Semester Completed, Summer Underway

The semester wrapped up this week: I submitted my grades on Wednesday. The student project mapping garlic mustard turned out remarkably well. I have been dreaming of doing projects like this for several years (especially with respect to students in various parts of the work, AKA CUE/EKI).

I'm starting to see convergence between my union organizing activity and my teaching. A big part of my teaching, I realize, is trying to inspire students to action: to do something and for our interaction to be in the context of that activity. In our union local, we've been selected as part of a strategic directions initiative to move from a "service model" to an "organizing model", which focuses on the same basic idea: through personal contacts you help people discover that the things which aren't working well can be fixed and the union is an effective conduit toward accomplishing those goals. I've ordered a couple of books that look like they'll be helpful: Organizing for Social Change and Rules for Radicals. I'm also interested in thinking how these concepts could be applied to ELNA, which is faltering as a service organization.

Ugh!

I tried to update to Drupal 4.7 this evening. It didn't work. I followed the directions, ran the update the script, and the site woulnd't come back up. The script that was supposed to update the database ... didn't. The site came back up with dozens of mysql errors. I played around with it and then tried to back out. That didn't work. Eventually, I had to wipe the database and restore from backups. Sigh... At least now I know enough to be cautious about trying to update any of my "real" drupal sites. :-/

Trip to Boston

I had a whirlwind trip to Boston for the MTA conference. I would have aimed to arrive around noon, but one person who wanted a ride couldn't leave until 1:30, so we didn't get there until after 4pm. I'll know better next year -- I really should have left when I wanted to.

Having done this last year, I had a better idea of where I was going and what I was doing. We stayed in the Westin this year, rather than the Sheraton. I was grumpy that they didn't have free wireless in the hotel, but at least they don't charge in the convention center anymore. It was good to be able to check up on what was going on. The only critical issue was that the Esperanto-USA website was unavailable -- the hosting service broke something that has taken our whole site down and it's been down now for more than 12 hours. I'm beginning to think we should start looking for a different hosting service, if this one can't get their act together.

The main issue I've been pushing for at MTA is for them to use a reasonable amount of the Public Relations and Organizing fund for organizing. Out of $2 million dollars in the fund this year, they only spent $58k on organizing -- and $40k of that was spent on a postcard campaign which is not what anyone could even charitably call 'organizing'. Many of the people involved with it just call it the 'public relations' fund because they don't value organizing. Over the past two years, we've made strides toward having organizing become a focus of the union. Maybe next year, we can actually leverage a reasonable amount of money out of the fund to support our goals.

The showstopper today was a report on the challenges facing the Springfield schools. The Republicans have been mounting a campaign against organized labor in the state, using a variety of dubious techniques to force an unacceptable contract down the throats of the teacher's union in Springfield. In the interim, they've made conditions so appalling for teachers, that more than a thousand have left over the past four years. Now, 90% of special ed teachers are uncertified -- these are among the most disadvantaged kids in the state. Would any legislator ever allow their children to be taught in a school in that state? I don't think so.

Flock

I saw today that Flock has an integrated blog-posting tool, so I thought I'd download the newest release and give it a try. By pointing it at "blog.bierfaristo.com" it autoconfigured to post to my blog. Now I'll have to see whether I can actually post.

Hmm. In my first attempt, it ate all of my HTML. I can probably adjust the configuration and fix that.

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.

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