Monday, October 31, 2005

So, it's Halloween. Let's talk about something really scary.

In this post-nuclear age, is anyone still frightened by ghosts, goblins and witches, relics of a superstitious past? No, let's talk instead about what's truly frightening, things like cancer, and needle biopsies, and suffering, old age and death.

Earlier this month, I got back the results of a routine physical I had taken last September. Everything was great - my cholesterol was down where it should be, my red and white blood cells were where they should be, and all the other indicators were in their preferential range. My weight was in line for my height. Blood pressure was way down in the Zen master range. In other words, I was as healthy as I could be.

Except for one thing. PSA exceeded the range limit.

PSA is Prostate Specific Antigen, an indicator protein; raised test results may be a symptom of prostate cancer. The preferred value is less than 4.0. My test results came back 14.2.

My doctor said to go see a urologist. Today, Halloween, was the earliest appointment I could get. So basically, I got to go through the whole month of October wondering whether or not I had cancer. All the other annoyances of this month, the stolen checks, the broken television and the unresponsive repair shop, all faded into background noise.

Cancer. There's a scary Halloween thought. Not that surviving prostate cancer is any less frightening. Side effects of prostate surgery include incontinence and impotence. Try as I might to ignore it, the reality is I am aging. I am dying.

This wasn't the first time this year I went through a scare like this. Last spring, the dentist felt a swollen gland on my throat, which might have indicated Hodgkin's Disease. It seems everybody's thinking I have cancer. Several weeks passed before an oral surgeon told me that the "lump" was just a part of the natural anatomy of the larynx, and what was I even doing in here, anyway? (Hey, it wasn't my idea. Go talk to the dentist.) But since the first event was a "false alarm," I figured this second prognosis would turn out not to be. You don't dodge two bullets in a row.

So, I went to the urologist today and submitted to the digital rectal exam. Some people might find the examination to be humiliating, but just as evil's in the eye of the beholder, humiliation's in the hole of the behinder. Or something like that.

After the exam, the doctor said that there was no evidence of anything abnormal. I appear to be fine. He is puzzled why the PSA was so elevated, and speculated the lab test might be a false positive. In any event, he gave me a week's supply of antibiotics (Cipro - big horse tablets if ever I saw some) and told me to come back in two weeks for another PSA blood test. If the results are not better, then we will consider ultrasound and needle biopsies.

So I'm not quite out of the woods yet, but I feel like Lance Armstrong, having "beaten" "cancer" not once, but twice, this year.

Sort of improves your outlook on things.

Happy Halloween, y'all.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Today, I wasted away the day.

I used the excuse of it being "Fall Back Day," the national holiday of getting an extra hour of sleep, to sleep in luxuriously, decadently late. Even accounting for the time change.

I brewed a pot of coffee and sipped away while catching up on back issues of The Economist. For a long time. I surfed the web. For a long time. I took a nap. For a long time.

I had planned on doing yard work (oh, boy, autumn leaf blowing!), but it didn't happen. I was going to shop for a new t.v., but it didn't happen. Hell, I was planning on at least shaving and showering, but that didn't even happen.

So did I waste a day, a day that I will never have back again? That depends, Clintonesquely, on what your definition of "I" is, what your definition of "waste" is, and what your definition of "day" is.

This sack of skin may not have accomplished much, but today leaves turned all pumpkin orange and chimney red. The earth spun completely on its axis - all the way around. Hurricane Beta made landfall on the Mosquito Coast. A dharma brother got up early and opened the zendo and led the morning services. Someone else drove somewhere and did something.

And that's accomplishing quite a lot.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Today, while the Georgia Bulldogs were playing the hated Florida Gators a few miles away in Jacksonville, Florida, I spent a lovely Saturday working at a former paper mill. It's rare that I work weekends, but it was the only way to accomodate my co-worker's schedule and my clients' expectations.

I had received the following email advise before leaving for this trip:

"I was just in St. Marys a few weeks ago and wish that I would have gone camping on Cumberland Island, but my boyfriend at the time was a little lame in the adventure department. Well, I can tell you about a very strange bar there that I "discovered" - actually, still trying to forget! It is really the only bar there in the downtown area by the water, on the first side street in the 'heart' of the place. Forgot the name of it, but I must warn you about it. At first I thought 'How interesting, kinda campy,' but then it seemed exceedingly more and more disgusting. You've got to go in there if you get a chance. There is a dank old hotel on one side of the bar and a patio on the other side. Anyway, the bar itself is manned by a very scary creature, an old, bleached blonde, very plump, I think a woman, and apparently, by the paraphernalia on the wall, a former porn star. There are cobwebs everywhere. Campy, I love, but this place is beyond that - quite nasty. Anyway, if you like unique cultural experiences, this one can't be missed, although I doubt you'd want to spend more than five minutes there."

I didn't have the chance to check it out, much less go camping on Cumberland Island, but I was able to get an earlier flight home than I had expected.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Happy Halloween!

Okay, it's a few days early, but the wish is sincere. Tonight, I'm in lovely St. Mary's, Georgia, a few miles north of the state line from Jacksonville. While most people in this town tonight are staying here in anticipation of tomorrow's Georgia-Florida game, I'm here working on the weekend at a former paper mill.

Referring to a recent comment in this blog about the apparent lack of Buddhist terrorists, I was asked if I had ever read about the role of the Buddhist hierarchy and some very well known masters in the Japanese imperial atrocities in China. I refer the question to my previous post about Buddhist atrocities, including the situation in Sri Lanka. No, Buddhist societies and governments are, sadly, societies and governments first, and Buddhist second, and are as likely to abuse power and privilege as any other.

However, I still haven't found a Buddhist terrorist. True, the repressive policies of Sri Lanka are deplorable, but the Tamils are committing the acts commonly referred to as "terroristic," not the government. And while the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor could be called "terrorism," it was still an attack on a military, not a civilian, target.

The Buddhist regimes have not been perfect, but they have not been terrorists, either.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

My internet popularity is apparently once again on the wane. While at the beginning of the month, I was getting on average over 500 hits per day, for some reason the number spiked on April 12 at over 1,000 hits for the first time ever. Then suddenly, some time on April 17, the hordes of Googling monkeys apparently started going somewhere else for their Jimi Hendrix pictures, leaving me with barely 100 hits per day.

My totals were climbing as I zipped from 50,000 hits on past 60,000, and I thought at this rate that it was a mere walk in the woods to reach 100,000. Now, it may take months just to get to 70,000.

Not that this is a bad thing. After all, I may not get too many more emails like this one, commenting on the Gaia pic:

"if you made this picture and the black person on it is supposed to be jimi hendrix your an idiot jimi henrix played a right handed fender stratocaster and strung left handed he wasnt right handed guitarist! but part from that pretty cool piccy, and if you didnt make it then inform the person or place they had it from!"

Ah, how I'll miss these epistles from Anonymous! Anon, we hardly knew ye! . . .

