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HR 3200 Considered As Software

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the needs-configuration-management dept.

Government 296

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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Something needs to be done as today's system is ve (2, Interesting)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:Something needs to be done as today's system is (2, Insightful)

polar red (215081) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347039)

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

Re:Something needs to be done as today's system is (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347211)

Olbermann? Seriously?

You might as well quote someone from the psych ward...one of the inmates.

Re:Something needs to be done as today's system is (3, Informative)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347463)

That is your sig and you are suggesting kieth olbermann?

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

Re:Something needs to be done as today's system is (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347507)

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 and scream bloody murder when they see something they feel is done wrong.

Oh, and so long as the subject isn't MSNBC, NBC, or GE, Olbernman's a perfectly good source beyond any sensible reproach. I mean, unless you think CNN's doing it right, with their "let's cover two sides with no comment when one starts lying" theory.

Re:Something needs to be done as today's system is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347473)

I suspect that if you are worried that the government has become riddled with special interests then it would be rather unwise to advocate a bill that expressly encourages a shift to publically funded care through taxation among other factors. Simply because if the corporations have as much influence on our government as your sig implies [agreed btw], it would effectively mean putting a very large section of the US' healthcare in their hands sans any existing dwindling market forces. If corporations have the chance to do so, they will modify the healthcare system to favor themselves through government action.

Re:Something needs to be done as today's system is (4, Insightful)

jadavis (473492) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347559)

[Corporations] will modify the healthcare system to favor themselves through government action.

Agree 100%. The more government is involved in economic decisions, the more corporations will try to insert themselves into the government to influence those economic decisions.

Re:Something needs to be done as today's system is (1)

polar red (215081) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347587)

sans any existing dwindling market forces

the legislation currently on the tables doesn't rule out free-market alternatives. It gives 1 more choice to you. I would suggest 2 extra additions to that law : 1/insurers shouldn't be able to be throw you off insurance. 2/the only things influencing the monthly fee for insurers should be things like tabacco- and alcohol-usage.

Re:Something needs to be done as today's system is (4, Interesting)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347993)

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".

We need buganizer for congress (2, Insightful)

something_wicked_thi (918168) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:We need buganizer for congress (1)

Lord Bitman (95493) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347947)

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.

Hah! Pitfalls! (1)

dieman (4814) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347055)

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.

Not a good analogy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347067)

TFA itself (OK, part I) seems to be mostly about why the analogy of major legislation-as-software doesn't really work.

Then why do the analysis from this perspective in the first place? It just gets in the way.

I am creating a site for this soft of thing (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347075)

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/

Re:I am creating a site for this soft of thing (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347373)

Patent that sucker and sell it to law firms. I think there is money there.

Re:I am creating a site for this soft of thing (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347385)

And lobbyists. No, that's a bad idea. Ok, it'd be better as public service by the gov't.

Better Title: (5, Insightful)

eln (21727) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347097)

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:Better Title: (2, Funny)

Donkey_Hotey (1433053) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347145)

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: (3, Insightful)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Debug law (1)

Exception Duck (1524809) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347425)

I don't care so much about the hr3200, but the idea put forward is brilliant.

Just to be able to debug/compile the law, run test cases - get all the faults out, and then release it.
And then if somebody finds ways to abuse it, you can pass "bugfixes".

And if you have some questions about the law, you can hire a someone to do a unit test for you and see if it passes.

Re:Debug law (1)

rtb61 (674572) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348217)

The reality is that all that does happen, test cases, when legislation is put to the test in a court of law, which generally happens when there is a dispute between the intent and the letter of the legislation. The typical axiom for business contracts, they are only as good as they have been tested in court, applies to legislation.

Unlike software, one press of a button and digital disaster can unfold, legislation is far slower in it ramifications. The most fiscally dangerous ones are where major investments are required to establish the infrastructure to support legislated business methods and practices and changes in legislation require major changes in the supporting infrastructure or it's abandonment.

In the case of the basic application of universal healthcare, it represents the controls that monitor claims made be health practitioners for the valid services that they have provided for patients and the subsequent auditing of the provided services. In the simple form the infrastructure is not to bad, heh heh, as it turns out, rewriting some software code, to process and supply data in the appropriate method.

Most of the rest of the legislation can be fairly safely reviewed over the years, even decades and adjusted as required in following sessions of the legislature, problems can take years to develop but can be fixed in a week, faster than the issue can be brought into court and resolved via that method, although back dating legislation is naughty and really shouldn't be done.

