Easy Rider

"In honor of Peter, please raise a glass to freedom."

Now that I can do.

Here's the scene that made his career.

Be That America

Once we were that America. I wish we could be again.

On A Book I Will Be Buying

"No Politician in Living Memory has been Treated as Badly as Ilhan Omar"

Even if we restrict the class to American Federal politicians, that's not even close to true. Heck, it's not even true if we restrict "living memory" to the last few years, so as to leave out assassination victims like JFK and RFK. Steve Scalise was shot, as part of a plot to assassinate a whole bunch of Republican Congressmen. Gabby Giffords was shot. Rand Paul was brutally beaten, as was Harry Reid (for reasons that we never really learned, now that I think about it). If we include judges who have to undergo Senate confirmation in the class of 'politicians,' Brett Kavanaugh -- whom RBG describes as a very kind, upstanding man, and credits with the Supreme Court's sudden shift in favor of female clerks -- was publicly savaged as a rapist, gang-rapist, drugger of women, blackout drunk, and these ridiculous charges were broadcast worldwide in front of screaming mobs.

But, OK, 'some people did something' to Omar. Or said something, actually. Nobody's done anything to her, even though she spends enough of her time running down our country that I literally can't recall her ever saying anything else.
Like Omar, I am a Muslim American who also happens to be a person of colour. The combination of hijab and being brown does not always go down well in our predominantly white society. Because of my appearance, I am all too often subjected to judgement. This makes me feel like anything I say, like Omar, has the potential to be taken out of context. It makes me feel that I, like Omar, am also under the magnifying glass. I should not have to fear for my life or that of any other Muslim. If we allow such cruel rhetoric to snowball, we are contributing towards our own demise.

Moving forward, normalizing the hijab would be the first step towards removing stigma and pressure against women like myself and Ilhan. Engaging in dialogue about topics that make us uncomfortable, such as the hijab, can also help to dismantle stereotypes and increase understanding.
Look, I don't know what you mean by 'normalizing,' lady, but you can wear the thing if you want to do. Nobody's going to rip it off your head and beat you up for it. It's not like it's a MAGA hat or something.

If you're ever in my company, you're perfectly safe. I wouldn't hurt you or let anyone else hurt you. But come on, now. Ilhan Omar isn't being hurt. She's being challenged, and that is not because she wears a hijab or because of the color of her skin. It's because she's constantly insulting the nation that took her in and elevated her to power, wealth, and comfort.

As far as I can tell, Ilhan really is an American and really does belong here. She married her brother, after all -- that's American like Jerry Lee Lewis, who married his 13-year-old second-cousin because he wanted to and nobody could stop him. Jerry Lee Lewis did a lot of things like that.

In fact, they're also alike in the 'not actually getting a divorce before marrying again' department.

Speaking of Jerry Lee Lewis and crazy American stuff, here's another story from that series -- Tales from the Tour Bus, the whole first season of which is about Outlaw Country stars.

Maybe it's only America where you can live a life as wild as that, or as wild as the one Ms. Omar seems embarked upon. I don't have a problem with her being here, or with her being in Congress: if that's what the people of MN-5 want representing them, well, that's on them. It's not my business.

But if she wants to be treated with respect and friendship, she might start by showing a little of either or both. Loyalty is a two-way street. She's not shown the first bit of actual loyalty to us, to say nothing of friendship. If she wants a defense, she might defend us once in a while. She's the Congressperson, after all. She is the one with power and access and money, who can literally write laws if she can just write them sane enough to get enough other people to sign off on them. I'm not going to shed tears for her if she has to put up with some hard words once in a while, after her latest rendition of How Awful America Is to the World.

Swinging for the Fences

An assault weapons ban is picking up steam in the House and on the 2020 campaign trail...
And how are we defining 'assault weapons' this time?
...nearly 200 House Democrats have now signed on to legislation... banning semi-automatic firearms and large-capacity magazines. With 198 co-sponsors, the bill is just 20 votes shy of the number needed to push it through the lower chamber.
Oh. All semi-automatic firearms, which includes the most popular pistols and rifles in America.

