Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Inadvertent Humor, by Google

In the Seattle area and have a spare moment? Maybe we can tempt you with buying a new condo? Looking for a house? Hiring a homicide attorney?

So, here I was checking out the weather report at - I browse the next 10 days and find out about the big snow storm coming Dec 10-13. And then an ad in the corner catches my attention. Anyone care for a Murder Attorney?

"Yes, hello, is this Attorneys-R-Us?"

"Yes, I was wondering how much your murder rates are? I've got a neighbor I really can't stand."

Strange things...

~ Basil

Monday, December 03, 2007

Who to Vote For for President

Well, I haven't had very many ideas on this topic.

But I just came across this article, and it's pretty good:

I may end up voting for Ron Paul. I certainly believe in the principles that the author of this article has stated.

Who knows...

~ Basil

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Beautiful Seasons, Autumn

I'm rather late, waiting for our first snow, to post these photos. But here's some shots I took this fall along the Sammamish river in downtown Redmond.

An alternate path of the Sammamish River Trail:

Autumn Colors on the Sammamish River:

Reflections at a Storm Pond:

~ Photography by Basil

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Golden Compass

There's a great new movie out, and I suggest you all go see it!

Ok, perhaps I'm waxing a bit hyperbolic here. I really don't care whether you see it or not, but I think the great sensationalism about this movie among various Christian denominations underscores one of the most significant difference between Orthodox Christianity and all other forms of Christianity.

In a nut-shell both Roman Catholic and Protestant ethics is based on the heresy of Gnosticism, specifically Gnostic Dualism. Basically the idea is that there are two inseparable realms: the physical and the spiritual. These two realms are irreconcilable. The irreconcilability of these two realms leads to the obvious ethical consideration: we punish the physical in order to attain the spiritual. You see that in Protestant and Roman Catholic ethics all the time.

The only problem is, it is a heresy. Self-mortification was decried and confirmed as heretical at one of our Great and Holy Seven Ecumenical Councils. Not only that, but maintaining the concept that the physical and spiritual realms are irreconcilable denies the very heart of Christianity: the Incarnation in the Flesh of God. The fundamental point of our faith is that these two realms are no longer irreconcilable. God Himself became a man to prove that. God Himself became man so that spiritual and the physical may be united in one. It is only through that act that we, cut off from the spiritual here in a physical world, are actually able to attain the spiritual without leaving behind the physical.

The author of these books, and movie, believes that: Christianity is all about "ideological tyranny and the rejection of this world in favor of an idealized afterlife" and as such he is a self-proclaimed atheist. Have you read about Phillip Pullman's god? I'd be an athiest too if I believed God was like that!

The big problem here is not that this guy is an atheist. The big problem is that this guy has so much truth to draw upon to support his atheism!

For hundreds of years Christians have talked about this idealized world, and the rejection of this physical world we are in. But the problem is, that's heresy according to the Orthodox Christian teaching. We are in this world to transform the world, to elevate it to the realm of the ideal, to bring this world closer to God: not through suffering, not through self-inflicted pain, not through tyranny and oppression, but through liberation, through love, through through goodness and mercy. This is what the Orthodox Faith is all about.

Unfortunately, Orthodoxy has been under the yoke of Western teaching for quite some time now. I've actually heard Orthodox priests teach that God wants us to suffer. This concept has crept into the Church through several means: (1) In Orthodox seminaries in Russia in the 19th century most of the teachers were Jesuits; (2) Oft times our new "converts" fail to fully convert from their western ideology when they enter the Orthodox Church.

In these days when we have Muslims practicing and teaching Gnostic Dualism far and wide (for it really is one of the fundamental concerns of their faith that they destroy this world in favor of the next one), it is far more important that Christians return to the truth, return to the roots of Christianity: that God became a man so that we may become like God, not in the world to come, but in THIS world!

~ Basil

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No Tea and Exploding Plates
The latest in Basiland

Well, here's a couple of the items I've been working on lately.

First there is No Tea, a web site (blog) devoted to my wife's grandmother's memoirs which were written in Russian, and then recently published in English Translation. Check out and and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Next there's Exploding Plate, my exciting new blog at - a place where I can grumble about all the trash we buy in our stores that breaks down shortly after you get it home and lose the receipt or shortly after the warantee expires. This way I won't have to pollute the noble FlyInTheHolyOil with my raving about the downfall of America because of unrequited consumerism. I plan to expand that site slowly, first with photos and more information about my gripes, but eventually with a message board / forum where folks can join, log in, and post about their own product gripes.

Both of these sites are powered by the WordPress blogging software. I really like WordPress because it gives you both the capability of a CMS, and a blog all in one. You can have blog entries that scroll away as blog entries usually do, and also have "pages" which are always available right there from your menu. Having these pages here in English using WordPress also helps me get used to using word press, which I plan to also install in Russian and hook into my site (one of my more ambitious and long-term projects where I hope to someday provide free blogging to Russians.)

As a side-line, I'm going to be shortly incorporating google ad-words into my blogs (all of them) starting with once I've got some more content up there. Currently I've got three or four products slated to grumble about and am just waiting for my camera battery to recharge so I can get some photos off my camera.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bad Times for the Entertainment Industry: A Great Day for Bloggers

Let's face it. The entertainment industry is going to suffer on account of the Writer's Strike (Wow! has anyone ever seen so much creativity all in one place!), and now the Broadway Stagehand Strike. I don't really know how much it will suffer at the passing of Norm Mailer (I've over a thousand books in my personal library and not one of his - never read him!) So, what does everyone do now for entertainment?

Browse the Web!

(I reckon a few of them will go out to eat dinner at a fine restaurant too.)

So, I figure it is a great day for bloggers. Folks will have nothing to read for a while (ya, right!) and so they are going to be meandering the dark catacombs and sunny glades of blogger, wordpress, lifejournal, and myspace.

I guess maybe my point is: who cares that the Hollywood writers are on strike? Is the world going to suffer if all those couch potatoes out there have to watch re-runs for a few weeks? I think not. Is the world going to suffer of a hand full of movies are released later than planned? Again: I think not.

I do feel mildly sorry for the Hollywood and/or New York writer: mostly because they have to live in Hollywood and/or New York where the cost of living is 100 times what it is anywhere else in the country. But, in a way, I don't feel sorry for them too: because it was their choice.

And, what I think the Hollywood types don't recognize is that everybody is suffering these days. The economy is going to hell. Costs are going up and people are making less and less money. (I haven't gotten a salary increase in two years now, and I'm busting my butt to make my company profitable.)

So, I guess I change my mind. I don't feel sorry for them.

Enjoy cyberspace!


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Our Civil Liberties, Police State, and the Proper Government Substitutes for Intelligent Citizens

I've been following the LA Fires in the news, as I suppose so many others have been.

I figure it is probably a terrorist act, now that they are fairly certain that the fires were deliberately set. Will we ever know? Maybe not. Our government doesn't want us to know too much. Might make us panic. Might make us elect someone else. You know.

Anyway, I'm considering the citizens of Souther Cal fairly heroic for their bravery in the midst a very difficult situation. This is their September 11th, and we should honor that.

Meanwhile, in one article:
On The Difficulties People are Finding Getting Back to their Homes

There is this great post by a local resident. I think it both sums up the truth of the situation, the Great American Spirit of individualism that made our country great, and the impoverished ideology our current government has (which is really demoralizing to the country, and threatens the future of our country more than terrorism does). Now, I don't want to read too much into what this guy says, but he has a way with words, and I agree with him 100%:

John E. wrote on Oct 25...
" The topic of 'mandatory' evacuations raises very significant issues regarding civil liberty. Our lawsuit-happy and risk-averse society is in danger of morphing into a nanny state, in which Big Brother knows best and John Q. Public is treated as a buffoon who always knows less than the so-called experts. If I had a wooden-roofed house atop a chaparral-covered slope, I would probably choose to evacuate even before the reverse 9-1-1 call, but if I had a reasonably fire-resistant house at the bottom of a canyon, with 'shelter in place' landscaping and a good water supply with a backup generator for a pump, I might decide to stay. There is no substitute for clear, rational thought, personal responsibility, and risk assessment. "

Bravo, John, and thanks for both your words ans your bravery!

