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August 2003

Torcon Badge Trick

We are at the WorldCon in Toronto. Within half an hour of me putting on my badge, Elizabeth invented a trick to play on people wearing Torcon badges: the string on the badge holder is elastic. If grabbed and released, it snaps very nicely. On bare skin, that hurts. Try it on your friends! Try it on people in skimpy costumes! Or better yet, replace your elastic string with one that doesn't stretch. That's certainly on my todo list.

A Dean/Clark Ticket?

The Washington Post rumors that Howard Dean is in talks with Wesley Clark:

What started as a point-by-point review of his economic and health care policies turned quickly into his dissertation on foreign affairs in Cuba, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iraq. Dean has been getting tutored on foreign policy by numerous experts, including retired Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar. He has also had several private conversations with retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, the former NATO commander who some Democrats see as an attractive running mate for Dean if Clark does not join the race himself.

At the Rotary, Dean insisted he is tougher than Bush on national defense, even if he opposed the war in Iraq. He said he supported the Persian Gulf War, the attack on Afghanistan and, unlike Bush, wants to confront Saudi Arabia over its ties to terrorist groups. "Our oil money goes to the Saudis, where it is recycled and some of it is recycled to Hamas and two fundamentalist schools which teach small children to hate Americans, Christians and Jews," Dean said. "This president will not confront the Saudis."

Dean looks like an increasingly serious candidate. The Dean/Clark combination strikes me as particularly solid. Hope it happens.

Also, the Saudis really are an issue. They should have been publically confronted as each piece of information about Saudi involvement in 9/11 emerged. Instead, Bush suppressed it in favor of placating his favorite industry.

(Via The Likely Story.)

I Didn't Send You Spam or a Virus

Like many other people, yesterday I found my inbox full of messages saying the address I'd email was bad. My problem wasn't bad addresses. It was that I hadn't sent the messages in the first place.

I emailed panix's support to express concern, lest I be dumped as a spammer. They reassured me that it was most likely someone else's virus problem. A virus on someone else's computer had snagged my email address from their address book and inserted me as a return address.

This evening, I find that the problem was written up by the Associated Press:

The e-mail message that carries Sobig.F has the subject line "Re: Details" and the message "Please see attached file for details." If a recipient clicks on the attachment, which can have multiple names ending in the .pif file extension, the computer will be infected.

The virus will then send itself out to names found in the victim's address book and will use one of these names to forge a return address. As such, the infected party may not quickly learn of the infection, while an innocent party may get the blame for helping to propagate it.

Elizabeth Walks

I declare Elizabeth officially able to walk, one day shy of 10 months old. Yesterday, she walked two unsupported steps. Today four, then five, and an hour later six. She can walk, though she doesn't entirely believe it yet.

A parenting book I was skimming yesterday in the library suggested that one keep a diary of words that baby says. Words Elizabeth has said today: cat, dog, clap, this, that, fish, doll, turtle, yes, mommy, kitty, eat, water. She also said a sentence I only partly got, but the first two words were I need . . .

Another Weird Backyard Plant

My brother John and his two boys are visiting. Peter, Elizabeth, and their two cousins were playing in the circle of stumps in our back yard when I spied something posetively Lovecraftian. There were what looked like pink tentacles coming up through the wood chips in the play area; small, calamari-sized tentacles. They seemed to hatch from egglike puffballs and had a horrible smell which attracted tiny flies. An intrusion of teaspoon-sized Elder Gods, perhaps?

While John photographed them with his marvelous digital camera (I hope to have digital photos to show later), I seached on Google to see what they might be. According to the website of the Boston Mycological Society, what we have appears to be a kind of stinkhorn called Stinky Squid (Pseudocolus fusiformis).

Calculating the Blackout Death Toll

Here's something obvious about the blackout I've been expecting someone to say, but hasn't come up as far as I know: Various news sources report only a couple of deaths resulting from the blackout based on annecdotal evidence from law enforcement and local governments. That's not how deaths attibibutable to this kind of disaster are calculated. Instead, you look at the normal death rate for this period of time and then compare it to the actual deathrate during the blackout. The results numbers yield a number of excess deaths, if any. That would be the way to find out the true death toll of the blackout.

