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January 2005

The Mommy Brain

I was skimming a copy of Publishers Weekly in the car this morning and encountered a listing for a book I must have: The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter by Katherine Ellison which I have just preordered from Amazon.

Journalist Katherine Ellison draws on cutting-edge neuroscience research to demonstrate that, contrary to long-established wisdom that having children dumbs you down, raising children may make moms smarter. From enhanced senses in pregnancy and early motherhood to the alertness and memory skills necessary to manage like a pro, to a greater aptitude for risk-taking and a talent for empathy and negotiation, these advantages not only help mothers in raising their children, but in their work and social lives as well.

Filled with lively (and often hilarious) stories of multitasking moms at home and on the job, The Mommy Brain encourages all of us to cast aside conventional thinking and discover the positive ways in which having children changes mothers' brains for the better.

I have long been a proponent of the central thesis of this book. It took me several years to get a panel on entitled "Does Your Baby Make You Smarter?" on the program of a science fiction convention. (When the panel was finally held, at Readercon, it was really good.)

Why not preorder a copy for yourself?

Here's an article by someone who must have a review copy or a bound galley. (Earlier this month, I paid a visit to the family neurologist and had a chat covering much the same ground covered in this article. Do I just have too much to keep track of or is there something going wrong with my brain? The neurologist and I agreed that finding an assistant was probably the best treatment.)

What I'm Reading While I Stay Out of the Cold

It's 7 degrees Fahrenheit right now. When I looked at the thermometer a few minutes ago, I thought That's not so bad. because yesterday when I got up the thermometer read zero. At this time last year, I was enjoying the eucalyptus-scented humidity of the Australian summer in Brisbane, wondering why the heck I live in North America. (Why do I live here, anyway?) It's pretty out there, even if it's unbearably cold. The snow has the tracks of foraging deer and the sun will shortly rise behind the bare winter trees. The snow pack gives a blue cast to the reflected light. But, really, this place is too cold for human habitation. Why do I live here? (Something to do with commuting distance to the Flatiron Building, as I recall; that, and a really good school district.)

A few days ago, Greg Benford emailed me an editorial he'd written (in collaboration with Martin Hoffert) that I just got around to reading yesterday. Michael Crichton made the mistake of citing a paper on which Benford was an author in dismissing evidence for global warming and climate change. Crichton is a deeply conservative writer in the sense that he invokes interesting ideas to fuel the plots of his books and at the end, a volcano goes off or something, burying the interesting idea under a lava flow, returning everything to the status quo, so that we don't have to continue to think about the idea after the book ends. Whatever it was has been dispensed with. As a reader, I found this deeply irritating in Congo. Then, much later, when reading up on the possibility of extinct species cloning, I found it irritating in that nearly every reporter writing about the subject invoked Jurassic Park and many seemed to feel that they already knew why extinct species cloning was a bad idea, because Michael Crichton had already explained it to them. So I admit to a certain satisfaction at the very idea of Benford setting Crichton straight:

Fear of reason

Despite State of Fear's long bibliography, Crichton seems to have actually read only secondary sources, and does not understand them. He writes that our paper "concluded that there is no known technology that will enable us to halt the rise of carbon dioxide in the 21st century." But we didn't say that. Instead, we outlined plenty of technologies that must be further developed to stop a probable several-degree rise in global temperatures. We called for a Manhattan Project-style effort to explore technologies we already have.

Perhaps because he wanted a dramatic, contrarian theme, Crichton did not let facts get in the way. For example, he argues in "State of Fear" that our oceans are not warming. This is important because, as Arthur Clarke reminded us, it makes little sense to call our planet "Earth" when 70 percent of its surface is ocean. Not only are the oceans warming at the surface, there is well-documented and pronounced subsurface warming and heat storage as predicted 20 years ago and consistent with atmosphere and ocean climate models.

He's wrong, too, when he claims that a simple fact that cities are warmer than countryside, leading to a "heat island effect" has been ignored in climate temperature data taken near cities. He misleads his readers when he has his characters say that temperatures measured by Earth satellites are inconsistent with global warming derived from thermometers on land. To "document" his claims, Crichton shows many plots downloaded from the NASA/GISS Web site but he misrepresents the data.

Further, he invokes the pseudo-sciences of eugenics and Lysenkoism (in the former Soviet Union) as examples of mainstream scientists being led astray. But these were politically driven ideologies. They have more in common with the voodoo science of the climate contrarians than the dominant view of atmospheric scientists and geophysicists. In keeping with many relevant professional societies, like the American Geophysical Union, we are convinced that the fossil fuel greenhouse is already here, and has the potential to vastly transform terrestrial climate for millennia to come.

