I just got through reading a Wikipedia article so poorly written and peppered with so many near-identical names my brain sneezed in agony. But at its heart was a narrative so foul and villainous, I feel it deserves a translation into mostly-coherent English.
Seriously, most of the names in this tale are bewilderingly similar. I’ll do my best to simplify the tale, to differentiate between the Liu Ziluan, Liu Ziye and Liu Zixun mess and deliver something digestible, as the story of the fiendish Emperor Qianfei of China needs to be preserved. This is teenage royalty gone wrong, in a way that would make George R.R. Martin cringe with disbelief. In fact, Game of Thrones fans may skim through this and wonder why their beloved show is so docile and civilized.
After all, what did King Joffrey really do? He had a few people killed, engaged in some weird crossbow-fetish sex-play, and acted like an ass to most everyone around him. Who cares? Pure evil resides not in the hearts and minds of fictitious fiends, but in the madness of truth. And the madness of Emperor Qianfei reaches far deeper than any sick twists undertaken by that blond pansy from Westeros.
Emperor Qianfei was born in 449 AD as Liu Ziye, but in the interest of bogging this story down with Liu Z– names from the outset, let’s just call the little prick by his emperor name: Qianfei. Qianfei was tossed in prison at age five when his uncle made a power play for the throne. Qianfei’s dad showed up and heroically slaughtered the uncle, and christened his kid as the crown prince. He was wed at age 10 and a widower at 12. In 464, Qianfei’s dad died and Qianfei stepped up as the new emperor, age 15. Read more…
When I was asked to serve on a jury back in 2006, my innards were polarized in their response. On the one hand, it would mean experiencing the justice system from the inside out, hearing evidence, steering the waves of someone’s fate, and perhaps getting to reenact the dramatic speech made by Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men. On the flip-side, I’d heard too many stories of people desperately seeking an escape from jury duty not to be suspicious of the supposed visceral experience of it all. What the hell, I figured. I had a dull job (though my current job makes computer tech support look like Indiana Jones-level archaeology by comparison), why not serve the system?
It was a three-day trial, resulting in me being sequestered in a hotel for three days, cut off from family, phone, newspapers, internet and television, lest I stumble across an episode of Law & Order that might taint my objectivity. I remember almost nothing else about the trial, except that Henry Fonda’s words failed to fall from my lips, and I missed three nights of The Daily Show. But I did my duty.
Little did I know the potential power of a jury to scrote-kick the law and even change it. Jury nullification is a quirky little corner of legal lore that has quietly but profoundly been a factor in how the judicial system works. Or fails to work, as the case may be.
The Magna Carta, one of those ancient leafs of yellowing paper that you’ll find behind glass so that generations of school kids can wander by and nod disinterestedly at it, established juries as a staple ingredient in the silty justice stew England was trying to put together in the 13th century. Back then, juries tended to side with the crown. This wasn’t a case of not wanting to piss off the king (though on occasion it might have been), but more a question of jury manipulation. Read more…
At the sputtering end of the era of utmost corruption within the governance of the city of New York, people had to – in the parlance of today’s aspiring gangstas – get got. Arnold Rothstein met his untimely end in 1928 (spoilers to any Boardwalk Empire fans), and in the wake of his demise the final vestiges of the Tammany Hall fist of political smarminess were poised to become rubble. This wasn’t the end of corruption in New York of course, only the final curtain for this particular brand of centralized evil.
On the filthy payroll were cops, city officials and judges – hell, if the Tammany Hall machine were still around they’d probably be using those Times Square Elmos to peddle fenced goods. Unfortunately for the families of those who were caught up in this web of political malfeasance, when someone was rubbed out, there wasn’t always an accompanying explanation.
This brings us to the mysterious vanishing of Associate Justice Joseph Force Carter of the New York Supreme Court. Here was a man poised in the toasty glow of a biopic-worthy legal career: sitting on the second-highest court in New York at age 41 and allegedly a contender for the next open spot on the US Supreme Court. Then one day, he vanished. Did he flee? Was he dispatched from this planet via a snub-nosed messenger? Was he secretly a ghost the entire time? No, probably not that last one.
This guy was corrupt? Really? With that honest face?
In the summer of 1930, Justice Crater was vacationing with Stella, his wife, at their cozy cabin in Belgrade, Maine. Crater had only been appointed three months earlier, but he felt he deserved a little break. He received a call in late July, and announced to Stella that he needed to return to New York “to straighten those fellows out.” Nothing else was said, and the next day he was back in the couple’s swanky Fifth Avenue apartment.
Whatever pressing business had summoned Justice Crater to New York, it would have to wait until after his wild weekend in Atlantic City with his showgirl mistress, Sally Lou Ritzi. This guy couldn’t have been more of a cliché if he wore a tommy gun over his shoulder. Read more…
Like many who don’t seek to occupy their thoughts with world-shifting brilliance or cunning inventorism, I spend an inordinate amount of time in day-dreamy contemplation. I’ve written about a host of historic criminals, and sometimes it strikes me that the prose we are left with, which documents their foulest of deeds and paints the page red with the nefarious blood-spritz of their infamous acts, is somewhat lacking. These men were not evil masterminds who plotted their wickedness from the dimly-lit murk of a dastardly lair.
Well, maybe that was the case for someone like William “Boss” Tweed, but for the most part I think history’s monsters could be better understood – I say ‘understood’, not ‘forgiven’ – with a tiny relevé in perspective. Sometimes their heinous horrors were simply the path of least resistance to a sought-after goal.
