Ignore conflict, these shiny stones will catch your attention

And newspapers wonder why an increasing number of readers (and former readers) view them with incredulity.

Eleven of the top 12 stories in the online version of my local paper are eclipse related, the astronomical event that area media has been hyping for months. Everything from improving your eclipse glasses to a list of where to find the best eclipse-related food.

A complete solar eclipse is impressive, but this seems over the top. One might even get the impression that not much else was going on elsewhere in the state, nation or world. Kind of how ancient people used to react when they thought an eclipse presaged the world’s end, but with a more mindless twist.

Actually, there are a few other things of note taking place around the globe. Such as:

  • President Trump will address the country tonight and outline a new strategy for Afghanistan, the longest war in US history;
  • The death toll from last week’s militant Islamist attack in Spain, which appear to be striking Europe with startling regularity, is now at 15; and
  • Aggrieved demonstrators, while not done training their sites on all things Confederate, converged on a bust of Christopher Columbus in Detroit and demanded the monument come down as they protest against white supremacy and the nation continues to be roiled by racial tension.

But here, local ink-stained wretches gleefully slap story after story about the eclipse on page 1 and the Internet, eager first and foremost to sell as many papers as possible. Informing readers is somewhere further down the line of priorities.

The Roman poet Juvenal knew of what he wrote more than 2,000 years ago:

“… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions – everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”

(Top: Image showing online front page of local daily newspaper, showing 11 of top 12 news headlines devoted to today’s eclipse.)

North Carolina woman still receives Civil War pension

irene triplett 1

More than 150 years after the end of the War Between the States, the US government continues to pay out pension money connected to the Civil War.

Irene Triplett, a Wilkesboro, NC, woman and the 86-year-old daughter of a Civil War veteran, collects $73.13 each month from her father’s military pension.

Triplett’s father was Mose Triplett, born in Wilkes County, NC, in 1846. He joined the Confederate army in May 1862 as a member of Company K of the 53rd North Carolina Infantry Regiment, at age 16. In 1863, he transferred to Company C of the 26th North Carolina Infantry Regiment.

Later that year, he fell ill with fever and was admitted to a Confederate hospital in Danville, Va. He escaped from the hospital on June 26, 1863, and deserted.

Triplett’s decision to turn his back on the Confederacy enabled him to miss the Battle of Gettysburg, which began less than a week after he slipped out of the Danville hospital, and likely saved his life.

The 26th North Carolina suffered unparalleled casualties at Gettysburg, losing 734 of the approximately 800 men it went into the battle with, according to the David H. McGee’s regimental history of the 26th North Carolina.

The losses suffered by the 26th North Carolina at Gettysburg were the highest of any regiment in a single battle during the 1861-65 conflict.

Mose Triplett's pension card.

Mose Triplett’s pension card.

Triplett is said to have made his way to Knoxville, Tenn., where he joined the 3rd NC Mounted Infantry, a Union regiment, in the summer of 1864. He began receiving a pension of his own in 1885, as an invalid.

Triplett’s first wife died without the pair having any children.

At age 78, Triplett married Lydia “Elida” Hall, who then 28. They had five children, three of whom did not survive infancy. But Irene, and her younger brother Everette, did. Mose Triplett was 83 when Irene was born and nearly 87 when her brother Everette came along.

Mose Triplett, who lived into his early 90s, eventually made it to Gettysburg, attending the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1938. But he died a few days after returning from the event.

With the Great Depression still lingering, times weren’t easy for a single mother with two children. In 1943, Elida and Irene went to live in public housing, while Everette ran away, according to the website theveteransite.com.

Sadly, Irene Triplett, who was born disabled, did not have a happy childhood, she told The Wall Street Journal in 2014.

“I didn’t care for neither one of them, to tell you the truth about it,” she said referring to her parents. She noted she was often abused. “I wanted to get away from both of them. I wanted to get me a house and crawl in it all by myself.”

Elida Triplett died in 1967. Everette Triplett died in 1996.

When US News & World Report recently reached out to the Department of Veterans Affairs for updated information on Triplett, a spokesman indicated the family did not wish to be contacted.

(Irene Triplett with historian Jerry Orton in 2010. Photo credit: The Daily Telegraph.)

The sordid reason Rhode Island abolished the death penalty

old rhode island statehouse

Spend any time in Rhode Island and you quickly learn a few things: It’s not an island; it would appear to have the most corruption per capita outside of Sicily; and for such a small entity the Ocean State has more than its fair share of interesting stories.

