Lyric Inanity

Ten years ago, the most popular songs read between a third and fourth grade level, but the inanity only increased with time, and after a five-year downward tumble ending in 2014 (the last year of the study), chart-topping hits had a reading level equivalent to second or third grade. Broken into genres, the levels measured just 2.6 for Hip-hop/R&B, a tie of 2.9 for Rock and Pop, and faring best was Country at 3.3[.]
In fairness, it seems like the popular singers only read at that level.


At some point on this side of the grave, I may learn to stop regretting all the things I never took the time to study properly in my youth.  This week, I've spent nearly every waking hour trying to learn to think like QuickBooks, once again exposing the gap in my education where some simple business finance belongs.  By very good luck, one of my first clients was very good at explaining the most basic principles of bookkeeping to me, in order to help me decipher a real estate closing statement when we bought our first house.  Once you get used to the idea of debt entries balancing credit entries, it's not too bad--sort of a double vision, from your viewpoint and the view point of the other.  Nevertheless, many aspects of GAAP will likely remain mysterious forever.

In a weak moment recently, I raised my hand for the job of treasurer in the local Woman's Club.  Like many such organizations, it's hard to find people willing to serve as officers every year.  The job of cheerleader or vision developer is decidedly not for me, but I thought I could handle the checkbook.  It turns out that, a couple of years ago, the club acquired a QuickBooks program, so I dived into figuring out how to use this small-business accounting software.

The previous treasurer had confined herself to the checkbook-register functions, keeping the members' running accounts on a separate Excel spreadsheet.  Because this offends my sense of efficiency (i.e., laziness), by requiring the treasurer to enter everything twice, I tried experimenting with the other functions and reading various manuals online.  Soon I broke down and bought a month's worth of tech support by telephone, thus embarking on an exciting half-week of lengthy conversations with nice young people from the Asian subcontinent, most of whom couldn't be brought to understand just how s-l-o-w-l-y they were going to have to talk in order to surmount both the language barrier and my lack of digital and accounting sophistication.  What jobs they must have.

It's a startling pleasure finally to master something like how to collect a bushelful of miscellaneous payments for dues and cookbooks in the form of cash and checks, enter them into each member's account, and tell the program to batch all the payments into a single deposit in a particular bank.  Et voilà!  A deposit entry pops up automatically in the bank register with a "split" to explain all 50-odd individual elements, all properly encoded by type for the summary reports that will be distributed at each monthly meeting.  At the same time, an accounts receivable page shows me who's paid dues and who still owes.  I'll be able to prepare an annual budget and produce monthly budget-vs.-actual reports.  It's becoming clear how double-entry book-keeping brought commercial life out of the dark ages.

I'm still barely using a small corner of this program, which can handle things like payroll that our club doesn't need.  How amazing that such a product is available for about $200.

Animal vid fix

You've all been thinking, "Hasn't it been a long time since Tex posted a good animal video?"  Fresh from Maggie's Farm:  dogs hooked on soda siphons.


Fed Head (Head of the Fed! Banks in Red! Got to get their coffers fed!) Janet Yellen speaks the truth:
I am describing the outlook that I see as most likely, but based on many years of making economic projections, I can assure you that any specific projection I write down will turn out to be wrong, perhaps markedly so.
The only thing that will never happen is the thing you planned for.

Reshaping Ownership

No, I don't think so, General Motors.
GM has joined with John Deere in asking the government to confirm that you literally cannot own your car because of the software in its engine.

Like Deere, GM wants to stop the Copyright Office from granting an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that would allow you to jailbreak the code in your car's engine so that you can take it to a non-GM mechanic for service, or fix it yourself. By controlling who can service your car, GM can force you to buy only official, expensive parts, protecting its bottom line.

