Archive for January, 2007

Regulation vs Legislation

Last week, the president signed an executive order that changes the way that regulations are made. The order establishes a new standard for creating regulations: the agency must show that the market has failed to correct the problem. Most consumer advocates are upset by the move which will make it harder to regulate business that harm the public.

I agree that the order will end up harming the public; however, I also think that the president does have the right to issue the order. Our government is divided into three branches, two are relevant here: congress (the legislative branch) and the presidency (the executive branch). The executive is the only branch with a single outlook – that of the president. All of the executive agencies report to him through the cabinet.

The founders recognized that this singular position and outlook gave the executive branch much more vitality and an ability to act in a unified manner than any other branch. To guard against the president becoming king in all but name, they gave congress the power to legislate. The executive branch has the role of implementing or executing the policies of congress.

With the power to legislate, congress could craft very specific legislation that would require the executive to implement their policies in very specific ways. However, most legislation is not written that specifically, nor should we want it to be. In order to last for decades, legislation relies heavily on the executive rule making process. The rule making process within the executive branch dictates how the laws will be implemented. Rule making is much more flexible and can change more rapidly than could the original legislation. The rule making must still fill the original intent of the law (or the third branch gets involved); but within that context, it is very broad. In the IT area, we have found over the past 5 years or so, that rule making is more worrisome than legislation – after all, legislation is passed with ample representation. Rule making is largely at the whim of the executive in charge at the time.

So, the president, and therefore the executive branch, want to limit new regulations – in some cases, overriding the opinions of professionals in the departments that know the science, the economics and the facts better than the politicians. Should we be upset? Yes – good government depends on expert opinions and not political ideology. Is it improper? No. The fact is, elections do have consequences. If the country voted for a conservative who is more concerned with businesses than the public, then we shouldn’t be surprised when he puts limits on good government practices that favor the public.

Of course, liberals should highlight that fact come election time. We should note that Bush’s own administration produced a report showing that regulations save the country more money than they cost businesses:

A major feature of this report is the estimates of the total costs and benefits of regulations reviewed by OMB. Major Federal regulations reviewed by OMB from October 1, 1993, to September 30, 2003, were examined. The estimated annual benefits range from $63 billion to $169 billion, while the estimated annual costs range from $35 billion to $40 billion. A substantial portion of both benefits and costs is attributable to a handful of clean-air rules that reduce public exposure to fine particulate matter. Technical limitations in these estimates are significant and are discussed in the text of the Report.

Even this report is limited and given the political process involved in producing it, I suspect that it under-represents the benefits and over-represents the costs of regulations.

So here’s my proposal. We accept the fact that the Bush administration is going to interpret and implement federal laws with an eye to making things cheap for businesses at a cost to the public. Between limits on new regulations and attempts to limit torts, the public is getting the short end of the stick, and that needs to change with the next president. When the next president is a Democrat, we need to revise the executive order so that an agency only has to show that a proposed regulation is minimally cost effective (i.e., the cost is less than or equal to the public benefit) before it gets implemented.

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Memo to the world…

A memo to the world…

I don’t care about your hierarchical BS.  I know that hierarchy seems to be important to people because we have kept it around from the time we roamed as east African plains apes (h/t Brad DeLong) to today’s corporations, but frankly, I don’t care.  The fact that a person occupies a higher position in the hierarchy does not mean that they are necessarily better, smarter or more deserving of respect than anyone else.  Hierarchies may seem like a good idea if you want to keep people in their place; but they are based on intimidation and are undemocratic and destructive.  If you feel differently, and are concerned, then it might be best if I was kept away from people you worry might take offense to my treating them like I treat everyone else.
That is all.

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Tempting fate

So, I’m going to tempt fate here and follow up on a post I made a few weeks ago. Last week, I received the replacement tank for my acid neutralizer. It didn’t look quite like the same tank I had, so I emailed the company. Turns out they had upgraded the tank to the slightly better molded polyglass as opposed to the wrapped resin tank. The big advantage is that the threads are machined, not made by wrapping around a mold.

