Saturday, March 29, 2008

MOAB AND THE PAIN RAY: Only the media were shocked, awed and pacified

"Freedom sandwiches for Iraq, on me!" said Uncle Sam. Still flailing half a decade later.

Five years ago, as we hurtled unstoppably towards war with Iraq, I was busy with an alternative weekly column called "Weapon of the Week." At the time journalists were being fed - and in general, were happily eating - a stream of marketing for the weapons and ideas that would make the coming war neat and painless. Well, we know how the main event turned out - but whatever became of the pin-ups?

Of the weapons MOAB, the Massive Ordnance Air Blast, was the war's alpha bomb. The Air Force celebrated its anniversary a week or two ago as a triumph of engineering under pressure.

The omega was the Active Denial System, a Hummer-mounted pain ray that was going to revolutionize the battlefield and pacification.

In their quest for publicity, the weapon's minders worked out a system whereby reporters would be given the opportunity to be burned and awed by it in return for cheerleading notices.

Like the war, both weapons haven't come close to living up to their advance billing. Both are emblematic of the conflict -- start with bragging, cheering and posturing, then try to rip down the goal posts and run off the field in victory before the game is over. When reality stubbornly refuses to bow to national whims, rinse it all down with embarrassed silences, excuse-making and denials.

Read the analysis/recap at el Reg.

Links to selected Weapons of the Week.
TORTURED: By book on teaching how to be a good worker bee in America

Imagine DD's surprise on Friday upon learning that a book pushed at Keystone Boys State summer camp was popular reading at Guantanamo.

"At the Camp 7 facility for high-value detainees -- which jailers have dubbed 'the platinum camp' -- the book most in demand now is 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,' a nearly 20-year old treatise by Stephen R. Covey," wrote reporter Carol Williams for the Los Angeles Times.

"The librarian, who didn't want to be identified, said books are inspected by intelligence agents after each return. Borrowers lose their reading privileges and are disciplined if found passing notes."

It's difficult to imagine Covey's book as an object of genuine interest to prisoners UNLESS it's being used in some way as a camp message tablet or a source of levity. It's a deadening volume of self-help advice suitable only for making yourself over into a brainless slogan-spouting rule-following worker bee.

"The effort to get everyone involved at [Keystone Boys State] manifests itself by having every 'citizen' elected, selected, assigned or appointed to leadership positions throughout the week," states the website for the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Legion. "Each citizen also is provided with text materials based on organizational science and personal development exercises. Much of what we do is a spin-off of the [Stephen Covey] text, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective [People]," it proclaims.

"All citizens should become familiar with parliamentary procedures, 'Robert’s Rules of Order' and Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - NOW ! ! !"

When DD was a detaineestudent at Keystone Boys State week camp in the Seventies, Covey's book wasn't available to beat over the head of teenagers. However, the American Legion ran KBS like a military camp administered by active duty soldiers from the four branches of the US armed services.

Covey's appearance in a story on books generously made available to prisoners at Guantanmo Bay is cause for black humor. If physically and mentally torturing prisoners isn't enough, they can be tortured by being given a book of inspirational exhortations on how to be a more efficient corporate citizen. Was this book donated by the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Legion so that the former jihadis might better themselves while being kept in the national gulag?

We've digested four of the seven tenets of Covey's book, rewritten as it were to be "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Prisoners." (Modelled on a Wikipedia page on the book.)

Be Proactive! Guantanamo Bay detainees can either be proactive or reactive when it comes to how they respond to adversity. When you, the camp-goer, are reactive, you blame others and circumstances for problems. It is not the fault of the United States of America that you've been strapped into a chair and had nasal-force-feeding tubes shoved into you. Being proactive means taking responsibility for every aspect of your life in the camp. Eat!

Think Win/Win! Mutually beneficial solutions are sought that satisfy the needs of the detainee at Guantamo, or, in the case of ERF -- a forcible removal from the camp-goer's cell by the Emergency Reaction Force -- of Uncle Sam and the camper. By way of an example, it is beneficial to both the health of the detainee and the Uncle Sam that you be strapped into a chair and have a nasal-force-feeding tube inserted so that death by starvation does not result, embarrassing America and bringing more heartbreak upon the detainee's beloved family.

Sharpen The Saw! Balanced self-satisfaction is important to the Guantanamo camper. Regain "production capability by engaging in carefully selected recreational activities" like .... hmmm, taking a shower in manacles, being interrogated, or -- if you're a really good boy, learning "basic written Pashtu and Urdu" while shackled to a desk.

Put First Things First! Prioritization and delegation are important in the Guantanamo detainee's time management. The camper delegates the administration of his life to Uncle Sam, freeing him up to prioritize those things which are really important -- like confessing to warcrimes while under duress, implicating casual acquaintances back home so that your bottled water ration isn't withheld indefinitely, obeying camp rules, getting by on fifteen sheets of toilet paper a day, learning to sleep with the lights on all the time and reading Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" now!

A day in the life of a detainee at the Los Angeles Times.

Learn to be a leader -- at Keystone Boys State.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

ROCKSTAR WON'T SEND ADVANCE COPY: Rock critic writes position white paper on social context

Jack White is not a lady, one girl fan informed this blog. He's a big strapping man and will box your ugly face, she added.

"Jack White threw down a glove last week and ushered the music industry into what duelers called the field of honor," wrote Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times today. Paradoxically, White has often been the beneficiary of straight suck-up journalism in the newspaper's Calendar section, the most recent example of which ran in December.

White was said to be furnishing no advances for "Consolers of the Lonely," a new album by his band, The Raconteurs, formed with "songwriting pal Brendan Benson."

Everyone would get the new record at the same time, an attempt to make sure that music journalists wouldn't do their usual job of jumping the gun on reviews for the sake of appearing timely and cool.

"The Raconteurs would rather this release not be defined by its first week sales, pre-release promotion, or by someone defining it FOR YOU before you get to hear it," read the pertinent part of a band press release, as republished by the Times and Powers.

Powers then followed it with a treatise on the future and meaning of rock criticism, perhaps imagined as a lecture fresh from an elective college course you would regret having signed up for.

Messing with the availability of advance copies might be a bad thing, came one musing near the end, interfering with the noble function of "[deepening] the way we experience music," as performed by rock critics, our analysts of culture.


"Some writers," opines Powers, "... have wondered whether good criticism will get lost in the dismantling process."

Rock critics were dismantled a long time ago, lady.

