Recent Readings for Sept. 29, 2015

September 29, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 29, 2015

• The next Supreme Court term. Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress has a useful primer on three cases that the Supreme Court is scheduled to consider in its next term, which starts on Monday. One of the cases could result in depriving public-sector unions of what are called agency fees or fair share fees, a vital funding stream. Another could change how state legislatures draw their districts. A third case, Fisher vs. University of Texas, which the court already considered in 2012, could affect the future of affirmative action. Millhiser also notes that the court is likely to agree to hear two major reproductive health rights cases.

• Skeptical police response to sexual assault allegations ultimately costs a young child his life. Katie J.M. Baker’s feature article about Virginia authorities’ questionable handling of a possible rape electrified my Twitter feed Sunday evening. Police didn’t believe the complainant and ended up filing charges against her and her sister — charges that were used as leverage against the sister in what turned out to be a fateful custody hearing. The next time someone is tempted to ask why a potential rape victim didn’t contact the authorities, he or she would do well to remember Baker’s chronicle.

• Can the brother of a victim in the Lockerbie bombing help bring perpetrators to justice? Patrick Radden Keefe describes the many ways in which an obsession with the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 has forever changed Ken Dornstein’s life. Only one man was ever convicted for his involvement with this act of terrorism, but after finishing Keefe’s story, I was persuaded that at least one other individual likely got away with mass murder.

Author’s note: Dornstein’s film, My Brother’s Bomber, will be broadcast in three parts on the PBS documentary series Frontline beginning tonight; the second and third segments will air on Oct. 6 and Oct. 13. MEM

Panic can be far deadlier than radiation. George Johnson reminds us that humans are frequently terrible at evaluating risk. Case in point: While no one has been killed or sickened by radiation released after an earthquake and tsunami affected Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant, and while future cancer cases linked to the accident are projected to be all but undetectable, around 1,600 deaths have been attributed to stresses linked to the evacuation of the region. Moreover, some scientists advocate a hypothesis known as hormesis, which holds that low doses of radiation can be harmless and may even be beneficial. Although this theory is difficult to test, Johnson writes:

One experiment, however, occurred inadvertently three decades ago in Taiwan after about 200 buildings housing 10,000 people were constructed from steel contaminated with radioactive cobalt. Over the years, residents were exposed to an average dose of about 10.5 millisieverts a year, more than double the estimated average for Fukushima.

Yet a study in 2006 found fewer cancer cases compared with the general public: 95, when 115 were expected.

Unraveling the murders of three tourists in Florida. The invaluable website led me to “Angels and Demons,” a comprehensive series that Thomas French wrote for the St. Petersburg Times in 1997. This 54,000-word opus, published in seven chapters, essentially constitutes a free true-crime book, albeit a slightly short one. (French’s work is about 44 percent of the length of Truman Capote’s 1965 classic In Cold Blood, which weighs in at more than 121,000 words.)

The series covers the 1989 murders of Jo Rogers, a Midwest dairy farmer’s wife, and her two teenage daughters from nearly every conceivable angle. French shares the viewpoints of Hal Rogers, the Ohioan who was devastated by the disappearance of his wife and children; one of the daughter’s boyfriends; the experienced cop who made it his mission to solve the killings, despite never having investigated a homicide before; and the woman whose tip about a suspicious neighbor ultimately helped crack the case.

Shortly after they went up to the [hotel] room — phone records put the time at 12:37 p.m. — Michelle placed a long-distance call to Jeff Feasby at the Union 76 station where he worked in Van Wert. It was Jeff’s birthday, and Michelle had arranged to have flowers and balloons sent to the gas station that morning.

“Did you get the flowers?” she asked, laughing because she knew it would embarrass him to receive such a romantic gift at work, in front of the other guys.

“Yeah,” said Jeff, who was indeed embarrassed. The flowers were on display atop the station’s cigarette machine, but he was already planning to move them into the back room to get them out of sight.

Michelle and her boyfriend talked for close to 10 minutes that day. Questioned later about the conversation, Jeff would say he did not remember many of the exact words that passed between them — he was busy working the register when the phone rang — but he believes Michelle told him that the vacation was going well and they were having fun. He could hear Michelle’s mother, saying hi to him in the background, and Jeff said hi back, and Michelle talked about how she and Christe wanted to go to the beach but their mom wouldn’t let them near deep water. Then she said goodbye.

The series, which documents the murder investigation and subsequent trial, is full of drama and suspense. It is also full of sadness, in particularly that of John Rogers, who spent years trying to piece his life back together after the murders. Fittingly, French was awarded the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for “Angels and Demons.”

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