The Heller standard is that the Second Amendment protects firearms that are in common use for lawful purposes. This approach seems to have adopted the same category that the Supreme Court declared protected to be the first thing to ban. You can call that what you like, but 'common sense' it is not. 'Common sense' means that people have the sense in common. When people differ this sharply, there's no common sense to which to refer.

Waiting for the Facts

Turns out several of Epstein's neck bones were broken. The model on offer is that he tied a bedsheet to a bunk and then knelt down to strangle himself. I'm not sure that's really possible -- it would require a degree of self-discipline that transcends the fight-or-flight instinct, since all you'd have to do to stop it is stand back up. But it doesn't strike me as likely to break several bones.

But hey, as Colonel Kurt points out, why worry about it? Our elite's got this.

This Is What They Think is Legal Now

A 57-year-old man is jailed for "a terroristic threat."

Whom did he threaten? Well, no one exactly; it's more that he was 'threatening.'
Court documents said Marr walked into the Morgan County Public Library last Thursday and asked staff there why the flags were flying at half-staff. An employee replied it was in honor of the victims in the El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio shootings.

The probable cause statement signed by Captain J.D. Williams of the Morgan County Sheriff's Office said Marr replied, "If you ask me Patrick did us a favor." Authorities have accused Patrick Crusius of entering a Walmart in El Paso and shooting and killing 22 people.

Deputies said the librarian who reported the incident told them Marr then logged onto a library computer and searched "exclusively" for the manifesto written by Crusius prior to the shooting and articles related to the incident....

Morgan County Prosecuting Attorney Dustin Dunkley signed off on the charge of second-degree making a terroristic threat. In his complaint, he wrote Marr, "knowingly caused a false fear that a condition involving danger to life existed" by entering the library and asking about the flags, then responding with his comment about Crusius.

Additionally, the complaint stated Marr did this with a "reckless disregard of the risk of causing the evacuation or closure" of the library.
At one point in my youth I worked in a library. We didn't even ask for trespass orders or arrests for the people who came in and searched for internet pornography. This guy was reading a document of legitimate public interest. He's doubtless a jerk with nasty opinions, but that's first amendment stuff. You're allowed freedom of conscience, which includes the freedom not to have much of a conscience.

Joe Bob Briggs: Where's the Apology for the Ghostbusters Remake?

A Chinese director makes the mistake of apologizing.

If this is now a thing, he notes, other apologies are very much due.
Okay, your turn, Marcus Nispel. I didn’t say a word when you remade the greatest movie in the history of the world, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,... [b]ut Conan the Barbarian is a different matter. You should be hauled into court and forced to repay every cent of that $110 million, and Jason Momoa should be required to bring you clean socks every day should you fall behind and get sentenced to Fantasy Remake Jail, but I’ll settle for a lengthy humiliating public apology. This would not include any remarks about what you were trying to do. If you utter the words “the art of Frank Frazetta” at any moment, you will be executed.
It's true that the 2011 Conan was definitely not up to the standards of the 1982 classic, to say nothing of the books.

Gun Control Doesn't Work Anyway

As AVI points out, this is the conclusion of a Washington Post piece citing a 538 author -- but they try to mask it with an attractive, easy to watch video arguing the other way on emotional grounds.

Fake News Today

DB: "I would've joined the military too if I didn't think it was beneath me."

Guns and Black Markets

So yesterday in Philadelphia a man with a long gun held off like 50 police officers for hours -- although, it should be said, this was mostly because of their election of restraint. They certainly could have assaulted his position much sooner had they chosen to do so, and I think the whole department deserves praise for their choice to take the time to bring the matter to an end with no deaths. That was a good, moral choice and I appreciate them for having the discipline to carry it out.

Today the politicians are calling for gun control again, because that's always their answer no matter the question. The gunman in this case, though, had priors that prevented him from legally owning a gun. There are strong laws -- Federal laws -- against him possessing a gun. There are also such laws against possession of the narcotics that the officers showed up at that house to arrest people for possessing and distributing. Turns out they had guns and drugs too.

