Archive for January, 2008

Edie is a charter member of the Hall of Flame-outs

January 29, 2008

EDIE SEDGWICK(1943-1971)

to JAN. 1965: ANDY MEETS EDIE

 Edie Sedgwick (1966)(photo: Billy Name)

Andy Warhol was often blamed for Edie Sedgwick’s descent into drug addiction and mental illness. However, before meeting Warhol, Edie had been in mental hospitals twice and came from a family with a history of mental illness. She was only close to Warhol for about a year, from approximately March 1965 to February 1966.

Another fallacy was that Warhol ditched Edie after using her up whereas the truth was that it was Edie’s decision to leave the Factory, lured by promises of stardom by Bob Dylan and his manager, leaving Andy feeling slightly betrayed.

HER PARENTS

Edie Sedgwick’s father was Francis Minturn Sedgwick (1904-1967), a Santa Barbara rancher who had three nervous breakdowns prior to his marriage in 1929 to Edie’s mother Alice Delano De Forest. Before the marriage, Alice’s father visited Francis Sedgwick’s doctors at the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge Massachusetts, where he was recovering from a phase of manic-depressive psychosis. Alice’s father was advised by Francis’s doctor at the psychiatric clinic that Francis and Alice should not have any children. (EDIE49)

They eventually had a total of 8 children: Alice (Saucie) in 1931, Robert Minturn (Bobby) in 1933, Pamela in 1935, Francis Minturn (Minty) in 1938, Jonathan in 1939, Katharine (Kate) in 1941, Edith Minturn (Edie) in 1943, and Susanna (Suky) in 1945.

HER BACKGROUND

Edie Sedgwick’s family ancestry originated from Stockbridge, Massachusetts where Edie’s great-great-great grandfather had moved after the Revolution. Judge Theodore Sedgwick (1746-1813) had been Speaker of the House of Representatives in the time of Alexander Hamilton and George Washington and had also been the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. His wife, Pamela Dwight (1753-1807) had gone insane “halfway through her life.” (EDIE3) Stockbridge had closer ties to New York than Boston, with many of her family ancestors pursuing careers in New York after being educated at Harvard.

After their marriage, Edie’s parents, Francis and Alice, lived in Cambridge while Francis took classes at the Harvard Business School. Because of his “asthma attacks and other nervous symptoms” his doctors “advised him to develop his artistic side.”(EDIE50) They moved to Long Island, spending their summers in a house in Santa Barbara that they had bought on their honeymoon. They eventually moved to a 50 acre fruit ranch in Goleta in 1943. Edie was born at the Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara on April 20, 1943. During the war, they moved to a larger ranch, Corral de Quati, in the Santa Ynez Valley with money inherited from Edie’s maternal grandfather, Henry Wheeler De Forest. Although he had lost much of his fortune in the Wall Street crash, half of the remaining money (several million dollars) went to Edie’s mother. (EDIE62)

THE RANCH

Although land rich (3,000 acres), “there was a feeling at this stage of being pinched for money, of cutting corners”, according to Edie’s sister Saucie. “We children were dressed in hand-me-downs from our Eastern cousins, and we got very little for Christmas or birthdays.” (EDIE62) Oil was discovered on the ranch in the early fifties and approximately seventeen wells were constructed to take advantage of it. With the additional money, the family was able to move to a new 6,000 acre ranch about six miles from Corral de Quati in July 1952. Edie’s sister, Suky, described the new ranch, Rancho La Laguna de San Francisco, as “gloriously beautiful” (EDIE78)

The Sedgwicks lived in their own world, and even had their own school constructed on their property. The children were not allowed to go to public school. (EDIE70) Edie and her sister, Suky, were taken to a woman doctor in the Santa Ynez Valley for daily vitamin B shots. (EDIE79)

MINTY

Edie’s brother Minty (Francis Minturn) was an alcoholic at the age of fifteen (EDIE83). Later, in the the early sixties, he ended up at Silver Hill psychiatric hospital, attending AA meetings when he was out. (EDIE102), In October 1963 he was committed to Bellevue after being found in Central Park standing on a statue making a speech to a non-existent audience. From Bellevue he went to Manhattan State Hospital. He then returned to Silver Hill and was found dead in his room in early 1964. (EDIE135-6) He had hung himself the day before his twenty-sixth birthday. The night before committing suicide, he rang Edie and, according to one of her friends at the time, Minty told Edie that “she was the only Sedgwick he could ever hope for.” (EDIE139/140)

BOBBY

Her other brother, Bobby, also had psychiatric problems. He had a nervous breakdown in the early 1950s during his sophomore year at Harvard. He was taken from his dorm, Eliot House, in a straitjacket. When he returned in to Harvard in the Autumn of 1953 he continued to see a psychiatrist in Boston. On August 20, 1963 he was committed again – this time to Bellevue, just a few months before Minty was admitted. After staying in Bellevue for ten days, he was committed to Manhattan State Hospital. On New Year’s Eve 1964 he was riding his Harley Davidson without a helmut and crashed into the side of a bus, dying on January 12, 1965. (EDIE147/152)

ANOREXIA

Edie was first institutionalized in the autumn of 1962 after suffering from anorexia and, like her brother, attended the Silver Hill mental hospital. Her anorexia continued until she weighed only ninety pounds at which time she was transferred to Bloomingdale, the Westchester Division of New York Hospital. (EDIE115) Whereas Silver Hill was fairly liberal, Bloomingdale was very strict. Near the end of her stay there, she became pregnant while on a hospital pass and had to have an abortion. (EDIE115/7).

CHUCK WEIN

After her release from the hospital, she moved to Cambridge in the autumn of 1963 and continued to see a psychiatrist. There she met Chuck Wein, who according to a friend at the time, Ed Hennessy, “had graduated a year or two before, but he had come back to bum around.” (EDIE126) She prospered socially, hanging out with people like Hennessy – “a kind of deliberately outrageous dandy at a time Harvard was not producing many dandies” (EDIE126).

She left Cambridge after turning 21 and moved to New York in 1964. According to Sandy Kirkland, who hung out with Edie in her Manhattan apartment, Chuck Wein “would be plotting out the next move of their strategy – whom he was going to introduce to Edie that night, what they could do for her… Chuck had a real promoter’s vision about her… He knew that she had this quality, but that she was totally disorganized and wouldn’t be able to pull it off herself… so he took over her life.” (EDIE176)

In January 1965, Edie met Andy Warhol at Lester Persky’s apartment. She began going to the Factory regularly in March with Chuck Wein. During one of these visits, Andy put her into Vinyl, at the last minute.” (L&D219-20) She had previously made a very short appearance in Warhol’s film, Horse, when she and Ondine entered the Factory toward the end of the film.

Ronald Tavel (Vinyl scriptwriter):

“I don’t think Andy was taken in by Chuck for one minute. What he liked was his blond hair and blue eyes.” (L&D220)

Jane Holzer:

“Edie was with this guy called Chuck Wein, and he had a bad vibe, a very bad vibe. Too many drugs.” (UW52)

Andy Warhol, Chuck Wein andSandy Kirkland on the Factory couch(photo: Stephen Shore)

ANDY & EDIE & CHUCK

When Andy went to the opening of his exhibit at the Sonnabend Gallery in Paris on April 30, 1965, he took both Edie and Chuck with him (as well as Gerard Malanga). Upon returning to New York, Andy told his scriptwriter, Ron Tavel, that he wanted to make Edie the queen of the factory and asked him to write a script for her: “Something in a kitchen. White and clean and plastic.” The result was Kitchen, with Edie, Rene Ricard and Roger Trudeau. It was shot at soundman Buddy Wirtschafter’s studio apartment. (L&D223/5)

After Kitchen, Chuck Wein replaced Tavel, being credited as writer and assistant director for the filming of Beauty No. 2 which she starred in with “Gino [Piserchio], a hunk in jockey shorts”. Beauty No. 2 premiered at the Cinematheque on July 17th and her onscreen appearance was compared to Marilyn Monroe’s. As a result of her popularity, she was getting a lot of advice from people to leave Andy and become a proper star. One of the people advising Edie was Bobby Neuwirth who has been described as “Bob Dylan’s right-hand man.” (L&D226/8)

BOB DYLAN & BOB NEUWIRTH

Bob Dylan and Bobby Neuwirth first met Edie in December of 1964 – approximately a month before she met Warhol.