So while it is interesting to look at legislation from a coding perspective complete with error detection, it has to be kept in mind that program execution in the case of legislation is much, much slower, clock cycles are legislative sessions, years or even election cycles.

Re:Debug law (2, Interesting)

Exception Duck (1524809) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348563)

I was thinking some sort of actual code the legislation would be put into, so you could try to speed up this process.

something like

if(!patient.insured && patient.dying)
  doctor.fix(patient)

if(driver.drunk>4)
  police.arrest(driver)

if(bank.ceo.bonus>bank.profit)
  goverment.tax(ceo,90)

and of course much more complex as cases call for.

Re:Debug law (1)

Exception Duck (1524809) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348587)

And of course I would recommend http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brainfuck [wikipedia.org]

for the government to use.

Slashdot won't allow me to post hello world in brankfuck here.

Filter error: Please use fewer 'junk' characters.

Re:Better Title: (1)

Fred Ferrigno (122319) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348307)

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 have some explanation for why they think it's necessary.

Re:Better Title: (1)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348537)

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.

Should we be surprised that the design of a complex system, developed by professionals following their own best practices, is inaccessible to laymen?

But it shouldn't be a complex system. There should be no law longer than the Constitution. You are responsible for following all laws out there, but if you were to try to read them, you'd die of old age before you could read the sum of all laws you are being held to. Source code is a commodity, not a legal requirement.

Re:Better Title: (4, Interesting)

bfwebster (90513) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347467)

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: (3, Insightful)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347541)

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.

Re:Better Title: (2, Funny)

Stormie (708) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347619)

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:Better Title: (2, Insightful)

julesh (229690) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348025)

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 modifications to existing legislation, often with little explanation as to intent and consequences."

Well, yes. I question whether the author of this statement has ever read any legislation before, because almost all of it is like this. This is why amended statutes are a useful resource.

"HR 3200 also suffers in places from what a software engineer would call "spaghetti coding". In other words, a given section within HR 3200 [...] will reference several other sections elsewhere in HR 3200, both above and below."

Again, this is practically standard practice, and lawyers and judges are used to dealing with it. It isn't an issue.

"Furthermore, it often requires careful reading going back pages to see whether a reference to a given section is to a section within HR 3200 itself or a section in existing legislation (such as the Internal Revenue Service code)."

Here's the thing: HR3200 is not designed to be read by itself; if enacted, it will be used to make amendments to several other texts, thus producing amended copies of those. When reading the amended texts, it will usually be obvious which act is being referred to.

"HR 3200 also comes across as similar to a "kitchen sink" application, that is, a single piece of legislation that attempts to do far too much. I will finish Part I with the table of contents for HR 3200 to give you a sense of all that it is attempting to do. Note that these divisions, titles, and subtitles could have been broken up into individual legislation."

Not really. A piece of legislation is a compromise. It normally gets accepted because it contains some things that each of several camps wants to have included. Chances are that if you take any of those sections out and try to pass it individually, it won't go through because support for it won't be broad enough. Only taken together is there a chance of it passing into law.

Right-Wing Activist (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347109)

After looking at his blog [and-still-i-persist.com] , forgive me if I do not believe that this "analysis" is about anything but conclusions he's already reached (ie, Obama is a Commie Nazi).

Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347127)

...At least it isn't a Car analogy.

HP 3200 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347129)

Wow I saw HP 3200 and was like how could a scanner fix health care

A troll? (5, Insightful)

IWannaBeAnAC (653701) | more than 5 years ago | (#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? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347269)

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.

Amen to that. this is conservative trolling at its worst.

If legislation is software, then reforms like HR 3200 are like big "service packs", a collection of patches to different pieces of software that work together to create a specialized system that performs a function.

If you consider that all "source code" modifications in legislation have to be performed by other legislation, then what you get is something like this. Imagine submitting patches to a code tree via sed scripts. Now imagine some clueless script kiddie criticizing your sed-scripted submissions as if they were stand alone programs. TFA is the stupid kiddie's rant.

