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November 20, 2011

How Not To Talk Like a Pirate
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:52 PM * 72 comments

If you have one of these handy beauties in your pocket you can plunder ships on the high seas. Yes, I’m talking about a Letter of Marque. How many folks have ever seen one? Well, I have, and, for the benefit of pirates everywhere who don’t want to dance a hornpipe at the end of a yardarm, I’ll give it to you in handy fill-in-the-blanks format.

But first, a bit on how I came by this beauty.

There I was in beautiful downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the other weekend. I was giving a lecture (with Powerpoint slides, go me!) to a society of Physician’s Assistants convention on the History of Declaring Death. The 18th and 19th centuries were hotbeds of question when it came to that subject, and many ingenious tests of death were proposed: My favorite is Middeldorph’s Test. You stick a long steel needle into the patient’s heart. If it doesn’t move, he’s dead!

(The recent Sherlock Holmes film with Jude Law as Dr. Watson was a great disappointment to me: Dr. Watson didn’t even make an attempt at Best Practices before he declared Lord Blackwood. At a minimum he should have applied Bouchut’s Test: Listen to the heart for five minutes with a stethoscope. Although the test that involved a plate of medical leeches and the patient’s anus would have been even more amusing. (Let’s not talk about the Turkish Test of Death, which requires a large bellows and two vigorous assistants.) I can see why the film-makers decided to abbreviate the procedure, though: Had Watson correctly employed the full panoply of Victorian tests of death to Lord Blackwood they would have had a much shorter movie in an entirely different genre, and Blackwood would have been no-kidding dead.)

But all that is aside. Having delivered my lecture, there I was in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, at loose ends on a Saturday afternoon. So the thought came to me: Why not drive to Massachusetts to buy a Souvenir of Massachusetts Refrigerator Magnet?

Massachusetts is easy to find from Portsmouth; just drive south on I-95. Then: Where to find a refrigerator magnet? In a gift shop. Where to find a gift shop? Clearly, a museum. They all have gift shops with Stuff in ‘em. So, punch “museum” into the TomTom navigator, and woo! Lookit that! Here’s one nearby, the Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport, MA! They do indeed have a Museum Store.

Newburyport, it seems, was a hotbed of maritime activity since just about forever. The seas around are also full of wrecks. It’s a narrow harbor (formed by the mouth of the Merrimack River), and, during nor’easters, Plum Island (just to the south) is a lee shore. The Atlantic off Newburyport is supposedly the worst stretch of water from Hatteras to Fundy. Newburyport is also the official birthplace of the US Coast Guard, so there’s a heavy Coast Guard presence in the museum.

They have paintings, and knot-boards, and historic Stuff, and models. One of the models (some lovely models) is of the Dreadnought, the packet ship. (As sung by our good friends Boiled in Lead: The tune is, once again, Derry Down.)

Then I spotted something on the wall, posted by the gift shop: A Letter of Marque from 1781. Begad, I thought, the Making Light crew will like this! And so I copied it down. The form was pre-printed, with blanks where the particulars were filled in by hand with pen and ink.

The Congress of the United States of America
To all to whom these Presents come sent GREETING


