In junior high school, I had a certain fascination for figure/ground images - those illustrations that, depending on how they were perceived, were either two profiles facing each other or the outline of a lampshade. When I asked the school psychologist the purpose of the drawings, she told me that they gauged our ability to discern images or separate them amidst a contrasted background.Despite understanding about every third word of her professional explanation, I was able to figure out in layman's terms that some people see things one way, while others see them another.

Over the past several years, I've often felt that way about the rules-based vs. principles-based debate over accounting standards. I've attended conferences, listened in to Webcasts, and written series of articles and several columns on the debate, and I'm still unsure of whether I see the people or the 1950s-style lamp.

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