Re:A troll? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347471)

you can convert existing laws to software but not bills.
see here :
http://pb.ysesq.org/ [ysesq.org]

Re:A troll? (4, Interesting)

bkpark (1253468) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347273)

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:A troll? (3, Insightful)

IWannaBeAnAC (653701) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347397)

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 regulations are published and available for lawyers, police etc to obtain. The system you imagine, where there is no such document, would be completely impractical, as you acknowledge. That is why it isn't done! Yes, there surely are much better tools that legislators could use to evaluate legislation (context highlighted diffs including the original and revised regulations etc), but the debate over legislation is rarely about details like that. If you want a software analogy, the legislative debates are like a meeting with the upper management about the features of the software. Details of the actual source code won't be discussed, except to ensure that the programmers (drafters of the legislation) are doing their job to correctly implement the requirements.

Re:A troll? (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347555)

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.

Re:A troll? (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348043)

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]

Re:A troll? (1)

bkpark (1253468) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348353)

If I am reading this Wikipedia page [wikipedia.org] right, the U.S. Code is published every 6 years only. So, we are expected to apply H.R. 3200, i.e. the "diff", to what may be a stale version of the original code?

What kind of revision control system is that?

Re:A troll? (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348621)

If I am reading this Wikipedia page right, the U.S. Code is published every 6 years only. So, we are expected to apply H.R. 3200, i.e. the "diff", to what may be a stale version of the original code?

What kind of revision control system is that?

The official printed version is. While the current printed copy is the 2006 edition, the online edition is up-to-date as of August 16 this year. I believe the update frequency is approximately monthly.

Re:A troll? (1)

Fred Ferrigno (122319) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348349)

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.

Re:A troll? (1)

bfwebster (90513) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347591)

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 regulations, which I largely address in a different paragraph.

I do touch upon references to existing legislation in the 'spaghetti coding' paragraph, but that's because of potential namespace issues: while HR 3200 generally tries to fully qualify section numbers belonging to pre-existing laws and regulations, in some places it relies upon context instead, and you have to scroll back up to figure out if the section reference is internal or external.

One thing I didn't touch is that many of the definitions of key words are pulled in from existing laws/regulations as well -- in effect, qualified import statements (a la Python). ..bruce..

Re:A troll? (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348071)

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 you see being the problem with it.

I do touch upon references to existing legislation in the 'spaghetti coding' paragraph, but that's because of potential namespace issues: while HR 3200 generally tries to fully qualify section numbers belonging to pre-existing laws and regulations, in some places it relies upon context instead, and you have to scroll back up to figure out if the section reference is internal or external.

A single act is rarely intended to be read directly. The changes it makes will be incorporated into amended statutes if it is enacted, and then you would read those statutes rather than the act itself. Once this has happened the context of the reference will become obvious.

Article Summary: "HR 3200 too complicated for me" (3, Insightful)

AaronBS (685204) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

6 Million Dollar Man (1)

mindbrane (1548037) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347159)

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. Abstracting the "rules of engagement", or, protocols from your profession and overlaying them on the outputs of a legislative body is a good thing. It's kinda like overlays. The abstracted take away message derived from one discipline can be very instructive and even beneficial to an alien discipline. It's the ability to overlay one set of abstracted readings or mappings to another discipline's readings or mappings that's difficult and rare. It's even more rare that someone can adequately project the two mappings to the two different parties and have anything like agreement ensue. IMHO it's not only worth the effort, it's necessary, but if I were you, I'd be hearing that famous line: "Imagine, if you will..." with the Eagles 'Hotel California', "you can check in, but you can never leave", playing in the background. Good luck with that.

Chain of command (3, Insightful)

joaquin gray (596589) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347161)

Isn't H.R. 3200 sort of like DirectX 4 [wikipedia.org] ?

Re:Chain of command (1)

achenaar (934663) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348791)

Hee hee, I followed your link but misread the table and thought you meant that HR 3200 was like: "a very minor update to 3.0a that fixed a cosmetic problem with the Japanese version of Windows 95"
Good times.

Structured Legislation Language (4, Interesting)

sycodon (149926) | more than 5 years ago | (#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?

Re:Structured Legislation Language (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347219)

Here Here!

Re:Structured Legislation Language (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347225)

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.

Re:Structured Legislation Language (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347367)

Which is a very fine language within its intended domain of use.

Re:Structured Legislation Language (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347249)

Of course you're right, but using such a logical, intelligent system would mean the people would have more influence. That is unacceptable in this further dividing aristocracy.

Damn fine idea though. We should be combining more fields of thought like this.

The lawyers wouldn't allow it (1)

Inominate (412637) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347265)

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.

Re:The lawyers wouldn't allow it (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347571)

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 due to complexity can result in a contract -- or a regulation, or a law -- being simply thrown out by a judge.

