Who does government serve?

It's been interesting to me to see the explosion of anger over which giant megacorporation is running the ports on the east coast. So this company happens to be based in Dubai. I think it's an issue that probably plays well with the ignorant people in the country who don't like the appearance of "them a-rabs" controlling the ports, but I doubt it will make much difference in terms of security. Or at least the idea of "where a company is based" will tell you anything useful. Most of these giant megacorporations are international enough that describing where they are "based" doesn't necessarily tell you anything about the politics of the company. The larger issue is that our government increasingly no-longer serves the interest of the people in this country -- instead they are responsive to the interests of the rich around the world.

I remember reading in a Robert Reich book -- maybe The Future of Work how increasingly people would realize that their interests would align less with other people in their local economy and more with groups of other people in the global economy. But the giant corporations have already done this with the US government. With respect to international politics, it is hard to tell who benefits the most from the actions of the US government, but it's pretty clearly not the American people. The Bush administation serves the interests primarily of the rich and powerful around the world. When they do something that benefits "America" its only a coincidence.

At one time, it might have been possible to force corporations to act in the public interest. Corporations were originally extremely limited in purpose and duration. Corporations could only be chartered to serve the public interest and only lasted until that purpose had been fulfilled: constructing a bridge or a railroad. Now, in a global economy, the corporations are on top and, with government brought to their heel, it's not clear how the People will ever be able to get out from under their thumb.

Long Weekend

For the most part, I spent the long weekend quietly at home. I've felt extra busy at work this semester, so it was nice to get some extra rest and relaxation. I finally read the Patrick O'Brien book Pop had gotten me for Christmas. I played some StarCraft with Phil. I took the doggies for walks (a rather cold walk in Northampton on Saturday). On Monday, I spent a fair amount of the day cleaning house. I picked stuff up and got the floors swept at least.

On Monday evening, we had invited Tom and Kirsten for dinner. Alisa fixed Indian food: chicken tika and some kind of paneer with basmati rice, missy roti, and papadum. It was nice to catch up with Tom and Kirsten, who have moved back to the Valley after attending school in Boston for a couple of years. They've just moved into an apartment in Holyoke and are going to invite us to come see it once they have a few of the necessary amenities, like a stove and a fridge.

Tomorrow night, the BCRC staff come for pizza. I stopped by the store today and picked up supplies to make a bunch of pizza. I haven't had a BCRC pizza party in a year or more because there just didn't seem to be enough interest in doing it, but I'm pleased that this time we'll make it happen. When I was a student, I remember the faculty who made the effort to invite students to their houses. I remember being a bit uncomfortable going to have dinner with a professor but looking back, I value the experience and I'm glad to do the same for my students.

House nearly finished

Aspekto de domo nunThe house renovations are nearly finished. They finished the siding on Thursday, put on doors on Friday, and the last piece will be the new garage door on Monday. It's kind of astonishing to me what a difference it all makes. I expect I'll be astonished by the increase in our taxes as well. It's fun to come and see a pretty little house, and not a terrible wreck. It makes being outside more pleasant too. And it isn't so much just the appearance as being able to see it without having to worry about whether the deferred maintenance was causing more serious problems and stressing about how we were ever going to get it all fixed. For better or worse, it's done now -- and it sure feels better. Read more to see the before-and-after pictures.

Pordo antaŭe kaj posteThe new storm doors are top-of-the-line and have a good seal. Our exterior doors are rather old and don't seal well, so its important to have the storm doors. These also have an integrated screen, so you just slid down the upper window and a screen unrolls down from the top. There are two big advantages in that: one is that you can easily take advantage of nice weather by opening the screen and then close it again if the weather gets bad. You also don't have to store the glass panes someplace and risk breaking them either in storage or installing/uninstalling. We broke one of the old ones that way.

