Archive for re-post

My prodigal URL

When I moved to Vancouver in 1996, I became a communications specialist for public and private companies mostly headquartered in this city. I wrote management discussions for annual and quarterly reports, literally hundreds of news releases, and lots of material for online audiences in chatrooms on Usenet and elsewhere. With a couple of partners, I also created two or three dozen websites for clients; these were among the first in their industries.

Part of the fun of these latter projects was registering not just appropriate domain names for these companies, but other URLs that *might* be appropriate for them one day. On top of that, we made sure to register domain names that could possibly be confused for those our clients used, so that their competitors couldn’t get ahold of them for the purpose of confounding investors and regulators.

I thus spent a fair amount of capital collecting URLs, mostly for clients and potential clients but also for many for my own endeavours. This week I learned that I almost lost one – PigeonPark.net (used for various literary projects) – that I have had for 15 or so years. (Its expiration notice landed in my spam folder – yikes!) With the help of my friends at Uniserve Communications (which hosts most of my websites), I saved it in the nick of time – whew!

Here’s a blast from the past, from when I first announced the site on basil.CA:

16 August 03:  In You Don’t Look 35, Charlie Brown! the late Charles M. Schultz writes, “There must be different kinds of loneliness, or at least different degrees of loneliness. …  The most terrifying loneliness is not experienced by everyone and can be understood only by a few.  I compare the panic in this kind of loneliness to the dog we see running frantically down the road pursuing the family car.  He is not really being left behind, for the family knows it is to return, but for that moment in his limited understanding, he is being left alone forever, and he has to run and run to survive.  It is no wonder that we make terrible choices in our lives to avoid loneliness.”

Comix artist Seth illustrates these words in a remarkable series of panels called “Good Grief!” published in Drawn and Quarterly (Volume 2, Number 4).  I came across these panels many years ago and have been looking for them ever since, locating them in my disorganized files only this morning.  I now realize that my Pigeon Park Sentences were variations on Schultz’s theme, that I could not have even started without its echo in my imagination. 

“It is no wonder that we make terrible choices in our lives to avoid loneliness.”

If you can’t exaggerate …

The renowned and divisive Hungarian-American physicist Edward Teller would tell this little story about an exchange he had with the great Niels Bohr:

Some of us, including Bohr, were having a discussion about the spectrum and states of molecular oxygen. Bohr had some opinions, the details of which I have now forgotten, but which were in obvious conflict with the facts that were known. In this special detailed case, I knew the situation and tried to explain it. Unfortunately I could not do so to Bohr’s satisfaction.

He began his objection: “Teller, of course, knows a hundred times more about this than I.” With a lack of politeness occasionally seen among twenty-year-olds, I interrupted (with some difficulty): “That is an exaggeration.”

Bohr instantly stopped and stared at me. After a pause, he declared, “Teller says I am exaggerating. Teller does not want me to exaggerate. If I cannot exaggerate, I cannot talk. All right. You are right, Teller. You know only ninety-nine times more than I do.” He then proceeded with his original argument having dispensed with any possibility of further interruption.

I have never forgotten, nor have I often neglected to mention, Bohr’s wisdom: *If you cannot exaggerate, you cannot talk.*

This is one of my favourite stories. (I’m with Bohr, surprise.)

Saving your name

The “Naked Security” blogs published by Sophos remind me how vigilant online publishers – and all organizations, really – have to be to protect their content, their data, even their names. Indeed, the word “vigilance” needs to at the top of our whiteboard every day – and never erased.

When I moved to Vancouver in 1996, I saw that almost no small-cap companies in the exploration and mining business had online presences. This was a good business opportunity. I knew my way around the Internet – coming from Stanford, you had to be – but hadn’t created websites myself. I found a couple of partners who did, and we found a bunch of clients right away.

The first order of business was registering URLs for each client. This typically involved registering four or five: client.com, client.net, clientresources.com, clientresources.net, and clientinvesting.com, for instance. We wanted to make sure that we covered the bases, so to speak. We would use the main URL and make sure that the others “pointed to” the main one.

For a couple of years, on the Internet there was the equivalent of the 19th-century American land rush. Promoters, IT whizzes, managers, communications pros, publishers, inventors, entrepreneurs – everybody, it seemed to me – were staking out their claims to URLs, in essence buying names and making them their own. Whether or not these names were used for actual websites, for some it was just as important that their competitors *didn’t* have these names.

