Killer Snails

A Textile cone snail

And you thought they were just garden pests or a French delicacy

One of my kids is really into both trivia and nature, and we’re routinely subjected to recitations of unusual facts about the animal kingdom. So we were reading through one of the innumerable lists of the world’s deadliest animals. And of course we saw all the usual suspects—venomous snakes, hippos, mosquitos (you know, because malaria), box jellyfish, and so on. Animals that are widely known to be deadly for fairly obvious reasons. (Humans rank high in some of these lists too, but that’s another whole story.) But one entry on this list made me do a serious double-take: a snail.

Depending on which list you look at, the cone snail is either the fourth-and-a-half, fifth, ninth, or twenty-second deadliest animal on Earth. But anyway: super crazy deadly. And that’s not even the world’s only deadly snail. The freshwater snail also makes a bunch of the deadliest animal lists, coming in at fourth on one list, seventh on a second, and sixteenth on another.

So I’m thinking, wait, what? Seriously? Snails? Those little guys that blaze along at speeds approaching one furlong per fortnight? How are they deadly? Do people step on them after a rain storm, slip, and break their necks? Do they choke on them because they weren’t cooked with quite enough garlic and butter?

Well, no. Here’s the scoop.

The cone snail is not merely venomous; various species can produce hundreds of different venoms. A sting with the snail’s harpoon-like “teeth” can cause paralysis followed by death—sometimes within minutes—and there’s no antivenin. These lovely creatures are found in warm coastal waters, in places like the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Indonesia. Yowch.

Freshwater snails are not harmful themselves, but they carry a type of parasitic worm called a blood fluke. If a freshwater snail—or even the water it was hanging out in—comes into contact with your skin, the parasite can get into your body through the skin. It can then lay eggs inside you and cause a truly gross disease called schistosomiasis. This condition is treatable, at least, but it still kills way more people each year (think: hundreds of thousands) than the cone snail (think: single digits).

So let’s be careful about there. There may be no good way to die, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want “snail” listed in your obituary as the cause of death.

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Author: Joe Kissell

Husband succeeds in appeal against financial order after process found to be unfair

As a family lawyer who spent most of his time dealing with cases involving clients of ‘ordinary’ means, it is nice occasionally to come across the report of a financial remedies case in which the parties do not belong to the ‘mega rich’ class (of course reported cases are more likely to involve the mega rich, as they can better afford the cost of taking their cases to the higher courts, where the judgment is more likely to be reported). The Court of Appeal decision in Crowther v Crowther, which was handed down in February 2017 but has only recently been reported on the Bailii website, was such a case.

The case concerned an appeal by the husband against an order that the wife retain the former matrimonial home, the only capital asset of the marriage, which had been purchased entirely from an inheritance that the wife had received from the estate(s) of her late parents. The case is not just of interest for what was decided, it also acts as a further demonstration of the difficulties that can arise as a result of legal aid not usually being available in financial remedies cases.

I don’t need to spend much time setting out the facts of the case. The parties were married for about ten years, before they separated. The property was purchased about half way through that period. At the time of the final financial remedies hearing it was valued at about £200,000, and was mortgage free.

After the separation the wife continued to live in the property, which has four bedrooms, along with her adult daughter from a previous relationship, and that daughter’s partner. The husband was living in his parent’s home.

A complicating factor was that both the husband and the wife were found to be vulnerable, in terms of their psychological and mental health. In fact, the wife’s mental condition led to concerns as to whether she had capacity to conduct the litigation. The husband, meanwhile, appeared to be physically disabled, although medical experts found very little physical explanation for his apparent disability, and that there was a very significant element of ‘functional overlay’.

The husband was fully represented at the hearing, and the wife was a litigant in person. The husband argued that the matrimonial home be sold, that the net proceeds be divided equally, and that that would provide each party with sufficient to rehouse themselves. The wife argued that the husband was not entitled to any claim on the house because it represented her inheritance from her parents, and that if he wanted to live independently, the husband could easily fund it by either obtaining council accommodation, or through housing benefit. He did not therefore need any capital from the house.

