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A Creative Outlet

When I was a kid, my parents encouraged me to try various musical pursuits. Their own experience led them to not subject their boys to piano lessons, although looking back, I think they regretted it a bit. Phil might even have had a lesson or two. I never did.

I started playing violin in 4th or 5th grade and played in the orchestra through high school, eventually reaching first chair of second (or maybe even first) violin -- at least whenever we had a concert. There was a girl who wanted to be first chair that I would let win when she challenged me and we weren't getting ready for a concert. But I would challenge her and win before the concerts. It sounds more nefarious than it actually was. We referred to each other as "sectional partners" because we were in the same section of the orchestra.

In middle-school, I got an acoustic guitar and, with my brother's help, taught myself to play. In high school, I got an electric guitar. It was a cheap stratocaster knockoff, but was actually a pretty good instrument. I played constantly -- often practicing three hours a day. My father found the incessant noise almost intolerable. My mom (Happy Mother's Day!) said she was just happy to know where I was and that I was doing what I wanted.

I mostly played by myself, but also played with friends and in a few groups. I performed a few times solo and with groups.

Some people tell me I was a pretty good guitar player. I never really felt like I was all that good at it. I had a pretty good ear and learned a few tricks, but I certainly never really felt like I mastered it. I played with a lot of different people and felt like I could be a pretty good backup player, but never much of a lead player. Still, it was a good creative outlet and was great therapy for getting out a lot of teenage anger.

When I got to college, I started to find I couldn't make time to practice. And, after I played a jam session with someone who was really, really good (I was later told he was one of Aretha Franklin's grand-children) I decided to quit playing guitar. I could see that no matter how much I practiced, I was never going to be all that. And I was having a hard time finding any time to practice (I was a double major in Biology and Spanish). It felt like it was a lot of time and effort that just wasn't going to lead anywhere.

I probably didn't touch a guitar for 20 years.

When my kids were little, I thought about picking up the guitar again. Daniel wanted a guitar and so we got him one. But he soon tired of it and I felt like I was trying to make him do something for what I wanted rather than what he wanted.

Recently, however, I've felt a need for a new creative outlet. I poked around a bit and saw an inexpensive stratocaster knockoff that only cost new about what I paid for the old used guitar I had back in the day. It had good ratings, so I went ahead and bought it.

When Daniel heard I had bought I guitar, he looked at me. "I have a guitar," he said. "Yes, you do," I replied.

Although it came a couple days ago, I've been so busy with graduation, I didn't have time to do more than put it in tune until today. But today, I played until my fingers were sore -- which didn't really take all that long. And I'll do the same for a while, until I build up some calluses. I don't know whether it will lead anywhere or not, but I'm old enough now that I don't really care.

Outliers are not models

I liked this article about outliers that offers two useful policy insights that are worth attending to. In short, (1) schools don't cause the academic gap between whites and minorities — and it's stupid to think they can fix it. And (2) the rare counter examples, where it seems like schools are fixing it, are OUTLIERS — not models that can be replicated.

Young Professionals of Amherst

Amherst Media hosted an open house for the Young Professionals of Amherst. We had 25 or 30 people who came to mingle and see Amherst Media. We had several displays set up, including some local game developers, a demo using Google Cardboard, and I manned a table for Makers at Amherst Media. The event was catered by Haven Foods which had some really delicious paleo foods laid out.

Toward the end, I was asked to make a few remarks as President of Amherst Media. This is close to what I said:

I'd like to thank the Young Professionals for coming to Amherst Media. It's been a pleasure to have you here.

If Amherst Media were a person, I'm afraid we wouldn't be considered very young. In fact, this is our 40th year as a local media center for Amherst.

Originally, we were Amherst Community Television, but we rebranded as Amherst Media because we've grown beyond just doing television programing with streaming and internet production as well. We have equipment, facilities, training, and other services to help members do all kinds of media production, which I think everyone recognizes is important in today's environment.

Although we may not be young, I'd like to recognize our staff that help add a layer of professionalism to everything our members do. We are a membership organization and I would like to invite you to join.

Amherst Media is a unique place because it's an intersection of the many disparate communities that compose Amherst. If you look at our recent shows they include not only current news, education, politics, and technology — like our Makerspace — but also history, religion, and culture. Everything and everyone in Amherst eventually shows up in Amherst Media.

We invite you to be a part of Amherst Media and take advantage of our staff, our services, and our community. And we thank you again for coming!

I was pleased to show off Amherst Media and our Makers initiative to an interested and receptive audience.

