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Compromises: better than nothing

At a contentious session of Town Meeting on November 14, opponents of the plan to replace the aging school buildings in town, succeeded in shooting the plan down. This is an ongoing problem in how the system of government is organized in Amherst. Too often, self-appointed and unaccountable people succeed in throwing a wrench into carefully made plans that took thousands of hours to construct.

Compromises like the school plan are difficult because, in the end, they don't give anyone what they really wanted. And people that come in at the end or that look only at one piece of the project can always find reasons to shoot it down. But a complex plan like this can only work if everyone is respectful of the process.

That means that people need to ensure that the process is constructed correctly at the beginning: that it identifies the appropriate stakeholders, selects competent representatives, and that those representatives are empowered to act in the interests of the stakeholders. And then, if at the end, the group can't reach a compromise, then the project shouldn't go forward. But if the group does reach a compromise, its the responsibility of those who empowered the representatives to respect their judgment.

What *shouldn't* happen is for people outside the process to come at the end and reject the compromises that were reached. That just ensures that no-one competent will be willing to do the work going forward. And that will make it impossible to make the process work.

Not Surprised

When I met a friend recently, who had supported Hillary in the primary, I said, "I'm only going to say it once, but… I told you so."

In the end, I was not that surprised when Trump was elected president. Disappointed, but not that surprised. It was exactly the scenario I had expressed concern about during the primary. In a year where huge numbers of people indicated that the most important problem was establishment politics as usual, the Democratic party put up perhaps the preeminent establishment politician of all time.

It was a fatal mistake. And it will probably have dramatic and permanent effects for our country -- and for the world.

Or maybe not. There's simply no way to guess what Trump will actually do. And there's no way to tell what the establishment Republicans will do in response. It's going to be a weird and wild ride.

I believe that Trump will turn out to be way more establishment friendly than his followers believe. Although the Democrats let down working-class people by failing to fight for them, it was the Republicans who were the architects of the changes that ruined their lives. Trump will probably make things much, much worse for them.

I recognize that, as a white person with relatively stable employment, in the bluest state in the Union, I'm in a uniquely privileged position to muse about the outcomes. I really feel for my Jewish, minority, and LGBTQ friends who are honestly (and realistically) fearful for their safety.

But perhaps even more than the loss to Trump, I'm disturbed by the circular firing squad mentality among the Democrats. People are pointing fingers at millennials, blacks, women, Latinos and anyone else who is identified as having not sufficiently turned out for Hillary. Or, God forbid, having voted for Trump.

Instead, we need to pick ourselves up, lick our wounds, and start working to put forward candidates that are electable. That's what a party is for.

A Visit with Comcast

After my unsatisfactory chat with "Tina", I decided to take the outdated cablebox to the local Comcast office to get it replaced. Alisa and I went together and, after a short wait, we were able to speak with a real, live human being.

After a great deal of discussion and back and forth, we eventually decided to use this opportunity to change over the billing from my mom to us and to switch to one of the discounted digital packages. We called people and signed things and got a bunch of new hardware (new router, new cable boxen, new remotes). It must have taken at least 45 minutes. The line behind us grew longer and longer and longer.

I was only snarky a couple of times. When she kept talking about prices as if the cost of the first 12 months was the price, I complained that I thought that practice was deceptive. Her hackles rose a bit at that. It turns out that you basically need to follow up with them every year to see what the "new deal" is or you get screwed in terms of pricing. I remember phone service used to be like that and it always pissed me off then too.

I was also perhaps a little snarky when she asked if we wanted HD and I calmly indicated that maybe when we could get PEG access in HD, I'd switch.

The funniest part was when she explained how Comcast prices things. It was actually a great explanation, but when she starting talking about the role that the "Mayor of Amherst" plays, Alisa nearly burst. The rep had no way of knowing she was talking to the President of the Board of Amherst Media and the Chair of the Amherst Select Board. We just nodded and smiled and listened.

The rep was actually fantastic and probably took much longer than the corporation would rather she would and helped us figure out a better arrangement than we otherwise would have. I said I hoped they paid her well. Her look made it clear that they don't.

