A fascinating computer analysis of the linguistic context around the 2nd Amendment

The Second Amendment is perhaps the most controversial part of the U.S. Bill of Rights. But that's not just because of our grander cultural debate around gun rights and gun violence — it's 'cause the damn thing is such a grammatical clusterfuck.

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.

27 words in 4 dependent clauses with no clear anything to link them. It's not clear if the thing that shall not be infringed is the well-regulated militia, or the right of the people to keep and bear arms, or if it's all dependent upon what is or is not necessary to the security of a free State. And anyone can make any one of those arguments, and have evidence to back it up that can't be definitively refuted, either.

Over at The Atlantic, James C. Phillips, a Fellow with the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford University, and Josh Blackman, a Constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston, discuss a novel approach to figuring out what, exactly, the Founding Fathers were actually trying to say: by creating and scanning through a massive database full of more than a billion words culled from formal American and British texts from 1475 to 1800. They specifically searched for instances where phrases such as "bear arms" and "keep arms" were used, and noted the context, the context, and adjacent language that accompanied the phrases to better understand how these terms were actually being used in their historical context. Read the rest

Trump tried to read the Constitution but it was "like a foreign language"

Vanity Fair just published a new excerpt from A Very Stable Genius, the new White House insider book from Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post staffers Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. It explores the filming of the HBO documentary "The Words That Built America" at the White House, which took place shortly after the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

The idea of this documentary was to unite the country by presenting the words of the country's founding documents, as read by all living presidents and vice presidents, as well as other politicians and actors. Interestingly enough, it was directed by Alexandra Pelosi, who is indeed the child of the US Speaker of the House and frequent Trump nemesis Nancy Pelosi.

But according to the scene as relayed by Leonning and Rucker, Trump didn't know about or notice this familial connection:

Pelosi moved in to thank Trump for participating in this special history project, but he appeared to have no idea who she was, apparently not briefed on her political lineage or her role as the director. The president asked for some water, and with no staff bringing any to him, Pelosi handed him a bottle of Aquafina from her purse. “I’ve been into the White House,” Pelosi later said of visits to see previous presidents. “There are always protocols. Here there were no rules, no protocol.” She added, “There’s so much wrong with the whole thing. I’m thinking, Isn’t there someone who’s supposed to guard what he’s eating and drinking?”

Read the rest