An Open Letter and Invitation to the Westboro Baptist Church

Dear Mr. Phelps and the Congregation of the Westboro Baptist Church,

I hope this letter finds you well, or as well as your and your congregation can be. My name is Kyle Graham. I am writing to invite you to protest at my funeral. I haven’t set a date yet, but I’d be happy to have you there.

Why the invitation? Well, it’s not because of your ideology, that’s for sure. Instead, I recently perused the list of people whose funerals you either protested, or thought about protesting: Matthew Shepard, Michael Jackson, Steve Jobs, Matthew Snyder, Gordon Hinckley, Elizabeth Edwards, and, most recently, Roger Ebert. Scanning this list, it struck me that all of these people have something in common.

They’re all incredibly awesome.

I too would like to be perceived as awesome. Hence this invitation. I cannot claim to be as gifted a writer as Roger Ebert was, let alone a war hero like Matthew Snyder. But that’s where you come in. When you come protest at my funeral, people will look at your signs and wonder, “Who’s that Kyle Graham guy? He must have been pretty awesome, to have the Westboro Baptist jerks protest at his funeral.”

That would be terrific, wouldn’t it?

I see it as a win-win. You get to wave your signs — which, I admit, you’d probably be doing in your backyard or cars or wherever anyway — and I get to be posthumously lumped into the same category as a bunch of awesome people, solely because of your perceived hatred of me. Or real hatred; whatever. I’m flexible on that front.

Still not sold? You might be thinking, “We can’t just carve out a block of time for your ceremony, especially when you never know when the next schoolyard massacre will occur that will require us to consider a protest at the victims’ funerals.” Let me tell you why my funeral deserves your earnest attention.

For one thing, I support gay marriage, and back in 2012, I supported a presidential candidate (Gary Johnson) who also supports gay marriage. I tend to dislike earthquakes, regardless of which country they strike. Not enough? Well, my law students are a lot more liberal than I am, and plenty of them will be at the funeral — though, I have to admit, mostly just to make certain that I’m really dead.

I also understand that you may be concerned that my request will start a trend, with others likewise requesting your presence at their funerals as an indication of their awesomeness. Not to worry; I have a quick fix. If you get too pressed for time at some point in the distant future, simply go protest a One Direction concert. That’ll convince everybody that you don’t only protest awesome things and people.

In any event, thank you for your consideration of my request. I will keep you posted as to my health, and hope that we can do business together in the future. And here’s my promise: if you show up at my funeral, and I do indeed go to hell, I’ll put in a good advance word for you with the head honcho down below.

Regards,

Kyle Graham

 

Annals of Privacy-Enhancing Devices: The Delcon Security Telephone (1961)

With all the ongoing fuss over government surveillance, it’s like 1961 all over again. But I doubt that we will see a comeback from the Delcon Security Telephone, advertised in this vintage brochure and cover letter.

The Delcon Security Telephone was a “scrambler” designed to defeat eavesdropping and wiretapping efforts by the government and assorted ne’er-do-wells. Per its promotional brochure, as attached to a regular phone the Security Telephone “converts the human voice into unintelligible jargon, which can be identified vaguely as the sound of a voice, similar to the effect of a phonograph record played backwards.” Only those who had their own, similarly coded Delcon Security Telephone on their end of the line could decipher this gibberish.

Was the Delcon phone useful? Well, as the cover letter brags, it did play a part in the “Murchison-Alleghany Proxy Fight,” which sounds fascinating, but not so fascinating that I’m actually going to find out what it was. The product’s principal drawback: it weighed 24 ounces, which seems just a couple ounces short of a Shakeweight. But with long-distance rates being what they were back in 1961, maybe the handset’s weight saved its purchasers money in the long run, by making certain that confidential calls got to the point.

From the Noncuratlex.com “Some Things Never Change” Files: “Cruelty to Children,” circa 1883

Excerpted, without comment, from Elbridge T. Gerry’s Cruelty to Children, an article that appeared in the July 1883 edition of The North American Review:

. . .

Equally injurious to the children of the laboring classes is their utilization by their parents in theatrical and operatic shows, acrobatic feats, and other occupations remunerative in their
character, apparently harmless, and yet more deadly in their results upon the moral and physical health of the child than any of the evils already enumerated.

