and I am realizing that I should have given these folks more respect.
Why should anyone care? Sunstein (who is the most cited legal scholar in the U.S.*) is now the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Policy for the Obama administration.
* He does not, however, seem to have an Erdös number

The New Openness?

This photograph was taken at 11:19 AM on January 20th. It’s very cool that we can get 1 meter resolution photographs from space. What really struck me about this photo was.. well, take a look as you scroll down…

Obama inauguration from space.jpg

What really struck me about this is the open space. What’s up with that? Reports were that people were being turned away. Why all the visible ground? Were those areas still filling in? Did security procedures keep away that many?

You can click through for a much larger version at the Boston Globe. [update: even larger version at GeoEye, purveyors of fine space imagery.]

The New Administration and Security

Quoting first from Obama’s inaugural address:

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. Those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

and then from the new Director of National Intelligence:

In an unusual comment from a man who will head the most secret agencies of government, [Dennis Blair] said, “There is a need for transparency and accountability in a mission where most work necessarily remains hidden from public view.” He said that if confirmed, he would “communicate frequently and candidly with the oversight committees, and as much as possible with the American people.” (“Blair Pledges New Approach to Counterterrorism,” NYTimes)

I was struck by Obama’s focus on transparency in his address, and I was struck by how easily we can substitute in ‘information security,’ “those of us who manage information security dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust…”

From the perspective of executives, information security spending is often wasteful. If you can see security problems, the money wasn’t spent well. We have a tendency to move with fads, and we certainly cover up our problems. For these reasons, we’re too often not trusted advisors to our businesses, but rather, we’re seen as obstacles.

The advice of Obama and Blair is something that we can all heed. Everyone knows there are security problems. It’s time, or even past time, to stop with the secrecy around most problems. We can communicate more freely. That’s change you should believe in.

President for Ten Minutes

During a chat I had this afternoon, someone brought up an interesting situation to contemplate. The Presidency of George Bush fils ended today at noon EST, but Mr. Obama wasn’t sworn in until 12:10. Who then, the question was, President during those ten minutes.

One mildly unsatisfactory answer is Ms. Pelosi. If there is neither a President nor Vice President, then the duty falls to the Speaker of the House.

An even less satisfactory answer is Mr. Biden. The way that was explained, he was sworn in at 11:58. I find it unsatisfactory for two reasons. The most important to me is that after conjuring up this inter-administration gap, this closes it before it started. The second reason follows from what I think the best answer is.

The best answer to my mind is the simplest: no one. The office doesn’t magically fall to the next person in line, they actually have to be sworn in. When Mr. Kennedy was murdered, there was a short gap between his death and Mr. Johnson being sworn in and during that gap, there was no President. It’s the swearing in that makes the President. Similarly, in the event that an election gets thrown into the House and they didn’t decide until the 21st, there’d be no President for that day.

If there was indeed a gap (I could argue there was none), the person to whom the office fell was unequivocally Mr. Obama. He was at the time President-Elect. Even if Mr. Biden were somehow actually Veep, the obvious President-to-be is the President-Elect. Of course, this is also why the answer of Ms. Pelosi is unsatisfying. Even if we’re running the Executive like a Swiss railway, we know who the incumbent executives are.

Nonetheless, it’s fun to muse over. Feel free to spin your own argument for whomever.

The clever reader may also note that I said “today” despite it being past midnight server time. I have a personal rule that it’s still today until one goes to bed; it’s still night until one has breakfast; it’s still morning until one has lunch. And besides, it’s still the 20th in Hawaii, the President’s home state.

Three short comments on the Inauguration

The reality that a black man is about to become President of the United States is both momentous and moving. It’s hard to say anything further on the subject that hasn’t been said and re-said, but I am simply proud that the pendulum has swung to someone like Obama.

I’m excited to have an educated, articulate, urban President. When I say urban I mean he lives in a city, not on a ranch, a farm, or in a vacation town. I don’t know what fraction of Americans are urban, but I do feel that we are under-represented by our Presidents.

It’s a sad reality that threats against him are higher than against other Presidents because of his race. Some black friends of mine are stunned that he made it through the campaign, and don’t expect him to make it through his first term. Despite crap like this, I don’t think anyone in the protection business wants to be the one who fails this President. Professional pride. At the same time, I’m with Mark Thompson, who, in Time, wrote “Is a Police State Necessary?” I believe that the answer is no. We don’t need to restrict strollers or thermoses from the broad inauguration zone. If we wish to keep those things from the innermost zones, that might make sense. We can’t allow our institutions and traditions to continue to be driven by fear. It’s a matter of hope.

Security through obscurity

…or, antique car collectors are an honest lot.
According to the Times (of London, dear chap), a recently-deceased British surgeon has left his heirs a rather significant bequest: a super-rare, super-fast, antique Bugatti which hasn’t been driven since 1960 and is expected to fetch several million at auction.
This is the fabled “Imagine their surprise, when in the back of the barn they found a…” story. Except, well, records are kept of motor cars, and aging recluses tend not to move much:

James Knight, the international head of Bonhams’ motoring department, was one of those who knew where the example, chassis number 57502, was hiding.
“I have known of this Bugatti for a number of years and, like a select group of others, hadn’t dared divulge its whereabouts to anyone.

The article also quotes the late doctor’s nephew:

People must have known because he got letters from all over the country. He got notes pushed through his door. People travelled to try and convince him to sell the car.”


Happy New Year!

Our new year’s resolution is to show a sense of childlike wonder at and acceptance of everything we come across, especially this year’s leap second.

Incidentally, this post is scheduled to go live at 2008-12-31 23:59:60. Let’s see what happens!

Update: Movable Type complained when I tried to save the post: “Invalid date ‘2008-12-31 23:59:60’; authored on dates should be real dates.” There goes my sense of wonder. Acceptance, however, remains.