The Laboratorium
March 2002

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(Thanks to Sammy Klein for finding this link)

Hunt the Boeing is the lure, bait, and hook for a conspiracy theory: it lines up a series of news photos to imply that the pattern of damage at the Pentagon (only the lower floors of the outermost ring in a fairly narrow segment of wall) is flat-out inconsistent with the claim that a 757 was the implement of destruction.

This sort of speculation is open to some fairly simple sanity checks. For example, a CNN story entitled Images show September 11 Pentagon crash would seem like a fairly direct refutation of HtB's suggestions.

The photos (from a Pentagon security video) are pretty dramatic stuff, but it's kind of hard to tell whether a particular smudge is a 757 or atmospheric haze. Well, presumably these stills are just excerpts from the actual video, so let's click on that "play video" link.

Lo, it's Jamie McIntypre, narrating over an animation of these same fuzzy photos. So where's the plane, Jamie? "The sequence shows the plane coming in so low it can't be seen in the sky."

Read that last one back to yourself.

Now, I'm not ready to sign up as a believer in the full "Dreadful Imposture" theory behind HtB. I'm not a structural engineer, that plane had to have been diverted somewhere, and given the low frame rate, it seems perfectly reasonable that the critical moment fell between one frame and the next.

All the same, I trust CNN even less than I used to. The Pentagon asked them, "Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?" and CNN's answer was "you."

Trial By Battle

Under Norman law, trial by battle was a perfectly legitimate way of settling major disputes, right up there with trial by ordeal. If you held land that I claimed a right to and I sued you for it, you could send the case to a jury, or you could send it to a battle. The winner took the land; the loser (if he lived) paid a fine for being a yellow-bellied coward.

In fact, not only could you challenge me to a fight, you could even get your 250-pound neighborhood brute to fight on your behalf. Now, Bruiser had to go into court and swear that his father on his deathbed had said "Bruiser, son, if you ever hear about a lawsuit over that patch of land down by the pond, I want you to go put it right, do you hear me?" but there were people hanging around the courts who'd swear to anything for enough money.

Little wonder, then, that I'd go to great lengths to avoid those particular lawsuits which could result in trial by battle. Over the centuries, those forms of legal action which didn't have trial-by-combat escape clauses gradually displaced those that did. By the 14th century or so, actual battles were rare events. By the middle of the 17th century, trial by battle was a formality, an option mentioned in the language of court documents, but never used in practice.

Until 1818, that is. Abraham Thornton was prosecuted for the rape and murder of Mary Ashford on her way home from a country dance. The jury acquitted him, to public outrage. English law at the time, since it had descended in an unbroken line from Norman law, without any intervening systematic reforms, was full of oddities and seeming redundancies -- like trial by battle, for example -- so Mary Ashford's brother William was able to "appeal" Thornton, essentially bringing a private criminal suit against him.

To this appeal, Thornton replied by asserting another one of those oddities, trial by battle. William Ashford was a scrawny fellow, in no shape for a potentially mortal combat and he objected strenuously to the use of a fatal feudal procedure which had lain dormant for two hundred years. The judges thought about the question -- for five months -- before ruling that trial by battle had never been officially abolished. Thornton walked.

Trial by battle was officially abolished in short order.

(Information taken from Glanvill (a 12th century English lawbook), J. H. Baker's An Introduction to English Legal History, and The Complete Newgate Calendar)


I can't do justice to Sam Sloan's universe, so eerily similar to ours, and yet so scarily different. Sloan plays chess, he likes sex, and he files his own lawsuits. Lots of chess, lots of sex, and lots and lots of lawsuits.

One really needs to poke around the site for a while to take the full measure of his obsessions and fears. I've assembled a sort of annotated linkography of the more salient threads running through it; for every link I've pulled out, there are a dozen equally astounding ones I haven't.

And, oh yes, be sure to have your computer speakers turned on before you proceed.

Have you argued a case before the Supreme Court?

The Berkeley Sexual Freedom League

"I was President of the Berkeley Sexual Freedom League in 1966 and 1967. I did not found the organization. Jefferson Poland actually thought up the name. However, his was just a publicity stunt. Poland had no actual organization. I also did not organize the first sex orgy. Richard Thorne did that. Thorne looked and talked so much like actor Bill Cosby that I once believed that they were the same person. Thorne disappeared not long thereafter and changed his name to Ohm. However, I was the first person who organized weekly sex orgies on a regular basis."

Published author

Legal trouble with Miss America

Secrets of seduction

"There are only two ways I can think of to get 365 women: One is to establish a religion. The other is to become the ruler of a country. The question is: How big a country?"

The Jalalabad Defense

"The Jalalabad Defense was invented by me in 1978 during the six weeks that I was in Jalalabad Prison, Afghanistan."

The saga, part one

The saga, part two

One man, one taxicab, and seventy-seven hours