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Deadly Poisons and Their Known Anecdotes

Fear of poisoning has created one of the world's least appetizing jobs: food taster for politicians with enemies. Newman quotes a man who worked as a food taster for the very careful lord of Castle Mandawa in the Indian desert:

"When the food was ready, some from each dish would be fed to a dog," recalls Mathura Prasad. "Next I would taste, then the guards. The food would go to table under armed escort. Several trusted generals would test it. Finally, the lord and his guest would exchange bits of each dish. Just in case."

The Geographic's beautifully illustrated, 30-page poison package is divided into 12 reader-friendly pieces. Perhaps the most edifying is an interview with Fierro, Virginia's medical examiner, and her colleague, Alphonse Poklis, who offer insights into the personality of the poisoner.

People who poison their victims are different from folks who shoot, stab or strangle their victims. "Often you are dealing with a family situation," says Poklis. "It happens over a period of months or a year. The perpetrator is taking care of the victim, watching him die. Poison is the weapon of controlling, sneaky people with no conscience, no sorrow, no remorse."

American murderers tend not to be fans of poison. "It's not in the American character," says Fierro. "If you are going to kill someone and you are a true American, you shoot them."

There you have it, another reason to break into a rousing chorus of "God Bless America."

Dead Drunk Gets Due

Since Hunter S. Thompson killed himself in February, magazines from Rolling Stone to the American Journalism Review have printed tributes to the gonzo journalist. If Thompson is reading his obits in the Great Beyond, his favorite eulogy is probably the one published in Modern Drunkard, the Denver-based magazine of inebriation, which hailed him as a great writer and a great drunk.

"There was always a powerful comfort in knowing he was out there somewhere in the night, roaring drunk, guzzling high-octane whiskey and railing against a world amok with complacency and hypocrisy," wrote Frank Kelly Rich, Modern Drunkard's editor and publisher.

"Hunter was the last of a long, distinguished line of drunkard heroes," Rich wrote, a line in which he included Ernest Hemingway, Humphrey Bogart, Winston Churchill, W.C. Fields and Mark Twain.

Some folks might suggest that shooting yourself, as Thompson did, might be an indication that perhaps you've been drinking a little too much. Rich rejects that logic: "He lived his life on his own terms and that's how he went out."

When he heard the news of Thompson's death, Rich writes, "I personally crawled into a bottle of rum and tried to get a handle on it."

Emerging from the rum bottle -- or perhaps typing while still inside it -- Rich hailed Thompson as a rebel against a society that suppresses fun.

"Nowadays the main rule is Play It Safe," he writes. "Not only should you look before you leap, you should think very seriously about attending a Leapers Anonymous meeting and discussing the possibility that you have a leaping problem."

Readers who want to revel in their own leaping problems can attend the second annual Modern Drunkard Convention in Denver May 13-15. I'm not sure exactly what goes on at a Modern Drunkard convention but I suspect there may be some alcohol involved.

Split Decision

Every monthly issue of Harper's magazine contains a wry compendium of odd statistics called Harper's Index. The May Index offers this interesting bit of polling data:

Percentage of Americans who say Bush is a "uniter": 49.

Percentage who say he is a "divider": 49.


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