Dogs and Cats Living Together

I'm too bummed to keep reading about the bungled spill cleanup for a while, so, as they would say over at Ace, it's time for kittehs and a little unnatural interspecies action. This is old National Geographic footage; my apologies if you've all seen it before.

Translation, Technology

Translation, Transliteration, and Technology:

There are two fascinating stories today on the subject of texts of supreme historic importance, and the new things that technology is allowing us to do with them. One is the Declaration of Independence: using spectral analysis, we now know something about a moment of enlightenment in Jefferson's thinking.


That's what Thomas Jefferson first wrote in an early draft of the Declaration of Independence to describe the people of the 13 colonies.

But in a moment when history took a sharp turn, Jefferson sought quite methodically to expunge the word, to wipe it out of existence and write over it. Many words were crossed out and replaced in the draft, but only one was obliterated.
The word he replaced it with was "citizens."

The second story, which I have from Lars Walker, is to do with translating the Bible. How do you translate the Bible into a language that has no written form? First, you must work with the speakers of that language to develop a writing system.
"Wycliffe missionaries don't evangelize, teach theology, hold Bible study or start churches. They give (preliterate people) a written language," Edwards said. "They teach them to read and write in their mother tongue."

The missionaries develop alphabets. They create reading primers. They translate the Bible.

About 2,200 languages remain without a Bible. About 350 million people, mostly in India, China, sub-Saharan Africa and Papua New Guinea, speak only these languages.
This work has been going on for some time. Before the age of technology, the motto of the Wycliffe missionaries was, "One team, one language, one lifetime." Now, they say, they can do several languages in a lifetime -- indeed, they expect to finish the rest within fifteen years.



Now here is a lesson. You've seen this before: but look at the subtitles, especially in the final moments.

"In anul Domnului 1314."

"Patriotii Scotiei"



Every one of you knows enough Latin to understand what is said there, if you didn't know the English at all: "In the year of our Lord, 1314... patriots of Scotland... warrior-poets... freedom."

Yet it's not Latin. It's Romanian. Enough of the old tongue survives.

Our friend Lars Walker is writing about American echoes in Viking sagas. Yet we should also recognize that this Scottish moment was a moment that touched the world, and changed it. 1314 was the battle on the Bannock burn. 1320 was the Declaration of Arbroath, which inspired our Declaration of Independence as much as anything ever written before it. That was written in Latin, addressed to the Pope:

"Non enim propter gloriam, diuicias aut honores pugnamus set propter libertatem solummodo quam Nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit."

That is to say, "It is not in truth for glory that we fight, nor for honors, but for freedom alone: that freedom that a good man lays down only with his life."

And now I will quote a piece from Anthony Kenny's Medieval Philosophy, as regards a document written by certain Franciscan friars in 1324. William of Ockham was with them, and wrote supporting pieces in their train. It does not intend to speak to the Scottish situation particularly, but to the Pope in general. Having published it, they fled to the Holy Roman Empire for protection from the Church. There, in what is now Germany but was then a place of endless free states and cities, these ideas were welcome.

The work, Defensor Pacis ("The Defender of the Peace," 1324) became a classic text of political philosophy.... There are two types of government: rule by the consent of the ruler's subjects, and rule against their will. Only the former is legitimate and the latter is a form of tyranny. The laws of the state derive their legitimacy neither from the will of the ruler nor directly from God: they are given authority by the citizens themselves....

An irregular or incompetent prince should be removed from office by the legislature.
And if the legislature will not do it?
[W]e should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule.
Thus they said, in 1320. Four hundred years later, and a bit, they said thus at Philadelphia. Two hundred years later, and a bit, it may be time to say it again.

Constitutional Question

A Constitutional Question: How Does This Work?

Dad29 has an interesting report from Wisconsin, which made me recognize a void in my knowledge.

Jackson County District Attorney Gerald R. Fox has declared that, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling this week that the Second Amendment clearly applies to the states, he will no longer prosecute people for carrying concealed weapons, or certain other gun related offenses.

