Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Why Did M*A*S*H Have A Laugh Track?

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

When you think of wartime doctors performing dangerous operations on young soldiers in the middle of a bloody conflict, you usually don't think of laughter. Yet, when you catch a rerun of M*A*S*H on cable, that's exactly what you get. The canned laughter that billows from an unseen audience at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital seems remarkably out of place.

It wasn't just the subject matter that made the choice of using a laugh track questionable. Unlike almost all other comedies of the era, M*A*S*H was filmed in an immersive, fluid manner. That it didn't take place on a stage before a half-circle of cameras is what made the show unique and its laugh track so cringingly awkward.

The reason for its inclusion is rather simple. Studio heads at CBS had never even attempted to produce a comedy without a laugh track. It was a relic from radio days, and the thought of jokes hanging in the air without the affirmation of laughter made no sense to them. Even though M*A*S*H contained a mix of comedy and hard drama, CBS put their foot down.

“I always thought it cheapened the show," said series developer Larry Gelbart. "The network got their way. They were paying for dinner.”

Despite this, the show's producers were able to negotiate some grounds for dropping the laugh track. “Under no circumstances would we ever have canned laughter during an O.R. scene," Gilbert said. "When the doctors were working, it was hard to imagine 300 people were in there laughing at somebody’s guts being sewn up.” They were also able to argue for the removal of laughter altogether for a few episodes: "O.R.," "The Bus," "Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler?," "The Interview," "Dreams," "Point of View," and "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen." ("The Interview" was filmed in the style of a documentary, so the track's omission was pivotal to selling the concept.)

After season six, the laughter was toned down immensely, and later episodes feature a hushed track that contrasts sharply with the all-out hooting and hollering of the show's early days.

DVDs of M*A*S*H give viewers a fantastic option: The ability to watch the show without a laugh track. It's amazing how much a little silence adds.

Why Are Mugshots Made Public Before a Suspect is Convicted by the Court?

Jennifer Ellis:

Several reasons.

1. Mugshots can help find people when they have absconded, or warn people when someone is out and dangerous. So there is a good reason to share some mugshots.

2. Our legal system requires openness as per the federal constitution, and I imagine most if not all state constitutions. As such, this sort of information is not considered private and can be shared. Any effort to keep mugshots private would result in lawsuits by the press and lay people. This would be under the First and Sixth Amendments as well as the various Freedom of Information Acts. However, in 2016 a federal court ruled [PDF] that federal mugshots are no longer routinely available under the federal FOIA.

This is partially in recognition of the damage that mugshots can do online. In its opinion, the court noted that “[a] disclosed booking photo casts a long, damaging shadow over the depicted individual.” The court specifically mentions websites that put mugshots online, in its analysis. “In fact, mugshot websites collect and display booking photos from decades-old arrests: BustedMugshots and JustMugshots, to name a couple.” Some states have passed or are looking to pass laws to prevent release of mugshots prior to conviction. New Jersey is one example.

a) As the federal court recognizes, and as we all know, the reality is that if your picture in a mugshot is out there, regardless of whether you were convicted, it can have an unfortunate impact on your life. In the old days, this wasn’t too much of a problem because it really wasn’t easy to find mugshots. Now, with companies allegedly seeking to extort people into paying to get their images off the web, it has become a serious problem. Those companies may get in trouble if it can be proved that they are working in concert, getting paid to take the picture off one site and then putting it on another. But that is rare. In most cases, the picture is just public data to which there is no right of privacy under the law.

b) The underlying purpose of publicity is to avoid the government charging people and abusing the authority to do so. It was believed that the publicity would help protect people. And it does when you have a country that likes to hide what it is up to. But, it also can cause harm in a modern society like ours, where such things end up on the web and can cause permanent damage. Unfortunately, it is a bit of a catch-22. We have the right to know issues and free speech rights smack up against privacy rights and serious damage of reputation for people who have not been convicted of a crime. The law will no doubt continue to shake out over the next few years as it struggles to catch up with the technology.

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

What Happens When You Flush an Airplane Toilet?

For millions of people, summer means an opportunity to hop on a plane and experience new and exciting sights, cultures, and food. It also means getting packed into a giant commercial aircraft and then wondering if you can make it to your next layover without submitting to the anxiety of using the onboard bathroom.

Roughly the size of an apartment pantry, these narrow facilities barely accommodate your outstretched knees; turbulence can make expelling waste a harrowing nightmare. Once you’ve successfully managed to complete the task and flush, what happens next?

Unlike our home toilets, planes can’t rely on water tanks to create passive suction to draw waste from the bowl. In addition to the expense of hauling hundreds of gallons of water, it’s impractical to leave standing water in an environment that shakes its contents like a snow globe. Originally, planes used an electronic pump system that moved waste along with a deodorizing liquid called Anotec. That method worked, but carrying the Anotec was undesirable for the same reasons as storing water: It raised fuel costs and added weight to the aircraft that could have been allocated for passengers. (Not surprisingly, airlines prefer to transport paying customers over blobs of poop.)

Beginning in the 1980s, planes used a pneumatic vacuum to suck liquids and solids down and away from the fixture. Once you hit the flush button, a valve at the bottom of the toilet opens, allowing the vacuum to siphon the contents out. (A nonstick coating similar to Teflon reduces the odds of any residue.) It travels to a storage tank near the back of the plane at high speeds, ready for ground crews to drain it once the airplane lands. The tank is then flushed out using a disinfectant.

If you’re also curious about timing your bathroom visit to avoid people waiting in line while you void, flight attendants say the best time to go is right after the captain turns off the seat belt sign and before drink service begins.

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