Congress needs a CEO

A long time ago, in what seems like a different life BC (Before Children), I was what people these days tend to call a table-top gamer. I played a fairly complex little role-playing game (RPG) called Rolemaster with a bunch of friends from college, running around in imaginary worlds and killing imaginary dragons. Generally, fun was had by all.

Of course, it was more fun if your character was, shall we say, mondo. Fortunately for us, we had a gentleman named Don that we played with. Don had a head for rules, and knew all the ins and outs of the Rolemaster system and all the various house rules we played with. As a result, if you wanted advice on how to develop your character, Don was The Man. He could tell you exactly how to make your fighter, wizard, healer or what-have-you the absolute pinnacle of their chosen profession.

In gaming circles, Don was what is referred to as a min-max player: minimum effort, maximum rewards. He wouldn't break the rules of the game... but. If there was a loophole or an unexpected benefit from combining a couple of different rules, then he knew about it and was ready to take advantage of it when the opportunity presented itself.

You can find folks like this involved with any system, game or otherwise, that's at least moderately complex. Complexity allows for these, shall we say, unexpected synergies between rules to develop. A few years ago, in the MMORPG World of Warcraft, there was a particularly lovely unexpected synergy that allowed a single player - a mage with the right selection of skills - to kill, by themselves, monsters in the game that were designed to be a challenge for a team of 10 or 25 players working together.

This history of gaming - board, card, RPG, and online - is filled with these sort of examples. Take a moderately complex set of rules, turn a person with a certain mind set towards them, and pretty soon, they'll show you some really amazing things you can do. Without breaking the rules, mind you... just using them in creative ways.

Which is why I say that Congress needs a CEO.

Not a Chief Executive Officer, thank you - we already got one of them, you see? But Congress has the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that exists to score legislation and, supposedly, tell us all how much it will cost if it's implemented as written. There's a lot of problems with teh way the CBO is supposed to do this, but let's just ignore that for the moment. The CBO itself is a pretty good idea, except that it really doesn't go quite far enough.

You see, the current set of laws in the US is about three orders of magnitude beyond "moderately complex". The tax code, Sarbanes-Oxley, Obamacare... hoog. It's a positive labyrinth of regulation.

Which is why I think we should have a Congressional Exploitation Office.

Staff the CEO with people like my friend Don, please. Folks like Radley Balko and others who have seen the ways that laws get bent, twisted, and abused into new and interesting shapes that bear no resemblance to their purported original purpose. Folks who can go away with a bill for a few days, and come back and tell you all the wonderfully creative ways they've managed to come up with that would allow someone to - absolutely legally, mind you - use your "Save The Kittens And Puppies Act" to justify government-sponsored nationalized kitten-killing competitions on network TV.

Why? Because those people are out there already. Where do you think patent trolls come from? California ADA lawsuit mills? Homeland Security using the DMCA to crack down on "terrorist" counterfeiters?

When a politician tells me, "Why, no one would ever use this legislation that way!", I'd really, really, really like to be able to look at someone from the CEO and have them tell me, "He's lying through his teeth. We found at least six different ways to break this thing, and that was before tiffin. And we take tiffin pretty early in these parts, pardner."

All a pipe dream, of course. The existence of gaping loopholes and unexpected synergies in the current US legal code are, I fear, considered a feature instead of a bug. Still... it would be nice to see those bugs exposed with some basic QA before we, the people, have to start dealing with all the 0-day exploits that Congress seems to like to give us.

There is evil there...

Last night was the conclusion of VBS (Vacation Bible School) at our church, where I had the privilege of being part of the small group that spent part of those four nights telling the kids a (very!) condensed version of the life story of Corrie ten Boom.

It was very intense, and very sobering. On the third night, we covered her time in Ravensbrück. The woman narrating Corrie's account was wearing a simulacrum of the plain prison dress Ms. ten Boom wore in prison. We did six presentations each night, to different groups; and each and every time that particular night, there was a point where the entire room, children and adults alike, became very quiet, and very still.

It was when she revealed the reproduction of the prison tattoo on her arm, and told us, "They assigned them numbers, and tattooed that number on their arms. Like animals."

Six times, and it affected me the same way each time. Sorrow, and anger, and fear. I knew what was coming, even before the first presentation, and it still affected me. I wasn't alone. The lady who narrated the story told me that before she was even halfway through inking the numbers on her arm, she had become physically ill, just thinking of what they represented.

