June 18, 2017

Meet the Texas Lawmaker Fighting Trump on Civil Asset Forfeiture

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 7 Jun 2017

Konni Burton has emerged as the state’s fiercest opponent of civil asset forfeiture.

When the White House hosted a meeting of sheriffs from across the country last February, President Donald Trump joked about destroying the career of a Texas state senator who supported reforms to civil asset forfeiture laws — a controversial practice where police can seize cash and property of people suspected — but in most cases never convicted or charged with a crime.

Though Trump’s comments were meant to support police, they’ve had the opposite of their intended impact — it’s re-energized the push for reform.

Texas state senator Konni Burton was one of many local lawmakers outraged by Trump’s comments. She’s a tea party leader from the Dallas-Fort Worth area who also happens to be pro-life and pro-borders. Burton isn’t the unnamed state senator Trump offered to destroy, but she’s emerged as the state’s fiercest opponent of civil asset forfeiture.

“When you give law enforcement the ability to take your property without a conviction that’s big government,” Burton says.

Last December, Burton filed legislation that would repeal civil asset forfeiture in the state and replace it with criminal asset forfeiture.

“Police can still seize property that they think has been involved in a crime,” says Burton, “but for them to keep it … you have to be convicted of a crime.”

Texas has tried for years to reform civil asset forfeiture laws after horror stories began to emerge about the practice.

One of the most horrifying cases occurred in 2005, when cops seized $10,000 from Javier Gonzales who was driving from Austin to the border town of Brownsville to make funeral arrangements for his dying aunt. The cops didn’t find any drugs or contraband in his car, but they pressured Gonzales to sign away his rights to the cash under the threat of a felony money laundering charge.

Gonzales took the case to court and eventually won his money back in April of 2008.

And in 2012 the ACLU settled a class action lawsuit against the city of Tenaha where cops illegally seized nearly $3 million from traffic stops involving mostly Black and Latino drivers. Victims were told that they could either sign their cash over to the city or go to jail.

Cases like this have earned Texas a D+ from the Institute for Justice for forfeiture laws. Data from the libertarian legal organization shows that the state takes in an average of $41.6 million dollars a year to local law enforcement agencies as a result of these seizures.

Burton’s bill has bipartisan support, but it faces an uphill battle in the Texas legislature where it’s faced opposition from “tough on crime” lawmakers and law enforcement agencies. Burton says her legislation isn’t about stopping police from doing their job, but protecting the property rights of all Texans.

“Everybody is ready for this to be reformed,” Burton says. “You know it’s just upside down and antithetical to what our country should stand for.”

Produced by Alexis Garcia. Camera by Paul Detrick, Austin Bragg, and Meredith Bragg. Music by the Unicorn Heads.

February 19, 2017

NFL tries to bully Texas … here’s how Texas should respond

Filed under: Economics, Football, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Ace of Spades H.Q., Ace offers some advice to Texas or to any other state on the receiving end of some NFL “persuasion”:

Texas Governor to NFL: Worry About Your Own Spousal Abuse Scandals Before You Go Dictating to Us That We Need to Allow Penises in the Ladies’ Rooms

The NFL warned a Texas that a bill proposed in its senate — which would reserve bathroom use to the “biological sex” indicated on the door — might jeopardize Texas from getting to host any future Super Bowls.

Governor Greg Abbot had some words for the NFL.

However, if Texas, or any other state, wishes to bar professional sports teams from ever attempting to blackmail them into what laws they can and cannot pass or enforce, I have a much more powerful corrective.

States should begin proposing this law:

No municipality shall have the authority to issue any bonds, or direct any public monies, towards the construction of any arena, stadium, or venue of any type intended partially for use by a private company, unless permission to do so is first granted by an act of the state legislature itself or a statewide referendum affirmatively permitting such a corporate-enrichment boondoggle.

Municipalities are delegated whatever powers of the state the state wishes to confer upon them. Municipalities, you may or may not know, act with the power of the state when they pass ordinances and tax bills and such — but that power derives from the reservoir of powers the state possesses, and which the state has conferred upon them via charters of incorporation.