The high court's ruling in McDonald vs. Chicago, "immediately renders some of Wisconsin's current laws unconstitutional," Fox said in a news release. Therefore, he said, his office won't take any cases police might refer that are solely about violations of concealed carry, uncased or loaded weapons in vehicles, guns in public buildings or where alcohol is sold or served. Nor will Fox prosecute the possession of switchblade and other types of easy-opening knives.
When we've seen other landmark SCOTUS cases -- Lawrence v. Texas, say -- I've always heard that the ruling would overturn laws in many states besides the one where the suit originated. Exactly how that works is not clear to me. SCOTUS presumably does not do the work of identifying similar laws, and sending a note to the state governments; so my guess is that the work is done at the state level -- perhaps by the Attorney General?

Here we have a D.A. making the call, which seems strange. It makes sense that they would not want to prosecute cases that have just been rendered untenable, but it also seems odd that you might have two districts making different calls on whether SCOTUS has just voided the law.

So, my friends who do this for a living -- how does this work? What is the process for recognizing which laws have just been rendered invalid, and harmonizing them with the fundamental right that SCOTUS has just announced that it intends to protect?


More Missing Cat Humor

Not that I want to get everyone started on the kind of physics humor that took over Cassandra's site the other day, but . . . .

Gulf Oil Spill Update July 2, 2010

All Spill, All the Time

This cartoon is about the war, of course, but it seems to apply equally well to the spill. The public conversation about whether the feds are obstructing the spill cleanup is degenerating into a lot of exchanges that amount to "You lie!" "No, you lie!" Here are some links to sites where people are trying to muddle through whether and to what degree EPA regulations, Jones Act restrictions, and other federal laws are part of the problem instead of the solution.

Today's Wall Street Journal opinion piece may give the subject some welcome publicity, and it's a nice summary, but it contains no links to primary sources. The comments section, though, does have some useful links. For instance, here is a Houston Chronicle story about the Dutch consulate confirming that its offer of help was rebuffed. This Christan Science Monitor piece from a few weeks ago is a good summary of the conflicting accusations concerning the Jones Act.

This is the most recent piece I can find by Yobie Benjamin, the San Francisco reporter who's been following the issue and pursuing Freedom of Information Act requests. Ever pursued one of those? "Stonewalling" doesn't begin to describe the usual response. I honor his effort.

Even the AP has begun acknowledging the problem, which can't be a good sign for the White House. This week's article from Tom Breen quotes from the devastating Issa report and adds some more anecdotal complaints of assets kept sitting around. White House Press Secretary continues the usual line of asserting that the accusation has been repeatedly debunked, but providing no information with which to debunk it.

I've just found a useful site collecting these stories, There I discovered that, three days ago, the Coast Guard and the EPA finally felt enough urgency to alter the rules that kept most of the nation's skimmer fleet away from the Gulf in case they were needed for an emergency elsewhere. The NOLA site reports that the White House is complaining today that a separate congressional panel to investigate the oil spill response is "unnecessary." Tough; the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 15-8 Wednesday to set up one up anyway. It's a 10-member bipartisan panel with subpoena power. "[T]he congressional commission, which would be jointly appointed by Democratic and Republican members, is attached to a bill strengthening regulation of the oil and gas industry. It's uncertain whether the president would veto the bill; a more robust regulatory system has been one of his administration's top priorities since the BP spill."

This editorial in the New Orleans Times-Picayune decries the red tape and speaks to the Jones Act issue, which remains elusive. The feds say it's not a problem, while the players report that it remains one. How about waiving it for a year, just in case?

Here is an SFGate article reporting on the delays caused by Hurricane Alex, including the EPA 15 ppm problem.

And here is a blog charging that the whole "obstruction" issue is Republican propaganda.


The Principled Genius

Former mathematician Grigori Perelman made the news today by deciding, after considerable delay for pondering, to turn down the million-dollar "Millennium Prize" awarded by the Clay Mathematics Institute, which set up these prizes in 2000 for the solutions to a set of seven basic problems that had been bedeviling the field. Perelman's award, for solving the famous Poincaré Conjecture, was the first to be announced.

Perelman is another of those Russian Jews who so often seem to turn up in stories like this. He studied in the USSR, then held posts in several American universities in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He then turned down positions at Princeton and Stanford to return to Russia. He has since ceased working on mathematics altogether and is unemployed, living with his mother in St. Petersburg.