To believe Crichton and company, you have to believe that there's a vast conspiracy involving the editors of Science, Nature, Scientific American and some dozen other peer-reviewed journals to exclude and reject climate skeptics papers. The skeptics mainly publish books and on Web sites, avoiding journals.

The problem with Crichton, other than that he blows the endings of his books, is that reporters all read him (or at least all flock to see movies based on his books). Any number of news stories will be colored by his conspiracy theories about global warming.

Because Benford is an sf writer, this is no ordinary smack-down of the sf writer by the scientist. And in a key sense, Crichton isn't an sf writer, but rather a writer of technothrillers, which have different protocols for integrating science into the narrative. Benford is holding him to hard-sf standards because Crichton invokes them by citing scientific sources. So Benford appears here not just as a scientist but also as a writer of hard sf presenting its environmentalist face: The cold equations support the idea of global warming and suggest that we should do something about it.

Another interesting item I encountered yesterday was a passage from Nick Gever's interview with Terry Bisson in which Terry talks about his story "Scout's Honor":

[Gevers:] Another recent tale, "Scout's Honor" (Sci Fiction, January 2004), is an extremely moving account of an anthropologist venturing back in time and communing with Neanderthals. What, specifically, prompted your thinking about the possible reasons the Neanderthals died out?

Bisson: Don't we all think about that? The story of human evolution, our planetary diaspora, the emergence of consciousness in organic life, is the greatest story in the universe, as far as I know. Certainly Sawyer, Bear, Auel, Golding would agree. My favorite book on the subject is The Dance of the Tiger by Bjorn Kurten, a Norwegian anthropologist. I am continually using his ideas. The anthropologist in my story, by the way, was based on Paul Park's brilliant autistic sister, Jesse. It occurred to me that she might understand our cousins better than any of us.

What what? The protagonist was modeled on Jesse Park? I immediately went back and reread the story. Yup, the narrative clues are there that our hero is no ordinary nerd.

A Suggested Title Change

Shouldn't this article be retitled Why Men Can't Talk? My title seems a little better supported by the data cited.

(Um. Yes, I can read a map. When I was nine years old and living in Munich, the really dumb British babysitter from upstairs used to borrow me so she could go around Munich because I could read a map. And I could speak German, but I don't think that was why she had me come with her. I got to see a number of R rated movies [in English] that way. She couldn't find the theaters without me.)

Valhalla Gas Main Leak

This morning, shortly after I dropped David off at the train, he called and said all Metro-North service through Pleasantville had been suspended because of "police activity" in Valhalla. The voice on the Metro-North PA system had explained that northbound passengers should "drive" to Chappaqua for train service, and southbound passangers should "drive" to Noth White Plains. So I drove back to the train station and picked him up. He had offered rides to other stranded passengers, so three very grateful women piled into the back of our van and we set out for North White Plains.

Not only had the Metro-North PA system made no mention of buses to transport stranded passengers, but it had also failed to mention the fact that several of the primary roads toward our destination were also closed: the Bronx River Parkway and the main local road into Valhalla (Columbus Avenue?). When we were diverted off of the Bronx River Parkway, we switched on a news station and heard that the closure of this section of the train line was due to a gas leak. When our circuitous detour took us near the Valhalla train station, we smelled gas so strongly that I wondered if it was actually safe for us to be there. I dropped off David and the other stranded passengers at the North White Plains station and took another route home, avoiding Valhalla.

When I got home, I checked Google news to see if there were any further details and called and left a message for my son's yoga teacher whose studio on Legion Drive seemed to be about where the gas leak must be, telling her that the roads to her studio were closed.

Via Google News, I came across this news item:

(AP) A gas main break in Valhalla has forced Metro North to stop train service on its North Harlem line. Metro-North is not running trains between North White Plains and Chappaqua.

Spokeswoman Marjorie Anders says as a safety measure Metro-North has turned off the power to the electrified third rail, to prevent a fire from leaking gas.

She says buses will pick up passengers at Chappaqua, Pleasantville, Hawthorne and Valhalla, and take them to North White Plains where they will be reconnected to a train.

Anders says the gas main was reportedly broken while a Westchester Department of Public Works crew was working in the area of Legion Drive in Valhalla. Some businesses in the area had to be evacuated.

Now, Legion Drive is a very short street that goes behind the train station. There is a very dubious-looking construction site directly across from the yoga studio in which earth-moving equipment had cut away the hillside directly below a house on a very steep slope. To the casual observer, it looked unsafe and prompted some discussion in the yoga waiting room. I am most curious to know whether one of the back hoes on that site broke the gas line.

