Smuggling By RC ‘copter

Great idea for a scene:

A toy helicopter is believed to have been used in an attempt to smuggle drugs into a prison.

Guards at Elmley Prison in Sheerness, Kent, spotted the remote control miniature aircraft flying over the walls of the jail and heading for the accommodation blocks one night after it was picked up by CCTV cameras.

It had a small load beneath the fuselage, thought to contain drugs.

The toy or its cargo was not found.

However, staff could not find any trace of either the helicopter or the package which it appeared to be carrying underneath it when they searched the Category C jail.

‘Using a mini-helicopter to get contraband into jails is unprecedented. When officers spotted it they nearly fell off their chairs’, a prison source told the Sun.

‘It could have been drugs or a mobile phone in the package. It is possible it was a dummy run.’

via BoingBoing

Not much more to add, but I have to remember this for down the road.

Posted in Current Events, Underbelly on January 27, 2009 by Jesse

Corpse used to cash cheque


Great story from yesterday’s NY Times.

Corpse Wheeled to Check-Cashing Store Leads to 2 Arrests

Even for the once-notorious Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, it may have been a first: Two men were arrested on Tuesday after pushing a corpse, seated in an office chair, along the sidewalk to a check-cashing store to cash the dead man’s Social Security check, the police said.

When Virgilio Cintron, 66, died at his apartment at 436 West 52nd Street recently, his roommate and a friend saw an opportunity to cash his $355 check, the police said.

The roommate, James P. O’Hare, and his friend, David J. Dalaia, both 65 and unemployed, placed Mr. Cintron’s body in the chair and wheeled it around the corner, south along Ninth Avenue on Tuesday afternoon, the police said. The men parked the chair with the corpse in front of Pay-O-Matic at 763 Ninth Avenue, a check-cashing business that Mr. Cintron had patronized.

They went inside to present the check, but a clerk said Mr. Cintron would have to cash it himself, and asked where he was, the police said.

“He is outside,” Mr. O’Hare said, indicating the body in the chair, according to Mr. Browne.

The two men started to bring the chair inside, but it was too late.

The full article.

I really don’t have anything to add about it.

Posted in Current Events, Underbelly on January 10, 2008 by Jesse
Add a Comment »

Blackwater out of Iraq

Lots of people were reporting yesterday that Blackwater’s license was being revoked in Iraq.

Blackwater is a para-military / mercenary / security group, run by a former US Navy Seal, and based in Blackwater, North Carolina (from which it draws it’s name – the ominous ring is purely coincidental).

From the AP article:

BAGHDAD – The Iraqi government said Monday that it was revoking the license of an American security firm accused of involvement in the deaths of eight civilians in a firefight that followed a car bomb explosion near a State Department motorcade.

Tens of thousands of foreign private security contractors work in Iraq — some with automatic weapons, body armor, helicopters and bulletproof vehicles — to provide protection for Westerners and dignitaries in Iraq as the country has plummeted toward anarchy and civil war.

Many of the contractors have been accused of indiscriminately firing at American and Iraqi troops, and of shooting to death an unknown number of Iraqi citizens who got too close to their heavily armed convoys, but none has faced charges or prosecution.

I did a bit of research on mercenary groups when I was writing Silver Age Sentinels, and have come back to that research when working on a few of the villain groups for City of Heroes. At that time I was primarily reading about Sandline International and Executive Outcomes (which is basically defunct, and/or morphed into a new beast).

They are fascinating and scary, and stories of paramilitary groups now hit closer to home as they are so heavily integrated into US activities. We’re no longer talking about Latin American dirty wars or “protecting” diamond mines in Sierra Leone…Blackwater guys were prominent in Katrina’s flooding of New Orleans, fer chrissakes.

Blackwater (and similar groups) have taken up a lot of the responsibilities normally thought of as for the US army.

The wartime numbers of private guards are unprecedented — as are their duties, many of which have traditionally been done by soldiers. They protect U.S. military operations and diplomats and have guarded high-ranking officials including Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Baghdad.

They also protect journalists, visiting foreign officials and thousands of construction projects.

Blackwater has an estimated 1,000 employees in Iraq, and at least $800 million in government contracts. It is one of the most high-profile security firms in Iraq, with its fleet of “Little Bird” helicopters and armed door gunners swarming Baghdad and beyond.

It amazes me that high ranking army officers – like Gen. Petraeus – are bodyguarded by an independent firm (!!!). I mean, I’d guess that most of the Blackwater guys (at least those involved in a mission like this) are former US military, but c’mon, why can’t the US army protect its own guys, exactly?

Will Blackwater be thrown out of Iraq? Not really my focus, but a lot of people don’t think so. Pundits suggest they are too essential to the US mission, and thus either nothing will actually happen or perhaps a light slap on the wrist. We’ll see.

In the meantime, one of these days I need to pick up Jeremy Scahill’s book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

Posted in Current Events, Underbelly on September 18, 2007 by Jesse

Trickster Makes the World

Starting collecting info on tricksters again for another script project – in a fit of madness the other night, I labeled the project an “urban fable.” Kind of pretentious really, but what the hell…

Nice Wiki page on Tricksters. Though it’s kind of an odd-mash-up of info, with an extended section on Coyote, but no one else (on that page). The few sub-pages I clicked through seem pretty decent, though.

