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Texas Death Row Inmates Don’t Pick Their Last Meals

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On June 7, 1998, a forty-nine-year-old African-American man from Texas, named James Byrd Jr., was brutally murdered by three men. While Byrd was still alive, the perpetrators tied his ankles to the back of a pickup truck and dragged him for three miles; Byrd was decapitated in the process. Byrd’s murder resulted in legislation, both on the state and federal level, that addresses criminal activities typically called “hate crimes.” Two of Byrd’s three assailants were sentenced to death, with the third sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. Of the two given the death penalty, one still sits on Death Row. The other, Lawrence Russell Brewer, was executed by the state of Texas on September 21, 2011.

Brewer’s ritual “last meal” was Texas’s last such “last meal.”

The origin of the traditional “last meal” of the condemned person’s choosing—a final rite of passage before the inmate’s final passing—has been lost to antiquity. But most U.S. states with the death penalty still allow those about to be executed a special meal beforehand (albeit not always as their true “last” meal). Texas, until Brewer, was no exception. Some requests were basic but high-end, with at least two men (Ronald Clark O’Bryan in 1984 and Dennis Bagwell in 2005) asking for, and receiving, feasts with steak and french fries. Other requests were just plain strange. In 2001, a murderer named Gerald Lee Mitchell requested that the state give him a bag of assorted Jolly Ranchers as a last meal; this request was granted. In 2000, a man named Odell Barnes asked for “justice, equality, and world peace.” In 1990, James Edward Smith requested a lump of dirt used for voodoo rituals, as a way of marking his body for the afterlife. His request was denied, and he was given a cup of yogurt instead.

Brewer’s request? Per the New York Times, he asked for: two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions; a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger; a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and jalapeños; a bowl of fried okra with ketchup; one pound of barbecued meat with half a loaf of white bread; three fajitas; a meat-lover’s pizza; one pint of Blue Bell Ice Cream; a slab of peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts; and three root beers.

The state provided him with this meal, costing hundreds of dollars and consisting of thousands of calories. Brewer, claiming he was not very hungry, ate exactly none of it.

The next day, state legislators asked the Department of Criminal Justice to end the tradition of “last meals.” One lawmaker stated, “It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege. It’s a privilege which the perpetrator did not provide to their victim.” The Department of Criminal Justice chairperson agreed, and the tradition ended. Since then, per the Houston Chronicle, “Last meals will consist of whatever is on the menu for all prisoners”— with no special adjustments for those about to be executed.

Bonus Fact

In 2007, Tennessee executed a man named Philip Workman. For his last meal, Workman requested that a vegetarian pizza be donated to a homeless person (no one specifically), but prison officials, per CNN, denied that request, telling the news agency that “they do not donate to charities.” Nevertheless, Workman’s last wishes were carried out many times over by others. According to the same CNN article, donors from around the country rose to the occasion, donating hundreds of pizzas to Nashville-area homeless shelters. 

Excerpted from Now I Know More Copyright © 2014 by Dan Lewis and published by F+W Media, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.


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A Limited Edition, Handwritten Manuscript of The Great Gatsby Can Be Yours for $249
SP Books
SP Books

Fans of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby need to put this on their holiday wish list: The French manuscript publisher SP Books is releasing a deluxe, limited-edition version of Fitzgerald’s handwritten Gatsby manuscript.

A handwritten manuscript of 'The Great Gatsby' open to a page
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The 328-page, large-format edition is cloth-bound and features an ornamental, iron-gilded cover. The facsimile of Fitzgerald’s original manuscript shows how the author reworked, rewrote, and otherwise altered the book throughout his writing process, changing character’s names (Nick was named “Dud” at one point), cutting down scenes, and moving around where certain information was introduced to the plot, like where the reader finds out how Gatsby became wealthy, which in the original manuscript wasn’t revealed until the end of the book. For Fitzgerald superfans, it's also signed.

A page of the handwritten manuscript with a pen on it
SP Books

The publisher is only selling 1800 copies of the manuscript, so if you’re a lover of literary history, you’d better act fast.

It’s available from SP Books for $249.

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An AI Program Wrote Harry Potter Fan Fiction—and the Results Are Hilarious
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

“The castle ground snarled with a wave of magically magnified wind.”

So begins the 13th chapter of the latest Harry Potter installment, a text called Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash. OK, so it’s not a J.K. Rowling original—it was written by artificial intelligence. As The Verge explains, the computer-science whizzes at Botnik Studios created this three-page work of fan fiction after training an algorithm on the text of all seven Harry Potter books.

The short chapter was made with the help of a predictive text algorithm designed to churn out phrases similar in style and content to what you’d find in one of the Harry Potter novels it "read." The story isn’t totally nonsensical, though. Twenty human editors chose which AI-generated suggestions to put into the chapter, wrangling the predictive text into a linear(ish) tale.

While magnified wind doesn’t seem so crazy for the Harry Potter universe, the text immediately takes a turn for the absurd after that first sentence. Ron starts doing a “frenzied tap dance,” and then he eats Hermione’s family. And that’s just on the first page. Harry and his friends spy on Death Eaters and tussle with Voldemort—all very spot-on Rowling plot points—but then Harry dips Hermione in hot sauce, and “several long pumpkins” fall out of Professor McGonagall.

Some parts are far more simplistic than Rowling would write them, but aren’t exactly wrong with regards to the Harry Potter universe. Like: “Magic: it was something Harry Potter thought was very good.” Indeed he does!

It ends with another bit of prose that’s not exactly Rowling’s style, but it’s certainly an accurate analysis of the main current that runs throughout all the Harry Potter books. It reads: “‘I’m Harry Potter,’ Harry began yelling. ‘The dark arts better be worried, oh boy!’”

Harry Potter isn’t the only work of fiction that Jamie Brew—a former head writer for ClickHole and the creator of Botnik’s predictive keyboard—and other Botnik writers have turned their attention to. Botnik has previously created AI-generated scripts for TV shows like The X-Files and Scrubs, among other ridiculous machine-written parodies.

To delve into all the magical fiction that Botnik users have dreamed up, follow the studio on Twitter.

[h/t The Verge]

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