Example: "Kansas law prohibits shooting rabbits from a motorboat."
Now why does Kansas have that law (assuming it's true)? Is it an interpretation of another law, like "Kansas law prohibits the transport of weapons across waterlines," which can be extended to mean, you can't shoot rabbits from a boat because that's transporting a firearm across water? Or is it a hunting law that specifically prohibts the shooting of rabbits from a motorboat?
If it's the latter, we must ask ourselves why this law came to effect? I always wonder if it's related to an incident, like some guy shooting rabbits from a boat and causing problems at one time, and a judge said, "There ought to be a law against this," and everyone agreed on Bill #438 or something, which had a line saying, "The hunting of rodent game from the vanatge point of the water in a motorized vehicle shall be forbidden," or something.
Then a lawyer can spin this ruling. "Your honor, my client was shooting rabbits from a rowboat, with no attached motor, and thus is not liable for prosecution." Maybe someone will write an ammendment stating that the shooting of rabbits from any water vehicle or vantagepoint on the water, shall also be forbidden. That's why we have so many laws, not because we are telling people what to do so much, but we're trying to define things down to the basic root.
"What is theft?" is a good one. I am sure we could spend weeks arguing that (please don't, this is not an invitation, merely an illustration of how law can be slanted). Law fasciantes me in this way, because we (as citizens) have to apply hard core definitions (what is stealing) to essentially abstract moral concepts (stealing is wrong). Even Hammurabi (old Babylonian King from around 1780 BCE) knew this. That's why we have juries, because you can't think of every instance of every case. You just have guage it based on the largely undefined, but believed, social values of the time.
That's why Clinton wanting to know what "is" meant could be valid, if not ironic.
The actual code of Hammurabi.
This was the first time historians think anyone ever put laws into writing. Some of them seem very sensible, others are... a bit vegneful. It's where "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" comes from (Laws 196 and 200, respectively).
Then there's #25: "If fire break out in a house, and some one who comes to put it out cast his eye upon the property of the owner of the house, and take the property of the master of the house, he shall be thrown into that self-same fire."
Ezikiel: Elijah! Thou hast stolen mine bucket!
Elijah: Nay! I useth it to quench the flames on thine property!
Ezikiel: Then why hast thou not returned self-same bucket?
Elijah: Perhaps because the fire still burns, mine neighbor.
Ezikiel: Thy excuses are as lame as a strikened mule!
Elijah: That self-same mule hath burned in the fire, Ezikiel.
Ezikiel: Then thou shalt burn with it!
Elijah: The richness of my irony thickens! [crackle crackle]
[The parts of the Babylonian citizens have apparently been played by characters with Amish names and badly-mangled Pilgrim accents in the style of a 1790's pantomine comedy for some reason]
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000362.html