There are also some great words on the page from a feisty Grandmother, Ada.

I hope you folks stay safe and well.


Friday, October 05, 2007

Stop Mucking with my %$#@$##@$ Operating System!!!

It is a simple thing, but it makes me really mad. The Federal Government should step in and STOP Microsoft from arbitrarily making changes to the O/S that affect ordinary behavior. It is not so much the fact that they make changes to the O/S - that part I accept. If there is a security vulnerability, then by all means, upload it to my computer with the regular updates so that my computer will function the way it is supposed to (safely). But what is not acceptable is for Microsoft to upload changes to my operating system without me knowing about it, and then try to pass them off under the cover of security updates.

It is simply unethical, Bill, never mind where it is legal or not. I can assure you, Mr. Gates, that you have reserved seats at the fireside show in HELL, because you have no conscience about what your company does to everyone's computer!!!

Here is my case in point. I well know, after many years of using MS operating systems, what I want out of an operating system. Sure, there are ideas I've had for making the O/S better. For example, when I drag and drop a file because I want to make a copy of it: why not allow me to specify at that time how I'd like the copy renamed - or better still, give me access to a registry key I can change so that my files are renamed in a certain manner when I drag and drop. Maybe even using a regular expression.

Okay, but that aside. What I do not want. What I cannot accept. What is ABSOLUTELY unacceptable to me, is when you Morons (yes, the M in Microsoft, I'm sure, is for Morons) change my operating system without asking me, without telling me about it, without anything, AND try to pass this off as a security update!!!! It is altogether unethical, and it should be illegal.

So, here is my problem. For years (it seems like centuries) when you drag and drop a file to make a copy of it, it makes a copy with the numeration of what (nth) copy it is of that file. For example, I drag File.doc once, and I get "Copy of File.doc" - I drag it twice and I get "Copy (2) of File.doc" and so on. If I drag "Copy (2) of File.doc" I get "Copy of Copy (2) of File.doc" - If I drag and drop that I get "Copy (2) of Copy (2) of File.doc"

At least, that's how it has always been. Now all of a sudden some genius at Microsoft has decided that that's dumb, and so now when I drag and drop "Copy (2) of File.doc" I get instead "Copy (3) of File.doc".

Well, that's a great idea. And we would all agree it's a great idea. Sure, you can put that in VISTA and if we are all so inclined to purchase VISTA we can switch to the new methodology. But it will be a conscious choice.

But the problem is, that's not how it worked before. That's now how it has always worked. And, I find that you ba$tar6$ changing my operating system on me without my permission, without asking me, without informing me, to be wholly unacceptable.

I have my operating system turned on in such a way as to download updates, and then prompt me to install them. But this does not permit you folks to change the way my operating system functions. I am expecting patches. Patches are something that fixes something that is broken. They are not something that completely changes the behavior.

Okay, well, I've said enough.


Back to work now.

~ Basil

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Freedom of Speech in the U.S.A.?

One statement I remember saying while we sat around the campfire on a cool summer night by the sea: The U.S. is going in the wrong direction when it comes to protecting freedoms, and Russia is going in the right direction.

By this I was trying to emphasize the fact that the freedoms are multiplying in the Russian Federation after the dissolving of the Soviet Union a little over 15 years ago. Whereas in our society, the government is cracking down on far more than 15 years ago, restricting the rights of it's citizens, and censuring them. The government has been given (or rather, I should say "has taken" since nobody actually gave the U.S. government this authority, and hence, I ask, is it any longer a democratic republic?) unprecedented authority to investigate, track, basically spy on its own citizens without the due process of law guaranteed by the constitution. The government and large corporations have formed their own special censorship in order to control the messages that are fed to our people.

Well, this news story points out another problem for freedom in the U.S.A.

Dan Rather has filed a 70 million dollar lawsuit against CBS because he was used as a scapegoat and fired for CBS to come out showing a more favorable view of the White House. About this he says: "Somebody, sometime has got to take a stand and say democracy cannot survive, much less thrive with the level of big corporate and big government interference and intimidation in news..."

God Bless Dan Rather!

God Save America!

~ Basil
Autumn is Here

You can tell autumn is here...

... not by the yellow, orange, red tinge to the leafy trees

... not by the dew on the grass in the morning

... not by the misty breath you have when you go outside late at night

But by the fact that the air conditioning has finally clicked in at work. The office will actually be comfortable now for the first time since May, and this comfort level will last about 2 to 3 weeks, at which time shorts and t-shirts are exchanged for jeans and sweaters.


Friday, September 14, 2007

А сейчас слов от нашега спонсора....

Today's Pop, Folk, and Rock Music is brought to you by:

The Voshnesensky-Davidiva Monastery!

I was listening to my regular dose of Russian pop music today on this new radio station I discovered: Music Radio 101 FM, when I noticed there were four endorsements in the bottom of my Windows Media Player: (1) Rambler's Top 100 (they are basically one of the two Russian equivalents of yahoo) (2) toplist (they aren't as big as rambler, etc, (3) The Windows Media Player 8, and (4)The Voshnesensky-Davidiva Monastery.

I clicked on the The Voshnesensky-Davidiva Monastery banner, and sure enough, it takes you right to here.

There's probably some great Orthodox resources available from their page, along with several Russian Orthodox webrings.

Freedom of Press and Freedom of Speech in Russia

We had a heated debate ("heated" by both whiskey, imagination, and the camp-fire) this summer when we were camping on the freedom of speech in Russia.

My friend seemed to suggest that they had no freedom of speech in Russia today. Whenever I pointed out some aspect of freedom of speech, my friend brought up various things done by Stalin... so I'm not exactly sure why I was loosing the argument, except for the fact that it was 2 against 1.

Anyway, I resolved to put together a compendium of sources of free speech in Russia when I got home, and post them on my blog. I've now got about 20 or 30 web sites of different news agencies in Russia, and several other web sites that have streaming news video, and audio. In addition to that there are dozens of free Russian blog and message board systems, each with hundreds to thousands of customers (bloggers and/or message board participants) giving Russians an unprecedented degree of freedom of speech and press.

However, I'm inclined to think we've become narrow minded with regards to freedom of speech. It really has almost nothing to do with the big mega-company news organizations, but much more to do with the common man and his ability to speak his mind. Freedom of speech has to do with what kind of art you can make, and what degree of government censorship there is for it. So, in my mind, it is not only the journalist (amateur or professional) but the musician, the film-maker, the professional comedian, the photographer, and so on.

Well, I don't have the time today to post a collection of links to independent Russian news sources, and other sources of public freedom of expression in the Russian Republic, but I would at least like to tell you about a couple of cool things:

The BBC has a great "Fact Page" on every country that lists the major news sources for that country. Here is Russia.

One of the deficiencies of the above list is that it is only the "major" news sources, and doesn't include local sources.

These days nearly every city in Russia (so think thousands) has it's own web portal sponsored by the local city business and civic leaders, with news from local news papers as well as blogs, forums, photo galleries, and so on.

Politics is complicated in Russia with hundreds of political parties. So many news sources have a "slant" in that they are connected with various parties or groups of parties, or companies, or unions, and so on. Not to mention the parties themselves have web pages and printed papers, radio broadcasts, and so on.

