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HR 3200 Considered As Software 296

Posted by kdawson
from the needs-configuration-management dept.
bfwebster writes "Independent of one's personal opinions regarding the desirability and forms of government-mandated health care reform, there exists the question of how well HR 3200 (or any other legislation) will actually achieve that end and what the unintended (or even intended) consequences may be. There are striking similarities between crafting software and creating legislation, including risks and pitfalls — except that those risks and pitfalls are greater in legislation. I've written an article (first of a three-part series) examining those parallels and how these apply to HR 3200."
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HR 3200 Considered As Software

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  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @12:19AM (#29346993)

    Something needs to be done as today's system is very much set to rip people off and make ceo's rich off people not getting what they are paying for.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by polar red (215081)

      special comment on health care from olbermann. remember this when you vote next.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbWw23XwO5o [youtube.com]

      • by h4rr4r (612664) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @01:40AM (#29347463)

        That is your sig and you are suggesting kieth olbermann?

        Does it hurt your head to have that much doublethink going on?

        • That [By the Corporations, for the Corporations.] is your sig and you are suggesting kieth olbermann?

          Olbermann & co--and O'Riley & co on the other side of the aisle--are hardly the face of corporate media. They are both big fish in the fairly small pond of cable news punditry, but both are overwhelmed by the audience figures of the "mainstream" news outlets -- NBC proper, ABC, CBS, and other broadcast networks. Heck, I think they're looked down on, in journalistic respect, by late-night comedians.

          This lets them both do just about exactly what the First Amendment is supposed to protect -- stand up

      • To be complete, he needs to take a look at the Democrats too. Senator Conrad [opensecrets.org] of North Dakota is as bought and paid for by the health industry as anyone Olbermann called out in that video.

    • by mwvdlee (775178) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @03:16AM (#29347993) Homepage

      I'm European (Dutch to be exact).

      Could an American please explain to me why the majority of USA seems to oppose public healthcare?

      I don't mean to say that public healthcare is a perfect system --there is no such thing as a perfect system-- but it sure as hell beats private healthcare on just about every point.

      Sometimes it seems the US hates "socialism" so much that they reverted to "asocialism".

      • by Hognoxious (631665) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:06AM (#29349985) Homepage Journal

        I think it's an unwillingness to admit that their system isn't the best. You know the mentality - Number one! Number one!

        Even free-market advocates think it's broken. [economist.com]

      • The answer is that the majority of Americans are ignorant of and uninterested in the details of health care delivery. That makes it easy for insurance companies to mount campaigns of lies to paralyze the majority with fear of any change from the current dysfunctional and excessively expensive system.

        I would guess that there are also many Europeans who are equally uninterested in the details of health care delivery, but since you already have a working system that is less of a problem.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dentin (2175)

        I can explain very succinctly why I, as an American, oppose public health care, wheras you may not. First, let me explain my position:

        1) The cost of health care is infinite.

        In other words, there are ailments and diseases which no amount of money can cure. We could consume every single dollar produced by the planet simply giving one small country the best health care possible, and people in that country would still die from uncurable diseases.

        The result of 1) is that health care must be rationed. This is

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Omestes (471991)

          2) Individuals are not the same, and some are worth substantially more than others.

          How do you measure the value of an individual? Quite frankly, I would measure value using money, since health care is paid for with money, and people with more money generally contribute more to the total health care funding than those without.

          Huh? Your confusing two concepts, monetiary worth, and human worth. Money has nothing to do with the former, and these terms are not connected or related in any way. I know a lot of

  • by something_wicked_thi (918168) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @12:24AM (#29347017)

    I was thinking just a few days ago that having a buganizer for congress would be an interesting idea. Not very politically likely because you'd never be able to mark a bug "Will not fix - Working as intended" when it was clear that the only reason for a law was because the politicians were bribed enough.

    • bug tracking is not a solved problem, half our problems in government today are from people proposing "solutions" which are not actually that.
      Public revision control would be nice, though.

  • You've never written software for airplanes, missile or missile defense, or nuclear plants, then! I'd wager that each of those have actual pitfalls rated in human death rather than merely some pissed off administrators because the money wasn't pushed around they way they want it to.

    • by cheekyboy (598084)

      arnt some safety systems 100% based on laws of physics just incase your computer have no power
      or are so radded out they dont work.

      I just found your first bug, DEPENDING on the damn computers is a NO NO NO!!!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I am working on a project along similar lines. Bringing software and version control practices to creating legislation. You can read a bit about it here.

    http://jeff.jones.be/technology/projects/open-source-country/

    and see a site in progress here http://opensourcecountry.org/

  • Better Title: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eln (21727) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @12:36AM (#29347097) Homepage
    HR3200 considered by a software designer with no concept of how legislation works, aka: how to get my rant about HR3200 posted on Slashdot by superficially comparing it to software.

    Okay, maybe that title is too long, but at least it's more accurate.

