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Old Bailey, 1674-1913

[ 9 ] April 28, 2008 |

Though I’m not a British historian, this is supremely cool. As Sharon Howard explains, the new Old Bailey site not only allows folks to search the records from more than 200,000 trials held at London’s main criminal court, but it also includes digitized versions of the Ordinary’s Accounts from Newgate Prison, where condemned criminals were held until they were sent off to the gallows. These “accounts” were the famous non-fictional morality tales published by the prison chaplain, who described the attitude and conduct of the doomed during their final days; the narratives usually ended well enough from the vantage point of the Ordinary, who almost always brought forth good news regarding the final disposition of the felon’s soul. Like so:

At the Place of Execution, to which they were carry’d from Newgate in Two Carts this Day, I attended them for the last time; and after proper Exhortations to, Prayers for, Singing of Penitential Psalms, and rehearsing the Apostles Creed with, Them, I left them to GOD’s Mercy, which they all implor’d; desiring also the Spectators to pray for them, and wishing, That all that saw them, or heard of them, might take Warning by their untimely Death, and by avoiding their Sins, prevent their own coming to the like shameful End.

Then, of course, we find those who failed to play their assigned roles and died without repenting for their crimes or — what’s worse — went to the great beyond without renouncing their Catholic faith. In these cases, the Ordinary’s accounts read like an early modern version of Little Green Footballs. Here’s an especially vicious one (which happens as well to be the first Ordinary’s pamphlet, published in May 1690):

Let every True Hearted and Unprejudiced Protestant, of what Rank and Quality soever, see now what kind of Instruments, and Dubbed Utensils, the late King James has to work withal, no better than House-breakers, and Common Thieves, who have been fairly Convicted by our English Laws: Yea such Laws that King James himself must needs have made use of, for the Conviction of such Cruel Miscreants as these were; if he had been Seated in the Royal Throne, (which God forbid.) These, and such like, are the Men that even when the Ropes are about their Necks, and just ready to be turned off, they will spit their Venom against the Face of the Government, and if it were possible Stone to Death all the Spectators. Yea the very Civil Officers who are ordered by Law to attend their Execution were affronted, the Prisoners Dying (as it were) like Mad men, putting a bold Face upon’t, as if there were no Heaven to Condemn, nor no Hell to Torment, trusting only to the deluding Vanities of a vain hop’d for Purgatory. Which the laborious and never wearied Jesuits, and untir’d Popish Priests do always Buz in their Ignorant Ears, till they have them so fast, that they can never be unlinked, from the Cunning Devices, and Devilish Stratagems, of that Whore of Babylon, who has always been striving to make the Nations Drunk with the Blood of her Fornications, by joining their Gog and Magogs together to undo, yea, (and if it were possible,) to deceive, the very Elect, which such silly Earth-Worms as those will not be sensible of till they come to feel the dreadful effects of it, (in another World,) to their final and everlasting Destruction and Misery, from which dismal Sentence they can never be Redeemed.

Good times, good times.

(For those who are wondering, no one from LGM surrendered their earthly shells on the scaffold. It does appear, however, that Robert Farley is a bit of a snitch, and DJW steals clothes from widows. Lemieux and Bean appear to be unblemished in the eyes of the law, though one never knows. As for me, I just want my fucking silk handkerchiefs back.)

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Headline of the Day (& Week?)

[ 9 ] April 28, 2008 |

McCain calls Obama Insensitive to Poor People, says the AP.

And of course McCain, being a champion of the poor, is in a perfect position to throw this stone.

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[ 27 ] April 27, 2008 |

This, for lack of a better phrase, is some disturbingly fucked up shit.

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Sunday Maritime Book Review: Thunder in the Night

[ 9 ] April 27, 2008 |

In early 1972 the heavy cruiser Newport News deployed to Southeast Asia. Newport News was one of the last of the big gun cruisers, commissioned in 1949 and carrying 9 8-inch guns with an automatic reload system that allowed the cruiser to fire ninety shells per minute. The cruiser was playing a role similar to that played by the battleship New Jersey in 1968, but the amount of ordnance delivered by Newport News (nicknamed “Thunder”) was greater than that of the battleship. Newport News was dispatched to Vietnam to assist in Linebacker I, an operation designed to stop a North Vietnamese conventional invasion of the South. Often at night but sometimes during the day, Newport News would close with the shoreline and either give fire support to South Vietnamese forces or attack targets within North Vietnam. The cruiser was never seriously threatened by North Vietnamese attack, but would regularly take fire from shore artillery batteries, along with the occasional encounter with a torpedo boat. Unfortunately, the North Vietnamese weren’t the only problem. Towards the end of its tour, the B-turret on Newport News exploded, killing about twenty sailors.

