Riding for Two

On Nov. 8, 2005, Candace Dickinson was pulled over for driving in the carpool lane on Interstate 10 in Phoenix. When police sergeant Dave Norton asked how many people were in the car, “she said two as she pointed to her obvious pregnancy.”

Dickinson argued in court that since Arizona traffic laws don’t define when personhood begins, she and her unborn child constituted a carpool. Judge Dennis Freeman favored a “common-sense” interpretation of the statutes in which a person occupies a “separate and distinct … space in a vehicle.” He upheld Dickinson’s $367 fine.

California courts have encountered the same argument — it appears on the frequently asked questions page of the California Highway Patrol. The answer: “California law requires that in order to utilize the HOV lane, there must be two (or, if posted, three) separate individuals occupying seats in a vehicle. Until your ‘passenger’ is capable of riding in his or her own seat, you cannot count them.”

Kid Vision

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In 1927, Eleanor Roosevelt composed a seven-point “ethics of parents”:

  1. Furnish an example in living.
  2. Stop preaching ethics and morals.
  3. Have a knowledge of life’s problems and an imagination.
  4. Stop shielding your children and clipping their wings.
  5. Allow your children to develop along their own lines.
  6. Don’t prevent self-reliance and initiative.
  7. Have vision yourself and bigness of soul.

“The next generation,” she wrote, “will take care of itself.”

The Mere Addition Paradox

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From Derek Parfit’s Reasons and Persons: World A contains a large group of people (say, 10 billion), all of whom have a high level of happiness. The width of the bar represents the size of the group, and its height represents their happiness.

World A+ contains the original group, plus a second group who are worse off. Assuming their lives are still happy, though, it appears that A+ is no worse than A. (Assume that the groups don’t know of one another, so there is no social injustice.)

In B-, the two groups are still distinct and of equal size, but all the inhabitants are somewhat happier than the average level in A+ — say, four-fifths the level in A.

Now combine the groups to produce B. This seems as good as B-, since we’ve only merged the two populations.

Intuitively, many people would feel that World B is worse than World A — all its inhabitants are less happy. But the logic seems to indicate that B is better — that “merely adding” people with tolerably happy lives makes the world a better place. Does it?

Payback

In October 2009, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger attended a local Democratic Party fundraiser at the invitation of former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown. His speech was heckled by San Francisco assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who took the stage afterward to criticize the governor.

Three weeks later, Schwarzenegger vetoed a measure sponsored by Ammiano. He attached this message:

To the Members of the California State Assembly:

I am returning Assembly Bill 1176 without my signature.

For some time now I have lamented the fact that major issues are overlooked while many
unnecessary bills come to me for consideration. Water reform, prison reform, and health
care are major issues my Administration has brought to the table, but the Legislature just
kicks the can down the alley.

Yet another legislative year has come and gone without the major reforms Californians
overwhelmingly deserve. In light of this, and after careful consideration, I believe it is
unnecessary to sign this measure at this time.

Sincerely,

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Read the first letter of each printed line. “My goodness, what a coincidence,” said Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear when confronted with the acrostic. “I suppose when you do so many vetoes, something like this is bound to happen.”

See Between the Lines, Poetic License, and In Memoriam.

Matchups

Titles of “in rem” condemnation cases, in which the government sues to justify the seizure of an asset:

  • United States v. 11 1/4 Dozen Packages of Article Labeled in Part Mrs. Moffat’s Shoo Fly Powders for Drunkenness, 40 F. Supp. 208 (W.D.N.Y. 1941)
  • United States v. 2,116 Boxes of Boned Beef, etc., 726 F.2d 1481
  • United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins, 520 F.3d 976 (9th Cir. 2008)
  • United States v. 2,507 Live Canary Winged Parakeets, 689 F. Supp. 1106 (S.D. Fla. 1988)
  • United States v. One Lucite Ball Containing Lunar Material (One Moon Rock) and One Ten Inch by Fourteen Inch Wooden Plaque, 235 F. Supp. 2d 1367 (S.D. Fla. 2003)
  • United States v. Article Consisting of 50,000 Cardboard Boxes More or Less, Each Containing One Pair of Clacker Balls, 413 F. Supp. 1281 (D. Wisconsin 1976)

In 1836 a flotilla of brandy casks washed ashore on the south coast of England, and an ownership dispute arose between a local property owner and the crown. Unfortunately for William IV, the case was recorded as The King v. Forty-Nine Casks of Brandy.

