The Archive Thief

The Archive Thief, by Lisa Moses Leff, is an interesting read, although I found it ultimately unsatisfying. The parts are all interesting, well-documented and well-written, but they don't quite hang together as a coherent story. Since this is not a story, but instead a book about a real person, that's perhaps excusable.

Szajkowski was a speaker of Yiddish and, although he spoke several other languages, did most of his writing in Yiddish. He was prolific, beginning as a journalist and moving into scholarly historical writing. He did not have an advanced education, but became fascinated by finding historical documents and bringing them into relation with one another.

As a young man, he moved from Poland to France. At the outbreak of World War II, he joined the army, was injured, and ended up in the south of France where he managed to stay out of the internment camps. He was helped by the Sharps -- or the group they were working for -- to get out of France. In the US, he joined the armed forces and was a paratrooper on D-Day. In Berlin and France, after the war, he collected documents and archives fanatically including both evidence of Nazi crimes and looted Jewish documents.

He struggled after the war. Yiddish never really came back after the war and his efforts at publishing in English were only marginally successful. At some point, he turned to stealing archival materials. Eventually, when it appeared certain his crimes would come to light, he committed suicide. The book turns on trying to comprehend his motivations which are, in the end, unknowable.

I was attracted to the book for a couple of reasons. First, because I'm working with the Special Collections folks at UMass trying to put together archives about Esperanto. But also having just read A Bridge of Words and Defying the Nazis, I was interested to read another take -- a very different take -- on eastern-European Jewish experience. Unsurprisingly Zamenhof and Esperanto aren't mentioned, but many of the same issues are.

A central question to Szajkowski was whether Jews were better off to assimilate or to remain apart. By assimilating, they gained economic benefits and had less discrimination, but they lost their identity and language. It was a question that Szajkowski struggled with and would have probably answered differently at different points in his life. After all, assimilating hadn't protected the French Jews from the Holocaust.

I see this question echoed in the question about the interna ideo of Esperanto and the more current question of whether Esperanto is a movement or a hobby. Humphrey Tonkin has argued that what has sustained Esperanto was the moral authority that a social movement required. But it is also echoed in the commitment that Zamenhof made to universalism: to no longer pursue the agenda of the Jews -- or any particular nation or people -- and to only aim for what is best for all mankind. It's not a commitment that many of us can make.

Religion or ideology

Donald Trump continues to announce his extreme right-wing picks for his cabinet. Each one seems worse than the next. I am particularly disturbed by the choices of Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon.

Both Flynn and Bannon believe that the United States is, or ought to be, a Christian state. They believe "we" are fighting a war against Islam, which they say is an "idealogy" rather than a religion. They seemingly get that first amendment protects "religion", but evidently take this to mean that by labeling a religion as an "ideology", it should not receive protection. But if they believe in the first amendment, they will also recognize that "we" are not Christian. Steve Bannon says:

when capitalism was I believe at its highest flower and spreading its benefits to most of mankind, almost all of those capitalists were strong believers in the Judeo-Christian West. They were either active participants in the Jewish faith, they were active participants in the Christians’ faith, and they took their beliefs, and the underpinnings of their beliefs was manifested in the work they did. And I think that’s incredibly important and something that would really become unmoored. I can see this on Wall Street today — I can see this with the securitization of everything

Note: It says "securitization", but based on comments elsewhere in his speech, I believe he means "secularization", e.g. "The other tendency is an immense secularization of the West. And I know we’ve talked about secularization for a long time, but if you look at younger people, especially millennials under 30, the overwhelming drive of popular culture is to absolutely secularize this rising iteration" and "I certainly think secularism has sapped the strength of the Judeo-Christian West to defend its ideals".

Bannon is putting his finger on a problem: that capitalism has become unmoored from any other measure of morality. But to make the assumption that the only kind of morality worthy of consideration is a Christian morality leads us down a very dark path indeed.

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.

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