As Consumerist quips, GM wants you to know that the car in the driveway is "literally not your father's Oldsmobile."
With one exception, all my cars and trucks have been Chevrolets. The only way I'd be willing to "license" a vehicle I wasn't allowed to work on myself was if you agreed to fix it for free or replace it for free, for however long the "license" lasts. Those are the terms I get when I rent a car, and they're acceptable. I'm not about to 'buy' a car from you without owning it.

Best Behavior

With the Waco dust-up just behind us, the Mongols MC is taking unusual steps to reach out to the community ahead of their annual meeting.
The president of a motorcycle club gathering in Excelsior Springs this weekend promises it will be peaceful. In an interview with KMBC 9 News, Mongol Gary tried to ease concerns of violence in the wake of last weekend’s shootings...

Excelsior Springs police said they’ve known about the event for months, have had conversations with Mongols leaders and expect an easy weekend, even though they’ll be preparing for the worst.
If you watch the video, it sounds like the Mongols didn't just grant an interview, they may have sought it out. Talking their plans over with law enforcement is also a little unusual, but the police appear to have appreciated the courtesy.

The Mongols may be on their best behavior in part because they have a court case coming up soon that is of tremendous importance to them.
As part of a plea deal, the club president forfeited rights to the Mongol trademark to the Department of Justice, and a federal judge granted an injunction prohibiting club members from wearing, licensing, selling, or distributing the any materials depicting the Mongolian warrior.

At the time, only Uncle Sam was legally entitled to wear the Mongols' leather vest -- known as a "cut" -- as a jacket without sleeves.

Federal Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled that upon presentation of the court's order by police, "defendants and all their agents, servants, employees, family members, and other persons in active participation with them, must surrender all products, clothing, vehicles, motorcycles, books, posters, merchandise, stationery, or other materials bearing the Mongols trademark."

While another judge partially lifted that injunction a few years later, Uncle Sam and the Mongol Nation are headed back to federal court June 2 in Los Angeles to reargue the case and determine who now owns the trademark.

The Mongols mount a First Amendment defense, arguing in court papers the "government's sole purpose in filing the indictment is to crush the Mongols Nation Motorcycle Club by seizing the intellectual rights to the 'Rider' and 'Mongol' marks and thereby quash the Club and its members rights to freedom of expression and association." ... To Davis, the DOJ actions are "unprecedented and unconstitutional." He said the Mongol's insignia is a "collective membership mark" that's "on a par with the Christian cross, the Masonic compass, or the Jewish star."
Maybe the Masonic compass. I don't think the other two are good analogies.

It'll be an interesting case, especially with the Waco shootout so close in memory. It seems like there's something special about the government seizing a trademark. Free speech rights are against the government and not against other citizens. As a result, you have a right to violate a trademark in the sense that the government can't stop you from saying whatever you're going to say. However, the government can enforce someone else's copyright by requiring you to pay damages to them for violating that copyright. In this case, the government would essentially be requiring you to pay damages to them -- making it hard to discern a difference between the civil damages and a fine.

Can the government use this power more broadly to fine you for saying something it doesn't want you to say? Could the government, in principle, decide to seize the copyrights of a book they didn't like, and forbid anyone from printing copies of it? How about a religious book -- various translations or editions of the Bible, say? It's the same Amendment where all these protections cluster, so it seems as if they're all in danger together.

Ordinarily I'd think the Mongols were likely to win a case like this, but after last week it's hard to say. It's a moment at which it may be hard to get the judge to think about the more theoretical questions regarding how the precedent could be more broadly applied, and less about the very public and concrete example of violence.

"Public" Comments

Did you know there's a surge of interest in giving the EPA expanded authority?
When the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a major new rule intended to protect the nation’s drinking water last year, regulators solicited opinions from the public. The purpose of the “public comment” period was to objectively gauge Americans’ sentiment before changing a policy that could profoundly affect their lives.

Gina McCarthy, the agency’s administrator, told a Senate committee in March that the agency had received more than one million comments, and nearly 90 percent favored the agency’s proposal.
Amazing! Who knew the American public was so committed to expanding the range of the EPA's authority?
But critics say there is a reason for the overwhelming result: The E.P.A. had a hand in manufacturing it.