Those powers can be circumscribed, expanded, limited, or cancelled.

You don’t have to include that last part, the part about the legislative or popular referendum override of the general forbiddance, but that could be thrown in there for RINOs who really do want to do favors for corporate bullies and who therefore won’t vote for such a bill without an escape clause.

When the states get serious about simply cutting off cities’ rights to issue bonds or directly subsidize, with taxpayer money, the new stadiums these free-riding vulture socialists are always demanding, then you’ll see the NFL and NBA adopt a much less high-handed tone.

Previous posts about the economic idiocy of local or state governments subsidizing billionaire sports team owners here, here, and here.

March 22, 2016

QotD: Barbecue, properly considered

Filed under: Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I was on the road in Texas last week, addressing Linux user groups in Dallas and Austin. I always enjoy visiting Texas. It’s a big, wide-open place full of generous people who cultivate a proper appreciation of some of my favorite things in life — firearms, blues guitar, and pepper sauces.

And, of course, one of the biggest things Texas has going for it is barbecue. And not the pallid imitation served up by us pasty-faced Yankees here where I live (near Philadelphia, PA) but the real thing. Barbecue, dammit. Red meat with enough fat on it to panic a health-foodist right out of his pantywaist, slow-cooked in a marinade sweeter than a mother’s kiss and eaten with sauces hot enough to peel paint. Garnish with a few extra jalapenos and coleslaw and wash it down with cheap soda, lemonade, or beer. Food of the gods.

I swear your testosterone level goes up just smelling this stuff. After a few mouthfuls of Rudy’s carnivoral bliss you’ll be hankerin’ to cultivate a drawl, wear a Stetson and drive a pickup truck with a gun rack. (I draw the line at country music, though. A man’s got to have some standards.)

Eric S. Raymond, “The Non-Portability of Barbecue”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-07-18.

October 19, 2015

Dildos versus guns – Sarah Hoyt on a modern version of magical thinking

Filed under: Politics, Randomness, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In case the title isn’t clear enough, there’s a protest started recently at the University of Texas in Austin where students upset at a recent court ruling allowing concealed weapons to be carried on campus came up with what they thought was a perfect counterpoint: they’d open carry dildos instead. Sarah Hoyt comments:

… I have no idea what Ms. Jin majored in, but I can sort of follow the tracks of her thought. Logically, carrying sex toys to campus to protest guns makes absolutely NO sense. I could see carrying signs, or … I don’t know, police whistles, if you’re convinced you’re completely safe if you can just call the police. I can even see, in a more sane way, wearing a protective vest and claiming this is better than guns for defense. I mean, at least they are in the same general kind of thing and sort of kind of address the problem in different ways.

BUT no. Because this is not reasoning. This is magical thinking. WORSE. This is magical thinking based on a world that doesn’t exist, a world that was sold to Ms. Jin (literally. College is expensive) by academics so divorced from reality that they can’t find it with two hands, a cane and a seeing eye dog.

In this world, you see, conservatives love guns and hate sex. This is all “explained” with pseudo Freudian patter about how guns are a substitute for the penis. This is total nonsense and old nonsense at that, stuff we LAUGHED at for being pseudo profound way back in the seventies.

But they absolutely believe that we defend the second amendment not because we want to be responsible for our own self-defense, not because we believe power derives from the individual and that therefore an individual must be capable of reining in the government when it gets out of control. No. They think we want guns because that’s the way we express our sexual repression. (Actually now I think about it, my gun obsessed friends are also the most sex-positive, so their idea not only is wrong, it’s bizarrely wrong.)

Since Ms. Jin has never considered that these stories she was sold are in fact stories with no relation to reality, her reasoning went something like “They’re carrying guns and that upsets me. I must carry something that upsets them. Ahah! Dildos.”

In an even mildly sane world, the press would have made her a laughing stock, because that reasoning makes no sense whatsoever.

