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Weekly blog-about: Killer Cocktails Losing Their Punch; Politically Correct Long-Tailed Ducks

Killer Cocktails Losing Their Punch; Politically Correct Long-Tailed Ducks

By JAY MANN | Feb 20, 2014

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A very odd news item has come my way, having to do with a crisis in the realm of lethal injections. Yep, I’m talkin’ those chemical cocktails given to the baddest of the bad – so they can ponder their awful deeds in the hereafter.

Apparently, some American lethal injections are going a bit awry, which is obviously not what the doctor ordered. The problems stem from a critical shortage of prime ingredients needed to make the perfect execution concoction. The pharmaceutical company that formerly made the top-secret, sleep-inducing chemicals needed for a happy and healthy lethal injection has discontinued production. The U.S. has turned to European pharmaceutical companies for some lethal injection assistance, but they blatantly refuse to begin producing such cocktail chemicals, including critical sleep-inducing anesthetics.

To make up for the shortage of the good execution stuff, several states are literally conjuring up home brews. A recent New Republic article reports that some prisons are now clean out of stockpiled stashes. Per the article, “The result is the rise of new, untested drugs in execution cocktails.”

It might just be me, but if there’s anything that should live up to its name, it’s a lethalinjection. Imagine being sentenced to a thought-to-be-lethal injection, or a more-often-than-not lethal injection or even we’ll-soon-see-if-it’s-lethal injection. While that could be a crime deterrent in its own right, having, at best, a so-so success rate at lethal injections might eventually stir up some whiny civil rights types.

I’d better declare here that I’ve never been big on capital punishment. I prefer lowercase punishment.  (I’ll give you a second or two on that one.) However, history is rife with cutting-edge capital punishments, most notably the French and the sharpest capital coup de grace ever: le good-old rusty guillotine.

Yes, they were often rusty. It’s not like the beheaded convict might come down with tetanus – though you know you were born under a bad sign if you survive being guillotined but quickly succumb to lock-jaw.

In modern-day America, we would never tolerate using the guillotine. It’s just too obvious. Plus, we’re not wild about executions that involve large moving parts – particularly body parts.

What’s more, going guillotine would surely result in legal wrangling over which company should win the “head basket” contract.

Yes, the head basket is just what it sounds like. And probably only I would think of putting a little sign in the bottom of the basket reading “HEADS UP!” – with a little smiley face.

Admittedly, we could Americanize the procedure by replacing the head basket with former NFL tight ends – you know, sure-handed types.

But the real downside to using guillotining in America would be the exorbitant cost of neatly sewing the head back on – as would surely be required by federal law – you know, for a proper burial and all. It’s a spin-off from our foreign policy of blowing the crap out of a nation, then sewing its head back on, all nice and clean.

Head-lopping aside, did you know that the U.S. still executes qualified folks using fusillading? Never heard of it, right? Well, that’s the euphemistic way of saying firing squad. It’s still alive and kicking in Utah.

By the by, that softer terminology for firing squad kinda works.

“Up and at ’em, Johnson. The fusillading squad is waiting.”

“Uh, OK. Just let me tidy up a bit in here.”

Tell the same Johnson that a “firing squad” is waiting and he’ll have his arms and legs pythoned around the cell bars in nothing flat.

“This is Sgt. Thompson at Cell 31. We got us another clinger here.  Looks like we may need the Jaws of Life to pry him loose.”

And there may be more than a few clingers if states such as Wyoming and Missouri continue to go full guns on fusillading.

Responding to the iffiness of injections, Missouri State Representative Rick Brattin and Wyoming State Sen. Bruce Burns are hyping firing squads over syringes.

Burns got downright personal in his effort to have rifles do the dirty work. He told the media, with an odd sincerity, “If I had my choice, I would take the firing squad over lethal injection.” Of course, you would. You’re from Wyoming – where lethal injections are for girly men.

In going full-bore for firing squads, Brattin was quoted as saying, “A lot of folks may picture the 1850s and everyone lining up to shoot, but the reality is that people suffer with every type of death. This is no less humane than lethal injection.”

Uh, Rick, I’m solidly among those who still picture the 1850s and everyone lining up to shoot someone. In fact, I’m pretty sure not much has changed since then, big guy – or since guns were first made. It was only weeks after the invention that someone giddily suggested, “Hey, what about we stand someone just over there and we all shoot him with these things?”

Of course, in these modern times, we might be able to program robo-firing squads. Cooler still, what about drone firing squads? Come on, you can picture that. The goner-guy is strapped to a pole, as everything goes dead quiet. Then the solemn silence is broken by 11 little drones firing up – and soon lifting off. In an instant, they’re hovering, head-high, GoPros blazing  …

Yes, I’m being frickin’ facetious!

You likely know that – for obscure mental health reasons – one gun in a firing squad has adummy cartridge, a.k.a. blank, secretly placed in it. That began 100 years back. The blank offers each shooter a roulette-wheel chance that it wasn’t his gun that did the dirty work. (By the by, there are no known lady fire squadists.)

That strategy eludes me a bit. You’re part of a frickin’ firing squad! What else ya gonna be doin’ there?! Uhhhh!

The concept of a fake round was decent enough. In fact, it was dubbed diffusion of responsibility. Each shooter was only diffusively responsible for the dead guy.

However, the first shot at a secret dummy round went wildly astray – no thanks to one Private W.A. Quinton of 2nd Battalion, the Bedfordshire Regiment, 1915.

This is a true story. Along with 11 other firing squadsters, Quinton was handed a rifle with a chambered bullet. The firing part went off smoothly. Per dummy cartridge stratagem, no one was specifically to blame. No finger pointing. Or, so it was thought, until someone noticed Quinton was walking off all cheery and smiley. Questioned, the private bragged, “I had the satisfaction of knowing that as soon as I fired, the absence of any recoil, (indicated) that I had merely fired a blank cartridge.”