Domflanko antaŭe kaj posteThe difference before and after is really striking. The new siding gives the house a real glow and polish. I'm sorry to lose the wood siding in some ways -- cedar weathers extremely well, but some of the siding had been replaced with cheap pine and the whole thing had a bunch of paint slapped over it at some point. Getting all the wood covered with vinyl will make the exterior nearly maintenance free and will save a lot of money in the long run. Plus, all of these materials require oil to produce and buying them now makes a lot of sense to me, as I see oil getting more and more expensive. So buying the materials now is likely cheaper than it will be in the future. And you can click on any of the pictures in the blog and it should take you to flickr where you can see the larger versions -- I left the versions full size, so you can blow them up and see a lot of detail. Enjoy!

Hey! I'm Quoted!

I did a google search on me today and found that I'm quoted: there is a website that collects quotes by people, and they have one I said. I made that statement as part of when I was interviewed for this news.com article. I'm glad someone thought it was a cool quote. I wonder who it was?

I was looking at myself, because the guy I was writing about here found the article about him and asked the webmaster about it's content. It's useful to keep an eye on what people are saying about you. I've never found anything really nasty. Some people find nasty things and freak out. Which never helps.

The whole discussion about whether wikipedia articles are correct or not misses the whole point. It isn't about having perfectly correct pages that makes wikipedia so powerful -- it's having access to the history and the editorial dialog. You can't ever read something and know whether it's "true". But if you can see the history and the diversity of ideas and viewpoints that have contributed to the current page, now, suddenly, you can make an assessment. Is there no history? Hmm. Suspicious. Is there a long history of contributions that gradually lead to this nuanced view? Hmm. This is probably pretty good. Does the history gyrate wildly from one point of view to another? Hmm. This is something about which you have to look at assumptions and be prepared to take a position to evaluate each side.

You can use Wikipedia like a textbook or encylopedia by simply linking to particular pages in the history that you agree with, but that's just stupid. The goal isn't to slavishly believe any particular page: its about coming to grips with how many people look at something and trying to come to grips with the complexity. Wikipedia, for the first time, really lets people do that. That's why Wikipedia rocks.

Democratic Caucus

This afternoon, I volunteered at our local Democratic caucus. The caucus selects delegates to attend the state convention, which chooses the Governor candidates for the primary. All of the delegates selected support Deval Patrick. I have been excited about Deval Patrick since I saw him speak in Amherst last year. He seems like a breath of fresh air in the Democratic party in the state. I was a little sorry because another ADTC member whom I respect had wished there might be one delegate from Amherst that would support Reilly. There was, however, only delegate nominee who even expressed support for Reilly and he was not elected -- it wasn't even close. Reilly has been self-destructing over the past several weeks. He got involved with a case that he shouldn't have, he made a bone-head selection for a running mate, and then here is how he was quoted in the press today.

Reilly acknowledged Thursday that his selection of a running mate ''could have been handled better,'' and said his poor political skills were to blame. ''I have to work and improve on the politics of this campaign,'' he said.

It seems to me that someone with poor political skills doesn't have any business running for governor, let alone being governor.

One problem with the way the Massachusetts Democratic governor selection process works is that they have their primary so late. The primary isn't until September 19 and then the general election is less than two months away (November 7). We ought to have the primary earlier, so that the entire party has more time to unite behind a single candidate.

There has been a lot of pressure to get me to be the chair of the ADTC, but I have so far declined. I would probably be an acceptable chair, but I think I'm better as secretary than I would be as chair and, in the absence of someone who could step into my shoes as secretary, I'm unwilling to take on the responsibility as chair. Being chair would probably require me to call people on the telephone, which is right out, as far as I'm concerned.

Programming club

For the past two years, I've been mentoring a group of Charlie's friends that are interested in computer stuff. We set up Muppyville and have continued to interact about programming. A few months ago, a mother of one of them asked me if I was aware of any opportunities for learning computer programming. I had been thinking about starting a computer programming club, but hadn't quite willing to commit myself. But I decided it was time. So I checked with the department, to make sure it was OK to bring kids into the BCRC and got the parent of another child (who I was sure would be interested) to come with me (mainly so I wouldn't be alone with the whole bunch of kids). Today was our first meeting.