[¶] To the hard-working man it seems comparatively an easy thing that his little girl should sing in juvenile opera, or perform night after night upon the stage in some minor part, with apparently little effort, before an applauding audience. Indeed, many are rather proud of the prominence which they absurdly suppose is thereby given to their family, and it pleases their vanity to see their children billed as youthful prodigies and “phenomena.” The admiring audience in front of the stage applaud with delight the precocious talent of the child. The press, which is largely dependent on the advertisements of theatrical agents, often criticises with severity any attempt to deprive the public of what is termed its legitimate amusement by suppressing these exhibitions. And the plea is made even by those who honestly uphold the dramatic profession, that such exhibitions are necessary for the development of true dramatic talent, and that, where the indigent circumstances of the parents apparently require it, charity ought to encourage the children in such a method of earning their livelihood.

[¶] But look at the other side of the question: the very moment the curtain rises at a theater, a draft of hot air blows from the audience on the stage, frequently paralyzing temporarily the vocal chords of the actors. When the curtain falls, the cold air from the flies descends with equal rapidity, and the children, who a moment before were exposed half-naked in the performance of some act of physical exertion, are chilled to the bone before they have a chance to recover from the sudden change resulting from this alteration of the temperature. Night after night they are subjected to these changes. During the day they sleep as best they can. Their nervous systems soon become disorganized, digestion is rapidly impaired; late work necessitates late suppers, and the associations into which they are brought very soon lead to loss of modesty on the part of the girls, and early dissipation on the part of the boys.

[¶] The careful student of this phase of cruelty has only to look at the results. The career of these children can be traced with painful accuracy from the time when they first perform in some juvenile operatic troupe, to their graduation in the song and dance business at a theater of lower grade than that where they originally appeared, and finally, when broken in health and enervated by dissipation and disease, to their appearance at the very lowest class  of dives and in dime museums. Hardly a case can be cited where children thus prematurely utilized for the purposes of the stage have ever risen to a high position in the histrionic art. There are some, it is true, who shine as stars in the dramatic profession, who began their stage career early in life, but these are rare exceptions.

“Aviation Now as Safe as Football”: The Fatalities of Flight (Popular Mechanics Magazine, July – August 1911)

I am always on the lookout for discussions of a novel technology’s risk profile. So I was quite happy when I recently came across a series of two articles published in Popular Mechanics back in July and August 1911, titled “The Fatalities of Flight.”

These articles argued that “much of the responsibility for aeroplane fatalities is misplaced.” The first three paragraphs of the July 1911 piece convey the flavor of the series:

Of technical matters with which he has only the slightest acquaintance the man in the street inevitably takes a most superficial view. In nothing is this better illustrated than in the popular attitude toward the fatalities of aeronautics.

At the outset came the thrills inspired by man’s first real conquest of the air–by machines capable of real dynamic flight–controlled, fairly stable, and of fast-improving safety. Then promptly followed in the popular imagination and its unfailing mirror, the yellow press, a frenzied exploitation of the horror stories that writers more clever than accurate could spin about the occasional fatalities, which naturally enough have attended the latest development in engineering and transportation. As a matter of course in this sensational exploitation little account has been taken of such ordinary human frailties as recklessness and carelessness—usually considered only in their relations to the commonplace activities and mishaps of life. Instead, every aviation accident has been regarded as a catastrophe utterly avoidable, absolutely inescapable—inherent in the very fact of human flight itself.

As a result many otherwise well-informed persons have come to view aeronautical progress as the development of a most desperate and dangerous folly, and to see in every aviator a money-mad participant in a carnival of death, and in every flying ground a shambles.

***

In trying to debunk the prevailing perception of airflight as inherently risky, the author notes that “according to the most reliable statistics obtainable” regarding “power-driven aeroplanes,” there have been “no more than forty-seven fatal accidents with such machines.” He also makes a keen observation regarding how people perceive risk:

Men are prone to appraise casualty by its horror rather than by its statistics, and the thought of one individual tumbling from the skies grips harder on the popular imagination than the slaughter of a few scores in a factory fire, or a million deaths from tuberculosis.

The August 1911 article is equally interesting. Its author’s introduction includes the following passage:

. . .