UMass NTT Rising

A few weeks ago, I noticed an announcement that some folks were organizing a meeting of Non-Tenure-Track (NTT) faculty from across the UMass system. I checked with my local (to ask whether they were aware this was happening -- they weren't) and to get an announcement out. Although several people expressed interest, in the end, I went by myself.

I decided to take my bike along with me and left early so I could explore the area a bit. There's a Harbor Walk that runs along the harbor both north and south of the campus. I arrived in time to explore south first. The Harbor Walk was in poor repair in that direction, with big expansion gaps in the pavement, which made riding not much fun. After exploring, I picked up my computer from the car (although I ended up not using it) and found the meeting in good order.

There was a big group -- more than 40 -- but I think I was the only representative from Amherst. The largest contingent came from UMass Lowell, which is in the middle of a bruising bargaining period. There were also a fair number from UMass Boston (unsurprisingly) and a good showing from Dartmouth. There was no one from the Medical School. There were also a handful of folks from the community colleges.

A main goal of the meeting was simply for people to share experiences about the nature of employment for people from different institutions and categories. It was pretty sobering.

When I arrived at UMass Amherst, there was little language in the contract regarding non-tenure-system faculty. A few years after I arrived, the union organized a working group to develop a set of priorities and we began to bargain to improve the conditions for NTT faculty. We haven't gotten everything we want. (In particular, I would still very much like to get a sabbatical for NTT faculty. Years ago, NTT appointments were generally short. The point of a sabbatical is for long-term faculty to maintain currency. But with NTT faculty appointments now lasting 20 and 30 years, we have as much need as anyone -- maybe more.) But we have gotten much of what we've sought. We've established that someone teaching four 3-credit sections is, minimally, a full-time employee. We gained, first one and then two, promotion opportunities. We regularized the lengths of contracts and subsequently developed a system for "continuing employment" which has replaced term appointments for most NTT faculty. We also established that current part-time faculty must be offered any newly available sections before additional part-timers can be hired. And many more gains. But it's not so nice everywhere.

The adjuncts at UMass Lowell are unbenefitted: no health insurance and no pension. In spite of the fact that many are working more than 4 sections. It's really appalling. The administration has been stonewalling them and it now appears that they have not been bargaining in good faith. They have a petition which everyone should sign.

It doesn't sound much better at UMass Dartmouth.

The MSP -- the faculty union at UMass Amherst -- was smart: the tenure-system faculty organized the non-tenure-system faculty and adjuncts into the same union. Not everyone agreed with this idea. At Dartmouth and Lowell, the adjuncts have ended up in a separate union and its clear that there are divisions between the two groups. The adjuncts feel that they are not welcome in faculty meetings and that the full-time faculty are part of the problem. I tried to explain the situation as I understood it: many tenure-system faculty watch as tenure lines are converted into multiple non-tenure positions. They fear this because the scholarship of the department is being threatened. Non-tenure-system faculty are too busy teaching to participate in scholarship except in a volunteer, hobbyist kind of way. Tenure-system faculty wish that everyone would hold out for a "real" tenure-system job and they don't want the NTT jobs to look attractive. But this is an inhumane way of thinking about the problem. The MSP got it right: by insisting that the NTT faculty were professionalized and treated well, it reduced the incentives of the administration to replace tenure-system faculty with NTT.

I offered some encouraging words: we didn't have any of these things when we started 12 years ago and we gained them all through solidarity and hard bargaining. Not without difficulty and compromise, to be sure. But I assured them that they -- that WE -- could do the same. The group agreed to meet again this summer (although I probably won't be available that day).

I made one other small contribution: they began wanting to organize officers or leaders and I suggested waiting a bit. We're still a small part of what I believe will become a much larger group over the coming months -- as the word gets out regarding what the adjuncts are trying to do. I suggested we wait until we have that larger pool of members before trying to organize a steering committee.

After the meeting, I took a longer ride north along the harbor. I rode past the JFK Presidential Library and up toward Boston. It reminded me a bit of harbor at Fredriksted. But it was colder, not as blue -- and it sure didn't smell as nice. Still, it was a lovely spring day. I'll need to take my bike more places so I can get out and explore.

Enjoy your whistle

I found myself looking at Ben Franklin's autobiography today and encountered a parable he wrote about a whistle which is perfectly reasonable from a Western perspective, but which I find I lacking in what I might call mindfulness. He says:

I conceive that great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimates they have made of the value of things, and by their giving too much for their whistles.

