Size of US Federal Code

Oops Again

Apparently 2020 has done something to me, because I’ve spaced my posting day so many times this year it’s not funny. So, yet again, sorry.

That said, I honestly don’t know what to talk about. I’ve been hermiting so hard and having so much trouble braining of late that there doesn’t seem to be much there. Sure, I can ramble on about anything and everything, but it feels to me like I’ve been doing way too much of that this year.

For that matter, this year hasn’t been good for anyone except the wannabe tyrants and those who watch said wannabe tyrants for evidence and world-building material. Even though stories have to make sense where reality doesn’t, it’s harder to argue that something wouldn’t ever happen when you can point to recent history and say that yeah, it did happen.

Of course, if you’re going to do that, it helps story-wise to make the wannabe tyrants outright evil. It seems to be a human failing that we want the people who do bad things to be bad people all around. We have a hard time accepting that sometimes people who do bad things are well meaning idiots (frequently) or short sighted, or even just see the facts differently.

The Evil Overlord can be – and historically has been – a complete softy for small fluffy cute animals. Or can gift the rest of us with a genuinely good set of laws – it’s those laws only applying to the ‘right’ people that makes the overlord and evil one after all. Or – and this isn’t a rare thing – the laws existing only on the books and not actually being applied in practice.

On the flip side of the coin, the well-meaning can completely strangle a people with well-intentioned and impossible to comply with laws that equally well-meaning law enforcement agencies try to follow. When you have a legal code that takes its own library without the many, many volumes of commentary and interpretations, you have a problem. Not because of any actual malevolence but because that many laws guarantee that there will be any number of contradictions and no-win situations.

And as soon as there are contradictory laws and situations where no matter what happens it’s illegal, you have a de facto police state where it’s only a matter of who decides what to enforce when that keeps most people from being penalized. It’s a good thing that most of the places where this happens are high-trust societies.

Except, of course, that certain idiots seem to be doing everything in their power to erode the level of trust the people in those societies have in their legal and governing institutions. I rather suspect that we are living in Interesting Times, and I would much prefer that we were in boring ones, no matter how much story-fodder Interesting Times can provide.

19 comments

  1. > it’s harder to argue that something wouldn’t ever happen when you can point to recent history and say that yeah, it did happen.

    Give the Ministry of Truth a little time to work on that, and all those troubling inconsistencies will go away.

    1. ’tis rather like the old jokes about Pravda having very little of it and learning to read between the lines of what isn’t said, da, Comrade?

  2. I suspect the contradictory laws and limited application of good laws are what leads to “If only the Tsar knew . . .” People know (or have heard stories that) good laws and justice exist, but the local authorities are denying justice. Thus, “if only the King knew, he’d stop this/fix it/bring justice.”

    1. I don’t doubt it. Of course, the “if only the Tsar knew…” situation gets even stronger when the person in charge is deliberately using a personality cult effect.

  3. I think that ‘time to read Harry Potter’ must be an overestimate. Which suggests likewise for the CFR, but even so, staying on top of the CFR would probably be impossible for single person, and would definitely not be a trivial task.

    1. Presumably the times for the other items are based on average readers, not the folks here. That said, the CFR is not something that can be speed-read. Regardless of intention, the bloody US legal code is damn near impossible to navigate and needs a cross-referenced database behind it just to have a hope of following it.

      1. It’s the cross-referencing that kills you. You’re reading the Affordable Care Act, and also have to have all the IRS regulations, and HHS, and FDA, and . . .

        1. Yes, exactly. And by the time you’ve hunted all of that down and worked out what it all actually means, it’s four years later and there’s another dead forest worth of laws to wade through.

  4. Hehehehe, the CFR graph up there made me chuckle a LOT. See, I work for the BLM (the fed one, not the terrorist one), and I haaaaaaate the CFR. Trying to find almost ANYTHING in it is a freaking nightmare. I finally had to put dozens of little sticky tabs in the bits that relate to my job, heh.

    1. I have no doubt of that. The very few bits of US law that I’ve read are… well. Seems like the damn things are deliberately written to be as obtuse as humanly possible, sometimes. Then I remind myself that if I’ve got to choose between stupid or conspiracy, go with stupid every time.

      1. I am 100% certain it’s because the law is written by lawyers, or at least people with law degrees. Who are a.) utterly convinced that doing so makes it super extra special LEGAL and also closes loopholes (which it doesn’t) and b.) are enamored of how awesome and smart they think writing stuff that way makes them look (which it doesn’t.)