Note to the Westchester media: When the air clears enough for you to go see, do take a look at the site of the broken gas main.

I wonder if I'll have to pick up David at North White Plains this evening, or whether they'll have the problem solved by then. UPDATE: Metro-North now reports, as of 1:45PM: Service has been restored on the Harlem Line. We appreciate your patience during this disruption.

FURTHER UPDATE: Here's the Journal News article about the leak:

An errant backhoe ruptured a gas main near the Valhalla train station yesterday, sending natural gas spewing into the air and leading authorities to evacuate some 500 residents and businesses and shut portions of the Taconic State Parkway and Metro-North Railroad's Harlem Line for several hours.

It sounds from the article like the construction site was next to the train tracks. If the weather cooperates, I visit the scene this afternoon.

Why is an alleged engagement in foreign military operations called terrorism one moment and business the next?

George Monbiot has a really good piece in the Guadian:

Pedigree dogs of war

What is the legal difference between hiring a helicopter for use in a coup against a west African government and sending supplies to the Chechen rebels? If there isn't one, why isn't Mark Thatcher in Belmarsh? Conversely, why aren't the "foreign terrorist suspects" in Belmarsh prison free and, like Thatcher, at large in London? Why is an alleged engagement in foreign military operations called terrorism one moment and business the next?

The question is an important one, for mercenaries are becoming respectable again. On Thursday Tim Spicer, Britain's most notorious soldier of fortune, will speak at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Last month he addressed a conference at the Royal United Services Institute. Last year one of the companies he runs won a $300m contract from the US government for security work in Iraq. He moves through the establishment like the boss of any other corporation. 

I want to write more about it later, but now I have to get the kids off to school,

Moto Would Have Been a President in a Bottle

We did manage to get home yesterday despite the blizzard. I didn't really belive it was going to work until Northwest atually put us on a plane. (David's son Geoff, who was supposed to fly home from California yesterday, is geting in tonight.) There were a few difficult moments in the airport, mostly having to do with Elizabeth being two. For example, just as we were trying to board the plane, Elzabeth threw her body to the ground in typical toddler fashion and said "No, mamma! Don't make me get on the plane!" I struggled with her all the way down the jetway. But once we entered the plane, she realized she had an audience. She smiled and waved and said hi to each passanger in first class as we walked  past, charming them all.
Further to the subject of Mark Thatcher, London's Sunday Times has an article providing further details on the plans for the Equatorial Guinea coup:

Coup plotters wanted colony of their own

THE FAILED coup attempt involving Sir Mark Thatcher was to have made Equatorial Guinea a private colony run for the benefit of the British plotters, leaked documents reveal.

The papers, passed to The Sunday Times by South African intelligence sources, reveal that the plotters had created a trading company to control the oil-rich West African state.

The Bight of Benin Company (BBC), named after the bay on the state’s coastline, was to have grabbed control of the country’s economy, its oil reserves, army and police.

The company would have controlled the country as a private fiefdom, modelled on the British East India Company, which ran vast swathes of India before it formally became part of the empire.

After executing the coup, the company planned to make Severo Moto, the exiled opposition leader, its own frontman, bound by contract to cede power to BBC.

The plotters then planned to use the state’s intelligence services to gather “damaging information” on Moto and his family in case he stepped out of line. 

All this I more or less expected, not because I knew about any documentation, but because this seemed to be the obvious way for the coup plotters to proceed. But the specifics are really interesting:

The documents reveal the scale of the plotters’ greed and the lengths they were prepared to go to to ensure Moto remained beholden to them.

They reveal how BBC was to have “sole right to have physical or other access” to Moto once he became president. It would be the only company that could “make agreements or contracts” with the new regime. It would in effect be the government, controlling the armed forces, intelligence services, palace guard and customs.

Crucially, it would also take over the state oil company, and Moto would hand over economic planning to the plotters. They would use their military muscle to seize the country’s wealth, although they acknowledged the need to create jobs and welfare programmes to silence possible opposition. 

[This is the same article as the one in The Australian which Jan links to in the comments on the  previous post.]

(This guy has comically misread the article.)

The BBC to Air a Show on Thatcher and the Failed Coup

Tonight on BBC3, Thatcher and the Failed Coup

For the last 10 months, detail after detail about the disastrous attempt to mount a coup in Equatorial Guinea has been leaking into the public arena.

But this film blows the lid off the coup, meeting the key players and dishing the dirt that no-one else knows. It tells the inside story of international power play, oil-fuelled greed, men with guns and the son of the former British Prime Minister.

Fronted by Alex Millar, this film puts together the jigsaw of what happened, why, and who knew about it. During the process, the team met intelligence officers, top ranking US senators, diplomats, men who were approached to take part in the coup and more.

