Archive for February, 2008

Ricin Found in Las Vegas Motel Room; Man in Hospital

Feb. 29 (Bloomberg) — Las Vegas police found vials of the deadly toxin ricin and its key ingredient yesterday in a local hotel room, two weeks after its occupant was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.

“We don’t know if the guy was manufacturing the ricin or not, and that’s our concern,” Captain Joseph Lombardo said in a televised press conference today. “He’s not a suspect at this point.”

Authorities declined to identify the patient, other than to say he was middle-aged.

Police and the FBI, which is aiding the inquiry, said they don’t suspect terrorism. Ricin is also used in experimental cancer treatments. Castor beans, the key ingredient of the toxin, were found in the Extended StayAmerica hotel room, police said.

Federal officials have warned police departments since the Sept. 11 attacks to look out for ricin, which could be deadly in the hands of terrorists. It may be used to contaminate air- conditioning systems, drinking water or lakes, the FBI has said.

Las Vegas Deputy Police Chief Kathy Suey told the press conference that ricin was found in the hotel room after a friend or relative of the man came to clean it. It had been vacant since he called an ambulance Feb. 14, complaining of breathing trouble, and was hospitalized, she said.

Several Vials

Police took custody of several vials containing the poison, which is thousands of times more lethal than cyanide. Six people were taken to a hospital as a precaution, but none fell ill, Suey said.

“This is the just the beginning of what is obviously going to be a complex investigation,” Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Detective Bill Cassell said in a telephone interview today.

In 2004, ricin was found in a U.S. Senate mailroom, shortly after letters were sent to the White House and a South Carolina post office threatening to spread the poison. No one was injured.

Traces of ricin were also found five years ago in a London apartment during a British-based counterterrorism raid.

Ricin is part of the waste “mash” left after processing castor beans, the source of castor oil. The toxin often takes the form of a powder, and can be inhaled or mixed with water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lethal Dose

Once in the body, ricin halts the production of vital proteins in the cells, which eventually die. Used in cancer patients, the poison has shown promise in reducing tumors.

A lethal dose for an adult would be about twice the size of a pinhead. Symptoms could include breathing difficulty, vomiting and liver and kidney failure within a few days. There is no antidote.

Some reports suggest ricin was used in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, according to the CDC.

In 1978, Bulgarian defector and journalist Georgi Markov died in London after a man attacked him with an umbrella tip that injected a poisonous dart into his skin, the CDC said.

While the castor bean is rarely grown as a U.S. crop, about 1 million tons are produced yearly worldwide, mostly by India and South America.

“Given the beans’ abundance, it wouldn’t be that difficult to obtain relatively pure ricin, and it wouldn’t take a lot of sophisticated biochemical equipment,” said Robert Brey, chief scientific officer at DOR Biopharma Inc.

The Ewing, New Jersey-based company is working to develop a vaccine for ricin exposure that could be stockpiled by the U.S. government.


CDC: Facts about Ricin.

How interesting that it isn’t terrorism. Obviously somebody wants us to think that this unfortunate gentleman was merely making homemade cancer treatments that went terribly wrong. Yeah, that’s it. Or maybe he had a really bad rodent infestation.Something tells me that if I were found to have vials of ricin in my possession, I would have already had my rights read while in the hospital.

Hat Tip:  Ed Mahmoud at GCP.

Updated report from Fox News courteously supplied by Robert D who was following this story while I was sleeping.  More on ricin at Popular Science.

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Murder Suspect Tries to Flee on Jacksonville Cruise Ship

JACKSONVILLE, FL — Investigators say a murder suspect wanted in Atlanta tried to escape the U.S. on a cruise ship out of Jacksonville.

Derron Williams, 29, is accused of murder.

Police say he deliberately ran over a person during an argument at a party earlier this month in Atlanta.

U.S. Marshals say Williams tried to flee the U.S. on board the Carnival Cruise Ship Celebration bound for the Bahamas.

It pulled out of port Thursday night.

The cruise ship made it five miles out to sea before getting stopped by the Coast Guard and U.S. Marshals.

Williams is being held at the Duval County Jail pending extradition to Georgia.


So if you need to get outta Dodge in a hurry, the cruise ship route is probably not your best choice.

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Companion Horses

Daughter sent me an E-Mail concerning a horse that she just KNEW I would want to rush out and buy to keep her old mare company.  She was a thoroughbred/Arabian filly for sale at an extremely low price (way less than the stud fee would have been).  With land prices ranging from “How much did you say that was again?”  to “You have got to be f***ing kidding me!”, I suppose that there just aren’t enough places available to board horses.

