Sunday, May 30, 2004

Revisions and a pet peeve

I've been busily revising the links to search engine submission pages that I maintain on my Words in a Row website. With the recent changes at Yahoo, Overture, Google, AltaVista, AllTheWeb/Fast, and many others, I've come to the conclusion that the only way to keep these current is to do the changes as they are observed or reported to me. Submission pages have changed in the last few days for AltaVista and AllTheWeb, for instance. They have new addresses, and they don't automatically forward you to the newly named page if you try going to the old page. You just get a not-so-helpful "404 Page Not Found" error.

The pet peeve is that it would be so easy to set up a 301 permanent redirect so that bookmarks, links from other sites, and so on are sent to the new page when the old page isn't found. I do that every time on every site I design or re-design, to help the visitor get where he's trying to go. My own site contains hundreds of such re-directions, as pages have changed over the years. You'd think a company with enough resources to put together a search engine would be able to at least do that right.

Basho Rocks

I'm still fascinated with reading Basho's haiku, and Blyth's notes about them are fascinating in themselves. Here's a selection from Blyth's notes:
...where Basho is at his greatest is where he seems most insignificant; the neck of a firefly, hailstones in the sun, the chirp of an insect, muddy melons, leeks, a dead leaf, -- these are full of interest, meaning, value, that is poetry, but not as symbols of the Infinite, not as types of Eternity, but in themselves. Their meaning is just as direct, as clear, as unmistakable, as complete and perfect, as devoid of reference to other things, as dipping the hand suddenly into boiling water. The mind is roused as with the sound of a trumpet. When you read one of the following it is just like opening a door and being confronted by a tiger. It is like suddenly seeing the joke of something. It is like being unexpectdly reprieved from the sentence of death.
The melons look cool,
Flecked with mud
From the morning dew.

Just washed,
How chill
The white leeks!

The hail-stones
Glance off the rocks
Of the Stony Mountain.

By day-light
The firefly has
A neck of red.

On the mushroom
Is stuck the leaf
Of some unknown tree.

Now that's the way of haiku.

If only the reporters speculating about our forces in Iraq could be so succinct, so truthful. Here's my imitation haiku on the subject (this is the wrong subject to be an actual haiku, which are classically limited to certain themes - this is not one of them):

Talking heads on the TV,
Each pitches his lies;
Chaos merchants, every one.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Day After Tomorrow

A good disaster flick came out yesterday and I was glad to see that the local movie theater was filled on a Friday evening. The movie was "The Day After Tomorrow" and it had some good pre-opening-day-buzz going.

First some complaints:

There were many contrived sequences. It was extremely unlikely that, given the press of circumstances, the characters in New York would have visited the Museum of Natural History and happened upon the Wooly Mammoth and talked about how it was found frozen in ice, with grass in its mouth, as if it had been frozen solid where it stood. Then the very next scene shows someone having this happen to him. As if we couldn't figure it out.

And there was no smoke from the fire they had going in the NY Public library. Big expanse of roof sticking out of the snow, and no smoke coming from any chimneys. In fact, NO CHIMNEYS!

And the wolves seemed ravenous - yet there would have been corpse-sicles everywhere floating around in the water and then in the ice.

And the super-bright kids never once needed to use their intelligence.

And the science was laughable.

They picked an actor who could have doubled for Al Gore to play the president.

So, okay, there were a few outnesses.

But it also has all the right things in a disaster movie. The older guy who gives his own life so that others may be saved. The guy who leads a bunch of the people toward what he thinks is safety, only to have it be the trap that the smart guy pointed out and no one believed. The dog. The bum and the rich kid acting as equals. A little love story. A father and son reunion. The Stupid Government Official who realizes he was wrong and reforms.

This movie also has some awesome special effects. The wave crashing through NYC was paced right, very well done. The other effects, such as the twisters in LA, for example, were quite good too. The only objectionable effect was that wolves looked and acted computer animated.

But to tell the truth, I'm getting jaded with these big scale disaster movies, especially when it comes to seeing NYC destroyed.

I own a bunch of them - "Amageddon", "Deep Impact", "Independence Day" and so on. Seeing the WTC towers burning in "Armageddon" is somehow deeply disturbing.

I thought the political messages were heavy-handed in "The Day After Tomorrow". Global warming is not the given piece of scientific fact that it is assumed to be in this movie or in the media. Just do a search at Google for "global warming myth" and you'll get all the refutation you would ever want to make you extremely skeptical of the claims being presented that we are heading for disaster. If you're too lazy to do that, click on any of these links:

Melting the Global Warming Myth

Myths about Global Warming

Thoughts on Global Warming

The next movie I am looking forward to is "The Chronicles of Riddick". We'll see whether that one can deliver something that was missing from this movie - and that's your basic rollicking good tale. "Armageddon" did that, as did "Independence Day". It's hard to do in a disaster flick because you're stuck with the disaster flick formula.