The big story is not that laws don't work, but just why they don't work. Crowds spent the afternoon jeering at the police officers after they were chased off by gunfire. At least one young man got arrested for mocking and harassing the cops. The ability of the police to stop a black market's operation, always limited, depends on their respect and friendship with the community. Here they clearly do not have such friendship, and thus the black market will be unstoppable even if they can manage the occasional raid on good information. What Mao says of guerrillas is as true of gangsters: the population is the sea in which they swim. If that sea is friendly waters to them, there's no way an occupying army (or police force) can finally root them out.

What the gun control politicians don't see is that the ultimate effect of their actions -- should they be successful -- will be to create a much bigger black market, this time for deadly weapons. They'll convert a much larger part of the population into a friendly sea for that black market. They'll alienate the people from the police, and thus make large parts of the nation hostile to their own authority.

More to the point, the People won't be wrong. The People are the sovereigns, after all, and they are free to decide when the government no longer legitimately represents them. It may well be that the drug war itself represents a kind of violation of popular sovereignty, proven by its unenforceability. The 2nd Amendment is encoded in the Constitution. Violations of your right to do what you want with your body isn't as plainly unconstitutional as infringements on the right of the people to keep and bear arms.

Beware, politicians. Much more than you appreciate is at stake in your lust to take the people's arms.

BB: America Offers to Trade All its Communists for Hong Kong Democracy Protesters

"This is the best deal, maybe ever," said Trump.

Economics & Politics

I honestly doubt that anyone really understands the economy well enough to discuss it. Here's an article on the weak points of the current economy by a Keynesian.
The US economy has not been working for most Americans, whose incomes have been stagnating – or worse – for decades. These adverse trends are reflected in declining life expectancy. The Trump tax bill made matters worse by compounding the problem of decaying infrastructure, weakening the ability of the more progressive states to support education, depriving millions more people of health insurance, and, when fully implemented, leading to an increase in taxes for middle-income Americans, worsening their plight.

Redistribution from the bottom to the top – the hallmark not only of Trump’s presidency, but also of preceding Republican administrations – reduces aggregate demand, because those at the top spend a smaller fraction of their income than those below. This weakens the economy in a way that cannot be offset even by a massive giveaway to corporations and billionaires.
Here's a simple report on conditions:
Monthly reports on the number of new jobs and the unemployment rate can drown out important trends like these two: After four decades of worsening, wage inequality has started shrinking. And in a twist, America’s blue-collar workers are playing the biggest role in driving that reversal.

This may come as a surprise, because education is classically seen as a ladder up the income scale. Despite blue-collar workers often lacking college degrees, their wages have been accelerating faster than those of their white-collar counterparts.
Now, if 'aggregate demand' is the problem, raising taxes on the rich and redistributing to the working class is taken to be the solution. But what about cutting taxes on the rich, combined with raising the wages of the working class? In principle that should lead to inflation, as there will be more dollars across the board. But these dollars aren't chasing the same things, which is what causes price inflation. The richer are going to spend their dollars chasing things they've been putting off; things like building a second home, or re-roofing their first home, or buying a luxury car, or higher-end foods. The working class are going to be spending their increased wealth on better used cars, mid-range foodstuffs, etc.

Meanwhile, the low unemployment levels mean that wages have to keep rising -- at least as long as we can avoid any new globalization agreements, or any amnesty deals that legalize vast sectors of new labor for domestic concerns. In other words, the Trump agenda seems to be arranged around attacking the same basic concern that the first article describes as undermining the economy.

The author of the first piece was "Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, is University Professor at Columbia University and Chief Economist at the Roosevelt Institute." He's the kind of guy who should understand if anyone does, at least if credentials matter. Economics is so complex, though, I doubt that anyone does. I've touched on just one way in which the fundamentals seem to be shifting in defiance of theory; but that's only one small part of the economy as a whole. Trade wars with China, for example, pose another set of challenges. The national debt poses another, though exactly what sort of challenge it poses is a subject of fundamental disagreement even among theorists. Some seem to think we can print money past Doomsday; others, that debt is going to destroy the whole thing. Both have arguments. Which are right?