Not that all my emails are moronic. Many are quite kind, some downright flattering, like this one today:

I stumbled onto your site while searching for N. GA. hiking info (I discovered the joys of N. GA a few years ago and now go up from here in B'ham several long weekends a year), finding your dharma hike report. And, I've checked back daily since. Good thoughts and very interesting links. Interesting that this happened just after I made the observation . . . that I could not recall any Buddhist terrorist groups - unlike Muslims and Christians. So, I ordered Buddhism for Dummies (along with A Walk in the Woods - you oughta read it if you haven't already) and I'm currently plodding through that. Anyway, I am appreciative of the time and effort you put into your site.

Kind words, and well received. Thanks for that. By the way, "A Walk in the Woods" is a book by Bill Bryson describing his attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail with his childhood friend Katz. "Katz" is also an exclamation used in the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism.

"Once Zen Master Mang Gong was staying with Zen Master He Wol. It was time for lunch. All the monks sat down and were served. Everyone was waiting for the sound of the chuk-pi (a wooden clapper used to signal the beginning and end of meditation periods and meals). Suddenly, He Wol shouted 'KATZ!!!' Everyone was startled and confused. They looked over at He Wol. With total unconcern, he was only eating.

"So everyone began to eat. But they were thinking, 'Why did the Master shout?,' 'What did that mean?,' and 'Why can't I understand what just happened?' Finally, lunch was over, and the bowls were cleaned, dried and wrapped in their covering cloths. Suddenly Mang Gong shouted 'KATZ!!!' Again, everyone was startled and confused.

"Afterwards, one monk came to Mang Gong and asked him what all this meant. Mang Gong said, 'I'm sorry, but I can't tell you.' Then another monk came; then two, then three. They bowed and said, 'Please, Master, teach us.'

"Finally, Mang Gong said, 'I don't like to open my mouth. But since you have asked me, and since you're all sincere in your desire to understand, I will explain.' Then suddenly, Mang Gong shouted 'KATZ!!!' and walked away."

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Since the following was posted today to my February 5 blogpost about Michael Crichton, I figured I would reprint it before I commented on it:

Anonymous said...

Oh my, look at your own bias. I can smell it from here. I think that Michael Crichton got some of it right, however, the point that really got to me was how the media and politicians are always trying to keep us in a state of fear by their constant scare tactics, as described in the book. If you keep harping that something is goind to happen, "The Sky is Falling", a lot of people are going to believe that. When I was twelve years old, during the Cuban Missle Crisis, I truly believed that we were going to be obliterated. In other words, sometimes we have to take things with a grain of salt, because if we don't, we're all going to die from being scared to death.
Madalyn Conrad
October 26, 2005 1:13 PM

I have to admit you're right, Madalyn. I am biased. It's very perceptive of you to have noticed. You see, I have a background in science, and frequently read peer-reviewed journals and science articles, and can separate out real science from junk science. So when I hear a Michael Crichton, a John Stossel or a Rush Limbaugh dispute the science behind global climate change, my bias is to overlook their political hot air and check the facts.

And it is a fact: the world is getting warmer. Sorry if that scares you.

Yes, I'm biased, and you can even go further and say I'm out of touch with the mainstream. When I read that 51% of Americans don't believe in evolution, and that only 15% accept evolution without a God involved, I realize how different I have become from the fundamentalist herd mentality.

I further agree with you on the media bias. In an attempt to appear "balanced," journalists feel that they need to give equal time for a scientist discussing his latest research to someone who disputes the facts - a science fiction writer, a pundit, a weatherman, whomever. It doesn't matter to the media that one side has educated scientists publishing their research in peer-reviewed journals, and the other side makes unsubstantiated claims that they cannot back up. But instead of providing a balanced account, it just confuses the public and creates doubt where there is much scientific certainty.

As for scare tactics, I've got to hand it to you again - you're right once more. Just look at how they scared us with spurious claims of weapons of mass destruction into invading a sovereign nation on the other side of the world; how they scared us with talk of terrorists, duct tape and Saran Wrap into accepting limitations on our freedom with an unconstitutional Patriot Act; how they whipped us into a national frenzy over a single comatose woman in Florida.

But I have to admit you've got me confused with the Cuban Missile Crisis thing. Are you saying you're disappointed that there wasn't a global nuclear holocaust? Or are you saying that there never really was a Soviet threat? If the latter, are you outraged over Vietnam?

Your friend,

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Where's all the freedom that we're praying for?
Are we a nation under God anymore?

How long do we cower down?
Is this really still our ground?
Our country is like a prisoner of war.
- Merle Haggard

Monday, October 24, 2005

With Wilma approaching the Florida coast, I thought it appropriate to share some pictures that I came across of the damage Katrina wrought on Ocean Springs, Mississippi (just across the bay from Biloxi) as a reminder of the very real effects these storms are having on the people living along the Gulf.
I swear the earth shall surely be complete to him or her who shall be complete!
I swear the earth remains jagged and broken only to him or her who remains jagged and broken!
I swear there is no greatness or power that does not emulate those of the earth!
I swear there can be no theory of any account, unless it corroborate the theory of the earth!
No politics, art, religion, behavior, or what not, is of account, unless it compare with the amplitude of the earth,
Unless it face the exactness, vitality, impartiality, rectitude of the earth.
- Walt Whitman

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Top 10 Signs You Might Be a Fundamentalist Christian

I'm a little hesitant about posting this for two reasons. First, I don't want to criticize the faith of the vast majority of Christians, whose practice I have no quarrel with. I'm specifically taking issue here with those of the Fundamentalist persuasion. Second, I don't want to create the impression that I'm Buddhist out of "protest" over Christianity. We occasionally get newcomers to the Zen Center who, when asked about their purpose in coming, rant about their anger at a repressive Christian upbringing, or other issues related to their former faith. Typically, I consult them to deal with those issues first, and come back later when they've resolved their crises.

Having said all that, I saw the following on line, and just wanted to share it because, attitude aside, there is some truth to the Top 10 Signs You Might Be a Fundamentalist Christian:

10 - You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.

9 - You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.

8 - You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.

7 - Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua," including women, children, and trees!

6 - You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.

5 - You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.

4 - You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs -- though excluding those in all rival sects - will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."

3 - While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.

2 - You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.

1 - You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history - but still call yourself a Christian.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent "think tank" that can generally be relied upon to take the wrong side of almost any situation, sends me a weekly email called "Friday Facts." This week's email included the following item:

"One down, 19 to go: The state Department of Transportation is closing a rest area at I-85 North near Suwanee in Gwinnett County at the end of October. The rest area opened in 1972 when the area was rural, but the DOT says the traffic merge there has become a challenge. The move cuts costs, too. The private sector provides numerous options for truckers and motorists, and the closing will save taxpayers at least $300,000 per year in security, utility and repair costs."

Sounds good at first. Taxpayers save money by not duplicating what the private sector is doing anyway, right? But the problem lies in what the public sector is actually providing, and the reliability of the continuity of these services.