    The bulk of the article is concerned with how HR3200 is an unmanageable mess because it's really really long and makes reference to lots of other laws. Well, surprisingly enough, this is how just about every other piece of legislation ever looks. Laws are not written in, and do not exist in, a vacuum. There is a tremendous body of legislation that already exists. New legislation has to modify parts of that existing legislation, while keeping other parts, deleting still other parts, and ignoring completely other parts that aren't relevant to the new law. It's sort of like revision control in software, except instead of having a bunch of diff files in the background and having the new law be the final combined output, the new law is basically a diff file itself, which in turn modifies earlier diff files, which may themselves modify earlier diff files, and so on. The entire revision history is kept in the legislation itself, basically.

    HR3200 is very long and complex because it's seeking to overhaul a very large and very complex system with a vast number of laws already written about it. HR3200 has to modify a number of these existing laws in order to do what it aims to do. Frankly, I'd be worried if it came in at much LESS than 1000 pages, given the scope of what it is trying to do and the vast amount of legislation that's already been written regarding health care. The relevant government agencies have plenty of lawyers and other experts whose job it is to make sure the legislation is understood and implemented as written.

    Basically, this whole article is an excuse to drive page hits to this guy's blog, and to Slashdot, by trying to come up with some excuse to get huge argument started about health care on a technology site.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Donkey_Hotey (1433053)

      Basically, this whole article is an excuse to drive page hits to this guy's blog, and to Slashdot, by trying to come up with some excuse to get huge argument started about health care on a technology site.

      Yeah, like that's ever gonna work here...

    • Re:Better Title: (Score:4, Insightful)

      by AK Marc (707885) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @01:24AM (#29347371)
      The bulk of the article is concerned with how HR3200 is an unmanageable mess because it's really really long and makes reference to lots of other laws. Well, surprisingly enough, this is how just about every other piece of legislation ever looks. Laws are not written in, and do not exist in, a vacuum. There is a tremendous body of legislation that already exists. New legislation has to modify parts of that existing legislation, while keeping other parts, deleting still other parts, and ignoring completely other parts that aren't relevant to the new law. It's sort of like revision control in software, except instead of having a bunch of diff files in the background and having the new law be the final combined output, the new law is basically a diff file itself, which in turn modifies earlier diff files, which may themselves modify earlier diff files, and so on. The entire revision history is kept in the legislation itself, basically.

      And that itself is a problem. Ever try to actually read a piece of "important" legislation? I have. Once. I gave up. It, like this one, referenced not just numerous other laws, but different books of law, like US Code, IRS Code and such. And to understand the effect of the ones that change those, I had to read large sections of other laws. And you know what? Those sections referenced other sections, other laws, and multiple struck out laws which I then had to look up their replacement to see if that was still in effect. If you pick a particularly bad line of a bill, it could take reading 1000 pages of other laws to understand that one line of a 1000 page piece of legislation. For one, that can lead to unintended consequences. For another, I would expect that no legislator actually reads the bills from start to finish with complete understanding, but instead aides read parts and summarize. Not that it's a particular problem, but if ignorance of the law is no excuse, how can people held to the law be expected to know it if the people that pass it don't even understand it?

      HR3200 is very long and complex because it's seeking to overhaul a very large and very complex system with a vast number of laws already written about it. HR3200 has to modify a number of these existing laws in order to do what it aims to do. Frankly, I'd be worried if it came in at much LESS than 1000 pages, given the scope of what it is trying to do and the vast amount of legislation that's already been written regarding health care.

      Rather the build on previous laws, with great modifications, it makes for better readability and no reduced functionality to just repeal laws with large modifications and integrate them into the new law. Or, better yet, do it like software. Group three or four laws together. Have one on funding, one on coverage, or other separations that group functions into easier to read and understand segments that are self contained.
      • Ever try to actually read a piece of "important" legislation? I have. Once. I gave up.

        Imagine a lawyer saying "Ever try to actually read a piece of 'important' source code? I have. Once. I gave up."

        Should we be surprised that the design of a complex system, developed by professionals following their own best practices, is inaccessible to laymen? It's almost surprising that it's as accessible as it is. I think there are some ways they can make it more accessible, particularly in how they describe how an existing law is to be changed, but I would expect that a professional in the field would h

        • by AK Marc (707885)
          Imagine a lawyer saying "Ever try to actually read a piece of 'important' source code? I have. Once. I gave up."

          Except a lawyer isn't legally required to not only know the source code, but to follow it at all times. Ignorance of the source code is no excuse. The law must be accessible by all. That's by definition of how the law works. The lawyers are just there to help out with the procedures of filings and such, but the law itself is supposed to be understandable by all. Source code? Not so much.
          • But it shouldn't be a complex system. There should be no law longer than the Constitution.

            That's absurd. Any organization with more than a few hundred employees is complex enough to warrant its own written policies and procedures, which are usually just as unintelligible because precise, unmistakable language is often necessarily verbose and technical. The terms of a bank loan are longer than the Constitution and you're required to follow that at all times too.

            I would agree that the law should be as accessible as possible but it probably isn't. However, it's never going to be as simple as you wa

        • by ArsonSmith (13997)

          source code isn't ment to run on lawyers. Imagine a computer saying "Ever try to actually run a piece of 'important' source code? I have. Once. I gave up."

