Ramblings & ephemera

My late May, 2004

From the email archives: On Sunday 30 May 2004 11:32 pm, Jerry Hubbard wrote: > How is everyone? Hope the storms did not harm anyone. My basement flooded twice, my tenant’s kitchen had water streaming in through the window frame, our backyard fence was blown down, the umbrella on our deck was blown off the […]

Dead five years before he was discovered

From Reuters’s “Body found in bed 5 years after death” (4 October 2006): Austrian authorities have discovered the body of a man who apparently died at home in bed five years ago, a Vienna newspaper reported on Wednesday. The corpse of Franz Riedl, thought to have been in his late 80s when he died, went […]

The end of days in Slab City

From Charlie LeDuff’s “Parked in a Desert, Waiting Out the Winter of Life” (The New York Times: 17 December 2004): Directions to purgatory are as follows: from Los Angeles drive east past Palm Springs into the bowels of the Mojave Desert. Turn south at the stench of the Salton Sea. Proceed down Highway 111 to […]

The airplane graveyard

From Patrick Smith’s “Ask the pilot” (Salon: 4 August 2006): The wing is shorn off. It lies upside down in the dirt amid a cluster of desert bushes. The flaps and slats are ripped away, and a nest of pipes sprouts from the engine attachment pylon like the flailing innards of some immense dead beast. […]

OnStar: the numbers

From PR Newswire’s “OnStar Achieves Another First as Winner of Good Housekeeping’s ‘Good Buy’ Award for Best Servic” (3 December 2004): Each month on average, OnStar receives about 700 airbag notifications and 11,000 emergency assistance calls, which include 4,000 Good Samaritan calls for a variety of emergency situations. In addition, each month OnStar advisors respond […]

How doctors measure what percentage of your body is burned

From Daniel Engber’s “How Much of Me Is Burned?” (Slate: 11 July 2006): In the 1950s, doctors developed an easy way to estimate the ratio of the area of a patient’s burns to the total area of his skin. The system works by assigning standard percentages to major body parts. (Most of these happen to […]

Camouflaged weapons

From Noah Shachtman’s “Chameleon Weapons Defy Detection” (Defense Tech: 27 March 2006): Last week I talked to Anthony Taylor, managing partner of an outfit which makes weapons which can be hidden in plain sight. You can be looking right at one without realizing what it is. One type is the exact size and shape of […]

Who was saved in the storming of the Bastille?

From Wikipedia’s “French Revolution” (5 July 2006): On July 14, 1789, after hours of combat, the insurgents seized the Bastille prison, killing the governor, Marquis Bernard de Launay, and several of his guards. Although the Parisians released only seven prisoners; four forgers, two lunatics, and a sexual offender, the Bastille served as a potent symbol […]

Napoleon’s losses in the invasion of Russia

From Wikipedia’s “Napoleon I of France” (5 July 2006): The French suffered greatly in the course of a ruinous retreat; the Army had begun as over 650,000 frontline troops, but in the end fewer than 40,000 crossed the Berezina River (November 1812) to escape. In total French losses in the campaign were 570,000 against about […]

Joseph Fouche the atheist

From Central Missouri State University’s “Joseph Fouche“: Moreover, Fouché was not content with merely attacking the aristocracy. He orchestrated a campaign of atheistic fervor never before seen in Europe. He abolished clerical celibacy and ordered priests to marry or adopt a child within a month. Churches were pillaged, and priests were forbidden from wearing their […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

Road rash, fender vaults, & root vaults

From Jascha Hoffman’s “Crash Course” (Legal Affairs: July/August 2004): Typically there are two kinds of injuries [in hit-and-run cases], those from the initial impact, and the ones from hitting and sliding on the asphalt, known as “road rash.” To illustrate the different types of impact a pedestrian can suffer, Rich cued up a series of […]

Poems dug up from the grave

From Wikipedia’s “Dante Gabriel Rossetti“: [Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s wife Elizabeth Siddal] had taken an overdose of laudanum shortly after giving birth to a dead child. Rossetti became increasingly depressed, and buried the bulk of his unpublished poems in her grave at Highgate Cemetery. … During these years, Rossetti was prevailed upon by friends to exhume […]

Modern mercenaries

From Rebecca Ulam Weiner’s “Sheep in Wolves’ Clothing” (Legal Affairs: January/February 2006): YOU WON’T FIND THE WORD “MERCENARY” on the homepage of the International Peace Operations Association, the trade group for the private military industry. While many of the IPOA’s member companies are staffed by elite former soldiers of the United States military who now […]

James Jesse Strang, Mormon King of Michigan

From Geoffrey Gagnon’s “King James I, of Michigan” (Legal Affairs: September/October 2005): One letter that isn’t on display is the one that James Jesse Strang said he received from Smith just before the Mormon leader was murdered in June 1844. In the letter, which now resides in a university library, Smith bequeaths the nascent Mormon […]

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 […]

A brief history of American bodysnatching

From Emily Bazelon’s “Grave Offense” (Legal Affairs: July/August 2002): In December 1882, hundreds of black Philadelphians gathered at the city morgue. They feared that family members whom they had recently buried were, as a reporter put it, “amongst the staring corpses” that lay inside. Six bodies that had been taken from their graves at Lebanon […]