Keep in mind who writes the laws and it's clear why the idea falls apart.

Laws are written by two parties that have a vested interest in making themselves look better than the other guy. THAT is the problem, not lawyers. Want to get better laws? Vote against any local politician who "brings home the bacon" or favors simple answers over complex ones.

Re:Structured Legislation Language (1)

inKubus (199753) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347271)

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 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. Why would you pay a lawyer $500 an hour to look something up in a book when Google can do it for free. yeah yeah, there's an element of philosophy and history and the interactions between the legislative, the judicial and the citizenry is very interesting but at the end of the day we're getting the wool pulled over our eyes a little much for the 21st century. Once it's in place you could also have some sophisicated change management to calculate risks and such, instead of relying on lobbyists. Call it "Legislative Engineering".

Re:Structured Legislation Language (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347615)

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 knowledge. They have specialized JUDGMENT. I don't go to my doctor because I want to know what the flu is or what some medications for asthma are. I want to know if *I* have the flu, or what some medications for *my* asthma are that I can try. A lawyer performs the same task -- not telling you what the law is, but telling you *how it applies to your specific situation*.

3: My job is "sacred" because I have distinct judgement, not because I read information in a book somewhere. Yours should be to, or else you're not worth minimum wage.

Re:Structured Legislation Language (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347305)

Good luck putting all those lawyers out of business.

Re:Structured Legislation Language (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347429)

ahem, they already do that. Well, sort of. Have you ever actually sat down and read a legal document of any significance? Any programmer should already feel right at home. The first section just defines the terms in detail they will use later on.

Law is a very old profession, and over the years lawyers have developed systems that do the intended job quite well. It might be a pain to the untrained eye, but legal documents are constructed by people just as bright as programmers. They do things for a reason.

The main difference between a program and a legal document is the judge. In programming the judge is a processor. It will do as is told with a cold disregard for the consequences. The judge in law is a human who can interpret based on current circumstances. When law is ambiguous, it is no accident. It is usually the result of a compromise amounting to "let it be decided case by case."

It is a well established strategy in reaching compromise to put the agreed parts on paper and then whittle the rest away bit by bit. You can't write laws like the type you propose because if each law had to be complete when it was passed, compromise would be impossible. Deadlock would result.

I can't believe I just defended congress. I feel dirty.

Re:Structured Legislation Language (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29348121)

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

Line 1: Tense mismatch error. Subjunctive expected.

Re:Structured Legislation Language (2, Interesting)

Kirijini (214824) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348335)

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, although this is less true in the US* than in most places around the world**. You should try actually reading a title in the US code sometime - not a bill (as the author of this article did) or statute, which are very different things from the "compiled" law of the US code.

*The United States, along with the UK, Australia, etc. (Common law countries), tends to have a haphazardly organized set of statutes - Largely because (I would argue; certainly there are other explanations) judges develop most law. They work the kinks out of newly passed statutes, adapt the law to new situations, develop working rules or guidelines for how the law ought to be applied, and judges have a strong dominion over the traditional, doctrinal areas of "private" law - contracts, torts, property, etc. The legislature often works with (or against) the judiciary when it develops law - frequently incorporating judge-made law as the foundation for a new statute, or, enacting statutes to overturn judge-made law it doesn't like. Thus, our "activist" judiciary (which can made binding law all on its own) leads to the legislature enacting piecemeal statutes.

**Most other nations have a "civil law" system which (this is a broad, oversimplification) precludes judge-made law. The legislature does more than enact piecemeal statutes; they adopt "codes," which are, or ought to be, large, comprehensive, all-encompassing embodiments of the law of a general topic (like criminal law). You would like these. They're supposed to be methodologically designed, with an internal logical structure. Incidentally, law services in civil-law countries are a lot cheaper than in the US.

Not Again (3, Funny)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 5 years ago | (#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?

Re:Not Again (1)

Stuarticus (1205322) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348647)

The health care reform bill run through deCSS?

Oh please let me be the one to hack the lawyers into giving up the code...

I may have to brute force it, but I'm sure I'll get it eventually.

   

Astroturfing (1, Troll)

Saint Stephen (19450) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347221)

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 :-)

Re:Astroturfing (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347241)

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:Astroturfing (2, Insightful)

Psyborgue (699890) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347251)

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".

Re:Astroturfing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347623)

Anyone who's checked TFB figured out which direction the Paulista who wrote it was debugging it in.

