Thursday, November 16, 2006

ON GROWING YOUR WMDs IN BROOKLYN: Hsssst, don't tell al Qaeda, US neo-Nazis or terror beat journalists

Terror beat journalists in the US and Britain are crazy for stories about malcontents and ricin. Or rather, would-be terrorists found with a handful of castor seeds and the idiot recipes for ricin, texts scattered over the Internet like gaily-colored beans.

It has never mattered that the castor plant is used decoratively in gardens, or that castor oil squeezed from castor beans is a renewable resource which has been used in human agriculture and industry for ages, the mash waste product of which has somehow not resulted in regular mass die-offs.

Since the beginning of the war on terror, only three "facts" -- all wrong -- matter to mainstream newsmedia national security reporters and pundits: (1) ricin is easy to make in your kitchen, cave, hut or shed; (2) you can find out how to do it on the Internet; and (3) it's easy to kill many, maybe thousands, with a handful of powder from castor beans. Ricin can even be a reason to go to war over.

It should come as no surprise then that only journalists not attached to the war on terror, like gardening hobbyists and columnists, would be better sources to read about the hazards of the castor plant.

And so today, DD directs readers to the New York Times and the column, brightly entitled "Garden Q&A."

One reader's question is reprinted:

"I want to grow the huge, gorgeous red-leafed plants I’ve seen on my neighbors’ stoops in Brooklyn. But I’ve been told they are ricinus, the plant that was used to assassinate the Bulgarian dissident Georgi I. Markov, back in 1978. Please tell me this is not the same ricinus but only a harmless cousin."

Columnist Leslie Land replied:

"There is only one species [of castor plant,] Ricinus communis" and it contains ricin. ". . . And like many plants in the spurge (Euphorbia) family, it can cause rashes in those who are sensitive to it.

"But if castor beans are far from harmless, they are also far from alone. Consider popular spurges like the houseplant crown of thorns, and toxic garden beauties like larkspur, daphne and rhododendron.

"In other words, castor beans are fine to grow as long as you do not eat them and are careful to keep children away from them. For safety, plants in public places, including front stoops, should have their bright red seedpods removed. As you may have noticed, nobody does this. Yet accidental poisonings are rare.

Your neighbors probably grow Carmencita, the most common red-tinged castor bean . . ."

Single castor plants are so attractive, writes the columnist, they are "show-stoppers."

"If size matters most, go for the green version, Zanzibariensis, a 10- to 12-footer with 3-foot-wide leaves . . . "

Readers of DD blog know common sense and critical thinking are banished from many areas of journalism, expert commentary and policy-making in the war on terror. It wouldn't be proper to consider the gentle wisdom of the garden columnist and wonder why, if ricin is such an easy to manufacture WMD, people are allowed to grow the plant on their stoops in Brooklyn.

There oughta be a law!

So if you rely on New York Times national security reporters instead of the gardener, you're in a fix. They've been known to write crap received wisdoms like, "It is still easy to find crude amateur recipes for turning castor beans into ricin. They have been printed in books on unconventional weapons like 'Silent Death' and 'The Poisoner's Handbook' and intelligence agencies have said that translations of those recipes have been found in al Qaida hideouts . . ."

"A five-minute Internet search Tuesday produced a kitchen recipe using lye and acetone . . . " (Citation: February 4, 2004)

The Garden Q&A is here.

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