Friday, June 20, 2008

The Grail Movement Cult in the US

Members of the Grail Movement in the Czech Republic ate the flesh of an 8-year-old boy after his mother kept him locked in a cage. Perhaps they thought Jesus was recommending cannibalism when he said "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life."

Earlier this month, Czech police arrested Grail Movement leader Jiri Adam for using slave laborers for nearly 20 years. Another leader of the cult in the Czech Republic distanced his group from Adam.

The Grail Movement traces its origin to a book called In the Light of Truth: The Grail Message, written by Oskar Ernst Bernhardt. This book contains the "Grail Message." Supposedly there are about 20,000 members worldwide, with most residing in Europe. How many are in the United States?

A company profile of the Grail Foundation of America Inc. (Binghamton, NY--the contact address at the group's website) lists 1 employee (Alfred Lewis) and annual sales of $32,000. The Grail Movement of America (Port Chester, NY) lists 2 employees with Gene Ceccarelli as the principal. The Grail Foundation Press (Mount Vernon, OH) lists 2 employees with Micah Rubenstein as the principal. It seems there are few people involved in the US and sales revolve around the previously mentioned book, as well as others in their catalog. The first center in the US was formed about 1939 in Mt. Morris, IL (or in Mt. Morris, MI, according to other sources).

Richard Gehl was apparently the US leader for years until his death in 2003. He was accused of being a "false disciple" and responsible for a schism between two factions of the cult. Alfred Lewis seems to have taken over the US group after Gehl's demise.

The group has published books with its own interpretation of the lives of Jesus, Mohammad, Zoroaster, and Buddha. It seems to be a New Age religion based on Christianity and it's unclear
to me (since I haven't Bernhardt's book) how much it relates to other religions that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s, such as the Great White Brotherhood, Ascended Masters, Rosicrucians, etc. (someone has written a book on that topic).

Bernhardt wrote under the pen name Abd-ru-shin. His theory is that God sent man in search of self-awareness and maturity. Physical bodies were fashioned for our true selves to function within while on Earth. The purpose of man is to live in harmony with the divine laws that maintain creation. Then man will return to life eternal in the spiritual realm as a self-aware spirit. The Holy Grail is considered the power center of creation. From the description, it seems hardly worth the effort of creating a new religion around it.

The International Grail Movement reported 400 active adherents in the United States (as of 2002), and 1,000 in Canada. The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects, and New Religions (2001) gives the number of US adherents at 330, but these numbers seem to originate from the cult itself and are likely inflated. Even at these numbers, it's a small group and there seems no reason to believe it will gain any significant increase in members, ever.

Cults like this one notoriously prey on individuals with low self-esteem who have problems integrating themselves into the mainstream of society.

There is another Grail movement associated with the Catholic Church that is an entirely separate group from this one. The Catholic movement was begun in the Netherlands in 1921 by a Dutch Jesuit priest, Jacques van Ginneken. It was created to give women a stronger role and voice in church and society.

That Random House/Zogby Reading Poll

A recent poll by Random House/Zogby found exactly what I, an ebook advocate, would have expected. Most people prefer print books! Where would we be without polls like this to cast a ray of light in the darkness?

82% said they preferred to read a printed book instead of an ebook. Marketing the results in this manner seems to be designed to inhibit purchases of ebooks and is an effort encourage people to keep buying printed books.

I can take the same survey results and come up with an equally valid headline that paints ebook reading in a much more positive light:

Growing Trend: A Whopping 11% Now Prefer Reading Ebooks Over Traditional Print

To me, the real news here is that the preference for non-print is as high as 11% already. That has to be an increase over previous polls. Why do most people "prefer" print? Because that's how they've always read books. Behavioral changes don't happen overnight. And the social aspect of reading ebooks hasn't gathered steam yet. When people see other people reading ebooks, they'll want to do the same thing.

More book publishers are making ebooks available, but still, I find the biggest problem is a lack of enough titles available in digital format. I've lost track of how many books I would have bought but didn't because there was no ebook format available and I didn't want to buy the printed book. Clearly the publishing industry hasn't embraced the digital format so who could expect readers to follow where publishers are reluctant to lead them? Publishers are keeping the ebook trend line below where it could be right now.

