On hubris

Hubris.

It’s a word that can be applied in numerous situations, but is most commonly associated with its root definition: an over-arching self-confidence that allow a person to believe they can do no wrong, or will never fail to do something once they have set their minds to it. It’s not a pretty state of mind, and recently, I found out what it’s like when your own hubris comes back to bite you in the ass.

Most of my day-to-day computing I do with Linux. I use it because it’s free, robust, and there are enough variations of it to suit almost anyone’s taste. There are, however, a few things that I need Windows for. I don’t use these applications often, which means I don’t use Windows very often…and there lies the rub. To get both systems on one computer, I use what’s known as a ‘dual-boot’ hard drive, where on start-up, the computer asks me what operating system I want to use. It works great, allowing me to keep my first love (Linux) at my finger-tips, while keeping the ugly stepchild I don’t like to associate with (Windows) close at hand when I need it. But like all my stuff, I endeavor to keep my different systems secure, which is where hubris comes into play.

I know and remember my Linux password because I literally use it every time I log in. I relied on my memory to also hold my Windows password…which, it turns out was my downfall. I hadn’t used Windows for several months, so when I needed to access the application I kept in that operating system a few weeks ago, I powered up my computer, told it to boot to Windows…and when the log-in screen came up, I drew a complete blank as to what my password was.

To give you an idea of how much hubris I was exhibiting, Windows offers you the option of leaving yourself a hint as to your password. I had decided to leave, in my hint line, one word: Remember.

Yeah, not at all helpful.

I’ve racked my brains, trying to pull the password out, and I still draw a blank. So, I decided to see if I could recover/reset my password. After a fair amount of research, I found there were several options for doing something like this. You can buy password hacking/cracking packages, but the good ones tend to be expensive, and the free/cheap ones have a bad habit of installing ‘junkware’ on your computer, or worse, installing links to dubious web pages that carry malware. There is one free software package, called Ophcrack, that doesn’t install junk on your hard drive and will regularly crack most passwords. Unfortunately, after several attempts to get it to work, I have found I can’t. Why? Good question, one I’m not sure I can find the answer to. There are other options that allow you to just reset the password on an account, but I have found that they are intended to computers that have only Windows partitions on their hard drives, and my dual-boot option leaves them wondering where to go.

There is a process that allow you to do a reset under Windows. The easiest requires you have to a “reset” CD made up, which of course I didn’t do. There is another option, not for the faint of heart, that involves going in through the command line to reset a users password. Unfortunately, when I tried it, it too can’t find the proper partition due to my hard drives unique set up.

So, here I am, stuck between the proverbial rock and the hard place, all because I let my hubris rule me. Please don’t be me, don’t let your confidence in your own abilities rule you.

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Fun at the polls

What?”

Paul hadn’t intended to yell, but the poll watcher’s statement that he wasn’t on the voter roll was unbelievable. He’d been voting since he turned 18, and hadn’t missed an election since then. He also knew he’d sent his registration form back in plenty of time for the county recorder’s office to have processed it and renew his registration. The elderly woman in front of him shrank away from his yell, but she looked away as she answered.

“It’s like I said, sir, your name isn’t on the roll. I also can’t let you cast a provisional ballot without at least two federally-recognized pieces of identification. I’m sorry, but that’s the law now.”

Paul struggled to keep his temper in check, but even to his ears, the sarcasm in his question was clear. “So what counts as a ‘federally-recognized’ ID?”

“Well, your drivers license counts, so does a firearms owner ID. Or a passport, or any other photo ID the government approves.”

“But I’ve never been out of the US, so I don’t have a passport, and I don’t own a gun, so I don’t have one of those ID cards either. About all I have is my license, isn’t that enough?”

Paul caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and saw a bulky red-headed man move to stand beside him. He faced the man in time to see his eyes sweep up and down Paul once before he turned to the poll watcher. “This guy giving you trouble?”

“No, he was just asking…” Paul interrupted her. “No, I’m not giving her trouble, she’s giving me trouble. I’ve been voting for almost forty years now, and voting at this polling place for about half that time, yet she says I’m not on the rolls.”

Red-head turned full-on to face Paul. “I don’t give a damn if you been votin’ here since Noah came over. If you ain’t on the rolls, then you don’t get to vote, got it Pedro?”

“The name’s Paul, Paul Sanchez, and who died and named you god?”

Red-head was nearly a head taller than Paul, and he leaned down to make that size advantage inescapable. “Paul, Pedro, I don’t care what your name is. You aren’t on the roll, so get outta here before I decide you’re ‘disturbing the peace’ and call the cops to arrest your worthless ass. Understand, or should I get someone to interpret that for you?”

