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Steven D. Brewer's blog

It's a small world

September 24, 2007 by Steven D. Brewer

Recently people found a photo album showing SS officers enjoying themselves just a short distance from where people were being systematically starved and murdered. There seems to be a sense of astonishment on the part of many that people could do this: be monsters and yet have regular lives. Yet, as we carry on our normal lives, mugging for the camera, people right next to us are being treated the same or worse -- and in our name. With a global media, we no longer need to be right next to where some people are systematically starving and killing other people for us to be implicated in the activity. Yes, we're not pulling the trigger directly, but, given our government's involvement in destabilizing some world leaders and propping others up, we might as well be. And yet, we carry on our lives, eating our bowls of blueberries while others starve and reclining on our Adirondack chairs while others are stretched on the rack. It's a small world now -- and our responsibilities in it loom larger than ever.

Cheap Shots

September 19, 2007 by Steven D. Brewer

In his Sept 14 column, William F. Buckley tries to score some cheap shots on the language Esperanto, saying that the only ones who learned it were "Mrs. Esperanto, and perhaps the children who didn't get out of the way". Actually, they all learned Esperanto. "Mrs. Esperanto" was Klara Zamenhof and her children were Adam, Sofia, and Lydia. Mr. Buckley's remarks are particularly unfortunate as all of the Zamenhof's children, and many other relatives, died in the Holocaust -- Adam was shot while being deported while Sofia and Lydia were killed in the Nazi concentration camp Treblinka. They were targeted for speaking Esperanto, as well as being Jewish or Bahai -- Lydia was actually well-known in the US for travelling around the world teaching Esperanto and Bahaism. Adam's wife and infant son had a narrow escape and Louis-Christophe Zaleski-Zamenhof still speaks Esperanto to this day. Indeed, today there is a lively community of Esperanto speakers all over the world. No-one knows exactly how many there are, although more than 2,200 made the trek to Yokohama, Japan for the World Esperanto Congress this year. Maybe most people "ain't gonna do it", but if you want a universal language, you can learn Esperanto easily enough and it still works today as it always has.

There are two local Esperanto groups in the Pioneer Valley: Amherst Esperanto (www.amherstesperanto.org) has weekly meetings for people who want to study and practice speaking Esperanto. The group is led by Steven Brewer, Assistant Professor of Biology and Director of the Biology Computer Research Center, who is also President of the Esperanto Society of New England. Sally Lawton, of Westhampton, coordinates another local group that meets weekly in Northampton.

Long week

September 18, 2007 by Steven D. Brewer

This felt like the longest week I've had in a long time. I was so tired by the end of the day on Friday -- then Alisa reminded me that it was the elementary school picnic. Ugh.

A week or two ago, I discovered dattebayo.com (DB), a website that does fan-subbing of Naruto (and other things). I've been a big fan of Naruto for several months. I had been aware that there were crappy versions of Naruto episodes available on youtube, but the ones at DB are super high quality -- better than broadcast TV, I think. And the subtitling is *way* better than the commercial crap they push off on US audiences. Well, I don't know that for sure -- I have no way to independently verify how good the translations really are. But they *feel* better: they include mild expletives like "damn" and "hell" and "pissed off" that seem right -- way more right than what viz media does for cartoon network.

When I found DB, I decided I finally had to get up to speed with bittorrent. I've been living with my head in the sand with respect to bittorrent for a couple of years. A few searches later and I found that Miro (formerly Democracy Player) can do bittorrent! So I've been using Miro to watch Naruto Shippuuden episodes with 4/5 of the family (the oryx turns up her snout at Naruto). The rest of us have been screaming with laughter and having a great time watching Naruto. So today, when I saw that boingboing was calling for people to support Miro, I ponied up $20 instantly. Miro really is great software and has worked flawlessly for me. I can't wait to see what's going to be next.

I've finally put my finger on what I like about Naruto. Part of it is that I like the characters and their flaws: the ero-sannin (or pervy sage) is just screamingly funny. The characters are allowed to have flaws that in US media you just don't see -- at least not without a lot of moralizing. Here, the characters are just accepted for what they are. But the larger issue is that the show is about how the never-give-up attitude that Naruto has infects the people around him. Most of the story arcs are about people who have given up or checked out at some level. When they meet Naruto, he acts as a mirror and they see themselves and their weakness reflected in his decision to never say die, to never give up. When Tsunade, broken after having lost her brother and her lover, sees their passion and dreams embodied in Naruto and makes the decision to support him, she says, "One last time... I want to put my hopes in you...just one last time." And I get choked up just thinking about it. I guess it's not for everyone, but I can't get enough.