In turning down the $1 million Millennium Prize, Perelman explained that he did not find the process of awards in his field to be just. He already had been awarded the FIelds Medal for his work in 2006, and declined that one, too. In fact, he consistently turns down prizes, saying things like "[the prize] was completely irrelevant for me. Everybody understood that if the proof is correct, then no other recognition is needed." Or "I'm not interested in money or fame. . . . I don't want to be on display like an animal in a zoo. I'm not a hero of mathematics. I'm not even that successful; that is why I don't want to have everybody looking at me." He has expressed the opinion that prize committees are unqualified to assess his work, even positively.

This quotation sums up his alienation: "[T]here are many mathematicians who are more or less honest. But almost all of them are conformists. They are more or less honest, but they tolerate those who are not honest." He has also said, "It is not people who break ethical standards who are regarded as aliens. It is people like me who are isolated."

So what was Perelman's work all about? Wikpedia explains that the Poincaré conjecture claims that if a closed 3-manifold has the additional property that each loop in the space can be continuously tightened to a point, then it is necessarily a three-dimensional sphere. Yeah, that didn't help me either. This is more my speed:

The Poincaré Conjecture says "hey, you've got this alien blob that can ooze its way out of the hold of any lasso you tie around it? Then that blob is just an out-of-shape ball." Perelman and Hamilton proved this fact by heating the blob up, making it sing, stretching it like hot mozzarella and chopping it into a million pieces. In short, the alien ain't no bagel you can swing around with a string through his hole.

The author goes on to explain that mathemeticians classify both 2-dimensional and higher-dimensional shapes. She says that the only 2-dimensional shapes are the surfaces of "doughnuts" with multiple holes:

These surfaces can be classified neatly according to their number of holes. (The picture includes a sphere; does that count as a doughnut with zero holes?) Anyway, it seems the Poincaré Conjecture pertains to the analysis of 3-dimensional shapes, which I guess are like the surfaces of 4-dimensional shapes. Geometer William Thurston (a Fields Medal winner who didn't turn down his prize) "made the daring conjecture that three-dimensional shapes, too, can be classified in a more complicated but equally structured way," which is the kind of thing that makes mathematicians use words like "daring" and really rings their bells. Perelman "proved this conjecture, which has Poincaré as a straightforward corollary" -- once again, using the word "straightforward" in a slightly eccentric sense.

The author of this article readily admits that Perelman's work "won't help anyone build a bridge, aim a rocket, crack a code, or privatize Social Security. " She concludes, a little defensively, that it's nevertheless something worth caring about "if you prefer order to chaos."

This whole thing makes me nostalgic on my father's account. The only time I can remember his expressing an opinion about what I ought to do with my life is when he mused mildly that he'd always thought it would be nice if I studied algebraic topology. That was not, to put in mildly, really in the cards. He must have thought it was awfully boring of me to study law, though he never said so and clearly was pleased that I'd be able to make a living. I still don't know what algebraic topology is. Wikipedia supplies this less-than-helpful definition:

Algebraic topology is a branch of mathematics which uses tools from abstract algebra to study topological spaces. The basic goal is to find algebraic invariants that classify topological spaces up to homeomorphism. In many situations this is too much to hope for and it is more prudent to aim for a more modest goal, classification up to homotopy equivalence.

I'm even more prudent and must aim for goals whose modesty makes that goal look positively overweaning.

Some decades ago Fran Lebowitz wrote a piece about being awakened by something unpleasant, a phone call or alarm clock. She said something like, "This is not my favorite method of being awakened. My favorite method is to have my Swedish lover whisper in my ear that, if I don't want to be late to pick up my Nobel Prize, I'd better ring for breakfast." This is a dream I learned to relinquish quite early on, but I'm still pleased to read about people who might reasonably aspire to these things, even if they're too high-minded to accept.

Grim's Hall Book Club: Vikings

I promised you Vikings to follow on this last reading of Plutarch. I was trying to decide between The Saga of Burnt Njal and The Saga of Egil Skallagrimsson. Of the two, Burnt Njal is really the one we ought to read. The lawyers among you will love it particularly; but in Gunnar, it has a Viking fit for the best-bearded and bloodthirstiest of us.