Why daughter thought that I would want a hot-blooded mount that would likely attempt to evolve wings every time she saw a real or imaginery booger, I could not say.  There are sooooo many reasons not to take on another horse or horses.  My knees can’t take posting anymore.  I don’t believe I bounce quite as well as I used to.  Hay and feed prices are pretty steep.  I’ve consequently turned down several offers of free horses lately.

What did catch my eye yesterday was a picture on the feed store bulletin board advertising an 18 and 1/2 hands draft mule, 6 years old, who allegedly loves people (the ad did not specify whether he eats them raw or tenderizes them with his hooves first).   He was *beautiful*.   I would love to have another mule.  Perhaps I better look for a light duty economy model instead of an industrial strength mule as I’m not planning on logging any forests or transporting freight by wagon anytime soon.

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Dummy and Teenage Ewe Mom Released into General Population

I released “Dummy” aka “Al” and his 9-month-old mother from their secluded lamb pen to join the other ewes-in-waiting and new mommas in the general sheep population. 

As soon as I released “Al”, he enthusiastically bounded off to play with the other lambs that were his size.  Meanwhile, his mother was frantically screaming “HELP!  My lamb has been LAMBNAPPED!  Ohmygawd, where’s my precious BABY ooooh, look, food!” and then ran off to eat with her twin sister seemingly forgetting about motherhood for the time being.    

I better check on them again after dark and around midnight.

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Florida Blackout Blamed on Human Error

MIAMI (AP) — Florida Power & Light says a power outage that affected more than half a million customers earlier this week was the result of human error.

The electric company released a 2-page preliminary report on the incident on Friday. It says that a field engineer investigating a switch that malfunctioned at one of the power company’s substations in west Miami was to blame.

The company says ultimately two nuclear generation units and a natural gas unit at the Turkey Point facility south of Miami shut down. Two other FPL plants were also affected.



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Student Tries to Shoot Teacher; Gun Jams

A 14-year-old girl with a history of mental problems tried shooting a teacher in the parking lot of an Opa-locka private school — but the gun jammed, police said Thursday.

The teen, who had been stalking the teacher, then doused the woman’s car with lighter fluid and tried setting it ablaze Wednesday afternoon, according to a police report released Thursday.

Police officers quickly arrested the girl.

She was charged with aggravated stalking with a firearm, violation of a stay-away order, aggravated assault and criminal mischief for the Wednesday afternoon attack.

No one could be reached at the North Dade Academy, 13860 NW 26th Ave.

According to the police report, the girl admitted to throwing the gun onto to the roof of the school; it was later recovered by police.

”The [girl] had been warned on several occasions by several officers to stay away from the academy,” an Opa-locka police report said.


Oddly enough, warning crazy people to stay away from somewhere and letting them run around loose doesn’t work out too well.

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Seaworld Orlando Owner Busch Entertainment Corp. to Build 4 Theme Parks in Dubai

SeaWorld Orlando owner Busch Entertainment Corp. announced this morning that it will build a new resort in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates city that is rapidly emerging as one of Orlando’s biggest rivals on the global tourism stage.

Busch and UAE-based developer Nakheel will together build a SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Discovery Cove and Aquatica water park on a man-made island in Dubai. The resort will also include hotels, spas, shops and restaurants.

Busch Entertainment President Jim Atchison made the announcement this morning during a ceremony at Shamu’s Stadium at SeaWorld.

“Dubai offers a true global stage for our brands,” Atchison said, adding that Dubai “looks a lot like Orlando” before it blossomed into perhaps the best-known family-vacation destination in the world.

Busch follows Universal Parks & Resorts, which announced last spring that it will build a resort called ” Universal Studios Dubailand.” The resort, which will be comparable in size to Universal Studios Orlando, is expected to open by 2010. Universal hopes it will ultimately draw 5 million visitors a year.

Source:  Orlando Sentinel

Well, hopefully those new vacation spots will inspire people to go on vacation instead of blowing themselves and others up. 

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7 Women Sentenced in FEMA Fraud

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Seven Jacksonville women convicted of using a national disaster for personal gain have been sentenced for claiming to be among the thousands uprooted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Prosecutors said the women lied to get government aid. Now, two of them, Sharell Lanise Richardson and Rosemary Mackey, are facing jail time.Richardson was recently sentenced to spend four months in prison, pay $8,000 in fines and serve two years probation. Mackey will also spend four months in prison.


They defrauded all the taxpayers and as such, I don’t think the time sentenced to prison is enough.

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FPL Blames Outage on Substation Fire, Failed Switch

It all happened within three minutes. At 1:08 p.m. Tuesday, a West Dade substation caught fire. A disconnect switch should have shut down the site, but for reasons unknown, the switch failed and the problem spread.

Next, the two huge nuclear reactors at Turkey Point sensed something was wrong and automatically shut down to protect themselves. Then, Florida’s entire grid started turning off lights because there wasn’t enough power.