Eight years ago, DD wrote on the Highway Kings biography page:
Good word in music periodicals ... was often not quite worth the paper it was published on. Having written regularly on hard rock for various pro publications over the years, I'm fairly sold on the idea that "good" reviews of heavy bands are mostly for the benefit of the "reviewer." That is, they have negligible effect boosting an act's profile. Silly you if you thought that was the idea. Indeed, I could write a chapter on the fine details of this subject.

However, it really boils down to the fact that music journalism predominantly fits into only two categories. The first: Material generated by a large hack/flack corps which can only justify its contribution to entertainment news sections if the subject is served as part and parcel of the regular schedule of mainstream music industry product. This structurally ensures only puff-writing and hagiography in service to whatever is the publicity driver of the moment. Indeed, have you ever marvelled at the need and logic behind editorial choices that result in hundreds or more of almost exactly the same review of the same record nationwide? Quite naturally, many rational people have learned to tune a lot of this out ensuring that it only has effect on children -- or those as suggestible as children.

And second: Music journalism as a flavor of bankrupt pseudo-social science in which pop music trends are analyzed for their value as pure SchadenFreude (that's "glee at the public shame of others") or relationships to things like the scapegoat class, feelgood empowerment movements and/or the current national Zeitgeist. Subscribe to any of the Sunday editions of the three largest US newspapers for a year, scan their Sunday magazines and Arts sections and you'll eventually see what I'm getting at.

Chuck Eddy, my old music editor at the Village Voice from 2000 - 20006 tried to do everything he could to buck this trend. Realistically, it was always a battle waged in retreat. Over that period the Voice relentlessly reduced the size of its articles and in the last year before handover to the New Times company, revised the pay scales for free-lancers downward. It's hard to think of any two things which crimp the furnishing of good writing more.

Being denied an advance copy of a star's CD is really small potatoes in the bigger picture. And it's not novel.

Eddy often specifically went against the grain of delivering reviews exquisitely timed to synchronize release schedules or even jump them. I would not have been able to write a couple hundred reviews and articles for him and the Voice if he had not done this. I didn't time much to coincide with weekly release dates (if I did, it was probably by accident) and would estimate that a good eighty percent of the CDs reviewed were copies I'd bought in a store. The Voice had a system, a good one which I sometimes took advantage of, in which a writer could invoice the publication for the cost of a CD which was the subject of a review.

This was a good thing, as opposed to having your exercise in pro journalism dictated by the release schedules of record companies, which is a bad thing. It cut the journalist free from any potential of a quid pro quo arrangement which, in return for an advance copy, an article is guaranteed. This is not so important for music journalists who are full-time staffers at a news organization where floods of promotional merchandise pile in the door everyday.

But it is important for free-lancers dependent upon handouts from p.r. people. If you don't play the game and place articles, you don't get advance copies. And if you don't get advance copies, you're out of work because the overriding journalistic practice is now to publish only pieces and reviews which can be tightly bound to a release schedule. To do that, work must be submitted weeks before publication and that's not possible without advances. Record labels and the people who handle p.r. know this. They know that the very idea of a stream of timely advances drying up is enough to freeze most free-lancers in their tracks, ensuring the majority go along with the gameplan of puff writing and cheerleading.

As a consequence, serious criticism is ruled out at any music publication with a significant dependence upon free-lancers and even some of those which generate the majority of their copy in house.

I've discussed this with Chuck many times and, coincidentally, he touched upon it in his new blog at Rhapsody, Chuck It All In.

"[A] few weeks back, when a bogus write-up [at Maxim magazine] of the impending Black Crowes album (which freelancer David Peisner [admitted] he hadn’t heard, and in fact, insists he’d only been assigned to preview) became the most famous album review since Almost Famous, it caught me by surprise in more ways than one," wrote Eddy. "Oddly, I had previously been assigned to critique the album for another publication -- a review that never materialized, because, I’d been told, advance copies weren’t available."

Eddy reflected: "[Any] move that challenges the ‘00s music-crit all-reviews-must-coincide-with-release-dates rule – which seemingly kicked off back around the time Entertainment Weekly first reduced reviews to haikus and has only gotten stupider since – can’t be all bad. It’s almost like the band chose not to be reviewed at all. Once upon a time, back in the prehistoric ‘80s, label publicity departments didn’t always set the calendar, and it was quaintly assumed that some albums actually needed to be lived with –- maybe even for a few months and a couple hit singles -– before a critic could accurately evaluate them. Music often sinks in as part of everyday life, after all.

"To hell with news pegs..." he adds at one point.

The record review to which Chuck refers was one which ran in Maxim, a lad magazine. It was made up, informed the Black Crowes, because no copies of their new LP, Warpaint, had been released. The review was around seventy words, a pittance to throw away one's career over.

Does anybody with a lick of sense think a shitty seventy word record review mattered so much it just HAD TO BE PUBLISHED AHEAD OF TIME?

News peg, indeed.

"On this shifting ground, critics feels insecure as everyone else," Powers writes. "Be we can -- we must -- view the Web's interactive as a boon. Musical samples can help illustrate the critical points. Dialogue with readers can illuminate our interpretations and make for interesting reassessments."

To this and other things, I can say: "What you mean WE, kemosabe?"

As for illuminating dialogue from readers hot off the Web, it's another laff riot moment from a Times reporter who perhaps has not quite yet received a suitable amount of pleasure from being accosted by the anonymous living in the enlightened and gentle pages of unmoderated comments sections.

"Besides, the flow of new music is so daunting that critics find themselves buried beneath piles of 'important' new stuff," Powers states. "The channels that help determine which artists 'matter' have multiplied as well. There's no consensus. Established critics need to be knocked from their pedestals."

No consensus?

There's often way too much of it. At a time when there are more new media channels to browse, a quick run through newspaper databases on flavors of the moment usually reveals those pesky rock critics to be excellent practitioners of groupthink in their zeal to be on top of all that's allegedly fresh.

(See Crazy Miranda Lambert, Radiohead dictates the future, and Wolfmother. What was Wolfmother? Oh yeah, like Led Zeppelin!)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

BUY MORE RUBBERS NOW: Nation 'sexually unhealthy,' among other things

An almost fullpage ad for Trojans in today's Los Angeles Times 'A' section:

Without a real daily newspaper delivered to your door how would you get dependable and timely warnings like this, I ask you?
BAD SCIENCE: The Army way

Whenever you think "research papers" delving into ways of killing and maiming people, paid for by the US taxpayer, can't get worse, another comes along to correct that misconception and brighten the day.

Posted on for your consideration is the declassified "Bioeffects of Selected Nonlethal Weapons," courtesy of the Army ca. 1998.