The big explosion in Russia last week is thought to have been a nuclear-powered rocket. The US developed one in the early Cold War, but never tested it.
SLAM was never built because it was too dangerous to even test. The dangerous levels of radioactivity unleashed by the nuclear engine was a big plus in some apocalyptic wartime scenario, but it couldn't even be tested in the skies over the U.S. SLAM was also overtaken by intercontinental ballistic missile development, which could deliver a thermonuclear warhead against a target in Russia in half an hour.
I did just read an article suggesting that similar rockets could be used in space, though, to allow transit around the solar system in a reasonable period of time. Here's another article on the subject of why such rockets offer advantages over traditional designs.

Ten Thousand Rounds

At first this sounds like a very alarming story.
[H]e went by the name “ArmyOfChrist,” and praised the Oklahoma City bombing, mass shootings and attacks on Planned Parenthood, the FBI says. When the deadly siege in Waco, Tex., came up, he allegedly offered one lesson: “Shoot every federal agent on sight.” “Don’t comply with gun laws, stock up on stuff they could ban,” he allegedly wrote...

And when agents raided a home where the 18-year-old lived earlier this month, they found about 10,000 rounds of ammunition and a vault full of assault-type weapons and shotguns.
Wow! Except, where did an 18 year old get enough money to buy all that stuff?

Oh, actually, he didn't own them. His father owned them, and kept them responsibly locked in a safe.
On Aug. 7, agents swarmed Olsen’s mother’s house, but learned that he’d recently moved to live with his father. Later that day, they found Olsen and arrested him. He soon admitted to making the posts, the FBI says, but claimed the comments were all in jest.

“That’s a hyperbolic conclusion based on the results of the Waco siege,” he said of his instruction to shoot federal agents. He added that the “ATF slaughtered families” in the incident, in which 76 people died as federal agencies raided a religious sect’s compound.

Agents found plenty of firepower in Olsen’s father’s home, though it’s unclear how much of it the 18-year-old could access. There were about 300 rounds of ammunition on a stairway, the FBI says, and thousands of rounds of ammo, camouflage clothing and a gun vault in another bedroom in the house. Agents eventually seized about 15 rifles and shotguns and 10 semiautomatic pistols.
So what we have here is a father who was a responsible gun owner, and a teenager who liked to run his mouth on the internet. Apparently that's enough to justify seizing the father's firearms and ammunition -- permanently? If the boy is jailed for making threats, it's not likely the father is going to shoot anything up if he's reached middle age without doing so.

This is somewhat like the red flag laws under discussion, only it turns out you wouldn't actually have to be the red flag yourself. What's the procedure for recovering your property from FBI seizure if it turns out you didn't do anything wrong, nor even contemplate anything wrong?

Shrieking reported from Epstein's cell the morning of his death

According to the irresponsible conspiracy theory website... CBS News

Real News Today

Tulsi Gabbard really has been called up to active duty, just in time to be kept out of the next Presidential debates. She'll be in Indonesia.
Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat from Hawaii and presidential candidate, will be taking a two-week absence from her campaign Monday to report for active duty with the Hawaiian Army National Guard in Indonesia, she said in an interview with CBSN's Caitlin Huey-Burns.

"I'm stepping off of the campaign trail for a couple of weeks and putting on my army uniform to go on a joint training exercise mission in Indonesia," she said. Gabbard has also taken two weeks off to report for active service in 2017.

"I love our country. I love being able to serve our country in so many ways including as a soldier," she said. "And so while some people are telling me, like gosh this is a terrible time to leave the campaign, can't you find a way out of it? You know that's not what this is about."
Pretty Presidential, if you ask me.

Fake News Today

DB: "Maj. Tulsi Gabbard Receives Surprise Deployment Orders to Antarctica"
Gabbard will be deploying to Antarctica within the week, and is expected to return next summer, shortly after the Democratic National Convention has concluded.