But the press buys into the same imaginary world in which somehow the belief in guns for defense is a Freudian thing and so the “gun” value can be countered with the “dildo” value.

This is not grown up thinking. It’s magical thinking, in which complex issues get reduced to amulets and symbols, countered by other amulets and symbols.

Again, this is sort of the human default. And believing absurd things about those you believe to be the enemy is also completely normal. The left calls it “othering” and is completely oblivious to the fact that they do it. A lot.

But it’s still human-normal.

May 29, 2015

The legacy of the great satanic sex abuse panic still resonates today

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Radley Balko reports on the recent release of two former Austin, Texas daycare owners … who’ve been in prison since 1992 on the testimony of a toddler and “expert evidence” from a satanic ritual expert and how the moral panic of the day made it impossible for the courts to see how utterly unlikely the case actually was:

The panic actually began in the 1980s. It was instigated and perpetuated mostly by groups of fundamentalist Christians who saw Satan in every heavy metal album, “Smurfs” episode, and Dungeons & Dragons game, along with a quack cadre of psychotherapists who were convinced they could dig up buried memories through hypnosis. What they did instead was shed some light on just how potent the power of suggestion can be. Remarkably, children were convinced to testify about horrifying — and entirely fictional — violations perpetrated on them by care workers and, in some cases, by their own parents.

But it wasn’t just children. As the Kellers’ conviction shows, the panic was so overwhelming, it could convince trained medical professionals to see abuse where there was none. Some defendants were convicted of gruesome crimes such as the aforementioned dismembering of babies despite the fact that there were no corpses and no babies missing from the immediate area.


That the highest court in Texas still can’t bring itself to declare the couple innocent, in spite of all that we know now, shows just how difficult it can be to undo the damage caused by a moral panic and junk science in the courtroom.


Here’s an observation from the panic that I don’t think has been fully explored: These kids didn’t make up these stories. In this case and dozens of others, the kids were telling tales with details about geography, history and current events about which kids of their age couldn’t have known. That’s likely what made their stories seem somewhat credible. But the fact that it all was fictitious reveals a particularly unsettling truth: These sick, lurid, unimaginable abuses could only have been a product of the imaginations of the therapists, social workers, cops and/or prosecutors who interviewed the children. If the memories were implanted, those are the only people who could have implanted them. That means that the same people entrusted to protect these kids, and in whom these communities trusted to police the streets, prosecute crimes and administer therapy, were ultimately the ones capable of dreaming up detailed sexual fantasies that put children in bizarre rituals involving violence, animals, corpses and so on.

There’s a lot to be learned from these cases. For one, there are lessons about professional accountability: Not only were the vast majority of the prosecutors who put these innocent people in prison in these cases never sanctioned, but also most went on to great professional success, sometimes because of their role in these high-profile cases, and sometimes even after it was widely known that the people they prosecuted were innocent. There are other lessons here about how we screen “expert” witnesses, and how bad science gets into the courtroom. There are lessons about the power of suggestion that could be applied to eyewitness testimony and how we conduct police lineups.

But the drawing of lessons is something we typically do once a crisis is over. This one still isn’t. There are still people in prison awaiting exoneration in these cases.

May 5, 2015

The DEA don’t pay

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Techdirt, Tim Cushing carefully explains that the US Drug Enforcement Agency takes on no responsibility when they hijack your company’s equipment and set you up as a drug gang “competitor”, even when one of your employees dies in the resulting gunfight:

Craig Patty runs a tiny trucking company in Texas. He has only two trucks in his “fleet.” One of them was being taken to Houston for repairs by his employee, Lawrence Chapa. Or so he thought.

In reality, Chapa was working with the DEA, which had paid him to load up Patty’s truck with marijuana and haul it back to Houston so the DEA could bust the prospective buyers. That’s when everything went completely, horribly wrong.

    [A]s the truck entered northwest Houston under the watch of approximately two dozen law enforcement officers, several heavily armed Los Zetas cartel-connected soldiers in sport utility vehicles converged on Patty’s truck.

