Friday, February 29, 2008

RICIN POISONING IN LAS VEGAS: Potential check-out event?

"A man who stayed in a Las Vegas hotel room where ricin was discovered on Thursday has been hospitalized in critical condition since Feb. 14 with symptoms consistent with exposure to the deadly toxin, Las Vegas police said Friday," reported the New York Times hours ago.

"The man’s identity, age and hometown were being withheld on Friday as investigators tried to determine why ricin, as well as castor beans from which is it derived, were found in a room at an Extended Stay America hotel one mile west of the Las Vegas Strip.

"Deputy Chief Kathleen Suey said the man had been staying in the room where the ricin was found for an unknown length of time and was leasing the room when the substance was discovered. A man, said to be a relative or friend of the sick man, had gone into the room to retrieve the patient’s belongings when he found the vials of white powder and showed it to the hotel’s manager ..."

Initially, this sounds like an attempt at suicide. One also would not wish to entirely rule out extreme stupidity, like the snorting of castor seed powder. Whatever the case, it is an unusual story, one that will eventually add a brief but fascinating footnote to the history of the poison.

"“Ricin has no medical uses other than cancer research," said Captain Joseph Lombardo, head of the Homeland Security unit for Las Vegas police to the Times. "An individual citizen, other than being involved in cancer research or cancer prevention, would not have any legal means or proper means of having that."

Well, just you hold on there now lil' pardner from Homeland Security.

Your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow did a quick survey a year or so ago and found castor seeds to be common items on eBay. And such is still the case as seen with this eye-popping search.

The means with which to attempt to poison oneself with ricin are not hard to come by.

At one time in the distant past of this country, castor plants existed to process castor seeds for fertilizer and oil. They were not staffed by professional hazmat teams. The dust of castor mash was not generally considered to be a great hazard although reports of it causing allergic reactions and respiratory symptoms exist in the literature.

Because castor seeds contain five percent protein and this is a nitrogen source, the mash was used as fertilizer. It also had application in attempts to kill insect infestations afflicting golf courses although there is little or no evidence that it was effective at this.

Also see this piece from DD blog last year on the commonality of decorative castor plants in Brooklyn.

Since the individual has been hospitalized for two weeks, he may yet survive. If a suboptimal dose is received and does not kill, the victim eventually recovers. Most newspaper articles tend to emphasize the lethality of ricin based upon estimates derived from the activity of pure ricin. But the mash of castor seeds is not 100 percent ricin. Indeed, it is far from it.

Original at the New York Times.


From wire reports:

"Firearms and an 'anarchist type textbook' were found in the same motel room where several vials of the deadly toxin ricin was found," police told the Associated Press today.

"The room was most recently occupied by a 57-year-old man who has been in critical condition with breathing problems at a hospital for more than two weeks.

"It doesn’t make you a terrorist to have an anarchist-type textbook," said one law enforcement official on the scene.

In reality, if you're living in Britain, you're a Muslim and you're caught with such reading material, it does. Under current anti-terrorism laws in the UK such reading matter is considered seditious and possession of it, unless you're a member of the press or an academic expert, gets you sent over. See "Documents Discussed Here Get You Jailed" here, "The Jailbird's Bookshelf" here, and one of the all-time reading favorites on this site, "From The Poisoner's Handbook to the Botox Shoe of Death" here.

So far, the scene fits the general standard of very white American middle-aged gun-loving weirdo dude encompassed by many ricin cases in the United States. See here in "Assorted Fiends, Criminals and Kooks" for a survey of this not-so-motley crew done by your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow a couple years ago.

Update II (Sunday):

Associated Press reports federal agents searching the home of Roger von Bergendorff in Salt Lake City, Utah. Bergendorff is the hospitalized man at the center of the investigation. "Health officials were still trying to confirm whether Von Bergendorff's respiratory ailment stemmed from ricin exposure," reported the news agency.

Whatever von Bergendorff is suffering from, if he survives and is released from the hospital, the Feds will eventually charge him with the standard ricin offense which makes it illegal to mash castor seeds for the purpose of having a crude ricin powder. He'll also get tagged with the cost of clean-up. Attempting to make a toxic weapon with ricin, even just for so, gets you anywhere from two to fifteen years depending on circumstances. Intellectual curiosity is not a defense that works.

DD wrote has written about such cases in the past. Please note "To the Bighouse for Ricin Possession" here and here at GlobalSecurity.Org. Indictments of Denys Ray Hughes and Steven Ekberg, two white American men convicted on ricin charges, are found with the text archived at GlobalSecurity.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

SLAVE LABOR HEPARIN: Scraped fresh from pig intestines in China

Tell me, how did your silly businessmen get so stupid and greedy? I would like to bottle and sell whatever it is you're on.

It was only ealier in the week when your host mused, "What could be a funnier joke than the one in which Americans cede all the progress they've made in the social contract for an industrial process which bypasses it by simply moving its manufacturing to a country which has none?"

This was in our gently amusing article on crap toilet seats and blues harmonicas made by slave labor in China.

Of course, if your toilet seat stains irrevocably yellow the first time you miss and urinate on it or the paint bubbles and peels two weeks after purchase, the world's not going to end. You can live with a toilet seat you've nicknamed "Old Yellow Stains."

But if you're getting a drug after surgery or as part of a dialysis treatment, one to thin your blood, and it's made in China -- you're in a bigger jam.

Fine biochemicals like heparin cost money and who can argue with the logic of increasing profits by sending the work to a slave labor country where it can be made in some kitchen not checked by any annoying regulatory agency?

"[At] least one of the consolidators received supplies from small, unregulated family workshops that scraped mucous membrane from pig intestines and cooked it, eventually producing a dry substance known as crude heparin," reported the New York Times today.

The article reported the FDA was tracing 488 allergic reactions from slave labor-prepared heparin, sold through the American companies Baxter Pharmaceutical and Scientific Protein Laboratories, the latter being a firm "that is the majority owner" of the Chinese plant implicated in the manufacture of tainted biochemical.

Naturally, neither company has much to say.

In 2008, American businessmen are careful to cover their hindquarters and keep their lips buttoned, pretending that they didn't REALLY know how they've sold their customers down the river by looking the other way and sending their supply and manufacturing to an unregulated country impossible to audit until AFTER a problem has occured.

DD just doesn't see why we can't keep heparin purification at home.

Having pig farmers scrape intestines in their kitchens is just as doable by American hands as by Chinese. It could be really big in Maryland where there are all those massive pig farms surrounded by excrement lagoons to keep people away and the Chesapeake Bay healthy. I'm sure the farmers wouldn't even have to do it themselves, just supervise. They could hire illegal immigrants to do the gutting and scraping, like the meat-packing industry. Oh wait, they're already a part of the meat-packing industry. Tee-hee.

And if we committed to getting rid of all those nonsensical regulations so that drug manufacturers don't have to worry about making products that sicken and kill people, then it would be ever so cheaper to make the drugs we need at home and American businessmen could cut China out of the picture.

DD has an idea for businesses in the formerly good ol' USA, one for quick profits in the cosmetic surgery business.

In graduate school I worked on characterizing enzymes known as collagenases. To study collegenases, one needed collagen, the protein which the enzymes degraded. We prepared our collagen by going to the slaughterhouse and getting fetal calfskins. We'd toss the calfskins in a tub of water and add a little preservative to impede bacterial growth. The we let them soften up good for a couple weeks.

After the soaking step, we'd take them into a cleaning room and scrape the fur off, rinsing it into the drain. It was a revolting thing to do and there was always much gagging and retching, insuring we only did it once or twice a year. (Doesn't this sound like it could be adapted for a good scene from one of those sadistic horror movies kids like so much, like "Saw XX," "Hostel 15" or "Turista 5"?)

Once the hair was scraped off the hides, we cut the skin into strips and minced it by hand in a meat grinder. Then we tossed the mince into glass vats of acetic acid. The vats were kept in a cold room and left to cure for a weeks or so, at which point the collagen in the minced calfskin had started to leach into the acetic acid.

When we needed fresh collagen, we just went into the cold room, scooped out some of the goop with a beaker and squeezed it through a cheese cloth to strain out the chunks of hide.

It's a process anyone can do, just like scraping pig intestines for heparin in China. You could sell your collagen to an American pharmaceutical company that would resell it to cosmetic surgeons. Call it Pharmaderm or something to throw off people who'd be discouraged if they knew you made it in your kitchen with a meat grinder, some knives and an aluminum table.

Everybody wins and we fight to keep our fine drug purification from going to China!

A Blood Thinner Might Be Linked to More Deaths -- from the New York Times.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

VANITY FAIR DISCOVERS LONDON RICIN TRIAL: Three years late, its "international correspondent" flogs it, rebranding previously covered news for the snob crowd

Kamel Bourgass's jewelry tin of castor seeds, used to help grease the Iraq invasion. "The prosecuting authorities effectively stand accused of suborning justice to shore up support for an unjustifiable war," wrote a columnist for The Telegraph in April of 2005.

February's issue of Vanity Fair contained an 18,000 word piece covering Moloud Sihali, one of the acquitted men in the London ricin trial of 2004-2005. Entitled "A Face in the Crowd," it was written by William Langeweische, "International Correspondent." A noticeable portion of it recapitulates news your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow broke in 2005, one day before the gag order came off the trial in England. But since this is now for a very big magazine sold in supermarkets, edited by important literary people, it's buffed up so as not to appear copied directly from older sources.