Bobby Neuwirth:

Bobby Dylan and I occasionally ventured out into the poppy nightlife world. I think somebody who had met Edie said, ‘You have to meet this terrific girl.’ Dylan called her, and she chartered a limousine and came to see us. We spent an hour or two, all laughing and giggling, having a terrific time. I think we met in the bar upstairs at the Kettle of Fish on MacDougal Street, which was one of the great places of the Sixties. It was just before the Christmas holidays; it was snowing, and I remember we went to look at the display on Houston Street in front of the Catholic church… Edie was fantastic. She was always fantastic.” (EDIE166)

Neuwirth had first met Dylan at the beginning of May 1961 at the Indian Neck Folk Festival in Connecticut. In February 1964 Neuwirth joined Dylan on the road as a go-fer and became his “right-hand man.” At the time that Neuwirth and Dylan met Edie, Dylan was staying in Room 211 at The Chelsea Hotel with his future wife, Sara Lownds, and her 3 year old child from a previous marriage. While Sara stayed in the hotel taking care of her child, Neuwirth and Dylan enjoyed New York’s nightlife. The Kettle of Fish was one of their regular haunts. Dylan was also having an affair with Joan Baez which had begun in May 1963 after both performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival. The relationship with Baez continued until May 1965 when Baez broke up with Dylan after discovering him and Lownds together in Dylan’s hotel room during a concert tour of Great Britain. Dylan had previously neglected to tell Baez about Lownds.

In November 1965, Dylan married Sara in a secret ceremony – something that Edie apparently found out from Warhol during an argument at the Gingerman Restaurant in February 1966.

Paul Morrissey:

“She [Edie] said, ‘They’re [Dylan’s people] going to make a film and I’m supposed to star in it with Bobby [Dylan].’ Suddenly it was Bobby this and Bobby that, and they realized that she had a crush on him. They thought he’d been leading her on, because just that day Andy had heard in his lawyer’s office that Dylan had been secretly married for a few months – he married Sarah Lownds in November 1965… Andy couldn’t resist asking, ‘Did you know Edie that Bob Dylan has gotten married?’ She was trembling. They realized that she really thought of herself as entering a relationship with Dylan, that maybe he hadn’t been truthful.” (UT36/37)

Edie went to make a phone call and when she came back she announced that she was leaving the Factory. Gerard Malanga, who was also there, thought she had rung Dylan. Malanga recalled that “she left and everybody was kind of quiet. It was stormy and dramatic. Edie disappeared and that was the end of it. She never came back.” (UT37)

There is no evidence that Edie ever had a sexual relationship with Bob Dylan. However, she did have one with Bob Neuwirth.

Edie Sedgwick [from the Ciao! Manhattan tapes]:

“It was really sad – Bobby [Neuwirth]’s and my affair. The only true, passionate, and lasting love scene, and I practically ended up in the psychopathic ward. I had really learned about sex from him, making love, loving, giving. It just completely blew my mind – it drove me insane. I was like a sex slave to this man. I could make love for forty-eight hours, forty-eight hours, forty-eight hours, without getting tired. But the minute he left me alone, I felt so empty and lost that I would start popping pills… (EDIE315)

Bob Dylan’s album Blonde on Blonde was released on May 16, 1966. One of the women featured on the inner sleeve was Edie Sedgwick. Some of the songs were rumored to be about Edie. And Andy.

Andy Warhol (via Pat Hackett in Popism):

“I liked Dylan, the way he created a brilliant new style… I even gave him one of my silver Elvis paintings in the days when he was first around. Later on, though, I got paranoid when I heard rumors that he had used the Elvis as a dart board up in the country. When I’d ask, ‘Why did he do that?’ I’d invariably get hearsay answers like ‘I hear he feels you destroyed Edie,’ or ‘Listen to Like a Rolling Stone – I think you’re the ‘diplomat on the chrome horse,’ man.’ I didn’t know exactly what they meant by that – I never listened much to the words of songs – but I got the tenor of what people were saying – that Dylan didn’t like me, that he blamed me for Edie’s drugs.” (POP108)

Nico thought that Dylan might have been referring to Edie in the song, Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat, which was included on the album. Some claimed that the phrase “your debutante” referred to Edie on the track, Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again. It was also rumored that Just Like a Woman was about Edie. The non-Warhol film that Edie made after she left the Factory, Ciao Manhattan, had Just Like a Woman as part of its soundtrack. Some Dylan biographers, however, think that the song was probably about Dylan’s relationship with Joan Baez.

The supposed film with Dylan never materialized although D.A. Pennebaker, who filmed the documentary Don’t Look Back in 1965, recalled that he also shot “a lot” of footage of Edie who was often at his studio. Don’t Look Back covered Dylan’s concert dates in England from April 30 – May 10, 1965. The following year Pennebaker was also hired by Dylan as the cinematographer for a film for television broadcast that Dylan wanted to produce himself called Eat the Document. Bobby Neuwirth helped Pennebaker edit the 1966 footage.

Andy Warhol had filmed Edie Sedgwick for The Chelsea Girls but when she left the Factory, he edited her out of the film, possibly at Edie’s request. Her footage was replaced with a shot of Nico with colored lights projected on her face with Velvet Underground music in the background.

EDIE’S MODELING CAREER

An out take from Edie’sLife magazine photo session(photo: Fred Eberstadt)

After leaving Andy’s crowd, Edie, still in a relationship with Bob Neuwirth, tried modeling, appearing in Vogue on March 15, 1966. During her Factory days, she had appeared in Vogue in August 1965 as a “youthquaker” and also in a fashion layout forLife magazine in the September 1965 issue.

She never became part of “the family at Vogue” because, according to senior editor Gloria Schiff: “she was identified in the gossip columns with the drug scene, and back then there was a certain apprehension about being involved in that scene… people were really terrified by it… drugs had done so much damage to young, creative, brilliant people that we were just anti that scene as a policy”. (EDIE302).

Edie also auditioned for Norman Mailer’s play The Deer Park, but Mailer thought she “wasn’t very good… She used so much of herself with every line that we knew she’d be immolated after three performances” (EDIE314).

A FAMILY CHRISTMAS

At the end of 1966, Eddie, who had been living in the Chelsea Hotel for a few months, went home for the Christmas holidays. Her brother Jonathan remembered her as: “really weird when she arrived at the ranch… She was an alien. She’d pick up what you were about to say before you’d say it. It made everyone uncomfortable. She wanted to sing, and so she would sing… but it was a drag because it wasn’t in tune. A painted doll, wobbly, languishing around on chairs, trying to look like a vamp.” (EDIE310)

According to tapes she later made for the film Ciao! Manhattan, she attempted to get her mother’s physician to refill a prescription for Eskatrol, a form of speed, and her mother found out about it and talked to the doctor. Later that night her parents gave her some nembutal so that she could sleep. At one point they woke her up and told her she had a temperature of 105 and needed to be taken to the hospital. Although she thought she was just going to a normal hospital, they actually took her in a police car to the County Hospital to have her committed to the psychiatric ward. (EDIE311)

When Edie got out of the hospital, she moved back to Manhattan to the Chelsea Hotel (Room 105) and continued to take drugs. Bob Neuwirth eventually left her in early 1967, unable to deal with her drug taking and erratic behaviour.

CIAO! MANHATTAN

The shooting for Edie’s final film, Ciao! Manhattan, started on Easter Sunday, 1967.

According to Robert Margouleff, the film’s producer, “Everybody on the set needed a poke [of speed] – first once a day, then twice. We actually set up a charge account at Dr. Roberts office…. Shooting got so unpredictable. There was one scene in which Paul America was supposed to drop off Jane Holzer at the heliport at the Pan Am building. We filmed him driving up up and letting her out and then driving off. He was supposed to drive around the block and be available for more footage to the scene. But he just kept on going. We didn’t hear from Paul again for about eight months until finally David tracked him down in Allegan, Michigan where he was in jail. We had to get permission from the Governor to film him in jail and try to integrate that into the footage.” (EDIE 321/3)

On October 24, 1967. Edie’s father died. Toward the end of his life, one of his brother’s heard him say: “You know, my children all believe that their difficulties stem from me. And I agree. I think they do.” (EDIE356)

Edie was in Gracie Square Hospital at the time of her father’s death. When she came out, she moved in with L.M. Kit Carson who had written a film he wanted Edie to be in. They had an affair and moved into the Warwick hotel posing as man and wife. Unable to cope with her drug addiction and erratic behaviour, Carson moved out. Several days later Edie was committed to Bellevue Hospital. After contacting her private physician she was let out of Bellevue, but was later committed to the Manhattan State Hospital after a drug overdose. (EDIE363)

Her brother, Jonathan, describes her state when Edie’s mother finally took her out of the the hospital and back to the ranch in Santa Barbara in the late fall of 1968: “She couldn’t walk. She’d just fall over… like she had no motor control left at all. The doctor did a dye test of some sort and it showed the blood wasn’t reaching certain parts of the brain… She couldn’t talk. I’d say, “Edie, goddamn it, get your head together… She’d say, ‘I… I… I… know… know… know… I… I… can but it’s ha… ha… hard…’ “(EDIE370)

Eventually she was well enough to live in town and got an apartment in Isla Vista near U.C. Santa Barbara. She was hospitalized again in August of 1969 in the psychiatric ward of Cottage Hospital after being busted for drugs by the local police. While in hospital she met another patient, Michael Post, who she would later marry. (EDIE371/76)

When Edie got out of the hospital, she hung around with a group of bikers called the Vikings. One of the bikers, Preacher Ewing, remembered her as “a little larger than life in her capacity to hit the depths… I used to call her Princess, because that’s what she thought she was…She’d say her parents were so fantastically upper-class… she was condescending. It was really ludicrous, because she’d ball half the dudes in town for a snort of junk.” (EDIE387)

Edie was in the hospital again in the summer of 1970 but was let out under the supervision of two nurses to finish Ciao! Manhattan(EDIE388)

For the shock treatment segment in the film, a real clinic was used and Edie knew exactly how the gag should be placed and how the airway went in. The segments of her in her “apartment” were actually filmed at the bottom of an empty swimming pool in Los Angeles. (EDIE390)

Soon afterwards, suffering from the DT’s, Edie was admitted to the same clinic they used to film the shock treatment in Ciao Manhattan, where she had real shock treatments.