That we have granted, and by these presents do grant licence and authority to [name of captain], Mariner, Commander of the [kind of vessel] called the [vessel’s name] of the burthen of [number] tons or thereabouts, belonging to [name of owner] mounting [number] carriage guns and navigated by [number] men to fit out and set forth the said [kind of vessel] in a warlike manner, and by and with the said [kind of vessel] and the officers and crew thereof, by force of arms, to attack, subdue, seize and and take all ships and other vessels, goods, wares and merchandizes, belonging to the Crown of Great Britain, or any of the Subjects thereof (except the ships or vessels together with their cargoes belonging to any Inhabitant or Inhabitants of Bermuda, and such other ships or vessels bringing persons, with the intent to settle within any of the said United States, which ships or vessels you shall suffer to pass unmolested, the Masters thereof permitting a peaceable search, and giving satisfactory information of the lading and their destination) or any other ships or vessels, goods, wares or merchandizes to whomsoever belonging, are or shall be declared to be the Subjects of capture by any Resolutions of CONGRESS, or which are so deemed by the LAW OF NATIONS: And the said ships or vessels, goods, wares and merchandizes so apprehended as aforesaid, and as prize taken, to bring into Port, in order that the proceedings may be had concerning such captures, in due Form of Law, and as to Right and Justice appertaineth. And we request all Kings, Princes, States and Potentates, being in Friendship or Alliance with the said United States, and others to whom it may appertain to give the same [name of captain] all aid, assistance and succor in their Ports, with this said vessel, company and prizes. WE, in the name and on the behalf of the Good People of the said United States, engaging to do the like to all Subjects of such Kings, Princes, States and Potentates, who shall come into any Port of the said United States; and We will and require all our officers whatsoever, to give to the said [name of captain] all necessary aid, succor and assistance in the premises. This Commission shall continue in force during the pleasure of the CONGRESS, and no longer.

IN TESTIMONY whereof, We have caused the Seal of the ADMIRALTY of the United States to be affixed hereunto.

WITNESS His Excellency [name] Esquire, President of the CONGRESS of the United States of America, at [city] this [ordinal number] day of [month] in the Year of our Lord One thousand seven hundred and [number] and in the [ordinal number] year of our Independence.



Whether this Letter of Marque would have helped an American privateer who fell into the hands of John Bull is questionable, given the American Revolution was still a hot war at the time it was issued.

But what of the refrigerator magnet? I can hear you asking. Alas, the Custom House Maritime Museum is way too high-class a joint to sell such tourist trash. And so I went home disappointed.

Comments on How Not To Talk Like a Pirate:
#1 ::: John M. Burt ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 08:12 PM:

I had to read it through twice to learn two especially nifty items:
1) That it really was a pre-printed form with blanks to fill in.
2) It is not a Letter of Marque issued under the authority of the Constitution, but one issued by the Continental Congress.
And so, by my careful scholarship, probably lost my only chance to post "Frist!"

#2 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 08:22 PM:

I have plundered
the cargo
that was in
the hold

and which
you were probably
for its owners

Forgive me
I was so authorized
So official
and so not-really-a-pirate

#3 ::: Joe McMahon ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 08:26 PM:

What I want to know is if you saw the Kingsport bus waiting for passengers, with the funny-looking guy behind the wheel.

#4 ::: Steven M. Bellovin ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 08:46 PM:

Very good to see -- especially since, what with both Blackwater and the cybersecurity situation, we may be returning to that world...


#5 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 08:52 PM:

The particular Letter of Marque displayed in Newburyport had been issued to Moses Brown. Not the Moses Brown who founded Brown University, but the Moses Brown who commanded USS Merrimack during the Quasi-War with France.

Issuance of Letters of Marque is one of the enumerated powers of Congress in the current US Constitution. And while the US hasn't actually issued a Letter of Marque since 1815, we didn't sign the Paris Declaration of 1856 that ended privateering, and so could conceivable issue them again.

#6 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 08:54 PM:

John M. Burt #1: It seems that virtue is rewarded....

#7 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 09:40 PM:

But Jim, you didn't mention the Mortician's Twitch!

#8 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 09:44 PM:

wasn't there a story about a big internet entrepreneur who wants to found his own country on a ship? (I read it in Details magazine)

#9 ::: April Grant ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 09:44 PM:

Ah--I have a lovely sense of rightness. You of all people would get the best out of the Custom House Maritime Museum, Jim. I was there two years ago with my mother, when we gave a concert at the wildlife sanctuary; we stayed the weekend, and saw all the sights.