In my opinion it all SMACKS of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Another great resource, is this collection of streaming web sites:
* At World TV Radio

I've tried several of the streaming sites in the main part of Russia (think West), and can't really get a signal that I can stand listening to, however, I've found that the radio station in Vladivostock, Radio VBC, which also broadcasts on FM has a great streaming feed. I think when it comes to streaming, proximity really helps.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Everyone wants a piece or Russia...

Кредитная карта Ситибанка CASH BACK

amusing, strange, disturbing?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Left Behind?

Here we are on the first day of school:

It could be the title of a great book series... NOT

But what does the first day of school have to do with "Left Behind?"
No (Every) Child Left Behind

My wife pointed out to me that she kept seeing the phrase "No Child Left Behind" in my the materials my daughter brought home from school the first day of classes this year.

Well, I didn't really know much about it, although you hear about the act in the news frequently. I googled for it, and you get a lot of info - if you want to read the essays of social workers and politicians (that is to say "professionals" - that is to say people who have never been, nor had, children...)

I found the best place to get a nutshell overview was at Wikipedia (as usual). Basically, it is this sort of crap: we will all go as slow as the slowest kid in class, and that way "no one will get left behind". You see, scientific research tells us that we will all be ahead if we all stay back with the slowest person.

Grrr..... !@#$F#@!#$ what a bunch of idiotic morons all our scientific social workers are these days.

I had grandiose thoughts for this post (to try and convince the reader how idiotic the concept of "no child left behind" is) for example, by pointing out that for centuries (all of human existence) there have been those who struggled to try to accomplish something, to try to dig-up the mysteries in the universe: to explore, to create, to discover, to invent, to struggle, to figure out... and then there have been those who really have no interest in all that work, and would rather just sit back and watch other people perform the great struggle.

The fact is, it is a small group of people who want to struggle for the improvement of mankind, and a rather larger group of people, in fact MOST people, who just want to sit back and watch it all.

If we follow the logic of "no child left behind" we will end up with a Nation of moronic couch potatoes...

Oh, wait a minute? Maybe that's how we got here!

~ Basil

Friday, September 07, 2007

My Stinky Left Side
Well, it has been three weeks now since I broke my ring-finger on my right hand, and sprained a knuckle on the hand part of the same finger. I'm coming to grips with (grips? no, sorry, no grip...) how to do things with my left hand. Some things are rather difficult to do with your left hand, like wiping your b...nevermind. You get the idea. Other things are impossible to do with your left hand, like washing your left arm and arm-pit in the shower.

To help you make a real fool of yourself in any attempt to wash your left side modern Medicine has come up with some incredibly great inventions. Well, at least one anyway: the full-arm-plastic-rubber-air-tight glove for instance.

I was so pleased when my doctor gave me this (and I use the word "gave" loosely, as I know I'll be getting a bill for it... or my insurance company will anyway). "Yeah," she said. "They are completely air-tight and water-tight. You can wear it in the shower, and it even has a separate place for your thumb so you can hold your bar of soap!

Why I didn't think of it then, I cannot imagine. Perhaps it was the excitement of something completely new: I've never broken anything before (bones, that is). Or perhaps it was my doctor's own enthusiasm for this modern medicinal marvel.

Anyway: think about it! Give me a break: holding a wet bar of soap in the shower with a rubber glove?????

Yeah, that's right folks: I spend more time chasing the bar of soap around the shower.

Well, at least they've finally thought of one thing anyway: how to make the thing so that no water leaks in. Pretty ingenious, really. At least I can even TAKE a shower! But never mind trying to hang onto your bar of soap!

So, that leaves me with the question: what to do about my left side?

I've finally gotten to where I can reach into places I never dreamed of with my left hand. Sometimes I'm nervous I'm going to tie my left arm in a knot trying to reach places. But there remains the unreachable: Left Underarm!

You see, I'm no monkey. I know monkeys can scratch their arm-pits with the same hand, but humans aren't designed that way.

Well, I've thought of a couple of ways to solve the problem:

a) wash cloth: yes you can actually hold a wet and soapy wash cloth in the shower with that enormous rubber glove. At least for a while. You just have to overcome the feeling that you are no longer manly if you use a wash cloth. Yes, next thing you know I'll be wearing white gloves, and keeping lace handkerchiefs in my pockets.

b) scrub brush: yes, well sometimes my arm pits need scrubbing out with a scrub brush anyway...

Then there are other miscellaneous left-side problems: like trying to get enough strength in your few free fingers of the right hand to clip the nails on your left hand, or worse: foot.

Then there is always the retrieving things from your pocket problem. I'm trying to put things into pockets that I can get at with my left hand, but every once in a while I forget, and cause an embarrassing scene trying to fish things out of a right pocket with my left hand. The other day I think someone almost called the police on me for public indecency.

I am at least learning how to type with only three fingers on one hand (that is, if you count the thumb as a finger --- ah, what the heck, they are all thumbs on that hand anyway.

Well, enough for now.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Has China Declared War on the United States?

Unfair, unfair. If Russia had done this we would have introduced some sort of trade embargo (the heat of Europe not withstanding).

China: the only (major) country in the world where Christians are still persecuted and killed, where blue collar workers are treated like slave labor, where it is against the law to exercise freedom of speech and to have more than one child per family... China continues to get away with it's systematic and well planned undermining of western society:

We allow their government to hack into our Pentagon network infrastructure.

We allow them to poison our animals.

We allow them to kill our children. (the latest product recalls from Matel).

And we sit here and do nothing about it at all. Instead we waste our energy on insignificant problems (or non existent problems) in order to play upon public sympathies and increase political clout.

I'm sick of stupid garbage Chinese-made products that cost less money than products made in other countries that actually WORK. These inexpensive electric pencil sharpeners, stereos, and garden sheers, may cost less money in the short run, but they only last a few months (long enough that you no longer have the original box or the receipt). Because the markets are flooded with cheap products that don't work (or for long anyway) all of the products that aren't made in China are harder and harder to find, and therefore cost a lot more money. Can I afford to pay 10 times as much for a TV that will last 10 years instead of 1 year? No, actually I can't. I need my TV today and can't wait 10 years for it, thank you.

The Chinese are not beating us by their lead-tainted toys, and their chemical-laden food products: no, they are defeating us by filling our landfills with toxic substances that continue to pollute the environment for many hundreds of years.

But, what can I do?

I think I'll go pop some popcorn in my two-month-old-and-still-working Chinese-made microwave (still ticking), and sit down and watch a movie (printed no doubt in China in a Chinese-made DVD but what the heck, I've only watched that movie 6 times now so the DVD hasn't worn out yet...)


Monday, September 03, 2007

Fun With A Purpose


Do you have a moral for that story?

We got an advertisement for a highlights magazine in the mail. It says Highlights, Fun With a Purpose I believe the idea is, it's a learning magazine for children. It's fun, but it also teaches kids various skills: problem solving with puzzles, games and hidden pictures.

I always loved that sort of stuff when I was a kid, and my daughter does too.

I think as a marketing ploy the idea is: this is better than other similar magazines (are there any?) because it teaches learning skills. I think these days most kids (my daughter included) are polishing their problem solving skills, along with their quick-thinking reflexes, at computer games.

But the important thing is: there's a moral to that story.

I was reminded of the special features from last night's movie "Sleepy Hollow". Apparently the last question they asked the stars was "what's the moral to the story" - which, I think, was a dumb question, and judging by some of the answers, the stars agreed.

Michael Gambon: "Hold on to your head."
Christopher Lee: "Don't lose your head."
Johnny Depp: "When Tim Burton asks you to do a movie: Do It!"

And I'm reminded of something Vladimir Nabokov said when questioned about his controversial novel, Lolita. When asked what the moral of the story was, he indicated that he was insulted, and that he was a firm believer that for an author to get didactic ruins the story. In fact, it was one of the reasons he hated Dostoevsky and Tolstoy so much.

