Ramblings & ephemera

The technical details of executions by hanging

From Daniel Engber’s “How Do Hangings Work?” (Slate: 7 November 2006): The last major innovation in hanging occurred toward the end of the 19th century, when executioners first developed a systematic way to calculate the drop. Once these “drop tables” were published, a hangman knew that he’d need 7 feet for a slight, 120-pound criminal, […]

Who would ever think that it was a good idea?

Image via Wikipedia Read this article about Paul Krassner’s experiences with the Manson Family & note the emphasis I’ve added – is this not the greatest sentence out of nowhere you’ve ever seen? How in the world did that ever seem like a good idea? From Paul Krassner’s “My Acid Trip with Squeaky Fromme” (The […]

Various confidence scams, tricks, & frauds

From “List of confidence tricks” (Wikipedia: 3 July 2009): Get-rich-quick schemes Get-rich-quick schemes are extremely varied. For example, fake franchises, real estate “sure things”, get-rich-quick books, wealth-building seminars, self-help gurus, sure-fire inventions, useless products, chain letters, fortune tellers, quack doctors, miracle pharmaceuticals, Nigerian money scams, charms and talismans are all used to separate the mark […]

David Foster Wallace on the problems with postmodern irony

From Larry McCaffery’s “Conversation with David Foster Wallace” (Dalkey Archive Press at the University of Illinois: Summer 1993): Irony and cynicism were just what the U.S. hypocrisy of the fifties and sixties called for. That’s what made the early postmodernists great artists. The great thing about irony is that it splits things apart, gets up […]

How it feels to drown, get decapitated, get electrocuted, and more

From Anna Gosline’s “Death special: How does it feel to die?” (New Scientist: 13 October 2007): Death comes in many guises, but one way or another it is usually a lack of oxygen to the brain that delivers the coup de grâce. Whether as a result of a heart attack, drowning or suffocation, for example, […]

Virtual kidnappings a problem in Mexico

From Marc Lacey’s “Exploiting Real Fears With ‘Virtual Kidnappings’ ” (The New York Times: 29 April 2008): MEXICO CITY — The phone call begins with the cries of an anguished child calling for a parent: “Mama! Papa!” The youngster’s sobs are quickly replaced by a husky male voice that means business. “We’ve got your child,” […]

A prison completely run by the inmates

From Mica Rosenberg’s “Guatemala forces end 10-year prisoner rule at jail” (The Washington Post: 25 September 2006): Guatemalan security forces took over a jail run for over 10 years by inmates who built their own town on prison grounds complete with restaurants, churches and hard-drug laboratories. Seven prisoners died when 3,000 police and soldiers firing […]

Kids forcibly sent to re-education programs

From Nadya Labi’s “Want Your Kid to Disappear?” (Legal Affairs: July/August 2004): RICK STRAWN IS AN EX-COP WHO STARTED HIS COMPANY in 1988 to help police officers find off-duty work guarding construction sites. Ten years later, he was asked by a member of his United Methodist church to transport the churchgoer’s son to Tranquility Bay […]

Japan’s 99.8% criminal conviction rate

From Hiroshi Matsubara’s “Trial By Prosecutor” (Legal Affairs: March/April 2003): In 1990, a retired high-court judge gave an influential speech that indicted the criminal justice system [of Japan], citing the nation’s 99.8 percent conviction rate as evidence that prosecutors, not courts, decide the fate of criminals. Criminal trials, he declared, are merely “formal ceremonies” en […]

Why it’s hard for prisoners to sue prison systems

From Daniel Brook’s “The Problem of Prison Rape” (Legal Affairs: March/April 2004): When inmates seek civil damages against the prison system, as [Roderick Johnson, a 35-year-old African-American who is suing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice] has done, they must prove not merely that prison officials should have done more to prevent abuse but that […]

History & numbers on prison rape

From Daniel Brook’s “The Problem of Prison Rape” (Legal Affairs: March/April 2004): In his 18 months at [the maximum-security Allred Unit in Iowa Park, Tex.], [Roderick Johnson, a 35-year-old African-American who is suing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice] did time as the property of the Bloods, the Crips, the Mandingo Warriors, and the Mexican […]

The history of solitary confinement

From Daniel Brook’s “A History of Hard Time” (Legal Affairs: January/February 2003): Dickens wasn’t the first European intellectual who had crossed the Atlantic to visit Eastern State Penitentiary. A decade earlier, Alexis de Tocqueville had been sent by the French government to study the Philadelphia prison. … What drew the attention of Americans and Europeans […]

Alcatraz: reality & Hollywood

From Dashka Slater’s “Lights, Camera, Lockdown” (Legal Affairs: May/June 2003): The first two Alcatraz films, Alcatraz Island and The Last Gangster, arrived in theaters in 1937; the most recent, Half Past Dead, came out last November. In the 65 years in between, Alcatraz has been the subject of some two dozen movies and has made […]

Henry Wirz, the Demon of Andersonville

From Carolyn Kleiner’s “The Demon of Andersonville” (Legal Affairs: September/October 2002): During the last 14 months of the Civil War, nearly 13,000 Union prisoners of war died at the Confederate prison camp in Andersonville, Georgia – more than at Antietam, one of the war’s bloodiest battles, and more than at any of the other hundred […]