"Body heating to mimic a fever is the nature of [radio frequency] incapacitation," begins the section on the feasibility of microwaving people. "The objective is to provide [cooking] in a very controlled way so that the body receives nearly uniform heating and no organs are damaged."

"In a study of the effect of RF radiation on body temperature in the rhesus monkey, a frequency (225 MHz) is purposely chosen that deposits energy deep within the body of the animal ... to avoid irreversible adverse effects, the exposure was terminated when a temperature of 42 degrees Centigrade was reached."

One is almost certain the American Humane Society will be impressed.

"Not only is microwave technology used to cook foods, but it is also used as a direct source of heating in many industrial applications," continues the report.

"[Controlled microwaving] will raise the core temperature of the individuals to mimic a high fever with the intent of gaining a psychological/capability edge on the enemy..."

Further in the report muses on using microwaves or visible light to cause epileptic seizures, the latter which persists to this day in the prototyping of mostly pointless "vomit guns" employing flashing lights.

"The effects of lasers on the eye are three-fold: dazzling or induced glare; flashblinding or loss of nigh accomodation; permanent or semi-permanent blinding," the memorandum adds.

To which we are prompted to say: "Hey guys, you can tell the doctor you don't need any more refills on that stupid pill prescription. You're cured."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

FTW: One sensible attitude

Friend Rob Rosenberger in Iraq near Ur sometime after GWB's victory prance.

The above photo came from Iraq to your host sometime in 2003, along with an American flag that had been flown on an A-10 bombing mission. It came in response to mail I'd sent to the warzone. After five years, I found I could no longer even faintly recall what I'd sent or written. The photo had been at the bottom of a pile for most of the duration, undisturbed by the passage of time and shielded from the dust.

Like businesses which supply pizza, soap and toilet paper, however, the Iraq War and the US military are world disaster and recession-proof. Unlike pizza, soap and toilet paper, there's no benefit and quite severe liabilities despite occasional claims that someone like this writer is being defended just so that he or she has the freedom to write annoying stuff.

"Still mountains of taxpayer dollars have been paid to US citizens or businesses in salaries, contracts, supplies, weapons systems, healthcare and services," mused the Los Angeles newspaper a couple of months ago, reasoning that perhaps economist John Maynard Keynes had it wrong in the 1930's. Money spent on guns no longer stimulates the general economy.

From observation, the war has had some trickle-down effect on cable channels where there's been stimulus to a couple of small networks which tapped into minor profits from furnishing entertainments to that part of the male populace which gets an erection over sales brochures for the newest instruments of destruction and how special forces men might insert a trench knife into someone else, preferably smaller and of different color.

However, in every other way the war has been sinking steadily toward a general shunning. Big mainstream dramatic movies on it from Hollywood tank on arrival. Book bestseller lists are remarkably free of exciting combat stories from the eastern fronts.

Way back in mid-January, the National Priorities Project issued a report entitled "Military Recruiting 2007: Army Misses Benchmarks by Greater Margin." It tabulated and analyzed what everyone knows in their guts. Generally speaking, only stupid people or those with sharply inhibited options volunteer to fight.

Calling recruits and servicemen downwardly mobile in relation to the rest of us because they're stuck with the Iraq war as a career is taboo. It's interpreted as cowardly disrespect of the military. To Americans the military is a monument toward which one prays in tones filled with great hypocrisy, espousing vocal support for said shibboleth while behaving in ways that indicate that down deep they really think the exact opposite.

Polling on the war greatly confuses DD. While some show it's still a major cause for concern, there is also now an indifference to it.

"In 2007, upper-middle and high-income neighborhoods - those with median household incomes of $60,000 and greater - remained under-represented [in the army]," stated the National Priorities Project. "The representation of these neighborhoods declined compared to 2004. Low- and middle-income neighborhoods - those with median household incomes of between $30,000 and $54,999 - became more over-represented compared to 2004. As the Iraq War continues ... the burden continues to be borne by low-and middle-income neighborhoods."

Los Angeles County was among the top three counties in the US for volunteers, contributing 917, according to the project. It's a trivial figure in view of the fact the county is more populous than most of the other fifty states.

By another matter of stark contrast, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA, seats about 92,000 on Saturdays during football season. This is two entire orders of magnitude greater than Los Angeles county's puny tally of volunteers. The war simply does not exist at home except for the unfortunate, the cornered and the Marine Corps.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

BACK TO PENNSYLTUCKY: Some politics in the wasteland between Philly and Pittsburgh

"Shortly after [Barack Obama] had finished his speech, I drove to Allentown, just north of Philadelphia, to gauge local reaction," wrote the BBC's Jamie Coomarasamey yesterday.

"It is an old steel town, made famous by a Billy Joel song, where around 70 percent of the population is white.

"That reaction wasn't always easy to find.

"While a Democratic presidential candidate may have decided it was the time to address the race question head on, plenty of ordinary Americans still prefer to keep their opinions on such a sensitive topic to themselves; or - at least - not share them with my recording device."

Coomarasamey made a small but common mistake.

While Allentown was, and to a certain extent still is, home to many old white steel works men, the heart of the local industry was in its neighbor, Bethlehem to the east. And since the closing of steel production in Bethlehem, the two cities have diverged significantly.

In the late Eighties, the very center of Allentown was a burned-out slum worked by a significant mixed criminal element. Since then the slum has only expanded.

In the late Eighties, the south side of Bethlehem, where the dead steel works was located, was also a slum, abutted by Lehigh University, dug into the hillside of South Mountain. The south side of Bethlehem was a place of crappy diners and even crappier dive bars operating for the benefit of Lehigh's student body binge-drinkers and the almost down and out. Cheeseburgers, pizza and hot dogs were the finest fare.

The dive bars -- The Funhouse, The Four G's -- catered to the Lehigh Valley's independent music scene. Bands played for just about nothing in an area where no one cared about noise violations and drunks spilling into the street.

A Lehigh prof owned Wally's, a decrepit wood ballroom often leased out for punk rock shows. It featured exposed wiring and holes in its roof.

After your friendly host wrote about one icy New Year's gig there with The Blissters, a local rock group, a show in which rain poured in through the ceiling and the heating failed, the city came in and condemned the place.

However, while the interior of Allentown continued to deteriorate, Bethlehem experienced a turnaround. Yuppies working in metropolitan New Jersey and in suburban Philadelphia found it a conducive place, way out -- for them -- in the green fields of Pennsylvania. Bethlehem had good schools, some amenities and a world class university. It was ripe for development. And big things were subsequently slated for the site of the old Bethlehem Steel. Called Bethworks, it has spurred a windfall for the city and brought in Sands for the installation of a casino.

