Perry's execution record outstrips Bush's

Rick Perry has overseen more executions than George "the Texecutioner" Bush.

The Republican presidential candidate hopeful, Rick Perry, has outstripped his gubernatorial predecessor, George W. Bush, in the number of executions he has overseen.

George Bush, the so-called "Texecutioner", who has been described as a "modern-day Pontius Pilate", oversaw the execution of 152 convicts over five years.

Perry, the current Governor of Texas, has overseen 234 executions, although he has held the office for 11 years, meaning he is overseeing a lower rate of execution.

If a Governor of Texas is to commute a death sentence, he or she must first be referred the commutation by a Board of Pardons and Paroles, and if the Board denies commutation, the Governor cannot act on this. However, the Governor appoints the Board of Pardons and Paroles him or herself. Perry has only commuted one sentence as Governor.

In 2002, Perry vetoed a bill that would have prevented the death penalty from being handing to mentally retarded inmates.

1,224 inmates have been executed in Texas since 1819 - more than any other state - and it is also the state with the second highest rate of execution, overtaken only by Oklahoma.

In "Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington", Perry says "If you don't support the death penalty...don't come to Texas."

He also courted controversy when he refused to prevent the execution of Humberto Leal Garcia, a Mexican national who was not informed that he was entitled to access legal advice from the Mexican consulate, a move that some feared could provoke a diplomatic incident. The White House, and Obama himself, appealed to Perry to reprieve Garcia, noting that failure to do so could "have serious repercussions for United States foreign relations, law-enforcement and other co-operation with Mexico, and the ability of American citizens travelling abroad to have the benefits of consular assistance in the event of detention."

Perry has also been criticised for his decision to ignore forensic evidence relating to the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man convicted of killing his children by arson in 1994, and executed ten years later. An investigation into the case was launched in 2009, with one representative of the Texas Forensic Science Commission concluding that "a finding of arson could not be sustained".

The Chicago Tribune concluded that:

Over the past five years, the Willingham case has been reviewed by nine of the nation's top fire scientists - first for the Tribune, then for the Innocence Project, and now for the commission. All concluded that the original investigators relied on outdated theories and folklore to justify the determination of arson. The only other evidence of significance against Willingham was twice-recanted testimony by another inmate who testified that Willingham had confessed to him. Jailhouse snitches are viewed with scepticism in the justice system, so much so that some jurisdictions have restrictions against their use.

Perry dismissed the chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, along with two other board members, two days before it was due to review the case. The new chair cancelled the meeting.

Perry's rival Michele Bachmann says she is "100 per cent pro-life" and "believe[s] in the dignity of life from conception until natural death", although she has not made explicit comments on the death penalty.

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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.