Michael Post:

“She was in the clinic from January 17 to June 4… She had shock treatments – I don’t know how many – maybe twenty or more. Dr Mercer told me that she’d had some shock treatments in the East. He authorized the new ones because he thought Edie could be close to suicidal.” (EDIE398)

According to Warhol biographer, David Bourdon, “Between January and June of 1971, she received twenty or more shock treatments.” (DB316)

CIAO! EDIE

Edie married Michael Post on July 24, 1971. She stopped drinking and taking pills until October when pain medication was given to her to treat a physical illness. She remained under the care of Dr. Mercer who prescribed her barbiturates but she would often demand more pills or say she had lost them in order to get more, often combining them with alcohol.

On the night of November 15, 1971, Edie went to fashion show at Santa Barbara Museum, a segment of which was filmed for the television show An American Family, Lance Loud had already met Edie before on a beach in Isla Vista and she spoke to him in the lobby “drawn” by the cameras.

After the fashion show Edie attended a party and was verbally attacked by one of the guests who called her a heroin addict. The guest was so loud that she was asked to leave. Edie rang Michael who arrived at the party and could see that Edie had been drinking.

Eventually, they left the party, went back to their apartment where Michael gave Edie the medication that had been prescribed for her and they both fell asleep. When Michael woke up the following morning at 7:30, Edie was dead. The coroner registered her death as Accident/Suicide due to a Barbiturate overdose.

Saucie (Edie’s sister):

“Edie was buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Ballard, up over the San Marcos Pass. It used to be a dingy village so small that if you went through it at fifty miles per hour you’d miss it. It’s in the Valley, but it’s nothing. A few live-oak trees. No one would ever go there except to see the veterinarian.” (EDIE425)

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Mind over matter

January 28, 2008

NY Times January 27, 2008

Faith and Healing

THE CURE WITHIN

A History of Mind-Body Medicine.

By Anne Harrington.

Illustrated. 336 pp. W. W. Norton & Company. $25.95.

Recently, a woman whose breast cancer was in remission called me. Cost-cutting at work had left her tense and angry. “I’m worried that all the stressI’m under will weaken my immune system,” she said, “and then my cancermay come back.” My patient is a believer in “complementary” approaches to health and disease, so in addition to taking prescribed hormone blockers, she does yoga exercises, drinks green tea and visualizes her blood cells on patrol against recurrent tumor growth. When I raised the option of a support group, she told me she preferred to work solely with her psychotherapist.

In my work as a specialist in cancer, blood diseases and AIDS, hardly a week goes by when patients do not bring up the above interventions, as well as Buddhist meditation, qigong, acupuncture, megavitamins and macrobiotic diets. In “The Cure Within,” her splendid history of mind-body medicine, Anne Harrington tries to explain why we draw connections between emotions and illness, and helps trace how today’s myriad alternative and complementary treatments came to be. A professor and chairman of the history of science department at Harvard, Harrington has produced a book that desperately needed to be written. Some 60 million Americans use these therapies in the effort to combat serious diseases like cancer and AIDS, as well as the normal physiology of aging. In the United States, office visits to providers of complementary and alternative medicine now outnumber visits to primary care physicians. The costs of such care approach $40 billion dollars a year. Books, talk shows and Web sites present riveting testimonials of clinical benefits from Eastern breathing techniques, dietary supplements, positive thinking and prayer.

Doctors like myself are schooled in the cause and effect of changes in DNA, cells and tissues. We apply this biology to identify what is wrong with a patient, then recommend a medication, procedure or behavioral change that will ameliorate the physical problem. “Quite often, this physicalist way of thinking about illness works,” Harrington writes. “Patients take the antibiotic and recover from their infection, learn to inject themselves with insulin and normalize their blood sugar levels, have surgery and learn that their cancer has gone into remission or take the antidepressant and find they can get out of bed again in the morning.”

Sometimes, of course, standard treatments don’t work or simply don’t exist. And sometimes tests fail to uncover any physical cause for a patient’s suffering at all. But such failures, Harrington argues, explain only part of the widespread dissatisfaction with mainstream medicine. Of equal or greater import, she writes, is medicine’s failure to address the “existential” aspect of illness, to answer the questions “Why me? Why now? What next?” Doctors usually frame their answers to such questions in language that forgoes any meaning for the individual. Whether cancer will return is a matter of statistical likelihoods derived from the study of large groups of patients — or, in lay terms, “bad luck.” There is no meaning in randomness, and for the patient no sense of control. Perhaps someday genomic research will help predict the particular behavior of each individual’s cancer, but for now doctors cannot say with any precision who will relapse or why.

As patients, we may be modern in many ways, but we find such uncertainty hard to accept. Throughout history, Harrington rightly argues, people have strained to make “personal sense” of illness and suffering. Western cultures, like all cultures, have traditionally provided people “a stockpile of religious, moral and social stories to help them answer the great ‘why’ questions of their suffering, and to connect their experiences to some larger understanding of their identities and destinies.” But today, she writes, the story offered by mainstream medicine “is as impersonal as they come.”

In fluid prose and with the precision of a detective story, Harrington offers a taxonomy of the main narratives that we draw on to try to make sense of disease, whether they emphasize our ability to heal ourselves or more magical interventions. The root of most of our mind-body narratives is the Bible and other religious writings that describe the struggle against “possession” by demonic forces. While Jewish mystics offered incantations and other rituals to expel dybbuks, the Gospels associate the powers of exorcism with belief in Jesus. Harrington cites the Gospel of Mark, in which Jesus casts out a spirit that has caused convulsions, foaming at the mouth and gnashing of teeth — an accurate clinical description of epilepsy: “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes. … Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” Belief in demonic possession and its exorcism by priests, common to cultures the world over, remained part of Catholic theology, essentially unaltered, until 1999.

Harrington uses the term “power of suggestion” to describe the skeptical narrative that science ultimately developed to explain cases in which an authority figure, whether a priest uttering incantations or a doctor administering a placebo, cures afflictions that may have no organic cause. Much of what today strikes us as quackery in fact originated in attempts to apply scientific ideas to healing the body. For example, the 18th-century Austrian physician Franz Mesmer, inspired by Newton’s ideas, moved mineral magnets around the bodies of his patients in order to manipulate supposed invisible fluids that, like the oceans, responded to planetary gravitation. The patients reported powerful sensations of energy coursing through their flesh and experienced involuntary movements to the point of violent convulsions; many were cured or much improved. Next, Mesmer found he could trigger the same effects simply waving his hands over the patient. He assumed that he himself was the source of healing force, which he called “animal magnetism.”

Mesmer was succeeded by Jean-Martin Charcot in France, and later Sigmund Freud in Vienna, each of whom sought to identify the nonphysical causes of their patients’ symptoms and tried to devise cures outside of chemical pills and surgical procedures. These efforts, Harrington observes, ushered in another narrative of healing, one she calls “the body that speaks.” Charcot and Freud called the underlying condition “hysteria,” and used hypnosis and the “talking cure” to relieve their distraught, usually female patients of those fits of blindness, coughing and paralysis that supposedly reflected buried traumatic memories or taboo childhood fantasies. Doctors treating traumatized male soldiers during World War I called it “shell shock.”

The clergy tried to recapture lost ground in the healing realm, whether in the form of Christian Science or the “power of positive thinking” promoted by the decidedly mainstream pastor Norman Vincent Peale of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Scientists, of course, were not so quick to yield, probing ever deeper into the question of the mind’s effect on the body. For example, the Harvard physiologist Walter B. Cannon discovered that emotions could ramify through the body in unexpected ways beyond “hysteria.” In studies of digestion done in the 1930s, he discovered that animals experiencing distress or rage showed inhibited peristalsis, the ordered muscular contractions that move food through the gut. Tests showed elevated levels of adrenaline in the animals’ blood, which Cannon determined was involved with biochemical self-regulatory processes connected to the “fight or flight” reaction crucial to survival in the wild.