Aviation, considered as a sport, and wholly disregarding the prospect of its assuming vast industrial importance, is even less dangerous than football. Statistics compiled concerning this game, as played by American college teams, shows that of the membership of some 200 football elevens, totaling some 2,500 players, 60 were killed during 1909 — a mortality considerably higher than the present annual maximum of 37 men killed in aeroplane accidents from May 15, 1910, to May 15, 1911, out of a total of about 2,000 licensed and unlicensed aviators.

. . .

The main text of the article, meanwhile, begins with:

It is most manifest that very nearly all the aeroplane accidents so far have been clearly due to to careless construction or assembling, or flying under bad conditions of wind or locality, to incompetent driving, to distinctly reckless exhibition stunts, or to clumsy experimenting.

The article then presents a table detailing all known aeroplane accidents to date, along with the perceived reasons for each mishap.

Anyway, it’s a very, very intriguing series (with pictures!), at least if you are interested in prevailing perceptions of the risks associated with novel technologies.

Before closing, I should note that the author of the series, Victor Lougheed, wasn’t altogether unbiased in portraying most aeroplane accidents as the product of preventable error. Lougheed was the author of a text, “Vehicles of the Air,” which taught the reader how to “Make [Their] Own Flying Machine.” Per an advertisement for the book in the July 1911 edition of Popular Mechanics, “With the information afforded by this book any one of ordinary mechanical abilities, and with very little money, can build and operate machines of known flying capabilities.”

***

UPDATE: Popular Mechanics later would print several additional articles that updated the death tolls associated with early aviation. Examples can be seen here (August 1912), here (January 1913; titled “Aviation Now as Safe as Football”), here (February 1914), and here (February 1915).

Ghosts and the Color Line: The Drafting of the Restatement (Second) of Torts

When I visited the American Law Institute archives a little while back to investigate the circumstances that surrounded the drafting of the Restatement (Second) Of Torts, I was interested not only in the intellectual debates over the Restatement, but also in the practical dynamics of these dialogues: where the drafters met, how they communicated, how much they drank while they met, etc. I addressed the last of these points when I guest-blogged on Concurring Opinions last December. For now, suffice it to say that one of the hotels that hosted a drafting session offered manhattans by the gallon.

One document I didn’t share at that time, but will now, also underscores how the 1950s were a different time than today.  In 1956, Herbert Goodrich of the American Law Institute wrote to the Inn at Buck Hill Falls, a Pennsylvania hotel (up in the Poconos resort area), to inquire if it would be up for hosting a drafting meeting.  After outlining the basic request, Goodrich also advises:

I should add that one of the group is one of my judicial colleagues here, Judge Hastie by name, and he is a negro. I assume that this fact will make no difference to you but I want to mention it in advance because I would not for the world have any embarrassment come to him.

Judge Hastie, here, was William H. Hastie, who had been appointed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals by President Truman.

I’d love to know more about the extent of the color line in the Poconos back in the 1950s, and how rigid it was; I suspect one can find the answer in Lawrence Squeri’s Better in the Poconos, but our library doesn’t have a copy. If it provides any indication, the meeting ultimately was held up at the Inn.

Race relations aren’t all that’s changed since 1956.  The hotel in question was once a beautiful resort. (And one with a rich history; perhaps Goodrich also should have been concerned about ghosts at the establishment.)  The hotel is no longer in operation, having closed in 1991, and is apparently up for sale.  Here is some recent shaky-cam footage of the hotel, accompanied by a rather suspect narrative.

(Image courtesy the University of Pennsylvania University Archives and Records Center, American Law Institute Archives [Restatement (Second) Category; Restatement (Second) Torts Record Group, Box 25, File Folder 25-2])

The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Indexed to Franklin, Rabin & Green’s Tort Law and Alternatives

A is for Adams who a wire imperiled

B is for Byrne crushed flat by a barrel

C is for Carter who slipped on some ice

D is for Dillon who might have died twice

E is for Escola nicked by some pop

F is for Fletcher whose mine needed a mop

G is for Goodman who caught a train the wrong way

H is for Hood who said his saw didn’t say

I is for Intel whose computers were smeared

J is for Johnson whose baby flat disappeared

K is for Katko shot while he stole

L is for Levandoski who fell into a hole

M is for Murphy maimed on “The Flopper”