So: let us begin.

I expect this to take a few weeks. For next week, read sections 1-20.

Hanging Offenses

"Nice Gulf. Wouldn't Want to See Anything Happen to It."

Is the answer really as simple as the amnesty-vs.-secure-the-border logjam? Are the feds obstructing the oil spill cleanup in order to create leverage for Cap'n'Tax? I know I keep wavering on the malice-vs.-incompetence quandary, but even I didn't expect a report quite this shocking on the federal role in the cleanup to date, per the Washington Examiner:

Phantom Assets

The number of assets claimed [by the White House], however, does not appear to match what is actually in the field. This is corroborated by Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, who shared a similar story with investigators. BP and Coast Guard provided Mr. Nungesser with a map of the Gulf allegedly pinpointing the exact locations of 140 skimmers cleaning up oil. Sensing that the chart may have been somewhat inaccurate, Mr. Nungesser requested a flyover of the assets for verification. After three cancelled trips, officials admitted to Mr. Nungesser that only 31 of the 140 skimmers were ever deployed. The rest were sitting at the docks. According to Mr. Nungesser, the chart appeared to have been fabricated.

. . .

Resources Used as Bargaining Chip to Mute Criticism

In some instances, it appears that equipment is provided simply to quiet public criticism. Mr. Nungesser, who has frequently appeared on local and national television, was apparently visited by two White House officials at his office on Fathers’ Day. According to Mr. Nungesser, the purpose of their visit was to find a way to keep him from calling attention to the lack of equipment. Specifically, they asked him, “What do we have to do to keep you off tv?” He simply replied, “give me what I need.” On another occasion, Placquemines Parish officials requested 20 skimmers at a town hall meeting held by the Coast Guard. According to Mr. Nungesser, “They gave us two skimmers to shut us up.” These accounts raise serious questions about whether the Administration is more concerned with fighting a public relations battle than combating the oil spill.

There's more in the Washington Examiner preliminary report, and more to come this afternoon when the full report is released. OK, this report was spearheaded by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calf.), so you might think it was inclined to be harsh. Someone once told me that the best defense against slander was to live so that no one would believe it. I don't believe the Obama administration has lived so that no one would believe it. And if the Republicans take the House and Mr. Issa gets a chance to follow through with a fraction of the investigations he has promised to undertake, the only thing keeping the heads from rolling will be their position on pointy spikes.

On a more positive note, Yobie Benjamin, a San Francisco reporter who has been following the EPA wastewater-discharge-skimmer problem and pursuing Freedom of Information Act requests, reported that the EPA apparently waived its standards for the Dutch skimmers a couple of weeks ago -- a full 50 days after application. The giant A-Whale, however, still has not received a waiver, and is still sitting at the dock in Louisiana.

A-Whale UpdateThe

This Is Progress, However Criminally Delayed

The A.P. reported about an hour ago that the A-Whale, "the world's largest oil-skimming vessel," had arrived on the Louisiana coast, and that the government was "pinning its hopes" on this new asset. It's supposed to be able to suck up 21 million gallons (500,000 barrels) of oily water a day. (Recall that the Dutch skimmers, which were offered free of charge on Day 3, could pick up 400 cubic meters an hour, which is over 2.5 million gallons a day, or about 180 million gallons -- 4.3 million barrels -- so far. The entire effort of the whole fleet as of three days ago was reported to have picked up 600,000 barrels.)

Without a trace of embarrassment, the A.P. spins this as the fastest result anyone could have expected, and some kind of coup the White House has pulled off, because the A-Whale has "just emerged from an extensive retrofitting to prepare it specifically for the Gulf." In fact, the A-Whale's owners have been fighting the Coast Guard and the EPA since at least June 25, and probably a lot longer than that, for permission to join the clean-up team, having hired a fine firm, Bracewell & Guiliani, to press their regulatory case. The reporter does admit, as an aside, that there still is that pesky little EPA/Clean Water Act problem:

[the vessel] takes in contaminated water through 12 vents on either side of the bow. The oil is then supposed to be separated from the water and transferred to another vessel. The water is channeled back into the sea. But the ship has never been tested, and many questions remain about how it will operate. For instance, the seawater retains trace amounts of oil, even after getting filtered, so the Environmental Protection Agency will have to sign off on allowing the treated water back into the Gulf.