Like survival. In the dazzling pantheon of American cannibalism stories, there’s a sparkling room reserved for Alferd Packer, the man who ascended into Colorado legend for having feasted upon an intrepid troupe of gold-hungry explorers one winter eve in 1874. What tipped him into infamy was little more than desperation, panic, and a sprinkling of unmanaged greed. Would any of us have done things differently?
Okay, probably. Almost definitely. What the hell, I guess I had to ask.
Alferd Packer – and his name was transcribed as both ‘Alfred’ and ‘Alferd’, though he preferred Alferd, allegedly because of a misspelled tattoo on his arm – served in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was discharged for epilepsy then drifted west, earning a scant income as a small-time con man. Whether he was legitimately on the hunt for gold or whether he’d simply duped a team of money-hungry would-be prospectors into trusting his abilities as a gold-sniffing mountain man, we’ll never know. Read more…
As an aspiring young (using the most broad and generous definition of “young”) film studies major, I was fascinated by the pre-Edison attempts at capturing moving pictures for subsequent viewing. Eadweard Muybridge used a long row of still cameras to capture a galloping horse’s stride, only to spurt the images in semi-full-motion through his zoopraxiscope. Coleman Sellers invented the kinematoscope, using a hand-cranked paddle machine to bring pictures to life. Then there’s Henry Renno Heyl’s phasmotrope, which demonstrated that every early cinematic invention had a cool name.
But we can’t forget ol’ Louis Le Prince, the Frenchman who patented his own camera that created a sequence of photos on treated paper. Like Muybridge, Sellers and Heyl, Le Prince’s work is seen as part of the multi-textured groundwork that gave birth to Thomas Edison’s magical moving-picture camera – the real genesis of the movie biz. Or so they say.
Except that Louis Le Prince’s story goes a little deeper than that. His is a tale, not only of innovation and genius, but of a curious – some might say suspicious – disappearance, and a very smarmy lawsuit against the man who would eventually get the credit for being the brains behind movie technology.
Louis was a brilliant photographic technician, which was the 19th-century way of saying he was a brilliant photographer. There wasn’t much one could artistically accomplish with cameras back then, but Louis was renowned for his skills at fixing color photographs onto metal and pottery surfaces, which earned him the privilege of creating portraits of Queen Victoria and Prime Minister William Gladstone. He moved from Leeds (where he had been situated since his mid-20’s) to New York in 1881, a pioneer in his field. Read more…
The perpetual gullibility of the human race provides an unending cavalcade of hilarity. We believe – sometimes because we want to, sometimes because the hoaxsters and peddlers of smarm know how to take advantage of our weak moments. For the born-again skeptics, no phenomenon travels in this world without an accompanying explanation stuffed into its baggage. Most folks believe there might be something to the unseen – that’s where the scammers step in.
When Kate and Margaret Fox discovered at a young age (12 and 15 respectively) that with tremendous ease they could convince their family and community that they could communicate with the deceased, it must have been a revelation. The world is ripe and ready for free-form plucking once you convince it that your fingertips hold a quiver of magic. The Fox sisters learned this when they were young enough to be gobsmacked by their success, yet old enough to work it into a career.
Or maybe it’s all true. Maybe they did possess the gift of gab with the dearly departed. After all, the spiritualism movement that ensued in their wake included a number of intellectual heavyweights and revered luminaries. Though when push comes to push-overs, I think I’ll side with the skeptics on this one.
Kate and Margaret lived in an allegedly haunted house in a place called Hydesville in northwestern New York. In 1848, when the girls were the ages I mentioned above, strange noises began oozing through the floorboards. The girls began communicating with this mysterious spirit: Kate would snap her fingers and the ghost would repeat the sequence. The spirit would tap out the girls’ ages. Eventually, a system developed by which the ethereal stranger could answer yes-no questions through its otherworldly tapping. Read more…
One seldom looks very deeply into the lyrics of a modern swing-dance revival song. When Colin James and his Little Big Band sang about a Cadillac Baby, he was singing about a woman, one who enjoyed a particular Cadillac automobile. When Lou Bega prattled off his laundry list of desirable women in “Mambo #5”, he was simply expressing his identity as a man-slut. But beneath the boppy jump-blues veneer of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ “Zoot Suit Riot” is something surprisingly dark and sinister.
The ‘riot’ in question is not merely an alternate wording for a party featuring a bunch of guys in outdated jazz-wear. The song refers to an actual string of riots in the early 1940’s, which began in the embers of the era’s prevalent racism, before rising into an inferno of violence. This is an ugly chapter in American history, from an age before Civil Rights was on the tip of anyone’s brains, and when patriotism could drive people to do heinously ugly things.
It all begins with the zoot suit: high-waisted, tight-cuffed pegged pants and a long jacket with boisterous shoulders and splashy lapels. The outfits were fun and jazzy, originating in inter-war black culture and eventually becoming a staple of the southern Californian Latino community. Then the style became illegal – that’s where the ugliness begins.
You have to be way funkier than this guy to pull off this much zoot.
The 1930s was a time of heavy anti-Mexicanism in the southwestern United States. Despite the deportation of 12,000 Mexicans (many of whom turned out to be American citizens) from the Los Angeles area in the early part of the decade, there were still roughly three million Mexicans in the country, many without legal status. L.A. was the hub of immigrants from the Land of the Hot Sun, and by the end of the decade the tension between whites and Latinos was beginning to boil over. Read more…