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June 28, 2011
Launched for one sole issue
Posted by Avram Grumer at 09:16 PM * 95 comments

Y’know that weird swayback pose that too many comics artists use for female characters, like a form of sexy scoliosis?

Kate Beaton (of Hark, a Vagrant), Meredith Gran (of Octopus Pie), and Carly Monardo have come up with the ultimate comic-book strong female characters. Meredith Gran even designed a t-shirt.

June 25, 2011
We’re Number One!
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:18 AM *

First in the nation! Probably something to do with all those politicians every four years.

The Drunkest States in America

Gallons sold divided by population. Of course, to be accurate, it should be divided by the populations of New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York…

June 24, 2011
Fort Knox Threatened!
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:05 PM * 116 comments

Ron Paul worries Fort Knox gold is gone

“This is one of the few legitimate functions of government: To check our ownership and be fiscally responsible and find out just what we own and whether it’s really there,” said Paul, who is among those running for the Republican presidential nomination.

Thanks to international cooperation between the CIA and MI-6 the responsible party has been identified.

Oddjob and Goldfinger

No need to worry: Our British allies are ready to handle the problem.

Nice datacenter you have there
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:56 AM * 76 comments

So. After a raid in which they seized equipment from DigitalOne, a Swiss-based hosting company with equipment in Reston, Virginia, the FBI has announced that it is bringing action against a couple of fake antivirus software distributors. The defendants are accused of using scareware to convince people to buy their stuff, and of infecting web ads with malware that locked away users’ data unless they did so. These are serious crimes affecting many people all over the world. So yay, right?

Well, sorta.

The Bureau’s search warrant seems to have been overbroad. According to the DigitalOne’s CEO, the raid had a wider impact than just the customers under investigation:

“FBI was interested in one of our clients and in his servers, but they took besides target servers tens of not related servers of other customers,” he said. “Most of our customers are sub-providers which host hundreds and thousands of smaller customers.”

It appears that the FBI agents removed the entire racks containing the servers of interest. This affected several well-known sites whose equipment happened to be on those racks, including, Pinboard and Instapaper. Depending on what hardware was removed, a whole bunch of online companies were either entirely dark or running on restricted services.

Marco Arment, the founder of Instapaper, blogged today that they now have their server back. Logs indicate that its drives weren’t booted into the OS during its absence. It’s possible, of course, that the FBI copied them without booting, though Arment says he sees no reason for them to retain the data if they did. (He was substantially less sanguine in the immediate aftermath of the raid.)

I expect that many of the companies affected will be explaining their password encryption protocols to their customers over the next few days. I also expect that many of them will be upgrading their security if those explanations don’t reassure.

And I expect that many of them will also move their business away from DigitalOne. Instapaper already has, citing customer service failures.

For whatever it’s worth, I have deleted the code, data, and keys from the server and asked DigitalOne to cancel my account immediately. I’m not convinced that they did everything they could to prevent the seizure of non-targeted servers, and their lack of proactive communication with the affected customers is beneath the level of service I expect from a host.

He clearly intends to move on from this incident.

I appreciate the outreach from people wanting to help me fight the FBI or DigitalOne somehow, but that’s honestly the last thing I’d want to do. Even if money were no object, I can’t afford the time or the stress, I’m not looking for any sort of reimbursement, and nothing they say would absolutely assure me (or even the slightest skeptics) that they had zero copies of the data.

As he points out, it makes perfect sense for his company to do this.

I have a great product to maintain, expand, and improve, and there’s nothing I’d rather do than get back to work doing what I love.

But I’m flashing back about half a year here. Remember when Amazon booted Wikileaks from their servers after being contacted by Senator Lieberman? The cited reason was a Terms of Service violation, and of course, I have no basis for asserting that Wikileaks was not in violation of the TOS. But I do wonder whether the specter of a disruptive FBI raid on a datacenter or two might not have been raised, either on the phone from Washington or in the boardroom in Seattle.

I suspect that the pressure on hosting companies to avoid problematic customers is enormous, and incidents like this one will only increase it. Sometimes the problematic customers will be spammers or scammers, fraudsters or criminals. But how sure are we that there won’t also be investigations of politically or economically inconvenient targets? The FBI’s record on this sort of thing isn’t exactly reassuring.

And even if the evidence gathered in an investigation doesn’t pass the threshold for a search warrant, all the hosting company has to do is, you know, overhear that the G-men are looking at one of their customers. No responsible business would want to take the risk that a judge might issue a warrant to an agency that has a history of taking down unrelated customers as well as suspect ones. Better to let the problematic ones seek hosting elsewhere, right?

And customers of said hosting companies, if they’re wise, will start worrying about who is in the server next to theirs. It may become prudent to put some (or all) of their custom with hosts that choose their clients with an eye to these sorts of risks. This may make it difficult for anyone with more inclusive policies to stay afloat, but that’s the way that business goes.

Nor will moving out of the U.S. help. As U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones of the District of Minnesota says in the FBI’s statement on the investigation:

Addressing cybercrime requires international cooperation; and in this case, the FBI, collaborating with our international law enforcement and prosecution partners, have worked tirelessly to disrupt two significant cybercriminal networks. Their efforts demonstrate that no matter the country, Internet criminals will be pursued, caught and prosecuted.

As Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer says in the same statement,

…computer users must be vigilant in educating themselves about cyber security and taking the appropriate steps to prevent dangerous and costly intrusions.


June 23, 2011
James Arthur Ray convicted of negligent homicide
Posted by Teresa at 10:05 AM *

James Arthur Ray, the New Age entrepreneur and flimflam man I wrote about at length in October 2009, after a sweat lodge at his “Spiritual Warrior” seminar in Sedona went disastrously wrong, has been convicted on three counts of negligent homicide.

Very short version: Using the come-on line “Create wealth in all areas of your life,” and teaching a mishmash of excerpted esoteric traditions and positive magical thinking, James Arthur Ray created a very profitable business selling high-priced seminars and educational materials to spiritual seekers. Attendees at his seminar in Sedona had paid at least $10,000 to be there, though many of them had probably also attended some of Ray’s preliminary seminars, bringing their total bill to around $25,000 - $30,000.

The high points of the workshop were a “spirit quest” and a sweat lodge, both fairly rigorous mind/body hacks the Newagers have swiped from Native American tribes and extensively misapplied. That weekend in Sedona, middle-aged seekers had been sent out into the high Arizona scrub desert to fast without food or water for 36 hours. Then, on the day of the sweat lodge fiasco, they got a light breakfast and a few hours of seminars before the main event.

James Arthur Ray had already been warned several times by Native American elders that he wasn’t properly trained, and shouldn’t be running sweat lodges. Participants had gotten ill during them in all the previous seminars he’d held there.

Background: traditional sweat lodges hold eight to twelve people at most. They’re made out of natural materials that “breathe”, and they don’t use airtight construction. The person in charge of the sweat lodge closely monitors the condition of the people doing it. There are four rounds of high heat, with breaks for fresh air and cooling off in between them.

James Arthur Ray’s sweat lodge covered 415 square feet, was 53” high at the center and 30” around the edges, was wrapped in blankets and impermeable plastic tarps, and made no provision for light or ventilation, and didn’t have a thermometer. Ray packed 55-65 people into it for a two-hour sweat, with eight rounds of high heat, and he strongly pressured the participants to remain there for the entire procedure. The last half-hour was when things went from “way too stressful” to “multi-victim medical emergency.”

The Arizona Republic has good coverage summarizing the trial. It appears that a long string of spiritual teachers and related experts testified that Ray, who’d claimed to have studied and mastered their disciplines, had at most had a superficial exposure to them. Many of these experts had protested to Ray about what he was doing, and tried to get him to stop it.

Furthermore, the Q’ero medicine man Don Jose Luis, who supposedly initiated Ray after three years of study in Peru, is not a medicine man at all, and Ray didn’t spend a lot of time in Peru with him or anyone else. This testimony came from Denise Kinch, who has worked with the Q’ero for twenty years and is the author of a book about their traditions. She says she knows Jose Luis well, and that he’s a guide who teaches what she called an “Easy-Bake” weekend version of Q’ero rites.