So on Day 73, the EPA is still hung up on that same issue (see 6-27-10 post) of whether the water can be returned before it can be proven to contain no more than 15 parts per million of oil. For the life of me I can't understand why Republican Senators and Congressmen, if not all of them, aren't pounding this issue in Congress and in the press. We should all be calling and emailing our reps relentlessly.

Missy the Missing Cat

Make Me a Poster

Knowing that I'm always trying to deal with one stray animal or another (as she is herself), a friend sent me a link to this entry about a long-suffering IT manager dealing with his co-worker's missing cat.

Hurricane Alex

A Dark and Stormy Night

It's been clear for several days now that we were very unlikely to get anything dangerous from Hurricane Alex; we didn't even start putting up storm shutters. We are getting what looks like a week of pretty good rain, which we desperately needed. Until a few years ago, I lived all my life in a place with something like 50 inches a year of rain. When you move south down the Texas coast, it dries up fast. We've learned to be grateful for every drop. I think we're over three inches now; a good ten-inch week's event would be A-OK. Unfortunately it does make the satellite web connection dicey.

"Just the kind of day that makes you glad to be alive."

Spy vs. Spy

Boris & Natasha

I'm pretty confused. Kremlin officials acknowledged that at least 10 of the 11 suspects caught in the U.S. spy dragnet were Russian citizens. Then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin complained that American police were "out of control" when they threw them in jail. . . . Because they were Russian citizens? Because they weren't really spies? Because they admittedly were both Russian citizens and spies but when countries are friends they overlook these little episodes?

I'm also confused by the narrative that's struggling to coalesce around the arrests. The U.S. is stuck in a Cold War mentality? The arrests were intended by right wingers to embarrass the President and undermine his nuclear treaty with Russia? (And they managed to pull this off with a New York Times exposé?) Alternatively, the arrests were intended to undermine the U.S. effort to engage Russia in a joint effort to put the screws on the Iranian nuclear program? Wheels within wheels.

Jammie Wearing Fool notes that one of the arrested spies was a leftist journalist who wrote for El diario, including muckraking pieces about how the U.S. prison system is an institution of slavery, as well as pieces bucking the MSM's harsh criticism of countries like Venezuela. JWF adds: "I wonder if [she] was a JournoList member?"

There's an endearing hokiness to their tradecraft. They were trained to identify each other with the code phrase, "Excuse me, but did we meet in Bangkok in April last year?" to which the correct reply was: "I don’t know about April, but I was in Thailand in May of that year." Or as my sister used to say to random acquaintances in bars, "Dubrovnik, '68. I took you two-love, two-love." The pair in Seattle spoke in what sounds for all the world like a Boris-and-Natasha accent. They fit in seamlessly at the office by going on anti-George W. Bush rants. They were crazy about their two-year-old son.

The Russians are arguing that the U.S. shouldn't take much action because, among other things, the spies never managed to do any actual harm. Were they just trying to send back enough low-grade nonsense to justify their continuing to live in a pleasant country? Or was their endearing bumblingness all part of a very deep game indeed?

The Red and the Green

The Red and the Green:

So, we've read about the Red Menace. But here's something you haven't seen before.

Skip to 1:00 in.

Now how do you like a Russian, playing a traditional Irish skin drum -- the bodhran -- and better than most Irishmen? That's a man who can throw down on the drum.

But if you'd prefer something more traditional, he's a young Irish lad with a good voice for singing. Surprisingly, he has a bit of talent on the instrument as well.

Actually, the lad has quite a bit of talent -- try this, on a wholly different instrument.

'Well, that's fine, Grim,' you may say. 'So he can play two store-bought instruments. But what if we asked him to build his own mandolin out of trash lying about the house?'

Well, skip to 4:20.

So, a lad with some merit to him. Hopefully he learned to box and fence as well as play; but it's not a bad start, all together.