The hearing was conducted by His Honour Judge Tolson QC. He of course was put in the difficult position of trying to ensure fairness between one party who was represented, and one party who was not. To achieve this he undertook questioning of the husband, effectively on behalf of the wife. The questioning was extensive, and as a result of it Judge Tolson formed the opinion that the husband was unlikely to be able to live independently. This had not been part of the wife’s case. Nevertheless, it was a primary reason for him concluding that receiving a half share of the property would not actually meet the husband’s needs. Accordingly, he ordered that the wife should have the property.

The husband appealed, to the Court of Appeal. Giving the leading judgment Lord Justice McFarlane found that the process adopted by Judge Tolson had been unfair to the husband. The husband should have been given advance warning that the issue of whether he was able to live independently would be raised, so that he could take steps to present his case in order to meet it. He had been given no such warning, and that determined the appeal, irrespective of any issue of whether Judge Tolson had wrongly put the issue of contribution (i.e. the wife funding the property out of her inheritance) above the issue of the parties’ needs.

Accordingly, the husband’s appeal was allowed, and the case was sent back to the family court to be heard again. Lord Justice McFarlane expressed the wish that the wife should be represented, the case in his view being sufficiently complex to justify exceptional legal aid funding.

As I said earlier, the case is a demonstration of the difficulties that can arise as a result of legal aid not usually being available in financial remedies cases. It also shows that that can lead to unfairness not just to the party who is unable to obtain legal representation, but also to the other party.

The full judgment can be read here.

The post Husband succeeds in appeal against financial order after process found to be unfair appeared first on Stowe Family Law.

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Author: John Bolch

Cruise Ship Condos

MS The World cruise ship

Making your home on the high seas

Back in 2006, my wife and I were living in San Francisco and bristling at the rapidly increasing rents (yes, even that long ago). We noticed the prices for homes in our neighborhood (much like the one we were renting) and couldn’t fathom ever being able to afford a mortgage for a tiny house in an unfashionable neighborhood of the city. Needless to say, that situation has gotten far, far worse in the intervening years. We do own a house now, but it’s a very small one, and nowhere near San Francisco. When looking for a home, we toyed with the idea of buying a condo instead, but even though they might cost a bit less, you pay monthly fees for maintenance of the building and common areas; yet you get less privacy and have less flexibility in how you can use or modify the space.

On the other hand, we love to travel, so I was intrigued by a notion that was all the rage in the mid-2000s: selling cruise ship cabins as condos. Roughly speaking, the sales pitch was that for just a bit more money than you’d pay for a luxury condo, you could travel the world in style without leaving home—or spending extra on airfare and hotel accommodations. In other words, if you were thinking about buying a condo anyway, if you like to travel, and if your work and lifestyle didn’t tie you to a particular location, you could have your cake and eat it too.

I speak about this in the past tense even though it’s technically still possible. But as I’ll explain in a moment, changing market conditions have largely taken the wind out of this idea’s sails.

Liquid Assets

Living full-time in a cabin on a cruise ship isn’t quite as simple as buying an expensive condo. For one thing, your average working middle-class couple—an ideal target market for a conventional condo—might run into difficulties living on a ship beyond merely paying for it. Most jobs require employees to show up at a particular location, for instance, and a ship could be highly problematic if you’ve got school-aged children, as we do. So retirees and the excessively rich are among those most likely to purchase a condo on a ship. On the other hand, living aboard a ship for a month or two at a time is well within the means of many ordinary, working citizens, and in some cases one can buy fractional ownership of a cabin—very much like a timeshare. Even those who purchase a cabin outright generally maintain land-based homes as well, and spend only a few months of the year on the ship.

