Monday, September 17, 2018

Review: Rough Beasts: The Zanesville Zoo Massacre One Year Later

Rough Beasts: The Zanesville Zoo Massacre One Year Later Rough Beasts: The Zanesville Zoo Massacre One Year Later by Charles Siebert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a case I find rather fascinating, as I do most cases of individuals who keep wild animals captive less as simple lapse in judgement about these animals' desire to be one's companions (though that is part of it), but more due to having one's identity wrapped up in a belief that, as their owner, they are more powerful, desirable, interesting, or intelligent than everyone else because of a perceived special ability--an almost magical thrall--they alone have because they have caged (and thereby controlled) these "dangerous" animals. Often this extends into a belief that they either have a unique strength or dominance over the animals they've obtained, or that they have developed a kind of pseudo-scientific "system", that allows them to interact with wild animals without being considered food, obstacle, or playthings by them, as one would normally. This belief is so firmly entrenched in their psyche that it frequently remains despite repeated accidents, injuries, close calls, or even deaths of friends or acolytes.

For the true crime junkie, I think this is a particularly lurid and bizarre story. While not entirely unique, few attempted mass murderers carry things out to quite as dramatic an end as this man did, having used (spoiler? Sort of? It was all over the news a few years ago, and I think the fact that this is a retrospective you are supposed to know this. It may be on the back of the book, even.) the animals (he claimed to care so much about) as attempted murder weapons.

I think the book is honestly awfully easy on this guy, offering a sometimes-sympathetic view of a man who exploited the animals he purportedly deeply loved, yet ultimately killed them all in an attempt to take his rage out on everyone around him. He ignored these animals' needs, deprived them of the ability to express even the most basic behaviors normal to their species', then used them as disposable killing machines. His firm belief in his ability to keep his friends and family safe from attack by avoiding feeding the animals any blood...followed by the act of opening every cage before smearing himself with blood and killing himself so that the animals would eat his body, shows that he had every intention of sending them on a bloodthirsty rampage to attack the neighbors (who complained about his neglect and negligence), their animals (those boring domestic animals the neighbors argued were in danger), and the animal control workers and police he held in such contempt. He knew his animals would be shot and killed, and yet he used them as pawns in his revenge plan, because ultimately it was all about his ego, no matter how many times and ways he tried to convince himself and others that he cared so much about these animals that he had to break the law and endanger everyone around him. Misunderstood, antisocial individualist? Hardly. Sociopath, indeed.

I am grateful to the author for writing this book because I think it is extremely important that we understand this basic criminal profile. If we are to attempt to mitigate the damage done to the people and animals who suffer the type of abuse this sort of crime simmers in, we need to be aware of what it looks like in infancy. This kind of toxic belief system isn't exclusive to the exotic animal trade, though I do think it thrives a bit more easily among those immersed in very lucrative trade in endangered and threatened animals-as-status-symbol. Similar crimes and variations on the theme have been unleashed (no pun intended) on individuals and communities via the breeding and training of fighting dogs and certain types of innately abusive attack dog training that encourage a magical "dominance" thinking: that belief that they--and only they--can control and interact with an animal they've made dangerous. They believe this makes them stand out, are better than all others, and ultimately gives them the very toxic power high that other killers find when they amass arsenals. These weapons, however, are thinking, breathing, sentient, abused, and broken animals who make mistakes in judgement or simply do what they would normally do had they not been taken from their homes in the wild--or what they've been taught to do every waking moment by the people who trained them to kill. It's one of the very peculiar cases where the weapon is the victim, too. Interesting stuff.

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Voices Project features "Anything But Summer"

If there can be an Ebenezer Scrooge of summer, I would proudly accept that title. This isn't the first time you've heard me whine about summer. But this very well may be the first time you've heard me complain about it in poem form! Thanks to The Voices Project, more people than ever will get an earful of my feelings of dread and distaste for that season everyone else seems to adore. Hopefully this time I've made my annual rant a little more fun to listen to. Please, if you would, visit The Voices Project and give it a read. If you enjoy it and really want to make my day, leave me a comment.

Anything But Summer

Summer: Best viewed from behind glass.

While you're there, stick around and flip through some of the other pages and poems that are there for you to peruse through. For now, I've got to go shake my fist at the last remaining days of the season, lingering about on my lawn. There are still a handful or two before autumn officially begins, and you can bet which of my handful of fingers I'll be waving them off with. So long, summer!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Review: Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon

Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon by Bronwen Dickey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent book. Extremely well-documented and it avoids the common problem of scholarly works going dry. The author chose a hot topic right now, not only in the dog community and the humane community but also within the general public. I imagine if you simply look at her star rating here and on bookstore sites, you'll end up seeing a falsely diminished score due to people who may or may not have read it downgrading it simply due to its subject matter. On the contrary, Dickey handles the subject in a calm, sane manner that doesn't always lean to a single side of the issue. Her interviews are especially interesting since she speaks with people of all types who work and play with these dogs. There are times you'll cringe and times you'll be saying, "Yeah! Exactly!" out loud, or you will if you're as prone to talking back to the book in your hands as I am.