And I would say, instead, that the most miseries are, by far and away, caused not by giving too much for their whistles, but by not enjoying their whistles enough. He was perfectly happy with his whistle until he let other people convince him he'd made a bad bargain. The mistake is regretting the decision. Yes, knowing what he knew later, perhaps it was a bad decision: but it wasn't a bad decision at the time. Indeed, if he hadn't bought the whistle, he might have been beaten and robbed before even getting to the store. You'll spend your whole life in misery if you don't enjoy what's enjoyable that's right before you and instead torment yourself over what might have been. Enjoy your whistle! That's my motto.

Ideoj Ĝermas

Mi eldonis novan libron de hajkoj: Ideoj Ĝermas. Mi dum jaroj verkas hajkojn ekde kiam mi laste eldonis libron. Ĉi tiu libro mankas la anglajn tradukojn de la antaŭaj libroj, do estas nur en Esperanto. Mi ne trovis grandan aĉetantaron per miaj libroj. Mi verŝajne ne estus eldoninta ĉi tiun libron krom tio ke mi elpensis la ideojn antaŭ jaro kaj trovis la taŭgajn fotojn por la enhavaj bildoj. Sur la kovrilo estas la jena klarigo pri la libro.

De kie venas ideoj? La homa kreema forto estas ĉiam mistera kaj nekomprenebla. Ŝajnas ke ideoj aperas el nenio, Sed tio ne eblas: io mirinda okazas kiam la homa menso tuŝas la mondon. Ĉiaj homaj spertoj, de naskiĝo ĝis morto, miksiĝas kaj produktas la fekundan teron el kiu ĉiuj ideoj ĝermas. Steven D. Brewer kaptas la spertojn de sia vivo kaj esprimas ilin en klaraj simplaj vortoj per la japana poezia formo de hajko.

A Visit to Sheffield

A week ago, I went to the BLDG8 brewery and arrived a half-hour too late -- they had already sold out. Since BLDG8 came on the scene, there isn't much other local beer that seems worth drinking. That's crazy, of course, we have a wealth of very drinkable local IPAs -- Gone Postal, Lost Sailor, Satisfaction, Blue Boots, and several others, just between Amherst and Northampton. But there is something very special about BLDG8.

On the way home, I stopped at a package store to see if I could find something else worth drinking and saw something I hadn't seen before: an IPA by the Big Elm brewery in Sheffield. I bought a six pack and gave it a try: It's not bad. It doesn't have any off features and, although without some of the citrusy bright notes that I prefer, is very drinkable. I looked them up, saw that they have a a taproom you can visit, and suggested to Buzz (and Tom) that we take a road trip out that way.

On Saturday, I met up with Buzz and Goopeel at Buzz's house and we drove the backroads to Sheffield where we met up with Julian at the Big Elm Brewery. They were doing a thriving business with visitors sampling and purchasing beer. We tried the non-hoppy beers first: their farm house ale, an ESB, and a stout. They were fine, but not very interesting. (Well, except for the farmhouse ale which is contaminated with chamomile. Blech.) Then we tried their IPA and their double-IPA: Fat Boy. The IPA didn't disappoint, but the Fat Boy was even better. It isn't quite as clean as BLDG8 with a stronger maltier flavor, but its very bitter and very satisfying. We each purchased two four packs of tallboy cans.

While we were there, we also took a tour. They have a fairly large operation with 9 big fermenters. They led us through their ingredients and the process of brewing, from milling the grain, boiling, sparging, fermenting, and canning. It was one of the better tours I've seen with a lot of interesting questions and detailed, frank answers.

Just down the street from Big Elm is the Berkshire Mountain Distillers. I've seen their products for several years, although not bought any. They produce a rum, but it's pretty expensive and I couldn't believe it was as good as Cruzan rum. At the distillery they let try a bunch of their offerings. I tried the rum (OK, but nothing special) and some of their whiskies. I particularly liked a special whiskey they've made from Sam Adams beer -- they're selling it as a Shay's Rebellion Whiskey, but at a price I'm not willing spend. So I bought their basic Berkshire Bourbon whiskey which is very passable and more reasonably priced.

While we were in Sheffield, I wanted to visit Bartholomew's Cobble, which is one of my favorite places in the state. It's a trustees of reservations site that has a rocky promontory of quarzite mixed with limestone along a loop of the Housatonic River. The limestone creates a gradient of less acidic conditions and the promontory has a wet side, a dry side, a warm side (to the south) and a cool side (to the north) which produces a vast array of biological conditions for different kinds of plants to grow -- hence the site has the highest diversity of plants of any place in New England. It's a bit early in the spring: the only wildflowers we saw were of Hepatica. But its lovely to walk along mossy bluffs, draped with ferns and enjoy a lovely spring day.

