Shouting "Fire" in a crowded theater.

“You can’t shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” (Actually, the original quote, which Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. used to justify ruling that a ban on anti-draft protests was Constitutional, was falsely shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater.)

This argument gets raised again and again and again to claim that all rights are “limited” in some way.  However, it completely fails.

A right is something that others are not permitted to prevent you from doing or having (not something that others are required to provide for you–but that’s another discourse for another day).  When you go into a theater, nobody takes away your ability to shout “fire.” Nobody gags you, disables your vocal cords, neutralizes the speech center of your brain or anything remotely like that.  Now, if you do exercise that right and use it in such a way as to cause harm, say by shouting “fire” with there not, in fact, being a fire, you may be held accountable for the harm caused by that exercise.  But nobody takes away your voice because “the right is limited.”

We already have, and always have had, equivalent “restrictions” on gun rights.  In Colonial days and for Fifty years after the ratification of the Constitution any free citizen could own and possess any weapon they wished.  Muskets?  Of course.  Rifles?  No problem.  Pistols?  No sweat.  Revolvers (invented as flintlock in 1814 and with percussion caps in 1836).  Legal.

Then Georgia passed a ban on knives of “offensive or defensive purpose”, and on the sale of pistols and requiring that all owned pistols be worn openly.  This occurred in 1837.  It took about eight years for that to be challenged in the Georgia Supreme Court where it was ruled unconstitutional.

And after that.  Other laws have been passed by Georgia and elsewhere, but still… Repeating rifles?  Legal.  Gatling guns?  Legal.  Breechloading artillery?  Legal.  The Maxim gun (early crew served automatic weapon)?  Legal.  Congreve and other bombardment rockets?  Legal.  Automatic rifles?  Legal.  Submachine guns?  Legal.  Handguns and rifles with detachable magazines (some of which went up to 50 rounds or more)?  Legal.  Only in the 20th century did that change.

But through all that, there was one constant.  The same “no shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” “restriction was in place.  If you used the guns to cause harm you were criminally or civilly liable for that harm.

That’s what “you can’t shout fire in a crowded theater” really means.  You can’t use your right to “free speech” to cause harm without being responsible for the harm caused.  And that’s what the same thing means when it comes to guns.

But we don’t need gun control for that.  We already have that restriction.  Use a gun to cause harm and you are already legally responsible for that use.

So the parallel case already exists, and always has.  You already have the “no shouting fire in a crowded theater” restriction on “gun rights” and have had it since before there was a Constitution to guarantee any of the rights we hold.

Going beyond that, however, is no longer parallel and the analogy, thus, fails.


Feeding the Active Writer

School is closed because of icy road conditions.  I’m home today with my daughter (well, not exactly since she’s visiting with friends up the street who are also home today because of the weather).

When the weather outside is frightful, a fire can be delightful.  But something else that’s delightful in foul winter weather is a big cup of sweet, rich, hot chocolate.

The problem, of course, for those on a low-carb diet is sugar.  Not only us sugar added to the chocolate in standard recipes for hot cocoa, but the milk itself has a surprising amount of sugar.  One cup of milk has 13 grams of sugar!

What to do, what to do.

Take a look at heavy cream. One cup of heavy cream has 3 grams carbs of which zero are from sugar.  No sugar.

So we can make our hot chocolate with heavy cream, resulting in a rich, creamy utterly decadent hot beverage.  Just the thing to chase the chill away on those cold winter nights.

1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
4 Tbsp sugar-equivalent artificial sweetener (as always, I use sucralose, the generic for Splenda)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract.
Optional:  sugar free whipped cream

Heat the cream to a low simmer.
Add the cocoa and sweetener and stir until they are completely dissolved.  It helps to “smash” any lumps against the side of the pan
Stir in the vanilla.
While it’s right at the edge between a simmer and a full boil, remove from the heat and pour into a cup.
Top with a large dollop of whipped cream.


"A Well Regulated Militia"

Bringing another post from my old Livejournal blog.

Much has been made by Freedom Deniers about the use of “A well-regulated militia” in the 2nd Amendment.

Let’s see what James Madison, the gentleman who was the primary author of the Bill of Rights had to say on the subject:

“The only refuge left for those who prophesy the downfall of the State governments is the visionary supposition that the federal government may previously accumulate a military force for the projects of ambition.  … [Here Madison describes a chain of events, unlikely as he thought them, that might lead to such a force being gathered] … Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and it would not be going too far to say that the State governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger. The highest number to which, according to my best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves.” James Madison, The Federalist Papers 46.

This was one of the arguments given for accepting the Constitution with its much stronger central government (compared to the Articles of Confederation). An army about three times the size relative to total population, as the US army is today, would be overwhelmed by a citizen militia of a number amounting to essentially every free male (an issue at that time) capable of bearing arms.

Note that the 1790 Census listed a total population of “free white males 16 and over” of just over 800 thousand. Since some folk would be too old, or infirm, or otherwise not able take up arms in the “militia” at any given time this is another confirmation that Madison’s “militia” was the entire population of the US capable of bearing arms. And here we see from his own words that one of the purposes of that militia was to serve as a check against the possibility of the Federal government using a standing army against the rights of the States and the People.