In a campaign that tests the limits of federal lobbying law, the agency orchestrated a drive to counter political opposition from Republicans and enlist public support in concert with liberal environmental groups and a grass-roots organization aligned with President Obama.

Oddly enough we were just talking about the difficulty for citizens in influencing the bureaucratic rule-making processes. Pretty much the only way is through the public comment period, when the agency happens to ask for one. If they are now permitted ("required," it sounds like) to game the system by flooding themselves with positive comments from full-time policy organizations that favor their position, that tiny bit of influence will be diluted out of existence.

Once again, the Obama administration is making a mockery out of the ordinary forms of our democratic republic. Rule of law can be set aside by prosecutorial discretion. Rule making comment periods can be gamed. The IRS can be tasked with paying special attention to your enemies. Pervasive surveillance replaces the need for warrants before prying into private communications.

It's a disturbing pattern, and one that will be hard to reform.

Ms. Steinem in North Korea

Ah, the march of dignity. It's always worth reading direct translations of the original Korean KCNA articles.

Fortunately, I'm told that elder stateswomen are not required to answer questions.

Should We Privatize Police?

The British are apparently considering it, which is funny since they mocked it as an American idea a few years ago:

The breathtaking list of policing activities up for grabs includes investigating crimes, detaining suspects, developing cases, responding to and investigating incidents, supporting victims and witnesses, managing high-risk individuals, patrolling neighbourhoods, managing intelligence, managing engagement with the public, as well as more traditional back-office functions, such as managing forensics, providing legal services, managing the vehicle fleet, finance and human resources... The contract notice does state that "bidders should note that not all these activities will necessarily be included in the final scope, and that each police force will select some activities from these areas where they see the best opportunities for transformation".
Very often we see cities hire a police force rather than depending on the elected county sheriff, as many city councils (and even some county commissions) prefer to own the police department and its leadership rather than having to deal with elected officials who answer to the voters rather than to them. I wonder if this doesn't introduce a similar disconnect in accountability.

On the other hand, private corporations working for the US Federal government can be disciplined quite quickly compared to civil bureaucracies. Compared with disciplining rogue activities at the IRS or CIA, we can pull a contract and hire another firm with relative ease. We're not very good at holding individuals accountable in either case, but civil service employees are notoriously difficult to fire.

"You Can't Be Reasoned Out Of...

...what you were never reasoned into."
Last year, UCLA grad student Michael LaCour and Columbia political scientist Donald Green published a startling finding, based on a experiment they ran: going door to door to try to persuade voters to support same-sex marriage works, they found, and it works especially well when the canvasser delivering the message is gay. They even found spillover effects: people who lived with voters who talked to a gay canvasser grew more supportive of same-sex marriage, too.

This was a really exciting conclusion, for political scientists and laypeople alike. Past research has suggested that people's political views are tribal and largely impervious to rational persuasion. Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan and the University of Exeter's Jason Reifler have conducted multiple studies that show correcting people's incorrect views about, say, the presence of WMDs in Iraq can actually backfire and make them hold their wrong beliefs even more firmly.
Turns out, this exciting conclusion was a complete fraud.

But persuasive!

The thing is, you really can engage reason and change people's minds about things. You just can't do it quickly. I've changed my mind about very many political questions over time, to include free trade (which sounded plausible before the evidence came in), abortion (I was against the practice personally but totally pro-choice before I began to study philosophy, and it is precisely thinking through the issue rationally that has convinced me that we should have much tighter legal restrictions on the practice), foreign policy (as a teenager and twenty-something I had isolationist sentiments that I've been reasoned out of over time), and so forth.

In the course of a single election cycle, though, you probably can't. Those tribal issues are algorithms we use to decide issues quickly, and most people don't pay attention to politics enough to do otherwise than decide when they really have to decide. So you get political responses that are more like, "Oh, yuck, he's in favor of it? I'm against it totally." Push people on this, and they'll push back harder because now you're trying to force them to do something they find gross and disgusting.

