Tag Archives: Dark Tower

Let’s Talk About Tax, Baby: Part 2

See Let’s Talk About Tax, Baby: Part 1, if you haven’t.

There is a contention that tax is theft. If anyone else took your money in such a manner, if would be called theft, but our glorious overlords have decreed that it is legal for them to do it, so that makes it all ok.

Sarcasm aside, I was alluding to this in the charity analogy last week. If you don’t pay your taxes, some government agents (probably armed) will take you away and lock you up against your will.

But let’s set that aside for now, and even set aside “are you getting value for money?” (spoilers: no), and take a look at tax.

In history class, we might learn of crazy things like “window tax”. People were taxed on the basis of how many windows their house had (and possibly how big those windows were. The assumption being that rich people would be living in bigger houses with more windows (class warfare is nothing new). Naturally, as people don’t like to pay tax, this led to a lot of people living in gloomy houses.

So silly, we think, but people back then didn’t pay the sheer amount of tax that we do today.

So, you work, you pay income tax.

You drive, you pay vehicle tax, road tax, fuel tax (which corresponds to how much you use the vehicle), possibly mileage tax on top of that in some places (because fuel tax Just Isn’t Enough).

You go to the store (probably in your car, invoking the list of taxes above) and buy stuff (using money from your income that you’ve already been taxed on). The bulk of your shopping might be food, and there might not be sales tax on food. But included in the food cost are wages for workers at the store, and so there’s their income tax etc. Also included is transport costs for getting the food to the store from the distribution center, so all the driving-related taxes you have to pay for yourself (plus the truckers’ taxes). Property tax for the store and the distribution center. Same again of all of the above for manufacturing places that assemble many of our foods, and for farmers who grow the ingredients.

And then there are other things you buy that do have extra tax. Physical stores in the UK were quickly outclassed by online stores when it came to DVDs, several online stores set up in Jersey and Guernsey, which took advantage of a tax loophole. At one point, retail stores were selling the Extended Edition of The Two Towers for retail price: somewhere around 45-50 quid. An online store, at the time, was selling it for 15.99 (does that count as “tax evasion”?). A shopowner friend of mine lamented that that was less than he was paying _his_ supplier for them. No wonder the High Street/Main Street is in trouble.

The UK has VAT, Value Added Tax. One place produces the raw materials, and sends them on to the manufacturer for (cost + labour + profit + tax). The manufacturer makes something from the raw materials and sells them for (cost + labour + profit + tax). Depending on how many stages it takes to get to the finished product, a big chunk of change can be added to what you have to pay, just in VAT. And ultimately, it’s you the consumer who pays it.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the phrase, “it’s turtles all the way down“. Well, it’s taxes all the way down. You can go past the farmer to his suppliers, or tax added at several stages with VAT… it’s like fractals.

Fractals observed in nature are a finite pattern, so perhaps the branch looks like a smaller version of the tree entire, or the rock like the mountain. The pattern is similar, but not exact. On a computer, fractals are usually perfectly-repeated patterns, potentially going on forever (presumably system resources can become an issue). I remember a type-in program in an issue of Commodore Format, that took rather a long time to run.

Seems taxes are more like the computer version of fractals than the natural one.

Property tax. I touched on it in the “store” section. Say you have managed to buy your own house. You own the land and the building, there’s nothing you owe on it. Good job. And then some level of government comes in and charges you some kind of property tax.

Then tragedy strikes, and you’re at a point where you’re unable to pay your bills. You concentrate on things you Really Need (water, food), and cut as many things as you can. So you cut property taxes. Your dire situation goes on long enough, and they can come and take your property out from under you.

Seems like this isn’t a new thing. I was researching a castle in England, that various kings had given and taken away from various people (“An Englishman’s home is his castle: constantly under threat by the State”).

I recall a list of human needs, food, water, shelter. I have a problem with threats against those, whether it’s a government commandeering part of your property so it can widen the road, kick you out because you can’t afford the tax, or demolishing your planet to make way for a new hyperspace bypass.

You know what I mean.

Of course, there’s many more taxes. Death taxes. Import duties. Carbon tax. TV license, in the UK. I’m sure you hear of “stealth taxes”, I’ve heard of inflation referred to as a hidden tax. You’ll find big lists pretty easily if you search the internet for something like “list of taxes”. It’s kind of a scary thought just how far and wide the tentacles reach.

