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Darth Paradox

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Musings and books [Nov. 3rd, 2010|04:06 pm]
Darth Paradox
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The silver lining to the shit-filled cloud

Now that the Republicans have half of Congress, they have to start delivering, or the same wave of populist anger that swept them into the House of Representatives will sweep them right back out again. And I think they're completely incapable of actually getting anything fixed, because the greedy corporations and rich fuckers backing them will actually be better off - in the short term, anyway, but they only count their money three months at a time - if everything stays broken.

Also, the vast majority of Democrats who lost their seats yesterday were of the sort all too willing to give away anything and everything to the Republicans anyway. Here's hoping that in two years we get some people back into the Democratic Party actually capable of fighting for their principles.

NaNoWriMo

On target so far; finished last night at 3651 (against a goal of 3334) and got another 500-some words down on the bus this morning. The story - about a high-schooler's adventures on the competitive math circuit; not autobiographical but definitely drawn in parts from my experience - hasn't actually gotten out of what I intended to be a fairly short prologue set in middle school. It'll come, but it's given me some good ideas for additional plot points, so I'm not too worried right now.

Books

57. Trial of Flowers by Jay Lake
58. The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross
59. On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthony
60. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
61. Triplanetary by E.E. "Doc" Smith

Trial of Flowers was fascinating - "urban fantasy" not in the "werewolves, vampires, and leather" sense so much as "fantasy relying on a city setting". The sense of setting is excellent, and just analogous enough to certain modern issues to make me think. It took a pretty typical "chuck the reader into the world and let them work out the details" approach to some of the unfamiliar story elements, but they became familiar soon enough. And the whole absent-gods thing echoed some of the fantasy setting material I've been playing around with myself, so I've certainly got some more food for thought.

The Fuller Memorandum was a perfect Laundry story. All the elements were there in perfect combination, including the inversion of story tropes around spies and intelligence services that's becoming a trademark of the Laundry series.

On a Pale Horse took a good hundred or so pages to pick up, plotwise, but when it did it delivered a pretty excellent story and some interesting thoughts about how we perceive the forces of nature. On the other hand, the constant, casual degradation of women (the author literally calls a receptionist a "decoration" at one point) and the main character's obsession with the "purity" of his love interest (including his relief at finding out that she'd only been mentally raped by a demon, rather than physically) varied between mildly distracting and outright disgusting. There are some sexism issues I can forgive from various authors for various reasons, mostly to do with the historical context of the writing - Heinlein obviously comes to mind - but it's pretty damn hard to justify Anthony's writing, even from 1983, particularly as I understand that the intervening 27 years haven't resulted in much improvement. Sigh. I'm not sure whether I'll read the other six books in the series yet, but I'll see what Sora (who recommended them in the first place) has to say.

Hamlet... oh, Hamlet, you insufferably emo whiner layabout, you. Coming from a mental model of Macbeth as the prototype for Shakespearean tragedy, where the overall tragic arc was clearly defined and excellently executed, Hamlet just strikes me as bloody weird. It seems like the whole point is just to say "Death comes for us all without sense or reason", which actually sounds like the kind of thing Hamlet himself would say. It hangs together pretty well thematically, so maybe the utter mess that is the actual plot is necessary to drive home that point.

Triplanetary, the first novel of the famous Lensman series, is obviously a first-book-in-a-series, as it sets up a major conflict without anything remotely resembling resolution, provides some vignettes of historical context, and then devotes the remaining half or so of the book to a small-scale conflict against the background of the larger one. Stylistically, it feels a little dated, but I guess that's to be expected from something that started out as a series of short stories in the 30s. But Smith's position as the father of "space opera" is clear here, as the narrative is filled with an escalating series of space battles where more and more powerful weapons and spaceships are brought to bear against each other. I suppose an early trait, and perhaps weakness, of the space-opera genre is the need to constantly be topping one's previous conflicts; it's often driven by an arms race within the narrative, but it sometimes feels more like the author's in an arms race with himself. (I get the same feeling from the Honor Harrington books, which are pretty much a direct successor to Lensman's position as space-opera genre exemplar. Whether it's an intentional effect or a consequence of writing a space-opera series, I don't know.)
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: miang.dreamwidth.org
2010-11-03 11:46 pm (UTC)
oh, Hamlet, you insufferably emo whiner layabout, you.