The Paradox of Tolerance

How should a tolerant person regard intolerance? If she tolerates it, then (it would seem) implicitly she accepts it. If she rejects it, then she is herself intolerant.

“The difficulty with toleration is that it seems to be at once necessary and impossible,” writes Bernard Williams. “Toleration, we may say, is required only for the intolerable. That is its basic problem.”

United Nations

“England’s not a bad country — it’s just a mean, cold, ugly, divided, tired, clapped-out, post-imperial, post-industrial slag heap covered in polystyrene hamburger cartons.” — Margaret Drabble

“Belgium is a country invented by the British to annoy the French.” — Charles de Gaulle

“In India, ‘cold weather’ is merely a conventional phrase and has come into use through the necessity of having some way to distinguish between weather which will melt a brass doorknob and weather which only makes it mushy.” — Mark Twain

“The Americans … have invented so wide a range of pithy and hackneyed phrases that they can carry on an amusing and animated conversation without giving a moment’s reflection to what they are saying and so leave their minds free to consider the more important matters of big business and fornication.” — Somerset Maugham

“In any world menu, Canada must be considered the vichyssoise of nations — it’s cold, half-French, and difficult to stir.” — Stuart Keate

Din Minimum

In 1958, acoustician William MacLean of the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn answered a perennial question: How many guests can attend a cocktail party before it becomes too noisy for conversation? He declared that the answer, for a given room, is

cocktail party noise

where

N0 = the critical number of guests above which each speaker will try overcome the background noise by raising his voice
K = the average number of guests in each conversational group
a = the average sound absorption coefficient of the room
V = the room’s volume
h = a properly weighted mean free path of a ray of sound
d0 = the conventional minimum distance between speakers
Sm = the minimum signal-to-noise ratio for the listeners

When the critical guest N0 arrives, each speaker is forced to increase his acoustic power in small increments (“I really don’t know what she sees in him.” — “Beg your pardon?” — “I say, I REALLY DON’T KNOW WHY SHE GOES OUT WITH HIM”) until each group is forced to huddle uncomfortably close in order to continue the conversation.

“We see therefore that, once the critical number of guests is exceeded, the party suddenly becomes a loud one,” MacLean concluded, somewhat sadly. “The power of each talker rises exponentially to a practical maximum, after which each reduces his or her talking distance below the conventional distance and then maintains, servo fashion, just the proximity, tête à tête, required to attain a workable signal-to-noise ratio. Thanks to this phenomenon the party, although a loud one, can still be confined within one apartment.”

(William R. MacLean, “On the Acoustics of Cocktail Parties,” Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, January 1959, 79-80.)

His and Hers

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In 1891, while debating “the old, old question whether women’s dress is or is not sensible,” the members of a Brooklyn amateur dramatic company decided to try an experiment. First a woman tried on a man’s clothes:

My! how nice it feels to be able to run up and down stairs in these clothes. You don’t have to think about your clothes at all. Nor about your feet. It’s just splendid! I’d no idea — but my feet feel as if they had clogs on. Don’t you hear them thump? Don’t they look funny? Why, I couldn’t walk far with such weights as these dragging me down. And see my shirt. It won’t stay put. One thing is certain, you feel very free all about your body. … I did not know what to do with my hands or my legs while I was in the parlour. I was not sure of my legs one minute. I didn’t know whether they looked right when I walked; they seem exposed, you know. I wondered how I looked all the time, and when you get to wondering about any part of you, that part of you loses all its pluck. My legs got timid, and in the way. It was not any better when I sat down. Then my hands got big and stupid, and bothered me. The coat tails were in the way, and I couldn’t, for the life of me, think what I had ever seen a man do with his coat tails. The truth is, that I should not wonder if men’s clothes are better than ours, only you’ve got to get used to them. And I should want the coat to have skirts all around it, because you feel so very visible, don’t you know.