The Custom House was a delightful museum. My favorite element was the chart of the harbor, the coast and Plum Island dotted with little black ships printed with numbers. The ships are wrecks, while the numbers are the years they happened.

Also, I channeled Lovecraft as we walked up the street from our bed&breakfast. He would have been just gaga over all the 18th-century porticoes and fanlights. Downtown Newburyport has a lot of handsome old buildings, not because it's rich and can afford to keep them all up, but because there're people who still want to live in the places, and apparently no period of twentieth-century gentrification to trash the oldest buildings.

Joe McMahon #3: Unfortunately the bus no longer runs to Kingsport, and we were there too late in the year to watch the weekend swimming competitions to Devil's Reef.

#10 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 09:50 PM:

Erik Nelson @8:
Are you thinking of Sealand?

#11 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 09:57 PM:

Jim @ OP

Why on earth did you need a Massachusetts fridge magnet, anyway?

#12 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 10:01 PM:

Technically -- and I believe in being technical -- the grant of a license to engage in privateering and commerce raiding (not, ahem, piracy, the which is an offense against the law of nations) is a 'letter of marque and reprisal'. The reprisal being against the piratical acts of the enemy (vide the celebrated work of the late Stan Rogers, 'Barrett's Privateers') which is, of course evil and reprehensible (unless, of course, you're on the other side, in which case it is properly patriotic and the Continental Congress's neat little Letter of Marque and Reprisal is treasonous piracy given colour of law).

#13 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 10:02 PM:


When I read about the breast cancer drug "Avastin" being withdrawn from the market, the first thought that ran through me head was "Arrrrr, Avastin' we will go!"

#14 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 10:28 PM:

Holy crap. There are 241 words (not counting the blanks-to-be-filled-in) in that first sentence!

(I consider the section after LAW OF NATIONS to be still part of the first sentence, as it was not preceded by a period even though it begins with a capital. Up thru LAW OF NATIONS is 196 words.)

They don't write 'em like that any more.

#15 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 10:39 PM:

There were letters of marque, and letters of marque and reprisal (not to be confused with privateering commissions, or lettres de course (which corsairs carried)).

At some times and places, in order to get a letter of reprisal you had to show that you had already lost some named value to the actions of a foreign crown; you'd then get a letter allowing you to take back a similar value from some other subject of that same foreign crown.

Which is to say, not all letters of marque are also letters of marque and reprisal. Letters of marque can exist separately.

#16 ::: grackle ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 10:49 PM:

Whether this Letter of Marque would have helped an American privateer who fell into the hands of John Bull is questionable, given the American Revolution was still a hot war at the time it was issued. This is a good question, whether or not Britain would have honored (or honoured) an American letter of marque. I think they would have, generally, since during the hostilities there were British sailors captured by the American side, although not to the extent of the number of Americans held in Britain. Still, the letter would be proof that they were not pirates and should not be summarily hung.

#17 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 11:15 PM:

The tune for Derry Down.

Given that John Paul Jones was considered a pirate at least by some, speculation is ... speculation.

#18 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2011, 11:59 PM:

They might give you a fair trial first.
But maybe not.

#19 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 12:30 AM:

I was led to understand that a Letter of Marque was issued by the US government to an airship, not quite 70 years ago, but that seems to be untrue. Two Goodyear-owned blimps did carry out anti-submarine patrols, but nobody has ever found any trace of the paperwork.

(Not finding a trace of the paperwork doesn't seem to mean much, these days.)

#20 ::: John M. Burt ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 02:51 AM:

An airship with a Letter of Marque....
[Eyes glaze over in a steamgasmic trance]

#21 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 03:23 AM:

P J Evans @18

Summary execution of pirates was considered an exceptional act, and the Captain responsible would have to answer for his actions. The guiding principle was necessity: were there so many captives that they could turn the tables on their captors? It wasn't the default.

So a Letter of Marque, even from the Continental Congress, was something that might count against such action. It was something that needed a court to decide about. And it suggested that your prisoners, rebels though they were, were not the lowest of the low.

