Oklahoma coming to terms with unprecedented surge in earthquakes

By Hailey Branson-Potts in the Los Angeles Times

Crescent, Okla., like much of the state, has been hit by numerous earthquakes in recent weeks. Many scientists blame drilling operations. (Mark Potts / LA Times)

When Austin Holland was being considered for his job as the sole seismologist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey in 2009, his interviewer posed a wry question: “Are you going to be able to entertain yourself as a seismologist in Oklahoma?”

Back then, the state had a 30-year average of only two earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher per year. As it turns out, though, boredom has been the least of Holland’s concerns. Over the last five years, the state has had thousands of earthquakes — an unprecedented increase that has made it the second-most seismically active state in the continental United States, behind California.

The state had 109 temblors measuring 3.0 or greater in 2013 — more than 5,000% above normal. There have already been more than 200 earthquakes this year, Holland said.

Scientists have never observed such a dramatic swarm of earthquakes “in what’s considered a stable continental interior,” Holland said. “Whatever we’re looking at, it’s completely unprecedented.”

Oklahoma has always had the potential for earthquakes; it has a complex underlying fault system. But until recently, the most powerful quake of the modern era was a 5.5-magnitude temblor in 1952 that left a 15-meter crack in the state Capitol.

Scientists say the more likely cause of the recent increase is underground injection wells drilled by the oil and gas industry. About 80% of the state is within nine miles of an injection well, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

Oklahoma has seen a boom in oil and gas production, including the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — the process of shooting water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth at high pressure to extract oil and natural gas. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and several universities suggest there is a link between the quakes and disposal wells, where wastewater from fracking is forced into deep geological formations for storage.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times

There’s no humane way to carry out the death penalty

By Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post

No one who supports the death penalty should have the slightest problem with the way Clayton Lockett died.

Lockett, a convicted murderer, spent 43 minutes in apparent agony Tuesday night as the state of Oklahoma tried to execute him by injecting an untested cocktail of drugs. Instead of quickly losing consciousness, he writhed in obvious distress and attempted to speak. Witnesses described what they saw as horrific.

Prison authorities halted the procedure — they were going to revive Lockett so they could kill him at a later date, presumably in a more aesthetically pleasing manner — but the condemned man suffered a heart attack and died.

The state postponed a second execution that had been scheduled for the same night, but I wonder why. We fool ourselves if we think there is a “humane” way to … kill someone. Sure, the second inmate, Charles Warner, probably would have suffered an equally agonizing death. But isn’t this the whole point?

When I read about the crimes Lockett committed, I wish I could support capital punishment. When I read about what Warner did, I want to strangle him with my own hands. But revenge is not the same thing as justice, and karmic retribution is not a power I trust government to exercise. The death penalty has no place in a civilized society.

Lockett raped, brutalized and murdered an 19-year-old woman who had graduated from high school just two weeks earlier, shooting her and then burying her alive. Lockett and his accomplices also beat and robbed a 23-year-old man and raped an 18-year-old woman. The crimes took place in 1999; Lockett has been awaiting execution since 2000.

Warner, the other man who was to die in the Oklahoma execution chamber Tuesday, was convicted in 1999 of raping and murdering an 11-month-old child who was the daughter of his live-in girlfriend. The baby suffered unspeakable abuse.

The question is not whether Lockett and Warner deserve to die; clearly they do, as far as I’m concerned. The question is whether our society, acting through the instrument of government, should kill them. I believe there is no way to impose capital punishment without betraying the moral standards that our justice system is theoretically designed to uphold. Put simply, when we murder we become murderers.

Perhaps the most powerful argument against the death penalty is that it is irreversible. Sometimes, judges and juries make honest mistakes and innocent people may be condemned to death. Some studies have shown an apparent racial bias in the way capital punishment is meted out, with blacks who kill whites more likely than other defendants to end up on death row.

Read more at The Washington Post

Executioners first used ‘Old Sparky’ in 1915

Prisoner being strapped into the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison in New York, circa 1900. Image via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

By Debbie Jackson with contributions from Hilary Pittman, in the Tulsa World

With two jolts of electricity, Oklahoma in 1915 executed its first man condemned to die by electrocution.