So this new poll told me what I, and I'm sure Random House, already knew, at least in terms of the general public's current acceptance of ebooks, circa 2008 AD. Let's see in a couple years whether that 11% goes up or down--anybody wagering it will go down? I didn't think so.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

SLA Seattle Diary Part 7

Space Needle

Leary probably picked the wrong day to visit the Space Needle. Ascending to the top, the wind was blowing very strong and cold, and he avoided pneumonia by the skin of his...skin.

Starbucks

Leary had entertained the thought that the people who work at the various Starbucks in Seattle must be experts at what they do and wouldn't make the same mistakes the employees at the DC area Starbucks do, but he was proved wrong. Ordering a Vanilla Bean frappuccino with no whipped cream, he watched in horror as the girl started spraying it on and he said aghastedly, "That's not mine, is it?" She then removed the cream she had put on and gave it to him. That's the same thing that happens in DC, Leary noted ruefully as he walked back to his hotel. So much for any romanticized ideas about the superior skills of the Seattle Starbucks employees. And it didn't even taste as good as the ones in DC! There is something strange at work here.

Sharepoint Presentation

Finally, a useful and interesting presentation, this one on Sharepoint 2007 and social networking presented by Microsoft people and a guy from Newsgator.

Twitter

Leary is like a lot of people, apparently, and just doesn't get it. It seems pointless and useless. Leary believes the people who hype it are kidding themselves and just pretending it has any real value.

SLA Seattle Diary Part 6

Leary wonders when was the last time he ate 2 breakfasts in one day. Mnemosyne shakes her head. Undoubtedly at a previous SLA conference. It's all about the food. (Shouldn't SLA pay for Food Credits, like it paid for Carbon Credits? Imagine all the third world starving kids who could be fed with all the extra food unnecessarily offered and eaten here.)

OCLC breakfast update on their latest enhancements. IEEE breakfast on the latest news. People were given the wrong room number for this one. The Information Booth provided the correct number. Leary sits next to someone who doesn't belong in the room. Try the incorrect room number we were given for this breakfast, Leary counsels her!

Rain in Seattle, the place is finally living up to its reputation after a few days of sunshine. Long lines at the Cyber computers, luckily Leary left the Dell at home and brought a lightweight 2-pound Asus Eee so no need to wait in line.

SLA Seattle Diary Part 5

Self-Congratulations

A free lunch is offerered all attendees every year at the Info-Expo vendor area. This time it was a giant sandwich with a rice side, a wedge of cheese, a Hershey's chocolate piece, potato chips, and a large cookie.

Leary discussed SLA with someone from the UK. She was disappointed that the vendors didn't want to talk to her because they didn't cover her geographic area, therefore no commission for any sales, probably. Leary suggested they should have an international rep on hand--the larger vendors, anyway.

But they both agreed that the Opening General Session left a bad taste in their mouths because of all the self-congratulations the SLA leadership indulges in. The lion's portion of the opening session didn't involve Vint Cerf and Charlie Rose. Not at all. Most of it was SLA gorging itself on self-congratulations. Probably most of these people deserve an award. Leary says "most" because he's not sure a person should get an award because s/he is a minority or represents an alternative lifestyle. But no doubt most of the people deserve an award. But watching the award handouts at the opening session is like watching a dangerously obese person eat a horse.

Leary has to wonder about the psychology of all this. SLA seems to view itself as one would view a handicapped child--always needing positive reinforcement. And it seems the same people receive an award every year. Not that they don't deserve an award, but this is too much. Leary can't help but wonder about the psychological health (just to mention one aspect of health) of the SLA leadership, and it seems others are wondering as well.

Monday, June 16, 2008

SLA Seattle Diary Part 4

Coffee & Seattle

Coffee and Seattle are like reggae and Jamaica. It's it the air you breathe. There are coffee shops everywhere--Starbucks, Seattle's Favorite, Tully's, and lots more. The scent of coffee, if you are really sensitive to it, is everywhere in the city--indoors and out. You can't escape it. Coffee permeates everything. Remove coffee and Seattle is a very different city. Probably a more ominous place.

Seattle Public Library

Leary's final verdict is a thumbs up. This is a fun place. Call numbers on the floor, a strange yellow escalator, unlevel floors. Leary doesn't see a problem, and he has seen some terrible libraries in his time. There are far too many bad library buildings out there. This isn't one of them.

A trip back to Pike Place Market for lunch. Potato & cheese piroshkies. Leary steps inside the Starbucks so he can say he was there. He buys a Starbucks t-shirt from one of the street vendors.