N is for Negri who slipped as a shopper

O is for O’Brien halting pool sales

P is for Palsgraf squashed by some scales

Q is for Quill who received quite a scare

R is for Rowland owed reasonable care

S is for Summers who can’t ID his shooter

T is for Tedla struck by a commuter

U is for Ultramares from whom a company did steal

V is for Vosburg whose leg didn’t heal

W is for Wagon Mound done in by a spark

X is for the unreasonable man who takes stairs in the dark

Y is for Ybarra who sued the whole set

Z is for Zeran defamed over the Net

Old Annual Coroner’s Reports

Some newspapers used to consider the annual reports of the local coroners’ offices to be newsworthy.  Reading them, one can gain an interesting perspective on the times.  Following are a few excerpts from articles on coroner’s reports from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, reprinted with little to no comment:

  • From the August 26, 1880 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, relating the City’s coroner’s report for Fiscal Year 1879-1880: “Deaths by accidents have increased, particularly by burning and drowning, while deaths from falls and run-overs by vehicles have decreased.  Three-fifths of the deaths from burning were Chinese laundrymen, and the circumstances surrounding them demonstrated that great carelessness existed in the use of fires and coal oil.  Many deaths were the direct result of the habits of laundrymen to work nearly all night, then to obtain a few hours’ sleep by stupefying themselves with opium, when the flames and death found them easy victims.  The whole city and the lives of its inhabitants are no doubt endangered by Chinese laundries being located on nearly every block.”  (Blogger’s note: by just a few months, this news article followed the enactment of the measure that ultimately inspired the Yick Wo v. Hopkins case, and decision.)
  • From the January 27, 1892 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune, relating the Chicago coroner’s report for 1891 (some of the numbers in the printout were a bit blurry, so please pardon the possible substitution of some 8′s for 0′s, and vice versa): “The report shows that during the year a total of 1,938 cases were investigated by the Coroner and his deputies. . . . The causes of death are given as follows: Natural causes 63; Heart disease 58; Suicide 270; Drowned 145; Fell from building 59; Consumption 3; Exposure 3; Fell from wagon 40; Fell from scaffold 47; Apoplexy 5; Poison, accidental 18; Railroad accidents 323; Abortion 6; Infanticide 8; Hemorrhage of lungs 1; Fell from stairs 23; Elevator accidents 24; Street-car accidents 14; Grip accidents 23; Convulsions 8; Burns and scalds 70; Old age and debility 2; Asphyxiation 48; Machinery accidents 51; Homicide 60; Shot, accidental 15; Run over by wagon 37; Intemperance 17; Pneumonia 6; Falling timber 1; Boiler explosion 10; Suffocation 15; Shot, self-defense 5; Sunstroke 3; Fell from horse 1; Kicked by horse 7; Struck by lightning 1; Burned in private building 11; Manhole explosion 1.”
  • From the San Francisco Chronicle, July 26, 1903, relating the San Francisco Coroner’s Report for 1902-1903: “The methods employed by the suicides were: Firearms, 45; cutting instruments, 8; drowning, 6; hanging, 14; kerosene ignition, 2; illuminating gas, 32; jumping from window, 1; poisons, 84. The favorite poison used was carbolic acid, 58 taking this to end everything. Other poisons were used as follows: Bichloride of mercury, 1; chloral, 1; chloroform, 2; cyanide of potassium, 2; laudanum, 1; lysol, 1; morphine, 3; opium, 5; prussic acid, 1; strychnine, 3; and wood alcohol, 1.   The following causes were ascribed for the commission of the suicides: Sickness, 46; insanity, 39; domestic troubles, 20; business reverses, 1; . . . drink, 15; financial troubles, 18; jealousy, 4; love, 10; overstudy, 1; religion, 1; unknown reasons, 42.”
  • From the San Francisco Chronicle, February 15, 1914, relating the New York City Coroner’s Report for 1913: “A startling fact in connection with these violent deaths is the fact that 580 persons were killed by vehicles in the streets of New York, and of these deaths 302 were due to automobiles. Trolley cars killed 108 persons, and wagons killed 170.”