Re:Astroturfing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29348175)

I did RTFA. And his bio [brucefwebster.com] (he's one of those morally bankrupt court "experts"), and his crappy blog [andstillipersist.com] .

It's hard to see whether he's taking an opinion in any given political direction.

BWAAHAHAHAHA! [andstillipersist.com]

Your comment confirms that it is indeed astroturf.

Re:Astroturfing (2, Insightful)

Psyborgue (699890) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348447)

It seems to me like much of the far left you like to label any movement and any critic you don't like as "astroturfing". It's really nothing more than a hollow word at this point. Do you have any evidence whatsoever he's taking money from political parties or corporations to voice his opinions?

Seems to me... (1)

dysprosia (661648) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347267)

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.

Re:Seems to me... (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347363)

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.

Re:Seems to me... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347583)

I don't really want to sign up just to make this one reply, though I may soon. I would just like to say that I think the point of this section of his article isn't necessarily contrary to what you are saying. I think he is implying that perhaps it would be better if such wide-sweeping reform legislation was designed to replace (upgrade from 2.6 to 3.0) the legislation that is in place rather than amend (patch to 2.7) it. Being that this 1000 page document mostly just amends pre-existing laws, it is difficult for the people in Congress, let alone their constituents, to follow it. For such a bulky law, a re-write may be in order.

Sniff Sniff..... Socialism! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347279)

HR 3200 Considered As Software.... What next?

Smells like socialism to me.

Crypto-healtchare-ranting aside, hes got a point. (1)

conspirator23 (207097) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347303)

Generally speaking, there are parallels between Information Technology and governance, but it's not a 1:1 relationship of coding to legislating. Much legislating is better compared to the development of protocols and industry standards than it is to actual software. Congress has no control over the Federal Register, which is bassically the rulebook that the executive branch plays by. Indeed, in many cases laws just say "thou shalt achieve these goals" and the REAL software development happens in the federal bureaucracy where the implementation of those goals are actually designed and carried out.

But those metaphorical nitpicks aside, I think it's a worthy thing to hold the two systems up to each other and compare methodologies. I think each side would stand to learn a lot from each other. For example under the US Constitution the role of the Judiciary is to interpret the law, and even evaluate as to whether a given law is constitutional. This bears great superficial similarity to the process of Quality Assurance in software development... except that formal QA by the Judiciary only happens AFTER that code is rolled into production. Prior to publishing, laws are not required to go through pilot phases, there are no "test environments." There's just a period of "code peer review" as the bills get worked, reworked, and finally signed into law.

I wonder what it would be like if any new federal law had to be piloted in the authoring congressman's home state for a year before it rolled out to the rest of the country?

The worst excesses (3, Informative)

steveha (103154) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347341)

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

Re:The worst excesses (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347635)

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.

Re:The worst excesses (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348111)

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 it is very slow, as it can take several years to put the system in place, let it run long enough to get feedback, and then process that feedback into a new iteration. For anything truly important, you'd find people complaining that the change hadn't been applied in their area, and it would be extremely unpopular.

OP missed the biggest one! (4, Interesting)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:OP missed the biggest one! (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347377)

"President or Congress..."

Re:OP missed the biggest one! (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347413)

It's not considered promotion of the general welfare?

Re:OP missed the biggest one! (4, Informative)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:OP missed the biggest one! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347527)

Paultard troll is a troll, and a tard.

Re:OP missed the biggest one! (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347677)

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-money powers Congress has. (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?)

Re:OP missed the biggest one! (2, Insightful)

Fnord666 (889225) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347861)

(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?

Re:OP missed the biggest one! (4, Insightful)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.)

Re:OP missed the biggest one! (3, Interesting)

jmorris42 (1458) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

The truth about health care. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347393)

The Republicans say that health care is not in trouble.
Well it probably isn't in "crisis", but there are difficulties with it.

Democrats are essentially saying "let government take over the insurers, then we will pay for a lot of it". Mind you they do not reduce the cost ( except around the edges), they just say the government will pay for something we cannot afford but never tell us that the government can't afford it either.

The political pundits mostly fall into the same categories.

I say before we figure out how to pay for health care, we do our best to reduce the high cost of health care.

Every diabetic who spends even a little time in internet groups will tell you that test strips that cost about $1.00 should cost about 10 cents. The manufacturers patent the shape of the conductors then sue others who make competing strips for their meters. It's called the Gillette model ( "Make profits on the razor blades not the razors.") same thing we see with printer refills.