I have a spreadsheet to make sure that I never forget to re-register the “stable” of URLs I own or manage (a few dozen). Two times I missed a deadline; I lost one URL (this still bugs me, as you can imagine) and *miracle of miracles* I got the other one back.

Forgetfuless is one way to lose control of your URL. Having it stolen is another. The other day Sophos blogger John E Dunn published an article called “US gov issues emergency directive after wave of domain hijacking attacks.”

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued an emergency directive tightening DNS security after a recent wave of domain hijacking attacks targeting government websites. …

Domain hijacking has been a persistent issue in the commercial world for years, a prime example of which would be the attack that disrupted parts of Craigslist in November 2014.

In that incident, as in every successful every domain hijacking attack, the attackers took over the account used to manage the domains at the registrar, in this case, Network Solutions.

The objective is to change the records so that instead of pointing to the IP address of the correct website it sends visitors to one controlled by the attackers.

This change could have been made using impersonation to persuade the registrar to change the domain settings or by stealing the admin credentials used to manage these remotely. …

Dunn recommends that you verify your company’s IP addresses and “change passwords on all accounts used to manage domain records.” Read his entire post for a longer list of important safeguard measures.

Reposted from nocontest.ca

Edna Gertrude Beasley

This post from five years ago has been a regular favourite on basil.CA in terms of “hits.” That means that my readers and I are in tune with the universe, perhaps.

GertrudeBeasley

“It is perfectly clear to me that life is not worth living, but it is also equally clear that life is worth talking about.” – EGB

I learned of the delightfully named Edna Gertrude Beasley while reading A Second Mencken Chrestomathy. Mencken reviews Beasley’s memoir, “My First Thirty Years,” in a chapter called “A Texas Schoolma’am,” written in 1926:

This book, I suspect, comes out with a Paris imprint because no American publisher would risk printing it. I offer the very first paragraph as a specimen of its manner:

‘Thirty years ago I lay in the womb of a woman, conceived in an act of rape, being carried through the pre-natal period by an unwilling and rebellious mother, finally bursting forth only to be tormented in a family whose members I despised or pitied, and brought into association with people whom I should never have chosen. Sometimes I wish that, as I lay in the womb, a pink soft embryo, I had somehow thought, breathed or moved and wrought destruction to the woman who bore me, and her eight miserable children who preceded me, and the four round-faced mediocrities who came after me, and her husband, a monstrously cruel, Christ-like and handsome man with an animal’s appetite for begetting children.’

This is freely speaking, surely, but only a Comstock, reading it, would mistake it for an attempt at pornography. There is, in fact, not the slightest sign of conscious naughtiness in the book; it is the profoundly serious and even indignant story of a none too intelligent woman lifted out of the lowest levels of the Caucasian race by her own desperate efforts, and now moved to ease her fatigue by telling how she did it. …

La Beasley, it appears, came into the world on the Texas steppes, the ninth child of migratory and low-down parents. Her father was an unsuccessful farmer who practiced blacksmithing on the side. During her first half dozen years the family moved three or four times. Always prosperity was beckoning in the next township, the next county. Children were born at every stop, and as the household increased it gradually disintegrated. Finally, the mother heaved the father out, took her brood to Abilene, and there set up a boarding-house. The sons quickly drifted away; one of the daughters became a lady of joy; the others struggled pathetically with piddling jobs. Gertrude was the flower of the flock. She worked her way through a preposterous ‘Christian College,’ got a third-rate teacher’s certificate, and took a rural school. The county parents liked her; she kept their barbarous progeny in order, often by beating them. After a while she took other examinations, and was transferred to better schools. In the end, she went to Chicago, and there tackled pedagogy on a still higher level. For all I know, she may be teaching in that great city yet.

The tone of Mencken’s review is thoroughly, unusually admiring. He respects her unblurred, dyspeptic view: “The author has emancipated herself from her native wallow, but she does not view it with superior sniffs. Instead, she frankly takes us back to it, and tells us all she knows about its fauna, simply and honestly. There is frequent indignation in her chronicle, but never any derision. Her story interests her immensely, and she is obviously convinced that it should be interesting to others. I think she is right.”