That does answer some questions I had. James Arthur Ray always framed his personal narrative as “how I recovered from bankruptcy, mastered esoteric traditions, became a Spiritual Warrior, and got rich — and you can too!” Trouble is, his bankruptcy happened around 1997-2000, and he hit the national stage in 2006 as one of the sub-authors of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. During the intervening years, he was working the ‘self-publishing motivational speaker and spirituality expert’ gig. I couldn’t spot any gaps in his timeline when he could have been an apprentice studying spiritual disciplines. Even if he hadn’t been busy running his business, that period isn’t really long enough to master one traditional discipline, let alone study and re-synthesize a handful of them, especially when part of that synthesis is supposed to be secret Peruvian jungle tribe wisdom previously unknown to outsiders.

My worldview is heavily informed by the copyeditor in my head who never shuts up. It’s always asking what it would take in order for some story to be true. The longer I looked at James Arthur Ray, the less sense his story made. You can say that about a lot of people. I’m just sorry that in his case, normal safety concerns fell into the gap between what he claimed to know and what he did know, and that people died as a result.

June 22, 2011
Breaking news from Dixville Notch
Posted by Teresa at 11:00 PM *

We have a video taken this afternoon in the North Country showing some of that “fast and efficient EMS” action we periodically hear about. The reporter is Charlie Jordan, whom I’ve met. As he reported it in the online version of the Colebrook Chronicle:

On Wednesday morning, around 11:30 a.m., Jennifer Tate, 30, of Nashua, was seriously injured at the Cascade Brook Trail in Dixville Notch after she fell some 30-60 feet down a ravine. The ground reportedly had collapsed under her while she was taking a picture from on top of the gorge. By mid-afternoon, she was rescued through the coordinated efforts of many rescue and emergency personnel who had responded to the remote scene. Due to the incline where she fell, the rescue was very technical, but crews were able to get Tate up the side of the cliff and onto a stokes litter before bringing her down the trail to the 45th Parallel EMS ambulance.Tate was driven a short distance down Route 26 to a waiting DHART helicopter and flown directly to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. Sgt. Wayne Saunders of the N.H. Fish and Game explained that the technicial rescue was a vertical raise up the side of the gorge. Conservation Officer Geoffrey Younglove, with the Fish and Game Search and Rescue, said that Tate received multiple injuries in her fall.

Two hikers who were also on the trail assisted Tate after her fall. Dan Webster said that he was able to hike down into the gorge to stay with Tate while his wife called for help. Responding to the scene of the rescue were the 45th Parallel EMS, the Colebrook Fire and Rescue, the Beecher Falls Vol. Fire Dept. special ops crew, a professional ropes crew from Camp E-Toh-Anee, the N.H. Fish and Game and Search and Rescue units, and DHART.

Jim Macdonald was Scene Command at the top of the cliff, and Trail Command on the carryout. You can see him starting around 0:44, at the far right of the screen. He’s the worried-looking older guy in the red turtleneck. Starting around 1:28 he’s visible again from the back. He’s the rearmost guy on the right helping to carry the patient to the nearest road.

Jim’s commentary in chat:

The folks rigging the ropes were the High Angle Rescue Team from Beecher Falls and the rappelling instructor from Camp E-Toh-Anee.
Louie and Arthur were the team at the bottom of the cliff. They’d walked up the gorge, which included climbing a waterfall to get there.
At 1:22 you can get a view of the falls that Louie and Arthur climbed to get to her.
Here: Photo on left.
On the foot of the stretcher we have Louie (on the left) and Jason on the right. Behind Jason is Morgan. Behind Louie is one of the Colebrook firefighters.
The two guys behind that are two more Colebrook firefighters. In the maroon shirt is the guy whose job was Patient’s Buddy. Then in the helmet is Brian, who was one of the people who rappelled in to pick her up.
A young lady having a very bad day, but not as bad as it could have been.
The orange blanket the young lady is wrapped in is a thermal blanket from my kit.
So now you know who everyone is.
I do appear in some of the video footage. I’m wearing a red turtleneck.
TNH: Around 0:44, at the far right of the screen, looking worried.
Jim: Yep, that would be me.
At that point, though, the medical care had been turned over to the DHART crew, a paramedic and a flight nurse.
It was quite steep. When you see the helicopter taking off, the hills in the background … she was way up on one of those.
Wayne Saunders, the Fish and Game officer, is a friend of mine. We’ve been on a lot of calls together.
He was the one who was shot in the chest by Drega, where his badge saved his life. His badge was driven into his chest and stuck there. Had to cut around it to get his shirt off.
The entire operation took a while. It was pretty rugged terrain.
The civilian held c-spine on her until Louie and Arthur arrived. The fall was well over 30 feet.
Louie is the fellow who shot the bear in your freezer.
… Lookit this, we made the Washington Post:
Union Leader:
TNH: Hah! The AP version has to be lifted from Charlie Jordan’s, but they have a note at the bottom saying they own the story.
Jim: And that it can’t be re-written, etc.
They weren’t there. Charlie was.
I had a quiet afternoon, myself. But if I ever fall down a ravine and have to be hauled out on a Stryker frame by a technical ropes crew, I’ll hope Jim is there.

June 21, 2011
Time’s Wingéd Chariot
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:43 PM *

Summer now. We’re half-way through the solar year. This isn’t a topical post, or apropos anything. It isn’t an anniversary. But I think I should mention the need for writers to make wills, and particularly to name a literary executor.

Neil Gaiman wrote on the subject shortly after the death of Mike Ford.

John M. Ford was pretty much the smartest writer I knew. Mostly. He did one thing that was less than smart, though: he knew he wasn’t in the best of health, but he still didn’t leave a proper will, and so didn’t, in death, dispose of his literary estate in the way that he intended to while he was alive, which has caused grief and concern to the people who were closest to him.

He’s not the first writer I know who didn’t think to take care of his or her posthumous intellectual property. For example, I knew a writer — a great writer — separated from and estranged from his wife during the last five years of his life. He died without making a will, and his partner, who understood and respected his writing, was shut out, while his wife got the intellectual property, and has not, I think, treated it as it should have been treated. These things happen, and they happen too often.

Neil includes a handy template.

There’s more discussion of the issues involved here: Final Drafts.

In preparing the powers of a Literary Executor, you must consider the following questions:
  • Will the Literary Executor have the sole and exclusive right to make all decisions regarding appropriate publication, republication, sale, license or other exploitation of your work? Or, should she merely be appointed as an advisor to the General Executor?
  • Will the Literary Executor be responsible for preparing unfinished or unpublished manuscripts for publication and seeing those works through publication?
  • Will the Literary Executor have the right to terminate copyright licenses?
  • Will she have the power to destroy any letters or papers she believes should be destroyed?
  • In return for her services, will the Literary Executor receive a fee or commission for her services? What is fair compensation? What about reimbursement for expenses? Will the Literary Executor be required to maintain a separate bank account for such monies?
  • Will the Literary Executor have the sole right to sue for infringement of copyights?
  • Will the Literary Executor have the authority to pay attorneys, agents, subagents and others?
  • In the event the Literary Executor is unwilling or unable to perform her duties, what are the provisions for appointing her successor? Or, will the General Executor assume those duties?

I note that I’m as remiss as any. My current will dates from when I was a young Naval officer with just one child and had no thought of becoming an author. (Or, had thought of it and dismissed the possibility.) I’ll fix this soon.

The entire issue seems to be one where seeking qualified professional help would be a good idea.

June 20, 2011
Michael Swanwick’s modest proposal
Posted by Patrick at 09:16 AM *

Mr. Michael Swanwick (of the East Hobbledehoy Swanwicks) writes with an Idea addressing certain Vexations and Dilemmas of the Modern Writer’s life:

I have an idea—a good one, I believe.

Whenever I do a public reading, I finish by signing and dating the typescript and leaving it behind for whoever wants it. I thought I’d invented this practice, but of course there were others before me. Mike Resnick is one and Rob Sawyer another. Rob told me he used to simply discard his typescript. Then, after a reading, he forgot his jacket and, returning for it, discovered two fans, arms deep in the trash basket, fighting over his story. Out of simple respect for his readers, he adopted the more dignified practice.