Langeweische is semi-famous, usually dealing in juiced-up retellings of old news a couple years after the original details have been reported elsewhere. One of the more recent things flogged under his name was a book entitled "The Atomic Bazaar," a collection of all the stories you've heard from the last five years on how allegedly easy it is to make and bring an atomic bomb to the United States.

For Vanity Fair, Langeweische goes back to the London ricin case, built on the confessions of Mohammed Meguerba, a man whose information could not be used in the trial because of the bad circumstances surrounding the yielding of the intelligence said to have been provided. Meguerba knew Kamel Bourgass and, under torture, gave some rough details of dangerous things in the latter's possession. This obviously meant an al Qaeda team was in London. Or not.

Meguerba was an Algerian petty crook claimed to be an al Qaeda man by British authorities. Originally arrested in England during an anti-terror raid (or an anti-fraud sweep, or an anti-immigration raid, depending on who you listen to), he was subsequently released and essentially told to stick around. He didn't, winding up back in Algeria.

In Algeria, Meguerba was re-arrested and, it has been widely assumed, tortured into a confession which triggered the ricin gang round-up, called Operation Springbourne. Because his information was tainted, he was never brought as a witness at the trial. The defense had also engaged in an argument that since Meguerba would not be made available for cross-examination, such evidence as provided by him was inadmissible.

"By January 3 the Algerians had extracted new information," writes Langeweische.

Meguerba and Kamel Bourgass, the only person convicted in the eventual ricin trial, were said to be al Qaeda confederates, allegedly sent to engineer poison attacks in England. The British government was never able to produce persuasive evidence that both men had any real training in terror and the part of Langewische's Vanity Fair piece which deals with it is apparently reconstructed from the British government's large book of opinion on the matter.

"Meguerba was confused about the address [of the poison factory,] but he was able to describe a cheap apartment above an unnamed pharmacy in Wood Green. Scotland Yard found the match on an immigrant street ... On January 5, Scotland Yard flooded the street with police and, with the assistance of M.I.5, busted into the building behind an assault squad in protective suits. The press was impressed. The neighbors were concerned and surprised. Seven North Africans in the building were arrested, including a teenage tenant. As Meguerba had predicted, the apartment contained materials for the making of poisons, albeit limited and more in the nature of a kitchen lab than the production line of a 'poison factory,' as it came to be known in the news. Included among the materials were rubber gloves, acetone, a funnel, a scale, a coffee grinder, a pestle and mortar, thermometers, and the raw stuff from which poisons can be made -- apple pips, cherrystones, and 22 speckled castor beans. On a shelf in the corner stood a Nivea skin-cream pot, partially filled with a gooey brown substance. In a locked case, a large envelope contained schematics for bombs, as well as various poison formulas, including copies of the ricin recipe ... "

All of this was recounted in April 2005 at GlobalSecurity.Org here and here.

The actual translations of the recovered "poison recipes" are here. Langewiesche does not get into much comment on them for the glossy magazine. When one includes the raw documents it becomes quite evident their owner, Kamel Bourgass, was a crackpot and incompetent, although a physically dangerous man who subsequently murdered a British policemen while being taken into custody. At the end of the trial, British authorities went to some effort to insist Bourgass's formulas were a real threat, insisting famously that they were not "playtime recipes" and had been proven valid. This was a bit of a deceptive crock.

Additional material from the British government, including a link to a counter-terror video taken from the alleged ricin factory, is here -- all published in 2005. Be sure to note the paper laden with allegedly dangerous cherrystones.

"Specialists from Britain's chemical-weapons laboratory at Porton Down came in with testing equipment and determined that the substance in the Nivea pot was a noxious but nonlethal nicotine poison, probably extracted from cigarettes," carries on Langewiesche.

This was not precisely true. There was no conclusion drawn in the original Wood Green evidence proffer of Porton Down's scientist on the case, Martin Pearce. Drawing from the recovered poison recipes, a reasonable assumption was that it was tobacco juice which, sort of, can be called a "nonlethal nicotine poison."

"The bad news was that one of the field tests had come up positive for traces of ricin on the pestle and mortar," continues Langeweische over well-trod ground. "The result was preliminary only and would have to be backed up with thorough testing at Porton Down, but the laboratory would work around the clock and provide a definitive answer within days."

Naturally, we've known for some time through the trial, that this was a false positive.

No ricin was found.

But through bureaucratic bumbling, something Judge David Penry-Davy made quite clear to the jury during the original trial in the Old Bailey, Andrew Gould, an emissary from Porton Down charged with delivering the results, reported just the opposite. The official result was that the public was misled. For practical purposes, the error was not corrected until the end of trial, two years after the original arrests of the alleged Wood Green ricin ring.

"More important, Meguerba had said there were two Nivea pots, but the investigators had found only one," continues Langeweische excitingly. "What if the other pot contained the ricin, and Bourgass was about to use it? The [smear the ricin on the ] door-handle plan was perhaps impractical, but a collection of unopened toothbrushes in the flat suggested that he might have other means of attack in mind. That afternoon, Scotland Yard transmitted an urgent all-points bulletin for Bourgass's capture. Two senior officials issued a terse statement, in which they streamlined the truth just slightly by announcing that "a small amount of the material ... has tested positive for ricin.'"

"The Daily Mirror published a now classic scare-a black skull and crossbones over a yellow map of Britain, accompanied by the headline, 'It's here,'" writes Vanity Fair's "International Correspondent," William Langeweische.

"Meanwhile, after two days of further testing, the quiet scientists at Porton Down realized that the earlier result had been a false positive, and they concluded with absolute certainty that there was actually no trace of ricin to be found," writes the magazine's "International Correspondent." "Somehow the transmission of that message was so bungled or confused that even today it seems not truly to have lodged in the government's thinking or in the public's understanding of events. There was a plan to make ricin, for sure. But the truth is it never got off the ground."

Great, William.

"[Kamel Bourgass] was probably too stupid to know," writes Langeweische on the Algerian's actual potential for poison making. "He was at least as incompetent as Richard Reid. He seems to have responded to orders to make poisons by shopping the Internet and choosing ricin simply because it is one of the most lethal toxins known. When he saw on the news that his kitchen lab had been raided, he fled north to Manchester and holed up in a flat ... "

The journalist then recounts the incident in which Bourgass wounded four policemen and killed a fifth.

Eventually, the British legal system convicted Kamel Bourgass of murder and in the ricin trial, guilty of conspiracy to create a nuisance with poisons.

The balance of Langeweische's Vanity Fair piece deals with the ordeals faced by Mouloud Sihali, one of the ricin trial defendants. The story is plumped up with pleasing paint-the-scene color style common to glossy magazine story-telling, the tale focusing on the injustice faced by Sihali set against a paranoid backdrop in England during the early years of the war on terror.

Sihali had been swept up in the ricin trial case by extremely bad luck and coincidence even though he did not know Kamel Bourgass. He'd been dragged into it by dint of the fact that a man with which he had shared a room for a brief period had been Mohammed Meguerba. And Meguerba had the address of that bed sit in a pocket when authorities arrested the former in a raid. The police subsequently arrested Sihali. In the meantime, to recap -- Meguerba had been released and fled to Algeria where he was recaptured and tortured into a confession that yielded the name of Kamel Bourgass, also an acquaintance of the ricin investigation's primary informant.

Although acquitted by a jury in the ricin trial, Sihali was still a target of the British government. It eventually rearrested him with the intent of deporting him to Algeria. During the time he was kept under onerous house arrest conditions. Subsequently, Britain's Special Immigration Appeals Commission considered his case and a judge ruled there was no reason to Algeria because there was no evidence that he has been an Islamic extremist.

"At the time of the ricin trial, [Moloud Sihali] admitted two counts of possessing false passports and received 15 months imprisonment in Belmarsh maximum security prison," reported the Guardian newspaper in May of last year. "But he was cleared of charges connecting him with the ricin plot and was released soon after, as he had already served the time on remand."

"The SIAC judges ruled ... that [Sihali] had used false names and documents, fraudulently opened several bank and credit card accounts and falsely claimed state benefits and lied about them at the Old Bailey trial. But they added there was nothing in the evidence to suggest he knew that those he helped were terrorists.

"The judges said they were satisfied that although [Sihali] was unprincipled, he did not engage in anything beyond petty dishonesty. 'Whatever the risk to national security he may have posed in 2002, the risk now is insignificant,' they concluded."

Previous related reporting:

British immigration clears ricin suspect.

The elaborate myth of the London ricin cell.

Colin Powell and the UK poison cell.

Public statements of Bush administration officials flogging UK poison cell as part of Iraq war rationale.

Playtime Recipes for Poisons.

Monday, February 25, 2008

MADE IN CHINA: Slave labor blues harps, Fender amps, toilet seats

Mojo-free slave labor blues & rock harmonica, fresh from China.

Americans now know "Made in China" means made of crap by factory slaves (or as the business sections of newspapers like to put it, an inexpensive labor force.)

However, a dilemma arises when one goes shopping for even the most basic goods. You have to go a long way to avoid Chinese things. For instance, all the sundries at Ralph's supermarket are made in China. Whiskey flask? Made in China, probably with lead. Plastic soap box to put in your poxy kid's pack for camp? Used to be made in the US when DD was a child, now only permitted to be made by slave laborers in China.

We must take a lot of the responsibility for this.

When DD was young the US enacted many laws to protect its citizens from predation in the workplace. It put in place environmental regulations so that American corporations couldn't make a complete hash of the countryside.

