Rat Island

The Book of the Week is “Rat Island” by William Stolzenburg, published in 2011. This series of anecdotes described what frequently happens when some humans observe that a particular species is in danger, and with the best of intentions, attempt to counteract the perceived adverse effects of the situation.

Such campaigns have been repeated for centuries, always with unintended consequences and mixed results. For, the people involved have impure motives, and the manipulation of nature over the course of decades inevitably results in a “pox on everyone’s house.”

In the 1800’s, for instance, explorers introduced cats to eliminate an excess of rats in Oceania. Unsurprisingly, the food chain was disrupted, and the rabbit population increased. Rabbits killed the sheep in New Zealand, upsetting the people there. The latter took action by bringing in ferrets, weasels and stoats. The duck and parrot numbers were negatively affected.

Sometimes people are the predators. Other causes of the near-extinction of a species include statistically unusual weather, oil spills or disease. In New Zealand, people almost eliminated green parrots, poaching and smuggling them for their looks.

In another instance, the kakapo (another bird) was endangered by other animals. In the mid-1890’s, some sympathetic New Zealanders therefore sequestered the birds on an isolated island so they could multiply in peace. However, weasels found their way into the protected habitat, anyway.

Some tools of the trade among supposed “friends” of the environment who are only trying to prevent extinctions, include:  poison, guns, traps, hunting dogs, and ammunition shot from helicopters. And on at least one occasion:  hormonally-juiced Judas pigs that led to a spike in the number of eagles and drop in foxes on one island. Moreover, there are people who derive pleasure from cruelty to animals in the name of saving endangered species.

Read the book to learn of the checkered fortunes of the birds of the Aleutian Islands and Anacapa Island, the wildlife around Bering Island and other regions, and the constant tug-of-war among government agencies (such as Fish and Wildlife) responsible for those regions, conservationists and animal-rights activists.

Sleeping With the Devil

The Book of the Week is “Sleeping With the Devil” by Robert Baer, published in 2003. This was a warning of a former CIA agent that America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia was high-risk for various reasons. The author briefly described how the latter’s royal family came to be a controversial ally of the United States government, and why the delicate situation would not last forever.

At the book’s writing, the large oil fields in eastern Saudi Arabia were vulnerable to terrorist attacks, as was the refinery at Abqaiq. Refineries are important because they make oil usable. The country’s borders are hard to defend, and all sorts of weapons can be obtained on the black market.

The author wrote that fifteen citizens of Saudi Arabia, plus four other terrorists took control of the planes that crashed on 9/11.  Osama Bin Laden, the supposed mastermind behind the attacks, was of Saudi origin. More TERRORISTS from SAUDI ARABIA than from Afghanistan and Iraq were responsible for the attacks. Dubai stored the required funds for them. As is well known, then-U.S. President George W. Bush was determined to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power to keep the price of oil low for Americans, and enrich his former business cronies. So he made the false claims that Iraq had nuclear weapons and was harboring terrorists.

Even during the Clinton years and especially during the Bush, Sr. years, the United States secretly kissed up to Saudi Arabia; for it got a discount on its oil, money to line the pockets of its politicians, consultants, diplomats and defense contractors, and in exchange, it built refineries, telecommunications networks and schools in its oil ally. The activities of the Carlyle Group, Dick Cheney and Halliburton, among many others, were fraught with conflicts of interest. To sum it up, “At the corporate level, almost every Washington figure worth mentioning has served on the board of at least one company that did a deal with Saudi Arabia.” Terrorist funding was also supplied through “charitable” organizations. The Saudis had megabucks on deposit in bank accounts and invested in the securities markets in the United States.

After 2001, several groups continued to seek to strike fear through violence; the best known included certain individuals in the country of Qatar, the Wahhabis, the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda.

The author claimed that U.S. taxpayers were footing the excessive bill for the Saudi royal family’s security detail. The family consisted of numerous princes, who had Filippino or Indonesian servants. The princes received oil-funded, extremely lavish allowances, which they squandered on residences, vehicles and prostitutes. To make additional money, they dealt in black-market weaponry, visa, liquor and drugs, and abusing what industrialized countries would call “eminent domain.”

Read the book to learn of the author’s account of yet additional outrages in connection with the willful ignorance and greed of the United States government when it came to cozying up to the terrorist state of Saudi Arabia.

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.