Month: November 2011

Getting the memory jogged

So I’ve been on a World War II era movie theme. I’ve watched Downfall, The Last Days of Sophie Scholl, and now Bonhoeffer.

All of them left me with much to ponder, but the last one dragged up some memories of my schooling that started 41 years ago. Yes I’m that old.

Anyhow my early education, grades 1 through 12 were in Catholic schools. And as you might think, they had regular religious instruction. But you have to remember, I was in schools immediately AFTER the reforms of Vatican II were put in place.

So what they taught us was interesting. I remember learning about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he gave his life trying to change Germany and the world. And in fact he was part of the group that tried not once but several times to kill Hitler!

That’s pretty remarkable for a Lutheran theologian!

The film also made passing reference to Martin Niemöller. I remember learning of him in high school too!

That last is the one who wrote this famous passage:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Pretty powerful stuff. I think the central message of my education, particularly when it came to the religious instruction, was that whenever you see injustice occurring, stand up and fight against that injustice.

It’s too bad the churches of the world have moved away from that. But there are signs they’re coming around, particular since I read recently that some clerics of the Baptist faith in Maryland are now coming out in support of marriage equality in Maryland!

And even here in RI, more than 125 pastors and ministers have signed declarations and presented them to the RI legislature in support of marriage equality.

And in a more interesting light, you have a group called Catholics for Marriage Equality active here in RI too.

Of course the Catholic hierarchy will NEVER come out in support. Hell, watching the movie about Bonhoeffer it was mentioned that most of Hitlers power bases was in southern Germany, and most of that was Roman Catholic. So the Catholic church shares much of the blame for the antisemitism that was rampant then, and the tacit support of the Nazi regime.

Don’t misread what I’m saying. I’m still an atheist, but damn it the words and actions of some of the theologians, particularly of that time period in Germany, they make a hell of a lot of sense.

Movie Talk

So I’ve watched a number of movies over the past few days.

It started with the 1958 version of “The Fly”. Pretty good for it’s time, it included some pretty good effects for the actual teleportation sequence. This is the movie that included lots of blinking lights and neon. But it wasn’t’ until the very end where you saw the human-fly hybrid about to be eaten by the spider that you got totally creeped out. Sure there was the disembodied meow of Dandalo in that botched transport.

Then I watched the 1986 version of the movie. The story line varied a bit, having Dr. Seth Brundle meet the reporter at a cocktail party sponsored by his sponsor, Bartok Industries.

In the 1986 version the effects were MUCH better. The computer was a voice activated job, and when teleportation began you’d see this string of hexadecimal numbers flashing across the screen. And the transformation into Brundle-Fly was remarkably grotesque!

Both movies had high production values, but I’ll take the 80’s version, much more of a gory movie. I mean come on, Brundle-Fly digesting Stathis Barnes was priceless.

On a more serious bent, I watched the German movie “Downfall”. It’s about the final days of the Third Reich as told by one of Hitler’s secretaries. What struck me was how many of the Nazi top official committed suicide. They did it because they didn’t want to know what would happen to them at the hands of the advancing Russians. You have to remember, towards the beginning of World War II, Germany did some pretty horrible things to the Russians. And the Russians wanted to kick their asses.

After that I watched “The Final Days of Sophie Scholl”. That is the movie that really grabbed my attention. I was aware of the inability to trust anyone in Germany at that period, for fear they may be an informer. But this movie just played that out, with a custodian turning into Sophie and her brother.

You could tell that the investigator almost sided with her, even going so far as to offer her an out from the whole thing which she refused to take. This ultimately lead to a Kangaroo Court trial and her immediate execution by being decapitated.

But it made me think about what we in the U.S. put up with today. The “See Something, Say Something” campaign, the threat condition, PATRIOT Act, the warantless monitoring of phone and net traffic, you name it and the U.S. is on the precipice of being what Germany was in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

But that led me to the movie “John Rabe” about a German executive for Siemens who spent 27 year in Nanking and who defied his corporate masters and with the help of others in the complex, sheltered hundreds of thousands of Chinese people from the invading Japanese forces.

I’m fascinated by the era surrounding World War II because it represents a turning point for humankind. It marks the invention of the atomic bombs, the mastery of the atom. It also marks the beginnings of the programmable computer, one of which can now fit in the palm of your hand.

From RADAR which depended on a little piece of technology called a MASER, to the first stored program telephone switches, granted the program was stored in electro-mechanical form, but it stored it none the less. Even primitive registers on phone switches came about then for more efficient call routing. And how could I forget about the transistor??

There is just so much that happened in the first fifty years of the 20th century that we still feel the effects of today.

But it also marks one of the first times in modern history that the secular state became the national religion, this time in Germany. Granted, it was a major perversion of Christianity but we see similar in the conservatives here in the U.S. today.

A theocracy literally scares the crap out of me. I don’t want to live under the religious dictates that come from interpretation of the texts by someone else. That is truly scary.