This is Florida Power & Light President Armando Olivera’s explanation of how an estimated million customers statewide lost power. One switch didn’t disconnect like it was supposed to, and much of the electrical grid was down in a flash.

”That’s the part we don’t have any explanation for,” he said.

In fact, what occurred Tuesday isn’t that unusual. An outage large enough to darken at least half a million homes happens about every four months, according to a 2004 report from Jay Apt, an electrical reliability expert at Carnegie Mellon University.


And that, Apt noted, is a function of the state of the United States’ power infrastructure. The system, he says, is designed to easily adjust itself to a single problem. More than one problem? Lights start blinking out.

”The North American Reliability Council says you have to be able to live with a single outage,” Apt said.

Much of the developed world does much better. Reported Apt in Issues in Science and Technology in 2006, the ”average U.S. customer loses power for 214 minutes per year. That compares to 70 in the United Kingdom, 53 in France, 29 in the Netherlands, six in Japan and two minutes” in Singapore.

Tuesday’s outage also reflects the system’s complexity, said Wade Troxell, an engineering professor at Colorado State. “The electric power grid is like the world’s most complex machine. No one person or entity controls or operates it. It operates much like a living organism.”

On Tuesday, the problem began at the Flagami substation on Flagler Street at 92nd Avenue, an unmanned structure of power lines and boxes across the street from FPL’s Miami-Dade headquarters.

Something sparked a fire. Such incidents happen all the time. A breaker, which can be 10 feet long, shuts down the station, and the grid is programmed to automatically adjust so that few, if any, customers lose power.

”These systems are all designed to handle two contingencies,” said Olivera. On Tuesday, that didn’t happen. ”We still don’t have a full understanding of what happened,” he said.

When the breakers didn’t isolate the problem, it spread quickly to other substations, perhaps as many as 20. At that point, ”a variety of sensors” at Turkey Point realized something was wrong, said Art Stall, FPL’s chief nuclear officer. “They acted to isolate it from the grid.”

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission hasn’t yet measured the duration or degree of the grid disturbance, but the voltage blip was enough to trigger an emergency shutdown of both nuclear reactors at Turkey Point, as well as three other units — instantly unplugging a plant that supplies nearly a half-million homes.

”We may be talking about a few seconds that caused this to happen,” said Roger Hannah, a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman.

Though Turkey Point is South Florida’s largest source of electricity, it depends on off-site power to run most of its critical safety systems, such as pumps and circulating systems that cool the reactors and a stockpile of spent nuclear fuel.

That’s a standard safeguard to ensure plant operators can still shut down a reactor if the plant suffers a problem, Hannah said. Turkey Point, like other plants, also has an array of diesel backup generators if off-site power fails.


FPL said Turkey Point never lost its off-site power, but at 1:09 p.m., the plant’s sensors detected a drop in voltage in transmission lines serious enough to trip an automatic shutdown. Electromagnets opened, dropping control rods over exposed uranium in the reactors and halting the nuclear fission that superheats water used to turn the steam-driven turbines.

”It’s almost instantaneous,” said April Schilpp, FPL’s senior manager for nuclear communications. “When it’s automatic like that, the turbines go off-line and everything goes boom-boom-boom in sequence.”

It’s something akin to the way a household circuit-breaker works, though those are designed to respond to damaging surges of excess power, not threatening drops in voltage.

The two reactors at Turkey Point — as well as a new natural-gas fired generator at the same location — shut down within a minute. That was an intense shock to the electric system — creating far more demand for power in the area’s homes and businesses than there was supply.

To fix that imbalance, the system automatically shut down large parts of the grid, the effects rippling up the state in waves of brownouts and blackouts.

About 196,000 customers in Miami-Dade and Broward lost power, 168,000 in Palm Beach County, 91,000 in Naples and elsewhere in Southwest Florida, and 18,000 in the Daytona area.

Because the grid connects all Florida utilities, Progress Energy Florida, which operates in the central part of the state, had 153,000 customers lose power. Tampa Electric reports about 80,000 customers were affected, mostly in Hillsborough County.


Altogether, Olivera estimated 1 million customers in the state lost power at one point or another.

By 3 p.m., less than two hours after the initial problem, most of the customers in central Florida had their lights back. By 5 p.m., only about 8,000 FPL customers were still in the dark.

In the infamous blackout of 2003, which stretched from Ohio to New York, a task force blamed the disaster on human error. On whether that was a possibility Tuesday, Olivera said, “I wouldn’t rule out anything right now.”

When asked later how often the disconnect switches are inspected and when they were last inspected, the utility did not have an immediate reply.