I think we should make this practice universal. It costs the writer nothing and it makes at least one reader happy.

But there’s a less obvious benefit: It gives people an incentive to attend readings by new and unknown writers. A story autographed this year by Mike or Rob or me is a pleasant thing to possess. But an autographed typescript—particularly one dated before the actual publication—by the next Connie Willis or Jonathan Lethem would be worth serious money to a collector.

Let’s do it. Spread the word. Let every new and gonna-be writer know that this is the new industry standard. With a little luck, we can ensure that all readings are at least adequately attended.

Last week, a fan told me he’d picked up a typescript at one of my readings, and showed me a snapshot of it. He’d framed it and hung it on his wall.

Imagine how good that made me feel.

June 19, 2011
Following Yellowbrickroad
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:40 PM *

I found it while cruising through Apple Movie Trailers: Yellowbrickroad

I’d previously mentioned in this film in Fun, Making Our Own.

And as I mentioned in the comment thread there, I did two days as Set Medic for the production. (Alas, the Full Cast and Crew at IMDB doesn’t mention me or Rebekkah, the other EMT. But they don’t mention the young lady who did Craft Services either). Maybe in the full version of the film. It’s apparently showing at various AMC theaters this month. If it’s showing near you, and you want to check it out and report back on whether I’ve achieved Hollywood Respectability, let me know.

So anyway, there was going to be a movie filmed in the Colebrook area. It said so in the paper. And I figured, “Gee, it would be fun to hook up with these guys,” because I’m all about entertainment. So I searched on-line (the newspaper story didn’t give contact details). And I searched. And nothing. O well.

Then the next newspaper story. They’re in town! This time I was able to get contact information, and I learned why I hadn’t been able to Google ‘em up before. Their site was pure Flash, so none of it was indexed. But! I did discover where they were filming, so the next morning, I drove up there to say hi. They were up in Pittsburg, and were a nice, friendly group. As I walked up the logging road to the filming area, first thing I came to was a picnic fly with a young lady, her entire lower jaw painted Greenscreen Green. “Oh dear,” I said to myself. “In the finished item I think she’s going to have some trauma.”

Turned out they needed water and bug dope. So I drove back to Young’s Store and got some, just as a way to say Hi. And I found who the set medic was: My friend Rebekkah, who had found the job on Craigslist. She’d been one of my students when I taught the EMT-Intermediate class. So I chatted with her, and found that there were a couple of days she couldn’t cover in the shoot. I could, so I chatted with the producer, and that’s how I got a two-day gig as Set Medic for a Feature Length Motion Picture.

First day: Starting at Misty Moisty Morning Time out at Lake Francis State Park. The filming that day involved a couple of characters lost in the woods, and one of them killing the other. Plus some walking around in the woods. This was supposed to cover several days’ camping and hiking. To make different camp-sites, they’d shoot in one direction, then walk to the other side of the site and shoot the other way to be the next day’s camp. The big problem was avoiding the sounds of lawnmowers from the main part of the campground, which would rather ruin the illusion that these guys were lost miles from nowhere.

Things I learned: Why movie doctors and nurses wear their stethoscopes backwards. It’s because if they wore them right (with the earpieces pointing forwards) to listen to heart and lung sounds, they wouldn’t be able to hear the director.

Mostly I hung out with the makeup person (a nice young lady up from Brooklyn, who’d done a lot of commercials, but who .needed a feature film credit to get into the union and get health insurance). We paged through some of my EMT books, for the illustrations. The camera operator was a grizzled old pro, a freelancer like the rest of us, who’d been around and done a lot. He had a scar on his hand from a lizard bite in Australia, and a scar on his leg from the attack on Pearl Harbor. (Not the actual attack, he wasn’t that old; from the filming of the recent film by that name.)

The special-effects makeup guys were called “the Blood Boys,” and they had some neat dismembered limbs. Legs with the femur and femoral artery exposed. That kind of stuff. We chatted about blood formulas (EMTs use fake blood in training scenarios.) Their favorite involved Red Velvet Cake mix and shredded coconut. Also the best way to get someone to foam at the mouth.

It didn’t rain much. No real medical emergencies. Band-aid stuff. And making sure everyone stayed hydrated.

The next day, shooting would start at a different location around 2:00 pm. First up was a stunt, involving falling off a cliff. They’d brought a stunt coordinator up from Boston for this, and wanted their EMT standing by. So I stood. This involved a green screen about thirty feet wide and twenty tall, a platform, a mattress, and a whole lot of cardboard boxes. (I believe the completed effect is in the trailer.) With that done, next up was more green-screen work involving what would eventually be a deadfall, and the young lady who was the star of the show doing some stuff. This was Ms. Cassidy Freeman, who appears in Smallville as Tess Mercer / Tess Luthor, and who was bankrolling the film. (The writers and lots of the cast and crew were her old pals from Mercer College, as I understood it.) She was standing there wearing Not Much, and pretty cold (it being a New Hampshire Summer) so (my brush with fame!) I gave her the mylar blanket from my kit, which was light enough to not mess up her full-body makeup.

The day continued into the night, with a campfire scene, including backstory and exposition. The excitement came around midnight when the generator for the lights stopped working. The problem eventually turned out to be that the generator had run out of diesel, even though the gauge indicated full, since the gauge was broken. After some shenanigans we got it working again.

The shoot ran ‘til maybe three in the morning. The only medical problems were things like grips with jammed toes. No biggie. What was great was hanging out with a lot of talented, very professional people. Darn, that felt good.

Not much of a story, but there it is.

As I look at the trailer, it’s funny seeing places that I recognize. That movie theater? That’s where I go to the movies. That’s where we saw Thor a couple of weeks back.

I do hope to see this film someday. Meanwhile, if it’s playing near you, go see it.

Update: Yet another trailer.

June 18, 2011
Our comprehensively insane sex-offender laws
Posted by Patrick at 01:42 PM *

Jacob Sullum writes a powerful piece on the subject. We all know vaguely about the modern rash of laws creating mandatory public “sex offender” registries, and most of us think of them as directed at creepy adults who diddle minor children. Many of us know about “Megan’s Law,” the 1996 federal statute that forces the states to create such registries as a condition of receiving federal law-enforcement funds. But did you know that in at least thirteen states, the list of convictions that require lifelong registration as a “sex offender” include things like urinating in public? And 28 states require registration by those who, in their teens, were caught having sex with persons two years older or younger than them. Although the scope differs from state to state, being on one of these public registries generally entails lifelong restrictions on where one can live and work.

Making Light’s readers are probably familiar with the fact that in about nine out of ten sexual assaults against a child, the perpetrators are relatives or acquaintances, not strangers. And the overwhelming bulk of people arrested for sex offenses have no prior convictions for these kinds of crimes. Furthermore, the common claim that sexual crimes against children have a “90 percent likelihood of recidivism” turns out, on examination, to be nonsense; in fact, the rate is about 14% over four to six years, lower than the recidivism rates for burglary or non-sexual assault. But facts appear to make no difference. It’s hard to summarize how completely bonkers the whole business has become.

According to The Dallas Morning News, the sex offender registry in Texas, where Washington lives, includes about 4,000 people who were minors when they committed their crimes, a quarter of whom were under 14. Human Rights Watch interviewed the father of a 10-year-old boy accused of touching his 5-year-old cousin’s genitals. “My son doesn’t really understand what sex is,” he told the group, “so it’s hard to help him understand why he has to register as a sex offender.” This policy of tarring minors as sex offenders undermines a central aim of the juvenile justice system by burdening people with the mistakes of their youth for the rest of their lives.
Even more notable is the growth of state laws that authorize involuntary, unlimited civil commitment of sex offenders after they’ve served their sentences. Kansas’s version of this was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1997, and because there isn’t already enough absurdity in this story, the majority opinion was written by Clarence Thomas. The offender in question was originally convicted on the grounds that he could have controlled his behavior and failed to do so; on completion of his ten-year sentence, he was committed because the state declared that he was unable to control himself. For most people committed to establishing a regime of arbitrary and lawless power, enshrining such a contradiction would be enough of an accomplishment. But our modern Supreme Court wasn’t finished; they further ruled that indefinite commitment isn’t a life sentence under another name because the “patient” is “permitted immediate release upon a showing that the individual is no longer dangerous or mentally impaired,” and also—it’s the detail work, you know, that separates the pros from the part-timers and dilletantes—that the state isn’t required to provide treatment that might help eliminate the danger. Perfect, really.