There is a world of difference between a Stuckey's Truck Stop and the kind of picnic areas the DOT creates along highways. One exists to maximize profit and not necessarily serve the motorists, and the other exists as a public resource, regardless of profit. However, if the DOT rest areas lease some space to franchisers, they might actually be able to defray costs, if not actually turn a profit.

My ex-g.f. L. was developing an idea about the privatization of public spaces, and I think planning on eventually publishing something on it. Examples of this trend include the closing of public libraries as students do more and more of their homework at Borders and Barnes & Noble, the substitution of shopping malls (or even stand-alone Walmarts) for downtown shopping districts, and the decreasing number of public parks as more and more gated communities have their own "private" greenspace.

John Schaffner, writing in The Story, recalls "the bustling retail district along Peachtree Street in the 1960s, when the downtown section of that road was lined with small- and medium-sized retail shops, all with windows filled with merchandise displays facing out onto sidewalks filled with people. I recall shopping that area for a suit when I visited Atlanta for a day in the late 1960s from St. Petersburg, Florida. It was an exciting urban experience.

"I believe John Portman did much to destroy that environment in downtown Atlanta by designing buildings that had no windows onto the sidewalks and creating all their excitement inside, behind lifeless walls of concrete. Downtown Atlanta has never recovered from that, and probably never will. There are no stretches of interesting shop windows along Peachtree Street today - not in downtown, not in Midtown, not in Buckhead."

It's hard to defend interstate rest areas - with their griminess, their propensity toward crime, and their lack of aesthetics, but turning them over to the fast-food-and-gas-station colonies that spring up along exit ramps is not the answer. A more enlightened approach would be to create a pleasing park-like environment, with room for strolling, dog walking and picnicking, possibly coupled with a gasoline and/or restaurant franchise to put some money in the public coffers.

Friday, October 21, 2005

After briefly becoming the most intense Atlantic storm ever observed, with top sustained winds of 175 miles an hour on Wednesday morning, Hurricane Wilma’s winds had eased to 145 m.p.h. on October 20, 2005, according to the National Hurricane Center Web site. A reconnaissance aircraft found the air at Hurricane Wilma’s eye on the morning of October 19 to be just 12.8 pounds per square inch, the lowest pressure ever measured in an Atlantic hurricane. The previous low was Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, at 12.9 pounds per square inch. Air pressure at sea level is usually 14.7 pounds per square inch.

With Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hitting the United States with devastating force, Wilma was the 21st tropical storm to form in the Atlantic this year, tying the 1933 record for the busiest season since hurricane counting started in 1851. But the hurricane season continues for an additional six weeks, ending Nov. 30.

However, this season does not rank as the most intense by some measures. An index that tracks the total energy of the storms - taking into account how long the storms last - finds that this year the total energy is about twice the average. But in 1950, the index, called the accumulated cyclone energy, was 2.7 times the average.

In recent months, two studies in the journal Science and one in Nature have found that hurricanes are growing fiercer. Although other research is also drawing the same conclusion, many critics say any attempt to link hurricanes with climate change is just another sign of global-warming "hysteria."

It’s hard to find anything in the peer-reviewed scientific literature that says something opposite to what these three papers have found. Yet, hurricane expert William Gray of Colorado State University recently told Discover magazine that he sees no link between global warming and hurricanes. He also made the same comments on television and during congressional testimony. When questioned by senators, Dr. Gray was unable to cite peer-reviewed studies to back up his claims.

During a program on MSNBC in late September, conservative talk-show host Tucker Carlson addressed the debate that climate change is creating more powerful hurricanes by saying, "[s]ome people will always interpret that for political reasons, of course."

"So many people have a vested interest in this global-warming thing—all these big labs and research and stuff," said Dr. Gray in the Discover interview. "The idea is to frighten the public, to get money to study it more."

Max Mayfield, the director of the National Hurricane Center, has given similar congressional testimony in recent weeks. During recent Senate hearings, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) invited science-fiction writer and noted global-warming critic Michael Crichton to speak about climate change.

Dr. Judith Curry, the chair of the school of earth and atmospheric sciences at Georgia Tech, is the coauthor of one of the Science papers on hurricanes and climate change. She serves on a variety of panels related to climate, including the National Academies’ space studies board and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate-research working group. Dr. Curry noted that the American public doesn’t read scientific journals – instead, they listen to the media, and the media likes a good debate. So the media "trot out this small minority of people to present their contrarian views. And they are given just as much legitimacy as scientists with strong credentials and who publish in the peer-reviewed literature. The media gives equal weight to both sides of this. So the American public gets confused."

Referring to her paper, Dr. Curry said "People have accused us of linking global warming with Katrina. We didn’t even use the expression 'global warming' in the paper. We talked about an increase in global tropical sea surface temperature."

"What we looked at was the global data set that is available from 1970 through 2004, and it’s a satellite-based data set, so we’re able to look at every single tropical storm and hurricane. And what we looked at was the frequency, intensity, and number of hurricane days for each ocean basin where they have hurricanes. We looked concurrently at the sea surface temperature over that same period for each ocean basin. What we find—again, the increase of tropical sea surface temperature in these regions is well known—is that there was an increase in the frequency, almost a doubling, of the most intense hurricanes—the category 4s and 5s. And a similar increase in the number of hurricane days."

On October 25, 2005 the American Meteorological Society will host a briefing on Capitol Hill about hurricanes. Along with Dr. Curry, Kerry Emanuel of the Massachussetts Institute of Technology and Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research will present their published findings on hurricanes and global warming.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

In Which I Finally Lose It

Today, I finally lost it. Having maintained my cool through several weeks of dealing with an unresponsive - and apparently uninterested - television repair shop and dealing with the petty inconveniences of the stolen checks, today the beast escaped its closet.

I had last called Gil two weeks ago to find out when I might expect my t.v. set back, and was told (once again) that "the technician is working on it right now and should be finished soon. I'll call you tomorrow when we're done." Two weeks passed with no call from Gil. At some point this morning, I realized that I was avoiding calling him because I didn't want to upset myself, but then I thought that was part of the reason the process has been dragging alone - because I hadn't been the "squeaky wheel."

Well, I squeaked. I called the shop and told the receptionist that I wanted to speak to the Manager. When she asked who was calling, I said a "disgruntled customer." I got some flak on the line who asked me what the natue of my business was, and could the manager call me back shortly as he's quite busy right now, and I said "no," waiting for call backs was part of the problem, but if he's too busy now, I'll have my lawyer call in an hour (an obvious bluff, but I was angry). Soon, Gil himself came on the line and, when I asked, insisted that he was the Manager.

"You're the Manager of the company?"


"Your company sends its Managers out to make house calls?," I asked sarcastically. I told Gil that I was now of the opinion that he was either unwilling or unable to repair my t.v., that I had no more patience with his trying, that I wanted the television returned to me in the condition that he picked it up before the close of business Friday, and that I did not expect to be charged. Gil tried to protest, but I would hear none of it. I did finally agree, however, to let him return the set Sunday instead of Friday, since that actually worked out better for me as well.