I suggested we start with NetLogo and, after a bit, maybe switch to webpages and PHP. We've had a pretty good time for our first day. Mostly, changing parameters in existing simulations (changing sizes and colors of existing elements, etc). One boy worked with a fireworks model and drew a picture of a little person "mebob" that he used as the shape of the rockets shooting up into the air and exploding. It's a good start.

Like locusts

Someone asked me today what it's like getting ready for the beginning of the semester and I responded it was like having locusts descending on me. I had a full book of appointments and practically every minute of the day was spent trying to get various fires put out: set up this, fix that, create this other thing. It's nice to feel wanted and needed.

The house progresses forward. The change in the appearance of the house as the new siding goes up is really amazing. They're making good progress. When you look from the front, the house looks essentially done. There's still a bunch of stuff to be done, but it's remarkable how the various parts fit together.

Apparently in s.c.e, the discussion of the ELNA name change came up, so the editor of Libera Folio asked me about the issue. I wrote a bit and he took some of the bits and wrote a nice little feature. The rest of what I wrote is here.

I also wrote a little snippet for ADTC today.

Getting ready for classes

I spent today helping people getting ready for their classes and starting to get ready for my own. There's still a lot left to do and the time is slipping away faster and faster. I got schedule roughed out and moved over the project and prep pages from last time. I updated the syllabus and began the long process of updating everything. There's still a long way to go. In addition, I had a nice day chatting with people and looking at the on-going work on the house.

D-ro BarlowZane stopped by to see me. She was wearing a new hat that she'd knitted herself, having taught herself over the holidays. We had a nice chat, catching up on various intersession happenings and discussing strategy for the upcoming semester. Zane is one of the people that make the Biology Department a special place to be.

I went to one of the research labs today and saw a student using a computer monitor that had no cover, so the guts were exposed. I pointed out, a bit uncomfortably, that I hoped he was aware there were high voltages exposed that could produce potentially fatal shocks. I think it was even more disturbing to me to see him pale and admit that he wasn't aware of the risk. I suggested unplugging it from the wall and not using it again until there was an appropriate cover on the monitor. Or to find a different monitor. And called back later when I realized I hadn't pointed out that the capicitors in the high-voltage circuitry of a monitor can still carry a lethal charge hours or days after it's been unplugged.

Renovigo de eksteraĵo komencasI left work a bit early today to come home to see the on-going work on the house. They've begun stripping off the old siding and replacing it with tyvek and insulation. Once they get the house wrapped, another team will install the vinyl siding. I anticipate it will be a dramatic improvement of the insulation of the house. And we'll get a nice tax credit, though not till next year. I'm excited to see what the house will look like when we're done. As with the windows, I'm not primarily concerned with the aesthetic issues, but that will also be a welcome improvement, given the lamentable appearance of the peeling paint on the house. It should never have been painted in the first place, but the cheapskate owner of the house before us wanted to put it on the market at some point and slapped a bunch of paint over the stained shakes. These have all been outstanding issues with the house that we knew it had when we bought it, but haven't been willing to address until now. The changes will also increase the value of the house a lot, although that's not our primary concern as we have no intention of ever selling the house. I'm sure it will increase our property taxes, though. Sigh...

Renovations

Nova planko en banĉambroToday we got replacement floors in both bathrooms and some of the fixtures replaced in the downstairs bathroom. The toilet in the downstairs bathroom had a crack in it when we bought the house, which had damaged the floor. When they repaired the floor, they checked to make sure it was just the plywood that was damaged -- the structure of the floor was still sound -- good, cedar construction.

As with the windows, we did the work primarily because it was needed, in this case to prevent water leaking and damaging our home, but it makes a big difference in the appearance of the room too. I picked out the new flooring. When we went into the company, we asked whether we should get one piece that could cover both bathrooms or get two separate pieces and they said it didn't make any difference, so we picked out two separate patterns. Then they said, "Oh, by the way, it'll cost $300 more to do it that way", so we got them both done in the same pattern. I like it.

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