Of course, someone is making a tidy fortune off of all this. In Washington state, it was found that taxpayers pay about $26,000 a year to house an offender in prison, but $97,000 annually once they’re committed after serving their term. Sullum concludes:

When you strip away the quasi-medical language, what states are really saying when they indefinitely commit odious individuals like Leroy Hendricks to mental hospitals is this: “Whoops. We should have given this guy a longer sentence.” But it is no mere formalistic quibble to point out that a defendant’s sentence should be imposed at the time of his conviction as determined by a judge within the parameters set by statute. These are basic requirements of due process and the rule of law, and we make exceptions to them at our peril. Clarence Thomas may be confident that preventive detention won’t be extended to “other dangerous persons,” but I am not. It seems to me that all it would take is a new law attached to a new scientific-sounding label invented by legislators or grabbed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. How many convicted criminals could qualify for a diagnosis of, say, anti-social personality disorder?

In a 2004 Criminal Law Bulletin article, William Mitchell College of Law professor Eric Janus argued that “sexual predator laws provide a model for undercutting…constitutional protections.” The process, Janus said, starts with a universally despised group of people who, like suspected terrorists, attract no public sympathy. He warned that “we are at risk of becoming a ‘preventive state,’ in which the paradigm of governmental social control has shifted from solving and punishing crimes that have been committed to identifying ‘dangerous’ people and depriving them of their liberty before they can do harm.” To most Americans, I fear, this prospect is not nearly as scary as the possibility that a sex offender lives down the street.

I’m not as convinced that “most Americans” are as foolish as all that. Like most of what appears in Reason, the flagship magazine of American libertarianism, Sullum’s article (subtitled “Sex offender laws represent the triumph of outrage over reason”) fits tidily into a narrative of cool rationality under siege by hotheaded, mob-driven democracy. In fact what this issue could use is a little more outrage, right alongside the logic and reason. It could also use more insight into the way moral panics form (a subject on which libertarians are often very good) and a lot more examination of exactly who benefits from this kind of racket. We might even start to notice that pathologies like this, like the unwinnable-yet-unendable War on Drugs, or the modern British obsession with shaming and blaming working peoples’ behavior, act to hollow out, disrupt, and disempower entire parts of society, and to make it easier for other parts of society to reinforce and perpetuate their privileges. But then we’d have to come up with some terms for these “parts of society,” and start looking at the mechanisms by which powerful people, not being fools, regularly exploit opportunities to better themselves and those they regard as their kind, often by reducing the competitive potential of other cohorts. We might have to begin referring to these contending cohorts with crazy terms like, I dunno, “class” or something. But wait, that’s foolish conspiracy-theorizing. Powerful people working together to maintain their prestige and position! That never happens. Nah, the reason Americans get buffaloed into supporting the highest incarceration rate in the world is that People Are Stoopid.

June 17, 2011
New E-Pubs
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:25 AM * 6 comments

Three new e-pubs to report:

Up the Airy Mountain  Witch Garden and Other Stories  Holly and Ivy 

With these, our back-list short stories (the ones to which we own the sole rights) are completely available in e-text form.

Onward to novels.

June 16, 2011
I can haz 32 votes?
Posted by Avram Grumer at 10:13 PM * 13 comments

I’ve been getting robo-calls on my landline from the so-called “National Organization for Marriage” (which, contrary to what the name implies, opposes the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples), asking me to, well, I don’t actually know. The first time, I hung up mid-call; the second message got cut off by our answering machine.

Probably they want me to call our state senator, Eric Adams, and ask him to change his position. Adams is pro-marriage, by which I mean that he supports marriage rights for same-sex couples. NY State’s marriage equality bill has passed the state assembly, and is supported by the governor, so all it needs to do is get through the state senate, and it’s one vote short of doing that. Supporters of marriage equality are trying to convince another Republican to flip over to the pro-marriage side, which would get the bill though. So obviously, an anti-marriage group like NOM wants to flip one of the marriage supporters over to their side. Still, my phone number is a pretty bad choice for them. Adams’s district, the 20th, includes friggin’ Park Slope, one of the most left-leaning neighborhoods in the city. I’m sure Adams knows better than to betray his district on a high-profile issue like this. Maybe NOM thinks I’m a Lubavitcher?

Gingrich’s presidential campaign moves from delusion to dementia
Posted by Teresa at 11:18 AM *

Commenting on his most recent campaign disaster, the resignation en masse of his senior campaign staff, Newt Gingrich has said that he feels liberated:

My vision is of a people-oriented grassroots campaign where becomes the center of new solutions, new ideas, new energy—a campaign that’s inclusive, that brings together everybody in America, of every ethnic background, who wants to change Washington.

And I think that that was so different from the normal Republican model, that there just wasn’t a fit. I frankly feel liberated.

With the exception of only one person, all of my original team is still with me. And in every single state where we lost some people, we’ve actually gained new people who are excited by the idea that we could have a genuinely different grassroots campaign to change Washington.

This immediately put me in mind of Jefferson Davis’s famous proclamation following the loss of Richmond:
To the People of the Confederate States of America.
Danville, Va., April 4, 1865.

The General in Chief of our Army has found it necessary to make such movements of the troops as to uncover the capital and thus involve the withdrawal of the Government from the city of Richmond.

…[T]he loss which we have suffered is not without compensation. For many months the largest and finest army of the Confederacy, under the command of a leader whose presence inspires equal confidence in the troops and the people, has been greatly trammeled by the necessity of keeping constant watch over the approaches to the capital, and has thus been forced to forego more than one opportunity for promising enterprise. … We have now entered upon a new phase of a struggle the memory of which is to endure for all ages and to shed an increasing luster upon our country.

Relieved from the necessity of guarding cities and particular points, important but not vital to our defense, with an army free to move from point to point and strike in detail the detachments and garrisons of the enemy, operating on the interior of our own country, where supplies are more accessible, and where the foe will be far removed from his own base and cut off from all succor in case of reverse, nothing is now needed to render our triumph certain but the exhibition of our own unquenchable resolve. Let us but will it, and we are free. …

The roles recently played by Gingrich’s top aides were in that instance taken by General Joseph Johnston and General P. T. Beauregard, who privately concluded that Davis had cut all ties with reality.

King, Queen, Knight, and Lady Puzzle
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:00 AM * 59 comments

Popular Culture Edition.

Here’s the standard puzzle.

The Royal Family is in trouble and they need your help!

The sun has set as the King, the Queen, the Knight and the Lady arrive at the bridge right outside the castle walls. They have just returned from a long and dangerous trip across the realm. Scouts have spotted the King’s arch enemy closing in on the castle. It is estimated that the King’s foe will arrive accompanied by merciless troops in 17 minutes. That means that all four member of our Royal party must cross the bridge and rest safely together on the bridge’s other side before disaster strikes!

It’s not as easy as it seems. Only two people can cross the bridge at once (it’s not as sturdy as it used to be) and those crossing the bridge must carry the torch (so that they can see!). The torch can’t be thrown across the bridge… it’s windy tonight and the torch would probably blow out… leaving our Royal friends to stumble in the dark.

To make matters worse each person takes a different amount of time to cross the bridge. If two people cross the bridge together it will take them the longer of the two travel times to cross. In other words, the Knight can cross the bridge in one minute, but the Queen requires ten minutes. Therefore, if the Knight and Queen cross the bridge together a precious ten minutes will have past.

Remember that the clock is ticking… there is only 17 minutes for us to figure this little problem out… GOOD LUCK!

The Knight needs one minute to cross the bridge, the lady needs two minutes, the king needs five minutes, and the queen needs ten minutes. There’s only one torch and the bridge can only support two at a time.

