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Monday, May 17, 2021

The Cannibalism At Sea Dilemma

     In the summer of 1884, four English sailors were stranded at sea in a small lifeboat in the South Atlantic, over a thousand miles from land. Their ship, the Migonette, had gone down in a storm, and they had escaped to the lifeboat, with only two cans of preserved turnips and no fresh water. Thomas Dudley was the captain, Edwin Stephens was the first mate, and Edmund Brooks was a sailor--"all men of excellent character," according to newspaper accounts.

     The fourth member of the crew was the cabin boy, Richard Parker, age seventeen. He was an orphan, on his first voyage at sea. He had signed up against the advice of his friends, "in the hopefulness of youthful ambition," thinking the journey would make a man of him. Sadly, it was not to be.

     From the lifeboat, the four stranded sailors watched the horizon, hoping a ship might pass and rescue them. For the first three days, they ate small rations of turnips. On the fourth day, they caught a turtle. They subsisted on the turtle and the remaining turnips for the next few days. And then for eight days they ate nothing.

     By now Parker, the cabin boy, was lying in the corner of the lifeboat. He had drunk seawater, against the advice of the others, and became ill. He appeared to be dying. On the nineteenth day of their ordeal, Dudley, the captain, suggested drawing lots to determine who would die so that the others might live. But Brooks refused, and no lots were drawn.

     The next day came, and still no ship was in sight. Dudley told Brooks to avert his gaze and motioned to Stephens that Parker had to be killed. Dudley offered a prayer, told the boy his time had come, then killed him with a penknife, stabbing him in the jugular vein. Brooks emerged from his conscientious objection to share in the gruesome bounty. For four days, the three men fed on the body and blood of the cabin boy.

     And then  help came. Dudley describes their rescue in his diary, with staggering euphemism: On the 24th day, as we were having our breakfast," a ship appeared at last. The three survivors were picked up. Upon their return to England, they were arrested and tried. Brooks turned state's witness. Dudley and Stephens went to trial. They freely confessed that they had killed and eaten Parker. They claimed they had done so out of necessity.

     Suppose you were the judge. How would you rule?
     [The defendants were convicted of murder and sentenced to death but were pardoned by the Crown after serving six months in prison.]

Michael J. Sandel, Justice, 2009 

A Wrongful 32 Year Imprisonment

     A 74-year-old woman was released from prison on March 24, 2014 after serving 32 years for a murder committed by her abusive boyfriend. Mary Virginia Jones walked out of Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, California to the tears and cheers of family and friends…

     Jones was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery in a 1981 shooting death, but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Ryan set aside those convictions…The district attorney's office has agreed to accept a plea of no contest to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for Jones' release. Jones has already served 11,875 days, which exceeds the 11-year maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter.

     Jones' case was taken up by the University of Southern California's Post-Conviction Justice Report. It contends Jones' boyfriend, Mose Willis, kidnapped two drug dealers and forced the woman to drive to an alley, where he shot both men. One of them was killed…

     For years Jones maintained that she "did not willingly participate in the crime." A week before the shooting, Willis shot at Jones' daughter, Denitra Jones-Goodie, and threatened to kill both of them if they contacted the police…Law students at USC's Post Conviction Project argued Jones would not have been convicted if the jury had heard testimony on the effects of intimate partner battery, previously known as "Battered Women's Syndrome."

"Woman, 74, Freed After 32 Years in Prison For Murder She Didn't Commit," CBS News, March 25, 2014 

Extreme Biology at Columbia High

     An Idaho biology teacher is facing disciplinary action after killing and skinning a rabbit in class to show students where their food comes from.

     The teacher killed the rabbit in front of 16 students by snapping its neck at Columbia High School in Boise. The rabbit was then skinned and cut up in front of the 10th graders. [Whether he intended it or not, this teacher probably turned 16 kids into vegetarians.]

"Teacher Kills Rabbit in Class," Associated Press, November 15, 2014  

British Versus American Detective Fiction

Most critics date the emergence of the classical detective story with the publication of Edgar Allan Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1841. British versions by such writers as Arthur Conan Doyle tend to place emphasis on style, a few specific locales, and logic. American versions, which flourished from the twenties onward, carry with them a pulpier prose, a larger scope, and a heavy charge of sensationalism.

Lance Olsen, Rebel Yell, 1998 

Excuses Not to Write

Not writing at all constitutes the ultimate triumph of fear. We seldom admit this, however, even to ourselves. We just can't seem to "get around to it." That sounds like writer's block and sometimes is. Unlike blocked writers, however--who try to put words on paper but can't--non-writing writers have stopped trying. "Maybe after I retire I'll get back to it," they may say. Or: "When the kids are grown when I have a better office to write in." Or: "Once I've bought a new computer" or "After I take another writing class."

