Book Review: "The Poisoner's Handbook"
I can't say enough good things about Deborah Blum's "The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York." It's an fast-paced narrative that mixes chemistry, physiology, public policy, and history.
The heroes of the story are the New York City medical examiner Dr. Charles Norris and his right-hand man, toxicologist Dr. Alexander Gettler. In an age when so many people have lost faith in public institutions and the power of science to do good, it's inspiring to read the story of Norris and Gettler. When they started, poisoners were more or less guaranteed to get away with murder unless they confessed or were caught in the act. By the time they were done, they had sent dozens of murders to prison, cleared names of innocent people, and vindicated forensic toxicology as a reputable discipline in the eyes of the legal system. Along the way, Norris purged the corrupt, untrained coroners and replaced them with scientists. When he couldn't squeeze money out of the mayor, he financed the office out of his own pocket.
Norris and Gettler were early and forceful critics of Prohibition. They foresaw that banning booze would result in a flood of adulterated alcohol that was much more toxic than the legal spirits it replaced. History proved them right, but not before they'd learned a lot about wood alcohol poisoning.
The book is billed as true crime. There are plenty of gruesome murders, including an account of the real-life killing that inspired the film Double Indemnity. But some of the most interesting medical mysteries are industrial poisonings like the unfortunate "Radium Girls" and Standard Oil's "Looney Gas House," so-named by workers because of the effects of the fumes.
You can read my full review at Working In These Times today.
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Research by neuroscientists at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory helps explain how the brain regulates arousal.
The big day has come: You are taking your road test to get your driver's license. As you start your mom's car with a stern-faced evaluator in the passenger seat, you know you'll need to be alert but not so excited that you make mistakes. Even if you are simultaneously sleep-deprived and full of nervous energy, you need your brain to moderate your level of arousal so that you do your best.
A disturbing interview given by a KGB defector in 1984 describes America of today and outlines four stages of mass brainwashing used by the KGB.
- Bezmenov described this process as "a great brainwashing" which has four basic stages.
- The first stage is called "demoralization" which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve.
- According to the former KGB agent, that is the minimum number of years it takes to re-educate one generation of students that is normally exposed to the ideology of its country.
When these companies compete, in the current system, the people lose.
- When a company reaches the top of the ladder, they typically kick it away so that others cannot climb up on it. The aim? So that another company can't compete.
- When this phenomenon happens in the pharmaceutical world, companies quickly apply for broad protection of their patents, which can last up to 20 years, and fence off research areas for others. The result of this? They stay at the top of the ladder, at the cost of everyday people benefitting from increased competition.
- Since companies have worked out how to legally game the system, Amin argues we need to get rid of this "one size fits all" system, which treats product innovation the same as product invention. Companies should still receive an incentive for coming up with new products, he says, but not 20 years if the product is the result of "tweaking" an existing one.
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