One wishes, at any rate, that Mencken’s guess regarding Beasley’s then-current whereabouts had been the case. She did not end up teaching in Chicago.

In fact, as Mary Ellen Specht puts it in her excellent piece “The Disappearance of Gertrude Beasley, “‘My First Thirty Years’ ends with Beasley sailing off to Japan, where she writes for ‘National Geographic’ and travels to places like China and Russia before publishing her autobiography and disappearing for good,” it seemed, at the age of 35.

In 2008 the mystery of Beasley’s disappearance was solved. Specht writes:

Edna Gertrude Beasley … was institutionalized 10 days after her ship landed in New York. She lived out her last 27 years in gulag conditions, until her death from pancreatic cancer in 1955. She was 63.

The [author’s] grandniece and Beasley “friends” and family have since located her grave, marked only by a number, and erected a headstone there. While Beasley’s body may be at peace, her story isn’t. New York State will not release details of her commitment hearing, even to family.  The question remains: How did she end up there? The family has found a dictation from one of Gertrude’s brothers claiming she was committed by William Randolph Hearst, for whom she briefly worked as a journalist, though the brother claimed “she was no more crazy than you or I.” My mother found no mention of Beasley in the Hearst papers at the University of California at Berkeley.

Maybe she *was* crazy. The letter she sent to the U.S. State Department from the ship is full of grandiose suspicions regarding “a conspiracy against myself.” Beasley also claims to be “completing a work which I believe to be one of the most significant of its sort ever written.” She accuses British police and “certain people in Texas” of trying to stop her. She implies that once she disembarks from the steamer, her life will be in peril. She was never heard from again. My mother says, “Is it paranoia if they’re really out to get you?”

Gertrude Beasley wrote about the hardships of her first 30 years, but we can’t begin to imagine what her last 30 must have been like.

In 2011 Beasley’s memoir was re-issued as a paperback; you can download it onto your Kindle, too. (Amazon has a sizeable selection of the text available as a “preview.” Google Books has these excerpts.) The writing is utterly vivid and distilled. No noun seems not needed in this ardent narration of an American hell. The courage and the craft that our author had … inspires. She reminds me of very few writers of my generation – perhaps only Lydia Lunch and Robin Plan, who were not, thank god, thrown into the “gulag” midway through the journey of their lives.

Love deserves …

In a marvellous Tukwila, Washington used bookstore the other week I picked up a copy of Yvor Winters’ Uncollected Essays and Reviews for $2.99. I am glad I did because it sure was worth it. I would have been happy to have paid five.

Winters was a Stanford University English Professor and a literary critic and moralist. Long after he passed away, in the 1980s graduate students like myself could leaf through his bound and yellowing PhD dissertation in the Briggs Room library (I was the librarian) in Building 50 next to Memorial Church on the quad. We all read Winters, particularly his book In Defense of Reason, if only to disparage his conviction that a poem should be a rational statement of an abiding human truth. We were more amenable to his discussions of prosody, but could not help but find him often wanting there as well.

As a reader of American poets of the early 20th century, Yvor Winters’ views went from testy to lacerating and back again. I enjoyed his limpid prose. And I certainly enjoyed some of his take-downs of silly poems and poets.

Most interesting to me were his discussions of William Carlos Williams, who was the subject of my first scholarly publication. His ambivalence was all-out, as if he had fallen in love with a drug dealer. This is from an essay called “Poetry of Feeling” found in the Uncollected Essays:

The romantic principles which have governed Dr. Williams’ work have limited his scope. … The combination of purity and of richly human feeling to be found in his language at times reminds one of Thomas Hardy or of Robert Bridges, and of beauty and of execution he is their equal, though in so different a mode; but his understanding is narrow than theirs, and his best poems are less great. On the other hand, when poems are so nearly unexceptionable in their execution, one regards the question of scope regretfully: Robert Herrick is less great than Shakespeare, but he is probably as fine, and, God willing, should last as long. If I may venture … a prediction, it is this: that Williams will prove as nearly indestructible as Herrick; that the end of the present century will see him securely established, along with Wallace Stevens, as one of the two best poets of his generation.

