According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the prosecuting attorney of Butler County, tired of bad weather, wants to indict Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby (yup, the magic groundhog), for "purposely, and with prior calculation and design" misleading people about the date that spring would start. And he wants Phil done away with. Permanently. Here's a link to a copy of the indictment.
Now, first of all, Mr. Gmoser, the DA in this story here, has clout in Ohio, I admit, but I hasten to point out that Phil lives in Pennsylvania. Extradition is a problem. Will a Pa. judge okay shipping a groundhog across the border for maliciousness (and Mr. Gmoser will have to make a case for faulty forecasting and pernicious prediction by the grumbly groundhog)? Do human laws apply to marmots?
Second, is Mr. Gmoser suggesting that a whistle pig is not protected by the First Amendment? That Phil's expressive speech of recognizing his shadow, and thus "predicting spring" is not protected by the First Amendment? Check out cases such as Rushman v. City of Milwaukee (959 F. Supp. 1040, 1997) (false statements fraudulent only if the speaker has knowledge that the statement cannot come true).
I cry fowl! Couldn't Mr. Sowerby argue that whatever humans interpret from his conduct is our problem? After all, human beings force him through this event on the 2 of February to see if he sees his shadow or not. It isn't really his idea. Who decided to engage the furry Mr. Sowerby in this venture? Did he ever ask anybody to believe his predictions, such as they are? Aren't those beliefs and assumptions about whether a groundhog can predict the coming of spring by seeing his shadow or not, amusing as they are, really quite inane? Well, then, why blame the groundhog?
There are probably some criminal defenses available, but it's Friday and I'm tired.
Fourth, how much gmoser could a woodchuck chuck?
Yes, the indictment is a joke. At least, I think it is. But I hope no one goes sciurid hunting, hoping for a bounty. That would make a tragedy out of what is Mr. Gmoser's attempt at humor.
Lindsay Lohan's lawyer Mark Heller told the media that a fortune teller says that 2013 would be a lucky one for his client. It's certainly starting out that way. Prosecutors put off her assault case (stemming from an altercation in a New York night club last November) for now, which was really lucky for her. According to Mr. Heller, no charges have yet been filed. As for Ms. Lohan, she's still in London. More here at tmz.com.
A federal judge has invalidated yet another fortune telling ban, this time in Alexandria, Louisiana. Federal district court judge Dee Drell agreed with U.S. magistrate James Kirk (great name!) that the city's ban on fortune telling is unconstitutional.
Fortune teller Rachel Adams challenged the ordinance after a police officer issued her a summons, which would have cost her up to $500 a day. The ordinance banned all manner of crafty sciences, including fortune telling, astrology, and palm reading.
The section at issue is 15-127, Fortune-telling, phrenology, palmistry, etc.
It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in the business or practice of palmistry, card reading, astrology, fortune-telling, phrenology, mediums or activities of a similar nature within the city, regardless of whether a fee is charged directly or indirectly, or whether the services are rendered without a charge.
This type of ordinance is a garden variety "crafty sciences" prohibition, banning these practices whether or not they are offered for a fee. I would think that the judge looked to the reasoning in prior cases (Argellio, Rushman, and particularly Trimble). See an earlier post here. Such ordinances target speech. In order to defend them, the government must identify a compelling state interest; here it told the court that fortune telling was fraud and the state interest was to prevent fraud. However, in other such cases, judges have already rejected such arguments, saying that while some fortune tellers may be frauds, the government cannot say that all fortune tellers are frauds. One cannot paint an entire group with that brush. The judge in Trimble told the government that if it wanted to prosecute fortune tellers it could do so under a statute that specifically targeted fraud rather than under a statute aimed at speech.
Further, as another judge wrote, speech that a fortune teller delivers might come true in the future, or it might not. Until it positively has no possibility of coming true, the speaker cannot be branded a liar.
Magistrate Judge Kirk also notes that the ordinance cites as authority LSA: RS 4-7 allows the taxation and licensing of fortune telling, and suggests that if the state recognizes a difference between regulation and restriction, then an ordinance that bans fortune telling is in violation of the statute.
Case citation: Adams v. City of Alexandria, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97042.
Only one commissioner, Dave Carey, supported the bill to make fortune-telling legit. His motion to pass the ordinance died when none of the other commissioners would second the action.
Despite the board’s unwillingness to allow fortune-telling, only one commissioner, Terry Hanley, said he would actually fight any legal action taken against the town. Hanley said Harford County is “dramatically different” from Montgomery County and he also worries about how fortune-tellers would affect neighboring businesses.
“It’s hard to put a dollar [amount] on principle,” he said. “Let them challenge us. If they feel it that strongly, bring it on.”
The other commissioners disagreed.
“Of course I am not in favor of fortune-telling, but I had some major concerns spending taxpayer money to defend it,” Rob Preston said. “I will be very limited in what I am willing to spend to defend this untenable decision, in light of the Maryland court decision.”
Those Romanian witches are really, really mad at the tax collectors. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Romanian witches from the east and west will head to the southern plains and the Danube River today to threaten the government with spells and spirits because of the tax law, which went into effect Saturday. A dozen witches will hurl the poisonous mandrake plant into the Danube to put a hex on government officials "so evil will befall them," said a witch named Alisia. She identified herself with one name - customary among Romania's witches."
Fortune tellers, who are also now on the tax rolls as a result of the changes in the Romanian Labor Code, are apparently less agitated by their new classification. Maybe they knew ahead of time? The classification, by the way, applies to the self-employed, who now pay a sixteen percent tax on earnings. All righty then.
That mandrake plant, the one the witches are hurling, is apparently Mandragora officinarum, which is poisonous taken internally but which applied externally is supposed to relieve pain. It's native to the Mediterannean and the Himalayas. Mandragora is a member of the potato or nightshade family.
Go and catch a falling star
Get with child a mandrake root
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil's foot.
---John Donne, Go and Catch a Falling Star (1633).
An interesting post from historian Daniel N. Rolph, of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, who blogs at HSP's Hidden Histories. He writes here about mysterious doings and the involvements of fortune tellers, and others who fit in the "crafty sciences" category. Writes Dr. Rolph,
But perhaps the most sensational case, occurred in 1852, with newspaper headings entitled, "Superstition in Philadelphia," and "Witchcraft--Evidence of an Enlightened Age," when Mary Ann Clinton & Susan Spearing, residents of Southwark Ward, were formally charged at the 'Court of Quarter Sessions,' with "conspiring to cheat and defraud George F. Elliott, by means of fortune telling and conjuration," in order to extort money. The 'Commonwealth of Pennsylvania' alleged that the two women were giving Mrs. Elliott, "a bottle containing some portions of Mr. Elliott's clothing, and telling her that as the clothing decayed, so Mr. Elliott would moulder away, until he would finally die by virtue of the spell..."
It appeared that Mrs. Elliott suspected her husband was guilty of infidelity, a belief which "had so strong an effect upon her as to make her wish for his death." Thus, she had enlisted the services of Clinton & Spearing, who also encouraged the jealous wife, as an "ordeal of witchcraft," to "take her husband's clothes, tear them to pieces, fill the bottle with them, then boil the contents nine times, and this would give him such extreme pain as to cause his death."
To carry out the above 'spell,' Mrs. Elliott willingly had payed the two 'conjurers,' their required fee.