Here are some Game of Thrones solutions:

If the Knight is Ned Stark:

  • Arq gnxrf gur gbepu naq thvqrf gur xvat npebff. (Svir zvahgrf rkcraqrq.)
  • Arq ergheaf jvgu gur gbepu. (Bar zvahgr rkcraqrq, fvk zvahgrf gbgny.)
  • Arq tvirf gur gbepu gb gur ynql gb thvqr gur dhrra npebff gur oevqtr, vafgehpgvat gur ynql gb frg gur oevqtr ba sver nf fbba nf fur’f npebff. (Gra zvahgrf rkcraqrq, fvkgrra gbgny).
  • Arq qenjf uvf fjbeq naq cercnerf gb svtug ol gur yvtug bs gur oynmvat oevqtr. (Whfg bar nezl? Whfg bar Fgnex.)

If the knight is Jaime Lannister:

  • Wnvzr gnxrf gur gbepu naq thvqrf gur dhrra npebff gur oevqtr. (Gra zvahgrf rkcraqrq.)
  • Wnvzr naq gur dhrra ragre gur pnfgyr naq chyy hc gur qenjoevqtr, yrnivat gur xvat naq gur ynql fgenaqrq va gur qnex ng gur sne raq bs gur oevqtr. (Fhpxf gb or gurz.)

If the merciless troops are Dothraki:

  • Vg qbrf abg znggre jung gur xvat, dhrra, ynql, be xavtug qb. Xuny Qebtb jvyy svyy gur enivar jvgu gur obqvrf bs gur qrnq gura evqr npebff gb grne qbja gur pnfgyr fgbar sebz fgbar naq fynl gurz nyy.

June 14, 2011
Goin’ Back To Hogwarts
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:56 AM *

How did I not know this existed?

A Very Potter Musical

It’s darned near two hours, but what do you want? It’s all seven books.

June 13, 2011
Forty Years On
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:12 PM * 22 comments

Forty years ago today, The New York Times leaked excerpts from the Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force, commonly known as the Pentagon Papers.

The Pentagon Papers, complete, were released today. There are no redacted bits. You can read them, all 7,000 pages, on-line.

In honor of the occasion, today and tomorrow, the documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers is being streamed on-line, free.

There are no secrets.

June 10, 2011
At Least We Try To Stay Civil About It
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:15 PM * 462 comments

Yesterday, in Maine:

Argument over religion led to man’s death in Bangor, witness says

Just when you thought the Thirty Years’ War was over.

We start with a 9-1-1 hangup call. Police respond and find a man in a driveway, dead, with apparent head injuries. A witness appears:

“I was visiting someone,” the witness said. “These two were talking about religion. One believed in God. The other one didn’t. They were provoking each other all night and it just escalated into [the person who lived in the apartment] strangling the guy. He couldn’t breathe. I told him to stop but he wouldn’t.”
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t tell us which of them was the one who believed in God.
“I walked outside and called the cops,” the witness said. “When I came around to the back of the building, the body was being dragged over near the Dumpster. I think someone threw him out the window but I didn’t see that.”
Defenestration is traditional in cases like this.
The victim’s death was considered “suspicious,” [Bangor police Sgt. Paul Kenison] said.
The Bangor Daily News (linked above, the source of the quotes) has video.
The witness who spoke to the BDN described Thursday’s events as “traumatizing.”

“I had to call the cops but I wish that it hadn’t escalated to the point that it got to,” he said. “There was no need of it.”


Open Thread 159
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:50 PM *

Some of this and that. Continued from Open Thread 158

June 07, 2011
Spectral Evidence
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:48 PM * 78 comments

Dozens of bodies have been found in a mass grave in Liberty County, NBC-affiliate KPRC Local 2 reported Tuesday.”

LIBERTY COUNTY — Liberty County sheriff’s deputies are on the scene of a home in Hardin where a tipster told them 25 to 30 bodies are buried.

A law enforcement source confirmed that a mass grave with ‘a lot of bodies’ was found on the property near the intersection of County Roads 2048 and 2049.

Some of them are children, according to the source.

The tipster said dozens of dismembered bodies are buried in the grave, according to Cleveland Advocate Vanesa Brashier.

The initial reports this afternoon were frightening:

Texas authorities and the FBI are investigating reports that 25 to 30 dismembered bodies may be buried in Liberty County, USA TODAY’S Kevin Johnson confirms. Authorities say some bodies may belong to children.

But, before long, Cadaver dogs find no hint of bodies in Texas home .

What was the basis of all this? A phone call from a psychic:

A tip from a supposed “psychic” that dismembered bodies were on a rural property caused law enforcement officers to descend upon a Texas farmhouse Tuesday, but they found no bodies.

Liberty County Sheriff’s Capt. Rex Evans said there was no evidence of foul play at the home.

Liberty County Judge Craig McNair told reporters at the scene about 8:15 p.m. that tips had come in Monday night and Tuesday morning from a supposed psychic of dismembered bodies on the property.

As of 9:35 pm tonight:
A law enforcement source tells USA TODAY’s Kevin Johnson that background checks of the occupants of the farmhouse in Hardin “came back clean.”
[Evans] said authorities would attempt to find the tipster and question her.
Next time, they might consider finding and questioning any so-called psychic before they start issuing search warrants.

Four days’ journey into night
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:06 PM * 52 comments

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Dutch are a cycling nation. What’s less well known is that they’re a walking nation as well.

There are two common verbs for “to walk” in Dutch: lopen and wandelen. Lopen is the ordinary verb for going somewhere by Shank’s mare. But if one is walking just to walk, as way leads on to way, that’s wandelen. It’s cognate to Wordsworth’s “wandering lonely as a cloud,” but without the flavor of aimlessness that the term carries in English. Dutch wandelaars know where they’re going. They’re purposefully recreational.

Most Dutch children are introduced to the pleasures of walking through avondvierdaagsen, literally, “four days’ evenings”. These are annual events, usually in late May or early June, where people of all ages get together with their neighbors and walk around their local areas for four evenings in a row. They’re usually organized through local schools, so they bias toward children and accompanying parents, and tend to cover 5, 10, or 15 km (3, 6, or 9 miles) per evening. Fiona completed her second 5 km walk this evening. She’ll be out again tomorrow and Thursday.

And it’s an extraordinary sight to run across of a spring evening. We live near a nature reserve, and during avondvierdaagse season, the paths are thronged with kids, chattering and singing nonsense songs with their friends while the adults stroll along behind them. Everyone carries chilled oranges and lemons, cut in half and wrapped in handkerchiefs (one squeezes the fruit and sucks the juice through the cloth). But I’ve cycled through urban neighborhoods and seen the groups walking together there too, spilling off of the sidewalk and onto the roads, like parades without heroes or marshalls.

Avondvierdaagsen are the gentle introduction to marsen, marches, which serious walkers undertake. There are a couple of vierdaagsen that don’t take place in the avond. They cover 30 - 50 km (20 - 30 miles) per day, four days in a row. The eastern city of Nijmegen’s vierdaagse is particularly famous. It’s been held annually since 1909, with only a brief break during the First World War (the Netherlands was neutral, but mustered troops) and another during the German occupation (vierdaagsen were classed as illegal gatherings).

More dedicated walkers yet participate in Kennedymarsen. These are a Dutch survival of an American fad from 1963: the 50-mile hike. It’s all John F. Kennedy’s fault. One of the themes of his early Presidency was an emphasis on the physical fitness of Americans. And after hearing about similar exercises from Teddy Roosevelt’s time, he enquired whether American marines could cover 50 miles in the space of 20 hours. His brother Bobby did just that the subsequent weekend (in oxfords, in the snow). This led to a brief distance-walking craze that spring, among military and civilians alike.

By that summer, the fad had passed in America. But it’s still going strong in the Netherlands, particularly in the south. There are 13 Kennedymarsen per year, according to the organization that coordinates them (the KNBLO*). The largest, the Sittard Kennedymars, has been held annually since 1963. Over 2600 participants registered to walk 50 miles in 20 hours in 2011, starting at 5 a.m. on Holy Saturday, finishing by 1 a.m. on Easter Sunday.

Of course, most Dutch people don’t go quite that far. But about a third of the staff at my first workplace here took a walk together every lunchtime. And the nature reserve near us is always filled with walkers, usually in groups. Even the best amusement park in the nation, the Efteling, is constructed to give the feel of a Sunday stroll through the woods (albeit one where one stumbles upon roller coasters in every clearing).