(Thanks A.!)

UPDATE: In the comments, Jan points out that the Guardian gives us a preview:

A senior former state department official in Washington, Joseph Sala, has disclosed he was hired by the plotters to gain US support for the coup. Mr Sala tells a BBC3 TV programme tonight that he was offered $40,000 (£21,351) to promote the plotters' cause there. Records for Sir Mark's mobile phone show that he was among those placing calls to a London businessman accused of masterminding the Washington plot.

Eli Calil, a millionaire middleman in African oil deals and a friend of the Labour politician Peter Mandelson, was allegedly at the centre of a group of London businessmen and mercenaries trying to promote their own candidate to take over the tiny but oil-rich state of Equatorial Guinea.

Its ruler, President Teodoro Obiang, was believed to be dying of cancer, and valuable oil concessions were hoped to be up for grabs. Much of the country's mushrooming oil industry is controlled by US companies.

Sir Mark is in limbo, staying at his mother's house in London while he attempts to renew his visa to gain entry to the US. The US authorities are deciding whether to grant him admission, despite his having a criminal conviction.

The former prime minister's son fled South Africa following his conviction and £270,000 fine there for financing a helicopter gunship to be used in the coup. In a plea bargain, Sir Mark admitted investing in the mercenaries' scheme, despite realising the helicopter "might" be used for mercenary activity. He and his friends have tried to present his role as unwitting and peripheral.

But the new evidence appears to place him at the centre of events. Phone records which the Guardian has seen show him placing two international calls from his home in South Africa to the mobile phone of Eli Calil, then based in his London mansion in Chelsea.

The calls were made within half an hour on February 2 last year, when planning for the coup was at its height. A fortnight earlier, Sir Mark had invested $275,000 during meetings in South Africa. Other alleged plotters had travelled to Spain to brief their candidate for president, the exiled African politician Severo Moto. In a third key leg of the alleged plan, a British businessman, Greg Wales, went to the US and hired a lobbyist who had influence in Washington.

Joseph Sala, who now runs the lobbying firm the ANN Group, says in tonight's programme: "The arrangement that we struck with Wales and the friends of Moto [unidentified] in February was that we would be paid $40,000 to put together a four-day programme for Moto in Washington, access to the Congress, think-tanks, media". He tells the programme, Thatcher and the Coup that Failed, that "the assumption in Washington would be that Calil wanted access to Equatorial Guinea's oil and that he, Calil, was prepared to do whatever was necessary to bring Moto to power on the assumption that Moto would return the favour.

"It's callous, it's crude, but it's the way of the world."

Sunday Morning

So here we are on Sunday morning at Confusion in Troy, Michigan. One must step carefully when walking through the hotel room because of a few extra people in sleeping bags. (My brother and his kids stayed over because of the snow storm.) We are supposed to fly home today, but the East Coast is having a blizzard today (the same storm that passed through here yesterday), so the prospects for our departure are a little dubious.

Anthony Sterling Rodgers 7-10-04 to 1-11-05

Here's some truly awful news from John Betancourt writing on

Amy Casil has given me permission to let people know that her and Alan Rodgers' baby, Anthony, has died in a tragic accident. There will be a memorial service this coming Thursday at 11:00 AM in Redlands for Anthony Sterling Rodgers. The service is being held at:

Cortner Chapel
221 Brookside Ave
Redlands, CA 92373
(909) 793-2353

Alan is in bad shape, according to Amy. He has been hospitalized for an indeterminate amount of time -- but it may be several more weeks. It is up to doctors at this point.

All of Alan's authors should consider their projects on temporary hold. We will get everything sorted out by February. Please email me instead of Alan or Amy if you have any queries. Alan does not have access to a computer now and is in no shape to deal with work issues in any event.

Please keep them all in your thoughts and prayers.

-- John

Too Drunk to Spend?

Having a problem spending enough money because you spend too much time in an altered state, unable to remember your own name, let alone locate a credit card? Don't despair! A solution is at hand. (I hope you're of a generous nature, because others may be able to piggyback on your largess.) Spyblog reports:

Both the The Observer and the The Telegraph report that a night club in Glasgow is following similar night clubs in Barcelona and Rotterdam by offering to implant VeriChip RFID chips under their loyal customers' skin.

This has many advantages for the bar or night club, by allowing them to extract money from customers who have decided that even credit cards are too bulky or inconvenient to carry, or who cannot even remember their own names whilst high on drugs or drink.

They are treating their loyal customers like animals such as cattle or pet cats or dogs, where identical technology is used.