Consider that Rhode Island hasn’t executed anyone in more than 170 years. Part of the reason is that the last man to die at the hands of the state was almost certainly railroaded, a victim of anti-Irish, anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant bigotry that was prevalent in many areas of the United States into the 20th century.

This particular story begins on Dec. 31, 1843, when textile magnate Amasa Sprague finished supper at his Cranston, RI, mansion and went for a walk. Sprague was powerful both in physique and prominence.

He was a New England Brahmin, and together with his brother William owned a textile business started by his father William Sprague Sr. The Spragues owned several cotton mills in Rhode Island, but their most profitable factory was the print works in nearby Spragueville, which printed calico patterns on cloth.

The A & W Sprague Co. employed most residents of Spragueville, owned the tenements they rented and the company store where they shopped. He was a man to be feared.

During Sprague’s after-dinner walk, he was accosted by at least two individuals. He was shot in the right wrist and struck with a blunt instrument in the left side of his head, then his right. Despite desperate attempts to fight back, Sprague was overcome and killed.

There was no shortage of potential suspects, according to the New England Historical Society.

Logo of A & W Sprague Co., showing Cranston, RI, textile plant.

Logo of A & W Sprague Co., showing Cranston, RI, textile plant.

There was talk that the murder was politically motivated. The previous year, an individual named Thomas Dorr had been arrested for a failed attempt to force broader democracy in Rhode Island by setting up a rival government that would expand the vote to all adult white males.

Still governed by the state’s 1663 colonial charter with its relatively high property requirement for suffrage, Rhode Island allowed only white, propertied men – about a third of adult male population – to vote. The Irish, who were nearly all disfranchised under the colonial charter, strongly supported the Dorr Rebellion.

Sprague, like many wealthy white males, benefited from the system in place and, along with his brother William and brother-in-law Emanuel Rice, helped orchestrate Dorr’s downfall. Some speculated that supporters of Thomas Dorr, who would later be found guilty of treason against the state, assassinated Amasa Sprague, according to the New England Historical Society.

Others looked closer to home. William and Amasa Sprague apparently disagreed about what direction the family business should take. William wanted to expand the company beyond Rhode Island, while Amasa was content to continue the business at its current size and profitability. Neither man had a reputation for backing down when they didn’t get their way.

Suspicion also fell upon Nicholas Gordon, a tavern owner whose establishment was frequented by Sprague’s millworkers, much to Amasa Sprague’s displeasure.

Gordon’s tavern was attached to his home and was located in a section of Cranston, which, in the decidedly indelicate sensitivities that were prevalent in 19th century America, was nicknamed “Monkeytown” because of its Irish population.

“Amasa Sprague had successfully fought against renewing Gordon’s liquor license because, he said, his Irish millworkers were getting drunk during work hours and neglecting their jobs,” according to the New England Historical Society. “Gordon and Sprague had fought publicly. Sprague and Gordon had once met on a path and neither refused to give way. Finally Sprague grabbed Gordon by the collar and shouted, ‘Get out of the way, you damned Irishman!’”

The entire case was a fiasco from beginning to end. William Sprague resigned his senate seat to supervise the murder investigation, an apparent conflict of interest.

Not only was Nicholas Gordon quickly arrested, along with his younger brothers, John and William, the Gordon’s mother and a friend of Nicholas’ named Michael O’Brien – because everyone knew the Irish always stuck together – but the Gordon’s dog was apprehended, as well. (The dog was later described by a defense attorney as toothless and old.)

William and John were tried first, with the Irish community rallying behind them and raising funds for their defense.

Ultimately, it was 29-year-old John Gordon, recently arrived from Ireland to join his brothers Nicholas and William, who took the fall for the crime. William was found not guilty, but John was found guilty despite a conviction based on contradictory circumstantial evidence.

How badly were the cards stacked against John Gordon?

In trials held at the then-Rhode Island Statehouse, Presiding judge Job Durfee told jurors to give greater weight to Yankee witnesses than Irish witnesses. He added that they did not have to believe anything that the Irish witnesses for the defense said because they were by their nature unable to tell the truth, according to a 2013 report on the sordid affair by the Cranston Herald.

In addition, Henry Bowen Anthony, the editor of the Providence Journal, the leading news source for Rhode Island at the time, provided the public with plenty of “facts” about Gordon’s guilt, even though many were asserted without a shred of truth to them, the Herald added.

One of the pieces of evidence that convicted John was a broken gun found near the body of Amasa Sprague. Nicholas was known to own a gun, but it couldn’t be found in his house, so it was assumed the broken gun was his. After the trial it was discovered that William had hidden Nicholas’ gun under the attic floorboards, according to the New England Historical Society.