As Gandalf said of Mordor, "There is evil there that does not sleep."

I think I was about 8 or 9 years old when I came home from playing out in our neighborhood one day, and asked my mom why the nice old couple down the road had numbers on their arm. It is, I think, my first memory and my first real understanding that there was something more than meanness in the world; that people were capable of true malevolence.

There is evil there that does not sleep.

Writing about his first encounter with a death camp near Gotha, then general Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote:
I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that "the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda". Some members of the visiting party were unable to go through with the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton's headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and the British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.
There is evil there that does not sleep.

There are many things we can learn from the life and story of Corrie ten Boom, and those who survived similar experiences in WWII. Forgiveness, for one; the love, provision and protection of God, for another. While those are certainly important lessons, I find myself today dealing with a strange mix of emotions. Deep sorrow, for the loss and suffering that took place. Abiding anger, that such a thing was even possible.

More than that, though... looking at the world today, at attitudes towards Israel and her people, there is a growing fear within me that we, the people of America, have forgotten one of the most important lessons of the Holocaust. Eisenhower knew that lesson, and knew it well, and did his best to ensure that it would be communicated to the generations that followed. If we fail to hear and understand, it is our fault, not his.

There is evil there that does not sleep.

God help us all.


Why is it, that whenever I read of a brilliant idea like this one, that I have flashbacks to The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

"A bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first up against the wall when the revolution comes," indeed.

Holy cow...

There's something very, very surreal about running through your daily reading, and seeing your own blog mentioned. Wow.

So - welcome to all you folks visiting from Chez Borepatch! Make yourselves comfortable, feel free to wander about the cabin, and I hope you enjoy your visit.

Amusing comment

I came across a form of this question in the comments over at Ann Althouse's blog... "Hey, Mr. Liberal. If you think food stamps are such a great idea, what's wrong with school choice programs and educational vouchers? They're just school stamps, right?"

Some days...

The Czar of Muscovy, on the Constitution:

The people who assembled the original document came from a strange variety of different viewpoints, but had one thing in common that negates any dismissal by irrevelance as to their being “old, white landowners.” They understood tyranny much better than we do today, because they lived it. They not only recognized it in all its forms, but knew how it begins, transforms, seizes, and chokes. They knew tyranny’s every gesture, wink, and stalking technique, and what elements in a person’s psyche allowed it or encouraged it to happen. And they put a stop to it.

Here's the calculus: you can't fix the budget without addressing entitlements. You can't fix the budget without raising some taxes. And you can't fix the budget without reducing Government headcount, because guys like me won't believe they're serious without it, and will be incandescent with rage that "shared sacrifice" doesn't include Governmental Regulators.

Full stop.

But here's the calculation that depresses me: our miserable Political Class doesn't see political gain in that calculus, and so they're playing Chicken with the Train.
As Dustbury, on how far we have fallen - "These days, even our apple pie is fake."

Some days, I don't know whether to weep, or to rage.

Ad astra per aspera. I can only hope, hard as the road is, that it's the right one.

Sometimes Baffled

I'm sometimes baffled by human behavior.

This evening, I had to travel across town to Greentree - which meant going south on 276, and crossing at the Liberty Bridge. If you've ever done that particular jaunt, you know that around the stadiums, there's a merge point where you essentially have four lanes of traffic trying to condense down into two in order to me in the rightmost lanes for the bridge. At rush hour, this means that you're in start/stop traffic for about 10 minutes, with everyone trying to merge (or in rare cases, unmerge) from those lanes.

After I managed to merge into the proper lane, I intentionally left a car length between myself and the car in front of me - trying to be considerate of those who still needed to merge.

I had no less than three cars pass by me, in the left lane, with their turn signals on... and continue on past the opening I left them. Instead, they drove all the way to the last possible merge point and stopped, waiting for someone to left them merge, blocking a third lane of traffic.

Maybe it's petty of me, but by the time I reached that point, I had closed the gap between myself and the car in front of me. If they had been willing to take the opportunity I offered them, I would have gladly let them in. Instead, they decided to rush to the head of the line and see if they could cut in. With the result that they missed their chance to merge.

Why would someone do that?