        And I say this as someone who *loves* fifty-cent words and uses them in everyday conversation. But I love language. The people who wrote that stuff don’t, they’re just using it as some kind of club–in both the ‘blunt weapon’ and the “you filthy commoners stay OUT” senses of the word 😀

        1. ~sings~

          “You oughta see the Senate when they’re drawin’ up a bill.
          ‘Whereases’ and ‘to wits’ are crowded in each codicil.
          Such legal terminology would give your heart a thrill:
          There’s phrases there that no one understands!
          The country’s in the very best of hands!”

          ~/sings~

          1. Reminds me of something I’ve long felt, which may well be more of my usual nutjobbery.

            For the people with the formal legal training, and experience, the complexity of law and regulation is much less than the apparent complexity for a layman.

            Law schools teach litigation, arbitration, and mediation as possible ways to resolve dispute, but may ignore the fourth, the knife.

            The law professionals can make the legal context for more conventional dispute resolution arbitrarily complex, but because they are competing with the knife, past a certain point they just shift things to letting it be, building up over time, and revenge killings.

            I’m finding this a less interesting line of thought than I first did. Now, it seems in practice that we are seeing other failure modes cause a shift to unfortunate alternatives before this one comes into play.

            Anyway, it would be interesting to see if some good pattern sorts could study archaic language, come up with some nonsense phrases that fit the flavor, and see how many legal sorts could distinguish documents with nonsense phrases from documents without.

          2. ~sings~

            “You oughta see the Senate when they’re drawin’ up a bill.
            ‘Whereases’ and ‘to wits’ are crowded in each codicil.
            Such legal terminology would give your heart a thrill:
            There’s phrases there that no one understands!
            The country’s in the very best of hands!”

            ~/sings~

            Oh, so very true. The language in some of these things would completely fail the WTF per minute test. And is not helped even a little bit by the way the legal profession has come to use a great many words in ways that do not mean what the rest of us expect them to mean.

            (And this is without contemplating what the meaning of “is” is)

        2. Sara, there are few things more terrifying than someone who thinks they’re smarter than they really are. They do the whole overcomplicating the verbiage and building castles on quicksand thing without realizing the damage they’re causing.

          I don’t know if it’s deliberately done to keep us filthy plebs out or if they’re just so marinated in high-falutin’ legal talk that they forget how real people think and speak (or both) – I don’t think it even matters because the result is the same.

    2. Sara, I did that for the FARs back when I flew for a living (FAR 61, 91, 135, and a few random bits here and there just for kicks and giggles). However, they are written in clear, plain language, probably because they date back to the days between the wars (I and II, for the curious).

      Some of the legal findings derived from those are . . . obtuse, vague, and opaquer than a foot thick piece of cement, but the core regulations are amazingly clear.

  5. If I were Ruler of All Earth…ummmm, never mind. Let me just start with Ruler of the USA, for a bit:

    I would REQUIRE that all legislation and regulation, at EVERY level, meet an objective standard of providing a cost-effective benefit over the status quo.
    Since I live in Georgia, I’ll use it as an example of what I’m talking about.
    Recently in Atlanta, the mayor decreed that everyone has to wear a mask in public. She wasn’t the first mayor in Georgia to do that, but since she’s the mayor of the biggest city, it drew attention. I don’t know that there has been any ACTUAL fallout over that yet or not, ie, nobody has gone to jail, but the governor has mentioned that this is unenforceable.
    Under my policy, in order to implement this plan, the mayor would have to demonstrate that specific benefits would accrue, which would not be met by more cost-effective measures.
    Instead, she just gets to say, “wear A MASK!” and drop the mike.

    Same thing on all recommended gun control items, drug policy, funding decisions, determination of whether people can taker over a city center, whatever. Before a law gets passed, a regulation implemented, it MUST be demonstrated that the action will provide the benefit, and be a cost-effective way of doing that.

    Now, you may point out that other human endeavors which require demonstration of a benefit, such as drug trials, scientific & social research, you name it, ALSO require a population to test things on. In universities, students taking intro psych classes must meet a research requirement, which can be a paper, or can mean that they sign up to be a test subject for something a doctoral candidate is doing. With appropriate approval by appropriate agencies, you can drug your mice, chop up your bacteria, cultivate your virus, etc. So, you might ask, where are you going to get your experimental subjects for proposed legislation and regulation?

    Well, shucks…Washington DC is just SITTING there, right?

    1. It’s not the things you can suss out in a cost-benefit analysis up front that are the trick, though that would help. It’s the unexpected side-effects. (ACTUALLY unexpected.)

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