But Cannon also saw implications for human beings. “In the modern era,” Harrington writes of his research, “life had become so fast paced, so uncertain and consequently so anxiety-provoking that many people went through their days as if they were cats faced with dogs perpetually barking at them.”

Hans Selye, a Czech physician and biochemist at the University of Montreal, took these ideas further, introducing the term “stress” (borrowed from metallurgy) to describe the way trauma caused overactivity of the adrenal gland, and with it a disruption of bodily equilibrium. In the most extreme case, Selye argued, stress could wear down the body’s adaptation mechanisms, resulting in death. His narrative fit well into the cultural discourse of the cold-war era, where, Harrington writes, many saw themselves as “broken by modern life.” Selye’s ideas, in her view, were “especially appealing to people who knew they felt worried or unwell, but were perhaps no longer quite persuaded by the doctrine of bad nerves that had helped their parents and grandparents make sense of their experiences ofmalaise.”

Selye’s work prompted further research on the impact of family dynamics, interpersonal relationships and community ties on health. Most of this work initially focused on the heart and hypertension, prominent in the public mind following President Eisenhower’s cardiac crisis. Later, scrutiny was extended to the emotional dimensions of the other great specter of the time, cancer. If stress lay at the root of so many modern maladies, Harrington writes, then “healing ties” might be the prophylactic, if not the cure, for cancer as well.

In 1989, David Spiegel, a psychiatrist at Stanford, published a widely reported study of 86 women with advanced breast cancer, all receiving conventional medical therapies. Some were randomly assigned to weekly support groups, where they spoke openly about their fears and hopes and were taught self-hypnosis to manage pain and stress, while others were simply given routine care. Spiegel reported that the women in group therapy lived twice as long, 36.6 months, as those in the control group, who lived 18.9 months. (As point of comparison, Herceptin — the most promising new drug for women with advanced breast cancer — extends patients’ lives by a median of five months compared with those who receive chemotherapy without it.) Spiegel’s research seemed to support the assertions of Bernie Siegel, a surgeon at Yale, who in his best-selling “Love, Medicine, and Miracles” (1986) claimed that emotional turmoil was a cause of breast cancer and that dramatic remissions could occur if patients simply gave up their emotional repression, without chemotherapy or radiation.

In one of the most poignant moments in her book, Harrington visits a group of women in a follow-up study designed to replicate Spiegel’s stunning data. Spiegel has not released the results of this subsequent research, although the study was due to end more than seven years ago. Some have speculated that the initial results were a fluke. “Spiegel remains unwilling to say that support therapy does not extend the life of women with cancer,” Harrington writes. “He and his team believe there is still some kind of biological story to be told about the power of healing ties in the case of cancer, even if it might not be quite the story with which they started.” (Clinical trials of Siegel’s approach to breast cancer, she notes, failed to show greater survival rates.)

During her visit, Harrington asks the women whether they thought Spiegel’s group therapy was helping them live longer. “A silent snort went around the table,” she writes. “No, they said, they did not believe the premise of the study — not really. Why not? I asked. Their answer was clear: the evidence was not there for them; they had seen too many people in their group die.” But then one woman surprises Harrington, and the reader, by saying she doesn’t care about Spiegel’s hypothesis. “I don’t think it matters to me at all,” she says. “That’s not why I joined the group.” Why, then, did she stick with it? To learn “how to live better with cancer and how to die better from cancer, something that they could learn nowhere else in their culture.”

In her final chapter, Harrington offers close observations of the interactions between the Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson (and later the neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin) and the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan monks. She admits longing for scientific support for what is, in essence, an “Orientalist” conception, that the “Other” holds wisdom and therapeutic treasures beyond those imaginable to us in the West. Some of Harrington’s wish is fulfilled in the biology of the placebo response. Recent studies show that belief, even in inert treatments, can have profound benefits in relieving pain, likely via release of endorphins and other mediators in the brain. But despite several decades of concerted research in the field of psychoneuroimmunology, to my scrutiny no robust effects of meditation or other relaxation techniques that could combat illnesses like cancer or AIDS have been identified.

Harrington concludes with the questions that her students at Harvard regularly ask: Which mind-body narratives are “true”? Are all the stories we tell ourselves about illness equally valuable? Harrington has already answered these queries in part in the voice of the woman with breast cancer in the Stanford study. Yet, she has still been “haunted” over the years by unusual events, like the case of a man whosetumors seemed to melt “like snowballs on a hot stove” in response to a “worthlesss” cancer treatment that he nonetheless believed in. The physicist Freeman Dyson once noted that, to a scientist, an event like the spontaneous remission of a tumor is viewed as occurring at the asymptote of probability, one in several million, but through the eyes of a believer it becomes not mathematics but a miracle. Harrington shows us that, whatever science reveals about the cause and course of disease, we will continue to tell ourselves stories, and try to use our own metaphors to find meaning in randomness.

Jerome Groopman is a physician and a staff writer for The New Yorker. His most recent book is “How Doctors Think.”


Random acts of madness: the horny hockey mom in NY & the hit mom in MI

January 27, 2008

Poughkeepsie Journal Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Former Rockland prosecutor pleads not guilty to sex with teens

NEW CITY — A former Rockland County assistant district attorney pleaded not guilty this morning to charges that she had sexual intercourse or oral sex with two teenaged boys, served them alcohol and smoked marijuana with them.

County Court Judge Catherine Bartlett set Beth Modica’s bail at $75,000 cash or bond, an amount greater than the $25,000 cash or $50,000 bond requested by the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office.

Modica’s attorney, Gerard Damiani, objected to the figure.

”Your honor,” he said, “The DA recommended bail at $25,000.”

Bartlett responded sharply.

”I heard it. These are serious charges involving children in her community,” she said.

Damiani had requested that Modica, the estranged wife of Spring Valley police Chief Paul Modica, be released without bail on the 35-count indictment.

She was charged with five felonies: one count of third-degree rape, which is basically statuatory rape; and four counts of third-degree criminal sexual assault. She also faces 30 misdemeanor charges: four counts of third-degree sexual abuse and 26 counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

The incidents in question happened between July 1 and Sept. 2, District Attorney Tom Zugibe said in a press conference after the bail hearing.

Between July 20 and 22, Beth Modica is accused of having had intercourse with a 16-year-old and oral sex with a 15-year-old in her home. She is alleged to have served alcohol to both of them.

On other dates during the two-month period, Modica is accused of having had oral sex with the two boys in cars or at their homes, while drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana with them.

Zugibe dispelled one rumor that had run through the community before the indictment was unsealed today.

”My understanding is there is no involvement of the hockey team, whatsoever,” he said.

In addition, he said, the investigation showed Chief Modica had no knowledge of the incidents.

In requesting no bail, Damiani cited Modica’s ties to the community – she grew up in Rockland, graduated Spring Valley High School, then Syracuse University and St. John’s Law School before returning to Rockland, where she worked as an attorney in the District Attorney’s Office in the late 1980s and early ’90s and later became assistant town attorney in Ramapo and village attorney for Sloatsburg, where she lived with her husband and children.

Damiani said Modica’s character and morality had never been questioned before the current charges were filed.

Bartlett was unmoved.

Senior Assistant District Attorney Dominick Crispino is serving as prosecutor.

Dressed in a gray suit, Beth Modica stood silently next to Damiani. Her mother, Judith Gardner, sat in the courtroom. Gardner is the former assistant to the late state Sen. Eugene Levy and, later, Joe Holland, who succeeded Levy upon his death. Modica has been staying with her mother.

As of 10:30 a.m., District Attorney Tom Zugibe was preparing to hold a news conference imminently, at which time more details should become available.

Area woman held in murder-for-hire plot

Sunday, January 27, 2008

By Nate Reens

The Grand Rapids Press

ALGOMA TOWNSHIP — When asked what Ann Marie Linscott meant when she tried to hire someone to “eradicate” a California woman, her alleged cool response to a federal agent: “Duh. Well to have her killed.”

FBI Special Agent Islam Omar accuses Linscott, a 48-year-old Algoma Township woman, of a murder-for-hire plot using cyberspace as a recruiting tool for an “assassin.”

Omar, in a federal arrest affidavit, says Linscott used the online classified service craigslist.com to post a freelance job opportunity near Sacramento, Calif. Linscott left no other details in the listing.

But authorities said she described the prospective hit to three people who responded to the ad in a three-week span in November, offering $5,000 to target and kill the wife of a man with whom she was having an affair.

