The Oxford Comma, Revisited

As we are occasionally wont to do, we’d like to take a moment to argue once again in favor of the Oxford Comma.  It really does make things clearer, as a court in Maine recently ruled:

https://qz.com/932004/the-oxford-comma-a-maine-court-settled-the-grammar-debate-over-serial-commas-with-a-ruling-on-overtime-pay-for-dairy-truck-drivers/

A Maine court ruling in a case about overtime pay and dairy delivery didn’t come down to trucks, milk, or money. Instead, it hinged on one missing comma.

Delivery drivers for local milk and cream company Oakhurst Dairy have been tussling with their employers over whether they qualify for overtime. On March 13, a US court of appeals determined that certain clauses of Maine’s overtime laws are grammatically ambiguous. Because of that lack of clarity, the five drivers have won their lawsuit against Oakhurst, and are eligible for unpaid overtime.

According to state law, the following types of activities are among those that don’t qualify for overtime pay:

The canning, processing, preserving,
freezing, drying, marketing, storing,
packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

There, in the comma-less space between the words “shipment” and “or,” the fate of Kevin O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy was argued. Is packing (for shipment or distribution) a single activity that is exempt from overtime pay? Or are packing and distributing two different activities, and both exempt?

If lawmakers had used a serial comma, it would have been clear that distribution was an overtime-exempt activity on its own. But without the comma, wrote US appeals judge David J. Barron, the law is ambiguous as to whether distribution is a separate activity, or whether the whole last clause—”packing for shipment or distribution”—is one activity, meaning only the people who pack the dairy products are exempt. The drivers do distribute, but do not pack, the perishable food.

(CNN is also carrying a story, albeit with rather more snark and self-important smugness.)

Seriously, folks.  Use it; it may save you a lot of money in the right context!

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A Bit Early…

…it’s nowhere near the fourth (or, for those who know better, the second) of July, but it’s still planting season:

“Knee-high by the fourth of July,” nuthin.’  Aiming for harvest about that time, with eye to a second crop.  Bonus points for fresh corn on (real) Independence Day.

(Protip: boil with fresh basil leaves.  No fresh basil?  It’s early enough to start some!)

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Irony II

Irony, defined:

Pazole [sic] Pork
1 teaspoon kosher salt

(Kevin Belton’s Big Flavors of New Orleans, p.38. Good cookbook, BTW; we’re making his Red Beans & Rice (p.140) for dinner tonight.)

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On Neil Gorsuch, Part I

We think we’re most impressed with Gorsuch’s skepticism toward the “Chevron two-step” or “Chevron deference” established in Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). Chevron is perhaps the least-sexy case with the biggest impact on your life; few non-lawyers have even heard of it, and yet it grants tremendous power to the government over so many areas of our lives.In Chevron, the High Court held that if Congress’s intent (as expressed in statute) was ambiguous, then any interpretation made up by an administrative agency must be given deference unless that interpretation is clearly at odd with the statute. In fact, an administrative agency can even change its interpretation later, and so long as the new interpretation is “based on a permissible construction of the statute,” the new interpretation gets as much deference as the one it replaced.

Why is that such a big deal? Because so many areas of our lives are overseen by administrative agencies. We fly airplanes; we’re subject to the whims of the FAA (which is extending its reach into flying toys). Ever watch TV or listen to the radio? The FCC governs what you can see and hear. Ever eat or drink anything? The FDA is watching (just try to get raw milk these days, or take an unapproved drug). Your gasoline is controlled by the EPA, as is your showerhead (at least until you “recalibrate” the flow restrictor with a large drill bit…or so we’ve heard). Have you noticed that cars keep getting heavier and heavier (making it harder to get decent fuel economy, resulting in expensive pollution control measures that need more frequent service)? That’d be the NHTSA. Want to see more than two candidates at the presidential debates?  That’s partially up to the FEC, which is being sued right now, and standing on Chevron deference.  It’s almost impossible to go even a single day without being touched by regulations and interpretations set down by faceless, unaccountable bureaucrats who, under Chevron, are entitled to have whatever they say taken as the final word unless it explicitly conflicts with a statute.

If Gorsuch holds with his history on this issue, he has the opportunity to do some real good. In fact, the Court has signaled that it would be willing to reevaluate it’s position and possibly overturn Chevron, most recently in King v. Burwell, 576 U.S. ___ (2015), the case which upheld the constitutionality of Obamacare.  It’s worth nothing that CJ Roberts, in writing the Court’s opinion chose to contort the clear wording of the statute (see Justice Scalia’s dissent for a detailed explanation¹) to reach a decision rather than rely upon the IRS’s interpretation of the rule; the purpose of that was to sidestep Chevron so that a future change in interpretation by the IRS (inspired, perhaps, by a new administration) wouldn’t have any effect upon the law.

So…yeah, this is a big deal. Overruling Chevron could be a huge change, affecting all of our lives for decades to come.

1.  Link goes to slip opinion, dissent starts on page 27 of the PDF

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Efficiency

So we sat down to do a little design work for our smoker today.  Fired up our favourite 3D modeling program (SketchUp), and spent about twenty minutes trying to remember how to do simple things like get objects aligned on the same axis.  Frustrated, we grabbed a couple of sheets of paper, our calculator, and a pen.  Elapsed time to figure everything out?  Eight minutes, including putting new batteries in the TI-82.

A quiet thank-you to all the teachers who taught us trig, so many years ago.

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Of Armies and Navies

Dear Friends:

As we sit down to watch the Army-Navy game, I know many of you have strong feelings one way or another. That’s all fine and great, but I would encourage you to keep in mind two things: first, at the end of the day, you and your comrades-in-arms all fight under the same flag, and two, at the end of the game, regardless of who wins, the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy will still be spending the next year in the crisp mountain air of Colorado Springs.

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A Big Band Christmas

Big Band Christmas Dance, courtesy UCO Jazz Lab.

Sounds like fun for those so inclined.

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Update to the Update

From a friend born and raised in Chicago:

I just hope one of my relatives put a Cubs pennant on my grandfather’s grave. It’s bad enough he’ll be voting for Hillary this year

And yes, for those interested, Friday’s game night will have The Game on the TV.

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Update

It has come to our attention that a post we made in early 2013 has been rendered slightly less accurate by recent events.

Congratulations, Cubs!

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Things I Wish I’d Said

There are only two meaningful players in economics – the market and force. Anyone who says they want to go around the market wants the option to shoot you.

–Tonia JT McBride

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