Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Trick or Treat: Kerry likes to bleat!

Now that I'm working for a tech firm in Seattle, I don't have to dress up and wear a tie to work. My good ties have been collecting dust, and I can't say I really miss them. It's nice to wear a tie once in a while but having to dress up every day gets old pretty quickly.

Well, we were told we could dress up for Halloween, and since I've never been much for dressing up in clown outfits or big furry suits, I decided to go to work as the scariest thing in Washington state: a Republican party partisan.

I wore my power blue suit.

I wore my power red tie.

I wore my warm wool coat (good thing, too, as it got down below freezing temperatures last night).

I looked good. And when I walked into the office, I went up to people, took their hands in both of mine in that politician "you're so trapped" two-hand grip, and said, Good morning! George Bush can do no wrong, and I know you'll vote Republican in next week's election!

I had people in stitches. But I never thought John Kerry would frighten Democrats more than me. The guy is about as brainless as any Presidential candidate who has ever stood in front of an audience. We were all mocking him at the office today, doing the Kerry Chop, practicing Kerry Fu.

But Kerry put the Fu into Fool by boasting that he would not apologize to anyone for making one of the most stupid sound bites since Dan Quayle spat out "The Human mind, what a terrible waste."

Kerry, you're a veteran. You served your country. Great. So did millions of other Americans. You're a war hero, too (I don't want to revisit old scandals). But you said something really, really stupid and if you think you're helping the Democratic Party by digging your feet in, you've got a sad, sorry lesson coming to you next week.

And if you seriously think you have a shot at winning the Presidency in 2008, I can tell you now I'll vote for Hilary Clinton in the Democratic Primary just to make sure you don't get a shot.

To all the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan: you know what American politics is like. Just sigh deeply and know we all want to bring you home, safe and whole. Somehow, we'll find a way. Hang in there.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Why don't Democrats want to serve their country?

Everyone pretty much believes that the Republican Party has become corrupt. They have been in power so long they give the appearance of acting like they can get away with anything. Now, the reality is that the Republican Sentators and Members of the House of Representatives are very much aware of the general antipathy in the media. They know they are being closely scrutinized by both average American citizens and hostile Democratic partisans.

In reality, the Republican Party is acting like a drunk who has stumbled home at 4:00 AM and is trying to straighten up his clothes before the wife sees him.

The problem with this situation is that the Democratic Party is acting like the creepy prowling neighbor, hiding in the bushes outside the window just so they can catch the drunk as he tumbled over the doorstep. The Democratic Party's avowed poison pen campaign shows that they have no intention of serving the American people's best interests.

Now, politicians have been conducting poison pen campaigns in this country since the Federalist Papers were first being penned. Much as the American people say they hate mud-slinging, they'll often believe just about any lie said about a politician. Many of our political scandals in the past 50 years have started out as mud-slinging contests where someone lied about someone else and launched an investigation. The political investigations usually find that the original allegations were unfounded lies -- both the Democrats and the Republicans are equally guilty of lying about each other.

What these political parties have done in the past 10-20 years, however, is elevate organized mud-slinging to the level of professional intervention in media outlets. Both the Democrats and the Republicans orchestrate the news they want Americans to see and hear, and because of the political sympathies in many news rooms, generally one party or the other gets favorable treatment at large news organizations like CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, etc. We don't have a neutral media presence in this country and the political parties know it.

In the 2006 elections, however, the Republican Party is on the defensive. The Democrats are manufacturing Republican scandals faster than the Republicans can launch counter-attacks. And the Republican Party has to live with the fact that the Bush Administration really has screwed up the situation in Iraq.

But the Democratic Party is determined to make leaving Iraq a political issue. They are trying to throw away American lives (both already lost in combat and potentially to be lost in future terrorist actions) for the sole purpose of recovering control over the U.S. Congress.

And if the American electorate gives that control back to the Democrats, you'd better believe they'll use their majority to stonewall every Bush Administration policy they can. We can look forward to 2 years of gridlock, bickering, stupid childish ranting, and attempts to impeach another President. Impeachment has become the stick with which every American President can expect to be tormented. Both political parties have devolved into gangs of thugs who do nothing more than threaten and bully each other.

We're going to lose a great deal when the election is over. If the Republicans retain control of the Congress, they'll continue to rubber-stamp every Bush policy. If the Democrats gain control of the Congress, they'll hammer every Bush policy and use their political clout to dredge up more scandals against the Republicans.

The American taxpayer can expect to pay about $100 million for investigations, hearings, and scandal control over the next 2 years. The average independent counsel investigation now costs more than $40 million to conduct at the Federal level.

I'd have absolutely no problem with the Democrats taking back control of the Congress right now if they would just shut up and do their jobs. Their jobs don't include withdrawing our troops from Iraq before the Iraqi government can take care of itself. Their jobs don't consist of impeaching the President. Their jobs don't consist of grandstanding on CNN about how all the Republicans are evil and corrupt.

The Democrats are just as evil, anti-American, and corrupt as the Republicans. Since we're stuck with these two parties, the best thing we as voters can do is vote all the incumbents out of office. If, every election, we just get rid of the dead wood and put some new faces into Washington, I think the message would get across very quickly and easily: do your jobs, serve our interests, and put your stupid political parties' interests in the cellar where they belong.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Ask not on Google, nor Google on Ask

The gentle people at Ask have responded to Google's position statement on how they would like see the rest of us use the word 'Google'.

Ask's rules are a bit more liberal and flexible than Google's, and they are obviously poking Googlers gently in the eye.

Frankly, I'm beginning to think all these trademark attorneys are a bunch of Yahoos -- but that's just my opinion, and I reserve the right to change it at any time.