Well, I disagree vaguely to Nabokov. It is possible to have a good story with characters in it that THINK. Yet at the same time I can agree to a certain extent: What is the moral of any good story? To make you think!

If a story (read: movie, novel, computer game) doesn't make me think, I quickly lose interest. And, in a word, a good story need not be didactic so long as it at least makes you think. A person can discover the moral value inherent in anything when they are challenged to think.

So, more power to the children's magazines like Highlights that give kids something interesting to make the wheels churn. But all the better something like J. K. Rowling who makes the wheels churn and makes an extremely entertaining story at the same time!


Sunday, September 02, 2007

Sleepy Hollow

I never stay up to date.

And this is actually intentional.

One of the most important things a friend pointed me to in college was something C.S. Lewis said: For every new book he read, he also read an old one.

For many years I practiced that very thing, well, really I mostly only read the classics. These days I read things all over the map. Classics like Sophocles, Dante, Oscar Wilde, Stephen King all the way to the modern stuff: J. K. Rowling.

Well, so much to say: I rarely go see a movie while it is fresh. I figure if it is worth seeing today, it will be worth seeing tomorrow also. In fact, if it is worth seeing at all it will be just as worth it today as 20 years from now.

So, I've just come around to seeing Sleepy Hollow. I've been a big Johnny Depp fan since the first Pirates move came out. And now I've become a fan of his great stuff back to Edward Scissorhands and Benny and Joon. In fact, I've even come to notice little things like when he makes little references to previous movies like he did with the raisins in the last Pirates move.

Anyway, what a great movie! I love horror, but I don't think I've every seen a horror movie I liked this much: even to the point of watching all the extras on the DVD. It's got a superb all-star cast (well, I won't tell you everyone in it but check that out on IMDB if you are so inclined.)

It's really cool to see three Harry Potter stars, two great Star Wars stars, along with the impeccably artistic Mr. Depp and the gorgeously talented Christina Ricci in this, yet one more great Tim Burton classic. I highly recommend it (if you can manage horror) and as Michael Gambon says: hang onto your head!


Friday, August 31, 2007

Reinventing Myself

Why don't I blog more? This question taunts me constantly. Well, really the question is: why don't I write more?

I could blame my temporary impairment on the fact that I broke a finger two weeks ago, and now, in addition to my normal impairment of carpal-tunnel symptoms in my hand (sore joints, wrist, sometimes pain all the way to my elbow), well now, in addition to that problem, I've a sprained finger, a broken finger, and a third really sore finger that was nearly sprained. So, I'm typing with my hand in a cast and only three fingers (including my thumb) to type with there (right hand). Yes, I can think of excuses.

But I know what my real problem is: how to say what I really want to say without drawing negative attention to myself.

Well, I've decided to "turn over a new leaf" - I'm just going to spew it all out, and I'm going to spew it all out here in this one blog, devoted to... well, devoted to the art of spewing it all out I guess.

So, I daily have things to say, but I worry myself too much over saying them right.

Take for instance my GRIPE. I was thinking of starting a whole separate blog devoted to complaining about Microsoft. But I don't want people to get the impression that I'm a crabby old man, or that I have something personally against them. And also there's the question: what if I someday want to work for them? (Got forbid!) But being that I'm in the Software Quality Assurance industry - do I really want to burn that bridge - I mean if someone were to find me complaining constantly about Microsoft....

Well, I can't take it any longer. The idiots employ the largest workforce in the State of Washington, they rake in the money, and they can't even write a !@$#!@#$# operating system that actually works!

I find myself spending between 40 and 60% of my work time overcoming the obstacles Microsoft puts in our way to get our work done. Excel crashing when you try to really use it, hotmail breaking up links on emails making it impossible for my less-than-computer-savvy friends to click on them and get to the link (or even figure out how to split up multiple lines), the O/S keeping me from moving my files when I want to... the list simply goes on and on.

So, anyway, I'm not going to hold back any longer.

Of course there are other things I can complain about too, like the fact that firefox runs your computer out of memory and eventually crashes every time there is an update available that you've been postponing. Or the fact that NVue still has an annoying bug in it that has been there since it was called netscape composer 1.0.

Linux is not without it's problems either, but I've finally resorted to having two separate primary work computers, one linux of the Gentoo flavor, and one XP (don't give me that VISTA crap!) just so that I can always get my work done...

.. speaking of getting my work done. Got to go.

Designated Driver?

Somehow, I don't think this is what they meant when they told you to bring along a designated driver:

Woman Allows 5-year-old Son To Drive

It is a strange world.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

A tale of North America

Let us say for example that some fascist dictator down south decides to make war. He sweeps up from S. America and invades Central America all the way up to Mexico.

The Mexicans are proud and fight off this tyrant vigorously for a time, but in the end they ask for U.S support.

The U.S invades Mexico, heads south and pushes the tyrant all the way back to his homeland, where eventually he is defeated by a combination of freedom fighters from within, and armies fro sympathetic nations around.

In the aftermath Mexico has a great deal of turmoil re-establishing it's own government, and in the opts for joining with the U.S. in something of a North American Union, in which the U.S. has some controlling interest in the Mexican state.

Let's say for the next 90 years or so many U.S. citizens immigrate to Mexico, just as many Mexicans immigrate northward. Let us even go so far as to say that the U.S government creates a sponsorship program whereby U.S. citizens willing to immigrate south and start anew life in helping to rebuild Mexico are given great incentives.

So after 90 years, lets say, you have about 40% of the population of Mexico as Anglo-Saxon whites who have made this their home. The new generations of whites have never known any other home. In fact, by now even their grandparents who came here have passed on.

Let's say that the new generations of ethnically Hispanic Mexicans don't remember the war. The society they have rebuilt is far removed from any trace of the former period of captivity, except for a hand full of war memorials.

Let's say that many of the younger generation start persecuting the Anglo-Saxons (AS) who live here, because they don't feel it is right for all those people to live in their land. Let's say that the persecution also instigates back-lash fro the AS crowd who feel they've plenty of right to live there as they've lived there their whole lives.

Let's say the government now steps in: but far from stepping in so as to diffuse the situation, on the contrary makes it deliberately hard for English speakers to conduct business, and starts taking steps (which it says are in the interest of the AS crowd) to ban English in public, and so on. Business signs must be in Spanish, all business and legal documents must be in Spanish, and so on.

Lets say they also decide to remove all war memorials to U.S. soldiers who died liberating their country: why, because it shows "U.S. Aggression".

Let's say that the U.S gov protests against this move by Mexico, but that the Mexicans basically say "screw you" to the U.S. gov. We are an independent state and you cannot boss us around.

Well, leaving aside the politics for a moment between U.S. and Mexico in this scenario, let us discuss "right and wrong" - that is to say morals.

How can it possibly be "right" what the Mexicans are doing in my pretend scenario here?

And yet, I am not speaking of U.S. and Mexico here, but rather of Russia and the Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The above is precisely what has happened in the Baltic countries, and yet for some reason (I believe only because they are brainwashed by the official U.S. news media that casts everything it can in an anti-Russian slant).. for some reason my friends try to convince me that the U.S is the one who is morally wrong in the example I've provided here. Well, that is to say, they consider Russian to be in the wrong.

You see how the tables are turned when we are talking about the U.S. instead of Russia?

Clearly, it is the Baltic governments who are morally in the wrong by encouraging anti-Russian racism in their laws, and police crackdowns.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Angelina, In Memory of Her Brief Life With Us

I wrote a little blurb this evening, with many photos, about the short time we had our cat Angelina.

Check it out.

This is something I wanted to blog about, and yet post a lot of photos at the same time. So, I found the form of a web page with downloadable photos to better suit the purpose.

