Sunday, November 24, 2013

Regulations and sunset provisions

I haven't posted on something like this in a while, but I figure folks may be getting tired of the clothing posts, and it's something that's been on my mind lately, so I thought I'd share. The US Constitution was designed with the idea that laws should be hard to pass--that's why they have to go through both houses of the legislature and the president before they're enacted.  The system of regulations bypasses this safeguard.  Regulations aren't passed by Congress.  Instead Congress authorizes the executive branch to make the rules that it then enforces.  Now, aside from the question of whether that blurring of the Constitutional division is problematic in itself, there's the problem that all the incentive in these regulatory agencies is to create regulations, not limit them.

As Tyler Cowen puts it in his New York Times column:
Many regulations, when initially presented, can sound desirable. The problem is that, taken in their entirety, excess rules divert attention from pressing issues like the need for innovation and new jobs.

Michael Mandel, an economist at the Progressive Policy Institute, compares many regulations to “pebbles in a stream.” Individually, they may not have a big impact. But if there are too many pebbles, a river’s flow can be thwarted. Similarly, too many regulations can limit business activity. When the number of rules mounts, it can become hard for a business to know whether it is operating within the law’s confines. The issue is all the more problematic when federal, state and local constraints all apply.
What we need today is the selective pruning of bad regulations. Cost-benefit studies are a good idea, but they tend to be done when we have the worst possible information about the effects of regulations — namely, before the regulations are passed. Furthermore, cost-benefit studies may look only at some of the largest regulations, and not the general problem of regulatory accretion over time.

Better bureaucratic incentives are needed. Agencies are now motivated to generate regulation after regulation, because those are the formal assignments set before them. One possible step forward would be to require agencies to submit plans for retiring some fraction of their regulations over the next few years, and to reward these agencies for seeing this process through.
While that's a good idea, I'm wondering if something more drastic isn't needed. Perhaps what we need is a requirement that all regulations come with a sunset provision, so that they will expire in a number of years.  Such a sunset provision could be applied retroactively by law--all current regulations expire 15 years from their start or 5 years from the date of the sunset law's passage, whichever comes later.  That will give regulatory agencies time to propose and implement new regulations as the old ones expire, which will require them to review their rules and decide which ones they should keep.

In addition, any new regulations must have a sunset provision of no more than 2-5 years (personally, I prefer two, but it may be that five is more workable).  This is too short on its own, which is where we put Congress back in the loop.  Congress can extend the sunset provision on any regulation by ten years, but not by more than ten years, so that any existing regulation will have to come up for review every ten years.  I imagine this will happen in an omnibus bill of all the regulations proposed by the regulatory agencies.  Most of the regulations will pass, but there will always be some that will be removed, or changed, in the amendment process. That's as it should be. The advantage here will still go to the regulatory agencies, since it's harder to remove and change regulations than to put them all in the proposed bill in the first place, but at least Congress will have some say, which will make regulatory agencies more accountable to the elected representatives of the people.

What's needed is some way to prevent regulatory agencies from just reinstating the same regulations as soon as they expire, and thus bypassing Congress.  A provision that a new regulation substantially the same as an expired regulation cannot be instituted for at least five years might help with that.  It can be left to the courts to decide what qualifies as substantially the same. Or some measures could be spelled out in law: for example, the same rules, just with different, or even stricter, numbers, is not substantially different.

So, would this work? Would this help clear away some of the old, ossified regulation while making sure that Congress has more of a say in the rules that do apply?  Or would it be an unworkable mess? Is it politically feasible, or would the groups interested in preserving the current regulatory regime quickly overpower the movement for such a law?  Certainly, I don't think the regulatory agencies themselves are looking for more Congressional oversight, and I'm not sure that any president would agree with allowing Congress to take away much of his influence.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


In addition to a hat, I also recently acquired a coat.  Or to put it more accurately, I bought the hat because I had bought the coat.