Beer Fest

September 15, 2007 by Steven D. Brewer

Dam AleToday, Buzz and I went to the Connecticut River Brewer's Festival in Holyoke. It was a bit pricey to get in: $5 to park, $10 to get in, and then $1 for each tiny glass of beer. Still, it was nice to try all the different kinds of beer. There were a lot of kinds to try. We had a great time trying different kinds of beer and chatting about beer and our lives. It's great to have friends.

I took a particular of the Holyoke Dam Ale -- I really like that name, but our favorite was either the "leatherlips" IPA from the Haverhill Brew Pub or the IPA from the Brooklyn Brewery. They were both exquisitely hoppy. Delicious.

It was about the best use imaginable for a rainy fall afternoon.


Deval Patrick in Amherst

September 9, 2007 by Steven D. Brewer

Deval PatrickDeval Patrick spoke at Amherst College today. I've seen him speak maybe 6 times now and every time he gives a good talk. This time, at the inauguration of a local community engagement group, he spoke primarily about community. He told several funny stories, but focused, in the end, on people choosing to make the right decision, because they understand in the long run what is going to best for the community. I didn't get to ask my question, but I had thought about it for a few minutes. I would have said:

Governor Patrick, you spoke about the problem that our society tends to make choices for short-term gains, rather than thinking about the long term and about political and community engagement as a habit of mind. You mentioned corporations briefly, indicating that they also aim for short term, but corporations represent a special problem. A hundred and fifty years ago, there was broad public distrust of corporations: corporations were only chartered for a specific period of time and to accomplish particular goals to benefit the common good. Even 50 years ago, corporations still saw themselves as having a positive role in society. In the 1980s, however, the laws related to coporate ownership changed and since then, any corporation that fails to maximize shareholder value gets bought out and a new management team installed that will. We can potentially change our habit of mind as a society, but it won't solve the problem of corporations. How can we change how corporations are chartered to produce more socially responsible behavior?

Google poisoning

September 8, 2007 by Steven D. Brewer

I saw an odd referrer in my weblogs that mentioned muppyville, so I went to look at it. Muppyville is a unique word that Charlie and I invented -- you don't just see references to it everywhere. What I found was a truly bizarre page that was obviously built by some non-english-speaking person using a script to generate google-poisoning webpages -- probably to raise the googleranks of some other pages. The webpage has some cyrilic script on it, which suggests someone in the Eastern Bloc is building these. The whole site looked like a bunch of web forums talking about particular things. This particular page looked like a forum called "muppyville" with postings by a variety of vaguely typical usernames who said things like:

In whom it is possible to order the muppyville? Who can help?
The Friends, who heard what your opinion on the muppyville about the muppyville?
Urgently! Friends asked! I have a muppyville! I can sell.
The muppyville too is necessary to me. How it to order?
It is possible to order the muppyville on mail?
Help to find in the Internet the muppyville! Write on e-mail.
In whom it is possible to order the muppyville? Who can help?
On this site it is possible to find the muppyville
I have found it!
And I cannot find... Send the information!
To whom is the link to the muppyville necessary?
I know a web-site where there is a muppyville. I can give the link.
The muppyville too is necessary to you?
People! Same very simply to find!

I won't link to the website, of course. But how bizzare?

Ah, Friday.

September 8, 2007 by Steven D. Brewer

It was a busy first week of the semester. Each semester, I worry that I will find myself over my head and no-longer able to keep up with what I need to do. But although I could feel the water rising up past my mouth, it never quite covered my nose and I got through everything just fine. I'm still a tiny bit behind, but Friday afternoon was relatively quiet and I felt comfortable leaving at 4:30 to have a beer with folks in Biology at the University Club. The Club was selling everything for $2 a bottle, so I got a bottle of Warsteiner Premium Dunkel. Its a smooth dark beer with a sweetness that reminds me of grape soda. Around the label it says, "Ein k

Last weekend of summer

September 8, 2007 by Steven D. Brewer

White-marked Tussock MothLucy and I did our usual Saturday routine -- a trip to the farmer's market and library with Penny. On the way back, we picked up pizza fixings so that Daniel and I could make pizza together for lunch.While Daniel and I were making the pizzas, we went out to the tent for a moment and saw this cool caterpillar. It's another kind of tussock moth caterpillar, like the ones we saw a month ago, but in a different genus. This one, evidently, has really nasty urticating hairs. I got some pretty cool pictures.

