National Briefs

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Another Big Easy Plague


As if the New Orleans region didn't have enough biblical-style problems, entomologists now believe that killer bees are established in the southern part of Louisiana. Africanized honeybees, which trace their lineage to a small group of African honeybee queens that escaped from a research study in Brazil in 1957, bear the "killer" sobriquet for their highly defensive tendencies around the hive. Since their arrival in Texas in 1990, they have been responsible for numerous human deaths in this country, and they now inhabit at least nine southern states from Florida to California.

But the bees may pose a greater problem for the beekeeping industry. Because the Africanized bees devote more energy to defense, they require a larger food supply and are much more willing to "abscond," as bee experts put it, if they don't find enough flora in an area.

They also readily crossbreed with their European cousins—which look almost identical—causing abrupt behavioral changes in a population.

"I knew a guy in Mexico who had about 5,000 colonies, and he lost 4,000 in one year because he was moving his bees around and they just absconded," says Greg Hunt, an entomology professor at Purdue University.

Killer bees were first observed in Louisiana in July 2005, but last week's sighting indicates that they have probably settled in the region.

Hizzoner Loses to Whistle-Blowers
Thirty-six-year-old Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has been bedeviled over the past five years by his share of scandals. Among them: a $25,000 bill to the city for his wife's SUV. But nothing beats the lurid tale of affairs and coverup that led a jury last week to award two fired police officers $6.5 million in a whistle-blower suit against Kilpatrick and the city.

The misdeeds began in 2003, according to the officers' lawyer Michael Stefani, when Officer Harold Nelthrope told the head of the force's internal affairs unit, Gary Brown, about alleged misconduct among Kilpatrick's bodyguards (including helping the mayor have affairs) and rumors of a wild bash with naked dancers at the mayor's residence. Brown began a probe, but he and Nelthrope were let go shortly thereafter by the mayor. Kilpatrick has vowed to appeal the verdict, but every day he waits, the interest on the award grows.

A Whirlwind in Record Time


When Humberto stormed into Galveston, Texas, last week with winds of 85 mph, it became the first hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Wilma in 2005. But that wasn't the only statistic that had experts buzzing. According to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, no recorded tropical cyclone had ever intensified so quickly near landfall. Over the course of 16 hours, the storm's wind speed increased by an unprecedented 50 MPH.

To the experienced forecaster, rapid strengthening by hurricanes, especially out at sea, is nothing new.


But this summer's showing, even without Humberto's feat, is looking downright zesty. Last month, for example, Hurricane Dean in the span of 36 hours intensified from 90 MPHto 145 MPH. Two weeks later, Hurricane Felix, which later slammed into Nicaragua, jumped 70 MPH in a day. Scientists say they're still grappling with the phenomenon.

"We don't understand everything with these storms," says Dennis Feltgen of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "We have a tremendous amount of research going on."

A Hate Crime in All but Name


When is a hate crime not a hate crime? When calling it something else could mean a tougher penalty for the accused. So said authorities last week when they announced that the federal government would not seek hate-crime charges against six white individuals accused of kidnapping and torturing a black woman in rural West Virginia.

Twenty-year-old Megan Williams was rescued by police early this month after being held for more than a week in a dingy mobile home in Logan County, W.Va., in what appears to have been a state of living hell. Williams told the press that her captors—three men and three women, all with prior criminal records—forced her to eat rat feces, lick blood, and drink water from a toilet. She also alleged that she was sexually abused, beaten, and stabbed repeatedly, often while being chastised with racial slurs.