Now, we had such a mellow, laid back, lets-go-out-and-see-the-stars blackout that maybe, just maybe the blackout saved a few lives by getting us to all slow down and get in touch with the cosmos. But I rather suspect that the blackout excess deaths were probably around a couple of hundred.


Police seek black pickup in possible sniper shootings.

The missing word is truck. On first reading, I though perhaps they'd become a little more open about rounding up the usual suspects. This may be a brave new fair and balanced kinda world, I thought, but the police wouldn't just announce that sort of thing, would they?

A truck. They're looking for a truck.

The Empire Strikes Back?

Bill O'Rielly, August 16th, 2003:

Now, FOX News is striking back by putting the demonizers on notice that they will be held responsible when they violate trademarks or launch defamatory personal attacks on FOX personnel.

Judging from a quick Google search on fair and balanced in my fair and balanced opinion, it looks like FOX is guaranteeing full employment for America's lawyers. Unemployed attorneys, give FOX a call.

Service Interruptions

We just had a brief interruption of cable modem service and I tried to use the dialup line but got a message that all circuits are busy.

UPDATE: There's blackout blogging at The Command Post with better news updates than the big news sites.

They report

The Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) has been asked to dump 46,000 megawatts of power - meaning approximately 45,000 homes who had electricity stored will go without once more, as rolling blackouts go into effect.

UPDATE (11:10AM): Teatown (in Ossining) just called to say that they'd lost power again and because their water and toilets are on a pump system, they have to cancel afternoon camp. Peter is sad.

UPDATE: Christine Quiones on her commute home during the blackout.

UPDATE: The NYT has a front page sidebar with blackout info. Here's the one I've been looking for:

Commuter rail service is not operating within New York City. There is limited service within New York's suburbs and New Jersey.

It would seem that David will not be home for a while longer.

HE DIDN'T ANSWER THE QUESTION: This exchange comes from the Bush blackout press conference as posted on

Q Mr. President, does this suggest that even with all the attention paid to homeland security that the electrical grid is still vulnerable, should it have been a terrorist attack?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think, you know, one of the things we'll have to do, of course, is take an assessment of why the cascade was so significant, why it was able to ripple so significantly throughout our system up east. And that will be a very important part of the investigation once we deal with the immediate -- and the immediate, of course, is to take care of people.

You know, for example, in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg has ordered out thousands of police officers on the street to help bring calm; fire fighters are working overtime; emergency crews are out working well. My focus is to work with state and local authorities to help deal with the immediate problem. Of course, we'll have time to look at it and determine whether or not our grid needs to be modernized. I happen to think it does, and have said so all along. But this will be -- this is going to be an interesting lesson for our country, and we'll have to respond to it.


PRINCETON, New Jersey (CNN) -- Investigators on Friday seeking the cause of the power outage that crippled parts of the U.S. Midwest, Northeast and southern Canada are looking for what was essentially "a nine-second event" along what's known as the Lake Erie Loop.

DAVID'S HOME: I picked David up at the Tarrytown train station at about 3. He's home.



I guess we don't really need terrorists to bring the system to its knees. The system can do it all by itself. What does Tom Ridge have to say about all this? After all the billions of dollars spent to make the Homeland more Secure, one would think that vulnerabilities in the power grid would have been addressed. Perhaps less money should be spent on enforced patriotism and more money devoted to the system's real security holes.

At 4:06 PM yesterday, I was nursing Elizabeth and web surfing, reading Penis Removal Just Latest In Series of Surgical Mistakes, But Patients Can Protect Themselves. At 4:09, I arose from the computer and went outside to the car. Elizabeth wasn't done nursing and was outraged. But if I waited longer, I'd be late to pick up Peter at Teatown's nature camp. I strapped the squalling infant into her car seat, started the car, and pulled out of the driveway. I think I turned on the radio before pulling out and was annoyed that I couldn't get WFUV, the local folk station. I left the radio on the station for half a mile, hoping WFVU would come back, but it didn't.

I searched the dial, finding stations, though not the ones I expected. For a couple of minutes I listened to an NRP broadcast about the death toll of the French heat wave which described how the record heat had overstressed the power grid, causing power outages which left people without air conditioning and fans, leaving the poor and elderly vulnerable. A man who had written a book about the Chicago heat wave was being interviewed when I lost the station about a mile and a half from home.

