September 22, 2003

*What Do You Know?

About death and government?

In nineteenth century Britain, you could be sentenced to hang for the following offenses: attempted suicide (!), stealing a loaf of bread, setting fire to a haystack, writing a threatening letter, associating with Gypsies, and writing graffiti on the Westminster Bridge.

The last public hanging in Britain was in 1868. The death penalty was made illegal completely in 1965. Seventy-three nations, including all of western Europe, have abolished the death penalty.

China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia execute more people annually than the U.S.

In ancient Greece, convicted criminals were allowed to take their own life.

In many European countries, suicide victims had their bodies officially mutilated and property seized. England didn't take the law against suicide off the books until 1961.

Among the Japanese samurai, seppuku is the word for self-disembowelment. It was abolished by law in 1873.

A report for the Czech government in 2001 concluded that smokers saved the state millions by dying prematurely.

In 1999, there were approximately 250,000 to 300,000 deaths from AIDS in South Africa. President Mbeki denies HIV is the cause, and his government denounces the World Health Organization reports on the subject as "not credible."

Biological warfare is nothing new. The Assyrians threw rotten animal carcasses over the walls of cities they besieged, hoping to spread disease. Romans threw corpses into their enemies' water supplies. In the 1700s British soldiers distributed smallpox-infected blankets to American Indians.

The Saxon king Edmund Ironside was killed while sitting on the lavatory. An assassin had hidden in the pit below and thrust a sword up the king's backside.

In Russia, 4 out of 5 men born in 1923 were killed in WWII...they lost 11 million soldiers total.

One Ashanti king killed 200 young women and had their blood mixed into the construction materials of his palace. He believed this would protect his new home.

In Norway, there is a law that all tombstones be of the same height. This law was passed in the 1300s when the aristocracy was wiped out by the Black Plague.

Source: "Death: A User's Guide," by Tom Hickman.

Posted by Jennifer at September 22, 2003 01:38 AM


At best, one can only hope to die entertainingly.

Posted by: Ted at September 22, 2003 06:21 AM

Live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse?

Posted by: Pete at September 22, 2003 09:20 AM

wow. Now my brain is coming up with all sorts of interesting ways to die...

Posted by: Rachael at September 22, 2003 07:15 PM

Not exactly the reaction I wanted, Rachael.

Posted by: Jennifer at September 22, 2003 11:35 PM