I really hope this works:

I’ve had $100,000 burning in my pocket for the last three months and I’d really like to spend it on a worthy cause. So how about this: in the interests of journalistic transparency, and to offer the American public a unique insight in the workings of the Democrat-Media Complex, I’m offering $100,000 for the full “JournoList” archive, source fully protected. Now there’s an offer somebody can’t refuse.
--Andrew Breitbart


Automated Origami

I've been reading about DNA, RNA, and proteins lately. I didn't realize how large and unwieldy proteins were, or how important it was for them to fold up into the right shapes. It's like origami, but instead of being folded by fingers, the final form is driven by a combination of molecular shapes, electrical charges, and whether each piece of the structure likes or avoids water. This picture is of a protein called PPAR, which is important in the study of diabetes.

This self-folding characteristic of protein molecules has got labrats thinking. Per Science Daily, Erik Dermaine, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, is "one of the world's most recognized experts on computational origami." (Talk about carving yourself out a niche!) In this field, thin foil-like sheets are imprinted with circuits so that the sheet will fold up in various ways when current is delivered, like an animated Transformer toy. This is a one-minute clip showing a sheet that will fold itself into either a boat or a plane, per instructions:

One of the practical uses of such a device may be things like "materials that can perform multiple tasks, such as an entire dining utensil set derived from one piece of foldable material," or, per the Christian Science Monitor, a "Swiss army knife of sorts able to form a tripod, wrench, antenna, or splint." Or artificial muscles.

MIT is a hotbed of this out-of-control folding business. Here are detailed instructions for how to fold the MIT logo out of paper in only a few hours.

The more traditional among us may prefer this dragon, which is way better than the cranes I used to play with:

A Celebration

A Celebration:

So today the Supreme Court of the United States recognized what all of us have always known: that the right to keep and bear arms is one of the fundamental rights of citizens. Well done! It was never in danger, for we were always ready to defend it: but how wonderful to see a moment of wisdom on behalf of the powerful, who seem so short of it these days.

So how about a song mocking over-reaching government?

Sgian Dubh, by the way, means "black knife." This is the small knife meant to be worn concealed. Now Highlanders had a fine idea about bearing arms openly, but they also believed in a little something more. It's not so much distrust of our beloved Lady of Fate, but a gesture of respect for her merry nature and love of practical jokes. Or, as Corb Lund put it, 'A good sharp edge is a man's best hedge against the vague uncertainties of life.'

By coincidence, that marks the two next phases of the fight: Knife rights, and concealed carry outside the home.


A Play:

[The Royal Shakespeare Company's] Morte d'Arthur is, in spirit, chainmail-rattlingly close to the original. If the adapter Mike Poulton has made a little free with the details of the text, well, in that, too, he is faithful to his source. Sir Thomas Malory (the 15th-century knight convicted of robbery and rape who fought for and against his king) repicked and remixed the old British stories and French romances spun around the legends of Arthur and fitted them to the pattern of his own time.
So he did, although the charges of "rape" were only charges. Specifically, they were charges brought by the woman's husband -- the same woman on each occasion -- to which she refused to testify. A far more likely explanation, given the high words that Malory has for women and womankind throughout his famous work: she was his Guinevere, or La Belle Isolde.

Seems like a fine play. It's a pity I won't be where I could see it, while it is playing.

Grade Inflation

This Explains a Lot

A judge in Austin, Texas, has ruled that school districts can't force a teacher to award a student a higher grade than he earned. "The districts argued that their policies prohibiting teachers from awarding grades lower than a certain number - typically a 50 - helped keep students from getting discouraged and dropping out of school." Teachers countered with the quaint argument that "the minimum failing grading polices were dishonest and didn't prepare students for college or the workforce." Surprisingly, this argument won the day.

Apparently, in 2009, while I wasn't looking, those kooky conservatives in the Texas legislature passed SB 2033, a law that forbids school districts from requiring its teachers to enter a set minimum grade for their students’ schoolwork. In some schools, the required minimum grade was 50, in others 60 or 70. The law passed unanimously -- then was routinely ignored in practice. El Paso I.S.D. at least told teachers to use their professional judgment in whether to award a minimum grade regardless of whether any work had been done. Other districts ruled that the law applied only to grades of assignments and tests, and not report card grades, although the actual practice intended to be addressed by the law was report card grades. Fort Bend I.S.D. (southwest of Houston) actually prohibited scores of less than 50.