That was it. “What are you going to ‘interpret’, stupidity? I understand that real well, thanks. I’m just wondering why the renewal form I sent in for my voter ID doesn’t seem to have been processed, and I don’t think you know the answer to that question, do you?”

Paul had expected the big man in front of him to get angry at being challenged, but rather than snarl, he laughed. “Well, if you don’t know the answer to that question, it’s you who needs help with stupidity. It’s cause of the Working to Assure a Secure Poll Act, that’s why.”

Paul knew the law. Passed in the wake of repeated claims of fraudulent voting, it was being challenged in the courts, but was still on the books. But he’d never heard anything about it barring people who’d been living in the US since the day they were born their right to vote. “What the hell do you mean? I was born here! How am I not allowed to vote?”

Red smirked at Paul. “Yeah, but what about your parents? Were they born here?”

“Hell yeah! My Dad’s family has been in Texas since it declared independence from Mexico, and my Mom’s family has been in America since the 1920’s.”

Red leaned down again, bringing his face close enough to Paul’s that their noses almost touched. The smirk spread, became a wicked grin. “Yeah, and you got proof that both their families came into the US legally? Cause if you don’t, then they was here illegally, and that means you’re not a citizen, got it?”

“How the hell am I supposed to get proof of something than happened a hundred, two hundred or more years ago?”

“Ain’t my problem, and it ain’t the problem of these poll watchers either. Now get out.”

“What about you, Red? Have you got proof your ancestors came to the US legally?”

“Name’s Sean, asshole, and yeah, my parents people all came over from Ireland at some point…and all of them went through Ellis Island too.”

“And who gave them the okay to come here?”

“Are you thick? Like I said, they came through Ellis Island.”

“Yeah, but who said the federal government had the right to decide who came to the US?”

That got a laugh out of Sean. “You really are one stupid bean, aren’t you? Did you sleep through civics, or didn’t they teach it in your school?”

Now Paul gave Sean a smirk. “Yeah, but who said the federal government has any real authority? Didn’t the first Europeans find people here already, people with their own governments? Did those Europeans ask permission to come here? Did they get approval from those governments to settle in America?”

“Hey, that was different!”
“How? Weren’t the Founding Fathers just the descendants of a bunch of illegal aliens?”

“Watch your mouth, bean! Those were the greatest people in the world!”
“Why, because they stole a continent by killing off the rightful owners? Weren’t they just a bunch of violent thugs who took what they wanted at gun point?”

Sean’s face went nearly as red as his hair as he started to shout. “Okay, that does it! You just earned yourself a trip to jail, big-mouth.” He brought his cell out and raised it to his ear. “911? Yeah, I’m at the Fifth Precinct polling station, and we’ve got a trouble maker here. Doesn’t have proper ID, refuses to leave, and he’s making threatening statements too. I need an officer to come take out the garbage.” A moment’s pause, and Sean smiled. “Thanks, officer. I’ll be waiting by the door so I can point the guy out.” He tapped the screen before continuing to address Paul. “So the cops are on their way, Pedro. Maybe you can get away if you make a run for it.”

Paul gave him a smile, because for the first, he felt cheerful. “I’m not running anywhere, you brainless fuck. If I’ve got to go to jail to challenge this stupid law, then I’ll do it gladly.” he let his smile morph into a sneer. “It is kind of funny, you calling the cops. For all your swagger, you have to have the police deal with someone who’s smaller than you.”

The remark had the effect Paul had hoped it would. Sean’s face went scarlet as he threw a roundhouse right that Paul dodged without effort. Paul’s fist connected with the bigger man’s stomach, and he folded with a gasp. “And that’s another reason I should be voting, ten years, US Marines, Recon. Don’t ever call me ‘bean’ again, you asshole, or they’ll need a wet-vac to clean up what’s left over after I get done with you.” Paul lifted his eyes to sweep over the poll watchers. “I take it you all saw his throw the first punch, and me do nothing more than defend myself?” When everyone nodded, Paul stepped back, clasped his hands behind his back, and went into the parade rest his body still remembered. The cops would be there soon, but the Marines had taught him there was nothing he couldn’t overcome if he put his mind to it.

“W.A.S.P. Act, this Marine’s coming for your ass.”