Can you live with that?

A theorem for the dynamically inclined

Say "theorem" and people start to scramble for their nail clippers, as manicures often seem more important than math and science. That's kind of odd, as the average human mind probably concocts a new theorem every few minutes when faced with a new situation.

Some people become so married to their innate theorems that they seem inflexible -- their theorems become axioms. Technically, you postulate a conjecture first, and on the basis of your conjecture you formulate a hypothesis, which you then test. If the hypothesis passes enough tests, it is promoted to a theorem. A theorem is a very powerful logical proposition that is "proven" to be correct in some fundamental way. Rarely should a theorem be found to be incorrect, although the science of Physics has occasionally been turned upside down when established theorems have been challenged.

In everyday human experience, life is not nearly so formally constructed. Our unvoiced theorems survive challenges through sheer force of will more often than not. That is, plain, simple stubborness may be all that props up a theorem we have come to cherish, though we have neither named nor even recognized it for what it is. For example, when you move to a new home, you have to find a new way to get to work. Eventually, after trying several routes, you settle on one that seems like it is the best for your needs.

Several months, perhaps even a year or more later, you ride along with someone who knows the area better than you and they cut sharply right or left, taking a road you have often passed but never gone down before. And as you ride along, you realize that maybe this path will trim five or ten minutes off your commute to work.

But come the next morning drive, you follow the same path again that you have schooled yourself to follow for months. Simply knowing that there is a better way is not sufficient. Your subconscious mind doesn't like to be proven wrong. And that is why you don't like to be proven wrong, because your subconscious has to accept the better way before your conscious mind can win the battle of wills raging within you. How many times have you promised yourself you would get up 15 minutes earlier and get some extra tasks done? How many times have you forgotten to get up early?

We often attribute our inertial inflexibility to a "force of habit", but it's not so much a force of habit as a force of will. We have convinced ourselves that a certain path from here to there is the best one and our subconscious minds remind us that we have already settled this debate. It becomes more and more difficult to change our minds on a given topic each time we fail to change our minds.

Now, that's my theory, which is unproven (in my experience -- perhaps it has been proven correct or proven wrong formally but that is outside of my experience). It's only a theory, or a hypothesis, but it works for me. And that is the danger. The more it works for me, the more tests it passes for me because I construct tests that I know mmy theory will pass.

In order to truly test a theory, you have to let someone else challenge it. That is the scientific way (not the scientific method, but the scientific way). In science, one party makes a conjecture, presents an argument in favor of the conjecture, and then other parties challenge the conjetcure. Many conjectures are proven to be incorrect, and many conjectures are proven to be correct but remain relatively insignificant.

We clutter our minds, however, with conjectures that are technically incorrect but which our knowledge and experience are incapable of proving incorrect. For all intents and purposes, within the scope of our abilities, these conjectures work.

And that leads me to the point I'd like to make: search engine optimization theory is formulated on the basis of habit and conjecture that seems to work. Since most search engine optimization specialists don't know how to formally challenge a concept, they are unable to properly test their conjectures in a scientific way.

The easiest way to test a conjecture is to look at authoritative sources of information to determine if there are documented contrary points. SEOs typically do not do this. Some of them search the technical literature, but they do so looking for support for their ideas. Seeking only support, they skim over or completely bypass whatever may actually contradict their ideas.

And that is why I am so critical of the propositions put forth by even the most highly regarded SEOs in the industry. They just do not understand that consensus of opinion proves nothing (other than that an idea is popular). Nor does consensus of undisciplined observation prove anything (other than that most people are not trained to make formal observations).

In my present work environment, my freedom to challenge and test the SEO community's ideas and arguments is severely curtailed. I miss being able to point to authoritative references for the sake of a wide audience. I don't always have the right explanation for any particular event in the search engine experience. In fact, I probably don't do any better at conjecturing than the next guy.

But I do at least make an effort to compare my conjectures to what has been published or disclosed by the people who actually know how the search engines go about their business. Maybe 1 out of 10 of my ideas passes that first test.

It's all downhill from there, but I feel satisfied that anything which passes the first test at least has a reasonable chance of passing the next one. It's sort like, if I drive down this street I have never driven down before, as long as I don't see a "Dead End" or "Wrong Way" sign, I have a good chance of coming out upon another street that may lead me to some place useful. Sometimes that is true. Sometimes, there is a huge truck blocking the way and I have to back up and start over.

So, what brought all this meandering philosophizing to a boil? I fear me that my old pals at SEOMoz have lost their way once again. Rand recently took a shot at reverse engineering the Google ranking algorithm. Alas! He seems unwilling to let go of his long cherished idea (which is grossly incorrect) that links heavily determine rankings. Rand judges the effect of links by what he sees, not by what other people see.

That is, Rand -- being involved in the business of helping other business people achieve high rankings -- doesn't take into account the fact that most queries produce no optimized results in the listings. Millions of queries every day lead people to content that ranks almost solely on the basis of content.

That is because that is how the search engines prefer to work. A time-tested principle in most SEOs' plans of action these days is to build as many links as possible to a given Web site to help it rank highly. This methodology often works well in spite of itself, because the search engines really cannot pre-emptively defuse a spammy idea, although they often implement filters once specific link-building tactics prove themselves (note: Ask claims to do the least amount of filtering because its technology is more firmly rooted in provable trusted measurements -- and I agree, they probably have the best algorithm).

