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Thursday, November 21, 2019

"Breaking Bad" at Henderson State University

     Henderson State University is a public liberal arts school with about 3,500 students in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, a town located 70 miles southwest of Little Rock. On October 8, 2019, a powerful odor that came from the university's Reynolds Science Center forced the closing of the chemistry laboratory. The inquiry that followed revealed the elevated presence of benzyl chloride, a chemical commonly used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. The identity of this chemical prompted an investigation by the university police department.

     Two days after the closure of the university chem lab, the president of the school placed 45-year-old Terry David Bateman, an associate professor and director of the undergraduate research department, on administrative leave. Bateman had been with Henderson State University since 2009.

  The university president also placed 40-year-old Bradley Allen Rowland on administrative leave. Rowland was an associate professor in the chemistry department.

     On October 29, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency okayed the re-opening of the chemistry lab. The investigation into the potentially criminal activities of the two professors by the campus police department produced enough evidence to bring in narcotics specialists with the Clark County Sheriff's Office.

     On November 15, 2019, a Clark County prosecutor charged professors Terry Bateman and Bradley Rowland with the manufacture of methamphetamine. The suspects were booked into the Clark County Jail.

     For many, the arrests of the college professors suspected of cooking meth brought to mind the popular television series "Breaking Bad" that was broadcast on the AMC channel from 2008 to 2015. The drama followed the life of Walter White, a high school chemistry professor from Albuquerque, New Mexico who became a major underworld figure as world-class meth cook. 

The New York Times Book Review Author Interviews

     Every edition of Sunday's The New York Times Book Review features an author interview column called "By the Book" where the writers of literary novels are asked questions like: What books do you have on your nightstand? What writers do you admire? What literary figures of the past would you invite to a dinner party? (These people have dinner parties.) What are you reading now? (Most of the interviewees answer this question with a long list of books and authors most readers have never heard of.) And what is the last great book you read? (The answer to this one usually results in another list of obscure literary works over the heads of people who read middle-brow genre fiction.)

     Most of the responses to the above literary questions are not only unbearably pretentious, the interviewees, I guess to portray themselves as shockingly original and fascinating (the kind of person the other interviewees would invite to a dinner party) try to sound as eccentric as your typical literary genius.

     Novelist John Green, when asked in the October 13, 2019 edition of the Book Review what book might people be surprised to find on his shelves, answered: "I have a large collection of books about conjoined twins. I used to be the conjoined twins reviewer for Booklist Magazine, which is a busier reviewing beat than one would expect. My favorite novel about conjoined twins (or formerly conjoined twins) are Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson, and God's Fool," by Mark Slouka."

     Really? a large collection of novels in the conjoined twins genre? The next time I'm in a Barnes & Noble I'm going to check out the conjoined twins section to see what I've been missing.

     

Thornton P. Knowles On Congress

I've heard people say that Congress is useless. My response: Wouldn't that be nice. I say that because useless is a lot better than harmful. For example, whenever Congress tackles a problem, they make it worse, and create a new problem. They then tackle the new problem they created, and make it worse--and create another problem. And so it goes. We'd be better off if these hacks just stuck to passing resolutions and holding meaningless hearings to promote themselves on television. Yet the more we see these parasites on TV, the more we are reminded of why we hate politicians. Term limits and making it a felony for a politician to lie on television would be nice, but even these measures wouldn't drain the swamp. Let's face it, politics is just a lousy occupation that draws self-serving, grandstanding narcissists.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Polygraph Effect

Lie detectors sometimes work because people believe they work, deterring the wrong people from applying for jobs in the first place, or producing admissions of guilt during interrogations.

Bill Deadman, investigative journalist

Our Memoir-Obsessed Literary Culture

Ours is a memoir-obsessed literary culture. With the waning of confessional poetry, what we might call the "memoir of crisis" has blossomed.

The New York Times Book Review, September 29, 2019

Quash or Squash?

To quash is to suppress or extinguish summarily and completely as in to quash a rebellion or a criminal indictment.

To squash is to squeeze something with force so that it becomes flat, soft, or out of shape as in to squash a grape.

One does not, therefore, squash a criminal indictment.

Donald Westlake On The Book Publishing Industry

Publishing is the only industry I can think of where most of the employees spend most of their time stating with great self-assurance that they don't know how to do their jobs. "I don't know how to sell this," they explain, frowning as though it's your fault. "I don't know how to package this. I don't know what the market is for this book. I don't know how we're going to draw attention to this." In most occupations, people try to hide their incompetence, only in publishing is it flaunted as though it were the chief qualification for the job.