The Protest

Mayor James whacked his gavel down, hard, but the sound of its impact could barely be heard above the growl of angry voices that filled the city council chambers. The space wasn’t packed, but the crowd’s indignation gave it a presence far larger than its numbers. Matt McClaine watched his face turn red with anger at being ignored. Keith James had been mayor of Carswell’s Corner for nearly a decade, and like most men in such a position, his sense of self-importance had grown with his time in office. Matt had seen it far too many times in his years as a reporter, the way some people took getting elected to even as insignificant an office as mayor of a small town like Carswell’s Corner as a sign that they were somehow above the norm. Mayor James leaned towards the mic in front of him, and tried to use his control of the rooms sound system to gain control of the situation.

“This meeting of the Planning Commission is hereby adjourned!”

He didn’t quite shout the words, but the margin between a shout and the volume he used was small. It didn’t calm the crowd. No, it had precisely the opposite effect. Several members of the crowd openly shouted back.

“What do you mean? We haven’t even been given a chance to speak!”

“What about wanting ‘public’ comments? I came here to have my say!”

“We’re going to be heard! You can’t just….”

Mayor James’ face went from red to full-on purple with rage as his shouted response drown out everyone.

“I said this meeting is adjourned! And if I need to, I will have call for the security officers to clear this room.”

Talk about throwing a match into a pool of gasoline…now, even those who had patiently, politely waiting for their chance to speak rose to join the chorus of protest.

“You can’t do this! We have a right to express our opinions at hearings!”

“Yeah! You can’t just shut people up!”

Matt looked towards the main exit, and saw the two police officers who nominally served as security for the meeting had their eyes fixed on the front of the room. They weren’t worried about the crowd, they knew they could bully them out of the room if called upon to do so. They were just waiting for the signal from the mayor to start shoving people around. It was something they had plenty of experience with.

Like most small towns, Carswell’s Corner maintained all the proper forms, looked and acted like a democracy…but in reality, it only keep those forms in place to give the citizens the illusion that their voices mattered. The real decisions were made quietly, behind the scenes, when the proper people got the proper ‘incentives’ to make the decision some company wanted.

Carswell’s Corner had once had a thriving downtown, and sported four grocery stores ranging in size from a corner mom-and-pop shop to decent-sized chain stores. Then the ‘big box’ had come to town…and corporate management clearly knew how to deal with small-town governments. The land for the store had been bought from a real estate company run by relatives of council members. Most of the city council, who had never bothered advertise their candidacies before, suddenly had money to spend on yard signs and window posters.

And that support had brought further ‘considerations’ from the city government. The mom-and-pop shop suddenly learned that the ‘grandfathered’ lay-out was no longer considered ‘safe’. Not surprisingly, the price of fixing their problems were far too high for them to afford. Then, the property taxes for the bigger stores had suddenly jumped.

The number of groceries dropped until only one remained, at which point the city played its trump card. As the suppliers of electrical power for the whole town, the municipal utility was free to set prices as they saw fit…and they saw fit to increase the rates for ‘commercial’ properties like the last grocery store.

The move might have gone unnoticed if not for the fact that when management posted signs that the store would be holding a ‘going out of business’ sale, they also gave the reason why they were going out of business. People railed about the decision, and Matt’s paper had received a multitude of letters to the editor complaining about the move. The decision to hold a protest at the Planning Commission meeting, which among other things controlled the utility, had gained support quickly.

But like every other town meeting, the Planning Commission operated to the strict guidelines of its agenda; and that agenda was set, in advance, by the members. That agenda included time for the public to speak, but the protest was known, so a small group of ‘public’ commenter’s was in place before the first citizen stepped through the door. Not surprisingly, they occupied most of the seats in the front row, spots that would gain them the first chance to speak.

And oh, did they speak. There was praise for the ‘fiscal responsibility’ of ‘ensuring’ that the utility department was bringing in enough money to cover future expansion. There was a statement in favor of letting the ‘free enterprise system’ determine winners and losers. The dog-and-pony show ended with the manager of the ‘big box’ store announcing plans for a substantial donation to the local park district. And with that, the public comment segment was closed and the meeting had rolled to its foregone conclusion.

Matt checked his notes, made sure the photos he’d snapped were saved to his cloud account, and closed the cover on his tablet. When the protest was announced, he’d known it would fail. He would have his story written up in half an hour of starting, then his editor would go over it to make sure Matt had filtered out his indignation, and that would be the end of it. The whole farce would be duly reported as another glorious example of American democracy, and Matt would collect his paycheck.

He’d been a good mouthpiece for so long that he’d come to accept his own hypocrisy, and even when it was so obviously on display, he did what he always did. He chalked his inaction up to the knowledge that there was nothing he could do. The system had been broken for so long that there was nothing anyone could do. He knew the city politicians would remain in power because the voters would rather have a corrupt government they knew than a clean one they didn’t. It wasn’t exactly a lie, but that small sliver of the honest human he had once been still hated it all.