The battles lines are drawn over whether it is more important to ensure that accurate information is made public regarding a school's progress in teaching specific information, or to prevent students from becoming discouraged and dropping out. The strong feeling among educators was that all doubts should be resolved in favor of avoiding discouragement. The educators already were struggling with a "new" law dating from 1995, which “required decisions on promotion or course credit to be based on academic achievement or demonstrated proficiency.” What novelties will these bomb-throwing anarchists come up with next?

When teachers complained that they were still being required to inflate grades, Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott issued instructions to school districts that they would be required to comply with the 2009 law. In response, 11 school districts, mostly from the Houston area, sued.

One school administrator explained, "The purpose of it was to keep the kid from throwing his hands up and saying 'I'm failing so I might as well not go to school.'" I guess not much thought was given to persuading the kid to draw another lesson: "I'm failing so I'd better work harder unless I want to repeat this class in summer school."

In other news, Texas Democrats, discouraged by years of virtual one-party rule in that state, proposed a law to award 50% of the votes in an election to the candidate who is trailing in the race. Okay, I may have made that last part up.

Second Amendment Ruling in Chicago Case

Μολὼν λαβέ

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment's protection of the right to bear arms is effective not only against incursions by the federal government, but also against incursions by state and local government.

As late as the 19th century, the Court typically held that the Bill of Rights limited only the federal government's power. More recently, the trend has been to extend the limitations to state and local government via the 14th Amendment.


Justice Alito wrote:
Chicago and Oak Park (municipal respondents) maintain that a right set out in the Bill of Rights applies to the States only when it is an indispensable attribute of any “‘civilized’” legal system. If it is possible to imagine a civilized country that does not recognize the right, municipal respondents assert, that right is not protected by due process. And since there are civilized countries that ban or strictly regulate the private possession of handguns, they maintain that due process does not preclude such measures. . . .

[T]he constitutional Amendments adopted in the Civil War’s aftermath fundamentally altered the federal system. Four years after the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, this Court held in the Slaughter-House Cases, that the Privileges or Immunities Clause protects only those rights “which owe their existence to the Federal government, its National character, its Constitution, or its laws,” and that the fundamental rights predating the creation of the Federal Government were not protected by the Clause. Under this narrow reading, the Court held that the Privileges or Immunities Clause protects only very limited rights. Subsequently, the Court held that the Second Amendment applies only to the Federal Government in [the] decisions on which the Seventh Circuit relied in this case [to rule against gun rights in the decision now on appeal]. [citations excluded]

After the Civil War and the enactment of the 14th Amendment, the Court began to sort through which rights were so fundamental that no civilized society was imaginable without them. It found that freedom of speech was fundamental, but the right to a grand jury indictment was not. The standard then shifted to "whether a particular Bill of Rights protection is fundamental to our Nation’s particular scheme of ordered liberty and system of justice." Justice Alito concludes: "Self-defense is a basic right, recognized by many legal systems from ancient times to the present, and the Heller Court [striking down a federal gun ban] held that individual self-defense is “the central component” of the Second Amendment right." In Heller, the Court found that handguns were the quintessential tool for defense of home and family.


Does He Still Give Himself a B+?

According to, the entire American effort in 66 days has skimmed off 600,000 barrels of oil. The owners of a massive ship called the "A-Whale" claim that it can skim 500,000 barrels a day.

So where is the A-Whale now? In the Gulf? Not yet. It’s on its way there after being tied to a dock in Norfolk, Virginia, and won’t be allowed to join the cleanup effort until the Coast Guard and the EPA figure out whether it meets their standards.