Then in the name of progress and cheap goods at Wal-Mart, we sold ourselves down the river. We became convinced that the drivel spouted by some economics professors and repeated in the business sections of newspapers on the global marketplace being a stupendous thing that would improve our quality of life was actually true. American businessmen indulged us by outsourcing their fabricating to the cheapest labor markets overseas, eventually China.

What could be a funnier joke than the one in which Americans cede all the progress they've made in the social contract for an industrial process which bypasses it by simply moving its manufacturing to a country which has none, a place where people are treated exceedingly poorly at work. All for the sake of cheap stuff.

And the stuff is really cheap.

For instance, take the "Mojo Deluxe Blues & Rock Harmonica," pictured above. DD became interested in slave labor harmonicas when noticing the slave labor guitars on sale at BestBuy prior to Christmas. One could also take home a Loduca Chicago Blues Harp -- made in China -- for twelve bucks.

Why did a harmonica have to be made by slave laborers sweating away in some awful factory seven days a week? It's rhetorical. Harmonicas have always been relatively inexpensive. They are genuinely an instrument for everyone, cheap and easy to put in the hands of all who desire to toot out a few simple folk tunes.

The big names in harmonicas are Hohner -- Germans who basically owned the market for decades, and to a lesser extent, a handful of other makers in Deutschland as well as Lee Oskar, a company made through the hit single success of the pop rock band, War.

If you spend $25.00 you can have a premium harmonica. No need for a slave labor-made harmonica, really, and though China has a number of brands and furnishes parts for some of the big manufacturers, if one browses the Internet for opinions one reads that the Chinese products are generally condemned. In other words, even at making something that has a reputation for being cheap, they sort of stink. (How good is the Mojo Deluxe? It's fair to say it is mojo free. Compared with a Hohner Pro, it emits a thin tone and requires a lot more air to make even that.)

Blooz harp instruction for corporate leadership seminars. Ideal for those who enjoy group learning do's in swank hotel meeting rooms.

This brings us to "Instant Blues Harmonica." Over the holidays, DD spied the book at Border's. For a mere sixteen bucks, it not only promised instruction ("You're Minutes Away from Blues & Rock Improvisation!") but also furnished the Mojo Deluxe Blues & Rock Harmonica PLUS a CD of play-along backing tracks.

We'll forgive those who'd think it's a grand deal. Grasping for bargains is coded into the DNA of all Americans, including me. And if something cannot be packaged as a bargain, it simply cannot be sold in the formerly good ol' USA.

What could be more of a bargain than harmonica lessons, a blues harp and a CD?

Quite a few things, actually.

Harmonicas reward people who think they don't have what it takes to play music. With a little persistence, almost anyone can mangle a simple folk tune on harp. Try playing "Taps" if you have a harmonica stashed away in a drawer, one you haven't looked at in years. Even if you're very white and have never been to
Parchman Farm, we'll wager that you can manage some manner of success in one short afternoon.

If you ever saw Steven Tyler of Aerosmith playing harp during the time that band was touring with every member out of their minds from booze and smack onstage, you must have asked yourself at least once, "How hard can it be?" (Aerosmith even furnished harmonicas with the custom edition of one of their recent albums, Honking on Bobo.)

The answer is that blues harp isn't hard at all. Being good at it is hard. But being lousy (but somewhat entertaining in the right context) to adequate is well within reach. You don't need a book, a CD, or an especially cheap entry-level instrument to take a stab at it.

The only reason for the Mojo Deluxe slave labor made-in-China harmonica is so that it can be packaged with a lot of other stuff suitable for corporate seminar in the US of A.

The author of of "Instant Blues Harmonica" writes on his very last page in the very last paragraph: "[For] the last few years I've been doing most of my presentations for corporate non-profit organizations. These clients range from Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream to Merck Pharmaceutical, from the Blue Cross to Red Cross, from Kraft Foods to the American Society of Forensic Laboratory Directors. My unique keynotes and workshops can help your group to work more effectively..."

The image of a roomful of managers from Kraft Foods or directors from the American Society of Forensic Laboratories learning to "blow their blues away" on Chinese harmonicas during a compulsory leadership get-together is a shattering one. You would be hard-pressed to think up a situation containing less "mojo," creativity and fun although you might be able to imagine it as a potential TV movie in which special punishments in Hell are meted out to the deserving.

But enough about slave labor harmonica.

Turning back to the category of electric rock instrumentation, the all-encompassing history of Fender, "The Soul of Tone: Celebrating 60 Years of Fender Amps," has something to say about American companies and the Chinese slave labor workforce.

Fender is THE American brand name in electric guitar amplifier. We're going to skip rehashing most of its history in which it rose to prominence as a vendor of classic designs and then almost went completely out of business. Instead, we fast forward to today when Fender offers a dominating and broad line of electric guitar amplifiers, equalled only by Marshall and two other big American manufacturers, Peavey and Mesa Engineering. Because Fender offers a broad line, some of its amps are made in China.

Paradoxically, the book indicates Fender would rather not make inexpenive junk amplifiers for the dilettante. However, because of realities in the market, it must.

"In the old days, you walked into a music store and took whatever you could get your hands on," says Fender's Shane Nicholas to author Tom Wheeler.

"But over time, people have become much more demanding. They expect a lot of features at low prices..."

"There are a whole lot of inexpensive Chinese amps out there, and many of them offer plenty of features. We need to compete with that ... anybody who makes a small entry-level amp has gone to Asia."

Nicholas describes the cheap Fender Frontman amp as formerly being made in Mexico: "... and every dealer loves it and they're all making money with it, and then a year later the same dealers say, "Hey, that's too expensive!"

And it had become "too expensive" because it had been undercut by another western brand which has moved its manufacturing to China, making something similar but even cheaper. And Fender was compelled to move the amp's manufacture to the same country.

No one really cares about the brand name of low cost amplifiers.

The market for them in the US is a young, inexperienced and very fickle audience. While the amplifiers are not utter junk, neither are they very good and they're certainly not a bargain in any serious sense for a long-term player. Once bought, the typical offering immediately depreciates to the point where it can only be given away to pawn shops for about the price of a case of beer. If one browses Craig's List one sees young and exceedingly naive sellers trying to squeeze a return out of them, mostly to other equally stupid beginners looking for something second-hand.

In the case of Chinese goods, even though the buyer's attitude is that all mass consumer electronics must be made in China, you get what you pay for. If a cheap amp has a multiplicity of features made to lend it a jack-of-all-trades capability, invariably it still does not sound as good as a more expensive amp with only one tone.

Before concluding, we move from musical instruments to an even more basic dry good: the toilet seat.

From childhood almost everyone remembers that this most mundane of items never wore out. Heck, you probably went through high school and college, returning home from time to time to find that same old toilet seat still doing uncomplaining duty in the family bathroom.

In the Nineties, toilet seat manufacturing was moved to China. And all the toilet seats for sale in Pasadena come from Asia.

When moving into the house in 1993, it was decided to replace the existing toilet seat. Over the last fifteen years, the Chinese-made toilet seat has needed replacing, on average, once every one or two years. While they haven't all crapped out spectacularly, they do fail in interesting ways. One immediately took up the yellow stain of urine indelibly, a fault which is obviously a standard no-no in quality manufacturing.

After a new bathroom decor was installed in December, another new toilet seat was obtained. It erased all previous records for failure. Inside two weeks its paint had peeled and bubbled.

Americans used to make toilet seats. The Chinese, who don't know how to make acceptable toilet seats and who have shown no desire to improve (perhaps because it would interfere with ISO 900-approved slave-labor manufacturing and drive up prices), now make all our toilet seats.

There is a slight silver lining to this, although it's an obtuse one. This blog is often about national security issues and there is one thing that American businessmen do not outsource to China: arms manufacturing.

The Pentagon often worries about fighting a regional war with the Chinese military. DD never worries about that. Chinese manufacturing has serious systemic quality control issues. The evidence on the national table is that the country simply can't produce anything that is robust, up-to-standard or poison free. A lot of the time, this doesn't matter. For instance, it's not really of major issue if their blues harps and toilet seats really eat it.

However, their jet airplanes, their ships, their rockets and missiles? Heh-heh. C'mon now, seriously.

China Toilet Blooz -- musical interlude by DD. The harmonica played on this track is guaranteed to be NOT MADE IN CHINA.

If you found this story interesting, you will surely enjoy Slave Labor Guitar. It's the third most read article on, just behind "how to make bombs" and "Joan Jett Made Me Sweat."

Friday, February 22, 2008

MISTER INSIPID: The LA Times 'blog' of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

DD subscribes to the Los Angeles Times. It is a great newspaper.

However, it appears to have suffered a collective nervous breakdown. Its new owner is a mega-wealthy crackpot from Chicago by the name of Sam Zell. Zell is reported to utter startling imprecations so much in casual conversation that we wonder whether or not he is a Touretter.

It has been reported that Zell's idea of inspiration is to come to town to shock and awe the staff, berating Times employees with coarse language, uttering unusual bon mots like "it's un-American to not like pussy."

Yes, that's how we can tell people are not Americans. They're all the ones who don't like pussy.

Over the past ten years, the Los Angeles Times has suffered through a string of lay-offs. Despite that, it has been a journalistic success, winning many awards. Nevertheless, it has gained a reputation as a place where editors responsible for bringing Pulitzers to the newspaper are instructed to fire people. When they refuse, they're canned.

When Sam Zell took over the newspaper he did it in a manner which saddled the business with a mountain of debt. The debt is to be serviced through increasing profits. One of the golden eggs the Times is banking on to improve the bottom line in some mystical way is its website.

