ACCELER8OR

Mar 25 2012

Science & America: Why Puritanical And Corporate Huns Should Paint Themselves With Radium & Let The Rest Of Us Enjoy Organically Toxic Spirits

By Sasha Mitchell


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“Demented spouses seeking insurance paydays or new starts with equally demented lovers; opportunistic gangsters or on-the-take administrative thugs; and not withstanding those who always suffer most in times of economic constipation — the underprivileged — few were excluded from the wrath of antagonistic chemistry…’ 

 

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

Deborah Blum

Penguin Press HC, 2010

Anyone who’s ever visited an all-jazz station has surely encountered the genre’s potentially septic properties.  Enough of us certainly consider it a poison.

This was my introduction to poison.  I think I was 9, an age that reiterates itself as pertains to my understanding of chemistry.  However, The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by the self-professed “lapsed chemist” Deborah Blum is like experiencing the best of Mad Men on mercury, but without the guilt… and turned into fun even for the scientifically disabled.

Barring a readiness for saccharine descriptions of seasons (particularly winters snowing crystals of arsenic), Blum’s chronicle of IRL crusaders Charles Norris and the curiously without-wikipedia page Alexander Gettler re-articulates the gravity of creative, tireless and conclusive procedure as applies to criminal justice and the responsibility of government approaching scientific singularities.

Through eleven chapters detailing noxious compounds from chloroform to thallium, Blum tells of murderers both avaricious and straight malicious, as well as of victims to industrial greed and indifference.  Demented spouses seeking insurance paydays or new starts with equally demented lovers; opportunistic gangsters or on-the-take administrative thugs; and not withstanding those who always suffer most in times of economic constipation — the underprivileged — few were excluded from the wrath of antagonistic chemistry and lack of product regulation regarding it before the 1930’s in America (the FDA didn’t actually amount to squat before FDR demanded safety testing, accurate labeling, and legal culpability for manufacturers that harmed consumers–by signing the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1938).  Before that the romance of homicidal poison, in all its forms, prevailed–per Blum–to “show [humanity] at our moral worst.”

I’d argue that humanity at its moral worst more resembles a government who deliberately poisons its citizens, much like ours did during its 13 years of Prohibition, when federal chemists adulterated industrial booze (at authority’s behest) by either doubling its amount of methyl alcohol (which metabolizes in the human body to formaldehyde and formic acid) or injecting an assortment of petrochemicals as well as this stuff.  And for all those violently subverted by Uncle Sam’s liquor during the years of 1920-1933, might I say: thank you America for inflicting this on as many as 10,000 of us (only much more so).

Putting politics aside — even though Blum doesn’t, for it is precisely what drives her hero Norris — The Poisoner’s Handbook is a fantastically engrossing collection of venomous, IRL narratives presented through such well-probed soap operas as those of Mike Malloy: the wobbly Mick who wouldn’t croak; the despicable multi-offender Mary Frances Creighton and the metafiction inspirational sexpot Ruth Snyder.  In short, get this book, and enjoy it optimally with a methanol-free Gin Fizz, for Blum’s cultured chemistry cocktail guarantees to wet even the thirstless among you.

And in the meantime, let us push for an even less hazardous alternative to pesticide.  That should easily exterminate all breeds of wasp, and most rats, right?

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