The same hype tactics of promoting the VeriChips as a status symbol "allowing" a customer easier access to the "VIP" lounge/party/promoted event are evident in Glasgow as in the other European trials of the technology. Almost all of these VeriChip "trials" involve free or subsidised equipment and/or implants, and are publicity stunts aimed at supporting the share price of the chip manufacturer.

Alex at the Yorkshire Ranter remarks:

The sheer stupidity of this can be simply demonstrated by this analogy: imagine carrying a credit card that anyone within 20 yards of you could swipe - without you even knowing it. Would you be willing to do that? How would your answer change if you were told that the equipment required is freely available and the technical details are part of a publicly available standard?

Get 'em while they're hot! Be the first on your block to be able to slap it to the plastic while braindead!

That Pesky Double X

Michael Bérubé describes a study that explains the amazing genetic predispositions that prevent women from becoming President of Harvard:

"Traditionally, presidents of Harvard have been men," said Harvard geneticist Charles Kinbote, the study’s designer and principal investigator. "Now, after almost 400 years, we know why. To coin a phrase, it’s in the genes."

According to Kinbote, the presidency of Harvard University requires a unique array of talents and dispositions which, statistically, only a small handful of women possess. "For one thing," noted Kinbote, "it has long been one of the president’s tasks to deny tenure to promising female scholars-- personally, without stated cause, and after a department, a college, and a battery of external referees has approved her. My study shows that the X chromosome contains material that, in combination with another X chromosome, inhibits a person’s ability to do this."

Men are also more adept than women at mentally rotating three-dimensional shapes on aptitude tests, Kinbote added. "You’d be surprised how often a university president needs to do this, and at Harvard the pressure is especially intense." Kinbote estimated that the president of Harvard spends roughly one-quarter of the working day mentally rotating complex, hypothetical three-dimensional shapes, "and that’s not even counting all the time he needs to try to figure out why women aren’t as skilled at abstract mathematical thought."


Unfortunately, this next bit isn't satire, though it ought to be:

Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers has triggered criticism by telling an economics conference Friday that the under-representation of female scientists at elite universities may stem in part from “innate" differences between men and women, although two Harvard professors who heard the speech said the remarks have been taken out of context in an ensuing national media frenzy.

MEANWHILE, back in our hotel on Big Beaver Road (I kid you not), my son Peter -- observing that there are sprinkler heads over the hotel swimming pool -- asks "What happens if the pool catches on fire?"

SF & the Padded Cell

David and I had lunch with Eric Rabkin and over lunch there was much discussion of the future of sf and sf's relationship to the future. Then I plug in the computer into our hotel room Internet connection and run across this marvellous passage by Gwyneth Jones:

19th Jan
fugue caused by Bush inauguration, British Army in Iraq photos, tsunami coverage, & Intelligent Design in Pennsylvania. Singularity? Don't make me laugh. The real reason why sf writers "dare not tackle the near future, and have fled to exotic fantasy or military space opera" is so blindingly obvious I must be mad to go on trying, yes, the only explanation, this is really a padded cell


Headed for Confusion

Appropriately enough, given my current state of child-induced maternal ADD, I am a Fan Guest of Honor at Confusion in Troy, Michigan. (David is, too. This is pure coicidence, I'm sure!)

Thus, I may be a little slow to approve comments.

(Carl, meanwhile, is holding down the fort in Pleasantville, feeding the savage rabbit, stroking and wonderful kitty cat, and probably enjoying our book collection.)

Human Intelligence Needed: Enquire at the Desk

I thought about satirizing this, but I don't have time this morning and this here cake doesn't need icing anyway:

Form CNN: Bush: Better human intelligence needed

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Tuesday that the United States needs better intelligence gathering to further gains in the so-called global war on terrorism.

Intelligence agencies need to improve in one particular area, he said.

"Human intelligence, the ability to get inside somebody's mind, the ability to read somebody's mail, the ability to listen to somebody's phone call -- that somebody being the enemy," Bush said in an interview with CNN senior White House correspondent John King.

Lack of human intelligence has been blamed for the belief that stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq before the war. Their presumed presence was the stated rationale for the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, but the U.S. government recently abandoned efforts to find them.

Bush noted that a group has been formed to determine what needs to be improved.

It really is too bad that his current hired help just doesn't have very much human intelligence. I hope to God that they're able to find some soon. Perhaps this group could also be tasked to look into the shortage of common sense among Bush administration officials.

Farah Mendlesohn Surveys

Farah Mendlesohn writes via email:

This may be of interest to you. I've started a blog on children's sf, to go along with my latest research project (kid's sf, 1950-2000). I've also begun collecting responses to a reader questionnaiire. I'd be really grateful if you would fill it in (and recommend it as widely as possible). The questionnaire will help generate my reseach questions so I need it to go as widely as possible.