The Los Angeles Times website is not as good a read as the daily paper edition, which is delivered every morning in the driveway. We wrote about this recently here.

But if one is to believe the public utterances from the top at the newspaper, one is sometimes left with the impression that there is a veiled wish for subscribers to just shuffle off and die so the business could get on with moving everything to the web.

And the Times' idea of great stuff on the web is its blogs -- most recently that of retired basketball celebrity Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. One is to bask in the "insights" provided by the NBA's all-time leading scorer.

DD browsed Abdul-Jabbar's blog and found it right in there with the collected works of Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carnegie. What it lacks in the sweeping breadth of appeal of Peale and Carnegie, it makes up for with somewhat more modern language. Call it the inspirational beat, the furnishing of the intelligence-insulting or obvious for those who need advice-from-authority plus a daily pep talk. Alongside the advertisements for whatever great thing about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is going down today.

Some excerpts -- man, this stuff is priceless:

Today is cool day for me. is launching my audio/visual show as a part of my audio book On the Shoulders of Giants.

Complete with photo of Abdul-Jabbar as a smiling young man.

"A lot of kids growing up today aren't told that you can be whatever you want to be," [some hero of Abdul-Jabbar's] once said. "There may be obstacles, but there are no limits." The proof of what he says is right in front of you on the [PC] screen you’re using to read this...

Delivered in praise to one of the patent holders on some stuff that went into an old IBM PC. In photos, Abdul-Jabbar is featured prominently on his blog as a Mac user. Is there a commercial tie-in?

On drug use and cheating in sports: I spoke to former All-Pro lineman Lyle Alzado before he died. He weighed about 160 pounds and had no hair and not many teeth left. He knew that he was dying and asked me to tell any kid who would listen not to follow his path. I shed more than a few tears that evening. Lyle was a good dude who made some poor choices.

Lyle Alzado was such a good dude he's the NFL's picture boy for 'roid rage.

"[Lyle Alzado's] second wife, Cindy, blamed the breakup of their marriage on his mood swings caused by steroids," notes ESPN. "She said she called police at least five times during their marriage because Lyle physically abused her, but Alzado was never arrested."

Hail the famous bore. Happily, the blog is not included in the paper edition.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

GETTING FIRED IS NOW FUN THANKS TO THE NET: Amusing swill tales from the desparate

Daily newspapers often run pitilessly annoying stories about work, the joys of working for a living at an enormous company and how to train to be a master lickspittle.

They're always deserving of satire and fall into a number of intelligence-insulting categories. There's the advice story on having a can-do attitude and getting ready for a life in which you'll be fired at least five times so be prepared to spend all your free-time in continuing education courses to keep your skills sharp. The advice will be dispensed by someone who has never suffered any of this, being a person employed by an industry which serves only to furnish advice no one actually wants.

There's the story on how to polish your resume, be an Internet-propelled bootlicker, and get a job. We've covered that one recently here.

And there's the story on how getting fired is empowering or some flavor of goodness.

It's based on bromides and fairy tales fit for delivery by Zig Ziglar at a time-wasting but expensive motivational seminar.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times ran the latter on page 1. We've taken the title and doctored the rest of it in our usual inimitable (or annoying, depending on your POV) style.

LAID OFF? SHARE THE PAIN: The Web is now a place to seek sympathy and a new start

by Jessica Guynn

"Tell me, have you been sure to notify all of your friends with Tweets?" asked Yahoo's job departure specialist.

When Ryan Kudlerio lost his job last week, everyone knew it. That's because he chronicled the experience of his last hours at Yahoo, Inc. through a stream of electronic dispatches laced with gallows humor.

Using Twitter, a service popular in the Silicon Valley that allows users to broadcast short messages to an unlimited number of people, Kudlerio posted periodic updates of his final caffeine-filled days as a senior advertising manager at Yahoo, starting with his last commute to its headquarters and ending with margaritas at a local bar.

"Ironic that I just got my PC repaired yesterday. Won't be needing that anymore."

"This is a serious downer. Trying to drown it in free lattes. Which I will miss."

"Note to self: Failure is an event, not a person."

"He that is down need fear no fall."

"Dear Blackberry. What great times we had. I'll miss you until tonight when I stop on my way home, buy an iPhone and a copy of Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Love, Me."

Like so many other experiences transformed by the net, getting canned need no longer be endured in lonely desparation. Technology is allowing people to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, making the loss of a job an opportunity to use public agony to win new friends, influence people and get job referrals.

"When one shares failure, one hasn't really failed," said Silicon Valley tech gobble-wallah and futurist Paul Saffo. "Now the whole world can share the experience of losing a job and participate. What was formerly a private moment of pain and trouble is made light through massive text messaging."

"The entertainment value of this isn't to be underestimated," Saffo added. "Think of it -- reading a running dialog of someone losing their living, potentially receivable by millions. You can now be an actor in your own tragi-comedy with people waiting everyday for the next shoe to drop. Will Joe Blow run up $60,000 in credit card debt by the end of the year or not?"

Twitter is a service that notifies friends by mobile phone, instant message, e-mail or on the Twitter website, what you are doing at any given moment. These messages are called Tweets. It's a double meaning: a bird-like chirp of information and a sweet, a "tweet," from an acquaintance.

Though it hasn't broken into the mainstream, Twitter is popular among the self-absorbed technorati. They're at least 1.2 million strong in the Silicon Valley, the number who've signed up for a steady diet of Tweets since December.

Kudlerio began his fateful day as just a regular tech guy with 87 people tracking his Tweets. But word spread worldwide like wildfire, picking up steam as he began the arduous and draining process of handing back his security badge. By the end of the day he had become a minor celebrity with over 400 fans. And a literary agent had signed on to see if the Tweets could make up the first chapter of a book.

"There were even blogs written in Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and Tagalog about me," said Kudlerio. "It was fascinating to Google myself. Wait, I shouldn't have said that; I mean, Yahoo'd."

"The Web has given us a way to connect with others," said Vanessa Fox, editorial director for "Dale Carnegie once said people rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they're doing and putting your thoughts out there in your darkest moment through Twitter can be fun and a success, bringing in the potential for responses like a book contract, perhaps the opportunity to land an agent or even free money to a PayPal tip jar from someone who empathizes with you."

No one knows that better than Susan Sweetpea, who was a product team leader at Yahoo Personals with a strong background in social media. One hour after she was fired on the same day as Kudlerio, she decided to test the power of these tools.

She posted to her blog, sent out a torrent of Tweets, updated her Facebook and added some telephone camera snaps to her Photobucket. Her experiment delivered immediate proof of success: 100 responses, some from total strangers.

"Social media accelerated the reach and speed with which I could communicate my firing," Sweetpea said.

The outpouring moved Sweetpea. "Zig Ziglar once said that adversity is what you need to become more successful," she related. "The experience was a positive affirmation of my standing ... It definitely made me feel better about being fired."

Like Sweetpea, Kudlerio is treating the job as an opportunity. He's already looking forward to a potential future in marketing for another company, possibly a lot smaller than Yahoo. "Smaller is better," he continues. "Norman Vincent Peale once said that enthusiasm releases the drive to carry you over obstacles and adds significance to all you do."

"I have gone back a couple of times to look at my Tweets. The great accomplishments of man have resulted from the transmission of information and when you read coverage of layoffs, you don't realize these are people with families, who are going through a dramatic change. This puts a human face on it ... wait, don't print that. It makes me sound like an empty-headed twit. Of course people know that when others are fired it affects entire families badly. They don't have to be told about it in text messaging.

"Please don't print that."

Monday, February 18, 2008

SLUDGE IN THE 70s: Recent cost effectives

US still not quite ready for shemale-fronted metal band in 2008.

The Toilet Boys Sex Music, allegedly a final stand, one last hurrah of material leftover from a project that wasn't finished a couple years ago. Does it sound like leftovers?


Actually, it sounds better than their last studio album which fell slightly flat in energy and songwriting after a big build-up resulting from an EP called Living Like a Millionaire. In any case, Sex Music delivers the immediately recognizable NYC punk metal sound, heavy on a Ramones/Dictators/Plasmatics vibe.

In 2001, I rated their last studio (self-titled) album:
While Miss Guy has no great talent for high-energy rock vocals, the imprecation in his delivery saves him. Close your eyes, eliminating the stagy imagery of someone shaking his bloomers at the audience while baring a physique somewhere between Cherie Currie and Gwen Stefani, and the Toilet Boys work anyway as a garagey metal band that makes great use of drama through volume and block riffing.

For Toilet Boys, the songs are glee club zum klo anthems and football cheers to rock mythology, vintage glam cliché sold by brute conviction. Guy loves the word whore — he's my whore on Money Street, my rock 'n' roll whore; yes sir, send us a pair of panties that somehow slipped off in the back of your stretch limo, please? (I mean it! The pair from an Alice Cooper album went missing decades ago.) "Hollywood" is a hooky tune that makes the compounds and cement wastelands of Los Angeles sound better than the reality. "Saturday Nite" is not a Bay City Rollers song, but could be a Sweet thing. Someone should also introduce these fellows to Suzi Quatro's "Can the Can" — they're born for it.

Entirety at the Village Voice here.

"Astrological" is the catchiest number on Sex Music, becoming the best pop song in The Toilet Boys catalog. Miss Guy, who still can't sing well is used well, buried in great-sounding reverb employed to make a bit of tonelessness sound like the conveyance of ennui. Good voices are frequently somewhat overrated for rock 'n' roll, anyway, and this is one of those times. Plus the band throws in a mellotron backing track for color.