      • by corbettw (214229)
        The problem with using the UNIX approach to laws is that there's no presidential-veto threat hanging over small programs; there is over small laws. So if Congress passed one law stating that everyone in the country would get free health care, and another one saying the government was authorized to raise taxes 2% across the board to pay for it, the president could sign one and veto the other with potentially disastrous results. It's better to have everything spelled out in one bill that the House and Senate
        • So if Congress passed one law stating that everyone in the country would get free health care, and another one saying the government was authorized to raise taxes 2% across the board to pay for it, the president could sign one and veto the other with potentially disastrous results.

          It works for California. Oh, wait...

    • Re:Better Title: (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bfwebster (90513) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @01:40AM (#29347467) Homepage

      I've testified before Congress three times and have provided private technology briefings to US House and Senate staff members working on legislation, so I do have some experience with how legislation works [brucefwebster.com]. I've also worked with state legislators on technology-related legislation.

      Not all legislation is like HR 3200, but that doesn't obviate my arguments one way or the other. I fully agree that a lot of legislation is like HR 3200, which is why we have a lot of the mess we do. Had I written this post several years ago, I could have (and probably would have) applied the same analysis to the Patriot Act or the effort to create the Department of Homeland Security (both of which I had and have serious qualms about).

      Having done large scale systems evaluation and design for many years, I am a firm believer in Gall's Law: the only way to create a large, complex system that works is to evolve it from a small, simple system that works. The majority of large-scale system re-engineering efforts fail, are crippled, or underperform because they try to skip that step. In my observation, much the same happens with large-scale legislation.

      Finally, I don'twant an argument on health care reform or HR 3200 at my website. What I'd like is thoughtful feedback on the general concept (legislation as systems architecture) from people who actually know what they're talking about. ..bruce..

      P.S. A good book to read would be The Art of Systems Architecting (2nd ed) by Maier and Rechtin. They treat systems architecting as spanning many disciplines, including social systems (Chapter 5).

      • Re:Better Title: (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Planesdragon (210349) <slashdot&castlesteelstone,us> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @01:56AM (#29347541) Homepage Journal

        Finally, I don'twant an argument on health care reform or HR 3200 at my website

        Then you shouldn't have talked about it. Pick an older law, or show multiple examples.

        Bringing up Health Care law when we're arguing about it is like bringing up the Civil Rights Act the middle of the civil rights movement. By mentioning it at all, you open the arena for discussion of it.

        Oh, and for the record -- law isn't software, it's game design. The closest you'll ever get is networking and interoperability standards. But even those are bad, due to the essentially soft nature of law.

        • by dr2chase (653338)
          Ditto that. Laws are long, written in English, and sometimes written in this incremental-edit style. I've seen it done with by-laws in town meeting, so this is not that surprising.

          I think that this actually tends to inhibit change -- the gripe about "not understanding" is somewhat misplaced, because anything that scores too high on not-understanding is less popular when it comes time to vote. "Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM/Microsoft/whatever" is essentially a statement that the status quo is
          • by ArsonSmith (13997)

            You seem to confuse being against HR3200 with being against health care reform.

            Please check your comment before posting.

            • by dr2chase (653338)
              It is possible to oppose the bill but not oppose reform, but what we've got so far, is the bill. The pattern thus far from reform opponents (who are in the political minority, at least at the moment, and must work carefully) is this sort of dodgy nitpicking -- concern trolling on a grand scale. Thus, opposition to reform is indistinguishable from opposition to the bill. And it's possible that the author meant nothing of the sort and had some other message in mind, but if he intends to communicate that me
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Stormie (708)

      Basically, this whole article is an excuse to drive page hits to this guy's blog

      Luckily most of us don't actually click through to the article, then.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by julesh (229690)

      HR3200 considered by a software designer with no concept of how legislation works, aka: how to get my rant about HR3200 posted on Slashdot by superficially comparing it to software.

      Okay, maybe that title is too long, but at least it's more accurate.

      Agreed. Taking the authors points one by one, yes, I agree it's somewhat long. But it is a major piece of legislation designed to have profound effects. It needs to be long to ensure those effects are adequately managed.

      "Much of HR 3200 makes piecemeal modifi

    • if there is any comparison to projects I have been around, HR3200 is done by those fools who scope out a project by figuring out what they can do before they figure out what they need to do.

      Politics not aside, isn't amazing how big bills are when money is no object? How many future generations are we going to saddle with the greed of our current politicians?

  • A troll? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IWannaBeAnAC (653701) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @12:41AM (#29347137)

    Is this article a troll? Yes, I can see the utility in comparing legislation with software, although I was hoping for something a bit more than superficial analogies. But if the comparison is any use at all, then it will apply to legislation as a whole, so why choose one particular piece of current and controversial legislation to discuss? Surely the fact that it is both current and controversial is only a distraction from the main thesis, of comparing legislation with software? I suspect that the author has an agenda, of trashing the legislation. He also makes a rather fundamental misunderstanding, in his haste to criticize HR 3200. The 'spaghetti coding' is because he isn't looking at the source program itself, what he is looking at is a diff, between the existing regulation and the proposed amended regulation. That is a rather critical difference that invalidates 90% of his analysis.