Oklahoma’s method of execution has been in the headlines again recently. State officials say they have obtained from a manufacturer the drugs necessary for two executions scheduled for this month.

State law allows electrocution if lethal injection is found unconstitutional, and the use of a firing squad if the electric chair is banned.

Also known as “Old Sparky,” the electric chair was used to execute 82 condemned inmates from 1915 to 1966.

The relic remains at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

The last inmate to die in Oklahoma’s electric chair was killer James D. French, but do you know who was first?

He was Henry Bookman, a 28-year-old black man who was convicted of killing a white McIntosh County farmer on April 2, 1915. Bookman said he acted in self-defense but there was scant evidence of his motive for the brutal crime.

Justice was swift in 1915. Within two months of his arrest, Bookman was convicted and sentenced to death by electrocution. After two delays, he was executed on Dec. 10, 1915.

Following the execution, the World reported that prison officials waited four days for word from Bookman’s family.

Receiving none, they buried him in a pauper’s grave at the penitentiary. The story said no funeral was held, but black convicts were planning a memorial service the following Sunday.

The story reported that Bookman was the seventh person legally executed since statehood (and six of the seven were black). Also, 22 others had been hanged by mobs.

Read more at the Tulsa World

When Oklahoma Was Socialist

Oklahoma state flag 1911 ( public domain )
Oklahoma state flag 1911
( public domain )

I think that it would surprise most modern progressives to know that Oklahoma was once the epicenter of American socialism and the Progressive movement. Though it is one of the most conservative Republican states in the Union today, Oklahoma was once politically dominated by an agrarian Christian Socialist movement. In the early 1900s, Oklahoma socialists were among the first in the nation advocating equal rights for women and African Americans. Indeed, one of the first acts of the Oklahoma legislature was the creation of a public university for the education of women. And this was at a time when American women had not yet achieved the right to vote.

Hardscrabble: A Different Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie’s birthplace, Okfuskee County, Oklahoma.

For Barack Obama’s 2008 inauguration celebration, Pete Seeger, his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and a chorus of young Americans sang Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” At Seeger’s insistence, they sang all of the original verses, not just the chorus’s familiar evocations of natural splendors. They sang, “Nobody living can ever stop me / As I go walking that freedom highway.” They sang about gazing at their fellow citizens lining up “in the shadow of the steeple, by the relief office.” And they sang about a sign reading “private property,” whose blank reverse side “was made for you and me.” Standing at the Lincoln Memorial, with the eyes of the nation upon them, they reclaimed America for its poorest citizens.

Woody Guthrie wrote “This Land is Your Land” in 1940, when he was sick of hearing Kate Smith belt “God Bless America” over the airwaves on a daily basis. Nowadays “This Land is Your Land” is an alternative national anthem, and its author, a communist Oklahoma balladeer, has been enshrined as a patron saint of American music. Guthrie never attained anything like superstar status during his lifetime, but as Springsteen put it in his keynote address at last year’s South by Southwest festival, “Sometimes things that come from the outside, they make their way in, to become a part of the beating heart of the nation.”

Over the last decade or so, Woody Guthrie’s place in that heart has seemed increasingly secure. In addition to his own recordings, you can now hear at least nine new albums of his material—much of it previously unknown and set to music by a new generation of artists such as Wilco, Billy Bragg, and the Klezmatics. By all accounts Guthrie’s archives hold troves of other unpublished materials. He was a remarkably prolific writer. He’d hammer away at his typewriter, often composing lyrics before bothering to think about melodies. He wrote voluminous letters, essays, scripts for his various radio appearances, and weekly columns for a communist newspaper. He wrote the first 25 pages of his masterful, fictionalized 1943 autobiography Bound for Glory in a single day. The night after he met his first child, he wrote her a 70-page poem.

Last year was the centennial of Guthrie’s birth, and amidst the flurry of tributes came the announcement that a new Guthrie novel had been discovered: House of Earth. Guthrie had begun writing it in 1946 and was thought to have given up after a single chapter. But three more chapters recently showed up in the papers of the filmmaker Irving Lerner, and earlier this year, the whole thing was trotted out by Infinitum Nihil, a new publishing imprint that HarperCollins has put under the charge of the actor Johnny Depp.

Read more at the Boston Review