Friday, January 15, 2010

Another Reason Not To Buy Bottled Water

I was very interested to read in the Wall Street Journal awhile ago about how cavities are becoming more common in children's teeth. It seems that at least part of the reason is that more kids are drinking bottled water and guess what? Bottled water does not contain fluoride. Fluoride helps prevent cavities.

Of course, bottle water is stupid anyway. Why pay $50 a gallon for something you can get from the tap for about half a cent? And at least here in the U.S., what comes out of the tap is pretty much every bit as good as that stuff in bottles.

And then there's the environmental aspect. What needless damage is done to the environment by production of all that packaging and the shipping?

If you really feel like you need to have that water bottle close at hand at all times, just fill it from the tap and reuse it again and again. You'll be doing your pocketbook, the environment, and your teeth a lot of good. Plus, you'll be striking a blow against stupidity.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Different Meanings of Water to Soldiers, Sailors

Gen. Douglas MacArthur was many things, but one thing he was not was closed-minded. I'm reading American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880 - 1964 by William Manchester and it is filling in a lot of history that I know little about in detail.

I came across an interesting discussion of how soldiers view bodies of water versus how sailors view the same. Here's what Manchester had to say.
Another commander would have been intimidated by the immensity of the Pacific, but the General, remembering the horrors of 1918, when the huge armies had been wedged against one another in bloody stalemate, regarded the vast reaches between Melbourne and Tokyo as opportunities. Despite his distrust of the navy, he was quick to appreciate the difference between soldiers' and sailors' attitudes toward bodies of water, and to come down hard on the side of the admirals. At West Point he had been told to regard rivers and oceans as obstacles along which men could dig in, forming lines of resistance. At Annapolis, he knew, midshipmen were taught that streams and seas were highways. By adopting their concept, he could open up his theater to some of the most stunning campaigns in the history of warfare.

Interesting concepts, and difference of views, no?

Here's another point of interest. Douglas MacArthur's father was a hero of the American Civil War, while MacArthur himself was a hero of World War II. Now, how can that be, when nearly 80 years separated those two conflicts?

Very simple. Arthur MacArthur was known during the Civil War as "the boy general." He was leading troops into battle at an age when most people today are graduating from high school. His son, Douglas, was himself a hero of World War I, and was actually retired from the army when World War II began. He came out of retirement to lead the battle in the Pacific.

Pretty dang interesting.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Was "Virginity" Over-rated?

Why the preoccupation with virginity? I mean like in ancient Rome and Greece, with examples such as the Vestal Virgins and all.

It occurred to me while reading about ancient Rome that the term "virgin" may have connoted something other than what we think of today.

Here's my thought: In reading John Lord's Beacon Lights of History, Vol. 3 he speaks of the sculptors and painters and their depictions of the beautiful "virgins" who were their models. For example, Lord writes "Zeuxis is said to have studied the beautiful forms of seven virgins of Crotona in order to paint his famous picture of Venus."

That's when it struck me that in those times, another word for women who were not virgins was commonly "mother."

Lacking birth control, having sex pretty much ensured pregnancy. And with pregnancy you generally get the loss of the flawless female form. Thus, if you're looking for the very picture of youthful beauty you perforce must look for virgins. It has nothing to do with a woman's sexual activity, but everything to do with the results of that activity. You might easily substitute the word "maiden" for "virgin" and retain the true meaning.

That puts a different spin on our understanding of what the ancients considered important. Her so-called moral character was not at issue, only her figure. Or maybe I'm totally off base. But I found it to be a pretty dang interesting thought so I figured I'd share it with you.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What Made Possession "Nine-Tenths of the Law"?

Remember how it bugged you when your brother took something of yours and when you demanded he give it back he would tell you that "possession is nine-tenths of the law"? Where did that come from? And who says it's nine-tenths as opposed to seven-tenths or something else?

I can't provide specific answers to those questions but I think I can shed some light.

In Beacon Lights of History, Vol. 3, by John Lord, the author discusses the concepts of ownership in ancient Rome. First off, at least in early Rome, the father was master of all, and his wife and children could not truly own anything; it was all his. This right of ownership included the family members themselves and the father could kill his son with impunity, if he so desired. Thankfully, over the course of centuries, the Romans moved away from that extreme.

As for property of the non-family-member type, ownership carried the implicit right to transfer the object to another. Two things were required for this to happen. First, the owner must consent to the transfer. Second, the actual delivery must be made. As Lord states, "Movables were presumed to be the property of the possessors, until positive evidence was produced to the contrary."

So clearly, if you had something in your possession, under the law you had the strong presumption that you were the owner.

But it goes beyond that. Lord also explains that the concept of prescriptive easement was in practice way back in those days:
A prescriptive title to movables was acquired by possession for one year, and to immovables by possession for five years. Undisturbed possession for thirty years constituted in general a valid title.
So you may have acquired something through shady means, but if you can hang onto it it becomes yours. There's nothing precise implied in the "nine-tenths" wording, but the gist is clear. You're in a much stronger position trying to hang onto something than trying to take something from someone else.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Who Knew Draco Was So Draconian

Etymology is something I've always found highly interesting--or pretty dang interesting, if you will. Do you ever stop and wonder where some of these words we use come from? That's etymology.

In reading Beacon Lights of History, Vol. 3, by John Lord, I came across the etymology of the word "draconian." Of course, the definition of the word is "rigorous; unusually severe or cruel."

Well, turns out that in ancient Greece there was a fellow named . . . drum roll . . . Draco. And Draco was appointed to compile an unstructured collection of court rulings into a coherent set of laws. Draco did as he was asked but, as Lord explains:
Draco's laws were extraordinarily severe, punishing small thefts and even laziness with death.
Wow--punish laziness with death! It kind of makes you wonder how many Athenian teenagers managed to live to adulthood!