Nicholas was tried later, but he had an alibi and the witnesses who convicted his brother were suddenly unsure of their memories. His trial ended in a hung jury. His gun turned up just before his second trial, which also ended in a hung jury.

John Gordon was hanged on Feb. 14, 1845, in Providence. His last words were, “I hope all good Christians will pray for me.”

Many believed he was innocent and the victim of a legal lynching. Some 1,400 Irish came from Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts for his funeral. The procession took a detour to pass the Statehouse and the homes of the Yankee elite.

Seven years later, the Rhode Island legislature banned capital punishment, in part because of the travesty of John Gordon’s trial.

In 2011, 166 years after John Gordon was hanged by the state of Rhode Island, Gov. Lincoln Chafee pardoned him.

“John Gordon was put to death after a highly questionable judicial process and based on no concrete evidence,” Chafee said in 2011. “There is no question he was not given a fair trial.”

(Old Rhode Island Statehouse, Providence, where John Gordon and his brothers were tried for the murder of Amasa Sprague.)

‘Right to Remain Silent’ upheld 50 years ago in Miranda Case

ernesto miranda

Fifty years ago this month, the US Supreme Court finished hearing Miranda v. Arizona, a case that would prove pivotal in American jurisprudence.

On March 13, 1963, Ernesto Arturo Miranda was detained by the Phoenix Police Department in connection with the kidnapping and rape of 18-year-old woman 10 days earlier. The police had identified Miranda as a suspect through circumstantial evidence.

After two hours of interrogation by police officers, Miranda confessed to the rape and signed his name to the charge on forms that included the typed statement: “I do hereby swear that I make this statement voluntarily and of my own free will, with no threats, coercion, or promises of immunity, and with full knowledge of my legal rights, understanding any statement I make may be used against me.”

However, as was procedure at the time, Miranda was never informed of his right to counsel, nor was he advised of his right to remain silent or that his statements during the interrogation would be used against him.

Miranda wasn’t exactly a paragon of virtue, according to a story on the Miranda Case in the August/September 2006 issue of American Heritage.

Born in 1940, he dropped out of school after the eighth grade and was arrested for his first felony, burglary, in 1954. Sentenced to probation, he was back in court less than a year later on another burglary charge and was sent to the Arizona State Industrial School for Boys. Just a few weeks after his release he committed his first sexual offense, attempted rape and assault.

After two more years at the Industrial School, Miranda, now 17, moved to Los Angeles, where he was arrested for lack of supervision, curfew violations, peeping Tom activities, and, eventually, armed robbery. He served 45 days in the county detention home before being sent back to Arizona.

He tried joining the army, but fared poorly, spending more than one-third of his 18 months in the service at hard labor for going AWOL and being caught in another peeping Tom act. He was dishonorably discharged, American Heritage noted.

Miranda card signed by Ernesto Miranda.

Miranda card signed by Ernesto Miranda.

After leaving the service, Miranda moved to Texas, where he was arrested for stealing cars and sent to federal prison for a year. Afterward, he moved back to California and met a woman. The following year the pair, with her two children and an infant born to the couple, moved to Arizona.

Miranda was working as a dockworker at a produce facility when he arrested in March 1963 in connection with the kidnapping and rape of an 18-year-old movie house employee.

When Miranda’s case went to trial his court-appointed attorney Alvin Moore objected, arguing that Miranda’s confession was not truly voluntary and that he had not been afforded all the safeguards to his rights provided by the Constitution and should therefore be excluded.

The objection was overruled, and based on the confession and other evidence, Miranda was convicted of rape and kidnapping and sentenced to 20 to 30 years imprisonment on each charge, with sentences to run concurrently.

Moore appealed the sentence to the Arizona Supreme Court, claiming that Miranda’s confession was not fully voluntary and should not have been admitted into court proceedings. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. In upholding the lower court’s verdict, the Arizona Supreme Court emphasized heavily that Miranda did not specifically request an attorney.

The decision was appealed to the US Supreme Court, which heard the case Feb. 28-March 1, 1966.

In June 1966, by a 5-4 decision led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court held that statements made by defendants during a police interrogation are admissible at trial only if it can be shown that the defendant was informed of their right to consult with an attorney before and during questioning, of their right against self-incrimination, and that the defendant not only understood these rights, but voluntarily waived them.

This had a significant impact on law enforcement in the United States, by making what became known as the Miranda rights part of routine police procedure to ensure that suspects were informed of their rights. The Miranda warning, known as “Mirandizing” a suspect, is the formal warning required to be given by police in the United States to criminal suspects in police custody (or in a custodial situation) before they are interrogated.