Daniel and I made two pizzas. He helped at every stage, mixing the spreading the dough, putting spices in the sauce and testing it, and then building the pizzas. We made a pepperoni, sausage, and bacon pizza for him and another with added lebanon bologna, fresh tomatoes, and mushrooms for me. They both turned out quite well and he was very pleased with the outcome.

It's the last weekend of the summer and the students are rolling back in. Some people are sad when Amherst loses its small-town feel when the students come back, but I don't mind -- I like the excitement and enthusiasm the students bring. But I do treasure the times they're away too.

Busy

September 2, 2007 by Steven D. Brewer

Since getting back, I've been busy getting ready for the beginning of the semester. I knew it would be intense and I haven't been disappointed. I was feeling like I was keeping my head above water until I came down with a cold yesterday. Now I'm just trying to get through the day.

I've gotten the basics of my class set up and ready-to-go. The main new thing I'm planning to try this semester is to add a period to most classes where we look at the particular problems I see in student's scientific writing and try to fix them.

The boys went back to school today -- I have until Tuesday. Each day I get closer to the beginning of the semester. I didn't get as far as I hoped this summer -- I never do. I do feel pretty good about where I did get to.

Our contract

August 31, 2007 by Steven D. Brewer

Our bargaining team has been negotiating a new contract for months. They have reached agreements on many points, but the governor hasn't yet made us a fair basic economic offer on salaries. Other unions are getting 5-6%, when you consider their "steps", but we're being told to accept 3.5% -- and to consider part of that "merit pay". Given that inflation has been running at around 3.5% it means that we're actually accepting a pay cut -- unless you've been "meritorious" and then you get to keep your buying power flat.

I wrote a brief note to the governor:

As a UMass Amherst faculty member, I appreciated when you spoke about being a champion of higher education -- and I have been pleased with your willingness to support an open and honest dialog about the future of the University, rather than to let the current Board of Trustees run roughshod over our governance structures. Thank you.

Unfortunately, the bargaining team for my union (which supported you in the primary) has been struggling to negotiate a fair contract with your administration and tells us that the economic offer to us is not comparable with the offers given to NAGE and SEIU. Faculty fared particularly poorly under Republican administrations and we had hoped to get a fair deal from a Democrat. Please help us settle our contract before the beginning of the academic year by giving us a fair offer. Thanks!

Vermin

August 22, 2007 by Steven D. Brewer

Sova?a RatoYesterday, Alisa, Daniel, and I drove to Andover to get some parasitic vermin to live in our house and suck up our air. Rats. We caught two and a half wild rats while we were in St. Croix (like the one pictured here). One of them evidently got caught by a mongoose trying to get out of the trap and had its head eaten off, so we only got a half of that one. But no! I had to come home and drive for three hours, so we could buy rats. And rat cages. And rat food. And rat litter boxes. Probably we'll need to hire a rat masseuse too.

I don't particularly hate rats or anything -- I'm just skeptical that the rat experience is going to somehow be qualitatively different than what we had with the guinea pig. Or with the mice. Or with the rabbit. Or what I had as a kid with hamsters or gerbils. Furry little vermin -- all of them. At least they're not going to try to breed them, dank' al dio. Brr...

Real Art

August 21, 2007 by Steven D. Brewer

I've really been enjoying reading frobnosticate, a blog by a local guy who's decided to try to take his drawing to the next level by going back to graduate school. Its been interesting watching his drawings evolve over time and its reminded me of the only art class I ever took. As an undergraduate, I majored in Biology and Spanish -- I had never felt like I had any real aptitude for drawing and, when I had to take an art class as a liberal arts requirement, I decided to take it "pass/fail", since I was worried about the time commitment. In the end, I spent more time on that class than any other I took that semester, had the time of my life, and had several pieces selected for the senior show.