This is a far cry from a time in the Eighties when one of the city's key southside intersections, known as Five Points, was just a junction where one could find a couple gas stations, crumbling apartments used for student housing, and a seedy adult bookstore directly adjacent to a seedy strip club.

With the upwardly mobile economics and demographics of Bethlehem, it is hard to know exactly who would vote for Barack Obama and who for Hillary Clinton. To be sure, the city now has progressives and one might think they would be more in tune with Obama. (Update: But perhaps not the mayor of Bethlehem, John Callahan, who introduced former Bill Clinton campaigning for his wife in a recent stop in the Lehigh Valley. See below.)

"I was sure that I was going to vote for Obama," one woman told the Beeb's political reporter. "But [the race thing] has made me think again."

"Others agreed - although the senator did score marks, amongst some, for refusing to do the politically expedient thing and throw his former pastor overboard."

However, the Beeb reporter was in Allentown, an entirely different kettle of fish.

If there are a significant number of Democrats in Allentown, from my experience living in the place, you'd be hard-pressed to find any willing to vote for an African American, something in-line with exactly what Pennsy governor Ed Rendell told a newspaper about the state a few months ago.

North of the Allentown and Bethlehem axis, you have communities like Palmerton, Slatington, Nazareth, Penn Argyl, Lehighton and Jim Thorpe. With the exception of Nazareth, home of Martin Guitars and the Andretti racing clan, these are fairly dire and depressed places.

Palmerton is a small town irreversibly polluted by zinc smelting. It's better known now as the Palmerton/New Jersey Zinc Superfund site.

Jobs at the Palmerton smelter were almost as good as those at Bethlehem Steel and the community sacrificed its future and health on the altar of corporate American metal refining. It would be a challenge to find a progressive voter in Palmerton. If plants from the mountainside colored purple by the smelter could participate, they might vote for a Democrat, but they're all dead.

In the rest of Pennsylvania, the big swath between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the Democratic candidates are faced with a state that's the equivalent of a red southern one, except with a great white majority living in a poorer and older than typical economy.

It's strongly to overwhelmingly Republican and those Democrats who do get elected to office -- Tim Holden and Chris Carney of the House come to mind -- are fundamentally Republicans in sheep's clothing. They've been seen as preferable to local competitors on the other side of the political fence only because the other party has been successful at creating the impression it's a haven for even more undisguisable demons and devils.

Both Holden and Carney are Bush Dog Democrats who've simply spent their time enabling all the policies of the Republican right as quickly as possible. The progressive left led by Jane Hamsher has targeted Carney for removal but, in this region of the state, these are tough battles to win. For example, there simply aren't any progressives to speak of in Holden's district and one is not elected if one espouses even the slightest adherence to progressive and/or populist beliefs.

Holden represents Schuylkill County, where DD was born. Growing up in Pine Grove, I only knew a handful of adults who vaguely admitted to being Democrats. They were all teachers who worked for the school district. (Note this website for Schuylkill Democrats. The descriptive "pathetic" doesn't really do it justice.)

If Obama campaigns in Pennsyltucky counties from the big middle -- places like Schuylkill, Lebanon, Carbon, Lycoming, Perry, and so on -- it's a waste of his time. Paradoxically, the recent pastor Jeremiah Wright flap shouldn't have hurt him at all. Most citizens from the interior were never going to vote for him, anyway.

"[Stumping] for his wife in Wilkes-Barre, [Bill Clinton] told wildly cheering supporters in a high school gymnasium: 'You have been so good to her and I am grateful beyond my ability to say. We love Pennsylvania,' " reported the Allentown Morning Call here today.

"Hillary Clinton is expected to do well in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton region because of her family ties to the area, and because it has a large population of older, blue-collar, culturally conservative voters," continued the newspaper.

Readers are advised "older, blue-collar, culturally conservative voters" in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton mostly means "Republican." If one thinks of Democrats, they would be Dems in the pre-1963 Strom Thurmond sense, not the 2008 sense.

The Clintons know this and it's why Bill Clinton was campaigning ala Republican-lite in the eastern part of the state.

Bill Clinton told the locals what they wanted to hear and was applauded for it.

Take, for instance, this howler: "Hillary Clinton's plan to ... promote development of renewable energy would begin to restore the country's economic health, Clinton said."

This is a statement of virtually no value to Lehigh Valley voters, although it might sound good. There is no significant opportunity for renewable energy in Pennsylvania, period.

There is only waste coal and plans to capitalize on it under "clean coal" business initiatives.

"The New York senator would 'roll' through the remaining primary elections, Clinton said, if Pennsylvania voters deliver her a decisive win on April 22," reported the Allentown newspaper.

The newspaper noted that the Lehigh Valley can be a bellwether region in a general election. It is an area which was formerly solidly Republican but which is now ups for grabs, not guaranteed to either party.

One of the older central dilemmas of the citizenry in the Lehigh Valley has to do with the fact that it was strongly blue-collar and pro-union because of the steel industry. Paradoxically, these voters trended Republican, traditionally rewarding only those political leaders with beliefs and policies which stood directly against the way their livelihood was protected.

Monday, March 17, 2008

RICIN CRACKPOT WAKES UP: Talks to brother and FBI for jailhouse prep

"A man who has been hospitalized since Valentine's Day with respiratory ailments and failing kidneys told his brother he believes he was contaminated by the deadly ricin poison found in his Las Vegas motel room," reported AP today.

"[Roger Bergendorff] did mention that he would have never done anything to anybody," the suspect's brother, Erich Bergendorff, told Associated Press. "He himself is under the impression he was contaminated by it — he did mention the ricin and seemed to say something like, 'Gee, it sure worked on me.'"

In original coverage of the news, your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow mentioned that one could not absolutely rule out extreme stupidity or the possibility that the sick man had snorted or consumed a significant amount castor mash.

Readers will now be advised to wait for the FBI to charge the annoying crank who has worn out his fifteen minutes of fame in his fiddling about with attempting to make a biological weapon. And Bergendorff will be put in prison for a few years. In the past, the US government has even jailed a mentally handicapped individual for ricin production, so the pleading of ignorance, the expressing of no desire to cause harm, cooperation with authorities or even diminished mental capabilities are not generally defenses which have been shown to get one off the hook.

"Roger Bergendorff, 57, was questioned by investigators from the FBI and the Las Vegas police on Friday in hopes that he could provide information about the Feb. 28 discovery of the ricin powder and castor beans, from which it is derived, continued the wire service.