I got music on a staticky station which claimed to be 92.3 but didn't sound like it. I momentarily wondered if something 9/11ish were happening, but shook my head, deciding that it was probably just a localized power outage in the vicinity of a major transmission tower. I kept changing stations and losing stations as I drove. No mention was make of power outages on the stations I could get.

Elizabeth was still howling io the back seat. She wasn't giving up. I turned off the radio and tried singing to her, which didn't calm her.

There was a lot of traffic in downtown Chappaqua. When I reached the first traffic light of my journey, it was out of commission. I drove on in unusually heavy traffic. I turned the radio back on, getting stations only faintly and momentarily. Another traffic signal out. I concluded that the power must be out in Chappaqua (though I was actually now already in Millwood). As I waited in traffic, I noticed that it was taking me a lot longer than usual to get to Teatown and that I was going to be late picking up Peter. When I reach the intersection, I saw that yet another traffic light was out. Traffic moved more smoothly toward the forth traffic light of my trip where a woman in purple shirts and T-shirt wearing a baseball cap was directing traffic. Where were the police, I wondered. Shouldn't they come and direct traffic?

I arrived about 5 minutes late to pick up Peter. Walking toward the door, I passed a car with its radio turned up loud. Four camp counselors and the camp director were clustered around. There was a mention of power outages. New York City, counties in New Jersey and also Westchester County were mentioned. That was the first I'd heard of major power outages, but I still didn't really get it. I apologized to Peter's camp counselor for being late, remarking that traffic was bad because none of the traffic lights were working in Chappaqua. He waved me off saying power was out for the whole Eastern Seaboard. One of the other kids in Peter's group was talking about how his daddy who worked for IBM was going to fix the computer worm that did this.

Peter said he had something really important to show me. He took me in the bathroom and flipped the light switch on and off. Nothing happened. See? I explained that the lights weren't coming on because the power was out.

Peter wanted to look at the animals in tanks before we left, but the tank lights were out, so we couldn't see much. In the parking lot, I tried to call David at Tor on my cell phone, but it didn't ring. I loaded the kids in the car and listened to 1010 WINS was we drove home. Peter was shouting from the back seat that I should turn it off because there was too much static, but eventually I convinced him that they were telling me something I needed to know. The station was coming in badly. It was not the local 1010. Probably it was one in Connecticut.

I switched back to FM and got a Connecticut station which came in very clearly. They were reporting that their power had just come back on and reported for the whole 15 minute drive referring to the event as a "brownout." Brown for whom, I wondered. Still no police directing traffic on the return trip. Cars were now treating the intersections like 4 way stops, which improved traffic flow. I wondered why no police. On the trip out, the lack of police directing traffic was understandable. But half an hour later, five block from the police station, the lack of a policeman direction traffic seemed to me a serious lapse. I saw no police anywhere. What were they doing? The location of traffic lights should be well-known to them.

Once at home in our driveway, I tried to call David again. It still didn't ring. I tried my parents number in Seattle. It rang and my mother answered. I told her about the blackout, which she had not known about.

Once in the house, Peter was anxious and sulky. I explained to him that the power outage was a big problem but that he should not be scared. It was like when the roads were bad because of too much snow. Daddy would not be able to make it home, but that he was fine and we all were safe. Then I sent him outside to play with the hose and fill the kiddie pool, a surefire distraction.

Since the regular phone lines require electricity, it had not occurred to me that our phone service might be intact. But at about 5:30, the phone rang. It was David, calling from Tor. The phones worked until about 7. I guess Verizon's backup generator ran out of fuel. Using my cell phone, I wasn't able to get Tor or the apartment where David said he might be, so I presume their phone service gave out, too. (As of 8:30 AM, Tor's phone system still doesn't answer, so I presume the phones in Manhattan are still out.)

NEWSBREAK: David just called from Tor. One cannot call in. They have some very bad phone service going out -- I had to speak very slowly and repeat words three times to be understood. David, Jim Minz, Jim's wife, and a guy named Gavin from production spent the night in the Tor offices. David had me try the MetroNorth web site to see if trains were running. I could not get the MetroNorth web site to load.

Returning to our story: Before dark, Peter and Elizabeth played with the girl next door until she went in for dinner. It was very quiet out. No air conditioners. No planes overhead.