And since Madison was the primary author of the Bill of Rights, I think this should put to rest any further speculation about what “a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people, to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”  A good part of “security of a free state” is security as a free state.  And the very purpose is to ensure that the States had sufficient strength, militarily, residing in their “militias”, which was to say the whole of their people capable of bearing arms, to outweigh any attempt by the Federal government to overpower the States.

One thing to consider is that a “well-regulated militia” must, of course, be “well regulated” according to the meaning of those who wrote the Bill of Rights and whether the National Guard serves that purpose today.  But what did “Well-regulated mean?  Contrary to popular modern belief it did not mean “under government control.  Consider the usage examples from history of the term (taken from the Oxford English Dictionary):

1709: “If a liberal Education has formed in us well-regulated Appetites and worthy Inclinations.”
1714: “The practice of all well-regulated courts of justice in the world.”
1812: “The equation of time … is the adjustment of the difference of time as shown by a well-regulated clock and a true sun dial.”
1848: “A remissness for which I am sure every well-regulated person will blame the Mayor.”
1862: “It appeared to her well-regulated mind, like a clandestine proceeding.”
1894: “The newspaper, a never wanting adjunct to every well-regulated American embryo city.”

Here we are.  “Well regulated” does not mean “under government control” but rather something along the line of “in good working order” or “doing what it should.”

Well, one of the “what it should” for the militia is to serve as a check against Federal power.  Can the National guard serve that purpose?  The National Guard is 1) smaller than the national military, 2) often less well armed (many guard units, in my experience, have been armed with obsolete “castoffs” of the regular military), 3) paid for by the Federal government 4) subject to call-up by the Federal government at any time with the State having no authority to overrule that call-up, 4) provided with such arms as it has by the Federal government and on and on and on.  A lesser armed force can stand against the Federal government if it is numerically superior and has local support (see Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan for examples).  However a force that’s smaller, less well armed, and relies on the Federal government for pay and equipment cannot serve as a check against Federal power.  It’s a part of Federal power regardless of it’s on paper attachment to an individual State.  Thus, the National Guard, by definition, cannot be the “well regulated militia” that Madison describes in the Federalist papers.  It does not meet the “well regulated” part (as Madison understood the word to mean) because it could not stand as a check against Federal power over the States.

The “well-regulated militia” remains today what it was to Madison–the whole of the people capable of bearing arms.

Charlie Hebdo

There will be foul language.

I would like to say that I am shocked by the actions of “radical” muslims in France, with the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.  I would like to, but I would be lying.  After all, with the Fatwa against Salmon Rusdie, the murder of Theo van Gogh, the attacks on Kurt Westgaard, and others, it’s hardly the first time “radical” Islam has responded to vocal criticism with violence.

I generally wear two hats professionally speaking:  a scientist and a writer.  As a scientist, I pursue the evidence where it leads, wherever it leads.  To do that I need to freedom to make inquiries, and state conclusions without fear of violent reprisal.  Counterargument, yes.  Violence no.

As a writer, what I need is even broader.  I need to be able to explore ideas without censorship and, again, without fear of violent reprisal.

Both of these things are pillars of Western thought, and supposedly held to by Conservative, Liberal, and Libertarian alike.  Attack that and you undermine Western philosophy and the very concept of liberty.  Once you say, “this you may not read, this you may not see, this you may not know”* under threat of violence, whether that violence is from the state or some other body, then you have tyranny.

I will absolutely never submit to that kind of tyranny.   You want to come after me for my words?  Well, bring it.  You may get me.  I’m well aware that I’m neither invincible nor immortal.  I’m also not backing down.  And I’m also not alone.  You get me there will be others.  We will not stop.  Ever.  In the words of Thomas Jefferson, let me iterate: “I have sworn on the altar of God eternal enmity against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

This is my oath.  So help me Thor, Odin, and all the gods. (And, yes, I worship pagan gods.)

So, in that spirit, let me say the following. (I said there would be foul language?  Here it comes)

That child-raper Mohammed was the vilest piece of shit to ever walk the Earth.  A goat fucker?  No, a pig fucker.  He has to wipe smegma from his lips in order to spew bile and disease from his mouth, a mouth, may I add, that smells of pig dick.  Yep.  Mohammed sucks pigs.  And I say “pigs” not because I have anything against pigs.  They make tasty bacon but Mohammed was so utterly ignorant as a supposed prophet of god, excuse me, “allah” (and yes, the lower case is intentional), that he couldn’t figure out how to make the tastiest animal on the planet safe to eat.  Yep, he was stupid as well as evil.  And weak.  What a patheticly weak specimen of pig sucker he was.  All that stuff about treating women in Islam.  The only reason for it is that Mohammad was so weak that he’d piss his burnous and dribble shit on his sandles if he ever met a woman on equal footing.  That kind of oppression only comes from fear.  So weak and cowardly, afraid of women.  And you think that dogs are unclean?  Well no wonder.  No dog with a gram of sense would have anything to do with a disreputable specimen like you.  Even the stupidest of dogs wouldn’t bother to piss on you if you were on fire.  I’d tell him to suck my dick but who knows what pestilence he carries.  So go back to your pigs, Mohammed.  Or, better yet, fuck yourself in your ass, you pustule on a pig’s ass.  Don’t worry.  Your tiny little pecker couldn’t possible hurt going into even your stuck-up, pinched ass.

