COB-23: feeding bureaucracy

friendly but hungry alligator

As usual, we are deeply disturbed. This month we are deeply disturbed by the dire situation of bureaucrats in North Korea. A blog covering North Korea reports that bureaucrats are not receiving their food rations:

“After food distribution being halted, many low-ranking officials stopped showing up for work. Instead, they started picking on people. They carry out frivolous inspections anytime they want to extort people,” said a source from North Hamkyung Province….

North Korean news sources must be read with keen attention to anti-bureaucrat media bias. A bureaucrat looking for her food ration is not frivolously inspecting or picking on people. Finding food rations is a matter of bureaucratic life and death. The North Korean bureaucrats probably were detailed from their usual jobs to work on resolving the problem of the missing food rations. But they cannot be expected to carry out this additional important work alone. The United Nations, agricultural departments in high-income industrialized countries, and large international aid organizations should come together to organize emergency aid for North Korean bureaucrats.

Bureaucrats need to reject divisiveness and unify to move progress forward. With typical anti-bureaucrat media bias, the autoblog entitles a news report, “Confirmed! Bureaucrats have no sense of humor, funny stop signs nixed.” If you read the report, however, you will learn that one group of bureaucrats implemented a novel public policy that some find humorous, while another, higher-ranking group of bureaucrats eliminated this policy on the grounds that it was inconsistent with state regulations. This is an example of bureaucratic divisiveness. That’s not funny. The higher-ranking bureaucrats should have adjusted state regulations to accommodate the innovative and useful initiative of the lower-ranking bureaucrats.

The Music City Oracle complains that bureaucrats are carefully and accurately implementing Grapevine school policies. This account does not indicate the legal status of the relevant school policies. Under classic doctrines of separation of legislative and executive functions and of procedural integrity in rule-making, bureaucrats cannot ignore in administration a law’s plain meaning. The solution is less law and more bureaucratic discretion.

4&20 blackbirds offers Eleven Rules for All Bureaucrats. Gifford Pinchot, a pioneering bureaucrat as the first chief of the United State Forest Service, developed these rules early in the twentieth century. Everyone, including even current-day Internet entrepreneurs, would be wise to follow Pinchot’s ninth rule:

9. Don’t be afraid to give credit to someone else even when it belongs to you. This is the mark of a weak man, but is the hardest lesson to learn. Encourage others to do things. You may accomplish many things through others that you can’t get done on your single initiative.

Rich Maltzman, PMP, at Scope crêpe describes The Big Yellow Taxi of Project Management. He observes:

“You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…”. These words, from a Joni Mitchell song of 1970, and re-popularized by the Counting Crows more recently, should strike a resonant note with PMs. … I certainly don’t mean to take away from Joni Mitchell’s lyric ability, but perhaps she should have said, “you don’t know what might be taken away, until you know what your objectives are”. But…then again, to be fair, (1) Joni did not have access to the 3rd Edition PMBOK(R) Guide, and (2) I don’t think this lyric would be very marketable.

Excellent points, Rich.

El Burro at Wonky Donky reports “CBS Buys Bleeding-Edge Company CNET, Color Tele-Vision To Follow“. Burro remarks, “CBS taking huge risk on this sure-to-fail, n’er-do-well ‘in-ter-net’ contraption. Base-jumping Thomas Edison admires their foresight and risk-tolerance! Look out, Radio Corporation of America!!! Videos of high-tech CBS masterminds at work!” The videos make the picture clear. This is a newsworthy bureaucratic development!

Jose DeJesus MD submitted “The Crisis in Medical Care Funding.” He gives as an example a charge of $20 for disposable gloves and observes,

If a physician attempted to include such charges on a patient’s bill there would be accusations of gouging or possible criminal charges of fraud, but when a hospital does it, they rationalize it through a cost allocation formula that makes sense only to a hospital administrator.

A good economist working in a government bureaucracy would recognize that this cost is not cost-justified.

Alvaro Fernandez submitted “Exercise your brain in the Cognitive Age.” He remarks, “Key questions on ‘brain training’ that politicians and, yes, bureaucrats, should pay attention to.” Bureaucrats regularly exercise their brains on the job. I presume that Mr. Fernandez did not mean to suggest otherwise.

Michael Bass submittted “Getting out of Jury Duty.” He remarks, “You see, the founders of our country knew that the jury would serve as a fortress, protecting individual rights against a legal system which desires to propagate unjust laws onto its citizens.” Bureaucratic ethics do not allow a bureaucrat to shirk her duty. The difficult question, however, is what that duty is in cases not clearly specified in a job description. Perhaps that situation is related to Mr. Bass’s observations.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of the Bureaucrats. Submit your blog article to the next edition using our carnival submission form. Submissions should conform to the Carnival’s regulations. Past editions of the Carnival of the Bureaucrats can be found on the Carnival’s category page.

stories largely missing in online video

While stories are staples of television programming, the most popular YouTube videos are predominately music videos from major record labels. Among the all-time most viewed YouTube channels, the leader is the Universal Music Group channel. That channel has about as many views as the total of the nine next highest viewed channels, all but one of which are also mainstream commercial music video channels. Among all-time most viewed YouTube single videos, there’s slightly more diversity in form and producers. The all-time most viewed YouTube video is the mockumentary Evolution of Dance. However, it has only about 1% more views than the next leading video, which is an RCA Records music video. Major record company music videos account for six of the top ten most viewed Youtube videos.

Online video isn’t succeeding in telling stories. The popular YouTube music videos typically communicate an emotion or feeling, not a story. Video appears on many sites besides Youtube; about 49% of videos viewed are on sites with less than 1% of total video views. However, the average duration of online video viewing across all sites is only 2.8 minutes per video.[1] That’s not long enough to develop much of a story.

Flickr has embraced video in a way that gives little room for video story-telling. Video on Flickr is limited to a maximum of 90 seconds. The idea of Flickr video is a “long photo”; video that’s “personal” and “simple — not overproduced or slick.” Telling a story with video is much more difficult than taking a photograph. Video story-telling typically requires multiple scenes, often multiple takes and multiple actors, and usually considerable editing. Flickr video clearly is not meant for video story-telling.

Across the U.S. population, online video viewing time currently amounts to only about 3% of television viewing time.[2] Online video viewing time is unlikely to come close to television viewing time unless online viewers start to watch many more story-oriented videos.


[1] Online videos viewed in the U.S. in March, 2008, based on comScore data. The average duration of the 20 all-time most popular YouTube videos, weighted by popularity, is 4.7 minutes. So YouTube videos don’t appear to be driving down the average duration of all online video viewing.

[2] The American Time Use Survey, which covers persons in the U.S. ages 15 and older, shows about 4600 minutes of television watched per person per month in 2006. comScore states that, in the U.S. in March, 2008, “average online video viewer watched 235 minutes of video.” The source gives 139 million online video viewers, who are 73.7% of the “total U.S. Internet audience”. Those figures imply a total U.S. Internet audience of 190 million. There are about 240 million persons in the U.S. ages 15 and older. Using this latter figure as the base implies 136 minutes of online video watched per person per month.


Explaining why Sarah is no
longer her best friend,
she turns to ask for a
light. He sucks a breath
of smoke,
“I’ll give your father
three camels if you’ll
be my wife.”
Her friends giggle.
“Are you crazy?
Gimme a light!”

A tomato turned
inside out is a strawberry
so ripe its seeds have
begun to swell. A banana
peel, picked up in the forest,
travels to a dump
covered over by four stories
of apartments. Put your head
down and you’ll hear –

the crackle of newly
watered black earth
in a garden pot.