Drinks With Dead People

Raise a glass to history.

Tag: Law Geekery (page 1 of 3)

Daylight Saving Time

Have a drink with: Daylight Saving Time
Spring forward, fall back.

Ask about: How do I change the clock in my car, again?

You may think you have it bad this week, with Daylight Saving Time going into effect: it’s hard to get going in the dark mornings, who knows which clocks you forgot to change, and if the news is to be believed, we get so collectively thrown out of whack by the annual shift in time that there is a nationwide uptick in everything from depression rates to car accidents.

The Sunshine Protection Act, introduced by Senator Marco Rubio in Congress for the second time, aims to get rid of the whole process once and for all by keeping the nation on Daylight Saving Time (which we entered last weekend by turning clocks ahead one hour) year-round. The proposal has been covered in the news extensively this week, with favorable public response.

It’s definitely among the nicer approaches that have historically been taken towards regulating time changes.

In Connecticut, we went ahead and made them criminal.

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Elias Howe

Have a drink with: Elias Howe
Adventures in sewing: now with cannibals!

Ask him about: patent trolls

Elias Howe

It’s kind of easy to knock Elias Howe, historically speaking. There is a statue of him in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he is claimed as a famous son despite the fact that he was born in Massachusetts; he is largely credited with inventing the sewing machine despite the fact that he sort of didn’t; and some biographies describe him as a hero of the Civil War despite the fact that he was a 40-year-old private.

But let’s cut the guy some slack, really. Because there’s a lot to love about Elias Howe – and not just that he was solid Daguerreotype Boyfriend material:

Elias Howe (Met Museum)

This is a guy who created the United States’ first patent war, all while insisting his creative inspiration came from a dream about being held captive by cannibals.

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Your Local Phrenologist

Have a drink with: Your Local Phrenologist

Lumps & bumps.
Ask him about: The 10-Year Challenge

Facial recognition technology is fun: particularly when you can log into your phone as an Animoji lion. But is it reliable, particularly when entrusted with decisions about security – and when profiling is a likely outcome? Suggestions that facial recognition technology can identify bad actors echoes the 19th century belief that phrenology could help identify criminals, and is woven through with the same social anxieties and pseudoscience. I’m over at the Washington Post’s Made by History site today digging into biometrics, phrenology and the problems with using biology to make decisions about criminal guilt, innocence or predisposition.

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Napoleon Sarony

Have a drink with: Napoleon Sarony
Work with me, darling.

Ask him about: Oscar Wilde, cover girl

Oscar Wilde #18

The author of an interview with the photographer Napoleon Sarony, published in the June 1895 edition of Decorator and Furnisher magazine, was clearly excited about getting to meet such a famous figure. In the style of the modern celebrity profile, with luxe asides about the subject’s choice in clothing, food or furniture, the writer gushes that Sarony’s apartment is lavishly decorated, stuffed with Rococo furniture, Latin American pottery, even an Egyptian mummy in its sarcophagus. Fat portfolios of photographs nod to Sarony’s profession, with images of “every known celebrity that has either been born or set foot upon American soil, as well as thousands of photographs of the rank and file of American Democracy.”

There is more than Sarony’s luxe eccentricity to mention, though: the article opens with a mention that the state legislature, under the thrall of Anthony Comstock’s anti-vice movement, was then entertaining the idea of a law to prohibit any representation of the nude human figure from going on display (and a catty aside that the law’s advocates were not simply seeking legislation, but “incidentally some notoriety for themselves.”).

Surely America’s most flamboyant celebrity photographer would have an opinion on the Comstock crusaders?

The key, he explained, was in portraying the nude as refined, innocent and graceful – free of seductive gazes or vulgar poses, presented as naturally as a flower in nature. Citing his own work, he explained: “I think my work proves that photography has aspects personal and individual apart from mechanical considerations. The camera and its appurtenances are, in the hands of an artist, the equivalent of the brush of the painter, the pencil of the draughtsman, and the needle of the etcher.”

He would know: the U.S. Supreme Court had told him so.

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John Tyler

Have a drink with: John Tyler
His Accidency

Ask him about: Sick of that song yet?

John Tyler

In the anonymous New York Times opinion essay about staff dissent within the White House published earlier this month, the author mentioned (among many other things) deliberation over use of the 25th Amendment in response to perceived presidential instability.

To be fair, this is not a new topic: the the 25th Amendment has been a common topic in shouts and whispers over the past two years as pundits consider whether its terms would or wouldn’t realistically attach to the current occupant of the White House.

The 25th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1967 in direct response to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the questions involved had well predated the 25th Amendment even if they had not been presented so directly: what to do when the Presidency changes fundamentally and irrevocably, due to death, removal, resignation, or disability?

Dealing with matters of succession and power transfer, the 25th was invoked in the 1970s around the Nixon administration, and is occasionally put into action when a sitting President is temporarily incapacitated (despite the promise of intrigue and drama inherent in the amendment, in reality it’s been used, for example, to cover the duration of each of the Bush presidents’ colonoscopies).