When I say “cabin,” by the way, don’t think I’m talking about an ordinary ship’s cabin—as in a smaller and less comfortable hotel room. On the contrary, the homes you can buy on a ship range from simple studios to expansive suites with three bedrooms, sweeping verandahs, and every conceivable amenity. Most units have kitchens, though of course you’ll be somewhat limited in where you can shop for groceries. But naturally each ship has numerous restaurants as well, so you needn’t do your own cooking at all.

As just one of 200 or so owners, you’ll have little if any influence over the ship’s itinerary. But you can be assured that, over the course of two or three years, your home will visit nearly every major port on the planet. Some residential ships make a point of being in Cannes for the annual film festival, in Rio for Carnivale, or in other seasonally appropriate locations. But between ports, tenants may find the range of activities onboard a bit limiting; these ships have fewer shops, shows, and other diversions than vessels of similar size that cater to vacationing tourists. In addition, you’re bound to miss certain conveniences of home, such as a choice of medical and dental facilities, your favorite local businesses, and the proximity of friends and family. On the other hand, you won’t need a car, and you can hardly offer a more attractive vacation getaway for visiting guests.

A Titanic Investment

The first residential cruise ship to set said is called The World, and it launched from Norway in 2002. Although no prices are currently listed—the cabins are presumably all sold, though occasional turnover is inevitable—the last time I checked, prices ranged from US$825,000 to $7 million, plus a 6% annual fee to cover maintenance, utilities, landing privileges on the ship’s helipad, and so forth. Some units could also be rented for anywhere from $1,200 to $4,200 per night. The ship features the usual luxuries, such as a casino, a theater, upscale restaurants, and a spa. Unlike ordinary cruise ships, The World typically spends two to five days in each port, giving tenants plenty of time to explore the world off the ship. The itinerary changes each year.

Another cruise vessel currently selling units (though it isn’t scheduled to launch until mid-2020) is the MV Narrative, which advertises prices “from only $352,235.” That’s for a 172-square-foot (16 m2) cabin on a lower deck—not including the $70-per-person-per-day maintenance fee. If you want a large cabin on an upper deck, you’ll be looking at spending upwards of $3 million dollars, plus $200 or more per day, per person. This ship seems to offer everything, including t’ai chi classes. Hmmmm. I wonder if they’ve lined up an instructor yet. I know a guy.

At least two more such cruise ships are also reportedly in the works—The Utopia (still at least a couple of years out) and The Marquette, which is unique in being a river cruise ship rather than an ocean liner; the plan is for it to travel the inland waterways of the eastern United States.

However, I have to wonder how safe an investment something like this is. When I first wrote here about cruise ship condos in 2006, at least three other major vessels were in various stages of preparation, and all those projects were apparently cancelled—the websites have been taken down, and I’ve found no evidence that they ever set sail. Those were The Four Seasons (a ship owned by and named after the hotel chain), which was supposed to launch in the fall of 2007; The Orphalese, which was supposed to set sail in 2008; and The Magellan (which hadn’t even begun construction at the time but was already selling condos)—that one appealed to me especially because it promised an observatory with an astronomer on staff. Maybe they would have succeeded had enough people gotten on board with the idea, early enough, but…I guess that ship has sailed.

Because I’ll probably never have the sort of money that would make owning a cruise ship condo even a remote possibility, I can’t say whether it would be worth the expense. In some respects, you undoubtedly get what you pay for, but then, I don’t really want or need to be surrounded with luxury all the time. If someone came up with a middle-class condo ship that a mere mortal such as myself could afford, though, I’d certainly consider taking my home with me as I travel the globe.

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on June 30, 2006.

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Author: Joe Kissell

Marriage of Miotke

(California Court of Appeal) – In a marital dissolution action, upheld a ruling that a premarital agreement was enforceable and waived spousal support to either party. The parties had retained a private judge to resolve the issue.

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Lugo v. Corona

(California Court of Appeal) – Held that the family court erroneously denied a wife’s request for a domestic violence restraining order against her husband. The restraining order could have been entered even though a criminal protective order was already in place.