Then a man tried on a woman’s:

The queer thing about this whole rig is that you cannot get your mind off the corset. It is so stiff and tight and hot and binding that you forget the rest. I can stand up and lean back against it as if I were leaning against a swing or hammock. When I sit down, if I should lean too far forward I would fall on my face. You cannot keep your balance in the thing. If I try to pick up something from the floor beside me while sitting down, the corset catches me under the arm like a crutch. Sitting or standing, it holds me up like a ramrod — don’t I look so? My arms hang at the sides of it as if they were made afterwards and tacked on, like a doll’s arms. I could not eat a mouthful or take a glass of water with this corset on. Either I or the corset would burst. Just for fun I laid down in the thing, and I had to get Tom to help me up again or I’d have laid there yet. As for the rest of the costume, do you know, I don’t mind it. These things don’t fit, of course; the skirt is too short and the dress won’t button around my stomach; but it seems a fellow could get along with all of it except the corset. It’s queer to feel your legs for the first time. They seem to be let loose inside a sort of box. When I walk I feel the skirt hit against my heels, and when I stand up I feel my legs hot against one another. Their covering is so thin that it amounts to nothing, and so you feel those appendages as you never do in male attire. You don’t know how absurd it is not to be able to see yourself. The bust of this corset and dress stick out under my eyes, and I cannot see anything beneath it except the bottom of this dress. I feel cold half way. I can feel the tops of my stocking plainly by the difference in the temperature where they end.

“I would not dare appear in company in this rig, even if it fitted me; at least not without taking a course of instructions first,” the man said. “You see, I know enough to put my hands in my lap; but they don’t go there. I keep hanging them down by my sides. Then I cannot cross my legs. Every time I try it I get the petticoats and dress all mixed up with my knees. When I sit down I feel as if I was sitting on a pair of long coat-tails all rumpled up. The dress and other things all get into creases and lumps under me. There are some good points about the costume. It is easy round the neck, and your legs are so free that you feel as if you were walking on air; but even in this warm room I would get pneumonia in four hours, for my legs are stone cold and my chest is not much warmer, though my waist is burning hot. Then there is a dragging weight on my hips, while as for the corset — Get out of the room, boys, and let Tom help me off with the blessed thing.”

(From “A Petticoat in Trousers,” Modern Society, Jan. 31, 1891.)

Label Mates

An exchange of letters in the Times, November 1941:

Sir,

Among the minor reforms that are coming would not the suppression of ‘Esquire’ in general and business correspondence be welcomed? It is a relic of mid-Victorian snobbery, and has little or nothing to commend it. I believe the United Kingdom is the only part of the Empire that uses it.

Yours truly,

Loughlan Pendred

Sir,

How right Mr Loughlan Pendred is in denouncing the use of this word as ‘a relic of mid-Victorian snobbery’ and in demanding its ‘suppression’! But why does he not go further? Is not our all too frequent utterance or inscription of the word ‘Mr’ an equally gross survival from an era which men of good will can hardly mention without embarrassment and shame? I do hope Pendred will go further.

Your obedient servant,

Max Beerbohm

Sir,

Beerbohm’s suggestion that the prefix ‘Mr’ should be abolished does not go far enough. We are still left with our surnames, and this is undemocratic. I demand that we should all be called by the same name, as plain a one as possible. If this should render difficult the filling up of forms, a number could be attached to each — or rather the same — name.

Yours faithfully,

Osbert Sitwell