On Saturday, I installed the tank (see the first picture) and plumbed in a bypass (second picture). I plumbed the tank head backward, like they told me, even through it felt wrong (I need to document that somewhere 🙂 ). So far (knock on wood), it all seems to be working. The tank hasn’t exploded, the water’s pH is up to neutral. I think we may be done!

dsc_0438_m.JPG dsc_0440_m.JPG

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Myers-Briggs

Last week, I was having a discussion with someone who mentioned that a mutual acquaintance is an INTJ. I think she knew that I was familiar with Myers-Briggs, but regardless, it was one of the most helpful remarks she could have made. I’ve been interested in Myers-Briggs for quite some time. I find it to be a very helpful, descriptive (as opposed to predictive) tool for understanding how different people perceive the world.

Myers-Briggs divides personalities along four axes: Introvert-Extrovert (I/E), Sensing-Intuition (S/N), Thinking-Feeling (T/F) and Judging-Perceiving (J/P). The I/E axis is probably the one that most closely reflects the standard definitions. S/N refers to how much one relies on facts and data-points (sensing) versus intuitive work. T/F is pretty close to standard definitions. J/P is the most confusing. Judging in this case is really “decisiveness,” while Perceiving refers to adaptability, spontaneity, etc.

What I’ve found is that the Myers-Briggs personality types are fairly good at describing a person. Not perfect, obviously, for example, there isn’t an honesty/dishonesty axis. But overall, a pretty good descriptor. For example, I’m an INTP (one of the more rare types, but well represented in IT) and one of the best descriptions of me was from someone who never met me – it was a generic INTP profile off of the INTP website (yes, we really all are nerds).

What’s interesting, and harder to get a handle on, are the differences and the relationships between the different types. One of the things that I find interesting are the four types that are adjacent to mine (ENTPs, ISTPs, INFPs and INTJs). Each of them is like looking in a fun-house mirror. Their personalities are similar to, but not quite the same as mine. They reflect different aspects of my own personality.

ENTPs are, not surprisingly, outgoing and dynamic. They are smart and articulate. In a project, I love teaming up with an ENTP. They’re much better with working people and explaining the project to them.

I don’t know many ISTPs (at least to my knowledge). Some of the Myers-Briggs sites suggest that we arrive at similar results, but with different approaches.

INFPs seem very similar, but their intuition and perceiving manifest themselves in ways that often feel dreamy and silly. I was looking in on an INTP website one time and, apparently, every time an INFP would show up, it would wind up in (electronic) tears. We think in similar ways, but about completely different things. An unfair generalization is that INTPs think about computers, photography, philosophy, etc.; while INFPs think about ponies and unicorns. Hey, I admitted that it was unfair.

INTJs scare me.  INTPs tend to study or get involved with a broad number of topics.  If you ask an INTP if s/he knows something about a topic, they might say, “some.”  When you talk to them, you find out that they know quite a bit; they just don’t realize what they know and they are often uncertain – we’re seldom willing to claim that we are absolutely right about anything.  INTJs on the other hand know exactly what it is that they know and they know they are right.  There’s little doubt in their minds.  If an INTJ says s/he knows something, they do.  If they don’t know it, they know they don’t.  There’s no uncertainty and they are quite likely to think they are right.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire the INTJs – they make much better IT leaders than INTPs; but their definitiveness scares me.  When they’re wrong (and they occasionally are) it’s hard to argue with them and hard to convince them otherwise.

Anyway, there wasn’t much of a point to this, just musing – as we INTPs are wont to do 🙂

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SOTU

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything, mostly because, for the first time in 5+ years, I’ve gotten somewhat addicted to a video game. Some friends are leaving for CA soon and they were giving away things they didn’t want to bring. This included a handful of games. I grabbed “Neverwinter Nights” since I knew it would run under linux. Since I installed it, I’ve been spending way too much time playing (to K’s annoyance, I’m sure).

I did manage to catch the State of the Union address last night, and for the first time ever, one of George Bush’s speeches did not infuriate me. I’m not certain what it was, there were certainly the usual lies, distortions and dangerous proposals, but they didn’t bother me as much. Perhaps it was the knowledge of a Democratic majority or maybe it was his tone, who knows.

