“The Law’s Intent.”

Thomas Sowell, in his various writings, is big on looking at things in terms of the Incentives and Constraints they create rather than their stated hoped for consequences.  This gives you a far better insight into what the actual results are likely to be.

Now, even before I’d ever heard of Thomas Sowell (or Milton Friedman, to name another of my favorite economists) I was wont to say, when someone was talking about what a new law would do, “Don’t tell me the intent.  Tell me what it actually says.  It’s what it says that will be enforced, not whatever its intent might be.”

Case in point, a law in Indiana provided certain exceptions to the gun-free school zone law (state level law which paralleled the Federal law, which itself has certain exceptions).  One of those exceptions was when operating a motor vehicle while delivering children to school or picking them up.  The intent of this law was clearly to allow parents taking their children to school or picking them up afterward to be able to do so even when armed.  However, that wording “operating a motor vehicle” produced an unintended consequence.  If the parent stepped out of the car to help a child with a car seat, or to get supplies out of the trunk, or for any reason whatsoever, they would no longer be “operating” the motor vehicle and would be in violation.  Similarly, if a parent who is normally armed is called to the school to pick up a sick child said parent would either have to park off school property (leaving their weapon in the car) or disarm before coming on school property causing a delay in being able to get their child.  Failure to do any of that was a Class D Felony. (And “Felony” means no more guns ever.)  In at least one case the court noted that the law was clearly intended to cover such circumstances but they had to rule not on what lawmakers intended but on what the law actually said.

And, to be honest, as much as I dislike the results, I have to agree with the court.  The court’s job is to follow the law and the Constitution (ruling the restriction unconstitutional in the first place would, perhaps, have been better but that wasn’t going to happen), and dealing with the actual law on the books is better in general–even if I don’t like the specific application–than usurping lawmaking power to the judicial.

Fortunately, in 2014 the issue was at least partially resolved by a law that allowed individuals to keep their guns in parked cars provided the car is locked and they are out of sight. (Signed by then Governor Mike Pence to the bleating of the anti-gun folk who predicted school shootings as a result–which, of course, have never materialized.  Their dire prediction never do.)

So it’s what the law says, not the supposed intent, that one has to look at.  But there’s a caveat:  words have meanings, and the relevant meaning is that understood by the people who wrote the law.  You do not get to come along and say that “The meaning has changed” and apply new meaning to old law,” particularly the most fundamental of laws in the US:  The United States Constitution.

And to this end, helping to understand what the words of the Constitution and other laws long on the books actually mean, looking into the intent is helpful.  Intent, in this case doesn’t supersede or replace the wording of the law.  The law says what the law says.  But looking at what people have written about the intent can help one to understand what the words meant to the people who wrote it, particularly when language has changed.

The law, and the Constitution, says what it says.  No, it is not a “living document” (“I am altering the deal…”) except in that it allows for alteration through the amendment process (want to change it?  Get 2/3 of the House and 2/3 of the Senate, or a Convention called by 2/3 of the State Legislatures to propose an Amendment and then get 3/4 of the State Legislatures to ratify said Amendment).

What do the words say?  What do the words mean?  What did they mean to the people who wrote them?

These are what determine what the law is, no more, and no less.

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Another Snippet

I’ve got two shorter projects running in parallel with my main novel project.  This one is the opening of a sequel to Oruk Means Hard Work:


Elara, queen presumptive of the Elven kingdom of Greenwood clapped her hands over her ears.

“Can you not hear that?”

“Your…highness?” The regent Oridan stared at her in confusion.

“Oh.” Elara turned and stalked down the hallway in the direction of the pained shrieks that only she could hear.  The regent and others of her putative court, her keepers she thought a more honest term, followed in her wake.

The sound led her out of the keep, across the bailey to a small forge.  She burst through the door and stabbed a finger in the direction of the smith.

“What do you think you are doing?”

The smith paused, hammer upraised.  He looked down at the glowing metal in his tongs.

“Highness?”

Elara stepped forward, shoving her face in the smith’s.

“You are torturing that steel.”

The smith stepped back, trying to put some distance between him and Elara but Elara followed, her face a mere hand away from his.  The smith dropped the steel on the anvil, but kept the tongs in his hand.

“Highness?  It’s steel. This is how you make…”

“Make what?” Elara jabbed a finger into the smith’s chest. “A blade of some sort?”

“A poignard, yes.”

“Highness?” Oridan spoke from the doorway to the smithy.

“A poignard,” Elara said to the smith, ignoring Oridan. “Did you ever think that the steel doesn’t want to be a poignard?”