I felt like an asshole afterwards. But at least the stalemate was broken.

When I got home tonight, there were two rather official looking letters in with the rest of my mail. I turns out they were from collection agencies trying to collect from me the money for the checks that the thieves had cashed at Walmart, who had turned the matter over for collection.

I had thought the whole incident was now over and done with. I finally picked up the new box of checks at the bank on Wednesday, my new debit card was working and the old account had been shut down. but just when I thought that it was over . . .

I called the agency and explained over the phone that I had been the victim of a crime, and in any event the fault was with Walmart, for accepting fraudulent checks (on which stop payments had been issued) apparently without checking identification or authorization. The collection agent said he understood. However, to settle this matter, he said that I would have to send him a copy of the police report (which I do not have); a notarized affidavit attesting to my statement; the name of my bank, the numbers on the stolen checks and the routing and account numbers; a copy of my driver's license; and so on and so forth.

I tried to explain that I had no intention of complying with his request - I was not at fault here and did not need to prove my innocence. The "guilty party," in addition to the crooks, were Walmart for accepting stolen checks and apparently my bank for apparently unskillfully refusing to accept the checks without explaining the nature or reason of their refusal.

The agent replied that if I did not take care of this, my name would be placed on a list of credit risks, and before too long we were both talking at each other simultaneously, and not too much longer after that I found myself yelling over the telephone.

"Sir, I don't need to be shouted at," he sniffed.

"What? You're a collection agent and you don't expect to get shouted at?," I asked incredulously. "Let me speak to your manager," I demanded, trying to go the Gil route. He placed me on hold, but after a long while, the line went dead before anyone picked up.

Obviously, I had lost my temper, but now I know where the limit of my patience is. I will talk to the bank in the morning and see if they can't clear this up from their end, but most likely I will have to take more time off from work, drive to the Atlanta Police Department, fill out forms and paperwork to get a copy of my police report, obtain an affidavit and get it notarized, and deal with the small-minded bureaucrats at Walmart's collection agency.

This on top of withdrawal from the opiate of just mindlessly unwinding in front of the television at night. After nearly two months, it's back to "Go" on finding a repairman to fix my set, or else to buy a replacement.

Actually, though, it's now time to work on the practice of letting go.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I'm actually writing this Thursday, October 20, not Wednesday, October 19, so I have the advantage of knowing that today (Wednesday) is the calm before the storm.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Happy Sukkot!

Sukkot or Succoth or Sukkos (or succotash?) is a Biblical pilgrimage festival which occurs in autumn on the 15th day of the month of Tishri (mid- to late-October). The holiday is also known as the Feast of Booths, the Feast of Tabernacles, or the Feast of In-gathering. It is one of the three major holidays known as the Shalosh Regalim, which mark the three times during the year that the Jewish populace travelled to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

The word Sukkot is the plural of the Hebrew sukkah, meaning booth or hut. During this holiday, Jews eat their meals, entertain guests, relax, and even sleep in a sukkah, a temporary structure. The sukkah is reminiscent of the type of huts in which the ancient Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt, and reflects God's benevolence in providing for all their needs in the desert.

Today, however, this Buddhist gentile flew down to Jacksonville, Florida for a meeting at an abandoned paper mill. The day was warm and pleasant, and I got to eat lunch at an outdoor table looking out toward Cumberland Island.

Monday, October 17, 2005

One would think it would seem like old hat to me at this point, but each change of season seems truly more miraculous to me than the year before. It amazes me more and more each year that the spring gives way to summer, and summer recedes into autumn. I mean, I understand the mechanisms of how it works and all, the earth's revolution around the sun and the tilt of the axis and all that, but that just makes it seem all the more wondrous. Just a few weeks ago, it was warm, oppressively hot at times, and this evening there is a cool nip to the air . . . AND it's a full moon.

Who needs a space program when all the wonders of the universe are manifest right here on earth?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

"The Death By a Thousand Cuts." I have been trying to keep my patience and humor with me through this whole stolen-checks affair, but the little consequences keep adding up to an annoying level of inconvenience. My new debit card finally arrived in yesterday's mail, giving me at least some access to my own money, but my checks still haven't arrived, so I still can't pay bills. Plus my direct deposit, which was supposed to have arrived in my account last Friday, never did, so now I have to spend at least part of tomorrow, a busy day anyway, finding out where, if anywhere, my paycheck was deposited.

Meanwhile, my bank has been playing some sort of three-card monty by seemingly randomly transferring money between my savings and two checking accounts. "Overdraft" transfers and charges, even though the account was not overdrawn, followed by reinstatements of the transfers and charges, but not to the right accounts or in the right amounts. I have to keep my eye on each and every debit and credit, making sure that they all even out in the end. And it's not like I'm being small minded - some of these transfers have been as large as $3,300. And it's not like I'm attached - I mostly need the money to pay to others, like my mortgage company, as I have promised and as they are depending.

I've been the victim of a petty crime - checks stolen out of my mailbox - and possibly by larger felonies - interstate passing of false checks. I expected to have spent some time trying to straighten this all out, but now the bank's own incompetency is complicating matters. When I talked to them, they argue that they called me and left a message, to which I counter that no they didn't until we finally realized that they were calling an old work number at an office I hadn't worked at in two years. More incompetency - apparently, my old employer still hasn't shut off my voice mail.

I was last at the bank on Wednesday, and a few minutes after I left, they called me on my cell and said that right after I left, my new checks had finally arrived. I turned the car around and went back to the bank, but when I got there we discovered that the new box had still been printed to my old account, now shut down because of the theft. The printer had ignored the new information on the order. So we had to re-submit the order and start the process all over again.

Sigh. It's better just to not think about it. Maybe I'll go watch some t.v. . . . .GIL!!!!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

My television has now been in the shop for over six weeks. It broke down last August 27th, when Andrea, Nick and I were watching Nick's "Family Guy" DVD. The next week, I called a reputable-sounding company in the Yellow Pages who advertised that they had "Techs To Go," and on the next Wednesday Gil came over and told me that since my set did not have a removable chassis, he would have to take it back to the shop for repairs. "One week, maybe less," he promised.

I've never seen the set again.

I call Gil from time to time to check on his progress, and attempt to encourage him to get a move on. "The technician's working on it right now, " is his standard lie, told to me at least four times. "It should be finished tomorrow or the next day - I will call you the day after tomorrow," Gil promises, but he never calls back. I let a week or so slip by, and call him again, and get the same lie. It would be humorous if it weren't so pathetic.

I haven't seen a single play of football this year - pro or college. I never saw the conclusion of HBO's "Entourage" - did Ari get his job back? I saw the first episode of "Rome," but no more. Movies, series, reruns and shlock have all come and gone. I am seriously impaired in my ability to make fun of popular culture.