Linscott was arrested Friday at her home on three counts of soliciting murder.

Neighbors described a movie-like scene with agents descending on the house and toting out boxes of materials from inside the residence on Porter Hollow Drive NE.

Linscott, a massage therapist who has been married since 1989, is jailed on the charges. She will be in U.S. District Court on Tuesday for a hearing that is likely to end with her extradition to California to face charges, authorities said.

Linscott met the man during an online college course in either 2004 or 2005, the man told investigators. In 2005, the pair had a two-day tryst in Reno, Nev., and Linscott visited him in California last year.

The sexual encounters extended their “deep and intimate online relationship,” he told police.

Linscott’s home telephone has been disconnected temporarily and a cell phone number for her massage business was not answered Saturday.

Neighbors said they rarely saw the woman and her husband outside of their $240,000 home that sits on 1 acre near Summit Avenue and 13 Mile Road NE. The couple has two teenage children.

“You wonder what people are thinking sometimes,” one neighbor said.

The woman allegedly told investigators her only fear of having the homicide carried out was police would track the slaying back to her, court documents show.

When e-mailed by three people seeking employment, Linscott allegedly said she was looking for “silent assassins.” She even told one, “This IS a serious proposition,” documents show.

She hoped to move to California, the husband of the intended victim told agents. His wife is a 56-year-old county government employee.

Agents asked Linscott if she wanted the victim to be dead. She allegedly responded: “Sometimes. I’d be lying if I said otherwise.”

Sheriff’s investigators in Butte County, Calif., and FBI agents have been working the case since November, according to Drew Parenti, the agent in charge of the Sacramento FBI office.

Send e-mail to the author: nreens@grpress.com

Homage to Heath

January 26, 2008


For Heath Ledger, Princess Diana, James Dean, Janis Joplin, Thomas Chatterton, John Keats himself and all of the members of the Hall of Flame-outs, may you stay “for ever warm and still to be enjoyed, forever panting and for ever young” 

Ode on a Grecian Urnby John Keats 

Thou still unravished bride of quietness!

Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,

Sylvan historian, who canst thus express

A flow’ry tale more sweetly than our rhyme:

What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape

Of deities or mortals, or of both,

In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?

What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?

What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?

 What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard

Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;

Not to the sensual ear, but, more endeared,

Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:

Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave

Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;

Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,

Though winning near the goal -yet, do not grieve;

She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,

For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed

Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;

And, happy melodist, unwearied,

For ever piping songs for ever new;

More happy love! more happy, happy love!

For ever warm and still to be enjoyed,

For ever panting and for ever young;

All breathing human passion far above,

That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloyed,

A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?

To what green altar, O mysterious priest,

Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,

And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?

What little town by river or sea-shore,

Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,

Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?

And, little town, thy streets for evermore

Will silent be; and not a soul to tell

Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede 

Of marble men and maidens overwrought,

With forest branches and the trodden weed;

Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought

As doth eternity: Cold pastoral!

 When old age shall this generation waste,

Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe

Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou sayst, 

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” -that is all 

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

The 2008 Newberry book began as a 5th grade classroom project in 1997

January 26, 2008

Newbery Medal winner

Fairy tales do come true at Park School

Laura Amy Schlitz

Park School librarian Laura Amy Schlitz enjoys the fanfare for her book “Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village” winning the Newbery Medal. The annual award is for the most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature. (Sun photo by Algerina Perna / January 14, 2008)

 

 | Sun reporters

When Park School librarian Laura Amy Schlitz arrived at work yesterday, she was presented with a tiara borrowed from the theater’s props department – a fitting tribute for the newly anointed queen of children’s literature.

Schlitz, 52, of Baltimore, learned that she had won the 2008 Newbery Medal, given annually for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for the under-18 set.

During an all-school assembly called yesterday afternoon in Schlitz’s honor, the entire student body of nearly 900 students stood and cheered for at least 30 seconds. The applause went on and on.

  • Park School librarian Laura Amy SchlitzPark School librarian Laura Amy Schlitz

  • Laura Amy Schlitz

    Age: 52 

    Born: Baltimore 

    Personal: Single; no children 

    Lives: Loch Hill section of Baltimore County 

    Current achievement: Winner of the 2008 John Newbery award 

    Occupation: Novelist and playwright; Park School librarian and storyteller 

    Education: Goucher College, bachelor of arts in aesthetics, 1977 

    Publications: Four children’s books published by Candlewick Press in 2006 and 2007. A romance novel for adults, A Gypsy at Almack’s, was published in 1994 under the pseudonym Chloe Cheshire. 

    Plays: Eight or nine, by Schlitz’s count. Her scripts have been produced at Stage One in Louisville, Ky., and by at least two Baltimore troupes: Pumpkin Theatre and the Children’s Theatre Association.

Other honors, though more local in scope, were no less cherished. During Schlitz’s noon-hour session with the second grade, the pupils in Mr. Rollins’ class presented her with a poster they’d decorated and autographed in honor of the Newbery award.

“Have a good life!” wrote a boy named Donald.

Several students clearly wanted to wish Schlitz “congratulations,” though a few had trouble spelling such a long word. An occasional stray consonant, such as a “P,” leapt the fence, wandered in where it didn’t belong and had to be crossed out with a firm hand.

“For someone who doesn’t have children, she’s incredibly insightful about what’s going on in a child’s head,” said her friend Judith Schwait, who works in publications at Park School and is Daniel’s mother.

Betsy Leighton, the lower school principal, said the same qualities that Schlitz brings to her writing make her a passionate and insightful advocate for children.

“When a child is having trouble, sometimes we seek a perspective from an outside staff member,” Leighton said. “Laura always has something useful and valuable to say. More often than not, she’s right on the mark.”

Schwait’s 18-year-old son Daniel, a 12th-grader, has known Schlitz since he was 3 years old, and the two have become close friends.

“She’s like no one else I’ve ever known,” said Daniel Schwait, who discovered before he was in second grade that he and Schlitz share a passion for opera.

“We would swing on the swings and sing arias from The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute,” he says. “Laura would sing in Italian, and I would sing sounds that sounded like Italian to me.”

Schlitz’s novel is characterized by that quirky sensibility. Not only does it have an unconventional structure, it has footnotes – unheard of for a children’s book, though they are some of the most delightful aspects of Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! The selection surprised some who expected the Newbery Committee to gravitate, as usual, toward more traditionally styled fiction.

But Newbery Committee chairwoman Nina Lindsay called granting the medal to the monologues easily a “rock-solid decision.”

“What makes it fabulous is the language she uses to bring these characters alive,” Lindsay said, praising Schlitz’s use of varied poetic forms and literary styles, leavened with humor.

She added that the awards committee was impressed that Schlitz had transformed the book form from a sedentary pursuit by encouraging young people to read aloud, perform and play-act with others.

“It comes to life as you start reading it,” Lindsay said.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But the end, it’s like a pageant of characters.”

The daughter of a retired federal court clerk and a homemaker with many part-time jobs, including stable hand, Schlitz has been a local girl all her life. She is single and lives in the Loch Hill section of Baltimore County. Schlitz is no taller than many of her students, but her most striking feature is her nearly waist-length silver hair, which curls around her shoulders like mist.

Yesterday’s announcement culminates a momentous period in Schlitz’s life that began in 2006 when four children’s novels were accepted for publication by the Boston-based Candlewick Press. Her previous three books are A Drowned Maiden’s Hair, The Hero Schliemann and The Bearskinner.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! was the third to be published, though it was the first to be accepted.

An editorial assistant plucked the monologues from the “slush pile” of unsolicited manuscripts and brought it to the attention of Candlewick editor Mary Lee Donovan. She called it “the most exciting submission that I’ve had in my 23-year career.”

Almost immediately Donovan knew she had something special. The nimble writing. The vivid characters. The meticulous research. And, above all else, a story that children would find irresistible.

“It’s one of those fairy tale stories that people love to know happen every now and then,” she said.

“My heart definitely beat faster. I was overwhelmed by the clear talent. It was almost a perfect manuscript.”

For a writer, one of the nicest aspects of winning a Newbery is that your book will always be available in bookstores alongside other Newbery winners, including such acknowledged classics as Dr. Dolittle and A Wrinkle in Time.

But as exciting as that is for Schlitz, she is trying hard to keep her priorities straight. And the fifth-grade class was due in the library at any moment.

“My head is full of the champagne bubbles of happiness,” Schlitz said, “but I have a story to tell in five minutes.”

