Nov 21, 2009

Dear Democratic Supporters of the health care bills:

You do realize you're supporting putting Republicans in charge of health care, right?

Oh, sure, not this year or next. But it's only a matter of time until Republicans can pass bills again. Whether 2011, 2013, or 2017 or beyond, sooner or later it's going to be the Republicans in control of at least one house, the Presidency, and in pretty good shape in the other house. The wheel turns, the pendulum swings. It is not a question of "if", it's a question of "when". And when that happens, the Republicans will be in charge of your health care.

The odds of this happening before the bill has even been in effect very long are distressingly good. Most of the bill's provisions kick in during 2013. (Well, the non-tax provisions; we pay for a long time before we get anything significant.) The odds of the Republicans having a solid house majority, a respectable Senate presence, and the Presidency in 2013 are definitely not zero.

Are you sure this is such a good idea? Because I guarantee the Republicans won't just cancel the bill and return to the current status quo. Maybe a hypothetical Tea Party would, but those Republicans are going to be just as happy as Democrats are to be in control of your health care.

And they will be. Full control. Probably with no non-Republican-controlled healthcare available in the country.

Are you really sure this is such a good idea?

HR 1: Spreadsheet Breakdown of Division A
Jan 31, 2009

I got tired of politically-loaded summaries of what is in HR 1, the stimulus bill as it passed in the House. Everyone knows they "ought" to read it, but few seem willing to actually do it. (The best version unfortunately resists permalinking: Go here, select "House Bills 1-100", then the first house bill.)

Let me help you out. I still have not read the whole thing, and at 800+KB of text I don't feel too bad. But I did spend four hours last night on the bill.

I will stay non-political in this post, until ofter the end. I ask that you bear with me through some political observation, because after spending four hours with legalese I feel I'm entitled to a bit of commentary.

The bill is organized into two Divisions. Division A seems to primarily be about appropriations, and consists of approximately one third of the bill by textual volume, and by my unskilled calculation, about one third of the reported cost. Division B appears to be a massive rewrite of the tax code. Both sections of the bill contain significant modifications to other law, and I have not had the time to follow the (numerous) references through, but it is clear just looking at some of them that they are major changes. Nobody is understating how big this bill is; I daresay everybody is understating it, because a straight description sounds hyperbolic.

I have broken the appropriations into a spreadsheet, which is available as an HTML table in the main body of this post, or as an Open Office Calc file or a Comma Separated Values file. (In both cases you may have to right-click and "Save Link As..." to save it.) The table below is in the same order it appears in the bill; with a spreadsheet you can reorder it, of course.

I haven't even begun to analyze the tax code because I am not competent to analyze tax implications. Also, unlike the appropriations which are mostly either new law, or simply increases in funding for old law (though not entirely), the tax section primarily consists of significant rewrites of older law, making the exact implications difficult to tease apart even if you were intimately familiar with existing tax code and who pays what taxes. I've considered trying to write a summary, but I don't think I can even do that, whereas I might be able to pull it off with reasonable accuracy for Division A.

Read the rest...

Nov 04, 2008

It's worth remembering, as we enter the culmination of a very loud Internet election season, that out there in the real world, only 8% of voters claim to be voting for one because they "dislike" the other (10% say that while voting for McCain, 6% for Obama).

(Check that methodology so you know what that means. It's a free form answer question. If the question were asked as "Which of the following statements do you agree with?" it would be a different result. But I think that this is revealing in its own way.)

I'm sure "hate" would be an even smaller response.

The media... and I include the internet media here too... the media as a whole delights in bringing you the story of extremes. But the extremes are... extremes.

Happy voting.

Complexity and Society
Oct 22, 2008

Vernor Vinge is well known as one of the originators of the concept of the technological singularity, which is well-known to inform his sci-fi writings.

One of the less well known concepts which informs his sci-fi writings is one possible fate of societies that do not or can not end in a "singularity", which is the eventual unavoidable collapse of the society in a cascading failure state brought on by excessive, uncontrollable complexity in the ever-more-sophisticated systems that drive the society. In this case, take "system" in the broad sense, including not just software, but business practices, government, and societal mores. A failure occurs somewhere, which brings down something else, which brings down two other something elses, and perhaps quite literally in the blink of an eye, you are faced with a growing complex of problems beyond the ability of any one human to understand or contain.

We've seen small-scale examples of this before; Part 1 of The Hacker Crackdown goes into some detail about the 1990 AT&T phone network collapse.

I've always been a bit dubious of this theory. It's not intrinsically bad, but the truth is all software and systems must have some fault tolerance in them, because in reality, faults happen all the time. As I write this, my office has just experienced 6 straight days of faulty internet connection, and yet, our world has failed to end. We've got problems, but every bit of software we use already knows it has to be able to deal with problems like that. Only a few things were confused by the exact nature of the network failure, and even those were non-fatal. Deliveries will be late, networks will be down, contracts will be violated, only the truly foolhardy fail to make plans for those eventualities... unless....

Read the rest...

Sep 29, 2008

More bailout stuff, skip if that makes you unhappy.

How did we get here? The economy is fantastically complicated beyond human comprehension, so we are forced to use heuristics to comprehend it. No amount of education can overcome this fact, which is why every economy professor is proposing a different solution; the education doesn't mean you actually understand, it "just" changes the heuristics.

Read the rest (863 words)

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