1/11/2013 6:06:00 AM,
Surely the greatest legal revision in history came from King Canute, who decreed at a Great Folk Moot at Oxford in 1019 that anyone who raped a virgin "forisfacet membra sua" - would have his penis cut off.
But a few years later Canute changed the penalty to exile, "because the punishment was ineffective."
Canute, or Cnut, who reigned in England from 1016 to 1035, set the rather low standard by which the United States Congress rules today.
Who can expect the men of Congress, our national whorehouse, to cut off their own penises? By which I mean, their access to money and to, not just power, but to the delicious feeling that members of Congress and their courtiers enjoy - that they don't have to play by everyone else's rules.
I found King Cnut's commentary in a splendid, erudite book, "Bawds and Lodgings, a History of the London Bankside Brothels, c. 100 - 1675," by E.J. Burford (London, 1976).
Professor Burford, who has written several books about women's history, tells us that the word "wedding" comes from "weotuma" - the price paid for the bride. This price later became symbolized by a ring.
The wedding rules, codified in the first Saxon laws of England under King Aethelbehrt (565-616), made it clear that women could be bought: "If a man buy a maiden with cattle, let the bargain stand if it be without guile," Aethelbehrt said.
Aethelbehrt's laws stated that if a man "destroyed" another man's penis, he would have to pay treble damages, but the penalty was 6 silver shillings if he only "pierced" it.
Which raises the question: How, exactly, does one pay treble damages for a penis?
I seem to have gotten off track. Pardon me.
My point, which may be less interesting than the footnotes, is that not a single one of my 310 million fellow Americans has any reason to believe that the U.S. Congress will ever "reform" itself - will ever cut off its corrupt access to money - because all the punishments for this corruption are ineffective.
The 5-4 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, to no one's surprise, became pimps to Congress again, in the Citizens United ruling.
The Supreme Court ruled again that money is speech. That it's legal to buy a congressman or a senator, so long, as Cnut said, "if it be without guile."
It does no good for me - or anyone else - to point out that money is not speech, and that speech is not money.
That a traffic violator who offered money to a judge to make a crime go away would commit another crime in doing so, but that corporations and jillionaires do not commit crimes by giving money to congressmen and senators to make crimes go away, and that congressmen and senators do not commit crimes by taking the money.
This, of course, is insane.
As insane as asking for treble damages for a penis.
As insane as it would be to expect that any lawmaker, anywhere, at any time in the history of the world, would pass a law that would punish him for stuffing his pockets full of money.
King Cnut realized, in just a few years, that his effort was hopeless. He didn't crack down harder. He said, "To hell with it," and told all the rapers of virgins to go somewhere else.
I think we should go back to Cnut's first law: that any member of Congress who takes more than - oh, let's say, $15 - from anyone - human, animal or corporation - should have his penis cut off.
This would ensure, as professor Burford said of Cnut's original penalty, that our Members of Congress "would not repeat the offense," while they would still be able to "carry on their normal tasks."