    In the ensuing firefight, Patty’s truck was wrecked and riddled with bullet holes, and a plainclothes Houston police officer shot and wounded a plainclothes Harris County Sheriff’s Office deputy who was mistaken for a gangster.

    The truck’s driver was killed and four attackers were arrested and charged with capital murder.

Until Patty received a call notifying him that his employee had been killed, he was completely unaware of the DEA’s operations involving both his truck and his driver. Unbelievably, things got even worse for Patty after this discovery.

Patty’s truck was impounded by the DEA. After it was released to him, it was out of service for several months as it underwent more than $100,000-worth of repairs. The DEA offered him no financial assistance for the truck it helped fill with bullet holes nor did it offer to make up for the revenue Patty lost while his truck was out of commission. His insurance company likewise turned down his claim, citing his truck’s use in a law enforcement operation.

Nor did the DEA offer to do something to repair his newly-acquired reputation as a drug runner and/or DEA informant — something that makes Patty’s life a little bit more dangerous.

November 5, 2014

Adrian Peterson’s legal situation now clear … NFL disciplinary situation less so

Filed under: Football, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:04

Yesterday, Adrian Peterson agreed to a plea deal that would reduce the charges he faced from a felony to a misdemeanor (thereby also reducing the maximum punishment from jail time to a fine, probation, and community service). He pleaded no contest to the lesser charges and if he completes the probation without incident, he won’t have a criminal record. He will also be subject to random drug testing but no travel restrictions. Despite this, his situation with the NFL is still up in the air — he’s been on the commissioner’s exempt list since week two, getting paid but not being allowed to practice with the team — and the only way he’ll be allowed back on the field is after Roger Goodell decides on what league discipline is now called for.

August 27, 2014

Disappointingly, SpaceX plays the crony capitalist game with Texas politicians

Filed under: Business, Government, Space — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:28

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ll have picked up that I’m a fan of SpaceX and other non-governmental organizations in the space race. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Elon Musk is a hero, but I’ve generally been happy about his company’s successes in bringing more private enterprise into the launch business. However, as Lachlan Markay explains in some detail, Elon Musk is not above taking government funds to do things he’d be doing anyway, just like crony capitalists in the rest of the government-industrial complex:

Shortly before a private spaceflight company’s test rocket exploded over southern Texas last weekend, state lawmakers announced millions in subsidies to get the company to continue launching rockets in the Lone Star State.

Space Exploration Technologies, commonly known as SpaceX, will receive more than $15 million in public financing to build a launch pad in Cameron County, near the Mexican border.

The subsidies came after SpaceX’s founder, billionaire tech mogul and pop technologist Elon Musk, made campaign contributions to key state lawmakers and hired lobbyists with ties to Austin.

SpaceX is one of a number of innovative and disruptive startups that, though lauded by some free marketeers for making government-run markets more competitive, are finding themselves drawn to political advocacy, whether out of shrewdness or necessity.

Of the more than $15 million in incentives for a SpaceX launch facility in Brownsville, Texas, announced this month, $13 million will come from the state’s Spaceport Trust Fund.

Initially created in 2002, the fund began to wind down together with the idea of commercial spaceflight. But with the ascendancy of SpaceX and similar companies, Texas looked to secure its place as a destination for commercial spaceflight operations.

Musk took notice. A prolific political donor, he began pouring money into the campaigns of key state lawmakers. On November 7, 2012, he donated $1,000 to state representative Rene Oliveira (D). Two weeks later, he gave state senator Eddie Lucio Jr. (D) $2,000.

The next month, the Associated Press reported that Lucio and Oliveira were working to secure state backing for a potential SpaceX launch pad in Brownsville.

As Drew M. says at Ace of Spades H.Q., it’s not like this is a new thing for businesses or for politicians, it’s just disappointing:

I’m not naive to think this sort of stuff hasn’t gone on forever and will go on forever, it’s simply human nature. That’s why making government at levels as small as possible is so important.