Donald Westlake, author of 100 crime novels

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Shankar Nagappa Hangud Mass Murder Case

     In 2019, Shankar Nagappa Hungud lived with his wife, daughter and one of his two sons at Carmel at Wood Creek West, an apartment complex in Roseville, California, a Placer County community of 132,000 not far from San Francisco. The 53-year-old of East Indian descent had worked as a data specialist for a consulting firm in Sacramento before becoming unemployed in 2018. His two children living at home attended the Dry Creek Middle School in Roseville,

     Mr. Hangud's financial problems had placed him under considerable stress. As of May 2019, he owed $178,000 to the IRS in taxes.

     On Monday, October 7, 2019, Shankar Hangud murdered his wife and his middle school daughter in their apartment. The day after he killed his wife and daughter, Hangud returned to the apartment and murdered his son.

     On Sunday, October 13, 2019, with the bodies of his wife, son, and daughter still undiscovered in the Roseville apartment, Hangud, with his 20-year-old son as a passenger in his red Mazda, drove 200 miles north to a remote area in Siskiyou County near the Oregon state line where Hangud strangled his son to death.

     The next day, with his oldest son's body in the trunk of his car, Hangud drove to Mount Shasta, California, a town of 3,000 in Siskiyou County. There, he turned himself over to officers with the Mount Shasta Police Department. To these officers, Shankar Hangud confessed to murdering his wife and their two younger children in the Roseville apartment. He said the body of his 20-year-old son was in trunk of his Mazda.

     Upon hearing from the police in Mount Shasta, officers with the Roseville department traveled to the Carmel at Wood Creek West apartment complex where they discovered the week-old corpses of a woman and two children.

     Later on the day of the discovery of Shankar Hangud's murder victims, Roseville police detectives drove to Mount Shasta to question him and return him to Placer County. That evening, the suspect was booked into the South Placer County Jail.

     On Wednesday, October 16, 2019, Shankar Hangud appeared before Judge Jeffrey S. Penny who informed him he had been charged with four counts of first-degree murder. The defendant said he didn't want an attorney, but the judge appointed him a public defender anyway. Judge Penny denied Hangud bail.

     As of this writing, about six weeks after the discovery of Hangud's wife and two children in the Roseville apartment, the authorities have not released information regarding how the victims were murdered, exactly when, or why. They haven't even released the names of the victims. For some reason, there has been a news blackout on this case. Nothing has been published about it since October 25, 2019.

Anti-Drug Public Service Ads: Telling People Things They Already Know

     In November 2019, the governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, launched a $1.4 million anti-methamphetamine ad campaign. The idea was to bring awareness to the growing problem of meth addiction in the state. The ads can be seen on television, billboards, posters, and on the Internet. They feature images of people of different ages and races who say, "I'm on meth." The governor then intones: "This is our problem and we need to get on it." She goes on to explain how the meth problem has crowded the jails, overwhelmed the courts, and has destroyed lives.

     The public service motto is, "Meth. We're on it."

     The ad campaign will continue until May 2020. The advertising agency that came up with the catch phrase, "Meth. We're on it," was paid $445,000 for that.

     Everyone knows that people don't eat too much, abuse alcohol, smoke, and take drugs because they were not aware that these behaviors are bad for them. No one is that stupid. But politicians, when confronted with a problem, feel that they have to do something. And what they do, what they do best, is spend taxpayer money.

     The anti-meth motto, "Meth. We're on it." is not only useless and a waste of taxpayer money, it's a mockery of the problem and the government. It has become a cultural joke. When it comes to wasting taxpayer money on useless, window dressing measures, politicians should take Nancy Reagan's famously puerile anti-drug advice: "Just say no."

The Crime Scene Technician

     Because of television, books, and movies, crime scene investigation has become one of the most familiar, but misunderstood, components of the criminal justice system. Crime scene investigations are not the same as criminal investigations. Crime scene investigation involves systematically documenting and searching a crime scene for items of evidence. Once evidence is located it is preserved, documented and collected in ways that minimize contamination or spoilage. It is packed in secure containers, uniquely labeled, and either stored by the police or sent to the forensic science lab for analysis.

     Crime scene investigators are almost always police officers. Assignment as a crime scene investigator may take several years and a lot of training...

     Having forensic scientists help with crime scene investigation increases the opportunities for confirmation bias, (the tendency to interpret evidence in a way that supports one's preconceptions) to creep in.

Jay Siegel, Forensic Science, 2016