    • Re:A troll? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by bkpark (1253468) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @01:04AM (#29347273) Homepage

      I suspect that the author has an agenda, of trashing the legislation. He also makes a rather fundamental misunderstanding, in his haste to criticize HR 3200. The 'spaghetti coding' is because he isn't looking at the source program itself, what he is looking at is a diff, between the existing regulation and the proposed amended regulation. That is a rather critical difference that invalidates 90% of his analysis.

      Imagine a revision control system where all you could look at were diffs, and never a source code with the diffs applied to them. Would you use such a revision control system? Would you use such a revision control system to write a complex piece of software?

      And yet, that is the how the legislative process works.

      I believe you have an agenda, that of supporting this controversial legislation, which prevents you from seeing the downfall of these unsavory practices. Imagine you have a diff of some program 1100 pages long. Would you be so hasty to apply to the existing source code and put it out to production in less than 7 months (or less!) as the legislators in D.C. tried to do?

      Unless you could point out an authoritative system where you can see the existing "legal program" with all the diffs applied to the existing regulation and laws, then the author's critique of the legislation of "spaghetti coding" is valid. After all, what is considered to be "source code" is the form of the program in which the program writers prefer to work in—if the legislators prefer to work with diffs as a primary means of modifying and changing the "legal program", then the diffs are the source code. Think of the existing regulation and laws not as the original source code to which a diff is applied ... but as the system libraries and such which get to be used by the new "legal program".

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by IWannaBeAnAC (653701)
        I have no agenda in HR 3200. I'm not even American, I don't care at all what your healthcare system is. I do find the level of political debate in the US to be rather low, and I find the paranoia about universal healthcare (that works quite well in every other industrialized nation) to be bizarre, but that is for the USA to sort out, not me.

        I have no idea whether the US regulations are available online, but the regulations themselves surely are published in some form. Typically, every year the revised

        • I have no idea whether the US regulations are available online...

          1: go to http://www.usa.gov/ [usa.gov]
          2: type in "US Code"
          3: Hey, look, the HOUSE has the US Code online! http://uscode.house.gov/ [house.gov]

          Most states have a similar index. And THESE are what are the actual laws, not the bills passed to amend them.

      • by julesh (229690)

        Imagine a revision control system where all you could look at were diffs, and never a source code with the diffs applied to them. Would you use such a revision control system? Would you use such a revision control system to write a complex piece of software?

        And yet, that is the how the legislative process works.

        No, it isn't. [cornell.edu]

      • Imagine a revision control system where all you could look at were diffs, and never a source code with the diffs applied to them. Would you use such a revision control system? Would you use such a revision control system to write a complex piece of software?

        Can we agree that it is a problem that needs to be addressed without specifically blaming HR 3200 for it? A health care bill isn't the place to reform the way Congress works anyway.

    • by bfwebster (90513)

      The "spaghetti" coding I'm talking about is very specifically sections within the bill that refer to other sections within the bill, both ahead and behind. So, for example, Section 223 ("Payment Rates for Items and Services") makes three references to Section 224. Section 225 ("Provider Participation") makes two references back to Section 223. And so on. Spend more than a few minutes with the bill, and you'll see what I mean.

      That's quite different from the modifications to various existing laws and regulati

      • by julesh (229690)

        The "spaghetti" coding I'm talking about is very specifically sections within the bill that refer to other sections within the bill, both ahead and behind. So, for example, Section 223 ("Payment Rates for Items and Services") makes three references to Section 224. Section 225 ("Provider Participation") makes two references back to Section 223. And so on. Spend more than a few minutes with the bill, and you'll see what I mean.

        This is absolutely standard practice in legislation, though, so I'm not sure what y

  • by AaronBS (685204) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @12:41AM (#29347141)
    The blogger's complaints seem to boil down to:

    1) The legislation is in English
    2) The legislation is long
    3) The legislation amends current law

    Seems to me that *any* important legislation has these "flaws," including laws that have had very positive consequences (i.e., McCain-Feingold). Thankfully, other websites actually parse and interpret the legislation [factcheck.org] rather than whine about its length.
  • Do you have the technology to rebuild it? Excuse the flippancy, but the article, in terms of the 1st part, was interesting and clear but insufficient in so far as it didn't allow me to draw any conclusions based upon your conjectured parallels. Having said that I think what you're attempting is vital and necessary. We're creatures of context and, as such, we're likely to take inferences from our more tested and experienced contexts and apply them out of context, or, more widely in other contexts. Abstractin
  • Chain of command (Score:3, Insightful)

    by joaquin gray (596589) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @12:45AM (#29347161) Homepage
    Isn't H.R. 3200 sort of like DirectX 4 [wikipedia.org]?
  • by sycodon (149926) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @12:48AM (#29347177)

    It would be interesting if there was a structured legislation language.

    Consider:

    All terms and covered individuals and entities defined up front.

    Specific sections that spell out standard considerations

    Some kind of enforcement mechanism that wouldn't allow for confusion.

    Example sections

    TItle:
    Purpose:
    Definitions: A list of all terms and their definitions.
    Requirements: Something that must be done
    Prohibitions: Something that can't be done
    Funding: How it will be paid for.
    Penalties: If any, punishments for violating provisions of the law.