What does continue to surprise me when it shouldn’t is how cheap it is to buy politicians. Remember Team GOP’s hero, Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran’s longtime aide who accepted $20-30K in gifts from Jack Abrahmof in return to ensuring the felon’s clients received millions in government money?

When you think about it it’s really no surprise that politicians sell themselves so cheaply. Unlike honorable whores who sell their own bodies, politicians sell other people’s money. Plus, they make it up in volume.

This bi-partisan rush to hand out everyone’s money for their own gain is part of why I’m drifting away from conservatism and towards libertarianism. Screw them all.

August 23, 2014

SpaceX test launch goes wrong

Filed under: Space, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:36

As they say, this is why you do the testing: to find out what can go wrong (and hopefully fix the design to prevent that from happening again). The Washington Post‘s Christian Davenport reports:

A new test rocket manufactured by Elon Musk’s upstart space company, SpaceX, blew itself up a few hundred feet over the Texas prairie after a malfunction was detected, the company said in a statement Friday evening.

At its facility in McGregor, Tex., the company was testing a three-engine version of the F9R test vehicle, the successor to its re­usable Grasshopper rocket, which was designed to launch and then land on the same site.

“During the flight, an anomaly was detected in the vehicle and the flight termination system automatically terminated the mission,” company spokesman John Taylor said in the statement.

The rocket never veered off course, and there were no injuries or near injuries, the statement said. A representative from the Federal Aviation Administration was on site during the test flight.

The company stressed that rooting out problems like the one exposed in the flight is the purpose of the test program and said Friday’s test “was particularly complex, pushing the limits of the vehicle further than any previous test. As is our practice, the company will be reviewing the flight record details to learn more about the performance of the vehicle prior to our next test.”

May 9, 2014

The 1964 trial of Jack Ruby

Filed under: History, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

The Toronto Sun shares a portion of Peter Worthington’s Looking for Trouble (now available as an e-book) dealing with the trial of Jack Ruby. Worthington had been in the room when Ruby gunned down Lee Harvey Oswald.

The Ruby trial was pure showbiz. While the witnesses and characters who surfaced during the trial were Damon Runyon, the judge and lawyers seemed straight out of Al Capp and Dogpatch. Judge Joe B. Brown’s legal education before he was elected to the bench consisted of three years of night school 35 years earlier. In Dallas he was known as Necessity – “because Necessity knows no law.”


One day as a stripper who worked at Ruby’s nightclub called Little Lynn (who was over nine months pregnant at the time), was waiting to testify, seven prisoners in the connecting county jail grabbed a woman hostage and fled. They had fashioned a pistol of soap, pencils and shoe polish, persuaded guards that it was real, and made their break, witnessed by some 100 million viewers.

Little Lynn fainted and Belli prepared to play midwife. A BBC reporter on the phone to his office was describing the action and repeatedly swore to his editors that he was neither kidding, nor had he been drinking. “Listen, you bloody fools, this is America, this is Texas … any bloody insane thing is possible here!”

The next day, the New York Daily News ran an eloquent black headline: “Oh, Dallas!”

The jury returned in 140 minutes with a guilty verdict. In Texas, where the juries set the penalty, they opted for the electric chair.

Belli returned to San Francisco in disgust. “I shall never return here; it’s an evil, bigoted, rotten, stinking town.”

As it happened, Ruby died three years later and won a form of immortality and a place in criminal and political legend.

And as for conspiracy theories, the flaw is that Oswald was an ideologue, a semi-literate left-wing extremist, while Ruby wouldn’t know what an ideologue was unless he did a strip-tease for him.

To choose two such perfect foils on which to base a presidential murder plot challenges credulity. There has been so much official deceit, perjury, rationalization and cover-up that the deeds seem […] more sinister than they actually have been.

We will probably never know the truth.

November 23, 2013

Houston – sex trafficking capital of the world (says Dallas newspaper)

Filed under: Law, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:17

According to a Dallas newspaper, Houston is the focal point of a vast sex trafficking operation:

Check out this obvious crap — unbelievable to any thinking person — in the November 22 Dallas Morning News.

