February 17, 2013

A shocking, lurid tale of depravity that transfixed Victorian London

Filed under: Britain, History, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:15

In History Today, Richard Canning reviews a new book on the trial of Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, aka Mrs Fanny Graham and Miss Stella Boulton in 1871:

McKenna provides what is certainly the definitive account of the Boulton/Park story, drawn not only from contemporary journalism but also from the full legal transcript, a miraculous survivor housed in Kew’s National Archives. It is a miserable tale, if leavened both by McKenna’s dramatic verve and, during the show trial held in Westminster Hall, by Fanny and Stella’s black humour. The establishment account – that the pair’s persistent cross-dressing importuning was a scandal to public morals that must be stopped – soon breaks down. McKenna shows clearly how the men were effectively set up and, to some degree, even entrapped.

Police confidence in pressing the serious charge of ‘conspiracy to solicit, induce, procure and endeavour to persuade persons unknown to commit buggery’ (as opposed to the minor offence of outraging public decency) was nonetheless misplaced. Buggery had until lately incurred the death penalty and still carried a lifelong penal sentence. No such charge had been brought for 240 years. The problem which attended the endless, farcical medical examinations of Boulton and Park reflected sodomy’s millennial history as the nameless or invisible crime. Few Victorian doctors could claim to have seen evidence of the extreme anal dilation which purportedly occurred after the ‘insertion of a foreign body’. Of the half dozen who inspected the pair – both inveterate sodomites, as McKenna concedes – only one remained certain that the corporeal evidence supported conviction. They were acquitted and the notion that ‘the impurities of Continental cities’ had reached London was rooted in legal terms for a quarter-century – if paradoxically seeming somehow to be affirmed.

McKenna lays bare a fascinating tapestry of interrelated personal histories, only partially capable of reconstruction. Frederick’s elder brother Harry, already twice disgraced, was hiding in Scotland under an assumed name. Their father, a judge, was urgently shipped off to South Africa during the trial of his younger son. Impressively, Frederick’s mother – amusingly a literal ‘Mary Ann’ – took to the stand to defend his moral character. So successful was she that the identification of Frederick/’Fanny’ as a theatrical mother’s boy exonerated him entirely from the imputation of vice.

It turns out it actually was the Burmese equivalent of Al Capone’s vault

Filed under: Asia, Britain, History, Military, WW2 — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:51

Back in early January, the archaeological dig for buried WW2 Spitfires was announced:

Then, the doubts began to grow:

And now, even the sponsoring organization says there are no buried Spitfires after all:

A global video gaming company that funded a high-profile hunt for dozens of World War II-era British fighters in Myanmar has some bad news for aviation enthusiasts: It says none of the legendary planes are buried in the Southeast Asian country.

Excavation teams carrying out surveys on the ground, however, said Saturday that they would not give up the search.

The hunt for the lost planes was launched amid hope that as many as 140 rare Spitfires were hidden in crates in pristine condition in three locations in Myanmar.

But the Belarusian video gaming company Wargaming.net, which had backed the venture, said in a statement late Friday that the planes were never even delivered to the country by Allied forces as the war drew to a close nearly 70 years ago.

“The Wargaming team now believes, based on clear documentary evidence, as well as the evidence from the fieldwork, that no Spitfires were delivered in crates and buried” in Myanmar between 1945 and 1946, the statement said.

I’d been rather doubtful of the story from the start — even though it would have been awesomely cool to find a stash of Spitfires.

Whinnygate is just a useful distraction from the real scandal in the NHS

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Health, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:09

The British media is doing a great job of distracting the public with the horsemeat story, and the politicians and National Health Service bureaucrats are delighted that nobody is paying attention to the real scandal:

At any given moment, there exists at least one delicate subject that all mainstream political parties would much rather not discuss. For many years the abuse of MPs’ expenses fell into this category. After this was exposed by a Telegraph investigation, everyone joined a tacit agreement to keep quiet about the criminality inside the Murdoch newspaper empire.

Now the subject which nobody wants to talk about is the National Health Service. It is just over a week since the publication of the Francis report into Stafford hospital, where some 1,200 patients died in appalling circumstances. Had any other institution been involved in a scandal on this scale, the consequences would have been momentous: sackings, arrests and prosecutions. Had it involved a private hospital, that hospital would have been closed down already, and those in charge publicly shamed and facing jail.

Astonishing to relate, nothing has happened. Politicians have made perfunctory expressions of concern, while agreeing that there must be “no scapegoats”, and that Sir David Nicholson (the senior figure responsible) must remain in his job.

Then, almost at once, the political class turned its attention to a far more lively subject: horse meat. Few “scandals” in living memory have carried less significance. And yet few stories have dominated the press quite as comprehensively since rival teams of crack reporters from The Sun and The Star pursued Blackie the Donkey across Southern Spain in 1987, in the wake of some dubious allegations of mistreatment by his Spanish owners.

Misdirection is a vital tool in the arsenal of the magician — and it can be even more valuable in the political arena. If they can fool you into watching the hand that isn’t hiding the coin, they can get away with a great trick (magicians) … or a great evil (politicians).

Money talks, fading historical memories edition

Filed under: Britain, Middle East, Military, WW1 — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:42

The British army’s officer training college at Sandhurst (think “West Point” in the American context) has invited a lot of criticism for this decision:

Britain’s top military academy, Sandhurst, has come under fire for renaming a sports hall commemorating a First World War battle after the King of Bahrain.

The Mons Hall — named after the 1914 battle where thousands died — will have its name changed to honour the Bahraini monarch who has given millions in funding to the Army’s officer training college.

The building will now be called King Hamad Hall and will reopen next month after being refurbished thanks to a £3 million donation from the king, who is the patron of the Sandhurst Foundation but is known for brutally repressing demonstrators at home.

Sandhurst has also accepted a £15 million donation from the United Arab Emirates to build a new accommodation block, raising questions about the college’s links with authoritarian Gulf states accused of human rights abuses.

Critics say the Army is betraying the soldiers who gave their lives and that Bahrain and the UAE are trying to avert criticism of their regimes by buying silence with donations.

The 1914 Battle of Mons was the first major battle of the war. Against overwhelming odds, the British Army inflicted 5,000 casualties on the Germans. At least 1,600 British troops were killed.

The case of the over-extended copyright

Filed under: Books, Law, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:28

In this story, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson encounter a true mystery: why the heirs of author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are still able to pressure publishers for licensing fees long after the original stories should have been fully in the public domain:

It isn’t often one gets a ringside seat at a legal-literary battle royal, but it would seem that we’re about to bear witness to some activity in that particular area.

Of course, you’ll recall that recent legal battles in England have revolved around Undershaw, Conan Doyle’s home for about a decade that included when he wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles. [. . .] But this is wholly different.

The noted Sherlockian scholar, Baker Street Irregular and prominent attorney Leslie Klinger, editor of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, The Sherlock Holmes Reference Library and The Grand Game: A Celebration of Sherlockian Scholarship, to name a few, has filed a civil lawsuit against the Conan Doyle Estate to determine that the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are in fact in the public domain.

Currently, the so-called estate undertakes high-handed legal action to levy royalties and other payments from authors who use the characters in their own works. This is despite the fact that there are only 10 stories in the entire Canon that are still under copyright protection (in the United States). Klinger, for one, will not stand for this bullying, and has formally filed suit and issued a press release.

H/T to Tim Harford (and Cory Doctorow) for the link.

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