Sometimes I get myself worked up over it, but generally not during business hours when I can get Gil on the telephone. During the day, my hours have been busy, testifying in Washington and what not, and I only think about it when I come home to this big empty, quiet house.

My stereo appreciates the attention it's been getting in the t.v.'s absence.

So what should I do? Continue to be patient, maintain my equanimity, and allow the work to be done when it gets done? Get aggressive, "no more Mr. Nice Guy," rip Gil a new one, and then still wait for him to get around to it, but now while stewing in my own agita?

Friday, October 14, 2005

I returned to Atlanta today after watching my opposing expert struggle through his deposition. Once again, it was hard not to feel empathy for him, instead of gloating in his difficulties. Soon, I will be back in the glare of the hot, bright light, answering questions under oath and having a clever attorney try to turn my words around on me.

There is a sort of sport to it, I must admit, sort of like chess - maybe more of a game than a sport. He who can best defend his position wins.

The "truth," whatever that is, will eventually come out. I have examined the evidence and have honestly offered my opinions under oath as to what the evidence indicates. The prosecution and their witnesses have also examined the evidence and have testified under oath as to what in their opinions the evidence indicates. Under intense cross-examination, one set of evidence and opinion will eventually prevail.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Have to interrupt my Walt Whitman readings because I'm back up in Washington for the second round of depositions - third round counting my testimony last July in Atlanta.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Tumbling on steadily, nothing dreading,
Sunshine, storm, cold, heat, forever withstanding, passing, carrying,
The Soul's realization and determination still inheriting,
The fluid vacuum around and ahead still entering and dividing,
No balk retarding, no anchor anchoring, on no rock striking,
Swift, glad, content, unbereav'd, nothing losing,
Of all able and ready at any time to give strict account,
The divine ship sails the divine sea.

Whoever you are! motion and reflection are especially for you;
The divine ship sails the divine sea for you.
Whoever you are! you are he or she for whom the earth is solid and liquid,
You are he or she for whom the sun and moon hang in the sky,
For none more than you are the present and the past,
For none more than you is immortality.

Each man to himself, and each woman to herself, such is the word of the past and present, and the word of immortality;
No one can acquire for another--not one!
Not one can grow for another--not one!
The song is to the singer, and comes back most to him;
The teaching is to the teacher, and comes back most to him;
The murder is to the murderer, and comes back most to him;
The theft is to the thief, and comes back most to him;
The love is to the lover, and comes back most to him;
The gift is to the giver, and comes back most to him--it cannot fail;
The oration is to the orator, the acting is to the actor and actress, not to the audience;
And no man understands any greatness or goodness but his own, or the indication of his own.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Of the interminable sisters,
Of the ceaseless cotillions of sisters,
Of the centripetal and centrifugal sisters, the elder and younger sisters,
The beautiful sister we know dances on with the rest.
With her ample back towards every beholder,
With the fascinations of youth, and the equal fascinations of age,
Sits she whom I too love like the rest--sits undisturb'd,
Holding up in her hand what has the character of a mirror, while her eyes glance back from it,
Glance as she sits, inviting none, denying none,
Holding a mirror day and night tirelessly before her own face.

Seen at hand, or seen at a distance,
Duly the twenty-four appear in public every day,
Duly approach and pass with their companions, or a companion,
Looking from no countenances of their own, but from the countenances of those who are with them,
From the countenances of children or women, or the manly countenance,
From the open countenances of animals, or from inanimate things,
From the landscape or waters, or from the exquisite apparition of the sky,
From our countenances, mine and yours, faithfully returning them,
Every day in public appearing without fail, but never twice with the same companions.

Embracing man, embracing all, proceed the three hundred and sixty-five resistlessly round the sun;
Embracing all, soothing, supporting, follow close three hundred and sixty-five offsets of the first, sure and necessary as they.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Accouche! Accouchez!
Will you rot your own fruit in yourself there?
Will you squat and stifle there?

The earth does not argue,
Is not pathetic, has no arrangements,
Does not scream, haste, persuade, threaten, promise,
Makes no discriminations, has no conceivable failures,
Closes nothing, refuses nothing, shuts none out,
Of all the powers, objects, states, it notifies, shuts none out.

The earth does not exhibit itself, nor refuse to exhibit itself--possesses still underneath;
Underneath the ostensible sounds, the august chorus of heroes, the wail of slaves,
Persuasions of lovers, curses, gasps of the dying, laughter of young people, accents of bargainers,
Underneath these, possessing the words that never fail.

To her children, the words of the eloquent dumb great mother never fail;
The true words do not fail, for motion does not fail, and reflection does not fail;
Also the day and night do not fail, and the voyage we pursue does not fail.
- Walt Whitman

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Air, soil, water, fire--these are words;
I myself am a word with them--my qualities interpenetrate with theirs--my name is nothing to them;
Though it were told in the three thousand languages, what would air, soil, water, fire, know of my name?

A healthy presence, a friendly or commanding gesture, are words, sayings, meanings;
The charms that go with the mere looks of some men and women, are sayings and meanings also.

The workmanship of souls is by the inaudible words of the earth;
The great masters know the earth's words, and use them more than the audible words.

Amelioration is one of the earth's words;
The earth neither lags nor hastens;
It has all attributes, growths, effects, latent in itself from the jump;
It is not half beautiful only--defects and excrescences show just as much as perfections show.

The earth does not withhold, it is generous enough;
The truths of the earth continually wait, they are not so conceal'd either;
They are calm, subtle, untransmissible by print;
They are imbued through all things, conveying themselves willingly,
Conveying a sentiment and invitation of the earth--I utter and utter,
I speak not, yet if you hear me not, of what avail am I to you?
To bear--to better--lacking these, of what avail am I?
- Walt Whitman

Saturday, October 08, 2005


Earth, round, rolling, compact--suns, moons, animals--all these are words to be said;
Watery, vegetable, sauroid advances--beings, premonitions, lispings of the future,
Behold! these are vast words to be said.

Were you thinking that those were the words--those upright lines? those curves, angles, dots?
No, those are not the words--the substantial words are in the ground and sea,
They are in the air--they are in you.

Were you thinking that those were the words--those delicious sounds out of your friends' mouths?
No, the real words are more delicious than they.

Human bodies are words, myriads of words;
In the best poems reappears the body, man's or woman's, well-shaped, natural, gay,
Every part able, active, receptive, without shame or the need of shame.
- from Carol of Words by Walt Whitman

"When the true eye functions, it goes beyond looking and enters the realm of seeing. Looking speaks to what things are. Seeing reveals what else things are, the hidden aspect of reality, the reality of a rock, a tree, a mountain, a dog or a person. Walt Whitman said, “You must not know too much or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and water… a certain free margin, and even vagueness — perhaps ignorance, credulity — helps you in your enjoyment of these things…” Seeing reveals what else things are. It is a direct encounter that involves the whole body and mind. The barrier of subject and object dissolves and one appreciates things immediately and intimately. Like Master Dogen said, 'Seeing form with the whole body and mind, hearing sounds with the whole body and mind, one understands it intimately.'”
- John Daido Loori

Student: Is samadhi necessary for realization? Didn’t Huineng, the Sixth Ancestor of Zen, come to realization without ever doing zazen or cultivating samadhi?
Daido Roshi: Not only did Huineng gain realization without zazen, but so did Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and probably Walt Whitman.