    I could see a complete class library, defining the government, that would be used to build the text of the legislation

    See what great ideas you can come up with when you are four bottles into your third six-pack?

    • All terms and covered individuals and entities defined up front.
      Specific sections that spell out standard considerations
      Some kind of enforcement mechanism that wouldn't allow for confusion.

      Excuse me, but that sounds like COBOL.

    • The entire law profession relies on the ambiguities, as do politicians.
      Keep in mind who writes the laws and it's clear why the idea falls apart.

      • The entire law profession relies on the ambiguities...

        Sorry, wrong. A huge proportion of the law profession traffics in certainty. As in, "hire your lawyer so you get a guaranteed answer as to what the contract to buy your first house means"

        Two fun facts about ambiguity in law (at least in NYS):

        1: Ambiguities in contracts are interpreted against the party that drafted the contract. If it a reasonable layperson can read your "buy my home" contract and get two answers as to which home you're talking about, the guy you're selling to gets to pick.

        2: Ambiguity d

    • by inKubus (199753)

      I brought this up before a while ago. Even more interesting would be version control like SVN on the U.S. Code so you could see who changed what (and when). If you ever go to Thomas or the congressional record changes are always like "Striking paragraph A, section 12 and replacing with 'except Blackwater Security Services, Ltd.'" and you have to go off on this long search through the code, cutting and pasting and manually editing it yourself to figure out what they changed. Computers were meant to do tas

      • Computers were meant to do tasks like this. It's just the legal cabal, much like medical cabal, doesn't want computers holding their specialized knowledge because they know their jobs are no more sacred than any one elses any more.

        1: Computers DO tasks like this. Every law office or law school worth a dollar has a subscription to a massive database of laws, regulations, bills, and court records. This is data that Google really can't do a good job on -- I mean, hell, they aren't even getting simple things like publication dates right, and you NEED to know things like that when you're dealing in law. (Is this contract I signed back in 1997 valid? Well, what were the laws in 1997?)

        2: The "medical cabal" doesn't hoard specialized kno

    • Good luck putting all those lawyers out of business.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kirijini (214824)

      Take a look at the Copyright Act of 1976 [copyright.gov]. You'll be astonished to discover that:
      -it starts with definitions
      -then it describes the scope and subject matter of copyright
      -next, limitations on that scope/subject matter
      -various features of ownership of copyright (trsanfer, duration, notice, etc.)
      -infringement and penalties
      -administration
      -specific provisions for specific situations

      In other words, it proceeds in the orderly way you think legislation ought to. The same is true for many pieces of legislation, alth

      • by srussia (884021)

        Take a look at the Copyright Act of 1976 [copyright.gov]. You'll be astonished to discover that: -it starts with definitions

        It defines quite a number of terms ("derivative work", "anonymous work"), but strangely enough there is no definition for "work" which is the very thing that copyright applies to!

  • Not Again (Score:4, Funny)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @12:54AM (#29347207)
    I, for one, do not need to see the current health care legislation cast in yet another new light. What's next?

    Your health care bill rewritten as FORTRAN with no compile errors?

    1300 pages of health care reform written in haiku (it might be more understandable this way)?

    The health care reform bill run through deCSS?

    Will it never end?
  • The fact that Astroturf showed up as one of the recommended tags for this story made me feel a lot better about Slashdot.

    Maybe Toms Hardware can do a 12 page article on how to DIY your own HR 3200-approved RAID array for under $14 billion :-)

    • Maybe Toms Hardware can do a 12 page article on how to DIY your own HR 3200-approved RAID array for under $14 billion :-)

      If they do then I'm skipping directly to: 12 - Power Consumption and Conclusions

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Psyborgue (699890)
      Anybody who tagged it that probably didn't RTFA. It's hard to see whether he's taking an opinion in any given political direction. He's just "debugging".
  • that legislation, *any* legislation, is more like writing patches than rewriting laws, and, subsequently, trying to understand a piece of software by reading a patch is a very silly idea. What would be useful, is to see the patched law, and read it in proper context.
    • by blueg3 (192743)

      Sure, except that reading legislation makes figuring out what a change to a critical function in the Windows kernel *really* does look like child's play.

  • The worst excesses (Score:4, Informative)

    by steveha (103154) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @01:18AM (#29347341) Homepage

    From the article:

    Finally, HR 3200 embodies what is commonly known in software engineering as a "big bang" approach to systems development. In other words, HR 3200 attempts a massive and ill-understood (and/or ill-specified) modification to the nation's health care system (roughly 1/6th of the economy) in one fell swoop. As such, it really represents the worst excesses of the waterfall development lifecycle, with deployment being hard or impossible to reverse.

    Heh. HR 3200 "represents the worst excesses of the waterfall development lifecycle"? I love it.

    It's a valid point, though. I am deeply suspicious of "big bang" plans in either software development or legislation.

    So, how do we apply "agile" software development practices to legislation? All I can think of is: develop a new system in the small (pick one or a few states to try it) and establish a time box, and evaluate whether the legislation accomplishes its goals, then decide whether to spread it to more states, scrap it and start over, or what. That seems like a great idea to me.