My point is one I have often made: just because many people think that linking is the necessary strategy, that doesn't mean it actually is. Nor does their collective opinion make it the best strategy. You need some links to get crawled, indexed, and validated, but after that point you can take one of two paths: you can optimize your content and achieve a high on-page relevance score or you can just hope you get enough links to assert relevance (through their anchor text) to rank highly.

Either way, you're ranking on relevance and not on linkage (proof: three links with anchor text of "skimadagy" will help a page outrank another that has 1000 links for "infamative" if the query is "skimadagy" -- but then, so will on-page content). But try explaining that to an SEO who habitually bangs his head against the wall for no reason other than that most other SEOs bang their heads against the wall. With enough head banging, you will knock a hole through the wall.

But while that hole may seem like the shortest path from here to the other side, the time you spend making it usually is longer than the time you would devote to walking around the wall. That is, if SEOs habitually focused on on-page relevance first, they would find they need fewer links to get good rankings.

Rand gets away with counting on gross inefficiency because he believes in creating link bait -- building content that is so rich and compelling that other people help promote it for him. That's a great strategy and it should continue to work well for him for years to come. Unfortunately for the people who look to guys like Rand for advice (but who are unable to create similarly compelling link bait), they'll continue to scratch their bruised heads and ask in various SEO forums why they cannot seem to get the high, stable rankings they need.

The sucess of link baiting doesn't prove that rankings are based on linkage. It proves that compelling content will be rewarded. Eventually, the distinction will be recognized, but probably not before it's been challenged enough by reality that people stop banging their heads against the wall long enough to realize there is a doorway right next to them that will get them from here to there much faster.

There now: I've said what needed to be said, and I feel much better for it, especially knowing that most SEOs will continue to ignore the short cut and take the long way 'round. That does make it easier for me to beat them in the search engines.

And, quite frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way. After all, it's not like I haven't been telling them how to do this more easily than they are for years.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Do you know the shoe shine man?

Do you know the shoe shine man, the shoe shine man? Do you know the shoe shine man, the one on first avenue?

Okay, not quite as cute as "Do you know the muffin man" but I got my shoes shined yesterday. While you may not think that's a big thing (anyone can buy shoe polish and rub it on their shoes), it's a big thing to me. I suck at shining shoes. I don't know why. I suppose it's just a "practice makes perfect" issue, but it seems like all I do is create a mess when I try to rub polish on my shoes and take it off. I'm not talking about the little squiggy bottles you buy for your $10 shoes, I'm talking about the hard polish in the can.

So I pay to have my shoes polished on occasion. In Houston, I found a couple of shoe shine guys working at local car wash/detail shops. For $5 you'd get a great shine, but the car wash business is so competitive that one shop bought out the other and fired one of the guys. And the other guy was in such high demand I stopped trying to get my shoes shined. It was just too expensive to take my car in for a wash every other day.

The first guy, the one who was fired, knew shoes like no one I'd ever met before. He was an older gentleman and had obviously been plying his trade for a few years. He could clean your shoes and polish them while carrying on an interesting conversation. The sun had trouble outshining my shoes after he got finished. He spoiled me.

I remember I couldn't find him one week, so I took my shoes down to the Houston Shoe Hospital. They did an okay job on the shine but when I saw the shoe shine man again he took one look at my shoes and said (as if his wife had just betrayed him), "Why, these shoes have been electric buffed...."

How do you tell the difference? It must be the cracks in the polish.

So imagine my pleasant surprise as I was walking down first avenue near Pioneer Square in Seattle yesterday when a guy sitting on a little wooden bench beside the street hailed me. He looked at my shoes, first. "Sir, you want a shine?"

I looked down. Yup. My shoes were glum. Every woman looking at my feet would have known what he saw instantly. Me, I didn't pay no heed to the problem until he called out to me. But there was his gear all set up beside him. The dude may not have a fancy rig, but he clearly was serious about shining shoes because he was sitting in the cold shadows of a building. And most of the people walking past us were wearing sneakers (I still cannot get over how many people in Seattle wear sneakers with dressy casual slacks).

I obviously needed a shine but I also needed to eat and the clock was ticking. "Maybe tomorrow," I promised. "Are you here every day?"

"Every day," he replied, looking disappointed. He must be turned down by a fair number of people with ugly shoes, but at least he knows which shoes should be shined. I took hope from his established knowledge and the fact he said he would be there.

Moving on, I found a pizzeria that wasn't as crowded as all the other little eateries, got my pizza, and ate a quick lunch (the place started to fill up as I left -- I have that effect on people). I looked at my watch and noticed I still had about 15 minutes left in my lunch hour. So why not see the shoe shine man? It had been so long....

He did a good job. I'll be walking his way with a few more pairs of shoes. And when he finished, I asked how much. "Oh, just make my day!" he said, "Just make my day."

Well, Seattle is an expensive place to live, in my opinion. But I didn't want to pay too much for ten minutes' work. So I said, "Well, in Houston I paid the guys $5."

"Just whatever you feel it's worth," the shoe shine man said. He's good, I'll give him that, but I held the line at $5. He couldn't have been doing too poorly, since several people stopped to say "Hi" to him as he shined my shoes, and because when I came back to him, he was eating a burger and fries even though he had packed his lunch in his little carry-bag.

I've been wondering what to do about my Pronto Uomo shoes here in Seattle. The Houston Shoe Hospital is a long way off and eventually I'll have to get these shoes reconditioned and resoled. But at least now I know I won't have to get them electric buffed....

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

There's a new science fiction search engine in town...

Google has now made it possible for anyone to create a custom search engine through their Google Co-Op service. I have long been frustrated by the search results at Google for SF & F queries, so I decided to create a search engine that favors sites I know to be relatively good.