Eventually, we got home, swapped the router, and then I began trying to get everything put back together. I had to set passwords for wifi and administration, set up a static IP for the server, set up port forwarding, and update the DNS for my domain name. Then I tried to set up the cable boxen.

We wanted to put the little box in Lucy's room, where space is at a premium and to put the big one in the living room, where there's plenty of space. But neither wanted to work there. I tried over and over again getting cryptic RDK-03004 errors and XRE-10007 errors. I spent several hours reading forums, checking connections, and plugging and unplugging things. Eventually, I switched them around. Like magic, everything started to work. Lucy will just have to live with having the big box in her room.

With that, I think everything is set up. I can watch Amherst Media again. And it only took me a whole day.

:-/

Chatting with Comcast

Several days ago, reports began to come in that some people were finding Amherst Media channels unwatchable. And not just because it was another interminable Select Board meeting, but because the transmission was garbled. You can see the picture, but there are tiling and other digital artifacts and the sound has stops and skips. The signal leaving Amherst Media is fine: it is happening somewhere between Amherst Media and the TV -- that is, inside Comcast.

I tried calling Comcast on the phone. A robot walked me through a series of steps: rebooting the cable box and then sending a message to "enhance the signal" which "might take an hour". This had no effect.

Today, I did an online chat with, what was reported to be a human being named Tina who said things like this:

Tina > Sorry to know you're facing issue with the channels.
Tina > Let me quickly try and get you to the path of resolution.

I was asked a series of robotic questions and then to provide the serial number. Eventually "she" said:

Tina > I'll try to enhance signals to the box which may disrupt the connection of other devices.
[...]
Tina > Since we've restored the device now it would take upto 30minutes to 1hour for the box to get updated.
Tina > And to get this fixed.

Eventually I just asked the question. Note that our Comcast bill is still in Lucy's name, so I was pretending to be Lucy.

LUCY_ > There is a rumor that this is the result of Comcast changing from MPEG 2 to MPEG 4 and that older boxes need to be replaced. Should I take my old box to the Comcast office to be replaced?

She did not comment on the cause, but admitted we could try swapping the box. As if it was probably unrelated to the problem. Then, however, the conversation takes a different turn.

Tina > However while I was going through your account I came across an awesome saving package.
Tina > Where you can get the box upgraded and also extra channels with HD service and Internet Blast speed
Tina > Currently you're paying approximately $XXX for the internet and Tv service.
Tina > However I can give you the new package for $XXX for 12 months

Wow. Just wow. Your service doesn't work, so this is a *great* time to upsell someone. Not to be outdone, I asked another question.

LUCY_ > Does it include HD for my local cable access channels?
Tina > Yes there would be HD for local channels.
LUCY_ > Given that we just re-negotiated the cable franchise agreement and the Comcast representatives stonewalled the town on allowing HD broadcast of the cable access channels, I think your statement unlikely.

She continued to badger me again and again with various offers until I eventually put an end to the chat session.

LUCY_ > Trying to upsell me when the service isn't working, is not an effective strategy.
LUCY_ > Thanks for your time or computational cycles.

So, there you go. It's just about exactly what I have come to expect from Comcast. Supremely bad service from poor, ignorant customer service flacks. I feel sorry for "Tina", assuming she's a human being. It must be awful to work for a company like that.

Trading in your fly-swatter for a hammer

I don't have any inside information about what's been going on in the schools in Amherst, but I had an insight many years ago that provides a lens to help me understand what's happening now.

When my children were in elementary school, Alisa got involved in the Parent Guardian Group (PGG) at Mark's Meadow. Later, she ran for School Committee and, after a relatively tough campaign, won a seat. What struck me more than anything else was our first parent-teacher conference after she was a school committee member rather than a parent: it completely transformed her relationship with the school. And she discovered she needed to be very careful of what she said and what issues she tried to address: because everything she said was interpreted differently.