    President Obama has promised that, if passed, this will simultaneously expand health care coverage to everyone; improve the care everyone gets; and lower costs for everyone. Once a few states have adopted this and all those promises prove out to be true, then everyone will see how well it works and there won't be a bitter political battle to adopt it.

    Unless of course it turns out that the promises are not in fact kept, and it doesn't work as planned. Then we will have been spared from putting 1/6 of our economy through a disaster.

    Agile law development for the win.

    steveha

    • Then we will have been spared from putting 1/6 of our economy through a disaster.

      Healthcare should not be 1/6th of our economy without being, as a pundit put it recently, "worlds ahead of anyone else's."

      I will not weep if the health insurance companies go out of business. Too much of them are simply sucking out dollars without any benefit to anyone beyond themselves and their shareholders. For crying out loud, that puts them beneath WAL-MART on the value-to-America scale.

    • by julesh (229690)

      So, how do we apply "agile" software development practices to legislation? All I can think of is: develop a new system in the small (pick one or a few states to try it) and establish a time box, and evaluate whether the legislation accomplishes its goals, then decide whether to spread it to more states, scrap it and start over, or what. That seems like a great idea to me.

      Here in the UK we frequently do this kind of thing with changes to social security benefits and similar ideas. The only problem is that i

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @01:23AM (#29347365)
    He neglects to mention that neither the President of Congress have Constitutional authorization to legislate health care for private individuals, or to form National health care organizations.

    To compare with software, that would be rather like the software engineers deciding what features are going to go into the software (and getting paid for it), against the explicit instructions of the customer.
    • "President or Congress..."
    • by blueg3 (192743)

      It's not considered promotion of the general welfare?

      • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @01:57AM (#29347545)
        No... it has been long established that "promotion of the general welfare" is subservient to the other restrictions that are explicitly laid out in the Constitution. In other words, the Federal Government can promote the general welfare all it wants... as long as it does so only in the ways otherwise authorized by the Constitution. That phrase was (according to the debates at the time, mentions in the Federalist Papers, etc.) never intended to authorize anything that was not allowed by the rest of the document.

        Further, the "necessary and proper" clause was intended in a similar way and must meet two criteria: (1) it does not allow operating outside the explicit restrictions, and (2) anything justified under the "necessary and proper" clause must be LESSER than anything allowed by the explicit restrictions. For example: it might be "necessary and proper" to build a structure adequate to house the House and Senate, so that they may do their jobs. It would not, however, be allowable to spend even more money building roads directly from the houses of each Senator and Representative to those buildings. The "necessary and proper" clause is one that has been grossly abused, by being used far outside any meaning it ever really had.
        • by dachshund (300733)

          That phrase was (according to the debates at the time, mentions in the Federalist Papers, etc.) never intended to authorize anything that was not allowed by the rest of the document.

          Shoot, you slipped and used the wrong word: "debates". In other words, there were debates about whether the Constitution had the meaning you think it does, with some of the Founders coming down on your side, and others vehemently disagreeing. The fact that there were such debates (rather than agreement among the principles) i

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            The Constitution was intended to limit the power of the federal government. By any reading of the Constitution that allows the federal government to control the funding for healthcare in the entire U.S., there are no limits on the power of the federal government. Of course there are many other things that the federal government has done that are, also, outside of any reading of the Constitution that limits the power of the federal government.
    • He neglects to mention that neither the President of Congress have Constitutional authorization to legislate health care for private individuals, or to form National health care organizations.

      *ahem*

      US Constitution. Article 1. Section 8:

      The Congress shall have Power To ... provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; ...
      To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes; ...
      To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

      Under no variation of our language would forming a nationwide health care organization be neither "general Welfare" nor "Commerce among the several states." And the precise limits of what businesses can be regulated by Congress are fairly well defined by this point -- if your business is covered by the federal minimum wage, it can be smacked with a requirement to provide health care as well.

      And that's not even touching on the set-militia-standards or spend-mone

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Fnord666 (889225)

        (Fun fact: did you know that, unless you happen to be disabled, eldery, a child, or a woman, YOU are part of the US militia?)

        Being a part of a well regulated militia, I guess I should probably keep and bear arms in case I'm ever needed. Did they happen to mention anything about that?

      • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @03:46AM (#29348183)
        Sorry, but you are wrong. It is firmly established -- and has been for a long time -- that the "general welfare" phrase is SUBJECT TO the rest of the document.

        Just as you might write: "We want to promote good nutrition, by going to the grocery store and doing the following:"

        It is that following part that defines how the general welfare may be promoted.

        This is further supported by the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions. Go ahead and look them up. They established, without any doubt, that the Federal Government has no power to do ANYTHING that is not specifically listed as one of its defined powers, despite any language about "general welfare" or "necessary and proper".

        Even before that, it was thoroughly explained in the Federalist Papers (#41 is a good example) that the Federal Government did not have power to perform acts that are outside the specifically listed powers.