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com jill.rosen@baltsun.com

Car repairs: all about the dreaded TSB (Technical Service Bulletin)

January 25, 2008

You, Your Vehicle and the Technical Service Bulletin (TSB)
By Erin Riches, Senior Content Editor , Edmunds.comAfter charging over to the dealership with your sick car – perhaps more than once – only to be told that technicians were unable to duplicate the problem, you find yourself heartened by the discovery of Edmunds.com’s Maintenance Guide, which allows you to access technical service bulletins – or TSBs – regarding your vehicle. You enter the year, make and model of your car and the component in question, and anxiously await the search results.But your irritation returns when you see that your search has yielded only titles, numbers and a barely intelligible description of the problem. How can you be certain that you’ve matched a TSB correctly to your vehicle’s symptoms? And how will this confusing bit of information ever be good enough to convince your service advisor to make a repair?

“… Does anybody here have access to the actual write-ups on these TSBs? I would like to be able to go to the dealership with the TSB write-ups in hand so they can see exactly what the problem is and fix it. (no more of the ‘we can’t create it, so you must be imagining it’ crap).” – frank12, “Technical Service Bulletins” (Maintenance & Repair Conference, Town Hall), #93 of 200, Feb. 4, 2000

Though an apparent nugget of good hope for consumers, a technical service bulletin is actually an advisory issued by a manufacturer for use by dealership service departments. “Most TSBs are released during the first year that a vehicle is offered or the year following a redesign,” our road test editor, Neil Chirico (a former service advisor for Ford, Lincoln-Mercury and Volvo), observed – in order to address areas that might have been overlooked when designing the car.

These bulletins differ from recalls in that they are not considered safety or emissions issues and they usually apply only when your vehicle is in its warranty period (whereas a recall is “open” until the work has been performed). TSBs frequently (but not always) address a recurring problem and include illustrated instructions for repair, a list of the parts needed, the warranty status and the labor charge.

If a problem addressed in a TSB is particularly widespread, the manufacturer may decide to send out “Owner Notification” letters – in this case, the manufacturer has a good idea of which vehicles (by VIN) will experience the problem. For example, our staff received such a letter in regard to our long-term Honda Insight. The letter listed two potential problems: (1) difficulty starting the Insight in very cold weather (0° F) due to a faulty engine control module; and (2) AM radio static due to an improperly grounded rear wiper motor. We were instructed to make an appointment at a Honda dealership and to allow half a day for the free repairs. Owner notifications have mileage and time restrictions – these may extend beyond the warranty period.

Service bulletin content varies in severity – you’ll find TSBs that cover hard-to-start engines and clunking transmissions alongside those that offer remedies for inoperable cigarette lighters and slight paint imperfections. And some TSBs merely outline updated service procedures and troubleshooting strategies, or offer hints for installing something as simple as a front license plate holder.

And, of course, the best thing about finding a TSB that seems to cover a persistent problem in your vehicle is that dealerships will make the repair for free, provided that

  • Your vehicle is under warranty;
  • Your service advisor and/or technicians are able to confirm that the problem exists.

The second mandate is not to be taken lightly, Chirico warned. Even if your vehicle is within the warranty period, “the dealership is not going to do anything about it, if [technicians] cannot verify the concern…. The manufacturer pays for the repair, not the dealership, and the dealership has to treat the manufacturer like a customer…. The service writer can’t write up an invoice with just the TSB number and expect the manufacturer to pay for the procedure. The manufacturer wants to know that the car is legitimately broken.”

Rather than going into the dealer with the TSB number in hand, it is more effective, according to Chirico, to come to the dealer with a complete description of your vehicle’s particular problem – what are the exact symptoms, and when and where did/do they occur. He offered this example: Suppose you have a cold-running concern with your vehicle. Don’t drive the vehicle into the dealer before work in the morning and expect technicians to be able to duplicate the problem – the vehicle will be warm. Instead, bring the vehicle into the dealer the evening before and let it sit overnight. In short, someone in the service department has to be able to duplicate the problem, and the TSB number and a brief description of the problem won’t always do it. “You don’t want to go in there sounding bull-headed – you won’t get good service,” Chirico said.

If the technicians and your service writer seem to be having trouble resolving a problem with your vehicle and you’ve already given them the most complete description possible, our road test editor continued, then you might say politely, “Someone suggested that this TSB might cover it.” “Did anyone try this TSB?” A customer who makes an effort to sound intelligent (that is, provides a full description of the problem and demonstrates a history of regularly maintaining the vehicle) and to treat service writers (and technicians) with respect is more likely to find resolution for her vehicle’s problems.

A further option, he said, is to arrange a meeting with the service manager and then, calmly discuss the matter (bring applicable service receipts). Usually, service managers will respond favorably to customers who ask, “Could you help me out?”, rather than ranting. The service manager and writers always have a manufacturer’s representative (a field technician) whom they can contact. You might want to suggest that they try this, if they haven’t already.

Forging civil ties with a service department over several years may have its benefits when something goes wrong with your car after it is out of warranty. If you know that a particular problem is covered by a TSB and have a reputation of spending money with the dealership, the service writer might be willing to write off all or part of the repair cost.

“A word of advice on TSBs. I got on the dealer’s good side early by having every single oil change, tune-up, etc., done by them for the first 2 years I owned the car. When I needed to have the top on my convertible replaced (’93 Mercury Capri) after 3 ½ years, I came with a stack of receipts from cash work they’d done, and the service manager okayed the free replacement. Very rare, but building a relationship cinched the deal, I think. Now they have a loyal customer for life, despite higher prices for certain services.” – mjm37, “Technical Service Bulletins” (Finance, Warranty & Insurance Conference, Town Hall), #14 of 27, Aug. 12, 1998

” … I have a ’94 Honda Accord, which began to have a buzzing problem at a certain rpm. I checked the TSBs and found that the exact problem was listed, along with the corrections necessary. My dealer did the work for me for free. Oh, the car has 72,000 miles on it.” – Ed209, “Technical Service Bulletins” (Finance, Warranty & Insurance Conference, Town Hall), #3 of 27, April 30, 1998

If you want the complete TSB

But not everyone fits the model of the faithful customer and not every dealership service advisor is happy to discuss your concerns about your vehicle with you. Maybe, in spite of your best efforts, the service department claims they have been unable to find a problem. Perhaps, your vehicle has long since passed its warranty period, and you use an independent mechanic to save money. Or perhaps, you do all the work on your vehicle.

In these situations, owners might find it helpful to see the full text of the technical service bulletins that cover particular vehicle problems. You see, the search engine associated with the Edmunds.com Maintenance Guide provides only titles, numbers and summaries, but dealership service departments have access to each TSB in its entirety, as it is sent to them by the manufacturer(s).

It is possible to get the full text of a TSB but you have to pay for this information. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Web site has a search authorization form, on which you enter the information you gathered from the TSB summaries (as exactly as you can). A NHTSA employee makes copies from their microfiche collection of bulletins and mails them to you. The ALLDATA site offers a more attractive option for those who want continuing access to technical service bulletins – $24.95 buys you one year of access for a single vehicle to the ALLDATA DIYtm database, which in addition to the full text of model-specific TSBs, contains diagnosis and repair procedures with diagrams, maintenance schedules, etc. The ALLDATA service can be renewed yearly for $14.95.

We uncovered another alternative for those seeking TSB bulletins. Three mechanics started Bat Auto Technical in July 2000 – the objective of their site is to “get mechanics and people together,” and thus “combine those who need information and those who have information to give,” site founder Tony Murray said. The Bat Auto site offers several forums, some for vehicle owners and others just for mechanics.

Best of all, if you fill in the site’s online request form with the details of a TSB summary, Murray will gladly send you the full text of the TSB at no charge. Donations are optional. While Bat Auto doesn’t claim to have complete bulletin holdings for every manufacturer, their resources are rather expansive, Murray said, given that 14 mechanics (some independent, some fleet) contribute to the site.

Murray has worked as a field mechanic for the Oregon Department of Transportation since 1980, so the Bat Auto site is a side project, as it is for the other mechanics. Why then, go to the trouble of providing owners with this kind of information?

“The biggest reason is that this information wasn’t available,” he said. “A lot of us are fleet mechanics, and it doesn’t matter to us if someone makes money off a repair or not.”

While people who take their cars to dealerships for service may be able to get by with the information available at the NHTSA, this often does not suffice for the large group of people who use independent shops. “Independent mechanics may not have access to all of this information [the full text of every TSB issued by a manufacturer], if they don’t pay for continual updates,” Murray said.

If you have tried to have a problem repaired numerous times, he continued, you might take the TSB to your mechanic and say, “‘Here’s a service bulletin, read it and explain to me where I should go from here.’ If [consumers] find the TSB, instead of the mechanic spending numerous hours, they will help the mechanic go directly to the problem.”

Further, as many Town Hall participants have noted, many dealerships are guarded with the contents of service bulletins. Murray offered this example: “GM has a special policy for vehicles with the 6.5-liter turbodiesel engine (1994-98). They have a special warranty for the injection pumps (11 years/120,000 miles). But [service advisors] might not tell customers.