Confusion twisted the smith’s face. “The steel…want?”

“Highness?” Oridan said again.

Elara drew in a deep breath, continuing to ignore Oridan. “Yes.  The steel wants.”

“Give me that.” Elara grasped the tongs, near the smith’s hand. She tugged, but the smith retained his grip.

The smith looked over Elara’s shoulder. “Regent?”

“Highness,” Oridan said. “This is not appropriate…”

“I am supposed to be the queen, am I not?”

“When you come of age,” Oridan said, “in seventeen years.”

“So I am a prisoner until then?”

“No, you are the queen presumptive.  My job is to guide…”

Elara glanced at the steel on the anvil.  She forced her voice to calmness.

“Oridan, Regent, I have sat in the councils as you have asked.  I have spoken the words you gave me to say. Give me this. Just this.”

“Highness, this is not appropriate for a queen.”

“I need work to do,” Elara said. “Honest work of my hands.  All you give me are pretty words that mean nothing, spoken to people who speak equally meaningless words back.”

“Diplomacy is…”

“Talk and talk and talk and talk and no end of talk.  And in the end nothing changes. Give me this. Please.  Lest I go mad.”

Oridan hesitated, then looked over his shoulder at the older elf behind him. “Witharin?  You were there when she was recovered.”

Witharin, the court magician regarded Elara for a moment.  Elara strove to appear as earnest as possible. Sometimes she thought Witharin could see more in her than she wished.  She bit her tongue to avoid saying anything that might induce him to deny her plea.

After a moment, Witharin nodded. “I think it would be best to let her have her way in this.  She will be more…tractable I think with a task of her own choosing to occupy her energies.”

“But…working a forge?  Fire and hot steel? She will be burned, scarred.”

Witharin shrugged. “She is already scarred from her treatment at orc hands.”

“But fresh scars?” Oridan’s wave took in Elara’s full height. “Now of all times?”

Elara could remain silent no longer. “What do you mean ‘now of all times’?”

Oridan considered her for a moment. “You are the last survivor of the royal family.  You need to secure the bloodline. It is time to choose a prince consort.”

Elara’s jaw fell open.  Marry? An elf?

Her hatred for all elfen-kind welled up within her and fiercely she bit it back down.  Still she needed to bide her time.

“A…prince…consort?”

Oridan nodded. “While a love match is preferable, a match you must make, for the sake of all of us.”

Elara met Oridan’s eyes for a moment then, slowly, nodded.  Inwardly, she shrugged. There would be no love match for her, not with an elf, not with anyone.

She scarcely remembered her childhood as an elf princess.  Instead, she remembered the family that had raised her, that had taught her to work, that had loved her.  And she remembered her true love match, the young man known as Buck Tooth, her husband. She remembered the people she had known and loved before the elves came and killed them all.

Just as she would kill the elves.

When the time was right.


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Life among the orcs is hard.  So difficult and ubiquitous is brutal labor among them that “Veth oruk”/”Work is” is their most common greeting.  When Elara, princess of the elves is captured and enslaved by them that is the life she must learn to live, a life of hard, unremitting labor with no hope of rescue.

Work is.

Illegal Aliens Again

When it comes to people illegally crossing our border there are several possible things we could do.

We could enforce the laws. Detain people caught doing so. Hold them while we process any claims for asylum (with two strikes against them to start because they didn’t present themselves at a legal point of entry nor at the first “safe” country from which they are fleeing to make their claim), and if found not to have a valid asylum claim immediately send them back.

We could change the laws. Throw the border open entirely. Let whoever wants to come here, come here. Let them work. Hell, let them vote if that makes you happy. Just change the law to reflect that. Make the activities you want to allow actually legal.

We can do some combination. Reduce restrictions on immigration and enforce the then reduced restrictions.

But our “representatives” in Washington, particularly those on the Left, don’t want to do any of those. No. They want to leave the law as it is, but not enforce it. They want people to not be seriously hampered in coming here but still want their presence here to be illegal.

In what system of logic does that make sense. I can think of nefarious reasons for wanting that, but I can’t think of any non-nefarious reasons.

The Almost Right Word

Samuel Clemons (Mark Twain) once said that the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.

There’s a lot of truth to that.

One of my favorite love songs of all time is “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” by Elvis Presley.

It contains this line:

“Like a river flows, surely to the sea, darling so it goes, some things are meant to be.”

Well, some years later a group, UB40 did a cover of the song.  Leaving aside whether this song really is suited to being done as a Reggae tune, they changed that line.

“Like a river flows, gently to the sea…”

“Gently”?