There's still reason to hope that persuasion and patient argument, or new evidence, will become persuasive over time. If there were not, there would be little reason to favor democratic forms of government.

Not Quite

Megan McArdle would like you to believe that this is all your fault. Certainly there's an element of truth to the argument, and I am sure she really believes what she's writing here.

However, the blame for the radical change in economic conditions for new American workers is not merely the result of rational choices made by ordinary citizens in the marketplace or at the voting booth. It's true that Americans as consumers buy a lot of stuff from places that get their stuff from China. Some of those Americans have the option of buying American-made goods instead. Those things are now a luxury good, but they didn't used to be: it used to be that American-made clothing factories were all around the South, and it wasn't particularly more expensive to buy American-made and American-grown cotton.

Still, the major changes to the law that enabled globalization to undercut worker wages weren't enacted because of wide popular support. They were enacted because of lobbyists from wealthy interests. Did the massive losses of American jobs and family farms following NAFTA result in a net transfer of wealth from American workers to Mexican ones? No! It turns out it resulted in a net transfer of wealth from the workers of both countries to the wealthy interests, as the interests could more easily undercut workers on both sides of the border.
[I]t is easy to see that NAFTA was a bad deal for most Americans. The promised trade surpluses with Mexico turned out to be deficits, some hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost, and there was downward pressure on US wages – which was, after all, the purpose of the agreement.... But what about Mexico? Didn't Mexico at least benefit from the agreement? Well if we look at the past 20 years, it's not a pretty picture. The most basic measure of economic progress, especially for a developing country like Mexico, is the growth of income (or GDP) per person. Out of 20 Latin American countries (South and Central America plus Mexico), Mexico ranks 18, with growth of less than 1% annually since 1994. It is, of course, possible to argue that Mexico would have done even worse without NAFTA, but then the question would be, why?

[Long analysis of why NAFTA didn't help Mexico clipped, but available at the link. -Grim]

It's tough to imagine Mexico doing worse without NAFTA. Perhaps this is part of the reason why Washington's proposed "Free Trade Area of the Americas" was roundly rejected by the region in 2005 and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership is running into trouble. Interestingly, when economists who have promoted NAFTA from the beginning are called upon to defend the agreement, the best that they can offer is that it increased trade. But trade is not, to most humans, an end in itself.
The American public isn't against trade, either. The author is right, though, to say that while we're happy to trade, we don't think 'free trade' or even 'more trade' is an end in itself. Economic activity is a means to our ends, and for American and Mexican workers those ends have been harmed rather than helped by the free trade pact.

So the blame for the 'great reset' is only partly on the people who, in 2000 or so, bought the cheap shirts from Bangladesh instead of the slightly more expensive ones made in South Carolina. The blame is mostly on those who lobbied for this law, then used the advantages it gave them to put workers in competition with each other. Very little of the 'savings' got passed on to you as a consumer: inflation was pretty strong during that period, up until the financial collapse of 2008. Your money wasn't going further.

Also, buying American didn't become a luxury good slowly over time, as a result of the buildup of rational choices made by individuals in the marketplace. It happened suddenly, as a choice made by corporate entities that forced the consumers' hand. You can't buy American goods from South Carolina at near the same prices if all the factories were closed in a rush to take advantage of wage competitions enabled by the new law. "We" didn't make that choice at all.

Neither the economic choices nor the political ones are really in the hands of ordinary Americans. Possibly we can make the political choices going forward, though quite possibly not: the entrenched interests are very strong here. Still, let's not make the mistake of thinking that Americans are just having to live with the effects of their choices as consumers. Their choices as consumers had very little to do with the forces at work here. Not nothing, to be sure: but not nearly as much as economists like McArdle would like to believe.

Easy as Riding a Bike

That is to say, not at all easy.