"Carbona Not Glue," a Ramones cover, is also included. The remainder is much better than fair and Debbie Harry of Blondie kicks off the CD with a recommendation.

Despite tours with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and other heavyweights, The Toilet Boys never seemed to get traction in the US. Blame the presentation, simultaneously way ahead of and behind the times: Transexual fronting a band that was seemingly big fans of Kiss.

If you're going to name your album The Power of Rock and Roll in 2007-2008, it better deliver. This does.

Helix is only Helix insofar that Brian Vollmer was the throat and focus of the band. Axeman Paul Hackman died years ago but he'd be proud of the everlasting effort.

Helix were Canadians, always on undercards in the US hinterlands. Saw 'em a bunch at the Airport Music Hall in Allentown and as dependable and dedicated jobbers they never failed to entertain. Helix's Wild In the Streets album was great mid-Eighties party rock, capable of competing with the vibe given off by Mutt Lange Def Leppard.

This album is more punch your face. The delivery is still Eighties but the production is old school. Gone is the shine and gated reverb, replaced with mid-70's semi-rawness and blooz. The title track is top fuel and nothing's below 110 beats/minute for the duration of the record.

The best thing is that its eleven songs in just over half an hour. Each number is 2:30-3:30 of direct rock and roll. No fussing around trying to prove something through delivery of social commentary or angst, just dragstrip drive and a cloud of dust. "Get Up," "Living Life Large," "Fill Your Head with Rock" and the title track furnishing the general idea, showing those looking for messages and sensitivity the door. Do what you know best and so Brian Vollmer did. He and his band of ringers aren't giving up on the Canadian hockey barn fighting crowd and neither should you give up on Helix.

"You have the best seat in the house," Allison Robertson told the Donnas' newest little groupie guy back at the tourbus.

DD missed The Donna's Bitchin' late last year. However, thanks to availability at firesale, they sound like they took good advice after two records of fiddling with a major label.

Thanks to the wayback machine, we read of The Donnas' Spend the Night in 2002:
Altie title for the Donnas' latest: She's Got to Be a Macho Girl, after a piece in The New York Times about high school girls said to be ravening fuck monsters bent on raiding the panties of boys nationwide.

Lyrically, about half of Spend the Night is kinda in line with a "let's have sex now, sissy man who drinks mai tais" 'tude. According to the Times, that would make the Donnas part of something called Generation Slut. But if so, I'm Ernest Hemingway — it's a put-on. Donnas riffs, though, are a different matter: convincingly hot forearm smash. And if Brett Anderson sounds like she's rolling her eyes or stifling yawns before the "Honey, please"s in "Take Me to the Backseat," it doesn't wreck anything.

Their guitars and drums speak louder than their words, and the Donnas are ready to go Priestly Turbo if they want to stay metal-poppy, Point of Entry if they shed mixing-board nuisance Chris Lord-Alge. (Didn't anyone ever tell ya, ladies, to scorn all with royalty in their name? C'mon, you know I'm right.)

On the outro of "Five O'Clock in the Morning," guitarist Allison Robertson lets her inner wanker out to roam the room. It could be the shape of things to come. And since in a few years the Donnas are gonna look like a distaff Rose Tattoo, they might as well ditch the ditsy-girls-at-a-slumber-party imagery — it doesn't fit the ampage — and go right to lumpy leather dirtbag now.

As it turns out, Bitchin' is Spend the Night's future. The Donnas have stopped trying to be girly-girls in packaging. Girlschool took a similar tack. Lumpy leather dirtbags first, they took seriously the advice of major labels, trying to look like something they weren't, pretty girls, for a couple of records. Eventually they went back to denim and leather for the closeout of the career. It's a history everyone lives to repeat.

Bitchin' is lots of anthemic rock music with groove, handclaps and 'na-na-na's, songs about getting paralytically drunk, something all British fans would certainly get behind. Credit the groove exploding off the sticks of Torry Castellano as the ace-in-the-hole on this one. Her swing is faultless. Guys no longer do this stuff so well and shame on us for it.

If a song called "Here for the Party" telegraphs its title, is it evil? Not if you actually bring the party. "Save Me" is also worth a bullet point. It captures the hit sound of Def Leppard exactly. Before the singing comes in, you can't tell it's not the Brit band for its recreation of the patented arena-rock-in-a-box riff. Best song in the set.

Big pro wrestling fans when it was on local cable and no one wanted to buy advertising. Ross the Boss (far left) is smirking because he knew he was laying down the best electric guitar in show business, buddy boy!

The Dictators' Every Day is Saturday rewards the nutty rock and roll fans who actually heard the jokes on the band's debut, Go Girl Crazy, and liked them. Thirty-three years ago.

It packages up the demo made under for CBS/Epic before The Dictators had played one live show. It clinched a record deal and under the guidance (and the term's used loosely) of Blue Oyster Cult's management, the band went into the studio and cut Go Girl Crazy, a flop of still astounding proportion.

The cover of Go Girl Crazy was a scene DD knew well -- locker room in a dingy and beat-up high-school with some shmuck, "secret weapon" Handsome Dick Manitoba, showing off an old-timey wrestling uniform. Yes, kids and adults, we did wear uniforms that looked THAT awful. The only thing we didn't have was the piece of brownish paper, the one with "Maricon!" scribbled on it, tacked on the wall.

Inspirational lyrics, from "Master Race Rock" -- remember this is 1974 and such songs just weren't done, classic rock being business of the most serious kind: "We're the members of the master race! Got no tact and we got no grace. First you put your sneakers on, goin' outside to have some fun! Don't forget to wipe your ass, oh no!" Set to a guitar riff that kills.

Every Day is Saturday is a must-buy for those who loved Go Girl Crazy.

Colleague Metal Mike Saunders alerted me to the album's arrival and we'll let him fill in the rest:
[Every Day is Saturday] starts with the 1973 5-song CBS tape, which was always by five miles The Dictators' best sounding performances/recording, along with the original demo of "16 Forever" right before Elektra/Asylum dropped them to press up more Andrew Gold LPs.

"Backseat Boogie" is obviously the lead track of an album or set opener onstage. If they never opened a live set with it, they were just plain retarded.

[The] 1973 CBS demo is my favorite American rock and roll live-in-the-studio performance. (OK, the vocals were dubbed, but NOT the leads. It's Ross the Boss in live-time and the best he ever played on tape. "Barefoot Louie," the drummer, was perfect for a young slightly raggedy band, since he's ragged on tempos and drum rolls but with lots of drive, pushing the tempos just like Ross does on every single note and chord.

State of the art rock 'n' roll as teen life. The inside of every high school locker room dump from Shenandoah to Mahanoy City ca. 1975. Bought it at once!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

SECDEF SHAKES AL QAEDA BOOGEYMEN AT THE UNCOOPERATIVE: The terrorists will kill you all if you don't do what we say

Please, Daddy, please! No more al Qaeda stories!

One of this country's major problems is its lack of honesty in all things. In the rest of the world, the sensible assume that when they are told a thing by a very important man from the United States, they're getting sold a line of crap, custom-made to encourage their country to do something that will benefit only the US.

In Munich on February 10, the secretary of defense continued this practice in a speech aimed at hectoring NATO into doing more in Afghanistan, a war the Bush administration screwed up when it decided it was more important to peremptorily attack Iraq.

"...I am concerned that many people on this continent do not comprehend the magnitude of the direct threat to European government," Gates told his audience. "Many Europeans question the relevance of our actions and doubt whether the mission is worth the lives of their sons and daughters. As a result, many want to remove their troops."

And then came the threadbare script, the one that everyone in the current administration pulls out when it's time to ask for something. You'd better do what we want or the boogeymen will come to kill you.

Gates then ran off a list of terror plots broken up in Europe with the insinuation that not helping more in Afghanistan would some day allow new ones like them to be visited all at once on Euro cities.

If one is unfamiliar with terror plots, it almost sounds reasonable. If you are, however, you immediately recognize that the laundry list of terror boogeymen is seeded with massive flops, distortions and stories exaggerated for political effect.

"A plot to use ricin and release cyanide in the London Underground" was one indicator, claimed Gates.

The alleged ricin plot, of which DD knows quite a bit, being the first person to nationally report on it in this country, was not tied to al Qaeda. It was one man named Kamel Bourgass, a loner with a handful of castor seeds, a paper laden with cherry stones and some ludicrous poison recipes posted here.

In 2003, Bush administration fuglemen -- most notably Colin Powell, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz -- used the al Qaeda ricin boogeymen story as a prop to convince everyone it was proper to invade Iraq.

The ricin plot has always been a convenient story for the US government. In England it is regarded somewhat differently, as part of a hyping of terror and the rush to war with Iraq.

In 2003, Bob Gates wasn't the secdef. He was, if the story in the New York Times Sunday Magazine was correct earlier this week, in retirement at a lake house in Washington.

The Sunday mag story was aimed at telling readers that the new secdef wasn't like the old secdef, the well-known rascal Don Rumsfeld.

It's probably true. Bob Gates is much more polite.

But politeness is overrated and Gates still appears to follow the same general Bush administration marching orders: When in need of justifications for something, make stuff up about terrorists and how they'll kill everyone in the audience unless orders are followed. The best thing about the NYT piece was that the secdef indicated we'd be rid of him, he'd go back to where he'd rather be -- his lake house, once GWB was gone.