The Texas Senator and Representative that the paper apparently very credulously and obediently took notes from contend that there are 300,000 sex trafficking cases prosecuted every year — “in Houston alone.”

Here’s the quote from the Dallas Morning News editorial:

    Editorial: Cracking down on sex traffickers

    Two Texas Republicans, Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Ted Poe of the Houston area, are co-sponsoring a bill that would impose stiff penalties on these adult victimizers of up to life in prison. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which has bipartisan support in both houses, would supplement an existing law that focuses primarily on punishing sex-trafficking organizations abroad.

    Poe and Cornyn estimate that one-quarter of U.S. sex-trafficking victims have Texas roots. Poe says our state’s proximity to Mexico and high immigrant population give the state a particularly high profile. In Houston alone, about 300,000 sex trafficking cases are prosecuted each year.

Do they work butt-drunk at this paper?

300,000? Do you realize how many people that is?


Of course, Houston’s population is only 2.161 million. So, throw in my fantasy guestimate of at least 200,000 uncaught and unpunished people guilty of sex trafficking on top of the 300,000 supposedly documented. This suggests that a vast segment of Houston’s population — at least 15 percent and maybe 25 percent — is engaged in the business of sex trafficking.

Math is hard.

August 10, 2013

Vikings lose preseason opener to the Texans

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:10

With it being just a preseason game, I knew there was little chance of watching this game on TV, but I thought the live radio coverage might be available. I was surprised to find that even radio feeds are now territory-locked so that you can’t listen to them outside the US. Instead, I followed the course of the game on Twitter. It allowed me to keep playing Guild Wars 2 between checking for updated tweets, so that was positive.

Not so positive was the game’s outcome, where the Texans scored two unanswered touchdowns in the second half to put the game out of reach. You can watch the game highlights here. Starting quarterback Christian Ponder was only in for one series that ended prematurely on an interception:

Christian Ponder has made strides this offseason and training camp, and he’s poised to take another step forward in his career development now that he has more experience under his belt and the weapons around him in the passing game are more lethal. Friday night was his first chance to showcase this improvement on the big stage, but it was too short-lived for the casual observer to glean much. He connected with Jerome Simpson in impressive fashion for 15 yards on his first passing attempt, but he went back to Simpson on the next play and the offering went off the receiver’s fingertips and into the arms of a waiting defender. Ponder’s stat line won’t blow anyone away, and the stat line of his backup will cause some to wonder if there should be a quarterback controversy, but we are nowhere near that at this point and now we’ll just have to wait another week to see Ponder in a game situation.

Despite the final score, the wide receiving corps does seem to have improved since last year:

On Friday night, the receivers made good on that praise by performing well. Burton hauled in three catches for 67 yards, Patterson had four for 54 and even Joe Webb made a couple of impressive grabs in important situations. He had two receptions for 11 yards on three targets, which included a tough behind-the-body catch on 3rd and 2. Greg Jennings didn’t play and Jarius Wright made a quick exit, but the receivers had a strong showing and the Vikings will rest on Friday night knowing this group has made huge progress since the end of the 2012 season.


It was a great night for Patterson. The Vikings won the toss and received, and Patterson took the opening kickoff and dashed 50 yards through Houston’s coverage group, taking a few easy strides toward the middle before sticking his foot in the ground and turning upfield with an extra burst you just don’t see in a lot of football players. After that, Patterson made plays in the passing game, including receptions of 22 and 18 yards. In total, Patterson had five touches for an average of 20.8 yards per touch. He broke a few tackles, refused to go down and displayed a playmaking quality that tempted the Vikings into trading back up into the 1st round to draft him.

Christopher Gates has a few “knee-jerk reactions” as he calls them:

-Nice job by Zach Line on his touchdown reception. As PA pointed out numerous times on the broadcast, he had more all-purpose yards at SMU than Eric Dickerson (but not Craig James), so he has some ability with the football. Will it be enough for him to make the team? We’ll have to see.


