Thursday, May 31, 2012

Boys in Pink


Until quite recently in the 20th century blue was the color for dressing girls and pink for dressing boys.

This painting by Renoir is of a boy not a girl:

Coco eating his soup by Renoir, 1905.  Claude nicknamed 'Coco' was Renoir's son.

The Sunday Sentinel,  March 1914, noted:  "use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention."

In June 1918, the US magazine Ladies' Home Journal wrote that despite some confusion "... the generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls.  The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl."

Even as late as 1927 there was ambivalence on the subject.  Time magazine reported that Princess Astrid of Belgium had decked out the cradle for her unborn child in pink, only to give birth to a
daughter.  The correspondent decided to run a straw poll among U.S. department stores but found they could not agree which way it should be either.

Note Gainsborough's 'Boy In Blue':

Either an exception, or tastes in children's color were the same in Gainsborough's time (mid-1700's) as today.

Source - BBC History magazine


I remember a western movie in which Burt lancaster, or is it Robert Mitchum, is caught in flagrante delicto in a woman's bedroom and he escapes through the window in pink, whole body button-up underwear.

Bin Laden Pops


A possible clue as to how bin Laden was able to function satisfactorily among his three wives was the Avena syrup - a sort of natural Viagra - that was found in the compound where he died.


He regularly applied Just For Men dye to his hair and his beard to maintain a youthful appearance.


While publicly calling for young men to join his holy war, bin Laden was privately advising that his son decamp for the tiny, prosperous Persian Gulf kingdom of Qatar.


He complained that Faisal Shahzad - a U.S. citizen of Pakistani heritage, who had tried to blow up an SUV in Times square on May 1, 2010 - had broken the oath of allegiance he had sworn to the U.S.  He said, 'it is not permissible in Islam to betray trust and break a covenant."

Source - Time magazine

Cromwell and Jewish Immigration


In 1290 England expelled its Jewish population entirely.  Under Oliver Cromwell Jews were readmitted to England, but not for reasons of banking or commerce as we might expect.  The reason might seem quite off the wall to our way of thinking.

Cromwell and his Puritan advisors were convinced that the 'Last Days' were about to happen, and the return of the Messiah was near.  They believed that the sign of the last days would be that all the Jews in the world would be converted. The problem was that there were no Jews in England, so a group of Jews from the Netherlands offered to come to England and fill the void.  Their offer was accepted.

From 'How God Made the English', a BBC TV production.

Nature's Totally Natural Facelift


How can you get a facelift that's permanent and totally natural?  A facelift that needs no plastic surgery, no medicine, no creams, no massage.  A completely natural facelift that actually works, and that requires no effort - or to rephrase - that requires no physical effort.  What it does require is WILLPOWER, and the simple question is, "Do you have the willpower?"

All that you need to do is to exercise two muscles at the back of your head.

It's truly amazing that something so simple should be so little known, and indeed, such a big secret.  The media never mentions it.  You never see it discussed on the morning shows.  Plastic surgeons don't seem to have heard of it.  All those movie stars spending fortunes on surgical facelifts haven't heard of it.  Yet it's a completely natural facelift.  A gift from nature, requiring nothing more than a little self-discipline.

Just think how much money is spent by women (and men these days) on surgical face lifts.  How much is spent on beauty treatments.  Whole industries existing solely to make our faces look younger.  And yet nature has given us the secret to get all of this for free and with so little effort, and NO-ONE KNOWS ABOUT IT!  So what's the secret ?  



At the back of your head there's a pair of muscles; one on each side of the head just behind the ears.  They're called the occipitalis muscles - AND THEY NEED TO BE EXERCISED.  If you try to find them you probably won't be able to, because in most of us the muscles have become atrophied. 

You have to rediscover them.

So that's where the muscles are located.  But how do you go about finding them?


The first step is to learn to "wiggle" your ears.  Sounds strange but read on -

When you tighten your occipitalis muscles, you also tighten your forehead, and you tighten the area around the top and sides of your eyes - (note: don't raise your eyebrows. In fact you must resist that tendency.) - and simultaneously your ears get pulled back.

So place your fingers in the general area of the muscles and try to detect the muscles as you attempt to move your ears back.  It'll take some time, so be patient.