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995 

James Cain's Rejected Crime Classic

The Postman Always Rings Twice had nothing to do with the mail service. The title was a private joke of crime novelist James Cain. His postman would ring his doorbell twice whenever the many-times rejected book's manuscript came back from a publisher.

Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type To Be A Writer, 2003

Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Yiqiang Wu Hate Crime Case

     Army Captain Andrew McClure, during his 14 years in military service that included a combat tour in Iraq, had escaped physical injury. On April 11, 2013, as he stood in the Walmart checkout line dressed in his camouflage fatigues, Captain McClure didn't expect to become the target of an anti-American assault. The incident took place at six o'clock in the evening in Albany, New York.

     In response to something mumbled by the man standing behind him in the Walmart line, Captain McClure turned around to determine if the man was speaking to him.  Forty-seven--year-old Yiqiang Wu responded by giving the man in uniform the finger.

     "Is that for me?" the Captain asked.

     "F---you, American scum," said Wu. "F---you, F---your nation!"

     "If you don't like it here, you can always go home," McClure replied. Before the Captain could turn from the man who had insulted him, the uniform, and the country, Wu punched the Captain several times in the face. Bystanders rushed to McClure's aid. The Walmart customers subdued the attacker until the police entered the store and hauled him away in handcuffs.

     The next day, the Walmart assailant from the Schenectady, New York area stood before a magistrate in an Albany criminal courtroom. Wu was charged with third-degree assault as a hate crime. Following his arraignment, the suspect posted his $5,000 bail and was released. The judge ordered a mental illness evaluation.

     Captain McClure, in explaining to a local reporter why he hadn't used his black belt skills to protect himself, said: "I had the presence of mind to know that we're on camera. I'm in uniform and I have to conduct myself as a professional and not do anything that would tarnish or embarrass the unit or the uniform."

     Yiqiang Wu, in speaking to a reporter, said that he heard voices and suffered from headaches. According to him, whenever he plugged his ears to block out the voices, his middle finger shot up. (I'm hearing a voice in my head right now and it says, "load of crap.") Wu assured the reporter he had no ill-will toward the U.S. military.

      Eight years have passed since this hate crime assault and there has not been one update in the media about this crime. As a result, we are left with questions regarding the disposition of the case. Was Yiqiang Wu found guilty? Was he a Chinese citizen who faced deportation? Was he institutionalized as a mental patient? And more importantly, why did the media ignore this outrageous hate crime against an American soldier?

The "Swiss Cheese Pervert"

      Philadelphia police have arrested a man they believe is the "Swiss Cheese Pervert," who reportedly sexually propositioned unsuspecting women with the dairy food. The suspect, identified as 41-year-old Christopher Pagano, was arrested at his Norristown, New Jersey home. Investigators suspect Pagano is the man who drove up to women on several occasions and offered them money to put cheese on his genitals and perform a lewd act.

     In March 2009, Norristown police charged Pagano with criminal solicitation to commit prostitution and disorderly conduct after a Norristown woman called police to report a man who said he would pay her $20 to perform a sex act on him with Swiss cheese he removed from his pocket. Under a negotiated guilty plea on November 6, 2009, a Montgomery County prosecutor dropped the criminal solicitation charge, leaving the summary offense of disorderly conduct. [The judge fined Pagano $100.]

The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 16, 2014 

Eyewitness Unreliability

     Pennsylvania criminal defendants are now able to offer expert testimony about the unreliability of eyewitness identification following a decision by a divided state Supreme Court that overturned a 20-year prohibition against such evidence. [Before this, only the judge could inform jurors of the dangers of eyewitness testimony in the jury instruction phase of the trial.]

     Pennsylvania will join the great majority of states and federal courts when it comes to letting an expert tell jurors about research into eyewitness testimony. [Going back thirty years, hundreds of studies have shown just how unreliable this kind of evidence can be. A countless number of rape and robbery defendants have been sent to prison on the strength of false line-up identifications. Today, in almost all jurisdictions, eyewitness testimony alone will not, by law, sustain a conviction.]

"Court  Decision Allows Expert Testimony on Eyewitness ID," Associated Press, May 29, 2014 

Lapdog Journalism

I think the principal problem with the establishment press, at least in terms of political journalism, has been excess deference to, and closeness with, the most powerful political factions, precincts over which journalism is, at its best, supposed to exercise oversight and serve as a watchdog. Instead it serves as a kind of amplifying mechanism and as a servant to them.

Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian journalist who published surveillance stories leaked by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden. Quoted in The Daily Caller, December 7, 2013