"I, Robot" looks to be pretty good too, although they should apologize to Isaac Asimov for what they've done to his story. Will Smith can do no wrong as an actor, in my book, and I for one am ready to see him blow up some stuff yet again.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

More on war

Roger Montgomery sent out his newsletter, "The Integrity Journal" today with a thought-provoking quote from Mahatma Gandhi:
"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?"

There's also been a lot of talk on another list I subscribe to, ThetaNet, about alternatives to war, handling terrorism without resorting to war, and the like.

I was reading a marvelous book full of gems, called Understanding, The Universal Solvent by L. Ron Hubbard when I came upon this quote:
True sanity is that condition wherein one is sufficiently intelligent to solve his problems without physical violence or destroying other beings and yet survive happily and prosperously.
(From a technical bulletin called "Predicion and Consequences".

One uses tools one knows and understands. As a country, the US now seems to know few tools other than diplomacy (war by other means), or war, or threats of war, and in the realm of intelligence seems to know only how to pit others against others.

My conclusion: the US needs more tools to deal with its adversaries and with its allies.

But as Dennis Miller says, "But hey, that's just me."

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

No absolutes

There are no absolutes in this universe. There has been a great deal of discussion about the war in Iraq this past week on some lists I monitor and on which I occasionally post. There are two camps - one saying war is always bad, never right. One says this particular war has helped people in certain ways by removing a genocidal tyrant.

And both are right, to some degree.

There are no absolutes in this universe.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Reason Magazine

Reason Magazine's latest issue is mind-boggling.

The cover of the magazine contains a circled aerial photo of my house, which is nestled deep in the woods of southern Oregon. Well - they claimed it was a photo of my house, but upon inspection appears to be a near miss and is actually my local post office, not too many miles away.

And on the inside cover it purports to show a picture of the road to my house; it's also wrong, but only because whatever database they are using is trying to make sense of my PO Box address.

They threw in a lot of specialized info about my neighbors, our median income, age, and people per household, which appears to be about right. One fact they got absolutely correct was the commute time to the nearest town.

They did this to each of their 40,000 subscribers in a stunning feat of targeted marketing, done in order to point out the "databasification" of America, how our privacy has been stripped away, and how we will probably be glad to see it go, as long as we can keep Big Brother from stepping in and using the information against us in the years to come.

The article made some excellent points. When marketers know all there is to know about you and your buying habits, they can send you ads for things you probably will want. And they won't send you ads for stuff you probably don't want or aren't qualified to buy.

But they topped this article with one of the best articles about the gay marriage issue I have seen, written by Jonathan Rauch, author of the book Gay Marriage: Why it is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America. As you might expect from his book, he makes a reasoned argument about the case FOR gay marriage, worth reading even if you have already made up your mind about the issue, either way.

I'm of the opinion that gay marriage will come to pass, despite the protests of those who oppose it as unnatural or immoral, because of well-organized pressure from the highly vocal gay community.

Oddly enough, I don't think anything horrible will happen as a direct result of giving gays full legal marriage rights on par with what we have between men and women. Or "civil unions" or whatever compromise is reached.

But reality will set in amongst gays about what it means to be married to someone.

It will be strange when the first gay divorces are run through the courts. I expect it to happen in the next few months. Someone will want to be the first, just for the publicity it will bring. Maybe Rosie O'Donnell?

In most states, the law is slanted toward the wife in a divorce. If two women get divorced, are they both to be considered wives? If two men are divorced, who will pay alimony? Or is it palimony? It's going to make for some wonderful case law and down the road I think it will tend to even things out for normal heterosexual divorcing men and women, which would be good.

While I'm gazing into my crystal ball, I think it will also open the doors to the legality of polygamous marriages, although there will probably only be the Mormons in that fight. There is plenty of Biblical support for those, however, and I think gay marriage will open the door to polygamy and later, group marriage. Laws against bigamy will go the way of laws against inter-racial marriage.

Will the traditional family fall apart as a result? And our society? Well - hasn't the traditional family ALREADY fallen apart? According to the latest census, 67% of married women with children under 6 years of age are working jobs to make ends meet. And our society is in deep trouble already.

My hope is that this gay marriage issue may act as a springboard toward the simplification and reform of all marriage and divorce laws in the US. In my view it should be as easy to get divorced as it is to get married in Las Vegas.

The state needs to get out of the marriage picture altogether.

We seem to be headed toward more equality in the law for homosexuals compared with heterosexuals, whether we want to or not. But when we have real equality in the law between men and women, then we'll really have something!