When you release the tension on your occipitalis, your forehead will relax and your ears will move forward.  That's what the trick of wiggling your ears is all about - you alternately tighten and relax the occipitalis muscles, making your ears move backward and forward, and the faster you do this the faster your ears move.  Don't laugh.  That's part of the exercise.


Once you've learnt to do this, the next step is to tighten your occipitalis muscles and KEEP THEM TIGHT.  Don't relax them.  It's as if you begin the process of wiggling your ears but stop half way.  Keep the occipitalis muscles tight for as long as you can.  This tension will keep your forehead tight and the area around your eyes tight!   At first you'll maintain this tension for a few seconds, later for a few minutes, even for  a few hours.  But don't worry.  You won't have to keep up the tension for that long.  Sporadic tension is enough.  It keeps you from furrowing your forehead, and that in itself is all you need.  When you begin to furrow your forehead you will instinctively pull back on the muscles.  It'll become as easy as flossing, driving a car, or watching TV.   

So there it is.  By keeping these muscles tensed, you keep your forehead and the area of the eyes tight.  That is the secret; and it's nature's totally natural facelift.

Best of all it's free.

And now that you know the secret, the rest is up to you.  Do you want a forehead of 'frozen furrows', drooping eyelids etc?

Or do you want to have control of how you look?!

Think of all the people exercising and building up their body muscles in all the health clubs all around the country, and not one of them exercising their forehead muscles!  Incomprehensible!

If you get discouraged, keep this in mind, that learning the secret and mastering the method is just like learning to ride a bike; you learn it once, but it's your's forever.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Live long, die quickly


Francis Bacon in his book of Apothegms writes the following:

Bias of Ancient Greece,  being asked 'How a man should order his life?' answered: "As if a man should live long, or die quickly."

It makes sense - I guess it means to look after yourself and prepare for old age as if you're going to live a long life, but yet live every day to the fullest as if each day is going to be the last day of your life.  ('quickly' being synonymous with 'soon').

Bias of Priene of Ionia 570 BC was considered one of the seven Sages of Greece.

Michelangelo and hygiene


Michelangelo's father, Lodovico, in a letter to his son during his stay in Rome at the age of 25, writes:

"Whatever happens, do not expose yourself to hardships, for in your profession, if you fall ill (which God forbid), you are a lost man.

Above all take care of your head, keep it moderately warm, and never bathe: have yourself rubbed down, but never bathe."

This is an era before modern medicine when any slight illness could be a major setback.

George Bernard Shaw and Downton Abbey


In the TV series Downton Abbey a maid employed at the abbey gets herself pregnant by an army major who is convalescing there after injuries received in the War.  He returns to the front and is killed.  The maid contacts his parents with the news that they have a grandchild.  They wish to pay her for the child on condition that she have no contact with the child.  She rejects their offer.  George Bernard Shaw would have approved.  He seems to have  a low opinion of the parenting skills of the upper classes as evidenced by this letter, dated April 10, 1929.  It  can be seen at Bookman's Alley bookstore in Evanston, Illinois.


This is what it says:

'If this case is genuine what difficulty does it present?  The girl is lucky enough to have a healthy baby.  She is ignorant enough to think that it would be for the baby's good to sell it into "a wealthy home where it would be loved as  an only child and petted and cared for and given every chance".  She evidently knows nothing of such unfortunate children.  The silly people who are giving her unnatural advice to throw her treasure away would be the first to recoil from her if she took it.  Her omission to provide the child with a legitimate father is pardonable: but she would never be forgiven - nor forgive herself - if she sold it to a rich woman.  If she really feels unfit to be a mother let her present it to a capable woman as poor as herself if she can find one willing.'

G. Bernard Shaw

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wyatt Earp begs the question


Someone once observed that Wyatt Earp's most vivid recollections of his days as a frontier lawman involved people who were entering, occupying, or leaving saloons.

Earp responded "We had no Y.M.C.A's."

He doesn't expand on his career choices, or his choice of amusements.  His answer tells us nothing.  It is as if a man's life is spent in one form or another of social club, with Y.M.C.A's simply being a gentler form of the saloon.

He avoids answering.  What he does here is 'beg the question'.  Like the joke, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" - the response, "To get to the other side" says nothing and leaves us no wiser.

TV journalists and interviewers constantly 'beg the question' but......


........ they simply don't understand the concept.  They say to the person they're interviewing, "That begs the question", and proceed to ask their next question.  What they mean is "That raises the question".

