Justice Delayed

This is the tenth in a series on The Harvard Classics; the rest of the posts are available here. Volume X: Wealth of Nations

A popular measure of the quality of an individual judge or an entire court system is the speed with which cases are disposed. Where accused criminals must wait in jail for extended periods before their cases are tried, or where civil litigants cannot get finality on their claims in a timely manner, there is a problem. In the words of William Penn, “to delay Justice is Injustice.” And “delays have been more injurious than direct Injustice.”

Adam Smith, in his Wealth of Nations, even recommended a system whereby judges would be paid only at the conclusion of each case. “By not being paid to the judges till the process was determined, [the judges’ fees] might be some incitement to the diligence of the court in examining and deciding it.”

But there is more to an efficient judiciary than disposition rate. At the extreme, a judge could summarily convict every accused without taking the time to consider the evidence. That would be a very timely method, but not a just one.

To be sure, courts should be accessible and efficient and speedy in their distribution of justice. But to judge a court entirely, or even primarily, on its disposition rate is to miss the mark. Some cases require a long, deliberate consideration. Other cases benefit from the parties having ample time to develop their theories and evidence, and to explore a negotiated resolution. Justice delayed is justice denied, but justice rushed is no justice either.

Beer of the week: Home Grown American Lager – This is a tasty brew from Victory Brewing Company in Pennsylvania. It is brewed with six varieties of hops, and they impart plenty of juicy flavor. This pours pale and cloudy lager is quite nice.

Reading of the week: Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith – Wealth of Nations is best known as a glowing recommendation of free markets. But this excerpt discusses a couple of services that, Smith argues, must be provided by the sovereign rather than the market: national defense and courts of justice.

Question of the week: Smith goes on to point out that when attorneys are paid by the page for their legal writing, they tend to “have contrived to multiply words beyond all necessity, to the corruption of the law language.” What is the best method for determining attorney’s fees?

Lunar New Year’s Resolution

This is the first in a series on The Harvard Classics; the rest of the posts will be available here. Volume I: Franklin, Woolman, Penn

Happy (Lunar) New Year! For those of us who are bad at planning ahead and/or following through on goals, Lunar New Year presents an excellent second chance at a meaningful resolution. Did you forget to pick a New Year’s resolution before midnight? Have you already thrown in the towel on your resolution a month and a half into 2018? Well Lunar New Year is here, so give that resolution another go.

Nearly two years ago, I received a set of The Harvard Classics as a gift. I have not, however, made much use of them since. To be sure, several readings on this blog have come from that set, but there are certainly volumes that I haven’t even cracked. So my (Lunar) resolution for the blog is to take a reading from each volume of The Harvard Classics for the rest of the year. Because a Lunar Year is just over 50 weeks, and The Harvard Classics has 51 volumes, I should finish just in time to pick a New New Year’s Resolution.

It just so happens that the first volume of The Harvard Classics has already provided readings for this blog: from William Penn’s Some Fruits of Solitude and Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. The only other work in Volume I is The Journal of John Woolman, an excellent place to begin thinking about how to make the most of a new year. Woolman was obsessed (that just may be the best word for it) with the simplicity and cleanliness. As a Quaker, simplicity was not just a personal goal, but a tenant of his faith. He refused to eat or drink from silver vessels, a decision precipitated by a fever dream in which he saw slaves working in a mine, cursing the name of Christ and the greedy Christians who would enslave their fellow men and put them to such hard labor for the sake of something as unnecessary as gems or precious metals. He also eschewed dyed fabric, which he also regarded as a superfluity. Although that level of simplicity may seem a bit extreme, he reasoned that “if the value of dye-stuffs, and expense of dyeing, and the damage done to cloth, were all added together, and that cost applied to keeping all sweet and clean, how much more would real cleanliness prevail.” Why should we clutter our lives with unnecessary objects and expenses, when we could put our energies toward living a more tidy and ordered life?

So here’s to a simpler, cleaner New Year!

Beer of the week: Fat Alberta – Woolman would not have much good for a beer this complex.  This is an imperial stout from Throwback Brewery with peanuts and cocoa. With that in mind, I was expecting something more like a chocolate peanut butter cup. But peanut butter cup flavored it is not. Fat Alberta pours with big bubbles and lots of sticky head. On the nose is dark chocolate, but there is not a super strong aroma. The first sip is quite bitter, like eating baking cocoa. The dark malt flavors are very strong, which covers the 10% alcohol. After the initial shock of having a bitter rather than sweet beer, I noticed a bit of coffee and a hint of peanut (or was that the power of suggestion from the label?) The alcohol makes itself known in the end and the bitter cocoa hangs on the back of the throat.

Reading of the week: The Journal of John Woolman – This reading is actually the very last entry in Woolman’s journal, written just a month before his death of smallpox. He was, at the time, touring England, visiting Quaker meeting-houses throughout the country and preaching.

Question for the week: Now that you are aware of your second chance at a New Year’s Resolution, what do you resolve?

“Something Specific”

Today, I gave 31 cents to a beggar. He asked for 50 cents, but all I had was 31. He said that he intended to purchase a can of Miller Genuine Draft. “Sometimes” he informed me, “you just get a craving for something specific.”

I am not bragging about giving such a small amount of money toward an arguably questionable cause. But it reminded me of a brief interaction with a former teacher several years ago. When she asked what I was up to, I replied that I was engaged in “constant self-improvement.” The answer was only mostly a joke.

It is remarkably easy to be a better man tomorrow than I was today, if I put my mind to it. Today I gave 31 cents to a guy who was down on his luck and wanted a cold beer. Tomorrow, I could cut a check to a much less dubious charity such as 2 Seconds or Less, that works with African schools to build nutritional gardens for student lunches. Or something like that. But being better tomorrow than today doesn’t have to be in the form of charity.