"Officials from both agencies declined to comment about what they learned."

In addition to castor beans and a large amount of castor powder police "found our 'anarchists cookbooks' in the room marked at sections describing how to make ricin. Firearms also were found in the [Bergendorff's Las Vegas flophouse] room."


Castor seeds and ricin: Not much of a threat.

Friday, March 14, 2008

TAINTED HEPARIN LINKED TO CHINA: No firings at Baxter and Scientific Protein Laboratories yet

Who wants to be the next buyer for our new line of cheap drugs?

"The contaminant found in the blood-thinner heparin, which has been linked to hundreds of allergic reactions and possibly 19 deaths in the United States, has been traced to a Chinese plant that processed raw ingredients for the drug, U.S. health officials said Friday," according to US News & World Report.

The supplier to Baxter through Scientific Protein Laboratories of Waunakee, Wisc., was the Changzhou SPL plant in Changzhou City, China.

US News reported that Baxter's analysis of the contaminant was not complete but that the compound "was approximately the same molecular weight as heparin and is similar in other ways, which is why standard testing [did] not detect its presence."

The contamination was so widespread in Baxter's drug that the company has essentially been removed from the heparin business by events. Because it was a dominant player in the US market, the entire heparin supply in this country is under suspicion and due for recall.

In a fair country which valued logic and clear thinking, Baxter would be put out of business permanently, along with its partner Scientific Protein Laboratories. Its business leaders would be disgraced men.

Contrast this ongoing case with the fate of the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company of Chino, California. Responsible for the largest meat recall in US history when the American Humane Society released film of its employees killing downer sick cattle for the food supply, the company was put out of business.

Its president, Steven Mendell of Newport Beach, CA, was recently before a Congressional panel, apologizing and explaining that his life had been flushed down the toilet when he lost control of proper practice in his company.

"Obviously my system broke down," Mendell told a House committee intent on grilling him.

"[Mendell] told lawmakers that he had received death threats, that his family and employees had suffered, and that his company [was ruined] and would not reopen," reported the LA Times earlier this week.

Mendell said his life had gone up in smoke.

Mendell was asked whether he would eat meat from cows slaughtered in the way the Humane Society of America video company showed his company was killing them.

"No," he said.

Westland/Hallmark's beef has, so far, not been implicated in illness, unlike the heparin of Baxter. However, downer cows are kept from the food supply because they may be suffering from neurological disease which can be transmitted in the processed meat and which manifests only slowly (with no cure) in human populations.

This was a fact not lost upon Congressmen who commented Mendell might be dead by the time any potential disease shows up, although the risk of fatal dementia was deemed remote.

Westland/Hallmark's beef was sold in Progresso's Italian Wedding Soup, a food that your host regularly enjoys. However, as is the case with food and drug contamination in the formerly good ol' USA of 2008, by the time one reads about trouble in the consumables, one has already consumed them. When news hit that Progresso Italian Wedding Soup should be returned because it contained Westland/Hallmark meat, DD had already eaten what was in the house.

If I feel the effects of prion-caused dementia, I'll let you know in about a decade.

The LA Times on Westland/Hallmark.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


"Tribune Co., parent of the Los Angeles Times announced that it had hired radio veteran Lee Abrams as its first ever chief innovation officer 'responsible for innovation across Tribune's publishing, broadcasting and interactive divisions," wrote LAT reporter Thomas Mulligan in a story buried on C3 Wednesday.

One presumes the hidden-away-at-the-bottom-of-the-business-section location came out of pure embarrassment.

Having been a music journalist and rock musician for decades, it's fair to say Lee Abrams is not a name that comes to mind when one thinks of growth, openness to ideas and innovation. Abrams is known as the originator of the Album Oriented Rock format on FM radio, a development which effectively led to the fossilization of commecial airwaves. The followers of Abrams froze playlists in favor of only artists that focus groups and market studies had identified as those listeners were allegedly comfortable with. Read another way, that meant only classic rock oldies then and forever.

In critic Robert Christgau's Rock Albums of the Seventies: A Critical Guide, Abrams is dismissed as someone "who was to the 70's what Mitch Miller was to the 50's."

From this writer's standpoint, the Abrams way of FM radio, one which crushed airplay for anyone not extremely well-connected and/or overwhelmingly popular, directly contributed to the creation and rise of the independent rock music world. It was, in a manner of speaking, Abrams' anti-innovations at FM radio which led to actual innovators during their own thing in the indie world.

Deep within the story, the Times reported Abrams' musings about what newspapers need. A slogan, taken from an Eagles lyric, as it turns out.

"Maybe a slogan that's not hokey marketing speak or typical could help define the Web strategy," Abrams said. A slogan such as "Everything ... All The Time might give a newspaper some character ..."

Not included in the story was the info that it also worked for the Eagles, being one of the central lyrics of "Life in the Fast Lane," from where Abrams assuredly lifted it. "Fast Lane" is probably the single most recognizable song chronicle of the life of the rich and famous rock star in southern California in the Seventies. (Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good," written around the same time, also comes to mind.) But "everything all the time" was in 1976 -- not 2008. How annoying.

"Lee Abrams, [was one] of many consultants hired in the 1970s by managers who lacked the confidence to program their own stations," reported the Hartford Courant in April 2007. "Abrams, a devotee of audience research, shielded listeners from songs that didn't 'test well,' which helped squeeze the life from free-form FM."

Abrams, reported another newspaper, "spawned a generation of [audience consultants], able to sort the universe of radio consumers ever more precisely by age, gender, ethnicity, income, spending habits and music preferences. These categorical types amounted to advertising targets."

"Lamentations about the state of commercial radio have become so standard over the last few decades that they have achieved something of the rote tedium the critics ascribe to the medium itself: how radio consultants -- led by [Lee Abrams], creator of the album-oriented rock and classic rock formats -- have taught station programmers to slice and dice their playlists to appeal more precisely to specific demographics; how more and more stations have come to play fewer and fewer songs," reported the New York Times in an article entitled "One Way to Get Radio Play: Do It Yourself," published in 2006.

Paradoxically, Abrams was hired by XM satellite radio supposedly because the formats and trends he popularized at FM had resulted in playlists with no innovation or variety.

Additionally, Abrams was apparently about to be drummed out of XM, which will be run by its archrival, Sirius satellite radio, if a pending merger of the two companies, now under anti-trust review by the Federal Communications Commission, is approved.

Today, an Abrams essay to Tribune was published around the web.