In Munich for the Euros Gates went on to involve the more recent failed car bomb plot in England, too. If you can't recall, it was the one in which one terrorist parked his car in a tow-away zone and had it ... towed. Another unsuccessfully attacked an airport in Glasgow by setting himself on fire, whereupon he was beaten into submission by a civilian and policemen. And he's dead now.

Of course, the plots invoked by Gates all have truth to them. But in the hands of the US government, they're expanded into horrors which they demonstrably are not, used as cudgels to scare those who haven't yet become well and truly sick of the American practice.

"Ambiguities arise in Spain's alleged terror plot," reported the Los Angeles Times, one day after Gates' speech in Munich. (See here.)

"Pakistani immigrants were detained and accused of planning suicide bombings of the Barcelona subway as part of a broader attack," read the newspaper in a subhed. "But doubt has been raised about the charges."

"[The] story seems ambiguous," it continued. "Investigators found only a trace of explosives. No plot was detected in France, and no arrests have been made in any of the other countries. Leaders of the Pakistani community in Barcelona say they were unfairly targeted."

A photo of seized evidence which ran in the paper edition showed only a couple nine-volt batteries and some miscellaneous trinketry -- stuff which could have been anything.

In Munich, however, Gates had it all figured out: "Just in the last few weeks, Spanish authorities arrested 14 Islamic extremists in Barcelona suspected of planning suicide attacks against public transport systems in Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, and Britain."

"We must find the resolve to confront together a new set of challenges," Gates grandly told his audience.

It would be refreshing if the American government resolved to stop using fear, bribes and arms sales as its only motivational tools. Until that happens, those with common sense can resolve to stop paying attention to us.

Late in November, Bob Gates gave a speech at Kansas State. It was remarked upon in the press as a call to redevelop America's soft power, to go beyond "guns and steel."

It was reprinted in the January/February issue of Military Review. DD found one section of it especially precious.

"For example, public relations was invented in the United States, yet we are miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals," said Gates. "It is just plain embarrassing that al Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America. As one foreign diplomat asked a couple years ago, 'How has one man in a cave managed to out-communicate the world's greatest communication society?'"

Well, that's simple, Mr. Gates.

Al Qaeda hasn't out-communicated the American people. It has out-communicated the American government, an entirely different thing.

We're not to blame.

It's you -- the class of leaders who are in power who can't tell the truth. No one listens to people who can't be trusted to say that which is honest and real. And "public relations" has long been a functional slur meaning lies and manipulation.

Another point to Gates' K-State lecture, a tedious one, was that we civilians needed to do better in the war on terror and lend a hand to the Department of State. American expert civilians were to rush to augment the power of the military, showing the essential fine qualities of the people while at the same time lending the nation and military the benefit of their skills.

Gates quotes Teddy Roosevelt to inspire his audience and presumably anyone reading the gist of it in a newspaper. It's his "ask not what your country can do for you" moment, one that struck this reader as old garbage from any run-of-the-mill authority figure used to being treated courteously while lecturing. In another manner of speaking, similar to an admonition to get to eating your peas and cease skipping church on Sundays.

"A great work lies ready to the hand of this generation; it should count itself happy indeed that to it is given the privilege of such a work," is the exhortation.

You've never heard the war on terror and Iraq described in quite that manner, we bet.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

ONLY POXY FOOLS BELIEVE IN BIOFUELS: Savior ethanol-from-corn production crapped on by real science

Good science news (or bad, depending on your point of view) has arrived with two reports on the carbon footprint of biofuels, in the paper edition of Science magazine. They deal serious damage to the belief - which up to now has been driving the biofuel bubble - that stepped-up ethanol production in the US is an answer to global warming.

Writing in "Use of US croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions for Land Use or Change," Timothy Searchinger and many others state: "To produce more biofuels, farmers can directly plow up more forest or grassland, which releases to the atmosphere much of the carbon previously stored in plants and soils through decomposition. The loss of maturing forests and grasslands also forgoes ongoing carbon sequestration as plants grow each year ..." (A companion piece, "Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt" by scientists at the University of Minnesota, covers similar territory.)

In total, the news puts those pushing the fad of biofuel into a real corner. There are no miracles forthcoming and all of the talk about transformative technology seems to be just that.

Read the entirety of the analysis at el Reg here.

Over the past couple months, DD has devoted some time to examining various American manias over alternative energy schemes. Most recently dissected was the repackaging of Fischer-Tropsch coal-to-liquids chemistry as something new and novel, clean coal!

The hype of biofuels in the US follows similar patterns. It's not about being green. Instead, it's about lining the pockets of corn growers in heartland states at everyone else's expense.

As a country, the US is fresh out of ideas in 2008. When new ones are said to be in process, it pays to look at them askance. Politically, a good portion of this country still doesn't believe news on climate change. And another significant portion has latched onto the salesman's idea that saving the world from global warming means big money, even if what one is actually engaged in is the opposite.

The biofuels industry in the US is a bait and switch, the promising of one good thing, energy security, and the subsequent delivery of nothing of the kind. No improvement in the quality of life plus accelerated emission of carbon dioxide.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

ARENA ROCK IN A BOX: Boston, ZZ Top & Def Leppard -- exported

eBay swag: Rockman Sustainor, still ticking twenty years after wiring.

Go to Dick Destiny's front page and you'll read I made records a long time ago.

It was the mid-Eighties and if one didn't have access to a major label contract, a nice studio, and cooperative audio engineers, one had to make do. Tone disasters were common. Getting your wall-of-fury guitar sound to tape still raging was a major headache. If you listen to lots of independently made rock records, there's good audio evidence it still is frequently a big stumbling block.

Around the same time, Tom Scholz of Boston decided he'd try marketing and selling the electronic boxes he used in the studio. The idea was to furnish a polished and rich heavy rock tone in an affordable package of electronics, one that could help guitar players in the studio or in live settings.

They were wildly successful. So handy and good-sounding, they wound up being used on countless hit records. ZZ Top's Eighties vinyl, when the band went through the roof in sales, couldn't have happened the same way without Rockman tone.

Before Mutt Lange, Def Leppard was a struggling heavy metal band from Sheffield with a sound that didn't much distinguish it from competitors. Mutt Lange gave Def Leppard the gift of Rockman. His production, some good tunes and the tone of Rockman tech defined the band's multi-platinum album selling arena-busting run.

Perhaps the pinnacle of Rockman technology was reached with a half-rack-sized box called the Sustainor. DD bought one in 1986 for the recording of an album called Brutality. While the Boston/ZZ Top/Def Leppard sound was in the device in spades, you could also use it to get a more uncouth guitar tone to tape.

Rockman boxes faded in the Nineties after Tom Scholz sold his company to a generic maker of guitar accessories named Dunlop. Many of his best designs were discontinued or altered until they no longer really resembled his originals. And the idea of arena rock in a box went into hibernation for a few years.

Cheap computing power on the home desktop brought the idea back to life. The sound of classic guitar amplifiers was crammed into software and a couple of processing chips, packaged and sold for a two to three hundred dollars. Now almost everyone who plays guitar has a digital box that does something similar to what Tom Scholz's Rockmans set out to accomplish.

But the Rockman Sustainor was there first and it was not a piece of digital technology. It was all analog and ran on light-emitting diodes. I'd sold my old one but more recently decided to replace it with a unit found on eBay, pictured above.

Remarkably, it sounded virtually the same as I had remembered in 1987.

The Rockman Sustainor was controlled by a series of switches and sliders on its front plate. These reconfigured the internal circuit path and tone filtering of the unit in a myriad of ways, all suitable for the generation of a highly produced-sounding heavy high energy guitar tone. Imagine an old Marshall stack, run full out on an arena stage, and you have the root of it. Changing the circuit path and twiddling the various equalizations enabled a range of tonal extremes within the basic playground of rock guitar. While it looked complicated, its design is such that it is easy and intuitive in use.

The beauty of the Sustainor is that it sounds the same every time you turn it on. In the case of this particular unit, even after over two decades. It doesn't have bad days like vacuum tube-driven amplifiers. If it sounds poor, it's you who's having the bad day. To use it is, to a certain extent, take advantage of the ears of Tom Scholz. And they were great ones when it came to hearing the electric guitar and how to shape its sound.

An example of the old-timey arena rock tone of the Rockman Sustainor is here. The sample is de-Boston-ized somewhat, starting with a bit of a Texan riff with delay, segueing into some power chords and single notes on a coliseum stage or perhaps the Isle of Wight, maybe after dark.

A second sample here illustrates some of the breadth of the device. By changing guitar and the configuration of the front plate, the Sustainor produces rhythm guitar tones similar to those favored by AC/DC at the beginning of the selection and and The Who toward the middle.

If you listen closely and know a bit about guitar processing, you'll notice that a compressor was an important part of the Sustainor. The compressor stage of the device influences everything unless bypassed by using the Sustainor's effects return. At its maximum setting, it contributes to producing a very powerful distortion that's just a tad to dark and squashed for my taste. Backed off somewhat, it easily captures the sag and push of output tubes run to their maximum when a guitar amplifier is turned all the way up.

All right, you have your Rockmodule Sustainor and want to know how to de-Bostonize it. Yep, you need the Rockman Graphic Equalizer but it's an over twenty year old piece of kit. And collectors bid used units up to a good deal more than they're worth on eBay. For something that works just great, there's the MXR Ten Band EQ by Dunlop. It's cheap and works seamlessly in the effects send and return of the Sustainor. Its midrange bands are perfectly suited to carve out the distinctive Tom Scholz honk at 500k and add old school early-Seventies 4x12 cabinet bass thump, something a bit lacking in the stock sound, back in. You'll find it enables a considerable range in SR&D Edge and Distortion tones, again demonstrating what a high end and lasting piece of guitar equipment Tom Scholz brought to market in 1985.