Winters wrote a “postscript” to this piece 25 years later, not long before he died:

My general remarks may stand, but by this time, I would restrict my choice of successful poems much more narrowly. … To say that Williams was anti-intellectual would be almost an exaggeration: he did not know what the intellect was. He was a foolish and ignorant man, but at moments a fine stylist.

“But at moments.”

I find this postscript terribly poignant: What had happened to Professor Winters that permitted scorn to upend his aesthetic attentiveness and delight for work he had loved truly, if never with the wholeness of ease?

“No love deserves the death it has.” – Jack Spicer

– reposted from nocontest.ca

Treat It Gentle

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Readers of NoContest.CA know that I spend a lot of time thinking about mental hygiene. This is a scary concept when you plumb it. Here’s why: You are the only one in charge of keeping your mind humming strong; and bad habits can be irreversible.

In the spirit of this month’s Easter season, here’s a story of how one teacher sought to redeem an angry and lazy lad:

This Easter weekend I have been contemplating, uncharacteristically, a verse from the Bible, Ephesians 4:30: “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed until the day of redemption.” On this verse the 19th-century evangelist Charles Finney sermonized: “If the Spirit leave you, you will have no heart to offer prevailing prayer, and if you attempt to pray, you will find that your mouth is shut, and if opened it will only be opened to mock God. And you will find as a matter of fact, that instead of being benefited you are only hardened by engaging in prayer.”

That remark reminded me of Sidney Bechet’s autobiography, “Treat It Gentle.” To me, the “It” is one’s muse, the source of one’s creativity. In his book the great clarinetist/saxophonist writes, “Oh, I can be mean — I know that. But not to the music. That’s a thing you gotta trust. You gotta mean it, and you gotta treat it gentle.  The music, it’s the road. There’s good things alongside it, and there’s miseries. You stop by the way and you can’t ever be sure what you’re going to find waiting. But the music itself, the road itself — there’s no stopping that. It goes on all the time. It’s the thing that brings you to everything else. You have to trust that. There’s no one ever came back who can’t tell you that.”

Bechet tells the story of Buddy Bolden, a brilliant trumpeter whose love of showmanship made his muse abandon him. “You take someone that’s grinning and stomping and moving around on the stand where the music should be going — for the moment you’re lost from the music, you’re so busy watching him fool around. But you get his same record and try to listen to the music then, and there’s no music there.”

I remember the day when I learned about not grieving the holy spirit, about treating it gentle.

I was in ninth grade, French class. We were going over our homework and my teacher, Dr. P.,  noticed that, in an exercise in which we were supposed to rewrite present-tense sentences as conditional sentences, I had changed the verbs only, using quotation marks to indicate the missing words. She took my assignment, explained what I had done to the rest of the class, ripped it up, and noted that being lazy was no way to get ahead in life.

After the bell rang and the rest of the class had left, I told Dr. P. that if she embarrassed me like that again, I would kill her.

Not surprisingly, I was yanked out of Art class the next period. There was my “guidance counselor” and Dr. P. — no disciplinary people like the Vice Principal, and no cops. She told me that, just this one time, she would speak to me in English, not wanting there to be any misunderstanding as to what she needed to say.

Dr. P.  was very serious, but without any anger or even sternness. “Mr. Basil, you have a fine mind. Right now you do. And only you are in charge of what gets inside of it, how it runs, how it thinks. I’m not in charge. Your parents are not in charge. Your friends are not in charge. Just you. You’re the gatekeeper. Cutting corners is lazy. If you keep it up, it will become a bad habit. And then you will no longer notice that this is what you do habitually. And then … you will no longer have a fine mind.”

That was it. The meeting couldn’t have lasted more than three minutes. No reprimand, no letter in my file, no call to Mom and Dad. (God knows how much trouble a student would get into making such a threat — even an obviously empty one — today.) – 12 April 09

Dr. P. had scared me, but not in the way I thought she was going to: I had never known until that moment in that small office that my mental hygiene was entirely in my care.

Dr. P. had also spared me, answering my anger with grace … and with words I could understand.

Luck and grace

A post from basil.CA’s fourth year:

6 Oct. 05: I have happily made it to a point in my life where I can dine out pretty much whenever, if not also always wherever, I want. But free food is still my favourite food, whether it tastes like luck or like grace.