"The NEW Rock n Roll isn't about Elvis or James Dean, but it IS about re-inventing media with the exact same moxie that the fathers of Rock n Roll had," wrote Abrams to his new business partners. "The Tribune has the choice of doing to News/Information/Entertainment what Rock n Roll did to music ... to be the Ray Charles, Dylan's, Beatles and U2's of the Information age ... or have someone else figure it out, or worse, let these American institutions disappear into irrelevancy. I think Rock 'n Roll is the best choice. America needs a heartbeat, and we can deliver that on 21st Century terms. Rock 'n' Roll musically is behind us. NEWS & INFORMATION IS THE NEW ROCK N ROLL."

"If we can morph the Soul of Dylan ... with the innovation of Apple and the eccentric-all-the-way-to-the-bank of Bill Veeck, the WORLD will be a better place," Abrams continues further in.

Cue the part in "Fast Times at Ridgmont High" where Mr. Hand says, "Are you on dope?"

If one takes seriously public opinion polls which address the regard in which various professions are held, journalists have not been trending toward new rock star status. The new lice, maybe.

Abrams concludes by recommending Tribune people read a long list of bromides, sayings and aphorisms attributed to citizens ranging from John Stewart Mill to Pablo Picasso.

Seeing this happen to the Los Angeles Times is like watching an old friend go crazy. First they were only muttering to themselves. Now they're seeing things that aren't there.

One purses the lips and wonders, "Isn't there any way to get them the help they need?" Would an intervention work? A 2x4 upside the head? Quaaludes, groupies, narcotics and booze?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

SUPPLY CHAIN FROM CHINA: Heparin supplies tainted worldwide

You ain't seen nothin' yet, greedy American businessmen.

"As worries over the heparin blood thinner critical to hospitals and dialysis centers spread to Europe, Chicago-area makers of the product said Friday that they are ratcheting up scrutiny of their own product supply chains in China and the U.S.," reported the Chicago Tribune today.

As you browse out to read this story, be on watch for any statments which might indicate remorse on the part of American suppliers of drugs who outsourced their purification to China without caring, until after problems surfaced, whether or not their processes were diligently performed. You'll have to look hard because there aren't any.

All that you will read is how their supplies are tainted and they're scrambling to maintain an untenable business position, trying to preserve the market with new supplies of a drug after they've have demonstated none of their supplies can be trusted.

"A huge producer of pigs, China is the largest supplier of [heparin] found in the mucous lining of the animal's intestines ..." continued the newspaper. "Investigators are looking in China for an answer to the mystery and are focusing partly on the fact that suspect heparin-like material was found in Baxter's product." (The reader may drily note that as a gargantuan supplier of pigs, China is also the world's yearly supplier of flu.)

"The suspicious material may have been introduced intentionally before the product reached Baxter's U.S. factory in New Jersey, the FDA said. Baxter got its heparin from a plant in Changzhou, China, which was sourced by village workshops and rural pig lots. The plant is owned by Wisconsin-based Scientific Protein Laboratories."

The upshot here, one is being gingerly skirted, is that a cheap adulterant was added to inflate profit, an adulterant chosen so that it would sail through the cursory tests put in place to ensure quality. And this is the same pattern in last year's mass recall of pet food. An ingredient of pet food, produced in China, was stepped on with a toxic adulterant chosen because it would test as valid protein in the simple tests performed by the American pet food industry.

"China is also the source of the necessary active ingredients produced by Schaumburg-based APP Pharmaceuticals Inc., now the principal supplier of heparin in the U.S.," reported the newspaper. "APP said it uses a different supplier than Baxter and is confident in its supply's safety, but it will use the more complex testing method going forward.

"Despite Baxter's role as supplying half of the U.S. market for heparin used in hospitals, APP said it will be able to supply U.S. health facilities even if Baxter's Chinese supply chain remains off the market for as long as a year ... Baxter said it would be unable to use Scientific Protein Laboratories' U.S.-based supply of heparin ingredients because there is not enough active ingredient in the U.S. and Canada to fulfill its needs."

An appropriate response by the US government would be one employed against ChemNutra, the North American supplier of pet food in the chain of supply which put toxic chemicals, made in China, into its product. Criminal charges were levelled against the company's CEO earlier this year.

Baxter International should be the object of a criminal investigation, its operation effectively put out of the drug business until a full accounting is possible.

After 9/11, the US government was overrun with security experts predicting the many ways Islamic terrorists could easily attack the country. Two of allegedly most catastrophic methods were bioterrorism and agroterrorism. Scenarios were concocted and published, events in which hundreds or even hundreds of thousands of potential casualties were predicted.

In the intervening time, the US has not seen any attempts by Islamic terrorists to poison its people, or its food and drug supplies.

On the other hand, it has seen that unscrupulous and/or unwise American businessmen, in their search for profits through use of the slave labor pool in China, as well as that country's lack of any consumer protections, introduce two distinct mass poisonings into the country. One hit pets in 2007 and -- now -- one has impacted patients, probably killing at least nineteen, in the US health care system.

Imagine what would be happening if this most recent poisoning had been attributed to terror instead of business gone bad. None of the companies in question would be open for business ever again.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


The trial of ex-Navy signalman Hassan Abu-jihaad took merely a week, ending with the bang of a one-day deliberation in which Connecticut jurors found the man guilty, sending him over for providing material support to terrorists.

The Abu-jihaad verdict is just the latest in what has been a string of convictions of Muslim patsies and men of unfortunate means who appear to have been set up by a network of criminal paid informants in the employ of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force. None have appeared to have been serious threats, just people - at worst unlikeable and on the fringes of society - accused of concocting ridiculous plots, never apprehended with weapons or explosives which would be required for the crimes they're accused of and convicted on.

The entirety can be read here at el Reg.

Previous coverage of the case of Hassan Abu-jihaad:

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

Abu-jihaad's shifty attitude indicates terror aim argues prosecution.

US Nurses Terror Case. Grim prospects for Navy signalman.

The FBI's 'idiot dude' in the Abu-jihaad case.

More on the idiot dude.

Rotten egg informant in Abu-jihaad trial.

Loose mouth and loose change -- five dollar tip leads to material aid to terror rap.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

SLAVE LABOR HEPARIN (CONTINUED): Pitiless Baxter International

"I have this cheap substitute that tests just like heparin and it costs fifty percent less."

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?

Not Baxter or Scientific Protein Laboratories, the two American companies entangled in the mass recall of the drug heparin. Tainted heparin from these firms, the purification of which was outsourced to China, has resulted in 19 deaths.