I came up with an analogy that helped me understand what had happened: As a member of the PGG, it was like she had a fly-swatter, which was great for addressing small problems in-and-around the school. But it wasn't effective for crafting policy or making real change. When she joined the school committee, it was like trading in her fly-swatter for a hammer. A hammer is great for accomplishing real work -- but it's terrible for swatting flies. And if you try to use it for swatting flies, you just break everything. This is exactly what I think we've had over the past few months.

When you serve on a committee, you choose to invest your effort in helping the committee craft effective policy. But it means you lose the ability to try to address problems directly, outside of that venue. You get to influence the actual policy but, if you don't agree with the outcomes, you have to either accept and support them — or leave the committee. What you *can't* do, is try to have it both ways: you can't have an inside track in trying to affect policy and, at the same time, try to rabble-rouse outside the committee to put pressure on the process. You have to choose one or the other. When you don't, you end up with outcomes like what we've seen: where the committee has lost the ability to provide effective governance.

Tago dua de ARE

La dua tago de ARE estas la plej longa. Mi partoprenis du programerojn kaj faris mian propran kontribuon.

Unue, Orlando Raola gvidis programeron pri te-trinkado. Li klarigis kio estas teo, kiel oni kultivas ĝin, kaj kiel prepari kaj trinki ĝin. Ĝi estis tre interesa sed mi konstatas ke mi ankoraŭ ne ŝatas teon.

Poste Ron Glossop legis prelegon pri la signifo de la nuna "homara epoko". Montriĝis ke temis pri monda federaciismo kaj Esperanto kiel internacia lingvo. Kia surprizo!

Mia programero denove temis la verkadon de hajkoj. Venis eble dek aŭ dekdu homoj. Mi ĉifoje nomis ĝin "ginko promeno" kaj, post enkonduko, mi proponis ke la partoprenantoj promeno en la apuda ĝardeno por serĉi inspiron por hajkoj. Mi verkis du:

en la florĝarden'
ĉio jam fortranĉita…
krom la solidago

de la tilio
falas flava folio…
ŝia esprimo

Kelkaj verkis ĝis kvin aŭ ses! Ni rondiris la cirklon ĝis ĉiuj estis legitaj. Kia plezuro!

Post tagmanĝo estis prelegoj pri Youtube kaj la grupa fotado. Sed tiam mi estis tre laca.

Dum la libera tempo, mi decidis dormi kaj mi vekiĝis kun sufiĉa energio por la kultura vespero.

Por mia kontribuo, mi proponis legi la epopean poemon kiun mi verkis por la Belartaj Konkursoj. Mia poemo gajnis nenian premion, do mi ne rekte scias kion pensis la juĝistoj. Eble ĝi estis unu el tiuj aŭtoroj kiu, laŭ Giulio Cappa "rezignis pri la ebleco vere konkurenci por literatura premio kaj preferas ŝoki ĵurianojn kaj respondeculojn per personaj atakoj aŭ mokoj". Mi supozas ke mi neniam scios.

Tomaso proponis ke mi estu la unua. Mi uzis la komputilon por montri la duopojn dum mi legis. Mi ofertis mallongan priskribon pri la poemo, pri kio estas romanco, kaj mia celo ke Esperantujo havu epopean poezion por priskribi niajn mitojn kaj heroajn figurojn.

Mi voĉo estis ankoraŭ iomete malforta pro malvarmumo, sed mi sukcesis aŭdigi min. Je la ĝustaj punktoj, la aŭskultantoj ridegis kaj, ĉe la fino, mi ricevis grandan aplaŭdon.

Mi tre ĝuis la aliajn belajn spektaklojn: muzikon kaj kantadon, plejparte. Sed por mi la plej grava afero estis ke mi plenumis ĉion kion mi celis fari ĉijare kaj mi povis simple ripozi kaj ĝui la programon.

ARE Komenciĝas

Mi ellitiĝis je la 4a horo ĉimatene por finprilabori la programon por la Aŭtuna Renkontiĝo. Estis kelkaj plendoj kaj plibonigoj kiujn mi devis pritrakti kaj tiam iri al la oficejo por presi la paperajn ekzemplerojn. Je la 7a horo, mi estis en la aŭto kaj jam survoje. Sed ne al ARE -- ne unue.