-Bobby Felder had an up-and-down night, giving up the Texans’ first touchdown to DeAndre Hopkins on a play where he actually had pretty solid coverage. He also made a couple of nice plays in goal-line defense in the third quarter that forced the Texans to settle for a tying field goal. Then he got caught in no man’s land on the Texans’ second touchdown.

-It’s going to sound like a cliche, but Michael Mauti just looks like an NFL middle linebacker. As we’ve said before, if the guy stays healthy, he was an absolute steal where the Vikings got him.

-Sharrif Floyd had a decent night with a tackle for loss and a batted pass (somehow, what with those short arms), before leaving with a knee issue. He’s not going to miss any practice time, according to the reports, so his being held out the rest of the game was strictly precautionary.

July 12, 2013

Satanists and the Texas abortion debate

Filed under: Media, Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:03

Kathy Shaidle finds the Satanists aren’t at all what she expected them to be:

At the height of all the #HailSatan hilarity on the left side of Twitter, a single thunderclap of a Tweet shut down the party pronto:

    Unfortunate to see Satan’s name used in such a diabolical manner. Another example of what ‘Satanism’ doesn’t represent. #HailSatan”—@UKChurchofSatan

It was that utterly breathtaking inclusion of the word “diabolical” that got me thinking like a liberal: that is, that the @UKChurchofSatan Twitter account had to be fake, set up specifically to mock the proceedings, in the tradition of “Clint’s Empty Chair.”

My suspicions were confirmed when I saw that, according to their profile, @UKChurchofSatan was following precisely 666 others on Twitter. Cute.

Their profile didn’t display the address of an official website, either. Not a good sign.

But I kept scrolling down. @UKChurchofSatan had sent out over 150 Tweets — wishing followers happy bank holiday weekends and re-Tweeting Richard Dawkins and Ricky Gervais — dating back through March.

It was legit.

Unlike messages regularly spewed out by the right and the left, the Church’s Tweets were models of old-fashioned decorum even when they were responding to critics, written in that anachronistic, typing-with-a-quill-pen style typical of earnest, fairly well-read males:

    Why wouldn’t Satanism be pro-life? What else is there? We are all free to make choices. Agreeable or not. Everyone is entitled to choice.

At least in this online iteration, Satanism comes across as a kind of Goth objectivism but manages to express itself without the average Ayn Rand follower’s pompous, unearned sense of superiority.

Thanks to its disapproving July 3 Tweet, which was re-Tweeted over one hundred times and gleefully reported all over the Web and a few newspapers such as the Telegraph, the @UKChurchofSatan is getting lots of positive attention, much of it from a most unlikely source: conservative Christian bloggers in the US, who’ve joked that “Hail Satan!” would make a fine Democratic campaign slogan for the 2014 midterms.

July 6, 2013

Matt Ridley on the “shale cornucopia”

Filed under: Business, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:15

It’s a big deal. A really big deal:

A new report (The Shale Oil Boom: a US Phenomenon) by Leonardo Maugeri, of Harvard University, sets out just how astonishing this second shale revolution already is. After falling for 30 years, US oil production rocketed upwards in the past three years. In 1995 the Bakken field was reckoned by the US Geological Survey to hold a trivial 151 million barrels of recoverable oil. In 2008 this was revised upwards to nearly 4 billion barrels; two months ago that number was doubled. It is a safe bet that it will be revised upwards again.

The big reason for the upwards revisions is technology rather than discovery. Thanks to faster and cheaper drilling (which means less-rich rocks can be profitable) and things such as “zipper fracturing”, where two parallel wells are drilled and alternately fractured to help to release oil for each other, the oil recovery rate is rising from 2 per cent towards 10 per cent in places. Gas is now nearer 30 per cent. Well productivity has doubled in five years.

Now the Bakken is being eclipsed by an even more productive shale formation in southern Texas called the Eagle Ford. Texas, which already produces conventional oil, has doubled its oil production in just over two years and by the end of this year will exceed Venezuela, Kuwait, Mexico and Iraq as an oil “nation”.

[. . .]

