Axes, Giant and Otherwise

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Randall Munroe’s “what if?” project is going to be a zillion-selling book in September and as you probably know, his xkcd webcomic is terrific. So it was very cool to see Lowering the Bar show up in today’s “what if?” post.

His what if? question today (#90) derives from a nursery rhyme that starts “If all the seas were one sea, what a great sea that would be!” Same for trees, people, and axes (hey, it’s a nursery rhyme). So the potential for ridiculous hypotheticals is obvious.

Randall concludes:

  • If all the seas were one sea … it’d be a lot like the Pacific.
  • If all the trees were one tree, the tree would be 75 kilometers tall with a trunk two kilometers in diameter.
  • The human race in a single body would be close to three kilometers tall (both the tree and the human would instantly be crushed by their own weight, but setting that aside).
  • The single giant axe would be about half a kilometer long.
  • The splash caused by cutting down the impossible tree (that’s how the nursery rhyme ends) would cause a worldwide tsunami.

LTB shows up at the end, in a reference to the Case Law Hall of Fame and People v. Foranyic, an opinion by Justice William Bedsworth holding that “a reasonable police officer, considering the totality of the circumstances, would reasonably suspect criminal activity might be afoot upon viewing someone on a bicycle, with an axe, at 3 in the morning.” (Said rider also turned out to be carrying meth, hence the Fourth Amendment issue.)

That opinion deserves its Hall of Fame spot not just because of the odd facts but also because it is funny. Justice Bedsworth also writes a humor column, and here he was able to use some of that ability in an opinion:

[W]hile Foranyic insists there was nothing about him which suggested criminal activity, he is unable to suggest, and we cannot conceive of, much in the way of noncriminal activity which is accomplished with an axe in the dead of night. The officer could reasonably eliminate firefighting and lumberjacking from the list…. [Further,] no one who has ever worked a graveyard shift can underestimate the significance of any bicycle traffic at that hour, much less lethally armed bicycle traffic.

* * *

[T]here is some activity which is so unusual, so far removed from everyday experience that it cries out for investigation. Such activity will justify a detention even when there is no specific crime to which it seems to relate. We view this as such conduct. While it is true that there are many legitimate uses for an axe, they are generally daylight activities.

As Randall notes, the same legal analysis would justify detaining the three-kilometer-tall human…

Drop the axe

… hypothetically speaking, of course.

See also $2 Undecillion Lawsuit,” what if? #96 (in which he answered a similarly important question submitted by a certain legal-humor blogger).