Miranda was retried after the original case against him was thrown out, and this time the prosecution, instead of using the confession, called witnesses, including the woman with whom Miranda was living at the time of the offense, who testified that he had told her of committing the crime, and introduced other evidence.

Miranda was convicted in 1967 and sentenced to serve 20 to 30 years. He was paroled in 1975.

After his release, Miranda returned to his old neighborhood and made a modest living autographing police officers’ “Miranda cards” which contained the text of the warning, to enable them to read to those arrested.

In January 1976, Miranda was drinking and playing cards with two Mexican nationals. After a time, the three came to blows over a handful of change that sat atop the bar. One of the Mexicans drew a six-inch knife and Miranda was stabbed. He died on the way to the hospital.

A suspect was arrested, but he exercised his right to remain silent. With no evidence against him, he was released.

(Top: Mug shot of Ernesto Miranda following his arrest for kidnapping and rape in 1963.)

Remembering the Boykin Mill Pond tragedy, 150+ years later

boykin mill pond

Boykin, SC, a rural community of 100 people located east of Columbia, is known for an eclectic Christmas parade, a grist mill that began operation in the 18th century, a skirmish that took place in the waning days of the War Between the States, a shop that sells handmade brooms and a handful of small restaurants housed in 19th century structures.

It’s also the site of the Boykin Mill Pond tragedy, which occurred on May 5, 1860, when at least two dozen individuals drowned while on a pleasure cruise.

More than 50 people, including several young children, set out on a flatboat on the 400-acre pond. The disaster began when the boat was said to have struck a stump.

Ralph Leland Goodrich, a New Yorker teaching in Camden in the early months of 1860, detailed the events in his diary: “No immediate danger was apprehended, but then the boat began to take on water. Watching from shore, their friends gradually stopped laughing and eating and then began to panic. Some few tried to swim out to them but it was too late. Most of those on the boat were young women and girls, whose skirts became extremely heavy as the boat began to sink. The boys on board tried to help, but most went down in a single mass, clinging to each other as drowning victims do.”

It’s possible the disaster might have been averted had the passengers not panicked, but when they noticed the flatboat taking on water, everyone moved en masse to one end and the boat tipped, dumping all into the water.

Gravestone of Mary Ann Young, which details her death at Boykin Mill Pond, May 6, 1860.

Gravestone of Mary Ann Young in Rembert Methodist Church cemetery, which details her death at Boykin Mill Pond, May 5, 1860.

Rembert Methodist Church

The names of the individuals who lost their lives in the Boykin Mill Pond tragedy as well as Goodrich’s details are part of CSI: Dixie, a project of the Center for Virtual History at the University of Georgia, which collected 1,582 coroners’ reports from six Upstate South Carolina counties for the years 1800-1900.

The findings of the coroners’ inquest for the victims of the Boykin Mill Pond tragedy is short, if not sweet.

For Amelia A. Alexander, 20, of Camden, SC, it reads: “… upon their oaths do say that the said Amelia A. Alexander came to her death by accidental drowning in the millpond of A.H. Boykin … by sinking of a Flat caused by the weight of between fifty-three & fifty-six persons.”

At least four sets of siblings lost their lives in the tragedy, including Samuel Young, 7; Mary Ann Young, 11; and Hollie Young, who would have turned 19 the following day.

Goodrich wrote of following a wagon-load of four bodies that “all went to the same house,” according to CSI: Dixie.

He helped dress the corpses as the mother “whose almost every child was gone,” wailed ‘“& these too, & these too?’” over and over. Her “grief could not be measured,” he later wrote.

Several of the victims are buried in Camden’s Quaker Cemetery while a handful of others are buried in the graveyard at Rembert Methodist Church, in neighboring Lee County. Others were buried in family plots whose location is unknown at present.

The number of deaths isn’t definitive; while at least one slave was among the dead in the coroner’s report, it is believed others may have been onboard and lost their lives, as well, but gone uncounted.

(HT: Waldo Lydecker’s Journal)

(Top: View of Boykin Mill Pond; below: grist mill that gets power from Boykin Mill Pond.)

boykin-mill-farm

Shining a light on anti-independence fallacies

Portrait of a boy with the flag of Wales painted on his face.

Among common canards used to thwart peaceful independence movements is the idea that the entity attempting to go its own way is too small, too poor, has too few people, etc.

These were arguments employed by those who opposed Scotland’s independence referendum in 2014, and who resist sovereignty movements in Catalonia and Corsica, among other regions of the world where a segment of the population is pondering an autonomous path.