Then we went back to our screened porch. Periodically, I called my mother for news updates. The kids were both a bit insecure and I had to be very insistent to get some dinner on the table and get candles lit. We had plenty of candles available, plus a good kerosene lamp, but I had to keep childproofing concerns clearly in mind, and there were not a lot of easy places to put candles where the kids couldn't reach.

Peter set one of his veggie sticks on fire when I was trying to put more food out. But after a stern talking to, he behaved well with the candles after that. After the sun set, the kids and I watched the bats and watched the stars come out. I'd hoped we might be able to see some shooting stars, but the air was too hazy. Also, despite the lack of light pollution from the ground, because there was a full moon to rise later, the sky never got truly dark.

I called my mother for an update. she said that some official had said that the outage had been contained. Yeh, I said. Contained in a larger container than its ever been contained in before! I saw a flashlight bobbing in the living room: Geoffrey and Annie. We talked for a little while and they helped me get the kids to bed.

It was tricky figuring out what to leave burning. Until I was ready to go to sleep, I left the kerosene lamp burning in our bathroom's shower stall, the most fireproof place I could think of. Peter was afraid to be in the dark and so I put a candle in his window over his sliding glass door. It cast a pure cool light over the whole room and down the hall. It was the same spot I'd burned a candle after 9/11. I'm sure it was visable throughout the neighborhood for lack of competition.

After the kids were asleep, I stood out on the deck and watched the moon rise. There were no mosquitoes about, which was great. It was a much more comfortable temperature outside, and it also smelled better. (Because of the humidity, mold in our basement is flourishing.) A bit after 10, I called my mother again. Still no real news about what was happening.

At 2:38 AM I head the one and only MetroNorth train that I've heard so far. Shortly thereafter, something happened than set off a number of alarms in the area. A momentary power surge? Because I heard alarms and sirens, I got up to investigate, but there was nothing really to see. I tried watching for shooting stars, but the moon was very bright.

As I mentioned in my pervious post, the power came on about 6:30. The adventure continues.

Can I just say how self-righteous I feel about our lack of home air conditioning? We are part of the solution, not part of the problem. Come on people: You don't need to spend your whole lives in temperatures below 75 degrees!

Power Back: 6:30AM, Pleasantville, NY

Our power came back on about 20 minutes ago, at about 6:30 AM. The fishtank began making an annoying noise and I checked the time on my cell phone which I'd left next to my bed. After 5 or ten minutes, I got up and poured water in the fish filter and staggered back to bed. But my curiousity got the best of me. A web connection. Now I can find out what the hell happened, I thought. Well no. Not really. What did I expect?

CNN: Power returning as questions begin

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The cause of a blackout that affected all of New York City and much of the Northeast on a sweltering August day remained uncertain Friday morning as power began to trickle back to a few, even as more than 15 million from Detroit to Ottawa remained without electricity.

As of 4:30 a.m. EDT Friday, some lights were beginning to flicker back on in parts of Manhattan. Not far from Times Square -- where many people had camped out for the night -- some streetlights began to glow. But most other areas of the city remained in the dark.

So far, there had been no reports of major injuries or deaths related to the blackout, New York Gov. George Pataki said.

"People are responding the way they should," Pataki said. "We can look at each other with tremendous pride."

But he added: "The questions I'm asking are: 'Why did this happen? And why did the steps that were supposed to have been taken to make sure this did not happen again not happen?'"

Last night I was getting news by calling my mother in Seattle on my cell phone and having her watch TV and websurf for me.

Now here's something interesting from the NYT:

The problem of preventing such power failures has been that, for the most part, no one has an incentive to invest billions of dollars in new wires, new towers and new transformers. The old utilities have sold off their power plants but still hold a highly regulated monopoly on the network of lines, and they would only invest in new transmission if state regulators would guarantee them rate increases to pay for it.

That is the last thing the regulators, who deregulated much of the industry in hopes of lowering rates, would be willing to do. The entrepreneurial power companies that have bought up power plants have decided against building new transmission lines that would compete with existing ones, possibly driving down transmission charges, and would, at most times, be nothing more than "excess capacity."

More later. I've got some reading to do.

It's a good thing Charles Platt has a sense of humor:
Further Tales of Ted Williams's Head

It's a good thing our friend Charles Platt has a sense of humor. Resurrection you want? says the Deity reaching for a thunderbolt. Then He thinks better of it and sends Sports Illustrated instead. Yes, a plague of sports writers. That would be better.

