Re: More honest questions
"Second, and please don't blow my head off, it's just an idea, is it practicable to fork SystemD and castrate its excesses to create a genuinely clean init subsystem?"
I think for many your last suggestion is the nail in systemd's coffin. The group centered around the development of systemd appears insular and opinionated. If it weren't for the "my way or the highway" attitude existing there (and since it's coming mostly from up top, there's no real way to control it), we might see support for paring things down.
Because there ARE things that could use addressing, like better support for dynamic hardware configurations and especially hot-plugging (not prevalent in servers, yes, but essential for end-user stuff).
There's also debate about the very core of the UNIX philosophy because "doing one thing" doesn't guarantee they'll do it RIGHT or CONSISTENTLY, and you need both in order to ensure the stable interrelationship that is essential to make a process chain work. Interdependency chains create "weak link" problems that aren't always obvious. Nothing fouls up a maintainers day like one of those "one things" going WRONG, messing up the process chain, and then mangling the logs and backtraces to make backtracking difficult. It doesn't help that there's no real manual of style for scripting or configuration files, so each one does things differently leading to more inconsistency. From my perspective, the whole problem is something that's neither here or there: in other words, it's complicated, and there's no real ability to debate over the best way to approach this due to the spate of extremists in the discussion (see the systemd problem above).