Wild Ride

The Book of the Week is “Wild Ride” by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach, published in 1994. This is a long story largely similar to many others in which one person acquires and abuses too much power in an organization that eventually comes to a bad end.

The horse racing industry is largely a playground for the wealthy, as it costs big bucks to purchase, stable and train horses for racing. There is only a tiny probability of profiting, considering all the different risks, and the factors required to produce a winning horse.

Major racing sites are located in Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky; New York City, Saratoga Springs in New York State, and Hialeah in Florida.

Calumet Farm was the site of the training and spawning of racehorses. It was owned by the Wright family, whose patriarch’s goal in the 1980’s was to turn it “… into a bustling assembly-line style breeding operation, hellbent on producing winner after winner.”

In the early 1980’s, J.T. Lundy wed a Calumet heiress with the aim of inheriting the large horse farm. He inherited it at 41 years old.  He  immediately engaged in excessive spending on farm renovations, the purchase of a corporate jet and additional horses, and paying more workers. In the industry in general, new systems were created by financiers to cash in on the horse-racing boom.

Lundy spent other people’s money (namely the Wright family’s) to fund his wheeling and dealing, while also commingling personal and business funds. The family (who knew nothing about horse racing) trusted him and his colleagues (who had numerous conflicts) to run the business and do what was in the family’s best interest.

The chief financial officer of Calumet attempted to duly inform Lundy of the farm’s mounting debt service, the unpaid insurance premiums and dwindling resources, etc. at the end of the 1980’s.

By November 1990, Calumet had approximately two hundred thoroughbreds and one hundred employees. Its fifteen-year-old stud Alydar, accounted for a large part of its revenue.

Sadly, the industry would reach its saturation point within a decade of Calumet’s soaring reputation as the premier place to breed winning horses. Read the book to learn the details of how the farm had gone from owing not a cent with the death of an heir prior to Lundy’s takeover, to the largest instance of debt explosion in the history of bluegrass.

Scorpions for Breakfast

The Book of the Week is “Scorpions for Breakfast” by Jan Brewer, published in 2011.  This book– which cited no sources when stating facts and statistics– is about an anti-ILLEGAL-immigration bill proposed and signed by then-governor (Republican) of Arizona, Jan Brewer, in April 2010.

Even though the book cited no sources whatsoever, it seems these days, that the answer to every question about hard numbers and factual data is, “It depends on whom you ask” anyway. The burden of proof is now on the reader, viewer or listener to look up “the facts” because he or she has the entirety of human knowledge at his or fingertips, so why should information and opinion providers do more work than they absolutely have to?

It is impossible to speak with comprehensive knowledge, but the late New York State governor Al Smith and the late TV journalist Peter Jennings– to name just two voracious researchers– were truly passionate about their subjects, did their homework, so that they would be able to speak with knowledge in convincing their audiences that they knew what they were talking about.

According to the book (which appears to be credible), in 1994, a fence was built in the San Diego area to keep out illegal immigrants. Violent crimes decreased significantly. There were fewer accusations of civil rights violations against Border Patrol as well. El Paso, Texas was another area that took steps to curb illegal immigration. People-smuggling was then shifted to Arizona, as it had the next-best geographic location along the Mexican border.

Illegals trespassed on Arizona ranches near the border, littering, setting fires, breaking water lines, scaring cattle, and committing other acts of mischief. By 2003, the sociopathic ruthless Mexican drug cartels were getting violent about protecting their smuggling routes. In Phoenix, they committed home invasions of, and extorted from, their competitors, and had gunfights on the I-10 freeway.

Gangs were getting more efficient at trafficking illegals– guiding tens of people all at once, at thousands of dollars per head a few times a week, and forcing them to lug backpacks of marijuana across the border to boot. Meth, cocaine and heroin were other lucrative products that made the trip.

The people willing to risk their lives for a better life, were deposited at a “drop house” where heavily armed guards would demand additional money from their payers or relatives, torturing or killing the captives when the mood struck them.

