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Philosophy


Making People Buy Things

Questioning whether congress had the constitutional right to require people to buy health insurance should have been horse-laughed out of court. Governments have been making people buy things ever since I was a kid: air bags, baby seats, bike lights, car insurance, catalytic converters, child support, circuit breakers, drivers’ licences, home insulation, lawn mowers, leaf rakes, life jackets, motorcycle helmets, oars, safety flares, seat belts, sewer hookups, smoke detectors, snow shovels, tail lights and even clothes (nudity is illegal)… Right wingers periodically try to pass laws forcing people to buy firearms.

The Supreme court ruled correctly. If the government has the right to tax, namely to demand a fee and give nothing tangible in return, it surely also has the right to demand a fee where the taxpayer gets something tangible (health insurance) back. To give the Republicans debating point fodder in the presidential election, Chief Justice John Roberts did not express his decision that way, but ruled mandatory health insurance is a tax.

But health insurance premiums are clearly not taxes in the ordinary sense and neither are any of the those other things you are forced to buy. A tax is something you pay into a general revenue fund for the common good; you don’t get some object or contract in return. Republicans are playing dishonest word games to make it look like Obama is raising taxes.

Obama is actually lowering the total amount of money people have to pay for health care, the very opposite of raising taxes. Americans pay three times what anyone else does for their health care. They also have the worst outcomes, of any developed country. They are two rungs lower than Cuba in IMR (Infant Mortality Rate). If Republicans would get out of Obama’s way and work for the benefit of the American people rather than big Pharma and the HMOs (Health Management Organisations), he could save them massive amounts of money more. There is an incredible amount of low-hanging fat in American health care that could be pruned to improve quality and lower costs, starting with standardised, simplified computer billing that every other developed country uses.

~ Roedy (1948-02-04 age:69)
The people who design languages are the people who write the compilers and system classes. Quite naturally they design to make their work easy and mathematically elegant. However, there are 10,000 maintenance programmers to every compiler writer. The grunt maintenance programmers have absolutely no say in the design of languages. Yet the total amount of code they write dwarfs the code in the compilers.

An example of the result of this sort of elitist thinking is the JDBC (Java Data Base Connectivity) interface. It makes life easy for the JDBC implementor, but a nightmare for the maintenance programmer. It is far clumsier than the FØRTRAN interface that came out with SQL (Standard Query Language) three decades ago.

Maintenance programmers, if somebody ever consulted them, would demand ways to hide the housekeeping details so they could see the forest for the trees. They would demand all sorts of shortcuts so they would not have to type so much and so they could see more of the program at once on the screen. They would complain loudly about the myriad petty time-wasting tasks the compilers demand of them.

There are some efforts in this direction: NetRexx, Bali and visual editors (e.g. IBM (International Business Machines) ’s Visual Age is a start) that can collapse detail irrelevant to the current purpose.


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