Thursday, June 28, 2012

Musings on Modern Feminism

Much has been written about this article since it appeared several weeks ago in The Atlantic.  It is a fascinating read.  Hopefully it will inspire honest discourse about these topics from men and women alike.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Unique Means Unique

The word “unique” means one of a kind*.  Something either is unique (one of a kind) or it is not.  There are no degrees of uniqueness.  Something can no more be “somewhat unique” than it can be “very unique.”  When people say “somewhat unique,” what they really mean is rare or infrequent.  When people say “very unique,” I have no idea what they mean, and I doubt they do either.

*Incidentally, for those wondering, the term "one of a kind" should be hypenated when it is being used as an adjective (called a hyphenated adjective).  For example, Erin is a one-of-a-kind friend. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

No (Pit) Bull

DeKalb County, Georgia has a zoning* ordinance regarding the keeping of household pets. Until recently, the ordinance defined the term "household pets" to specifically exclude, among other animals, pit bulls. The general public understood this ordinance to ban the ownership of pit bulls by any DeKalb County resident.**

The problem? The term "pit bull" was not defined anywhere in that ordinance or any other DeKalb County ordinance, and “pit bull” it not a recognized breed of dog. The term "pit bull" generally refers to American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and mixed dogs of those breeds.

Thus, because the term "pit bull" is not a recognized breed of dog and has no legal definition, DeKalb County was never able to enforce the ordinance.

Apparently every citation written for ownership of a pit bull later was dismissed because the DeKalb County courts found the ordinance was vague and, therefore, unenforceable.  In May 2012, DeKalb County finally removed the "pit bull" language from the zoning ordinance.  

This is just another example of how sloppy legal drafting led to a confusing and unenforceable law. As Albert Einstein noted, "Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law than passing laws which*** cannot be enforced."

*It remains unclear why this apparent attempt to ban the ownership of pit bulls was put into DeKalb County's zoning ordinances rather than, for example, its animal control ordinances.

**Whether it actually did so is questionable. A careful reading of this ordinance shows that it did not ban ownership of pit bulls. It simply excluded pit bulls from the definition of the term "household pets."

***See my post entitled "That Which Does Not Kill Us." This "which" should be a "that." No matter--the sentiment is well-taken.

Monday, June 11, 2012


For those who eagerly* have been awaiting the answers to my June 1, 2012 post, see below:

No one should trust companies that break laws.

Some people believe jails, which are often overcrowded, breed criminals.

Appeals that are granted before final disposition are interlocutory.

Firms that offer bonuses are desirable places to work.

United States District Courts, which cannot hear all cases, are courts of limited jurisdiction.

Trials that involve numerous parties take longer than two-party trials.

*More on this later.  Eager and anxious frequently are misued.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Worse Crimes Indeed

Ray Bradbury died this morning at his home in Los Angeles at the ripe old age of 91.  In reading various articles today about his life, I was struck by the fact that he always is described as a writer of science fiction, a classification I find highly inaccurate--Bradbury's works offer so much more than science fiction fantasy.   
Bradbury constantly encouraged us always to search for knowledge and never to allow ourselves to become comfortable in the belief that our own narrow understanding of the world offers anything close to the complete picture. Bradbury’s message was, I think, less about state censorship and more about the ways in which we voluntarily—even willingly—censor ourselves. His works are a reminder to never stop learning.

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”
-Ray Bradbury

Friday, June 1, 2012

That Which Doesn't Kill Us...

Many writers—even good writers—do not understand the difference between “that” and which.”  While generalizations are often dangerous, they are helpful in understanding when it is appropriate to use “that” rather than “which.”

Generally, “that” should be used before essential clauses and “which” should be used before nonessential clauses. 
Essential clauses, sometimes called restrictive clauses, are necessary in that the meaning of the sentence is dependent on the presence of the clause.  If the meaning of a sentence would change if the clause were removed, the clause is essential.   Conversely, nonessential clauses can be removed from a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence.  Nonessential clauses generally provide additional, descriptive information. 
Essential clauses generally are not surrounded by commas. 

Nonessential clauses generally are surrounded by commas.
For example:

Laws that are facially discriminatory are subject to strict scrutiny. 
“That are facially discriminatory” is an essential clause.  The sentence would not be true if the clause were removed because all laws are not subject to strict scrutiny.  Thus, “that” is the appropriate word.
Trials, which are costly, are rarer today than in years past.
“Which are costly” is a non-essential clause.  While the clause does help explain to the reader why cases are tried less frequently today than in the past, the clause is not essential.  If the clause were removed, the sentence would still make sense and be accurate.  
Insurers should avoid writing policies that are ambiguous.
Again, the clause “that are ambiguous” is essential.  Insurers should not avoid writing all policies, only those that are ambiguous.
The exterior of the Smith County courthouse, which was built in 1910, is beautiful.
“Which was built in 1910” is a non-essential clause.  The sentence is accurate when the clause is removed.  “Which,” therefore, is appropriate. 
This rule is not fool-proof, but it will provide you with the right answer the majority of the time.

I’m going to leave out all punctuation from the sentences below to avoid giving away the answers.  See if you can figure out whether “that” or “which” is appropriate.  I’ll post the correct answers next time.

No one should trust companies that/which break laws.

Some people believe jails that/which are often overcrowded breed criminals.

Appeals that/which are granted before final disposition are interlocutory.

Firms that/which offer bonuses are desirable places to work.      

United States District Courts that/which cannot hear all cases are courts of limited jurisdiction.

Trials that/which involve numerous parties take longer than two-party trials.