Lord adds that:
The formulation of any system of justice would have, as Draco's did, a beneficial influence on the growth of the State; but the severity of these bloody laws caused them to be hated and in practice neglected.
It was not until Solon several decades later, that an acceptable code of laws was assembled.

So there you go: draconian.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Don't Trouble Me With Legalities: the Susan B. Anthony Trial

Susan B. Anthony was tried and convicted in 1872 because, as the court made a point to stipulate, "at that time she was a woman" and she had cast a ballot in the recent election. Of course, women were not allowed to vote at that time. The story of the trial is found in An Account of the Proceedings on the Trial of Susan B. Anthony. (Note: this is the third in a series of posts. You may want to start at the beginning.)

As I discussed earlier, her attorney made the argument that, adhering to the wording of the U.S. Constitution, women were eligible to vote. What's more, in another portion of the book, an address by Matilda Joslyn Gage, the speaker noted that at the U.S. Constitutional Convention, "its delegates were partially elected by women's votes, as at that date women were exercising their right of self-government through voting, certainly in the States of Massachusetts and New Jersey, if not in Georgia and Delaware."

After her indictment, but before the trail, Susan Anthony spoke at a number of gatherings to explain her actions and the thinking behind them. Her remarks included the following.
But, it is urged, the use of the masculine pronouns he, his, and him, in all the constitutions and laws, is proof that only men were meant to be included in their provisions. If you insist on this version of the letter of the law, we shall insist that you be consistent, and accept the other horn of the dilemma, which would compel you to exempt women from taxation for the support of the government, and from penalties for the violation of laws.
She then offered examples where this principle had been put into practice, among them this one.
Miss Sarah E. Wall of Worcester, Mass., twenty years ago, took this position. For several years, the officers of the law distrained her property, and sold it to meet the necessary amount; still she persisted, and would not yield an iota, though every foot of her lands should be struck off under the hammer. And now, for several years, the assessor has left her name off the tax list, and the collector passed her by without a call.
These cases were, however, the exception. Women were taxed and were held to penalties for violation of laws.

Returning to Matilda Joslyn Gage's speech, she argued that:
We brand this prosecution of Miss Anthony by United States officials, under claim of provisions in this act, as an illegal prosecution--an infamous prosecution, in direct defiance of national law, dangerous in its principles, tending to subvert a republican form of government, and a direct step, whether so designed or not, to the establishment of a monarchy in this country. Where the right of one individual is attacked, the rights of all are menaced. A blow against one citizen is a blow against every citizen.
Clearly, at least from our 21st Century perspective, these were compelling arguments. It would seem they would have been just as compelling in the 19th Century. How is it then that Susan Anthony and the three election inspectors were found guilty?

It was a very simple matter. The judge in both cases, one Ward Hunt, threw out the legal arguments as rubbish, leaving only the question of whether Anthony had knowingly cast a vote she had no right to cast.

Considering that she had consulted beforehand with some of the leading legal thinkers in the country, and that they had agreed that the Constitution did ensure women's right to vote, this would seem to have been a real issue.

But not in Judge Hunt's opinion. He took the extraordinary step of informing the jury that rather than allowing them to deliberate on this issue, he was ordering them to return a guilty verdict. And without any of the jurors saying one word, that verdict was entered.

Was there an appeal? Absolutely. However, under the laws in effect at that time (I have no idea if they are still in effect today, but I doubt it), the only appeal allowed was to the same court that decided the matter. Surprise, surprise, Judge Hunt did not reverse himself.

And thus it was another 48 years before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed and women finally were accepted as voting members of the nation. Now that is a story I consider to be pretty dang interesting.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Law to Let Us Vote: The Susan B. Anthony Trial

The trial of Susan B. Anthony was peculiar from the start in that she was tried under a federal statute on an issue for which there was no federal standard. This was a twist her attorney tried ably, but unsuccessfully, to exploit. (Note: Because this blog displays in reverse chronological order, you might want to go to the first post in this series and start reading there.)

As noted in An Account of the Proceedings on the Trial of Susan B. Anthony, it was the states that determined the qualifications to vote, not the federal government. Consequentially, all the feds could do was to say "if you violated the mandates of your state, we--not they--will prosecute you." Never mind that what was legal in one state was not legal in another and this federal statute could not possibly be enforced consistently from state to state.

What was the federal government doing poking its nose into what presumably should have been purely a state matter? Recall that the year was 1872, just a few years after the Civil War. Those who had taken up arms against the federal government were disallowed from voting. The law invoked against Susan Anthony made it a crime to vote if you knew you were not permitted to do so.

So the crux of the charge would seem to be, did she vote knowing full well that she had no right to do so?

No big deal. Everyone knew women did not have the right to vote, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong. In fact, the argument made by the suffragettes was based--solidly--on the language in the U.S. Constitution. For the most part, the Constitution talks in terms of "the citizen" and "the people," with no specification that the citizen or person at issue was male or female, or black or white, for that matter. In just a few instances the words "he" or "his" or "him" are used but that was the common language of the law and was never otherwise construed to refer directly and solely to men.

For example, the fact that citizens were required to pay taxes did not exclude women, even though no legislation specifically included them in that obligation. Likewise, criminal laws applied equally to women, though that was never stated explicitly. In fact, the only instance where this male vocabulary was deemed to mean men and men only was in the business of voting and serving on juries.

Think about that for a minute and imagine the legal arguments that this could lead to. I'll delve into those in my next post.

Read Part 3