Due to illegal immigration to Arizona, not only did crime rise, but there was overcrowding at education, health care and correctional facilities. As of the book’s writing, according to the author, more than three quarters of illegal immigrants in California and New York State were on public assistance. Elsewhere in the book, the author had one brief sentence of elaboration on how this was possible, as one would think that identification documents are required for people to collect money from the government. The answer is that illegals have babies in the United States. The babies are automatically American citizens. Many people theorize that the Democrats do nothing to stop illegal immigration because those babies grow up to become Democratic voters.

After the death of a rancher in March 2010 and previous years of lack of interest from the federal government, Brewer decided to take action by proposing a bill to curb illegal immigration.

Unfortunately for Arizona, members of Congress and the president take steps to protect the borders of the United States only insofar as it is politically advantageous to do so.

The author wrote, not unreasonably, “…with limited funds available to provide social services, those services should go first and foremost to citizens.” That point was also part of the reason for Senate Bill 1070. Before she signed the bill, Brewer’s office was bombarded with hate mail, including death threats.

As it usually does, the liberal mainstream media spread inflammatory, defamatory, misleading propaganda saying that the Arizona governor was going to unleash a racist witchhunt against Hispanics. President Obama didn’t disagree. At least two spokespersons from his office bad-mouthed the ten-page bill something awful, but admitted that they hadn’t read it— as though they had been playing a game of telephone. Unsurprisingly, the unwashed masses chimed in with a vast quantity of unfortunate remarks and inane comments.

Yet another campaign of misinformation was launched by a childish (aren’t they all?) hidden-camera reality show that portrayed Arizona’s proposed anti-illegal-immigration law in a bad light, to put it mildly.

In January 2011, there was a shooting spree in Tucson. The press blamed Arizonans, gun owners, the Tea Party (remember them?) and supporters of Senate Bill 1070 for the mass murder.

Read the book to learn of the law’s fate, the author’s career history, of an episode in her life that might indicate that she’s not a racist, and other (uncited but credible) claims she made about the trials and tribulations she suffered to put forth her immigration policy.

Case Files

The Book of the Week is “Case Files, 40 Murders and Mysteries Solved by Science” by Larry Verstraete, published in 2011. This book briefly describes how science played a role in the investigations of various situations, such as homicides, discoveries of human remains, the root cause of an epidemic, astronaut deaths, art forgery, arson and many others.

The topic areas included forensic entomology, archeological anthropology, pathology, DNA fingerprinting, radiocarbon dating, video superimposition, spectroscopy, stable isotope technology, Raman microscopy, xylotomy and others.

When a dead body is found, and certain insects are present, a scientist can learn how many generations and lifespans of that insect elapsed from the time of death until the corpse’s discovery.

The gender, age and size of a murder victim can be discerned, even when the body is badly decomposed, from the bones. The nature of the teeth indicate age, and ethnicity is revealed by the skull’s features. DNA testing of various kinds is a whole other ball of wax.

Read the book to get an overview of the many ways science can provide evidence for reconstructing events to further the causes of justice, improve people’s quality of life and prevent future mishaps.

No Heroes, No Villains

The Book of the Week is “No Heroes, No Villains– The Story of a Murder Trial” by Steven Phillips, published in 1977.

In late June of 1972, an off-duty cop was shot in the Hunts Point subway station in the South Bronx, New York City. If the accused was convicted of all charges against him, he faced the electric chair. However, his lawyer was the famed William Kunstler.

Read the book to learn of the spirit of the times on issues of race, guns, criminal law and jury trials in early 1970’s New York City.

A Death in White Bear Lake

The Book of the Week is “A Death in White Bear Lake” by Barry Siegel, published in 1990. This is a long, suspenseful story about how a case of manslaughter helped spark awareness of deaths of children due to physical abuse in the United States. As book-lengthening filler, the history of White Bear Lake, Minnesota is also contained within.