More on the marriage equality movement

Because by and large I’ve walked away from the movement. It happened right after that sickening civil unions bill and that horrid Corvese Amendment in RI.

The Amendment for your consideration:

15-3.1-5. Conscience and religious organizations protected. – (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no religious or denominational organization, no organization operated for charitable or educational purpose which is supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization, and no individual employed by any of the foregoing organizations, while acting in the scope of that employment, shall be required:

(1) To provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, certification, or celebration of any civil union; or

(2) To solemnize or certify any civil union; or

(3) To treat as valid any civil union; if such providing, solemnizing, certifying, or treating as valid would cause such organizations or individuals to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

(b) No organization or individual as described in subsection (a) above who fails or refuses to provide, solemnize, certify, or treat as valid, as described in subdivision (a)(1), (a)(2) or (a)(3) above, persons in a civil union, shall be subject to a fine, penalty, or other cause of action for such failure or refusal.

That first part “15-3.1-5. Conscience and religious organizations protected.”. Just in the title we see the problem. Conscience? In other words, allow the emotional feelings of bigots to discriminate based on their conscience? I have a very big problem with that.

I have a problem with the entire section of law. But there is a glimmer of hope. Illinois had a civil unions bill but there is now a case that has been accepted by their Supreme Judiciary that could change them to full marriage.

In RI it will very likely follow the same course. Because by creating a civil union you create two classes of people. Those who are married, and those who are civil unioned. Where this makes a big difference is in federal law.

I predict that DOMA will fall within the next two years. My reasons for that prediction are as follows:

1) The repeal of DADT is what really opened the door. You see, if you are a soldier, fighting for your country and you wish to marry your same sex partner, you will not be afforded ALL the benefits of that marriage because of the Defense of Marriage Act.

2) We are seeing a change in the political sphere right now. First it was the Tea Bagger movement but we know who was pulling the strings there. And now we know about the Koch brothers and their puppet Herman Cain. But now it is the Occupy movement. And it’s showing no signs of abating. A lot of what I’ve seen of the Occupy movement is that it is rather progressive. It might be the end of the Tea Party/Bagger if we’re lucky.

So it’s coming.

Driving in RI

You know, I’ve been doing the Zipcar thing about once a week now.

And in that time almost all my travel has been on the highways that run through the state. It covers I-95, I-195, I-295, RI 10, RI 6, RI 113, RI 117, RI 146 and RI 146A. f those only RI 113 and RI 117 aren’t dedicated, elevated highways. All the rest are dedicated and at least two lanes.

So it is with no trepidation that I tell the following tales.

Let me explain the way I learned to drive:

On a two lane, slower traffic stays right. Left is for passing and speeding. Well, that last part is my addition. And on three or more lanes, get out to the middle lane because it’s probably the fastest moving lane.

But if you’re in the left lane and I come up on your bumper at 70MPH and flash my high beams I am being polite and asking you to get the fuck out my way I want to pass. Reaction to this is mixed. Some people will drop down a lane if circumstances permit, others just ignore it completely.

Inevitably you get the speed-nazi in the left most lane doing the EXACT speed limit. To quote Peter Griffin, that really grinds my gears.

I often have fantasies of finding an opening in the right lane that is moving slightly faster and then cutting in front of speed-nazi, jacking up the brakes and stopping in the middle of the highway. I then proceed to get out of my car and walk over to speed-nazi’s car, drag him or her out and pummel viciously. But fortunately the frontal lobe kicks in and keeps it just that, a fantasy and nothing more. Otherwise I’d be whipping a crossbow out of the trunk….

My other gripe is people who don’t know how to merge into traffic. Get up to speed and merge in. It’s simple, all you have to do is press down on that vertical pedal on the right.

Yes I am something of an aggressive driver. You know how they say practice defensive driving? Well, I practice offensive driving with a mix of the defensive. For example, on the defensive aspect always look at least one car ahead of the one in front of you because when that one locks up the brakes for no reason, the guy in front of you is going to do it also. That way you’re way ahead of the game.

The offensive, for example when someone is crawling in the left lane and I see the right lane is clear, I’ll move over, hit the accelerator and pass the bastard by moving left again. Always fun! If I’m in a particular mood I might get in front and slow down to the minimum speed for that roadway (45MPH) briefly, just to give them a taste of their own medicine.

RI is famous for two behaviors, one of which even I too admit to doing a lot of the time.

One is fake left, go right. To do this you must have a roadway that divides so that traffic going left is one lane, traffic going straight through is next, and then traffic turning right is at the far right edge.

Get in the left lane, signal the left turn but when the lights are all green, you must cut across to the right lane and make the right turn. Hence, fake left, go right. This is a behavior I find highly abhorrent.

The other is the Rhode Island Slide. I do this too. Here’s how you do it:

You’re trying to turn into traffic from a side street but none of the bastards will give you an opening. So you slowly inch out into the traffic, or slide if you will.

If they won’t give you an opening, you make your own opening.

Part of the problem here in RI is that infrastructure isn’t adequate to the number of vehicles that travel it.