It's also part of the Propaganda War, along with the Declaration of Independence: We may be rebels, but we are following the customs and practises of civilised nations.

I don't, offhand, know how American prisoners were treated in the land war, compared to prisoners in European wars.

#22 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 03:57 AM:

John M. Burt @20

What seems to have happened in that the Goodyear blimps on the West Coast were at least keeping their eyes open, before they were formally commissioned into the USN in March 1942. The USN was doing such things as putting radios on fishing boats and getting long-duration aerial patrol to spot Japanese submarines was an obvious move.

The letter of marque claim pops up in a Goodyear history, suggesting that at least one of these blimps carried a hunting rifle. It wouldn't surprise me if it all comes from the written instructions given by the Navy to the crew of a civilian vessel under contract.

Disappointing, isn't it.

#23 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 04:06 AM:

It being Monday, which is to say I anticipate distractions, I shall leave it to somebody else to describe how Admiral Aubrey, RN (Retd), came to be commanding an Airship of the coast of California, piloted by Mr Edward Blackadder, esq. I am informed that Dr. Maturin describes Mr. Blackadder's man, Baldrick, as an apparently interesting case which masks a medical problem of the utmost banality.

Mr. Baldrick has a cunning plan to bombard Japanese submarines with turnips.

#24 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 07:20 AM:

Thena @11
Why on earth did you need a Massachusetts fridge magnet, anyway?

He didn't need one, he wanted one.

Dave Bell @21
I don't, offhand, know how American prisoners were treated in the land war, compared to prisoners in European wars.

I seem to recall that many were locked in prison hulks in New York harbour with poor rations, disease and it being bloody cold in winter. This seems similar to my knowledge of the treatment of French prisoners in the Napoleonic wars.

#25 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 07:24 AM:

Sorry, being dozy. On the one hand it seems similar, but in fact American prisoners of war were officially traitors and did not have the legal protections so abuses were widespread; abuses in the Napoleonic wars were officially forbidden.

#26 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 07:50 AM:

If the Goodyear blimp had only a hunting rifle and a letter of marque, that means it was the plucky underdog who had to improvise a way to take down larger and more powerful enemies.

#27 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 09:48 AM:

The detail that interests me is that the letter of marque is issued not just to a specific person, but to that person in his capacity as guy in charge of a particular ship.

It makes sense, now I think of it, but I don't recall having encountered it in any of the tales of privateering I've heard. I'd sort of got the impression, in as much as I thought about it, that once you had a letter of marque you could go out in whatever you happened to have handy.

#28 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 09:48 AM:

I can just imagine the Goodyear Blimp swinging down a prize crew to take a captured submarine into the nearest friendly port, to have an Admiralty Court condemn it and sell it and its cargo at auction, and the plucky Goodyear crew share out the money thus realized according to the Code.

#29 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 10:07 AM:

#19 Dave
Japanese submarines were not vessels of commerce, they were military craft.... The US Merchant Marine generally the officers tended to also have reserve commissions in the US Navy. Perhaps the Goodyear blimp crews also were US military reservists and not technically civilians?

#30 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 10:17 AM:

Antonia 23: Admiral Aubrey, RN (Retd), came to be commanding an Airship of the coast of California,

Hey, my mom is a retired RN too. I hope someone will explain why a Registered Nurse would be commanding an airship.

#31 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 10:30 AM:

Xopher @ #30:

Perhaps the nurse was brought aboard after an earlier skirmish to tend to the wounded, and then the most recent engagement incapacitated the top end of the chain of command?

#32 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 10:38 AM:

Paul A @27--Of course it makes sense; if the master of the privateering vessel died during the voyage, the fact that the letter named the vessel in question would cover its actions under his successor. Otherwise, that crew is all alone out there, in a great big ocean with anooyed people looking for them.