~ Basil

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Arts and Pop Culture

This was an interesting article:

a particular phrase:

"The arts don't live in the media. ... Our society has chosen not to
make arts part of our public culture." By contrast, pop culture is
glorified. Our schoolchildren can name NBA stars and contestants on
"American Idol." But, asked Gioia: "Can they name a living American
poet, a famous architect, a classical musician, a philosopher or a

Well, what made this article so interesting to me was I surprised myself by finding I disagree. The main problem here is the contrast between "the arts" and "popular
culture." There is no such contrast. It takes the same collaborative
effort of many artists to create a great movie, or a rock concert, as it
does to create a ballet performance, or a performance of the opera. The
problem is not an unbreachable divide between "the arts" and "pop
culture" - the problem is "no sense of history."

The more traditional (historic) arts (like a ballet or opera performance) need to be taught in our schools alongside the newer arts. It can take work to enjoy an opera or a ballet. It can also take work to enjoy a good movie. Our main problem is that as a society we really don't like things that aren't easy.

So, in that respect, movies, literature, music and other elements of the arts that "aren't easy" are also good for us. They challenge us to think at the same time that they entertain us.

Do you folks know that Socrates (the original) actually took part as an actor in Athenian plays. He sometimes played the roll of god (which ever one was needed in the particular play) by being let down in a great basket above the stage where he made sagacious pronouncements. He sometimes did this and made a great buffoon of himself, much to the enjoyment of the audience.

Let us not be so quick to divorce the "true arts" from pop culture.

Even in history we see the sage playing the part of the fool in order to entertain the crowds - even to make them laugh.



Thursday, May 24, 2007

To Blog or Not To Blog

I don't blog very much. At least not 1/10th of the time that I email myself some grand new idea that I want to blog about.

By the time I get home and re-read my email I'm no longer interested.

Now, today's idea "Osama Wears A Burqa" was really a short story, and not a typical blog post. It may end up on my blog, because I loath the commercial publishing industry and don't really want to send my stories and poetry I write to commercial publishers. Or it may end up on my blog because I think it is too funny, too interesting, and too poignant to wait around for somebody else to publish.

Either way you go, I'm not ready to write it. It takes some time.

Now, other stories, thoughts, ideas: they pop into my head, and by the time I get home from work at night I am weary of them.

Take for example this blog post here...
(insert link)
.. I was all hot about the topic when I first read that article... but the heat subsided, and by the time I was at my home computer, it wasn't interesting any more.

Now today's idea, I'll tell you, is really more of an anecdote than a traditional "blog post":

I was in the break room at work fixing some green tea. A co-worker comes along... now this guy is really into hiking - I mean serious hiking, for weeks in the wilderness, that sort of thing. But as far as I know he doesn't have any vices, like drinking bourbon, smoking cigars, or drinking green tea.

Anyway, I'm fixing my green tea. And mentions the fact that we've got a large assortment of teas stacked up there. (I sense you aren't getting it... so some background is necessary here: our company provides food and beverage all day long..) Okay, so he's looking at the huge pile of teas. I mean there's about 30 or 40 different kinds of tea. "Well," I say, "many of them are here because folks like to bring in their own tea that they like a lot. Or maybe their own tea that they don't like."

(He laughs.)

And then I say, "Well most of the white teas are here because Bill is on a white tea fling right now and keeps bringing them in to keep it stocked up at work." Then I explain what white tea is all about, how it has (possibly) even more antioxidants than green tea, and how that has more that black, and so on.

"You see," I say, "you keep pumping your blood stream full of antioxidants, and you'll live forever."

(He chuckles.)

And, I'm thinking, yeah it's funny, but I know people who really live their lives like they think that.

"Well, forever is a long time..." he says.

(I'm on a roll with the "forever" thing). "Yeah, you become immortal like a vampire: all those antioxidants rushing through your blood veins."

(he laughs again)

Then he says: "Yeah, you live forever, but then you get old and your bones are brittle, and your body breaks down..." (here now I'm feeling self conscious because I'm all out of shape) "... and pretty soon someone is feeding you through a tube...."

"If I can't enjoy life," he concludes, "I don't want to live life any longer at all."

And I'm left with that thought. And, really, I think it is a profound life. I think of someone I know who is obsessed with living forever, and yet never goes out of his house. What's the point?

I think I'm on the other extreme. I enjoy life so much that it is probably slowing me down. I have so many different interests that I cannot possibly feed them all. I have so many hobbies, pursuits, ideas... that I cannot possibly write them all.

And so I'm back to the blog... and thinking: why don't I blog more?

Blogging, the experts now tell us, is a form of journalism. Where the heck did all these !#@$#@!$@ experts come from. Where were they back when blogging was invented? Where were they when the internet began? Well, I was there. I remember it.

I am a Poet, and to heck with blogging journalists. Literature is an art form, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A journalist is someone who reports the facts, but a Poet is someone who makes you feel them. What on earth makes these idiots think that to give someone who blogs the title of "journalist" somehow elevates them? No thank you: do not sink us that low.

They are a bunch of idiots, the blogging journalists. It's just a ploy by the newspapers, by the traditional media, to pull in the net and see if it can catch some fish. You see, we all know that people are reading less and less. Yet at the same time, more people are reading and writing blogs. So, what does it end up amounting to? Fewer and fewer people are reading commercial literature of any sort. So, the commercial literature giants are going after the little guys - in hopes for a "piece of the action."



Friday, May 04, 2007

Synergy and CMM Compliance

I just noticed today a discrepancy in my thinking.

Synergy ( ) for those who don't know, is a religious concept. At least it was until quite recently - the later half of the 20th century. Synergy has to do with cooperation between God and Man. It is tied to the protestant conflict between works and grace. That is to say, Synergy is the Orthodox Theological concept that has been around since the 400s but was elaborated upon by Orthodox Theologians in the 15th century, that solves the problem that protestants and others have with balancing works with Grace.

Well in modern times it is used to discuss business dynamics. But never mind that. Forget about that for a while.

I've discovered today a discrepancy in my thinking.

My job is to milk the requirements out of project management, and then ensure that they live up to them. It is very scientific. X + Y is supposed to end up equalling Z. If it doesn't equal Z, then I press for resolution or redefinition. If management wants to end up making X + Y equal R instead, that's fine. But the situation has to be resolved.

So much to point out: my job is very scientific in nature, and leaves little to mysticism. However, I'm really good at my job because of my mystical nature. That is to say: if there is any possible way that X + Y can be perceived to not equal Z, I will find it. That's what I'm good at.

Well, for years I have been saying a prayer for my business as I enter the business each morning. I actually secretly bless the place with the sign of the cross before I enter (at least I do when nobody is standing around watching - which is most of the time.)

I happen to know that most of my coworkers, including the founder of our company are Christians. I know that many of them probably also pray for the success of our company.

Well, recently at Church I heard a story that made me shudder. There was a guy, an Orthodox Christian who had a business partner who was writing software and couldn't quite get the darn software to work. He finally gave up hope at getting the software to work, and stood before his icon and said a prayer that the software would work, and went back to it and it suddenly worked just fine.

Well, I cringed when I heard that story. I don't believe in it.

I can envision in my mind's eye someone praying that their code will work, and then all of a sudden the Holy Spirit enables them to make sense of things, and they find what is wrong, and fix it. But I can't envision God stretching forth his hand upon that computer and re-writing the code for this poor developer, and having it suddenly work.

So, then today I asked myself: WHY?

When I look at life's circumstances, I am often amazed at how succesful my company is for all the shortcuts it takes. Well, it is actually "miraculous" that everything doesn't break down, and the company fall off a cliff into the abyss of tech companies that "didn't make it."

So, well, actually, maybe it IS a miracle!

Somehow, even though I say a prayer for my business every morning, it has never entered my wildest dreams before that God might be helping us out. Somehow, that thought doesn't seem "fair" to me. And yet, why is it that I'm always praying for this place anyway?