Friday, October 07, 2005

More Adventures In Banking

Needless to say, I now check my bank account balance every morning. Today, I found two more fraudulent withdrawals: both from a Walmart store (no. 1184). What was curious is that they weren't checks (all of the stolen checks had a "stop payment" issued). Both fraudulent charges were marked "Walmart 1184 ecapurchase," dated October 6, and without check numbers.

Could they have been ATM withdrawals? My ATM card was not missing, and I had no reason to believe anyone had obtained my PIN. But there they were, two charges, one for $78.77 and one for $118.72.

Back to the bank. My new best friend, Marilynn the teller, a young woman from Cameroon, researched the debits from her computer and determined that they were ACH charges. "What is ACH?," the first site that comes up in a Google search asks. "The Automated Clearing House Network," it answers.

The ACH Network is a highly reliable and efficient nationwide batch-oriented electronic funds transfer system governed by the NACHA OPERATING RULES which provide for the interbank clearing of electronic payments for participating depository financial institutions. The Federal Reserve and Electronic Payments Network act as ACH Operators, central clearing facilities through which financial institutions transmit or receive ACH entries.

Have you ever made an in-store purchase by check, and have them run the check through a scanner and hand you your check back along with your receipt? If so, they used ACH. It scans your check, electronically queries your bank account to see if you have sufficient funds, and then credits those funds to the merchant's account. Your bank never sees the check, so a "stop payment" is meaningless. It's an electronic fund transfer. Your check, in essence, works more like an check card than an IOU.

Not that I ever shop there, but Marilynn told me that Walmart now uses ACH scanners. I suppose it speeds up transactions and lowers Walmart's operating costs. My thieves are now able to use my checks for merchandise despite my "stop payment."

I had no choice but to close the account altogether, and transfer my funds to a new account. This has me nervous, as I still have several outstanding, legitimate checks to the likes of my credit card companies and my mortgage holder. Marilynn said that the bank will "watch" for those checks, she wrote down their number and amounts, and they will make sure the charges go to my new account, but I am still concerned.

So now I've had my work week interrupted twice - today's bank visit was for over an hour - and I've only filed a "dispute" over the Walmart charges; the bank has not yet conceded that they were fraudulent. I've also now have to worry about getting a nasty-gram from Visa or my mortgage company about returned checks.

Oh, and here's the best of all: since the account is now closed, my checks are no good and my ATM card doesn't work, so effectively I have no access to my own money until the new checks and card arrive (at the bank - I'm not having them sent here again). The thieves seem to have better access to my money that I do.

So what happened to all my Zen feelings of equanimity and detachment that I expressed yesterday? They're still there - I can look at all these emotions and reactions with amusement and recognize "these things are not me. They arise out of conditions, and are impermanent and empty." In this post, I'm just expressing one side of my feelings; yesterday, I expressed the other side.

Investigative work: I learned on line that Walmart store no. 1184 is a Superstore in Stone Mountain, just outside of Atlanta, on Rockbridge Road. I know the area - it's pretty run-down, badly in need of some urban renewal. So my thieves are back from the Choctaw reservation in Mississippi and once again in Atlanta - perhaps they'll stop by my mailbox again and see if they can get lucky twice. I feel sorry for them: living a life in bottom-rung casinos and Walmart Superstores, sneaking around other people's mailboxes, looking over their shoulders as they cash checks or make purchases without identification. It's a sad life, they're living, and I wish that I could give them the moon.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

On Stealing

The bank credit for the money stolen by the fraudulent check showed up in my account today, plus a refund for the box of checks that I never received. "My" money is back, but if it were really mine, how could it ever have been stolen?

Bodhidharma once said "In the dharma in which nothing can be obtained, not giving rise to the thought of obtaining is called the precept of refraining from stealing."

Am I stealing the money now by conceiving of it as "mine?"

"The dharma in which nothing can be obtained" means that it is not possible to possess anything. We cannot step outside to take hold of it. We already contain everything. To possess something, to obtain something, means to separate oneself from something. From the point of view of realization, everything is unobtainable."
- John Daido Loori

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

True Crime

Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing in it to steal.

Ryokan returned and caught him. "You may have come a long way to visit me," he told the prowler, "and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift."

The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.

Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon. "Poor fellow," he mused, "I wish I could give him this beautiful moon."

Last Monday, a wallet was stolen from inside a handbag left in a locked car in my neighborhood.

That evening, a neighbor returned home after being gone for the weekend to find the home had been broken into from a side window. Most rooms had been gone through, but nothing was taken.

This morning, I went on line to check my overnight emails, and on a whim went to my bank's website to check the balance of my account. I noticed that a fraudulent check had been cashed in my name.

The check number was about 50 digits higher than anything in my checkbook, and I realized that the check must have been from an order I placed last month but not yet received. I had noticed on my statement that the printing charges had been deducted from my balance, but was still willing to wait a day or two before I complained to the bank that they had never arrived.

The check had obviously been stolen from my mailbox. It was made out in typewritten letters to the Silver Star Hotel and Casino, a 24-hour gambling establishment on the Choctaw Indian reservation in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The signature was poorly forged, nowhere even close to mine.

The amount was for slightly under $1,000.

It doesn't appear that any real harm has been done. I went to the bank as soon as it opened, and they completely agreed that the check was fraudulent (in fact, they had flagged it on their system as being "out of sequence," which begs the question why they charged it to my account without asking). They agreed to credit my account for the amount of the check, cancelled the entire range of checks in the box, restated my order for the checks I never received, and agreed to have them shipped to the bank instead of my home. At one point, they wanted to completely shut down my account, but I protested as I still had several outstanding checks that I did not want returned, and they agreed. All told, I spent about 45 minutes at the bank, not a major interruption of my life.

It feels a little creepy to know that a criminal cruised down our street looking in mailboxes; that said criminal snagged my box of checks and drove with them on I-20 two states over to a casino on an Indian reservation; that he or she somehow checked the balance of my account (the amount of the check was within $5 of my balance - a direct deposit was credited to my account the next day and would have resulted in a much larger theft had the thief waited until then); and that the Casino typed their name and the amount onto one of my stolen checks.

I have no idea where the other 149 now-cancelled checks from the box are.

My compassion for the criminal is not as great as Ryokan's, but it is of the same nature. I would not have given the shirt off my back had we met, but I wish I could have given the thief the moon.

Ryokan's story sounded hopelessly naive when I first heard it. It's one thing not to hate the thief, I first thought, but one shouldn't encourage such behavior by giving him one's clothes as well. And wishing he could have given him the moon, as well.