The original line is a metaphor for something inexorable.  That river is going to the sea.  Try to stop it, dam it, and it will rise until it goes over, around, or through whatever obstacle you put in its place.

There’s nothing “gently” about it.

In Dead Poet’s Society, Robin Williams’ character heaps scorn on the use of the word “very”.  A man is not very tired; he is exhausted.  A man is not very sad he is morose.  And so on.  In the vast majority of cases, the use of very with some adjective is a case of the almost right word.

Jokes about “paid by the word” aside, writers, in the effort to find and use the right words (as opposed to almost right words) often look to be concise.  Putting what they are saying in compact terms using less of the page, and thereby taking less of the readers time and letting them get to the next exciting scene (at least we hope it’s exciting) more quickly is considered a good thing.

Well, there’s some truth to that.  But the greatest good in writing is not conciseness.  It’s vividness.  How clearly, and how specifically, one paints the picture for the reader trumps even conciseness.  Let’s take some examples.

“Who do you think you are?” Tom asked sharply.

This gets the idea across.  But it’s kind of bland.  We could make a change, actually making the line a little shorter this way:

“Who do you think you are?” Tom snapped.

Yes, it’s a bit shorter but it really isn’t any more vivid.  By rearranging things a bit and using a bit longer structure however…

Tom rose from his seat, turned and pointed in my direction. “Who do you think you are?”

By using action rather than “he said/asked/snapped/whatever” I get the dual purpose of identifying the speaker and of painting the picture more clearly, more vividly in the reader’s mind.  I can turn it up a notch still, as follows:

Tom sprang from his seat, turned, and stabbed a finger at me. “Who do you think you are?”

“Sprang” and “stabbed” both invoke images of sudden, potentially violent action.  When added to the words Tom’s speaking, they make quite clear that he is angry.  We know this even though we have no idea what “I” did to make him angry.

I make no pretense that this is high prose.  It’s just a simple illustration that the right words, chosen for vividness and clarity, can go a long way toward turning simple, blase writing into something exciting for the reader, something that gets them turning the page to see what happens next.

And in the end, that’s what it’s all about.

Oh No You Didn’t!

Florida State Representative Frederica Wilson had this to say the other day:

Those people who are online making fun of members of Congress are a disgrace. We’re gonna shut them down and work with whoever it is to shut them down, and they should be prosecuted. You cannot intimidate members of Congress, frighten members of Congress. It is against the law, and it’s a shame in this United States of America.

Yep.  She really said it:

The “crime” she’s trying to define here is “Lese majeste” literally “to do wrong to majesty”. It is the crime of disrespecting ones rulers, often with excuses like “Men didn’t make me King, God did, so to disrespect me is to disrespect God.” But in any case, disrespecting ones “betters” was just beyond the pale and deserving of punishment.

It’s a crime invoked by tyrants, pure and simple.

And apparently it only applies to Congress, not the White House.  After all, where was Rep Wilson when Peter Fonda suggested that Barron Trump should be ripped from his mother’s arms and put in a cage with pedophiles?  Where was she when Maxine Waters called for people to harass members of the Trump Administration.

And, apparently, it only applies to Democrat Congresscritters.  Where as Wilson when New York Times columnist Wajahat Ali (to name just one) mocked Republican Representative Dan Crenshaw (and flat out lying in the process)?  Odin himself looks down on Representative Crenshaw in approval, one one-eye to another.

No, she’s simply claiming special privilege for democrats.

In a gun forum on which I used to participate someone once said, to justify voting for Democrats, “I vote for the ones who support the rest of the Bill of Rights.”

Anyone remember when the Democrats actually did support “the rest of the Bill of Rights”?

Me neither.

They’ve always been “free speech for me, not for thee”, “free association for me, not for thee”, “due process for me, not for thee”, and so on and so on and so on.

How about try freedom, and let the chips fall where they may?

Studying Human Interaction

There was one and only one episode of The Big Bang Theory that I ever watched (and that not completely–came in partway in).  It was one where the main characters were going to a Halloween party.  First they’d all come out dressed as The Flash.  Then, after an argument they all went and changed costumes (with no one allowed to be The Flash).  One of the characters, dressed as Frodo, made a comment “I don’t want (don’t remember the name) to think I look like a dork.” Pause so the audience can laugh (because, of course, he does “look like a dork”). Yeah, that pretty much ended my interest in the show right there.  My life had been “make fun of the geek.” I didn’t need to watch a TV show on that theme.  But, I was overseas and it was the only thing on in a language I understood so I continued through the episode.