I find it hard to believe that anyone who would consider adding new taxes, or raising them, has any idea of the extent of taxation already in place. It’s like, you’re already the batteries in the Matrix, and there are people who want the batteries drained faster? It’s hard to ascribe good intentions to such people (other than invoking the adage about a certain road that’s paved with good intentions). Even if they have good motives, how much do those motives really count for?

Tune in tomorrow for Part 3, bringing us another angle.

Review: Dragon Sun

In general, I’m not into tie-in novels because quality can be an issue. Also, there’s often issues with whether or not the books Really Happened.

Take, for example, Star Trek. There was a novel series, Day Of Honor, with a TOS book, a TNG book, a DS9 book and a Voyager book. I got the TNG book free with a magazine. I think I’ve read it twice, and it never quite succeeded in being interesting. I read another TNG book many years ago, looking it up I think it was Intellivore, and that wasn’t very interesting, either. On the other hand, I read a DS9 graphic novel, and some of a novelisation of the DS9 pilot, and I recall enjoying those. I heard a TOS audiobook, Envoy, that I rather enjoyed.

Good, bad, or ugly, however, none of these books are considered canon, so there seems to be little point in them.

There were a couple of Voyager novels that were supposed to be canon, and bits of them were written into episodes, Mosaic and Pathways, and as I recall they fell afoul of the same sort of revisionism that happened to the Star Wars Expanded Universe recently: the “oh no, they’re not canon after all” syndrome.

Babylon 5’s tie-in novels were all supposed to be canon, though this too has fluctuated a little, they now “all contain canonical elements”, one has been described as “90% canon”, and so on. There were quality issues here, too: some were good, but I particularly remember “The Touch of Your Shadow, the Whisper of Your Name” as being very not good. And surprisingly similar to the later yawn-fest Thirdspace.

Stephen King’s Dark Tower series has a different approach to canonicity. The books, the graphic novels, and the long-rumoured movie can all be considered canon, even when they’re different or contradict each other, they can all exist on “different levels of the Tower” (though you have to wade through rather a lot of books to find out what that means).

The book that I’m writing about today, but have thus far completely managed to avoid actually talking about, is the second of a tie-in trilogy of books to the computer game Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri.

Here’s my review of Book 1.

Due to the kind of game it is, each time you play it there are significant differences: one time through, a faction can be wiped out very early, the next time they could stay through to the end. In effect, what’s “canonical” in one play through, is unlikely to be “canonical” in another. There are several ways to win the game, and you can only win in one of the ways in each playthrough, so for that game the others are, strictly speaking, “non-canonical”.

So books set in that universe, then, can just take the many familiar elements of the game, flesh out the inner parts of the world that we don’t get to see much of when we actually play the game, add more characters, perhaps even give more character to the characters we already know, and tell a story using those pieces. Canon, in this sense, doesn’t really matter if the story is good.

In the first book, the author, Michael Ely, managed to maintain an overall status quo: none of the faction leaders were “out of the game”, as it were.

In the second book, Yang and Deirdre are the focus. Lal is somewhat a shell of his former self after the events of Centauri Dawn. Deirdre’s tech is limited, though the Gaians have been working very hard on Centauri ecology, and hybrid farms, and harnessing the power of mindworms. We start to hear the Voice of Planet. Morgan is trying to expand his territory into Gaian territory, with Santiago backing him up. Yang has been isolated on another continent, and is looking to introduce himself to the other factions from a position of strength, to become a full member of the Planetary Council.

Yang is also dealing with rebellion in his own bases, while he also prepares to reveal his secret army. We see some of the “inhuman experiments” referred to in the game, and the “nerve staple” atrocity. All right!

Not wanting to say too much, but I did like the ending. In the last few pages you’re not sure what to expect, and then BAM!, he twists the knife.

Well played, sir.

Mr Ely was heavily involved in the creation of the game, and here he starts adding things that would be really cool to see in the game (I’ve been playing a Civ IV mod based on Alpha Centauri, so seeing them in that would be just fine, too). In plain Civilization IV, most countries have multiple available leaders, so reading the books, one can pick out potential contenders. Also, Deirdre’s Skyfarms of the book seems to be distinct from the Sky Hydroponics Labs of the game.

Anyway, I enjoyed this book, and for the whole series: so far so good. I’m almost to the end of the usually-expensive-but-I-picked-it-up-relatively-cheap third book in the series, I’ll let you know how it goes.