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What Was the Original Reason for the 25th Amendment?

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The 25th Amendment has been in the news a lot recently. As this year marks the 50th anniversary of its ratification, let’s explore each section of this oft-discussed amendment and what led us there.

SECTION 1: “IN CASE OF THE REMOVAL OF THE PRESIDENT FROM OFFICE OR OF HIS DEATH OR RESIGNATION, THE VICE PRESIDENT SHALL BECOME PRESIDENT”

First, a question: How many presidents have there been? Some say 45, others will remember Grover Cleveland’s nonconsecutive terms and say 44. Less well known is that there was a very serious question following William Henry Harrison’s death in 1841: Was John Tyler now president?

The Constitution specifies that the duties of the presidency shall “devolve on the Vice President” but does not specify that the actual title (or, among other things, the salary increase) goes to the VP. As the Senate was debating the issue after Harrison’s death, Senator Benjamin Tappan of Ohio made the analogy that “If a colonel was shot in battle, the next officer in rank took command of the regiment, but he did not thereby become a colonel.”


John Tyler

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Another senator, referring to Tyler, attempted to strike out the word “president” in a procedural document and replace it with “the Vice President, on whom, by the death of the late President, the powers and duties of the office of President have devolved.” The measure was struck down 38-8. Tyler would ultimately fully assert that he was the president in duties as well as title, which created a precedent that lasted for more than 120 years. But it was just precedent, and some later presidents in similar situations—especially Millard Fillmore—were still labeled “Acting President” until the 25th Amendment finally specified, “In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.”

SECTION 2: “WHENEVER THERE IS A VACANCY IN THE OFFICE OF THE VICE PRESIDENT, THE PRESIDENT SHALL NOMINATE A VICE PRESIDENT WHO SHALL TAKE OFFICE UPON CONFIRMATION”

America has gone through a few different succession crises, but it was the assassination of John F. Kennedy amidst the backdrop of the Cold War that demonstrated the need for a permanent vice president.

After Kennedy’s assassination, there were concerns about each member of the line of succession. New president Lyndon Johnson had had a heart attack in 1955; if something were to happen to him, the speaker of the house was in his 70s and the president pro tempore was in his 80s. Alongside lingering concerns about Dwight Eisenhower’s health issues, congress decided that the line of succession needed to be more robust than it was.


Lyndon B. Johnson

By Arnold Newman, White House Press Office (WHPO), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

As Indiana Senator Birch Bayh, one of the key forces behind the amendment, said, “The accelerated pace of international affairs, plus the overwhelming problems of modern military security, make it almost imperative that we change our system to provide for not only a President but a Vice President at all times … [the Vice President] must, in fact, be something of an ‘assistant President’” who can keep track of the national and international scene and understand what’s going on with the executive branch.

So as part of the 25th Amendment, the president was given the power to fill a vacant office of the vice president, subject to votes in both houses of congress.

SECTIONS 3 AND 4: “WHENEVER THE PRESIDENT TRANSMITS … HIS WRITTEN DECLARATION THAT HE IS UNABLE TO DISCHARGE THE POWERS AND DUTIES OF OFFICE … SUCH POWERS AND DUTIES SHALL BE DISCHARGED BY THE VICE PRESIDENT AS ACTING PRESIDENT” AND “WHENEVER THE VICE PRESIDENT AND A MAJORITY OF EITHER THE PRINCIPAL OFFICERS OF THE EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS TRANSMIT … THAT THE PRESIDENT IS UNABLE TO DISCHARGE THE POWERS AND DUTIES OF HIS OFFICE, THE VICE PRESIDENT SHALL IMMEDIATELY ASSUME THE POWERS AND DUTIES OF THE OFFICE AS ACTING PRESIDENT"

Dwight D. Eisenhower suffered multiple health scares during his presidency. During one of them, he realized that the circumstances for replacing a president with the vice president permanently was clear, but what if the president was only temporarily incapacitated?

The first time America was faced with this issue was James Garfield. For the 80 days that he was president but unable to serve as such, there was confusion about what Vice President Chester Arthur should do. If Arthur became acting president, would the Tyler Precedent mean that if Garfield recovered he’d be unable to reclaim the presidency? Arthur was concerned this was the case, and he would be viewed as having effectively staged a coup (not helped by Garfield's assassin having said “Arthur is President now”). Anyway, who would make the decision that Garfield was incapacitated and—more importantly—fully recovered?


By Otis Historical Archives Nat'l Museum of Health & Medicine - NCP 001861, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Arthur chose not to assume presidential responsibilities [PDF] and Garfield did die, so severe Constitutional questions were avoided, but later leaders would recognize that hope was not a valid plan.

After his 1955 heart attack, Eisenhower instructed Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr. to explore a Constitutional amendment that would allow the vice president to be acting president until the president was able to say that he could resume the task. In the case of a president deciding that they were able to reclaim the presidency despite not really being able to, Brownell initially proposed impeachment. Eventually, the 25th Amendment specified that if the vice president and cabinet disagreed with the president, the issue would go to congress.