After our ramble, we had lunch at the brewery in Great Barrington. Their speciality seems to be the Reuben. They have several variations and I got the Mixed New York Grill, which is a mix of corned beer and pastrami served open faced on rye with cole slaw and russian dressing. It was spectacular. They also have a very passable IPA.

All in all, it was a lovely day out and reminds me what a treasure it is to have friends.

Bona kaj malbona novaĵo de UEA

En la angla estas ofta diraĵo, "Mi havas kaj bonan kaj malbonan novaĵon". Pri UEA nun estas same. La bona novaĵo, laŭ mi, estas la decido organizi kampanjon por akiri loĝejon por volontuloj ĉe la Centra Oficejo. Mi dum jare aŭdis pri la defio allogi volontulojn pro manko de loĝado, do tio estas bona ideo.

Plej bone, tamen, estas la celo uzi la projekton kiel preteksto serĉi monan subtenon. Tiuj, kiuj volas plibonigi la Esperanto-movadon havas nun la eblecon kontribui rekte. Nepras, laŭ mi, ke tiu ĉi projekto repagos la monon dekoble aŭ centoble dum la estontaj jaroj pro la senpaga laboro kiun junuloj kaj aliaj volontuloj povos oferti al la Esperanto-movado pere de la CO. Mi verŝajne donacos iom da mono al UEA por subteni la projekton.

Tamen, estas ankaŭ malbona novaĵo pri UEA.

Unu el la suĉantaj vundoj de la Esperanto-movado estas ke artikoloj kiujn oni kontribuas al Esperanto-revuo ne troviĝas ĉe la reto. Nu, jes, oni povas elŝuti PDF-dosieron, sed oni povas nek trovi artikolojn, nek ligi al ili, nek facile konigi ilin per la sociretaj sistemoj, kiel Facebook. Bedaŭrinde, montriĝas ke la nova redaktoro ne okupiĝas pri la reto. Eble mi troigas la mispaŝon, sed ŝajnas ke oni ne pripensas kiel la revuo devos roli en reta estonteco.

Post-primary musing

In Massachusetts, the race between Bernie and Hillary was tight, but not for Trump who carried the Bay State and dominated in most Super Tuesday races — with rare exceptions. Hillary was ascendant in the South and, with the Super Delegates, is well on her way to clinching the nomination.

There's a strong element of schadenfreude watching the implosion of the Republicans as a party. The idea of the Serious People losing to a buffoon like Trump is hysterical. The Republican Party is reaping the whirlwind they sowed by staking out anti-science, anti-government, and anti-reality positions for years. Like Bobby Jindal presciently warned, they've become the party of stupid. I wonder how Karl Rove feels about the reality they're creating now.

Both Bernie and Trump are tapping a strong element of discontent, in both parties, with politics as usual. The establishment can't believe that so many people are perfectly willing to burn it all down. There have been many articles describing the roots of this discontent and how insulated the establishment leaders have been from the insecurity and dissatisfaction most people in the United States feel with both parties.

One would think the match-up of Hillary versus Trump would be a cakewalk. Hillary is practically a Republican anyway. But I think Hillary has been vilified to such an extent by the Republican establishment that she will not attract much crossover.

On the other hand, 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.

Bernie is building a lot of enthusiasm among young people, but the young people just don't vote. This has been a truism for generations. Young people could be extremely influential in politics, but they just don't.

The surprise for me has been how shallow the dissatisfaction with the establishment seems to be among black voters in the south. If anyone has been left behind by both parties it's them. I don't know if their disinterest in Bernie is simply because he's a white man or lack of name recognition or what. It's fascinating.

I guess time will tell. In the meantime, I'm going to make some popcorn, crack a beer, and fully enjoy watching the Republican pundits sputter, fume, and run around like their hair is on fire. It's still months until July.

Cold Turkey

With the realization that Twitter was never going to get better, I decided to cut the cord. I posted final messages on my feeds, uninstalled the app from my mobile devices, and removed the modules from my website. I'm done with Twitter.

It's been painful in much the same way that quitting smoking was painful. It's particularly painful in the moments when you have nothing to do. You start smoking to kill time -- to give yourself something to do when you have to wait or you need to fidget. But then it takes over your life and start needing to kill time to smoke. Twitter was rather like that. And I still feel the urge I have to wait for something or someone. I used to be able to pick up my phone and look at Twitter. But no more.

I find that I have some time that I used to look at Twitter and, currently, I'm planning to use that time to read books. It's a good theory, but it doesn't really help when a commercial comes on TV. Or I have to wait between episodes of Tony Tony Chopper.

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