From USA Today:

Sports Illustrated reported this week that Ted Williams was decapitated by surgeons at the cryonics company where his body is suspended in liquid nitrogen, and several samples of his DNA are missing.

The magazine's report, appearing in the issue that hit newsstands Wednesday, is based on internal documents, e-mails, photographs and tape recordings supplied by a former employee of Alcor Life Extension Foundation.

On Wednesday, science fiction writer Charles Platt \ an Alcor consultant \ disputed the Sports Illustrated report and company director Carlos Mondragon described the magazine's source as a disgruntled former employee.

Platt said the samples can't be missing because, "I can say with total certainty that Alcor has never taken a DNA sample of anyone."

Meanwhile, Buzz Hamon, a former director of the Ted Williams Museum in Hernando, Fla., has asked Arizona's attorney general to investigate Phoenix-based Alcor and the condition of Williams' body. Dianna Jennings, a spokeswoman for Arizona Attorney General, said the office cannot comment on ongoing investigations.

Last I remember about Charles and the subject of cryonics was his account of attending the Timothy Leary deathwatch, waiting to freeze Leary's head. Toward the end, Leary decided not to have his head frozen, but the deathwatch had been a long, strange trip nonetheless.

The Ted Williams situation promises to be a longer, stranger and probably much more unpleasant trip. Here is Charles's public statement:

Please feel free to forward the following text to any news group or discussion list.


As Alcor CEO Dr. Jerry Lemler remarked in one of the many interviews he has given to refute the allegations made by a one-time friend of Ted Williams, the Alcor patient care bay and cooldown bay were undergoing renovation until a couple of weeks ago, which may explain the reference to disorderly conditions. On the other hand, during my years as a technical journalist I visited many laboratories, and to an outsider who lacks comparable experience, any place where experimental work is done might look "disorderly."

I am not aware of any "unsanitary" conditons, and I walk through the patient cooldown area almost every day when I am at Alcor.

Regarding liquid nitrogen levels, they are checked regularly, as they always have been. Alcor maintains a reservoir of liquid nitrogen which feeds the Dewars containing patients. The reservoir is refilled via regular deliveries.

Each Dewar has a gauge mounted on it, displaying the level of liquid inside. My guess is that the uninformed visitor saw two of the gauges with their needles in the red zone, and assumed correctly that this indicated a lack of liquid inside the Dewars. If he had asked why, we could have told him that those two Dewars are empty and are being held in reserve, in expectation of future cryopatients.

So far as I know, Alcor has never experienced any incident in which liquid nitrogen levels were allowed to fall below normal levels, in Dewars containing patients, pets, or tissue samples.

The ironic part of all this is that no one has ever confirmed that Ted Williams resides in an Alcor Dewar. Alcor has refused to comment on this case, and still refuses to comment. Therefore, in addition to being inaccurate, the news story was based on a supposition which has never been validated. If I had turned in a story like that in the years when I contributed frequently to magazines such as Wired, the story would never have made it past the fact-checking department.

--Charles Platt
Director of Suspension Services, Alcor Foundation
(Speaking primarily for myself, rather than Alcor.)

Of Bygone Frogs

OK, so we're back in New York. Why do I feel like it's hotter here than in Texas? Answer: in Texas, it was so insanely hot that we stayed in air conditioning as much as we could. At home, our house has no air conditioning. As I have remarked previously, normally this is a point of pride. But having spent 8 days mostly in temperature-controlled environments, I'm having a hard time adjusting.

The Texas trip went well, but I've been feeling sad about the state of the Houston ecosystem. I had been looking forward to teaching Peter how to catch frogs. Even though I had seen very few the last couple of times I went to Texas, I still entertained the expectation of finding a lot of what my Texan relatived referred to as "toad-frogs." In the 1970s, they used to be all over the place in Houston at dusk. In 8 days in Texas, despite Peter's sharp-eyed best efforts we saw just one, and it was in downtown Austin when we were on our way back from seeing the bats.

At a World Fantasy Con, Sean Stewart and I got to talking about Houston and he became very interested when I told him I used to go there in summers the early '70s. He was working on Mocking Bird. I provided an anecdote about a frog which he worked into the book. I had not thought the frog itself would be a period detail.