Even Charlie Rose, who should know better, doesn't get it right.

So what does 'begging the question' really mean?


It means to take something for granted in a discussion, although that 'something' is precisely what is being discussed.  In a more technical sense, it's a logical fallacy in which a proposition uses its own premise as proof of the proposition - a statement that refers to its own assertion to prove the assertion.  For example:

"God exists because the Bible says so, and what the Bible says is true because the Bible was written by God".

In the movie 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' the manager of the hotel announces "Everything will be alright in the end, and if it's not alright it means it's not yet the end" - perfect circular reasoning.

A riddle - What since the beginning of time has never seen the sun?  Answer - a shadow.

Shakspeare's real name


The only examples in existence of anything written by Shakespeare are six signatures.  None of them are written as Shakespeare.

The earliest is on a deposition (1612) spelled "Willn Shaks(blotted )p"; one on a conveyance (1613) was spelled "W(blotted)illiam Shakspe"; one on a mortgage (1613) was spelled "Wm Shakspr".  The signatures on each of the three pages of the will (1616) are spelled respectively, "Willia(blotted)m Shakspere", "Willm Shakspere", and "William Shaksper".


Elizabethan spelling was diverse and phonetic.  If it fairly represented the sound of a word it was considered correct.  Some thirty spellings in the Stratford records of christenings, marriages and burials of the family all spelt the 'Shakespeare' name in such a way as to require the first syllable to be pronounced with a short "a" as in "hat", not a long "a" as in 'lake' or 'shake'.  In some eighty variations of the name used in England none hyphenated the two syllables into the name Shake-speare as the author's name originally appeared in the first published poems, in the sonnets and in a number of the quarto plays.  None of the names suggest the first syllable as being "shake" as in shaking an object; or "spear" as in the weapon to be thrown.

So what's the point?  The point is that in no written document was William Shaksper's name ever associated with the name Shakespeare as used by the author of the plays.


The family name of Shaksper was not derived from the idea of a spear shaken.  In fact it derives from the French names "Jacques" and "Pierre" being joined into the family name "Jacquespierre" which, over the centuries, became "Shaksper".  If you repeat the name "Jacquespierre" fast, using the French pronunciation, you'll notice it sounds like "Shaksper".

Many people believe that the the plays of Shakespeare were not written by William Shaksper of Stratford.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Prostrate Cancer tests and fate

MSNBC.  May 23, 2012


One in a thousand helped.

A top panel of U.S. medical experts (the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force) has concluded that no man of any age should routinely be screened for prostate cancer using the popular PSA test.  They gave the prostate-specific antigen test a grade of D, saying that the risks of population-wide screening outweigh the benefits.

The panel said that there was convincing evidence that the number of men who avoid dying of prostate cancer because of screening after 10 to 14 years was very small.  Citing large epidemiological studies from both Europe and the United States, they said that the benefits of PSA screening and early treatment amounted to less than one prostate cancer death avoided for every 1,000 men screened.


Harms of unnecessary preemptive treatment.

The test, which measures a protein in the blood, does not diagnose cancer.  It looks for a particular sign that cancer may be present.  The surgery that follows a positive test includes radiation, chemotherapy and hormone deprivation.

The test often results in false positives.  It can’t tell how aggressive or benign a cancer may be so that doctors are often in the dark about whether the tumor requires treatment.  Erring on the side of caution, most men with positive PSA tests are biopsied and, if cancer is found, treated.  The result is that many men are being subjected to the harms of treatment and overtreatment for something that would never have become a problem.

Typical side effects of treatment include impotence, incontinence, even death.


The other side of the argument:

Retired University of Washington professor Jim Kiefert of Olympia, Wash. said of the task force,
“They do not give a damn about you.  They use population statistics to justify not giving PSA tests. They forget about people at the other end of the Bell curve."  His first PSA test at 50 led to a diagnosis of metastatic prostate cancer.  He has waged a battle against the cancer ever since, including surgery, radiation, and hormone deprivation therapies and he says “I wish I could have gotten a PSA test at 40 or 45 and gotten that cancer before it escaped the gland”.


Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, defends the panel’s decision:

He says: 

"Just about every man who undergoes treatment after a PSA test will say that the test saved his life, though often he would have been just fine had the cancer never been detected and treated.”.......