Back at the conference, all the seats are taken for Leary's desired presentation. It just wouldn't be an SLA conference without incompetent room assignments. Whoever is responsible for those is consistent, one must admit. A Web 2.0 social networking conference is a disappointment as well. Not many takeaways from that--an unexpected result, especially coming from people who use those sites all the time. Another disappointment was a war gaming presentation that required one to be a military veteran to get all the inside jokes. The presenter stopped in midstream (probably not a good war strategy) to switch from Windows to Mac and Leary joined others in making for the exit.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

SLA Seattle Diary Part 3

Opening General Session

SLA President Stephen Abram is the master of ceremonies. Awards are announced. The best article published in the last year: "How to Hire Without Regret." Leary casts his mind back and wonders if anyone was ever hired at any library while he was there "without regret." No. Not really. Leary always had "regrets," to put it mildly.

SLA has purchased carbon credits for this conference, Abram announces. Leary wrote earlier about problems with carbon credits and finds it rather absurd that so much is made of carbon credits and "green" sentiments at a conference where some 5,000 attendees are forced to jet all the way across the country to attend in person, wasting untold amounts of jet fuel, among other things. If they were serious about it all, wouldn't they just hold the conference online and save the planet a lot faster? The guilt-erasing credits wouldn't even be needed in that case, would they. Leary realizes he has an uncommon talent for posing uncomfortable, and sometimes maddening, questions.

The main event: Charlie Rose interviews Vint Cerf, "father of the internet." What about Al Gore, Rose prodded. He "deserves a lot of credit" for his advocacy of the internet through sponsoring legislation as a Senator and Vice President, Cerf says, noting also that Gore is his friend. Okay, so we have one friend praising another. Leary notices that the reaction to all this isn't as fervent as he would have expected. Exit Gore from this diary.

Mobile communication and dealing with it poses challenges. Mobile is an additional platform alongside broadband. Cert is a member of the "Geek Orthodox" religion. Yuk yuk.

Cerf worries about the consequences of most information being in digital format. Eventually it will be, since most now is digital and we are catching up with converting the old print stuff. What if we lose the necessary software to read the digital information, making it uninterpretable? We need to preserve the software to read it. People of the future might wonder what we were like because they don't have the means to read what we produced.

Information isn't power. "Information sharing is power," Cerf said. The internet will permit economies to develop and countries like Iran and China will have to accept it whether they like it or not. A democratizing agent? "I hope so."

Cerf is optimistic because the internet knows no boundaries; his fear is that it won't be as open as it has been, due to commercial, political, or social reasons.

Coda: After the session ends, Leary returns to his hotel and takes the express elevator to the top floors of the Seattle Sheraton. In yet another instance of an unexpected and unwanted "brush with greatness," somewhere along the way, Charlie Rose enters, talking with someone. Leary stands in the very back of the elevator, unnoticed by Rose who gradually backs into him closer and closer as the elevator climbs each floor. Leary and Rose apologize as Leary makes his exit, wondering if he should quickly compliment Rose on his performance but decides against it.

SLA Seattle Diary Part 2

Getting all set up and ready to go is half the battle at a conference. Leary arrives at his hotel at the appointed hour to check in. No, they're running late. The rooms aren't ready. Please come back in 45 minutes.

Leary places the care of his bag with the bell desk staff and heads outside. Down the street he sees the Pike StreetMarket and heads for it. Leary can't help but notice no one jaywalks in Seattle, a major cramp on his lifestyle. When was the last time he didn't jaywalk? Mnemosyne shakes her head.

At the market, people everywhere--locals, tourists. Inside, vendors selling things Leary doesn't want to buy. A sea of people traversing the narrow hallway. All Seattle is in here. He exits. Outside, more people walking in the street. A Starbucks store--1912 Pike Place. Singers singing in front of it. Why? Down further, a giant luxury ship moored in the harbor. People laying on the grass.

45 minutes have passed. Back at the hotel. Can Leary check in? No. They're still running late on getting the upper floors ready. Come back in 30 minutes. Leary returns to the convention center and enters the Info-Expo area. Lots of free food around the vendor booths. 30 minutes pass. Leary returns to the hotel. Check in now? But of course. With just a few minutes to spare before the opening general session begins. But he forgot to get his bag! He gives the ticket to the bell desk staffer and waits while others are given their bags and hand the staff money. Leary decides against his better judgment he must do the same.

