Disposal Economics

When Public Executions
Were the Crowd’s Delight

Immortality is one of those dreams that would turn into a nightmare if it’d ever become reality. Even without the proverbial zombies roaming the earth, we still need desperately to die on a regular basis.
Not pretty, for sure, but a vow of support to all blessed forms of natural death, the economics of crime and punishment, and the ecology of making sure we dispose properly of the bodies of those who passed on.
According to the Annals of Improbable Research, modern forms of execution went through considerable changes until reaching the efficiency and swiftness of contemporary death rows. Or so that was the plan. Such evolution also reflects changes in our footprint on the planet.
Thus, if ancient Hebrews, living in barren lands, executed people by stoning, Arabs in nearby deserts used a sword to decapitate them. Impaling was an ancient and popular method, and the Romanian Prince Vlad III, likely to have inspired the myth of the Dracula, was an avid adopter. Turks preferred metal spears, but in most of Asia and the Tropics, bamboo was the preferred method to exact justice. To each its own horror theater.

Arguably, few could beat crucifixion as a public spectacle, though. It was the Roman way, and Jesus, its cèlebre poster boy. It even had an opening act where the condemned had to drag his own wooden crossbar to the site of the execution to the crowds’ delight. Romans could be cruel but not free of ecological concerns, though.
They saw how wasteful the method was – not of blood and guts, which there were plenty to go around – but of trees. And soon, an alternative was devised. They’d bend and tie with ropes two trees, and have the arms and legs of the doomed attached on each of them. Then the ropes would be cut, for a clean, quick end, with no waste of timber.
In Medieval Europe, the auto-de-fé, i.e., to burn alive at the stake, was the sanctioned method of execution. It killed Joana D’Arca and countless others, accused of heresy, witchcraft, and other peccadillos.

In the 18th century, a new method made people literally lose their heads over it, and became forever associated with the French Revolution: the guillotine. It replaced the sword executioner and it killed thousands but it could not slay two popular beliefs: it was not invented by Joseph Guillotin and it did not kill him either.
It never caught on in North America, where hanging was the preferred way. Still, forest depletion was a constant concern, so with the Civil War, death by firing squad was a more economical alternative.
With the added convenience of serving to execute more than one person at a time. As we mentioned before, (more)
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Ketchup With That?

Who Ordered
The Chicken?

It’s been 35 years this month since the reinstatement of the federal death penalty in the U.S., but if you’re not involved in the country’s criminal system, you wouldn’t give the fact much though. Photographer James Reynolds did. He decided to create and photograph replicas of meals inmates ordered in their last day on earth.
Some death-row residents got actually hungry on their day of reckoning. Some had your typical off-the-highway diner meal. And yet, some were very particular about what they wanted to eat. Given the pressing engagement waiting for them next door, it’s really far out that most would want to eat at all.
But some did it and enjoy it, right to their last cigarette, despite the advice on the contrary from the prison physician. Abstracting any consideration on why they were sent to death in the first place, it’s almost poignant that someone thought about memorializing their last supper.
That’s what Reynolds did. He researched the prisoners and their crimes, and recreated their last meals. After photographing the trays, he went as far as to eat some of the food. He hasn’t made up his mind about the death penalty itself yet, but he surely found a way to contextualize it.
Bon appetit.