......... Like the traveller in classical times who built a monument to the gods to honor them for saving him from drowning after a shipwreck, and who was asked where were the monuments to all those through history who had not been saved.


Agitation to continue testing is driven, at least in part, by financial incentives - makers of drugs, PSA tests, and doctors who prefer that the whole nation be composed of people who think they are sick.

Medicare and private insurers could use the conclusion to justify ending reimbursements for the tests.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Set during World War I, the film Beneath Hill 60 tells the story of the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company’s effort to mine beneath a German bunker and create a massive explosion to aid the advance of British troops.


A band of Australian soldiers is setting off across no-man's-land to take out an enemy bunker.  One of them who has had more experience of this sort of night attack gives the following advice:

If an enemy flare goes off in the night sky, lighting up the ground for a few seconds, the soldiers should 'freeze' in place and not dive to the ground since the enemy machine gunners would react only to movement.  This counter intuitive advice requires considerable courage because diving for cover is the instinctive reaction.  It also demands great trust in your fellow soldiers since it would only need one of the band to dive and the remaining standing soldiers would be cut down by the machine gun fire.

Secondly, when the flare goes off they should close one eye so that when the light of the flare has died they would be able to see in the night with the other eye, and not be temporarily blinded in both.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Fast Guns and Wyatt Earp


In the Old West cowboys wore their guns on their hips, not low-slung on their thighs. That was a Hollywood invention designed to enable fast-draws and trick shooting.  After World War II, the U.S. military adopted the thigh holster - life imitating art.  The screenwriters fell in with this Hollywood fad with dialogue to match - "faster than greased lightning", and The Fastest Gun Alive Alive, the title of a Glenn Ford movie in which the eponymous lead character proves just how fast he is by having someone hold a beer glass a couple of feet above the ground and then drawing and shooting the glass after it is dropped and before it hits the ground.

To see modern day fast draw check out this YouTube clip, Fastest Shooter in the World


The book, Frontier Marshall about the life of Wyatt Earp, ghost written by Stuart M. Lake, was published in 1931.

Frontier Marshal was so popular it became the most-read book, aside from the Bible, by U.S. troops during World War II.

The 1955 television series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp was based on the book and made Lake into one of the first television moguls.

In the Gary Cooper movie, The Westerner,  Stuart Lake is credited as story creator - but not as screenwriter.


The following is a description of Earp from the San Francisco Newsletter and California Advertiser, April 2, 1892:

'He is fully six feet tall, but of a light build, a blonde complexion and the possessor of a drooping blonde mustache, and a cold grey eye.  He drinks lemonade.  All in all, Earp is as mild a mannered man as ever scuttled ship or cut a throat.'

Wyatt was arrested for claim-jumping in the Searles Valley north of San Bernardino.  Federal Receiver Austin and three armed men came into the camp and ordered the 'claim jumpers' to leave.  Wyatt Earp stepped forward and snatched a rifle from one of the Austin men and then faced Austin's revolver... Then Earp retreated to a hut and came back with a rifle ready for action. Rasor, an engineer who witnessed this, said of it, "It was the most nervy thing, Earp's act, that I ever saw".

(The Potash Wars commenced shortly after the arrest.  Be patient. The link takes a few seconds to download.  It talks about Wyatt Earp and the Potash Wars with fascinating old photos.)

Here's the story as told by the other side:

"Before I got very far a tall man with iron grey hair and a mustache pushed his way to the front and in a loud voice demanded why I had come into their camp with armed men.  At the same time he grabbed hold of my shotgun held by the boy on my left and attempted to take it away from him.  At this attack on us I drew an automatic and ordered him to let go.  He did so and then ran to a building nearby saying "I'll fix you."  Before he could secure a rifle, however, the cooler-headed members of the party surrounded him and calmed him down."

Court records from 1916 state that Wyatt was acting on the request of LAPD Commissioner Tom Lewis.

Wyatt Earp is on the left.


Towards the end of his life Wyatt Earp moved to Hollywood.

He became an unpaid film consultant for several silent cowboy movies.  On the set of one movie, he met Marion Morrison (who later became famous under the assumed name of John Wayne).  Morrison served Earp coffee on the sets, and later told Hugh O'Brian, who played Earp in the TV series that he based his image of Western lawmen on his conversations with Earp.