#33 ::: Jon Marcus ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 10:47 AM:

Jim what's the difference between Letters of Marque and Lettres de Course? Is it just a French thang, or are there legal distinctions?

#34 ::: Jon Marcus ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 10:57 AM:

A (printed, alas) Letter of Marque at the jpg link:


I'm unreasonably amused to know that there's a site called

#35 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 11:03 AM:

Given that I'm not an Admiralty lawyer, I don't know the full ramifications of the differences between Letters of Marque and Lettres de Course. I think it's just the French Thing, but I could be wrong. Also, there isn't a single form for a Letter of Marque, given that they've been around since the 13th century, in a wide variety of places and under a selection of legal systems.

#36 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 11:11 AM:

In the Maritime Museum in Lancaster, England, they sell (or anyway they used to) copies of Napoleonic Letters of Marque with the blanks blank for you to fill in for your own vessel. They are very beautiful with royal seals and everything, and on the bottom they have a rubber stamp in red saying words to the effect of "Invalid. This is a replica issued for amusement only". The fact that this is clearly an afterthought stamped on led me to wonder whether somebody once bought one and went out to war enthusiastically upon the Enemies of His Majesty as filled in by themselves...

Probably not, but it would make a great story.

#37 ::: BigHa ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 01:10 PM:

Newburyport is home to some of the oldest structures in North America. Portugese fishermen would sail over in the spring, catch and dry cod all summer, and sail back in the fall. They were regularly doing this in the late 1500s. Some of them built summer cottages, and some of those are still there--I used to know some people who owned one. If you were more than 5'10" tall you had to duck to get through the doorways.

I know a 400+ year old house is nothing special to our European readers, but I doubt there's more than a couple dozen in this country.

#38 ::: grackle ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 01:21 PM:

@ 21, 24 Stephen Budiansky's Perilous fight about the US's naval actions during the War of 1812 has a nice description of the conditions of the many American sailors who were housed in British prisons after capture. Detailed descriptions of social governance within the prisons as well as the difficulties they had in being repatriated after the hostilities ended.

#39 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 02:53 PM:

Last fall I went through a several volume collection of Letters of Marque issued to ships of the Chesapeake in the War of 1812.

I also read through -- though certainly not every word by a long shot -- collections of local, state and federal legislative discussions on the events and issues that led up to persuading Madison to declare war -- even though so many did not want it -- the Chesapeake did though!

Love, C.

#40 ::: Nightsky ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 02:58 PM:

The Dreadnought is one of my favorite songs, and Boiled in Lead's ethereal version is hands-down my favorite.


#41 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 03:04 PM:

In the Civil War, the Confederacy issued Letters of Marque to prey on U.S. shipping. The U.S. government did not issue letters of marque, since the Confederacy was rebelling, not a separate recognized nation. Confederate privateering vessels were considered pirates, not nationals, by the U.S. Government, and thus subject to criminal punishment, though the crews, if I have this right, were generally treated as prisoners of war.

One of Theodore Roosevelt's maternal - Georgian uncles was a very successful, effective raider of U.S. Atlantic shipping, in a vessel financed, commissioned and built in Liverpool, until finally shot up so badly that it sunk in a French port; he barely escaped -- again, if I am recalling the details correctly.

Love, C.

#42 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 03:27 PM:

Built in Liverpool and sunk in a French port? That's CSS Alabama.

#43 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 03:30 PM:

Stefan @ 13: "Arrrrr, Avastin' we will go!"

Stopping we will go? One time or a lot of times? Isn't that hard on your clutch?

#44 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 03:56 PM:

Jim Macdonald@42: and which ship survived Pearl Harbor, only to be sunk later by the Royal Navy? Answer: this one.

#45 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 03:56 PM:

commissioned and built in Liverpool

That's the Alabama.

About which there is a song.[1]

Note, though that the Alabama was a naval vessel, not a privateer.