Blog: The Inter-Galactic Playground:

Although I enjoyed the survey, I found the questions really hard because when I was a kid I didn't track books by auhtor or title, but rather by the cover art. Translating that into the adult bibliographic frame of reference proved harder than I expected.

Ely Calil, Gregory Wales, and David Tremain May Be Prosecuted in the UK

The London Sunday Times reports that some post-9/11 legislation may allow three of the remaining Equatorial Guinea coup plotters to be prosecuted in the UK:

THREE London-based alleged conspirators in the failed plot to overthrow the dictator of Equatorial Guinea are facing an investigation by British police.

Detectives believe the alleged plotters — including Ely Calil, the Lebanese businessman linked to Peter Mandelson — could be charged under the anti-terrorism act.

An agreement has been struck between Scotland Yard and South Africa’s “Scorpion” police unit, whose investigations led to the conviction last week of Sir Mark Thatcher for his role in the coup attempt.

It has emerged that Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the Yard’s anti-terrorism branch, met Scorpions in Pretoria five weeks ago.

They agreed to share evidence and co-ordinate inquiries. One of their key informants will be Thatcher, who has agreed to betray those who organised the plot.

It is alleged that Calil conspired with Greg Wales, a London businessman, and David Tremain, a mining tycoon, to plan and finance the overthrow of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the dictator of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, last March. All three men deny the claims.

If a case is made against them, they could stand trial in Britain. Under the 2001 anti-terror act it is an offence to encourage a crime from Britain regardless of whether it is committed abroad. 

What this whole story sorely needs is the name of an oil company that was to pay off all those who invested in the coup plot as a reward for liberating all that oil; and perhaps also the names of the US officials who thought it was a good idea, should such exist. So really interesting facts may drip out if Scotland Yard squeezes Calil, Wales, and Tremain. Perhaps their prosecution might even provide a picture window into the goings on in meetings of Cheney's National Energy Policy Development Group.

Continue reading "Ely Calil, Gregory Wales, and David Tremain May Be Prosecuted in the UK" »

Email Problems

I had noticed that my email was very light this morning. Patrick Nielsen Hayden reports an email problem with Panix:

Panix, our longtime ISP for email, appears to be undergoing some kind of problem with its domain name—possibly a hijacking of the name, possibly just a massive screwup in the domain-name registration system.

I also use Panix for my primary email address. For the moment, I can be reached at Kathryn dot Cramer at Gmail dot com.

David Hartwell, my husband also receives his email through Panix. And his email goes through that conduit. In addition, there is electrical work being done at the Flatiron Building over the weekend, so the servers there have been turned off. The upshot: if you need to reach David this weekend, email him via my Gmail account at the above address.

UPDATE: Panix says:

Panix victim of domain name hijacking

Panix's main domain name,, has been hijacked by parties unknown. Panix staff are currently working around the clock to recover our domain.

For most customers, accesses to Panix using the domain will not work or will end up at a false site.

As a temporary workaround, you can use the domain in place of In other words, if you're trying to log onto "" or see your mail at "," use "" or "" instead.

Mail to [email protected] is currently being redirected to the false site , and should be considered lost or compromised if it does not arrive in your Panix mailbox. If you have online accounts that authenticate via email address, you might wish to protect them against fraud by changing that address to your username "".

When contacting hosts that use SSL security (URLs that begin with "https" rather than "http", or SSL-wrapped services such as secure SMTP, secure IMAP, or secure POP), you will see a hostname error. The server will present a certificate that says it is "", and your browser or mail program will notice that it reached our server as "". This is an expected consequence of using the "" workaround.

If you have urgent concerns that are not addressed by this message, you can contact us by calling +1 (212) 741-4400, and pressing 0. (You may need to leave a message for us, but we're checking frequently.) For less-than urgent concerns, please write to us at [email protected].

I think this means that if you have sent email to David or I in the past 24 hours, unless you have gotten a reponse, you should assume it has been misdirected to the domain name pirates and will need to send it again to my gmail account or by modifying our regular email addresses to end in ""

Mark Thatcher's Return to Dallas Delayed by the US INS

The Dallas Morning News [irritating registration procedure required] reports that Mark Thatcher's return to Dallas has been delayed "indefinitely" because of an "immigration snag" in Germany:

An acquaintance in Britain said Friday, however, that Mr. Thatcher's        return will be delayed indefinitely because of immigration problems he        encountered in Frankfurt, Germany, where he stopped en route to Dallas.