And it starts with children carrying citrus fruit in handkerchiefs, putting one foot in front of the other, through leaves, over bridges, during four evenings in the spring.

* Koninglijke Nederlandse Bond voor de Lichaamelijke Opvoeding†
† What, you want to know what it means? The Royal Dutch Organization for Physical Training. It’s the main organization for wandelaars in the Netherlands.

June 05, 2011
One Week Standby
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:15 AM *

Viable Paradise

Applications are only open ‘til the 15th of June. That’s a change from last year; applications are closing two weeks earlier.

June 01, 2011
Things That Should Be Obvious
Posted by Patrick at 10:05 AM * 529 comments

Apparently Esquire published a list of “75 Books Men Should Read,” of which exactly one was by a woman.

The great Ta-Nahesi Coates skips straight past the obvious objections, instead making a point about incuriosity and the foolishness of willed ignorance.

Books are our most intimate art-form. The reader does a temporary mind-meld with the author, and a collaborative world—their words and our imagination—is conjured from nothing. And because each reader’s mind is his own, each of those conjured worlds, each of those planes, are different. […] Why any dedicated reading man would dream of this sorcery strictly with other men is beyond me….

This is not a favor to feminists. This is not about how to pick up chicks. This is about hunger, greed and acquisition. Do not read books by women to murder your inner sexist pig. Do it because Edith Wharton can fucking write. It’s that simple.

I don’t link to Coates as often as I’m tempted to because I assume most of our readers read him already. If you don’t, you should; his blog is one of the Great Works in our little genre, and as good now as it has ever been.

Chesapeake v. Shannon
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:15 AM *

From Starship Troopers (1959) by Robert A. Heinlein:

“…Mr. Rico! Have you ever thought how it would feel to be court-martialed for losing a regiment?”

I was startled silly. “Why—No, sir, I never have.” To be court-martialed—for any reason—is eight times as bad for an officer as for an enlisted man. Offenses which will get privates kicked out (maybe with lashes, possibly without) rate death in an officer. Better never to have been born!

“Think about it,” he said grimly. “When I suggested that your platoon leader might be killed, I was by no means citing the ultimate in military disaster. Mr. Hassan! What is the largest number of command levels ever knocked out in a single battle?” Starship Troopers cover

The Assassin scowled harder than ever. “I’m not sure, sir. Wasn’t there a while during Operation Bughouse when a major commanded a brigade, before the Sove-ki-poo?”

“There was and his name was Fredericks. He got a decoration and a promotion. If you go back to the Second Global War, you can find a case in which a naval junior officer took command of a major ship and not only fought it but sent signals as if he were admiral. He was vindicated even though there were officers senior to him in line of command who were not even wounded. Special circumstances—a breakdown in communications. But I am thinking of a case in which four levels were wiped out in six minutes—as if a platoon leader were to blink his eyes and find himself commanding a brigade. Any of you heard of it?”

Dead silence.

“Very well. It was one of those bush wars that flared up on the edges of the Napoleonic wars. This young officer was the most junior in a naval vessel—wet navy, of course—wind-powered, in fact. This youngster was about the age of most of your class and was not commissioned. He carried the title of temporary third lieutenant’—note that this is the title you are about to carry. He had no combat experience; there were four officers in the chain of command above him. When the battle started his commanding officer was wounded. The kid picked him up and carried him out of the line of fire. That’s all—make pickup on a comrade. But he did it without being ordered to leave his post. The other officers all bought it while he was doing this and he was tried for `deserting his post of duty as commanding officer in the presence of the enemy.’ Convicted. Cashiered.”

I gasped. “For that? Sir.”

“Why not? True, we make pickup. But we do it under different circumstances from a wet-navy battle, and by orders to the man making pickup. But pickup is never an excuse for breaking off battle in the presence of the enemy. This boy’s family tried for a century and a half to get his conviction reversed. No luck, of course. There was doubt about some circumstances but no doubt that he had left his post during battle without orders. True, he was green as grass—but he was lucky not to be hanged.” Colonel Nielssen fixed me with a cold eye. “Mr. Rico—could this happen to you?” …

[Later in that same scene…]

He turned to me, looked at my face and said sharply, “Something on your mind, son? Speak up!”

“Uh—” I blurted it out. “Sir, that temporary third lieutenant—the one that got cashiered. How could I find out what happened?”

“Oh. Young man, I didn’t mean to scare the daylights out of you; I simply intended to wake you up. The battle was on one June 1813 old style between USF Chesapeake and HMF Shannon. Try the Naval Encyclopedia; your ship will have it.”

<em>Chesapeake</em> v. <em>Shannon</em>, Boston Harbor

I’m not the Naval Encyclopedia but I can tell you what happened. That was the court-martial of Mr. Midshipman Cox, during the War of 1812. And it didn’t go down quite the way Colonel Nielssen said.

The main source for this post is a book called Rocks and Shoals: Order and Discipline in the Old Navy, 1800-1861, by James E. Valle, US Naval Institute Press, 1980. Any otherwise unattributed quotes here are from there. Valle himself footnotes his extracts to JAG Records, case 161, and Hugh Purcell’s Don’t Give Up The Ship. Other works consulted include James Lawrence, Captain, United States Navy, Commander of the “Chesapeake”, by Albert Gleaves, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904.

The events in Boston Harbor in 1813 marked the second time Chesapeake had struck her colors to the British. The first was 22 June 1807 during the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair. HMS Leopard (Salusbury Humphreys, commanding) came upon USS Chesapeake (James Barron, commanding) off Norfolk, Virginia. Leopard desired to search Chesapeake for deserters; Chesapeake refused to allow the British to board her. Leopard fired three broadsides, Chesapeake struck after firing a single gun, but Leopard refused to accept the surrender, instead sending over a search party which found four alleged deserters and brought them back aboard Leopard. Of the four, one was hanged and the other three sentenced to five hundred lashes each.

When Barron returned to port he was court-martialed, convicted, and suspended from the naval service for five years without pay.

Captain Stephen Decatur, Jr., was on Barron’s court-martial board. Captain Decatur wrote to President Jefferson, requesting that he be relieved of the assignment on the grounds that he was hopelessly prejudiced against Captain Barron. Jefferson refused Decatur’s request. Some years later, Barron would challenge Decatur to a duel over certain remarks Decatur made about Barron’s conduct in 1807; Decatur would be killed in that duel.

The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair was one of the causes, though not the direct cause, of the War of 1812.

Note Captain Decatur. He’ll be important later in this story.

Chesapeake had always been an unlucky ship. She was the only one of the first six frigates that their designer, Joshua Humphreys, disavowed because of the alterations made to her plan during construction. Unlike the other frigates, which were rated 44 guns, Chesapeake was rated a 36. She was the only one of the first six frigates that was not named by President Washington. Not only had Barron been court-martialed and convicted while serving as her captain, her captain during the Barbary War, Richard Valentine Morris, had been censured and dismissed from service for “inactive and dilatory conduct of the squadron under his command” in 1804.

Spring of 1813 saw Chesapeake blockaded in Boston Harbor. Her captain, Samuel Evans, was ill and requested to be relieved. Captain James Lawrence, fresh from his victory in the USS Hornet against HMS Peacock off South America that February, was directed to take command. William S. Cox

Midshipman William Sitgreaves Cox had been assigned to USS Hornet, but he missed Lawrence’s victory in the duel with Peacock; he was commanding a prize crew at that time, bringing a ship that they had captured into port. No, Midshipman Cox was not “green as grass.” He was a combat veteran who had had command at sea. Lawrence was a personal friend. Now, Lawrence called for Cox to assist him in a sticky situation. Cox arrived aboard Chesapeake a few days later, and was appointed acting fourth lieutenant. (“Fourth Lieutenant” here is a job description, not a rank.)

When Lawrence came aboard Chesapeake on 20 May 1813, he found morale was low. The crew was near mutiny due to prize money that had not been paid from a previous cruise. Sailors were nearing the ends of their terms of enlistment and were deserting on a daily basis. Lawrence decided to sail on the first day with favorable winds.