Frogs are an indicator species.

110 Degrees!

I've been trying not to think about the heat here: we came to Austin in August. What did I expect? But it was apparently 110 degrees here on Friday, the second-hottest day on record. When I've gone outside on the hottest days, I've pretended I was in a sauna. I have no idea how hot the insides of the cars have been when we've gotten into hot cars.

It has cooled down a bit. It's only 84 now.

Literary Looting

Joseph Braude, author of The New Iraq: Rebuilding the Country for its People, the Middle East and the World, was apparently lending a hand by helping Iraqis clear away a bit of historical clutter. He was busted by US Customs for possession of "4,000-year-old Mesopotamian artifacts" which were "marked on the bottom with the letters 'IM' and a serial number."

The author of a book on rebuilding Iraq was arrested at Kennedy International Airport for allegedly smuggling stolen 4,000-year-old Mesopotamian artifacts out of Baghdad, authorities said Saturday.

Joseph Braude, author of "The New Iraq," was released on a $100,000 bond after a preliminary appearance Saturday in federal court.

Braude, 28, brought the priceless artifacts into the United States on June 11, U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf said. He was arrested Friday night after arriving at the airport on a flight from London, she said.

Braude bought the three cylindrical stone seals, made of marble and alabaster, for $200 during a visit to Baghdad in June, authorities said.

"These items are not souvenirs, but stolen goods that belong to the people of Iraq," said Martin Ficke, special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in New York.

Do check out the reader reviews of his book on Amazon. The first one smells author-written to me.

MEANWHILE: A new kind of ape has been discovered in, of all politically unpleasant places, the Congo.

"It doesn't look much like a gorilla, it doesn't look like a chimpanzee," said primatologist Shelly Williams, who captured a bit of video of the female mystery ape with a baby.

Pictures of the rare ape are scarce. Wildlife photographer Karl Amman, who was first to spot the mysterious mammals a few years ago, said the animal has feet that are about two inches bigger than the average gorilla and is more flat-faced than other apes. Its behavior also sets it apart from other apes, researchers say.

The mystery ape often sleeps in big ground nests. Chimpanzees, for example, usually nest in trees to stay away from predators. And the mystery apes hoot when the moon rises and sets, something chimps don't do for fear of attracting lions and hyenas, Williams said.

There's hope for bigfoot yet!

We're in Texas at Armadillocon and I've been having too much fun to blog. Ellen Datlow promises pictures of Bruce Sterling entertaining baby Elizabeth with his Swiss Army knife.

100% Humidity

It's so humid that the smoke detector has been going off spontaneously (waking Elizabeth up from her anp and putting her in a bad humor; grr). I just took the battery out, having established that it is humidity and not smoke that was setting it off.

I put off all my errands to the mid-late afternoon, when it just happend to rain cats and dogs, so I spent most of my afternoon getting wet. I think we've had between 2 and 3 inches of rain so far today. Ick.


Soon, we will be off to Austin for Armadillocon:

A Literary Science Fiction Convention on August 8-10, 2003 at the Hilton North in Austin, TX

Guest of Honor Kage Baker
Fan Guest Willie Siros
Toastmaster Aaron Allston
Editor Guest Anne Groell
Artist Guest John Picacio
Special Guest Vernor Vinge

Hall of Fame of Former Guests of Honor attending: Neal Barrett, Jr., Kurt Baty, Tom Becker, Scott Bobo, Ginjer Buchanan, Ellen Datlow, Bradley Denton, John Douglas, Gardner Dozois, Brad W. Foster, Steven Gould, David Hartwell, Teddy Harvia, Debbie Hodgkinson, Al Jackson, Joe R. Lansdale, Elizabeth Moon, Harry O. Morris, Spike Parsons, Mary Rosenblum, William Browning Spencer, Bruce Sterling, Robert Taylor, Gordon Van Gelder, Pat Virzi, Howard Waldrop, Martha Wells