Another example of the Rockman Sustainor at work, the un-Boston-like China Toilet Blooz, a number written by the exasperated modern electric country bluesman, Jubal Early. Harmonica by your host, of course. (3.3 megabyte .mp3)

Sunday, February 03, 2008

AL QAEDA WMD BOOGEYMAN ABU KHABAB: Work of fiction in progress

"After a US airstrike leveled a small compound in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions in January 2006, President Pervez Musharraf and his intelligence officials announced that several senior al Qaeda operatives had been killed and that the top prize was an elusive Egyptian who was believed to be a chemical weapons expert," wrote Josh Meyer of the Los Angeles Times thrillingly here.

"But current and former US intelligence officials now believe that the Egyptian, Abu Khabab Masri, is alive and well -- and in charge of resurrecting al Qaeda's program to develop and obtain weapons of mass destruction," continued the newspaper.

What then followed was the usual insinuations and unbacked-up claims about capabilities said to be in the hands -- or almost in the hands -- of al Qaeda. Delivered chiefly by a string of anonymous sources and "experts" known to have no real expertise in the analysis of chemical and biological weaponry, the story raises questions about adherence to reality.

We'll get to the sources in a minute.

Initially, one quote emerges right after the jump in the paper edition, delivered by the only bona fide expert on the subject material.

"Some experts questioned how far al Qaeda could get in reconstituting a weapons program in the mountains of Pakistan," wrote Meyer.

""It's hard to get the industrial infrastructure together to do these things, and it's hard to get people that have the expertise to fashion these materials into weapons of mass destruction," John Parachini, an expert of chemical and biological weapons at Rand Corp., told the newspaper.

Following this was a sensational and scary claim, delivered by a non-expert on CBW, rebranded as someone who knows something.

Raphael Perl, a former international relations analyst for the Congressional Research Paper who heretofore has only been known as a deliverer of deadening and dry reports which tended to be on national policy on terror and the alleged links between drug trafficking and terrorists. Perl told the newspaper "that if [al Qaeda] doesn't have biological capability already, 'they are certainly not far from it.'"

As a bit of unsupported sensationalism, good editors might have considered regarding it more suspiciously, perhaps coming to the conclusion that it needed to be thrown out. After all, a quick Lexis search has told us, and many others, that since 9/11 there has been no shortage of those willing to make the blackest claims about al Qaeda's alleged ease with chemicals and biologicals. While the historical record has not been kind to them, this has never been an obstacle to furthering the practice.

Another "expert" called upon was Chris Quillen, "a former CIA analyst," to insist that whatever al Qaeda had lost in 2001, "they are back to that level at this point."

However, a qualifier was delivered.

"I am not saying the programs are great and ready for an attack tomorrow," said Quillen, published in a boxed out quote.

Quillen had written a paper on al Qaeda's chemical and biological weapons capabilities in 2007 entitled "Three Explanations for al-Qaeda's Lack of a CBRN Attack" for the Jamestown Foundation here.

The reasons given for lack of an attack were disruption, deterrence and patience -- the latter the usual trope on al Qaeda biding its time, waiting for just the right moment.

Quillen's paper contained two lapses, or rather claims, about al Qaeda capabilities not backed up by facts or science.

The first was the assertion that " ... Dhiren Barot (also known as Issa al-Hindi) was arrested in the United Kingdom in 2004, carrying relatively detailed plans for conducting a Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD) attack, but had not yet acquired the necessary materials."

Dhiren Barot's dirty bomb plans were not particularly detailed. From a scientific and practical standpoint they were the work of a crackpot.

Barot envisioned making a dirty bomb from thousands and thousands of smoke detectors, or alternatively, discarded exit signs, since the latter contain a miniscule amount of the radioisotope of hydrogen, tritium.

Your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow with a doctorate in chemistry analyzed Barot's plans in some detail, presenting to them to readers last year here and here.

The .pdfs from Barot's trial were archived at the Federation of American Scientists and could be viewed by anyone at anytime through the above links.

Why was Barot's dirty bomb plan the work of a stupid man?

Simple. There is not enough radioisotope in a smoke detector to pose a hazard. Smoke detectors contain only a miniscule amount of americium. This necessitates the theoretical accumulation of thousands and thousands and thousands of the things.

"In 2003, UK police arrested a group of Algerians with recipes and materials for creating ricin and cyanide, although stories conflict about whether any actual poisonous material was recovered," wrote Quillen in the same paper.

This statement comes two years after the publishing of quite a bit of information on the so-called London ricin gang. The actual recipes for poisons, as well as information from the evidence proffer filed on the case, were all published, notably at GlobalSecurity.Org.

What was seized were a handful of castor seeds in a jewelry tin and a paper laden with another handful or two of cherry stones. Stories do conflict about whether poisons were recovered. Those people who wished to imagine the London ricin ring as being more dangerous than it was always report that very nasty stuff was found. This is wrong but such reports tend to be written by the same people who conveniently forget to mention that for the trial, a jury acquitted everyone but a loner named Kamel Bourgass.

A reporter might not be expected to know this. Indeed it is difficult to follow the trail of truth when covering the weapons of mass destruction beat. The press record is bogged down with willful exaggeration, misinformation and lies.

For the Times, Abu Khabab is set up as something of a scientific superman. Khabab was good at explosives and said to be potentially working on a nuclear device.

"Abu Khabab also developed 'contact poisons' that could be rubbed on a door knob or some other common area and experimented with adding crushed glass to the mixture to help get it into a potential victim's bloodstream, a former WMD case officer [anonymous, of course] at the CIA said," reported the newspaper.

The contact poison to be rubbed on door knobs harkens back to the alleged plan of Kamel Bourgass, the only person convicted in the London ricin case. A real chemical weapons expert testified at the trial that such a plan would not have worked. Ricin isn't a contact poison.

Because information on al Qaeda capabilities has been so twisted in the mainstream, it's fair to look at new claims, when they arrive, with a jaundiced eye. The CIA is far from a flawless font of intelligence and it is reasonable to wonder if analysts within it get mixed up by their own old wives' tales.

As for crushed glass being useful in poisoning, it is -- in fact -- an actual old wives' tale. See here at Snopes for some documentation.

"If you really want to use glass as a murder weapon, your best bet is to pick up a shard and stab your victim with it," someone writes.

Following this nonsense about Abu Khabab, the WMD boogeyman with many capabilities, comes one downer.

"He's full of crap," another anonymous "CIA case officer" told the newspaper.

Before the story is over the old legend of the mubtakkar is also tossed in our faces.

Keep in mind that al Qaeda boogeymen are somewhat like Sax Rohmer's insidious Dr. Fu Manchu.

Nothing is beyond such evil wizards -- contact poisons, a nuclear device, a dirty bomb, crushed glass, biological weaponry and even, The Mubtakkar, the cyanide-bomb that was never used. (Alert readers will note Dr. Fu Manchu's reputation wasn't quite as great as the one surrounding al Qaeda boogeymen. At the end of every novel, Sax Rohmer always let the intrepid Nayland Smith win the day.)

As dispensed by the Times, the legend of the mubtakkar goes that an al Qaeda strike team had been dispatched to New York for deployment in the subway. At the last moment the plot was stayed by Ayman al-Zawahiri who, allegedly, had something bigger in mind. What the bigger something was is never defined.

The mubtakkar was big news for a week in 2006 because it was used to push a journalist selling his book -- Ron Suskind and "The One Percent Doctrine," a tome about the war on terror.

At the time, Suskind couldn't get the details of his story right. The reporter had overlooked or been unaware of the fact that the Department of Homeland Security had widely distributed a photograph of a cyanide bomb it had recreated from a jihadist drawing.

This bomb did not closely match the description in his book. And about two years ago DD blog published photos of the actual thing and an analysis, all which can be read here, here and here.

The ongoing thinking at the time was that such a weapon wouldn't have worked, certainly not in the way described by the author. The more easily persuaded members of the mainstream press familiar with it only in a second-hand fashion swallowed the exciting story of terror averted by whim -- hook, line and sinker.

"Several officials suspect Abu Khabab played a role in [the mubtakkar's] development," reported the Los Angeles Times.

The Times has delivered another story from the war on terror, one in which an al Qaeda boogeyman, Abu Khabab, is served up for consideration. Common sense and a little knowledge of science would indicate it unlikely that such a person would have all the capabilities required to engineer the weapons projects attributed to him. It is known that the development of biological and chemical weapons in state run programs calls for, at the very least, two distinct sets of science and engineering skills. For example, the synthesis of poisonous compounds is not at all the same as the isolation and cultivation of pathogenic microorganisms.

So it is difficult to understand the motivation, the driver, behind the story in the Sunday Times. It passes no tests for adherence to common sense. It appears as scary and forbidding news but it does not read as reasonable.

Is it supposed to be an indication of the quality of US intelligence from Pakistan?

Rumors about someone, perhaps alive -- maybe dead, skilled in chemical and biological weapons production, some of the information seemingly based on old wives' tales? Confirmation achieved by anonymous sources, former CIA analysts with motives in telling such a story left unexplained but backed up by other "experts" not known for any particularly special knowledge in chemical or biological weaponry?

The cyanide bomb that never showed up. Now again attributed to new al Qaeda boogeyman.


