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Steven D. Brewer's blog

Malbona Esperantisto

Pasintsomere, mi vojaĝis al la 100a Universala Kongreso. Mi ekvojaĝis kun mia frato. Ni decidis paroli nur Esperante survoje kaj dum la kongreso, do ni pasigis pli ol semajno en Esperantujo. Finfine, dum la fruaj matenaj horoj en Islando, survoje hejme, ni babilis iomete en la angla kaj, iom post iom, transiris tute al la angla. Kaj mi parolis Esperanton, almenaŭ iomete, ĉe ARE en oktobro.

Dum la aŭtuno, tamen, mia loka grupo ĉesis kunveni. Mi provis organizi kelkajn aferojn sensukcese kaj ĉesis provi en januaro. Ekde tiam, mi apenaŭ parolis Esperanton.

Tio ne signifas ke mi neniel uzas Esperanton: mi legas aferojn ĉe Facebook kaj mi finlaboris mian lastan libron Ideoj Ĝermas. Sed mi konstatis hodiaŭ ke mi nek aŭdas Esperanton nek parolas ĝin dum semajnoj. Aŭ monatoj. Kaj mi sentas min iomete sola.

Mi iom bedaŭras ke mi ne partoprenas MeKaRon ĉisemajnfine. Mi nek partoprenas Landan Kongreson nek NASKon nek Universalan Kongreson. Mi estas malbona esperantisto.

Mi tamen havas kelkajn novajn projektojn kiujn mi antaŭenigas. Mi proponas traduki librojn el Esperanto por eldonejo -- Ni vidu ĉu ili akceptos la proponon. Mi ankaŭ ĵus akceptis postenon kiel redaktoro por Terglobaj Voĉoj. Tio por mi estas reveno ĉar antaŭlonge, mi verkis serion da artikoloj por reklami projekton kiun mi faris por la t.n. Ligo por Esperanto en Norda Ameriko.

Mi bedaŭras ke mia loka grupo forvelkas. Mi pensas ke eble mi decidu re-aktivigi ĝin kiel ĝi estas unue: mi elektu lokon kaj "kunvenu" tie, spite tio, kion aliaj volas fari. Ili plej often ne volas kunveni ĉiaokaze, do mi sentas ke mi povas fari kion ajn mi volas. Kaj se ili volas veni, des pli bone. Kaj, se ne, eble aliaj venos.

Journey or destination

Philip writes about summer work and setting up some goals for the summer. In looking at his goals, he realizes that some are things he wants to "do" and other are things he wants to "get done", so he changes them to all be things he wants to do.

I've always found the journey vs destination metaphor to be more useful. I've never been very interested in going out to ride my bike around: I want to have a destination. And I find it very satisfying to get there. Sometimes it's OK to just noodle around aimlessly, but I'm not likely to push myself or try very hard that way.

That said, I try to be mindful all along the way. I stop to look at flowers, take side trips to explore new places along the way, or just to rest and look toward the mountains. And to be prepared to shift to a different destination if something else seems better.

To me, that's what the distinction is: I'm not undertaking a journey for the journey's sake. I'm setting out for myself: to get somewhere. It doesn't have to be somewhere new or exciting, but I'd have a hard time traveling without some kind of goal in mind. Imagine it:

Fred says, "What are you doing this summer?"

George replies, "I'm going to travel."

Fred says, "Oh! Where are you going?"

George replies, "Well, I'll be in a car for a while. And then maybe I'll go on a train. And then..."

Fred interrupts, "No. I mean what is your destination?"

George replies, "What is this 'destination' of which you speak? I'm going to travel!"

I remember the metaphor I used when I was working on my dissertation. To me, it was like crossing a mountain range: I spent a year going back and forth looking for an easy pass over the mountain range and when I couldn't find one, I began climbing up first one mountain and then another. In the middle, it looked like mountains all around and I was totally unable to imagine how I'd gotten there or how I would ever finish. But, eventually, I climbed up the last mountain and then was down the other side and through before I knew it.

Having a destination gives meaning to the journey. I mean, it's a little like "walking". Without a destination, you might as well be playing golf.

Barbara Madeloni Re-elected

In recent years, I've had to chose whether to attend graduation or MTA Annual Meeting. This year, however, they were scheduled on different weekends and it was a pleasure to be able to do both.

I'd gotten disgusted with the MTA leadership and then was so amazed and pleased when Barbara Madeloni was elected president. She's struggled because many in the leadership failed to give her their support, but in spite of that I think she's done an excellent job. She's really changed the dialog about education and unions in the state. It's been an incredible turnaround. But Barbara was up for re-election and she had two opponents: the guy she beat last time and the current vice-president.

The turn out to the meeting was huge -- so large that, although we usually had tables, they had to set up stadium seating to fit in enough chairs.

MTA Annual Meeting

I wasn't sure what was going to happen, but I was encouraged when I went to the Educators for a Democratic Union caucus meeting and found that one in three participants was a first-timer. It was incredible to see how many new members had come to make a difference!

Once again, the public schools are facing an existential threat. The monied interests want to privatize the schools and have put a measure on the ballot that would allow them to open a dozen new charter schools every year. That means they could wipe out the public schools in two or three towns every year. Reports are that they've raised $18 million to devote to passing the measure.

The MTA and AFT are working together to defeat it in a coalition called Save Our Public Schools. The main piece of business at Annual Meeting was to approve our contribution toward the funding. It was going to require some tough choices. As we debated the issues, the election was going on.