YES THIS omg.

I don't know if you're intending to release your NaNo story (with or without editing), but I can safely say it's the first one I've encountered that I would be genuinely eager to read if made available. I never did competitive math myself -- took a few national exams in HS and college; failed hard at them -- but my God, what a fascinating idea for a plot. Do want!
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[User Picture]From: nightsinger
2010-11-04 06:39 am (UTC)
I've read the first, oh, 3300 words or so of his NaNo this year... it's actually amazingly readable and engaging, despite being a NaNo and therefore a first draft.

He just told me he sent what he's got to you already. XD I'd love to hear your thoughts, too. Chris always claims I'm biased; maybe he'd trust you more. ;)
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[User Picture]From: misterflames
2010-11-04 03:48 am (UTC)
Piers Anthony... yeah. I read that series back when I was in my twenties, I think. Not that bad, honestly, but not that deep, either. And if you really want to see him writing crazily about women, get the Bio of a Space Tyrant series.

Triplanetary, actually, is a prequel sort of book. It was written to help lay the foundations for the Lensmen as a series of books rather than a collection of novellas. Just remember that when it looks its most cliched, Doc Smith was the guy who made them so that others could turn them into cliches.
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[User Picture]From: darthparadox
2010-11-04 06:43 am (UTC)
Hell, at least Incarnations of Immortality is far better than Xanth so far.

I know it's a prequel (though I didn't make that fact clear originally) - it being obviously a first-of-a-series isn't necessarily a bad thing. But remembering "no, this wasn't a cliche when it was written, it's why it's a cliche now" is definitely worthwhile. David Drake is definitely tromping around in Doc Smith's shoes; I need to read more of both of them before I can decide whether he's actually filling said shoes or not...
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[User Picture]From: mcmartin
2010-11-04 08:13 am (UTC)
Triplanetary, the first novel of the famous Lensman series, is obviously a first-book-in-a-series

Actually, it was the third written; Galactic Patrol, the third in the series, was the first written and published (as serials). Triplanetary and First Lensman are prequels.

I suppose an early trait, and perhaps weakness, of the space-opera genre is the need to constantly be topping one's previous conflicts; it's often driven by an arms race within the narrative, but it sometimes feels more like the author's in an arms race with himself.

This onion-skin design is intrinsic to the series and one of its defining factors. Suffice to say you haven't seen anything yet. (The other, for a modern audience, being "There hasn't been WWII yet, eugenics and casual racism and sexism aren't unfasionable".)
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[User Picture]From: darthparadox
2010-11-04 04:25 pm (UTC)
Got it. I knew that it was revised from the serialization and published after some of the others, but I wasn't sure where in there it was written.

I'm reminded of the standard Type I/II/III Civilization scale, which I think corresponds to the capability of harnessing the power output of an entire planet/star/galaxy? I imagine we'll be moving up that scale pretty quickly.
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[User Picture]From: xaandria
2010-11-07 05:28 pm (UTC)
The sexism in Incarnations can be worthy of teeth-grinding, but it's far more noticeable in the books in the POV of the male incarnations. Gaea and Clotho/Lachesis/Atropos and Jolie/Orlene stories are a bit less overtly misogynist, although they then tend to twist over to misandry which isn't necessarily better. Wielding a Red Sword is one of the worst misogynist works I have come across that isn't trying to show a totalitarian past/future or be satire.

They're worth a read, if for nothing other than the interesting play on mythology, but I have to shake my head in confusion at the mind who so polarizes the two genders to the point of making them both incomprehensible.
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[User Picture]From: kazriko
2010-11-08 11:12 pm (UTC)
*headscratch*

Which party gets more contributions from Massive corporations like GE? From Massive lawyer firms? Massive companies with large unions? Casinos? Massive internet firms? Massive technology firms? Last I checked, all of those donations went heavily for democrats, to the point of busing their employees to the polls during work hours. The point isn't which party takes more contributions from large corporations, it's that both parties are way too beholden to corporations. Unless we allow a third party to thrive, we're going to be in the same position no matter what party is in power.