Even if you think this book doesn't apply to you because your dog is a golden retriever mix or rescued chihuahua or purpose-bred doberman, trust me, it does. The best part is that it won't be a drag to read. It's intelligent non-fiction that reads like a juicy biography, and it should since it's really a biography of a breed that everyone has an opinion about.

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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Review: Cleaning the Kingdom: Insider Tales of Keeping Walt's Dream Spotless

Cleaning the Kingdom: Insider Tales of Keeping Walt's Dream Spotless Cleaning the Kingdom: Insider Tales of Keeping Walt's Dream Spotless by Ken Pellman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'll admit, I'm predisposed to loving all things Disney, being born into a family of Disney fans, as I was. And it's true, I'm predisposed to loving all things related to keeping things clean, having OCD and mysophobia*, as I do. Still I think this book is fascinating to nearly anyone who is at all curious about theme parks in general, Disneyland, what it's like to be a Disney Cast Member, or wondered how the parks maintain that exterior shine of glitter and pixie dust when you just know people are puking after riding teacups, and that many of those thousands of little kids brought in every day are still pretty darn inept at using the potty.

Enter the Janis! Not Janis, like the Muppet, but Jani-short-for-janitorial. Plural. They see all, they know all, and a lot of that is recorded in this book. I resisted opening it up to the chapter containing all their grossest stories to read them first, but when I finally got to that roller coaster ride full of "oh my god"s and a few moments that might make you need to put down the book and go wash your hands, I found myself wishing it was longer. This book is just fun. The authors do a great job of bringing you into their experiences in a way that makes you feel like you belong, like you're right there behind them trying to keep up as your broom and pan (metal, if you're lucky) knock against your knees. It's your first day doing what they do, and you're feeling lucky to get to do it.

The book definitely could have used an editor, or at least a proofreader. If you can overlook the editing errors and typos, the writing is very good and the content is fascinating. I loved this book, it's one of the best books I have read all year (365 days, not just January), and I hope that they will get together with some cast members from Walt Disney World to produce a follow up. If they do, I'd be honored to be the one to proofread it, pro bono, just to get to be the first to read it.

*That's germs, not mice. I love mice! Very clean mice.

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Friday, March 23, 2018


In the shower yesterday I had the serendipitous luck to hear this story about a couple of authors coming to the area who have had obsessive-compulsive disorder slither its way into their work, much as it has into mine. If you get a chance, please visit this link to the story. I'll definitely be checking out their books.

One topic they touched upon briefly that made me "hell yes"-out-loud was how common it is for people to say, "Oh I'm so OCD about" X or Y. This is something that makes me cringe on a regular basis, and not just because of the grammatical problems it creates. I don't want to be hypersensitive about it, but on the other hand it trivializes something that is anything but trivial for the people who live with it. So please, unless you honestly mean that your brain torments you with fears that prey on everything you care about most, and that X or Y are legitimate clinical tics that compel you to publically repeat often-humiliating behaviors that you wish you could stop doing like you wish you could keep breathing, please don't say you're "OCD" about it. #OCDIsNotAnAdjective

Anyway, I've been meaning to post some more sample poems to my site for a while, so I'm taking this as a nudge to share one on this topic today. First published by Open Minds Quarterly of Sudbury, Ontario, I hope you like it.

High Functioning

Mr. Hughes, or may I call you Howard?
I’m sure we know each other well enough, living
in the same disturbance as we do, albeit
at opposite ends of the century.  Me, obsessive, you
compulsive, and also the other way round.

We’re grifters, you and I
flashing a series of parlor tricks, one furtive tic
and then another. Artists of escape, slipping
out of handshakes, turns of doorknobs, disappearing
into the safe small sterility of hotel rooms
and other dark, yet shiny places. Even there our most delicious
cravings are coated in terror that drops
into our laps in the quiet late at night like a flat, ovoid
cockroach losing its grip as it crosses the ceiling. Infected?
Syphilitic movie starlets? MRSA creeping hot and silent
into the divot of another scab irresistibly gouged
by frantic fingers desperately digging for the clean, fresh
untainted flesh beneath the platelet crust of our own mortality?

We hold the world together with cellophane tape
and a ton of excuses. It’s a nonstop sideshow
trick, pulling a never ending rope, hand over hand,
even as the fibers fray apart. Knotting faster than the human eye
can see. The imperfect spaces terrify me, the same as you. The truth
we hide beneath forcibly-slowed breaths is that
we can never be sure. Are we hallucinating or are they blind?
It’s still unanswered, Hughsy, and we’re both held
captive by that question, in the same dark cell.
Our fears crossing hand over hand through time.