The pharaceutical companies add time release agents or antacids to their drugs ( along with other tricks ) to extend their patents. Politicians say drug companies need to make large profits to offset the large cost of developing drugs but in modern times when the stock market fell, drug companies stocks were some of the last to fall, and the market rose drug stocks were some of the first ti rise. The drug companies have to be doing something right.

The fact is that politicians are failing to focus on many of the real problems. I would suggest a solution but the Secret Service might treat it as a threat rather then me being facetious.

Re:The truth about health care. (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347687)

Democrats are essentially saying "let government take over the insurers, then we will pay for a lot of it". Mind you they do not reduce the cost ( except around the edges), they just say the government will pay for something we cannot afford but never tell us that the government can't afford it either.

"Comparative effectiveness." : that is, the gov't will spend money to study which treatments work, and which ones don't. You know, actual scientific studies.

"Public Option" -- cut out the privately ran, for-profit insurance company which has an incentive to raise costs and deny coverage, and substitute a government agency. The private insurance companies will suddenly either have to provide a BETTER value than the feds, or go out of business.

The Dems have a solid plan. Hell, when they bother to dust it off, the Republicans have a fairly solid plan, too. ("tax health care, and move away from the employer-provided model.") You can say you don't like them, or complain about the shortcomings (real or perceived) of either, but please don't pretend that they don't have real suggestions for improvement just because your pet peeve isn't addressed yet.

Re:The truth about health care. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347779)

And because this is America, the two parties with reasonable plans will meet in the middle and compromise on a stinking pile of shit that both will be ridiculed for for the next decade, and each trying to pin it on the other.

Wrong analogy (3, Funny)

PotatoFiend (1330299) | more than 5 years ago | (#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

Did you read the End User Agreement? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29347625)

Maybe you should have read the End User Agreement before you bought that package.

With all the cross references... (2, Funny)

wellingj (1030460) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:With all the cross references... (1)

magarity (164372) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348297)

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 called Slashdot where people post wildly inflammatory comments without even reading whatever it is they're responding to?

What programming language.? (1)

jameskojiro (705701) | more than 5 years ago | (#29347933)

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.

Sorry...only partially correct. (3, Insightful)

meburke (736645) | more than 5 years ago | (#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."

Lawrence Lessig's Codev2 (1)

geert2705 (962892) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348289)

This might already be in here somewhere -- but Lawrence Lessig's Codev2 is an obvious link to this post, covering the parallels between legislation and, well, code. http://codev2.cc/ [codev2.cc]

Sure it's software.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29348393)

but let's classify its type i.e. malware.

Di3k (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29348455)

To use the GNAA Gains market share best. Individuals I know it sux0rs, Every chance I 6ot fear the reaper

Form fits function... (1)

Genda (560240) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348503)

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 anything actually resembling medical care or service.)

The current legislation is designed to preserve the status quo, while producing the illusion of actually doing something. In fact, it will certainly cause a lot of motion and activity, but in the end, after all the dust settles, I expect that you will find nothing of significant note will alter. That would jeopardise the flow of money and power to those who already have both.

A recent fixed price program has turned up in several states, and it look remarkably attractive. You pay a fixed price for standard care including check-ups, x-rays, basic care, preventative medicine (i.e. flu shots, etc.) This service represents about 95% of the normal care a person should have, and will ensure that the average person will have the necessary resources to catch serious problems early when their resolution will be relatively inexpensive. Everyone would still need coverage for catastrophic illness, but with the majority of the medical heavy lifting separated from the rare cases, the cost of even that coverage would drop significantly. By avoiding the need for insurance, and a huge billing beaurocracy, the monthly cost of standard medicine can drop to $50-$80 depending on area and local cost of living.

Its time for doctors and the middle class to thank D.C. for trying, and as usual being for the most part ineffective, and take this problem into our own hands. We can do exceptionally better (in fact it would take a degree of dedication to do worse.) We need to begin the process of taking medicine back from the lawyers, and business men, who have turned health care into a cesspool of profit taking at the cost of the public welfare.

To paraphrase Bill Marr, "There is nothing wrong with capitalism, however there should be things for which we do not choose to endeavor for profit. Capitalism is like sex. Sex is wonderful and should be enjoyed regularly, in fact we'd go extinct if as a society we stopped. That said, there really are things we simply shouldn't be screwing..."

Your Rant Online (2, Insightful)

ysth (1368415) | more than 5 years ago | (#29348603)

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?
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