"Father" "Marries" "Son"

I suppose this represents a sort of progress, since what they are doing is more like marriage than it is like being father and son:
Norman MacArthur and Bill Novak, father and son, though not biologically, will soon be husband and … whatever, reports the Patch of Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

The pair, both in their 70s, have been together for 50 years and registered in New York City as domestic partners in 1994. But when they moved to Pennsylvania, they discovered their domestic partnership wasn’t recognized, and legalized same-sex marriage was nowhere on the horizon.

Needing to take care of estate-planning issues, the pair pursued a novel legal approach. Novak adopted MacArthur in 2000. The fact their parents were deceased removed any legal objection.
That's the problem with pendulum swings. The 'domestic partner' law might have been stable, except it ran into places that refused to grant any status at all. So first they had to 'adopt' a ridiculous legal fiction, and now we're going to radically alter the institution of marriage for a while.

The Safety of Israel

Possibly in the long term it will prove to be the most dangerous place on earth, standing as it does under a Sword of Damocles in the form of a surrounding Middle East that nurtures a very deep grudge against its very existence. Still, for today, this is true.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk, a Republican from Georgia, says he felt safer during a recent trip to Israel than he would “in certain parts of New York City or Chicago.... The whole time we were there, of course, we had security with us, but there was no restrictions on travel, we never felt threatened one bit... In fact, I can say that we felt safer in Israel than we would in certain parts of New York City or Chicago,” Loudermilk said.

“Yeah — or Baltimore, I would think, as well,” interjected host Tony Perkins.
I had no security with me at any time, indeed was walking completely alone, and still felt perfectly safe. Even in East Jerusalem, even in the Arab parts of town. Several of the Arabs told me I was very welcome, I think because they want Americans to come and see the situation for ourselves. No one during the entire trip was even mildly threatening, except the Israeli security officer who pulled me aside to question me very intensely about my business in Israel when I first arrived. That was only his duty, and I took no offense.

UPDATE: I guess my radar's a little off. I realize this afternoon that the reason these comments are a story is that the authors are implying some sort of racism in the guy's commentary. "Certain parts of New York City or Chicago"... "or Baltimore" is supposed to be code, I guess.

Well, maybe. All the same, I've been to New York, I've been to Chicago, I've been to Baltimore, and there are certain parts of those cities that are objectively unsafe. They were having riots in Baltimore just recently, and Chicago's murder rate is periodically higher than Afghanistan's. I've also been to Jerusalem, and walking around Jerusalem even alone and late at night felt perfectly safe to me.

So, for what it's worth, if you're reading racism into his remarks it may not be appropriate. He may have been making a comment about Israel, not about race in America. That's how I read it at first.

UPDATE: Not to put too fine a point on it, but last weekend: 27 shootings, 9 fatal in Baltimore. Chicago? 56 shot over the same weekend, including a child. I don't see any for Jerusalem in the same period.

UPDATE: Murders are up in Manhattan too. And according to this list, Israel's total murder rate is 1.7 per 100,000 if you discount the deaths from the war; 1.8 per 100,000 if you don't. That's not great: most of Europe does much better than this, having rates in the zero-point range. The USA is 4.7 per 100,000. The Americas are the worst place in the world overall, even worse than Africa, with an average rate of 16.3. If you break it down by cities, all the worst places in the world are in the Americas, including two US cities: New Orleans and Baltimore.

So yeah. I think dude was objectively correct in his statements.

...As If A Million Voices Cried Out, And Never Shut Up...

Apparently the Waco dust-up has created a storm of mockery.
Over in a corner of Twitter that most of white America doesn't visit (because apparently our social media networks are about as segregated as they are in real life), snark took over. Many tweeted ironically about the corrosive influence of biker culture on weekend warriors and the imperative need for white leaders to denounce the broader scourge of “white on white crime” in front of hashtags like, “#stuffthemedianeversays." Pictures of Sarah Palin and in leather biker gear popped up along below tweets about “radical white politicians, who “coddle,” and commune with, “thugs.” The subtext of all of it was clear: This is what the world’s paid and volunteer shouter corps say when the tragedies involve black people, not white.

