10 Things I Didn’t know about P.T. Barnum (1810-1891)

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Contemporary cartoon of Barnum as a “humbug”

Sure, we all know him as a great promoter, showman and founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus (at age 60) but here are some things I didn’t know.

  1. He created America’s first aquarium.
  2. He was a Republican member of the Connecticut legislature and the mayor of Bridgeport.
  3. He started Bridgeport Hospital.
  4. He almost bought the birth home of William Shakespeare.
  5. He created the concept of matinées to encourage families to come to the theater and to lessen the fear of crime.
  6. A self-proclaimed humbug himself, he offered $500 to any medium who could prove power to communicate with the dead in his book Humbugs of the World.
  7. He sponsored a law against contraception that was not overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court until 1965.
  8. He made significant contributions to Tufts University, including Jumbo the circus elephant.
  9. He never actually said “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
  10. He made arrangements to read his own obituary shortly before he died.

Source: Wikipedia, “P.T. Barnum”

assault and battery

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Does American society really need laws against sexual harassment?  What about the Violence Against Women Act?  It seems that laws written specifically for women as a political interest group are not only unnecessary but unjust.  Consider the Britannica’s definition of the long-recognized crimes of assault and battery:

Assault is an attempt to commit battery or an act that causes another reasonably to fear an imminent battery.

Battery is the unlawful application of physical force to another.  No minimum degree of force is necessary to constitute a battery. A mere touch is sufficient. Force need not be applied directly.  It is battery if one strikes a person’s cane or horse, administers poison or drugs, or communicates a disease.

These concepts are found in most legal systems and together with manslaughter and murder are designed to protect the individual from rude and undesired physical contact or force and from the fear or threat thereof.

I am not a lawyer, but it seems that physical forms of sexual harassment (e.g., inappropriate touching) are already covered under battery laws.  Likewise, any form of violence against a woman should also be covered under existing laws.  So why do we have redundant laws specifically addressing women?

The simple answer is political pandering to a particular bloc of voters.  I think it is a dangerous trend for the government and the law to start singling out particular demographic groups for favorable treatment.  If violence against a woman receives a heavier punishment than violence against a man (which I suspect is the case although I haven’t looked it up), then whatever happened to the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution?

Another thing that is a dangerous trend is the increasing federalization of crimes, as illustrated by the Violence Against Women Act.  I believe (but have not verified) that for most of our history, most felonies were handled at the state level, including rape and murder.  Now, however, there is a longer and longer list of felonies that the federal government gets involved in.  If a felony is committed in California, the people of California, with greater knowledge of local circumstances, are far more likely to administer justice than people thousands of miles away in D.C.

Unfortunately for advocates of freedom, few politicians would be willing to vote against a bill called The Violence Against Women Act.  Who wants to be accused of favoring violence against women while trying to squeeze abstract arguments about justice into sound bites?  It would be easier to squeeze Kim Kardashian into a swimsuit.

What about sexual harassment that is verbal only? I think the right to speak our minds freely, even if we are offensive, should be non-negotiable.  After all, what has been the greater threat historically, hurt feelings or oppressive governments that force silent obedience?  Isn’t it obvious what the priority should be?

(Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Susanna_molested_by_the_elders_Wellcome_L0034930.jpg)