Confirmed Program Participants include: Daniel Abraham, Lou Anders, David Lee Anderson, Renee Babcock, Allison Baker, Eric Bakutis, Carol Berg, Jayme Blaschke, Michael Bracken, Elizabeth Burton, Lillian Stewart Carl, Suzy McKee Charnas, Deborah Chester, Cat Conrad, Roxanne Longstreet Conrad. Kathryn Cramer, Bill Crider, Scott Cupp, Aaron de Orive. Dotti Enderle, Jennifer Evans, Mark Finn, Andrew Fox, Cathy Freeze, John K. Gibbons, Mitchell Graham, Eileen Gunn, Peggy Hailey, Beverly Hale, Jennifer A. Hall, Marty Halpern, Jason Henderson, Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, Rick Klaw, Alexis Glynn Latner, Jane Lindskold, Lee Martindale, Dennis L. McKiernan, C. J. Mills, Laura J. Mixon, Jess Nevins, Cary Osborne, James Owen, Lawrence Person, Doug Potter, Dusty Rainbolt, Jessica Reisman, Carrie Richerson, Chris Roberson, Tony Salvaggio, Patrice Sarath, Kate Saundby, Lucius Shepard, Mark Shepherd, Charles Siros, Caroline Spector, Warren Spector, Mikal Trimm, Dennis Virzi, Sage Walker, Lynn Ward, Don Webb, Wendy Wheeler, Mark Williams, Lori Wolf

Today I'm taking care of those pesky loose ends that can bite you when you're out having fun.

The Noise of Silent Meditation (the Sound of Silence?)

I have been doing web searches on meditation in Westchester and discovered Pine Hill Zendo, "an authentic Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple situated right outside the hamlet of Katonah in Northern Westchester." This sounds interesting.

Also on the web is a discussion of the Zen Buddists' difficulties with the Town government.

This is so Westchester! People out here will storm town zoning boards to prevent things on the silliest pretexts. (I have honestly heard someone say, in a discussion of clearing a better path for pedestrians, that if the path were cleared, "someone might jog past my house" in a tone suggesting a passing jogger was a serious imposition on him.) So here a town zoning board bans assembly for silent meditation on the basis of noise!

Few cases better illustrate the arbitrary and even whimsical way in which local zoning boards often cavalierly reject petitions for special use permits than the case of Pine Hill Zendo v. the Town of Bedford, New York.

Pine Hill Zendo is a Buddhist temple, albeit a very small one. It is one of a handful of Rinzai Zen Buddhist temples in North America with a resident teacher, and consists of a meditation room in the home of John andAngela Mortensen. The room has been purified by a Buddhist abbot, and for a few hours four days a week, the zendo's eleven members gather at the house for silent meditation, brief liturgies and instruction.

. . .

In 1998, Mortensen was certified a Dharma teacher, the equivalent of becoming a Zen master in Japan. He and Angela began to search for a place for him to teach, but they were unable to find a location they could afford. Angela Mortensen then asked the town planning department what might be required for them to use their home for religious observances, and were told to simply go ahead. Pine Hill Zendo was formed, and for two years religious observances took place in the house without incident.

In the spring of 2001, however, a neighbor complained to the Town Planning Board, and the Mortensens were asked to apply for a special use permit that would allow them to use the home as a "church or other place of worship," although neither of those terms is defined anywhere in the Town zoning ordinance. The Zoning Board of Appeals held a hearing on the application on September 5, 2001, and a group of neighbors appeared in opposition. None claimed that they had been harmed or even inconvenienced by Pine Hill Zendo during the previous two years. One resident even testified that other neighbors told her they had never seen or heard anything, and didn't even realize the Zendo existed. Opponents simply speculated that traffic and parking problems might develop.

The ZBA rejected the application for a special use permit, citing "issues related to traffic and on-street parking," although on-street parking is permitted in the area at any time except for overnight hours during the winter months. And, incongruously, the Board cited concern over noise, despite the fact that the Zendo's primary activity is silent meditation.

On November 2, 2001 The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty joined the case. On November 6, 2001, Pine Hill Zendo filed suit [ Memorandum of Law in Support of Petition and in Support of the Motion for a Stay ] against the Bedford ZBA in the Supreme Court for the County of Westchester, New York, seeking reversal of the Board's decision. The complaint charged that the Board used an erroneous standard for determining whether religious activities are entitled to a special use permit. It also alleged that the Town's actions violate RLUIPA and the U.S. and New York Constitutions.