But "the moon" is one of those Zen clue words that there's something deeper afoot here. "The moon" in this story is the same moon to which the finger points directly in other stories - it is direct realization, nothing short of enlightenment itself. Ryokan is not sympathizing with his robber, he is wishing that the thief was enlightened enough to see the karmic consequence of his actions, and that, since there is no separation of self and other, there really was no separate "other" for "him" to steal from.

Ryokan gave the thief the clothes he was wearing to attempt to teach him that they were his clothes as much as Ryokan's, since there was no absolute difference between the two of them. The thief, still stuck in the world of the relative, did not understand and left bewildered, and Ryokan wished that he understood ("that I could give him this beautiful moon"), so that he would stop his harmful actions.

I wish that my thief understood the error of his ways, and that I would have had the skill and the opportunity to show him.

But I still am not free from clinging to the relative. I was angry, I felt violated, and although I was not overly inconvenienced, I built up this "victim" fantasy role for myself.

I also notice how differently I react to the story of what happened to me and what had happened to my neighbors. My mailbox is no more important then their car and house, and yet my feelings are different as I considered one and the others.

And it will probably always be like this. Enlightenment is not losing one's feelings and being an emotionless automaton, it is only seeing and recognizing the feelings as they arise, and knowing "these thoughts are not me; I am not these feelings."

I wonder how much less equivocal I would be if the bank hadn't agreed to credit my account. Hmmmmm. . . .

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Second Part

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Hearing of September 28, 2005

Supplementary Statement Submitted by the Honorable Richard E. Benedick Concerning Michael Mann and Colleagues

Like Dr. Crichton, I am not a climate scientist and also like Dr. Crichton, I have followed the controversy surrounding Dr. Michael Mann and his associates. Given that Dr. Crichton has devoted considerable attention to this matter in his testimony, I would also like to add some observations for the record of the Hearing.

First, contrary to Dr. Crichton’s assertion, it is a matter of record that the initial paper by Mann et al., which appeared in the highly respected scientific journal Nature in 1998, did undergo thorough peer review prior to its publication.

Second, it is my understanding that all of the data and methodologies used by them is publicly accessible and has been accessible since 1998. The only controversy has been about access to the specific computer program used by Dr. Mann and his co-authors. While the data and methodologies are typically the only requisites for public access, Mann and colleagues have also made their computer program available. I note that the National Science Foundation has been consulted on this matter and its legal office has stated that Dr. Mann and his colleagues have behaved in an entirely appropriate manner.

Third, Dr. Crichton is correct to assert that replication of results is a very important aspect of sound science. I understand that the work of Dr. Mann et. al has in fact been replicated by other climate scientists.

I understand that the Committee has received through other channels the letter sent by Dr. Mann to the House Committee on Energy and Science on July 15th of this year. This letter addresses in detail each of the issues raised by Dr. Crichton and others. The letter also indicates where the data, methodologies and computer programs are publicly accessible. I believe it is important that no one reading the record of this Hearing should have the impression that the statements made by Dr. Crichton have not already been addressed.

There appears, moreover, to be controversy about the type of peer review undertaken on the paper by McIntyre and McKitrick before its publication in the magazine Energy and Environment, as well as whether the alleged “errors” that they report are in fact real, and indeed whether the work of McIntyre and McKitrick is itself replicable.

In conclusion, there will always be disputes and disagreements among reputable scientists of good will. This is a normal part of the process of developing generally respected sound science. I would like to emphasize that reputable, peer-reviewed journals, and trusted, apolitical institutions like the National Academy of Sciences, have earned a deserved reputation as the best places to resolve scientific disagreements, rather than politicized innuendos, conspiracy theories, or science fiction novels. I believe that those who would make sensationalized accusations about the integrity of scientists – accusations that could destroy professional careers -- have an ethical obligation to check their facts before seeking publicity. Unless they do this, their insinuations merit no credibility.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Part One of Two

Testimony of Dr. Michael Crichton
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
September 28, 2005

Thank you Mr. Chairman, and members of the Committee. I am Michael Crichton, known to most people as the author of Jurassic Park and the creator of the television series ER. My academic background includes degrees from Harvard College and Harvard Medical School; I was a visiting lecturer in Physical Anthropology at Cambridge University; and a post-doctoral fellow at the Salk Institute, where I worked on media and science policy with Jacob Bronowski.

My recent novel State of Fear concerns the politicization of scientific research. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this subject. What I would like to emphasize to the committee today is the importance of independent verification to science.

In essence, science is nothing more than a method of inquiry. The method says an assertion is valid—and will be universally accepted—only if it can be reproduced by others, and thereby independently verified. The impersonal rigor of the method has produced enormously powerful results for 400 years.

The scientific method is utterly apolitical. A truth in science is verifiable whether you are black or white, male or female, old or young. It’s verifiable whether you know the experimenter, or whether you don’t. It’s verifiable whether you like the results of a study, or you don’t.

Thus, when adhered to, the scientific method can transcend politics. Unfortunately, the converse may also be true: when politics takes precedent over content, it is often because the primacy of independent verification has been abandoned.

Verification may take several forms. I come from medicine, where the gold standard is the randomized double-blind study. Not every study is conducted in this way, but it is held up as the ultimate goal.

In that vein, let me tell you a story. It’s 1991, I am flying home from Germany, sitting next to a man who is almost in tears, he is so upset. He’s a physician involved in an FDA study of a new drug. It’s a double-blind study involving four separate teams---one plans the study, another administers the drug to patients, a third assess the effect on patients, and a fourth analyzes results. The teams do not know each other, and are prohibited from personal contact of any sort, on peril of contaminating the results. This man had been sitting in the Frankfurt airport, innocently chatting with another man, when they discovered to their mutual horror they are on two different teams studying the same drug. They were required to report their encounter to the FDA. And my companion was now waiting to see if the FDA would declare their multi-year, multi-million-dollar study invalid because of this contact.

For a person with a medical background, accustomed to this degree of rigor in research, the protocols of climate science appear considerably more relaxed. A striking feature of climate science is that it’s permissible for raw data to be "touched," or modified, by many hands. Gaps in temperature and proxy records are filled in. Suspect values are deleted because a scientist deems them erroneous. A researcher may elect to use parts of existing records, ignoring other parts. Sometimes these adjustments are necessary, sometimes they are questionable. Sometimes the adjustments are documented, sometimes not. But the fact that the data has been modified in so many ways inevitably raises the question of whether the results of a given study are wholly or partially caused by the modifications themselves.

In saying this, I am not casting aspersions on the motives or fair-mindedness of climate scientists. Rather, what is at issue is whether the methodology of climate science is sufficiently rigorous to yield a reliable result. At the very least, we should want the reassurance of independent verification by another lab, in which they make their own decisions about how to handle data, and yet arrive at a similar conclusion.