Mia amiko Bug Rodger proponis ke ni iru al la Treehouse Bierfarejo por aĉeti bieron. Treehouse estas unu el la nunaj steluloj de la lokaj bierfarejoj kaj ili fariĝis ege popularaj. Mi aŭdis pri ili sed ankoraŭ ne provis la bierojn.

Ili malfermiĝas je la 11a sabate. Mi alvenis proksimume je la 8a kaj estis la 9a en vico. Rodger alvenis kelkaj minutoj poste. Ni pasigis la horojn per babilado. Dum ni parolis alvenis pli kaj pli da homoj. Kaj pli kaj pli kaj pli.

Line at Treehouse Brewery

Ili fakte malfermiĝis preskaŭ duonhoro antaŭ la 11a. Antaŭ ili malfermiĝis, ili disdonis mendilojn kiun oni povis plenumi por botelegoj de freŝa biero. Kiam oni eniris la vendejon, oni povis aĉeti ĝis 6 ladskatolojn de 2 specoj de biero, 1 botelo de "nativa" biero, kaj ĝis tri botelegojn de freŝa biero. Mi aĉetis la ladskatolojn kaj du botelegojn. Post nur kelkaj momentoj, mi estis jam en la aŭto kaj survoje al ARE.

Mi devis halti dum kelkaj minutoj en la posttagmezo pro laco sed alvenis kelkaj minutoj antaŭ la komenciĝo de la programo. (Kiu estas bone, pro tio ke mi kunportis la programojn!) Normando gvidis la bonvenon pro tio, mi ŝercis, ke mi alvenis sed forgesis kunporti la voĉon. (Mi estas malsana kaj la voĉo estas tre malforta).

Dum la Literatura Horo, mi parolis dum kelkaj minutoj pri Belarta Rikolto. Mi priskribis ĝin, parolis iomete pri la Belartaj Konkursoj, kaj konfesis ke mi havis en ĝi rakonton kiu gajnis honoran mencion. Mi legis iomete de mia rakonto.

La Amika Vespero estis tre sukcesa. Ni faris multajn ludojn kaj mi eĉ gvidis ludon -- nur duone sukcese. Sed finfine, mi revenis al mia ĉambro kaj, dum ĝisdatiĝi pri la novaĵoj kaj verki ĉi tion, mi trinkis iom en la "Haze" biero. Bonege. Tre kremeca kaj bongusta. Kia bona momento estas por vivi.

Structure of Public Higher Education in Massachusetts

One topic that came up at the NTT gathering yesterday is the need for a chart, diagram, guide, or infographic, that concisely explains how governance and collective bargaining are organized in higher ed in Massachusetts. It's an incomprehensible alphabet soup until you learn how things work.

For example: in public higher education, the "board" might be the Board of Higher Ed, which governs higher ed -- except for the UMass system that has a Board of Trustees instead. Both UMass Lowell and UMass Amherst have unions called "MSP" to represent faculty, but they're totally different organizations. By contrast, UMass Amherst has MSP and UMass Boston has FSU, but they actually are legally one entity called JCC that bargains for both. UMass Amherst has three separate unions: MSP, PSU, and USA that cover faculty, professional and classified employees, but FSU does all three at Boston. Lowell, Amherst, and Boston are all affiliated with MTA, but Dartmouth is in AFT. Eventually, you learn all this stuff, but its impossible for someone who doesn't know it to understand how things work.

I think it would be a great idea to have a big chart or infographic that could show governance (from the top down, of course) and then union representation (from the bottom up) with names, acronyms, and leadership info. I think it might really help people get up-to-speed on the structure of things.

NTT Gathering

Last year, I attended the first NTT Gathering that brought together non-tenure track faculty from across the UMass sytem to talk, primarily, about issues of equity. They met again during the summer, when I was out of town, and again today. I drove with a colleague to Boston to attend the meeting.