1) Which song is good for singing to programs that refuse to run, and children who need to go to sleep.

#46 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 05:21 PM:

Ah, I wasn't convinced I recalling correctly. The Confederate navy, not one of the privateers.

A little info on those uncles of TR's here.


#47 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 06:46 PM:

#44 Steve with a book

You didn't need to supply a hint. I knew that one off the top of my head, including her original US Navy name, and her class.

The Malvinas War happened on my watch.

#48 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 07:16 PM:

Jim Macdonald @ 47:

I see by WIkipedia that she was the first and (so far) only ship to be sunk by a nuclear-powered submarine. May she continue to hold that record.

#49 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 07:42 PM:

Bruce, Wikipedia is not a credible source.

Meanwhile, and back to the CSS Alabama, her captain, Raphael Semmes, was the only person in American military history to be both an Admiral of the navy and a General of the army at the same time.

He was also a short man, as was John Paul Jones (Thomas Jefferson referred to Jones as "little Jones") before him, to bring this back to the American Revolutionary period.

#50 ::: Laura Runkle ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 07:58 PM:

But all I want to know is whether there is a resale market for Letters of Marque, and whether it's remarkable, or if purchasing one in a couple of years would make me a marked woman, RN.

#51 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 08:02 PM:

Mark @ #43:

No, no. Avastin' is clearly a-takin' of things and a-makin' them bigger.

#52 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 08:17 PM:

Laura Runkle @50: there's a recreation customizable one or two available on eBay for the Confederate States. The second seems to support a group that supports recreationists.

#53 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 08:23 PM:

There's also a $2300 one on ABE that's a real one from 1806, signed by Lord Arden, with a portrait of George III, against the ships of the Prussian Navy.

#54 ::: April Grant ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2011, 11:32 PM:

Raphael Semmes may have been short, but he had a +5 Mustache of Manliness. He was also a very poor sport who threw his sword into the sea rather than surrender it to the captain of the USS Kearsarge when he was beaten at last.

Can anyone confirm or deny the rumors I seem to remember about Semmes?

One went that he confiscated the clock from every ship he took, stopped the hands at the hour at which the ship was captured, and hung it on his cabin wall. By the time the CSS Alabama was sunk, there were clocks all over the cabin.

The other story was that one of the mixed cargoes Semmes bravely confiscated (from unarmed merchantmen, I would point out) contained squeezy rubber dolls that made crying noises when you squished them. Semmes used to pace the deck, deep in thought, holding a doll which he squoze every so often to make it go "Waah!"

Er. Or so I read somewhere once. A cursory Google isn't turning up any evidence.

#55 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2011, 12:00 AM:

Paul A, Mark: Avastin we will not go, according to the recent FDA decision.

#56 ::: CircusFreak ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2011, 06:37 AM:

Off topic, I know, but would it be totally out of place to request a post on "The History of Declaring Death", someday?

Seeing as you've got the powerpoint slides and all...

#57 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2011, 07:54 AM:

@#56: hear, hear!

#58 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2011, 09:31 AM:

thomas @ #55:

Yes, that's how the subject came up in the first place (vide #13). We were just trying to figure out what it was that the FDA has decided we aren't allowed to go and do.

#59 ::: H.E. Wolf ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2011, 06:54 PM:

There's a lovely scene in The Princes of the Air, wherein the Most Senior Scribe in the Production Department of the Forms Service draws up a Letter of Marque for the protagonists....

#60 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2011, 04:42 AM:

Erik Nelson @8

There are many such proposals, but the one I believe you're most likely to be thinking of is this one, which was featured in a Discovery Channel documentary a few years ago.

#61 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2011, 05:45 AM:

April Grant @ 54: on the matter of ships' clocks, Shelby Foote mentions them as being among the items put ashore in Cherbourg before the Alabama sailed to meet the Kearsarge. However, far from stopping the clocks at the time of capture, he says Semmes used to wind them periodically as a way of keeping tally.