It does appear that some progress is being made on the Clean Water Act problems -- you, know, the bureaucratic decision that we should annihilate the Gulf in the name of enforcing an absurdly inapplicable Clean Water Act regulation just because no one in authority can figure out how to waive it -- though I can't quite tell if all we've done is let the skimmers in, or if we've actually started letting them operate as designed, which is to discharge partially cleaned-up Gulf water even though it doesn't meet drinking-water standards. According to a June 24 piece in the Daily Caller, the Federal On-Scene Coordinator announced quietly on June 18 that the U.S. now admits it needs the foreign help that has been offered since days after the oil spill began:

The European Union maintains a multi-faceted inventory of [oil spill recovery vessels] OSRVs. The Netherlands alone lists eleven ships that exceed this 9,400-barrel capacity, including vessels like the Geopotes 14 (pictured) that reportedly can pick up and contain 47,000 barrels at a time. That’s ten times larger than any U.S. ship we’ve been using.

The Daily Caller piece applauds this move, because it will reduce the time spent going back and forth with the dirty water. It notes, however, that the EPA still will prevent the skimmers from discharging the fairly-cleaned-up water, because it fails to meet the EPA wastewater-discharge standards.

Another opinion piece in the Caller reports:

During a hearing before Congress this past Thursday, several Democratic members of House accused the Administration of turning its back on those on the gulf coast by refusing overseas cleanup help. During Friday’s session of the Senate, Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), George LeMieux (R-Fla.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas) joined together and introduced legislation that would temporarily waive the Jones Act to allow foreign marine vessels to assist with the oil cleanup effort in the Gulf of Mexico.

That's good to hear, and yay Texas, but it's still not clear to me that the EPA has backed off yet. Still trying to confirm.

Here's an anguished June 8 Facebook entry from a guy named Chris Johnson who identifies himself as a marine biologist clean water expert, somehow involved in the federal government, who has been frantically trying to work the back channels to solve this EPA-wastewater screwup. (He reports, by the way, that the standard in question is 5,000ppm, not 15ppm, or 99.5% purity, and I suspect he may be a better source than the run-of-the-mill journalists or even the Dutch guys who are their sources.) He confirms the misuse of EPA standards reported in the other articles and says, "I swear I am not making this up, as stupid as this sounds."

Turning to the question of what to make of this Mother of all FUBARs (a mistake?! or did he do it to us on purpose??!!), some input from various commenters at Patterico and HotAir:

I think it is incompetence but also a lack of motivation. If it had been someplace they love, they would have been motivated to overcome their incompetence.

I agree that it would have made little difference. It could be any one of the 57 states, even those speaking Austrian, and Obama would mull over what would Niebuhr have done ? The only thing that engages Obama seriously is a piece in Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone that is perceived as straying from the party line. The first thing an infant learns is the difference between “self” and “non-self.” Obama is still working on that.

There is a difference between “stuck on stupid” and “forged out of pure stupid”…

Tinfoil hats really not needed…Soros has his money in PetroBras…and they NEED platforms…..oil still gushing, ban still being appealed….you do the math.

This is a full-blown crisis with all the value attendant to that….destruction of the oil industry, punishment of red-state voters, demon[i]nization of private business, kowtowing to environmental nutjobs, opportunities for grandstanding and photo-ops, speech opportunities, $20 billion dollar slush funds, total dependence of the voters of Lousiana on the federal government, ability to smear the Brits on an hourly basis. . . .How is this ship going to improve the situation in any meaningful way.

And a final comment in a more practical vein:

A couple of questions I have:
  1. The Jones Act does not influence operations beyond 3 miles from shore, as I understand it. Why is that even an issue?

  2. Vessels at sea, picking up “wild” oil, are not under EPA jurisdiction, as far as I know. This would fall under the admiralty law…the law of salvage. Under what authority could anyone stop them?

  3. Why the [h**l] doesn’t somebody seek an injunction against the EPA? Seems there are sensible judges on the Federal bench who would grant that in a heart-beat…

  4. Why doesn’t somebody just go do this, and defy an effort to stop them?

In closing, just to destroy any lingering confidence you might have in federal environmental bureaucrats -- people I used to think were the good guys but who lately seem as crazy as a rat in a coffee can -- here's an article about applying EPA oil spill regulations to dairy milk. EPA regulations say “milk typically contains a percentage of animal fat, which is a non-petroleum oil. Containers storing milk are subject to the Oil Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Program rule when they meet the applicability criteria.”