Wednesday, October 19, 2011

cemeteries and taxes

I had an odd dream in the early hours this morning.  I was in a cemetery, and I was distressed that my parents were, for some reason, buried there in separate graves, some definite distance from each other.  I pictured their spirits looking for each other, but sadly not being able to find each other.  It was quite disturbing.

I woke up to remind myself that, indeed, they are buried side-by-side, in a little cemetery on the other side of the country.  My father joined the crowd there a long time ago, my mother arriving a couple of years ago, having survived without him for over 25 years.

They are surrounded by their own parents and contemporaries - the folks that comprised my little Upstate New York home town. The people who paid their taxes to educate and protect me, back in the 50's and 60's, before I, like so many of my schoolmates, moved away.

They paid for the public library where I spent countless hours exploring, discovering everything from H.G. Wells to the Tao Teh Ching.  The library where I was so well-known that the librarian gave me free-range in the stacks, and let me poke around in boxes of unfiled books in the back, since there was not enough shelf-space for them.

In my public school, there was an abundance of music classes - singing, band, music theory, choir. I gravitated to all of them. Most remarkable of all, my town paid the salary (how much could it have been?) for a wonderful, curious woman named Miss Ewing (this is long before 'Ms.'), who arrived in our classrooms regularly, wheeling in her record-player, for a class called 'Music Appreciation'.

She made sure we knew our 'Nutcracker', 'Hall of the Mountain King', 'William Tell Overture', and other obvious classical kid-pleasers, but she also made sure we could identify each statement of the main figure in the Bach 'Fugue in G Minor'. Can you imagine, in today's world, a school deeming this to be an important, essential part of 'education'?

I'm not going to assert that the folks of my parent's generation happily paid their taxes, fervently believing that our little town would be a better place if all the kids knew how to spell Tchaikovsky (I didn't have to look that up) or that the Lone Ranger theme was actually written by an Italian guy named Rossini.

And that's the point of taxes.  It's a simple notion, to pool our resources for the Common Good without knowing exactly what the long-term benefits will be, but trusting that investing in the future is better than starving it.

And, make no mistake, we are starving the future by continuing a system where obscene amounts of money are devoted to shallow politics, coming from shallow Military, Petroleum, and Financial interests whose only concern is to buy shallow people to promote their narrow, short-sighted, highly profitable goals, while the bridges and roads are crumbling, the public-school education of my generation is passe, and the media fog is determined that serious questions about who we are as a society are pepper-sprayed into silence.

If today's Republicans had been active in Elmira, New York in 1955, perhaps the title of this blog would be 'just an aging slob'.

Instead, I am humming Bach as I remember public-school heroes like Miss Ewing, Mrs. Ripley, Mr. Holmes, Mrs. Chatfield, Mr. Bentley, and Mr. Thayer (who, I see, is still at it, 43 years after I tried to understand why so many of his choral choices mentioned Jesus).

Friday, October 14, 2011

8 am on an October morning

I was down in my cellar office early this morning.  I had finished the routine stuff: my overnight email, my traditional bowl of cereal, and cup of coffee. 

I was scanning my frequently-read blogs for any interesting news or opinions.  I was putting off getting on with some database programming that I hope to flesh out this morning, when I heard Sasha, our surprisingly-large black cat, upstairs by the back door, asking to be let out.

I walked upstairs, poured a second cup of coffee, and noticed the clear bright sunlight streaming into our yard, opened the back door and, with Sasha, stepped outside, still in my bathrobe.

We live less than five miles from the heart of downtown Portland, but in an old house built in the 1930's, in what realtors would call a 'park-like setting'.  As Adrian Monk would say, "it's a blessing, and a curse."

Right next to the house is an enormous old maple that we recently had thinned out, so, for the first time in years, it now has an open, visible, fractal structure.  The sun, still quite low, had just cleared the line of trees to the east, so the tree was bathed in that wonderful light that happens this time of year, and is especially obvious when, unlike the past few days, the morning sky is clear and blue.

I paused.

As the sound of Sasha's collar bell receded as he headed off to survey his territory, I noticed the bird-song and the swirling birds criss-crossing the scene every few seconds.  I sipped coffee.

I felt the sunlight on my face, and marveled at the power of nuclear reactions 93 million miles away being able to be felt here. This led to a cascade of thoughts, ending with the marvel that those same nuclear reactions made possible all the green things and animals (including me) in the scene, not to mention the ancient fossil fuel that had been extracted, refined, and delivered to my house, to warm the water in my coffee cup.

Yes, I thought, the Sun is the source of all Life on Earth, and it's entirely sensible that the first religion should be to honor the Sun. I feel this is how religions got started - one Sun god.  Humans being as we are, we then have the inevitable development of some men (or women, but I bet it was men) who convince others that they know how to insure that the Sun will definitely return to its summer strength, as it appears to be dying every mid-December. There is nothing like a priest(ess). 

But I digress.