Experts say there are other ways to operate an electric grid. Apt, the Carnegie Mellon professor, noted that after France experienced severe outages in the late 1990s from ice storms, “it just built double lines that were tremendously expensive.”

Because France has a single, government-controlled grid, it could do that ”by fiat,” Apt said. In the United States, that might double the cost of electricity, which neither utilities nor customers are eager to see.

Troxell, the Colorado engineer, said some countries are now building a ”smart grid,” which is less centralized and a greater diversity of power makers, such as solar units in homes. “That helps manage the system to prevent cascading from happening.”

Both FPL and NRC said Turkey Point’s automatic safety systems worked as designed and federal site inspectors reported no indication of problems with the reactors, said Ken Clark, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman.

But critics said the outage underlined their concerns about FPL’s plans to add two more reactors at Turkey Point in coming decades.

Dawn Shirreffs, South Florida Organizer for Clean Water Action, said Florida’s Public Service Commission should push for safer alternative sources less vulnerable to minor outages.

”The domino effect that occurred in today’s blackout would not have occurred using a variety of real clean energy solutions,” she said.

Source:  Miami Herald

*Sigh*  I wish that newspapers and television stations didn’t feel obligated to  get quotes from self-proclaimed “experts” blithely claiming that “clean electrical solutions” should be used to solve the problem.  Like what, damnit?  If there were an “alternative” “clean” method of generating power that was affordable, (oh, no!  Not the dreaded “a” word!)  it would already be in use.   Putting $100,000 worth of solar panels on a roof that might sail over to the next county in hurricane season seems, to put it mildly, really stupid.   Something tells me that she isn’t championing small neighborhood pellet bed reactors.

I suppose she wants us to drain the ‘glades and plant ’em in sugar cane to make ethanol which doesn’t seem very environmentally sound but hey, it works for me.  I’m not that fond of skeeters and gators anyway.   

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U.S. Alerted to Cuba Migration, Venezuelan Weapons

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is purchasing ”three or four times” more weapons than he needs, a top U.S. intelligence chief said Wednesday, but there is no evidence so far he is providing arms to Colombian guerrillas.Gen. Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that the 100,000 AK-103s and AK-104 assault rifles purchased by Venezuela from Russia are going “into armories.”

Maples and National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell also told a Senate panel that the Cuban leadership shift from Fidel Castro to his brother Raúl could trigger tensions and even a migration crisis.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Florida Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, asked if Chávez’s recent weapons purchases, especially the assault rifles, exceeded Venezuela’s defense needs.

”Yes sir,” McConnell responded, “probably three or four times more than what he would need.”

When asked if Chávez could use the surplus to ”destabilize neighboring governments, particularly Colombia” and assist Colombia’s left-wing FARC guerrillas, McConnell said: “Could very well be.”

Maples then interjected, saying U.S. officials had not seen any distribution of rifles to Colombia. ”We have seen them go into armories,” he said. “And we do hear discussion within Venezuela about using asymmetric kinds of capabilities and tactics and empowering the population in some way, in a home guard sense.”

Chavez has argued that he needs the weapons to replace old guns and systems that Washington has refused to supply, and to equip larger reserves and militias for a guerrilla war in case of a U.S. invasion. But the purchases have triggered concerns in Washington and Latin American capitals of a potential arms race and leakage of weapons to neighboring Colombia.

From Russia Chávez has purchased the assault rifles, a munitions factory, 53 helicopters — including a dozen Mi-17 military helicopters — and 14 SU-30MK fighters.

McConnell added that on the purchase of the assault rifles, ”one of the thoughts is [Chávez] forming an internal militia to enforce his authoritarian rule.” But when pressed if Chávez meant to arm his supporters to stifle opposition, Maples said that although “the opportunity is there, we haven’t seen it move that direction yet.”

Martinez then asked if the intelligence chiefs had noted an increase in migration out of Cuba, which on Sunday saw Raúl Castro elected as its new president.

”We’re concerned about it,” McConnell responded, ”but nothing we’ve seen yet.” He added that Cuba was witnessing the old generation “hanging on, hanging on.”

”The key, in my view, is going to be fourth generation,” said McConnell, referring to Cuba’s increasingly restless youth. “They’re thinking new thoughts and they’re asking hard questions. So how do you get from the first generation of the revolution to the fourth generation? That’s going to be the question. And what my concern is there’s going to be some instability in that process.”

A failure by the new Castro government to deliver improvements to Cubans ”could increase concerns,” Maples said. “Something we have to be attuned to . . . is looking for any indicators that the dissatisfaction is going to reach a level where a migration from the island might take place.”

Martinez agreed the migration issue was a threat to U.S. security but noted that Washington should seek democracy and the concern should “not just be the fear of a mass migration.”

Source:  Miami Herald

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