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What Do Morticians Do With the Blood They Take Out of Dead Bodies?
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Zoe-Anne Barcellos:

The blood goes down the sink drain, into the sewer system.

I am not a mortician, but I work for a medical examiner/coroner. During an autopsy, most blood is drained from the decedent. This is not on purpose, but a result of gravity. Later a mortician may or may not embalm, depending on the wishes of the family.

Autopsies are done on a table that has a drain at one end; this drain is placed over a sink—a regular sink, with a garbage disposal in it. The blood and bodily fluids just drain down the table, into the sink, and down the drain. This goes into the sewer, like every other sink and toilet, and (usually) goes to a water treatment plant.

You may be thinking that this is biohazardous waste and needs to be treated differently. [If] we can’t put oil, or chemicals (like formalin) down the drains due to regulations, why is blood not treated similarly? I would assume because it is effectively handled by the water treatment plants. If it wasn’t, I am sure the regulations would be changed.

Now any items that are soiled with blood—those cannot be thrown away in the regular trash. Most clothing worn by the decedent is either retained for evidence or released with the decedent to the funeral home—even if they were bloody.

But any gauze, medical tubing, papers, etc. that have blood or bodily fluids on them must be thrown away into a biohazardous trash. These are lined with bright red trash liners, and these are placed in a specially marked box and taped closed. These boxes are stacked up in the garage until they are picked up by a specialty garbage company. I am not sure, but I am pretty sure they are incinerated.

Additionally anything sharp or pointy—like needles, scalpels, etc.—must go into a rigid “sharps” container. When they are 2/3 full we just toss these into one of the biotrash containers.

The biotrash is treated differently, as, if it went to a landfill, then the blood (and therefore the bloodborne pathogens like Hepatitis and HIV) could be exposed to people or animals. Rain could wash it into untreated water systems.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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Why Does Asparagus Make Your Pee Smell Funny?
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The asparagus has a long and storied history. It was mentioned in the myths and the scholarly writings of ancient Greece, and its cultivation was the subject of a detailed lesson in Cato the Elder's treatise, On Agriculture. But it wasn't until the turn of the 18th century that discussion of the link between asparagus and odorous urine emerged. In 1731, John Arbuthnot, physician to Queen Anne, noted in a book about food that asparagus "affects the urine with a foetid smell ... and therefore have been suspected by some physicians as not friendly to the kidneys." Benjamin Franklin also noticed that eating asparagus "shall give our urine a disagreeable odor."

Since then, there has been debate over what is responsible for the stinky pee phenomenon. Polish chemist and doctor Marceli Nencki identified a compound called methanethiol as the cause in 1891, after a study that involved four men eating about three and a half pounds of asparagus apiece. In 1975, Robert H. White, a chemist at the University of California at San Diego, used gas chromatography to pin down several compounds known as S-methyl thioesters as the culprits. Other researchers have blamed various "sulfur-containing compounds" and, simply, "metabolites."

More recently, a study demonstrated that asparagusic acid taken orally by subjects known to produce stinky asparagus pee produced odorous urine, which contained the same volatile compounds found in their asparagus-induced odorous urine. Other subjects, who normally didn't experience asparagus-induced odorous urine, likewise were spared stinky pee after taking asparagusic acid.

The researchers concluded that asparagusic acid and its derivatives are the precursors of urinary odor (compared, in different scientific papers, to the smell of "rotten cabbage," "boiling cabbage" and "vegetable soup"). The various compounds that contribute to the distinct smell—and were sometimes blamed as the sole cause in the past—are metabolized from asparagusic acid.

Exactly how these compounds are produced as we digest asparagus remains unclear, so let's turn to an equally compelling, but more answerable question:

WHY DOESN'T ASPARAGUS MAKE YOUR PEE SMELL FUNNY?

Remember when I said that some people don't produce stinky asparagus pee? Several studies have shown that only some of us experience stinky pee (ranging from 20 to 40 percent of the subjects taking part in the study, depending on which paper you read), while the majority have never had the pleasure.

For a while, the world was divided into those whose pee stank after eating asparagus and those whose didn't. Then in 1980, a study complicated matters: Subjects whose pee stank sniffed the urine of subjects whose pee didn't. Guess what? The pee stank. It turns out we're not only divided by the ability to produce odorous asparagus pee, but the ability to smell it.

An anosmia—an inability to perceive a smell—keeps certain people from smelling the compounds that make up even the most offensive asparagus pee, and like the stinky pee non-producers, they're in the majority.

Producing and perceiving asparagus pee don't go hand-in-hand, either. The 1980 study found that some people who don't produce stinky pee could detect the rotten cabbage smell in another person's urine. On the flip side, some stink producers aren't able to pick up the scent in their own urine or the urine of others.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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