The story starts when an infertile couple seeks to adopt a child. Through intense scrutiny, the Commissioner of Public Welfare of Scott County, MN learns that the prospective mother has a history of psychiatric problems. In the early 1960’s, the couple are permitted to adopt a child anyway. Some time later, they seek to take in a second child. Trouble ensues, especially on Palm Sunday in 1965.

Read the book to learn: how the American attitude toward physicality with children changed from the tail end of the 1950’s to the late 1980’s; the people and agencies (“the system”) that had enabled the trouble and would continue to do so; and the twists of fate that gave the story its fitting ending.

Side Note: The author gave the impression that the White Bear Lake case was one of the most influential factors that forced the change in attitude. However, prior to the Internet, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” on TV and other communications of Oprah herself were major nationwide publicity vehicles on child abuse discussions. Additionally, another notorious case was that of Joel Steinberg in New York City in 1987.

The Inheritor’s Powder

The Book of the Week is “The Inheritor’s Powder” by Sandra Hemple, published in 2013. This book recounts the advances made in investigating homicide by poisoning in England in the early to mid 1800’s, and describes one 1833 case that shows why killing via arsenic was so common at the time, and why it became even moreso. One reason was that 1840’s popular reading matter, novels and newspapers, piqued readers’ morbid curiosity by featuring stories on poisoning, which could serve as instructions.

In 1754, the founding of the Society of the Arts saw the launching of “… a series of competitions for inventions, discoveries and artistic endeavors with prizes in the form of medals and money.” This prompted chemists and dispensers of medical treatments to engage in research to improve their practices. The year 1814 saw the first extensive textbook on toxicology.

One scientific advance in the mid-1830’s was made by James Marsh, who developed a method to test for arsenic in human organs rather than stomach contents. Hugo Reinsch developed a different test that mixed arsenic with other substances. Both methods had their flaws.

Usually, money was the motive for murder by poisoning. The killer poisoned a member of his or her household and/or family– because he or she stood to inherit and/or collect on an insurance policy. There were many controversial cases that pitted scientists against each other over the toxicology test results. It will never be known how many people were sent to the gallows due to bungled tests.

Read the book to learn of the fate of the prime suspect in the aforesaid 1833 case, and whether the more likely perpetrator– whose past criminal history allegedly included a felony, jailing, illegitimate children and attempted murder, not to mention extortion in later years– was ever brought to justice.

Murder in the Stacks

The Book of the Week is “Murder in the Stacks” by David DeKok, published in 2014.  This book describes the November 1969 murder of Betsy Aardsma– Penn State University graduate student– and provides extensive biographical information on the prime suspect in the case.

In 1969, Penn State was Pennsylvania’s largest public university, with almost 26,000 students. The library where Aardsma died contained the resources required for completing research papers for English classes. It was a sprawling, dark place where anyone off the street could engage in illicit activities involving sex or drugs, and often did. There was no security like there would be nowadays.

Aardsma made serious sacrifices to be somewhat geographically close to her then-boyfriend, a doctor in training. She turned down a Peace Corps tour in Sierra Leone, and applying to medical school, before she decided to become an English teacher instead. She was counseled by her family to get her master’s degree at Penn State because at that time, ironically, there was a serial killer of female students on the loose at the University of Michigan, the school she would have attended.

The murder investigation was a cluster screw-up. The police interviewed thousands of students and professors. The person thought to have committed the crime escaped notice due to the circumstances. If the investigators had done a better job, they would have learned that as a pedophile, he had a history of trouble with the law. However, with regard to past incidents, he got off because the victims or their families failed to call the police, so he had no arrest record for a long time. Additionally, the 1960’s perception of his monstrous behavior was simply a matter of indecency. There was insensitivity with regard to the victims– little thought was given to the traumatic toll of sex crimes on the psyches of the victims.

Read the book to learn many details of the life of the suspect– about whom much more was known than those of the victim– and the outcome of the case.