His passport was seized upon his arrest, and in the meantime, the        acquaintance said, Mr. Thatcher's U.S. visa expired. So he will remain        in Frankfurt while his attorneys negotiate with U.S. authorities. The        source said such negotiations could take days, weeks or even months.

The acquaintance said the plea bargain was for the equivalent of a        misdemeanor – not a felony – and they expected no problem in his        eventually returning to the United States.

However, Marie Sebrechts, an official with U.S. Citizenship and        Immigration Services in Southern California, said Mr. Thatcher's fate        rests with the U.S. State Department, the only agency that can issue him        a visa.

"In the way things are being evaluated right now," said Ms. Sebrechts,        "his connections or position shouldn't have any impact – it's pretty        much a blind system at this point. Whatever he did or was charged with        is all that will be considered. The question becomes, does it make him        admissible or not admissible?"    

MEANWHILE, Gregory Wales denies that he is to be extradited to South Africa. From the Guardian:

The last remaining unconvicted Englishman of those accused of plotting an African coup last night denied that he was to be extradited.

Greg Wales, who remains at liberty in west London following the conviction of Sir Mark Thatcher and mercenary Simon Mann, said through his lawyers that those who had pleaded guilty "obviously had their own reasons for entering into arrangements with the South African authorities".

South Africa says it will continue its investigations thanks to Sir Mark's full cooperation, and sources there have reported that Mr Wales may be a target for extradition attempts. 

Recall that Wales is the fellow who met with Theresa Whelan, US  Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, in February and advised her of the coming coup.

. . . no price too high . . .

Now here's an interesting paragraph from the Scotsman by Fred Bridgland in Johannesburg:

SPECULATION mounted yesterday over who Sir Mark Thatcher was set to sell down the river after striking a plea bargain and walking to freedom from a South African court.

The article goes on:

But his release, after nearly six months of virtual house arrest, will send chills through the veins of several prominent men who have been named as backers of the plan to topple President Obiang in court documents lodged in London by lawyers for the Equatorial Guinean leader.

Many will fear he has agreed to expose them and will have taken no comfort from his short statement on the steps of the Cape High Court after yesterdays hearing.

"There is no price too high for me to pay to be reunited with my family, and I am sure all of you who are husbands and fathers would agree with that," he said.

On the other hand, it could be that he agreed to nothing of the kind and that the cork is being put firmly in the bottle and this is the end of it unless the slackers in the US press follow Thatcher's new life in Dallas.

(Note to the US press: You should have been crawling all over Dallas in March and April hunting for the US origins of this attempt at privatizing regime change. This is your second chance. Don't blow it.)

PS: Further to the state of the US news media, don't miss Frank Rich's All the President's Newsmen.

UPDATE: Maybe things are looking up for further revelations: From Johannesburg's Business Day:

Thatcher to Help SA Nail Coup Mates

The Scorpions said the plea bargain was entered into "in order to make use of Thatcher's help in the investigation".

(The Scorpions the South African equivalent of the FBI.)

I occasionally get letters from friends or acquaiatances of those in jail for the coup plot. At this juncture I do want to say that there is a lot more reason for those whom Thatcher might implicate to be in rotten third-word jails than for the hired help to be there. Unfortunately, I expect that even if implicated, they will get off with sentences at least as light as Thatcher's. It is good to be King.

Mark Thatcher, Unwit

Reading the news coverage of Mark Thatcher's guilty plea in the Equatorial Guinea coup scandal, it seems that we have a new euphemism. Now, we all know that Mark Thatcher is no rocket scientist; that seems to be the primary explanation for why his mother, Lady Thatcher, can't possibly have been involved in this mess: Lady Thatcher is smart. But now I am pleased to say we have a new turn of phrase to bring this all into sharper focus:

The Fool

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) - Sir Mark Thatcher pleaded guilty Thursday to unwittingly helping to finance a foiled coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea in exchange for a $506,000 fine and suspended jail sentence.

Thatcher, the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, admitted in the Cape High Court that he paid to charter a helicopter, which mercenaries planned to use in their attempted takeover. But he maintains he believed it was to be used for humanitarian purposes, according to his lawyers and a person close to the family.

Really? Unwittingly as in without knowledge or intention? So, um, how were Thatcher's investors going to be repaid? It might have been fun to have some South African Perry Mason break Thatcher on the stand, but realistically, that wasn't going to happen. So I'm pleased to hear of the guilty plea, even though it rules out the possibility of a trial. While some interesting stuff came out of the Zimbabwe trial, the Equatorial Guinea trial was disappointing on that count.

I'm curious whether the word "unwittingly" occurred in court, or if it was formulated by the AP reporter. I was trying to track it down, but a number of online news stories seems to have been revised to remove that word, probably because it made Thatcher look like, well, an unwit.