Mr Maugeri calculates that at $85 a barrel most shale oil wells repay their capital costs in a year. He estimates that even if oil prices fall steadily to $65 in five years, shale oil production will treble in the US because of increasing productivity per well and the easing of transport bottlenecks. By 2017, he thinks, America will be producing nearly 11 billion barrels a day [correction 11 million], equal to its previous peak in 1970. It would need much less in the way of imports. US oil imports peaked at 60 per cent in 2005 and will be below 40 per cent this year.

Internationally the effect is very different for oil compared with gas. Gas is costly to export by sea, requiring liquefaction. This roughly doubles the cost of it, meaning that America’s cheap shale gas boosts its economy at home, and gives it a competitive advantage in attracting energy-intensive industries. (US gas prices are a third or a quarter of what they are here.) Mexico, too, is benefiting because of having a land border with America and pipelines.

[. . .]

There would be losers. America’s falling appetite for imports may hit Nigeria and Angola harder than the Middle East because of the types of oil they produce, while Canada and Venezuela, whose tarry oil sands are high-cost, would also suffer if oil prices fell. But every oil producer would eventually feel the effect of this falling US demand, so there is no doubting the downward pressure on world oil prices that this revolution is likely to cause.

July 3, 2013

US public opinion on abortion has been stable for decades

Filed under: Health, Law, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:31

Nick Gillespie says the stability of beliefs on the topic of abortion is one of the most striking things about the whole debate:

So despite decades of polling data showing that large majorities of Americans believe abortion should be legal under some circumstances, you could be excused for thinking there are only two possible positions when it comes to terminating pregnancies: either all abortions should be allowed, or none should be.

Yet the most striking thing about attitudes toward abortion is how stable they’ve been over the 40 years since Roe v. Wade. Gallup has been tracking public sentiment on the matter since 1975, when 22 percent of Americans agreed that abortion should be illegal under any circumstances and 21 percent believed it should be legal under any circumstances. Those numbers are now 18 percent and 28 percent respectively. In 1975 54 percent believed abortion “should be legal only under certain circumstances.” The number is now 52 percent and has never gone above 61 percent or below 48 percent. Over the past 15 years, the number of Americans calling themselves “pro-life” and “pro-choice” has narrowed to a few points, with 48 percent identifying as pro-choice and 44 percent as pro-life (in 2011, those figures were basically flipped).

Official political stances on abortion are absolutely Manichaean, however, with the Republican Party and most of its leading figures stressing that life begins at conception, a belief that would outlaw virtually all abortions except those necessary to protect the health of the mother. The Democratic Party platform — and most of its highest-profile members, including President Barack Obama — “strongly and unequivocally supports” abortion at any time and for any reason during a pregnancy.

Most Americans reject such categorical, extreme views and instead offer conditional support for abortion depending on when it’s performed. Gallup found that while 61 percent of Americans think abortion for should mostly be legal in the first three months of pregnancy and 27 percent felt it should be legal in the second trimester, just 14 percent agreed it should be allowed on demand in the final three months.

Unlike their political representatives, then, Americans hold a far more nuanced view of abortion, and one that comports with the reality of the procedure. Of the roughly 1 million abortions performed a year in America, about 90 percent take place within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and only 1 percent take place after 20 weeks (in fact, over the past decade, there has been a marked trend toward earlier abortions). That helps explain why 62 percent of Texans supported S.B. 5, the bill that Wendy Davis filibustered.

Update: You went full Satanist. Never go full Satanist:

Not that invoking Satan isn’t serious, but the response on Twitter included some great humor. A few of my favorites:

The Blaze noted:

Obviously, it is much more likely that the abortion supporters were chanting “Hail Satan!” to mock pro-lifers rather than actually hailing Lucifer, but anything is possible.

Ed Morrissey responded:

I’m certain that the intent was mockery. The overall effect of chanting “Hail Satan”? That’s another story, but one of those effects is surely clarity.

Right. Having been to Texas, I can assure you that the defense of “We were mocking Christians by invoking Satan,” might actually make things worse.

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