It all breaks down to synergy. I have to do my part, and God will do His part. I really think that I have to do everything I can, everything I'm supposed to do, to make sure that our company's software works correctly (from start to finish.) But, in spite of my persistence in being the QA Guru that can break anything that can possibly be broken, I need to remember that God actually does perform miracles, and extends His grace to all who ask.

That's a little bit difficult to live with. If I lower my expectations at all (and trust that God will make it all work out) I'm afraid I will fail in performance of my duties. And yet at the same time, where is faith?

In the end I think I have to keep on going the same path that I've always gone. Yet, deep down inside now, I think I will be a little bit more thankful to God for his sustenance. For keeping us from dropping off that cliff.


P.S. Now, back to Disneyland and Communism...

Friday, April 27, 2007

Disneyland as the Perfect Expression of Communism

... we'll okay, now that I've got your attention...

maybe not the "perfect expression" but at least one thing I learned while down at Disneyland:

Communism works.

(What have you been smoking, Basil?)

So, here I am standing in long lines all day long... So, here I am complaining about the fact that you cannot buy iced tea anywhere but one or two of the sit-down restaurants. And the fact that they have only one coffee shop - only ONE PLACE in all of Disneyland that you can buy coffee.

Not to mention this: there's the high prices. And really, people just buy it. They don't complain.

There was a fruit stand in one place where you could buy an apple for $2.50.

Why is the price for an apple $2.50? - you ask.

Well, the fact is: there is no competition. And because there is no competition "the state" sets all of the prices for everything.

So, I'm standing there in a Disneyland line thinking: what does this remind me of? Well, actually, it reminded me of my visit to Moscow at the end of the Soviet Empire.

In a nut-shell. Disneyland is communist. Once you are inside that place, it is the same thing as being inside a communist country.

So, why is Disneyland successful, and communist countries pretty much are not? (Well, you could argue about China, but forget China for a moment.)

I've pondered this question seriously for a couple of weeks now. Here's what I've come up with:

1) They've never had to endure decades of sanctions, and embargoes, and trade restrictions.

2) They've never been forced to the brink of bankruptcy with an arms race.

And, this I think is the most important reason:
3) Everyone who is there is there voluntarily. They want to be there. In fact, they are sorry they have to go back home. They are sorry it will come to an end.

This last point sort of expands and grows as you think about it. Not only have these folks paid money to be there, and continue to pay out more money while they are there, but they have a "vision" an "ideology" just the same as the Bolsheviks had an ideology. But this ideology is easier to catch onto.

For the Disney workers (the folks who work there) they have a common vision of "The Magic Kingdom" - making everyones time in Disneyland magical, fun, etc. The basic ideology is "The Happiest Place on Earth".

And how is it the Happiest Place on Earth? Well, basically by everyone becoming a child again, and "playing." Not only the Disney employees, but the Disney customers. (I should point out that all Disney employees are "Cast Members" and all Disney customers are "Guests".) You see: PLAY is built right into the very existence of all things Disney.

And how do we play? Well, the basics are "story" and "reenactment". You can be a pirate, and sing "Yo, ho, ho, ho..." everywhere you go. Or you can be Buzz Lightyear. I couldn't believe the simply countless little girls dressed up in Disney Princess costumes. And everyone wearing one sort of Disney hat or another. It's a mad-house. But everyone knows the stories, and laughs and plays.

Anyway, "Fun for all" is apparently a more successful approach to a communistic society, than "food for the masses" or "free medical care" and so on.

Now, I'm going to fall off the wall here now, but the last thing I want to point out before I launch into a message about how Disneyland relates to the VT mass killings. Namely, I'd like to point out that the Early Church was also communistic.

Okay, more on this later.


Basil the Baffling

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Disneyland Tips and Pointers

I realize that this is totally rude, indelicate and insensitive... but it is, nevertheless, the truth. And that's what the "Fly in the Holy Oil" is all about: telling the truth... no matter who it might offend.

Some things I learned at Disneyland:

1) GRANNY. Bring your Granny. She wants to ride on the roller coaster with you. Seriously. Go to the nursing home (ask the wife for directions if you don't know where it is) and scoop your granny up out of her bed, and stick her in a wheel chair (she will love that) and take her with you to Disneyland.

Bring her with you to each of the rides. They've got a special deal going on. As long as you've got granny in her wheel chair, they will let you and the whole family (all 18 of you) get on the ride without waiting. It's true, I've seen it with my own eyes. Little old gray-haired grannies, and their 18 closest and most dearly loved relatives going right straight to the head of the line, no matter how long the wait (and some of them, even in the off-season, were 90 minutes lines!)

2) FAST PASS. If Granny isn't available, or you are afraid of losing her, do the FAST PASS thing instead. FAST PASS is a really cool thing they've got going on at Disneyland, but you won't know about it or how to use it, unless you read the fine print. The reason FAST PASS works, is because nobody knows about it, okay. So, now you know about it, and it is going to help you ride on all the rides you want without waiting for 90 minutes in line.

The way FAST PASS works is: there are about a dozen of the most popular rides at both Disneyland and California Adventure that have FAST PASS. What FAST PASS is, is there's an area somewhere near the ride (often difficult to find) where you can "get your FAST PASS". You stand in a short line (usually 5 minutes or less) and when it is your turn, you insert your Disneyland tickets into a machine, and it spits out a FAST PASS ticket for each of your Disneyland tickets. The FAST PASS ticket enables you to go in a much shorter line for the ride (usually 5 minutes or less) at a specific time. It's like making reservations for your ride! It's really a cool thing.

We used FAST PASS to go on Autopia (bypassing a 60 minute wait) and Space Mountain (bypassing a 90 minute wait) and Thunder Mountain Railroad (also bypassing a 60 minute wait.)

The only thing about FAST PASS is: they are not unlimited (unless you are staying at the Disneyland hotel) so you have to plan things right. Once you get a FAST PASS for your ticket, you can't get another one for another hour and a half. Also, really popular rides (like space mountain) are all booked up before NOON! (even in the off season.) So, get your Space Mountain FAST PASS first, or else you will end up going on the ride at 11:00 at night.

An aside: Space Mountain seems to be the most popular ride there. Probably the most popular ride at California Adventure is Grizzly River Run. In fact Grizzly River is so popular that we didn't get a chance to ride it. By 11:00 AM, the only FAST PASSES left are for 9:30 at night, and who wants to get soaking wet at that hour. Even in sultry California. Well, yeah, apparently some folks do!

3) wear your feet out. We tried to save money on our trip by staying at a hotel a block away from Disneyland. But, upon reflection, it might have been better to pay the extra $100 a day to stay at one of the Disneyland hotels. Not only are you a lot closer to the park, but they give you unlimited FAST PASS (no wait time between FAST PASSES). That means you can get all your FAST PASSES one right after the other, and then come back at the appointed times and ride the rides quickly.

4) Early Entry. One of the advertised specials is that if you buy tickets for three days in a row, they will let you in for Early Entry one day. Early Entry means you get to come to the park one hour before it opens. When we were there it meant 7:00 AM instead of 8:00 AM. They only do Early Entry three days a week, so you have to plan for it. And, just so you know, Fantasy Land and Main Street is the only thing open on Early Entry days.

Don't do it. It isn't worth it. At least on the days we were there, the lines for all the rides were much shorter on normal entry days than they were on early entry days. I figure everyone tries to get a break on those long lines, by coming early on early entry day, but on normal days they don't come right when the park opens.