Women have been pushing for it for a hundred years, and I think it's time for men to push for it as well and repeal some of the "deadbeat dad" laws on the books. Men are serving time right now for the crime of not making enough money, and the laws used to convict them are terribly biased against them and violate their basic civil rights. They must be struck down, the sooner the better.

It's been proven time and again you can't legislate morality - and whether someone pays child support (or not) is a moral issue.

Below even that level, people are responsible for their own conditions.

Marriage has consequences, as the gay couples getting married are discovering. Marriage is not all lovey-dovey and "let's make a beautiful future together", although the act of getting married seems to be -- it's also "how are we going to make this next car payment" and "whose kids will be here this weekend and what will we feed them?" and "How come your spending money we didn't agree on?" Logistics take up most of the attention of married couples, and they discover to their horror a couple of years into it that every one of those personal attributes and quirks that were once so charming and appealing in their spouses are now driving them absolutely insane.

So when the first gay divorces hit the media this summer, don't say I didn't warn you.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

More Money for War

President Bush is asking for another $25 Billion for the war against "Jihadistan", as it is known, curently being fought in Iraq. And of course he will get it. It calls to mind part of the poem of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Arsenal at Springfield:
Were half the power, that fills the world with terror,
Were half the wealth, bestowed on camps and courts,
Given to redeem the human mind from error,
There were no need of arsenals or forts:

Which quote I found today in a book on the life of Geronimo loaned to me by a friend. The book is Watch for Me on the Mountain by Forrest Carter, about the tragedy that befell the Apache for being in the wrong place (their ancestral homeland) at the wrong time -- that of the great westward expansion of the US. Geronimo (whose real name was "Gokhlayeh") wrought terror wherever he went. This book brings to life his fight, his values, as few other books I have read on this subject have done. The systematic attempts at the extinction of Apaches after treaties signed, despite assurances granted, is part of a shameful chapter in American history that we would do well to remember when pointing fingers now at the people running our military prisons.

Those looking with disgust at the recent exposé of American treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib should read our history, and look into the horrific conditions of our own prisons right now in Yuma and Ossining. The depths of degradataion with which we treat Americans show a similar disregard for human rights. And we have done the same thing since at least the days of the Civil War. Conditions in our POW camps on both sides, North and South, were beyond modern comprehension. Prisoners starved to death and were treated like cattle on both sides of the conflict. Not everywhere, but in enough places and in enough volume to make it common practice. Harsh winters with not enough clothing or shelter, and overcrowding created epidemics that untreated among the prisoners. Many thousands died of neglect, malnourishment and disease. The photos of the prisoners from our Civil War POW camps document war crimes that went largely unpunished, unheeded, dismissed as "collateral damage".

I could be mistaken, but I think as a nation during World War II we were acted differently, at least on the home front. I had a friend (Al Crivello) who was a guard at a POW camp, somewhere in the South during that war. He told me that on a Saturday night, the Italian POWs sometimes got passes to go to town to see the movies. You could see them, he said, standing up at the back of the theater in the POW uniforms. They never tried to escape, so he said, because they had nowhere to go. He claimed that the Germans policed themselves - there were thousands of them who had been captured in North Africa and he said they ran strict military discipline on themselves, that it was an awesome spectacle to see them marching around in their camp waiting for the end of the war so they could go home. But that was just one very young man's view of what was going on. Perhaps abuses were as rampant as now, to which a blind eye was turned.

Al was a Scientologist, like myself, but an old man when I knew him as a young man 30 years ago. He was my mentor for a while when I took over his job. He kept an eye on me for months, and made sure I was doing okay on his old job. I lost track of him - he must be 80 by now if he's still alive.

Scientologists tend to be anti-war. I don't think we would make good soldiers. We work too hard at educating people to think sanely for themselves, for us to think that it profits anyone to maim and kill others. Even the crew that works remotely, guiding in a laser-guided bomb on an enemy position, where one can't see the people being killed and hurt. They know what they've done. The "thousand yard stare" of soldiers who have been in combat is the first reflection of what will haunt them after. While counseling will help a soldier recover from what he's done to others, we'd rather not see the need for it.

And when you believe, as most Scientologists do, that we are immortal spiritual beings who will only pick up another body when one is killed, the futility of war sinks home.

I believe I speak for all Scientologists, as a group, when I say that we want this:
A civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights, and where man is free to rise to greater heights, are the aims of Scientology. -- L Ron Hubbard

Those aims are worth working toward, and you will find us working hard in Israel and in Russia and the US, wherever we are, to educate, enlighten, and counsel people toward those aims.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Haiku does not aim at beauty --

In his Preface to "Haiku", Volume 1, by R.H. Blyth, he says this:
Haiku does not aim at beauty. Like the music of Bach, it aims at significance, and some special kind of beauty is found hovering near. The real nature of each thing, and more so, of all things, is a poetical one.... Hauku shows us what we knew all the time, but did not know we knew; it shows us that we are poets in so far as we live at all.