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In re B.D.

(California Court of Appeal) – Reversed an order terminating a mother and father’s parental rights to an eight-year-old child. Remanded with directions that the juvenile court conduct a new hearing.

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Father wrongly barred from making further applications in relation to his children

Access to the court is a basic right enjoyed by all including, of course, parents who require the court to resolve disputes over arrangements for their children. Accordingly, restricting that right is a very serious step, which should only be taken in exceptional circumstances.

Regular readers of this blog may be aware of a provision tucked away in a sub-section towards the end of the Children Act 1989. Section 91(14) provides that:

“On disposing of any application for an order under this Act, the court may (whether or not it makes any other order in response to the application) order that no application for an order under this Act of any specified kind may be made with respect to the child concerned by any person named in the order without leave of the court.”

Section 91(14) orders are often referred to as ‘barring orders’, although technically they do not actually bar a parent from making further applications – they merely provide a further hurdle or ‘filter’ that must be passed by the parent before they can proceed with their application. The orders are usually made in cases that have a long history of litigation, and their rationale is that the case has reached the point where it would be best for all concerned, particularly the child, if there were to be a break in the litigation. Accordingly, any new application will generally only be allowed to proceed if it is considered to be absolutely necessary, in the interests of the child.

Barring orders are usually made for a set period of time. As one might imagine, once a barring order has been made it can be very difficult for a parent to persuade the court to entertain a further application before that period has expired. Barring orders are therefore a serious restriction upon the right of the parent to have access to the court, and they should therefore only be made sparingly, and after full and proper consideration.

Sometimes, however, the court can get it wrong, perhaps being too eager to protect the child from the harmful effect of further litigation. The recent case N (Children) was an example of the court getting it wrong.

The case concerned two children, now aged eight and seven. By the time the case reached the Court of Appeal this month, their parents had been involved in litigation concerning them for nearly five years. That litigation had begun in September 2014, when the mother applied for a child arrangements order, a non-molestation order and a prohibited steps order. In January 2015, the father pleaded guilty to an offence of harassment by sending abusive text messages to the mother, and was subsequently sentenced to a six-month community order. In March 2016, at what was intended to be a final hearing, the court made a child arrangements order, providing that the children lived the mother but had overnight and holiday contact with the father.

But that was far from the final hearing. The mother applied to vary the contact, and since July 2016 the father has had supervised visiting contact only. Another ‘final’ hearing took place in March 2017, at the conclusion of which the judge made an order confirming the child arrangements, including the order for supervised contact. The father appealed. His appeal was dismissed, but the judge also gave directions for the case to proceed, after the parents agreed to undergo a psychological assessment.

The assessment was carried out by a clinical psychologist, who had no concerns about the mother, but found that the father suffered from serious anger management problems.

The matter went back to the court for a directions hearing in March 2018. The father did not attend, and the hearing proceeded in his absence. The judge, Mr Justice Hayden, decided of his own volition that it was appropriate to make a barring order for two years, although he gave the father a month in which he could apply to vary the order. The father did apply, and a further hearing took place in July 2018. The father, representing himself, did not properly prepare for this hearing, although he produced a report from a chartered consultant counselling psychologist, who found no evidence that the father suffered from emotional distress outside the context of missing his children and frustration with the legal system. The judge found the report inadequate in various respects, and summarily refused the application.

The father then appealed against both the barring order and the order made in July 2018. The appeal was heard by the Court of Appeal this month, Lord Justice Baker giving the leading judgment.

Lord Justice Baker said that he understood the judge’s anxiety that the ongoing proceedings were not serving any benefit, and were risking further harm to the children’s welfare. However, the barring order should not have been made without giving the father an opportunity to make representations as to it. If the order had been properly made then it might have been appropriate to have dealt with the father’s subsequent variation application in a summary fashion. However, in the light of the irregularities in the way in which the barring order was made, the summary dismissal of the father’s application was “plainly wrong”.