Thunder in the Night, by Raymond Kopp is the story of Thunder’s deployment. Kopp served on Newport News during its tour of duty, and was present when the B-turret exploded. We have a lot of narratives of maritime life, but most are focused on the experience of officers. Kopp gives us a story from the point of view of a sailor. Most intriguing is his description of how information moved around the ship. A ship at sea is unlike an infantry company or army brigade; especially in 1972, there weren’t a lot of ways for the individual sailor to communicate outside of the ship. Consequently, the treatment of information that would otherwise be sensitive or confidential seemed to be much more lax than would be expected on land. Kopp describes the rumor mill that engulfed shipboard life, with different information coming in from different sources and being put together in what amounted to a giant game of telephone. On a couple of occasions the Newport News put into Subic Bay for replenishment, repair, and rest. Kopp does a good job of capturing the culture of Subic Bay, particularly of how its economy became oriented around the US presence. Kopp isn’t a social scientist, but he does paint a nice picture of the impact of the base on Philippine life.

Kopp doesn’t go into a lot of detail about the construction of Newport News, but I was forced to wonder whether any thought was given to designing automatic weapons for battleships. The 8″ guns on Newport News and her sisters fired at a little more than twice the rate of normal guns, which would translate to five rounds per minute for a 16″ weapon. I’ve never seen any thought or any design for post-Montana US battleships, but the idea of a ship that could fire 60 16″ shells per minute is pretty impressive. The Japanese went the other direction; Yamato carried 18.1″ guns, and both the Super and Super-Duper Yamato designs were supposed to carry 20″ weapons. I’d put my money on the 60 16″ shells/minute over the 10 20″ shells/minutes. Newport News and her two sisters were useful enough as bombardment ships to keep around for a long time; Newport News was scrapped in 1993, Des Moines in 2006, and Salem has been converted into a museum ship.

This book is primarily going to be of interest to those who really dig naval artillery, and to those with particular interests in either the naval aspect of the Vietnam War or the 1972 campaigns. The account has substantial weaknesses. Kopp takes some defensible liberties in terms of reconstructing conversations that happened thirty-five years ago; no one expects that he would remember specifically what was said at a particular time, and it’s reasonable in this context to try to recapture the gist, rather than the specifics, or a given conversation. Nevertheless, many of his dialogues have a pat quality that leaves them nearly unreadable. Kopp also has a strangely dissonant treatment the reaction of the country to the war; at one point he insists that patriotic young men joined the military at a rate unseen since World War II, while at other times he recognizes the very serious tensions that the war evoked in the United States. Kopp concludes with a fairly long and reasonably interesting discussion of his life after Vietnam. His unfortunate coda relates his Vietnam and post-Vietnam experience to the Iraq War. It’s fair enough to argue that national unity is a good thing to have during a war, but it’s not so fair to suggest the essential suspension of politics. Kopp asserts that the only time for the American populace to make its preferences known is during an election, yet the long history of American democracy is replete with examples of political action that have nothing to do with elections. Electoral politics is one way to change a policy, but it is not now and has never been the only way. While I appreciate the difficulties that Kopp and other Vietnam veterans have faced, nothing that they have experienced is worth sacrificing any part of America’s democratic tradition. In any case, the digression is unfortunate but brief.

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Running on a Beach

[ 26 ] April 27, 2008 |

In an article in today’s New York Times, Newark (NJ) mayor Cory Booker compares trying to reduce recidivism rates and get ex-offenders jobs to “running on the beach.” It’s hard to make progress and it takes a helluva lot more energy than running on pavement. And the horizon just goes on forever.