“It’s unfortunate that Congresswoman Gabbard’s presidential aspirations have been thwarted by her upcoming deployment,” said Sen. Kamala Harris.... winking dramatically and making finger guns long after the cameras stopped taking pictures.
Spectator (US): "Titania McGrath’s Edinburgh Fringe show is the most important live event since the Women’s March"
Inevitably, white male critics have entirely misunderstood Mxnifesto. One described it as ‘venomous satire’, another as ‘iconic comedy’. Brian Logan in the Guardian inexplicably awarded the show just one star. This was a crushing blow for me, because Logan is one of my all-time favorite writers and theater practitioners. For over 15years he was co-director of the improvisation troupe Cartoon de Salvo, objectively acclaimed on their own website as ‘storytellers, shape-shifters and theater pioneers’. I mention Logan’s troupe by name only because I know how difficult it must be to maintain a reputation for being a pioneer when no one has actually heard of anything you’ve ever done.
TO: "Nation Informs Body-Positive Advertisers It Ready To Go Back To Staring At Unattainably Attractive People"
"We got the message loud and clear, but if I wanted to see a slightly overweight person with frizzy hair and yellow, crooked teeth, I would look in the mirror."
Mutatis mutandis, I imagine that last is a very common sentiment.

Conspiracy Theories and Fake News

I suppose it's been interesting watching the competing conspiracy theories erupt, and I suppose it represents a kind of challenge to our society that we no longer have a way of determining mutually-agreed facts. Not enough blame is being placed upon the ordinary press for that; as awful as Twitter is, and it is terrible, the fact is that the press cut its own throat through increasingly-partisan activity over decades.

Still, this is not the problem:
[A] grim testament to our deeply poisoned information ecosystem — one that’s built for speed and designed to reward the most incendiary impulses of its worst actors. It has ushered in a parallel reality unrooted in fact and helped to push conspiratorial thinking into the cultural mainstream. And with each news cycle, the system grows more efficient, entrenching its opposing camps....

At the heart of Saturday’s fiasco is Twitter, which has come to largely program the political conversation and much of the press. Twitter is magnetic during massive breaking stories; news junkies flock to it for up-to-the-second information. But early on, there’s often a vast discrepancy between the attention that is directed at the platform and the available information about the developing story. That gap is filled by speculation and, via its worst users, rumor-mongering and conspiracy theories.
The problem is that waiting for better information has not made conspiracy theories seem less plausible. It remains possible that Epstein killed himself, just as we are being told: that he was broken-hearted over the loss of a life of wealth and freedom, and the certain prospect of spending the rest of his days in misery. It's possible that every single system that would have monitored him failed, and that they did so all at the same time, and he spotted his moment and used it.

However, this time, Occam's razor points toward a conspiracy to commit murder. Corruption happens to be the simplest explanation for the cascade failure of obvious protections against the death of the most valuable prisoner in the entire system. It is much easier to believe that one of the many extremely rich and powerful people to whom he posed a threat called in a favor from the mafia, and that the mafia called in a series of favors (or extended offers of new ones) to its extensive set of contacts within the prison system in New York. If all the payoffs were favors, there will be no money trail, and we'll likely never find out which billionaire or millionaire made the request.

That may not be true, but its plausibility doesn't hang on people being participants in a poisoned information stream. It's more plausible even today than it was two days ago: new details have emerged that he was just recently taken off suicide watch; that his cellmate was just removed, unusually leaving him completely alone; that he happened to have been moved from cells that were constantly monitored by CCTV to cells without any such monitoring; that guards left him alone and unsupervised for hours at a stretch, in spite of procedures calling for 30 minute checks....

This is a problem that is akin to the one that happened when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot down by Jack Ruby, in full view of everyone and while under the direct protection of US officers. We've waited a long time now for better information, but ultimately no better explanation has emerged. It's possible he was really not part of any sort of conspiracy, and there was just a cascade failure of systems in which we had unreasonable confidence. If people choose to believe the simpler explanation, though, it's not irrational to do so. It's an application of a usually-reliable heuristic.

It's just that there are huge consequences to adopting the mental model that follows from the conclusion. Perhaps the best thing is to remain open to both possibilities, as both remain possible. Then you don't have to come to any uncomfortable conclusions with dangerous consequences. You just have to accept an obvious truth, which is that we all live in much greater ignorance than we'd like to think. Ultimately the truth of much of the world is outside our grasp, now and forever.