I picked out dozens of fan sites, author sites, convention sites, etc. I decided against having Google search only those sites because I know there are plenty of other good sites out there about which I know nothing. So I only set the CSE (as it's called) to favor those sites -- meaning (I think) that they should show up first for whatever queries that are relevant to their content. Maybe.

I also filtered out a few sites I am sick of seeing turn up in search results, especially Wikipedia (which is horrifically unreliable in the SF & F entries, among others).

So, without more ado, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Science Fiction Search Engine. Enjoy.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Going to Seattle MindCamp

I was so impressed with the BarCamp concept that I have persuaded my new employer to send me and four other employees to Seattle MindCamp 3.0 in November. About 300 people from many different companies should be there (they are only selling 300 tickets and the last 20 or so tickets should be sold soon if they are not gone already).

Since I work under a very tight NDA, I'm not sure what I'll be free to talk about or if I can give much of a presentation. I'm hoping our team can do something, as I think it would be good experience for each of the other employees to say something.

Although Houston has its share of high tech companies, Seattle clearly has achieved a high level of visibility in technology, given that companies like Microsoft and Amazon are based here. I'm looking forward to learning more about the Seattle tech community at the MindCamp.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Mary Frometa costume party at Cantina Laredo

Mary's Band plays at Cantina Laredo on Westheimer in Houston most weeks (Thursday and Friday). She just sent out a notice about a costume party on October 27. Sounds cool. I wish I could be there.

Hello Houston!!!

Your are cordially invited to join us to celebrate
From "CANTINA LAREDO RESTAURANT" and VITALIS MEDICAL SPA", the best costume will get:
a.. 1st Place: a Dinner for 4 and a one hour full body massage for the costume winner.
b.. 2nd Place: Laser Hair Removal, 2 Treatments ($400.00 Value)
c.. 3rd Place: Skin Analysis, Facial, Microdermabrasion (Value $150)

When: Friday October 27th, 2006
Where: Cantina Laredo @ 11129 Westheimer (corner of Westheimer and Wilcrest)
Time: 8:00 pm to 12:00 mid-night
Phone number: 713 952 3287
"Complimentary Admission"
"Free Parking"

Live Music by Mary Frometa & "Mary's Band".

You may invite your friends & family.

Check our web site for details on our October schedule!!
www.maryfrometa.com or www.marysband.com.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

New Riders of the Polish Sausage...

I think I ate too much. I ate an entire breakfast burrito for dinner. It seemed good, a little juicy, and perhaps a bit spicy. But I didn't expect it to strike back at me. After conferring with a fellow sufferer of temporary food displacement syndrome, I concluded that I may simply have bitten off more than I should have chewed.

But it could be that the Polish hot dog I had for lunch didn't help. Now, this really has nothing to do with my GI system, so stop saying "Ewwww!" And why do you have to be so prissy about that stuff anyway?

But, more importantly, I have noticed something about the food in Seattle: it's really, really spicy, and all the spice seems to be concentrated in sausage.

When I think Seattle, WA, I think of many things like the Space Needle, Microsoft, Amazon.com, Puget Sound -- but I don't think about sausage.

How in the world did Seattle end up with the spiciest sausage in the world? Well, okay, I don't know for certain that it's the spiciest sausage in the world, but -- damn -- it's spicy. What do they put in the stuff?

It could be the large Asian community here has influenced the way traditional European meats are seasoned. After all, you can almost find a Thai restaurant on every corner in Downtown Seattle. What's with all the Thai restaurants? I see more Chinese and Vietnamese people than I've seen of any other east Asian ethnic group here. Do Seattlites just like really spicy Thai food?

But the Italian food is spicy, too. I ate a pizza from a local pizzeria on Saturday. The sausage like to set my mouth on fire (and, sadly, it added three pounds back to my weight, which had declined all last week). I also ate lunch at a cool little Italian cafe near my office last week. It's located on Pioneer Square (the cafe, not the office) but I cannot remember the name of it. I'll recognize the place when I see it. I had a sandwich with an unpronouncable name the chief meat of which was ... sausage.

If we were in the Middle East, Seattle would be the capital of Sausage Arabia. I'm beginning to think all the coffee shops around here probably offer sausage lattes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

By the way -- did I mention that Seattle really loves sausage?

I've found myself lusting for a cheap McDonalds' hamburger. Not a Big Mac. Not a Quarter Pounder. Just a little hamburger. I'm sure there is a McDonalds downtown somewhere but I haven't found it, yet. I did stumble across a KFC last week and stopped in to eat dinner because it was the first restaurant I'd found that had an actual parking lot where you can pull in and not have to pay any fees. Technically, it wasn't in downtown, but rather in Queen Anne, or on the edge of Queen Anne, which is right next to downtown (and should I be consistently spelling that Downtown or downtown?).

Well, it was good to have some greasy fried American food for a change, although the KFC meal had its way with me afterward, too. I think it may have been the sausage....

Monday, October 16, 2006

Moses and the Sea Peoples...

I've been staying close to my hotel room the past few days in part to save some money but also to give myself a chance to work on some Web site tasks. To keep from going nuts, I turn on the television and listen to the news or interesting shows on the History Channel. Lately, they've been running programs about Egypt and the Middle East that have led me to think about possible connections between discrete historical events.

Many archaeologists and historians treat the subject of Moses and the Hebrew exodus from Egypt with care. There has been, until recently at least, very little archaeological evidence to directly support the Biblical account of the Exodus, although the emergence of the Israelites and their gradual conquest of Palestine are well confirmed by archaeological and historical evidence.