My main frustration is that almost every election cycle, we have to face another threat from enemies with deep pockets that play mischief with the law. Our legislators tell us they hate ballot measures and so we haven't run any. But yet we end up having to defend ourselves and it's bleeding us dry. One year, it was to defeat a ballot measure that would have eliminated the income tax. Another year, it was to allow administrators to fire teachers more-or-less arbitrarily.

I think we should go on the offense. I think we should launch our own ballot measures and require them to fight us. The first one I'd do is to require charter school teachers to be in the same collective bargaining unit as the local public schools. But we have enough MTA members that if JUST OUR MEMBERS signed on, we could put measures on the ballot. We could do five or ten or a dozen. Maybe that would get someone's attention.

In the end, Barbara was handily reelected -- and allies won several of the races for Director and Executive Committee seats. Unfortunately, Barbara's enemies combined forces to defeat the vice-presidential candidate that was running with her, which I thought was really unfortunate because I had been, by far and away, more impressed with her ideas and vision than any of the others.

I also noticed that the reactionary forces in the union are weakening. When their spokespersons would come to the mic, you could almost predict that the body would vote against them. The MTA is odd: very strongly progressive related to unionism and public education, but extremely divided with respect to many other conservative causes. But the infusion of new blood means that the times they are a'changing.

Town Meeting Through a Lens

On Monday, I took on a new role as President of Amherst Media: Cameraman. When the students leave, Amherst Media is bereft of most of their interns and it's a struggle to find people to record town events — like Town Meeting. At the board meeting, I volunteered to help out and on Monday was called on to run one of the cameras at Town Meeting.

I've never served in Town Meeting, although I've run a couple of times. But I've certainly heard a lot about Town Meeting over the years. And I've seen snippets on TV from Amherst Media coverage, but never watched a whole meeting from "gavel to gavel". It was sobering.

To cover Town Meeting they set up three cameras — plus collect a video feed from the data projector. One camera is fixed on the moderator and one is placed on the stage and records Town Meeting members when they speak. I was manning Camera One, that is at the back of the room and records the Town Officials and Board Members who sit at the front of the room.

The first thing you really notice when you see Town Meeting for the first time is how old everyone is. As someone who spends most of their time at the University, its kind of a shock — like you've wandered accidentally into a geriatric or assisted-care facility.

The cameras they use for Town Meeting are pretty old too: they're professional, high-quality cameras, but old school: big, with a manual focus ring. They have to be positioned high, to record over the audience, and trying to reach my arms around both sides to pan, tilt, and focus, I rather felt like I was trying to dance with a coat rack. But I felt like I got the hang of it pretty quickly.

It's impressive the amount of work that goes into preparing the warrant — the list of motions that Town Meeting will be asked to approve. The professional staff in Public Works, the Police, the Fire Department, the Planning Department, put together a list of needs for the Town: new snow removal equipment, police cars, etc. For major purchases, the Joint Capital Planning Committee builds a schedule so that major capital purchases don't accidentally line up all on the same year. The Finance Committee figures out how to balance revenues with expenditures. The Select Board oversees the process to make sure the Town Committees are staffed and that everyone has had a chance for input. And then it goes to Town Meeting.

The cameras all feed into a device where the Director can watch the incoming video feeds and choose one for the live broadcast. He communicates with the camera operators using a headset and provides terse directions regarding how to frame the shots and to let you know when the focus is soft. At the camera, you have only a tiny, low-res black-and-white viewfinder that is a couple of feet away (for a short person like me), so it's hard to tell that stuff. As a photographer, my inclination is to use a "rule of thirds" when composing shots, but I found that the viewfinder has a larger extent than what the feed actually provides, so I had to compensate to put stuff closer to the middle.

I've heard people complain about Town Meeting, but it wasn't until I actually sat through a whole meeting that I really understood why. It would be interesting to actually collect data, but I would propose that only about half of the statements from Town Meeting Members are actually on target for the item under discussion. Routinely, people would stand and ask questions that just showed they didn't understand basic aspects of Town Government or hadn't read the packet. One woman didn't know what the Joint Capital Planning Committee was and seemed surprised at the idea that she should know. I was bemused that she thought it was appropriate to waste the time of 200 people brandishing her ignorance like a buckler. Or the guy who wanted to ask about painting lines on roads when the part of the budget that funds the bus service was under discussion. But ignorance and failing to bother to prepare was just one way people would waste time.

A vast number of Town Meeting members have a favorite hobby horse they want to get out and trot around in front of everyone. It doesn't matter what the topic is under discussion: they'll stand up to tell you about their hobby horse even though it's irrelevant to the motion. Or only very tangentially related. Nothing is too tangential for them to start railing about their favorite cause.

And then there are the ineducable people: people who don't seem to have any actual agenda, but are really just excited by the possibility of making 200 people pay attention to them. Who knew that three minutes could seem so long.

As I say, it would be interesting to collect data: to get people to do rankings of how relevant Town Meeting Member statements are to the topic under discussion: I'm almost tempted to make up a rating sheet and distribute them at Town Meeting. But I suspect people would take offense.

In the end, I was pleased to volunteer to help record a meeting for Amherst Media. With the incredible number of recent events: Library planning, Town Manager search, and Charter Commission, we're really stretched thin. And it was very interesting to actually see Town Meeting for myself.

Speaking of the Charter Commission, they're having a public hearing on Thursday May 12 at 7pm in the Middle School Auditorium to consider proposing revisions to our form of government. Hmm. I guess I know where I'm going to be.

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.


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