On the day we got to the park at 8:05 AM, we walked right onto Jungle Ride (and got off and got back on the next boat), and the line for Pirates at 8:30 in the morning was only 10 minutes long. BUT on early entry day, we planned to ride on the Fantasy Land rides that always have long lines (for some reason, that's Peter Pan, and, for obvious reasons the Matterhorn) - well, by the time we got to Peter Pan (maybe 7:15 AM) the line was already 60 minutes long! We went over to Pirates, and bit the bullet at a 25 minute wait (at around the same time it had only a 10 minute wait on non-early entry day).


Life and Disneyland

Some reflections on my trip to the Magic Kingdom...

So, what is it about Disneyland? The Magic Kingdom? The Happiest Place on Earth? Source of controversy?

What is it about Disney in general... everything Disney?

I really loved Disneyland as a kid. Then as a young adult, I ran across an article or something somewhere that said "Life is no Disneyland!" And I thought that was rather poignant. As a young adult, you get into this frame of mind that "life isn't fair" and "life certainly isn't all fun and games" so the concept that "life is no Disneyland" makes a great deal of sense to you.

But as I grew older and my conception of the world reformed, I began to take on a new point of view about things. Namely: life is as fun as you want it to be... life is as fair as you want it to be... joy is as readily available as you want it to be.

I began to realize that happiness is something you make inside yourself by being content with the life you find yourself in.

Basically two people can live in exactly the same circumstances, and one of them become bitter, angry, grouchy, unkind, ungenerous, and so on, while the other becomes kind, forgiving, pleasant to be around, and so on. Of course, I find myself often falling victim to the former conception, when I want to mostly dwell in the latter.

Generally, there is a fine line between caring too much about things, and caring too little about things. You have to find the right balance between the two, so you don't become complacent, while at the same time you don't care so much about every little thing that you become bitter, angry, grouchy, etc.

What I think really works is: BEING a CHILD! I really think Jesus was onto something when he said "except you become as little children..."

So, anyway, I'm enjoying my second childhood, and it started a few years back. But I'm not going to let anyone stop me...

Anyway, that takes us back to Disneyland.

You walk into this place that Walt Disney envisioned as a place where everyone is happy. You are excited and ready to have a great time. Maybe you rush around a bit too much from one ride to another... maybe you feel a little bit uncomfortable waiting in long lines, in the hot sun. But you never really get grouchy. Why? Because you are just a big kid now. This is Disneyland, after all, how can you be grouchy? (Unless you are one of Snow White's dwarfs...)

Okay, so you tell me there's a difficult world right outside, where there are problems and complications and hardships and struggles. Okay, so there are even some folks out there who cannot afford to go to Disneyland.

Well, a "safe haven from the troubles of the world" has it's cost, doesn't it? It has its cost whether you are thinking of it spiritually or physically. Everything has its cost.

You could look at Disneyland from the perspective of how unfair it is to enjoy this little island of utopia while the rest of the world outside is suffering. Of course, you could look at heaven the same way.

But the fact is: utopia is a place in your mind.

(The Kingdom of God is within you...)

As Orthodox Christians we believe in bringing heaven to earth. It is one of the fundamental concepts of our faith. This is why John Lennon's song "Imagine" (there's no heaven... it's easy if you try...) has no meaning to us. It is neither an accusation against what we believe in, nor an affirmation of it. We can't imagine there's no heaven, because we already live in it. At no time of the year is that more obvious to us than Pascha! At least, I think, if you are an Orthodox Christian, you should be living in heaven - right here and now.

So, what does this have to do with Disneyland?

I think Walt Disney had the right idea: make a place where everyone can leave all their cares behind. Make it a place where everyone believes in happiness. Where everyone is a kid. Where people can actually believe in magic.

Never mind how expensive it is... never mind the waiting in lines and the heat. I became a believer when I saw a little girl lose her balloon while waiting for the Main Street Parade, and then watched as one of the Disney workers walked from position performing crowd control, half a block up to the balloon stand, and then back to the little girl to give her a new one.

Sure Disney comes with a cost.

But you never lose your balloon.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Reflections on Virginia Tech and Disneyland

I planned to blog next on Disneyland. I got back from a trip to that place late Saturday night. My mind has been filled with thoughts on that place, and really, the concepts of beauty, peacefulness, "magic" and that sort of thing. I won't really start yet, but I must say that I love that place, and what it stands for really makes sense to me.

Then yesterday we had that terrible tragedy in VA. Since thing I've been in mental turmoil over the state of humanity. Why is it that people snap like that... are, really, pushed to the brink, and can't handle it, and take that sort of "way out"? A grand finale such that they will be remembered forever in infamy, instead of die in obscurity and anonymity.

It is easy to talk about what a horrific nut that guy was. It is too easy.

What troubles me is: how did he get that way? I, as a fellow human on this planet, feel in some way responsible. Oh, I know "I'm not my brother's keeper" and yet at the same time, my own feeling is that "it could have happened to anyone" who was down-and-out, short on luck, had no friends, and didn't know how to make any...

Of course, none of us like to be lonely, an outcast, not have enough money to make ends meet, or to accomplish something useful in this world. The bottom line is: in a capitalistic society, it takes money to accomplish anything in life. It takes money to take a woman out on a date, or to go with friends "out for coffee". Generally speaking, those who have more opportunity to do things with friends are more "successful" socially, and, theoretically, more fulfilled. None of us like what it feels like to not be successful at making friends, and finding a place for ourselves in this world.

It is too easy to place blame on this person. Of course, they were at fault. No amount of pain and frustration gives a person the right to take the life of another, and worse: many others. But, at the same time, our society was responsible for creating someone like that.

And it is also too easy to say that we can simply all make the world a better place through kindness. A kind word here and there, a smile as often as possible... these things truly do make the world a better place, and perhaps can for a time quell the insanity that wells up within a person like that.

But even so, I think kindness itself wouldn't have been sufficient to stop this man from doing what he did. There is a deeper problem here.

From what I've read, numerous people tried professional intervention to attempt to break through to this guy. He was sent to psychiatrists, and doctors, counselors, and public service individuals. In a word, he was "boxed in" to a category as being someone who "had something wrong with him."

How would that make a person feel, to be treated by a system of institutions who were trying to convince him that something was wrong with him, trying to convince him that he "needed help" and so on.

The social orders of the world are increasingly convinced that it is "not okay to be a loaner". The social orders of the world are increasingly convinced that someone must act and speak a certain way. But what do the social orders of the world really know? What kind of people does that mentality create: model citizens, or people who crack under pressure?

My perception is that the social order creates people in both camps. But the social order is particularly good at creating people who crack under pressure. Why? Because a society based upon making everyone behave a certain way, cannot possibly succeed. The only thing that succeeds is the ingrained belief that in order for the world to be a better place, you've got to point your finger at everyone who is wrong: you've got to correct everyone who is mistaken, you've got to personally get involved in making everyone behave themselves.

In reality, what people in the world want is trust. But what our society increasingly takes away from everyone is that very thing. No one is to be trusted: not from the most powerful political leader, down to the part-time cleaning lady. And because they are not to be trusted, as soon as you see someone do anything out of place, you call them into question. You think that you are somehow making them accountable to the world, but in reality, all you are doing is feeding their hatred.

I don't know what the whole answer is to the problem: but I do know for certain that the answer is not a fascist state controlling everything. Equally, the answer is not to be found in fascist individuals who are always correcting everyone else: always trying to force everyone else in this world into their own molds - their own conception of what is "properly behaved."

Welcome to the new

Well, it took me about 2 hours to log into blogger tonight.

I guess I haven't blogged in a while. I intend to blog soon.


Basil Fly

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bourbon and Ginger Bread

I've discovered this evening a great new combination. Well, great in the sense that it appeases the culinary demons in my flesh. Of course, that's bad in the sense that I'm supposed to be on a diet.

Yesterday, while I was waisting away in front of the fireplace in my basement, taking a sick day on account of this drat cold I've had for nearly a month now (the whole year, in fact!)... my daughter brought me a generously heaping plate full of Ginger Bread cookies.