I had wanted a trench coat for a while, something that would do a better job of keeping the rain off than my current rain jacket, which does a decent job of keeping the rain off my upper body, but my pant legs usually get soaked, no matter how big the umbrella.

Kristin and I at Niagra Falls.  I'm wearing my old rain jacket here.
This became an issue when we were in England.  I had neglected to pack my rain jacket, and it was supposed to rain on the day we were planning to go to Stonehenge and Old Sarum. So the night before we stopped at a Debenhams department store about 15 minutes before it closed to find a rainproof jacket.  I wanted a long overcoat, but in the time we had we couldn't find one that was sufficiently rainproof, so I ended up getting this performance jacket instead:

Kristin and I at Stonehenge. I'm wearing my new jacket and my old hat.
Fortunately, it didn't actually rain that day, so I didn't have to put up with being wet from the thighs down.  I was still glad I had bought the jacket, as it came with a nice, thick fleece linking, so it was considerably warmer than the outerwear I had brought with me.

But when I got back, I decided to take another stab at the coat I wanted, and this time I found it on Amazon, as you can see on the left.  While in the picture, this trench coat looks like it goes down to the knees, even the short fit reaches my calves. I think I'll chalk that up to a benefit of being short, rather than a disadvantage.  It claims to be rain repellent rather than rainproof, but it seems to be good enough for the rain I've faced so far. It also comes with a zip-in liner, though it's not as warm as the one with the performance jacket.  However, the trench coat is cut large, as it's supposed to be worn over a suit, so I can wear the performance jacket's fleece liner under this coat and its liner, and the combination is quite warm.  I selected the color loden mainly because I didn't like the tan color, and while I did like the black, I figured I'd be wearing it a lot while walking in the dark on the Boston streets, and I'd prefer not to be invisible to cars.  Unfortunately, the color I selected cost extra, though I see that it's already $20 less than what I paid a little over a week ago.

The combination of the new coat and the hat was pretty effective at keeping me dry when it rained on Thursday, even without an umbrella (though I was wishing I had worn my waterproof hiking boots). So I've decided that it's a worthwhile purchase. It is, however, quite a production to put on, so I may not wear it so often when it's not raining, when the performance jacket will be sufficient.

Ready for the rain. Or perhaps to investigate crime on the mean streets of Boston, noir-style.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


I recently acquired a new hat.  Now I'm not usually one to accessorize, but I consider hats to be a necessity.  First, because winters in Boston are cold.  And secondly, because my optometrist tells me my eyes are overly sensitive to light, so I like to wear a hat with a large brim.  Now, of course I have a winter hat, but like most such hats, it has no brim.  And I have a wide brim hat that I wear on hikes in the summer, but it is designed with the exact opposite of warmth in mind.

So I recently acquired a new hat, with warmth in mind.  This one: the Tilley TTW2 Tec-Wool hat. It's decently warm, has a brim, and even has earwarmers.  Now, the earwarmers aren't quite as warm as I'd like, but they, and the hat, are wind proof, so they keep my ears from getting too cold.  And the hat looks pretty nice too.
Me in my new hat.
The earwarmers, which look a bit silly, but definitely help.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


After Salisbury, we went to Bath.  There are two main tourist attractions in Bath: the old Roman Bath, built on a natural hot spring, and the Thermae Bath Spa, that also draws from the hot spring.  There are other things as well, of course.  It's a nice, old town, with restaurants and museums.  I particularly liked this bridge:
Google Goggles tells me that this is the Pulteney Bridge.  It's lined with shops on either side. Google didn't recognize Kristin, but I think that's a good thing.
There are also some famous, and scenic, neighborhoods:

The Royal Crescent, in Bath. Also, the back of Kristin's head.
The Circus in Bath.  That's Kristin to the right.
But the baths--ancient and modern--were the main reason we went.