If you have the news on the scandal you can't help but notice there is no sign of public remorse. No one from the involved American firms has anything human to say.

In a Chicago Tribune feature on Baxter International and the tainted heparin scandal, the newspaper reported the company leaping into action to root out the problem. It was a self-serving account.

And it was so egregious and intelligence-insulting, a good portion of it is worth republishing.

"Inside Baxter's Deerfield headquarters, it was code red," reported the Tribune. "Robert Parkinson, the company's chief executive, began holding early morning meetings with a team of key leaders: people responsible for Baxter's drug surveillance, drug quality, legal, manufacturing, research, and regulatory affairs.

"After the morning meetings, Parkinson made a point of popping in on his key executives. This kept him up to speed on developments and gave people a chance to share what they had learned.

"One surprise: Parkinson soon learned the FDA never had inspected the China manufacturing plant. Recalling the finding in a recent Tribune interview, Parkinson sought to minimize the oversight.

"It's not unusual for us not to know that the FDA has not inspected a supplier to a supplier," he said.

"Dozens of Baxter scientists began searching for a cause of the outbreak..."

Baxter's CEO was "popping in on his key executives" so that they could keep him "up to speed on developments."

Isn't that nice? Such a diligent fellow!

"It's not my fault if I didn't know that the Chinese who make my company's drug aren't inspected or licensed," said Parkinson.

Wait, wait! He didn't say that. I just added it because it seems in-line with the attitude conveyed, one in which it's always the Food and Drug Administration's fault for not being there, for not having the right stuff, for not having the best computer systems to file it all appropriately. Dang it!

"Parkinson prefers not to emphasize the competitive dynamic [of his business], though," continued the Tribune. "Instead, he focuses on the key role heparin plays as a blood thinner in kidney dialysis and heart operations."

"We have, as a company, an obligation to the medical and the patient communities to get this product available," Parkinson told the newspaper. "It's not a matter of the financial significance of the product. It's a matter of the role that it plays in medicine."

And this is certainly true. But it's also true that the company has a moral obligation to the people in need, one to not put them in danger through expedient business decisions which cause it to lose control of its supply chain and quality control.

The key here is trusted source.

American medicine considered Baxter International a trusted source until it proved it wasn't one. When Baxter outsourced its production to another company -- Scientific Protein Laboratories -- which, in turn, outsourced it to China, it is common sense that the directors of both companies knew their roles as trusted sources. It then became their responsibility, not merely the FDA's, to know where their drug was coming from and under what conditions it was made at all times. It was and is not merely the responsibility of the government to ensure through official inspection that the manufacturing processes set in motion by American business does not produce a product which sickens or kills people.

The official responses of the companies are puzzling from a human standpoint.

Ethical men in the trusted role of providing life-giving drugs, when responsible for such a large problem, well -- you would think they would look inward and be very troubled by what they find. It suggests a much larger problem in American business when the stewards of it act like they don't see any of this.

It is not only a dilemma for medicine and public health. It is also one of security. Try to guess the reaction if a terrorist, instead of a business, had been found furnishing the tainted material.

Whenever DD writes about similar issues on this blog, they are not popular. People don't want to read painful things about how they've been sold down the river in the name of easy profits through unregulated Chinese manufacturing. That's a boring story, one no one seems to be in a position to do anything about.

Congressional hearings are held. But then everything goes back to business as usual in the formerly good ol' USA until the next product recall or incident in which people or animals are killed and maimed. No one is interested in actually doing anything that would seem to be in support of a populist cause.

"Some of Baxter International's recalled blood thinner heparin contained large amounts of a contaminant that might explain hundreds of serious side effects," reported a wire service today. "And the government said Wednesday it's not clear if what appears to be a fake ingredient got there by accident or was fraud.

"The Food and Drug Administration said 19 deaths from allergic-type reactions are now associated with the recalled drug, up from four.

"Baxter insisted the contaminant further points suspicion at ingredient suppliers in China, which are under increasing scrutiny after a wave of recalls involving food, drug and toy imports ... The contaminant accounted for between 5 percent and 20 percent of some of the samples tested.

"At those amounts, batches of heparin should have been flagged as subpotent in Baxter's routine quality tests -- but they didn't, because the contaminant is so chemically close to real heparin that standard testing couldn't tell the difference ..."

This immediately raised the possibility that the contaminant was added in China in a scheme similar to the one in which a protein-mimicking toxic adulterant was added to wheat gluten in the pet food recall of last year. The objective, as practiced in China, was to increase protein assays with a worthless material.

"The FDA is so concerned that later this week it will give manufacturers and other regulatory agencies worldwide instructions on how to check other heparin supplies to be sure the fake isn't sneaking in," continued the wire service.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

CASTOR SEEDS & RICIN: Not much of a threat

Castor seeds in brightly colored jewelry tin, courtesy of Kamel Bourgass.

As the FBI works on the strange case of Roger von Bergendorff, it is elucidating to look back at some under-reported facets on the alleged ease with which ricin is purified from castor seeds.

Initial tests for toxins in the field occasionally show what are known as false positives. In cases of ricin alerts, there are three recent notorious instances. The most famous, often discussed in this blog, was the false positive connected to the Wood Green ricin ring case in London. Castor seeds were found in an apartment above a pharmacy along with some equipment which was tested for the presence of ricin. The test returned a false positive and that result flashed around the world. Confirmatory tests conducted at Porton Down, England's chemical and biological weapons defense facility, uncovered the false positive, showing no ricin.

A second notable false positive was connected to a case in which an Arizona man was banged up on the charge of attempting to make a biological weapon.

Casey Cutler, a drug addict, had been beaten up by his dealers in 2005. He hatched a plan of self-defense involving ricin. However, Cutler could not get castor seeds. Instead, he bought castor oil at a local drug store and attempted to purify ricin from it. Of course, there is no ricin in castor oil.

However, Cutler's roommate -- who was suffering from a respiratory ailment -- became convinced he had been poisoned with ricin and went to a local emergency room where he mentioned this fact to doctors. This triggered the national emergency response plan that is in place to deal with suspected chemical or biological weapons events.

Cutler's apartment was searched and he was subsequently arrested.

Among the materials seized - a bag of pinto beans, a bottle of castor oil from Albertson's, Red Devil lye drain opener (because some of the Internet ricin recipes* call for it, even though it destroys the ricin protein), and "a mirror with powder on the bathroom vanity counter," according to evidence proffers in the case

Vials to be worn around the neck like lockets were also seized, one containing a "dark plant-like residue" which tested positive for ricin at the state's lab. This was, according to Cutler's lawyer, most probably remainders from Cutler's marijuana stash.

