About this blog...

Here you will find information, musings, and pictures about life, the natural world and writing.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Book review: Stolen World

What is it with obsessive collectors? Most of us collect something or other--salt and pepper shakers, British stamps, Hawaiian coins, cheese cake recipes--but we don't risk our freedom, our marriages, or our financial security to possess one more. Some people do and Stolen World, by Jennie Erin Smith (Crown Publishers, 2011)is about people who obsess about reptiles. More specifically, it's about men who smuggle them into the US to sell them to other collectors and who hope to achieve fame and fortune doing so. The "fame" is status in the world of reptile collectors and seems to be almost as strong a motive as the money.

Smith's background is in journalism, but the book reads like a novel. The personalities, adventures, successes, and failures of smugglers Hank Molt, Tom Crutchfield, Edmund Celebucki, and the infamous Anson Wong are recounted in a crisp, calm style. Smith doesn't judge or lecture or make free with exclamation marks because she doesn't need to. She lets these peoples' words, actions, and court records speak for themselves and they surely do. Persistent law-breaking motivated by a yen for adventure, by a compulsion to collect the rarest species, and, of course, by money make for a page-turner, a very good read.

Stolen World is surprisingly short on documentation considering the chronicles of illegal activities undertaken by real people, some of them still living. But what she vividly and engagingly describes is consistent with other books on the same subject--The Lizard King and The Last Tortoise, for two, the latter previously reviewed in this blog.

Smith describes how lax zoos were in their animal acquisitions in the 60s and 70s. Until the feds and their own industry cracked down, reptile curators in zoos were a major market for the animal importers, regardless of local laws or the mortality rate. (I saw a bit of ethically dubious animal acquisition myself when I was a new zoo keeper in the '70s.) When zoos began to clean up their act as a result of stronger US and international law--and public embarrassment--private collectors became the customer base of the reptile market. Smith also chronicles the rise of captive breeding of reptiles, which accounts for the bulk of the US market today. Go to the TRAFFIC website, however, and you will find that smuggling wild-caught reptiles is hardly a thing of the past.

A personal note: What I found truly dismaying is that many of these men claim to "love" reptiles. What kind of love pays locals to pull wild animals out of their habitat, jams them into false-bottomed crates to ship them thousands of miles, and sells the survivors to people who very likely cannot keep them alive for more than a few months? What kind of "love" scorns conservation efforts for the species they desire? Perhaps in their older years, some of these hard-drinking, thoroughly treacherous guys stopped to consider the body count they were personally responsible for, but one is permitted to doubt.

Read another review from a knowledgeable person here. The "herpers" seem to have reacted strongly to Stolen World. Read some of their comments (the word "venomous" does come to mind) here. You will find them in keeping with the people described in this book.

Then read the book yourself. It's a fascinating journey through the intersection of psychology, commerce, and biology.

Here's how you can buy Stolen World and benefit Herpdigest, a free reptile news digest, at the same time:
1) Send a check to Herpdigest/Allen Salzberg/67-87 Booth Street -5B/Forest Hills, NY 11375. Make the check out to Herpdigest.
2) By Paypal - the account is asalzberg@herpdigest.org
3) By credit card, Master or Visa, Discover and Amex, only, send credit card number, expiration date, billing and shipping address to asalzberg@herpdigest.org. Include those 3 numbers from the back of the credit card.
4) By phone at 1-718-275-2190 11 A.M.- 6 P.M Eastern Standard Time (NYC.) If not in, leave message.

Captive bred reptiles at an Oregon reptile event.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

MS Word for Authors: Get lost, italic! You, too, bold!

A tiny tip just in from our far-flung correspondence (no, not correspondents).

To easily get rid of bold, italic, and/or underline formatting, highlight the offending text, then hit Control + space. Back to normal! Yay!

This seems to work the same (Control + space) for PCs and for Macs.

Bold? I know a thing or two about bold.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Book review: Dog On It by Spencer Quinn

I'm not usually a fan of mysteries that humanize animals. Our species has a long history of interpreting animals as limited humans--they must have our motives, our values, our sensory ability. This leads to grievous errors in understanding our fellow species. When ethology was a new and exciting science, we were amazed at what could be learned by simply shutting up and watching without expectation or judgment, then trying to figure out why animals do what they do. In my zoo mysteries, I present the critters as authentically as I can, with all the superpowers nature bestowed on them and nothing more.

But I'm going soft and making an exception. Spencer Quinn wrote Dog On It in the first-person voice of a big, goofy, K-9 flunk-out named Chet who is partner to private investigator Bernie Little. Yes, Chet understands human speech and far too much of our behavior. On the realistic side, his nose rules, he's obsessed with food and easily distracted by a cat or golf ball, and he doesn't solve crimes as much as enable Bernie's efforts.

Bernie is an appealing sleuth, the other characters are clear and distinct, and the plot and romantic sub-plot have sufficient twists and turns. A teenage girl goes missing--runaway or snatched? Does her father know more than he's saying, or not? It's set in what is apparently a fictional version of Southern California or maybe Arizona.

The real fun of this book, however, is the amiable style and Chet. Charming. A lovely read.

I liked it, too, says Murphy.

Monday, February 7, 2011

MS Word for Authors: Bigger and Better

Most of us set up our pages with a 12 point font, probably Times New Roman. If you find that this is hard to read, you can easily enlarge it. No, don't go for 14 or 16 points! Instead, "zoom" the screen until it is a comfortable size. Then you won't need to remember to change the font size back to 12 point before you ship off the manuscript. The change won't affect printing, either.

To zoom, go to View. This is somewhere in your top toolbar. In more recent versions, a slider bar can also be found in the lower right corner. See what Zoom is set to and make it bigger. Inspect the results and adjust as needed.

And, by the way, no where is it written that you must draft in double line spacing. Instead of 2, try setting line spacing to 1.5 or even 1.15. I like this because I can see more text on the screen. This change is one you do need to remember to fix before you submit!

This tree kangaroo wants to read over your shoulder.