"9 killed in Waco biker gang shootout - where are the white leaders decrying this white-on-white violence?" #stuffthemedianeversays

— John Fugelsang (@JohnFugelsang) May 18, 2015
Well, here's a picture of Sarah Palin being cozy with some bikers. Tough guys, too, the kind who look like they know their way around an automatic weapon. You'd have to think twice before giving one them a gun, right?

Twitter-space may be segregated, but military/veteran motorcycle clubs are not. Those are the ones you usually see with political figures. Whatever is wrong with race in America, this kind of biker isn't it.

UPDATE: Among what is mostly a critique of media tone:
It started as a fist fight in the bathroom of the restaurant. The fight spread. People used clubs and chains and knives and guns. By one estimate, there were 30 people shooting. At least five gangs took part – six, if you count the police.

Amazingly, no bystanders were hurt or killed, even though it took place at a shopping centre on a Sunday afternoon where people were shopping and celebrating graduations.

This comes when the riots in Baltimore on April 27th over the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of police is still fresh in everyone’s mind. The difference in how the police and the press acted is striking.
I often criticize the police if I think they have over-deployed power against Americans. I think this person's argument is highly uncharitable given the performance of the police in Waco. It's also not justified by what follows in the article. A lot of ink is spilled on the difference in the way the media talks and thinks about Baltimore versus Waco, but there's nothing to justify the claim that the police acted in a "different" way.

Before the brawl -- let's call it a "riot" to avoid treating the cases as essentially 'different' in the way the article hates -- police tried to get the bar to refuse service to the clubs. When that failed, they deployed officers in overwatch positions around the gathering. They fired on the club members who were involved, and may well have killed some of the "rioters" (as they did not do in Baltimore). They mass-arrested nearly two hundred people, just as in Baltimore, and appear poised to charge nearly all of them with at least some crime. At least some of the charges look to be capital murder. If so, unlike in Baltimore, the government is planning to put people to death for participating in this riot.

Now, not to put too fine a point on it, but that's how you stop a riot. Shooting the rioters used to be the ordinary standard for dangerous rioting. It was clearly justified here.

Deeply Dishonest

[A]nyone who has read the text of the [TPP] agreement could be jailed for disclosing its contents. I’ve actually read the TPP text provided to the government’s own advisors, and I’ve given the president an earful about how this trade deal will damage this nation. But I can’t share my criticisms with you....

The government has created a perfect Catch 22: The law prohibits us from talking about the specifics of what we’ve seen, allowing the president to criticize us for not being specific. Instead of simply admitting that he disagrees with me—and with many other cleared advisors—about the merits of the TPP, the president instead pretends that our specific, pointed criticisms don’t exist.
Emphasis added.

No lying salesmen.

No secret treaties.


A clever matching of perspective makes windows into the past in Paris, 2014/1944.

Odd Split

What kind of controversy gets the Supreme Court to line up Alito, Roberts, Kennedy, Breyer, and Sotomayor against Ginsburg, Scalia, Kagan, and Thomas?  A suit over whether Maryland counties (and the city of Baltimore) must give credits to Maryland residents who pay taxes to other states for income they earn across state lines.  This looks like a classic quarrel over whether the problem with a law is that it's lousy policy or that it violates the Constitution.  What Constitutional principle limits taxes, you may wonder, and where has it been all our lives?  In this case, the idea is that double-taxation across state lines amounts to a tariff on interstate commerce.  If you don't find that convincing, you may side with strict-interpretationists Scalia and Thomas, and wish that the problem would be solved at the ballot box instead.