One (controversial) show (I believe it's called or based on "The Exodus Decoded") looked at whether there is evidence for the parting of the Red Sea. I have long been influenced by The Bible As History to understand that it was not the "Red Sea" whose waters were divided, but rather a "Reed Sea".

This History Channel documentary followed the much discussed hypothesis and proposed that the reed sea is today's modern Lake El Balah. The documentary also looked at a proposed hypothesis that a Mycenean grave stone contains a record of the event. Of course, the proposition is not wholly supported and does have some apparently flaws. History will never be without controversy, I think.

Now, here is where I begin to wonder about unexplored connections. Let's suppose that the El Balah/Reed Sea conjecture is correct and that Moses' crossing point has been identified. Let's further suppose that some Israelites or other people who fled with the Israelites did indeed cross the Mediterranean Sea to settle in Mycenean Greece and/or nearby lands. Their stories about the weakness of Egypt and/or Palestine could have inspired the invasions of the Sea Peoples, who have been connected with the Philistines of the Bible.

Wouldn't that be an interesting parallel? Did the Hebrew Exodus inspire the migration of the Sea Peoples who ultimately settled in what is now Lebanon to become the Philistines?

Another documentary called "Strange Egypt" mentioned that the ancient Egyptians did not have a marriage ceremony. Rather, when a young couple wished to become husband and wife, they simply moved in together and became irrevocably bound together. This is similar to Tolkien's Elvish marriage custom, where a ceremony was not required for the union of male and female. In Eldarin culture, "marriage" ensues from the moment of sexual union.

The Egyptians also developed many canals running off the Nile river. I've only been marginally aware of their canal building, but it does remind me of the supposed canals of Atlantis. If Plato's account of Atlantis really was conveyed to the Greeks by Egyptians, the presence of canals in Atlantis would make a great deal of sense to the Egyptians.

So, my weekend has been inundated with Egyptian mish-mash, some of it interesting. I think the computer reconstructions of ancient monuments and architecture is becoming very good. But I hope to become more integrated into Seattle as the weeks pass by. I may have found a place to move into in November, assuming everything works out.

Until next time....

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Democrats continue to endanger American lives

As the fall election approaches, members of the Democratic Party increasingly demonstrate their irresponsible and careless behavior by calling for a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. These calls for withdrawal are heard in the militant world and are received as confirmations of the militant strategy for conquering Iraq.

The American people, through their elected Democrat and Republican representatives, authorized an invasion of Iraq which left us completely, morally, and legally responsible for the wellfare of the Iraqi people.

If the Democratic Party has its way, American voters will turn against the incumbent Republicans and throw them out of office. Now, while I would not be sad to see the Republican Party get its ears clipped, we don't need to replace one group of irresponsible politicians with another.

The Democratic Party's Iraq policy continues to encourage acts of terrorism throughout Iraq and, if they succeed in bringing our troops home prematurely, the Iraqi government will very likely have to confront a true civil war and not simply the levels of sectarian violence they suffer from today.

There are civil wars occurring in other parts of the world, or which have just shut down. We've seen troops marching through the streets of devastated cities, civilians fleeing en masse, and a total breakdown of government services in those other nations. Iraq has not yet come to that.

It's time the American people said to both political parties, "Stop lying to us for the sake of your political careers".

We're having to endure yet more Democratic nonsense over the Foley scandal. They're calling for investigations in the name of the American people. I can't speak for the rest of you, but I'm sick and tired of Washington spending millions of dollars on politically motivated investigations. They've been the call of the day since at least the Clinton administration.

It doesn't matter if you're a Democrat or a Republican. You need to tell your party to stand down on the hateful mud-slinging political rhetoric. You can do that by refusing to donate money to the party and by finding alternative candidates to vote for. Our electoral process has created a system of elite professional liars and hate-mongers who put their own career goals ahead of the people they falsely claim to serve.

I didn't go to the polls in the last election to help liars and self-serving political hate-mongers further their careers; I went to the polls in the hope of finding people who would want to serve their country. I was immensely disappointed in the low moral quality of the candidates from both parties.

What does it take to get an honest representative into office who will put his or her constituents ahead of the party's agenda? Nancy Pelosi betrays her constituents' trust every day. And many of them just roll over and take it.

America, you're about to elect the Congress you deserve. If you think things are bad now, just wait. You'll make them worse by voting for the same political choices you've made before.

I'm all for getting out of Iraq, but not on the Democratic agenda, which will result in many more deaths and most likely will turn the attention of Islamic militants to an increasing number of targets outside of Iraq. It only takes one side to fight a terroristic war. We're committed to seeing this conflict through regardless of how war weary we become.

The Democratic and Republican parties should be held accountable for their flagrant disregard of their responsibilities to the American people. I'm fed up with their fabricated scandals and politically motivated investigations. They are just wasting our tax dollars in their endless political bickering.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A sermon for those who need to be preached to

Dear brethren, we are come together today to speak about the dreadful things that have caused all manner of grief and disharmony among our beloved and beloving family.

A family, as we all well know, is the whole of a plant, from its seeds to its flowers, to its roots and its stems. A family, as we all well know, is like a grape on the vine that longeth for the sweet warmness of the sun in the cloudiest of days, and for the cool shade of the grey skies in a parched and dissolate landscape.

Now, there are families and families, and some families are brought together by Happiness and some families are brought together by Happenstance. Woe unto those who seek to separate the families of the Wheat from the families of the Chaff, for there is no Wheat among us, nor any Chaff. A family, whether it live in harmony or dissonance, is a whole plant, and being wholly planted completes itself from the Spring unto the Fall.