Lord Justice Baker concluded:

“I regret to say … that the two hearings together represent an unwarranted infringement of the father’s rights to a fair hearing. His automatic right of access to the court was removed without notice and without giving him a proper opportunity to make representations. When he attempted to exercise the liberty to apply to vary that order, his application was misunderstood by the court and dismissed. I reach this conclusion with considerable reluctance, given Hayden J’s great experience and the strong sense of his concern for the children which emerges from the transcripts. His assessment that the ongoing proceedings were serving no purpose and not benefitting the children may well have been right. But before imposing an order under s.91(14), there are certain procedural steps which should have been followed but which were unfortunately overlooked in this case.”

Accordingly, the father’s appeal was allowed, and the barring order was set aside. The case was remitted back to the court below, for a further hearing before a different judge.

You can read the full judgment here.

The post Father wrongly barred from making further applications in relation to his children appeared first on Stowe Family Law.

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Author: John Bolch

The Sinking City of Venice

Hard to tell where the canal ends and the pavement begins, Venice floods 2012.

Atlantis redux

While on our first European vacation years ago, Morgen and I visited Venice, that beautiful Italian city where the streets are paved with water. We were there for only a few days, but we enjoyed every minute of it. The place oozes history, and it’s wonderfully romantic. When we took the customary gondola ride through the city’s canals, our gondolier casually pointed toward a small house and said, “Marco Polo used to live there.” And we could believe it—if it were not for the constant noise of motor boats, it would be easy to imagine that the city looked much the same way centuries ago as it does now. But it’s not quite the same as it was in Marco Polo’s time. Whatever other changes have happened, the most significant one is that the city, as our gondolier reminded us, is sinking.

Of course, the entire planet is doomed to be destroyed when the sun explodes in 500 million years or so, but I’m not losing any sleep over that. Why should I worry about Venice? It still looks OK to me, so it must be sinking very slowly, right? Well, not really. Venice is located in a lagoon on the edge of the Adriatic Sea. When Venice was founded in the year 421, the level of the Adriatic was about 5 meters (16 feet) lower than it is today. For centuries the water level rose very, very slowly, but in the last century or so the rate has increased dramatically. With each passing year, the difference between street level and water level shrinks faster. From time to time, the city gets a brief reprieve. As recently as 2005, unusual weather patterns caused Venice to experience exceptionally low tides—so low that boats could not navigate most of the city’s shallower canals. Nevertheless, the clear trend, as observed over centuries, is in a decisively downward direction. If nothing is done and the trend continues, by 2055, a significant portion of the city’s walkways, plazas, and ground-level floors will be submerged all the time.

That Sinking Feeling

For a long time I was puzzled about just what it meant for Venice to be “sinking,” because that doesn’t fit into my categories of things a city is capable of doing. This is in fact a somewhat simplistic description of a complex problem. One part of the problem is that the city is not built on a solid foundation. Venice was originally a collection of muddy islands. In order to construct buildings, workers drove millions of pilings—thin, sharpened poles made of alder trees—through the mud and into the marginally more solid base of sand and clay beneath. Oak planks were placed on top of the pilings, and on top of the planks, several thick layers of marble (which is impermeable by water) formed the foundations of the buildings. From there on up, most of the construction was done in ordinary brick or wood. At the time the buildings were constructed, the marble was well above the high water line, so there was nothing to worry about. However, over the centuries, the weight of the buildings has driven the pilings deeper into the mushy seabed. In addition, at one time there were hundreds of wells in the city, removing water from deep aquifers. Unfortunately, these aquifers had acted as a sort of balloon of water propping up the city; when it was “deflated,” the city began to sink even faster.

But the literal sinking of Venice, which averages something like a few centimeters per century, is only part of the problem. The other part is that the surrounding water level has been rising at an alarming rate. This is partly due to the effects of global warming and partly due to centuries of poor environmental management in the entire region. But in any case, the rising waters compound the sinking problem and make the net effect quite serious.