Butterfly in the Rain

The Book of the Week is “Butterfly in the Rain, The 1927 Abduction and Murder of Marion Parker” by James L. Neibaur, published in 2016. This short ebook recounts a gruesome crime and the aftermath, that occurred in late 1927 in Los Angeles, California.

The fame of this sensational case was comparable to that of O.J. Simpson’s. However, the newspaper, rather than television, was the medium through which the nation was riveted by the unfolding story. The case involved a child and plenty of controversy. Read the book to learn the details.

Digital Gold

The Book of the Week is “Digital Gold– Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money” by Nathaniel Popper, published in 2015.

This ebook is about Bitcoin, a bookkeeping system used on various websites that distributes, records and stores the value of units called Bitcoins.

The system was created in 2009 by a computer geek who called himself Satoshi Nakamoto. His vision was to create a worldwide means-of-exchange to be used online that would be:

  • a decentralized network of users so that no one central authority has the majority of power over the system– unlike the current situations in the world; in other words, place power in the hands of the users, rather than the economic royalists. (Nevertheless, the irony is that Bitcoin has largely stayed in the realm of the wealthy computer geeks- so there has bascially been redistribution of wealth among the wealthy);
  • created and maintained by users of the system on a consensus basis rather than by the powers-that-be, whose political campaigns are funded by financial institutions, and who stay in power by doing their will;
  • anonymous (like cash– no third parties acquire the information of buyers and sellers);
  • secure (no one point of failure would mean vulnerability for the whole system, plus have protections against identity theft, malware, counterfeiting etc.); and
  • offered at a lesser cost than the current system (avoiding financial institutions with their fees).

However, no utopian vision is perfect. Various tech-startups around the world have been created to store and exchange Bitcoins. That is all well and good. In the last seven years or so, a “remarkably engaged online community” has sprung up to discuss the ideology and all the different issues attendant to the new system. Even the major American financial institutions, fearing competition, have begun to rethink the security of their online dealings, and so have assembled task forces to research how to harness Bitcoin’s loss-prevention technology.

Bitcoins are acquired by computer users who log on to a specific site on the Internet. The users get the virtual “coins” for free, but might have to pay to store them elsewhere to keep them secure.

Bitcoins are more like a security than a means of exchange like cash because:

  • The system distributing Bitcoins is like a combination slot machine and a financial market where instruments are bought and sold, and the value of Bitcoins fluctuates.
  • There’s an inherent unfairness in the system in that– technologically astute users of the system have banded together to create devices that mine Bitcoins at a significantly faster rate than individual users.
  • People can acquire a national currency such as the American dollar in many more ways than they can Bitcoins, most of them honestly– earning, borrowing, begging or stealing.

Anyway, the purpose of Bitcoins as a means of exchange has yet to catch on among mainstream consumers of industrialized countries. There is no sufficiently compelling reason for consumers to start to buy things online with Bitcoins rather than credit cards. “Why should they trust a digital code that had nothing backing it but the computers of some libertarian nerds?”

Argentina is one country where Bitcoins have been useful. The super-speedy inflation of the peso there has meant people must spend their Argentinian money the minute they acquire it or risk the inability to buy anything because they wouldn’t be able to afford it– even food. In China, Bitcoin is popular because the government regulates the yuan exchange rate in order to stem “capital flight” and sell more of its own goods to the world.

As with all human-created systems that rely on the honor system, ALL users must act ethically. One American Bitcoin-processor in particular created a drug-distribution entity called Silk Road that was deemed illegal according to U.S. law.

Another bad actor hacked into a company called Mt. Gox in Japan. All users of that service suffered. “Bitcoin users eventually went to government authorities that Bitcoin had been designed, at least partly, to obviate.”

Besides, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network has been examining the legal aspects of Bitcoin as a virtual currency. Homeland Security is concerned about the fact that Bitcoins could be anonymously sent to terrorist cells overseas.

Read the book to learn much more about the good and bad consequences of the creation of Bitcoin.