“… [They] don’t make any money off of [TSB repairs]. They are reimbursed for only a percentage [of the actual cost] by the manufacturer…. It’s like an HMO…. If a person walks in there and doesn’t know about [a service bulletin], they would just as soon not tell the customer. They’re not making any money, so they would just as soon nobody knows.”

Finally, TSBs often include part numbers, which makes it easy for people to make their own repairs and thus, save money, Murray said. After obtaining the full TSB, owners can visit one of the forums to get advice from one of the mechanics about how to proceed with the repair.

Bat Auto is slowly expanding a trouble code diagnosis section – they currently have information for 15 manufacturers. “We try to take a person step-by-step through trouble code diagnosis,” Murray said, “When the ‘check engine’ light comes on [in a vehicle], the computer stores the trouble code(s). We tried to make it the easiest we could to pull the codes and go down our list to find the description.”

While such a procedure may seem unnecessarily arduous to the owner planning to let someone else repair the vehicle, Murray maintains that retrieving the trouble codes strengthens one’s position with the mechanic or service advisor.

“This information helps [owners] learn about their vehicles…. they will know what the problem is before going to the mechanic. This [knowledge] gives them ammunition. They can say to the mechanic: ‘Here is what my car is doing, and here are the codes.’ … The dealership is not out to protect [unknowledgeable] consumers, it is out to make money. If you have information, you can cover your butt. I see a lot of people go in there without any information other than ‘the “check engine” light is on, and it is running crummy.'” Such a customer, he said, is usually surprised to be handed a $1,500 bill – since she hadn’t imagined that much could be wrong with her car.

And for those who don’t have funds for the repair, much less, money to spend at the dealership, Murray advised: “… So do it yourself. If you’re inclined, we can walk you through it.”

Of course, owners may find other ways of obtaining technical service bulletins and other repair information – we’re sure that we haven’t assembled an exhaustive list of Web sites. One thing to keep in mind, particularly if you’re the owner of a rare vehicle, is that you may be able to find enthusiast sites that attempt to provide all relevant TSBs.

A little help from a manufacturer

If you happen to own a Hyundai, you have one further option when you need repair information – you can visit the service Web site run by the manufacturer. The site is accessible to the public (no login required), and all information is free.

The Hyundai site focuses on shop manuals with troubleshooting guides and diagnostic procedures. From the homepage, users select “Service Information” and then, “Web Tech, ” which is the database for consumers (“Web Tech Pro” is for dealership service technicians and requires a login name and password). You cannot search for specific TSBs, but you can search by the year, model and the area of concern (steering, suspension, etc.) – and yes, the Web site has shop manuals for every Hyundai ever sold in the U.S. For instance, we ran a shop manual search for a 2000 Hyundai Elantra. We selected the “Steering System” section, and then, “General,” and then, selected the “Troubleshooting” heading. We were rewarded with a clean, easy-to-read table with a list of problems, probable causes and remedies. It does take a bit of work to find the information you’re seeking, but we think owners will find this site useful.

Hyundai has targeted this Web site toward all of its owners, whether they visit the service department, use an independent mechanic or do the work themselves. “We [expanded] our definition of a Hyundai customer to include anyone who has an interest in driving or servicing a Hyundai product,” Pete Egus, manager of service technology, Hyundai Motor America, said. “We wanted to assist [our customers] in diagnosing and repairing Hyundai products, whether they’re doing it themselves or [taking it to the dealership]. We wanted to knock down some the obstacles and hurdles of being a smaller franchise.”

Although the availability of this information would seem to increase the likelihood that owners might attempt to make their own repairs, Egus said that Hyundai hopes the Web site will strengthen owners’ relations with service departments. “Whenever you educate the customer … the intelligent owner will realize how sophisticated and complicated cars have become [and decide] that they need to go to a repair station.”

Hyundai has tried to ensure that its service information will be as current as possible: “The nature of the NHTSA site is such that it takes longer to get the information,” he said. “We do nightly uploads.”

Future improvements for the site include an icon-based rating system for repair complexity (i.e., if a certain repair has five wrenches next to the description, the customer will know immediately that this is among the most complex repairs), and a series of brief video tutorials for do-it-yourselfers (these will explain the parts required for a particular repair and then walk viewers through the process). The site requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Perhaps this guide won’t alleviate the ongoing irritation that comes with a stubbornly unreliable vehicle, but at least you might be able to find the full text of a TSB that will guide you and/or your service advisor to a solution for a persistent problem.

Related article:The Secret Warranty: (AKA) After Warranty Assistance (AWA),” by Neil Chirico

Sacre Bleu – those SocGen bank auditors with guaranteed lifetime jobs were definitely asleep at this meltdown

January 24, 2008

Forbes.com Faces In The News
Portrait Of The Fraudster As A Young Man
Lionel Laurent, 01.24.08, 3:45 PM ET LONDON – Not much is known about the alleged rogue trader at French bank Societe Generale, who has apparently left the firm after building up over $7.2 billion in losses over the past year. But if past precedent is anything to go by, his ego and his wallet were the two main factors pushing him to try and beat the market.

Societe Generale offered scant detail on Thursday as to the identity of the futures trader, who could be responsible for one of history’s biggest banking frauds. The bank’s chairman, Daniel Bouton, told the press that the Paris-based trader was “in his 30,” and Societe Generale confirmed that he earned less than 100,000 euros ($147,164) a year and had been with the company since 2000.

The bank declined to comment on press reports that named the trader as 31-year-old banker Jerome Kerviel.

Another revelation from the press conference was that Jean-Pierre Mustier, head of Societe Generale’s investment banking operations, did not think the trader sought personal gain from the fraud.

But according to Axel Pierron, a Paris-based analyst with Celent, the idea that there was no personal gain involved is hard to believe. He told Forbes.com that the promise of a good bonus, rather than simply stealing gains directly from the bank, is what may have driven the trader to take such massive risks.

“This is someone who would have delivered quite good results in 2006,” said Pierron. The combination of a good performance and a strong ego would have completed the picture, with the trader now convinced that he could beat the market and defy the constraints his own firm placed on his activities.

Societe Generale said the trader was responsible for “plain-vanilla” futures hedging on stock market indexes in Europe, and that he was able to conceal “massive” fraudulent positions thanks to inside knowledge of back-office control procedures. The trader’s move from back-office management to front-desk trading harks back to the infamous Nick Leeson, whose position as both general manager and speculative trader for Barings Bank in Singapore helped him hide losses of over £827 million ($1.6 billion).

“It’s Nick Leeson, the story is exactly the same,” said Celent’s Pierron. “We have a trader who trades futures, or derivatives, who hides his losses by using weaknesses in the risk-management system.” He said that as long as traders had knowledge of back-office operations, the risks of abuse would always be there.

A spokesperson for Societe Generale said that there would be thorough reviews of internal controls, but noted that this particular case of fraud was “very, very sophisticated.”

With financial markets on a downward trajectory in 2007, Pierron believed there was no way back for the rogue trader unless he continued to bet against the slide. “The market tumbled, and evidently the situation only got worse,” he said. “He had to make a bigger bet to cover himself, his losses worsened, and at the end we get to 4.9 billion euros ($7.2 billion).”

A London-based fund manager, who did not wish to be named, said that the positions themselves must have been “enormous”– on the order of 40 billion euros ($58.9 billion)–to lead to losses of that magnitude.

The fraud was reportedly uncovered Monday, and Societe Generale confirmed that since then it had unwound all of the trader’s allegedly fraudulent positions. But the scale of the losses involved has surpassed even Nick Leeson’s misadventures.

This is not the first time a French bank has revealed rogue trading in the midst of a market melt-down. In September, Credit Agricole warned that it would take a 250 million-euro ($368.0 million) hit to its bottom line after unnamed individuals took an “unauthorized” position on credit market indices. (See “Credit Agricole Hit By Rogue Trading Woes”)

Given that market turbulence is often responsible for exposing significant cases of fraud, expect more horror stories to emerge in the near-term. Whether banks are able to do anything about the rogue traders in their midst, however, is another matter entirely.

Analog parents – digital kids; wait till a future prospective employer googles this kid’s resume

January 24, 2008

Va. Student’s Snow-Day Plea Triggers an Online Storm
 

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 23, 2008; A01

Snow days, kids and school officials have always been a delicate mix.

But a phone call to a Fairfax County public school administrator’s home last week about a snow day — or lack of one — has taken on a life of its own. Through the ubiquity of Facebook and YouTube, the call has become a rallying cry for students’ First Amendment rights, and it shows that the generation gap has become a technological chasm.

It started with Thursday’s snowfall, estimated at about three inches near Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke. On his lunch break, Lake Braddock senior Devraj “Dave” S. Kori, 17, used a listed home phone number to call Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for the county system, to ask why he had not closed the schools. Kori left his name and phone number and got a message later in the day from Tistadt’s wife.