This bad result was produced by a time-resolved immunofluorescence (TRF) assay for ricin, a test that is used nationally in the response network at the time. It also had a history of false positives.

While Cutler's attorney said it took the FBI little time to determine in interview that Cutler did not have ricin, it took another four days for Arizona to send the sample out of state and get a negative on the presumed marijuana leftovers.

A third case involved a roll of coins found in a college dorm's laundry room in Texas. The roll was covered in some manner of powder (detergent?) and students became suspicious. Authorities were summoned and the roll of coins tested. The initial test returned a false positive for ricin, everyone flew of the handle, and news went nationwide. Confirming and more thorough lab tests subsequently revealed that the roll of coins from the laundry room was just that.

In the case of the Wood Green ricin ring, scientists at Porton Down undertook the duplication of the recipe of Kamel Bourgass.

The Porton Down men ground castor beans and rinsed them with acetone. They took ten grams of castor beans, five more than called for in the Bourgass recipe, and determined that they contained 290 milligrams of soluble protein, of which ricin was a minority component, 63 milligrams. By gross weight, a castor bean contains approximately 0.6 percent ricin, a very small amount, a quantity confirmed by Porton Down. Naturally castor beans do contain ricin and one expects to find ricin in a powder or mash of them.

In addition, to get an idea on the toxicity of ricin, Porton Down undertook another test of the dried ground castor bean mixture it had produced. The scientist performing the test found the ricin in the mixture to be an order of magnitude less toxic than Porton Down's laboratory ricin standard. That is, of the 63 milligrams of ricin, a small quantity, thought to be present, only ten percent was still intact and biologically active.

Put another way, duplicating the Kamel Bourgass ricin recipe -- which was typical of ricin recipes found on the Internet -- revealed that in the process of reducing castor beans to a dry mash, a great part of the small amount of active ricin in an intact castor bean is actually destroyed.

Also in the documents pertaining to this matter, a Porton Down scientist wrote that if one assumed a starting mass of five grams of castor seeds, and took the protein mash of it, if consumed that material would constitute ONE lethal dose if injected but would not be sufficient to kill if eaten. If consumed, it would likely cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. The recipe seized at Wood Green called for five grams.

Are five grams of castor beans a WMD?

Most certainly not.

In the years since 9/11, much original information on the castor plant has been forgotten in this country. The castor plant is not an enemy of man and, in fact, is still thought of as an attractive decorative plant in places like ... Brooklyn.

In the past, the United States processed castor seeds.

On the world wide web page of an American animal feed and fertilizer company, it said, "In 1857, "H.J. Baker & Bro., Inc., [built] the Baker Castor Oil Company in Jersey City, New Jersey." "... Of great importance [was castor seed oilcake] ... This material [was] the first fertilizer product offered ..."

This being the case, castor seed oilcake and seeds containing ricin would have had to travel the roads of the country. If one searches further, reference to it can be found in municipal codes for the transporting of "hazardous materials" via trucking. Castor seed oilcake is a material that does not require a 24-hour emergency phone hotline listed on the shipping manifest. In the Texas city of Laredo's municipal code, the materials, referred to as "castor bean," "castor meal," "castor flake," and "castor pomace" are things deemed of the same hazard, or lack of it, as "dry ice," "fish meal," "fish scrap," "battery powered equipment," "battery powered vehicle," "electric wheelchair" and "refrigerating machine."

Castor seed powder was frequently used as fertilizer in this country. In the periodical called Timely Turf Topics, the publication of United States Golf Association Green Section, an issue from November 1942 reported that the country was using over 80,000 tons of castor seed mash as fertilizer annually. The Golf Association Green Section periodical was devoted to providing information to golf green managers on the maintenance of beautiful grass turf. During World War II, nitrates were diverted for the war effort, necessitating use of alternative fertilizers, of which castor seed mash was one.

In the November 1941 issue of Timely Turf Topics, the association grapples with the problem of controlling mole crickets in southern golf courses.

"It is reported that turf in some sections of Georgia and Florida has just experienced the worst infestation of mole crickets in a number of years," reads the issue. "Attempts to eradicate them from turf by the use of well-known poison bait as well as by treatments with arsenate of lead, ground tobacco stems and castor meal have not been successful in several localities this fall."

The point to be made is that people once worked with large quantities of the grind of castor seeds in this country without dropping like flies. Castor beans were considered a renewable resource, used as a source of lubricant and fertilizer. Even golf course gardeners worked with castor mash, noting that it wasn't so hot as an insecticide, being ineffective against mole crickets.

There has been a collective loss of memory of such practical information in this country. In its place, emergency news erupts a couple of times of year in which ricin and castor seeds are discovered in someone's possession, with everyone near it having to be decontaminated and their clothes thrown into a bag for disposal. Photos of hazmart workers in plastic isolation suits multiply. The real-time imagery is of the kind one sees in sci-fi movies devoted to various biological end-of-the-world themes.

The true hazard posed by castor seeds, the many so-called recipes for ricin in fringe books and on the Internet, and the people who fiddle with them seems to be reflected in a much different reality, one that is paradoxically not easily accepted because it has more to do with the application of common sense than belief in elaborate theoretical nightmares. If the historical record is accurate, no one other than Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov has ever died from an attack by ricin. And in 1995, an American woman named Debora Green attempted to poison her husband with castor seeds. He became very ill but survived. Green subsequently murdered two of her children by setting the house on fire.

If there are others who have been killed by ricin attack, the number is legitimately trivial compared to other methods of murder in the news everyday.

From this we can draw one conclusion: We appear to have collectively lost our minds for the sake of security from something that just isn't much of a threat at all.

Timely Turf Topics

The Cutler case false positive.

The Porton Down analysis of the Bourgass recipe for ricin. At GlobalSecurity.Org.

Presence of ricin in Von Bergendorff case confirmed by Centers for Disease Control, see here.

An example of poison powder hysteria in Las Vegas.

Ricin terror overblown at UPI.

Selected quotes and excerpts:

The long period of time Bergendorff had been hospitalized also "presents some difficulties" ... Any ricin he had been exposed to "might have been metabolized out" by this time.

As it [stands] there was no evidence that Bergendorff had been exposed. "Acute respiratory distress (like Bergendorff's) is a common presentation at ER..."

[Your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow] said the kind of processing [Internet recipes for ricin] recommended "actually reduces the amount of ricin present" in the powder.