On April 8, 2002, the Town of Bedford agreed to a Stipulation of Settlement and Discontinuance in which it agreed: 1) to vacate the decision in which the ZBA denied the special permit; 2) agreed to issue a special permit; 3) specified conditions under which Pine Hill Zendo would be allowed to operate, including a limit of 12 persons gathered for worship and/or meditation at any one time, no more than 5 overnight guests, a limit of 6 one day retreats per year, and "all reasonable efforts" to encourage attendees to avoid on-street parking. The Town also agreed to pay $30,000 in attorney's fees and costs to Pine Hill Zendo.

Lightning Strikes

At 4:41 AM, lightning struck somewhere very close to our house. Awakened from a moderately sound sleep, I sat straight up in bed and shrieked. David was also awakened, but (miraculously, I think) the many other people sleeping in the house slept through it. It is the 15th anniversary NYRSF work weekend and we are gathering a celebratory crowd for a picnic this afternoon, so in addition to Peter and Elizabeth, Tavis Alison, Eugene Reynolds, Lisa Padol, and Josh Kronengold were also asleep at the time. None were awakened. However, their neighbors across the street were awakened; it set off their burglar alarm. I'm pretty sure that the lightning strike hit one of the telephone poles which are at the same end of the house as our bedroom.

In any case, the lightning strike seems to have fried our cable modem, and I strongly suspect it did so through the cable lines, since all the other electrical connections to equipment have very strong surge protection. I'm using the dial-up connection from David's computer now.

Is there a way to surge protect cable connections?

UPDATE: Despite our ISPs claim that the problem must be with the modem, this afternoon, our cable web connection spontaneously came back. While I still think that lightning took out our connection, it now appears that the damage was outside the house and that it has now been fixed. I'm still interested in knowing how to protect the modem from surges through the cable connection.

Habitats: Compare & Contrast

More neighborhood aerial photography, this time in color. Did you know that now, when you go to Mapquest, once you get your map, there is a tab you can click to get a color aerial photo?

Here is an excercise you can try, too. The first of these photos is the Seattle neighborhood where I lived until I was twelve. The second is where I live now. Compare and contrast and try with your own habitats.

Ravenna, Seattle, Washington

Old Farm Hill
Old Farm Hill, Pleasantville, New York

Historical Tuning

At Mrs. Green's, a health food grocery store, I picked up a couple of brochures on local Tai Chi classes. One brochure, for classes taught by physicist Robert Chuckrow, mentions a web site. On his web site there is a link to an essay, Historical Tuning, which I found quite interesting:

Few musicians know that keyboard instruments are not tuned today as in BachÅfs day and before. Even fewer people understand the differences and are able to tune a piano or harpsichord as did Bach and other composers before him. Such music was composed to be played on specific tunings such as meantone or well temperament, not equal temperament, which is almost exclusively used today.

Each tuning involves specific frequency ratios of intervals such as fifths, fourths, and major and minor thirds. These specific frequency ratios differ from one way of tuning to another. Subtle differences in these ratios determine how the music sounds. Therefore, an important dimension of music is lost when it is played on a tuning not intended by the composer. This deficiency has certainly been the case for the past century or so, during which time BachÅfs keyboard music, much of which was written for well temperament, has been mostly played on equal temperament.

You'll Never Guess What Happened

David's mother, Constance Hartwell, called last night and said, "You'll never guess what happened," and told David that her grandson Chris (David's nephew) had been the train and a woman had suddenly had a baby, plop! She declined all help, put the afterbirth in her purse when it passed, picked up the baby and got off the train.

Here's the Boston Globe story. (The Chris Chin quoted is David's nephew who shares a house with David's mother.)

Refusing help, woman gives birth aboard T

A 42-year-old Braintree woman gave birth to a baby boy while standing on an inbound Red Line train yesterday morning, refusing help from stunned passengers who heard her moan and seconds later looked down to find her baby on the floor.

Witnesses told police that Joyce M. Judge, a former nurse who later said she was on the way to a Boston hospital, kept quietly refusing help during and after the delivery.

'''Thanks for your concern, we're OK,''' she said, according to Chris Chin of Duxbury. Standing 4 feet away from Judge, Chin said, he saw her tie the umbilical cord in a knot and wrap the baby in a silk scarf. ''She cradled the baby in one arm and grabbed the handrail with the other and continued to ride the T and stare out the window.''