Cars, Cars, Cars

So I’ve been driving a variety of cars under Zipcar and I have to say they recently introduced the 2011 Ford Focus into the mix.

The ones I’ve driven so far have been speed limited to 80MPH. And I have in fact pushed it to the limit. I’d like to drive one that’s opened up because the speedo does go to 150MPH and I know she handles well at 80MPH. Yes, I’m a bit of a speed freak, always have been. I’m the guy in the left lane flashing my high beams at you screaming “Get the fuck out of my way!”
I actually have to say it, I like the Focus. First of all it shares something in common with every vehicle. The entire interior is plastic. But the Focus makes up for it with buttons and gadgetry EVERYWHERE.

The steering wheel has the cruise, phone, volume, and all vehicle menus right on the wheel. That’s REALLY nice.

I definitely like the Sync features. I also like the temperature controls being separated for each occupant. That’s pretty cool but sort of pointless in such a small space.

And there is one other thing I should mention. At low speeds the transmission feels a little strange. From what I’ve read it is a six speed automatic transmission so maybe I’m not used to that many quick gear changes when getting up to full speed.

Always had sort of an affinity for Ford vehicles. My 1981 Escort with the 1.6L engine was fun to drive but because of those aluminum heads, it ate both the heads and the gaskets at a fairly regular interval.

My 1993 Tempo, that was a 2.3L engine with the timing CHAIN and cast iron heads. It would run forever had it not been stolen.

But I do like Ford none the less. They were in fact the first to mass produce passenger vehicles with the Model T. You could have it any color, so long as it was black. And in the most recent financial debacle they were the ONLY U.S. manufacturer not to accept bail out money. That means they’re well managed.

So now I have a choice to make, buy used or plunk down a $7,000 or $8,000 deposit and finance $12,000 or so. I really don’t want to commit to a monthly car payment. I’d prefer to pay out cash and then put money into an interest bearing account for the time I own a used vehicle. That way I’ve got a nice pad when maintenance and repairs are needed. Decisions, decisions. What I do know is I’m getting tired of public transit again. It happens, I’ll tolerate it for a couple of years or so and then my general hatred for it bubbles up and overflows.

Probably buy something in the spring. I’m leaning toward a Nissan Maxima, around the 2003 or 2004 model year. I like the styling on those better than the slab fronted versions that kicked in around 2005.

So you wouldn’t want to live in my world

At work I’m known as the guy for whom the glass isn’t half full or half empty, it’s just plain fucking empty.

So I don’t know how the topic came up but a member of the team I’m on made mention of a nursing home that had built a bus shelter on the street by their property. They reasoned that it would be more effective for those patients suffering memory deficits so they wouldn’t have to walk all over creation to find a bus stop. Granted, there was no bus that would ever run to this stop.

So I suggested we use the same technique we do on dogs. You know, the electric collar.

At which point my team mate said he wouldn’t want to live in a world ruled by me. I was just being facetious when I made the comment.

Then there was a discussion about the Occupy movement and how the local group was going to march on Bank of America HQ in Providence. Yes, they have a presence here.

I said I would love to see Bank of America broken into a million tiny little pieces, let it fail and don’t bail it out. Sure it’d be painful but I look at it as take the pain now instead of extending it down the road some because that is all the bail outs really did, to extend it, not fix it.

I also mentioned Germany. Yes, Germany who got it’s ass handed to it twice in the 20th century yet still emerged to be the economic power of the European union. One key factor is the landesbanks – they are publicly owned banks as i the state guarantees them, no private investors. Those landesbanks loan out to small and medium sized businesses.

In the U.S. we keep hearing how small and medium businesses are the bread and butter of our economy. It’s partially bullshit but also somewhat true.

Yet the big banks won’t lend money, instead they are hoarding it. It’s time we start up public banks in the U.S.

I got a hearty round of approval from the project managers on the other side of our cube space. But my team mate can’t wrap his head around the concept.

So other than my facetious comment about the shock collars, my world wouldn’t be so bad.

What a week

Rolling up a new client, dealing with other clients. It’s getting busier, it’s the after summer ramp up in work.

But then once Thanksgiving comes and we launch into the month space of holiday time, it’ll peter out but then rise up in February again.

It’s all cyclic. Plus I’m training the new guy and it doesn’t help that a full half of the systems he needs to access aren’t yet setup for him.

In fact one tool he absolutely needs requires a user id, a pin and a token code. Well, he tries and tries, no dice. So I told him to submit a help desk ticket. The ticket goes in and the finger pointing begins. It’s comical. It takes a full two to six months to fully on-board and employee where I work.

At the very least we no longer require a paper form for setting up a new user, it is all web based now. We had three sets of credentials we need. There are the CSO or Central Sign On credentials, the LDAP based credentials, and then the token based credentials. Two to six months?

Or better, the new guy has all his LDAP but they didn’t put him in the /etc/sudoers file on one of the servers so he can’t use any of the available functions.

Ridiculous!