That is, when one part of the family speaks ill of another part of the family, the whole family in its entirety trembles from the tip of the highest flower to the base of the deepest root. As the Book of the Gracious Words says in Chapter 12 Verse 8: "There shall be none amongst ye who speak darkly, that light shall not reach through those of whom thou darkly speakest."

It is a terrible revelation upon us all that we in our family find whisperings and mutterings intended for the benefit of some and the harm of others, for a family cannot both attack and defend its own. Even if a family is a family of Happenstance rather than a family of Happiness, borne out of Need rather than out of Desire -- even if our family represents only the unwilling cooperation of stem and branch -- still, we are a family, a plant wholly unto ourselves, and we needs must be one and united, and not speak evil of those whom Happenstance has made our companions and members of the same family.

It is a sore and miserious thing that some shall speak harshly behind the turned backs of others, not out of righteous condemnation but out of pettiness and coldness, and all small and narrow-mindedness, as like are to be found in the hearts of small communities where all manner of gossip and turmoil are the bitterest of daily graciousness. For in these small and pettile communities, where each neighbor knows the other, and where all comings and goings forth are gathered and mentioned for comment upon, it is understood that he who strikes first strikes hardest.

Even so, as the Book of the Roots tells us in the third verse of the second chapter: "Let those cry out who seek to draw the first blood, for blood shall be given to them, and they shall find it to be bitter and unsatisfying."

The victim of the first drawer of blood is the petal of the flower that crests our plant, and it is both gentle and sweet as the nectar sought out by the humble bee. The root of the plant is neither humble nor humbled, but seeks to raise itself up with pride, though it stand with bendeth back and weakened knee. The root lives in darkness and fears the light, but the flower revels in the glory of the day and sleeps soundly in the cool arms of the night, awaking in the glistening fingers of the bedewelled dawn.

It is saddening to hear of a family that trembles with the anger of miserly gossip and unrighteous plotting, for these connivances are contrived solely for the pleasure of the stooped and bended root, rather than for the good of the flower or the whole of the plant. Shall a family be deemed whole and healthy if there is a bitterness which seeps through its roots like a devilish poison?

And woe unto they who wallow in the bitterness, who heap fresh leaves upon the poisoned root, for they stand with evil and shame the whole plant, which is a family, though it may only be a family of Happenstance rather than of Happiness. It is a guileful thing to speak as though one is happy for another, but secretly wishes in one's heart for the hateful bitterness of the other's downfall. Those who speak evil of others in plain sight of all shall find themselves mocked and preached to by the righteous, as the Book of Stern Warnings doth say.

For the unrighteous, who steep themselves in pettiness and shameful connivances, produce an odorous mixture that is both unsightly and distasteful, whereas those who are but the unwilling tasters of the poison espoused by the root shall, when bathed in warm waters, produce a gentle tea that is both refreshing and healing.

I leave you, dear brethren, with this word of caution: seek not to plot against thy brethren and sistren with devious, hateful, or petty connivances, for all things are marked, and shall be remembered by the righteous. And there shall be no charity for the hungry on the day of famine, when they who have sought to bring all harvest to their hearts find their hands are empty, and the workers whom they believed would feed them have moved on with both the harvest and the seed for the following crop.

There is a constant yearning which can never be satisfied, for it is a craving for light fed by darkness, and the darkness is ever unfulfilling.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Rent Shock in Seattle...

I knew there was a lot of money flowing around the Seattle area. After all, you have Microsoft nestled here amidst many other high tech firms. But Houston, being the fourth largest city in the United States, is hardly poor. There is oil money there, tech money there, international commerce money there, and much more.

The strength of a city's economy is reflected in its rent values and the age of housing, in my opinion. In Houston, so many new houses are being constructed they cannot tear down older apartment complexes fast enough to keep the vacancy rate low enough for rental properties to remain profitable. The day I moved out of my old apartment (a little over a week ago), the new manager (the third one this year) was telling a new resident that when she had taken over there were 28 vacancies and she had reduced them to 15.

In Seattle, I have yet to drive by a new neighborhood. I'm not saying there are no housing projects. I've only covered a small fraction of city. But everywhere I go, I see old, old buildings -- many more than 60 years old, some maybe as much as 100 years old. And Seattle itself is not very old at all.

Tonight I drove out to West Seattle to inspect a private studio apartment in an older house. Someone had already rented the apartment by the time I got there (the rent was only $400 a month). I was able to look inside the house itself and noted that while the building was probably more than 50 years old, the interior had been renovated within the last five to ten years.

As I drove back to my hotel, I looked closely at the yards of the houses I passed by. They were all well-tended, neatly trimmed, carefully manicured lawns. The houses look like they were built in the 1940s and 1950s. There are many such old wood-paneled houses in the Atlanta area, for example. But the late-model cars and SUVs in the driveways and lining the street made it clear I was not in a low-income neighborhood.

While calling around the inner city today, looking for vacancies in reasonably priced apartment communities with parking, I heard prices ranging from $900 to $1500 per month. Parking costs extra, usually $125 to $150 per month, although one place quoted me $200 for reserved parking.

A lot of people ride buses and trains here. And a lot of people walk. You'd think these environmentally conscious people would be enjoying the healthy benefits of their lifestyle, but sadly I would have to say that about 1/2 of the people I see on the street smoke. Cigarettes dangle from every other bottom lip. I'm pretty allergic to tobacco and even if they don't allow smoking on the buses, I just cannot imagine what I would experience if I had to stand or sit next to a group of smokers for 15-20 minutes going to and from work.

