Thursday, May 24, 2012

Moon Struck

The Senate usually moves with all the deliberative speed of a snail on Valium, so everybody perked up when all of a sudden it voted unanimously to strike the word "lunatic" from the federal code. Since the bill must now go to the House for final approval, it's still quite possible that lunacy will remain official in The Homeland for eons to come. After all, the Senate did its usual half-assed job by allowing "idiot" to remain on the books.

Sen. Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, introduced the bill last month after it came to his attention that calling mentally disabled people lunatics is insulting. It is also outdated by about a century. The British Parliament, after all, got rid of the term way back in 1930, replacing it with "person of unsound mind."
The word "lunatic" appears in the U.S. Code in Title 1, Chapter 1, which covers rules of construction. Chapter 1 holds that when determining the meaning of any law, "the words 'insane' and 'insane person' and 'lunatic' shall include every idiot, lunatic, insane person, and person non compos mentis."
According to Conrad's bill, it also appears in laws related to banking that deal with the authority to take receivership of estates.
Lunatic (derived from lunaticus) literally means "moonstruck" and despite its current political incorrectness, may actually have a basis in fact. From Wikipedia:

Philosophers such as Aristotle and Pliny the Elder argued that the full Moon induced insanity in susceptible individuals, believing that the brain, which is mostly water, must be affected by the Moon and its power over the tides, but the Moon's gravity is too slight to affect any single person, Even today, people insist that admissions to psychiatric hospitals, traffic accidents, homicides or suicides increase during a full Moon, although there is no scientific evidence to support such claims.
In a 1999 Journal of Affective Disorders article, a hypothesis was suggested that the phase of the moon may in the past have had an effect on individuals with bipolar disorder by providing light during nights which would otherwise have been dark, and affecting susceptible individuals through the well-known route of sleep deprivation. With the introduction of electric light, this effect would have gone away, as light would be available every night, explaining the negative results of modern studies. The authors suggested ways in which this hypothesis might be tested.
I confess, having worked in both the journalistic and medical fields, to somewhat believing the theory that the full moon brings out the craziness in people. Ask any emergency room nurse, cop, or beat reporter if they don't agree. It just seems that after any given night of mayhem, it turns out that the moon was full. But actually testing the hypothesis as suggested by the above experts? Sounds like something the CIA may already have done.


Zee said...

I'm no great fan of "political correctness" but, in this instance, I agree that the use of the word "lunatic" is insulting to people who are, through no fault of their own, "of unsound mind."

Still, I find use of the word "lunatic" to be perfectly appropriate when describing virtually all of our current crop of politicians.

Denis Neville said...

Senator Kent Conrad represents North Dakota, not Nebraska.

North Dakota is rapidly becoming the Saudi Arabia of the United States

Former North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan was a damned sight better than Kent Conrad.

The 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act:

"Today Congress voted to update the rules that have governed financial services since the Great Depression and replace them with a system for the 21st century. This historic legislation will better enable American companies to compete in the new economy." - Treasury Secretary Larry Summers

"I think we will look back in 10 years' time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930's is true in 2010." - Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota.

Dorgan’s dire warning that the decision to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 would someday wreak havoc on the nation's financial system came to pass.

On “moonstruck” people…

“I long ago abandoned the notion of a life without storms, or a world without dry and killing seasons. Life is too complicated, too constantly changing, to be anything but what it is. And I am, by nature, too mercurial to be anything but deeply wary of the grave unnaturalness involved in any attempt to exert too much control over essentially uncontrollable forces. There will always be propelling, disturbing elements, and they will be there until, as Lowell put it, the watch is taken from the wrist. It is, at the end of the day, the individual moments of restlessness, of bleakness, of strong persuasions and maddened enthusiasms, that inform one's life, change the nature and direction of one's work, and give final meaning and color to one's loves and friendships.” - Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

“We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe.” - Goethe

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks Denis. Made the correction -- hope I didn't tick off any Nebraskans.

Zee said...

@Denis and @Karen--

Byron Dorgan became one of my all-time heroes after I listened to him on this interview:

Thanks for the referral, @Valerie!


A most interesting quotation from Kay Redfield Jamison.

"It is, at the end of the day, the individual moments of restlessness, of bleakness, of strong persuasions and maddened enthusiasms, that inform one's life, change the nature and direction of one's work, and give final meaning and color to one's loves and friendships."

I will have to give that some further thought.

valerie said...

I too am a fan of Byron Dorgan. What a wise man. Sadly, we are getting many like him anymore. As @Zee says, lunatic is a pretty good descriptor for many of the politicians in Congress.