King John Would Be Envious

It is widely held that, in 1215, a group of barons put a sword to King John’s throat to help him see the wisdom of signing the Magna Carta.  In truth the history of the Magna Carta is more complicated.  Complexity aside, the traditional narrative is close enough for present purposes.  Among the provisions of the Magna Carta was that the King himself had to obey some laws.  We’re 800 years down the road, but the word is slow to percolate through to Bexar County and the City of San Antonio.

Albert Uresti, the Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector, has the following sign posted at his office on Nacogdoches Road in San Antonio:

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The City of San Antonio has the following sign posted at City Hall:

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The signs are an apparent attempt to take advantage of Section 30.06 of the Texas Penal Code, which permits property owners to exclude persons carrying weapons under the authority of a concealed handgun license.  Albert Uresti’s sign seems a good-faith attempt to comply with the sign requirements of 30.06.  The City’s sign is not.

If the law were as it was in 2001, the City and the Tax Assessor-Collector would be authorized to exclude persons carrying under a concealed handgun license.  In Attorney-General Opinion JC-0325 dated January 5, 2001, then Attorney General John Cornyn opined that local governments were as free as private parties to avail themselves of Section 30.06.  But that was in 2001.

In 2003, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 501, which added subsection (e) to section 30.06.  The added subsection provides:

It is an exception to the application of this section that the property on which the license holder carries a handgun is owned or leased by a governmental entity and is not a premises or other place on which the license holder is prohibited from carrying the handgun under Section 46.03 or 46.035.

Neither of the above signs are protected by either Penal Code Section 46.03 or Section 46.035.  Thus, neither of the above signs is authorized by law.  The signs represent attempts to exclude people unlawfully.

Reasonable minds may differ on the wisdom of the Texas concealed handgun law.  But even those believing the law is grossly wrong should nevertheless agree that the government itself is bound by law.  The government is the entity that creates law and enforces it against us.  It is quick to slap us down if we deviate.  As a general principle, that is a good thing.  But by what right does the government enforce the law against the governed if the government itself is lawless?  Those putting up these signs undermine their own legitimacy and should be ashamed of themselves.

Agreement and Disagreement on the U.S. Supreme Court

The Upshot has a table showing how often the various justices on the U.S. Supreme Court agree with each other.  Unsurprisingly, the two justices that most often agree are Kagan and Sotomayor at 94%.  What is more surprising is that the lowest ratio of agreement is 65%.  Alito and Thomas share that ratio with Ginsburg.  There is more harmony on the court than news reports would have us believe.

Hat tip to Jonathan Adler at The Volokh Conspiracy.

Why Democracies (Almost) Never Fight Each Other

Ivan Perkins, guest-blogging on the Volokh Conspiracy, offers an explanation why stable democracies do not fight each other.  An apparent exception to that rule highlights the importance of the stability of democratic institutions.  In the build-up to the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan, the Indian prime minister called the Pakistani prime minister to ask why the Pakistani military had invaded Indian territory in Kashmir.  Both India and Pakistan were then putative democracies, but the phone call from the Indian prime minister was the first the Pakistani prime minister learned of the actions of the Pakistani military.  Pakistani General Pervez Musharraf was the architect of the invasion, and later the same year, he took power from the civilian Pakistani government in a coup.  The Pakistani democracy was hardly stable.

Promising Development in Public Education

A 2010 California law allows parents of children in public schools to compel changes in their children’s schools.  It takes a petition signed by 50% of the parents of children in a school.  An elementary school in Adelanto, California, has been converted to a charter school, and the threat of similar action has caused other schools to improve.

Perhaps this is part of the answer how to dig our schools out of the abyss into which they have fallen.

Software Program Passes the Turing Test

The Turing Test was posited in a 1950 paper by Alan Turing as a way to determine the existence of artificial intelligence.  If, after interacting with a computer in five-minute text conversations, at least 30% of human beings cannot tell whether another human being is on the other end of the communication, then the computer, or its software program, has passed the Turing Test.

Saturday was the 60th anniversary of Turing’s death, and a test was held on that day.  A program posing as a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy passed the test.  Before long, we may all be interacting online and perhaps on the telephone with computers without being able to tell. Many such interactions are already unsatisfactory, and it’s hard to believe this development will improve that in the near term.  Plus, as the article notes, the better computers get at this, the greater the risk of cyber crime.

Amusing Doggerel

I like to write doggerel and probably will sometimes post samples I have written.  But I just wish I wrote the sample below.  I don’t know the identity of the author.  This bit showed up as an unattributed quote in a Facebook post:

Whether the weather be good,
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold,
Or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather
Whatever the weather
Whether we like it or not.