You seem to think that they're fighting for principles, but really it's just that they're fighting for corporations who have managed to work the system so that what is good for that corporation sounds like a well principled argument for the good of everyone... But in reality, it's just another way for the corporation to beat down their competition and give them what amounts to a monopoly on energy credits, wind turbines, or light bulbs... and to force small companies that make those products out of business because they can't afford to comply with all of the regulations tailor made for the large corporation. You complain about the corporations thinking short term, but it's really the corporations thinking long-term that are the problem. They are the ones who can do the most damage.

Those who have an incomplete understanding of politics have this picture of Democrats as the lower and middle class party, and the republicans as the upper-middle and rich class...

The reality is somewhat more complex. Like the french nobility of the 1st estate pre-revolution, the Democrats are for the ultra/hereditary rich (Heinz, Gates, Hilton, Rockefeller etc,) huge corporate interests, and incidentally for patronizing and perpetuating the poorer classes. Without the poor, they would lose their political clout, so they don't dare allow the poor to ever transcend their place in society.

The republicans are generally for the middle class and the rich who have earned their fortunes on their own, and their policies would increase the number of rich and upper-middle class in general, and reduce the number of poor and middle class... if they were allowed to continue. I suggest this link http://reason.com/archives/2010/11/08/addicted-to-government

But they still are under the influence of the corporations that want to control their markets and shut others out, so it's a matter of do you want the rich to limit their competition, or do you want the very rich to shut out their competition? We really need a third option.

*sigh* I've probably gotten too ranty on this.

In the long term, the republicans aren't going to be able to accomplish anything, and the Administration is going to switch to their B-plan with Cass Sunstein and force their changes through solely with regulations in the executive branch, and with only having one house of the congress the Republicans are going to be powerless to stop them. If Obama were a Clinton instead and interested in compromise, I'd say we might have a return to the good times of the mid-late 90's, but he isn't so we're going to continue on the rather reckless path we've been on for 10 years. Full republican control? Bad. Squishy republican executive + democrat house? Bad. Full democrat control? Bad twice-over. Republican house and squishy democrat executive? Really Good. Partially republican house and hard-left executive? We'll see...
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[User Picture]From: darthparadox
2010-11-09 04:14 am (UTC)
I'd imagine that, within the Democratic Party, receiving massive corporate contributions probably correlates strongly with the tendency to defect to the Republicans. I don't really have the time to do the research right now. Suffice it to say, I agree that corporate control of the Democrats is a problem, and the problem is that it's made them act more like Republicans.

Your reason.com link is a little confusing here; I think welfare reform is important, but there are lots of people who are poor for reasons that have nothing to do with failing to work sufficiently hard - just take a look at any of the thousands of people bankrupted by their medical bills when they get screwed over by their insurance companies, or the millions of people that have been looking for jobs for the last couple years because the Republican economic policies damaged the economy. The meme of "the poor are poor because they're lazy" is just one of the talking points that the right wing uses to justify their classism. There are certainly some poor people who are lazy, but there are some rich people who are lazy as well, and the difference is that the rich lazy people were lucky enough to be set for life from the day they were born.

More generally, history shows pretty clearly that the last thirty years or so, with Reagan-era economic policies dominating the country, has grown GDP while leaving median real wages stagnant, or even declining against inflation. So where's all that money going? It's pretty clearly going to the top few percent. If those Republican policies were actually going to decrease the percentage of poor and middle-class people, making them upper-middle-class or rich, median wages should have climbed as a result of those policies.

If nothing else, look at the fact that the Republicans refuse to pass tax cuts for the middle class without stapling on $700 billion of deficit's worth of tax cuts for the rich. That pretty easily puts the lie to the idea that the Republicans are fighting for the success of the middle class.

(Also, the idea that Obama isn't interested in compromise is full of shit, considering he's done practically nothing else since he got into office. He's hardly a hard-left president.)
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[User Picture]From: kazriko
2010-11-09 05:57 am (UTC)
They won't pass tax cuts for the middle class without cutting it for the rich because it is unfair to cut taxes unevenly. The old example is of a restaurant that charges people based on their ability to pay. Say there are 10 people splitting the $100 tab. 1 person picks up $40 of the check. The next picks up $20, the next 2 pick up $15, the next two pay $5, and the last 4 pay $0. The restaurant owner finds some deals on his ingredients one day, and ends up only charging $90 instead of $100. Most of those saying that the rich are getting too big of a tax cut would in this situation complain that the rich guy is getting $4 off his bill, while the ones who pay $5 are only getting 50 cents off their bill, and that cuts should be equal... So you should cut costs by $1 for everyone? What about the people who pay $0? Should they get money back for eating there?