Well, that was yesterday. I had several with tea.

But now it is tonight. And I should be in bed (I see it is almost 1 AM), and my coworkers and I are on-call at 4... but I digress.

I've just discovered (after blazing through about 10 chapters of Allisense, and defragementing my hard drive) what a wonderful combination Ginger cookies and Bourbon are.

Well, enought said about that.

God bless you all, and have a good night!


Saturday, January 06, 2007

The unbearable dissymmetry of concept and form

This was just published by my good friend Gus BenJava over at:

I repost it here with permission...

~ Basil

The unbearable dissymmetry of concept and form

Many years ago I told a friend that I was a "tortured artist".

"You don't need to be a tortured artist," my friend replied. "No one needs to be a tortured artist. Plenty of people become successful artists without ever being tortured artists."

"Well, I assure you," I answered. "In my case it is not a choice. It maybe a choice for some people, but for me it is not a choice. I am tortured because my soul is tortured. Some element of my soul that I cannot control is tortured day and night."

"What does it mean to be a 'tortured artist'?" my friend asked. I knew my friend was waxing didactic at this point, but I went along because I thought it would be interesting and informative to see what she said.

"Well," I answered. "I have no idea what it means for most people to be a tortured artist. But in my case, when I say that I am a tortured artist, it means that I have too many ideas in my head and I cannot possibly express them all. I have ideas and dreams, and colors and shapes, and visions, and voices. Fragments of lines, and incomplete thoughts. Impressions and places, places that do not exist in this universe and places that do, and places that we fear might exist, and places where we long to look. There are places that we dread to bear the sight of, and visions of people and things, both hideous and marvelous at once.

"My head is full of such things night and day, day and night, and I cannot possibly express them all in a meaningful manner in one lifetime."

My friend was just looking at me mystified at this point, and so I continued.

"I have heard of writers block before. From what I understand, the concept is simple: a writer cannot think of what to write any more, so he sits idle for days, weeks, months, sometimes even years. I will never have writers block, because I cannot stop thinking of things to write."

"Don't you think that's a bit full of pride," my friend answered.

I had heard people say this before. I was quite certain they were mistaken.

"I am not boasting of any idea I've had. I'm not boasting of anything I've accomplished. On the contrary, I'm telling you about a mortal affliction. It is an illness. I am a tortured artist, not in name only, but because my soul is tortured day and night by all that I envision, and all that I cannot possibly accomplish."

My friend appeared about to laugh. Yes, just laugh in my face, I thought.

"Don't make yourself always to be a victim," my friend said.

This made me stop and think. Was I making myself a victim? It had never occurred to me that way before.

Well, that was the end of the conversation many years ago. I thought about that for a long time. Was I making myself a victim, by thinking that my lot in life was too much for any one man to handle?

Years later I met someone that told me, "the main thing you have to do is focus. We all have too many ideas. We all sometimes lose ourselves in the rush to be creative in a thousand different directions."

It wasn't long after this I met a man at a writer's conference who couldn't get his books published, couldn't get his poems published, couldn't get his music published, couldn't find anyone to publish his photography, and so on. It made me realize that a person could spread themselves out too thin with the creative instinct, and end up accomplishing nothing at all.

Well, now many years have gone by. I've written half a dozen novels, and self-published two of them, just because I wanted people to read them. I've written hundreds of poems and published the best of them in chapbooks and on the internet - mostly because I cannot stand sending things out to editors who aren't even going to bother to read them in most cases before they send them back and say "I'm sorry, it's not for us." I've also written dozens of stories and some of these I've published here and there on the internet.

I've had my poetry and stories found on the internet by people all over the world, and they've written to me (by email) about them. I've had poems selected for anthologies, and even accepted several requests by people that asked me if they could publish one of my poems in their magazines. I've had my poetry turned into a ballet, and had students ask me if they could quote me in their homework, and I've been interviewed on TV and written about in college newspapers. But I've never made a dime. I've never achieved "success" in gold-plated Hollywood style letters.

At times one becomes weary.

And I have, after all, at last discovered what writer's block is, and become intimately familiar with it. It isn't when you run out of ideas, but rather when you don't know what to do next, and so you just give up and take it easy for a while and stop writing.

You can tell yourself that you just aren't feeling inspired right now. Or, worse, you can tell yourself nothing at all, but simply squander your extra days and hours playing video games or browsing the internet. It is easy to find a hole to sink into; you don't really have to look hard.

But the worst aspect of writers block is remembering that you were once tortured by ideas, and filled with longing to express them, and wondering where that passion went. Is life any better without that passion? Is life any easier?

And then you remember that you actually still have all of those ideas. Perhaps you've found a place to express some of them over the years, but for most of those ideas you are up against a block: The unbearable dissymmetry of concept and form. You want so much, like a God giving flesh to His Son, incarnate those ideas. You want to give them form, but you find yourself helpless to do so. You find that your mind is spinning, whirling in too many directions, and it leads you to a sort of insanity where you are completely incapacitated. It isn't the lack of ideas that is blocking you, but the lack of knowing what to do with them.

Your days become longer, and your dreams deeper. You awake late in the morning, and stay up late at night, because you are afraid to sleep, afraid of what you will find there.

It is the life of a tortured artist. And you are a victim - it isn't your fault. You couldn't have possibly chosen this life for yourself, and you'd be happy to give it all back. But what does giving it back mean? What it will it mean to sleep again in peace by night and awake early in the morning?

It would mean compromise. It would mean giving up.

The tortured artist is the artist that struggles with his own soul, but he does not do this alone, and it is not without meaning. He struggles with his own soul on behalf of humanity. He struggles to find his place in this world, so that others might find their own places. He struggles to find a place for his ideas, not because they are unique, but because they are universal. He struggles to give them flesh, to make them walk, talk and breathe. Even though some of them are foolish, empty, even evil, he must flesh them out, because he knows that along with the bad there is good, and that the good makes it all worth while. In the end, the wood, hay and stubble will be burned up, but the gold, silver and precious stones will endure the fire, and become universally beneficial.

I've found that I was wrong all those years ago. I am susceptible to writers block, but not because I run out of ideas. It happens when I give up the struggle. It happens when I accept mediocrity. It happens when I allow the every day cares of life to triumph over the soulful expression of ideas.

I hope and pray I will not let it happen again!

~ Gustav BenJava, Jan 06, 2007

Friday, January 05, 2007

What Russian Children Got as Christmas Presents
(Well, actually New Year's presents)
as opposed to what they actually wanted.

Well, the word is in. They actually do public opinion polls now in Russia, and here's what all the kids wanted for Christmas, compared with what they are getting.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

What Russian Children Wanted and are Getting for Christmas

A translation...
(And, by the way, these are New Years presents and not Christmas presents)

Top Ten Gifts Wanted by Children
Toys - 20%
Mobile Phones - 14%
Computers - 14 %
Dolls - 8%
Bicycles - 7%
Video Games - 6%
Books - 5%
Game Console - 4%
MP3 Player or Ipod - 4%
Clothes - 4%

Top Ten Gifts Given by Parents
Video Games - 34%
Toy Cars and Trains - 31%
Dolls (Barbies or Supermen) - 29%
CDs, Cassettes, or Videos - 25%
(interesting how the Russians add up their percentages!)
Basic Toys - 23%
Books - 23%
Clothes - 18%
Bicycles - 18%
Sports Equipment - 17%
Mobile Phones - 17%

A very interesting breakdown. It appears that, in my own humble opinion, Russian children want fairly intelligent things for Christmas, but their parents, wanting them to be just like all the American children out there, buy them completely stupid things. It is a bit funny how the lists are nearly opposite one another.

Meanwhile, I'll try to figure out what the Russians mean by percent.

Or maybe I won't.