“How dare you call us at home! If you have a problem with going to school, you do not call somebody’s house and complain about it,” Candy Tistadt’s minute-long message began. At one point, she uttered the phrase “snotty-nosed little brats,” and near the end, she said, “Get over it, kid, and go to school!”

Not so long ago, that might have been the end of it — a few choice words by an agitated administrator (or spouse). But with the frenetic pace of students’ online networking, it’s harder for grown-ups to have the last word. Kori’s call and Tistadt’s response sparked online debate among area students about whether the student’s actions constituted harassment and whether the response was warranted.

Kori took Tistadt’s message, left on his cellphone, and posted an audio link on a Facebook page he had created after he got home from school called “Let them know what you think about schools not being cancelled.” The Web page listed Dean Tistadt’s work and home numbers.

The Tistadts received dozens more calls that day and night, Dean Tistadt said. Most were hang-ups, but at one point, they were coming every five minutes — one at 4 a.m., he said. At the same time, his wife’s response was spreading through cyberspace.

Within a day, hundreds of people had listened to her message, which was also posted on YouTube. A friend of Kori’s sent it to a local television news station, and it was aired on the nightly news program. As of yesterday, more than 9,000 people had clicked on the YouTube link. Hundreds of comments had been posted on the Facebook and YouTube pages, largely about what constitutes proper and polite requests for public information from students.

One Oakton High School student said in a posting yesterday that the crank calls to the Tistadts’ home were out of line but that Kori’s call was appropriate. “I am not happy that [Dean Tistadt] gambled multiple times with our safety just so we might have a bit more knowledge crammed in our heads at school,” he wrote.

A Westfield High School student agreed: “thank God someone stood up for us at last!”

Some were just as adamant the other way. A student from James Madison High School in Vienna wrote: “It’s called a home phone number for a reason. My dad is a physician and I can’t tell you how irritating it is to get calls at all hours of the night from people who think they are entitled to immediate attention . . . leave the poor guy alone.”

Kori, a member of the Lake Braddock debate team who said his grade-point average is 3.977, said his message was not intended to harass. He said that he tried unsuccessfully to contact Dean Tistadt at work and that he thought he had a basic right to petition a public official for more information about a decision that affected him and his classmates. He said he was exercising freedom of speech in posting a Facebook page. The differing interpretations of his actions probably stem from “a generation gap,” he said.

“People in my generation view privacy differently. We are the cellphone generation. We are used to being reached at all times,” he said.

Kori explained his perspective in an e-mail yesterday to Fairfax County schools spokesman Paul Regnier. Regnier said, also in an e-mail, that Kori’s decision to place the phone call to the Tistadts’ home was more likely the result of a “civility gap.”

“It’s really an issue of kids learning what is acceptable and not acceptable. Any call to a public servant’s house is harassment,” Regnier said in an interview.

Kori said that he was called into the principal’s office to discuss the matter but that he was not punished.

Candy Tistadt did not return phone messages, but Dean Tistadt credited Kori for having the “courage of his convictions to stand up and be identified.” He also credited him for causing the high volume of crank calls, not to mention considerable grief and embarrassment for his wife.

“This has been horrible for her,” he said, adding that he and his wife both learned a hard lesson about the long reach of the Internet.

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How Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Rice, et.al. played the war card with a marked deck

January 23, 2008

The Center for Public Integrity has assembled a database that documents at least 935 false statements made by Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Rice and two white house press secretaries about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction, links to Al Qaeda, or both.  The database is at www.publicintegrity.com.  This orchestrated lying was the justification for the war with Iraq.

Consider, for example, these false public statements made in the run-up to war:

  • On August 26, 2002, in an address to the national convention of the Veteran of Foreign Wars, Cheney flatly declared: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” In fact, former CIA Director George Tenet later recalled, Cheney’s assertions went well beyond his agency’s assessments at the time. Another CIA official, referring to the same speech, told journalist Ron Suskind, “Our reaction was, ‘Where is he getting this stuff from?’ ”
  • In the closing days of September 2002, with a congressional vote fast approaching on authorizing the use of military force in Iraq, Bush told the nation in his weekly radio address: “The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. . . . This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year.” A few days later, similar findings were also included in a much-hurried National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction — an analysis that hadn’t been done in years, as the intelligence community had deemed it unnecessary and the White House hadn’t requested it.
  • In July 2002, Rumsfeld had a one-word answer for reporters who asked whether Iraq had relationships with Al Qaeda terrorists: “Sure.” In fact, an assessment issued that same month by the Defense Intelligence Agency (and confirmed weeks later by CIA Director Tenet) found an absence of “compelling evidence demonstrating direct cooperation between the government of Iraq and Al Qaeda.” What’s more, an earlier DIA assessment said that “the nature of the regime’s relationship with  Al Qaeda is unclear.”
  • On May 29, 2003, in an interview with Polish TV, President Bush declared: “We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories.” But as journalist Bob Woodward reported in State of Denial, days earlier a team of civilian experts dispatched to examine the two mobile labs found in Iraq had concluded in a field report that the labs were not for biological weapons. The team’s final report, completed the following month, concluded that the labs had probably been used to manufacture hydrogen for weather balloons.
  • On January 28, 2003, in his annual State of the Union address, Bush asserted: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.” Two weeks earlier, an analyst with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research sent an email to colleagues in the intelligence community laying out why he believed the uranium-purchase agreement “probably is a hoax.”
  • On February 5, 2003, in an address to the United Nations Security Council, Powell said: “What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. I will cite some examples, and these are from human sources.” As it turned out, however, two of the main human sources to which Powell referred had provided false information. One was an Iraqi con artist, code-named “Curveball,” whom American intelligence officials were dubious about and in fact had never even spoken to. The other was an Al Qaeda detainee, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who had reportedly been sent to Eqypt by the CIA and tortured and who later recanted the information he had provided. Libi told the CIA in January 2004 that he had “decided he would fabricate any information interrogators wanted in order to gain better treatment and avoid being handed over to [a foreign government].”

The mission of the Center for Public Integrity is to produce original investigative journalism about significant public issues to make institutional power more transparent and accountable.

To pursue its mission, the Center:

  • Generates high-quality, accessible investigative reports, databases and contextual analysis on issues of public importance.
  • Disseminates work to journalists, policymakers, scholars and citizens using a combination of digital, electronic and print media.
  • Educates, engages and empowers citizens with tools and skills they need to hold governments and other institutions accountable.
  • Organizes and supports investigative journalists around the world who apply the Center’s goals and standards to cross-border projects.
  • Remains independent by building a strong and sustainable financial base of support, including a community of committed individuals and foundations.

The Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, non-advocacy, independent journalism organization based in Washington, D.C.

Nick Bostrom

January 21, 2008

Anthropic principle

Bostrom has argued that the correct understanding of the anthropic principle is by means of his Strong Self-Sampling Assumption: Each observer-moment should reason as if it were randomly selected from the class of all observer-moments in its reference class. In this conception, each observer moment should be analysed as if it were randomly sampled. Analysing an observer’s experience into a sequence of “observer-moments” helps avoid certain paradoxes; but the main ambiguity is the selection of the appropriate “reference class“: for the Weak Anthropic Principle this might correspond to all real or potential observer-moments in our universe; for the Strong version, to all in the multiverse. Bostrom’s mathematical development shows that choosing either too broad or too narrow a reference class leads to counter-intuitive results; but he is not able to prescribe a perfect choice.

Simulation hypothesis

On the surface, Bostrom’s simulation hypothesis is an example of a skeptical hypothesis, a proposal concerning the nature of reality put forward to question beliefs, and as such, there is a long history to the underlying thesis that reality is an illusion. This thesis can be dated back to Plato, arguably underpins the Mind-Body Dualism of Descartes, and is closely related to phenomenalism, a stance briefly adopted by Bertrand Russell. However, Bostrom has argued that this is not the case, and there are empirical reasons why the ‘Simulation Hypothesis’ might be valid. He suggests that if it is possible to simulate entire inhabited planets or even entire universes on a computer, and that such simulated people can be fully conscious, then the sheer number of such simulations likely to be produced by any sufficiently advanced civilization (taken together with his Strong Self-Sampling Assumption) makes it extremely likely that we are in fact currently living in such a simulation.

At least one part of Bostrom’s tripartition must be true:

  1. Almost no civilization will reach a technological level capable of producing simulated realities.
  2. Almost no civilization reaching aforementioned technological status will produce a simulated reality, for any of a number of reasons, such as diversion of computational processing power for other tasks, ethical considerations of holding entities captive in simulated realities, etc.
  3. Almost all entities with our general set of experiences are living in a simulation.