I haven't been drawing much lately, but with my new camera, I'm feeling like I have the ability to try to take more than just snapshots. So, with much ado, here are a few of my favorite pictures I've taken over the past couple of weeks.

America from Outside
Kiel aspektas usono?

Captain Austin
Kapitano Austin

Daniel, Jonathon, and Buzz
Daniel, Jonathon, kaj Buzz

Buzz Launches Jonathon
Buzz ?etas Jonathon

Sicko: Not just about health-care

August 17, 2007 by Steven D. Brewer

We went to see Michael Moore's "Sicko" yesterday afternoon. I think it is definitely his best movie so far. Sure, the trip to Cuba was a stunt, but the ideas underlying it were sound, well-justified, and well-documented. Michael really did his homework on this one.

It was really heart-wrenching to see the health-industry in the US laid bare for what it is: a place for unscrupulous people to make as much money as possible by finding any way to deny coverage to sick people. But this is a problem with capitalism as a whole. Corporations are in business to maximize profits, not the common good. Its a theme that is played out over and over in every aspect of our society: public transportation, DRM software, as well as medicine. I've thought for a long time that corporations should be required to document how they're serving the public good in order to remain incorporated -- that's how it used to be. In a global economy, however, even that might not be enough.

From the reviews I'd read, I hadn't appreciated that the movie goes beyond health-care to talk about the underlying causes of our societies ills: the way people in America, especially poor people, are systematically disempowered to discourage participation in political processes. If you can keep people fearful and demoralized, they will be afraid to rise up and do anything about it. And our political leaders seem only too happy to keep as many people as possible in that state.

Home again

August 16, 2007 by Steven D. Brewer

Mi kaj Buzz metas etikedon en la herpestonWe had a successful trip. We marked more than 40 mongoose dem and had around 70 captures total, including several juveniles. We caught one animal we had marked previously in 2004. We got Tom to photographically document the procedures for us.

We packed up over the course of the morning interspersed by trips to the ocean to swim. It was with significant regret that I packed up the masks, fins, and snorkels. We said our goodbyes and we all told ourselves that we'll be back again next year. Paula, Alex, and Carey were on the same flights as us, so we didn't say our goodbyes until we got to Hartford.

Our travel arrangements worked out well. Daniel checked the bottles of rum carefully when the box came off the baggage carousel to make sure none had broken. Stupid war on moisture... We arrived back around midnight and were home around 1am. Penny was happy to see me and Lucy gave us big hugs.

Today, I'm back at work.

Last day

August 15, 2007 by Steven D. Brewer

SunsubiroOur Carribean adventure draws to a close today. We sat out and watched the sunset. With my green bottle of Elephant, I could imagine I was seeing the "green flash", but I guess I'll just have to try again next year. We stayed up late into the night watching meteors and talking. Carey and Alex sat with Tom and I watching the sky while the younger kids played, until Carey couldn't stand it any more and she quit trying to play grown up and ran around and played with the other kids. When I finally tracked Daniel down, playing Nintendo DS with Zach, he was so tired he couldn't walk straight and I had to steer him back to the cottage.

Today, we're planning to laze around and pack up at a leisurely pace. I went for a last early-morning snorkel adventure. I was hoping I'd see the sea turtle that magically seems to appear everytime Buzz jumps in the water, but no such luck. We need to be on the road around 1:30pm to catch our flight that will get us back to the airport around midnight and home by 2am. It's been a great adventure.

@limako

@Salla_eo http://t.co/s50aKugQRz14 hours 34 min ago
.@uebersetzbar I'd start with @EthanZ and @globalvoices / invitas samideanoj ankaŭ proponu sin. — 14 hours 56 min ago
@Bonulo Mi imagas vin starante inter homoj kiuj dancas freneze kovritaj per oleo. Sed tio ankoraŭ estas pli bone ol lumbrikigitaj… — 19 hours 1 min ago
RT @philipbrewer: "Africa with men in loin cloths and carrying spears. Which is true, but they're also carrying cell phones." -@Nnedi http:… — 1 day 10 hours ago
organizas "Artan Tagon" kadre de Amherst Esperanto por vojaĝi al muzeoj en okcidenta Masaĉuseco kun s-anoj http://t.co/qNuUjs3wOb Diskonigu! — 1 day 12 hours ago
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