In time for Hallowe'en, and the day we received word on the guilty verdict and sentencing in the Italian earthquake trial, here's an article in which Vincenzo Zeno-Zencovich considers the relationship between law and superstition, published in the Comparative Law Review.
Better late than never that I post a link to this interesting tidbit; Peter M. Nardi explores superstition silliness in this article for Miller-McCune published at the beginning of January. Would you stay on the 14th floor if your hotel had no designated 13th floor? I have, and don't recall that anything went particularly wrong. Do you think "lucky socks" work for you at the casino? Well, they might work in keeping other people away from your "lucky seat" at the baccarat table, especially if the luckiness stems from the fact that you don't wash your footwear as long as your streak lasts. Carry a rabbit's foot, do you? Wasn't so lucky for the bunny. Try fake fur next time, whydontcha.
Very superstitious, writing's on the wall Very superstitious, ladders bout' to fall Thirteen month old baby, broke the lookin' glass Seven years of bad luck, the good things in your past
According to CNN, about a dozen ghost hunters investigating the legend of a "ghost train" that crosses the Bostian Bridge (more here) near Statesville, North Carolina headed from Salisbury to Asheville August 27th, 1891 encountered a real freight train headed toward the town of Statesville in the early morning hours. Most of the group made it safely off the tracks but two did not. One of them, Christopher Kaiser, pushed a companion off the tracks before she was hit by the train, but he could not save himself. Mr. Kaiser died at the scene. The woman is recovering in a Charlotte hospital.
Law enforcement officials have interviewed the people involved, one police officer telling CNN that "Many fled because they were trespassing on railroad property." (I don't quite understand the comment. Wasn't an oncoming train enough? Or is it that they also left, or tried to leave, the area because they thought they would be cited for trespassing?)
Investigating paranormal phenomena, whether on private property or public areas, involves varying degrees of risk and may involve breaking some sort of law, as it did here. It can also involve risking one's life, as it did here, quite tragically. If the ghost hunters had been carrying on their investigation during the day, perhaps the train's engineer could have seen them and stopped earlier, although perhaps not. It may depend on the geography, and I'm not suggesting that the train's engineer, crew, or the railroad is at fault here. But these ghost hunters, apparently like many I read about, and like the ones on tv, were watching for ghosts at night. At night, some of our senses are heightened, but not all, and not our vision. We mistake many things at night. And we make many mistakes of judgment and perception at night. Sometimes, in the light of morning, the results are awful to behold.
Note that one needs to understand not just spoken but body language to know when disrespect occurs. And since cursing never has the same effect on one in a second or third language as in a first language, someone really does have to explain such things. What are the magic words and behavior that invoke the penalty of ejection from the game? That's the question in a lot of sports as well as law, isn't it?
This afternoon I watched an old Andy Griffith Show episode (this is pre-Matlock), in which Andy finds himself chosen as the second husband of an unhappy mountain bride, Charlene Darling, when she suspects that her husband is seeing an old flame. According to custom, she can divorce her husband by burying the appropriate divorce instruments. She is then free to select a new man.
Andy, of course, is reluctant to become involved in this domestic dispute, and even more reluctant to seem to give any credibility to mountain ways, even though old reliable deputy Barney Fife tells him to take this situation seriously after Charlene's family visits him to tell him the wedding plans are on. Barney reminds him that he always wants to settle things peacefully, but Andy says there is no settling things peacefully or reasoning with these people. As it turns out, both of them turn out to be correct. Barney goes off to the library to do research on mountain folklore, while Andy puts the problem out of his mind.
Things go from bad to worse. Charlene's soon-to-be ex-husband Dudley (played by a young Bob Denver) shows up to challenge Andy to a duel of some sort and Andy cannot reason with either Charlene or her father. Back comes Barney with a book on folklore, which says that the "intended" (Andy) can derail the marriage by digging up the "instruments" by a full moon before 30 days are up. Andy tells him that he isn't going to dignify this situation by participating in it at all because it's ridiculous. Finally, Barney reads Andy a passage that seems to offer a possible solution. A marriage is cursed if, on the way to the church, a bridegroom passes by a rider dressed in black on a white horse going from east to west. And of course, that's how it happens (courtesy of Barney). Charlene and Dudley are reconciled, and return to the mountains and Andy goes back to sheriffing in Mayberry. A comical story, played for laughs and poking fun at hillbillies and their silly beliefs.
Or not. Charlene and her family, and their people have their own set of norms, created to establish under what circumstances marriages and divorces take place. Ridiculous as they might sound, they are principled. Charlene explains herself to her father and other relatives, to Dudley, and to Andy. She accuses him of seeing an old girlfriend, of alcoholism, and of neglecting her.
Charlene: You know what else he did? He went huntin' foxes with old Hasty Burford and he didn't come home until Wednesday week. Andy: Well, maybe he's tryin' to get you some makin's for a fox pie... or a nice fur collar to wear to preachin'. Charlene: No, he wasn't. I know what they do up there in the hills. They sit around drinkin' hard cider, punchin' each other in the arms and hollerin' "flinch". I don't want him anymore.