As I said, there were still a number of inaccuracies in the SOTU:

  • “7.2 million new jobs in 41 months.” This is technically true. That said, a) it’s not that many jobs ~175k per month which barely keeps up with the increase in the working population; and b) this is Bush’s 60th month in office, in the first 19 months we lost ~5 million jobs. The net job gain is very small and is worse than any other post-recession period ever.
  • “Met goal of halving the deficit.” Sort of. Basically, for the past 4 or 5 years, this administration has overestimated budget deficits as compared to other, less biased projections. So, yes, they have halved the intentionally overestimated budget deficits, but they have not halved the actual budget deficits. Beyond that, if we hadn’t cut taxes on the rich, we would have a balanced budget today.
  • Earmarks – Given that his party has increased earmarks by roughly a factor of 7, in the past 12 years, and that Democrats have already stated they would kill all earmarks this year and severely restrict them in the future, this seems like he’s coming a bit late to the party – after earmarks won’t help his party as much.
  • Education and No Child Left Behind – NCLB seems to be intended to tear apart the public education system. Beyond that, it encourages teaching to the test; and even worse, while the president cited improvements in math and science, those are not across the board. He cherry picked the 4th grade results. Results in the 8th grade? Not so good.

In addition to the inaccuracies, there were a number of dangerous, misguided or just impractical proposals. I’m not going into all of them, but one is interesting: health insurance.  The president proposed a system whereby the tax deduction for health insurance would be capped at $7,500 for an individual, $15k for a family.  However, purchasing any health insurance would allow you to claim that deduction ($7.5k or $15k).  The thinking is that people without insurance could use the deduction to lower the cost or even pay entirely for the insurance.

There are a few problems with this.  1) Generally, the uninsured are less well of and don’t have a large tax burden.  They pay at a lower tax bracket and with other deductions may not even pay taxes on the $15k (remember, this is a tax deduction, not a tax credit).  This is not likely to be enough to encourage people to buy insurance.  2) The cap grows with inflation.  However, health care costs grow much faster.  Right now, only a few people exceed the cap, in 10 or 20 years, the number will be much larger (even with the increased cap).  3) The incentives here are likely to drive healthy people out of the larger risk pools that keep costs down for everyone.  So this could push many plans into an insurance “death  spiral:” healthy people leave, increasing per person costs and the plan costs, so more people leave, etc.

In short, the proposal is damaging.  Insurance plans needs as large a population as possible and this proposal will fragment the populations so that in the end, you’re on your own for your health care.  In fact, that’s the short version of what Bush’s “ownership society” is all about: you’re on your own.

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Cheese sausages

A few weeks ago, I was talking to some folks at lunch and mentioned that I had a recipe for cheese sausages.  I meant to give it to them, but never wrote it up.  Since others might find it interesting…

For the record, I got the recipe from “Classic Home Cooking” which is a great cookbook, but since you can’t copyright facts (like instructions or a recipe), I think I’m pretty safe writing it up here.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  1. 6 slices of bread
  2. 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  3. 1/2 cup crumbled feta
  4. 1/4 cup toasted walnuts
  5. 2 tbsp fresh sage
  6. 1 tbsp lemon zest
  7. 6 green onions
  8. 1 tsp ground mustard
  9. 2 eggs (1 separated)
  10. 1 tbsp milk
  11. flour

In a food processor (or by hand) chop walnuts, lemon zest, sage, green onions.  Add ground mustard.  Tear up the bread, toss it in the food processor and chop until you’ve got bread crumbs.

Mix bread mixture with cheese.  Beat one egg and one egg yolk, add to bread mixture with milk. Mix thoroughly.

Let sit for a half hour or so.  Form into eight patties.  Dip in egg white, then flour (fwiw, I usually skip the egg white and just flour them).  Fry in a few tablespoons of olive oil.

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Yellowstone 3

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Yellowstone 2

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Yellowstone 1

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Photography

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