The ancient baths are the best preserved Roman baths in the world.  They were built on top of a natural hot spring, and thus have a very unusual Great Bath--a large pool of hot water:
The Great Bath, with tourists.  There was a roof in ancient times.  It's open to the air today.
They also have the more typical baths from the Roman era: the caldarium, which was the hottest bath and more of a sauna, though it did sometimes have a small, hot pool; the tepidarium, or warm room, which usually didn't have any water; and the frigidarium, or cold pool.

The Caldarium, or rather, the stacks of tiles that held up the floor.  Hot air ran through this area (called a hypocaust) to heat the room above.

The tepidarium, or warm room

The frigidarium, or cold pool.
We also went to the modern day Thermae Bath Spa.  We figured that this was as close as we could get to the experience of the Roman baths. There's a large warm pool, several saunas, and a warm, rooftop pool.  There was no cold pool, and to be honest, the warm pool was more characteristic of the special setup at Bath rather than the typical Roman path, and of course, everyone was wearing swimsuits, but it was the best we could do.  They didn't let us take pictures inside, so you'll have to check out the Thermae Bath Spa website to see what it looks like inside.

After Bath, Kristin and I went back to London for a day, and then on to home in Boston, where we're currently recovering from jetlag.

Thursday, November 07, 2013


We spent Thursday through Monday in Brighton for the World Fantasy Convention. As most of that time was spent at the Con, going to panels and parties and the Dealer's room, and I neglected to take much in the way of pictures, I'll just skip to the next part of the trip: Salisbury.

One of the neatest things about our trip was the hotel we were staying in.  It was built in the 14th century, and we were staying in one of the suites in the older part of it:

The suite in Salisbury
Kristin in the hallway outside the suite

An old door, with gryphons.
The construction of the walls of the inn, underneath the white plaster.  This is, I believe, wattle and daub construction.
We went to Salisbury because we wanted to see Stonehenge and some of the other historical sites in the area. Stonehenge proved to be less exciting than I had hoped. Pretty much the only thing to do there was to walk in a circle around Stonehenge (without getting too close), and take pictures. And frankly, after you've taken a picture from every conceivable angle, there just isn't much left to do. There's a free audio guide, but the only plaques are numbers to use on your audio guide. Personally, I hate audio guides, and would rather have something to read, but as that wasn't an option, I kind of regret not taking the guide. In any case, here are some pictures from Stonehenge:

Stonehenge again.
Yet more Stonehenge
The heelstone at Stonehenge.

We also went to Old Sarum. This is the original town that Salisbury grew out of, which dates back to an Iron Age hill fort, later used by the Romans and then the English kings. However, the secular authorities of the castle at Old Sarum got into a feud with the Bishop of the Cathedral in Old Sarum, and the bishop requested, and got, permission to build a new cathedral, well away from the town of Old Sarum. A new town grew up there, and as the English monarchy used Old Sarum less and less, New Sarum became Salisbury, while Old Sarum died. But, pictures:
Leading up to the location of the old castle
The view of the remains of the tower and castle from the wall
The remains of the Old Sarum cathedral.
The new Salisbury Cathedral can be seen in the distance.  It's the tallest church spire in England.
After looking at Old Sarum, we visited the Salisbury Cathedral, and saw what was built after the old Cathedral was left behind:
The view of the spire from the cathedral's courtyard.

Inside the cathedral.

Also inside the cathedral.
A model of Old Sarum, including the old cathedral, inside the Salisbury Cathedral.
Update: (11/8/2013): Added a picture of the Heelstone, which I couldn't find before.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

New Review up

My latest review is up at Black Gate. This month, it's The Nameless Dwarf: The Complete Chronicles by D.P. Prior.  To quote myself:
I have a soft spot for dwarves. I consider elves over-used Mary Sues and I could go another decade or two without reading another story about fairies, but give me short smiths with beards and axes who drink too much and I’ll keep reading. Which brings us to this month’s self-published book: The Nameless Dwarf: The Complete Chronicles. This wasn’t a book that the author submitted to me by my normal process: I’ll get back to those next month. This time, I actually bought the book from Amazon for actual money, because hey, it was about a dwarf.