(I have a sneaking suspicion that Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea was at least partially inspired by Semmes. Verne would doubtless have known his story, and that of the CSS Shenandoah, which was still wandering the Pacific burning Yankee whalers some months after the fall of the Confederacy. Put the two together and you have a lone stateless warship captained by an eccentric.)

#62 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2011, 01:48 PM:

There is an English Pirate still alive, and Alwyn Call, who was jailed in 1968, went on to be a respected trawler skipper.

#63 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2011, 09:46 PM:

The actors who portrayed the privateer ship "Cardiff Rose" at the local Renaissance Faire a number of years ago (which is of course not actually a ship) proudly displayed a Letter of Marque signed by the Mayor of Cardiff.

Apparently one of the crew members researched it, created a replica, and went out of his way on a subsequent trip to Britain to hand it to the said Mayor. After a brief explanation the Mayor was quite willing to sign it and appeared to enjoy the process ;)

#64 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2011, 07:22 AM:

The Malvinas War happened on my watch.

Don't be too hard on yourself, a lot of people slipped up on that one.

#65 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2011, 08:53 AM:

While y'all are waiting for my notes on the History of Determining Death (the Ligature Test! Woo! Tie a string around the patient's finger. In a living person, the skin distal to the ligature will turn dusky, and be blanched at the ligature line. In a dead person, no color changes! (Note: Only works for light-skinned persons)), I've put up the companion book that I created for the lecture as a Kindle-format e-book: Unquiet Graves.

#66 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2011, 01:19 PM:

ajay @ 64:

I was about to comment that unlike the British government Jim probably hadn't been caught with his trousers down, when I decided to google the phrase and discovered that it had actually been uttered before the Argentine invasion (and according to the source I found, may even have provoked it).

#67 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2011, 07:57 PM:

I doubt the phrase provoked the Argentine invasion. Nothing that anyone said or didn't say in Britain or the US could have affected it. Galtieri desperately needed a military adventure to distract the people from the utter mess that was the Argentine domestic scene; a reason for everyone to pull together and stop criticizing the government.

#68 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2011, 02:08 AM:

Jim Macdonald @ #65:

I see that Amazon lists four authors whose tales of premature burial are included in Unquiet Graves - I recognise three of them, but I'm not sure about Edgar Alan Poe, and Amazon lists no other works by him. Is he any relation to Edgar Allan Poe (who, come to think of it, would be another good choice for an anthology of premature burial stories, if you ever get to doing a volume 2)?

#69 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2011, 11:48 AM:

Paul A. (#68): It's his cousin, Eddie, from Shreveport. Actually, the name is correct inside the book, and I've now fixed it on the Amazon page.

Tyops. Gotta love 'em.

#70 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2011, 02:31 PM:

The founder of E-Bay was funding Patri Friedman (the grandson of Milton Freidman) to work on "Seasteading" They had a falling out. Given my knowledge of the principles (I spent time with them in the past two years, I have friends who live in the co-op the seasteaders own), the odds of it being anything more than a way for Patri, and some of his friends, to make extra money (it's not that Patri is wanting for cash), is slim.

From what I can see, the underpants gnomes have a better plan.

#71 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2011, 02:32 PM:

BigHa: I know a 400+ year old house is nothing special to our European readers, but I doubt there's more than a couple dozen in this country.

The oldest building in constant use in the US is in Los Angeles, on Olvera Street. It was, the last time I stopped by, a restaurant. It was built in the 1570s, as I recall. The food was good, and the fresca superb.

#72 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2011, 04:24 PM:

That's way too early, Terry. Avila Adobe is from 1780-something, most of the rest from the mid-19th century.

When the MTA goes out on strike,I enjoy walking out the front of Union Station, across the Plaza, through Civic Center, and down to Pershing Square. It's an interesting walk through about a century and a half of city, most of it actually from about 1910 to 1930.

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