I've found a few places that rent out studios and/or 1-bedroom apartments for less than $800 a month. Even though I have no idea of what their neighborhoods look like, I get the impression these are not very attractive facilities. The hotel I'm staying in offers long-term leases for about $600 a month -- provided you don't earn more than $30,000 per year. Let's just say I won't qualify for long-term housing here, even if I wanted to stay.

I remember going through rent shock when I moved out on my own for the very first time. And after a year of living by myself I went back to rooming with other people for a few years to keep my costs down (I was still in college). When I made the break with shared housing again, the rents had gone up -- but then, I was looking at better quality housing.

I've rented houses, apartments, and even a mobile home. That mobile home sat on top of a hill and I stayed there for 13 months while I was in college. That hill was so cold in the winter that my car's engine froze solid that December. It took a friend of mine six hours with a blow torch to thaw it out. Even so, I was without a car for four days because it took that long for anyone to come check on me.

I've given away enough furniture to fill at least four houses, maybe five. I've given away thousands of books. I've shredded and tossed out thousands of documents through the years, too. I have learned to get rid of as much as possible when I move so that moving is as painless as possible. Even so, even having no furniture to contend with, even with most of my remaining books still being in storage in Florida from my brief foray there in 2004, I had so much stuff to move this time I couldn't take most of it with me. The rest is stored in a friend's garage in Texas.

People ask me why I don't buy furniture. It's because I move so often I'm sick of getting rid of it. I move so often no one wants to help me move. I move only because I have to, or because I can no longer tolerate being where I am. I've picked some rotten roommates through the years. I've picked some rotten landlords. One landlord even went so far as to evict me and get a judgement (illegally) after I had moved out of her house, just so she could keep the $1000 deposit. I had to hire an attorney to get that mess straightened out.

Another landlord rented me his house with the promise I could stay there up to four years. He came back after two years and told me he needed his house back. And he didn't bother to return my $500 deposit despite promising to do so after inspecting the house. So I don't rent houses from private owners any more.

I may buy a house some day. I don't know. My family owns land so I've never felt much desire to buy more. I can't take it with me. I just want a place to stay, to feel comfortable, and maybe to entertain friends once in a while. I don't want to have to walk 3 blocks to get to my car. I don't want to have to find someone to buy or take my furniture when I'm ready to leave. I don't want to mow grass. And I sure don't want to have to fix someone's plumbing problems because the previous tenants didn't bother to take care of the property.

That pretty much leaves me looking for apartments. And I've learned that when you pay $400 a week for a 1-1/2 room studio, you cannot sit around waiting for a great rental unit to fall into your lap. There is a lot of money in this city, and it's chasing every house, apartment, and street corner that is habitable.

If I can find a decent place to live for less than $1200 a month, it will be nothing short of a minor miracle. The most I ever paid in rent was $1150 a month in Houston, when I lived in a fairly upscale townhouse. I'm not sure I want 2 bedrooms right now. What would I put in the 2nd room?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Sleepless in Seattle...

Couldn't resist reusing an old title. I'm only sleepless in that I woke up from an early evening nap a while ago. I've spent more than a week in my car and my first day on the new job was a whirlwind of meetings, greetings, and getting-to-know-yous. So I fell asleep after catching up with the girlfriend by phone.

I wish I could pontificate on something eloquent and profound, but to be honest I've just spent the last hour doing mundane stuff and testing Internet access. I can't really elucidate well.

The SciFi Channel is recapping Battlestar Galactica and I'm sort of distracted by that. BSG is an interesting show because it's more soap opera than science fiction. And currently, Grace Park is the most popular topic on Xenite.Org. I wish I had created more GP content last year when I had more time for it, but I was distracted by other interests.

There is a dearth of interest in science fiction subjects among search engine users. I strive to identify emerging new trends in SF topics for potential content on Xenite.Org. Sometimes I'm only able to tap into a strong trend peripherally. For example, our Harry Potter content is rather sparse. I've long wanted to write essays about the Potter books, but most of my books are packed up in storage. It's hard to compose an essay from what little I remember of the books.

There really isn't much in the SF entertainment industry that interests me now. Without at least a spark of interest, I cannot write much. I've long enjoyed the Stargate shows but haven't felt compelled to say a great deal about them. As entertaining as the shows have been, they don't really strike deep nerves with me. They don't say much that requires comment.

I'm waiting for a good show or a new series of movies that evoke more than the usual, "That was cool" or "that was dorky" commentary. Even Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" movies didn't inspire much in-depth commentary. He only dumbed down a story that is much deeper than the cinematic experience can be.

Science fiction and fantasy have grown stale over the past few years. The genres need something new, something innovative. We are trapped in a dormant stage of creativity, retelling old tales with new actors and faces.

We stand at the brink of a new Dark Age for SF. Maybe a light will shine from a distant corner. Maybe things will just get boring after the last Harry Potter book is published, after Stargate: SG1 says farewell, after Battlestar Galactica falls into the predictable rut of just rehashing current events without imagineering a vision of What Might Be.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

On the road with Charles Kur--er, Michael Martinez

The moon rises above the mountains on the Oregon/Idaho border.I wish I had time to write a full account of my trip so far, but after taking nearly 200 pictures (via cell phone), I think I'll never be able to document my journey from Houston to Seattle very well. But I wanted to share the picture of the moonrise. Alas! my cell phone doesn't do the beauty of an Oregon moonrise justice. The moon looked so huge, I wondered if I was seeing a mirage of the sun (which was setting on the other side of me).

And as I write this, I'm still only in Pendleton, OR (I think). Something about driving through mountains on precipitous ledges when there is no light and nothing to prevent my car from diving off a cliff thousands of feet in the air except my own desire to stay alive just makes another night-time passage undesirable.