The point I wanted to deal with here, however, wasn’t the “make fun of the geeks” aspect but some events that centered around one of those characters and the halloween party.  This character (don’t know the name.  Could look it up but don’t really care enough to do so) got in a huddle with the others at one point and said that he’d been observing the interactions between the men and women at the party.  And one typically starts with someone saying to another “How wasted am I?”

So, we follow some of the other characters for a bit and then return to this one, sitting on a chair, when a young woman sits across from him and says “How wasted am I?”

Cut away to other characters for most of the rest of the episode.  Then, at the very end, they cut back to this one.  He’s in bed.  The young woman of “How wasted am I” is next to him on her side and sleeping.  There is a rather shell-shocked look on his face.

Looks like his observations paid off.

There are a number of problems with that.  We can certainly question the ethics (or even legality) of a sexual encounter which starts with one person being “wasted”.  However, it’s a different point I want to consider here.  And that’s the idea of observing what others are doing and mimicking that as a way to “learn” social interaction.  The problem with it is that unless one already has a good grasp of social interaction it simply doesn’t work.  Oh, sure, if one has that grasp one can observe others and derive tips to “sharpen ones game”, but without an already pretty good understanding to start with what you end up with is a rote script:  character A’s line followed by character B’s.  Then character A again.  Then character B.

The problem is that the other person will go off script pretty much immediately leaving the putative student of human behavior lost for a reply.  It just doesn’t work.

What you end up with is not the character from The Big Bang Theory, but the beta unit from The Last Starfighter.  Left behind to take Alex’s place while Alex was up fighting the bad guys and totally clueless about how to treat Alex’s girlfriend Maggie he listens to another couple and tries to use the man’s lines to woo Maggie on Alex’s behalf.  Since Maggie is quite different from the other man’s “girlfriend” (apparently one of many) and the relationship she has with Alex also quite different this does not go well.

It’s a lot easier when you’re writing.  Then, you can take these snippets from studying real people and weave them together because as the writer you can ensure that they stay “on script” and you get to define the kind of relationship they have and build the personalities of the individuals in question so that a given response is appropriate.

Real life, however, is much harder.

“You’re All Illegal Aliens.”

There’s a meme on the book of faces with a stereotypical American autochthon staring out of the picture and the text “I hate to tell you this, but you’re all illegal aliens.”

This one:

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I hate to tell you this, but no.  We’re not.

First off, what immigration law did they have?  What were the borders?  What were the ports of entry?  What was the process for legally immigrating?  Or were they just totally isolationist with no one allowed to immigrate?  But, again, in that case what were the actual borders?  And if they didn’t completely shut out everyone from a certain territory and enforce that, what was the law on who was, or was not, allowed entry?

But that’s just by way of intellectual exercise.  The blunt truth is that we conquered it, or bought from people who conquered it (or at least claimed to–the land occupied by the Shoshone may have been claimed by Spain, who sold it to the French, who in turn sold it to the US as part of the Louisiana Territory, but the Shoshone remained of a different opinion and we ended up having to conquer it ourselves later).

In this, we were just like everybody else in the world.  This includes the American autochthons.  The various tribes and nations didn’t just drop into the lands they inhabited at the time they came into conflict with Europeans–their ancestors having crossed Bering Land Bridge and each group settling into uninhabited territory where it would remain until Europeans came.  Nope.  They engaged in conquest of each other’s lands, some successfully.  Some not.  But it remained conquest.  The Cree and Anishnaabe people pushing the Lakota out of Minnesota and into the Great Plains was no less a conquest simply because the conquerors and conquered were racially similar.

Everybody lives on land that was taken by force of arms from others who were on their previously…and were able to hold against others who tried to take it from them.  Everybody.

Mr. Autochthon up there is just complaining that we were better at it than his people were.  Oh, and we’re also the ones that decided that maybe, just maybe, the practice should be reined in a little. (Hey, we conquered most of Mexico–all the way down to Mexico city–and gave a big chunk back because, well, because we didn’t want it.)

So, yeah, I fully admit that Europeans came as colonizers and conquerors with the intent of making over this continent in their own image culturally speaking (and in the process creating something they never intended, something never before seen in the world, something greater than their grandest imaginings).  And had the natives had the foresight and ability to stop that they would have been in their right to do so. (Whether it would have been the right move is another story–the horse, the dog, and the wheel as just three examples of why it might not have been.)

Now, do you really want to convince me that illegal aliens are comparable to the Europeans who came to “The New World” back in the fifteenth century and since?  Because that involves convincing me that they are a bona fide existential threat to our nation and our way of life.  They are, if your comparison holds, an invading army bent on conquest.

And thus should be treated as such.