I didn’t make the bed today. I didn’t wash the dishes immediately after lunch. There are hundreds and thousands of ways that I could have lived today better. The key is recognizing these shortcomings and making the effort to be a better man tomorrow. So tomorrow I will make the bed and I will do the dishes as soon as I finish my meals. And if a man asks me for change so that he can by a can of beer, I will offer to buy him a pint myself. Something better than MGD. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Beer of the week: Miller Fortune – Well this is no MGD, that’s for sure. Supposedly, Miller designed this beer to try to capture some market share back from liquor companies that have been targeting “millennials”. Hence the higher than usual alcohol (6.9%) and the suggestion that the beer to be served in a rocks glass. The overall idea is to make a classier beer. If I were in charge, I’d have made “taste” a priority, but what do I know? Fortune comes in a fancy black glass bottle and pours a pretty, crystal clear, amber color. After that, things go down hill. The smell is unpleasant and reminds me of ice beer, which may be related to the higher alcohol content. Aside from the taste of corn, I am also reminded of cheap malt liquor. (I suppose that “cheap malt liquor” is redundant.) It certainly has more flavor than I would usually expect from anything marketed under the Miller name, but in this case I don’t think that is a good thing. There is a very slight upside; the use of the rocks glass supposedly lets the beer warm in the drinker’s hand. As the beer warms, there appears a slight hint of caramel at the end of each sip. It doesn’t make the beer to good by any means, but it does show some complexity. At least they deserve some credit for trying, right?

Reading of the week: Some Fruits of Solitude: Censoriousness by William Penn – A problem with self-improvement is that it can be difficult to see one’s own faults for what they are. “And nothing shews our Weakness more than to be so sharp-sighted at spying other Men’s Faults, and so purblind about our own.” Penn suggests being more charitable is a good place to start self-improvement because it gives us a more sympathetic view of the faults of others.

Question of the week: How can you be better today than you were yesterday?

St. Martin, patron of conscientious objectors, pray for us!

What is the purpose of Veterans Day? Most would claim that the purpose of the holiday is to thank the brave men and women who have served in the United States’ Armed Forces. That seems natural enough. The name of the holiday is Veterans Day, after all. But that name is not as old as the holiday itself, neither did the original purpose change with the name.

The date of the holiday, as everybody knows, was chosen to commemorate the end of hostilities during the First World War. It was on the 11th of November that the Armistice took effect, hence, the name of the holiday was originally called Armistice Day. (In parts of Europe, this name still prevails.) When Congress created the national holiday, the stated purpose was not to thank those who had participated in the late war; the holiday was dedicated to world peace. Armistice Day was about friendly relations with all peoples, not about celebrating those who fight wars. When the name was changed from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, that was the only official change: the substitution of the word Veterans for the word Armistice. The bit about world peace has been largely ignored since then, but that is still the official meaning of the holiday. Those words were not changed.

As it happens, November 11 is also the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. This is a remarkable coincidence because St. Martin was both a veteran and a peace advocate. Raised in an army family, young Martin followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the army himself. However, on the eve of a battle Martin concluded that his faith was incompatible with military service. There was no way for Martin to morally justify acting as an agent of war and death. He refused to participate in the war, so he was jailed. Lest we think that Martin was just a coward, it should be noted that Martin volunteered to appear before the enemy unarmed to show that his decision not to fight was based on faith rather than fear.

After being freed and discharged from the service, Martin went around preaching peace and charity. And what two virtues could be more appropriate for a veteran to exhort? Who could love peace so much as somebody who has seen war? Who could be so openhanded as one who has seen people lose everything?

November 11 is a day to remember that bravery and honor and duty are all virtues, but only so long as they are directed toward peace. Long before the weapons of the First World War was even conceivable, November 11th has been St. Martin’s day: a day for peace and charity. And roast goose. And beer.

Oh, and I almost forgot, November 11 is also Pepero Day in Korea. Pepero is a brand of long, skinny cookie dipped in chocolate. On Pepero Day, people give Pepero to people. On the one hand, it is an example of shameless marketing. On the other hand, Pepero Day is not a celebration of war and violence. And what do the Koreans care about the First World War, anyway?



Beer of the week: Maxmilian Tmavý Speciál – This special dark lager comes from a brewery in the small Moravian town of Kroměříž. They had a stand at the St. Martin’s Day festival in Brno, so I had some of their beer with the traditional St. Martin’s Day goose. They made quite a combination. The beer has a thick, foamy head that lasts all the way to the bottom of the cup. The body is light and smooth. The roasted malt gives the beer the familiar tang of bitter cocoa and, although the beer is not especially smokey, there was a dryness in the finish that beckoned the next sip. A delicious holiday treat.

Reading of the week: A Key by William Penn – “This little treatise” was an attempt to clear up misconceptions (called “perversions”) about Quakers. I suspect that Quakers do not believe in the intercession of saints, so they wouldn’t pray to St. Martin. They might, however, hold him up as an example of one who was born again in the fire of baptism and a lover of peace. The paradigmatic American conscientious objectors, Penn writes that Quakers “are not fit for warriors with carnal weapons, because they believe their blessed Lord forbade the use of them to His followers.”

Question of the week: St. Martin is a patron to beggars (because of his famous charity) and geese (because they migrate on his feast day) and soldiers (because he had been one himself.) But why should St. Martin be a patron saint for soldiers even though he personally claimed that the life of a soldier is incompatible with the christian faith?