I noticed two things as I drove through the mountains of Colorado last night: first very, very few people make that trip. Second, it's a kind of scary feeling to know that you could plunge off the road in the blink of an eye just because you cannot tell the difference between the black top and the blackness of the valley you're driving past.

So when the sun set this evening and I found myself driving through the mountains of Oregon, I decided I'd had enough fun with hair-pin curves and insane vacation drivers who don't appreciate just how fast they are going on two-lane roads that have 'runaway truck' turnoffs that look like skateboard slam walls. Has any truck ever failed to stop on one of those things? I hope not.

I've traveled across the United States before, although most of the time I have flown across the country. But I've drivenf from Florida to Indiana, from Georgia to New Mexico, from New Mexico to Ohio and back, and from New Mexico to Texas. And now I'm driving from Texas to Washington. I've seen many things, met many people on those trips. But I couldn't help noticing a few repetitive motifs on this trip.

A road-crew tractor is tipped at an angle in this picture, which is an homage to the movie Cars.I don't know if I have ever encountered as much road construction as I have this week. It seems like half the highways in Texas and one-third of the highways across the country are being widened, repaired, or renovated. As I drove through one congested construction project, I sent my girlfriend a picture of a bulldozer or something and said, "Wanna go tractor tipping?" We had seen the movie "Cars" this summer and loved it. As I passed another one, I decided to tilt my cell phone and sent this image to her with the subject line, "Tipped it!" She wrote back, "Don't get caught!" (you have to know how the movie handles tractor tipping to understand the reference).

At the same site, I saw two road smoothers (I call them "steam rollers" but they don't actually operate on steam) tilted at 45 degee angles as the drivers smoothed the side of the newly laid asphalt. I took a picture of the second one but Blogger is not cooperating. I can't seem to upload the picture.

I've driven through 4 or 5 rain storms. The scariest one was in eastern Utah, where as I drove across the flatlands sheet lightning so powerful it looked like huge explosions lit up the night sky like daylight. Via the half-light of the lightning I watched a rain storm in the distance pummel the open land. I took a picture of it but the picture was so faint I decided it would need a lot of work.

Although I used the RandMcNally Web site to plot my course, I took a wrong turn in Colorado and found myself driving through a national park that consisted entirely of mountains. Large mountains. High, large, rocky, you can barely breathe mountains.

Who in their right mind would want to put a national highway across the peaks of high mountains? A highway that is so hard to see at night that people just pulled off the road to stop and wait for daylight. I wondered who was crazier: me for continuing on after it became impossible to see anything (it was also raining) or the people who parked their SUVs about 100 feet below the snow line.

I did take some pictures of the snow up close. But I didn't stay around to see how cold it would get. I eventually found myself wandering into the little town of Ouray, Colorado. I had actually stopped at Silverton but their lone gas station was closed and I wasn't sure I wanted to ask for a room in a house that had a sign on it that read, "Hotel". This town looks like a classic "western" town from the movies, only the main street is paved with asphalt and they have electricity.

So, having sufficient gas to make it to Montrose (by my calculations) before I'd have to shut down for the night, I decided to try my luck on the dark roads and set out from Silverton to Ouray. Ouray looks (at night) like a sort of ski resort. I'm not entirely sure of what it is, except that it is larger than Silverton and has more than one street.

Ouray at least has a gas station where you can fill up if you have a credit card after dark. As I drove down into Ouray's valley and hit the outskirts of town, a 12-point buck came running up a side street, crossed main street in front of me, and ran up another side street. Unlike many a doe I've nearly hit through the years, this buck didn't stop to stare at my headlights. Either he was the official welcoming committee having had a few too many dark lagers, or else he's done the slip-through-Ouray-at-night thing before.

And, no, I didn't think to snap a picture. I was too busy saying to myself, "Wow! There's a 12-point buck walking across Main Street in Ouray, Colorado...."

I drove up to Grand Junction, thinking I would stop there for the night. But, noooh! That wasn't about to happen. Grand Junction is a sizable city. But every hotel and motel was booked up full. I didn't think to ask what she meant when the night manager for one hotel said, "I don't think you'll find anything before you get to Salt Lake (City)."

When I hit Green River, Utah, an elderly gentleman coming out of yet another full hotel explained it to me. "Every Mormon from Salt Lake City is heading to Moab," he said. "You won't find any rooms anywhere." And here I thought Moab was the name of a Biblical country descended from one of Lot's incestuous daughters.

Well, I didn't ask why the Mormons were migrating to Moab (or maybe it's an annual pilgrimage -- I intend no offense), but he apparently saw my weary, frustrated expression and suggested I try the other end of town. "I'm no longer a trucker," he said, "but time was when there was only one motel in this town and it wasn't one of these national chains. Then there were a lot of little ones. Go up past the truck stop and try your luck."

Then he got into his U-Haul rental truck and drove off. I don't know who he was, but he seemed to be quite familiar with Mormons, truck stops, and motels. So I headed to the other end of town.

Unfortunately, a couple hundred Mormons had beat me to those little motels, so I got back on the Interstate and drove 3 miles up the road to my next scheduled turn-off. After driving another hour or so, I found a hotel in Price, Utah that had some executive suites available. I was tired, it was late, so I took one.

There is so much more I could say, but I'm still tired. And the pictures are amazing, even for a cell phone. I'll have to create a Web site on Xenite.Org some day. Assuming I can get the pictures off my cell phone. It's becoming sluggish. I don't know if that's from all the pictures or from me constantly recharging it because I keep using up the power.

Anyway, Seattle isn't far. And then come Monday I'll start a new adventure.

'Till then, gentle readers, take care.