But for the first word on the matter of presidential succession, you’ll need to go back to 1840 and then-Vice President John Tyler, who set up a century-long American precedent on succession that boils down to a very Trumpy word: MINE.

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Fanny Fern

Have a drink with: Fanny Fern
Reform yourselves, gentlemen!

Ask her about: Menswear styles for fall

Fanny Fern & Lucy Van Pelt

“Fanny Fern” was the pen name of Sarah Willis Parton, a popular 19th century writer who advocated for women’s independence, kept her pencil sharp and her wit sharper, and insisted on being paid handsomely for her output: she got $100 a column, making her the highest-paid newspaper writer in the nation at the time, and was therefore criticized for “certain bold, masculine expressions that we should like to see chastened.”

Like fellow 1800s firebrand Delia Bacon, she was educated by Catherine Beecher and came into her adult fame and abilities after exercising considerable survival skills (her second husband was an abusive turd, and she overcame initial rejection and the opposition of her own family to get herself published).

Clear-eyed and honed sharp by the time she began publishing in her forties, Sarah was a dynamo, and did not shy from conspicuously poking at any hypocrisy or injustice that reared its head within her view.

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The Dissection Riots

Have a drink with: The Yale Medical School Class of 1824
Did you bring a shovel?

Ask them about: Buying your own school supplies

Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven

On a cold January morning almost 200 years ago in New Haven, Connecticut, someone came knocking on Jonathan Knight’s door. This itself was not necessarily unusual, as Knight had his thumb in many of the town’s proverbial pies: in addition to serving as a local doctor, he was also a professor at the young Medical Institution of Yale College. What was unusual, for the pre-breakfast slot on a Monday morning, was that the caller was a lawyer named General Kimberly, and that he was deeply concerned that some of the school’s medical students had apparently and emphatically not spent their Sunday at church.

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Daniel Sickles

Have a drink with: Daniel Sickles
Once I was the King of Spain

Ask him about: What’s the name of his other leg?

Daniel Sickles

Daniel Sickles sat weeping in a Washington, D.C. jail in 1859. The young, charismatic New York Congressman was an up-and-coming star in American politics – a favorite of President James Buchanan, in fact – and he was sitting in a dirty jail cell, heartbroken and awaiting trial for murdering his wife’s lover.

But before you feel too sorry for him, consider this: Daniel Sickles was a tool. How much of a tool?

He robbed the mail to take a political adversary’s advertisements out of circulation.

He was indicted for various financial schemes, including selling fake news subscriptions so he could drink the $1,000 profit at an upscale bar.

He took campaign contributions from his favorite prostitute, whom he also brought along as his companion and introduced to Queen Victoria while on assignment as James Buchanan’s secretary in London. While his pregnant wife was at home.

Whom he’d seduced, knocked up and married when she was sixteen.

After sleeping with her mother.

So his jailhouse blubbering is really a matter of the pot calling the kettle slutty, but you can thank Sickles for creating something we still use today: temporary insanity.

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George Logan

Have a drink with: George Logan
Officious intermeddler, or really nice Quaker?

Ask him about: Working vacation in Paris

George Logan

As the public becomes suddenly, intensely interested in any shred of previously-confined-to-textbooks arcana that might be dragged out of the law closet to explain or mitigate the current Presidential administration, this is a bizarrely entertaining time for legal scholars. (Faithless electors! Emoluments! The 25th Amendment!)

The latest of these, invoked around the supposition of Trump associates conducting conversation with Russian government officials, is the 1799 Logan Act. To be fair, this is not a new issue: the Logan Act has been dragged out as a possible remedy by nearly any disgruntled partisan over the years to object to the conduct of some politician or activist they don’t like (don’t believe me? Just ask Jimmy Carter, Obama, Trump, Jesse Jackson, Jane Fonda and Ross Perot).

The Logan Act has a simple message. In short: “Hey, you! Yes, you. Are you part of the executive branch? No? Then don’t negotiate with foreign governments.”
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Gilbert Stuart

Have a drink with: Gilbert Stuart
The one dollar bill.”

Ask him about: Chinese knockoffs

In August of this year, news outlets reported that the White House opened the door for the United States Trade Representative (an executive agency that advises on global trade policy) to conduct an investigation of potential Chinese intellectual property abuses. Citing the possibility of significant harm to American interests in the research-intensive technology sector, the President’s memorandum requested examination of laws, policies or practices that may be unreasonable or discriminatory and that may be harming American intellectual property rights, innovation, or technology development.”

China has long been regarded as particularly flexible in the intellectual property space, with one commentator calling local law and practice a “decades-long assault on the intellectual property of the United States and its allies.”

Nor is this a recent development, only relevant to modern topics like copycats, trade secret theft and brand piracy – Gilbert Stuart, who painted the iconic dollar-bill likeness of George Washington we spend every day (making him the most-reproduced artist ever) was the subject of something a lot of modern artists would find disappointingly familiar: unauthorized foreign knockoffs of his work. In 1802 Stuart, frustrated with an opportunist dealer shipping his works off to China for reproduction, went to Pennsylvania court to claim his copyright and seek an injunction.

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