The reason article ties into the last time we had a republican legislature and a democrat president. Poverty had been rock solid for the entire 30-40 years of the "war on poverty" until the Republican Legislature and Democrat president pushed through welfare reform. I'm hoping that Obama will actually work with the republicans and we'll see another era of reasonable budgets and rational reforms, but everything I've seen from past "compromises" indicates that he isn't going to be Bill Clinton.

It's not about "lazy" people at all, it's about people dependent on government. The new people are avoiding the cultural and governmental trap that has kept our existing populations impoverished. The reliance on government to take care of all of your needs. Until we change the structure of these programs to reward those who get off the program, and reward those who get people off of the program instead of punishing both, we're going to keep people impoverished... (The social worker who actually helps their client and gets them a job that lasts loses out because they have a smaller base of people, they won't get promoted if they have less clients...)

The Upper middle class can become rich without the median income budging, btw. The median is just that, 50% above, 50% below. If you're working on moving the top 20 percent into being rich, it isn't necessarily going to budge the bottom 70% of people. Especially when you have tax credits and programs that are spreading further and further out into the population that are designed to keep people poor and dependent. If you look at the median income earners, they're either not paying any income taxes, or are very close to not paying any income taxes, and a very good chance that they are being subsidized by the top 50% of people who do pay taxes.

I still wonder what he's compromised on, past talking of compromising. No single payer? Yeah, but there's triggers in there that will lead to single payer if the system gets bad enough, combined with regulations designed specifically to make sure the system gets bad enough. You can keep your health insurance? Oh, sure, as long as it meets all of these new regulations... The republicans put forth a number of health insurance ideas that were all struck down, from tort reform to opening up markets to reducing regulations from the FDA. A few extreme positions were compromised, but they were like the really bad jokes that script writers put in when they give a script to the standards and practices censors. Throwaways to make the other stuff look tame by comparison. We still have government dictating what has to be in an insurance plan and what things can and can't be paid for and controlling what treatments that the doctors can use instead of leaving that up to the doctor.
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[User Picture]From: darthparadox
2010-11-10 06:21 am (UTC)
If it's unfair to cut taxes unevenly, why bother with brackets at all? The tax cut for the middle class is removing some of the burden from a group of people with far more need of that money than the rich have. The reason we have brackets is that the less people make, the less of their income they can afford to give up as taxes. And it's clear that the rich can afford to take on far more of the burden of funding this country; the highest marginal tax rates were far higher even under Reagan than at present, never mind during that boom time of the 1950s.

And it absolutely is about demonizing poor people as lazy. That's one of the major emotional arguments the right wing makes when they talk about cutting social services. Go ahead and search for the word "lazy" in that article. I guarantee you that the article's quoting that person as support for their argument. I agree that the way a lot of these programs get carried out may need to change, but that's a far cry from the social service budget cuts and program cancellations that Republicans are always pushing for. (And further, I have serious doubts that the social workers are actually incentivized to prevent their clients from doing well; if you like, I'll ask a couple of social-worker friends what would happen in their jobs if the number of their clients that got steady jobs tripled tomorrow. From my conversations with them, I'm pretty sure there are far more cases than workers that can handle them right now anyway.)

I understand that in theory, as long as nobody below the 50% line moves, the median can stay the same. You specifically said that Republican policies would reduce the number of poor and middle-class people, which is why I'm calling bullshit on that one.

The entire health-care reform bill was one big compromise, yes. Between the progressives' argument for single-payer and the conservatives' desire to keep the insurance industry as intact as possible. He's certainly been compromising on civil rights issues, dragging his feet on DADT and actually defending both DADT and DOMA in court, likely because he doesn't want to risk the political battle right now - it may not be a legislative compromise, but it is one nevertheless. He's compromised on a lot of the military issues as well, backing away from his stances during the campaign.
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[User Picture]From: kazriko
2010-11-10 11:02 am (UTC)
You're debating with me, not the internet, so quit bringing them up. ;) Others may be calling them lazy, but as a libertarian I place the blame squarely where it belongs... With government bureaucrats whose job is to keep as many people on welfare as they can so their budget doesn't get cut.

