Wednesday, October 15, 2003

The topic of interest today is cannibalism. Why did I choose that for my lunch hour reading? I'm not sure. It wasn't entirely bright of me, as I came across one particularly nasty page detailing savage accounts of torture and cannibalism which made my stomach turn. I am not going to post a link because it was far too grotesque.

Anyhow, I recently came across the topic through the book I'm currently reading, Ahab's Wife. In the book, a whaling vessel is attacked by a giant sperm whale, and the crew left on lifeboats in the middle of the ocean. They can set one of two courses -- move toward a set of islands just several days away, or set sail for land thousands of miles away in another direction. Due to rumors of rampant cannibalism on the nearby islands and fear of being eaten, they choose the longer course.

Days pass. Weeks. There is no food. No water. They are directly exposed to direct sunlight all the day long, and they become badly burned and blistered. They begin hallucinating. Finally, on the verge of starvation, they decide to draw lots for who will live and who will die, and they begin eating one another. Eventually the few lone survivors are rescued.

This book was inspired by Moby-Dick. And Moby-Dick was inspired by a true story.

Then randomly, last night, Steve told me about a law course he'd taken a while back where they had studied a case of several sailors who had been lost at sea on a lifeboat for months. Finally, starving, burnt, hallucinating, they also decided to draw lots. Just days after they had eaten one of their own, they were rescued. They told their rescuers of their ordeal, and then, to their surprise, were prosecuted for murder. Steve also brought up the event that had inspired Moby-Dick; apparently there is a non-fiction book that documents the story, as well, which he said was quite good.

So, today during my lunch hour, I decided to search for accounts of that trial. My first hit was the horribly grotesque read, but eventually I did find some accounts of the incidents I was looking for. Human Rights Education Library: First Steps gives a good account of the sailor's ordeal that Steve had spoken of, and Compulsion & Necessity gives a good account of the trial that followed. (To find the relevant sections, search on both pages for "Mignonette".) The Custom of the Sea is a full length book about the event.

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex appears to be the non-fiction book that Steve spoke of that documents the events that inspired Moby-Dick.

Lots of crazy reading.

You know, were I starving on a small boat at open sea and it came down to drawing lots, I would strongly campaign for drawing lots to be amputated -- "Let's just eat my leg?" -- as opposed to drawing lots for being eaten entirely. Yeah, there's the concern of going into shock and dying anyway, but we can at least try, right? And if I die of shock, well, eat me then.

Maybe that wouldn't go over so well, though? Sailors seem never to have approached it that way. Apparently the whole stranded-at-sea-eating-one-another-thing has happened a number of times throughout the course of history, but I've found no accounts of sailors-stranded-at-sea-eating-parts-of-themselves.

Monday, October 13, 2003

I'm not to be Kathy anymore, after all.

Throughout the day, my network identity at work has slowly and mysteriously been changing back so that my name is again displayed everywhere as "Kathryn Krueger" instead of "Kathy Krueger". I'm not sure if some of their data got restored to backups or what, but I've decided I'm going to leave well enough alone. Everyone can just deal with the confusion of having two Kathryns in a 4-person group.