But the blog Borthlas, focusing on the idea of Welsh independence from the UK – said by some to be impossible because Wales is “too poor” – raises interesting points:

Borthlas turns to a comparison of national per-capita GDP as a means to judge a region’s muscle, admitting that this is not an exact science because per-capita GDP tells nothing about the relative cost of living in a country.

“The population of a country with a low GDP per capita and a low cost of living might actually feel better off than the people of another country where both figures are higher,” the blog explains. “It also tells us nothing about the way wealth is shared out in a country – so the population of a country with a low GDP per capita but where the wealth is evenly shared might feel better off than the people of a country with a high GDP per head and huge inequality.”

But despite those caveats, per-capita GDP is still a good starting point to assess where would Wales fit were it an independent state, Borthlas writes.

  • According to International Monetary Fund figures, Wales would place 24th in the world in per-capita GDP were it independent of the UK, out of more than 170 countries;
  • The World Bank puts Wales at 27th, ahead of more than 150 other nations; and
  • The United Nations ranks Wales 31st place, with more than 160-odd countries beneath it.

Each organization has per-capita GDP figures for a different number of countries; currently there is something like 195 recognized independent nations.

Map of Wales.

Map of Wales.

Wales fares relatively well among European Union nations, as well, ranking in the top half, according to Borthlas.

The real issue why it’s difficult for regions such as Wales, Scotland and Catalonia to gain traction when it comes to independence is multi-fold.

First, these areas are often compared economically to the countries of which they are a part. Wales and Scotland aren’t going to stack up very well against the UK as whole, but then again, neither would England proper. But if there’s a place in the world for the likes of Andorra, Belize, Equatorial Guinea and Liechtenstein, entities such as an independent Wales, Scotland and Catalonia would not only have little problem surviving, but would almost certainly thrive.

Next, traditionalists, and certainly hidebound imperialists, are almost always reluctant to give up that which they have spent centuries holding reign over, for psychological and political reasons.

Finally, the loss of any portion of a nation to independence means a loss of money, one way or the other. Some may point to a region such as Wales and say that it receives significant sums from the UK Treasury. However, Wales is denied sovereign control over its natural resources, including water, mineral and energy exports.

Ultimately, the bottom line tends to be the bottom line these days when it comes to adhering to the concept of self-determination.

Local leader fights for right for employees to remain ignorant

Henry Reilly

One sometimes wonders if parochial politicians realize how narrow they appear when they express close-minded views, or if it’s actually their goal to put forth that perception in the first place.

Henry Reilly, a councillor representing the Mourne area  in County Down on a local council in Northern Ireland, recently wrote a letter to a local publication complaining that area workers employed by the same council were being queried about their Irish language skills.

“Workers are being asked if they have an Irish language qualification, how competent they are in Irish, if they would be willing to deal with enquiries from the public in Irish and if they would be willing to take a course in Irish. Staff are even asked if they would like to take such a course during working hours!” Reilly wrote to the News Letter.

Reilly added that council staff members who had contacted him expressed concern that their lack of knowledge of Irish or interest in learning Irish could harm their promotion prospects.

“It is clear to me that the implication of the audit is that having Irish will be a distinct advantage when working for the council,” he added. “This is wrong and discriminatory against the Protestant community.”

So here we have a government entity which, as part of its responsibility to serve its citizenry, seeks to assess the Irish-speaking capabilities of its employees. Understanding that not all employees may be able to speak Irish, it asks if they would be interested in taking a course in the language during working hours.

The council is willing to pay to enable employees to learn another language, to help them better serve the populace. But an elected official finds fault with that. Not because of the potential cost, or because it would potentially leave the council staff shorthanded during working hours, but because it somehow discriminates against the Protestant community.

As I noted when I first learned of this on the blog An Sionnach Fionn, I wish someone would pay me to learn a second language.

The only thing that’s seems unfair is that the people of Mourne find themselves represented by an ignorant ass who is either kowtowing to a handful of bigots who don’t want to learn Irish because they see it as the language of Catholics, or is grandstanding in a bid to lock up votes for the next election.

I don’t know what the threshold should be for having civil staff learn different languages to serve a polyglot population, but clearly there are many regions that would benefit from having some understanding of the language(s) of those they serve, whether it’s Irish in Northern Ireland, Spanish in parts of the United States, French in parts of Canada, etc., etc.

Public service isn’t about bending the job to the employee’s whims, but adapting to what the populace needs, when possible.

If Reilly has his way, services that could be better provided by a staff at least somewhat conversant in Irish would either go undelivered, or be delivered in a decidedly less efficient manner. Either way, some of Reilly’s constitutents would lose – but he’d rather pander than serve all of the public.

(Top: Henry Reilly, councillor on the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council representing the Mourne area.)