Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Review: IT'S ME, Edward Wayne Edwards, the Serial Killer You Never Heard Of

IT'S ME, Edward Wayne Edwards, the Serial Killer You Never Heard Of IT'S ME, Edward Wayne Edwards, the Serial Killer You Never Heard Of by John A. Cameron
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

What motivated me to start this book was another case, advanced in an interview with the author that was posted to YouTube, suggesting that the murder of Teresa Halbach was yet another of Edwards' dirty deeds, fitting the modus operandi the author developed for Edwards. This was the murder made famous in the Netflix documentary miniseries Making A Murderer, for which Steven Avery was ultimately convicted. In the interview, the author suggests that a bystander, captured for only one second in one courtroom hallway scene, was none other than Edwards himself. He suggests that this seemingly incidental cameo would have been no accident, that Edwards could have been in the area during the time in question, and that the framing of another person, indirectly manipulating law enforcement to pursue a false version of the crime, was Edwards' murderous career stock-in-trade. The author theorizes that the attention given to Avery's earlier wrongful conviction may have attracted Edwards to come to the area to do the alleged murder and frame-up.

I felt rather open-mindedly optimistic about that theory after watching the YouTube clip, and it was shortly after that when I coincidentally spotted this book while wandering the stacks at my local library! After getting to page 211, however, I am very decidedly pessimistic about not only the theory that Edwards killed Halbach and framed Avery, but also the entire related story which the book advances.

A good story though both are, I've abandoned this book for now. I may finish it later. I should be clear that the Steven Avery/Teresa Halbach connection was advanced by the author after the book was published, so you'll find no details about that within.

This edition (likely the only one) is a lovely hardcover. Yet I am baffled by the publisher's choice of typeface. Who sets a book entirely in sans serif? While the materials of the book are quite lovely, and no-doubt not cheap to use, the publisher seems to have given the book to a team of noobs to execute, and the author was apparently left entirely to his own devices as to how to present the story. After reviewing an intermediate draft, I think any reasonable editor would have had a serious conference with the author on points of style and presentation to insist on a serious reworking. Alas, what you see is what you get.

This book attempts to sell you on a serious crime theory, and to do this, you need a first-person documentary account. Instead, we have a very awkward third-person retelling that essentially novelizes the whole concept. Conversations are had, set in passages of quoted dialog, and the reader is left to wonder: is this an actual quote, as in, did he really say this, or is this just a bit of stylistic dialog advancing a point in the narrative, intended to be interpreted as the "gist" of what transpired? To take this book SERIOUSLY*, you do not want to find yourself confronted with such questions.

The author advances a novel theory of crimes alleged to have been committed by Ed Edwards, some of which have been attributed to other perpetrators, a number of whom have been convicted and, if the author's theory is correct, are wrongfully so. If the author's timeline and attributions are correct, it would make Edwards the No. 1 serial killer in the world, par excellence, with a killing career spanning some 62 years or so. From the first kill in the late 1040s to the last in 2010 (if I'm remembering correctly), every one done with an extremely high level of skill and precision so as to not attract attention at the wrong moment, and not leave evidence pointing directly at him. Here is a purported serial killer who required no learning curve, no sloppy or hesitant early kills to acquire skill and technique. He was born a master, and that was by itself going too far for me to believe.

The author assembles various prison and judicial records (or unofficial reports, the formatting set in the book for some exhibited listings appears contrived to look official, but may not be an actual record in any real database or file, in this way becoming only a dressed-up synopsis notation) in an attempt to create a timeline tracking Edwards movements and correlating them to crimes. But, there are very large empty spaces in the result of this process where no firm evidence is forthcoming. The author also gives us the cryptograms from the Zodiac case, along with a purported solution and recovered plaintext messages via his friend Neal, a genius. The messages are interesting, for what it's worth, and feed into the notion that Edwards might be the Zodiac, but not one page is spent elucidating the process which arrived at this solution, nor a discussion about how Neal can be confident it is a valid solution.

Another opportunity to gather firm evidence to bolster the theory is completely wasted in the letters and conversations which the author and his friend Neal have with Edwards. Rather than frank factual discussions about their ideas and direct solicitations from Edwards for corroborating statements or dis-confirming evidence, the keystone players engage in a sort of tongue-in-cheek string-along game with the man. They adopt personas and hedge their information, structuring a contrived relationship with him which they think might get Edwards on their side; somehow make him more cooperative, less likely to be dismissive or engage in deliberate misdirection (a tactic the author warns Edwards is a master at).

Well, I think they seriously misplayed their chance. Edwards responded very cordially to all their inquiries, eludes that there are more bodies and stories to talk about than they apparently know about, and that in any case, a meeting ought to be arranged soon as he knows a state execution is already pending on other recent convictions. Yet, in my opinion, the author and his friend instead choose to continue to toy with Edwards about their theory and knowledge, and in due course not long after their direct communications open, Edwards' death sentence is carried out...leaving all their questions still effectively unanswered!

The rest of the author's evidence consists of little more than entirely subjective handwriting and photo analysis. Does this writing sample from Edwards' correspondence with the author look like this note left by the Zodiac? Does this face, known to be Edwards, sufficiently resemble this face, possibly the perpetrator of one of the other documented crimes?

And with that the whole book's case melts down to the simple judgement of the eye of the beholder. No real leads are developed or run down conclusively. No new evidence is brought to light. And most tragically, Edwards' is never really given the opportunity to come forward and explain how "It's ME" and provide details of the listed crimes and leads or details which could be later corroborated and verified, the substance that would form the foundation of a solid case.