The problem with calling BS on that one issue and saying that all republican policies are bad because of it is that only 2 of the policies have even been implemented. Tax cuts and welfare reform. Tax cuts have helped the upper 20-40% improve, but haven't improved it for the lower class for reasons I describe below. Welfare reform was passed and had an impact on the poverty rate, but not enough to raise the median wage because it wasn't done in concert with a number of other fiscal conservative policies that I'm referring to as being things that would help the poor. In fact, both the republicans and democrats have been pushing the opposite direction on those policies.

The only thing that can reduce the number of poor is reforming the corrupt government systems that keep them poor. In particular, business licensing/regulation, education and welfare. The welfare system is designed to create massive disincentives for people who might want to work. If they work, they lose a huge chunk of money. It costs them money to work rather than earning them money up until a certain threshold. The business licensing and regulation creates barriers to anyone including minorities who want to start a business up for themselves. Poorly implemented government-run education makes it difficult for people to get more than the most menial of jobs, so they won't get the higher paying jobs that would let them beat the threshold where they start earning more than welfare. These 3 things combine to create a massive trap that keeps people impoverished. People new to the country are avoiding falling into that trap to begin with by not getting on welfare, and starting with better education...

The fact that both parties are at fault is particularly obvious in education. Studies of other countries that have better education results than we do with less money indicate that the two things you need are independence of schools so they can try new things, and having competition with the money following the student to whichever school they choose.

Both parties are 50% wrong and 50% right. The democrats at least partially have that independence of schools and the ability to set their own curriculum is an essential part of making schools work, declarations from politicians and central institutions are doomed to failure. But they're utterly wrong on the school funding and competition, as well as unionization of schools. The republicans have the funding thing down, where the money follows the student to whatever school they choose, but they put in the NCLB which is a massive intrusion into the school's independence.

The same is true of many things. Both parties have good ideas, but the compromises tend to go the opposite direction of the good ideas. They compromise on education, and get a system where it's top-down control, throwing lots of money at schools, and that money can only go to public schools. A recipe for failure. They compromise on taxes and spending, doing moderate tax cuts without cutting spending, borrowing money to spend on projects that do not actually do any long-term good.

I'm certainly not saying that recent past republican administrations have improved any of those things. A great many things were done during the Bush admin that irked fiscal conservatives, and we complained about it, but those complaints fell on deaf ears just like our complaints over the last 4 years of democrat dominance of congress have fallen on deaf ears... Up until the election, at least.

But demonizing the tea party republicans and saying the republicans have no principles is essentially demonizing the people who actually intend to fix those 3 things. The washington democrats and washington republicans both have stakes in keeping the system the way it is, only the new republicans and libertarians have any chance of pushing reforms in these areas. I think this congress is more like the 1994 one than they are like the 2000-2006 republicans...
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[User Picture]From: darthparadox
2010-11-11 07:16 am (UTC)
I was arguing against the article because you cited it as support for your own positions. I'm glad you don't agree with that particular statement.

Tax cuts and welfare reform aren't the only Republican economic policies to have been implemented, either. The massive financial-industry deregulation that caused the current recession is another Republican policy.

I do see where you're coming from re: concerns about the social service programs becoming a self-perpetuating institution; I'm emailing the social workers I know to get their take on it.

I agree that any welfare system that incentivizes staying on welfare is horribly broken, and that does need fixing. The fix isn't cutting funding to the services, though, it's restructuring the requirements around them so they work better - or even moving the funding from there to a new class of social service that does actually incentivize getting off of welfare. And there are plenty of people who do manage to get off welfare, because pride in making a living for oneself is incentive enough for them; and others actually find a job that pays more than they're making in welfare checks.

Business licensing is not that painful; I know, having just gone through the process myself. Setting up an LLC was kind of annoying and required a few hours of a lawyer's time to draw up a bunch of documents, but a sole proprietorship is really damn easy to set up. Maybe it's worse elsewhere, I don't know.

Education definitely needs to be improved, but it still needs to be kept freely available to everyone. I'd love to see a system where everyone got a voucher and schools were run like business, competing for the tax dollars that came with the vouchers - but only if there were a way to guarantee that there wasn't a way to price poor people out of the better schools.