According to the statistics in the article, 65% of ex-offenders in Newark end up right back in jail or prison within 5 years. This high number is due at least in part to the city’s high unemployment rate, which at 4.9 percent is twice the state average. On top of general unemployment, ex-offenders face multiple roadblocks in applying for jobs: discrimination against people with criminal records, federal bans on certain social services, an inability to get to work because of limited access to drivers’ licenses. It’s not a pretty picture. But employment is the key.

Mayor Booker recognizes this. It’s why he is offering tax breaks to companies that hire ex-offenders and creating rehabilitation programs around the city. Which is great. But reentry programs can’t do it alone. The way we treat our incarcerees sets the stage for their reentry and in large part determines whether or not they will be “rehabilitated.” As I have written before, if we block access to their mail, it’s less likely they will maintain the family connections that have been proven to ease the transition from incarceration to community. If we refuse to provide education or technical training programs, people will not have the skills they need to get and keep jobs. I don’t think any amount of post-release band-aiding will change that. So it’s a good start. And a necessary step. But it’s not enough.

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Happy Treason-in-Defense-of-Slavery Memorial Day

[ 61 ] April 27, 2008 |

In recognition of the day, there was A Gathering of Shitheads in Mississippi:

A 21-gun salute boomed Friday afternoon at the Nathan Bedford Forrest memorial in downtown Hattiesburg.

In an early observance of Confederate Memorial Day, which is Monday, about 30 people gathered to place flowers and honor ancestors who died in the War Between the States.

Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy attended.

A half-dozen men dressed in period costumes and about four men rode in on Harleys, wearing leather jackets that read “Mechanized Cavalry.”

“We’re not re-enactors. We ride bikes,” said Jerry Cooley, 58.

The Mechanized Calvary has about 10 members in South Mississippi and about 1,000 nationally, all of them members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans . . . .

“We do this to educate the people,” Cooley said.

Because really — few things are quite so edifying as an event celebrating the total failure of a bogus civilization founded on the rights of white people to own black people.

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Decline and Fall of LGM Blogging

[ 0 ] April 26, 2008 |

(Late) Friday Depraved Cat Blogging… Starbuck and Nelson. I had held back from running this one for a long time, but it’s time to answer Americaneocon’s challenge.

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Religious Nutjobs on Both Sides, Apparently…

[ 25 ] April 26, 2008 |


When Specialist Jeremy Hall held a meeting last July for atheists and freethinkers at Camp Speicher in Iraq, he was excited, he said, to see an officer attending.

But minutes into the talk, the officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, began to berate Specialist Hall and another soldier about atheism, Specialist Hall wrote in a sworn statement. “People like you are not holding up the Constitution and are going against what the founding fathers, who were Christians, wanted for America!” Major Welborn said, according to the statement.

Major Welborn told the soldiers he might bar them from re-enlistment and bring charges against them, according to the statement.

Specialist Hall has since been redeployed from Iraq, in part because of threats from his fellow soldiers. In Kansas he continues to receive threats, but his situation is less precarious.

I really can’t imagine a better case than this for a strictly observed separation between church and state. Religious pluralism in the military forces of the United States in inevitable, and every soldier will have a particular understanding of the interaction between religious responsibility (often none) and patriotic duty. The identification of patriotism and military service with any specific understanding of faith is, for reasons that should be obvious, enormously destructive. The idea of browbeating atheists into compliance is appalling in its own right, but is particularly troubling in the context of the War on Terror, which even the President has stressed is not, primarily, a religious war.

The worst part of this story is the (unsurprising) recurrence of a twisted vision that ties together evangelical Protestantism with American nationalism. Perhaps the only thing more dangerous than the belief that God fights on our side is the belief that God fights on (some of) our side, and therefore that those who question the particular view of God’s providence are, in effect, fighting for the other side. This seems to me to be the inevitable consequence of tight association between a specific religion and military service, and it bears repetition that this perspective not only violates basic American principles, but also promises to undermine the effective use of military force.

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Friday Cat Blogging

[ 25 ] April 25, 2008 |

Henry, displaying the proper technique for wrestling a bear, makes friends with one dressed in a pumpkin suit.

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[ 0 ] April 25, 2008 |

Antonin Scalia continues to tell people to “get over” the disgraceful decision in Bush v. Gore. As he must know, that won’t happen. Since he continues to do things like say that the equal protection rationale was “7-2,” it’s worth repeating exactly why the decision was so problematic.