“You little bastard!” quickly resounded, as the other 11 firing squad guys pursued Quinton into the sunset.

So, it was back to drawing boards for the folks who make dummy cartridges. After years and years of hit-or-miss, a wax dummy round offered just the right recoil. Utah adopted wax bullet dummy cartridges.

So, all is now well and good in the firing squad realm – until a mind like mine wanders in, offering potential pitfalls for future fusilladings.

Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, nearly every firing squad shooter purposely shoots to miss, all having volunteered just for the stipend and not wanting to actually shoot anyone. The one exception: the guy firing the wax bullet. His aim is true. Can you just picture the warden, the firing squad and the gallery when the smoke clears and the only sound is the “executed” guy yelling, “Ouch! Son of a bitch, that frickin’ hurt! What the hell? That’s gonna leave a mark.” A huge gasp ensues – before everybody screams and takes off, the firing squad throwing their guns into the air. Hey, it could easily happen. To me, it’s irrefutable proof that capital punishment is too much of a shot in the dark.

POLITICALLY CORRECT DUCKS: Lately, I’ve been turning my over-owled Ziess binoculars toward this winter’s kick-ass showing of good-looking long-tailed ducks. There are many years we see a mere scattering of long-tails.

Long-tails are the black-and-white diving ducks seen bobbing around near the beachline, sometimes in pairs but more often in loosely gathered flocks. The males are the lookers, with bright-white patterning within coal-black feathers. A highlight of the males is the long tail, thus the name – a simple, explanatory name that belies a rather controversial past.

For most of my life, these eye-catching diving ducks were called, solely, old squaws, or oldsquaws.

At some fairly recent juncture, that colloquialism ruffled the feathers of political-correctness watchdogs, or, maybe, watchbirds. They determined that the word squaw – old, young or in-between – could be insensitive to Native Americans. Not that Native Americans themselves – or, surely, the ducks – gave an oldsquaw’s patoot about the word. Still, the political correctness gurus determined it was better to fly on the side of discretion. Old squaws discreetly morphed into long-tail ducks. And it would seem that was that.

Not one to let sleeping oldsquaws lie, a truly top-notch expert on Native Americans jumped in – fairly furiously. Ives Goddard, curator emeritus in the Department of Anthropology of the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution, angrily rejoined that the word “squaw” in its original usage was utterly innocent, though he agreed that modern usages can be decidedly discriminatory.

(Ives Goddard)

In a letter addressing the change of the word oldsquaw to long-tailed duck, Goddard pointed out that the historical origin of the word squaw stems from the Algonquin language and “is perfectly innocent.”

He wrote, “It is as certain as any historical fact can be that the word squaw that the English settlers in Massachusetts used for ‘Indian woman’ in the early 1600s was adopted by them from the word squa that their Massachusett-speaking neighbors (Algonquians) used in their own language to mean ‘female, younger woman.’”

So where’s the rhetorical rub? Enter the seemingly troublemaking Mohawks – all punked out with those hairdos and face tats. They bandied about the word ojiskwa, the final blip sounding a bit like “squaw.” Some over-imaginative linguists saw the origins of squaw within ojiskwa.

Sounds like bull, said Goddard, appropriately noting that the Mohawks spoke Iroquoian, a long way from the Algonquin, from which the English version of squaw arose.

But why the sensitivity to the Iroquoian ojiskwa? Well, it kinda sorta meant, in more euphemistic terms, “vagina.”

OK. Methinks I see the problem. As did the American Ornithologists’ Union. Caught between Goddard and a hard spot, the bird group cleverly circumnavigated the linguistic conflict by asserting that it wasn’t kowtowing to political correctness by changing oldsquaw to long-tailed duck, but trying “to conform with English usage in other parts of the world.”

In an effort to clear the linguistic air, Goddard writes, “I have always tried to emphasize that squaw is now generally considered disparaging, as current dictionaries rightly indicate. Everyone would regard its use to refer to a Native American woman as demeaning (or colossally ignorant), though it should be noted that terms like squaw bread and squaw dance are still pretty widely used in Indian Country.”

So, when walking the backline, enjoy the politically-linguistically-correct long-tailed ducks. Better yet, just enjoy the friggin ducks.

WINTER FLATTIES COMING SOON: I called the enforcement folks at the N.J. Division of Fish and Wildlife asking the status on winter flounder fishing. As you might know, there should be no closed season on blackbacks this year – even though the season is, in fact, quite closed, right now. Huh?

Early this year, the feds gave a somewhat surprising OK to a year-round winter flounder fishery in N.J. However, our state’s Marine Fisheries Council hasn’t yet met to make it official. Fish and Wildlife Service can’t make the call, so to speak. It is still holding to the 2013 season regs. Last year, the season ran from March 23 to May 21.

It is a shame we have to wait a couple weeks for the meeting. I think the winter flatties will be fishable any day now. The largest fish come out of the mud first.

Not to overly worry. The marine fisheries council meets on March 6, when it will surely adopt the no-closed-season change.

In the end, we’ll likely be blackbacking a couple weeks earlier than last year, providing the change kicks in shortly after the council meeting. Where we’ll really score is on the tail end, after May 21 and right through Dec. 31.

There are still plenty of flounder around after May 21 – and maybe more so this year, with the deep-frozen bay we saw. Then, we can even target the flatties migrating back this way in fall. It’s been a long time since we’ve done that.

Just keep in mind that the two fish at 12 inches, or greater, remains the bag/size limits. Yes, that’s a bit sparse, but winter flounder aficionados know how much meat is on these tasty flatfish.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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