Karyn Maughan of Cape Argus sheds some light on the origins of the phrasing:

Holding worry beads as he sat in the dock, Thatcher pleaded guilty to contravening sections of the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act according to the legal principle of dolus eventualis.

This means Thatcher admitted that his actions may have recklessly, but unwittingly, contributed to the financing of the coup plot.

She also reports:

A sign hung on a building opposite the High Court read "Save me, Mummy".

Apparently, Thatcher will shortly depart for the US, presumably to return to his lavish home in Dallas and the sympathetic embrace of the oil industry.

(To the uninitiated: I've written a fair amount about Mark Thatcher's role in the coup plot in the past. The link will take you to the Goggle results for this site.)

A Few Distractions

Elizabeth, in a rambunctious mood, put her head through the door of one of our glass-doored bookcases. She is OK, except for a very small cut on the back of her head. I have a few small cuts on my left hand from reaching into the glass to pull her out. (Typical of that kind of mother injury, I didn't feel a thing. Carl pointed out that there was blood on my fingers.) Even the books on the other side of he glass are fine.

Having cleaned up the broken glass, I am calming down at the computer  with a cup of chamomile tea  and am finding much on the web to distract me from the rush of adrelin and maternal hormones:

Now back to my regularly scheduled workload.

Deadlines Loom Large

Our editorial intern arrived this past week and we are working hard on our anthologies, trying to meet some looming deadlines. David said to me over dinner last night, "I need you not to blog for five days," because indeed, even with Carl's help, deadlines are looming large. I will try to do comment approvals at least once a day.

Before signing off for a few days, I wanted to recommend several more items in passing and note one CNN slip into newspaperese. First, the slip: In Banda Aceh, however, there were signs that life was returning to normal . . . They probably say that in the coverage of every disaster they report on, but isn't this a little premature? (Buildings are reappearing. Bloated bodies washing in on the surf are being restored to life and are returning to their jobs. And the peninsula is rising back to its fomer level. No. Unfortunately not.)

Special Cases: Natural Anomalies and Historical Monsters by Rosamond Purcell. I've mentioned her work a couple of times before (see Extinct Birds and Owls Head, Extinction and the First Grade, and Provenance & Recollection: a Meditation on Hoarding). As I've said before, Purcell is a museum photographer with a really nice prose style. What I especially like about the book is Purcell's respect for her human subjects' humanity though they are often museum specimens (for example two-headed babies pickled in formaldahyde). Here is the Booklist review:

Purcell must have felt challenged in selecting a fitting title for her unusual book, which, though based on an exhibition she curated, is much more than a catalog. Readers may feel challenged, too, by the striking illustrations, the detailed text, and the many direct and indirect questions that artist and historian Purcell raises, especially why and how people react to the sight of anomalies and monsters. A few of her particular subjects are well-known, but most aren't, for they were selected "from the dustiest corners of the furthest reaches of the oddest places." Their range runs from a seventeenth-century depiction of the bodies floating in Noah's flood to the graphic illustration from the fifteenth-century traveler Bernard de Mandeville's Voyages of a dog-headed man devouring a Crusader to the colorful Mary Sabina, the "Piebald Black Child," as eighteenth-century Europe called her. In all, a volume with diverse and peculiar appeal.

Another recommendation: "Growing Boys" by Robert Aickman, most recently reprinted in Aickman's collection The Wine-Dark Sea (1988). First of all, if you haven't got this book already, order it. Robert Aickman (1914-1981) was the great master of the Strange Story. The novella "Growing Boys," published in 1977, was reprinted by Terry Carr in his Year's Best Fantasy for that year. I've been thinking about that story a lot over the past few days. It is a tale of monstrous children. In the end, you realize you have been mislead by the narrative voice.

Anyway, back to work. Heigh ho, heigh ho!

UPDATE: I swore I was going to stay off line, but it seems to me that I should mention that Gary Farber informs me that longtime science fiction fan Anna Vargo has died.

Is Virginia on Another Planet?

This has got to be one of the sickest, most twisted pieces of proposed legislation I have ever heard of:

It sounds preposterous to talk about criminalizing women who suffer miscarriages, but one Virginia legislator is proposing just that.  HB1677, “Report of Fetal Death by mother, penalty” is a bill introduced by John A. Cosgrove (R) of Chesapeake.  Cosgrove’s bill requires any woman who experiences “fetal death” without a doctor’s assistance to report this to the local law-enforcement agency within twelve hours of the miscarriage.  Failure to do so is punishable as a Class 1 Misdemeanor.