It's a lovely morning, after several very damp, grey days.  I have work to do, clients to visit, and chores to tick-off my list.  It's mid-October already and I am approaching my 60th birthday next month.

I genuinely enjoy coffee.  I genuinely enjoy my cereal in the morning.  I appreciate the Sun and don't feel the need for an earthbound perspective on how it got there.  The Universe is, apparently, a very large place and our local star is apparently located on the outer fringes of a very large galaxy, that is only one of a zillion others. That's OK.

We have cats and birds and trees and each other, and miles to go before we sleep. We've had Kurt Vonnegut and George Carlin. I'm happy to be here. Nothing lasts. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

times have changed

Remember back in High School Civics class (for people born after 1970, that was a mandatory class where the fundamentals of American Democracy were explained - things like 'promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty' - you know, that charmingly antiquated stuff, but I digress...), when you were taught that the US Senate is the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body”.

Heck, that phrase “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body” is right there on the US Senate's official web site.  Yessir, that's my Senate.

I think we can safely retire that moniker (which now can be spoken only with utter cynicism), now that 100% of Senate Republicans voted to not even bring the Obama Jobs bill up for discussion/debate.  The bastards.

The US Congress, both houses, have been taken hostage by a hostile force, that has committed itself to subverting the President (even this wishy-washy one) as well as the People, in order to protect its benefactors from any attempt to undo the damage done to this republic since the days of St. Ronnie, of blessed (and utterly distorted) memory.

Shame, shame, shame on them, and shame on us for letting it happen.

It all boils down to this:  November 2012 is our last chance to rid ourselves of these traitors, and, frankly, given the compromised integrity of the electoral process, the only way it's going to happen, short of violent revolution, is for a vote turnout so massive that its mandate cannot be stolen away, again.

In the meantime, millions of suffering Americans are not going to get any reason to hope for any halt to the downward national slide into desperation, for another year, and, long before then, there should be an 'Occupy' encampment in every town, filled with angry people looking for someone to blame. 

Haven't we seen this movie before?

Friday, October 07, 2011

more techie travails

So, after working a whole bunch of hours yesterday, did I take the evening off and relax? Of course not.

After dinner, I went down to the computer dungeon and tried 'one last thing', and disaster ensued.

I have an Access app that links to another Access database (trivial) but it also uploads data to a SQL Server database. I am using SQL Server Express on my development PC, and it works great.

However, I am using Windows Authentication, so no Userid/Password is required for the data access - it just works. In the morning's conference call, one of the attendees envisioned a scenario where the app would need to connect to a SQL Server database over the internet, requiring Userid/Password authentication.

Fair enough, I thought it would be 'interesting' to create a 2nd System ODBC DSN for the same local database that I'm already testing with, but this time specifying password authentication, just to see what would happen. Not only did it not work, but, suddenly, my entire SQL Server instance was throwing error messages and the original stuff was no longer working. In fact, SQL Server Management Studio could no longer connect to SQL Server.

YIKES!!!!!!! I broke it.

Believe me, ladies and germs, when I tell you that I spent the next 4 hours screaming (silently) as I tried everything I could think of, uninstalling, downloading fresh install packages, installing them, failing, uninstalling them, etc. In utter defeat and total failure, I shut the computer down and went to bed.

This morning, as I awoke from uneasy dreams, I did not find myself transformed into a giant cockroach, thank goodness, but I did come downstairs, try again, hit the Google, and found one guy on one site that recommended checking whether TCPIP was enabled within the SQL Server configuration. Huh?

Needless to say, that worked, but my databases were not showing up. Another 15 minutes of messing around and, lo and behold, everything got restored, and I am now back where I was at 6 pm last night, when I prepared to 'try one little thing to see if it works'.

Is there a lesson in all this? Probably not.

In the meantime, does anyone have any experience writing an Access app that connects to a SQL Server database that was set up with 'Mixed Mode' authentication? Anyone? Hello?

The fun never ends.

UPDATE:  In case you are unsure exactly what 'travails' means, here is the precise definition:

Definition of TRAVAIL. 1. a : work especially of a painful or laborious nature : toil b : a physical or mental exertion or piece of work : task, effort c : agony, torment ...

Thursday, October 06, 2011

occupy portland - lead-off rally

I arrived at the rally site around 11:30, with a hot Vietnamese coffee (with condensed milk) warding off the chill.

There were maybe a couple of hundred people milling around, but, by noon, there were thousands, with more pouring in by the minute.

In short, it was a lovely, HUGE crowd, all cooperating and interested in a safe-but-loud statement. There were lots of creative signs, and folks of all ages.

I took a few photos - here's one, showing just one tiny portion of the crowd, which extended on all sides and behind me:

The plan was to have speeches for over 2 hours before marching thru the streets of downtown. I left after a bit, not ready to wait until 2:30 to get moving.

All the local media was there - here's hoping that nobody causes trouble, and that the coverage captures the energy and scope of the crowd.