If one is familiar with the book Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought by L. Ron Hubbard that paragraph above sounds very familiar:
Any information is valuable to the degree that you can use it. In other words, any information is valuable to the degree that you can make it yours. Scientology, of all the sciences, does not teach you -- it only reminds you, for the information was yours in the first place. It is not only the science of life, but it is an account of what you were doing before you forgot what you were doing.
Which really resonates with me, and makes me want to know more of what I have forgotten!

That awareness of being aware ("so far as we live at all", as Blyth puts it) is well expressed in this haiku by Buson:
Plum-blossoms here and there,
It is good to go north,
Good to go south.
Blyth explains that one to mean:
There is here a feeling of the newness of spring, and yet of the luxury, the beauty, the universality of the season: in truth, anywhere will do in these days of renewed life and beauty.

That renewed life and beauty is evident here on the ranch -- and so I wrote a haiku today, the first in many years for me:
The tiny spiders huddle.
Sensing my presense
down they drop, silken inches.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Michael Moore -- bastion of truth?

There's a controversy now being about whether Disney is going to release Michael Moore's new movie slamming President Bush about his ties to Saudi money and oil.

Moore is claiming it is because of fear of retribution from the powerful Bush family, what with Disney World being in Florida and Jeb Bush being the governor of Florida AND (gasp!) President Bush's brother, and of course the inevitablitily of withholding tax breaks and unleashing other unspecified horrors on Disney if the "truth" of Michael Moore's movie is revealed to the world through Disney's efforts.

A few years ago I had the good fortune to meet and have a lengthy conversation over dinner with Mr. Roger Smith, the target of Michael Moore's first movie, called "Roger and Me". Roger Smith was for 20 some years CEO of General Motors, and although retired now from GM, is still on the boards of directors of many large companies (Citibank, and others). He's a powerhouse who is, polite, social, gracious and is a very effective man who started at the bottom, from the assembly line floor, and worked his way up manage GM.

The premise of the movie is that Roger Smith didn't care about the human costs of the closing of a factory in Flint Michigan, where thousands were layed off, and that he couldn't be bothered to talk to Michael Moore or anyone else about it. He is never interviewed in Michael Moore's movie, and Michael Moore complains that he couldn't find a way to meet with Roger Smith or even set an appointment with him. The inference was that Roger Smith didn't want to talk to him and used his power to avoid being spotlighted by "the media" in the form of Michael Moore's cameras.

I asked Roger Smith about Michael Moore's movie and whether he had ever, to his knowledge, been contacted by Michael Moore. He said he had never heard of the man before the movie came out and he had his staff check back over his phone logs to see if he had ever been called by him. Not once. So far
as he knew, Michael Moore had never tried once to communicate with him.

Shines a whole different light on Michael Moore, doesn't it?

This newest controversy about censorship of his movie strikes me as having been manufactured by him in an effort to increase ticket sales when it is eventually released, ala the controversy surrounding the release of "The Passion of The Christ", which helped drive its viewers through the roof.

You just can't believe everything that you read in the media or see on TV. Much of it is not just misleading, but purposely FALSE.

Is this movie false?

My money is on the "documentary" being carelessly put together by Michael Moore without too much regard for the facts.

Or try this scenario -- an imaginary phone call:

"Michael Eisher? Hi, this is Roger Smith."

"Hi, Roger. Listen, before I ask what I can I do for you, I wanted you to know how much we here at Disney appreciate the GM Pavilion at Disney World. That was your brainchild and I wanted you to know we look forward to GM's ongoing participation in that. Now, what CAN we do for you?"

"Well, I heard through the grapevine that you are distributing yet another Michael Moore exposé movie and I had a word of advice for you..."

"Roger - You're not trying to get me to stop distribution of this movie, are you? We sunk a lot of time and money and energy into backing this ..."

"No, not at all. Go right ahead and release it. I'm sure it will make a lot of money for Disney."

"Then what's your advice?"

"Hire a professional fact checker and check his facts first."

"Now wait a minute, Roger - are you implying that Michael Moore doesn't deal completely in the truth? Didn't he just win an Oscar for his latest documentary about guns in America?"

"Oscar, schmoskar! I'm sure you know that his first movie was about all his alleged difficulties in getting an interview with me. Did you know the little creep never even called my office to try to line up a meeting?"

"Hmmm, you don't say! Maybe a fact checker wouldn't be a bad idea -- I'll get back to you on this one..."

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

The Great Burn

The Great BurnAnd there came upon them in the month of May at the confluence of the rainy times and the sunny times a great burn.

And the great burn was good and relieved them of their burdens.