When It Rains, It Pours

Venice has always been subject to periodic flooding—mainly in winter, and especially at high tide. This is something that residents have come to regard as a fact of life, and not a terribly troublesome one; most of them get around in boats anyway. But whereas flooding used to be something that would happen a few times a year, now it happens on the order of a hundred times a year. Because the sea level has risen, even in a modest flood, the water level rises above the waterproof marble foundations of the buildings, rapidly wearing away the less-robust building materials.

In November, 1966, a particularly bad storm caused a devastating flood that put much of the city under 2 meters (over 6 feet) of water. This caused extensive damage to both buildings and the valuable artwork they contained, and began to impress upon Venetians the need to take drastic action.

In 1970, a plan was proposed that involved the installation of large, mobile gates at the three inlets of the lagoon; these would be raised as needed to keep out high water. But for the next 30 years, a series of excruciating delays prevented any significant progress from being made. There were, of course, significant engineering problems to be solved, not to mention the problem of financing such an ambitious undertaking. But political reasons, more than anything else, held up development. Many Venetians did not want to believe their city was in imminent danger—and even to the extent that they did, there was tremendous disagreement about how best to address the problem. Some wanted to address the problem at the base—to basically “jack up” the city and install new and improved foundations. Others wanted to build a series of dikes and locks around the city—the so-called “Dutch solution”—or use a different mechanism to hold back high waters.

Holding Back the Sea

At the end of 2001, a plan was finally put in motion to keep back the high waters. A project called MOSE (an acronym for Experimental Electromechanical Module in Italian, but also an allusion to Moses) involves the construction of 78 steel gates, hinged at the bottom, installed along the sea floor at the three inlets to the lagoon. The gates, which are hollow and normally filled with water, measure 20 meters wide, 3.6 meters deep, and 20 to 30 meters high. When water levels appear to be rising dangerously high, compressed air will be pumped into the gates, causing the ends to float up to (and slightly above) the surface. In effect, they will form a dynamic dam that will appear only when needed. The gates will be tall enough to hold back water quite a bit deeper than the 1966 flood.

Although construction has been underway for quite a few years and significant progress has occurred, there are still numerous problems ahead, and the completion date has been delayed repeatedly. One issue is the 5.5 billion euro (and counting) cost, and more specifically the vast portion of that sum that has disappeared due to corruption. There are also significant environmental concerns; the project was vigorously opposed by numerous environmental groups. Among their concerns is that any interference with normal tides will increase the levels of toxic chemicals such as mercury in the waters of Venice, seriously threatening both marine life and the health of people who consume the local fish. There are also basic worries about health and sanitation. Venice has no sewer system; household waste flows into the canals and is washed out into the ocean twice a day with the tides. No one is certain quite what effect the gates will have on the city’s natural waste treatment system.

An Uncertain Future

Under the most optimistic prediction, Project Moses will be fully operational by 2022, but given the city’s history of delays, few expect it to be finished that soon. And even if it works perfectly, it is not a complete or final solution. The city will continue to sink and the water level will continue to rise. Sooner or later, the gates will no longer be able to protect the city from deterioration.

In the meantime, Venice faces an uncertain and paradoxical existence. While tourism increases to record levels, the population of the city itself has plummeted. The historic old part of the city had about 184,000 residents in 1950; today, there are fewer than 55,000. A shocking percentage of Venice’s glorious old buildings stand vacant as owners move to more stable surroundings, yet real estate prices remain astronomically high, discouraging an influx of new residents. With no one to renovate and maintain the buildings, they will fall apart faster; but the more the city deteriorates, the fewer people are willing to live there and do anything about it. Project Moses may keep the floods out, but will it enable Venice to keep its head above water?

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on July 2, 2003, and again in a slightly revised form on March 21, 2005.

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Author: Joe Kissell