I could post some pictures of goats and pigs to get you excited but instead, how about a few of these:

And to those precious snowflakes who try to play moral equivalence games with these asshats, claiming that folk like the Westboro Baptist Church are the equivalent of folk who slaughter people over political cartoons–that standing around with signs that say mean things is the equivalent of murder over opinion, you are also vile and I hope you choke on your own bile.
And I mean that in the nicest possible way.
*Robert A. Henlein as placed in the mouth of his character “Lazarus Long.”

Feeding the Active Writer

For Christmas, I didn’t want to do the pumpkin pudding again as the dessert, so I thought to try something different.  In this case, an egg custard.

The usual egg custard recipe uses eggs, sugar, milk and cream.  The problem is that two of those are very high in sugars–the milk and, of course, the sugar.  Sugar is dealt with by using sucralose (name brand Splenda).  Milk is a bit more difficult to deal with.  For this recipe, I tried coconut milk (unsweetened).

I would have to say that the experiment was a qualified success.  The custard was softer than usual and the liquid content separates out when you scoop/cut it, leading into the custard itself sitting in liquid.  Still, the result was tasty and when covered topped with homemade whipped cream it’s an entirely acceptable holiday sweet.  Add that it’s extremely simple and easy to make and almost completely devoid of sugars I call it a win.

So here you go.

2 Teaspoons butter, softened
8 well-beaten eggs
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups coconut milk
1 cup sugar equivalent sucralose (brand name Splenda).

Coat the inner surface of 1 4 quart slow cooker with the butter.  Leave any excess butter inside.
In a large mixing bowl combine the other ingredients.  Mix until well blended.
Pour the mix into the slow cooker.  Cook on low for 4-5 hours (until soft-set).
Let cool at least 1 hour.

This one won’t cut into neat slices like a milk-base egg custard.  Scoop it into bowls.  Top with whipped cream, maybe sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg.


There ought to be a law.

Acutally, in the vast majority of cases, no, there ought not to be.

Think about what “law” means.  Law means that someone from the government can come and use force on a person to make him or her comply, to submit.  Force.  And if they resist that force, the government can increase the level.

In the end, if they continue to resist, the government can kill them.

Even if you don’t have a “death penalty” on the books, it is always the end game of a person refusing to submit to the law.

And it has to be that way because without that ultimate use of force, there comes a point where someone can say “no” to your law and you have to say “okay.” At which point it’s no longer law but a strongly worded suggestion.

So when you say “there ought to be a law” you are saying “it’s worth killing people to ensure that this happens” or “to make this less likely to happen.”

That’s what “law” means.  That’s what law is.

It is the same with anything you want the government to do and to pay for.  Taxes, after all, are also laws.  Someone can say “no” to paying the tax and you send armed men to force him or her to pay.  And if he resists those armed men, they can kill him.

“The government should provide/pay for…” means “we are willing to kill someone to have…”

And it’s not even just the willingness to kill the people who break the law because the use of force occurs before any trial is held to determine guilt or innocence.  Police respond to a bad tip and break into someone’s home.  Resident, having no reason to expect the police, acts to defend himself.  And the result is the coroner has to come and haul away one or more bodies.

Someone, maybe several someones, dead because “there ought to be a law.”

This is not to say that there should be no laws and no taxes, but that we need to go into that eyes open about what it means.  Does a study on why Lesbians have a higher incidence of being overweight (an actual CDC study) really  justify killing someone?  Is it really worth killing people over smoking an unapproved plant?  And so on.

Thomas Jefferson wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

There, I believe, is the crux of it.  To secure these rights of Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, does justify the use of force to the point of deadly force.  Defending our nation, laws to censure those who credibly threaten the rights of others to Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, and the minimal necessary taxes to accomplish those ends.  And no more.  Let other things be accomplished by other means, means that don’t come with the sanction to use force up to and including deadly force.

Reserve law and government for things that really are worth killing over.

In the spirit of the season

An annual tradition:
If you're an Atheist or Agnostic who doesn't like "Merry Christmas."
If you're a Christian who doesn't like "Happy Holidays."
If you're a Jew who doesn't like "Blessed be."
If you're a Wiccan who doesn't like "God Be with you."
If you're a Muslim who doesn't like "May Thor hold his hammer between you and harm."

I have one thing to say to you: Grow. Up. Take these things in the spirit they are offered, one of well wishing, and leave it at that.

And on that note, may I wish you a very merry Christmas and may Thor hold his hammer between you and harm.

Gud Yule, everyone.