        You can go off about "no variation of our language" and so on, but you are taking those phrases very definitely out of context. And in their original context and meaning, they DO NOT authorize the Federal Government to do things that are outside their specifically listed Constitutional powers.

        You could argue with me for hours if you wanted, and I could just continue to supply you with historical documents and court decisions that show you to be wrong. But I probably wouldn't, because you would be wasting my time and everyone else's. You can look this stuff up yourself, guy. Get a little real education about it, rather than making assumptions about what somebody was saying 200+ years ago. The actual meanings of their words are a matter of record, and prove you wrong.

        The minimum wage is set for certain companies via the "commerce clause" justification, which is not just arguably false but some states have already passed resolutions stating that they will not longer enforce it at the Federal Government's whim. Take a look at state marijuana laws as well... the Federal Government has tried to regulate marijuana and other drugs under the "commerce clause" umbrella, but certain states have balked and said "no more". And the Fed can't do anything about it, because the states are right.

        So, I understand the basis of your arguments. But they are incorrect. And state after state, in just the last year, have been proving that in various ways.

        Seriously. Read about the 9th and 10th Amendments. Look around you and see the laws that states are passing. Not only is your view incorrect, it is outdated, and states are taking back their rights. (By the way, several states already have proposed state laws to reject a National health care plan on the very bases I have already mentioned: the Feds don't have the Constitutional authority to do so. Go ahead... tell THEM they are wrong. They will laugh at you.)
      • by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris@nOSPAM.beau.org> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:45AM (#29348523)

        > Under no variation of our language would forming a nationwide health care
        > organization be neither "general Welfare" nor "Commerce among the several states."

        Another user already took your argument apart pretty good, but there is a much simpler argument that I'd bet money neither you or any other poster will even attempt to rebut.

        Consider the time of the founding of our Republic and the writing of the new Constitution. They were careful to enumerate each and every power they wanted the Federal government to possess. After presenting their work to the nation they were assailed for giving the Federal government too much power, many detractors even using the same commerce and general welfare clauses cited in modern times. The authors (especially Publius's three incarnations) went into great detail explaining how they had done no such thing, that they had defined a carefully limited role for the new government and that no other powers assumed by it would be legitimate and after all, no law could prevent a tyranny from usurping power. Their arguments were found wanting and a Bill of Rights was added to make explicit what the authors believed was the inherent limits on the growth of the Federal government, especially Amendments 9 and 10.

        So Question #1. Do you (you as either you or any other progressive brave enough to enter the fray) find a flaw with the brief history I just outlined?

        Assuming the answer to #1 is no, we are lead to Question #2. What the heck was the reasoning behind all the fuss with carefully debating (for months) and codifying a detailed enumerated list of powers and then adding two amendments to make doubly certain the intent of the founders to limit the powers of the nation government? The current progressive 'interpretation' of the general welfare and commerce clauses are broad enough to be blank checks, so if that was really the intent why bother with anything else? The whole damned thing could have been shortened a lot if they just left the bits about the organization of the three branches and then just gave Congress unlimited power to secure the general welfare any way they saw fit. So explain why neither common sense nor English literacy are the right way to read the constitution.

        To bring this more on topic, your argument would be roughly equal to this. A detailed spec is created for a custom software job, it begins by explaining the intended business goal the new system must meet and then it soecifies in broad outlines the requirements and a few details, say a requirement for POSIX and some realtime response requirements. Then after the consultants have agreed and signed the contracts, etc. they eventually deliver some .NET horror that meets none of the requirements but the consultants argue they should be paid because it should sorta deliver the intended goals specified... too bad it runs too slow to actually be put into service and the inability to interface it to your other systems (.NET), you should have declared those interactions. But of course the POSIX requirement was expected to make interoperability assumed. Point being you can't just read the descriptive text and ignore the pesky implementation details.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lehk228 (705449)
      what restriction prevents it? you already asserted (without backing up) that the general welfare and interstate commerce clauses do not allow it (and yet medicaid and medicare have been around for years, and growing a plant on my balcony constitutes interstate commerce)

      i think you meant to type "in my private fantasy world neither the President of Congress have Constitutional authorization to legislate health care for private individuals."
  • by PotatoFiend (1330299) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @01:38AM (#29347449)
    I just the other day got, a Congress was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Congress commercially. [...] They want to deliver vast amounts of campaign contributions over the Congress. And again, the Congress is not something you just deposit something in. It's not a big bank. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your money in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of cash, enormous amounts of cash. -- Former Senator Ted Stevens, (R) Alaska
  • by wellingj (1030460) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @02:40AM (#29347749)
    ...Maybe United States Law should be made a wiki? Maybe that would foster enough understanding by individuals to actually push for reforms that people want, instead of pushing for reforms that no-body can understand due to the limitations of the presentation media.

    Disclaimer: If I were this system engineer, I'd scrap it all and start by looking at the original requirements, not all the feature creep requests.
    • by magarity (164372)

      Maybe United States Law should be made a wiki?

      I had to read this a couple of times before I came to the conclusion you must be joking - an excellent design for the absolute and immediate tyranny of the majority.