John Wayne became Wyatt Earp, adapting the way Wyatt walked, and the way Wyatt talked — slowly, enunciating every word. Wyatt Earp had a voice like a foghorn.

Wyatt was  an extra in a crowd scene of the 1916 Douglas Fairbanks feature, 'The Half Breed'.
If anyone can find this scene, please submit an image to this blog.


Wyatt apparently wrote a movie script.  The following paragraph is from a letter to the film star, (and Wyatt's good friend), William S. Hart, dated Nov. 18, 1927:

'I have just received word that the script which I am having written will be ready in a short time.  As soon as I receive the same, I will immediately forward it to you as I am very anxious to get your judgment on it.  I know there is not one better qualified to pass upon it than yourself.  I am in hopes that the material in the script will be available for your use.'
"I am sure that if the story were exploited on the screen by you, it would do much towards setting me right before the public which has always been fed up with lies about me."

He died bitter, believing that his reputation was tarnished.  He did not live to see how kind history would be toward him; and could never have imagined the legend he would become.

In Kevin Costner's movie, Wyatt Earp single-handedly backs down a lynch mob that wants to break into Wyatt's jail to drag out and hang a prisoner.  Years later on ferry to Alaska, at the end of the movie, Wyatt says, "Many people say it didn't happen that way."  And right there we see the bitterness of Wyatt's later years.


So what does Wyatt Earp, who was the real article, have to say on the subject of fanning your gun or shooting from the hip as depicted in the Hollywood westerns?

The following Popthems are from the book 'Frontier Marshall' in Wyatt's own words:

The most important lesson I learned was that the winner of a gunplay usually was the man who took his time.  The second was that, if I hoped to live long on the frontier, I would shun flashy trick-shooting -- grandstand play -- as I would poison.


Take your time -- in a hurry

When I say that I learned to take my time in a gunfight, I do not wish to be misunderstood, for the time to be taken was only that split fraction of a second that means the difference between deadly accuracy with a sixgun and a miss.

Perhaps I can best describe such time taking as going into action with the greatest speed of which a man's muscles are capable, but mentally unflustered by an urge to hurry or the need for complicated nervous and muscular actions which trick-shooting involves.

Mentally deliberate, but muscularly faster than thought.


In all my life as a frontier police officer, I did not know a really proficient gunfighter who had anything but contempt for the gun-fanner, or the man who literally shot from the hip

A skillful gun-fanner could fire five shots from a forty-five so rapidly that the individual reports were indistinguishable, but what could happen to him in a gunfight was pretty close to murder. (Today we would use the term 'suicide')


(Wild Bill was a trick shooter - but not when he got down to the serious business of a gun fight.)

Hickok knew all the fancy tricks and was as good as the best at that sort of gunplay, but when he had serious business at hand, a man to get, the acid test of marksmanship, I doubt if he employed them.  At least, he told me that he did not.  I have seen him in action and I never saw him fan a gun, shoot from the hip, or try to fire two pistols simultaneously.  Neither have I ever heard a reliable old-timer tell of any trick-shooting employed by Hickok when fast straight-shooting meant life or death.


From personal experience and numerous six-gun battles which I witnessed, I can only support the opinion advanced by the men who gave me my most valuable instruction in fast and accurate shooting, which was that the gun-fanner and hip-shooter stood small chance to live against a man who, as old Jack Gallagher always put it, took his time and pulled the trigger once.


That two-gun business is another matter that can stand some truth before the last of the old-time gunfighters has gone on.  They wore two guns, most of six-gun toters did, and when the time came for action went after them with both hands.  But they didn't shoot them that way

Primarily, two guns made the threat of something in reserve; they were useful as a display of force when a lone man stacked up against a crowd.  Some men could shoot equally well with either hand, and in a gunplay might alternate their fire; others exhausted the loads from the gun on the right, or the left, as the case might be, then shifted the reserve weapon to the natural shooting hand if that was necessary and possible.  Such a move -- the border shift -- could be made faster than the eye could follow a top-notch gun-thrower, but if the man was as good as that, the shift would seldom be required.

Whenever you see a picture of some two-gun man in action with both weapons held closely against his hips and both spitting smoke together, you can put it down that you are looking at the picture of a fool, or a fake.  I remember quite a few of these so-called two-gun men who tried to operate everything at once, but like the fanners, they didn't last long in proficient company.