If in fact Edwards is the killer he is alleged to be, guilty of the other murders the book attributes to him, especially the Zodiac and Black Dahlia killings, I am afraid that clear and convincing evidence of this fact may be, with Edwards' death, forever lost to history. But, at least with respect to the Zodiac legend, we can add both Edwards and the author's names to the very long list of people who have claimed to have clear and convincing evidence to have either been or known the Zodiac.

* This use of capitals is an INSIDE joke. The text is infected with plenty of words and sentences highlighted in all-caps; the author makes no use of typographical or other mechanisms for adding emphasis to his points (well, except for !!!). Instead he's written it all out in a sort of plain-text fashion that reads a little like an emailed screed from a CRACKPOT. Too bad really, as I don't think he is one, exactly.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Review: Radiation: What It Is, What You Need to Know

Radiation: What It Is, What You Need to Know Radiation: What It Is, What You Need to Know by Robert Peter Gale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is reasonable at addressing commonplace radiophobia and addresses radiation from all sources, natural and man made, especially medical. A lesser amount of attention was given to accidental radiation releases from nuclear power, and given it was for primarily this reason I chose to read the book, I was slightly disappointed. In all though, I found it worthwhile.

I am one of those people who are of the opinion that if we wish to maintain and enhance our standard of living for the future, especially if we ultimately decide that fossil-fuel carbon dioxide inputs need to be eliminated as much as possible, then only nuclear power will be able to maintain us in the energy-available standard to which we've become accustomed. More energy makes life more productive and more enjoyable and more long-lasting for all. We should be efficient about our use, certainly, but energy abundance give us comfort and choice. We would not have this under a purely renewable-source energy economy. So, does it make sense to exclude nuclear power on safety grounds, from the outset? That's a question I was hoping the book would help me answer.

In the book, nuclear power disasters were discussed, just not in the clearest way, and the information given was fragmented across the chapters. I hoped for an answer to the question of whether it's actually necessary to cordon off large territorial exclusion zones in response to such catastrophes, in the interests of protecting human health. I was left to gather the fragments presented in the book, and make a judgement about this myself, which ended up like this:

In such disasters there three isotopes which convey just about all the radioactivity exposure risk to people in the general vicinity of the release: I-131, Cs-137, and Sr-90.

I-131 is risky, but mostly to children, and only for a short time (about three months overall), and only if foodstuffs produced within the affected area aren't temporarily replaced with outside supplies during the danger period. In Japan, food was handled expertly and most Japanese have iodine rich diets which tend to make them far less at-risk to start with.

Cs-137 is pretty ubiquitous, and has a very long half-life, making it especially concerning to the public. But this long half-life also means that the activity of the element is very low, reducing risk. Its biological half-life is also quite short, happily, further greatly reducing risks to human health. Any amount of it you do manage to ingest is likely to be excreted again before hardly any of it at all will have a chance to deposit radioactive energy in your tissue. So the great concern over this, perhaps second most prevalent element released in an accident, is probably misplaced.

Sr-90 has a half-life similar to Cs-137, but has a complex biological half-life. To our bodies, it resembles calcium, and so some proportion may end up migrating into bones and teeth, where it will probably stay long enough to release a good portion of its radioactive energy.

This is pretty much all the book has to say on those matters: two-to-one in favor of the idea that our reaction to the risks from a catastrophic nuclear accident is hysterical. The Sr-90 question deserves more attention. How much of this is present around an accident zone? What's the risk?

Since this is supposed to be a book review, I won't detail them here, but I've encountered various materials that offer me some pretty great hope for Cs-137 in particular, that this is just not enough of a risk to human health to warrant massive exclusion zones with their life-altering permanent evacuations and costly and elaborate washing and soil-stripping operations. According to this work, people could return to their homes and lives in the zone like that around Fukushima right now, if they wanted to, and not be at significant added risk for future radiogenic health problems.

For Sr-90, while a significant product of fission, it's non-volatile nature makes it much less likely than the others to escape to the environment in significant amounts during a disaster. This may be the best reason to allay concerns with it. Sr-90 was more of a risk during the era of atmospheric atomic weapons testing, and for the Japanese atomic bomb survivors, from the fallout nuclear weapons produce. This main source of Sr-90 exposure has long been now, happily, over.

I-131 seems to be the single biggest risk in a reactor disaster, and with its short half-life, within a few months of a point immediately following a meltdown with containment loss, it is simply no longer a factor, it has all decayed away. In the early phase, people should do their best to avoid exposure if they can, but for most it will be enough simply to eat clean food from outside the affected area, and follow limited evacuation for those most at risk (e.g. families with young children).

For people like the Japanese, who have ready access to clean replacement foodstuffs, and a diet rich in natural iodine, little special action is needed. Most are best served by eating outside food and waiting things out.

For others, like those near Chernobyl in 1986, short-term evacuation with supplemental iodine administration, particularly to the young, would've produced similarly low levels of risk. The impoverished condition of most of the population, and lack of a robust food system were main drivers increasing their risks.

However, in both cases once the I-131 has decayed off there's no longer much risk. People could move back into the zone and resume life as before. To allay fear, those who want them could obtain dosimeters to understand and place into perspective the actual radioactivity they are receiving. Most people would probably see amounts very close to the original background radiation anyway. A few may see more, and this can be either rationalized in terms of measuring it against statistics (an education requirement attaches to do this effectively). Or, anyone who feels uncomfortable by the amount they see, no matter how small, can be allowed to take charge of their lives as before and choose to move away. In this way, people are empowered to freely identify and manage their risks as they choose, just as in other parts of their lives.

The important takeaways here are (1) people are overly fearful of radiation, despite living lives continuously within its effects, and in some cases depending on it /for/ health, (2) understanding the real risks from radiation may allow us to overcome these fears and make more intelligent choices regarding how we obtain the energy we need to enjoy the lives we desire.

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