The press is generally reporting this as problematic because Maryland counties and the city of Baltimore need lots of cash, which apparently is the only useful consideration when it comes to taxation policy or the Constitutional limits on state power.  Myself, I'd worry more about having to mediate disputes between states over who has the best right to glom onto every penny of income they can identify in the hands of people who are energetic enough to earn money in interstate commerce--but I suppose they've been facing that issue for a long time now, given that most states already have a system of interstate credits in place.  Ah, for the days when I paid income tax to California, New Jersey, and the State and City of New York while living in (income-tax-free) Texas.  I'm sure they put the money to good use.

From Your Lips...

I think this is right, but we'll see how it goes.

The Magna Carta on Trial

Really the trial will be of the barons who fought for it, I suppose, rather than the charter of liberties itself. The UK has decided to hold a trial for treason against those gentlemen, wierdly presided over by a panel that will include Justice Stephen Breyer of the United States Supreme Court.

George Washington's trial will surely follow. I suppose they're saving Justice Sotomeyer for that one.

Do What Now?

Mikey Weinstein, CEO of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, has sent a blistering letter to Chief of Staff Gen, Mark Welsh, arguing that Olson's comments violate an Air Force instruction, which prohibits airmen from endorsing a particular faith or belief.

"Olson's highly publicized, sectarian speech is nothing less than a brutal disgrace to the very uniform he was wearing and the solemn oath he took to support and defend the United States Constitution," Weinstein writes.
I'm not a JAG lawyer -- perhaps Joel or Joesph W. is around? -- but I'm pretty sure it's OK to pray in uniform. Not only are there designated chaplains, but in Iraq I constantly saw groups of soldiers gathering in circles to pray before going outside the wire to do route clearance or dismounted patrols. Who's going to claim soldiers ought not to pray before such a mission?

But here's the letter, and this is what they claim he's done wrong:
2.12. Balance of Free Exercise of Religion and Establishment Clause. Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for their own free exercise of religion, including individual expressions of religious beliefs, and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. They must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief. (emphasis added)

In light of your very own Air Force regulation, irrefutably on point with the matter herein, and the violation of which is proscribed as a potential FELONY under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, do you honestly NOT see any incredibly serious problems here with Olson’s statements, Mark? Please also note the controlling holding of the seminal 1974 Supreme Court case of Parker vs. Levy (417 U.S. 733), penned by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, significantly limiting the Constitutional rights of active duty military members (such as Major General Olson) vs. the same rights enjoyed by their American civilian counterparts....

Consequently, on behalf of itself and its over 41,000 active duty and veteran armed forces clients, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) hereby demands that Major General Craig S. Olson be immediately, aggressively and very visibly brought to justice for his unforgivable crimes and transgressions via trial by General Courts Martial and that any and all others who assisted him with his NDPTF speech of fundamentalist Christian supremacy be likewise investigated and punished to the full extent of military law.
So the claim is that his remarks at a prayer service constitute a felony for which he ought to be imprisoned (since that is 'the fullest extent' of punishment licensed for these 'unforgivable crimes').

Now, this is a letter posted to the internet by crackpots. Still, how strange to see the lines drawn this way by any American. It's hard to believe that this makes sense to any of our countrymen at all.

Speaking of law and order

Time for a national conversation about what society is supposed to do when violent lawlessness becomes hard to ignore?  Looks like the current trend is to run it through a race filter before we decide whether and how to crack down:
The Obama administration announced Monday it will ban federal transfers of certain types of military-style gear from local police departments, as the president seeks to respond to a spate of incidents that has frayed trust in communities across the country.
The banned items include tracked armored vehicles, bayonets and grenade launchers, according to a task force report released by the White House. Other equipment, including tactical vehicles, explosives and riot equipment, will be transferred only if local police provide additional certification and assurances that the gear will be used responsibly, according to the report.
The announcement came as Obama prepared to travel to Camden, N.J., to highlight his administration’s strategy to help reform local police departments, including efforts to increase the numbers of officers on patrol and the use of body cameras.
It's true the announcement doesn't mention race, but when I read "reform local police departments" (not mention "communities") in a statement coming from the White House recently, that's where my head goes.  Something tells me the President isn't losing sleep over the potential use of tactical vehicles in Waco.  Speaking which, are those Special Forces guys still hanging out in Texas?