To Be Continued

SLA Seattle Diary Part 1

An eerie start to Leary's trip to Seattle for the SLA Conference. On the plane, Leary sat next to someone twice as large as their (middle) seat. No, that's not the eerie part, that's rather common. After 5 1/2 hours on the flight, Leary stumbled upon the fabled $1.50 bus from the airport to the convention center. The first bus by the same fabled number (194) was going the other way ("No downtown! No downtown! Welcome to Seattle," sez the driver). The second one really does go downtown so Leary enters and tries hard to find one of the few remaining open seats, even though this is a double bus. Leary's first time in Seattle. He was surrounded by people speaking Russian.

Leary gets off when he sees everyone else leaving, figuring, accurately, that when most passengers exit, we have reached "downtown." Leary spots a downtown map as someone wearing a local uniform and holding what looks like a flashlight (it's noon and the sky is very bright) asks Leary where he's headed and points him in the direction of the convention center, 4 blocks away.

Once inside, Leary registers and then looks for the wireless lounges. One is in the South Atrium area. Several vacant tables. But there are no ac plugs anywhere near the tables! Leary travels to the other advertised wireless lounge, outside the Cyber Cafe. Three sets of couches. It looks like someone ran an ac extension cord to 2 of the couches, but not the third. Naturally, most seats were taken by people not using computers.

Leary discovers a room with tables and no obvious purpose other than to serve as a room for people to sit down at tables. Two people are using computers and they are plugged into ac wall sockets. Leary's ac socket is in the floor, not the wall! Leary's ac plug doesn't fit into the floor socket! Two people (not using computers, it will be a common thread one suspects) leave and Leary commandeers their table because it has a wall plug nearby. His ac plug fits!
No small matter when one arrives with an Asus Eee with a battery that lasts probably no more than 2 hours.

To be continued.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

What Does Hillary Want?

Hillary Clinton wants herself as vice president with unprecedented power, and a major role for Bill Clinton as well.

Hillary wants another Clinton Administration in which they call the shots and Barack Obama serves as the figurehead president.

Hillary didn't lose because of Bill or Barack. She lost because she is disliked and distrusted by too many people. Hillary lost because of Hillary.

The only question left is if Obama's mesmerizing oratory can fog the minds of the people, like so many with similar skills before him, and win the presidency despite a radical mindset, the most liberal agenda of any Senator, countless gaffes ignored by the mainstream media, and the most unimpressive resume of anyone who ever attained the presidency. Can the oratory card trump all that? It has a pretty good historical track record.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Libraries Spending More on Ebooks

A new survey found 69% of libraries plan to spend more on e-books over the next two years.

The future of books is digital, despite what Ray Bradbury believes, and despite the recent front-page story in American Libraries, the publication of the American Library Association (ALA), in which the author counseled libraries to spend less on e-books. Ignore ALA and its magazine, and you and your library will do fine.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Demise of Microsoft Live Search Books

It was announced this week that Microsoft is pulling the plug on its Live Search Books project. The major players are now Google and the Open Content Alliance.

Microsoft had digitized 750,000 books. I had thought the number must be much higher, so that was a surprise. I remember speaking to a Microsoft rep at a conference and mentioned some problems with the book website and he said they were working to make it better. And later I noticed they fixed something I had mentioned.

I wonder if the average person had ever heard of Microsoft's project. It was Google Books that garnered all the publicity. Most of the news stories in the mainstream media focused on Google with rarely a mention of Microsoft's initiative. Google has marketed itself well--it even has a blog for its book project.

But Microsoft's digital books website always remained hidden from view somehow. I always felt that at some point Microsoft would launch a major blitz to tell the world what it was doing, but it never happened. It hindsight, it all seems pointless, except that the books that were scanned now go into the hands of the copyright holders and they should become available to the public.

Ray Bradbury Disses Ebooks

Legendary Science Fiction author Ray Bradbury attended the BookExpo America convention in Los Angeles this weekend and gave his opinion on e-books:
There is no future for e-books because they are not books. E-books smell like burned fuel.
I've heard several reasons why e-books may not have a future, but not being books wasn't one of them. Can't e-books have a future whether they are or aren't "books"?

I just took a whiff of my Sony e-book reader and it smells nothing like burned fuel. It smells a lot more like plastic. How does one smell an e-book, anyway? What do kilobytes of data smell like? This might be fodder for a science fiction novel. Maybe that's what Bradbury had in mind.

I had considered attending the convention but they didn't post the program online for a long time and I didn't know what authors would be there. Sounds like I didn't miss a thing, except the Prince concert.