It was a smaller group this time, but represented a sampling of the activists from Amherst, Lowell, and Boston -- as well as several community colleges. It was interesting to hear what's going on on each of the campuses.

Amherst just held an NTT summit where faculty came together to establish positions for bargaining. I was also able to report about the conversation I had with Marty Meehan last spring after our first NTT Gathering and read the letter I had drafted to him.

Boston has been struggling with a budget deficit where the administration was directed to make deep cuts in their NTT faculty. The union has been pushing back with actions to raise visibility and highlight the nonsensical false economy of cutting the NTT faculty that actually generate the vast majority of the revenue of the campus.

The Lowell group is drawn primarily from the adjunct faculty that have been trying to negotiate their first contract as a new union under very trying circumstances. They've made some progress, but talks have mostly been stalled for more than a year.

There was also a community college group that spoke to the challenges of organizing the adjuncts because it tends to be composed of three populations: (1) people who are full-time but teach an extra course or two to earn a little additional money, (2) people who are in business or a profession and want to teach as a hobby, and (3) people who are trying to make a living as an academic. Since these groups have very different interests, they're difficult to organize or mobilize toward common goals.

We talked about how to move forward and how to organize the group. I recommended avoiding the model of having a "board" with "officers" as I thought that was mainly necessary to provide oversight of money or assets, which we don't have. I suggested a steering committee with a chair whose members could serve as conduits to the other committees we might organize. I suggested it be less formal, but the sense of the group was to have equal representation with two from each UMass campus and a couple more that could represent the state universities and community colleges.

We set future meetings for November, February, and April with some goals to aim for to refine our message and plan some actions to raise visibility for the issues. I'm pleased to see it happening and, although I resisted efforts to get dragged into being on the steering committee, agreed to help draft the mission statement.

Cheap Shots

There have been a variety of posts coming out recently critiquing the left for dismissing Trump's candidacy (Hillbilly Elegy, Strangers in their Own Land, and others). Today, it's Fabius Maximuson on Matt Taibi.

These critiques claim that people on the right are offended by liberals who refuse engage with them on the issues: Why they lose: the Left tells us that Trump is like Hitler. I can see why they might call it a cheap shot.

But it's actually not. Trump ACTUALLY IS a fascist, by claiming irrationally that he's the only one that can fix things; by creating a cult of personality; by asserting that torture works and he'll use more of it; by claiming he can unilaterally circumvent the constitution to discriminate against people based on race and religion. Trump ACTUALLY DOES espouse anti-science and anti-reality positions. Trump is a fraud and a liar. It is not a cheap shot to point these things out. Rather, it is a cheap shot to claim that liberals "dismiss" Trump just because he spouts lies that some people want to hear. And a bunch of Trump's simplistic ideas are just stupid: like The Wall.

The US could build "a wall", but it would be a terrible use of resources. It would be much better to assess how best to effect change and to use the money thoughtfully for a hundred different policies (e.g. hire more staff, build better databases, etc.) and investments (buy drones, cameras, and early detection systems) that would give us the greatest bang for the buck. But that's complicated and requires policy wonks to develop and implement. And, unfortunately, that's not what a lot of people want to hear.

After the Massachusetts primary, I mused about the situation as I saw it: namely that there is a strong anti-establishment wind blowing in both parties and that it was a terrible mistake for the Democrats to double-down on the one person who is perhaps the greatest living embodiment of the elite establishment candidate.

while establishment Democrats would probably line up behind whoever the nominee is, the disaffected people will not. I suspect they will probably be a lot more willing to cross party lines: They don't care who burns everything down, as long as someone does. I really worry that being able to tap into the disaffected vote of both parties might be enough to carry Trump to victory.

The Democrats could have chosen Bernie. This is a consistent fatal pattern with the Democrats: picking the candidate whose turn it is, rather than looking at what the times and circumstances require. Still: we live in a democracy (sort of) and the people have spoken (sort of) and we'll just have to live with the consequences.

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