The problem is not that the decision was “political” in the sense that “many constitutional provisions have multiple plausible interpretations when in comes to any interesting case, and justices are likely to choose the plausible interpretation that is consistent with their political values.” That’s something you have to accept as long as you have judicial review. Admittedly, one would like at least some measure of internal consistency, so Scalia — who previously thought that William Rehnquist construed the equal protection clause too broadly — suddenly embracing an innovative equal protection analysis that (if taken seriously) would have very broad implications merits considerable criticism. But since the unprecedented equal protection claim wasn’t actually inconsistent with the text of the Constitution, that’s not the biggest problem. If they were willing to apply that principle in a coherent manner, one could live with the result no matter how opportunistic the sudden embrace of William Douglas’s way of reading of the 14th Amendment was.

The bigger problem is that (and Scalia has been particularly vocal about this) that judges are supposed to actually apply principles to similar cases, not abandon and then abandon resolutions to favor particular litigants. Bush v. Gore, of course, did the latter, in a way that wasn’t so much “minimalist” as not constitutional law at all. And even worse than that, it failed to apply the alleged equal protection principle coherently with respect to the case itself. If the vote dilution that comes from arbitrary differences in vote count methods violates the federal Constitution, then not only to many states have to change their vote counting and recount statutes, the vote count that elected Bush also violated the Constitution. To the extent that the equal protection analysis meant anything at all, the remedy absolutely could not be “shutting down vote counts and accepting a vote count and recount that did not use anything resembling uniform standards and hence diluted the votes of some classes of individuals”–but that’s exactly what the Court did. And that’s what makes the Court’s actions political in the pejorative sense, and also entirely indefensible.

And that’s not the only problem with lawlessness. It’s also worth noting, for example, that the Florida court’s “recount scheme” lacked uniform standards in part because the Supreme Court of the United States told them not to use them. As Kim Scheppele has demonstrated in detail, creating these kinds of Catch-22s is not consistent with the rule of law. Long after Bush has left office, Bush v. Gore will continue to be a disgrace for Scalia and his four colleagues because they violated their obligations in the most fundamental way.

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[ 45 ] April 25, 2008 |

in the Sean Bell case (Bell, who was unaramed, was killed and two of his also unarmed friends wounded after 50 shots were fired by officers in Jamaica, Queens.) And the acquittal was on all charges. Disturbing, to put it mildly.

…as ogged points out (I missed it), the linked post says that “three people” were killed. To reiterate, this is inaccurate: only Bell was killed, although two of his friends were wounded.

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[ 0 ] April 25, 2008 |

Nicholas White takes the express elevator back from a smoke break:

The control panel made a beep, and White waited a moment, expecting a voice to offer information or instructions. None came. He pressed the intercom button, but there was no response. He hit it again, and then began pacing around the elevator. After a time, he pressed the emergency button, setting off an alarm bell, mounted on the roof of the elevator car, but he could tell that its range was limited. Still, he rang it a few more times and eventually pulled the button out, so that the alarm was continuous. Some time passed, although he was not sure how much, because he had no watch or cell phone. He occupied himself with thoughts of remaining calm and decided that he’d better not do anything drastic, because, whatever the malfunction, he thought it unwise to jostle the car, and because he wanted to be (as he thought, chuckling to himself) a model trapped employee. He hoped, once someone came to get him, to appear calm and collected. He did not want to be scolded for endangering himself or harming company property. Nor did he want to be caught smoking, should the doors suddenly open, so he didn’t touch his cigarettes. He still had three, plus two Rolaids, which he worried might dehydrate him, so he left them alone. As the emergency bell rang and rang, he began to fear that it might somehow—electricity? friction? heat?—start a fire. Recently, there had been a small fire in the building, rendering the elevators unusable. The Business Week staff had walked down forty-three stories. He also began hearing unlikely oscillations in the ringing: aural hallucinations. Before long, he began to contemplate death.

He was released 41 hours later. The story doesn’t have a particularly happy ending, though. Here’s the video:

Blech. I start pacing in the thirty seconds it takes to get from the ground to my floor…

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