The Mubtakkar of Death. June 2006.

Improvised cyanide munition -- photo distributed by DHS.

Improvised cyanide munition -- continued.
BUMMED OUT OVER 'CLEAN COAL' CANCELLATION: Told there's no Santa Claus, carbon dioxide not to go away anytime soon

Artist's conception of imaginary clean coal plant alleged to be able to cure global warming. Even the Bush administration wasn't prepared to back that whopper.

Last week DD took readers back to our nation's dreadful plans for Fischer-Tropsch energy plants, repackaged as the deception called 'clean coal' here.

In the US it has become the practice to call dirty and backwards sources of energy clean and environmentally sound. Hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles can be written about 'clean coal' plants and their allegedly miraculous technology.

Clean coal plants won't pollute! We'll just shove all that carbon dioxide generated into the ground. So it sounds less 'iffy,' we'll call it "sequestration." As easy as smearing a grease stain onto a tie, said one scientist on the take.

Or someone will just buy all that annoying carbon dioxide, as the developers of a Fischer-Tropsch plant in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, tried to get the rubes to believe last year. Stuck into the Department of Energy's environmental impact statement on the proposed plant, it looked so ridiculous even DoE was compelled to print a retraction.

No one would be buying a mountain of carbon dioxide, $2.28 million tons/year, as if that was even a solution.

Other nuts suggestions have included turning the carbon dioxide into baking soda! Who among us can say that they do not like baking soda?

The coal industry lobby has successfully played to the zest politicians and journalists feel for grand and fantastical solutions. They love to believe that if someone says an exceedingly large and difficult problem -- like nullifying the generation of carbon dioxide in fossil fuel preparation and burning -- can be done handily, then it must be so. While knowing absolutely nothing about science or chemistry, if the solution can be described in one sentence to a paragraph, they're enthusiastic.

What has resulted is an arc of events in the development of Fischer-Tropsch plants. Initial claims are made, all fanciful. Great news is spread. The government signs on! The United States will achieve energy security from its vast coal reserves and global warming will no longer be a problem for us!

Then reality finally sets in and costs skyrocket as it hits home that no one has any practical and reliable technology for disposing of the astonishing quantities of carbon dioxide generated by Fischer-Tropsch processing. Oh, sorry, make that 'clean coal'!

"The idea is to capture carbon dioxide emitted by coal-fired power plants and then pump it deep into the earth to avoid further buildup of the gas in the atmosphere," wrote Alex R. Revkin for the New York Times today, emitting the standard script.

Then the qualifier was deliverd, now forced by the cancellation of a Fischer-Tropsch project in Illinois last week.

"But several experts said the plan still lacked the scope to test various gas-separation technologies, coal varieties, and — most important — whether varied geological conditions can permanently hold carbon dioxide.

"Coal companies are desperate for this option to work, given how much coal remains to be mined ..."

"Many experts say that neither the original plan nor the revamped effort, nor the few projects underway in other countries, are sufficient to set the stage for pumping tens of billions of tons of compressed carbon dioxide into the earth or sea bed starting 10 or 20 years from now," continued Revkin.

"Vaclav Smil, an energy expert at the University of Manitoba, has estimated that capturing and burying just 10 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted over a year from coal-fire plants at current rates would require moving volumes of compressed carbon dioxide greater than the total annual flow of oil worldwide — a massive undertaking requiring decades and trillions of dollars ..."

But you knew all this if you've been reading DD's dissections of 'clean coal' -- the rebranding of old Third Reich energy tech -- as something new and dandy for the future.

If you actually take the time to read much of the mainstream press on the subject of 'clean coal' you can sometimes come away with the fairy tale misperception that global warming is virtually cured. In some way, the burning of coal -- a chemical process which produces a great deal of carbon dioxide -- has been willed away in the US.

And then a FutureGen Fischer-Tropsch is suddenly cancelled in Illinois because the laws of nature don't care if politicians, businessmen, lobbying groups and journalists all believe that the problem of what to do with carbon dioxide has been solved.

Clean coal as part of a realistic energy policy is just another piece showing abject failures in critical thinking in this country. There is always good reason to be skeptical of miraculous solutions, a skepticism many now abandon because they believe it gets in the way of dreaming nice things about the future.

"White House killing of FutureGen is appalling," wept the opinion page editors of the Dallas Morning News. Only theoretically, Texas stood to gain from FutureGen, being one of those states where the Fischer-Tropsch plants C02 would be pumped into the ground.

Surprisingly, the Charleston Daily Mail in West Virginia, a state that is at the center of the coal industry, realized 'clean coal' as peddled was "a boondoggle."

"Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell explained that while most observers expect the cost of the FutureGen project to increase, it has little prospect of commercial viability," wrote the newspaper.

The newspaper's opinion page, obviously, is still interested in coal. But it recognized there's as yet no solution for making it clean.

On Fischer-Tropsch 'clean coal' plants:

US looks to old Herr Kohle for energy security.

Clean coal alleged to save America in Illinois.

An energy policy fit for wartime. World War II, actually.

Friday, February 01, 2008

SHIFTY ATTITUDE INDICATES TERROR AIM: Main prosecution plank against Hassan Abu-jihaad

In pre-trial maneuvering this month the US government's case against ex-Navy signalman Hassan Abu-jihaad became more moth-eaten. Prosecutors filed an interesting brief indicating they had no evidence against the defendant of a terror plot modus operandi.

Abu-jihaad has been charged with e-mailing information on the transit of his naval battle group through the Straits of Hormuz to Babar Ahmad and Azzam Publications in London in 2001. At the time he was serving on the destroyer Benfold. For the purpose of the case, Babar Ahmad - now awaiting a court decision in February on whether or not he is to be extradited to the States - is considered by the US government to be a terrorist. The government alleges Abu-jihaad's communications with Ahmad and the purchase of Chechen resistance videotapes from the Azzam website to be aiding terror, with the defendant an agent of a foreign power.

A glaring problem with the government's case against Abu-jihaad is that the evidence against him is thin. Although the US has submitted e-mails to Azzam which they have claimed are from Abu-jihaad, prosecutors admitted in pre-trial filings this month that "the Government had no recorded statements or testimony personally linking Abu-jihaad to the e-mail account from which [the communications to Azzam in question] were sent."

DD authored a piece on these development at el Reg here. It was published early Thursday and before the day was out the judge in the case ruled that some excerpts from FBI surveillance tapes would be admissible in court. Since the US government's case has appeared to be of the thin cloth, this was a big break for prosecutors.

"A federal judge ruled Thursday that prosecutors trying a former Navy sailor charged with supporting terrorism can tell a jury about his coded speech and admissions that he communicated with suspected terrorism supporters and destroyed videos that promoted violent jihad," reported Associated Press late in the day.

The "suspected terrorism supporters" mean one person -- Babar Ahmad of Azzam Communications. Ahmad has been jailed since arrest in 2004 and his representation -- Birnberg Pierce -- has been fighting his extradition to the United States. Birnberg Pierce is the same legal firm which won acquittals in the case of the alleged London ricin ring in 2005.

"Authorities allege that Hassan Abu-Jihaad leaked a document describing the location and vulnerabilities of a Navy battle group to suspected terrorism supporters in London. His trial starts Feb. 25, continued AP.

The mainstream press has continually misrepresented basic facts in the case. With regards to AP's latest reporting, there was no leaked document. What was sent to Azzam Publications is pictured.

Brief e-mail on Benfold battlegroup recovered from computer of Azzam Publications in 2004. None of the information was classified although it may have been considered sensitive.

In 2001, Azzam Publications was e-mailed orders for a number of videotapes which were not illegal as well as an e-mail describing roughly when Abu-jihaad's battle group would transit the Straits of Hormuz. This included the rough drawing of the formation in the above snapshot. In covering the Abu-jihaad case in 2007, your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow placed these materials in the public domain after downloading them from the PACER criminal case party index.

The government's documents and "evidence" are here, here, here and here as pdfs.

The original reporting at el Reg is here as "Loose Mouth and Loose Change: Five dollar tip leads to a terror aid rap."

The government could not forensically link Hassan Abu-jihaad to the e-mails seized from the computer of Babar Ahmad. And the prosecution gave up trying to prove Abu-jihaad had a modus operandi, an operational plan, for committing terrorism although as late as December it was leaking information to newspapers indicating the defendant was involved in potentially on-going plots to attack military installations.

Between 2001, the time Azzam Publications received the e-mails in question in London, and 2006 -- when Abu-jihaad was arrested -- the defendant did nothing although he had been under surveillance and wire-tapped by the FBI since 2004.

Thursday's ruling opened the way for the prosecution to speculatively argue to a jury that excerpts from Abu-jihaad's wiretapped conversations not only linked him to the e-mails to Azzam but also indicated a non-specific terror plot fingerprint/signature.

"[The judge] did put limits on what would be admitted, saying he will not allow any statements that conflict with an earlier ruling against allowing statements by Abu-Jihaad's former roommate, Derrick Shareef, who was convicted in November in an unrelated plot to attack an Illinois mall with hand grenades ... [Judge] Kravitz said in his new ruling that he would not allow some statements by Abu-Jihaad reacting to Shareef's arrest, saying they did not show consciousness of guilt as prosecutors claimed."

Sequential coverage of the case of Hassan Abu-jihaad:

Loose mouth and loose change.

FBI's 'idiot dude' informant fails to boost US navy terror e-mails.

US nurses terror case in press.

E-mail trail from navy man to London 'terror site' goes fuzzy.