On the same motif, I recently reread Charles De Lint’s Someplace to be Flying this past spring. De Lint’s Crow girls are terrific, as are most of the animal people in that book.

Of course I also picked up Tim Power’s Last Call again, because it is awesome. 🙂

And I should also reread Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore – some great scenes in Vegas.

On the to read list:

Trickster Makes the World, by Lewis Hyde

Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman

Hustler Days, by R.A. Dyer

Declare, by Tim Powers

But I’m always up for recommendations.

Posted in Underbelly, Writing on September 10, 2007 by Jesse

Chinese (Pet) Food Scandal

As a long-time pet-owner (of an aged Malamute), I found this whole scandal disturbing. I also found the references to other food safety scandals pretty incredulous. Not sure how to work that into a story, but damn….


ZHANGQIU, China, April 28 — As American food safety regulators head to China to investigate how a chemical made from coal found its way into pet food that killed dogs and cats in the United States, workers in this heavily polluted northern city openly admit that the substance is routinely added to animal feed as a fake protein.
In recent years, for instance, China’s food safety scandals have involved everything from fake baby milk formulas and soy sauce made from human hair to instances where cuttlefish were soaked in calligraphy ink to improve their color and eels were fed contraceptive pills to make them grow long and slim.
Yet what is clear from visiting this region of northeast China is that for years melamine has been quietly mixed into Chinese animal feed and then sold to unsuspecting farmers as protein-rich pig, poultry and fish feed.

Many animal feed operators here advertise on the Internet, seeking to purchase melamine scrap. The Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Company, one of the companies that American regulators named as having shipped melamine-tainted wheat gluten to the United States, had posted such a notice on the Internet last March.

Here at the Shandong Mingshui Great Chemical Group factory, huge boiler vats are turning coal into melamine, which is then used to create plastics and fertilizer.

But the leftover melamine scrap, golf ball-size chunks of white rock, is sometimes being sold to local agricultural entrepreneurs, who say they mix a powdered form of the scrap into animal feed to deceive those who raise animals into thinking they are buying feed that is high in protein.

“It just saves money if you add melamine scrap,” said the manager of an animal feed factory here.

Last Friday here in Zhangqiu, a fast-growing industrial city southeast of Beijing, two animal feed producers explained in great detail how they purchase low-grade wheat, corn, soybean or other proteins and then mix in small portions of nitrogen-rich melamine scrap, whose chemical properties help the feed register an inflated protein level.

Melamine is the new scam of choice, they say, because urea — another nitrogen-rich chemical — is illegal for use in pig and poultry feed and can be easily detected in China as well as in the United States.

“People use melamine scrap to boost nitrogen levels for the tests,” said the manager of the animal feed factory. “If you add it in small quantities, it won’t hurt the animals.”

The manager, who works at a small animal feed operation here that consists of a handful of storage and mixing areas, said he has mixed melamine scrap into animal feed for years.

He said he was not currently using melamine. But he then pulled out a plastic bag containing what he said was melamine powder and said he could dye it any color to match the right feed stock.

He said that melamine used in pet food would probably not be harmful. “Pets are not like pigs or chickens,” he said casually, explaining that they can afford to eat less protein. “They don’t need to grow fast.”

The resulting melamine-tainted feed would be weak in protein, he acknowledged, which means the feed is less nutritious.

But, by using the melamine additive, the feed seller makes a heftier profit because melamine scrap is much cheaper than soy, wheat or corn protein.

“It’s true you can make a lot more profit by putting melamine in,” said another animal feed seller here in Zhangqiu. “Melamine will cost you about $1.20 for each protein count per ton whereas real protein costs you about $6, so you can see the difference.”

Posted in Current Events, Underbelly on April 30, 2007 by Jesse
Add a Comment »

Sheep v. Poodle

I had a gut sense this was a hoax when it first came out, but damn it felt like it should be true…

Japanese fooled in poodle scam
Thursday Apr 26 20:55 AEST

Thousands of Japanese have been swindled in a scam in which they were sold Australian and British sheep and told they were poodles.

Flocks of sheep were imported to Japan and then sold by a company called Poodles as Pets, marketed as fashionable accessories, available at $1,600 each.

That is a snip compared to a real poodle which retails for twice that much in Japan.

The scam was uncovered when Japanese moviestar Maiko Kawamaki went on a talk-show and wondered why her new pet would not bark or eat dog food.

She was crestfallen when told it was a sheep.

Then hundreds of other women got in touch with police to say they feared their new “poodle” was also a sheep.

One couple said they became suspicious when they took their “dog” to have its claws trimmed and were told it had hooves.

Japanese police believe there could be 2,000 people affected by the scam, which operated in Sapporo and capitalised on the fact that sheep are rare in Japan, so many do not know what they look like.

Posted in Current Events, Underbelly on April 26, 2007 by Jesse
Add a Comment »

Jesse Scoble

Jesse Scoble is a writer, story editor, and game designer in no particular order.

He has won awards, written a Western Horror script, worked on computer games & pen&paper games, contributed to more than 30 titles, and makes a mean mojito.

Currently he is a freelance writer in Montreal, QC.