On the night before Chesapeake sailed to meet Shannon, it was Cox, rather than any other officer, who accompanied Lawrence to dinner with Commodore William Bainbridge, then commandant of the Boston Navy Yard, the senior officer present. Lawrence requested sufficient sailors from USS Constitution (then being refitted and repaired at the yard) to fill out the Chesapeake’s crew. Bainbridge refused to provide them. Lawrence then asked if he could call for volunteers. Bainbridge replied that he would not grant permission, but would not prevent Lawrence from doing so.

The next morning, with Shannon’s sails in sight from Chesapeake’s deck, Lawrence paid off the prize money out of his own pocket. Then he sailed out to confront Shannon. He had arrived on board just ten days before and now he commanded a crew that had neither sailed nor drilled together. The men barely knew each other, nor did they know their new captain.

Some days before, Lawrence had told a brother officer that he would rather face HMS Shannon and HMS Tenedos (another ship in the squadron blockading Boston) together after twenty days at sea than Shannon alone on the first day out of port. He was about to be proved right.

Meanwhile, over on Shannon, Captain Philip Broke had been in command since 1807. He held daily gunnery drills and sword drills, and rewarded his crew for speed and accuracy in gunfire. He was fond of presenting hypothetical situations to his crew, to see how they would react. Broke was a vigorous and efficient officer, well-liked by his crew.


The battle between Shannon and Chesapeake began just before 18:00 (6:00 pm) on the 1st of June, about 20 miles off Boston Light. The two ships closed to within a pistol shot before Shannon fired. Mr. Cox was at his assigned station on the gun deck, in charge of a division of guns. Since his battery was on the disengaged side, he called on his men to go up to the main deck to join the boarding party that was being mustered in the waist, though few (if any) followed. At that same time, Lawrence gave the order to come left (I suspect he was planning to come across Shannon’s bow and rake her, following up immediately with boarding), but the helmsman, for reasons not entirely clear, came right instead, putting Chesapeake’s bow dead into the wind, bringing her to a halt and presenting her stern to Shannon’s rake.

We cannot ask the helmsman: He was killed at his post. So was the man who replaced him. So was the next man to take his place.

Shortly before Cox arrived on the main deck, grapeshot from Shannon struck the massed boarding party. Small arms fire from Shannon struck Captain Lawrence, wounding him. Other fire killed most of the principal officers. Then a musket ball took Lawrence in the body. Lawrence gave his famous order: “Don’t give up the ship; fight her ‘til she sinks,” and asked Cox to take him below, leaving Lieutenant George Budd, the ship’s acting third lieutenant, in command.

Chesapeake was taken aback and drifted down onto Shannon. She gained sternway and struck stern first into Shannon’s side. The two ships became entangled, with Shannon in position to rake Chesapeake. The first ship to send over a boarding party seemed likely to prevail, and here Chesapeake had an advantage, for she had a larger crew. Captain Broke recognized the situation. He shouted “Follow me who can!” and leapt over the rail onto Chesapeake’s quarterdeck. In modern parlance, he had just gotten inside Chesapeake’s decision cycle.

Aboard Chesapeake, things were not going smoothly: The helm had been shot away, the rigging was damaged; the ship was no longer controllable. Most of the senior officers were wounded or dead. The great guns could not be brought to bear on Shannon. The bugler who should have sounded “Away Boarders” could not be found. And Philip Broke (a physically imposing man), sword in hand, at the head of a band of British tars bent on avenging Guerriere, was crossing the deck at a dead run. Broke was moving so fast that Shannon’s boarding party was taking friendly fire. Chesapeake vs. Shannon

While Cox was below decks, a messenger reached him from Budd, informing him that he, Cox, was now in command. Cox attempted to regain the quarter deck, but discovered that the British boarding party already possessed it. He ran forward below decks, but was unable to gain the main deck against the stream of men who were coming down the ladders to escape the musket fire from the tops and Shannon’s boarders on the main deck. Shannon’s boarding party pulled gratings across the hatches imprisoning the Americans below and hauled up the Union Jack before Cox could get topside. The entire battle, from first shot to last, had taken eleven minutes. That scant quarter-hour was a compressed horror: Man-for-man it was the bloodiest single-ship engagement in the age of fighting sail.

Down below in the surgeon’s cockpit, Captain Lawrence, shot behind the knee and in the groin, asked why the firing had stopped. On being informed that it was because the British had carried the deck, he ordered that the powder magazine be exploded. His order was not attempted.

Shannon took Chesapeake as a prize back to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Captain Lawrence died of his wounds four days after the battle. He was buried with full military honors. Six Royal Navy officers were his pallbearers. He was praised for his gallantry.

When the prisoners from Chesapeake were returned to the United States under a cartel, a court of inquiry to discover the facts surrounding the loss of Chesapeake was formed under Captain William Bainbridge.

Mr. Budd, the senior surviving commissioned officer, brought charges against Mr. Cox, the senior surviving unwounded officer, of desertion. Bainbridge recommended that Cox, among others, be censured for his actions, but, since a court of inquiry did not allow for the accused to defend themselves, recommended that a court-martial be empaneled.

The fact of a court-martial would be unsurprising, then or now, any time a ship is lost. A court-martial compels testimony, allows cross-examination, and produces written and material exhibits and investigatory reports. It ascertains facts, and creates a complete record of the event. When USS Constitution (Issac Hull, commanding) took another ship from Broke’s squadron, HMS Guerriere (James Dacres, commanding), Captain Dacres was court-martialed for the loss of his ship when he returned to Halifax in a prisoner exchange. He was acquitted of any wrong-doing or lapse of judgment by the court.

On Bainbridge’s recommendation, a court-martial was convened on 14 April 1814, with Stephen Decatur as the senior officer, aboard USS President (then lying blockaded in New London, Connecticut). Bainbridge and Decatur were old friends. Decatur had led the daring raid that burned USS Philadelphia after Bainbridge ran her aground off Tripoli during the Barbary War, before the Dey of Algiers could re-float her.

Decatur, who had been in close touch with Bainbridge during the board of inquiry, made statements that indicated that he would not be an impartial judge. He was determined to hold Cox responsible for the loss of Chesapeake.

Cox was charged with cowardice, disobedience of orders, desertion from quarters, neglect of duty, and unofficerlike conduct.

The trial commenced, and it soon became obvious that, for most of the charges, there was only a single witness against Cox: Lieutenant Budd. Mr. Budd, despite being on the quarterdeck, senior surviving officer and acting captain in the midst of a hot action, had been able to observe and remember every one of Cox’s words and deeds regardless of where on the ship Cox might have been, words and deeds that Cox denied and no one else could recall hearing or seeing.

This troubled Decatur. He wrote to the Secretary of the Navy:

These charges appear from the summary alone to be founded in several instances on the testimony of a single witness. It is certainly desirable if these facts are provable that they should be established by more than one witness if there be more to the same facts….

It was not unnoticed at the time that Budd had good reason to want Cox to be declared the commanding officer at the moment of Chesapeake’s surrender, because if Cox wasn’t, Budd certainly must have been. Nor did Cox fail to bring that possibility up in his own defense, that Budd was attempting to evade responsibility and had only sent his messenger handing off command when it became clear that the ship would soon be taken.

Chaplain Livermore, who had been in the thick of things on Chesapeake’s quarterdeck, stated at the court-martial that had Budd had twenty or thirty more men on the quarterdeck, that the Americans would have prevailed. “Had the events of the contest been different,” Cox stated at his trial, “many of these very acts [of which he was accused and for which he was being tried] … would have enhanced my merit in the public estimation.” No one, Cox pointed out, had censured Hardy for helping Nelson below at Trafalgar. Instead, Captain Hardy had been generally praised.

But Cox was aware of which way the wind was blowing. He openly declared, on the record, that his court-martial was an example of scapegoating, “a sacrifice to heal the wounded honor and reinstate the naval pride of the nation.” Both in his cross-examination and final summary, Cox pointedly (and sarcastically) questioned Budd’s courage and motives for wanting to turn over command at the very climax of the battle.

One of the specifications of unofficerlike conduct accused Cox of:

…not doing his utmost to aid in the capturing of the Shannon by animating and encouraging, in his own example, the inferior officers and men to fight courageously and in denying the use of coercive means to prevent the desertion of the men from their quarters, and not compelling those who had deserted from their quarters to return to duty.