Waco Goes Wild West

Speaking of Mad Max, there was some real Sons of Anarchy action this weekend:  nine dead and eighteen injured (no bystanders or cops) at what's being described as a five-gang battle at a "Twin Peaks" restaurant on Highway 35.  Police closed down the whole market area that included the Twin Peaks franchise, as well as some downtown streets and two bridges over the Brazos River.

That's more casualties than I usually expect from a news item about a dust-up.  These guys weren't just blowing off steam in a fight that got a little out of hand:  there was concentrated and effective murder.

The emphasis in a lot of reports is on "bikers," but I'd put it on "gangs."  Waco does appear to respond aggressively to this kind of thing.  There's certainly no talk of "space to destroy."

Mad Max Is Not A Feminist

Andrew Klavan writes that critics are praising the new Mad Max because it upholds the feminist ideal. I think he's quite wrong that it does any such thing. Here's his argument.
....while I consider feminism a dishonest and oppressive philosophy, I believe good feminist stories can be told. This is because even a philosophy that is a lie in general may be the truth in a specific, individual case and stories are individual and specific. Dishonest outlooks can produce honest stories. The left has been living off this fact for decades.

So while ideologically corrupt critics are going wild over Fury Road because it’s feminist, I’m not criticizing it because I’m anti-feminist. I’m criticizing it because it’s not very good. Its title character is ill-defined. His mission is emotionally muddy....

What Fury Road does have is a female warrior (played by the always-watchable Charlize Theron) who does the work that any good story would have reserved for its central character. She has a back story that matters. She performs the major action tasks. She travels over a personal arc within the plot. Some in Hollywood fear that female action leads bomb. So Fury Road sneaks the female lead in by giving the female sidekick all the good stuff to do. As a result, however, the center of the movie is empty and the story collapses into it.
I've complained often enough about the need for female warriors in contemporary movies, but they're less unbelievable in movies set at or near the modern period in which guns are available. Nevertheless, the new Mad Max is not at all a feminist film.  I'll put the counterargument after the jump so as to keep you from encountering spoilers.

Justice as Fairness

Anthropologists studying hunter-gatherer societies have long know that such societies don't split off into family groups as obviously as do more settled and prosperous societies. They've come up with an answer: the relative equality of power distribution in such societies stops that from happening. Why?
First author of the study, Mark Dyble (UCL Anthropology), said: "While previous researchers have noted the low relatedness of hunter-gatherer bands, our work offers an explanation as to why this pattern emerges. It is not that individuals are not interested in living with kin. Rather, if all individuals seek to live with as many kin as possible, no-one ends up living with many kin at all."
So it's a lot more fair that modern society, because in a hunter-gatherer society they all want the same thing but nobody gets it. Justice, at least on the contemporary model of justice-as-fairness, was achieved before the dawn of civilization! One wonders why we ever walked away from such a paradise.

I would tell you what Aristotle said about that from a position much closer to the dawn of civilization, but you can probably already guess: that justice means something besides mere equality of suffering. It might have something to do with structuring a society to enable pursuing and sometimes even actually achieving the excellences of which human nature is capable.

Those ideas are somewhat out of favor at the moment. I'm very much interested in democratizing the idea, so that people who are ordinary working class people can have access to the things they need to pursue excellence if they work hard and honestly. I'd like to see society structured in such a way that people are less likely to be rewarded for catering to lower desires, where virtue is rewarded and vice is not. All the same I think that, surely, examples like this ought to call into question the idea that justice is in any way reducible to fairness. I'm not sure that fairness is even a proper part of justice, though I haven't made up my mind that it isn't either. Whether or not fairness is in any way part of justice, it's certainly not the whole.