She follows the rules (bury the "divorce instruments," wait 30 days before marrying again, identify the chosen successor, etc.). The first husband apparently has customs to engage in--some kind of challenge to the second groom involving whittling, for example, in order to show himself to be the better man. Presumably if he wins the challenge, he can assert that the divorce is at least halted, if not off, although that's not clear from the story. The second husband also has rules to follow. That he doesn't seem to be able to object seems to be a problem, but this mountain society seems to be somewhat more matriarchal than was customary for traditional mainstream America to see on tv in the 1960s. At least, Charlene's father seems willing to let her do what she wants. She is fairly strongwilled, and that trait hasn't developed overnight. As her father says, "You're giving up a good man, who don't hit you too much." (Well, that part doesn't sound too feminist). She is choosing her second husband, without much if any objection from the father or relatives, who seem willing to assist her even if the groom is unwilling. Is the story still quite so funny? Or are its themes little more serious?
At the time, most of the audience probably didn't realize that other cultures and religions perform marriages and divorces without the sanction of the secular authority. One example is the get, the Jewish divorce. Today, same sex partners who want to formalize their unions may ask a religious authority to marry them even though they know that the secular authority does not recognize their unions. The magic of religious recognition of their union and their pledge to each other is important, even if, in Sheriff Andy-speak, it has no secular meaning. In the episode, it seems that either party can divorce, for any reason, which is more liberal than the existing U.S. divorce laws of the time. It may have been that community pressure prevented certain parties from pursuing the option, but still, the option was there.
Of course, there is an important, and crucial difference, between a voluntary union, and an involuntary union. What Charlene is trying to force is an involuntary union between herself and Andy. Part of the humor comes from the notion that she can force the sheriff into a "shotgun" wedding, although the fact that she has brought along several male relatives to help her is not so funny. Indeed, when Andy and Barney, following the information in the folkways book, show up in the dead of night to dig up the "divorce instruments," they find Charlene and her family waiting for them.
Andy uses the Darling family's own irrational beliefs against them in order to extricate himself from an awkward situation, as Columbus is supposed to have used knowledge of a lunar eclipse to save himself and his crew during his fourth and last voyage. When Andy cannot reason with the Darlings, he uses the opposite of reason. Also interesting is that someone has bothered to study and document the local folkways, since Barney found the relevant book in the library.
The episode is "Divorce, Mountain Style," first aired March 30, 1964.
Back in January, Nigerian authorities in the state of Kwara were holding a goat on suspicion of attempted armed robbery while they tried to figure out whether it (he?) had anything to do with trying to heist a Mazda 323. Apparently earlier two men were spotted trying to rob the car. One got away but the other "turned into a goat," or was around and then there was the goat, and the man disappeared...anyway, there's confusion, and the goat did not have Nikes. Said a police spokesperson, "We cannot confirm the story, but the goat is in our custody. We cannot base our information on something mystical." Here's a BBC story with more information, suggesting that in fact the goat was being held until its owner turned up. Finally, here's an update: a judge ordered the goat to be auctioned. Poor little goat. He's awfully cute. Apparently, in that part of the country, some people believe that magicians can turn themselves into goats. Yet, but what about thieves? Or are magicians also thieves? Anyway, I hope the little kid is happy in his new home, and not turned into some kind of stew.
On this week's episode of House, "Here, Kitty," probably inspired by that story of the kitty that could tell when nursing home patients were going to die. House does critical thinking battle with a patient who believes in the psychic abilities of the kitty, and finally decides that said kitty is really seeking warmth--the warmth of a blankie, or a heating pad, or a body, all of which are available in the vicinity of patients. Halfway through the episode (the usual critical point), the patient has an important scene with Robert Chase, one of the other physicians, who tells her that faith has an important part to play in healing, but that part is in the waiting room, not in the OR.
Ultimately, House, being the usual hero of this medical drama, figures out the kitty's "psychic ability" which is that cats like heat. (We knew that). The cat seeks warmth, and the dying patients usually have more blankets, or heating pads, than other patients. The cat likes to plop itself on those beds. In addition, those patients are less likely to move around than patients who are getting better. (Although why a hospital or nursing home would allow a cat loose in a sterile area is beyond me).
The patient isn't convinced, and leaves, telling House she still believes that some things in life are unexplainable (at least as yet). That's undoubtedly true. What divides us is how we approach them.
Meanwhile, one of House's victims (a resident), decides to invest in a "sure thing," some kind of deal proposed to him by a high school buddy who has since gone on to become CEO of a corporation. He quits his job at the hospital, as House tells him, "You'll be back. Don't forget the doughnuts." There's a problem, however. The buddy isn't a CEO. He's a temp at the company at which he claims to be the head honcho. The resident, fortunately, finds out before he invests, and sorrowfully returns to work.
This particular episode suggests that one could contrast critical thinking on the part of House with a lack of critical thinking on the part both of the patient and the resident. Of course, those who hold that faith has a place in healing, or in diagnosis, like the patient, will find a place for it in the story. Those who don't, like House, will find affirmation for their opinion. And those who are somewhere in the middle, like Dr. Chase, will also find support.
It was an intriguing mix, and one of the better entries in this series.
According to this Agence France Presse story from last September, the Cambodian Prime Minister is still banning holding beauty pageants in the country, but not because he thinks it demeans or objectifies women. Instead, he thinks it's "bad luck." The one held in 1993 was held at an historic theater, and wouldn't you know it--a year later a fire demolished the theater. So, no pageants until the economy picks up and poverty is cut in half. [The government also doesn't like those swimsuits, but that's another matter].