This was the only charge for which a second witness existed. Midshipman Delozier Higgenbotham had been standing beside Cox at the bottom of the forward ladder as the men came tumbling down from the forecastle. He asked whether Mr. Cox intended to kill them with his sword, to which Mr. Cox replied, “No, it is no use.”

It is worth noting that killing men who fled in battle was the common and expected usage of the day: During the engagement between USS Constellation and L’Insurgente during the Quasi-War with France, two American sailors were killed; one of those two was a member of a gun crew who was cut down by his own officer for leaving his post.

Could Chesapeake have gained the day at this point? Perhaps. By this time Chesapeake had come broadside to the wind, and her sails had pulled her ahead and away from Shannon about a hundred yards, cutting Broke off from reinforcements. A determined push by the numerically superior Chesapeake crew might have captured or killed him and his boarding party. Both ships had taken damage, but Shannon had been holed below the waterline and was in a sinking condition. Lots of things could have happened. In the event, they did not happen; the United States had suffered its first loss in ship-to-ship combat of the war.

In the end, Mr. Cox was only convicted of unofficerlike conduct for failing to do the Britishers work for them by killing Americans himself, and neglect of duty for leaving the deck when he knew, or should have known, that a boarding action was imminent. He was exonerated (pace, Colonel Nielssen) of all charges of cowardice, disobedience, and desertion. He was sentenced to be “cashiered and rendered forever incapable of serving in the navy.” President Madison approved the sentence. Chesapeake v. Shannon

Cox wasn’t the only person from the Chesapeake to be court-martialed. Two other midshipmen, a petty officer, and two sailors, were also brought up on charges.

Midshipman James W. Forrest was court-martialed for cowardice, neglect of duty, and drunkenness while in captivity. The charges were tenuous at best; he was convicted of drunkenness alone, and he was only convicted of drunkenness because he confessed to it. Like Cox, however, he was sentenced to be “cashiered with the perpetual incapacity to serve in the Navy of the United States.” President Madison approved the sentence.

Acting Midshipman Henry P. Fleshman (or Fleischman), who had spent the battle in the main top directing the snipers, was charged with “Imposition and unofficerlike conduct after capture by the enemy” for his activities in Halifax, which allegedly included “prowling” about the town under an assumed name. Mr. Fleshman explained that he had previously been captured by the British and held in Halifax. He was concerned that if he were recognized he might be imprisoned for life as a parole violator, which forced him to disguise himself. The court-martial directed Captain Decatur “to reprimand Midshipman Henry P. Fleshman upon the quarterdeck of the United States Ship President in such a manner as he may deem most impressive and effectual.” The Secretary of the Navy approved the sentence.

Exactly what kind of public chewing-out Decatur delivered is unknown by me.

Joseph Russell, captain of the second gun, was charged with cowardice, and with deserting his quarters. He was found not guilty of the charges against him, but the court-martial found him guilty of gross misconduct for which he had not been charged. He was sentenced to loss of pay. The Secretary of the Navy approved the sentence.

Peter Frost and John Joyce, seamen, were no longer to be found in the jurisdiction of the United States, and were not tried.

The last court-martial stemming from Chesapeake v. Shannon is perhaps the most interesting. William Brown, the ship’s bugler who should have sounded “Away Boarders,” was absent from his post and subsequently found hiding under a boat. He was court-martialed for cowardice. Brown, a free Black, had a civilian attorney who offered a unique defense: Since a Black man is incapable of courage, he cannot be convicted of cowardice:

I would suggest as a subject worthy of some enquiry whether the negro is not naturally inferior to the white man in those qualities which go to make up courage. If so the shipment or enlistment of every negro is presumed to be made with a knowledge of the fact, and no other duties should be required of them than such as nature has qualified them to discharge.

God has made the prisoner too insignificant a being on whom to visit the loss of the Chesapeake. If his accidental exertions might have saved the ship, he would not have had the credit of it, nor would he have been entitled to it. And if you decide otherwise, and charge the whole misfortune to one who could barely comprehend his simple duty, other nations will laugh at the little subterfuges to which we resort, instead of enlarging our naval fame we shall belittle our national character.

Decatur didn’t buy it. Among other reasons, he knew personally that Black men could be as courageous as any others; during the raid on the Philadelphia, a Black boatswain’s mate, Reuben James, had blocked a sword blow meant for Decatur with his own body.

The court-martial sentenced Brown to 300 lashes and loss of pay. President Madison commuted the sentence to 100 lashes and loss of pay.

Prior to the engagement between Chesapeake and Shannon, the American heavy frigates had racked up an impressive score against European frigates:

  • USS Constellation v. L’Insurgente, 9 February 1799
  • USS Constellation v. La Vengeance, 2 February 1800
  • USS Constitution v. HMS Guerriere, 19 August 1812
  • USS United States v. HMS Macedonian, 25 October 1812
  • USS Constitution v. HMS Java, 29 December 1812

In addition, there were fights between smaller vessels. Hornet v. Peacock was only one example among many. Up to that point in the War of 1812, the United States had not lost any of its single-ship duels. Captain Broke was aware of that record, and he used it when addressing his crew just before the battle:

“Shannons, you know that from various causes the Americans have lately triumphed on several occasions over the British Flag in our frigates; this will not daunt you since you know the truth. The disparity of forces was the chief reason, but they have gone further; they have said, and they have published in their papers that the English have forgotten the way to fight. You will let them know to-day that there are Englishmen in the Shannon who still know how to fight. Don’t try to dismast her, fire into her quarters; main-deck into the main-deck; quarter-deck into the quarter-deck. Kill the men and the ship is yours. Don’t hit them about the head for they wear steel caps, but give it to them through the body. Don’t cheer. Go quietly to your quarters. I feel sure you will all do your duty, and remember that you now have the blood of your countrymen to avenge.”

(Gleaves, page 185)

Perhaps the lesson here is: Training and drill count; superior rate of fire and accuracy can overcome any amount of gallantry. The loss, in the first few minutes, of Chesapeake’s captain, first lieutenant, second lieutenant, and sailing master, seemingly by bad luck, can be attributed instead to Broke’s planning. One critical failure: Only having one bugler.

USS Chesapeake became HMS Chesapeake. She was eventually broken up, her timbers sold, and incorporated into the Chesapeake Mill in England. The building is now a gift shop.

Before the War of 1812 ended, Decatur would surrender USS President to HMS Endymion and HMS Pomone. USS President became HMS President.

Captain Lawrence’s body was returned to the United States; he is buried in Trinity Churchyard, New York City.

In 1820 Bainbridge would be Decatur’s second in Decatur’s fatal duel with Barron.

Bainbridge Avenue and Decatur Avenue in the Bronx are named for those respective captains.

Due to wounds sustained in the Chesapeake/Shannon action, Captain Broke never again commanded at sea. He was awarded a medal, promoted to rear admiral, and created a baronet. He continued to serve the Royal Navy as an instructor in gunnery. He died in 1841 at age 65.

Lieutenant Budd was assigned to the sloop of war Ontario. From there he was assigned command of the Naval Battery at Fort Look-Out, Baltimore Harbor, where he and his sailors helped repulse the British invasion fleet on 14 September, 1814, the night memorialized by “the rockets’ red glare.” George Budd left the navy in 1815 and died in 1837.

It fell on Cox’s descendants to pursue his vindication. His son, William Cox, was once expelled from Lafayette College for striking a professor who called his father a coward. When Theodore Roosevelt wrote in his book The Naval War of 1812 (1882) that Cox had acted “basely,” family members protested so vigorously that the future president apologized and corrected his account in later editions. Moreover, for the next 134 years they wrote Congress and the Navy Department seeking to overturn the conviction and have his rank restored. Finally, in 1952 E. D. Litchfield, Cox’s great grandson, succeeded in bringing the matter to the attention of the House Armed Services Committee. Rear Adm. John D. Heffernan then outlined the historical facts for the committee and recommended his reinstatement. On April 7, 1952, Congress passed legislation to that effect and, once signed by President Harry Truman, Cox was formally, if posthumously, restored to the rank of third lieutenant.

American military leaders: from colonial times to the present, Volume 2 By John C. Fredriksen, page 171

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