In the days of which I am talking, among men whom I have in mind, when a man went after his guns, he did so with a single, serious purpose.  There was no such thing as a bluff.

When a gunfighter reached for his forty-five, every faculty he owned was keyed to shooting as speedily and as accurately as possible, to making his first shot the last of the fight. He just had to think of his gun solely as something with which to kill another before he himself could be killed.

The possiblity of intimidating an antagonist was remote, although the 'drop' was thoroughly respected, and few men in the West would draw against it. I have seen men so fast and so sure of themselves that they did go after their guns while men who intended to kill them had them covered, and what is more win out in the play. They were rare.

It is safe to say, for all general purposes, that anything in gunfighting that smacked of show-off or bluff was left to braggarts who were ignorant or careless of their lives.


(concerning the Hollywood notion of 'notching' kills on the handle of the gun)

I might add that I never knew a man who amounted to anything to notch his gun with 'credits,' as they were called, for men he had killed.  Outlaws, gunmen of the wild crew who killed for the sake of brag, followed this custom.

I have worked with most of the noted peace officers -- Hickok, Billy Tilghman, Pat Sugher, Bat Masterson, Charlie Basset, and others of like caliber -- and have handled their weapons many times, but never knew one of them to carry a notched gun.


Two other points about the old-time method of using six-guns most effectively that do not seem to be generally known.

One is that the gun was not cocked with the ball of the thumb.  As his gun was jerked into action, the old-timer closed the whole joint of his thumb over the hammer and the gun was cocked in that fashion.  The soft flesh of the thumb ball might slip if a man's hands were moist, and a slip was not to be chanced if humanly avoidable.

On the second point, I have often been asked why five shots without reloading were all a top-notch gunfighter fired, when his guns  were chambered for six cartridges.  The answer is, merely, safety.  To ensure against accidental discharge of the gun while in the holster, due to hair-trigger adjustment, the hammer rested upon an empty chamber.  The number of cartridges a man carried in his six-gun may be taken as an indication of a man's rank with the gunfighters of the old school.  Practiced gun-wielders had too much respect for their weapons to take unnecessary chances with them; it was only with tyros (novices) and would-be's ('wanna-be's of today) that you heard of accidental discharges or 'didn't- know-it-was-loaded' injuries. 


More images of Wyatt Earp can be seen at elizabethguthrie.  It's worth a look!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Clowns and Hamlet - a mystery resolved


There's this scene in Hamlet that we know is supposed to be funny because it's got two clowns talking, but it's not that funny.  Apparently, we must be  missing something because Shakespeare's audience found it funny.  So what are we missing?

Here's the scene.  Act 5,  Scene 1.  Ophelia has drowned herself.

Enter two Clowns, with spades, & c

First Clown

          Is she to be buried in Christian burial that
          willfully seeks her own salvation?

Second Clown

           I tell thee she is: and therefore make her grave
           straight: the crowner (coroner) hath sat on her, and finds it 
           Christian burial.

First Clown

           How can that be, unless she drowned herself in her
           own defence?

Second Clown

            Why, 'tis found so.

First Clown

           It must be 'se offendendo'; it cannot be else.  For
           here lies the point: if I drown myself wittingly,
           it argues an act: and an act hath three branches: it 
           is, to act, to do, to perform: argal, she drowned 
           herself wittingly.

Second Clown

           Nay, but hear you, goodman delver, --

First Clown

          Give me leave.  Here lies the water; here
          stands the man; good; if the man go to this water,
          and drown himself, it is, will he, nill he, he
          goes, -- mark you; but if the water come to him
          and drown him, he drowns not himself; argal, he
          that is not guilty of his own death shortens not his own life.

Second Clown

          But is this law?

First Clown

          Ay, marry, is't; crowner's quest law.

Second Clown

          Will you ha' the truth on't?  If this had not been
           a gentle woman, she should have been buried out o'
           Christian burial.


So what's happening here? -

Ophelia has committed suicide and the clowns are discussing whether she is entitled to a Christian burial.

The first joke is the suggestion that it wasn't suicide if she killed herself in self defense - not much of a defense if you kill yourself to prevent yourself being killed.

Next, the same clown argues that an act has three branches; namely to act, to do and to perform, which by the way are synonyms, therefore not three branches but one branch; (that's the next joke.)