Because any study where a single team plans the research, carries it out, supervises the analysis, and writes their own final report, carries a very high risk of undetected bias. That risk, for example, would automatically preclude the validity of the results of a similarly structured study that tested the efficacy of a drug. Nobody would believe it.

By the same token, it would be unacceptable if the subsequent verification of such a study were conducted by investigators with whom the researcher had a professional relationship—people with whom, for example, he had published papers in the past. That's peer review by pals, and it’s unavoidably biased. Yet these issues are central to the now-familiar story of the "hockeystick graph" and the debate surrounding it.

To summarize it briefly: in 1998-99 the American climate researcher Michael Mann and his co-workers published an estimate of global temperatures from the year 1000 to 1980. Mann’s results appeared to show a spike in recent temperatures that was unprecedented in the last thousand years. His alarming report received widespread publicity and formed the centerpiece of the U.N.’s Third Assessment Report, in 2001. The graph appeared on the first page of the IPCC Executive Summary.

Mann’s work was initially criticized because his graph didn't show the well-known Medieval Warm Period, when temperatures were warmer than they are today, or the Little Ice Age, when they were colder than today. But real fireworks began when two Canadian researchers, McIntyre and McKitrick, attempted to replicate Mann’s study. They found grave errors in the work, which they detailed in 2003: calculation errors, data used twice, and a computer program that generated a hockeystick out of any data fed to it—even random data.

Mann’s work has been dismissed as “phony” and “rubbish” by climate scientists around the world who subscribe to global warming. Some have asked why the UN accepted Mann’s report so uncritically. It is unsettling to learn Mann himself was in charge of the section of the report that included his work. This episode of climate science is far from the standards of independent verification.

The hockeystick controversy drags on. But I would direct the Committee's attention to three aspects of this story. First, six years passed between Mann’s publication and the first detailed accounts of errors in his work. This is simply too long for policymakers to wait for validated results. Particularly if it is going to be shown around the world in the meantime.

Second, the flaws in Mann’s work were not caught by climate scientists, but rather by outsiders—in this case, an economist and a mathematician. McIntyre and McKitrick had to go to great lengths to obtain the data from Mann's team, which obstructed them at every turn. When the Canadians sought help from the NSF, they were told that Mann was under no obligation to provide his data to other researchers for independent verification.

Third, this kind of stonewalling is not unique or uncommon. The Canadians are now attempting to replicate other climate studies and are getting the same runaround from other researchers. One leading light in the field told them: "Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it."

Even further, some scientists complain the task of archiving is so time-consuming as to prevent them from getting any work done. But this is nonsense.

The first research paper I worked on, back in the 1960s, consisted of data on stacks of paper. When we received a request for data from another lab, I stood at a Xerox machine, copying one page a minute—at 11 cents a page!—for several hours. Back in those days, a request for data meant a lot of work.

But today we can burn data to a CD, or post it at an ftp site for downloading. Archiving data is so easy it should have become standard practice a decade ago. Government grants should require a “replication package” as part of funding. Posting the package online should be a prerequisite to journal publication. And since it’s so easy, there’s really no reason to exclude anyone from reviewing the data.

One problem with replication is this: while it can tell you a research result is faulty, it can’t tell you what the right answer is. Policymakers need sound answers to the questions they ask. A better way to get them might be to give research grants for important projects to three independent teams simultaneously. A provision of the grant would be that at the end of the study period, all three papers would be published together, with each group commenting on the findings of the other. I believe this would be the fastest way to get verified answers to important questions.

But if independent verification is the heart of science, what should policymakers do with research that is unverifiable? For example, the UN Third Assessment Report defines general circulation climate models as unverifiable. If that’s true, are their predictions of any use to policymakers?

Arguably not. In 2000, Christopher Landsea and co-workers studied various computer models that had forecast the strong El Nino event of 1997-98. They concluded that the older, simpler models—hardly more than simple formulae—had performed much better than the global circulation models when predicting the arrival and strength of the El Nino.

If policymakers decide to weight their decisions in favor of verified research, that will provoke an effort by climate scientists to demonstrate their concerns using objectively verifiable research.

In closing, I want to state emphatically that nothing in my remarks should be taken to imply that we can ignore our environment, or that we should not take climate change seriously. On the contrary, we must dramatically improve our record on environmental management. That’s why a focused effort on climate science, aimed at securing sound, independently verified answers to policy questions, is so important now.

I would remind the committee that in the end, it is the proper function of government to set standards for the integrity of information it uses to make policy, and to ensure that standards are maintained. Those who argue government should refrain from mandating quality standards for scientific research—including some professional organizations—are merely self-serving. In an information society, public safety depends on the integrity of public information. And only government can perform that task.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

View Out My Window at the George Hotel, Washington, DC

There are days when I look at the Blogger screen and I can't think of a damn thing to say, and then there are days like today where I have so much to say that I wonder if I shouldn't try to store some of it for a mental "rainy day," instead of composing a rambling entry.

But mainly, I want to talk about the graphics on this blog. Even a casual peek at my Site Meter will reveal that the vast majority of visits to this blog are coming for the same pictures that I talked about during the 50,000th, the 30,000th, and the 20,000th visit celebrations. The pictures have been an integral part of this blog almost from the beginning, but scanning through past pages, the whole of it looks messy to me, disjointed and even trivial. I think a casual surf through this blog, without reading any of the words as I suppose most of the visitors don't, might give the impression that this whole thing is somewhat silly and juvenile.

A Zen blog should have some gravitas to it, I tell myself, and then I remind myself that this is not a Zen blog, it is a blog written by a Zen student about all aspects of his life. But still, the appearance suggests "monkey mind" at its worst.

What a dilemma - do I keep posting the pics and keep up the traffic, or do I put on a more "Zen" appearance so as not to confuse those readers who do come here?

So, that's one of the things on my mind today. I'm also thinking about all of this because I came across some pictures appropriate to the events that occurred last week while I was in D.C., from Lyndie England's conviction related to Abu Gharib:
to Tom DeLay's indictment:
to John Robert's Supreme Court nomination:
I hope that those of you who enjoy political humor, or satire fans like myself who grew up with Mad Magazine and later National Lampoon, can appreciate these pictures and the fact that, yet again, I'm sacrificing the visual integrity of this blog to provide graphics for your amusement.

Yesterday, I posted a picture by James Christensen, which to me symbolized the balancing act I sometimes feel I'm in as I try to follow the Middle Way. The picture prompted Jeb to ask where I got it from. I honestly don't recall - it seems that I often bump into his art on line, and it occasionally seems appropriate to one of my posts, like the pictures of his that I posted on Christmas Day. Other works of his don't seem like they'll ever fit in with anything I'm likely to talk about, such as this take of the myth of Leda and the swan:
If you're looking for more of his artwork, Jeb, you can check out this Google link. I hope that helps, but meanwhile let me just say that you have a very nice blog yourself, one that looks much more mature and settled than this cartoon house that I've constructed.