In general, and I realize this distinction has been lost in a lot of this conversation because I forgot to make the point like I usually do - I think there are a lot of good ideas coming out of the actual fiscal-conservative wing of the Republican Party. However, the fact is that the priorities of the party as an institution are largely set by the party leaders, who appear to be wholly bought and owned by corporations seeking the freedom to extract profit without any regulations, and by wealthy people who are pushing for tax cuts so they can hold on to more of their money, the country's economic stability be damned. And between that and the fact that the Republican leaders enforce a lot more party-line discipline than the Democratic ones do, as far as I'm concerned they've earned this criticism.
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[User Picture]From: kazriko
2010-11-11 08:58 am (UTC)
I'm not talking about starting a business as much as licensing just for doing certain tasks. Here's a site for some examples. http://reason.com/archives/2010/03/11/the-right-to-work . John Stossel and Reason.tv are good sources for information on this sort of thing.

I'm not saying we cut welfare, a better solution is to make it so that the benefits slowly phase out as income grows, rather than stopping suddenly. Also, one thing Benjamin Franklin said would be helpful is to make those who are poor uncomfortable in their poverty. Finding ways of making it slightly shameful to be getting that assistance would encourage people to make their way away from it, combined with making it so they could ease themselves off of it until they can stand on their own. If you're successful and you do it right, the cost for welfare will go down on its own without needing cuts.

As for the voucher system, such a system was in place in washington DC. It did a very good job of getting the poorest of students into very good schools, and did so until it was canceled by the current administration. Only because of huge backlash did they permit current students to continue, but they shut it down for all new students. I imagine that they wouldn't need to get into the best schools, just that there were multiple choices available for all students that were reasonable... The existence of multiple options for all should improve the education for all (as long as it also lets the schools experiment and find better ways of teaching.)

BTW, you do know for whom they are getting that profit, right? It's profit that goes to things like 401k programs for people to retire, for pension programs for unions, for the savings of the elderly, etc. It's not just going to a bunch of wealthy people.

Is it better to have limited sane regulations, or to have overarching extremely powerful regulations whose crafting is done to the specifications of the largest corporations? I vote for limited regulations with more protections of individual rights.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about.

The EPA is meant to reduce pollution in the environment, right? Well, when you have an oil spill, the obvious course would be to use any technology that you have available even if it's not perfect if the alternative is to leave all of the oil in the water. We had a number of foreign oil skimmers that were available very soon after the spill, but they weren't permitted to help with the effort. The EPA regulations though state that any water put into the ocean must have less than 15 parts per million of oil. Theoretically this is to protect from people dumping pollution into the ocean, but it's stupid in this case because it is an operation to reduce the pollution in the ocean. With rigid rules like this, greater good is sacrificed for adherence to the letter of the regulation and trying to get an exemption in this case proved futile and the result came far too late...

A sane regulation would permit putting some oil back in the ocean if the quantity is being reduced compared to the intake. A sane regulation would permit those harmed by the pollution to easily bring a complaint about it in court, rather than having the EPA just unilaterally block things and bring suit themselves. In this case, if they had to prove that the small amount of oil left in the water was pollution being added by those doing the cleanup, they wouldn't be able to do that in court.

Of course, you want there to be lawyers available that people who do not have the means to get their own can use to help them protect their rights in court as a replacement for these sprawling, inefficient, and bloated bureaucracies. Allow people whose rights are directly affected to easily and at little cost to themselves sue to force the company to either do the cleanup themselves, or pay for the cleanup and other improvements to the areas involved.
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[User Picture]From: kazriko
2010-11-10 11:02 am (UTC)
As for tax brackets, I think they should be abolished alongside all of the special deductions. You can set a floor below which no income is taxed, but past that a flat percentage is better. Income went up despite the tax rate getting cut nearly in half in the 1980's because when they stripped the tax rate down, they also stripped out all of the special exemptions. Those are the things that were making the high rates bearable for the rich and keeping them from fleeing the country. Unfortunately, since they didn't eliminate the IRS and constitutionally ban these sorts of exemptions, those were quickly added back in.

The debate on if income tax in general is a good thing, or if another method of funding would be better is left for another time...
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