He then argues that, because an act has these three branches, Ophelia acted wilfully and is therefore guilty of  suicide.  It makes no sense.......unless you know the rest of the story.

His conclusion is that a man who "is not guilty of his own death shortens not his own life" - which is an absurd tautology that makes no sense.


So what's the rest of the story?

The dialogue comes straight out of the law case Hales v. Petit, recorded by Plowden in 1571, (which is some thirty-five years before Hamlet was written.) 

In the reign of Mary Tudor Sir James Hale drowned himself. The verdict was suicide.  His body was to be buried in a crossroads and his lands to be forfeited to the Crown.  His wife Margaret would get nothing. The estate was given by the crown to Cyriac Petit.  Margaret Hale sued to recover the lands from Petit.


The case hinged on this question - is the crime of suicide committed when James Hales is still alive, in other words when he's falling through the air into the water but not yet dead (in which case he would forfeit his estate), or does it become suicide only after he has died (which would mean his wife, by right of survivorship would inherit his estate at the instant of his death, precluding any forfeiture.)


Council for the wife argued that the felony of suicide consists of two parts; first the cause of death (throwing himself into the water), and secondly the death that ensues.  Until both are completed there is no felony, and by the time death has completed the felony, the right of survivorship shall have kicked in.


Council for Petit argued that "The act consists of three parts" - remember the clowns. First there is the conceiving the notion to kill yourself, secondly the decision to proceed, and thirdly the execution of what the mind has resolved to do.   Throwing himself into the water was the felonious act and the death "but a sequel thereof."


The Lord Chief Justice gave judgement for Petit:

        "Sir James Hales was dead, and how came he to his death? by drowning; and who drowned him?  Sir James Hales; and when did he drown him? in his lifetime.  So that Sir James Hales, being alive, caused Sir James Hales to die; and the act of the living man was the death of the dead man.  He therefore committed felony in his lifetime, although there was no possibility of the forfeiture being found in his lifetime, for until his death there was no cause for forfeiture."

Mrs Hales' brave but hopeless battle still resonates after all these centuries; a very strong-willed woman, but one can't help but wonder if she was not a contributing cause of her husband throwing himself into the water.


Plowden's Reports, in which the case of Hales v. Petit was recorded, were not written in English.  They were written in Norman French, or law French, an uncommon technical language restricted to lawyers, judges, and law students.  They were not translated in Shakespeare's time.  So this passage possibly constitutes evidence that Shakespeare read Law French, as students of law would have had to.  Of course he could have had friends who were proficient in Law French, so we can't be too free with our conclusions.

On the other hand the case of 'Hale v. Petit' may have been well known to the the populace at large due to its iconic nature.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Julius Caesar hunts for terrorists

Bust of Caesar sculpted during his lifetime

During Julius Caesar's conquest of Gaul in 58-52 B.C., he divided his army into three parts in preparation for winter and sent them to their respective winter quarters.  One of the three was stationed in the territory of the Eburones whose leader was Ambiorix.  A rebellion occured and Ambiorix offered the Roman forces stationed in his territory free passage through his lands to join up with the rest of the Roman army.  Disregarding Caesar's orders the Roman commander led his troops out of the relative safety of their fortifications.  Ambiorix attacked them and all but a few were massacred.
After he had succeeded in putting down the rebellion Caesar instigated a massive manhunt for Ambiorix.

The following is a quotation from Caesar's personal writings describing the manhunt (from the Loeb Classical Library translation.):

"And with so large a force of cavalry scattered in every direction, it often came to pass that prisoners when taken were gazing about for Ambiorix, whom they had just seen in flight, and even insisting that he had not quite gone out of sight.  The hope now offered them of catching the fugitive inspired immense exertion, and the thought that they would win the highest favor with Caeser made their zeal almost more than human.  Yet always it seemed that they had failed by a little to win supreme success, while Ambiorix stole away from covert and glade and, hidden by night, made for other districts or territories, with no more escort of horsemen than four troopers, to whom alone he durst entrust his life."
6000 Roman soldiers were massacred, and yet the most powerful army in the world was unable to catch one man.  Shades of the hunt for Bin Laden?

Caesar does not mention Ambiorix again in his Commentaries on the Gallic War.  We can assume that Ambiorix was never captured.  Was he a terrorist or a freedom fighter?

ref: Caesar's Gallic War Book Six