      Maybe that would foster enough understanding by individuals

      Hah hah hah hah! This was a good one too; Have you ever seen Jay Leno doing a bit called 'Jaywalking' where he asks the average citizen basic civics questions? Or better yet, have you ever read some website

  • I think the constitution was written in assembler...Hard to decode but pretty damned effiecient.

    The bill of rights was written in Basic....

    HR3200 definitely looks like something written in .NET by a team of 5,000 Indian folks making 50cents an hour.

  • by meburke (736645) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @03:12AM (#29347971)

    I'm going to have to dismiss the entire analogy as false due to stretching the premises. Software, in its fundamental sense, is a specific set of instructions designed to make a machine respond precisely, purportedly to accomplish some specified machine-driven task. There is no corresponding requirement for legislation to control the behavior of human action. In fact, according to Blackstone's "Commentaries", law is supposed to define what persons may NOT do. I can see where confusing the two viewpoints might lead us into the quagmire.

    The simple laws of mechanics that control our machinery today are subject to very precise, although inexact, mathematical definitions. Theoretically it is possible to prove the precision and error of our computational instructions (although it is not practical to do so in all cases at this time). No human language to date can capture the causes and effects, conditions and nuances with mathematical precision. This shortcoming of human language has been an obstacle in Western philosophical thought since the early Greeks. Therefore, legislation must be drafted in precise terms relating to generalities, but interpreting the law must be done by judging the specific case to see if it fits the criteria described as prohibited behavior.

    So we have two very important distinctions: First, to direct computational behavior we must only describe the desired behavior in precise terms. To direct human behavior, we must describe the desired behavior by precisely describing ALL the undesirable behavior, and this is probably impossible. (I'm not going to get into the morality of master-managing each individual's life, nor the tendency of people to resent being forced to behave in ways they don't want to.)

    Second, we lack the precision to even clearly define simple boundaries of behavior, especially when nuanced by myriad values and beliefs. This means that the method of reconciliation for conflicting logic cannot be the same as that for precisely-defined goals such as software requires.

    In defense of the article, it seems that both legislation and software respond to logical analysis. It seems that clearly-defined legislation is also clearly-defined propositional logic.

    OT: Some Science Fiction writer will probably have a field day describing a serious future where the computationality of Truth, Justice and Equality conflict with real life. In Houston, if you run a red light you've broken the law. A computer and camera can prove you ran the red light. However, thousands of tickets per year are being dismissed due to matters of extenuation, mitigation and mercy. So where does the "objective, computerized judicial process" fit in?

    "Elected officials should be limited to two terms; one in office and one in jail."

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kjella (173770)

      I'm going to have to dismiss the entire analogy as false due to stretching the premises. Software, in its fundamental sense, is a specific set of instructions designed to make a machine respond precisely, purportedly to accomplish some specified machine-driven task. There is no corresponding requirement for legislation to control the behavior of human action. In fact, according to Blackstone's "Commentaries", law is supposed to define what persons may NOT do. I can see where confusing the two viewpoints might lead us into the quagmire.

      That is certainly a major oversimplification. Laws that prohibit murder might fall into that category, but anything delegating authority for example is not. Anything that establishes any kind of procedure like say rules of evidence contains both dos and don'ts, not just don'ts. Things like building codes are also to a large degree both dos and don'ts. Same goes for licenses to operate, whether as a doctor or ham radio amateur often describe requirements. Pretty much everything related to taxes is about what

  • Remember...

    The vast majority of legislatures are lawyers. The vast majority of legislatures are beholden to the; Lobbyists, Insurance Companies, Pharmaceutical Companies, and other lawyers that made the system the disaster it is today. Therefore, there is a powerful impetus to keep it the same, in effect, allowing the Insurance Companies to continue bleeding the middle class, and making medicine one the most profitable sectors of our economy (at the expense of actually providing said middle class with anyt

  • Your Rant Online (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ysth (1368415)
    What part of "News affecting your ability to live as a free, responsible person online belongs in the Your Rights Online (YRO) section. Spam, invasions of privacy, onerous licenses -- they all go here." is hard to understand?
  • As I see it, the point of this exercise isn't to critique the healthcare bill per se, it is to take some of the hard lessons learned from doing systems development and apply them to the legislative process.

    Anybody who has ever tried to implement a big, complex system knows just how unbelievably hard it is to create working code that does what it supposed to do. It is ridiculously difficult it is to even get people to AGREE what a system is supposed to do in the first place, let alone code it.

    From a systems

  • Regardless of my own ideology, I have to recognize that any regulatory change is good for software developers, and thus, is good for me. From a "let's get money" perspective, as a developer, any sort of reform or regulation that changes the nature of the market is good. This election I watched Obama speak at victory, thinking, "well, the socialists are going to do everything, but, maybe I'll pay some bills or buy that GTO after all."

    From the insurance perspective, single payer is a disaster, the status qu

  • I suppose if we're going with the coding analogy, we have to fit lobbying into it somewhere. How confident are you that the development project will come in on time and work as promised when 90% of the coders have taken money or gifts from competitors and foreign governments and companies with a vested financial interest in making sure your code doesn't save your clients any money? They habitually take such money from third parties and use it to convince the boss to renew their contract every year.

    Frankly,

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